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February 28, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Red Wine Beef Stew with Potatoes & Green Beans

When I started testing Food Network Favorites, I thought I'd pick and choose recipes from the book at random. I've decided to change my approach, however, and work through the book in a more methodical fashion, one chef at a time. Since I've already done one recipe from Dave Lieberman, I'm sticking with him for now. This beef stew recipe is quite tasty, although I'm not sure about the green beans.

It's a straightforward approach that works well: brown the meat, soften the vegetables, mix them all together with wine, tomatoes, and broth, and simmer until tender. However, Lieberman's addition of green beans in the last 5 minutes of cooking seems tacked on to make the recipe "unique." I had a few issues with the green beans: first, Lieberman only specifies that you should use "2 handfuls" of green beans. What exactly that's supposed to mean is up to you, I guess. I used 4 ounces of beans. Second, he doesn't say to cut the beans into pieces, only to trim the ends. So you've got whole green beans lurking in the stew. Which makes it fairly difficult to eat, since it's a dicey proposition to try to balance a long green bean on your spoon full of 1-inch chunks of carrots, potatoes, and beef. If you use the beans, I recommend that you cut them into 1-inch chunks as well. Finally, I didn't really like the flavor of the green beans in the stew; their assertive snap and green flavor didn't meld well with the earthy root vegetables. If you use green beans, make sure that they are very fresh and tender. Young haricots verts are the best choice. If you can only find tough old green beans at the market, just leave the beans out of the stew entirely, as they will not soften up properly, even after a lengthy simmer.

Dave Lieberman's recipe fails to tell the cook to taste for salt and pepper before serving, so I've added that instruction to the recipe below. The stew definitely needs additional seasoning after it's done with its long simmer.

Like many stews and soups, this one tastes even better the next day. Serve with crusty bread for a hearty meal on a blustery day.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Yield: about 10 servings

2 lbs beef chuck for stew, cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp butter
4 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 small onions, diced
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cans (14 oz. each) chicken or beef broth
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 6-inch sprig fresh rosemary
2 medium russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 handfuls green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp of butter in a heavy 6-quart pot over medium heat. As soon as the butter starts to turn brown, add half of the beef and raise the heat to high. Let the beef sit without stirring for about 3 minutes, then toss the cubes. The beef will give off quite a bit of liquid in the beginning, but once that evaporates, the meat will brown. Cook for about 5 or 6 minutes after the liquid has evaporated off, or until the beef is a deep brown color. Remove the meat to a bowl, add the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter to the pan, and then brown the remaining beef in the same manner.

Remove the second batch of beef, then add the carrots and onions and adjust the heat to medium-high. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour until it is worked into the veggies and you can't see it any more. Pour in the broth, wine, and tomatoes and toss in the rosemary. Add the beef back to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce heat so that the liquid is just breaking a gentle simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook 50 minutes. Stir several times while simmering so it cooks evenly and doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Stir the potatoes into the stew, cover the pot completely, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and beef are tender, about 45 minutes. If using green beans, add them to the pot and cook about 5 minutes, until they turn bright green and still have some snap to them. Stir in the parsley. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as necessary. Serve in bowls with lots of bread alongside to sop up the stew.


 

February 24, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Blueberry-Pecan Crumble

From Dave Lieberman, the Food Network's newest boy wonder chef, comes this simple version of fruit crumble. It's a good one.

If you've been reading the Cookbook Critic for long, you know that I love fruit crisps and crumbles. This is a very nice rendition of a classic blueberry crumble with a brown sugar and oat streusel topping. Pecans are added for a bit of crunch and flavor, and the end result is a yummy dessert.

One caveat: the recipe calls for 2 Tbsp of flour to be added to the blueberries. With my Chilean berries, the only ones available in February, that amount of flour caused the filling to become too thick, almost jam-like. If you're making this recipe at the height of berry season, with juicy, local fruit, then by all means use 2 Tbsp of flour in the filling. But if you're settling for less-than-perfect berries that maybe aren't bursting with juice, reduce the amount of flour to 1 Tbsp.

Another quibble: Lieberman doesn't specify what temperature the butter should be at when you're rubbing it together with the oats, etc., to make the streusel. I believe it's much easier to make streusel with room temperature butter, but after I definitively stated, in a review for a Jamie Oliver fruit crumble recipe, that butter for streusel should be at room temperature, several readers wrote in and told me that they always use cold butter. So, it's a toss-up. Use whichever temperature butter works best for you. In any event, I believe that the recipe should specify a temperature for the butter, so that's points off for thoroughness on the part of the Food Network Favorites editor.

Dave Lieberman doesn't give any recommendations for accompaniments to go with the crumble; as always, I love vanilla ice cream. Sour cream, crème fraîche, yogurt, or lightly sweetened whipped cream would also be fantastic.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 to 50 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the topping:
4 oz. pecan pieces (about 1 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Pinch salt
8 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

For the filling:
2 pints fresh blueberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 to 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour (see note above)

Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, etc., optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the topping ingredients in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers until well combined and beginning to stick together in small clumps.

Pour the blueberries into a 7-by-11-inch baking dish. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top, then the flour and sugar. Toss to combine thoroughly.

Scatter the topping over the berries evenly. Bake until the topping is golden and the berries are bubbling, about 40 to 50 minutes. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or other accompaniments, if desired.

Food Network Favorites: Butternut Squash, Apple & Onion Galette with Stilton

I was skeptical that this recipe was going to work: slices of unpeeled apples and butternut squash, plus wedges of onion, are scattered atop a pastry base and baked for less than an hour to create a savory tart. I didn't think the vegetables would get tender enough. Happily, my fears were baseless. This is a very good recipe.

Food Network Favorites has a chapter of recipes from the Food Network kitchens (in addition to the chapters from their celebrity chefs), which is where this galette comes from. I thought for sure that leaving the squash unpeeled would result in an unpleasant texture, but the peel isn't too noticeable in the finished tart. If you're very sensitive to texture, you may want to peel the squash, but it isn't necessary. Be sure to buy butternut squash that has a long neck and a small bulb; that way you have very little seeding to do.

The dough will look very dry when you dump it out of the food processor, but it will come together when you press it with your hands. Be sure to let it rest at least 1 hour before trying to roll it out. The recipe as originally written does not suggest that you take the dough out for about 15 minutes before rolling it, so I've added this recommendation, as it makes the rolling process quite a bit easier.

You can substitute any soft, crumbly cheese for the blue cheese; queso fresco or goat cheese would both work well.

The only real quibble I have with the recipe is the yield: Food Network says this galette serves 6. For appetizers, perhaps. But as an entrée, you could maybe serve 4 people, if you've got salad and other options to go with the tart. For very hungry people, you'll only be able to get 2 servings.

Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour to rest the dough
Cook Time: 55 to 60 minutes
Yield: 6 appetizer servings, or 2 to 4 entrée servings

For the dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
8 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg, slightly beaten

For the filling:
1 large baking apple, such as Rome Beauty or Cortland (a red-skinned apple makes for a prettier tart)
1 small or 1/2 medium butternut squash (about 3/4 lb), halved, seeded, and skin on
1 small yellow onion, peeled, root end trimmed but intact
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp whole-grain mustard
1/3 cup crumbled Stilton or other blue cheese, OR goat cheese, queso fresco, or other soft cheese


For the dough: Pulse the flour and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few bean-size bits of butter in it. Add the egg and pulse 1 or 2 times more. Do not let the dough form a mass around the blade. If the dough seems very dry, add up to 1 Tbsp cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time, pulsing briefly. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface, or into a large bowl, and bring the dough together by hand. Form into a flat disk about 6 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic, and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature while you make the filling.

For the filling: Halve and core the apple. Cut each half into 8 wedges and put them in a large bowl. Slice the squash about 1/4 inch thick and add to the bowl. Cut the onion into wedges; some of the wedges may not hold together, but that's okay. Add the onion to the bowl. Add the butter, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste, and toss gently to combine.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch disk. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and brush with mustard. Starting 2 inches from the edge, arrange the slices of apple, squash, and onions, alternating and forming overlapping circles. If you have extra pieces, tuck them in wherever they'll fit (you may have a few leftover pieces that don't fit; discard, or put them in a small baking dish and bake along with the galette, checking for doneness after about 25 minutes).

Fold and pleat the dough over the edges of the filling. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown, and the apple, squash, and onion are tender and caramelized, about 55 minutes. Scatter the cheese over the filling and bake until melted, about 5 more minutes. Cool the galette briefly, then cut into wedges and serve.

In Progress: Food Network Favorites: Recipes from Our All-Star Chefs

It's either a brilliant idea or a cynical ploy; compile recipes from 11 of the Food Network's most popular chefs into one handy volume: Food Network Favorites: Recipes from Our All-Star Chefs. (The 11 chefs are Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, Dave Lieberman, Emeril Lagasse, Giada De Laurentiis, Mario Batali, Michael Chiarello, Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, Tyler Florence, and Wolfgang Puck. They're all listed on the "Contents" page by their first names only -- Alton, Bobby, Dave, etc. Because they're STARS! Like Madonna! Or Cher! Heh.) On one hand, it might be nice to have the cream of the crop all compiled together in one book, but on the other hand, will the recipes suffer from being out of context? And if you already own a few of these chefs' books, is there a good reason to buy this book?

My first pass through the book shows that it's definitely playing up the "star" aspect of the Food Network system. There's a breathless Q&A page in front of each chef's section with fluffy questions like, "Who taught you how to cook?" If you've already guessed that the answer, without fail, is "My mom/dad/grandma/aunt," give yourself a prize. The typography is dreadful; the instructions are in very small, hard-to-read type, and there's a blurb on many of the pages with a "Note from the Kitchens" that's printed in all-caps, sans-serif type centered on a very narrow vertical column. Whoever designed this book thought it sure looked nifty! Too bad it's almost impossible to read.

But the real test is how well the recipes work, so here we go!

February 14, 2006

Off the Shelf: Spinach and Ricotta Baked Pasta

A simple cheese-and-spinach pasta dish from Off the Shelf that could use a tad more oomph. The addition of garlic livened this recipe up quite a bit.

I also have modified the instructions somewhat; in the original recipe, the cook places the cooked rigatoni in a baking dish and then tops the pasta with the ricotta-spinach mixture. This left the pasta on the bottom of the dish rather bare, and some of the tubes got too browned and almost crunchy. A better method is to toss the pasta with half of the cheese mixture before placing it in the baking dish. Then spoon the remaining cheese and spinach on top. This made for a creamier dish with a better texture.

Donna Hay's instructions have you blanch bunches of spinach, but I preferred to use bags of baby spinach and to sauté it with garlic. That way, the spinach was wilted without introducing a lot of excess moisture, and the flavor was better.

I also adjusted the amount of sour cream from the original 10 oz. to 8 oz., a more convenient size for American cooks to find.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 to 45 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

1 lb rigatoni
2 bags (9 oz. each) baby spinach
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (about 1 Tbsp)
1 1/2 lb ricotta cheese
8 oz. sour cream
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the rigatoni until al dente, then drain and reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and stir until wilted. Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop the spinach.

Combine the ricotta, sour cream, eggs, parmesan, dill, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chopped spinach and combine well. Reserve half of this mixture in another bowl; add the cooked pasta to the remaining mixture and toss to combine. Pour the pasta into the prepared pan. Spoon the reserved ricotta mixture over the top. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

February 13, 2006

Off the Shelf: Harissa and Yogurt Baked Chicken

Amazingly enough, for a dish that features the spicy North African chili paste called harissa, this recipe was bland and boring. I have a few suggestions for how to liven it up.

Most of Off the Shelf's recipes have been quite flavorful, so I was surprised at how "blah" this chicken tasted. It needs about twice as much harissa or chili paste as called for, and a hefty increase in the cumin also helps the flavor. My revision reflects these changes.

Donna Hay doesn't recommend that you marinate the chicken in the yogurt-spice mixture, but I found that a half-hour rest at room temperature results in much tenderer chicken, since the acids in the yogurt help to tenderize the meat.

I think the food stylist cheated with the photo of the finished dish; the chicken looks charbroiled, as though it was cooked on the grill, not in the oven as the recipe states. I highly recommend grilling, if you can. The flavor is superior and the chicken looks better when it's deeply browned, almost charred. That's a result you can only achieve by cooking over an open flame. The chicken that comes out of the oven gets sort of gold, but it's nowhere near as appetizing as the grilled version.


3 1/2 to 4 lb chicken, quartered
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 cup plain yogurt, preferably full-fat
2 Tbsp harissa or chili paste
1/3 cup shredded mint
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground black pepper


Make deep slits in the chicken pieces. Combine the cornstarch, yogurt, harissa or chili paste, mint, cumin, salt and pepper. Spread the yogurt mixture all over the chicken. Let the chicken rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, or heat a gas or charcoal grill. Place the chicken on a rack in a baking dish. or place on the grill. Cook for 35 to 45 minutes or until crisp, golden, and cooked through. Serve warm or cold.

February 10, 2006

Off the Shelf: Basic Fruit and Rice Custard

Since I had leftover rice, I thought I'd give this custard recipe a whirl. I ran into some problems with the oven temperature, which right off the bat seemed way too low. 250 degrees for 45 minutes to cook custard? Really?

As I suspected, the custards were nowhere near done when cooked at 250 degrees. After 30 minutes, they were still completely liquid. I turned up the oven temperature to 325 degrees and cooked them for an additional 20 minutes. I've revised the recipe to cook them at the higher temperature. Start checking at 30 minutes; they may take up to 45 minutes to become completely set.

I thought that Hay's directions to add only 1 Tbsp of rice per custard cup seemed skimpy, but the rice expands in the custard and 1 Tbsp really was enough to give a nice bit of texture and flavor to the dessert without being overpowering. If you like rice pudding, you could add a bit more rice, but I wouldn't use more than about 1 1/2 Tbsp per cup.

A nice addition to this dessert would be vanilla beans or almond extract. Scrape 1/2 of a vanilla bean and add to the milk mixture, or add 1/4 tsp of pure almond extract. Other fruits would also be nice, such as apricots gently stewed with sugar, or berries in season.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 to 45 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

About 2 cups cooked fruit, such as rhubarb compote (recipe below) OR fresh berries
scant 1/2 cup cooked long or short grain white rice
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the fruit in the bottom of six 1-cup capacity ramekins or custard cups. Spread 1 Tbsp of rice on top of the fruit in each ramekin. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and sugar, then pour the custard mixture into the ramekins. Place the dishes in a baking pan and pour in water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake about 40 minutes, or until the custard is set (start checking after 30 minutes). Cool before serving.


Rhubarb Compote
4 cups rhubarb, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup sugar

Place the rhubarb and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over a low flame until the sugar melts, then increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. Reduce heat back to low and simmer until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Cool in the pan, then refrigerate until cold. Compote thickens as it cools. Yields about 2 cups.

February 09, 2006

Off the Shelf: Green Curry Chicken with Sweet Potato

Off the Shelf has a chapter on Asian food, with lots of streamlined preparations for classic dishes. This is a very simple curry that tastes great.

The sweet potato plays nicely against the heat of the curry paste, and the coconut milk ties it all together. If you have a well-stocked market or an Asian market in your area, you should be able to find kaffir lime leaves, a classic ingredient in Thai cooking. Hay's recipe calls for the lime leaves to be shredded, but I prefer to leave them whole, simmer them in the curry, and then remove them before serving, as their texture is rather crunchy and their flavor is quite strong. You can use them either way: simmer them in the sauce for a hint of their flavor, or slice them into very fine slivers and add them to the sauce.

Hay's ingredients list calls for "coconut cream." In the United States, we have a product called cream of coconut, a sweetened beverage mixer used in piña coladas. This is not the product you want! I looked around a bit to see if there is a specific product called "coconut cream" in Australia (Donna Hay is an Australian food writer), but it seems that the terms coconut cream and coconut milk are used interchangeably. In the U.S., look for coconut milk. I prefer Chaokoh brand.

As is usual with Thai curries, the sauce for this dish does not get terribly thick. Be sure to serve it over steamed white or jasmine rice to soak up all the sauce. I've had to increase cooking times slightly from what was originally specified in the recipe -- my sweet potatoes took longer than the original 25 minutes to get tender.


Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: about 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/2 inch)
3 Tbsp peanut oil, divided
2 Tbsp Thai green curry paste
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 6 oz. each
1 cup chicken stock or broth
1 cup coconut milk
4 kaffir lime leaves, whole or finely shredded (see note above)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the sweet potato dice in a baking dish and toss with 2 Tbsp peanut oil. Bake until soft and golden, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the curry paste and 1 Tbsp peanut oil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken and cook for 1 minute per side. Add the chicken stock, coconut milk, and lime leaves. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

To serve, place sweet potato dice on top of a bed of steamed jasmine rice. Place chicken atop the potatoes, then spoon on curry sauce and sprinkle with cilantro.

February 08, 2006

At-a-Glance Cookbook Ratings

A handy reference page -- get a capsule review of all the books that have been tested by The Cookbook Critic, and a letter grade indicating how successful I think each book is.

My letter grade system:

A = Outstanding. Highly recommended.

B = Very good. Occasionally has problems with proportions, ingredients, or technique, but successes greatly outnumber failures.

C = Has some good recipes, but also suffers from a great number of problems. Often can be more trouble than it's worth to try to cook from.

D = A disaster. Failures greatly outnumber successes. Not recommended.

F = Not a single successful recipe to be found. Avoid at all costs.

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Food Network Favorites: Recipes from Our All-Star Chefs, Food Network Kitchens, Jennifer Darling (Editor). (Full review coming soon.)
Suffers from the usual problems: poor editing, weak instructions, occasional errors with ingredient amounts or usage. Many of the recipes can be found in the individual chefs' other books. Bottom line: not a necessary addition to a well-stocked kitchen library. B-/C+


Off the Shelf: Cooking from the Pantry, Donna Hay. (Read the full review here.)
Very good ideas and interesting combinations of ingredients. Frustrating at times because of a casual attitude towards instructions and technique. Worth having, but the instructions need to be carefully reviewed before getting started on a recipe. B-


Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals, Sara Moulton. (Read the full review here.)
Very problematic, with weird combinations of ingredients, poorly-thought out instructions, a lack of photos, and some outright failures. Here and there it has a good recipe, but there are too many bad ones. C-


Everyday Italian, Giada De Laurentiis. (Read the full review here.)
A handy basic Italian cookbook with some excellent recipes. Occasionally suffers from sloppy technique and editing. B+


Fast Food My Way, Jacques Pépin. (Read the full review here.)
An outstanding book. Excellent recipes, clear instructions, creative ideas. The introductory chapter and dessert chapter are worth the price alone. A


Jamie's Dinners: The Essential Family Cookbook, Jamie Oliver. (Read the full review here.)
Very creative with strong ideas and tasty food. Fails in its accessibility; too often vague and sloppy when it comes to instructions and technique. For experienced cooks: B+. For kitchen novices: B-


Live, Love, Eat!, Wolfgang Puck. (Read the full review here.)
A good introduction to Wolfgang Puck's cuisine. Occasionally suffers from "restaurant-chef-itis," with too many hard-to-find ingredients or fiddly technique. Very good results if you're willing to put in the time and effort. B+


30-Minute Meals 2, Rachael Ray. (Read the full review here.)
A better book than 30-Minute Get Real Meals, but not without problems. Italian recipes are good, everything else is risky. C+


30-Minute Get Real Meals, Rachael Ray. (Read the full review here.)
An attempt at low-carb cooking that's not satisfying to anyone, with serious problems in technique and bizarre proportions. A few good recipes bring the grade up to C-

Off the Shelf: Simple Zucchini Pasta

At the end of each chapter in Off the Shelf, there's a page of "Short Order" recipe ideas -- quick dishes that require brief cooking and just a few ingredients. This easy pasta dish takes just minutes to put together and is very satisfying.

I've given somewhat more flexible amounts for garlic, chilis, and zucchini than are listed in the book; use your own preference to determine how much of these ingredients you'd like to use. I've also added the suggestion to use dried red chilis. They add heat to the pasta without having to be seeded and chopped, which is a bonus if you're tired or in a hurry. I also recommend that you leave the pasta somewhat wet when you drain it; the extra water helps to make the dish moister.

A minor quibble: Hay's recipe states that the zucchini should be grated, but the photo of this dish clearly shows thin slices of zucchini. You can prepare it either way -- I used a mandoline to create thin slices, which looked much prettier than shreds.


Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

14 oz. fettucine, spaghetti, or linguine
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 small red or green chilis, seeded and finely chopped, OR 1/2 to 1 tsp dried crushed red chili flakes
3 or 4 medium zucchini, grated or thinly sliced
1 cup grated or shaved parmesan cheese
Cracked black pepper and coarse salt
Lemon wedges, optional

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain, leaving some water on the strands.

In a sauté pan, cook the olive oil, chilis, and garlic over medium-high heat until fragrant. Add the zucchini and cook until softened and slightly brown, about 3 minutes. Toss this mixture with the pasta. Add black pepper and salt to taste. Top with parmesan cheese and drizzle with additional olive oil and lemon juice, if desired.

February 07, 2006

Off the Shelf: Easy Chocolate Cake

Errors and oversights in technique are becoming the bane of my existence with Off the Shelf. The ideas in this book are excellent, and if you're careful to fill in the blanks when it comes to the instructions, no problem. But oftentimes, Donna Hay leaves the fine details out of her recipes, and that is a problem.

If you're not an avid baker, I'd imagine that a recipe titled "Easy Chocolate Cake" might appeal to you. It's easy -- says so right there in the title! But if you don't have a lot of experience with baking or working with chocolate, Hay's instructions could leave you high and dry. The cake itself is easy to put together and there are no problems with the instructions. The glaze, however, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Hay tells the cook to place the cream and chopped chocolate together in a saucepan and "stir until smooth." The problem with those instructions? In all likelihood, the cream is coming straight out of the refrigerator. If you put cold cream and melting chocolate together, you have a very high probability of the chocolate seizing: turning into a grainy, lumpy mess. A small change to the instructions would make this a remote possibility instead of an almost-guaranteed problem. Simply have the cream hot before stirring the chocolate into it. Trying to stir melting chocolate and cool liquids together is the problem. Hot cream solves this problem.

I guess that Donna Hay is assuming that most home cooks know this already, but I don't think that's a fair assumption to make. The recipe author should always make the instructions as fool-proof as possible, and in this case Hay fails. I've rewritten the instructions to avoid the seizing problem.

The cake is very intensely chocolate-flavored, and the glaze is delicious. Use the best-quality chocolate for the best results. Valrhona and Scharffen Berger both make excellent dark chocolate varieties.


Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 to 55 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

8 oz. butter, softened
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa powder, plus extra for the pan
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped

For the glaze: 5 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with softened butter or vegetable shortening, and coat it with about 1 Tbsp of cocoa powder, tapping the pan over the sink to remove the excess.

Place the 8 oz. chopped chocolate into a microwaveable container. Heat in the microwave at 50% power for 1 minute. Allow to stand for 2 to 3 minutes, then stir. If necessary, heat for another 15 to 30 seconds. Do not overheat, as the chocolate can scorch.

Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with a handheld electric mixer, or with the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and beat well.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and 1/3 cup cocoa powder over the ingredients in the bowl. Add the sour cream and 8 oz. melted chocolate and mix until just combined, about 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for about an hour, then invert onto a rack and continue to cool to room temperature before glazing.

For the chocolate glaze: Put the cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat. Add the 5 oz. chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Allow the glaze to stand off the heat for 5 minutes, then spread it over the top of the cake.

Off the Shelf: Honey and Mustard Baked Pork

This oven-roasted pork dish from Off the Shelf requires very little hands-on attention, and tastes great. I would, however, change the technique a bit (a refrain that's becoming common with this book).

The original recipe tells the cook to split parsnips in half lengthwise and roast them in the oven for about 40 minutes, or "until tender." I selected medium-sized parsnips, but there's a big difference in size between the root ends and the tips, so by the time the thickest part was tender, the ends were overcooked and almost crispy. To try to even out the cooking time, I suggest that you trim off the smallest part of the parsnips and then quarter them lengthwise.

Similarly, the pork would cook up better if it were cut into pieces. Donna Hay's recipe doesn't say anything about cutting the pork, but the accompanying picture shows the pork fillet in 4 pieces. The more surface area that's coated with the mustard and honey, the more flavorful the dish will be, so I suggest cutting the fillet (also called tenderloin) into 4 pieces crosswise, then slicing those pieces in half lengthwise, for a total of 8 pieces. That will give you pork that cooks quickly and is very flavorful.

Hay's only note about the pork is to cook it until tender. The recommendation these days is to cook pork to 155 or 160 degrees for food safety -- use an instant-read thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat to get the temperature. The meat may still be somewhat pink at this temperature, but it is perfectly safe. Don't overcook it -- pork tenderloin is quite lean, and when overcooked it becomes dry and unappetizing.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 60 to 70 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 medium parsnips, small ends trimmed off, peeled and quartered lengthwise
2 Tbsp olive oil
Cracked black pepper and coarse salt
1/3 cup whole grain mustard
1 1/2 lb pork fillet or pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into 4 pieces, then lengthwise (8 pieces total)
2 Tbsp oregano leaves
1/4 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the parsnips, cut side up, in a baking dish and sprinkle with oil, pepper, and salt. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden and tender.

Spread the mustard on the pork and place the pieces on top of the parsnips. Sprinkle with oregano and drizzle with honey. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the pork is tender.

February 06, 2006

Off the Shelf: Caramel-Filled Biscuits

Another dessert idea from Off the Shelf. In this one, buttery cookies are layered with sticky caramel to make sandwiches. The flavors are very good, but I had some trouble with the technique.

Donna Hay's recipe instructs the cook to make caramel by cooking sweetened condensed milk with butter and golden syrup (a common product in the UK and Australia -- if you can't find it in the US, substitute brown-sugar-flavored corn syrup) until "thick." According to the recipe, this will take 15 to 20 minutes. I cooked the mixture over boiling water for 20 minutes without noticing any appreciable thickening. After about 30 minutes, it began to look somewhat thicker, and after 45 minutes, it seemed to be as thick as it was going to get. Even so, the consistency seemed rather loose to serve as filling for cookies; I cooled the caramel for 10 minutes, as instructed in the recipe, but this didn't help it to get any thicker. As a test, I went ahead and filled a couple of cookies with the caramel, but as I feared, the loose texture caused the top cookie to slide right off the bottom cookie, and the caramel all dripped out onto the countertop. These weren't sandwiches, really...more like half-frosted lopsided cookie towers. I put the caramel in the refrigerator to get truly firm, and after about 30 minutes it finally seemed like it might be set up enough to use with the cookies.

I had to be careful not to push the two cookies together too tightly, however, since doing so caused the caramel to leak out from the center of the sandwich. A gentle touch produced sandwiches that held together without becoming a leaky mess.

Be sure to use only 1 Tbsp of dough for each cookie; you don't want them to be too big. The original recipe is vague about spacing the cookies on the baking sheet. I recommend that you place the cookies about 2 inches apart. They don't spread a great deal in the oven, but you don't want them so close that they'll touch.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 45 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen sandwiches

8 oz. butter, chopped
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 egg

14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp golden syrup or brown sugar corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the butter, sugar, flour, cornstarch, and egg in a food processor and process until a smooth dough forms. Roll tablespoons of the dough into balls and place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten the balls slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass, or your hands. Chill about 10 minutes, or until firm. Bake until lightly golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on racks.

For the caramel filling: Combine the condensed milk, butter, and syrup in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, about 45 minutes. Cool the caramel in the refrigerator, stirring every 10 minutes, until cool enough to touch, about 30 minutes.

To fill the cookies: spoon about 2 tsp of caramel filling onto the flat side of 1 biscuit. Top with another biscuit and allow the cookies to cool completely before serving.

February 03, 2006

Martha Stewart Living: Roasted Pineapple Ice Cream

Lauren in Texas sent me this recipe from Martha Stewart's online edition of her magazine. From New Orleans chef Hubert Sandot, it's a delicious Caribbean-inspired combination of sweet pineapple and dark rum.

I have clarified the instructions, since there were a few awkward back-and-forth, on-the-heat, off-the-heat directions that didn't make a whole lot of sense. (Here's the link to the recipe on marthastewart.com.) I've also added the instruction to strain the custard; surprisingly, the original recipe doesn't tell the cook to do this. Even if you're very careful to make sure to remove the chalazae when you separate the eggs, there still can be teeny bits of scrambled egg in the custard, and most recipes will tell you to strain them out before you put the ice cream base in the machine.

I made two batches; one as written, with largish chunks of pineapple in the finished ice cream, and one with the pineapple puréed. I'm not a big fan of chunky fruit in ice cream, and I preferred the texture when the pineapple was smoother. That's a personal preference, however. If you like bits of fruit, leave the pineapple in chunks. If you'd prefer a smoother texture, put the pineapple in a food processor and pulse several times to get a nice purée.

I use a Cuisinart 2-quart capacity ice cream maker, but this recipe came close to overflowing out of the machine, even though it claims to make about 1 1/2 quarts. Don't try to make this ice cream in a machine with a capacity smaller than 2 quarts.

Thanks so much to Lauren for sending along the recipe! The ice cream tastes fantastic!

Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus 2 hours roasting time
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: about 2 quarts

1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/3 cups sugar
5 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons dark rum
8 large egg yolks

Place pineapple on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar and bake in a 200-degree oven, stirring every 30 minutes, until juices become syrupy, about 2 hours. Remove 1/2 cup for garnish, and set the remainder aside.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring 4 cups cream to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and add rum. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk yolks and remaining 1 cup sugar until pale and thick, about 2 minutes. Whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream/rum mixture into the egg yolks to temper. Return the yolk mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly, cooking over medium heat until thickened, about 3 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Add the pineapple chunks (or purée the pineapple in a food processor, if desired, then add the purée). To cool the custard, either place it in the refrigerator for about 2 hours, or place it in a bowl over ice water and stir until cooled down.

When the custard is cool, beat the remaining 1 cup of cream with an electric mixer or stand mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the custard. Transfer to an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serve with a spoonful of the reserved pineapple.

Off the Shelf: Garlic Chickpeas with Cumin-Fried Fish

From Off the Shelf, here's a quick and easy dinner for a weeknight when you're tired: open up a can of chickpeas, fry them with leeks and garlic, add a piece of cumin-coated fish, and you're done.

Make sure you use all of the aromatic ingredients in their full amounts. The chickpeas are a bit bland by themselves, and they definitely need the leeks, garlic, and lemon zest to liven them up. I used halibut for the fish, but found it was a bit lean for this recipe. Cod, perch, or orange roughy would be good choices for the fish, and probably wouldn't cook up quite as dry as halibut does.

I tried to make this recipe using only 1 frying pan, but the chickpeas grew cold while waiting for the fish to fry. If you really only want to dirty up 1 pan, you could give the chickpeas a quick zap in the microwave just before serving, to heat them back up. Otherwise, use 2 pans. Feel free to reduce the recipe by half, if you're feeding 2 people.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

3 Tbsp olive oil
3 leeks (white and tender green parts), rinsed and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp lemon zest
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Two 14- or 15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 small red or green chili, seeded and finely chopped
Four pieces (6 to 7 oz. each) firm white fish, such as cod or orange roughy

Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil, leeks, and lemon zest. Cook until the leeks are golden and slightly crispy, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chickpeas and heat through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Keep warm over low heat, or remove the chickpeas to a microwaveable dish. If reusing the same pan, wipe out with a paper towel and return to medium-high heat.

Put the butter, oil, and cumin in a pan over medium-high heat and cook for 3 minutes, stirring. Add the fish to the pan and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until just cooked through. Serve alongside the chickpeas, with a lime wedge on the side.

February 02, 2006

Sara Moulton: Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals

book_moulton_sarahsecrets.jpg

I wanted to like this book...

I like Sara Moulton's show on the Food Network. I like her low-key, straightforward style. (The Food Network apparently is no longer interested in a no-nonsense, educational approach to cooking programs; they're changing their focus to "entertainment," and Sara Moulton will be moving to PBS.)

Unfortunately, Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals lacks a cohesive focus. It's all over the place, with recipes that are so simple they barely deserve to be written up (fried eggs and refried beans wrapped up in a tortilla -- does anyone need a recipe for that?), and recipes that require 2 or 3 days of advance preparation.

There's room in the world for books like that, of course; we all need different things from cookbooks at different times. But the problem with Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals is that a lot of the recipes have serious issues. The Braised Short Ribs were fatty; the Asian Spiced Roasted Baby Carrots were muddled; the Salmon with Black Bean Sauce was bland. I had nothing but trouble with desserts: Quick Grape Crumble had messed-up proportions; Basic Yellow Cake was serviceable, but boring; Baked Alaskan was utterly bizarre; and Pecan Pie Squares was a disaster.

There are some recipes in the book that work just fine: Green Posole with Chicken is a very tasty soup that's easy to make, and the idea is clever. But these kinds of recipes are few and far between. Moulton's pasta dishes (such as Fusilli with Broccoli and Prosciutto) are good, but also pretty standard. There's nothing there that you couldn't find in another book, especially if you own a basic Italian cookbook, such as Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian.

At the end of the day, the main problem I had with Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals was there's no compelling reason to turn to this book. There aren't any great ideas that leap off the page and say, "Try me!" I was going to review a couple of other recipes before I moved on from this book, but after the mixed bag of results I'd had from my tests, I honestly couldn't find a single thing that looked appealing to me. "Chicken Livers on Garlic Toasts"? No thanks. "Turkey Cutlets Milanese"? I trust Everyday Italian to give me better results with something like that. "Edamame and Bulgur Salad"? Well, let's see...it contains edamame, bulgur, pimientos (!) and chow mein noodles (?!) Maybe it's good, but truthfully, it sounds weird. A lot of the ingredients lists in Sara's Secrets read that way -- you'll be looking at the list, thinking "okay, sounds right...what!? Dried potato flakes? Really?" It's disconcerting, and after all the failures I had, I just don't trust that some of the weirder-sounding recipes in the book will actually work.

On a practical note, I found a couple of typos (a recipe for "Farfalle with Cauliflower and Sautéed Bread Crumbs" refers the reader to another recipe on page 000) and bizarre terminology (nachos are made from "tacos" and melted cheese? I suppose perhaps she means "taco chips.") The recipes are printed in green and orange type, which looks pretty but is difficult to read. And with so many recipes that are a bit off the beaten track, there should be more photos. The pictures that do appear in the book are, in almost every instance, pictures of things that we already have a good idea of what they should look like. I don't need a photo of a burger, or an egg-and-biscuit sandwich, or pancakes. However, I would have really liked a picture of "Baked Alaskan." But no go; even though it's an unusual recipe and the instructions aren't crystal clear, there's not a handy picture of the final product to help the cook at home.

I hate to pan the book, since I believe Sara Moulton is a good cook, and I wish her great success in her new venture on PBS. But Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals isn't a book that I'll be turning to in the future.

Off the Shelf: Creamy Polenta with Caramelized Fennel

Holy cow, but there are a lot of competing flavors going on in this recipe. There's fennel, an assertively-flavored vegetable all by itself. Then it's cooked in a sweet-tangy brown sugar and vinegar mixture. And then there's blue cheese. Put it all together, and what you end up with is a bit of a mess, unfortunately.

The creamy polenta ended up being my favorite part of this recipe, probably because it tasted like...polenta. It wasn't dressed up in a weirdly sweet sauce fighting with the aggressive bite of blue cheese. I just don't think this flavor combination works. Most braised fennel recipes are fairly simple, usually involving some chicken or vegetable stock, perhaps some garlic, occasionally white wine. This recipe from Off the Shelf contains chicken stock, brown sugar, and white wine vinegar. It's way too sweet and tangy, and it ends up fighting with the fennel instead of complementing it. Throwing blue cheese into the mix just adds another strong flavor to an already confusing dish.

I've reworked the recipe to try to tone down the bizarre flavor combinations. The simple braising liquid in my revision is much less fussy. I also recommend serving the dish with a milder cheese, such as fresh mozzarella, which adds a nice creaminess without being overpowering. The fennel needs to cook for quite a bit longer than Donna Hay's recipe states; 15 to 20 minutes, as opposed to the 8 minutes given in the original recipe.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Creamy Polenta with Caramelized Fennel, revised version

4 Tbsp butter
2 medium-sized fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 garlic cloves, whole
4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

2 cups water
2 cups milk
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
3 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

Place the 4 Tbsp butter in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook for about 4 minutes per side, or until well browned. Add the chicken stock, garlic cloves, and thyme. Cover and cook until the fennel is very tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove fennel to a plate and increase heat to high. Reduce the liquid in the pan to about 3/4 cup. Remove the garlic and thyme sprigs and discard. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, make the polenta: in a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the water and milk. When boiling, gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place a large dollop of polenta on each serving plate. Top with 1 oz. of cheese, then the fennel. Spoon the fennel pan juices over the top.


Creamy Polenta with Caramelised Fennel, from Off the Shelf

5 Tbsp butter
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
8 sprigs thyme
5 1/2 oz. blue cheese, sliced

2 cups water
2 cups milk
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
5 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

Place the butter in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook for 4 minutes per side, or until well browned. Add the stock, sugar, vinegar, and thyme to the pan and cover and cook for 8 minutes or until the fennel is soft and golden. Remove the fennel; bring the pan juices to a boil and reduce by half. While the sauce is simmering, make the polenta.

Bring the water and milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, place a large dollop of polenta in each serving dish. Top with a slice of blue cheese, then the fennel and the pan juices.

Off the Shelf: Food-Processor Cookies

This is a serviceable cookie dough that takes well to adaptation. I'm not sold on the food processor method, however. Is it so much easier to drag out the food processor and then fuss around with scraping out the heavy, sticky cookie dough? Not to my mind, it isn't.

Donna Hay has the cook dump all of the ingredients for the cookies into the food processor (except for the add-ins, eg chocolate chips, raisins, etc.) and process them until smooth. Then you've got to get the dough out of the machine and into a bowl, where you add oats and other chunky stuff. The dough is quite sticky, and scraping it off the blade assembly isn't the easiest task in the world. I truly don't see any advantage to making cookie dough this way. I tried the cookies a second time, making them the old-fashioned way: cream the butter and sugar, add the egg, vanilla, and milk, then stir in the dry ingredients, and finish with the chunky bits. Equipment dirtied with this method? One big bowl and a set of beaters. Equipment dirtied with the food processor method? The work bowl, blade, and lid of the food processor, plus the big bowl which you need to transfer the dough into after processing. Unless you like to get lots of kitchen equipment dirty, mix these cookies in a bowl with a handheld electric mixer.

Hay's recipe calls for oats, raisins, and chocolate chips. I've offered some other suggestions below. Just be sure that the total volume of your add-ins does not exceed 2 1/2 cups.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: about 2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup chocolate chips
Other mix-in ideas: walnuts, pecans, or almonds; dried apricots, dates, or cherries; flaked coconut; sunflower seeds; white chocolate chips or peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Bowl method: In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar. Mix with handheld electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, egg, and milk and mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add flour and baking powder and combine. Stir in oats, raisins, and chocolate chips (or other add-ins). Drop dough in 2-Tbsp heaps onto cookie sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden (you will need to make two batches, or use two cookie sheets, rotating their position in the oven halfway through baking). Cool on a rack.

Food processor method: Place butter, sugar, vanilla, egg, milk, flour, and baking powder in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Remove dough to a large bowl and stir in the oats, raisins, and chocolate chips (or other add-ins). Drop by 2-Tbsp heaps onto the cookie sheet and bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

February 01, 2006

Off the Shelf: Pasta with Pumpkin and Sage Brown Butter

The "Pasta" chapter in Off the Shelf features many fresh new renditions of old classics. This flavor combination -- sage, brown butter, and pumpkin -- is always delicious, and Hay's recipe is easy to follow and tastes fantastic.

I've made a small change to the proportions, just as a suggestion: the original recipe calls for 2 lbs of pumpkin. That was quite a lot, so if you don't want the pasta to be overpowered, reduce the amount slightly. I've also suggested that you can use butternut or acorn squash instead of pumpkin. The flavor profile of all three is very similar, and they'd all work well in this recipe. To make preparation very simple, try using prepackaged butternut squash that's already peeled and cut into chunks. Trader Joe's markets sell squash in plastic bags, and other well-stocked markets often have this product as well. You'll still need to cut the chunks into smaller dice, but not having to peel the squash is a real time saver.

For the best flavor, be sure to cook the butter until it is golden and the milk solids are little brown specks floating in the fat. This treatment of butter, known as beurre noisette, has a nutty, rich flavor. Be careful, however, since the butter can burn very quickly.

Try to find small sage leaves; they will shrink while cooking in the butter, but very large leaves (say, 2 or more inches long) will be too overpowering when you're trying to eat the dish. If you can only find large leaves, cut them in half crosswise before adding them to the butter.

Try this dish with crusty bread and a simple salad of mixed baby greens tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 1/2 to 2 lbs pumpkin, butternut, or acorn squash, peeled and diced
Olive oil
14 oz. pappardelle or fettuccine
2 1/2 oz. (5 Tbsp) butter
3 Tbsp whole sage leaves
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the pumpkin or squash in a baking dish and drizzle with about 2 Tbsp olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and soft.

When pumpkin is nearly ready, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain. While pasta is cooking, place the butter and sage in a sauté pan over low to medium heat and allow the butter to cook until it is a golden brown. Watch carefully, as it will change from golden to burned very quickly.

To serve, place the pasta in serving plates and top with the pumpkin and parmesan. Spoon the brown butter and sage leaves over the top and season with pepper and salt.

 

 

 

©2005 Colleen Flippo. All rights reserved. Contact the author.