Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Farmers Market Dinner, Part Two: Cheese Sformato with a Ragu of Spring Vegetables

A sformato is a baked custard of Italian origin that is unmolded before serving (the Italian verb sformare means “to unmold”). It is based on the classic white sauce. In French cooking it is close to a soufflé base except this is made with whole eggs. Although this sformato has cheese, many have pureed vegetables mixed into the base.
Any cheese can be used. I used a 5 year-aged "estate collection" cheddar from Sonoma Creamery that I discovered when shopping. (It is very good. It has little crystals in it that you would normally associate with good Parmesan cheese). I have made it with blue cheese, too. The blue was Valley Shepherd Creamery’s Crema de Blue, found at their stand in the Reading Terminal Market in Philly. There will be more on Valley Shepherd Creamery in the future.
You will notice a similar treatment of the vegetables as in the previous farmers market dinner recipes. With great ingredients you get out of the way and let them do all the talking; keep it simple.
The sformato recipe makes four 6-ounce servings. Leftovers are great in the center of a salad.

Cheese Sformato                                                    
Valley Shepherd Crema de Blue
For four 6-ounce servings
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups half and half or milk
salt and ground black pepper
½ cup grated cheese (sharp cheddar, fontina, etc)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 grade A large eggs

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter four 6-ounce oven-proof ramekins (or similar dishes) and set aside. Place a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and let cook for two to three minutes; do not brown. Add the half and half and whisk to incorporate. Raise the heat and whisk until the mixture thickens. After the sauce has thickened, remove it from the heat, season with salt and ground black pepper.
2. Place the egg into a bowl and whisk them together. Add some of the warm sauce into the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Pour this back into the rest of the sauce and whisk together.
3. Divide the sformato mixture between the four ramekins. Place the filled ramekins into a baking pan. Fill the pan with hot water until it reaches about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the custards have set. The custard may rise during baking, but this is alright; it will fall as it cools. Remove from oven. When cool, remove the ramekins to a plate and let cool. Set aside until needed.

Asparagus, Fiddlehead Fern, and Morel Ragu
This will work with any combination of vegetables you might have. It doesn’t have to be these particular ones.

For two serving
6 medium-thick asparagus spears
¼ pound fiddlehead ferns
1/8th to ¼ pound fresh morels, depending on how much you wish to splurge.
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
juice of ½ lemon

1. Snap or trim off the bottoms of the asparagus. Trim the bottom ends from the fiddleheads and clean them by soaking them in a bowl of cold water.
Fill a medium-sized sauté pan with ½ cup lightly salted water onto the stove over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the asparagus spears and cook the asparagus for 3 to 4, until tender; a knife point should just be able to pierce the spears. Remove from heat, drain into a colander and refresh under cold running water.
When the asparagus is cool, cut the spears into 1” pieces and transfer it to a plate.
2. Trim the ends off the ends of the morels and rinse the morels under cold water. Return the sauté pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Swirl in a little olive oil into the pan. Add the shallot and sweat the shallot for a minute or so. Add the morels; season with salt and pepper. Cook the morels until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes depending on their size. Push the morels aside, add a little more olive oil and add the garlic, cooking until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the asparagus pieces to the pan. Drain the fiddleheads and add them to the pan; season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes; the fiddleheads don’t take long to cook. Push the vegetables to the outside of the pan and add the butter. Cook the butter until it begins to brown, squeeze in the lemon juice and stir the vegetables together. Remove from heat. Taste for seasoning and correct, if necessary.
3. Unmold the sformato (sformati?) by running a knife around the outside edge of the ramekin and carefully invert it onto the center of a plate. Divide the vegetable mixture around the custards and serve.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rhubarb and Buttermilk Tart

Recently I saw a buttermilk pie being made on a television program and was reminded that buttermilk was often a base for a custard mixture. Buttermilk was on hand around a farm. Buttermilk is a by-product of making butter.  After the cream is churned and the butter is formed, the leftover liquid, the buttermilk, was left to ferment overnight and used for baking.
Today buttermilk is made by adding cultures to milk.
I thought that besides just a plain buttermilk pie or tart, why not put a layer of fruit under the custard as it bakes to complement the tangy quality of the buttermilk. And with rhubarb being the first “fruit” of the spring, I’ll begin with rhubarb. Rhubarb is not a fruit of course but a plant of which we use only the stem. Rhubarb is one of the first things to poke above the ground as the weather warms. Sour on its own, when sweetened just enough it becomes a flavorful give and take of sweet and tart.
You could use this idea as other fruit appears. For example, line the bottom of the tart with sliced ripe strawberries or blueberries.
For this year’s first tart, I have altered the basic pate sablee recipe to include brown sugar and some whole-wheat flour that adds a nice nuance of flavor to the completed tart.

Rhubarb Buttermilk Tart with Brown Sugar Sablee Crust
For one 10” tart
Pate sablee is close to cookie dough so it can be made the same way, either by hand or in a mixer. It doesn’t need to treated as carefully as standard pie crust. Any cracks can easily be patched.

Brown Sugar Sablee
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup plain cake flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder

1. Place the butter into a medium-sized bowl and beat until smooth. Add the sugar and blend until fluffy.  Mix in the egg, adding the flours, salt, and baking powder. Mix until all of the ingredients are combined. Remove dough from the bowl. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

2. When you are ready to use the dough, remove it from the refrigerator for 10 minutes to begin to soften. Working on a floured surface, cut the dough into pieces and knead together until the dough is smooth. Roll the dough out to 1/8th” thickness; use extra flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Fit the dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Remove any excess dough by cutting it off of the edge of the pan. Using a fork, lightly prick the crust on the bottom and sides. Refrigerate before using.

3. To blind bake the tart shell: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the tart shell with a piece of aluminum foil. Fill the foil with rice, dried beans, or pie weights. Place the tart shell onto a baking tray and bake the tart shell for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully remove the foil with the rice/beans or pie weights. Return the empty tart shell to the oven and bake for 5 additional minutes. Remove and let cool. Any rice or dried beans used to line the foil can be saved and reused.

Rhubarb Filling
This can be made in advance and kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator until needed.

3 cups sliced rhubarb            
¼ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons water.
1. Place the rhubarb, sugar, and water into a medium-sized saucepan. Place the pan over low heat and stir. As the rhubarb begins to cook you can increase the heat beneath the pan. Cook the rhubarb until it has broken down and is the consistency of applesauce. Remove from heat and let cool. Taste and adjust the sweetness to your liking, but it’s best if it’s sweet and tart.

Buttermilk Custard
3 eggs
2 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the eggs into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla and buttermilk and whisk until combined and smooth. When the oven is hot, place the partially baked tart shell onto a baking tray. Spread the rhubarb filling onto the shell. Pour the buttermilk custard to cover the rhubarb; you may have 2 to 3 tablespoons of leftover custard. Carefully place the tray with the tart into the oven bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the custard is set; it may wiggle slightly, but that’s fine. Remove from oven, let cool, and serve.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Farmers Market Dinner, part one: Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Asparagus, Fiddleheads, and Chanterelles

If you follow these pages at all you should be familiar with our weekly pie night ritual that follows the season of fresh fruits, resulting in a pie or tart and a recipe. This year, I decided to try to have occasional farmers market dinners with friends based around what I found at our local market.
The first dinner, held after the first market of the season, featured asparagus (from Lapinski Farm), fiddlehead ferns, morels, chanterelles (from Mainly Mushrooms0 and baby greens and strawberries (from Mickley's Orchard and Farm).
I couldn’t get everything I used from the market so there were some non-market ingredients, too.
The dinner began with a cheese sformato with a ragu of spring vegetables in lemon/brown butter sauce. A salad of early baby lettuces with strawberries and pickled chanterelles followed. Third was goat cheese gnocchi with asparagus, fiddleheads, and chanterelles. For dessert, it was first-of-the season strawberry shortcake with lavender custard.
This post will cover the gnocchi course. The sformato recipe will follow in a future post. The directions for pickling chanterelles are below. I have written about strawberry shortcake in a prior post. The only variation this year was using dark brown sugar in the shortcakes and substituting some whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose flour. The custard sauce recipe is included below.

Goat cheese gnocchi are easy to make, but you can use any gnocchi of course. You can substitute other vegetables, too. This recipe is a way to use the items I was able to find which you might come across as well.

Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Asparagus, Fiddleheads, and Chanterelles
The gnocchi recipe makes enough for four servings but I have scaled the rest of the recipe to two servings. You’ll need to clear some space in your freezer to hold the tray of completed gnocchi. Believe me, that’s as much of a battle for me, too. Any remaining gnocchi can be stored in a plastic bag in the freezer for future use.

Goat Cheese Gnocchi
Makes about 12 ounces gnocchi, enough for four servings.

8 ounces goat cheese
1 grade A large egg
salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup flour
1. Place the goat cheese into a bowl and break it up with a fork. Add the egg and using a wooden spoon, mix it into the cheese until smooth: season with a little salt and pepper. Mix in the flour one tablespoon at a time. The completed gnocchi may feel a little wet to the touch but this is fine. You will be using additional flour when you roll the dough.
2. Divide the dough into four pieces. On a floured surface, roll the dough out into a ½ “ thick rope—did you ever make snakes with Play Doh?  Same thing---Cut the dough rope into 1” pieces. At this point you can either place the gnocchi onto a parchment or wax paper lined baking tray, or you can mark them by rolling the dough off the back of a fork or use a gnocchi board, to create the traditional ridges in the gnocchi, but plain works just as well. Repeat until all of the gnocchi are made. Place the tray of gnocchi into the freezer. After they have frozen, the gnocchi can be put into a plastic bag, sealed tightly, and frozen until needed.

Asparagus, Fiddleheads and Chanterelles
For two servings
¼ pound fiddlehead ferns
4 to 6 spears asparagus, depending on thickness (about 4 ounces)
1/8th to ¼  pound chanterelle mushrooms (depending on your splurge)
1 Tablespoon chopped shallot
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1/3 cup light cream, optional
zest of ½ lemon
1 Tablespoon chopped chives

1. Break off the bottom ends of the asparagus. Trim the bottom end off the fiddleheads. Place the fiddleheads into a bowl of cold water to soak. Place a large pan filled with ½ cup lightly salted water over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus spears and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until just tender. Remove from heat and drain in a colander; cool the asparagus under cold running water.
2. Fill the pan with another ½ cup lightly salted water and return to the stove. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the fiddlehead ferns and add them to the pan. Blanch the fiddleheads for about a minute. Remove from heat and drain into a colander; cool the fiddleheads under cold running water.
3. Cut the asparagus spears into 1” pieces and set aside. Place the cooled fiddleheads onto the plate with the asparagus pieces.
4. Fill a medium-sized sauce pan  2/3rds full with water. Add some salt to the pan; cover and place the pan on the stove over high heat. This will be for cooking the gnocchi.
5. Trim the bottom ends off the chanterelles. Tear any larger ones in half. Rinse the chanterelles under cold water. Return the pan to the stove and heat over medium high heat. Swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the shallots and sweat them for 2 to 3 minutes; lower heat if necessary to prevent them from burning. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add a ladle or two of the water from the pot to the pan as the chanterelle cook to develop a broth. Add the asparagus pieces and the fiddleheads to the pan. Stir together and season with a little more salt and pepper, then add the cream, if using. Cook to begin reducing the cream about a minute or two. Remove pan from heat, cover and set aside.
5. When the water in the pot has come to a boil, add the gnocchi and gently stir. Lower the heat; the gnocchi should never boil, but simmer. Place the pan of vegetables over medium-high heat. When the gnocchi float to the surface of the pot, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them into the pan with the vegetables. Add the lemon zest and stir together. When the cream has reduced, remove from heat. Divide between two serving bowls. Garnish each bowl with some of the chives and serve.

If not using cream, which is fine, make sure to make a little extra broth in the pan using some water from the gnocchi pot.

Pickled Chanterelles
Any mushroom can be pickled, but wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles, should first be cooked. The pickling liquid can be increased to make larger batches of an type of pickled vegetable. Follow the ratio of equal parts of each ingredient.
Pickling Liquid
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

1. Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan and stir. Bring to a boil—the liquid should be clear. Remove from heat. Add any additional flavoring spices as you wish such as some pickling spice, or the spices that make up pickling spice- black peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries, bay leaves, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes. You can season the pickling liquid to your taste. They will be fine without any additional seasoning too, just not as complex in flavor.
2. Choose small-sized chanterelles. Trim off the very bottom and rinse them clean. Place a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Swirl in  1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the chanterelles to the pan and sauté until cooked, about 3 to 4 minutes depending on their size. Drain the chanterelles on paper towels and pat off excess oil.
Pour the (still hot) pickling liquid into a clean container with a lid. Add the chanterelles, cover and let sit in the refrigerator. They should be ready in a day a two. Use in salads or to accompany other food. The mushrooms should keep for several weeks refrigerated in the pickling liquid, if they don’t get eaten first.

Lavender Custard Sauce
I had dried lavender flowers on hand but you could use fresh lavender. Substitute with several stems of fresh lavender.

1 cup half and half
1 Tablespoon dried lavender flowers
3 Grade A large egg yolks
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the half and half into a small sauce pan. Place over medium heat. When the half and half is hot to the touch, remove the pot from the heat. Add the lavender, stir, and let the lavender steep for about 15 minutes.
2. While the lavender is steeping, place the eggs into a bowl. Add the sugar, honey, and vanilla and whisk to combine.
3. After the 15 minutes, strain the half and half through a fine sieve into a second bowl. Rinse the pot if any bits of lavender remain. Pour the half and half back into the pan and warm it over low heat. Whisk in several tablespoons of the warm half and half into the egg yolk mixture, then pour the egg yolk mixture back into the pan. Cook the custard over low heat, stirring continuously with a silicone spatula; be sure to also run the spatula across the bottom of the pan as it cooks. The custard is ready when it reaches a temperature of 168 degrees; any light colored foam that was on top of the custard will have disappeared and the custard should coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain the custard into a clean bowl through a fine sieve. Cover and refrigerate the custard until needed. Makes about 1 ¼  cups custard sauce.

"My mushroom guy," Chris Darrah of Mainy Mushrooms, is the source of the wild and foraged foods I use. I feel fortunate that we have someone like him at our farmer's market. Edible Philly magazine featured Chris in it's spring edition. You can find the magazine in select locations or right here on line:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ramp Chimichurri: Grilled Steak Kebobs and Avocado

Inspiration strikes in different ways.
Recently I came upon the website of Kirkland Tap and Trotter, the latest restaurant from Chef Tony Maws.  One of the restaurant’s features is a massive wood- burning grill, the centerpiece of its grill-centric menu. One menu item is a steak kebob with grilled avocado.
Hmm, grilled avocado…. 
At Kirkland Tap and Trotter they serve it with salsa verde. 
Salsa verde… green sauce…. why not chimichurri?
I had some ramps on hand and figured why not use those in chimichurri. Chimichuri is the herbal, tangy, raw sauce used with grilled food in Argentina. It is, in a way, a salsa verde, a green sauce.
Ramps, it turns out, are a good substitute for the more traditional ingredients of onion and garlic. If you don’t have access to ramps--the season is dwindling--make a chimichurri without them. There is a  recipe in the last year’s posts. The recipe makes about a cup of sauce; leftover chimichurri keeps well in the refrigerator for future use.
I found some tenderloin on sale but sirloin tip would be another option. But you are not limited to beef since chimichurri pairs well with any grilled meat or fish.

Grilled Steak Kebobs with Avocado and Ramp Chimichurri
This recipe only used the bulb and lower stem of the ramp. The green leaves can be saved and used elsewhere, in eggs or pasta for example.
For two servings:
8 to 10 ounces steak
2  ripe avocados*
1 small bunch ramps, about 2-2 ½ ounces
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
juice of ½  lemon
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, up to a cup.

1. Chop the ramps into small pieces; there will be about 1/3 cup. Place the ramps into a bowl along with the parsley and cilantro. Whisk in about ¾ to 1 cup olive oil. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Mix to combine.
2. Cut the steak into 1 ½ to 2” cubes and slide the steak onto skewers; season with salt and ground black pepper. Peel and seed the avocados. Cut each avocado half in half again. Place the avocado quarters onto a plate. Drizzle with some olive oil and season with some salt and ground black pepper.
3. Grill the kebobs to your preferred degree of doneness. Remove from heat and set aside. Place the avocados on their side and grill until charred with grill marks. Turn the avocados onto their other side and grill until charred with grill marks. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Spread some of the chimichurri onto each plate and top with a kebob. Place the avocado slices onto the plate, drizzle with some of the chimichurri and serve.

* How do you tell when an avocado is ripe? Certainly not just by the fact that it has "ripe" sticker stuck  onto it. A ripe avocado will give slightly to the touch when pressed. Too much give and it's overripe. Unless you have a source where you can find a supply of ripe avocados when you need them, you'll have to buy some, leave them out, and wait for the avocado to be ready for you.