Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Signs of spring - RICOTTA CHIVE PIE

Yes, the chives are up! So I did what any fanatic kitchen gardener would do – I snipped them off and ate them. Not right then and there in the garden, but later that day, baked into a Ricotta Pie. I also included a few little thyme leaves from the garden, some rosemary from a plant on my kitchen table and some store-bought parsley.

RICOTTA CHIVE PIE
3 tbsp. breadcrumbs
butter for greasing pie plate
4 eggs, room temp.
1/4 cup flour
1 tbsp. fresh chives and other herbs
1/2 tsp. salt and a dashe of pepper
2 cups ricotta cheese
3 slices of crispy-cooked bacon

Oven 400 F. Grease a deep pie plate with butter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs to coat the surface. Shake out excess crumbs. Separate the eggs, beating the yolks lightly with the flour, salt, pepper and herbs. Stir in the ricotta cheese and the bacon. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the ricotta mixture until it is loosely mixed. If it’s too stiff to mix, add a bit of cream or milk. Spread into the pie plate, smoothing the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a brown crust has formed and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Newspaper Column - MILANESE TOURTE

Publsihed in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 20 March 2007.

By recent misfortune I discovered a new take on the saying "don’t put all your eggs in one basket." Don’t bake a three-course meal in one oven. Should that oven suddenly conk out, as mine did, you will be stuck with a kitchen full of wonderful uncooked food just as guests are arriving for dinner.

My oven was very sneaky in this matter. While the top element was functioning well, the lower element had taken a hiatus. As a result, the oven got hot, but it only cooked from the top down.
I discovered this while baking baguettes, that long French bread that was to form the appetizer of our meal. That was to be followed by a sumptuous layered dish called a Milanese Tourte and, for dessert, a confection of cake, jam and meringue. All of it cooked in the oven.

I suppose I could have cancelled dinner, but that would be admitting defeat. So, after bawling on my husband’s shoulder, we decided to rise to the challenge of planning and prepping a completely new menu in little more than an hour. This was complicated by the fact that it had to be a Saskatchewan meal – just about all of it, with a few exceptions, had to be local food. Why? I am a big fan of the wonderful foods produced in Saskatchewan, so that is what I like to serve for dinner at my house.

Our guests that evening, Lisa and Ralph, are just as interested in local food. To serve anything else would feel worse than defeat; it would be a betrayal of that local food ethic. As our guests walked in the door, my husband was in the kitchen calmly rolling ravioli. I made the pasta dough with farm eggs and he made the filling of ground pork and lamb (from the freezer) and dried herbs. A tomato sauce was simmering on the stove (made last summer with our garden tomatoes). Instead of fresh bread, I revived a two-day-old loaf by toasting it with olive oil and turning it into Italian bruschetta. For dessert, I opened a jar of local pears I picked and canned last fall.

As for the Milanese Tourte, it is now tucked into the freezer for another meal. As for the oven, it has worked perfectly ever since. The Milanese Tourte is a good dish for company because it can be made ahead of time and baked before they arrive (if the oven co-operates). I adapted this recipe from the cookbook Baking with Julia, where the instructions take no less than three pages!

Milanese Tourte
Eggs:
10 big farm eggs
2 tbsp mixed fresh herbs such as chives, parsley, oregano, tarragon
(or 1 tbsp dried herbs)

Scramble the eggs slowly with the herbs until they begin to set but are still quite runny. Salt and pepper to taste. Scoop into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool.

Spinach:
1 tbsp each butter and olive oil
1.5 lbs fresh spinach or 1.5 pkgs frozen
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash of nutmeg

Blanch fresh spinach or thaw frozen spinach. Squeeze out excess moisture. Heat oil and butter in skillet. Sauté garlic. Add spinach, season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and cook 5 minutes. Cool.
Other layers:
3-4 roasted red peppers, in strips
8 large thin slices of ham
8 large thin slices of Italian cheese, such as Asiago
1 pkg puff pastry

Butter a deep pie plate. Roll out half the pastry and place it in the dish. Spread the pastry with half the eggs. Cover with half the spinach, then half the ham, half the cheese and the roasted peppers. In reverse order, add the rest of the cheese, ham, spinach and finally the eggs. Roll the rest of the pastry and place on top. Crimp and seal the edges, and cut an air vent. Refrigerate for 30 min. Bake at 350F for about one hour, until the crust is nicely brown. Best served warm (not hot) or at room temperature.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Young spring lamb - MOUSSAKA

We bought half a lamb from a local farmer, which I picked up yesterday, and made this moussaka for supper tonight. Moussaka is a Greek tradition and I imagine there are as many recipes as there are cooks. This recipe is adapted from the Foods of the World: Middle Eastern Cooking (published by Time Life in 1969).

3 medium-sized eggplants (about 3 pounds in total) peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices. (If the eggplant is young and fresh, you don’t need to peel it.)
Salt
1 cup flour
1-2 cups olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 lb lean ground lamb
1 small can of tomatoes (or 1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped)
1 small can tomato paste
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt and some fresh pepper
6 tbsp Parmesan cheese
Besamel Sauce (see below)

Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and lay the slices side by side on paper towels. Weigh them down with a platter or casserole. After 20-30 minutes, wipe the moisture off the eggplant with a paper towel.

In a wide skillet, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil on fairly high heat until it shimmers. Dip the eggplant slices into the flour, shake off the excess and, a few slices at a time, cook in the hot oil, a minute or two on each side. Transfer to paper towels. Add more oil to the skillet as needed.

When the eggplant is cooked, add another 1/2 cup olive oil to the skillet and fry the onions until they are soft and coloured. Stir in the lamb, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Add everything else except the cheese, cooking briskly until the moisture is gone and the mixture is thick. Taste it for seasoning and adjust to your taste.

Saltsa Besamel
2 cups milk
1 tbsp butter
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
dash of nutmeg

In a saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups milk with the butter until little bubbles form. Remove from heat. In another saucepan, beat the eggs with 1/2 cup milk, flour, salt and nutmeg until smooth. Place this saucepan over medium heat and, stirring constantly, slowly pour in the warm milk. Cook, stirring, until the sauce come to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat.

Set oven to 325F. In a broad casserole dish, layer half the eggplant. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp of cheese. Spoon in all the lamb. Arrange the rest of the eggplant on top. Sprinkle on 2 tbsp of cheese. Pour on the besamel, smooth the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes. Raise the heat to 400 F and bake 15 minutes, until the besamel is toasty brown. Let the moussaka rest at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Post vacation blues - MUSHROOM AND LENTIL SOUP

Everyone from Saskatchewan who goes on a warm vacation in March is hoping to return home to spring. Ha! On the last day of our vacation, we awoke to soft breezes and palm trees and landed home in a complete whiteout. How depressing.

We had very little food in the fridge, but darned if I was venturing back out in that cold. However, I had picked up a stray copy of the Ottawa Citizen in the Vancouver airport and found this recipe for a curried soup. It was the perfect antidote to a wintery day in March. It’s chock full of Saskatchewan ingredients and, with slight modifications, I had everything on hand.

CURRIED MUSHROOM LENTIL SOUP
While the recipe calls for fresh mushrooms, I used chanterelles from La Ronge that I sautéed in butter and froze last summer.

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ginger root, minced
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 cup lentils
1 cup pearl barley
8 cups chicken broth

Heat the oil in a large pot. Sauté the onions, garlic and ginger until soft. Add the mushrooms, curry powder and thyme. When the mushrooms are wilted, stir in the lentils and barley, coating them well with the onions and spices, and cook until all the moisture is gone. Add the chicken stock (or water). Simmer until the grains are cooked, about an hour, adding more liquid if the soup gets too thick. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Serving option: sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.