Monday, January 28, 2008

Recipe: Pork and Chickpea Stew (Χοιρινό με Ρεβίθια)

Viewed from mountaintop pastures, the sun sparkles off achingly blue Aegean waters. Boats travel lazily in and out of the island’s many natural harbors. Hulking shapes of nearby islands grace the horizon.

In spring, wild plants, both edible and inedible, paint the pastures green, briefly disguising rocky earth and thin soil. Bursts of color from showy displays of wild flowers punctuate the bright green vistas. A small valley divides the pastures. Topsoil, deposited over the centuries, supports the valley’s lush plant communities.

By August, the hillsides are painted again, but this time in shades of gold and ochre and rust. The plants, once so green and inviting, are sharp and prickly, attacking the legs of those who venture to cross the land. Rocks are everywhere. Small lizards dart to and fro, hunting for food on the parched hillsides.

Uncle Dimitris used to grow chickpeas in the valley, the only place on the rocky mountaintop capable of sustaining a cultivated crop. He reached the remote area by donkey, and tilled the hard soil by hand. He let the chickpeas dry on the vine, then brought them down to the village for Aunt Stavroula to clean and cook.

During years of poverty, through occupations, wars, inflation, and unemployment, garbanzo beans were an important winter food on the island. They are rich in protein and nutrients, and were particularly valued on the many fasting days that fill the Greek Orthodox calendar.

In this recipe, chickpeas are paired with pork to produce a flavorful and filling winter stew. I’ve made the stew with only chickpeas, leaving out the pork, and it is very tasty - though not as appealing for meat-eaters. When it’s just the two of us, my husband’s serving is heavy on the meat, and my serving is heavy on the chickpeas, a state of affairs that pleases us both.

Pork and Chickpea Stew (Χοιρινό με Ρεβίθια)
Serves 4 – 6

When made with canned chickpeas and tomatoes, both of which work well in this dish, the stew is particularly easy to make. I like the extra flavor boost from oil-cured olives, but the stew is wonderful without them.

1 1/2 pounds pork steak (bone-in) or 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 1/2 cups diced yellow onions (1/2” dice)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups cooked chickpeas (2 14.5 ounce cans)
2 cups (1 14.5 ounce can) diced tomatoes
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. minced fresh sage
1/3 cup chopped oil-cured or salt-cured black olives (optional)

Wash and dry the pork well. Cut into 1” cubes, reserving any bones. Season the pork and bones with salt and freshly ground black pepper and, in a large pot, brown on all sides in olive oil. Stir in the onions, lightly season again with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions begin to turn golden. Add the garlic and dried thyme and cook for 1 minute.

Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until the wine is reduced by half. Stir in the chickpeas, diced and crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for 45 – 60 minutes, or until the pork is tender.

Remove the cover, stir in the sage and black olives, and bring to a medium boil. Cook the stew, stirring as necessary to prevent it from sticking to the pan, until the liquid is the consistency you desire, about 10 – 15 minutes.

Serve with feta cheese, crusty bread, and a crisp green salad.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Claudia from Fool for Food.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Recipe: Pork and Sage Bites (Χοιρινό και Φασκόμηλο Μεζές)

“We’re having pork for dinner,” I announced last week. “Do you want it with sage or rosemary?”

The answer was sage. It continues to thrive in our bedroom herb garden, and needed a haircut, so I was happy to pair it with the pork.

I didn’t have a plan for what to make, but wanted something with simple flavors that could be put together at the last minute. Since it’s January, and we’re still not shopping, whatever I made had to use on-hand ingredients.

For years, one of our favorite treats has been a sauceless version of saltimbocca (an Italian dish whose name means “jumps in the mouth”). My saltimbocca is made with chicken pounded thin and layered with prosciutto and sage.

I decided to make something similar with the pork. We’re out of prosciutto, but pork is flavorful meat and doesn’t need the flavor boost prosciutto gives chicken.

Thinly pounded pork, browned quickly in butter and liberally seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, pairs beautifully with fresh sage leaves. Like its Italian cousin, the Pork and Sage Bites jumped in our mouths as fast as we could open them.

Although we ate the Pork and Sage Bites for dinner, they make an easy and flavorful appetizer. For those who enjoy ouzo, Pork and Sage Bites would be a tasty accompaniment.

Pork and Sage BitesPork and Sage Bites (Χοιρινό και Φασκόμηλο Μεζές)
Makes about 60 pieces
Pork and Sage Bites can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. They cook very quickly and make a wonderful hot appetizer or main course. I recently served them to complement Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries. The leftovers, and there were plenty since only two of us were eating, disappeared in less than a day.

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh sage
2 – 4 Tbsp. butter

Pounded PorkWash and dry the pork. Slice the tenderloin at an angle into 1/2” thick medallions. Place the medallions between two sheets of plastic wrap. Working from the center to the edges, lightly pound the medallions with the flat side of a meat pounder until they are 1/8” thick.

Making Pork and Sage BitesCut the thinly pounded pork into 2” – 3” pieces (it doesn’t matter if they are slightly larger or smaller than this). Salt the pork and season it with plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Place one fresh sage leaf, attractive side up, on top of each pork piece. Secure the sage leaf to the pork with a wooden toothpick.

Preheat a heavy plate (this is easiest to do by putting the clean dry plate in a microwave on high for 60 – 90 seconds).

Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a frying pan until it is hot, but not brown or smoking. Add as many pork pieces to the pan, sage leaf side up, as will fit comfortably; do not crowd them or the pork will steam rather than brown. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes, or until the meat starts to brown. Turn over and cook for 1 – 2 minutes more. Place cooked Pork Bites on the preheated plate. Cook the remainder of the Pork Bites, adding butter to the pan as necessary.

Serve immediately.
This is my entry to the "Grow Your Own" event hosted by Andrea's Recipes.
For Jack, who wants to know five odd, random, or weird things about me:
I didn’t eat a raw tomato until I was 24.
The first sentence I learned in Greek was, “I’m sorry, I can’t eat anymore.”
I watched Eskimo villagers pull a beluga whale to shore and ate fresh muktuk.
I’ve only been to McDonalds one time and that was in Bed-Stuy.
I like emptying mini-bars and filling them with cheese.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Rant and A (Good) Recipe: Algerian Flatbread - Msemmen [Αλγερινή Πίτα (Ψωμί)]

Farid Zadi's Algerian Flatbread has wonderful flavor rolled into its many layers. Two days ago, it was a terrific accompaniment to Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup with Mint and Lemon.

The Flatbread’s recipe was in the February 2008 Gourmet magazine. The article with the Flatbread had six other delicious-sounding Zadi recipes, including Shrimp Chermoula and Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Spiced Pine Nuts.

Though I enjoyed the article and the Flatbread, I have a bone to pick with Gourmet.

The morning I planned to make the flatbread, I read a New York Times article in which a Gourmet food editor discussed how the magazine tests recipes. She said Gourmet “has 8 test kitchens and 11 food editors. Even if we think a recipe is right the first time, we cross-test it. It’s likely to go through a bare minimum of four iterations, really refining it, before it’s written up and passed along to the cross-tester. Then everyone gathers around for the discussions. Is it right? Could it be better?”

Based on Gourmet’s elaborate testing procedures, the editor said it “made her a bit sad” when people make changes to Gourmet’s recipes “considering how much work went into the original.”

I noted the editor’s arrogance in passing. Cooking well is never about slavishly following a recipe. It’s about pleasing your guests and yourself. It’s about tasting recipes as you make them and refining as necessary or desired. If I prefer lemons to oranges, there’s nothing “sad” about turning an orange cake into a lemon cake.

Beyond using alternate ingredients, some days the lemons I buy are slightly sweet, other days they are extremely sour. Blindly using the same amount of lemon juice each time I cook a dish, just because a particular amount is dictated in a recipe, doesn’t work if the flavor of lemons varies (which it does). If I defer to a recipe instead of my taste buds, the food coming out of my kitchen will never be at its best.

As you might guess, when I finished the New York Times article and started making Algerian Flatbread, I was already muttering about Gourmet. The muttering tuned into ranting when I tried to follow Gourmet’s preposterous directions for Algerian Flatbread.

According to Gourmet’s Flatbread recipe, you make the dough, let it rest, and divide it into 12 balls. You make spiced oil to rub on the dough. So far, the instructions are fine.

But then the recipe takes a sharp turn into a world where chefs have assistants and unlimited time to prepare food. For busy home cooks working alone, Gourmet’s procedure is cumbersome and unnecessarily time-intensive.

Gourmet instructs you to roll out one of the 12 dough balls, “spread 1 tsp. spiced oil on dough with your fingertips,” and shape the dough into a coil. Then Gourmet wants you to pick up another dough ball and repeat the procedure until all balls are rolled, oiled, and shaped.

Huh?? I’m supposed to get my fingers oily and then go back to messing with flour and rolling out dough? And I’m supposed to do this 12 times? Making the mess that would result from following Gourmet’s directions isn’t for me. There’s no need to deal with the hassle of oily fingers; it’s quicker and easier to apply oil with a pastry brush.

It’s also faster and easier to roll out all the dough balls at once, then brush them all with oil, and then shape the breads. It’s called an assembly line; Henry Ford invented it almost 100 years ago.

Rolling Algerian FlatbreadThe recipe has a similar flaw when it comes to the second time you roll out the dough. Gourmet tells you to roll a flatbread, cook it, roll the next flatbread, cook it - 12 separate times. Fully cooking one bread before rolling the next virtually doubles the time it takes to make the flatbreads. It’s far easier to roll them all out at one time and cook them one after the other as fast as you can.

Which brings me back to why I was ranting. If the Algerian Flatbread recipe really went through as many “iterations” as the Gourmet editor described, why didn’t one of the “iterators” identify the technique as unnecessarily cumbersome?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll make Farid Zadi’s Algerian Flatbreads again, no doubt more than once; they’re very tasty. But I’ll do it using the instructions set out below, and not those in Gourmet's recipe.

Algerian FlatbreadAlgerian Flatbread - Msemmen [Αλγερινή Πίτα (Ψωμί)]
Makes 12 Flatbreads
Adapted from Farid Zadi in February 2008 Gourmet Magazine
Algerian Flatbreads are made with whole wheat flour and seasoned with spicy oil to create layers of good flavor. Be sure to cook them on medium heat; if the burner is set too high, spots on the flatbreads will burn before the dough is cooked though. Because flatbreads are best when finished just before serving, I didn’t cook them all at one time. I rolled out all the spirals and separated them with pieces of wax paper. I wrapped the portion of the stack I didn't plan to cook in plastic wrap and refrigerated it. Today, I brought the uncooked flatbreads to room temperature and cooked them just before dinner. They tasted just as good as the first night. If you have leftover cooked flatbread, wrap it in foil, store at room temperature, and reheat (still wrapped in foil) in a 350°F oven.

3 cups finely ground whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups water

1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

Make the dough: Put the flour, salt, and olive oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment (or by hand), mix the ingredients. Slowly stir in 1 cup of water, and then add more water as necessary to form a soft dough. Change to the dough hook and knead, dusting the sides of the bowl with just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes (you can also knead by hand). Remove the dough from the bowl and liberally oil its sides. Shape the dough into a ball, return it to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest in a warm place for 1 hour.

Make the topping: Stir together the olive oil, cumin, paprika, and turmeric (if using) in a small bowl.

Shape the flatbreads: Cut 12 10"-wide pieces of wax or parchment paper. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and, keeping the remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap, flatten 1 piece of dough into a disk. On a lightly floured surface, and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the disk into a 9-inch round. Put the round on a plate and cover with wax paper. Continuing rolling the dough pieces until all are stacked on the plate, divided by pieces of wax paper.

If you have a large counter, spread out all the dough rounds; if not, oil and shape them in batches. Using a small pastry brush, lightly brush the entire surface of each round with spiced oil and roll it into a long, narrow cigar-shaped cylinder. Coil each cylinder into a tight spiral. Place the spirals on a plate and loosely cover with plastic wrap.

Finish and cook flatbreads: On a lightly floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll out the spirals into 6” rounds and stack up, separated by wax paper. Heat a dry large cast-iron frying pan over medium heat until hot, then cook the flatbreads, turning once, until they are puffed and browned in spots, 3 to 4 minutes total. As each flatbread is done, put it on plate and cover with a dish towel.

When all the flatbreads are cooked, serve them with your main course, along with olives and feta cheese.
This is my entry for Bread Baking Day #6: Shaped Breads hosted this month by Eva of Sweet Sins.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Recipe: Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup with Mint and Lemon - Ezo Gelin Çorbasi (Σούπα της Νύφη Έζο)

Ezo, good natured and beautiful, married badly - twice. Her life was so tragic, it became a legend.

Ezo was born in 1909 in the village of Dokuzyol in southeastern Anatolia, now Turkey. The house where Ezo lived was on an ancient caravan route.

Ezo’s family stored their water in a large jug outside the front door. When dry and dusty travelers wanted a drink, Ezo graciously served them.

Tales of Ezo’s beauty spread along the caravan route. Soon, camel drivers were stopping by Ezo’s house to see her lovely face and spend time in her company. This happy time came to an end when she was 20. Her family arranged Ezo’s marriage to a man who was in love with someone else.

After the wedding, Ezo’s husband ignored her and left her alone while he trailed after the woman he truly loved. For Ezo, who was used to being cherished, this was intolerable. After a year, she returned to her family and divorced her husband.

Ezo remained single for six years, at which time her family arranged a second marriage to a cousin who lived across the border in Syria. Though Ezo had six daughters in Syria, she remained homesick for her family and village. Adding to Ezo’s misery was a mother-in-law who couldn’t be pleased.

Ezo died at 46. She was buried, at her request, on a hill looking north to the Turkish village she missed so badly. After a bureaucratic battle between Turkey and Syria,Ezo's remains were removed from her Syrian grave in 1999, and she was reburied in her home village of Dokuzyol.

Ezo’s tragic life has been popularized in Turkey through song, film, and television. Though her life was spent in hardship, Ezo became the emblem of traditional values: love, honor, pride, beauty, longing for homeland, and patience.

Cementing Ezo’s role in Turkish culture is a soup named for her: Ezo Gelin Çorbasi (The Bride Ezo’s Soup). Some say Ezo created the soup to placate her miserable mother-in-law, successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on who’s telling the story.

Others say the soup is named for Ezo because, like the soup, her example strengthens women for the many challenges of married life. In Turkey, women eat Ezo Gelin Soup right before their wedding.

Ezo Gelin's SoupRed Lentil and Bulgur Soup with Mint and Lemon - Ezo Gelin Çorbasi (Σούπα της Νύφη Έζο)
Serves 4 - 6

This mildly spicy soup is quick and easy, yet packed with flavor and very filling. Savory pepper and mint oil is drizzled over the soup just before serving, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice adds a refreshing tang. In Turkey, Ezo Gelin Soup is sold in most kebab houses, eaten for breakfast, and used to cure hangovers. It is low in fat, full of legumes and grains, and very heart-healthy. Aside from all that, it tastes delicious. I served this with Algerian Flatbread.

1 cup red lentils
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced onion, 1/8” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1 Tbsp. hot paprika
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup bulgur
6 – 8 cups beef or vegetable stock

1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. dried mint
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper (optional)
Lemon wedges

Make the soup: Spread out the lentils on a tray and pick through them to remove any little stones, clumps of dirt, and chaff. Rinse and drain the lentils.

Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until it softens and starts to turn golden. Add the garlic, Aleppo pepper, and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the lentils, bulgur, and 6 cups of stock, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils and bulgur are tender and the soup has a creamy consistency.

If you prefer your soup smooth, puree it with a stick blender. If the soup is too thick, add all or some of the remaining stock. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
Make the topping: Warm the olive oil in a small pan; don’t get it too hot or it will burn the mint. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the mint and Aleppo pepper.

Serve the soup with the topping drizzled over it and lemon wedges on the side.

The is my entry for Heart of the Matter: Soup hosted by Joanna's Food.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recipe: Gravlax

Gravlax, salmon cured in sugar and salt until it is silky smooth, is expensive to buy, but easy to make. Once the fish is filleted, it takes about 10 minutes to put the gravlax together. Two or three days later, you'll have perfectly cured fish.

I make gravlax from sea-caught wild Alaska salmon, the best tasting salmon I’ve ever had. Its great taste reflects the salmon’s varied diet and the clean environment in which it grows to maturity.

Wild Alaska salmon is on the Top 10 list of “Eco-best” fish to eat because it comes from healthy, well-managed fish populations and is caught with low-impact fishing gear. In contrast, farmed salmon is on the Top 10 list of “Eco-worst” fish due to the impact of salmon farms on the environment and the elevated levels of PCBs in the fish.

We live within driving distance of the sea waters where wild Alaska salmon congregate. By the end of summer, our freezer contains a year’s supply of fish caught by my husband and his friends. I’ve previously described how we freeze salmon and how best to thaw it.

Makes two sides of gravlax
This recipe makes enough curing mix for two 2 – 3 pound sides of filleted salmon. You can easily make the recipe with a 1 – 2 pound salmon fillet: cut the curing mix in half and the curing time to 24 to 36 hours. Once cured, gravlax should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. I crack the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle, but you can also do it by whacking the peppercorns with a meat mallet.


 Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has moved as of March 2011. To read this post please go to

Please click on over and visit my new site. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Recipes: Roasted Beet and Thyme Risotto & Halibut Confit with Lemons and Capers (Παντζάρια Ριζότο με Θυμάρι & Ψάρια Κονφί με Λεμόνι και Κάπαρης)

A couple days ago I read a recipe for beet gnocchi that caught my imagination. That night, I had yet another bout of insomnia. Instead of sleeping I thought about beets and gnocchi, and beets and pasta, and beets and rice.

Beets and rice: why not beet risotto? Once I thought of it, I could almost taste the earthy sweetness of beets in a creamy risotto, laced generously with Parmesan cheese and fresh thyme. I had to make it.

Luckily, there were beets in my last Full Circle Farm CSA box. I had previously roasted the beets to concentrate their flavor, which simplified the task of making beet risotto.

I paired the risotto with Pacific halibut poached in olive oil, known around my house as Halibut Confit. The recipe originally came from Gourmet Magazine; I remember Ruth Reichl writing it was one of her much-loved dishes. It is definitely my favorite way to cook halibut that’s been frozen.

Even when fresh, halibut can be dry; freezing makes this problem worse. However, when previously frozen halibut is cooked while submerged in olive oil, it stays moist - so long as you don't overcook it. This is because its juices can’t evaporate into the air, and stay in the fish under the protective coating of olive oil. Although the recipe uses a lot of olive oil, the fish doesn’t absorb the oil, and is not at all oily.

To avoid waste, I always strain the lemony oil and reuse it. Surprisingly, the oil doesn’t take up the flavor of the fish. The flavored oil makes wonderful salad dressing, and can be used in any dish that benefits from lemon.

Beet Risotto and Halibut ConfitTo serve, I spread the beet risotto on plates, and topped each serving with a chunk of tender halibut. I spooned capers and parsley over the fish, and garnished the plates with the oil-poached lemon slices that cooked with the fish.

The result was better than I imagined. Every bite contained flavor bursts that excited my taste buds. The capers were so good with the beet risotto I returned to the kitchen and spooned extra capers and parsley out of the olive oil.

The dishes pair amazingly well; each compliments and improves the other. However, the two don’t need to be served together to taste wonderful.

Roasted Beet and Thyme Risotto would be good served with a salad for a light supper, or as an accompaniment to chicken or turkey. Halibut Confit is an excellent way to cook halibut, no matter what side dishes are served with it. It’s been on my permanent recipe rotation since it first appeared in Gourmet, seven years ago.

Beet RisottoRoasted Beet and Thyme Risotto (Παντζάρια Ριζότο με Θυμάρι)
Serves 6
Fresh thyme is an integral part of this dish, and is worth seeking out.

7 – 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups diced onion, 1/4” dice
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups roasted and grated beets (2 medium beets) (see Note below)
1/4 cup minced fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring the stock to a simmer, or heat it in the microwave until it is warm.

Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until it softens and begins to turn golden. Stir in the rice so it is completely coated with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, and stir until it is almost absorbed. Stir in the grated beets.

Add 1/2 cup of stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock is almost absorbed. Keep adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until each addition of stock is almost absorbed. When the rice is half done, stir in the thyme. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point, and finished right before serving. If you are going to make it ahead, after you take the rice off the burner, stir it until it cools down.)

Continue adding stock and stirring until the rice is tender, but still firm in the center (this takes 18 – 22 minutes). There may be stock left over. Stir in the cheese. Add stock until the risotto is the consistency you desire; it should be moist and creamy, not dry. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

NOTE on Roasting Beets: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the beets, cut off the greens leaving an inch of stem (don't cut into the beet itself), rub the beets with olive oil, and wrap tightly in a foil packet (or place in a tightly covered baking dish). Bake for 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the beets and how fresh they are. The beets are done when they're tender if poked with a knife or skewer. Let the beets cool, and slip off their skins (I wear gloves when I do this to protect my hands from staining). (These can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about a week.)

Halibut Confit with Lemons and Capers (Ψάρια Κονφί με Λεμόνι και Κάπαρης)
Serves 4 - 6

Adapted from March 2000 Gourmet magazine
Because it is cooked at such a low temperature, the olive oil can be reused. It picks up the flavor of lemons, but not of fish.

2 pounds halibut fillets, skinned
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup capers, 1/4 c. roughly chopped and 1/4 c. left whole
1/2 cup minced parsley
2-3 lemons, sliced 1/8” thick
1 1/2 – 2 1/2 cups olive oil

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Wash and dry the halibut. Season it on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using a glass baking dish just large enough to hold the halibut, line the bottom with lemon slices. Put the fish on top of the lemon slices. Mix the capers and parsley together, and spread evenly on top of the halibut. Cover the fish and herbs with a layer of lemon slices. Pour enough olive oil over to completely cover everything.

Bake for 45 to 70 minutes depending on the thickness of the halibut fillets. After 45 minutes, remove the pan of fish from the oven, carefully lift up a few lemons, and test for doneness. The fish will flake easily if it is done. If the fish isn’t done, return it to the oven. Halibut is dry when overcooked, so be careful not to leave it in the oven for too long. Remember the oil is hot and cools down slowly, so the fish will continue to cook if you leave it in the oil, even after the pan is taken out of the oven.

Serve the halibut with some of the capers and parsley in oil spooned over the top and slices of the lemon that cooked with the fish on the side.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Anna from Anna's Cool Finds.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Recipe: Gigantes in Savory Tomato Sauce (Γίγαντες Πλακί)

Birds singing, doves cooing, roosters crowing, engines revving, women chattering: the morning sounds of a Greek village.

When we’re in Greece, I treasure my last few minutes in bed listening to the village come alive. I force myself to get up just before the vendors start hawking their wares.

“Potatoes, onions! Good for storing.” The cries echo off stone-walled houses that line the narrow village streets. “Sardines, bream, octopus, squid. Very fresh fish!” When the fish man comes, I often grab money and run to catch him; the seafood comes from the surrounding Aegean Sea and is impeccably fresh.


Gigantes PlakiGigantes in Savory Tomato Sauce (Γίγαντες Πλακί)
Serves 6 - 8
Gigantes are meaty, and have crisp skin and velvety flesh. To reconstitute them properly, gigantes must be soaked overnight, then boiled until tender, and finally baked in a sauce. If you skip any of these steps, gigantes don’t cook evenly, and can be mealy. Adjust the amount of Aleppo or crushed red pepper to suit your taste for spicy food. 

Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has moved as of March 2011. To read this post please go to

Please click on over and visit my new site. Thank you!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Recipe: Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries – Chou Rouge Forestière (Λάχανο Κόκκινο με Μανιτάρια και βακκίνιο το Μύρτιλλο)

“Sing,” she said. “It will improve your cooking.” Josephine Araldo

Josephine Araldo inspired a generation of cooks. She was a legend: an elf-like woman who spoke rapid-fire English with a French accent.

Araldo was born in Brittany in 1896. She went to Paris in the early 1920s and was one of the first women to graduate from Cordon Bleu. In 1924, she moved to San Francisco as a cook for a wealthy family and stayed there the rest of her long life.

After World War II, Araldo retired as a cook and began teaching her skills to others. Marion Cunningham (of Fannie Farmer fame) and Alice Waters both studied under Araldo. Fran Bigelow, who started Fran’s Chocolates and popularized grey salt caramels in the US, was also a student of Araldo.

Chef Robert Reynolds, now of Trou Food, started as one of Araldo’s students, but later became a close friend. Reynolds collaborated with Araldo in writing From a Breton Garden: The Vegetable Cookery of Josephine Araldo.

From a Breton Garden is a brilliant book. Araldo taught that “vegetables are the jewel in the crown; they make the plate” and her book reflects that philosophy on every page.

The recipes use common, everyday vegetables. The most exotic is artichokes, a favorite of Araldo’s judging from the thirty-one artichoke recipes in the book. Some recipes in From a Breton Garden are traditional and others creative, but all are delicious. I’ve owned the book for 17 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed every recipe I’ve made from it.

From a Breton Garden was published in 1990, one year after Araldo’s death. The biographical information in it gives readers a glimpse into her interesting life, and leaves one wanting to know more about Araldo. Reynolds is now discussing an Araldo biography with her grandson; I’m looking forward to reading it.

The book opens with country recipes from Brittany, where Josephine was born and raised. The Paris chapter reflects the classical cuisine that Araldo learned in cooking school. The San Francisco section is filled with Reynolds’ recipes, which demonstrate the sensibilities he learned from Araldo as she passed her knowledge on to the next generation.

La Mère Jacquette was Josephine Araldo’s grandmother. According to Reynolds, La Mère Jacquette learned to cook before Napoleon III came to power. Her cuisine, as passed down through Araldo to us via From a Breton Garden, includes many unusual recipes combining fruits and vegetables.

One of my favorite recipes in the book came from La Mère Jacquette: Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries. The cabbage is braised in red wine and onions, and then tossed with perfectly cooked mushrooms and fresh blueberries.

In Alaska, this dish is a natural; when it’s time to harvest red cabbage, our woods are filled with wild mushrooms and the blueberries are ready to pick. It’s best made with fresh wild Boletus edulis (aka porcini or cèpes) and wild blueberries, but it still tastes great when made with supermarket ingredients.

Last night I used red cabbage and mushrooms from my Full Circle Farm CSA box with supermarket blueberries. Even my husband, who is dubious on the subject of cooked cabbage, agreed it was wonderful.

Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries – Chou Rouge Forestière (Λάχανο Κόκκινο με Μανιτάρια και βακκίνιο το Μύρτιλλο)
Serves 4 - 6

Adapted from From a Breton Garden: The Vegetable Cookery of Josephine Araldo by Josephine Araldo and Robert Reynolds
I’ve always made this recipe with blueberries, but Araldo says La Mère Jacquette would have used whatever berries she found in the woods. Araldo emphasizes that tossing the mushrooms with garlic and parsley is essential: “without these elements, ‘Cela na vaut pas le pet de lapin’ (it’s not worth the fart of a rabbit).” Araldo recommends using bacon fat to flavor the onions and cabbage; I substitute olive oil without a problem. I’ve served Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries as an accompaniment to pork, roast chicken, grilled lamb, and sausages, and enjoyed it every time.

2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil (or bacon fat)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (6 cups) thinly sliced red cabbage (1/2 a medium head)
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 cup fresh blueberries

Sauté the onions in 2 Tbsp. butter and the olive oil (or bacon fat), lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until the onions are golden. Stir in the cabbage and red wine, lightly season again with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to evenly distribute the ingredients. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cabbage is tender.

While the cabbage is cooking, sauté the mushrooms, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 2 Tbsp. butter in a hot pan. Cook the mushrooms in 2 batches to ensure they brown nicely and retain their liquid (if you put too many mushrooms in the pan at one time, they release their juices and stew rather than brown). When the mushrooms are done, toss them with garlic and parsley.

When the cabbage is done to your liking, stir in the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the blueberries. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Serve.
This is my entry for Weekend Cookbook Challenge – Veggin’ Out hosted by Sara of I Like to Cook. Red Cabbage with Mushrooms and Blueberries is full of antioxidants, so I am also sending it to Sweetnicks for Antioxidant Rich Foods/5-a-Day Tuesdays.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recipe: Pear and Almond Tart (Τάρτα Αμύγδαλο και Αχλάδια)

My friend Teeny had her own recipe disaster last week. Her problem had the same cause as mine: a restaurant cookbook that hadn’t been adequately vetted for home use.

Teeny attempted a Pear and Almond Tart that looked good on paper. However, the 12” tart had 2 sticks of butter in the crust and 3 sticks of butter in the filling (a little less than a 1/2 stick butter per serving). Since the recipe said to cook it at 300°F for only 40 minutes, the unfortunate tart came out of the oven a partially cooked, slagged down mess.

I decided to come up with an alternate version. I studied the recipe; its flaws were too significant to bother modifying it. I started from scratch with only the concept in mind.

My first attempt looked gorgeous. I was afraid if I cut into it at home, I’d have “an accident” and eat it all myself. Instead, I took it to the sushi restaurant where I was lunching with friends. A whole table of tasters; nothing is better for food in beta testing.

The tart was tasty. Everyone liked it, although one taster thought it a little sweet. I liked the flavor, but the texture of the almond filling was off.

When I got home, I tried again. I made three different variations of the filling, and baked them in separate ramekins. I changed the proportions of eggs, sugar, and flavorings. When the three came out of the oven, the filling using egg whites only was my clear favorite.

I tried a final batch and added a little lemon peel to the egg white filling, and it was exactly what I’d been aiming for. The filling was rich with ground almonds, slightly crunchy on the top, and laced with the full clear flavor of pear.

Pear and Almond Tart is easy to make, easy on the eyes, and easy to enjoy.

Pear and Almond Tart (Τάρτα Αμύγδαλο και Αχλάδια)
Makes one 9” tart – Serves 8
Ground almond meal can be substituted for the whole almonds, and is a good choice for those who don’t have a food processor. Bob’s Red Mill, a brand available in many US supermarkets, sells ground almond meal. Health food stores often carry almond meal in the refrigerator section. If you have leftover almond meal, store it in the refrigerator as it can easily turn rancid. I used unblanched almonds in the tart because almond skins have abundant antioxidants and also taste good; blanched almonds work fine too. Apples may be substituted for the pears in this tart.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1 stick plus 2 Tbsp.)
1 egg, whisked to combine the white and yolk

1 1/2 cups whole unblanched almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. pure almond extract
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel

2 large ripe pears
Sugar for sprinkling on top of tart

Make the crust: Mix the flour, powdered sugar, salt, and lemon peel together in a food processor. Cut the butter into 3/4” squares, add to the food processor, and pulse five or six times to break up and distribute the butter. When you are done, the butter pieces should be the size of small lentils. Add the whisked egg and pulse to mix. Pinch together some of the dough to see if it holds together (it should). If it does not, add small amounts of water, pulsing to mix, until the dough holds together when pinched.

Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, press the dough together, and shape it into a flat disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Roll out the dough on a well-floured pastry cloth until it forms a 10 1/2 inch circle. Use the rolling pin to lift the dough and place it over a 9” tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough firmly into the sides and bottom of the tart pan. Cut the edges of the dough so there is just enough to fold under and cover the sides of the pan with a double layer of dough. Use a fork to prick tiny holes all over the bottom crust.

Press a double layer of aluminum foil onto the dough (this will prevent it from bubbling up when it bakes). Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 minutes or until the crust is set and lightly golden. Remove the tart crust from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Reduce the oven heat to 350°F.

Make the filling: Put the almonds and sugar in the food processor and process until the almonds are very finely ground. Add the egg whites and almond extract and process until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides from time to time. Add the lemon peel and pulse to evenly distribute.

Make the tart: Spread the almond filling in the bottom of the pre-baked tart crust.

Peel the pears and cut them in half. Use a melon baller or teaspoon to scoop out the core. Place each pear half flat on a cutting board, and cut crosswise into 1/8” slices. Keep the slices together in the shape of a half pear. Remove the last three slices from the wide end of each half pear and reserve. Lightly push down the slices in each half pear to fan them out, fanning from the narrow end to the wide end.

With a spatula, carefully lift each fan of pear slices and place it on top of the almond filling, with the narrow end at the center, and the four fans of pear slices spaced evenly apart. Put the reserved three slices from each pear half in the spaces between the pear fans. Lightly press the pears into the filling. Sprinkle the pears with granulated sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F. Turn the heat down to 300°F and cook for 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and the tart golden.

Serve plain or with scoops of vanilla gelato.

This is my entry for In the Bag, with the ingredients being pears, lemons, and nuts, hosted by A Slice of Cherry Pie.

Recipe: Peppery Beef Stew (Μοσχάρι και Πιπέρι Ραγκού)

My January no-shopping pledge is reaping surprising benefits, including this scrumptious stew.

Beef stew meat bought on sale several months ago recently surfaced in my freezer purge. When I put the meat in the refrigerator to defrost, I had to move a bag of red peppers out of the way. The peppers needed to be used, so I decided to combine them with the beef in a stew.

I’d been reading about Peposo, a peppery Italian stew, supposedly created to placate Brunelleschi’s tile workers on the Florence Duomo (it didn’t work; they went out on strike). A healthy dose of invigorating pepper was the perfect finish for my flavorful stew.

Because black pepper is a central flavor in this dish, it is essential to use high quality peppercorns and crush them just before adding to the stew. Supermarket ground black pepper can contain adulterants, and tastes like dust when compared to freshly crushed peppercorns.

High quality Tellicherry peppercorns from Mount Tellicherry in India are my favorites. Because they are left on the vine longer before being picked, Tellicherries are larger and have a deeper, richer flavor than other peppercorns.

I recently tried organic Ecuadorian peppercorns, and they were hotter than Tellicherry, but with less complex flavors. Although the Ecuadorian peppercorns were good, I’m sticking with Tellicherry.

Peppery Beef Stew was created by chance. The meat came randomly out of the freezer, red bell peppers happened to catch my eye, and a story about peppercorns captured my imagination. The serendipity was fortuitous; Peppery Beef Stew is fantastic.

Peppery Beef StewPeppery Beef Stew (Μοσχάρι και Πιπέρι Ραγκού)
Serves 6
This stew is intended to be quite peppery, but you can adjust the amount of pepper according to your taste. I prefer serving stew with parsley potatoes on the side, but sometimes cook potatoes in the stew, as I did last night. If you want potatoes in the stew, add peeled and chunked potatoes after the stew has simmered for 30 minutes.

2 pounds beef stew meat, or beef chuck roast cut in 2” chunks, fat removed

1 cup diced onion, 3/4 inch dice
1 tsp. crushed black peppercorns
1 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
3 cloves garlic, smashed
4” piece of lemon peel
3 cups red wine

2 Tbsp. olive oil (omit if using bacon instead of pancetta)
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/2” pieces
4 cups diced onion, 1/2” dice
4 cups diced red bell pepper, 3/4” dice (4 peppers)
1 cup diced carrots, 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 - 3 tsp. crushed black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
3 bay leaves
3 cups beef stock

Wash the meat and dry it. Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl or zip-lock bag, add the meat, stir well, refrigerate, and marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Drain the meat in a colander, and reserve the liquid portion of the marinade. Separate the meat from the solids, and discard all solids but the meat (be sure to throw away the large piece of lemon peel). Dry the meat very well, and season it with salt.

In a Dutch oven, sauté the pancetta in olive oil until the pancetta pieces are crispy. Remove the cooked pancetta, drain on a paper towel, and reserve.

Brown the meat in the oil from the pancetta, adding olive oil if necessary. Do this in batches; if you crowd the meat when you are trying to brown it, the meat will steam and won't brown properly. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and reserve it in a container that will catch the meat juices.

Using the same pan, sauté the onions, pepper, and carrots, lightly seasoned with salt, until the onions soften and begin to turn translucent (add olive oil if there is insufficient oil remaining in the pan). As you cook the vegetables, scrape up any brown bits left on the bottom of the pan from browning the meat. Stir in the garlic, crushed black pepper, and thyme and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the reserved marinade, bay leaves, beef stock, cooked pancetta, meat and its juices. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the beef is very tender.

Remove the cover and bubble the stew over medium heat until the liquid is the consistency you desire.

Serve with boiled potatoes tossed with parsley and olive oil.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by
Rinku of Cooking in Westchester.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mother Knows Best: Consulting the Oracle - with Recipe for Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread

Burnt Le Pain Quotidien BreadBread from Le Pain Quotidien's recipe is on the left; it is burnt on the outside (in a bad way) and gummy on the inside. My bread is on the right; it is crispy on the outside and chewy but tender on the inside. The breads are made from identical ingredients; only the techniques used to make the bread and the baking times differ.

I can't forgive Le Pain Quotidien, an international bakery chain. Oh sure, it might sell great bread. I can’t say, I’ve never had any. But like a sucker, I fell under the spell of its cookbook. Unfortunately, the central recipe in the book, for the bakery's signature loaf (Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread), is maddeningly bad.

I’m not complaining about the ten days it took to make sourdough starter. Good starter takes time. I’m ignoring the massive amount of waste in the recipe; the authors want you to dump 4 pounds (14 cups) of organic whole wheat flour in the garbage. I figured out a way to use what Le Pain Quotidien wanted me to throw away.

What infuriates me is that after I finished the elaborate starter, the recipe didn’t work. As written, it is impossible to successfully make in a home oven. As one example of the recipe’s many problems, it directs the reader to bake a single 4 1/2 pound loaf for 70 minutes at 464°F (240°C); a guarantee of burnt crust and gummy interior.

I’m mad at myself because I knew the directions were wrong but went ahead and, sheep-like, followed them anyway. Based on Le Pain Quotidien’s lofty reputation, I overruled my own judgment and obeyed the egregiously bad recipe.
Mother and DadWhen I realized Le Pain Quotidien’s recipe was a stinker, I called my mother for a consult. Although our cooking styles differ radically, Mother is a fount of kitchen knowledge and an old hand at sourdough.

Around forty years ago, Mother was cruising the aisles of a local department store, and impulsively bought a sourdough cookbook. The book came with a packet of starter powder. When she got home, Mother made the starter and a family tradition was born.

Although she doesn’t bake bread, Mother makes sourdough waffles or pancakes at least one Sunday a month. She has done so ever since buying the cookbook. She mixes the batter on Saturday night (called “setting” the sourdough). In the morning, the batter is bubbling and ready to be turned into pancakes or waffles.

If properly fed and watered, sourdough starter can be kept alive indefinitely. Mother is still using a descendant of the starter she mixed up forty years ago. She’s killed a jar or two from neglect. But Mother widely shared her starter, so has been easily able to replace the dead jar with one of its cousins.

My dad jumped in with sourdough lore of his own. Many years ago, one of his best friends, Don Campana, was on a Forest Service crew working up near Lake Ozette, in the northwest corner of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The cook for the crew wanted to make bread, but needed a sourdough starter. He started by digging a hole in the ground. When the hole was done, the cook poured a mixture of flour and water directly into it.

Over time, the flour and water mixture began fermenting from the natural yeasts in the soil. After it started bubbling, the cook carefully removed the dirt-free center of the sourdough. Once the cook had the starter, the crew enjoyed sourdough baked goods for the rest of their time on the Olympic Peninsula.

Back with Mother on the phone, I griped about the unnecessarily complex recipe (the bread was still rising, so the ranting stage hadn’t yet started). She suggested simplifying it by setting the sourdough the night before, rather than trying to do everything in one day.

Bucked up by Mother, when I pulled the charred loaf out of the oven, I decided to try again the next day. I pulled out the sourdough starter I’d stored in the refrigerator, mixed it with flour and water, and left it to set overnight. The next morning the top of the starter was covered with bubbles, a sign its yeasts were active.

I mixed and kneaded the dough, relying on my years of bread baking experience instead of the book’s directions. To ensure it cooked evenly, I shaped the dough into 2 normal-sized loaves, rather than one massive loaf as directed by the book. I baked these loaves the way I bake all bread: starting in a hot steamy oven and turning the heat down midway so the crumb can cook without burning the crust.

Crumb of Sourdough Whole Wheat BreadAfter the bread was out of the oven and cooled down, I cut a slice. I’m glad I persevered. The crust was crisp and crunchy, the flavor delicious: definitely sourdough, but balanced by white whole wheat’s sweetness. The crumb was light, open, springy, and perfectly cooked.

I'm delighted by my version of Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread, and look forward to enjoying it many times over the coming years. My sourdough starter is in the refrigerator; waiting.

Sourdough Whole Wheat BreadSourdough Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves (1 1/4 pounds each)
Inspired by Le Pain Quotidien: cook + book memories and recipes by Alain Coumont and Jean-Pierre Gabriel

Sourdough Starter
The starter for this bread takes 10 days, but you only need to make it once. When the starter is done, you can keep it indefinitely in the refrigerator and use it for future loaves of bread, so long as you feed it every other week or so. Don’t worry if the stored sourdough separates as it sits in the refrigerator, it is fine; just stir the liquids and solids together. As you are making the starter, if you don't want to discard half the starter each morning and evening, use it to make Old-Fashioned Baguettes. You can also give the discard halves to friends, along with the recipe, so they can make their own sourdough.

Whole wheat flour or all purpose flour

Day 1 morning: Mix 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water in a stainless steel, glass, or pottery bowl. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.

Day 1 evening: Add 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water to the starter, and stir just until the ingredients are combined. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.

Day 2 through Day 9 morning and evening: Discard half the starter. To the remaining starter, add 2/3 cup flour and1/3 cup water and stir just until the ingredients are combined. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.

Day 10 morning: Stir 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water into the starter.

The starter is now ready for use, starting either on the evening of Day 10 or at a convenient time in the future. To store the starter for future use, put it in a glass jar and refrigerate until the day before you want to bake.

Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread
If you have more than the 2 cups of starter needed for this recipe, store it in the refrigerator for future use, or give it to a friend. I like using white whole wheat flour because it is slightly sweeter than red whole wheat flour; both types contain the entire germ and bran, they are just made from different types of wheat. I prefer using a baking stone when I make bread as it helps my home oven maintain an even temperature and gives the loaves a crisper crust. I also have an old baking sheet with edges that I preheat and throw water on to create a steamy environment for the bread. Don’t throw water directly on the oven floor or it will warp. A good baking sheet will also warp, which is why I have an old baking sheet, rusty and warped, that I use only for baking bread.

2 cups sourdough starter (1 pound)
2 cups very warm water
5 - 6 cups whole wheat flour (or half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour)
1 Tbsp. salt

Setting the Starter:
On the evening before you want to make bread, mix the starter, water, and 2 cups whole wheat flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour) in a bowl large enough for the contents to expand. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, secure the wrap to the bowl with a rubber band, cover with a dish towel, and leave at room temperature overnight.

Bubbling Sourdough StarterMixing the Dough:
The next morning, the contents of the bowl will be bubbling. In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment (or by hand), mix in 2 cups of flour at low speed, and then at high speed for 3 minutes. Mix in 1 cup flour, and beat at high speed for 2 minutes. Let the mixture rest for 20 minutes to fully hydrate the flour.

Continue mixing in flour 1/2 cup at a time until you have a moist, slightly sticky, dough. Remove 1 cup of the mixture, which will be your starter for future loaves of bread. See Sourdough Starter recipe (above) for how to store the starter.

Mix in the salt and 1/2 cup flour. Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead for 4 minutes (or 10 minutes by hand), adding flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking.

Leave the dough to rest in the bowl, with the dough hook in place, for 1 1/2 hours. Every 30 minutes (3 times total), turn on the machine and knead the dough with the dough hook (or by hand) for 20 seconds.

Flour a board or counter, and dump out the dough, kneading in flour as needed to make smooth, soft, supple dough. Divide the dough in two even pieces.

Shaping the Loaves:
To make the loaves, press each half of dough into an 8” x 8” square. Fold each corner of the square to the center, with the corners slightly overlapping where they meet, and firmly press all the corners together at the center. Repeat: fold each corner of the new, smaller square to the center, with the corners slightly overlapping, and firmly press all the corners together at the center. Turn the dough over so the seams are on the bottom.

Pull, push stretch, and roll the dough into long loaves. Place parchment paper on a wooden bread peel, or on the flat bottom of an upside down baking sheet. Flour the parchment paper well. Place the loaves on the parchment paper, far enough apart so they can rise and bake without touching. Lightly flour the bread’s top surface, cover with plastic wrap, and then with a clean dish towel. Put the bread in a warm place and let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, about 3 – 4 hours.

Baking the Bread:
Directions with Baking Stone: At least an hour before you begin baking, place a baking sheet with rims on the lowest shelf of the oven, and put the baking stone on the shelf immediately above. Preheat the oven to its highest temperature (for my oven this is 555°F) with the baking stone and baking sheet inside. When the bread is fully risen, use a sharp razor blade to cut diagonal 1/2” deep slashes in the bread and quickly slide it, still on the parchment paper, from the peel (or upside down baking sheet) onto the baking stone.

Directions without Baking Stone: At least 30 minutes before you begin baking, place a baking sheet with rims on the lowest shelf of the oven, and move an oven rack to the shelf just above it. Preheat the oven to its highest temperature with the rimmed baking sheet inside. At least 10 minutes before the loaves go into the oven, place a thin metal uninsulated baking sheet in the oven. When the bread is fully risen, use a sharp razor blade to cut diagonal 1/2” deep slashes in the bread and quickly slide it from the peel (or upside down baking sheet) onto the preheated thin metal baking sheet.

Just before closing the oven, dump a cup of water onto the rimmed baking sheet (which is on the shelf just below the bread), quickly shut the door, and turn the heat down to 450°F. Bake for 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 325°F and bake for 15 - 20 minutes if using a baking stone (or 25 – 30 minutes if you don’t have a baking stone). The bread is done if it sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, or the temperature in the center of the bread is 200°F.
Place the bread on racks to cool for at least one hour before cutting (the bread finishes cooking from retained heat after it is removed from the oven).
This is my entry for this month’s Apples & Thyme, hosted and created by Vanielje Kitchen and The Passionate Palate.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Recipes: Artichoke, Tomato, and Olive Stew & Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Pizza (Αγκινάρες και Ντομάτες & Πίτσα με Αγκινάρες, Ντομάτες και Ελιές)

Riana Lagarde of Garlic Breath is one of my favorite food bloggers. She’s an American who lives in the south of France with her daughter and French husband.

Over the last few years, Riana became overwhelmed by the amount of belongings she had (or inherited), so determined not to buy anything for one year, except food. She quit shopping in 2007, and is still going strong. For January 2008, Riana is not even buying food, and instead is living off the contents of her freezer, cupboards, and garden.

Riana’s “slow year” has been fascinating to read about. She’s brewed walnut liquor, preserved tangerines, and made cheese. She’s cured olives, baked cherry pie in her woodstove, made lye,
nixtamaled corn for hominy, and written about all of it in captivating detail.

Riana’s adventures made me think about how much we have and how little we truly need. As a New Year’s exercise, for the month of January, I decided to forego shopping except for essential food items (so far I’ve bought milk, eggs, yogurt, and onions). We get fresh fruit and vegetables every other week from our
Full Circle Farm CSA box. For the rest, I’m relying on my freezers and pantry.

It’s been interesting; not spending money requires a surprising amount of discipline. It’s easier to buy what you want when you want it. It’s harder to figure out alternative ways to get things done. Not shopping has made me pay attention to minor ways I waste for the sake of convenience.

The best part of this month has been working through the food in my freezers. It’s forced me to plan ahead for meals; meat and fish need to be thawed, beans need to be soaked, and bread needs to be made. Instead of dashing to the store for last minute dinner ingredients, I’m using up what we already have.

My current goal is to see air in the refrigerator’s freezer before February. Every day or so I yank open the freezer door and pull out what comes easily to hand. I lie in bed at night thinking about how best to use what I’ve defrosted.

Two days ago a bag of frozen artichoke hearts rose to the top of the freezer’s heap. As I contemplated the artichokes, I knew whatever I made had to help warm my bones. For the last few days the weather has been bracingly cold, -5°F at my house this morning.

In the dark of the night, I decided to make Greek artichoke and tomato stew, spiced up with Aleppo pepper and slivered olives. The next day, when the stew was done, I found myself with extra dough from
my siege of baguette baking. My mind jumped immediately to pizza.

I returned the stew to the burner and simmered it until the sauce reduced to a paste, the perfect consistency for pizza topping. Feta cheese and crushed oregano added the finishing touch to a great vegetarian pizza.

Whether you eat the artichokes, tomatoes, and olives as stew or pizza (or with cheese ravioli, which is how we ate the leftovers tonight), they are a wonderfully warming meal for yet another cold winter day.

Artichoke, Tomato and Olive StewArtichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (Αγκινάρες και Ντομάτες με Ελιές)
Serves 2 - 3
Frozen artichoke hearts or artichoke quarters work well in braised recipes, especially when they are first lightly browned in olive oil to drive out excess moisture and bring up the flavor. Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew takes 30 - 45 minutes to make and is delicious with garlic roasted potatoes on the side. It is good served over pasta, or mixed with tortellini or ravioli. It may also be used to make Artichoke, Tomato, and Olive Pizza (see recipe below). The recipe can be made ahead and easily expanded to feed a crowd. An easy way to pit the olives is to lay them out on a cutting board and smash them with a meat mallet hard enough to loosen the pit but not so hard that you smash the pit into pieces. After smashing olives, the pits pop right out.

1/4 cup olive oil
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts or quarters, thawed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups diced onions, 1/2” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
2 cups, or 14.5-ounce can, diced tomatoes with their juices
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup pitted and slivered oil-cured or salt-cured black olives
1/4 cup minced parsley

In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the ingredients, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Sauté the thawed artichoke hearts, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until they begin to brown. Remove the artichokes from the pan and reserve.

In the same pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the garlic, Aleppo pepper, and thyme and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the reserved artichokes, tomatoes, white wine, and olives and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, about 20 – 30 minutes. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Stir in the parsley and serve with crusty bread and feta cheese.

Artichoke, Tomato and Olive PizzaArtichoke, Tomato, and Olive Pizza (Πίτσα με Αγκινάρες, Ντομάτες και Ελιές)Makes 1 15-16" pizza
The topping is identical to Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (see recipe above), except the tomato sauce is thicker and feta cheese and oregano are included for added flavor. You can use leftover Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew to make pizza sauce by simmering the leftovers until the sauce is reduced to a thick paste. If you have leftover topping from making the pizza, thin it with a little water (or wine) and serve it as pasta sauce.
Ladenia (a traditional Greek "pizza") dough makes a tasty, olive oil-based crust, but you can use any yeast dough for making pizza. Because I had some on hand, I used Old-Fashioned Baguette dough.

1 recipe
Ladenia dough (see below), or 1 pound bread or pizza dough
1 recipe Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (see above)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
1/4 tsp. oregano

Ladenia dough:
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp. dried yeast (1 packet)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 3/4 – 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Olive oil for oiling pan

Make the dough: Put the warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle it with dried yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes while the yeast begins to work. Mix in the salt and olive oil. Stir in the smaller amount of flour, and add enough of the remaining flour to form slightly sticky dough. Adding flour as necessary, knead the dough until it is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky. (Kneading the dough in a stand mixer makes the task quick and easy.)

Liberally oil the bottom of a 15 - 16” round pan (or a 12” x 14” roasting pan) with olive oil. Start stretching the dough with your hands, and put it into the pan. Press the dough out until it fully covers the pan’s bottom. If some of the olive oil oozes onto the dough, use it to lightly oil the top. Cover the pan with a dish cloth or plastic wrap and set it aside to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 hour).

Make the topping: Follow the recipe for Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (above), but simmer the stew until it is reduced to a thick paste, 40 – 45 minutes. Watch carefully near the end of the cooking time and stir regularly to prevent the topping from sticking to the pan and burning. Remove from the heat.

Make the pizza: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

When the dough has finished rising, use your fingertips to make little indentations all over it. Evenly spread the topping over the dough, making sure the artichokes are evenly distributed. (It’s better to have leftovers than to overload the dough with topping.) Sprinkle the feta over the topping and the crushed oregano over everything.

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, or until the sides of the pizza are browned and the dough is cooked through.

Cut into pieces and serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.


This is my entry for Hay Hay it's Donna Day: Pizza hosted this month by 80 Breakfasts.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Baguettes (Παραδοσιακό Γαλλικό Ψωμί)

This is one of the best breads I remember making. Although most fresh-from-the-oven loaves taste wonderful, this bread is unusually good.

It tastes faintly of sourdough, the off-white crumb is chewy and elastic, the top golden and lightly caramelized, and the crust thick and crisp. I made three loaves; they came out of the oven around seven in the evening. By the time we went to bed, one loaf had been entirely devoured.

My sister gave me a cookbook from the Belgian-based bakery/restaurant franchise, Le Pain Quotidien, for Christmas. The recipe for its signature loaf, Sourdough Wheat Bread, requires a sourdough starter (levain) that takes 10 days to make. Le Pain Quotidien’s website says the starter only takes 5 days but, ever the glutton for punishment, I’m sticking with the directions in the book. I’m now on Day 9, and will post the recipe after I make Sourdough Wheat Bread.

The recipe for “Le Pain Quotidien’s sourdough starter” requires you to mix a flour and water sponge and leave it at room temperature to ferment. Every morning and every evening you discard half the sponge and feed the remainder with flour and water. The sponge gradually develops a pleasantly sour taste and the capacity to leaven bread.

A few days ago I balked at the direction to throw away half the sponge. Instead, I split it in two and, before going to bed, fed both halves with flour and water. The next morning, when I split the sponge, I continued feeding half of it and mixed the remaining half with the second sponge I’d created the night before.

I used this second sponge as the foundation for an adaptation of the recipe for “Baguette a l’ancienne (old-fashioned style)” in Le Pain Quotidien's cookbook. The result was so good, I made another three loaves (and a pizza crust) the next day.

I’ve taken liberties with the original recipe: simplifying it for American kitchens and leaving out directions that didn’t make sense. For example, the recipe directs you to cover the rising baguettes “with a plastic sheet (not food film).” What's that supposed to mean? Food film (plastic wrap) works just fine for this purpose. If you have problems with the recipe, blame me, not Le Pain Quotidien.

Our HomeThe Old-Fashioned Baguettes came out of the oven thirty minutes ago. Every corner of our log home is filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. A fire roars in the fireplace. The sun is sparkling off snow in the trees. Life is good.

Old-Fashioned BaguettesOld-Fashioned Baguettes (Παραδοσιακό Γαλλικό Ψωμί)
Makes 3 - 4 loaves
Adapted from Le Pain Quotidien: cook + book memories and recipes by Alain Coumont and Jean-Pierre Gabriel

Sourdough Starter for Old-Fashioned Baguettes:
These are directions for making baguette starter; if you want to also make starter for Sourdough Wheat Bread (or to keep some on hand in your refrigerator), see the notes at the end of this section.The starter used in this recipe is based on “Le Pain Quotidien’s sourdough starter” (not the starter for Le Pain Quotidien’s “Baguette a l’ancienne”). I used King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat flour, but the starter may also be made with regular whole wheat flour, bread flour, or all-purpose flour. The starter may be used for baguettes as soon as it develops a light sourdough flavor, which takes two or three days.

White whole wheat flour

Day 1 morning: Mix 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water in a stainless steel, glass, or pottery bowl. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.

Day 1 evening: Add 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water to the starter, and stir just until the ingredients are combined. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.

Day 2 through Baking Day, morning and evening: Discard half the starter. To the remaining starter, add 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water, and and stir just until the ingredients are combined. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.

As soon as the starter is ready, you can use all of it in the Old-Fashioned Baguette recipe.

NOTES: If you want to keep some starter (a) to store for the future or (b) to make Sourdough Wheat Bread, instead of discarding half the main starter (Starter 1) in the evening, use it to create a second starter (Starter 2). Mix Starter 1 as usual, but instead of discarding half, put the discard half in a stainless steel, glass, or pottery bowl and mix in 2/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup water, and a pinch of salt and cover it with a plate (this is Starter 2). You will now have two identical starters: Starter 1 and Starter 2. The next morning, instead of discarding half of Starter 1, add it to Starter 2 and begin making the Old-Fashioned Baguette with Starter 2.

To store sourdough starter for the future, put the starter you want to save in a jar and refrigerate it. It will keep indefinitely, so long as you feed it with flour and water every other week or so. To make starter for Sourdough Wheat Bread, continue feeding and watering Starter 1 in the morning and evening.

Old-Fashioned Baguettes:
I prefer using a baking stone when I make bread as it helps my home oven maintain an even temperature and gives the baguettes a crisper crust. I also have an old baking sheet with edges that I preheat and throw water on to create a steamy environment for the bread. Don’t throw water directly on the oven floor or it will warp. A good baking sheet will also warp, which is why I have an old baking sheet, rusty and warped, that I use only for baking bread.

Starter for Old-Fashioned Baguettes (see above)
2 cups warm water
2 tsp. yeast
1 Tbsp. coarse salt
5 – 6 cups “type 65”, bread, or all-purpose flour

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or by hand), mix the starter, water, and yeast. Add the salt and 4 cups of flour, and mix until thoroughly combined. Start mixing in the remaining flour. When the dough starts clumping together, switch to the dough hook (or to kneading by hand), and keep adding flour until you have a moist, but not quite sticky, dough. Knead for 4 minutes with the dough hook (or 10 minutes by hand).

Leave the dough to rest in the bowl, with the dough hook, for 80 minutes. Every 20 minutes (4 times total), turn on the machine and knead the dough with the dough hook (or by hand) for 20 seconds. The Le Pain Quotidien cookbook says the purpose of doing this “is to stir and compress the dough, to give it more body.”

Flour a large smooth piece of cotton (I use flour-sacking dish towels) and put it on a thin metal baking sheet. Dump the dough onto the well-floured cloth and divide it into three or four 1 to 1 1/4 pound pieces (the weight of the dough will differ depending on the type of flour you use). Let rest for five minutes.

Preheat a rimmed baking sheet and baking stone, if using, for at least 30 minutes at 500°F. The rimmed baking sheet goes on the oven’s lowest shelf, and the baking stone goes on the shelf just above it.

Baguettes at RestPull, stretch, and roll the dough pieces into 16” baguettes, being careful not to tear the dough. Return the baguettes to the floured cloth, adding more flour as necessary, and pushing folds of cloth up between the baguettes. Lightly flour the tops of the baguettes, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes.

Carefully lift the edges of the floured cloth and roll the baguettes directly onto the thin metal baking sheet. Slash each baguette 5 times diagonally with a razor blade.

Put the bread and baking sheet in the oven, directly on the baking stone, if using. Just before closing the oven, dump a cup of water onto the rimmed baking sheet (which is on the shelf just below the bread), quickly shut the door, and turn the heat down to 450°F. Bake for 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 325°F and bake for 15 minutes.

Cool, cut, and serve.

Crusty baguettes, eaten hot with fresh creamery butter while sitting in front of a crackling fire, are the ultimate comfort food. This is my entry for The Garden of Eating's Comfort Food Cook-Off.