Farroto with walnuts and beans

This has been a busy work week, so it is time to catch up. First off, I was glad to see the very positive reception to my note to the Foodbuzz community, calling for restraint with the “send to a friend” feature, which was leading to email overload.

Second, I had a very enjoyable meetup with a great group of bloggers at Batali’s Lupa restaurant. That’s Kalofagas (whose being in town brought this gang together), Colloquial Cookin, Bacon & Rhubarb, Chefs Gone Wild, and Stacey Snacks below.
blogger lunch
It was a very friendly, unpretentious group of people and the conversation ranged all over the map. I had not been back to Lupa for about 8 or 9 years since its early days, and I have to say that I had an absolutely fabulous meal. The wine complemented my advil mercifully (I think it was a bit more walking than I was ready for, but I wasn’t going to miss meeting this bunch!).

Now, on to a vegetarian dish that I made earlier this week, adapted from a recipe by Lorna Sass in the Rancho Gordo cookbook (I thought I would give it another shot). I have discovered I really like farro. I find this word “farroto” to be rather amusing — it means farro cooked like risotto. I can’t decide if it is silly, harmless or pretentious, but I do admit that it is catchy and makes me laugh.

farro risotto
Farroto with Walnuts, Pecorino and Beans

With the recipe, I had to change a few things (including not having a pressure cooker or scarlet runner or marrow beans), and the result was healthy, filling and had a nice, nutty flavor. I enjoyed it quite a bit (including the leftovers for lunch), but Lisl thought it needed to be punched up with something green, like a big handful of chopped parsely. I’m thinking maybe some parboiled baby spinach? Or perhaps an earthy porcini angle? I’d love to hear your ideas on improvements.


Farroto with Walnuts, Pecorino and Beans
serves 4

1/3 cup dried Mayacoba beans (or a favorite bean)
1/3 cup dried Vallarta beans (or a favorite bean)
1 1/4 cups semi-pearled farro
1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 to 3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth if you are not vegetarian)
2 cups reserved bean cooking liquid
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese (orig. recipe uses parmesan)
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme)
salt and ground pepper

After checking the beans for any small pebbles, place them in a pot and cover with cold water an inch over the top of the beans. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 40 minutes to an hour, until tender. About 15 minutes before they are done, soak the farro in cold water in another bowl and then drain, discarding soaking liquid.

Remove the beans with a slotted spoon to cool, and leave two or three cups of the cooking liquid in the pot. Add 2 cups of vegetable or chicken broth and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

In a large saute pan with a high side (I like to use my large cast iron frying pan), heat up a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat, then saute the onions until they start to turn translucent. Raise the heat to medium or just above, and add the farro, a pinch of salt, and stir for a minute or so. Then stir in the wine. Crumble in the saffron threads and begin stirring in the warm stock one ladle or 1/2 cupful at a time, treating it just like a normal risotto and not letting it get too dry. After about 3 1/2 cups of broth and 20-25 minutes, start checking to see if it is tender (but not mush). In my case, I found it took 4 cups and 30 minutes.

Turn the heat to its lowest setting, add another few pinches of salt and some grindings of pepper, and stir in the beans, walnuts, rosemary, and pecorino cheese. Taste for salt and pepper (gently stirring it in) — it will probably want a healthy amount in all.

Serve with a little extra grated cheese on top, and a medium-bodied red wine, such as a Rhone.


Onion, Leek and Taleggio Tart


My cooking tends towards comfort food in general, and when I’m stuck inside on a rainy November day caught between a cold and recovery from surgery, I don’t need any additional excuses to crave comfort food. At least I was back on feet and able to tackle something in the kitchen. My latest challenge is savory pastry, so I set my sights on making an onion tart. Over twitter, Kelly from Sass & Veracity suggested adding taleggio cheese, to which I whole-heartedly agreed, and Lisl was kind enough to pick some up for me today when she was out.

I decided to stick with Elise’s method for making Pâte Brisée (the pastry) since it worked last time and I’m new enough to pastry making that if it ain’t broke, I shouldn’t try to fix it (don’t worry, the tinkerer will emerge soon enough). I’ll note that both times I have made this, the pastry needed more than 3 or 4 tbsp of very cold water. Tonight it was more like 7 or 8.

I made the pastry first because it needed to rest in the fridge for an hour or so, and then turned to the onions.

Making the Tart
3 or 4 leeks, cleaned, halved and finely sliced
2 or 3 large onions (spanish or vidalia), peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 red (or green) jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
6 sprigs of fresh thyme (or a large pinch of dried thyme)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
a pinch of salt
fifth to a quarter lb taleggio cheese, cut into 1/2 cubes
1 egg yolk and 1 tbsp water for egg wash

Make sure your leeks are well cleaned. Remove the very bottom of the leek, and then cut off the top a few inches above where the white transitions to green. With your knife, halve or quarter the top several inches of the leek and place it under a running faucet, opening up the layers with your fingers to remove any grit. Then thinly slice. Prep the onions by peeling, halving, and then thinly slicing. (By the way, I once read that if you keep a piece of bread in your mouth while you chop onions, you won’t have as severe a reaction. As far as I can tell, it is true!)

In a large, heavy bottomed pot (a pot with a high edge is easier than a saute pan here so that you don’t spill as you stir), heat up the olive oil and butter over low heat. Add the leeks, onions, thyme sprigs and a pinch of salt and slowly cook, stirrying occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add the jalapeno, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the onions to be soft and nicely caramelized. Turn off the heat and let cool. Taste for salt and pepper, but I found that very little salt was needed. You want the onions to be moist but not liquidy, so drain any extra liquid.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

When the onions are cool, chop up your taleggio cheese and have ready. Then take out a large baking tray and place parchment paper on top. Wisk up your egg wash (optional) and have everything ready for when you take the pastry out of the fridge.

On a floured surface, roll out your pastry into a thin 14″ circle. If it starts to stick to the surface below, lift it gently up (you can use the rolling pin to carefully “unroll” it from the surface) and dust a little more flour down. Carefully fold the pastry over onto itself (half) and then again (quarter), to move to the baking tray, and then unfold on the parchment paper.

Spread the taleggio cheese around, keeping within 2 inches from the outer edge, and then scoop the onion mixture on top. Fold the outside edge over, overlapping and gently pressing the folds onto the pastry below. Brush the egg wash on the top of the pastry and then place in the oven for 45 or 50 minutes. When golden brown, remove and cool on a rack (you do not want to leave on the tray and parchment paper or it might get soggy).

The dish was deliciously rich, and Lisl gave me a big nod of approval on the results of my pastry. Thanks for suggestion Kelly! It might not have been the prettiest pastry ever made, but comfort food isn’t meant to be some dolled-up, foam-covered, high-falutin’ thing after all!

onion tart


Taking on the pastry challenge, and thumbs up on a Gourmet Veg. recipe

I’ve decided that in my quest to make great comfort/peasant food, I must become good at pastry. Historically, I’ve always leaned on Lisl for that task, because really, what’s not to avoid? There is so much conflicting advice out there! Use butter, no, vegetable shortening! Food processor, no, scraper, no, hands! Rest and chill, no, use directly! 2 to 4 tbsp of ice water max!!! but don’t be surprised if you use more! Isn’t this part of cooking meant to be a science?

Anyone who has read the last chapter of The Man Who Ate Everything knows what I am talking about — he researched a zillion different permutations for the perfect pie crust, and ended up getting a master demonstration from a baking queen who threw it all out the window and took him by surprise with her technique.

I made two decisions. I decided to avoid Crisco and stick to butter, and I focused my reading on three sources: a Nov 2004 Gourmet article I had on the shelf, a post from Shuna at Eggbeater, and a post from Elise at Simply Recipes. Because Shuna’s site was down earlier for some reason, tonight’s attempt at flaky pastry focused on Elise’s approach.

It wasn’t pretty.

It was a bit stressful.

But it actually turned out quite tasty.

One small step towards conquering my discomfort with baking.

Lisl watched me work with bemused expression on her face, and some helpful advice. My target was a marvelous farro and mushroom pie recipe I saw in November’s Gourmet, in their vegetarian Thanksgiving menu. Most bloggers who tried this recipe agreed that it is wise to amp up the flavor a bit more than the original, but it is a good starting point and there are lots of different directions you can take the filling — I added spinach and parsley.  It was the first time I had worked with farro and I quite liked it.

Gourmet’s Farro and Mushroom Pie

farro pie

Chickpea Stew with Coconut Milk

chickpea kale stew

For Sunday’s dinner, I wanted to go vegetarian and hearty. This combination of chickpeas, potatoes, cauliflower, kale, and coconut milk really hit the spot. This was a real stick-to-the-ribs meal for a chilly fall evening.

Served 4

1/2 lb dried chickpeas
1 green pepper, de-seeded, de-stemmed and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 onion (spanish or vidalia), chopped
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
2 medium red potatoes, chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
6 or 7 stalks of fresh kale, loosely chopped
14 oz coconut milk
1 to 1 1/2 cups of chickpea cooking broth or vegetable broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp of salt, then to taste
ground pepper
hot red pepper flakes

After washing your dried chickpeas and checking for small pebbles, place in a medium sauce pan and fill with water 1 1/2 inches above the top of the chickpeas. Add in the green pepper and garlic, and bring to a boil. Simmer for several hours until tender, then save two cups of the cooking liquid, drain the rest and discard the pepper and garlic. (Note: you can soak the chickpeas overnight to speed this up, or just use canned, but make sure you thoroughly wash the chickpeas if you use canned)

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large oven-proof pot, saute the onion on medium heat, then add the potatoes. Let this cook for several minutes, then add the cauliflower and the sprigs of thyme. Cook for a few more minutes, and then add the kale, coconut milk (make sure it is well stirred/shaken), the tomato paste, ground cumin, and 1 tsp of salt. We used about 1 1/2 cups of broth, but if you are using canned chickpeas or less potato, you might want to start with 1 cup and add as needed. Cover and place in the oven for an hour or so, checking periodically to give it a light stir. If it looks too dry, add a little more broth. Grind in a little fresh pepper and check for salt before serving. Finally, add some heat by sprinkling red hot pepper flakes on top when you serve.

Notes: if everyone likes heat, I definitely would stew it with jalapenos as well. I am thinking this might be good with some smoked paprika but have not tried that yet.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin seeds

I love roasted pumpkin seeds and for some reason this is always the only day of the year I do it. Today, as an experiment, I tried the method from Simply Recipes where you boil the seeds in highly-salted water first, and then roast at 400F. This provides a “more balanced salt distribution,” as Heidi put it.

The result was good, I will say that. I split my seeds into three batches, one which was roasted with no additional spices, one which was dusted with a mix of ground coriander seeds, ground cumin seeds, and ground cayenne pepper, and one that was dusted with curry powder.

However, I learned that I don’t want more balanced salt distribution! I not only love the look of the salt crystals on the roasted seeds, I love the haphazard explosion of salt you get when you pop one (or 10) in your mouth. So in future I am going back to my usual method of cleaning the seeds, seasoning them, and roasting them at 375F in a touch of olive oil.

Happy Halloween ya’ll. I hope you had a fun one. Below are the two victims who gave up their seeds for our enjoyment. I love the little guy on the left — he was modeled after a pumpkin drawing that munchkin gave to me.


Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel

I fell in love with Greek food the summer Lisl dragged me over to a tiny island called Serifos, and brought me to where the locals eat. Heavenly. I discovered a dish where large beans (“Gigantes”) are cooked in a tomato sauce. I’ve been meaning to make it for years. I guess I was waiting for a starting point.

Enter the blogosphere. There are a number of Greek-oriented food blogs I enjoy, and one of my favorites is Kalofagas, by Peter Minakas. I discovered that he wrote about “Gigantes St Fourno” in Oct 2007. I took the recipe in a slightly different, more anise-flavored direction, but want to say thank you to Peter for providing the framework.

Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel

1 bag (~450 grams) dried large lima/butter beans*
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 large onions, diced
1 lb canned, skinless plum tomatoes, loosely chopped
1/2 large fennel bulb (or 1 smaller one), diced
1 large handful of parsely, finely chopped
2 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
large pinch fennel seeds
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
large pinch of ground savory (optional)
2 tbsp pernod
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 380F early enough that it will be at the right temperature when you are ready to put the baking dish into the oven.

Cooking the Beans
I soaked the beans during the day in cold water, but you can skip this step and just cook them for longer. Place the beans in a large pot along with the carrots, celery, garlic and bay leaf, then cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a bubbling simmer (not a gentle simmer) and cook until tender. If you soaked the beans, this can be about 20 to 25 minutes, and if not, more like 45 to 50 minutes but only cook the carrots and celery for about 20 min. Remove from the heat.

Making the Sauce (can be done in parallel with beans)
Heat up 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook the onions. When they start to turn translucent, add the tomatoes, fennel, fennel seed, paprika, parsely, tarragon and savory, and cook at a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Add about 1/2 tsp of salt and several pinches of black pepper. After about 10 minutes, stir in the pernod and continue to cook for another 20 minutes or so, adding more water if it starts to get too dry. Taste for salt and pepper. Because the beans will have no salt, it is fine to make the sauce a touch saltier than you might normally go.

With a slotted spoon, scoop out the beans, carrots and celery and place in a large baking dish (I had to use my biggest one). Pour the tomato sauce on top and gently mix in. Then pour in the cooking liquid from the butter beans until everything is just barely covered.

Place the baking tray in the oven and cook for an hour, or until much of liquid is gone and the top is browned. Note: I got hungry and pulled them after about 50 to 55 minutes before they really browned nicely, but they still tasted delicious.

gigantes baking dish

I don’t know what the blogosphere Greeks will say about my fennel/pernod/tarragon direction compared to the classic, but I really enjoyed it and Lisl gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up. In tonight’s case, I went in a non-vegetarian direction by pairing it with some lamb chops marinated with rosemary and then grilled, and served it all with a nice red Zinfindel.

grilled lamb

* Note: while I gather from online reading that true gigantes are a different bean from the large butter/lima beans we find in our supermarkets, most recipes allow for the swapping of the two.

I thought I would submit this to My Legume Love Affair, which is a blog event I’ve been wanting to join for a while now. This month it is being hosted by When My Soup Came Alive.

Lavender Panna Cotta

panna cotta plated
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

For dessert, we turned for inspiration to Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand. This is a wonderfully personal and entertaining book, its recipes interspersed with interesting concepts and stories, such as the letter to Bertolli’s newborn son about aging aceto balsamico, or the concluding Conversation with a Glass of Wine, in which Bertolli creates an imaginary opera of the interactions of the various courses of his meal with a bottle of Barolo.

The dessert section (which is organized into full menus to highlight the place of dessert in a meal), contained a recipe for rose-scented panna cotta with a compote of white nectarines. We just missed the Catskills nectarine season, but the peaches are still magnificent. Instead of roses, we used French lavender from the garden to continue the Provencal theme. We were not disappointed – the panna cotta was delicate and refreshing, the peaches sweet and cool, a perfect end to a rich meal.

I’ve always loved panna cotta as a dessert in restaurants, and was surprised by how easy this was. There is very little “cooking” involved, and the dessert can be made well in advance and kept refrigerated until serving. The only tough part was getting the panni cotti (is that the plural?) out of the ramekins at the end – Bertolli doesn’t give any suggestions for preparing the ramekins to help them slip out; I suppose any kind of lubricant might interfere with the delicate flavors. The Epicurious recipes I looked at suggested warming the molds first by sitting them in some hot water prior to inverting them, which worked after a while, but warmed the puddings up a little. Maybe I was just too impatient to get them served!

Lavender panna cotta with peaches (fills about 10 small ramekins)

6 cups of heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
10 heads of lavender flowers, coarsely chopped
6 tbs cold water
2 tbs gelatin (usually 2 small packets, if using packaged gelatin)
For the sauce:
6-8 ripe peaches
3 tbs sugar
1 cup of cold water

Warm the cream with the sugar and salt over a low flame until hot, but well below a simmer. Turn off heat. Add lavender flowers and steep for about 15 minutes. The lavender flavor should become quite pronounced – if not, leave it for longer, as it will become less strong when cooled.


Strain the flowers out of the warm cream.

Place 6 tbs cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water. Leave for 5 minutes to soften. Whisk in some of the warm cream to dissolve the gelatin, then whisk the gelatin/cream mixture back into the rest of the cream. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium size mixing bowl.

Set out ramekins on a baking sheet that will fit in the refrigerator.

Set the bowl of cream into a larger bowl half-filled with ice. Stir the cream with a rubber spatula, scraping the inside of the bowl constantly so that the panna cotta doesn’t set. When the mixture is very cold and starting to thicken, remove the bowl from the ice and pour the mixture into the ramekins. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

For the sauce, peel and chop half of the peaches into small chunks (about 1/4 inch pieces – should yield about 2 cups), put in saucepan with water and sugar. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer with lid on for 45 minutes. Strain the mixture. Bertolli says to discard the cooked fruit, but I kept it for my 3-year-old – it was great over vanilla ice cream. Chill the syrup.

Peel, pit and dice the remaining peaches into ½ inch pieces (about 2 cups) and add to chilled syrup.

panna cotta de-ramekin

Unmold the panna cotta by running a paring knife around the inside of each ramekin and inverting on a plate. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of peaches and syrup around and over each panna cotta.

panna cotta peaches
Finishing the dish

table panna cotta
At the table

sauternes and glasses
This can be deliciously paired with a dessert wine — in our case we had a 1967 Sauternes saved by Giff’s father and passed down for a special occasion.

Chard Stuffed with Fennel and Lemon Risotto

swisschard colors
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

Gill’s farm had the most beautiful swiss chard, which changed up some of my ideas for a side dish to accompany the pork braise. Lisl thought “risotto” so we decided to make a reprise of one of my favorite meals from the summer, chard leaves stuffed with risotto, from the wonderful Mark Bittman blog Bitten. We kept it in line with the Alice Waters theme by working (mostly) off of an asparagus and lemon risotto recipe from The Art of Simple Food, although we swapped out the asparagus for a subtle amount of fennel. We lightened this dish up by removing the mozarella and parmesan cheese you will find in both Bittman and Waters’ recipes, and by reducing the size of each ball of risotto.

Fennel and Lemon Risotto

1 fennel bulb, including the fronds
1/2 white onion
1 lemon
2 tbsp butter
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups vegetable stock

I made a vegetable broth the day before, which was a simple combination of 2 quarts of water or so, 3 carrots, 3 celery ribs, 1 onion, 3 large cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of thyme and a large bunch of parsley — all simmered together for several hours.

Bring your stock to a boil in a saucepan and cover, turning off heat.

Remove the zest from your lemon, and reserve the juice. Fnely chop up some of the thin fronds from the top of the fennel and save a tablespoon’s worth. Then remove the bottom and any tough outer layers to the fennel bulb and finely chop. Finely chop the onion.

Heat up the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and add the onion and fennel. Cook until the onion is translucent, then add the rice. Cook the rice, periodically stirring, for about 4 minutes until the rice turns mostly translucent. Do not let it brown.

risotto stirring

Stir the lemon zest and fennel fronds into the rice, then pour in the wine. Stir almost continuously until wine is absorbed, and then add your stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring as continuously as you can bear. When the rice starts to thicken, add another 1/2 cup, and do not let the rice dry out. Cook until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 25 to 30 minutes in all. When the rice is almost done, stir in the lemon juice and carefully add salt (the amount will depend on the saltiness of your stock), then remove from heat to cool.

Stuffing and Cooking the Chard Leaves

Large bunch of swiss chard
2 cups of vegetable broth

With a sharp knife, remove the stalks running up the center of the chard leaves and discard. Boil a pot of water and parboil the leaves for about 30 seconds, then remove to cool.

Preheat oven to 400F.

With your hands, make small balls of risotto, about an inch or so in diameter, and tightly wrap each one in a strip of chard leaf. You can also combine two strips if you have smaller leaves — this does not need to be perfect and impeccably wrapped by any means. It’s not a Tiffany’s box. Repeat “country cooking!” to yourself until you decide that taste is more important than impeccably wrapped spheres.

risotto chard rolling

You should have enough risotto and leaves to make over a dozen wrapped balls. Place closely together in a baking dish and pour the broth over top. Bake for 10 minutes at 400, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 10 more minutes. Plate on a serving dish, and dribble some of the broth from the hot baking dish over top.

risotto chard done

Fresh Shell Bean and Green Bean Ragout

shell beans plated
(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

While we knew that the main course for our feast was going to feature a braised pork shoulder, we waited to select the side dishes until after we had seen the produce coming off of Gill’s farm. Among our bounty from the farm stand was some beautiful fresh cranberry beans and thin just-picked green beans. As the components of the main course were to be inspired by Alice Waters, that led us towards this recipe from The Art of Simple Food with big flashing lights. While I changed up the proportions somewhat and added a bit of lemon at the end, I left most unchanged and this recipe produced a lovely, clean flavored dish that complemented the braise nicely.

Fresh Shell Bean and Green Bean Ragout

1 1/2 cups of freshly shelled cranberry beans
4 cups of green beans
1 white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon

cranberry beans shelled

Place the cranberry beans in a medium saucepan and cover with water about an inch over the tops of the beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a light boil / heavy simmer and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat when tender. Strain the beans, saving 3/4 cup of the beans’ cooking liquid for later, and run cold water over the beans to stop the cooking.

Top and tail the green beans and cut into 1 inch pieces.

audrey helper
It helps to have a good helper!

Refill the saucepan (or use a different one) with a couple inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the green beans and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then strain, and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

In a large saute pan, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil and saute the onions and garlic over medium-low heat until the onions turn translucent. Add in the parsley, green beans, cranberry beans, and the reserved cooking liquid. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat. Add the juice of 1 lemon and taste for salt and pepper as it cooks for a minute or two more. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

kitchen prepping main
I finished this dish while Mike G lent a hand carving the pork braise.

Zucchini Puddings

(part of From Provence to the Catskills, our celebration held as part of of the Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event)

Following on from Elizabeth David, Richard Olney was assigned the entrée (in the French meaning of the term). Flipping through his cookbook Simple French Food for inspiration, I came across this description: “one of these little puddings, prelude to an amicable chunk of rare meat, might take many a jaded gastronome by surprise.” Well, zucchini are abundant at Gill’s farmstand, and our menu certainly included an “amicable chunk of meat,” so Dick’s zucchini pudding soufflés sounded just the ticket.

Well, delicious it certainly was, but as a soufflé, it was something of a flop (pardon the pun), hence the renaming of the recipe. As an aside, if you’re ever tempted to cook from Richard Olney, bear in mind that “simple” is a complete oxymoron for this publication. Any recipe that reads in part “prepare the béchamel as usual” with no further guidance is not for the novice. These recipes also require a fair bit of stamina and concentration.

Zucchini Puddings

1 lb of zucchini
2 tbs butter

2 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
¾ cup milk

3 eggs, separated

2/3 cup tomato puree (home made – see below)
1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

The first step is to prepare the zucchini: grate about one pound of peeled zucchini (Olney recommends hand-grating or using a Mouli-julienne, but he was writing in 1974; two cycles of the Cuisinart saved me about 2 hours). Arrange the grated zucchini in layers in a bowl, sprinkling each layer with salt, and let stand for 30 minutes. Then work the zucchini with your hands to get the liquid out of it: squeeze it repeatedly “until it is swimming” in juice, strain it a couple of times through a sieve, and press well “to rid it of flagrant moisture.” This is a fairly labor-intensive step and takes a while to get the zucchini properly dried out. Next, sauté the zucchini over a medium flame in a generous amount of butter (well, it is French cooking) until well dried out and starting to color, about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Next, the béchamel. In a saucepan over a medium flame, melt the butter, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for a minute or two to make the roux. Turn down the heat and add the milk to the roux a little at a time until well combined (this works best if the milk is warmed up for about a minute in the microwave first. Continue to stir until thick and creamy – this will happen fast with only 3/4 cup of milk. You can also use a whisk to keep the sauce free of lumps. Remove the saucepan from heat as soon as the béchamel has thickened and let it cool slightly. Then, mix in the 3 egg yolks one at a time. Season with salt and pepper. Then stir in the cooked zucchini.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add about a third into the béchamel/egg/zucchini mixture to loosen it up, then gently fold in the rest of the beaten egg whites. Take care with this step – do not let yourself become too distracted by interesting political conversations or attention-seeking 3-year-olds and over-mix the egg whites, or the puddings will not rise and you will have to change the name of the dish from souffle to pudding. Don’t worry if you do – they will still taste good.

Pour the mixture into well-buttered ramekins (or a single larger souffle dish). Place the ramekins in a large shallow baking dish. Pull out the oven rack half-way, put the dish on the rack and then pour in enough boiling water to immerse the ramekins to two-thirds of the way up the sides (a bain-marie). Cook at 350F for 20-25 minutes, until the surface of the puddings is firm and springy to the touch. Take ramekins out of the bain-marie and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Turn the oven up to 450F.

While the puddings are cooling, make the tomato sauce: whisk together the tomato puree and cream, season with salt, pepper, cayenne. You can used canned puree, or make your own as we did by cooking up 2 tins of skinless plum tomatoes, a handful of basil and several sprigs of oregano, a few pinches of salt and sugar. Bring this to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Run this through the food mill, then cook it down further for another hour or two until it has a nice thick consistency (this yields much more than you need for this recipe, but tomato puree is quite useful to have around, so we made extra).

Turn the puddings out of the ramekins and return them to a baking dish large enough to hold all of them comfortably. Pour over enough tomato sauce to coat the puddings well, allowing the sauce to run down around them in the dish. Top with grated parmesan cheese and return to the oven for 20 minutes or so, until the surface is browning and the sauce bubbling. Plate and serve, spooning some of the tomato sauce around the puddings.

table post entre
We served this with a viognier wine with decent acidity. The puddings (aka souffles) might not have puffed up to full glory, but they disappeared quickly from the plates.