Sunday, July 24, 2011

Zucchini Pesto Lasagna

'I don't like pesto,' my friend Vanessa once told me.

I was shocked. Other than a picky nine-year-old and a certain co-worker, I had never met anyone who didn't like pesto.

Vanessa explained. 'I once ordered a pesto omelette, and it was swimming in pesto. When restaurants use pesto, they usually dump it on. It's too much.'

While for the past 20 years I have resided firmly in the 'never too much pesto camp,' I can see where Vanessa could be coming from.

So when I invited her over for dinner one night last summer and unthinkingly made a summer squash gratin with pesto and goat cheese, I had to warn her. Though the gratin had been heavy on the pesto, Vanessa scarfed it like the champ she is, saying she thought the amount was just right.

Apparently, she wasn't that hard to convert.

I wanted to recreate said gratin the other day when our box yielded several massive bunches of basil, which Jay duly turned into a pint of the green stuff. But then it turned into this lasagna, and I will tell you why.

A few months ago, I'd had big plans to make lasagna. I'd been seeing fresh pasta sheets at Rainbow, and wanted to try them out. I obsessed over a grocery list. I had it all planned out. But when I got to Rainbow, there was no fresh pasta to be seen.

I reluctantly bought the dry, boxed stuff, grumbling as I boiled the noodles, rinsed them, tossed them with oil to prevent them from sticking, peeled the stuck-together pasta sheets apart as best I could, and still ended up with a lasagna that was not as delicate as I would have liked. I swore that the next time I saw the precious pasta sheets, I would buy them without a second thought.

The next time happened to be when I went shopping for gratin ingredients. The sheets available were verdant with spinach. So the gratin became lasagna. And, like the gratin, the lasagna contained masses of pesto, but, in my pesto-loving opinion, not too much.

The dish comes together quickly using fresh noodles, which bypass the boiling-rinsing-tossing-peeling-apart steps. It uses three pounds of oven-roasted summer squash, which, if you have a garden this time of year, you may consider an asset. Rather than slaving over a sauce, I simply combined fresh goat cheese with milk for a sort of impromptu bechamel. Make the pesto yourself (I've included a favorite recipe below), or use a good-quality store-bought brand; Cibo makes a tasty option that gets the proportions right. I won't judge.

If you're a fan of pesto, I hope you will give this lasagna a try.

And if you're a self-proclaimed pesto hater, I hope that someone else will make this for you, and that you will thus be converted.

A penchant for pesto:
Cilantro and Pepita Pesto
Parsley Pesto with White Bean and Farro Soup

One year ago: 
DIY Tonic Water
Apricot Cherry Clafoutis

Roasted Zucchini Lasagna with Pesto and Chèvre

Makes about 8 servings

If you are super badass (or just have a lot of time on your hands) feel free to make your own spinach pasta sheets. If you're at the opposite end of that spectrum (the time one, that is), use store-bought fresh pasta and/or pesto (Cibo makes a good version). If you can't find fresh pasta sheets, I'd wager that typical boiled noodles would do the trick. (No-boil noodles might require more liquid than this recipe contains, though.) I'm guessing that a good-quality ricotta and some extra grated parmesan could stand in for the goat cheese here, and that other roasted vegetables, such as eggplant or bell peppers, would be tasty additions to the summer squash.

3 pounds summer squash (about 12 medium zucchini), sliced 1/4" thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt

12 ounces fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup basil pesto (recipe below)

16 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced
12 ounces fresh pasta sheets (preferably spinach) (cut to fit in a single layer if necessary; enough for 4 layers of pasta)

Roast the squash:
Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450ºF. Divide the sliced squash between two oiled sheet pans. Toss with the olive oil and salt, then arrange in a single layer (the squash may overlap a bit, but will lose volume as it bakes). Roast the squash, rotating once halfway through, until tender and beginning to brown in places, about 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool until handle-able.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF.

Mix up the cheese:
Meanwhile, place the goat cheese in a medium bowl, and gradually add in the milk, stirring until smooth. Stir in the salt and pepper.

Assemble the lasagna:
Lightly oil a 9x13" pyrex baking dish.
Lay a single layer of pasta sheets in the pan, cut to fit if necessary.
Spread the pasta with 1/4 cup of pesto.
Arrange 1/3 of the roasted squash over the pesto in a single layer.
Dollop 1/3 of the goat cheese mixture over the squash and spread evenly.
Lay 1/4 of the mozzarella over the goat cheese.
Arrange another layer of pasta sheets over the mozzarella, and make 2 more layers just like the first (pasta, pesto, squash, goat cheese, mozzarella), for a total of 3 layers.
Add a fourth layer of pasta sheets over the mozzarella, and spread with the remaining 1/4 cup of pesto. Reserve the remaining 1/4 of mozzarella.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake the lasagna at 350ºF until bubbling and the pasta is tender and browned around the edges, about 45 minutes.

Turn the oven to broil.

Remove the foil, lay the remaining mozzarella over the top, and place under the broiler (watch carefully!) for a minute or two to melt and brown the cheese.

Let the lasagna rest for 5-10 minutes, then cut and serve. The lasagna keeps well, refrigerated, for up to several days; reheat before serving.

Covie's Basil Pesto

This recipe comes from a friend's late mother; I think she got the proportions just right. If making pesto to store for a longer period of time, you can blanch and shock the basil first before blending it with the remaining ingredients; it takes a bit more work, but you end up with a bright green spread that stays this way for up to a week in the fridge, and longer in the freezer. Covie says you can add up to 6 tablespoons of butter; I've never tried it, but perhaps I will next time. You will end up with more pesto than you need for the above recipe; toss it with pasta for a quick lunch, spread it on a sandwich or dollop it over a fritatta.

4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
6 tablespoons pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
up to 1 cup olive oil
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste)

Optionally blanch the basil in boiling water for 30 seconds, then plunge into an ice bath. When cool, squeeze out all the water. (Or leave the basil fresh - see headnote.) Place the basil, blanched or not, in a food processor with the pine nuts and garlic, and puree until fairly smooth, adding some of the olive oil if you need to help the mixture blend. Add the cheese and enough of the olive oil to make a thick paste, then season to taste with the salt.

If storing the pesto, place it in a jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil (this will help prevent it from oxidizing) and place in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to several months.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Green Goddess Potato Salad

I'd never thought of vegetables like garlic, onions, potatoes and cabbage as having a season. They're staples, and just always available.

Then when I started thinking about things like 'seasons,' I decided that garlic, onions, cabbage and potatoes were winter foods.

When I opened up my CSA box this past week, I realized that I was wrong again. These vegetables do have a season, and annoyingly, that season is summer. When everything else is in season too. When I would prefer to cook with vegetables that don't hang around all year long: heirloom tomatoes, summer squash and corn, for instance. But no. The box brimmed with MORE garlic (we already have a dozen heads curing in the cupboard from boxes past), two massive onions the size of my head, two different types of potatoes, and a tiny, green cabbage head.

I had many indignant thoughts, including those above, and, 'Who eats cabbage and potatoes in the summer? Who?' I pouted a little (maybe a lot), and punished the vegetables by making them sit in the fridge for a week.

When July fourth rolled around, I practically clapped my hand to my forehead (does anyone actually do that?) when I realized that rather than being mean and stingy, Eatwell Farm was incredibly considerate to provide us with potato salad and coleslaw makings for the upcoming holiday.

I apologized to them in my head, then whipped up this tasty treat.

Green Goddess salad was originally a 1920's San Francisco concoction, created by the chef of the Palace Hotel in honor of Brit actor George Arliss, who was staying at the hotel while starring in a production of The Green Goddess. The creamy dressing consists of mayonnaise blended with garlic, anchovies, and soft herbs, and provides the same pungent creaminess as a Caesar or ranch, only more herbaceous. Wanting to add some pizazz to the american picnic staple, I decided to dress the salad in a green goddess-esque mayonnaise.

I chose dill and tarragon for the herbs as they are classics with potatoes, and basil because it reminds me that summer is really here (all boxes aside), and I love the blend of flavors that came about. Other soft herbs would work, too; try any combination of cilantro, parsley, chives, chervil, or watercress.

Inspired by some wild-looking 'dragon's tongue radishes', I kept it simple with thinly sliced radish, fennel and red onion. Pickled vegetables, capers or slices of hard-boiled egg would also be welcome additions.

I'd imagine this would be equally delicious with blanched, chopped green beans, sliced cucumbers or sweet corn kernals in place of the fennel and radish.

But don't dilly dally; unlike potatoes, those veggies won't hang around all year long.

You say potato:
Green Garlic Chive Potato Cakes
Oven Roasted Potatoes and Parnips
Spiced Sweet Potato Fries

One year ago:
Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Green Goddess Potato Salad

For the best flavor and texture here, use small, fresh potatoes with dense flesh. The anchovy, a staple of the classic Green Goddess dressing, adds a briny depth of flavor without making the dressing taste at all 'fishy.' Feel free to omit it if you don't have one handy; the salad will still taste great. While all the components can be made ahead, the salad tastes (and looks) best when freshly dressed. See the above post for herb and vegetable substitution suggestions.

The recipe will yield about 1 cup of mayonnaise; you only need half a cup for the salad, but the excess will keep for a week or two in the fridge, and is brilliant on sandwiches, as a dip for crudites, or thinned with olive oil and vinegar to drizzle over crunchy romaine or little gems.

2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1" chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2/3 cup packed basil leaves (about half a bunch)
1/2 cup packed tarragon leaves
1/3 cup chopped dill
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 anchovy fillet
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup good-quality mayonnaise, such as Spectrum Olive Oil (or homemade)
juice of 1- 2 lemons

1/4 of a medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced radish
1/2 of a fennel bulb, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
black pepper

Cook the potatoes:
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Add the 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, then cook until the potatoes are tender but not breaking apart, 10 minutes or so. Drain the potatoes (you can save the potato water to bake bread or use as a vegetable stock, if you like), and let cool completely.

Make the green goddess mayonnaise:
In a food processor, combine the herbs, garlic, anchovy, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and mayonnaise, and blend until smooth. Blend in the juice of one of the lemons. You will have about 1 cup.

Make the salad:
Place the cooled potatoes in a large bowl. Add the onion, radish, fennel, 1/2 cup of the dressing, and a good grinding of black pepper. Toss together gently to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon or salt as you see fit. The salad tastes best when freshly dressed, but it will keep for up to a few days in the fridge.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ginger Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Coconut-Lemongrass Ice Cream

'Get a pineapple,' Madeline hissed.

I had the good fortune to meet Madeline at pastry school five years ago. She holds one of the most coveted jobs in the Bay Area: stocking the produce department of Rainbow Grocery Co-op. Rainbow receives around 50 job applications per day, and many of their workers have been there for decades.

'I've shoved people out of the way to get one of these,' Madeline continued. 'We only carry them for a few weeks every year.' Never one to question Madeline's expertise, I grabbed a pineapple and took it home.

Kapalua Pineapples are transitionally grown on Maui sans pesticides. They are smaller than the ones I usually see in California, more gold than green, intensely fragrant, and the flesh dense and flavorful.

But there was one problem: I don't like pineapple.

I generally try to keep an open mind about produce. I theorize that many peoples' produce prejudices stem from one bad childhood experience, like being force-fed canned beets, for instance, or biting into an under-ripe hachiya persimmon, or being traumatized by a watery rhubarb pie. Continental breakfast fruit salads, consisting of sour kiwis, cardboard melons, bland grapes, mealy apples and too-tart pineapples, have come close to ruining many fruits for me. I've managed to overcome my aversion to melons, apples and grapes, thanks to the many excellent specimens I have tasted.

But there's something about pineapples that I just can't get past. (And don't even get me started on kiwis.)

I thought things would be different with the Kapalua pineapple, that it would be akin to the concord grapes we eat straight from the vine at Jay's mom's, or the crisp fuji apples that show up in the fall, or the fragrant melons that we sometimes get in our box. I thought it could change my mind.

But a taste of the raw pineapple still made my nose wrinkle.

So I figured that stewing the pineapple in brown sugar and grated ginger, and baking it under a coconut-milk-laced cake, would surely make me love it. I turned to Cook's Illustrated, and adapted the recipe to use the scant 4 cups of fruit I had ended up with, baked in my 8" cast-iron skillet. Caramelizing the pineapple in unrefined brown sugar certainly helped, and the resulting tangy caramel tasted like heaven, but it was the cake that surprised me the most: incredibly tender and moist from the addition of coconut milk.

There is something so satisfying about fruited upside-down cakes. Part of why I like baking is that it's kind of like magic: you put a lump of dough into the oven, and a while later, it has transformed into something else. With upside-down cakes, there is the additionally magical moment of turning out the cake to reveal a crown of caramelized fruit, glistening like jewels.

I made coconut lemongrass ice cream, adapted from one of the most beautiful food blogs out there, to go with this cake, and found that it tempered what tang the pineapple had left. The ice cream base is thickened with both egg yolks and cornstarch, which gives it a soft, gelato-like texture. The delicate flavors of lemongrass, lime and coconut all blend together beautifully. A sprinkling of toasted, chopped macadamias, hand roasted and carried back from Maui by my dear friend Amelia, added a bit of crunch.

My friend remarked that this combination of cake and ice cream tasted somehow like fruit loops, 'only good.' Once she said so, I could taste it, too. At first I took offense, but after a few more bites I decided that I'm ok with my ginger pineapple upside-down cake and coconut lemongrass ice cream tasting like fruit loops.

Just so long as they don't taste like hotel fruit salad.

Turn your world upside-down:
Banana Rum Cakelets
Über Apple Cake
Cranberry Pear Gingerbread

One year ago:
Crispy, Clumpy Granola

Ginger Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (with Coconut Lemongrass Ice cream)

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Makes one 8" cake, 6 - 8 servings

Make the ice cream a day ahead (or early in the day), so that the base has time to chill, and the churned ice cream has time to 'cure' or firm up in the freezer.

I cooked the pineapple and baked the cake in a cast iron skillet whose base measures 6 1/2" in diameter, and the top 8". I'd imagine you could bake the cake in a 6 or 7" cake pan with 2" high sides, or make individual cakes in well-greased muffin cups. You'll have just the right amount of coconut milk (and an egg yolk, too) leftover to make Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream, below. Alternately, you can increase the cake recipe by 25% (1 cup of sugar in the topping, etc.), bake the cake in a 10" skillet or 9" cake pan, and serve the cake with store-bought (or home-made) vanilla ice cream. Complicated, I know. See? Pineapples are complicated.

A ripe pineapple should smell tantalizing, and be mostly yellow in color. Adding half of a vanilla bean to the pineapple topping in place of the ginger could be a nice change. At work, we use pineapple peel to make Chicha Morada, an Andean fruit punch made with purple corn, citrus and spices: tasty.

For the topping:
1 medium pineapple, 2 1/2 pounds (to make 3 - 4 cups prepared pineapple)
3/4 cup unrefined sugar (such as Eco Goods) or light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unrefined or light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temp
1 egg white, at room temp

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For serving:
coconut lemongrass ice cream (below)
toasted, chopped macadamia nuts

Prepare the pineapple:
Twist off the crown of pineapple leaves and discard. Slice off the top and bottom ends of the pineapple to make flat surfaces. With a cut side down, use a large chef's knife to remove strips of the peel, following the curve of the pineapple as much as possible. When the peel is removed, cut the pineapple in half lengthwise, then in half again to make quarters. Place a quarter cut side down and cut off the pale-yellow core. Slice the quarter lengthwise into into 3/4 inch pieces, then cut the pieces crosswise into 1/2 inch chunks. Repeat with the the remaining quarters.

Cook the pineapple topping:
In an 8" oven-proof skillet, combine the pineapple chunks, unrefined sugar and grated ginger. Cook over a medium flame, stirring occasionally, until the pineapple chunks are translucent and brown from the sugar and the sauce bubbles thickly, about 15 minutes. You should have around 1 1/2 cups of fruit.

Place the pineapple in a strainer set over a bowl to catch the juices. Let drain for a few minutes, pressing on the pineapple gently, then return the juices to the pan, leaving the pineapple to drain further. Cook the juices over medium heat until reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes, adding any additionally drained juices to the pan halfway through. (The pineapple will continue to drain, but don't add any more of the juices to the thickened sauce. Rather, drink them, or save to drizzle over slices of the finished cake.) Remove the sauce from the heat, and add the butter, salt and vanilla, stirring to combine. (If baking the cake in the skillet, let the sauce cool. If baking the cake in a different pan, grease the pan, then pour the hot sauce into the pan to coat the bottom.)

Make the cake batter:
Position a rack in the lower-center of the oven and preheat to 350º.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a sturdy wooden spoon), cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed until lightened and fluffy, 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift or whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt into a smallish bowl. Stir the vanilla into the coconut milk.

Add the egg, then the egg white, to the creaming butter, beating after each addition until incorporated. Turn the mixer speed to low. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, beating until just incorporated, then half of the coconut milk. Repeat, then add the rest of the dries. Remove the bowl from the stand, and fold with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is well-mixed.

Assemble and bake the cake:
Lay the cooked, drained pineapple chunks over the caramel. Spread the cake batter over the pineapple. Bake the cake until golden, beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a tester comes out clean, 35 - 40 minutes. Let the cake cool for a few minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides of the cake to loosen it. Carefully invert the cake onto a large plate or serving platter. (To do this painlessly, invert a plate over the cake, then, wearing oven mitts, grasp the pan and plate together and flip them both over.) Remove the pan from the cake, replacing any pineapple chunks that may have become dislodged or stuck to the pan.

Let the cake cool to room temperature, 1 - 2 hours. Serve slices with scoops of coconut lemongrass ice cream and chopped, toasted macadamias. The cake is best served the day it is made, but will keep for a few days in the fridge; re-warm in an oven or toaster oven.

Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream

Adapted from Nordljus

Makes about 1 pint

2 large stalks lemongrass, bruised and chopped into 2" lengths
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons 300 mL) canned coconut milk
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (7 grams) cornstarch
1/2 cup (75 mL) heavy cream
zest of 1 lime

In a small saucepan, heat the lemongrass, coconut milk and half the sugar until very warm, swirling occasionally. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and steep for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the lemongrass to extract all the coconut milk. Discard the lemongrass.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar and the cornstarch. Whisk in the egg yolks. Dribble in the warm coconut milk, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, place over a medium-low flame, and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot constantly with a heat-proof spatula, until the mixture thickens and reaches 170ºF. Remove from the heat and immediately strain into a heatproof container. Stir in the heavy cream and the lime zest.

Chill the mixture until very cold, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

Spin in an ice cream maker, then chill in the freezer for 2 hours until firm.