Saturday, October 29, 2011
While working as a barista at Farley's, I noticed a curious cookie begin to turn up in our morning pastry boxes. They were called ANZACs. Nobody understood the name of these cookies, but we did get that they were curiously tasty, packed with oats and shredded coconut. I recall them being soft and chewy, mild in flavor, and pale golden in color.
When someone penciled in "Australian New Zealand Army Corps" on their display label, I thought it a Farley's barista prank, like the time one worker wrote "Goetse Danish" on the Cherry Danish label, and snickered when an elderly female customer unwittingly ordered one.
One day a British customer enlightened me: ANZAC really was an acronym for the above, and they were called biscuits rather than cookies, in the British sense of the word, meaning not the fluffy quickbread with which we Americans are familiar, but any small, sweet cookie.
Since I remembered liking the Anzacs at Farley's, I decided to try a recipe I came across in Mani Niall's Sweet!, a book that deliciously explores all manner of sweeteners. The recipe for Anzacs is legally protected by the Australian and New Zealand governments, and Aussies and Kiwis alike seem to go up in arms (hopefully not literally) when their national recipe is tampered with, or when the biscuits are called 'cookies' (by pesky Americans, no doubt).
I did make three teeny, tiny changes to the recipe, though, which I pray will not arouse the wrath of anyone down-under (I hear they can be pretty feisty): I decreased the sugar just a bit, subbed some whole spelt flour for the all-purpose, and added a touch of salt. I kind of have a thing for salt in my cookies, and I'm confidant that the addition caused the biscuits to taste extra-addictive. In fact, Jay dubbed these "ANZ-Cracks."
So I mixed up the dough, which happily requires merely melting the butter and syrup together, dissolving the baking soda in a bit of boiling water, and stirring everything up in a big bowl. The cookies get scooped into balls, then flattened into discs and baked. Unlike the Anzacs from Farley's (which I suspect did not contain golden syrup), these biscuits baked up deeply orange-brown, and firmed up to a candy-like crispness when cool. The oats and coconut give the cookies a lightness that reminds me of a cross between the wheaty digestive biscuits I enjoyed in England and a crisp granola bar, only more dessert-like than either.
Purportedly, Anzacs were created for Australian and New Zealand soldiers during the first world war, and their ingredients kept them fresh for long periods of time. Unlike other drop cookies, Anzacs contain no eggs, as there was a shortage of poultry farmers during that time. Another characteristic that sets Anzacs apart is the addition of golden syrup, which caramelizes in the oven, turning the cookies a deep orange-brown. Golden syrup is becoming increasingly easy to find in the states, but you can order it if you need an authentic Anzac fix.
I had never tasted golden syrup on its own before, but I found some at Rainbow recently and snapped it up. A thick sweetener made from boiling cane sugar down until it turns golden and takes on a toffee-like flavor, it has the smooth, mildness of corn syrup, minus the scariness. I'm itching to find out what else I can use it in - ice cream? Pecan pie? Treacle Tart?
(If you have any ideas, let me know.)
Maple Bacon Sugar Cookies
Nibby Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Nibby Matcha Wafers
One year ago:
Über Apple Upside-Down Cake
Two years ago:
Adapted from Sweet!
Makes about 2 dozen 3" cookies
These cookies bake longer than regular drop cookies; when ready, they will turn an orangey-brown all over, and, when cooled, should firm up to a crisp and crunchy texture. Lyle's Golden Syrup gives these cookies their characteristic color and flavor; I have yet to hear of an adequate substitute.
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 cup (3 3/4 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) unsalted butter, in 6 pieces
2 tablespoons Lyle's golden syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons boiling water
a few pinches of flaky salt, such as maldon
Position a rack in the upper third of your oven and preheat to 350º. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, coconut, sugar and salt.
Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally.
Place the baking soda in a small bowl and stir in the boiling water. Stir the baking soda mixture into the butter mixture, then stir the butter mixture into the flour mixture to combine. You will have a fairly firm dough.
Scoop the dough into walnut-sized balls (about 1 inch in diameter; I use a #40 spring-loaded ice cream scoop with the purple handle) and place them 3-4 inches apart on the baking sheet - you will only be able to fit 8 on each sheet. Use your palm to flatten the cookies to 2" discs. Sprinkle a tiny pinch of flaky salt over each cookie before baking.
Bake the cookies until they turn an orangey-golden-brown all over, 12-15 minutes, rotating once during the baking time. Use a thin, metal spatula to remove the cookies to racks to cool. The cookies will be firm-soft when warm, but should crisp up when cool. (I like them best crunchy and caramelized.)
Repeat with the remaining dough and cookies.
ANZACs keep well for up to several weeks, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
Monday, October 24, 2011
At my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, which divides its schoolyear into quarters, summer vacation extends through late September. High school friends who left California to attend college on the East Coast would reluctantly say their goodbyes come August, and I would secretly gloat about having a full month left to goof off while they slaved away in the sweltering heat on the other side of the continent.
But they would be the ones gloating come the following May, when they came skipping home, their hard work done for the school year. They lounged on the beaches of SoCal as I scrambled to finish papers on the Italian Renaissance and cram random dates and names into my head, resentfully tucked inside a dark library, glumly staring out the window as the warm sun filtered through the redwoods outside.
Only the sun didn't always filter through. Northern California is notorious for its June gloom, and here in San Francisco, the gloom often lasts through August, and sometimes even September. Our summer doesn't occur until late September and October, which allows us to repress our memories of the previous grey months and gloat to the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.
But, like all things, Indian Summer has its downsides.
With Thanksgiving a mere month away, The Pumpkin Dessert Window is closing in swiftly. And everyone knows that it is tackier to serve pumpkin desserts after Thanksgiving than to wear white shoes after Labor Day. (Or is it white tights? It is way too hot for any color tights around here. Do ladies even wear white tights? Maybe it should now be considered gauche to wear hoochie cut-off shorts after Labor Day; though I personally find those inappropriate any time of the year).
Tights and hoochie shorts aside, I've had a butternut squash sitting in my cupboard for the past 2 weeks. I keep looking at the weather forecast hoping for fog and a crisp breeze to make turning on the oven attractive, but sun icons and highs in the 70s keep staring back. (Around here, that's really warm!) I have a pumpkin pie recipe to perfect! And maple walnut bars to bake! And bacon apple scones to tweak! I can't be having this too-hot-to-run-the-oven-weather going on for much longer, or I'll miss the pumpkin dessert window altogether. In a panic, I'll try to bake 6 pies for Thanksgiving, and end up hating the entire holiday due to round-the-clock-baking-induced stress.
With the first crisp days of what I thought was the coming Fall, I changed out the menu at work. I swapped the honey-yogurt panna cotta for a pumpkin cheesecake, and the raspberry-clad tres leches cake for caramelized apple bread pudding. I tweaked (the recipes, that is) and obsessed, and got them just right, but now all we can sell are banana empanadas and guanabana ice cream. I can't blame the customers; it's too hot for spices and warm puddings.
And it's too hot for the lovely fall produce we've been receiving in our boxes: collard greens, sweet potatoes, apples, broccoli...
So to procrastinate cooking unappealing produce, I've been mixing up this icy cocktail, which draws inspiration from a drink they used to serve at The Alembic, a phenomenal whiskey bar in the Haight district of SF. Their Mediterranean Homesick Blues muddled whole cardamom pods with simple syrup, gin, lemon juice, and rosewater, and got topped with ice and prosecco. The bartender told me it was to be a sophisticated take on the lemon drop. But they have since (inexplicably) removed it from their menu, thus I have been forced (alack!) to recreate it at home.
I use agave as the sweetener (despite the bad press it has lately received) because it is already in liquid form and it imparts a slightly warm yet neutral flavor to the drink, but you could use simple syrup (preferably made with organic sugar), or honey dissolved in a bit of hot water. (Everything in moderation, right?) And I found that I prefer the drink made with lime juice, as it seems to make the flavors pop more, and with sparkling water lieu of prosecco, as I felt the prosecco not only drowns out the other flavors, but then one has to drink a whole bottle of prosecco in addition to a gin cocktail, and I'm just not up to that, Indian summer or no.
I call this the Indian Summer Blues in homage to The Alembic's late cocktail, to embody my inner despondent feelings re: poor baking weather, and because the flavors used – cardamom, lime and rosewater – frequently pop up in Indian cuisine. (Technically, the concoction probably tastes more Middle-Eastern, but The Middle-Eastern Summer Blues didn't quite have the same ring.)
So if you, too, are suffering from the Indian Summer Blues, open a window, slip on a pair of hoochie shorts, stick your crucifers in the crisper, and mix yourself up one of these refreshing beverages.
And if you can muster the energy, gloat.
DIY Gin and Tonics
Lemon Verbena Berry Shakes
Cardamom Ice Cream (and Almond Plum Tart)
One year ago:
Two years ago:
Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins
Indian Summer Blues
Inspired by Alembic's late Mediterranean Homesick Blues
As mentioned above, I use organic agave nectar to sweeten this drink, as it is already in liquid form and it imparts a slightly warm, yet neutral, flavor to the drink, but you could use simple syrup (preferably made with organic sugar), or honey dissolved in a bit of hot water. There are many excellent gins on the market: Hendrick's, No. 209, and Junipero (made by the local Anchor Brewery) being my favorites thus far, but New Amsterdam also makes a good, inexpensive version. My bottle of rosewater has been hanging around my cupboard for several years; if you have a fresh bottle, which may be more potent, start with the smaller amount, then add more, if needed, to taste. The cardamom flavor comes out more the longer you take to sip it; you can optionally steep the cracked pods in the gin mixture for several minutes before adding the ice and sparkling water. You can make this virgin, too; just omit the gin, and increase the other flavorings slightly.
3-4 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons agave nectar
juice of half a lime, plus a few thin slices for garnish
3 tablespoons gin
1/2 - 1 teaspoon rosewater
Put the pods in a dram-type glass (about 1 1/2 cup capacity) and give them a gentle crush with a muddle stick or other blunt object. You just want to crack them; pulverizing them will result in lots of small, floating particles that will unpleasantly get stuck in your teeth. Add the agave, lime juice, gin and rosewater, and stir to dissolve the agave. (Optionally let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or longer to infuse with the cardamom.) Add the ice, then top with sparkling water and a slice or two of lime, and serve.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Many people I know have fond childhood memories of eating flaky apple turnovers. My first occurred during a Girl Scout meeting in second grade, when we tucked grated apples into squares of puff pastry and baked them. Then we did egg white facials. (The turnover memories were more fond than those of having raw egg whites smeared on my face.)
But few people I know have fond (or any) memories of eating quince. Up until a few years ago, I didn't either.
Quince are high-maintenance. In contrast to a laid-back raspberry or peach, a quince cannot be eaten fresh from the tree. Oh, no. The quince must be peeled, cored, sliced, submerged in a sweetened liquid and cooked for at least an hour before it becomes vaguely edible.
But sometimes it's ok to be high-maintenance (ahem); in the case of quince, all the fuss is well worth the outcome.
The quince looks something like a deformed, fuzz-covered apple or pear, but put one near your nose and you will inhale a most intoxicating perfume of tropical flowers and fruit. When prepared as above, the chalky, white flesh takes on a magenta hue, softens to the texture of a roasted apple, and tastes like nothing you have ever imagined, its flavor complex and magical.
I could never wrap my brain around the fact that apples are in the same family as roses; but the quince's floral aroma makes its lineage clear.
As with beets and rhubarb, I have Jay's mom, Mary, to thank for exposing me to quince. An old, gnarled tree, looking as though it grew out of a medieval fairy tale and into her backyard, produces dozens of the knobby fruits every year. She kindly lets me raid her tree each fall, and in return, I give her back poached slices of quince, or sometimes membrillo, a Spanish-style paste made from cooking the fruit down to a gel, which traditionally gets eaten with bread and manchego cheese.
This year, I tried Deborah Madison's recipe for 'nearly candied quince,' with a few tweaks, and discovered my favorite cooking method for this fussy fruit. I peeled the quince, cut them off the core and into slices, and immersed the slices in a simple syrup flavored with honey, vanilla and cardamom. I baked them in the oven until they turned rosy and soft, the juices thick and syrupy, then added a splash of white dessert wine, aptly named Nectar, also gifted from Jay's folks from a local winery.
We'd been enjoying the quince slices atop sourdough crackers smeared with goat cheese for a sort of instant membrillo, but then I came across a recipe for apple quince turnovers in Everyday Greens. I sauteed up a couple of new varieties of apples that I found at Rainbow; one was a dry-farmed gala, the other a Rhode Island heirloom that tasted like a granny smith with denser flesh and less puckery-tartness.
The Greens recipe called for a pie-like dough made with cream cheese and cornmeal, but I decided to go all out and make my own puff pastry, with a little whole wheat flour thrown in there for nutty flavor.
I've written a separate post on making puff pastry by hand, the recipe and technique adapted from Baking Illustrated, which streamlines the process as much as possible. The dough still takes several hours to complete, but most of that time is inactive chilling (one of my favorite activities). But if you're feeling lower-maintenance (or just short on time), you can use a good, store-bought dough (just make sure it's made with all butter), or make them with pate brisee and call them apple quince pasties, empanadas, or hand-pies, instead.
These turnovers may not be the quickest recipe, but you can make all the components ahead of time: the quince will keep in the fridge for at least 2 months; the puff dough can be stored, double-wrapped, in the freezer for 6 months; the apple quince filling can be made a day or two ahead, and the unbaked turnovers can be stored in the freezer for up to several months, then baked from frozen.
All in all, a high maintenance recipe. But when you taste the flaky crust with spiced sugar topping against the gooey, perfumed filling, I hope you'll agree that the work was well worth it. Hot from the oven, these turnovers are what fond memories are made of.
Apple Rhubarb Pandowdy
Pear Cardamom Oven Pancake
Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding
One year ago:
Roasted Summer Vegetable Caponata
Almond Plum Tart with Cardamom Ice Cream
Two years ago:
Extra-Sour Country Boule
Apple Quince Turnovers with Whole Wheat Puff Pastry
Makes six 5" turnovers
See my post on homemade puff dough for step-by-step photos and instructions; you only need half the recipe, so store the other half in the freezer, or use it to make cheese straws, palmiers, or napoleons. Or use an all-butter, store-bought dough, defrosted in the fridge overnight; or make them with pate brisee, and call them pasties, empanandas or hand-pies.
As I mentioned above, you can make all the components for the turnovers ahead of time: the quince will keep in the fridge for at least 2 months; the puff dough can be stored, double-wrapped, in the freezer for 6 months; the apple quince filling can be made a day or two ahead, and the unbaked turnovers can be stored in the freezer for up to several months, then baked from frozen.
This recipe makes 4 cups of roasted quince; you only need 1 cup for the turnovers, but the remainder can keep for up to 2 months in the refrigerator, or frozen for longer. Try adding extra quince slices to any apple or pear dessert, like a pie, tart, cake, crisp or pandowdy. Or enjoy the quince warm with a scoop of ice cream and a crisp cookie, or chilled with crackers and cheese for insta-membrillo.
Feel free to make a double batch of turnovers and store them, unbaked, in the freezer for whenever a turnover craving strikes. It's the roasted quince that makes the recipe so unique, but lacking them, an all-apple turnover would be tasty, too. Enjoy them with a cup of tea for breakfast, wrap one up for a bojon snack in the redwoods, or serve with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of the quince syrup for dessert.
On the topic of quince syrup, extras make a great soda, stirred into some sparkling water and poured over ice. Add a shot of gin and a splash of dessert wine, and garnish with a slice of quince, for the grown-up version.
Adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts
Makes 1 quart
3 cups water
1 1/4 cups organic sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
6 cardamom pods, cracked
6 large quince (about 4 cups peeled and sliced)
1/4 cup late-harvest Riesling, Muscat, or other white dessert wine
Quince and Apple Filling
Adapted from Everyday Greens
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sugar
squeeze lemon or lime juice
2 medium, firm-tart baking apples, peeled, cut off the core, and cut into 3/4" cubes (about 3 cups)
1 cup roasted quince (from above), cooled, chopped into 1/2" pieces
Dough and Spiced Sugar:
1 pound all-butter puff pastry (1/2 recipe of homemade or store-bought, defrosted in the fridge overnight if frozen)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
Cook the quince:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º.
In a large saucepan, combine the water, sugar, honey, vanilla pod and scrapings, and cardamom. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then simmer over low heat while you prepare the quince.
Peel the quince (I like to use a T-shaped vegetable peeler), and cut them off the core (or halve and core for cleaner slices). Cut the quince into 3/4" thick slices. Lay the quince slices in a gratin dish or other shallow baking dish with a 2-quart capacity.
Pour the boiling syrup and spices over the quince.
Bake the quince, uncovered, for about 2 hours, turning the slices over in their juices every 30 minutes (and more frequently during the end of the cooking time). When done, the quince should be tender and rosy, and somewhat translucent.
Remove the quince from the oven and pour the wine over them. Cool the quince in the their juices, pack into a quart-sized mason jar, cover with the liquid, and store in the fridge for up to 2 months (or in the freezer for longer).
Prepare the dough:
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to an 11x16" rectangle, about 1/8" thick, chilling the dough if it becomes at all sticky or springy. Trim away the outer 1" on all sides, and use a sharp chef's knife or pizza wheel to cut the dough into 6 squares. Stack the squares on a plate and chill while you prepare the filling.
Make the filling and assemble the turnovers:
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar, salt and lemon juice, give it a stir, and cook until bubbling, 2-3 minutes. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Cool the apples completely (you can spread them on a plate and stick them in the fridge), then combine with the cooled, chopped quince.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove one dough square from the fridge, and moisten two adjoining edges with water. Place 3-4 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the dough, and shape it into a slight oblong on the diagonal. Fold the square in half on the diagonal, bringing the top edges 1/8" over the bottom. Firmly crimp the edges with the tines of a fork to seal.
Place the turnover on the parchment-lined sheet, and repeat with the remaining turnovers (you may have some leftover filling). Freeze the filled turnovers until firm, about 20 minutes, while you:
Position a rack in the upper-center of the oven and preheat to 375º.
Remove the frozen turnovers, spray or brush them lightly with water, and sprinkle with the spiced sugar (you may not need all of it).
Bake the turnovers until the crusts are golden and flaky, and the juices from the fruit are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
The turnovers are best the day they are baked, but they can be stored for up to 3 days at room temperature and reheated in a 350º oven or toaster oven.
I went to pastry school for the main purpose of learning to make great croissants. Unfortunately, my croissants never turned out as well as my puff pastry did, but fortunately, the doughs utilize the same method, called laminating.
|Adding ice water and lemon juice to the flour/butter mixture|
The classic technique involves making a lean dough of flour, ice water, salt, and sugar (and yeast in the case of croissants), and then forming a block or slab of butter which you fold into the lean dough. The dough gets folded up like a letter and rolled out repeatedly, chilling for an hour between turns, making dozens of ultra-thin layers of butter and dough. When the dough hits the heat of the oven, the butter (which is 15% water), lets off steam, raising the layer of dough above it. The finished product's many layers flake and shatter. Despite all that butter, a well-laminated and -baked dough should taste light on the palate, rather than heavy or greasy.
|The dough clumping together when squeezed|
Those canny folks at Cook's Illustrated have streamlined the process as much as possible, and use the slightly simpler method of cutting butter chunks into the dough, as for a pate brisee, then fraisage-ing the dough (scraping portions of dough across the work surface with the palm of your hand), then folding and rolling the dough several times in a row, without chilling between every turn. The finished dough is almost identical to a classic puff pastry, but takes about half the time to make (3 hours as opposed to 6).
|The dough, mid-fraisage|
I add a bit of whole wheat bread flour to the dough because I like the flavor it adds, but feel free to use all white flour if you prefer; an all-white dough will have slightly more loft.
|and roll #1|
Puff pastry has many uses: tuck apples and quince inside for some stellar turnovers, cut it into strips and sprinkle with parmesan for cheese straws, roll it up with sugar for palmiers, or lay them over a vegetable stew thickened with bechamel for pot pie.
|Fold #2 - a smoother dough|
|and roll #2|
I always find making puff pastry to be a magical experience; one of those things that goes into the oven looking unremarkable and emerges transformed into something magnificent. If only I could make my croissants look good, too...
|The finished dough and its many layers|
Quick(er) Whole Wheat Puff Pastry
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Makes 2 pounds (enough for twelve 5" turnovers, or two large pot pies)
The whole wheat bread flour here gives the dough a nutty flavor without interfering with the lightness of the layers. I would not substitute whole wheat pastry flour, as it might not contain enough gluten to create strong layers of dough. Lacking a food processor, you can probably make this by rubbing in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender. Bear in mind that the butter doesn't get incorporated as much as in a pie dough.
A couple of simple tools will be helpful: a metal scraper to assist in the fraisage process, and a pastry brush for sweeping off excess flour as you roll out and turn the dough.
As you work with the dough, return it to the fridge to chill for 10 minutes or so if it begins to either get sticky, or if it starts to spring back as you roll it. Stickiness is a sign of the butter softening, which will decrease the number of distinct layers of dough you have and will prevent your finished dough from rising high and flakily. Springiness is a sign of the glutens in the flour being activated, and will result in tough, bready dough if you don't let them rest. So listen to your dough, and give it a break when it asks.
This dough takes about 2 1/2 - 3 hours to complete (more if your kitchen is warm and the dough requires more chilling), but most of this time is inactive - resting the dough in the refrigerator.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
12 ounces (3 sticks/1 1/2 cups) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" cubes and chilled again until firm
9 tablespoons ice water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Combine the flours, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, pulsing once to combine. Add 1/4 of the butter chunks and pulse 4 times until the dough is in dime-sized pieces. Add the remaining butter and process 2 times just to coat the butter cubes with flour. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
Combine the ice water and lemon juice in a small bowl. Drizzle half of the liquid over the flour/butter mixture and toss with a rubber spatula until just combined. Add more liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clumps together when squeezed. Turn the dough - which will be very shaggy - out onto your work surface. Fraisage the dough by dragging small portions of it across the counter under the heel of your hand (see photo in post above). The motions should be quick and brisk so that the butter stays as cold as possible. This action creates many thin layers of dough and butter, and begins to bring the dough together.
Gather the dough up into a ball (a metal pastry scraper is helpful here), press it into a disc, wrap it in plastic and chill it for 1 hour.
Remove the chilled dough from the fridge, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured surface. Dust the dough lightly with flour, sweep off any excess with a pastry brush, and roll out the dough to a 15x10" rectangle. Fold the dough lengthwise into thirds, like folding a letter, then, starting from a short end, loosely roll up the dough into a spiral. (See photos in post, above.)
If the dough is sticky or springy at this point, wrap it in plastic and chill it for 30 minutes.
Press down on the dough to form a small rectangle, and again roll it out into a 15x10" rectangle, and again roll it up into a spiral. Flatten it out a bit to make it easier to roll once it has chilled. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.
Your puff pastry is now ready to be used. You can store it in the fridge for a day or two, or freeze it, double-wrapped, for many months.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
As a child, one of the first big words I learned to spell was 'onomatopoeia,' which means 'a word that sounds like what it means.' 'Crunch,' 'sizzle,' and 'squawk' are all onomatopoeia (but not, ironically, onomatopoeia).
I've been thinking about onomatopoeia lately, because we have been enjoying shakshouka for breakfast, and if there were a classification for a word that sounds the way it tastes, shakshouka would be one of them.
I learned about shakshouka, a Tunisian/Israeli dish of tomatoes stewed with spices and poached eggs, several years ago via an article in the New York Times food section on middle eastern cuisine. The intriguing photograph of a small saute pan filled with tomato goo and an egg that had been cracked and cooked right in the mixture had me reading through the ingredient list, full of fresh tomatoes and peppers, for the next several summers whenever a box would show up.
But I couldn't seem to get past a couple of things:
- The shakshouka called for 5 tablespoons of olive oil -- and claimed to serve one.
- The recipe asked for both canned and fresh tomatoes. During tomato season, why would one use canned? And during non-tomato season, one could not use both. Hence the conundrum.
But The Sunset Cookbook saved my shakshouka experience as their (not entirely traditional) recipe took care of these problems. They scaled the olive oil back to less than 1 tablespoon per serving, and called for only fresh tomatoes, plus a little tomato paste (which, for some reason, seems kosher to use during fresh tomato season, though canned tomatoes do not).
So why does shakshouka sound the way it tastes? (Or does it taste the way it sounds?)
First, cumin, coriander and a large amount of sweet paprika are crushed together in a mortar. (I rejoiced at a chance to use the brick-red paprika a friend brought me from Hungary. Thanks, Kelly!) Then onions get sauteed with sweet and spicy peppers until golden and tender. The spices are added, along with garlic, tomato paste and halved tomatoes, and the tomatoes stew in their juices until soft and infused with the flavors of the spices. Divots are made in the tomatoes, and whole eggs are cracked right in. The pot is covered, and the eggs poach right in the sauce. Crusty bread sops up the sauce nicely; I especially liked Acme's herb slab, a focaccia-like bread flavored with rosemary. Olive oil lovers will appreciate an extra drizzle over the finished dish, and we blasphemed one morning by adding a crumble of fresh goat cheese over the top.
Shakshouka's soft texture and warm spices enrobe the mouth like wrapping oneself in blankets of warm velvet, just the way 'shakshouka' sounds, akin to a romantic whisper. It feels so right on an early fall morning; one of those recipes that bridges the gap between the seasons, both invigorating and comforting at the same time.
The version I made with dry-farmed tomatoes broke down into more of a thick sauce and tasted especially rich and flavorful, while the one made with san marzanos held its shape better and looked a bit more pleasing aesthetically, but had a lighter flavor; so the choice is yours. We like our egg yolks soft but not overly-runny; feel free to leave yours gooier, if you like.
And don't worry if you're not so good at spelling; unlike 'onomatopoeia,' 'shakshouka' (or 'shakshuka') has several options.
Smoky Tomato Butterbean Soup
Summer Veg Crustless Skillet Quiche
One year ago:
Cacao Nib Ice Cream
Two years ago:
Decadent Eggs On Toast
Adapted from The New York Times and The Sunset Cookbook
This recipe is all about the tomatoes, so use the best you can find. I like dry-farmed early girls the best for flavor, but san marzanos and romas hold their shape better, so the choice is yours. Be sure to have some crusty bread on hand to mop up the saucy juices. It isn't traditional, but we liked this with a crumble of fresh goat cheese over the top.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeño or poblano pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
1 sweet red pepper (such as bell, gypsy, or corno di toro), seeded and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika (Spanish or Hungarian)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (see headnote)
crusty bread, for serving
In a wide skillet (one that has a tight-fitting lid), warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers, and saute until very tender and golden, stirring occasionally 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, crush the coriander and cumin seed in a mortar. Add the garlic and salt, and mash to a paste. Work in the paprika. Set aside.
Prepare the tomatoes while the onions continue to cook. Halve the tomatoes and cut or squeeze out the seeds and core into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the juices. Press on the solids to extract as much juice as possible, then add enough water to make 3/4 cup of liquid.
When the onions and peppers are cooked, stir in the spice mixture. Cook 1 minute, then add the tomato paste and work in. Add the juice/water mixture to deglaze, then add the tomatoes and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Cook the tomatoes until soft, turning occasionally, 10-20 minutes, adding a splash more water if the pan is looking dry; it should be thickly saucy.
When the tomatoes are cooked to your liking, make 4 divots in the tomatoes and crack an egg into each divot. Cover the pot and let the eggs cook for about 5 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks are still soft.
Sprinkle the eggs with a bit more salt and a good grind of black pepper. Spoon the tomatoes and eggs onto plates or bowls and serve immediately with crusty bread drizzled with super-good olive oil.