Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hungarian Danishes

First off, I want to say that I am completely aware of how silly the name of this treat sounds. I realize that if it's a Danish, it should be from Denmark, not Hungary. By way of explanation, this is a baked good that I've only had in Russia and at home here. More specifically, I've only seen it made by my mom, though the Russian Internet proves that the treat and its name, 'венгерские ватрушки', are not isolated to her. And in Russian, the word for 'Danish' has no associations with Denmark, so if we are translating literally, we arrive at the slightly nonsensical 'Hungarian Danishes'. I've even run this dilemma by my stepfather, who is much better at translating between the two languages than I am, and he confirmed that this is, indeed, the correct translation - especially since cheese is part of the recipe.

Translation semantics aside, I am glad that I am finally posting this here - both because it means we got to enjoy this treat for Christmas (and for a few days afterwards), and because now the recipe will be "in the cloud", and not just handwritten on a piece of paper I am bound to lose at some point. I took advantage of my mom's visit here to have her help me make two of my childhood favorite baked goods: these 'Danishes' and my favorite lemon pie. Not that either is particularly difficult, but both require the rolling out of dough, which I am not nearly as good at as my mom (especially with our tiled counters). However, this rolling-out effort is definitely worth it, as these are an extremely tasty accompaniment to tea, milk, or pretty much any beverage (they are quite sweet). I am pretty sure this was Mihai's first time having these (as I write this, I am feeling very guilty for my baking negligence all these years), and he thoroughly approved.

Hungarian Danishes

For the dough:
2 cups flour (300g)
1¾ sticks cold unsalted butter (200g)
200g farmer's cheese (or very fine, drained cottage cheese)
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

For the filling:
2 egg whites
¾ cups sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1. Grate the cold butter into the flour, mixing the grated bits of butter with the flour along the way.

2. Combine the farmer's cheese with the egg yolks, 3 tablespoons sugar, and salt. Mix well.

3. Mix the flour and cheese mixture together quickly, separate in two equal portions, and form 2 cylinders of dough. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

4. When the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites with a mixer. Gradually add the sugar and cinnamon. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

5. Roll out one of the dough cylinders into a rectangle (~12 x 5 inches). Spread half of the egg white mixture on the rectangle (leave a 1-inch border around one of the long edges), and roll the dough into a log length-wise (you'll want the 1-inch border on the "outside" edge, so as to not push out the egg white mixture outside the roll). Cut the rolled log into ~2 inch slices, stand them up vertically on a (buttered or lined with parchment paper) cookie sheet, and bake for ~30 minutes.

6. If you have a convection oven, you can repeat step #5 with the other dough cylinder and remaining half of the egg whites immediately and place the two cookie sheets in the oven together (one above the other). However, with a regular oven, it's probably best to place the remaining dough and egg white mixture into the fridge while the first batch is baking, and repeat step #5 only when you've taken out the first batch and can place the second batch into the oven. (In that case, I suggest re-beating the egg whites a bit before you spread them out on the second dough half.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

Another seasonal recipe - this would have been good for Thanksgiving, but will be equally good for any upcoming holiday parties or open houses. Given that the key ingredients are butternut squash and onions, with a healthy amount of cheese thrown in for good measure, this galette can be a reliable stand-by for the rest of the winter.

Believe it or not, this recipe is NOT from Food52 (gasp!) but from another favorite of mine. Deb has a number of good galette/tart recipes on her site, so it's definitely worth checking out if you are looking to make something that's hearty enough to hold its own for a weeknight dinner for two and also appropriate as a starter when you are expecting company.

Two main notes about this recipe. One - it does require some prep (peel, chop up, and roast the squash, slice and caramelize the onions) - but as Deb points out, you can do that ahead of time and then the assembly time for the galette itself close to the guests' arrival is minimal. (Though it does help when you have a very nice helper for doing some of this peeling/chopping.) Two - if you are like me and the idea of making the galette dough, with all of its advance planning (one hour in the freezer, another hour in the fridge), stresses you out (you also have to do the squash and onions!), just don't do it. I used Pepperidge Farm's puff pastry, and didn't think the final result at all suffered from this stress-relieving shortcut.

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the pastry:
1 sheet Pepperidge Farm puff pastry

For the filling:
1 small butternut squash (about one pound)*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
¾ cup fontina cheese (about 2½ ounces), grated or cut into small bits**
1½ teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves

*Don't worry if yours is bigger - any leftover squash/onion/cheese mixture that doesn't fit into the galette is delicious on its own later.
**We happened to use smoked fontina (regular was nowhere to be found), which gave the galette a suspiciously delicious bacon-y taste.

1. Thaw one sheet of puff pastry according to the directions on the package.

2. Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into a ½-inch dice. Toss pieces with olive oil and a half-teaspoon of the salt and roast on foil-lined sheet for 30 minutes or until pieces are tender, turning it midway if your oven bakes unevenly. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Caramelize onions: While squash is roasting, melt butter in a heavy skillet and cook onion over low heat with the remaining half-teaspoon of salt and pinch of sugar, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes.

4. Raise the oven temperature to 400°F. Mix squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.

5. Assemble galette: On a floured surface, roll out the thawed sheet of puff pastry (don't make it unreasonably thin). Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Spread squash, onions, cheese and herb mixture over the dough, leaving a 1½-inch border. Fold the border over the squash, onion and cheese mixture, folding the corner edges over each other. The center will be open.

6. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yogurt Cake with Apples and Chocolate

I made this cake just yesterday, so it's very seasonal - and will remain so for the next 4 months at least. It was inspired by yet another Food52 recipe, except I swapped out the original pears for apples, since my mom and I share the belief that apples are superior to pears on almost all occasions. (Also, because per my request, my mom sent me some Connecticut grown Macoun apples - a special treat for NorCal - and there's now quite a number of them at home here!)

Other than that, this pretty much follows the standard French yogurt cake guidelines: nothing to beat, plain whole-milk yogurt (only difficulty is finding it in the supermarket in small containers), so easy that it's the first cake French kids learn how to make. There's one substitution that I would advise against making, and it is to substitute olive oil (especially extra virgin) for the canola oil. It's taken me a few previous yogurt cakes to learn to stick to the recipe on this point.

Yogurt Cake with Apples and Chocolate
Adapted from Food52

1½ cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup canola oil
1 large apple, cored and cut into small pieces (leave the skin on)
½ cup bittersweet dark chocolate chunks

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease an 8-inch loaf pan with butter. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. In medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Whisk in the yogurt. Then, stir in the dry ingredients, a bit at a time, until well blended. Finally, use a rubber spatula to fold the oil into the batter until it is fully incorporated.

2. Pour about one-third of the batter into the greased loaf pan. Sprinkle two thirds of the apple pieces and the chocolate chunks all over the batter. Then, scrape the rest of the batter on top of this and gently spread it smooth. Sprinkle the rest of the apple and chocolate over the top of the loaf and gently press all the pieces down into the batter to partially submerge them.

3. Bake in the middle of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean - 55-60 minutes. Then, take the cake out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Carefully turn the cake out of the pan, and then put it upright on a cooling rack (or regular plate) to cool the rest of the way.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Cheese Thins

For certain (bigger) occasions, I feel like it's more appropriate to bring something homemade, rather than a bottle of wine (our more standard offering). In this case, we were asked to bring at most an appetizer, so I went with these cheese thins - they show up in both Chocolate and Zucchini and Amanda Hesser's Essential New York Times Cookbook (if you haven't noticed, I am a big fan of Amanda Hesser's endeavors).

Amanda Hesser's recipe suggests rolling out the dough and cutting it into strips, however I like Clotilde's method of rolling the dough into logs and slicing them into half-moon crackers (especially since rolling out dough is extra inconvenient with our kitchen's tiled counters). These were cheesy and tasty, a nice way to tide yourself over before the real meal begins.

Cheese Thins
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

6 oz good quality hard cheese, finely grated (e.g. comté)
4 tablespoons butter, also grated
¾ cup flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
a dash milk or cream, as needed (see below)

1. Combine the cheese, butter, flour, and salt in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients come together to form a dough. If the mixture seems too dry and crumbly to come together into a ball, add a dash of milk or cream until it does.

2. Shape the dough into a log or another sliceable shape, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm enough to be easily sliced, about an hour, and up to a day. (Or you can place the dough in the freezer for 20 minutes.)

3. Preheat the oven to 360°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Remove the dough from the fridge, slice it thinly, and arrange the slices on the prepared sheet (they will expand a little, so give them just a bit of elbow room). You will need to work in batches; return the dough to the fridge between batches.

5. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, depending on your oven and the thickness of your slices, until golden. Let the cheese thins rest on the baking sheet for a minute before transferring them to a cooling rack. Taste when cool, and adjust the baking time accordingly for subsequent batches.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tender Yellow Cake with Nectarine-Basil Syrup and Mascarpone

After making Nectarines Poached with Basil, I had quite a lot of nectarine-basil syrup left over. So I decided to make this cake, which seemed like a perfect way to use up the tasty (and quite sweet) syrup.

The cakes I tend to make are rarely multilayered, but this was an exception. I baked the two layers per the original recipe, and then I soaked each layer in syrup. I also took about ¾ cup mascarpone, added some syrup to it to give it some flavor (but not so much as to make it runny), and layered the mixture between the 2 cake layers and on the cake top. The result was a very moist (and heavy), delicious cake that required minimal effort, especially for a layer cake!

Tender Yellow Cake with Nectarine-Basil Syrup and Mascarpone
Adapted from Food52

3 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
2¼ cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk (I used skim and it was fine)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. Beat egg whites until frothy, then add ½ cup of the sugar (reserving the rest) a bit at a time until egg whiles are stiff and glossy. (I did this step in my Kitchenaid stand mixer with the whisk attachment.)

3. Mix the flour, remaining 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add all of the oil and all of the vanilla, and ½ cup of the milk. Beat for 1 minute on medium speed - the mixture will be quite thick. (I did this step with a handheld mixer because my stand mixer had the egg whites in it. If you reverse the mixer usage, user the paddle attachment of the stand mixer for this step.)

4. Add the egg yolks and remaining milk to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

5. Fold in the egg whites and distribute into the baking pans.

6. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool for 10-20 minutes in the pan then turn out onto cake rack (or plates in my case) to cool completely.

7. Spoon nectarine-basil syrup (or jam) over cake layers. You can stack the layers together or have 2 cakes!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nectarines Poached with Basil

For 4th of July, we hosted a couple of college friends instead of doing a big gathering. Since there was already plenty of "real" food in the works, I didn't want anything heavy (or time-consuming) for dessert. As always, there was a long backlog of Reader-starred Food52 recipes to choose from and I decided to go with one of the ones that highlighted already delicious summer fruit. (Side note: while it may seem that I only cook from Food52, that is only 80% true - but as it turns out, other recipes are less frequently so good that they are worth sharing. At least, the salads that I chose to make from a recent issue of an (unnamed) food magazine for the same gathering really didn't turn out well enough to be blog-worthy.)

I got a big box of nectarines from one of my favorite stores, so we made this dessert with them instead of the original peaches. ("Even better" said one of our guests to that.)

Nectarines Poached with Basil
Adapted from Food52

1⅓ cup white wine
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 large bunch fresh basil
8 nectarines

1. Place the wine, sugar, and water in a wide-bottomed saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar slightly. Place the pan on the stove over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes and then reduce the heat, leaving the syrup to simmer gently.

2. Cut the nectarines in half and remove the pits. Drop half of the basil leaves into the syrup, and then place the nectarine halves cut side down into the syrup. Poach for about 3 minutes and then gently turn over using a slotted spoon. Continue poaching for an additional 3-4 minutes, until soft (cooking time will depend on ripeness of nectarines). Carefully prick the cut side of the nectarines to check for tenderness. The peels should be wrinkling up. You may cook the nectarines in two batches if all the halves will not fit in the pan at once. Side note: I used our widest pan so that I could cook all of them at once:

3. Remove the nectarines to a (very big) plate (or a big dish) with a slotted spoon. When they are cool enough to handle, gently slide the skins off and discard. Add all but about eight basil leaves to the syrup and bring to a boil; boil until reduced by about half. Pour any juices that have collected in the dish with the nectarines into the syrup pot. Leave to cool to room temperature.

4. The nectarines can be covered with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for several hours. When ready to serve, place two nectarine halves on a plate and drizzle with a little basil syrup. Reserve the remaining syrup for another use. (Foreshadowing: this "other use" will be covered in the next post.) Garnish with basil leaves and serve.

Serves four to eight, depending on how many nectarine halves each person wants.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Farro with Fava Beans, Broccoli, and Carrots

Now that it's summer and there is a bit more variety in local produce, we've re-started delivery of our weekly CSA box (technically, it's a big brown paper bag, but "box" does sound more appealing somehow). For me, part of the appeal of the CSA is that it forces me to cook something different than my regular standbys, which is what normally happens when I don't have sufficient time to plan before going grocery shopping for the week. The other mind-expanding part of the CSA is that while there's plenty of food in the "box", there usually isn't enough of any one vegetable to make a dinner dish exclusively with it, so I have to think of how to partner up various components of the box in a way that actually works.

For example, the box from a couple of weeks ago had a small bag of fava beans, which I'd read about but never bought because everyone is always talking about the double-shucking that they require. There was also one head of broccoli and 6 small-ish rainbow carrots (among a few other things). I decided to bite the bullet and double-shuck the favas (Mihai generously helped), used the same boiling water to blanch the broccoli, and sautéed the carrots in a pan. Once we mixed the veggies with some cooked farro, grated ricotta salata, and some olive oil, we had a pretty healthy and colorfully pretty weeknight dish on our hands (leftovers were good for lunch later in the week).

Farro with Fava Beans, Broccoli, and Carrots
All amounts flexible

1 cup uncooked farro
~15-20 fava bean pods
1 big broccoli head
6 medium carrots
⅓ cup grated ricotta salata
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Cook the 1 cup of farro according to the package instructions. (Ours says: bring 3 cups of lightly salted water to a boil, add the 1 cup farro, and cook for 25-30 minutes.)

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, remove the fava beans from their pods, cut up the broccoli into small florets, peel and slice up the carrots.

3. When the pot of water is boiling, drop in the shelled fava beans and blanch for 3 minutes. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and run some cold water over them to stop the cooking process.

4. Drop in the broccoli florets into the same hot water pot and blanch for 2-3 minutes. Drain the water and run some cold water over the broccoli now to stop the cooking process.

5. In a skillet, sauté the carrots with some olive oil. If you have a helper, he/she can remove the outer membranes from the slightly cooled fava beans while you are working on the carrots.

6. Toss the cooked farro, twice-shucked fava beans, broccoli, and carrots together in a big bowl or pot with the olive oil. When everything is mixed together well, add the grated ricotta salata and mix gently a couple more times. Add salt to taste.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Bundt Cake

I made this a while back but forgot to post about it. Fortunately, there is no chocolate season (or off-season) in my book, so this is as appropriate now that we are entering summer as it was a couple of months ago. As usual, credit for another great recipe goes to Food52 - this recipe won the Best Chocolate Cake contest more than a year ago and has been featured in many Food52 round-ups (again, probably because chocolate has no season and the recipe is great). I suggest learning from my mistakes and waiting much less than a year to make this chocolatey goodness.

Chocolate Bundt Cake
Adapted from Food52

2 cups sugar
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cups Dutch process cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup sour milk
1 cup freshly brewed strong black coffee
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with rack in the middle. Butter a bundt pan and dust the inside with cocoa powder. Set aside.

2. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

3. In a mixer on low, add the milk, coffee, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla one at a time. Mix until everything is incorporated. Then, with the mixer still on low speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients. Once all of the flour mixture is added, mix the batter for a full four minutes on medium speed.

4. Pour the batter into the bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature. If desired, dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fig and Blue Cheese Savories

We went to a going-away cocktail party recently (the kind where the hosts are trying to put to good use all of the alcohol they can't/don't feel like moving to their new place), and while we were asked not to bring additional wine/beer, we were invited to bring snacks. I wanted to do something bite-size, non-sweet, and easy, since we were also hosting out-of-town friends that weekend.

The easy part was slightly questionable only because our current kitchen has tiled counters, so rolling any type of dough is always a bit of a challenge. (I ended up doing it on a big bamboo cutting board. Special thanks to Mihai who made the indentations and placed the fig jam filling while I struggled to roll out the dough and cursed whoever came up with the idea of tiled counters.) If you aren't plagued with tiled counters however, this is a great recipe since the dough otherwise comes together very quickly in a food processor.

Word of warning: if you are serving this at a party, it may make sense to create some sort of sign for what this is - Mihai and I thought these were really tasty, as did some of the other party guests, but apparently those who were expecting a sweet cookie were in for a bit of a surprise.

Fig and Blue Cheese Savories
Adapted from Food52

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup butter, room temperature
4 oz blue cheese, crumbled
Ground black pepper
Fig preserves, about 3 tablespoons

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place the flour, butter, blue cheese and a few grinds of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dough just comes together and starts to form a ball.

3. Lay out a couple of sheets of plastic (saran) wrap, so that they overlap and form a large surface. Lightly flour the plastic, dump the dough on top of it, and knead a few times to pull the dough together. Sprinkle some more flour on top of the dough and cover with another sheet (or two) of saran wrap. Now roll the dough under the second surface of plastic wrap with a rolling pin until it's roughly ⅛ inch thick. If you have tiled counters, the plastic wrap method is the only thing that'll keep you from tearing out your hair when you have to roll out dough (thanks, Amanda!). Even if you have nice, smooth counters, I am sure this method is extremely helpful.

4. Cut rounds out of the dough with a floured 1-inch cutter (we used a shot glass) and transfer the rounds to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

5. Using the non-spoon end of a wooden spoon, make an indentation in the top of each dough round. Spoon about ¼ teaspoon of fig preserves into each indentation, using your finger to push the preserves as best as possible into the indentations.

6. Bake the savories for 10 – 14 minutes, until the preserves are bubbling and the pastry is light golden on the bottom.

7. Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, then remove to a plate (or wire rack if you have one) to cool some more.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Absurdly Addictive Asparagus

We just ate this again tonight after making the dish for the first time this season last week, so I figured it was time to post it. The recipe is another one from the treasure trove that is Food52. The dish doesn't just look appealingly spring-y, but is also delicious, filling, and easy to make. It can easily withstand substitutions - tonight we didn't have pine nuts or parsley, but it tasted just as good with slivered almonds and dill (and the original recipe called for pancetta, but we've been happy with the plainer bacon).

Absurdly Addictive Asparagus
Adapted from Food52

4 pieces bacon, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 1 inch pieces on the bias
½ cup leek, thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1-2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped

1. In a large non-stick pan, sauté the bacon, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until crisp and lightly golden.

2. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan. Add asparagus pieces and leeks and sauté until asparagus is tender crisp, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Add garlic, lemon and orange zest, toasted pine nuts and parsley and sauté for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Walnut Jam Cake

I had a few friends over for dinner recently and wanted to serve a dessert that was homemade and yet would not stress me out. This Walnut Jam Cake seemed perfect - Deb classifies it as an "everyday" cake and the dough is made in a food processor. (Though, as someone who has only had a full-size food processor for less than a year, I completely understand that while this direction makes the dough-making very straightforward for those who have a food processor, the recipe immediately becomes more frustrating for those that don't. There is a reason I had only made this Cranberry Coffee Cake at my mom's house in the past.)

Still, I cannot recommend this "everyday" cake highly enough - easy to make, not too sweet (I used less jam than the recipe called for), nutty and delicious. Plus, the topping uses both heavy cream *and* sour cream! It was a hit with the guests and with us as leftovers.

Walnut Jam Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the dough:

1¼ cups walnuts, toasted (in a shallow baking pan at 350°F for 10 minutes) and cooled
⅔ cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

For the topping:

¼ cup jam (I used plum)
⅔ cup chilled heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour an 9-inch round cake pan.

2. Pulse cooled (or, in my case, somewhat cooled) walnuts and sugar in a food processor until finely chopped. Add butter and process until combined, then add eggs and vanilla, and process until combined. Add flour, baking powder, and salt, and pulse just until incorporated. Spread batter in cake pan.

3. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack (or, in my case, a plate) and cool completely.

4. Spoon jam over cake.

5. Beat heavy cream with sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until it forms soft peaks, then spoon over jam.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Calamari Stew

Apparently it's a Southern Italy tradition to eat seafood on Christmas Eve as part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. However, I only realized this after I had already decided to make this calamari stew for Christmas Eve this year, so I wasn't really following tradition on purpose. In our case, the reasoning wasn't that we were going to have so many heavy roasts the next day (we actually had fish on Christmas Day as well), but just that this seemed like a tasty dish similar to what we had made once before and enjoyed. There was also the added bonus that calamari is cooked for a long time in this dish, so we wouldn't run into the issue of varying preferred cooking times of meat (I generally prefer my meat cooked medium rare, some other visiting family members prefer theirs very well done).

The original recipe calls for Sambuca, an anise flavored liqueur. Since our family isn't big on anise flavor, I decided to leave it out - though I kept the fennel bulb. I also left out the final touches of parsley and fennel fronds, but that was less intentional. We served this stew over polenta and it was appreciated by all (or at least all the grown-ups).

Calamari Stew
Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 lbs cleaned calamari (squid), tubes sliced into rings and tentacles roughly chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 sliced onion
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and fennel. Stir to coat with oil and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it begins to color, about 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle some salt over it. Add the garlic cloves and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Cook this for another 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice.

2. Add the red wine, stir well, and increase the heat to high. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half.

3. Add the crushed tomatoes. Stir in the calamari and bring the pot to a gentle simmer. Simmer for at least 1 hour. After an hour, taste a piece of calamari; it should be tender. If it’s not, keep simmering. Check for tenderness every 15 minutes afterward.

4. Once the calamari is tender, taste the stew for salt and pepper, adding if needed. Stir well to combine and serve.