November 21, 2008

Bomboloni con Crema di Vaniglia

Studying abroad in Florence a few years ago introduced me to a myriad of food delights: the fresh produce at Il Mercato Centrale, tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes, juicy blood oranges that I purchased 2 kilos at a time, the panini bollito at Nerbone, good cappuccino, gelato, gnocchi, mozzarrella di bufala... The list just goes on and on.

One of my favorite treats though, was the bomboloni. It just might trump gelato, although just barely. By a smidge. Nothing was better than picking up one on my way to class, sinking my teeth into the tender, soft dough, the rich custard oozing out, brushing the sugar away from my lips. Heaven. (The Florentine version is covered with sugar, but I omitted them from mine because the dough and custard are sweet enough, really.)

I've been nostalgic over the past few weeks and suddenly had a hankering for bomboloni. I absolutely HAD to have some, and in the spirit of DIY that has bitten me lately, I turned to the internet and found a recipe. These didn't taste exactly like the ones I had in Italy, and the custard was too thin to inject into the doughnut, but they were addictive nevertheless.

I highly advise using a thermometer to gauge the temperature of the oil for frying. I didn't have one and guestimated: the first two sacrificial lambs promptly puffed up and turned black within 5 seconds.

Bomboloni con Crema di Vaniglia
recipe halved, slightly modified, original by Gina DePalma via Leite's Culinaria
I ended up with about 18 doughnuts

Vanilla Custard:
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of salt

1/4 cup warm water
2-1/2 teaspoon (1 package) active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon + 1/4 cup sugar, divided
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon milk, warmed
2 eggs
4 tablespoons butter, softened

Vanilla Custard:
Mix milk, cream, vanilla bean seeds (scraped off pod), vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup sugar into a small saucepan and set over medium heat.

While the milk mixture is heating, place the egg yolks, salt, and remaining sugar into a large bowl and whisk. When the milk mixture starts to boil, remove from heat and slowly pour a small amount into the eggs, whisking the entire time--don't pour too much at once or you'll end up with scrambled eggs. Continue adding the milk mixture into the eggs, whisking, until incorporated. Then pour everything back into the saucepan and set over low heat. Make sure to whisk continually to prevent the custard from scorching. It's delicate.

When the custard has thickened a little, remove from heat and set over an ice bath to chill, whisking occasionally. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in fridge until ready to serve.

Dissolve the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar in the warm water. Let the yeast proof until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the flour, cornstarch, salt, spices, and remaining sugar. Add the yeast, warm milk, and eggs, and mix until the dough is smooth. Mix in the butter, then mix until a smooth, soft, and somewhat elastic dough forms, adding additional flour if needed.

Place dough in a large greased bowl and cover with a slightly damp cloth or plastic wrap. Set the bowl in a warm place free of drafts and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough until 1/2 inch thick, and using a 1 to 1-1/2 inch cutter, cut out the doughnuts. Place them on a floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let them proof while the oil heats.

Heat oil in a pan to a depth of at least 2 inches to 360°F (182°C). Fry the doughnuts a few at a time, turning them until they are golden brown on both sides.

Drain the doughnuts on paper towels. Roll them in sugar while still warm if you like. Best if served warm with the vanilla custard for dipping.

November 16, 2008

Persimmon Chai Tarte Tatins

I never thought about cooking persimmons before, never mind making tarts out of them. We've only enjoyed them raw in my family, so I was intrigued when I saw this recipe on Tartelette. As luck would have it, there were plenty of persimmons lying about the apt. Verdict? Delish: the fruit goes well with the spices, and really, anything is good with some puff pastry thrown on top.

Persimmon Chai Tarte Tatins
slightly modified from Tartelette
serves 2

2 persimmons, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup honey
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
some vanilla seeds, freshly scraped from pod

Puff pastry, homemade or store bought

Melt honey and butter in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the persimmons and spices; cook until tender. Divide the mixture into 2 mini tart pans. Set the cooking liquid aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll out dough and cut 2 circles of the same size as your tart pans. Place them over the persimmon mixture and bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool about 5 minutes before inverting onto plates. Drizzle the reserved liquid over the tarte tatins.

November 12, 2008

Seckel Pear Tart with Poire William Cream

This is a definite winner! Thank you to everybody who enjoyed the tart and said such nice things about it!

I've been seeing Seckel pears all over the Union Square Greenmarket for a while now that I was happy to see this recipe in this month's issue of Gourmet. It's a little bit of work to make this tart, but the beauty is that you can make each part separately a day ahead before assembling everything together. I found the taste of wine and Poire William a bit too overpowering (though it wasn't as strong on the second day), so I recommend lowering the amount if that's not your thing. Otherwise, the tart was absolutely divine.

Seckel Pear Tart with Poire William Cream
slightly modified from Gourmet
serves 8

Tart shell:

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons ice water

1 cup dry white wine
2 ripe Bartlett pears (I used Comice pears)
1/2 cup sugar
2 lb Seckel pears

Pastry cream:
3 large egg yolks
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons poire William (pear eau-de-vie)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon water
teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-oz envelope)

Tart shell:

Stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips (or your preferred method) until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Stir together egg yolk and 1 1/2 Tbsp water and drizzle evenly over butter mixture. Gently stir with a fork until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add remaining 1/2 Tbsp ice water, stirring until incorporated. (Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.)

Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat.

Gather all dough into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Chill, wrapped, until firm, about 1 hour.

Roll out dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin until a little larger than your pan. Transfer to tart pan, gently fitting dough into pan without stretching. Trim overhang to 3/4 inch. Fold overhang inward to reinforce side, then trim flush with edge of pan. Prick bottom of pan with fork and freeze for about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Blind bake tart shell until golden, checking from time to time and pricking any bubbles with a knife, about 30 minutes. Alternatively, use pie weights. Cool completely.

Set sieve lined with cheesecloth over a bowl. Grate Comice/Bartlett pears (including skin) into cloth, then bunch up cloth around mixture and squeeze out as much clear juice as possible. Discard solids. If pear juice does not measure out to 1 cup, top with water. Pour into pot with wine and stir in sugar.

Carefully peel Seckel pears, leaving stems intact, then core through bottom to remove seeds. (Careful if using a small knife--I almost took off a finger!)

Bring wine mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then add pears. Simmer, covered, turning occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer pears to a rack set over a sheet pan to drain and cool, standing them upright. Transfer pear syrup to a bowl, adding any juices from sheet pan. You should have 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups syrup; reserve for pastry cream and glaze.

Pastry Cream:
Whisk together egg yolks and cornstarch in a small heavy saucepan, then whisk in 1 cup pear syrup. Add seeds from vanilla bean. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking, then cook, whisking, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in poire William and butter. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely, its surface covered.

Stir together water and gelatin in a small bowl and let stand 1 minute.

Bring remaining pear syrup to a boil in a very small heavy saucepan, then boil, if necessary, until reduced to about 1/3 cup. Stir in gelatin mixture until dissolved. Remove from heat.

Assemble tart:
Whisk cooled pastry cream to loosen, then spread in shell. Stand pears upright on pastry cream.

When glaze has cooled and thickened slightly (to speed cooling, set pan in an ice bath), brush it on pears. If glaze gels in pan, reheat very briefly.

Tart shell can be baked 1 day ahead and kept (covered once cool) at room temperature.
Seckel pears can be poached 1 day ahead and chilled, loosely covered.
Pastry cream can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, its surface covered.
Assembled tart can be kept at room temperature 1 hour or chilled 4 hours. (Mine was fine the following day.)

November 9, 2008

Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables and Cilantro Yogurt

I had high hopes for this dish but it didn't turn out so well. The couscous itself didn't have much flavor but tasted better with the addition of the yogurt sauce. I didn't make the peach chutney--perhaps that was my downfall.

Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables and Cilantro Yogurt
slightly modified from
serves 3-4

Cilantro yogurt:
3 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves (from 3 large bunches)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup hung yogurt cheese (or sour cream)

Roasted vegetables:
1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut into cubes
3 tablespoons oil, divided
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise, cut into slices
1 large red bell pepper

1 tablespoon oil, divided
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup plain couscous
1/2 cup dried currants

For cilantro yogurt:
Coarsely blend cilantro, lime juice, and salt in a processor. Transfer to a bowl and mix in yogurt and yogurt cheese. Cover and chill.

For vegetables:
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Mound eggplant cubes on 1 sheet; drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat and spread out evenly. Repeat with zucchini, using remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Roast eggplant and zucchini until golden and tender, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes for zucchini and 30 minutes for eggplant. Transfer vegetables to bowl and cool.

Meanwhile, char pepper directly over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. (Make sure it's really charred; otherwise it's difficult to peel.) Enclose in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes, then peel and seed pepper. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

For couscous:
Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Mix in curry powder; stir 1 minute. Add 1-1/2 cups water and simmer. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer curry water 10 minutes.

Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large pot. Add couscous and stir constantly until color darkens and couscous is toasted, about 3 minutes. Mix in hot curry water. Turn off heat, cover pot, and let stand until couscous is tender and curry water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork to separate grains. Mix in currants and cool completely. Mix in eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper pieces. Add salt and pepper to taste.

November 8, 2008

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

Not the most photogenic dish, but it was surprisingly good. I wasn't sure at first: butternut squash and spinach? Together? With ricotta?? But I had an excess of all three ingredients that I decided to toss everything together and be done with it. Lasagna was the answer, and it was an easy peasy way to use them up in one go.

I should also get a decent set of flatware. The lasagna looks naked.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna
inspired by this recipe on epicurious
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, finely minced1 pound spinach

2 cups butternut squash, roasted and mashed
1/2 cup vegetable broth
3 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, stems discarded

1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
2 cups fresh mozzarella, divided
1 cup pecorino, divided
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stems discarded
2 eggs

1 package whole wheat no-boil lasagna noodles
1/4 cup pine nuts

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Toss in garlic and stir for a few seconds. Mix in spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Add sage and thyme to skillet and saute for about 30 seconds. Mix in squash and broth and cook for about two minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, 3/4 cup pecorino, eggs, thyme and sage. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350

Brush 8x8-inch glass pan with oil. Spread a thin layer of ricotta mixture on the bottom, then arrange 2 noodles on top. Spread another layer of ricotta on top, then add a layer of squash and spinach. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of mozzarella on top and add 2 more noodles. Repeat with another layer of ricotta, squash, spinach, the remaining mozzarella and 2 more noodles. Pour the rest of the ricotta mixture on top, sprinkle with 1/4 cup pecorino and pine nuts.

Cover pan with foil and bake lasagna for 30 minutes. Uncover pan and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

November 3, 2008

Mushroom and Butternut Squash Empanadas

These were absolutely brilliant and utterly satisfying. The mushrooms and squash go very well together, and I think I'll increase the amount of squash the next time I make this (and you know I will!). The pastry was light and crisp and melts-in-your-mouth good, as they should be, what with 2 sticks of butter going into the dough! Luckily they're just time consuming enough that I won't be tempted to make them every week.

Mushroom and Butternut Squash Empanadas
recipe halved and slightly modified from Gourmet

For empanada filling:
1/2 cup diced butternut squash
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 fresh jalapeño chile, seeds and ribs discarded, finely chopped

/2 lb fresh mushrooms (all one kind, not a mixture), trimmed and coarsely chopped

teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable broth

For empanada crust:
Café Azul's pastry dough (recipe below)
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
coarse sea salt

Cook squash in a small saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes, then drain.

Cook onion and garlic in oil in a large skillet over low heat, stirring, until onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add jalapeños and cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms, salt, and broth and simmer, covered, until mushrooms are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in squash and add salt to taste. Cool filling completely.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Divide dough into 7 equal pieces and form each into a ball (that's how many I ended up with, yours might be different). On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece into a 6- to 7-inch round (1/8 inch thick). Spoon about 1/3 cup filling onto the center and brush the edge of the pastry lightly with egg wash. Fold dough in half to enclose the filling and press the edges together to seal. Crimp edge and transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make more empanadas until the dough or filling run out.

Lightly brush the empanadas all over with the egg wash and sprinkle each with sea salt. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 25 to 30 minutes

Café Azul's Pastry Dough
recipe halved and slightly modified, from Gourmet

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 egg
1/2 tablespoon vinegar
ice water

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal with small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

Beat egg with vinegar in a 1-cup measure, then add enough ice water to measure 1/2 cup total. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until incorporated.

Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently with the heel of your hand just enough to bring the dough together. Form the dough into a rectangle, then fold into thirds like a letter to form a smaller rectangle. Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour and up to 6 (do not chill longer or dough will discolor).

November 2, 2008

A Barrage of Butternuts

Expect lots of dishes featuring the butternut squash in the next few posts. I've never cooked with winter squashes before (or summer ones before this year), but so many just started turning up all at once at the farmer's market that I felt compelled to buy some and experiment.

Incidentally, does anyone know why the colors in the photo are so blah? It looks great in Photoshop, but it's a bit painful to see the difference here...

EDIT: I changed the Profile of the photo to sRGB IEC61966-2.1 and that made the colors of my photos appear more vibrant!