Saturday, April 23, 2011

potato latkes with apple confit and crispy sage

Can you still eat latkes at Passover, or are they just a Hanukkah thing? Because I made this kick ass latke recipe back in December, but I still think it would be awesomely delicious now.

These latkes are made with shredded potatoes and shallots, and are topped with a sweet apple "confit," and crispy sage leaves. Very delicious. Of course, if I am being honest, this dish is definitely a prime example of fancy language elevating a rather humble concept. OK, yes, crispy sage is an upscale addition to the recipe, but apple confit? Really? Come on, you made latkes with applesauce.

Applesauce or apple confit, the condiment was very easy to make. I didn't peel the apples like the recipe called for, just chopped them up and threw them in the pan with some melted butter, lemon juice and sugar. Five minutes later, you've got lovely soft apples perfect for serving with pork chops, or in this case, potato latkes.

The latkes were a little more involved. Shred the potatoes, and then let them sit in a bowl of cold water for a half hour. After the squeezing the potatoes dry with a paper towel, mix them with diced shallots, flour, eggs and salt and pepper. At this point, the recipe does something smart. What I was most worried about was the latkes falling apart in the pan, or being really soggy, but that wasn't an issue at all after you let them drain in a mesh strainer over a bowl for a half hour. This really helped to get rid of a lot of the excess moisture, ensuring nice crispy potato cakes. Brilliant. Then you fry them in oil over medium high heat for a couple of minutes on each side. Actually, I guess they aren't that involved either.

To serve, top them off with your apple confit. Then, to gild the lily, simply lightly fry sage leaves in some butter and sprinkle them atop your latkes. It's a great touch, really. Light and crispy, and a nice mix of sweet and savory, these latkes were absolutely delicious.

Friday, April 15, 2011

butternut squash and apple soup/carmelized onion and blue cheese bruschetta

It's funny. I've been blogging so infrequently these past few months that everything is cycling back around. I've still never written up my Hanukkah latkes or my Christmas prime rib, and Easter and Passover are just around the corner. Similarly, this dinner was something I whipped up when my good friend Faye was in town back in December, and she'll back in New York late next week!

Faye was my roommate in college for two years, but after graduation she pulled a bit of a disappearing act when she joined the peace corp and ran off to Morocco for two and a half years. When she came for a visit in December, it was the first time I'd seen her since May of 2008!

In honor of Faye's return, I hosted a small dinner at my apartment with a couple of our friends. It was a light meal, just a nice butternut squash and apple soup with some crostini with caramelized onions and crumbled blue cheese. We also had some beets tossed in argan oil, which was a special gift Faye brought me from Morocco. I will try and tell you more about argan oil in a later post.

I used this Ina Garten recipe as a jumping off point for my soup, but I ended up adapting it quite a bit. I left out the curry powder and apple juice, subbing in my homemade chicken stock. I also roasted the butternut squash before adding it to the soup, in the hope that made the dish more flavorful.

To start, I cooked the onions in butter until nice and soft, and then added diced squash and apples, chicken stock and water. I let it all cook together for a half an hour or so, and then blended it to make it nice and creamy. This soup was a bit unusual just because it was so sweet, but it was definitely nice tasting.

As that was cooking, I slowly caramelized some onions in butter for my crostini. I toasted up a nice crusty loaf of whole wheat bread and while it was still warm I layered each slice with a large spoonful of onions and some crumbled blue cheese. This was easy and delicious, and went really well with the soup.

All in all, this was an easy and light dinner, but no one went home hungry and everyone was certainly happy to see Faye. However, I do think I'd like to try a more ambitious menu when she's back in town later this month!

Friday, April 1, 2011

florentine success... and failure

I can't believe it's been nearly four years since I was lucky enough to study abroad in Florence. It was a wonderful summer: I got a beautiful tan, saw just about everything covered in a Renaissance art text book, traveled to nearly 30 cities in about two months, and ate some goddamn amazing food.

As you probably know, my Italian American heritage informs most of my cooking. However, going home to the motherland, I found that there were many traditional Italian dishes that, while wonderful, were quite unfamiliar to me. Discovering new foods was definitely one of the best parts of the trip, and all those amazing meals were one of the things I missed most upon returning home.

There's nowhere in New York that makes the homely-yet-amazing lampredotto sandwich, which is basically the cow's lowest stomach boiled until tender and served on a roll dipped in the meaty juices. You can buy it with plastic cups of red wine from these little carts that are essentially the Florentine equivalent of a gyro truck. Street meat is a beautiful thing. I also loved the trippa alla fiorentina, melt in your mouth tripe cooked in tomato sauce. (Luckily that you can get as an appetizer at this amazing restaurant Peasant, but it is still a comparative rarity stateside.) I know we have steak houses all over the place, but a thick, crispy, rare bistecca alla fiorentina is a horse of a different color. Even a simple dish like ravioli with butter and sage is not something that I really come across here.

I may have plenty of opportunities to eat ragu, or eggplant parmesean, or polenta, or even pasta fagioli, but the food I ate in Florence remains sadly elusive nearly four years later. So, today I'm going to tell you m about my attempts to recreate Florentine cooking in my Harlem apartment.

ribolita bread soup

The first attempt was to make ribolita, a hearty bread soup with leafy greens and tomatoes. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a failure, though it was not for lack of trying. I scoured the interwebs, drawing from not one, not two, but THREE different recipes for ribolita. I spent a lot of time cooking up a big pot of deliciously wilted kale from the food co-op. I added lots of stewed tomatoes and delicious cannellini beans. I used homemade chicken stock. I was excited to relive some Florentine goodness!

I was ultimately brought down by an unfamiliar loaf of bread. I knew even as I purchased the off-brand supermarket whole wheat loaf that this was not what they would use in Italy, but I could never of imagined just how bad it would taste. I normally like Arnold's Stoneground Whole Wheat, but I got some random other brand instead. Once I tore up that loaf, the whole stew tasted like awful too-sweet whole wheat bread. It was a mess. This was definitely an instance of a bad ingredient bringing down what probably would have been a great dish! I definitely have to try this again with good Italian bread!

Needless to say I was crushed, but we all have our disappointments in the kitchen. I would not accept culinary defeat at the hands of my ancestral homeland!

Another dish that I adored in Florence was tonno e fagioli, or tuna and cannellini beans. I found the above recipe in Saveur, and it takes about 5 minutes to prepare and is fantastically delicious!

Smash up a garlic clove, and then mix it in to a can of tuna packed in oil, a rinsed can of cannellini beans, and a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chopped parsley, and you have a beautiful antipasti!

A taste of Florence that anyone can recreate with a few cheap canned goods, tonno e fagioli is wonderful in everyway– except for what that raw garlic does to your breath!