Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Descent into the Deep Freeze

Oh dear. Winter really is inevitable this year, isn't it? The snow in Montreal has all but melted, but you know it's going to be a cold, cold one when the West Coast has already received several snow dumps. The fields are definitely bare across Canada at this time of the year, except for the few crops that are left for later harvest. But there are few seasonal treats to look forward to. Most of them are local to us Northerners, but they are welcome just the same.

Citrus
Oranges, lemons and limes are now available year-round, but there was a time when winter was the  only time one got to see these beautiful nuggets of southern sunshine. Winter is when these fruits are in season in the northern hemisphere. It might be the fact that they travelled shorter distances to get to your table, or that citrus really do appreciate the cool temperatures of winter, but oranges in winter just taste better than at any other time of the year. California oranges have already started to trickle onto market shelves, those from Florida will follow close behind; the lemons on offer this week are larger and thinner skinned than those available only a few weeks previous; and the limes are much juicier than anything you would have found during the summer. And who could resist the clementines from Morocco?
Key limes and Meyer lemons are real seasonal treats, only available in December. They can be hard to find, but if you do see them, you might want to grab a few to make a special dessert or to whip a batch of marmalade.
We can't all have friends with citrus, or access to a glasshouse, but we can all have a taste of the sun's rays in the dead of winter.




Pomegranates
Pomegranates has gone from being virtually unknown to being the It fruit over the past few years. I suspect it partly has to do with the fact that its status as a superfood has made the pomegranate are more interesting cash crop... But my cynicism aside, pomegranates have long been known to be a wonderful fruit, after all it was the food of the gods in Greek mythology.
Pomegranates can be difficult to pry open; some will suggest breaking up the husk under running water (or in a bowlful to minimize waste), but I find it can still get messy, so I usually just wear dark cloth, an apron and go at it. Score the fruit's rind like you would an orange, and slowly split it apart. Juices will spurt, hence the need for dark clothes and an apron, but it will be worth it. The kernels can be munched on their own, but the add colour and bright flavour to a winter fruit salad ( add them at the last minute) or a bowl or rice pudding. Pomegranates are also lovely in savoury dishes, and are often sprinkled over meats and rice in Moroccan cuisine. If you are not feeling that adventurous, try them in a salad (how about substituting pomegranates for the cranberries in a beet slaw?)

Chestnuts
Chestnuts truly signify the winter holidays for me. There is something extremely festive about a roasting pan of chestnuts, whether it is over the kitchen stove, or an open fire: I have fond memories of my family huddled around a dish full of red-hot chestnuts, prying out the tender flesh from the scorched hulls.
Chestnuts do grow across most of Canada, but the one found at the supermarket and in specialty stores are most often imported as the local crop is too small to be commercially viable. I believe that British Colombia is the only province that sells its own productions, both farmed and wild. Wild chestnuts (real one, not horse chestnuts or conkers, which are toxic to humans) can be found in wooded areas of southern Ontario and Quebec. The chestnuts are tiny, and very difficult to find as wild animals are more wily than humans, but if you do spot a tree, visit it regularly from the end of September to November, you might just be able to pick enough to enjoy the concentrated goodness of the nut.

The Calendar
It's not a new fruit... But I am finally getting around to compiling a calendar of produce seasons (that is the whole point of this blog after all!) There will be a link to it in the right-hand column, so keep an eye out for it!

Bon app'!




Round Corners


Yay! It snowed over the week-end, just a little wee bit, but enough to lift the doom and gloom from my soul.  The sun even made a showing to shed a little light in a few dark recesses. Nevertheless, I am still on a comfort-food buzz, and hankering for something soft and creamy, smooth and enveloping. Tout en rondeur as the French say. I've reached my saturation point for mac and cheese, so I'm moving on to another favourite: polenta!


The first time I heard about polenta, it sounded so complicated and time-consuming to make (one hour of constant stirring, turning only in one direction with a wooden spoon...), yet fascinating all at once. Turns out, polenta is really easy-peasy to make. Polenta is basically an Italian corn mush -I know, doesn't sound too appealing in those terms, but that's exactly what it is- made with cornmeal or grit, instead of fresh corn (like its South American counterparts). You can buy imported polenta meal, but locally produced cornmeal is a perfectly acceptable substitute: while a coarse meal (corn grits) is closest to authentic, I prefer fine to medium grind cornmeals because the results are smoother, creamier, and cook in half the time.


My favourite use for polenta is as a creamy medium for saucy dishes like a goulash; smothered under a chunky tomato sauce; or even on its own with a sprinkling of cheese. However, you can also let it set in an oiled container; cut into wedges or slabs, dredge in a little flour, and pan-fry the polenta, you will have the best of two worlds: crispy brown the outside, and creamy-runny on the inside. Or better yet, make a double batch, enjoy part as a creamy sauce mop, and the rest as a crispy side dish. 


Creamy Polenta
Serves 2 to 3 as a side dish

2 Tbs butter or oil
½ cup/ 85g medium or fine cornmeal
2½-3 cups/ 500-750ml milk or water, or a combination of both
salt and pepper

Melt butter (or heat oil) over medium-high heat.
Add cornmeal, stir with a whisk to get everything coated with butter.
Toast the grits until a few of the grains begin to colour.
Pour milk or water gradually while whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
When the polenta starts bubbling, lower heat to medium-low.
Let simmer gently, stirring from time to time, for about 15-20 minutes.
Check the seasoning. 
The polenta is cooked when the grains are no longer gritty. Aim for the consistency of loose porridge: add more liquid if it is too thick, or cook for a while longer if the polenta is too runny.
Serve immediately, or leave to set for at least two hours before cutting into slabs, and frying.


Occasionally, the polenta will not set hard enough to cut cleanly, when that happens, you can either cook it down until it reaches the consistency of stiff oatmeal, or you can freeze it before slicing it. If you aren't in the mood to fry the left-overs, polenta can easily be re-heated to its creamy goodness over gentle heat, you might need to add a drop of milk or water to help it along. I go through single food kicks, and can be perfectly satisfied with a bowl of polenta for dinner, but I know that not everyone has my unique eating habits. Even though creamy polenta is plenty liquid in and of itself, it is the perfect foil for any saucy dish: it will soak up all the run-offs from your main course, whether a gorgeous roast, a divine stew, or lovely vegetables (especially leafy greens). Consider it an alternative to good old reliable mash.

Bon app'!




Thursday, November 25, 2010

Without Hard Edges


Thank Frith the sun came out! (If you don't who Frith is, you need to read Watership Down...) I usually don't mind the gradual descent into winter freeze, but circumstances are such that the prospect of cold, dreary days has placed a dark pall over things. Winter does not sound so appealing this year; hibernation seems like a better idea. I love winter, I really do. Even though it is officially still autumn (Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!), who are we kidding? It's winter in Canada! I do love the cold and the snow, and coming in to a nice, cozy home. After all, I left a relatively comfy life in Europe just because I needed to have snow engulfed winters!

But not so much this year. The felted cocoon that a thick blanket of snow provides does not sound as cozy and comforting as in previous years. I'm a homebody, so snowstorms are the perfect excuse for staying in, snuggling on the couch under a blanket with the cats and a good book. Winter has the magical power to transform a bustling city into a quiet country town. Yet, for some reason, I am dreading the isolation that can occur in the dead of winter. Maybe I just need a good snow storm to change my mood...

In any case, it is times like these when I need to pull out my roster of comfort foods, and get cooking. My current go-to comforter is macaroni (or any other short pasta) and cheese. Noodles and cheese are tops in comfort food: it's creamy, starchy-smooth, soft and non-threatening. And it's a great way to make all sorts of vegetables and left-overs disappear. Last night's roast chicken, shredded, will be born again; left-over turkey from Thanksgiving; bacon from breakfast... And all those 'icky' greens will be magically transformed.


Mac and cheese has been on a revival of late: it's on every happening restaurant's menu, but you needn't drag yourself out into the bitter cold to enjoy a hearty bowl of cheesy goodness. I used to think that the only way to make a good cheese sauce from scratch was to use those appalling, plastic-y slabs of orange goo. I should have known better, but I was young and only just beginning to venture into the kitchen. I think the truth dawned on me when I made my first cheese soufflé: a good cheese sauce was, simply put, a béchamel with cheese, also known as a Mornay sauce.


Once you've mastered Mornay sauce, you can run wild in the kitchen! Swiss chard will no longer be the enemy! Leafy greens will be devoured by every child, woman and man in sight! To paraphrase the Canadian Dairy Farmers' Association (and Mary Poppins), a spoonful of cheese makes the medicine go down! Here are a few points you need to follow for the perfect Mornay sauce: you need to make a thin béchamel to begin with. White sauces are delicious because they are thick, creamy and silky, but the cheese will add extra oomph to the sauce, so your base needs to be quite runny. You can add up to equal parts cheese to the béchamel, but low-fat cheeses need to kept to a minimum. I realise that dairy fat is not exactly healthy, but it is necessary to keep the sauce smooth and silky: low-fat hard cheeses will result in a stringy, rubbery mess, which can be fun for kids, but not so much if you are trying to impress in-laws.  My best advice would be to use the smallest amount of (a stronger flavoured) cheese, and minimize the portions. If you really must use low-fat cheeses, stick to creamy types, such as fresh goat cheese, cream cheese, and ricotta (not too much of the latter, because it will get rubbery in the heat), adding a bit of skim-milk mozzarella to give the sauce a little stretch. One last thing: because the béchamel base has very little flour, it mustn't boil once you've added the milk, or it may curdle; gently simmer it, lowering the heat and stirring vigorously if the sauce threatens to boil.



Sauce Mornay
Yields 3 cups (750mL), or enough for 4 generous portions of pasta and vegetables

1 Tbs butter or oil
1 Tbs flour 
2 c/ 500mL milk
salt and pepper
4 gratings (¼tsp) nutmeg
½ c to 2 c grated cheese (anywhere from 75g to 300g) 

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add flour, and whisk about to prevent lumps.
When the sizzling roux (flour and butter mix) becomes foamy white, gradually pour in the milk.
Continue whisking and crushing any lumps that may form. When the béchamel starts bubbling, turn the heat to medium-low.
Add the nutmeg.
Let cook over gentle heat for at least 5 minutes before adding the cheese.
Season. Be generous with the pepper, but add the salt pinch by pinch: the cheese is already salty, and the sauce can easily end up over-salted.
Stir until the cheese is completely melted.
Check the sauce's thickness: you do not want it to be too thick, or it will congeal too quickly. Aim for the same consistency as a thick cream soup. Add more milk, if necessary.
Serve immediately over cooked short pasta, vegetables or left-overs.

If you've made extra sauce in order to have left-over mac and cheese for the next day's lunch, do not mix in all the pasta. Let the noodles and sauce cool completely and separately, before combining them. Otherwise, the pasta will get all mushy, the sauce will dry up, and it will be difficult to re-heat. The Mornay will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Don't limit yourself to just mac and cheese: Mornay sauce can be used as a base for a pot pie, a hot sandwich, or a baked casserole.

Bon app'!





Buy Nothing Day 2010

 

It's that time of the year again! Buy Nothing Day is fast approaching: this week-end is your chance to take a stand against wanton consumerism.

So what could you do instead of mind-numbing shopping on November 26th (in North America) or on 27 November (the rest of the world)? Why not think of BND as "Throw Your Kids (or Inner Child) Out in the Wilderness Day"? Do you realise that most children in industrialised countries spend much less time playing outdoors than kids from twenty years ago? Only 6% of American children aged 9 to 13 actually play outside; 20% of UK kids have never attempted to climb a tree.

So, on November 26 or 27, turn off the computer; the mobile phone; the game console; the wires, bugs, and what-nots that keep you connected to the whole wide world, and step outside, kick up some snow, and stretch your legs. Heck! Make a whole week-end of it! Southern Quebec is expecting a province-wide dumping of snow this week-end, so take it as your chance to reconnect with the great outdoors.

Just make sure you have something to eat on the ready for when you come in from the cold.

Happy Buy Nothing Day!



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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stone Soup


I'm sure you know the lovely tale of Stone Soup. If you don't, here's a quick summary: A stranger arrives in a village, and tries to find somewhere to eat and stay, but he is told by everyone that there is no food or shelter to be had. So he goes to the village square, and begins to build a fire, over which he places a large cauldron, and in goes a large, regular-looking stone and some water. Curious villagers come by, wondering what he is doing. His answer: he is making Stone Soup, which is lovely as is, but could use a little something extra. Each villager, previously so reluctant to offer shelter or food, were okay to contribute a pinch of this and a bit of that, and before anyone could say 'boo!', a delightful soup is made and shared amongst everyone.

There are countless versions of this tale, but all bear witness to the importance of cooperation and community. And soup! Soups are great for cleaning out the fridge, using up left-overs, and warming your cockles! On a more microcosmic way, soup is about the coming together of diverse elements into a cohesive whole. If you made the cabbage rolls I wrote about in the last post, you probably have a partially cooked cabbage core languishing in the refrigerator. It can obviously be used in any recipe calling for cooked cabbage, but one great way to make it disappear quickly is a hearty cabbage soup.


I can hear some of you groaning from here! But worry not, cabbage soup is delightful, and should cause little or no discomfort if you include most of the herbs and spices in the recipe (these flavourings are known to help digestion). Epazote is a bit of an obscure herb: it is most often used in Mexican recipes, especially with beans, as they are said to ease the digestion of legumes. It can be found in any  Latin-American shop, but you can leave it out altogether, or substitute with savory, a European herb used for similar reasons. Every other ingredient is completely optional, so you can add or subtract from the list, depending on what you happen to have on hand, you can even use a fresh cabbage, if you don't have a lonely, left-over core!

Cabbage Soup
Serves more or less four people

1 cabbage core
2 onions
1 leek
2 carrots
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp epazote or winter/summer savory 
½ tsp thyme
butter and/ or oil
salt and pepper

Quarter the cabbage and remove the stem. Chop roughly, set aside.
Peel and chop the onions, carrots, leek and garlic cloves, making sure to wash the leek thoroughly.
Heat butter and oil in a large pot. Add all the herbs and spices.
When the aromas start rising, add the onions and leek to the pot. Sweat them out.
Add the garlic and carrots. When the onions are completely cooked, add the cabbage and sauté until it is wilted.
Add water or stock, enough to cover the vegetables by 2 cm (1"). Bring up to the boil.
When the soup comes to a rumbling boil, turn the heat down, so that it simmers gently, cover, and let cook for 15-20 minutes. The soup is more or less done after 10 minutes, but the longer it cooks, the more digestible the cabbage becomes.
The soup is ready to be blended when the carrots can easily be crushed with a fork. Blitz until smooth.
Check the seasoning: the herbs and spices contribute a lot of flavour, so go easy on the salt.
Serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt or sour cream, and a sprinkling of chopped parsley or scallions.

The soup tends to be pale in colour (unless you add more carrots to the base), so you can add extra colour by garnishing with diced cooked vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes and leeks. Like all cabbage-based recipe, this soup is very hearty, so go easy on the accompaniments: a hunk of bread, a few crackers, or a chunk of cheese is all you need to make a meal of it. If you happen to have a few beets on hands, their addition to the soup will result in a Russian-style borscht; beef stock and and few chips of left-over beef will make the soup more authentic.


Bon app'!



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Monday, November 15, 2010

Rolling Down the River


The sun's been out these past few days. If I'm sitting at my desk, in the sunlight, not looking at the bare tree outside my window, it almost feels like summer. But there is a chill in the air, Winter is around the corner, I can feel it in my bones. 


Times like these make me want to slow cook something on a wood burning stove, so that the smells could embalm the house, enveloping its inhabitants in a cloud of warmth and delicious comfort.


Cabbage rolls. They can be a handful to make, but once you have a batch done, you are set for a few dinners throughout the cold, cold days. They freeze very well, so they are worth the time it takes to make them. Cabbage rolls are traditionally stuffed with meat, and are quite delicious as such, but like just about everything else, you can use anything you want as stuffing, including left-overs. Being a vegetarian, I obviously prefer going the non-meat route. However, the following recipe can easily be adapted by adding any cooked ground meat or finely chopped left-over roast.


The most important part to successful cabbage rolls is the cabbage you use: I prefer using Savoy cabbages, even though classical Polish recipes call for regular cabbages. Savoys have large crinkly leaves, and tend to be very flexible, therefore are easier to handle than regular green cabbages. However, there are a few tricks to handling those tight balls of leaves. First of all, you need to buy a large head: it should weigh at least 2kg (5lbs). A cabbage that size will yield about 20 rolls. Secondly, the cabbage needs to be blanched before you even attempt to remove the leaves: remove the first layer of tough outer leaves, then plunk it in your largest pot before filling it with just enough water to cover the head; remove the cabbage from the pot, and bring the water up to the boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, prepare the cabbage: with a small, sharp knife, cut the base of the visible leaves around the stem without cutting it off entirely -you will need it to pull the cabbage out of the water.


When the water is boiling, dunk the cabbage for 2 to 3 minutes; remove and place under cold, running water to cool; peel off two to four leaves; if the leaves are hard to remove, do not persist,  cut a few more stem bases, and dunk the cabbage in the boiling water; continue until you've removed all the large leaves. If you bought a Savoy cabbage instead, you can remove all the leaves raw before blanching. In both cases, you might have to shave off part of the leaf's rib to make them more flexible. All you need to do next is stuff the leaves, roll them up, and cook them off.

 

Cabbage Roll Stuffing
Makes enough to fill 20 rolls

2 cups cooked grains (rice, quinoa, wheat berry... or a mix of any left-over)
1 onion
2 carrots
1 small rutabaga
1 apple
½ c/ 100g raisins and or dried cranberries
½ c/ 120g almonds or pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
2 cm/ 1" piece of ginger
1 tsp herb of your choice
1 orange
salt and pepper
20 cabbage leaves, blanched
stock or tomato sauce

Butter or oil a large baking dish. Set aside.
Peel onion, carrots, rutabaga, ginger, apple and garlic cloves. Chop finely. If you have a food processor or a mandoline, you can use those to process the vegetables.
Zest and juice the orange. Set aside.
Toast the almonds or pumpkin seeds: the almonds take about 4-5 minutes in a 170'C/ 325'F, the pumpkin seeds only need about 3 minutes (the toaster oven is perfect for this job).
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Check seasoning.
To stuff the cabbage leaves: place 3 spoonful of stuffing 3 cm/ 1½" from base of leaf; roll up the base of the leaf over stuffing, then fold in side flaps, and finish rolling up the leaf. Set in baking dish, seam side down.
Pour just enough stock or tomato sauce to completely cover the rolls. 
Cover with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil -don't worry, the rolls are baked at low temperature, so the plastic wrap will not melt or taint your food, but it will protect it from the foil (which should never be in contact with tomato sauce).
Bake in a 170'C/ 325'F oven for 2-3 hours: the rolls are cooked when you can cut through them with a spoon. 
If you are wary of putting plastic wrap in your oven, you can braise the rolls on the stove top. Just make sure you use a pan large enough to place the rolls in one layer, and gently simmer the liquid.
Serve hot from the baking dish, or let cool completely and save for later.


Cabbage rolls are most often cooked and served with a tomato sauce, but can easily be braised in a flavourful stock, in which case they should be broiled before serving for a splash of colour; serve with the yummy stock. The stuffing can be varied ad infinitum, and you can even garnish them with anything (including cheese, if you want!)  Like many comfort foods, cabbage rolls improve with time: it probably has something to do with repeated re-heating, but the flavours really do meld into a more complete whole the next day.

They are, admittedly, time-consuming to make -it takes me the better part of the afternoon to make a batch- however, if you have a few extra pairs of helping hands, you can tackle three or four heads of cabbage in the time it takes to process one on your own: all you need to do is organise a cabbage roll-making party!


Bon app'!


P.S. Don't worry about the left-over cabbage: a scrumptious recipe will follow shortly. The cabbage core will need to be used up pretty quickly since it is partially cooked. Use it in any cooked dish, like this braised cabbage.



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Friday, November 5, 2010

Pizza Night


I, like many of you I'm sure, get crazy cravings for pizza. It must be a remnant of my 'mad youth', when my friends and I would stumble drunkenly into pizza shops after a night on the town.... Who am I kidding? Most people who grew up immersed in Western culture love pizza: it's the perfect food to eat out of hand; it combines the starchy goodness of a crispy-crunchy crust, the ooey-gooey-meltiness of cheese, and whatever other toppings you happen to like. It is the college kid's best friend because it encompasses all four food groups, and can be consumed without cutlery or dish-ware, and, it's a cure-all for hangovers.


While there are a few good pizzerias in my neighbourhood, as a general rule, I try to make my pizzas at home. It's not as complicated as one might think it is, and, if one has lots of freezer space, any night can be pizza night. I'm not suggesting you buy frozen pizzas -although I hear they have been much improved of late- but there are a few basics you should have on the ready in the ice-box to simplify things. Raw pizza dough freezes beautifully: in fact, thawed dough is easier to roll out than fresh dough, so make a double batch of dough, and freeze the excess. Grated cheese also keeps very well in the freezer, and the best part is that you don't even need to defrost it to sprinkle it on a pizza. You can buy bags of grated cheese -and sometimes it is less costly than buying a block and grating it yourself- but I'll bet that at this very moment there is a hunk of cheese pining away in your fridge: if you have no plans to consume it before it grows fuzz, you can grate and freeze the cheese for later. I try to keep a box into which I shave any orphan bit of cheese, that way I always have a nice mix ready to go.

If you have dough and cheese, you have pizza. Everything else is optional, which makes pizza another great way to clean out the fridge (the other being soup): any left-overs can be chopped up and sprinkled over the rolled out base, smother with cheese, and you've got a dinner that even a picky eater will love.


My personal favourite pizza at this time of the year is topped with potatoes and kale. Although somewhat uncommon in North America, potato pizza or foccacia di patate is actually an Italian classic. I first encountered these when I went to Florence a couple of years ago for a wedding: just about every pizza stand had them, and they looked divine! A few months later, my boyfriend started working in an Italian bakery, and he came home one evening with nothing but praise for the focaccia. The following version is our twist on the recipe; an Italian friend of mine was shocked when he learnt our recipe (we use mustard), but later admitted that he tried it and thought it was better than the traditional version! I also like to add kale, because it is so lovely with spuds, but you can put any other greens you happen to have on hand.


Recipes for pizza doughs abound, and everyone has their favourite: the following recipe is my old standby. I picked it up from an old issue of Harrowsmith Country Life Magazine. It calls for semolina, which is the hard wheat flour used to make pasta; the semolina makes for a super crunchy crust, so it is best to roll out the dough rather thinly. Semolina can be found in most bulk and health food stores, but if you can't find it, just substitute for the same amount of white or whole wheat flour. You'll have enough dough to make at least two 30cm (12") pizzas; I like my pizzas to be really thin crusted, so I actually manage to stretch out a half recipe  into a cookie-sheet-sized rectangle. The recipe can easily be doubled -if you have the arms or the machine to knead it.


 

Semolina Pizza Crust
Adapted from Harrowsmith Country Life Magazine

2 Tbs active dry yeat
350mL /1¼ c room temperature water
6 Tbs olive oil
320g /2c semolina (fine or medium)
200g/ 1½c unbleached, all-purpose flour
10g/ 2 tsp salt

Mix yeast and water, stirring to dissolve the yeast. Set aside.
Combine semolina, flour and salt in a mixing bowl. 
Add yeast mix and oil to the dry ingredients. This step is easiest with a stand mixer, but can be done by hand: just make sure you've taken off all your rings, and try to use only one hand, you will need the other one to hold the bowl. 
When all the ingredients are combined, continue kneading the dough until it holds together nicely and is no longer sticky: this takes about 15-20 minutes by hand, or 10 minutes by machine.
(The dough can be divided in two at this point, wrapped in two layers of cling film and frozen.
To defrost, simply place dough in the fridge the day before you intend to use it, and roll out when fully defrosted, no need to let it rise.)
Divide the dough into at least two, and roll into a ball. Place each ball in an oiled bowl, cover, and let the dough rest for at least one hour (in a not too warm place, about 20'C/ 75'F) before rolling it out. You can also let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator. In fact, it will keep in the fridge for about 3 days.
Pre-heat your oven to 275'C/ 525'F.
When the dough has rested, roll it out: gently remove the ball of dough from bowl, placing it in the palm of one hand With the other hand, gently flatten the dough out. Grab the edge with both hands, letting the weight of the dough stretch it out. Move your hands along the edge, all the while stretching it out, it's a little like handling the steering wheel of a car.
You can always roll out the dough on a table, with a rolling pin, but this method requires the addition of extra flour, which will dry out the dough.
Sprinkle baking sheet, or pizza plate with flour before placing dough on it.
Garnish the pizza, place in the oven. Turn heat down to 250'C/ 500'F. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.



Kale and Potato Pizza

Yields enough to garnish a 28x43cm (11"x17") pan pizza

2cups cooked kale
2 cups cooked potatoes
2 cloves garlic
4 Tbs Dijon mustard
4 Tbs cream, optional
salt and pepper
olive oil
cheese, optional

Mix mustard and cream, if using. Spread on pizza dough.
Slice garlic cloves as thinly as possible, scatter on pizza.
Chop kale. Add to pizza.
Cut potatoes into 5mm (¼") slices, scatter on pizza.
Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover with cheese, if desired.(Traditional focaccia di patate does not have cheese, just olive oil)
Bake. 
Serve while piping hot.


Bon app'!



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Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Warmth from Within


There was snow on the ground on Hallowe'en morning. It stuck around for most of the day, and some of it hung on to dark corners until the next day. It feels like winter is going to hit hard and fast this year. 
I  caught cold last week; I haven't been so sick in ages. Since my plans to flee to warmer climes fell through, I was at leisure to nurse my aching self over the week-end. Litres of ginger and thyme tea helped to get rid of most of my ills, but I needed something more; I needed summer in my belly. It's still early days for summer-nostalgia, but being sick can turn anyone into a blubbering mess, and I needed a quick fix: tomato soup.


Oh, I know that tomatoes are no longer in season. There are a few local stragglers to be had at the market, greenhouse crops and imports are taking over most shelves. But everyone knows that the best tomato soup comes from a can. No, no, no! I don't mean canned soup! I mean canned tomatoes! Whether commercial or homemade, tomatoes are preserved at the height of ripeness; basically, they are summer embalmed.

You probably already have a favourite tomato soup recipe, I am not suggesting that mine is better, but the following is an immune booster and a flu-buster. It contains ginger for its throat-soothing and warming properties (to take the chills of fever away); thyme for its anti-bacterial and anti-viral powers; cumin seeds will settle upset stomachs (however, if you feel really nauseous, tomato soup might not be a good idea), and help you get a good night's sleep; and garlic, because it is a cure-all.

The recipe calls for a 796mL/28oz can of tomatoes, but you can just as easily substitute a homemade jar of tomatoes. Once you've emptied out the can or jar, do not put it in the sink right away: half fill with some cold water, swirl it around to clean the sides, and reserve, you might need to add some liquid to the soup if it is too thick, and it would be a shame to waste all that tomato flavour!


Flu-Buster Tomato Soup
Serves four as a starter, two for a light meal (with salad or a sandwich), or one very sick patient.

1 can (796mL/ 28oz) tomatoes
2 medium onions
4 cloves garlic
3cm (1") piece of fresh ginger, peeled
10 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried (or oregano)
1 tsp cumin seeds or ½ tsp ground 
1 Tbsp each butter and olive oil
salt and pepper

Over medium heat, melt butter and olive oil.
Roughly chop onions, garlic and ginger, add to the oil.
When the onions begin to turn translucent, add the spices and seasonings.
When the onions are fully cooked, add the tomatoes.
Bring up to a simmer, and let cook for about 15 minutes.
Blend the soup until smooth, and check for seasoning.
Adjust the thickness, if need be, with water.


There's no cream in the recipe, but nothing's stopping you from serving the soup with a drizzle of cream, and a garnish of chopped green onions. You can also swirl some pesto (the raw garlic in the pesto will give your cold a run for its money!) If you want to go really fancy, serve the soup with a dollop of unsweetened, whipped cream and a sprinkle of chopped herbs.


Bon app'!




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