About ndschmidt

One of the Two Drunkards, I practice law to support our cooking, drinking and acting pursuits.

Onion Confit and Winter Greens Pasta

The seasonal pasta and pizza recipes in Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone (book number 7) are as fresh and vibrant today as they must have seemed when the book was published in 1984. After an opening chapter on making fresh pasta, the bulk of the book is composed of seasonally organized recipes for generally simple pasta dishes that make use of the best ingredients that each season has to offer. Everyone seems to cook this way now, but it really was groundbreaking in 1984 when Chez Panisse was a mere 13 years old.

Kate and I opted to make the first recipe in the Winter chapter: Onion Confit & Winter Greens Pasta since we had everything in the house but the greens. Although the final assembly of the dish was quick, there was a bit of prep time to make onion confit and fresh fettuccine. For the confit, four thinly sliced yellow onions are sautéed briefly in butter, sprinkled with a bit of sugar, and then slowly simmered for about two hours in a mixture of red wine, wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, crème de cassis and thyme until the liquid has reduced to a rich wine-herb syrup coating melt-in-your-mouth onions. Although, making the confit took time, it didn’t require constant attention, so I was able to multi-task. In any case, the time investment was worth it, because, as Alice notes in the recipe, you only use about half of the batch in the pasta (or a quarter in our case since we halved the recipe) so you have a bunch left for other uses such as pizza or sandwich topping. We ended up with about three cups of onion confit, so I divided it into four ¾ cup portions, set one aside for the pasta, and froze the other three for future deliciousness.

While the onions were cooking, I made the pasta dough out of a cup of flour, a pinch of salt, an egg, and a little water. After a 45 minute rest, we rolled the dough and cut it into fettuccine. It was a real treat to make and eat fresh pasta again. It had probably been about a year since the last time in Vallejo.

With the pasta and onion confit made, the rest of the dish came together pretty quickly. We washed a big bunch of red kale, cut it into strips and blanched it briefly in the boiling pasta water. The blanched greens went into a skillet with half a cup of slightly reduced chicken stock and a little more butter to simmer while the pasta cooked. Toss the cooked pasta and onion confit with the greens and voilà! Totally worth the little bit of effort. Fresh pasta is always wonderful, and the finished dish had beautiful layers of flavor with the minerally, slightly bitter greens balancing the sweet onions.

We ended up only eating about two-thirds of the pasta, so, naturally, the rest appeared for breakfast a few days later with a poached egg on top.

Up next: Chez Panisse Fruit.

Chicken Legs Braised with Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic & Cranberry Bean Gratin

As I told you in our last post, Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food (book number 5) is one of the handful of cookbooks that Kate and I turn to again and again. Subtitled “Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution,”the book distills Alice’s years of experience and philosophy of cooking seasonal, sustainable ingredients simply and respectfully into a series of lessons on organizing one’s kitchen, basic cooking techniques with representative recipes for each, and a battery of basic recipes for every course and season. Whether you are an inexperienced cook who wants to learn, or an experienced cook who wants to hone your skills, this is truly an essential book. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Art of Simple Food is one of the main books we had in mind when we set our guideline that we couldn’t cook any recipe that we had made before as part of this challenge. Alice’s roast chicken recipe, for instance, is the one that we always rely on, as is her Caesar dressing recipe and her biscotti recipe. So, part of the challenge this time was picking a recipe that we hadn’t already cooked using the seasonal Autumn ingredients we had on hand. Happily, we had a pair of plump free range chicken leg quarters and the rest of the bunch of sage from our Leaf & Caul meat CSA box, onions and incredible fresh garlic from Whatley Farm, and, as always, a supply of our friend Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo beans. Add a big can of Muir Glen tomatoes, and we had all that we needed to cook two recipes: Chicken Legs Braised with Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic accompanied by a Cranberry Bean Gratin.

Our first tasks were to cook the cranberry beans simply in water and season the chicken legs generously with salt and pepper. While the cooked beans were cooling and the chicken coming to room temperature, we prepared the vegetables and herbs for both dishes: diced onion, carrot, and celery, sliced garlic, and chopped sage leaves for the bean gratin; chopped onion and sliced garlic for the chicken. For the beans, the mirepoix was cooked in olive oil until tender, followed the garlic and sage, and next diced canned tomatoes. The drained beans were mixed with the sautéed vegetables and poured into a gratin dish with enough of the bean broth to almost cover the beans. Before going in the oven, the beans were drizzled with olive oil and covered with breadcrumbs.

Meanwhile, we browned the chicken in olive oil until the skin was brown and crispy. The chicken rested while we prepared the braising liquid: onions cooked in the rendered chicken fat until translucent, then garlic, a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary, and, again, canned diced tomatoes. The chicken was nestled among the vegetables moistened with a cup of chicken broth. After bringing the broth to a boil and then back down to a simmer, we covered the chicken and put both the chicken and the beans into the oven. Both dishes were supposed to cook for about 45 minutes but at slightly different temperatures, so we took advantage of having two ovens. If we’d only had one, we could have braised the chicken on the stove top, but I prefer taking advantage of the steady heat of the oven over our ancient electric range whenever we can.

Both recipes came out great. We served the chicken on a bed of the vegetables from the braise alongside a generous scoop of the bean gratin. The chicken was moist, succulent, and toothsome, as only a heritage breed free range bird can be, and the beans were crusty on top and fragrant with the aromatic herbs and vegetables.

The leftover bean gratin played a supporting role again the next night at Kate’s birthday dinner along with a green salad and amazing Jersey ribeyes from Otter Farm, and the balance of the beans made a great clean-out-the-fridge soup combined with the reserved bean broth, the braising liquid from the chicken, and some cubed leftover piri piri turkey breast a few nights later. I love being creative with leftovers, and often times, the new dishes are just as good as the original ones.

 

Up next: Chez Panisse Vegetables.

Parsnip Soup with Sage and Toasted Walnuts

Continuing with our sub-collection of Alice Waters books, book number 4 is The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes Flavor & Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden. We have both volumes of Alice’s Art of Simple Food, and have several go-to recipes from volume I (coming up as book 5), but, inexplicably, neither of us had ever cooked anything from volume II. This book focuses on vegetables and, in contrast to volume I, which has recipes organized by cooking technique, this one features recipes and techniques organized by type of vegetable.

Since we had a bunch of beautiful parsnips from the Midcoast Winter Farmer’s Market in Brunswick and a bunch of freshly harvested sage from our Leaf & Caul meat CSA box, we decided to put them to work in a batch of Parsnip Soup with Sage and Toasted Walnuts. I’m sure that I must have eaten parsnips at some point in the past, but I really feel like I have just discovered them this fall in Maine. Related to carrots, but more subtly flavored and starchier with an intoxicating perfume, parsnips have been a regular component of our weekly roasted chicken and root vegetables the past few months. Similar in texture to a chunky leek and potato soup, but with the natural sweetness and perfume of the parsnips, this hearty soup is enriched with the addition of a spoonful of fried sage and toasted walnut pesto just before serving.

 

The soup started with sautéing thinly sliced shallots in butter until they softened and then adding the sliced white of a leek, a sprig of fresh sage and a sprinkling of salt. After a few more minutes, peeled and chunked parsnips went into the pan to sauté for several minutes before adding chicken broth and simmering until the parsnips were tender. Meanwhile, we toasted walnuts in the oven and crisped a handful of sage leaves in olive oil. When the sage was crisp, we tossed the toasted nuts with the oil and sage and seasoned them with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Along with a few cloves of garlic and some olive oil, we pounded the sage and walnuts in a mortar and pestle to make the chunky pesto that garnishes the soup. Total cooking time was only about half an hour from start to finish, but the flavor and aroma were amazing. It was rich and satisfying without being heavy and was the perfect dinner for a cold night.

 

The leftover soup was also spectacular a few mornings later with a runny fried egg on top. So far, I have to say that we’re batting 100 percent on these recipes.

Up next: Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution.

Lobster salad with green beans, apple, and avocado

We made recipe #2 of our global cookbook cook-through on Friday night from Patricia Wells’ Salad as a Meal. The book, subtitled “Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season,” is packed with recipes, and suggested wine pairings, that I look forward to going back to, but for fall in coastal Maine it was easy to settle on Lobster Salad with Green Beans, Apple, and Avocado.

Since Kate and I are doing Weight Watchers (we have both lost over 30 pounds since August, by the way. Go us!), we have been watching our oil consumption, so the fact this this salad’s dressing is made of Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, minced chives, and a bit of sea salt was both a bonus and an eye-opener. The combination of the tangy yogurt, hot mustard, and what seemed like an insane amount of minced chives (1/4 cup to a cup of yogurt and tablespoon of mustard) made a wonderfully light and creamy dressing perfectly perfumed with chives that ticked the salt, fat, and acid boxes. As a rule, we avoid non-fat dairy substitutes and just try to use judicious amounts of the real things. Our one exception is non-fat Greek yogurt, which we have found to be nearly indistinguishable from low or full-fat yogurt for cooking or eating with fruit and granola for breakfast. Chobani non-fat Greek yogurt, which we used for this recipe, is particularly good.

This dressing is tossed with blanched green beans, cubes of apple and avocado, and bite-sized pieces of lobster meat. The contrasting colors and textures in the salad were spectacular: crisp-tender green beans, crunchy apple, unctuous melt-in-your-mouth avocado, and sproingy lobster. And it paired beautifully with a bottle of ever-reliable La Vieille Ferme Rosé. This is definitely a salad that we’ll make again and again. We’re also going to experiment with substituting shrimp for the lobster to make this as a potluck dish that should be equally delicious but a bit more economical.

Although lobster is much more reasonably priced and fresher here in Maine, the pound of lobster meat called for by the recipe for four servings is still rather extravagant. We’ve found that a 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pound lobster contains four to five ounces of tail, claw, and knuckle meat which is useable for a salad or lobster roll. We halved the recipe and used the meat from two lobsters to make two very satisfying servings. Already picked lobster meat is available, but it is much more economical to buy whole lobsters and shell them oneself. And of course the bonus to picking one’s own lobsters is that you have the shells and heads to make stock with.

Up next: Paul Bertolli & Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Cooking, the first, or rather last, of nine Alice Waters/Chez Panisse books on our shelf.

Happy Apple Day

So I juiced some Fuji and Granny Smith apples that we had in the house yesterday and was inspired to work it into a cocktail this evening after the epic homemade orecchiette with butternut squash, chile and hazelnuts that we made for dinner. So, the Happy Apple Day was born.

The house made Bosc pear bitters that I used, which we made from the recipe in Brad Thomas Parsons’ amazing book “Bitters,” gave the cocktail a hit of baked pear, vanilla and spice that really worked with the crazy fresh apple juice.  If you don’t happen to have any pear bitters in your bar, a few dashes of an aromatic bitters, such as Angostura, will also make a great drink. 


1.5 ounces blended Scotch

1 oz freshly squeezed Apple juice

Several dashes of pear or aromatic bitters

Shake in an ice-filled shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. 

Marvel at how delicious it is.