One Potato, Two Potato . . . Easy Peasy

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Fried foods are not part of my current diet, although I have eaten a French fry or two along the trail. No, I don’t eat fried foods mainly for all the so-called health reasons, and to achieve that perfect fried dish at home requires the right kitchen equipment I simply don’t have or want. Not to mention dealing with large amounts of hot oil and a viable way of disposing it once done can present its challenges.

However, there is something unmistakenly good about the taste of well-prepared fried food: French fries, for example. I often accompany some main dishes with crispy oven-roasted potatoes, either gold or sweet, plain or seasoned with either herb or spice. So why not oven-roasted French fries?

After some initial experimenting I settled on the approach I am sharing in this post. Just three ingredients: Yukon gold potatoes, olive oil, and either salt and pepper or perhaps your favorite dry spice mix.

I chose the Yukon gold potatoes over the more classically used russet potatoes in deep frying because I learned that the oven-roasted fries achieved a tender, creamy texture inside surrounded by a crisp exterior surface. The russet potatoes were just too mealy when roasted. The creamy texture was the ultimate result I was after, although deep-frying will yield a more evenly browned finish. Looks, in this case, aren’t everything!

My preference is to dust the potato slices with one of any number of dry spice mixes I always have on hand, although a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper can work just fine as well. In this recipe I used a mix I call southwest spice—the main ingredients are ground dried ancho, chipotle, and Spanish pimentón plus brown sugar. When roasted, this mix yields an intoxicating smoked-sweet-heat flavor to whatever food it coats.

The potato slices were also lightly coated with olive oil and a tablespoon or two of my roasted garlic jam to round out the flavors of this batch.

Select potatoes that are relatively uniform in size so the slices will evenly roast at the same time. No peeling is required, and preferred! A quick blanching of the slices is the only other cooking step required as the oven does all the rest of the work.

So here you go, my take on Oven-Roasted French Fries.

Ingredients
(2 medium-size potatoes per person)
Olive oil
Roasted garlic jam or garlic powder
Salt and pepper or a spice mix of your choice

Method
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Wash and dry the potatoes.

Slice the potatoes into 3/8-inch rounds, skin on, then slice across the rounds into 3/8-inch batons.

Blanch the sliced batons no more than 5 minutes in lightly salted, gently boiling water.

Drain the slices into a colander and allow them to cool.

In a large work bowl lightly drizzle the potato slices with olive oil, spoon the garlic jam around (if using), and dust with either your spice rub or salt and pepper.

Gently toss and coat the slices so as not to break them up.

Evenly spread the batons on a parchment lined baking sheet pan in a single layer or use more than one sheet pan.

Ready to roast

Roast the slices in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, turning the pan around half way through and using a thin spatula to turn the potatoes over.

For a little extra crispness and light char, place the sheet pans under the broiler for no more than 3 minutes.

Plate and enjoy . . . nothing more to do.

Plated

Unless you are a die-hard fried-food purist, you may never consider the deep-fried French fry the same way again.

Eat well. Be well.

DM

If you think the time will change your ways, don’t wait too long!

 

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A Pumpkin Cake with an Italian Perspective

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I’ve never been enthusiastic about elaborate, over-conceptualized desserts, fancy icings, or multi-layered affairs. Nor have I ever really been comfortable using a pastry bag. My preference has always been for simpler, uncomplicated desserts using fruits, melted dark chocolate, and/or nuts paired with some form of batter as the base. So recently, while looking through some of my cookbooks in search of a dessert in which I could use fall and winter ingredients, I came across the recipe I’m sharing in this post.

In her book titled, Cucina Ebraica—Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen, Joyce Goldstein, the San Francisco-based, nationally recognized chef, teacher, author, and overall Mediterranean cuisine advocate, featured this pumpkin torta from the town of Treviso in Veneto, Italy. The title of the recipe is, Torta di Zucca di Treviso, or more specifically, Torta di Zucca Barucca (the barucca is a type of pumpkin-squash that is the main ingredient in the cake).

The barucca squash is a squat green squash with nubbles or warts on the outer skin. Hence, perhaps in part, the origin of the name associated with the Italian word veruca, which translates as wart.

They are often available in markets in the Veneto region during the fall season, where they have been commonly used in filled pasta dishes or desserts, and recognized as a staple ingredient in the cuisine of the Italian Jewish community in that region.

I realized that finding a barucca squash in markets here was not going to happen, so I had to resort to the suggested substitutes—either a small pumpkin or a butternut squash. I didn’t really care for either of those two choices and opted instead for my go-to squash, the kabocha, which, in fact, reminded me of what a barucca might look like because it also is green, squatty, and has a nubbly surface. But more about the use of the kabocha later.

It took me two attempts to get the recipe right from a textural standpoint. In part because on the initial try I took a short cut and used canned pumpkin puree that I keep on hand for making treats for my dogs. With the pumpkin puree, the finished cake was just too soft and didn’t have the creamy, dense texture I was looking for. The kabocha squash solved that problem.

There were a few other steps I altered between the initial take on the recipe and the final version, which resulted in a better outcome.

I often roast kabocha squash when using it in other dishes because roasting punctuates the squash’s natural sweetness and improves the texture by drying some of the natural moisture. Roasting the squash in this recipe enhanced the texture of the finished cake and also simplified the preparation of the squash overall.

The original recipe requires a half-cup of diced citron (the large tropical citrus fruit with a thick rind used in food preparation, mainly baking and puddings, where the rind is first fermented, then candied). Instead, I substituted a quarter cup of diced candied orange rind with a quarter cup of the citron. Additionally, finely grated orange zest was used in place of the lemon zest called for in the original recipe as I thought it paired better with the candied orange rind/citron combination.

Although Goldstein’s recipe did not call for it, I finished the torta by dusting it with confectioners sugar.

So with that, here is my take on Torta di Zucca Barucca.

Ingredients (serves 8)
1 kabocha squash (or butternut squash), approximately 2 pounds
1½ sticks unsalted butter
1/3 cup raisins + 3 tablespoons grappa (or brandy)
½ cup almonds
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup minced citron + ¼ cup minced candied orange rind
Finely grated zest from 2 oranges
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated

Method
Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment, butter the parchment, and set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the kabocha squash into quarters and remove all the seeds. Lightly coat the quarters with olive oil and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the squash is fork tender. Allow the squash to cool, spoon out all the pulp, discard the skin, and set the roasted pulp aside. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and set aside.

In another small saucepan over low heat, bloom the raisins in the grappa until most of the liquid has been absorbed, and set aside.

Using a food processor, grind the almonds with one tablespoon of the sugar, into a coarse crumb.

In a large work bowl whisk together the butter, remaining sugar, almonds, citron, orange rind, raisins with any remaining grappa, and the orange zest. Mash the roasted squash pulp and add it to the mix, whisking vigorously to smooth the ingredients together and thoroughly combine.

In a small work bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the squash mixture, whisking to thoroughly combine. Add the egg yolks, whisking to fully incorporate into the batter.

Mixing wet and dry

Add yolks

Using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites into soft peaks, and using a rubber spatula, fold the whites into the batter until no white remains.

Whip whites

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth out to even the distribution within the pan, and tap the pan on the work surface to remove any air in the batter.

Ready to bake

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour until the cake is set and a tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Out of the oven

Set the pan on a rack and allow it to cool completely before loosening and removing the springform. The cake should have receded away from the pan’s edge. Once cooled, invert the cake onto a platter, remove the parchment, and turn the cake back over onto a clean platter for serving. Dust the top with confectioners sugar and add a few thin strips of orange or lemon zest to present.

Presented

A few orange sections and a dollop of ricotta mousse (ricotta whipped with either cream cheese or Greek yogurt) also pair nicely with a slice of this dessert.

Served

This rich, moist torta reminds me of desserts my grandmother and Aunt Emma (yes, there was an “Auntie Em” in our family), would serve around the holidays. So why not try something a little different for dessert the next time you gather together at your table?

Be well. Eat well.

DM

Good Cooks Never Lack Friends!

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