Month: December 2014

Spinach Tart

As we enter the home stretch for the end-of-year holidays, I thought I’d try and share a few more food preparations that you might consider including as part of your holiday table. Although this offering was included in my Thanksgiving menu, I hadn’t written about it yet. Entitled Spinach Tart, this is one of my go-to recipes where spinach is not the only greens choice, and it is a recipe that provides many options for creativity.

Many years ago as a young boy I used to visit my Sicilian maternal grandmother in her home in the Bronx, New York. The preferred route was a drive south along the Bronx River Parkway where I often observed older women gathering something from the grassy area adjacent to the parkway. They seemed to be holding what they were picking in the aprons they wore. Curious, but only many years later did I finally connect all the dots after reading a piece about polenta authored by Paula Wolfert, cook and cookbook author, featuring “Apron Greens.” These women were gathering young dandelion greens, which were later included on some level in their meal preparation. From this enlightenment I developed the approach to the apron-green tart, of which the spinach tart I share here, is just one example. Arugula, chard, cress, kale, mustard greens, beet tops, turnip greens, sorrel, or any combination you choose can be substituted for the spinach.

However, in order to have a tart you first must have the shell. There are many options for preparing a tart shell or pastry. Or, you could simply wimp out and purchase a packaged tart shell. My favorite, which has become the standard for any savory tart I make, is the quick and wholesome olive oil pastry. I discovered the recipe in a cookbook by Patricia Wells, the author, columnist and cook, entitled Trattoria, which I have been using ever since. It couldn’t be simpler, uses only three ingredients, does not have to be prebaked, and yields a perfect 12-inch shell every time.

 

Olive Oil Tart Pastry

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water

Method
Either in a large work bowl or directly on your board or countertop, make a well with the flour. Pour the liquids into the well and begin to incorporate with a fork. Once incorporated and the dough begins to come together, using floured hands, work the dough until all the flour is absorbed and a soft but not sticky mass is formed.

Place the dough on a well-floured surface, and begin to flatten using your hands. Next, flour a rolling pin and evenly roll out the dough until a somewhat circular shape of approximately 14 inches is reached. Fold the rolled dough in quarters and place in an 11- or 12-inch glass or ceramic tart dish (no need for the removable bottom type), and begin to press the dough all around until it is evenly distributed around the baking dish and an edge is formed. I usually use the tines of a fork to gently score around the circumference so that the crust adheres to the baking dish, and perforate the bottom to prevent and air bubbles from forming during baking.

The shell is now complete, and I place it in the refrigerator to set up while I prepare the filling.

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With this tart variation, I used spinach as the green, mixing in garlic, sweet onions, button mushrooms, cheese, and eggs, topping with some breadcrumbs and additional cheese to form a crisp crust.

Ingredients
1 to 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
6 large white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 lb spinach leaves
5 large eggs
1-1/2 cups grated cheese, Asiago and Grana Padano used here, although there are many options
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method
Prep all the ingredients, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large work bowl, crack the eggs and whip with a little Half & Half or whole milk to form the custard base and set aside.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil and once heated add the onions and cook until they begin to soften and lightly color.

Sprinkle the garlic over the onions and mix to incorporate, then season with S&P.

Distribute the sliced mushrooms and mix to incorporate. Sauté until the mushrooms soften and give up most of their water.

Finally, add the spinach, folding it into the vegetable sauté until it just wilts, which will happen quickly.

Remove the sauté pan from the heat, allowing it to cool slightly.

Pour the sauté into the egg mix, along with 2/3 of the grated cheese and thoroughly fold to combine.

Next, pour the mixture into the prepared tart shell, then sprinkle the remaining cheese, the breadcrumbs, and a little pepper over the top.

Place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or until the crust is browned, not burned, and the top of the tart is puffed and firm. The tart will settle once it is cooled, and once cooled you can slice it—it slices best at room temperature or cold.

The tart can be served at room temperature, or warmed in a 225-degree oven (after slicing) for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. It will make a nice side vegetable for your holiday meal, or works well as a starter course or a nice lunch, but I’ll leave that up to you.

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I would enjoy hearing about what greens you place in your aprons, and what cheese combinations you explore. Would be glad to answer any questions you might have as well.

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Garlic Is Good for Everything

Finally able to come back up for air, resurfacing from the deep Thanksgiving holiday dive and feeding frenzy! Much going on aside from the holiday focus at this time of year. Most significantly for me, I announced my retirement from my current position effective January 1, 2015, so with that in place I will be able to concentrate more of my free time on sharing my food thoughts, perspectives, and inspirations with all of you.

And, speaking of this time of year where the colder weather has many of us hunkered down, I find myself drawn to a hearty bowl of soup now and then. So with that said, here are some thoughts about a simple soup that is nourishing, comforting, and, believe it or not, in some parts of the world served year round.

Garlic soup offers endless possibilities. “Garlic is good for health, good for vampires, good for everything,” says Jacques Pepin. Popular in Spain, Southwest France, and other Mediterranean countries, this soup can be a delicious starter course in its most basic form, or it can be embellished to become a complete meal in itself.

Truth be told, I first learned about garlic soup back in the days before the Internet was the resource of choice to find most anything, Although I cannot recall the exact article I read, I became aware of the soup through a piece featuring Susan Spicer, the talented chef/owner of restaurant Bayona in NOLA. It mentioned her take on cream of garlic soup, which I set out to find so that I could try my hand at preparing a batch. I even went so far as to write to chef Spicer. However, not surprisingly, I did not get a reply.

Since that time the recipe has been reprinted in other books, can be found along with many other variations online, and is included in Spicer’s cookbook, Crescent City Cooking. However, the most important perspective I gained from chef Spicer’s recipe was the comment about recipe development: “My approach to recipe development typically involves looking up several versions of a dish, then taking what I like from each of those recipes.” It is in this spirit that I arrived at my base recipe for garlic soup.

It should be noted that mature heads of garlic are at their freshest from mid-June until well into the fall.

To achieve a deep rich flavor I roast two whole heads of garlic and cook the remaining fresh garlic with the onions slowly over low heat until well caramelized.

Instead of cream or bread as included in some preparations, my thickener is potato.

The base stock could be chicken broth, fish broth, or simply water. My preference is a stock prepared from vegetable trimmings and Parmesan rinds, which is my go-to stock base for most soups and stews.

 

Garlic Soup

Ingredients
Equal amounts of butter and olive oil (approximately 4 tablespoons each)
4 medium sweet onions
2 medium leeks, trimmed up to 2/3 dark green top portion
3 large heads of garlic (2 roasted)
8 cups of stock or water
Bouquet garni wrapped and tied within a dark green leek top; parsley stems, sage stems, thyme stems, bay leaf
4 medium potatoes peeled (freeze peels for use in stock making)
Salt and pepper and stock to finish as needed

Method
Finely dice the onions and set aside.

Thoroughly clean all the sand and grit from the leeks.

Finely dice the white and light green portion of the leeks, keeping the dark green top portions for use in making stock and the wrap for the bouquet garni.

Trim approximately 1/4 inch off the top of two garlic bulbs, place them skin-on in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, wrap with foil, and roast in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes until soft and tender, careful not to burn. Allow to cool enough to handle, then gently squeeze each clove from the bottom forcing the soft garlic out the cut end. Collect on a plate and set aside.

Peel and finely mince the remaining garlic bulb and set aside.

Wrap and tie the bouquet garni and include in the stock while poaching the potatoes.

Peel the potatoes (save peels to be used to make broth) and poach in the 8 cups of stock or water until very soft.

In another stockpot add the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Next, add the minced onions, leeks, and raw garlic, mixing to combine. Lightly salt and pepper, lower the heat, and stir frequently until the mix becomes a caramelized golden brown, about 40 minutes. If the bottom of the pan becomes glazed, simply add a little water or stock to dissolve the sticky film.

Add the roasted garlic, mixing to thoroughly combine, and remove the bouquet garni.

Puree the soup until smooth. If you are using a blender, puree in batches when the soup is cool enough to handle, or, if you are using an immersion mixer, which I prefer for this step, you can puree once the pot is off the hot stove. Although it is not necessary to strain the finished soup, take the time necessary to achieve a silky smooth puree.

The soup is now finished and can be gently reheated to serve on its own with many options for garnishes. For example, some toasted bread cubes, a sprinkle of minced parsley or sage, and a drizzle of a soft finishing olive oil would be one approach. Or, if you are adventuresome like me, you might consider stuffing a large squid (calamari) tube with a mix of sautéed spinach, minced garlic, toasted pine nuts, and chopped yellow raisins. Poach for 40 minutes in white wine until tender and then slice two or three rounds to float in a bowl of this soup.

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But let’s not stop there. Back in the beginning of this post I mentioned enhancing the base garlic soup to yield a more complete one-dish meal. In doing my research leading up to this point I came across many options. The best example, offering a straightforward approach and allowing for creativity, was a recipe published by one of my all-time favorite culinary author and cook, Paula Wolfert.

In her book Mediterranean Grains and Greens, Wolfert shared a Spanish preparation of the garlic soup which incorporated a mix of leafy greens. The recipe takes the base garlic soup to the next level—it becomes a complete one-dish meal when layered into the base soup along with the greens, chorizo, eggs, and toasted bread.

Since I already had the garlic soup prepared, all I needed to do was prep the other ingredients and assemble. My interpretation follows.

Ingredients
6 cups of the base garlic soup
1 finely chopped link of chorizo
1 small onion, minced
1 cup diced tomato with juice (tomato water)
1 bunch stemmed upland cress
1-1/2 cups baby arugula
1 generous teaspoon of sweet Spanish paprika (pimentón)
Salt and pepper and minced parsley
2 large eggs
1/2 baguette sliced into 4 pieces and toasted

Method
Gently warm the base garlic soup.

Sauté the chorizo and onion in olive oil until the chorizo has browned and the onion has softened and taken on some color.

Sprinkle the sauté with the pimentón and add the tomato, mixing to combine and bring back to a slow simmer.

Add the greens, mixing to combine and allow to begin to wilt.

Pour over the warmed garlic soup, mix again to combine, and raise the heat to allow for a more rapid simmer.

Gently fry the two eggs, keeping the yolks soft and runny.

Place two pieces of the toasted baguette in a warm soup bowl, top with one egg, then ladle the hot soup over the bread and egg; the heat of the soup will continue to cook the egg yolk.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with the minced parsley to serve.

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It is my hope that you will give both of these soups a try. As Jacques Pepin said, “Garlic is good for everything.”

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