Monday, March 19, 2012

Roasted Radishes with Brown Butter and Lemon

Roasted Radishes

Our wonderful daughter, Cathy, brought this recipe to my attention. She had been invited to a pot luck but her cupboard (and refrigerator) were bare. She only had radishes, a little butter and a lemon. Clever girl – went to and found a recipe, which included these and only these ingredients. Who knew radishes could be so great! I made it once – was amazed – and repeated it shortly thereafter so I could add it to the blog. They are amazing!!! I have often commented that braised (as in previous asparagus post) and roasted vegetables are sublime – this is just one more. They take on a different full, rich flavor – no doubt the butter and lemon help a bit. The brief high-heat roasting softens the radishes and mellows the bite of peppery flavor. The whole recipe will take about 40 minutes to prepare with only about 10 minute of prep.
When shopping, look for radishes that are about as big around as a nickel, firm and brightly colored. Older radishes will crack and split. Leaves are the best indicator of freshness. They wilt and yellow very quickly, so choose bunches with sprightly and fresh-looking greens. Wash them thoroughly, you can gently scrub the radish but don’t peel them; flavor and nutrients reside in the skin. Radishes store best in the refrigerator after the tops have been removed.  But save those greens – for garnish as well as an addition to any salad.  They have the texture of watercress and a bit of the radish flavor.
Fresh radishes
Cut off the leafy greens, but leave a little!
 Preheat your oven to 450 degree F.  Brush a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with a bit of olive oil. Thoroughly wash two bunches of medium sized radishes (about 20). Cut off all but ½ inch of the green radish tops; reserve the trimmed tops and rinse well. Coarsely chop the radish tops and set aside.
Cut radishes lengthwise in half and place in a bowl. Add 1½ Tb olive oil and toss thoroughly to coat. Place radishes cut side down on the prepared baking sheet, sprinkle lightly with coarse kosher salt. Roast in pre-warmed oven until radishes are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes. Remove and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ready for roasting
 Melt 2 Tb butter in a heavy small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a pinch of coarse kosher salt to skillet and cook until the butter browns.  Watch carefully as it moves from brown to burnt quickly. Swirl the skillet frequently to keep the butter solids from burning. It will only take about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and stir in 1-2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice. Swirl again.
Transfer roasted radishes to a warmed shallow serving dish, and drizzle brown butter over the top. Sprinkle with your reserved chopped radish tops and serve. This is a great side dish to Pork or Lamb or alone!  Give it a try – really.  You do not need to wait until your refrigerator is bare.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Very Chocolate Brownies

Very Chocolate Brownies

This is a wonderful brownie with a rich flavor and an occasional burst of rich chocolate chunks. Light cakey versions are not for me. I love a moist, dark, luscious interior with a firm, smooth, velvety texture that your teeth glide through easily; meeting just a little resistance when one encounters a little chocolate chunk. My perfect brownie must pack in intense chocolate punch and have a deep resonant chocolate flavor. It must not be so sweet as to make your teeth ache, and it must certainly have a thin, shiny, papery crust and edges that crisp just a bit during baking, offering a contrast with the brownie’s moist center. Brownies embody so much of what I love about deserts in general  - both warm and rich chocolatey decadence, reminiscent of family, friends and comfort.

One must use a high quality chocolate for success. It is key! I love Callebaut, Scharffen Berger or Valrhona. They are all available at fine grocers. Or, use your favorite locally made favorite chocolate! To truly be over the top – serve them alongside Caramel or Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce – just with a little whipped cream or powdered sugar, or all by themselves.

I use a 9 inch square silicone mold because it keeps the edges from overcooking; if you use a glass baking pan, butter and flour it. Preheat your oven to 350 degree F. Sift together ¾ C all-purpose flour, 1 C unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder and 1 tsp salt; set aside. Unsweetened, alkalized cocoa powder (also called Dutch-processed) is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids. Common brands are Scharffen Berger, Droste and Guittard.
 Melt 1½ sticks of unsalted butter slowly in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put another 1½ sticks of unsalted butter, cut into 1 Tb pieces, into a bowl – pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt the butter. (Total of 3 sticks of butter is used – ¾ lb) The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature.
Melted butter
In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix together 3 large eggs and 1¾ C granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until thick and pale. Mix in ½ tsp vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract. I much prefer vanilla paste for all my baking over vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is made by infusing vanilla into some sort of alcohol, usually bourbon, which bakes off during baking leaving the vanilla flavor behind. Infusing vanilla beans into thick, sweet syrup makes vanilla bean paste. The primary difference is that the vanilla beans are scraped into the paste, so you get all those lovely little vanilla bean specks in whatever you are baking along with the vanilla flavor. 
Cocoa and flour mix
Mixing the brownies
On low speed add ¼ of dry ingredients, then about ¼ of butter, and continue alternating flour and butter until all are incorporated. Now add 6 ounces 60-64% chocolate which has been chopped into chip-sized pieces, (about 1½ C). Mix to combine. The batter can be refrigerated up to a week before baking. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  If the pick comes out wet, test again in another area as you may have simply hit a chocolate chunk.  Cool in the pan until the brownie is just a bit warmer than room temperature.
chopped chocolate
Run a knife around the edge if you are NOT using a silicone pan. Invert the brownie onto a cutting board and cut into 12 rectangles.  Dust the top with powdered sugar just before serving.  If by some miracle you have some left, the brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two days. Gary prefers that I zap them briefly in the microwave before serving on subsequent days so that they are once again warm and oozing chocolate goodness. Delish!

Adapted from Thomas Keller recipe

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Crispy Polenta

Pasta and pizza always seem to be the cornerstones of what makes Italian food “Italian”. However, there is a staple food of Northern Italy that makes up the third aspect of the Italian food trinity: humble, yet versatile and satisfying polenta. A key to its popularity is its sheer versatility. It can be served with nearly anything. Soft polenta is often a replacement for bread or in lieu of a pasta course, served with butter and cheese and often shaved truffles. It is also served as a side dish to regional meat dishes such as Osso Bucco, braised short ribs or fish. Polenta can be served in a cake form – crispy on the outside, creamy within, or it can be grilled and served with Bruschetta-like toppings like mushrooms and tomatoes.

I make polenta two ways: creamy and crisp. This recipe will highlight both. For creamy polenta, I finish it almost like whipped potatoes – once it’s cooked, I whip butter and cream into it. It should be served shortly after preparing it. If your family or guests are not interested joining you in the kitchen as you finish the creamy polenta, my favorite approach is to serve it crisp as it can be done hours ahead and sautéed just before serving. I simply spread the creamy polenta in a baking sheet and chill until it sets up, then cut it into shapes, (use your imagination!), and sauté until golden brown.

My strong preference is to use extra-fine polenta by Moretti. Use whatever you like, but avoid quick-cooking polenta. Combine 6 C chicken or vegetable stock, 2 Tb minced fresh garlic and a sprinkling of kosher salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour in 1 lb, (500 grams; 2¾ C) extra-fine polenta in a stream and cook over low heat, stirring often, for about 18 - 20 minutes, until the polenta is quite dry and coats the bottom of the pan. The moisture must evaporate, because it will be replaced with fat; otherwise the texture could be gummy. The best polenta has fat to varying degrees. If watching your fat intake, eat a smaller portion but don’t skimp on the amount as it makes the dish.
Dry polenta
 Gently warm 2½ C heavy cream in another pan. Increase the heat under your polenta to medium and stir in 12 Tb (1½ sticks – 6 ounces) unsalted butter, and cut into ½ inch pieces. Stir the polenta thoroughly. Add the warmed cream about ½ C at a time, letting the polenta absorb it each time before adding more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Adding the butter
For creamy polenta, pour into a bowl and top with a drizzle of finishing olive oil. Serve immediately. To be truly authentic, you should pour onto a long wood plank on your table.

For crisp polenta – featured in these pictures – pour into a baking dish that has been rinsed briefly in water and left damp. It should result in the polenta being at least 1 inch thick. Cover with a plastic wrap pressed directly against the polenta. Refrigerate for several hours until the polenta has set. Cut the polenta into rectangles or other shapes.  Use your favorite cookie cutters that will result in a deep enough cut. Heat some canola oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the polenta and cook, turning once, until a rich golden brown and crispy on both sides and hot throughout, about 12 minutes. Sprinkle optional chopped chives on top and serve.
Polenta in the pan
 Both versions of polenta can take similar garnishes, such as a rich tomato sauce, fried oregano sprigs or sage leaves, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, shaved truffles, chopped cooked pancetta or many others. Let your imagination run wild here. Everything goes with polenta – hence its versatility. 

Buon appetito!