Monday, December 30, 2013

Vegetable Quiche

A friend of mine gave me some fresh eggs for Christmas and I wanted to make something special with them. Cooking with fresh ingredients is so satisfying...I still have some Rosemary and Thyme growing in my garden, imagine that!  Anyway, a sweet something was out of the question because, quite frankly, my system is in sugar shock following all the holiday goodies.  

I am, however, feeling like something savory.

So, about a year ago I pinned (on Pinterest) a recipe for Vegetarian Quiche.  Perfect. It calls for eggs (naturally) and a bunch of other things I had on hand (bonus), including tomatoes, spinach and cheddar cheese…I had a nice hunk of Irish cheddar cheese, carefully wrapped in fancy cheese paper with pictures of cows, sheep and goats on it, the sources of all cheese.  I also added arugula and garlic -- because it is never bad to add arugula or garlic – and some roasted red peppers. This recipe calls for a puff pastry crust, but I made it with a regular piecrust.  Also, instead of cottage cheese, I used ricotta, because I had it in the fridge.

Daughter returned from a holiday trip, and although she doesn’t normally like quiche, I think she will like this veggie-blast version.  Also, quiche freezes beautifully.  Make sure to wrap it well with plastic wrap and place the wrapped wedges in a zip-lock freezer bag.  Defrost a wedge whenever you feel like quiche! 

Quiche is not just for brunch, you know…it’s perfect for breakfast and paired with a nice salad, makes a great dinner entrée. And don’t forget about those appetizers…mini quiches make fabulous and functional finger food.   Also, try it crust-less…sister has been making crust-less quiche for years, but just be sure to spray the dish well for easy serving.

Vegetable Quiche
Adapted from:

1 ready-to-fill pie pastry
¾ cup fresh spinach, stems trimmed
¾ cup fresh arugula
4 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (because spinach and nutmeg are perfect together)
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
¼ cup of roasted pepper, chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400° and bake the pie pastry (unfilled) for 10 minutes. 

In a large skillet place spinach and arugula and 4 tablespoons water. Heat the mixture over medium and cover the skillet. Cook until the spinach is done, approximately 2-3 minutes then drain well. Add nutmeg to the spinach mixture, chop it up a bit and set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the onion and garlic with butter until the onions are soft and transparent.  Meanwhile, in a medium-size mixing bowl, beat eggs. Stir in the cottage cheese, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, and half the of cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange onions along the bottom of the pie crust...

...and then pour the egg-mixture over the onions and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. 

Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 minutes, or until the quiche has browned and is set in the middle (begin to check it at 45 minutes).   The cooking time will depend on the diameter of your quiche pan.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto

We met for our last dinner club of the year in a restaurant in Media, PA called Ariano.....there are some beautiful frescos in the restaurant.  We shared the most delicious appetizers, including Arancini – fried rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and filled with prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato, and two incredible pizzas.  We drank, laughed, exchanged Christmas gifts and, once again, expressed how incredibly lucky we are to share the weekly dinners with each other.  Our gatherings go way beyond the meal served.  There are chats, chidings and sometimes cries but most of all, we create treasured memories among dear, dear friends and this blog is loving chronicle of our highly anticipated Wednesday evenings.

Always grab the opportunity to create a memory.

The week before our restaurant rendezvous, it was Singer’s turn to cook.  I don’t know about you but, for me, winter is definitely soup weather.  There’s something comforting and warming about a bowl of homemade soup, accompanied with a hunk of fresh, crusty bread and a nice glass of wine.  When you’re a grateful guest in a friend’s home and soup is served on a cold winter night, even better, and we hit the jackpot when Singer served Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto.  She tinkered (as she always does) with the original Cooks Illustrated recipe and the results were amazing. 

The recipe is topped with pesto.  You know, pesto does not have to be limited to basil and pine nuts.  This particular pesto is made with arugula and parsley. You could use any leafy green such as spinach, chard or kale and any nut besides pine nuts….walnuts, almonds or pecans work nicely and will give the pesto an earthier quality.

Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto
Adapted from:  Cooks Illustrated

4 oz pancetta or bacon
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 carrots, sliced (or you can use butternut squash)
1 cup green beans, sliced
1 generous bunch of spinach
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves pressed garlic (I always use more garlic than called for)
1 pinch coarse sea salt
1 pound plum tomatoes or 1 large can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 Parmesan cheese rind
1 bay leaf
Fresh ground black pepper
1 can of white cannellini beans
1 cup of small shaped pasta, shells or occhietti work well.

For the Pesto
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium garlic cloves
1 cup packed fresh arugula leaves
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
7 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the tomatoes in a saucepan with the sugar and cook for 15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to loose their shape. Puree the mixture in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with a hand-held mixer. Set aside.  Heat the olive oil and pancetta in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot, stirring frequently while the pancetta browns.

Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions begin to soften. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the celery and beans and cook for 2 minutes, then add the spinach and cook for 5-8 minutes. Add the pinch of salt and cook for an additional minute.  Add the tomato mixture, the Parmesan rind, the bay leaf, the pepper, and the stock to the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook, covered for 45 minutes.

Add the tin of beans, with their liquid. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes until the pasta cooked.

Toast the nuts in a saucepan until they are lightly browned, then combine the nuts, garlic, arugula, parsley, salt and oil in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Serve the minestrone with a spoonful of fresh pesto on top.

I hope you all had a wonderful 2013!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chicken, Chard and Kale Pappardelle Pasta

I am so far behind in my posts. For that, I apologize and promise declare hope to be more diligent in 2014.

I will may also knit more.

Those sound like resolutions.

When sister and I were in Italy on a culinary tour in 2009, we made (and devoured) a delicious Bolognese served over pappardelle pasta.   Below is a photo of us in that Italian kitchen cutting ingredients to make the Bolognese.  What a wonderful trip!
Back in the States, and for some reason, these ribbons of lusciousness are not as easy to find in these parts but I finally found some made by Severino, an artisanal pasta company, at the local Coop

I love the Co-op. 

I’m sure if I planned an escapade to the Italian Market in South Philadelphia, I may have had more success.  Or, I could have gone to Westmont, NJ where the Severino Pasta Company is located and where they’ve been making pasta since 1970.
Regardless, I now have a source.

The name papparadelle comes from the Italian word for gobble up, “pappare” and gobble up we did with the dish I prepared for one of our recent Wednesday evening gatherings, Chicken and Kale Pappardelle Pasta.  This dish doesn’t present as beautifully as some other dishes I’ve written about, but don’t let the modest look fool you…it packs a impressive flavor punch and is relatively easy to make.    The flavors of the shredded chicken breast, fresh kale, sherry sauce and freshly grated Asagio cheese blend together brilliantly to create a special pasta experience that is sure to become a favorite, go-to dish!

I think you could use any green in this dish and I was thinking about making it with spinach or arugula the next time.  Also, leftover turkey would work just as nicely.

Chicken, Chard and Kale Pappardelle Pasta
Adapted from:

½ lb. green Swiss chard
½ lb. Kale
1 medium lemon
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 large garlic cloves pressed through a garlic press
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dry sherry or any dry white wine (which is what I used)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup shredded asiago cheese (I used a blend of cheeses, including asiago)
Shredded rotisserie chicken meat (I used only the breast meat)
½ to 1 pound of pappardelle pasta or one package

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook the pappardelle. Meanwhile, trim the stems and ribs from Swiss chard and kale and cut the leaves crosswise into wide ribbons. Finely shred a zest of lemon and then set aside the zest.  Juice the lemon and set aside 3 tablespoons of juice.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add fresh garlic and red pepper flakes and and cook it until the garlic is fragrant. Increase heat to medium-high and add the chicken broth, wine, chard, kale, and lemon zest.  Cook everything until the greens are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Next, add the cream and half of the cheese and stir combining everything.  Stir in the shredded chicken and cook it until warmed through.  Stir in the lemon juice and season the sauce mixture to taste with salt and pepper. By now, the noodles shold be tender to the bite so, drain them and add the noodles to the frying pan with the sauce.  Sprinkle the remaining asiago.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake

First of all. Try. This.  Cake.

I was suspicious at first, but I wanted to bring something a little different to our Thanksgiving celebration.

And Lynne Rossetto Kasper, of The Splendid Table, recommended it.

So I made it. 

Then I tried it.

I do declare, the complexity of flavors in this cake explode in your mouth!  It is THAT good. It has all the ooey-gooey texture, fudginess and look of chocolate – dark and intense – but all the dark, bitter sweetness of the molasses.  Other spices happily contribute to this molasses melody and every once in a while, their notes shine through.

If you like the spicy, autumny goodness of gingersnaps, you will love this cake…and the smooth, rich and slightly tangy cream cheese frosting is perfect slathered atop this brunette bomb shell.  I used pre-made cream cheese frosting, but please don’t tell anyone…it will be our little secret.  Throw some walnuts on top for a bit of nutty earthiness.

As the name suggests, the main ingredient in this cake is molasses. I chose Brer Rabbit, full-flavor, unsulphured molasses.  This variety is more concentrated and has a darker color and richer flavor than lighter molasses and that’s what gives this cake its dark, chocolate-like color.  This natural, gluten-free sweetener is made from unsulfured juice of sun-ripened sugarcane…no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors. Molasses is an excellent source of Calcium and Magnesium and a good source of Potassium.  Back in the day, molasses – originally exported to the U. S. to make rum – was the go-to sweetener because it was cheaper than refined sugar.  Refined sugar became more reasonably priced after WW1 and most American bakers converted.    Now, molasses is pricier than sugar, but you could not possibly make this cake this good by somehow omitting it.
Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake
From: the

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) unsulphured dark or unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons espresso powder (The original recipe says adding this is optional...nix the optional because it adds a nice flavor and dimension to the cake.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or grease a 10-inch springform cake pan.

Place the chunks of butter in a 2-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Pour in the molasses and whisk in the brown sugar and white sugar. Whisk as the butter melts. When the butter has melted and is completely liquid, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy, give it a final stir and turn off the heat. Set the pan aside to cool. Don’t be concerned if the two don’t look completely combined.

Use a clean dry whisk to combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and espresso powder in a large bowl.

Whisk the vanilla, eggs, and milk into the saucepan with the molasses and melted butter. When the liquid mixture is completely combined, pour it slowly into the bowl of dry ingredients. Whisk thoroughly to combine, making sure there are no lumps.

Pour the thick batter into the prepared springform pan. Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 20 or 30 minutes, then run a thin, flexible knife around the inside of the pan to help the cakes edges release. Remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on a cooling rack before icing.   You can also make this cake in two loaf pans and bake for 40-45 minutes.   Ice the cake with your favorite cream cheese frosting.