Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Festival of Fungi

I splurged on an assortment of mushrooms.

Some people like clothes or shoes or art, etc. My weaknesses, without a doubt, are food and kitchen-related stuff/ingredients. I have a small growing collection of pottery, wood cutting boards, spices, cookbooks...

So, when I walked past a beautiful assortment of mushrooms the other day, I admired them and then moved on (trying to show a wee bit of restraint). Not long thereafter, I heard this nagging voice in the back of my head, you know you want some.  I do, but I shouldn't spend the money. But, they look so good and there are yellow ones, and pink ones...not something you see everyday. I must have them.  

I just couldn't resist. Mushrooms are freakin' fantastic and worth celebrating; thus, I entitled this post A Festival of Fungi.

Normally, I'm happy with mushrooms prepared simply, that is to say sauteed in a skillet with butter and/or olive oil, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper. I like when the mushrooms get a little browned and crispy around the edges. Nevertheless, wanted to do something a little more interesting for you. I tossed around a few ideas but finally settled on a mixed mushroom ragù with crispy polenta cakes. Straightforward, classic, rustic -- in a way that showcases the mushrooms.

You could use any variety of mushroom to make this ragù. Choose your favorite mushroom(s).

I used a combination of yellow and red oyster mushrooms, king oyster (aka king trumpet), maitake (aka hen of the woods), portobello, cremini (aka baby portobello), and another variety (long white ones that look like enoki?). Hard to go wrong when it comes to mushrooms. I love them all; oysters might be my favorite. Or maybe maitakes. Or, perhaps, lion's mane mushrooms (my latest discovery). Hard to choose just one. Best to enjoy them all.

I served the mushroom ragù over crispy polenta cakes. You could also serve the mushrooms over creamy polenta, spaghetti/linguini, or crostini.

You could use mushroom stock or chicken stock for the mushroom ragù. I made a batch of chicken stock the other day using chicken feet, aromatics, and lots of herbs. It was my first time using chicken feet to make stock and I have to say they make really great stock. For starters, chicken feet are inexpensive ($1.99 per pound). Moreover, chicken feet have lots of bones and cartilage, which result in a flavorful, gelatinous stock. The chicken feet I bought came already cleaned, so from there it's just like making any other chicken stock; toss everything in a stock pot and let it simmer away.

You can make the polenta several days in advance and chill in the fridge to set. When ready to use, just cut the polenta into squares and sear in a non-stick skillet until browned and crispy. 

For my NYC friends, Farmer Ground is a great local source for polenta (along with other flours). 

When it comes to polenta, you need to stir it for a good hour during the cooking process, which I suspect might deter a few of you. Don't let this dissuade you. Think of it as an upper arm workout minus the trek to the gym; who am I kidding, I don't go to the gym :-) 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pasta Fagioli -- Pasta and Beans

Did all you East Coasters finally finish shoveling out from last weekend's blizzard?  Hope you stayed put and warm and had a couple of lazy and relaxing days, preferably with a big pot of soup/stew simmering away to keep you warm. That's how I enjoyed a blustery cold weekend here in Brooklyn, NY, watching one of my favorite movies, Once, for the zillionth time (but it never gets old; am a big fan of Glen Hansard) with a big pot of pasta fagioli on the stove.

Pasta fagioli...pasta and bean soup. It's hearty and comforting, and what I'll be eating all winter long (and I think you should too). Winter and blizzard-approved comfort food. This is the second batch I've made in a week.

Pasta fagioli is a humble Italian soup, often thought of as 'peasant food' because it comes together using inexpensive ingredients. I just think of it as delicious. You can make it vegetarian by omitting the bacon/pancetta. I used smoked bacon (Benton's bacon) because who who doesn't like a little bacon. With or without bacon, this is a beautiful pot of food.

I've added a Parmesan rind to the simmering soup (my secret, go-to ingredient when I want to add flavor to a soup stock). The starches from the beans and pasta enhance the thickness of the soup.  As well, I pureed a portion of the beans to give the pasta fagioli even more body. There's minimal prep work and everything basically goes into a big soup pot, so it's quick, easy, and inexpensive to pull together.

Pasta fagioli is best eaten hot off the stove. As the soup sits, the beans and pasta act like sponges and quickly absorb the liquid. You can always add more stock and reheat.

Stay warm. Eat soup!!

Traditionally, pasta fagioli is made with a type of pasta called ditalini (a small tubular-shaped pasta). I couldn't find any, so I used these cute little gnocchetti that I found at Eataly (always love an excuse to wander around Eataly).

Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Finish with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Leek and Mushroom Quiche with a Rye Crust

Winter is finally upon us.  It's cold out there.  I just want to hibernate until spring; can someone please wake me up when winter is over.

Seems like it's not just me who's gone into hibernation.  Only the hardiest of plants can withstand the winter cold.  Accordingly, pickings at the farmers' markets have been kinda slim as of late.  But no sense complaining. Rather, you just need to summon your creative self.  There are ways to make the best of (or rather, embrace) what winter has to offer.

These leeks found their way home with me (along with some mushrooms).  Also picked up a half-dozen duck eggs.  Duck eggs, leeks, and mushrooms -- sounds like the makings of a beautiful quiche. So quiche it is.

Duck eggs have larger, richer, creamier yolks than chicken eggs, which make for richer, creamier dishes (that being said, if you can't find duck eggs, you could easily use chicken eggs in this recipe). Of course, a little bit of cheese (in this case, Gruyere) never hurts.  I like that this quiche is heavy on the vegetables and not too egg-y.

While I was perusing the web on the differences between cooking with chicken eggs versus duck eggs, someone mentioned that duck eggs yield really good, creamy ice cream.  Now all I want is ice cream made with duck eggs.  I don't care that it's freezing cold outside.  Duck egg ice cream is next on my to-do list.  Hmm, now just need to figure out what flavor??

In the meantime, make sure to clean your leeks well.  Leeks love dirt.

For the pastry, I used a combination of rye flour and all-purpose flour, and lots of butter (the key to a flaky pastry).  Would be curious to try a 100% rye crust next time; was concerned that it might be too dense and taste akin to cardboard.  Suppose there is only one way to find out.

You can pre-bake the tart shell a few days in advance.