Monday, November 23, 2015

Winter Squash, Walnut, and Phyllo Pastry

How cute are these little winter squash?  Wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them, just knew they were too cute to pass up.  These are honeynut squash, which are mini butternut squash.

Not surprisingly, honeynut squash tastes exactly like butternut squash.

Once roasted, six of these petit guys yielded about 12 ounces of pureed squash, so I also used kabocha squash (two mini kabocha).  An abundance of miniature squash cuteness going on here.

Gotta have a few pumpkin/winter squash recipes.  It's that time of year.  Hope you're not tired of pumpkin/winter squash quite yet.

Continuing with my miniature theme, made these into bite-sized treats.  They're not overly sweet, so you can actually taste the pumpkin, and they have a good ratio of filling to phyllo.

They're best warm out of the oven when the phyllo is crispy and flaky.

This recipe is based on a traditional Bulgarian recipe called tikvenik.  I made a few little tweaks (hope that's ok).

So much miniature cuteness...honeynut squash.

Kabocha of my favorite varietals (they have a sweet, creamy flesh).

You can make the puree ahead of time.  Simply roast, scoop out the flesh, and mash.  Add your favorite sweetener and spice (added cinnamon and cardamom).

Whenever possible, have everything ready to go (mis en place) before you start cooking/baking, so you don't run around the kitchen like a crazy person (like me most of the time).

When you're ready to bake, simply lay out your phyllo, brush with melted butter, spread on the pumpkin puree, sprinkle with toasted walnuts, and roll up into a log (see steps below).

Instead of slicing into bite-sized pieces, once the phyllo is rolled up, you could form into a spiral (which is how this recipe is traditionally made).

Lastly, when out of the oven, dust with powdered sugar.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Salt Cod with Potatoes, Onions, Eggs, and Black Olive Crumbs

One of the many things I love about travel is discovering new ingredients and ways to prepare them. Enjoyed salt cod before (mostly in the form of brandade or croquettes, yum and yum), though had never experienced so many preparations of salt cod (bacalhau) until a recent visit to Portugal. I've read that Portugal has 365 ways to prepare bacalhau (one for each day of the year). The Portuguese are clearly in love with their bacalhau -- and for good reason.

"Salt Cod: The Prosciutto of the Sea?"

Salt cod came about out of necessity as a preservation means for European fisherman who traveled across the Atlantic to Newfoundland to fish for cod. To prevent the fish from spoiling on their long journey home, they salted the cod after it had been caught. To make salted cod edible, you must soak (desalt) the cod, and, thereafter, briefly poach it until flaky. At this point, you're ready to use the salt cod in any number of preparations (soups, stews, salads, roasted, fried, etc.). 

In particular, there were two preparations of salt cod that I sampled in Portugal that quickly won me over. Whenever I saw either on a menu, I ordered it.  And was so very happy.

Bacalhau à Brás -- thinly chopped, matchstick-size fried potatoes with shredded bacalhau, onions, and scrambled eggs.  Hello, can I just say, muito bom (very good in Portuguese).  It's homey and comforting any time of the day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).

Salada de Bacalhau com Grão -- a salad of shredded bacalhau, chickpeas, and hard-boiled eggs.  A bit lighter than bacalhau à brás, but equally delicioso.

Today's recipe is for Bacalhau à Brás, served with (piri piri chile) hot sauce and black olive crumbs.

There are numerous versions of Bacalhau à Brás out there, but this is how I remember having it in Portugal.

Perfect for brunch on a lazy, chilly Sunday....

It's so much fun to come home from a trip and unwrap all your little finds/treasures -- hand-painted rooster and little ceramic fish (see below).

I bought the salt cod at Titan Foods (a quality, bustling Greek market) in Astoria, Queens.  You can also find salt cod at Whole Foods, fish shops, and Italian markets.

Once it's soaked and poached, salt cod is fairly mild in flavor, though has a chewier texture than its fresh counterpart.  

While none of the versions of Bacalhau à Brás I ordered in Portugal included black olives, many of the recipes I've seen online call for them.  Decided to go a slightly different route with the olives.

This is not coffee.  These are black olives that I dehydrated and then ground to a powder.  For lack of a better term, I'm calling the powder black olive crumbs.  I sprinkled the crumbs over the finished dish.  The olive crumbs are decidedly sharp, salty, and briny -- a perfect foil for the eggs and potatoes.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Gigandes (Greek Giant Baked Beans)

White and blue remind me of Greece.  The white washed buildings against the emerald-turquoise, blue-green waters.  The bright blue sky devoid of clouds on a warm summer day.  The white linen blowing in the breeze...slow, lazy days.

What am I doing reminiscing about relaxing summer days in Greece when autumn is upon NYC?

Well, that's where my brain wanders every so often (my happy place), but time to switch gears. Time to think about warming, cold-weather, comfort food.  Come fall, I want soups and stews, big bowls of beans and legumes, and a nice piece of braised meat (all on my to-do list).

One of my all-time favorite comfort foods is gigandes (or gigantes) plaki -- Greek beans baked in the oven.  This is a classic dish (meze) that you find on many menus in Greece.  There are numerous versions out there.  I've sampled quite a few while exploring Greece.  Some simpler, some more complex and flavorful.  Regardless, have never met a bowl gigandes plaki I didn't like.

The key ingredient are the giant white beans known as fasolia gigantes or butter/giant lima beans. They're baked in a tomato sauce until tender and creamy.  The sauce -- onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, dill, Greek oregano, and extra virgin olive oil -- becomes thick and concentrated as the dish bakes, developing flavor and complexity as it cooks.  I always think of Greek food as slow food at its best.

You don't need many ingredients to prepare gigandes.  It's uncomplicated and easy to make (although, it does take some time to bake, so fair warning).  Gigandes is comforting and warming on a cool fall or winter's day.  It's hearty.  It's filling.  It's flavorful.  It makes a ton (enough for several meals, depending on your appetite; best, in my opinion, when they come out of the oven).  It's vegetarian (vegan if you omit the feta).

Have I sold you on gigandes yet?  Make it.You won't be disappointed.

Perfect for lunch or dinner with a salad or side of greens (I've even had gigandes for breakfast).
Serve on or with bread, or enjoy alone.

I like a lot of fresh dill.  Once upon a time, dill and I were enemies, but now we're pals.  Funny how your taste buds evolve.

Prepping my ingredients while the beans boil away...

Garnishing with goat's or sheep's milk feta is completely optional, but highly recommended...

You'll want to boil the beans until tender but not mushy since they're going to bake in the oven for another hour or two.  The exact amount of boiling time will depend on the quality/age of the beans. As always, just be sure to taste along the way.

Don't forget to reserve some of the bean cooking liquid before you drain them...

Dinner is served...

Kali orexi (good appetite)!