I think I have told you about my book club, we meet for dinner once a month and always cook something inspired by the book. Last week I made this Cremini mushroom crostata. Cremini mushrooms are simply white button mushrooms allowed to grow a bit longer, so they have a bit more texture and flavor. We had just finished reading a book called "Circling the Sun" about a woman living in Kenya around the turn of the last century. In one of the chapters, she threw a party and made a mushroom crostata. A crostata is a rustic, free-form tart, usually filled with fruit but veggies work well too! It was actually easy to make the crust in the food processor and easy to handle so don't be intimidated. I served this as an appetizer but it would also be delicious as a light lunch dish served with a simple green salad.
Cremini Mushroom, Roasted Garlic, Fontina & Thyme Crostata
First, make the dough (it has to chill for an hour or make it a day ahead) and then get the garlic roasting.
3/4 c all purpose flour
3/4 c (6 oz) cold butter, diced
1/2 t salt
1/4 c ice cold water (you will add 1/8 c first and more as needed)
1 egg (for egg wash)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix flour and salt in a food processor. Add cold butter and pulse until sandy. Add 1/8 cup cold water. Mix or pulse until dough begins to form. Add more water as needed until dough forms. Gather dough, flatten into a pancake, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for one hour or refrigerate over night. Flour surface and roll out dough to a 1/8 inch thick round (won't be perfect, this is rustic!). It will be thinner than you think necessary, but this makes for a great crust. Roll the edges of the crust inward a few times to form a proper edge. Place dough on cookie sheet. Cover dough with a piece of aluminum foil, add weights or dry beans, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, remove foil and weights, poke all over the bottom with a fork and bake for 7 minutes. Beat egg. Coat entire dough in egg wash and bake for 3 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool for 10 minutes.
8 medium sized cloves of garlic, whole & unpeeled
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap garlic cloves in aluminum foil and drizzle with oil. Throw in some fresh thyme stalks and bake for 40 minutes, until soft. Cool. Peel garlic cloves and spread the soft roasted garlic over the bottom of the crust in a light even layer.
1 lb Cremini mushrooms (you could mix in some wild ones too, if you like)
1 T fresh thyme leaves stripped from their stem
4 oz Italian fontina cheese, shredded (any soft, melting cheese with good flavor works)
2 T butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T extra virgin olive oil
After you have prepared the crust with the roasted garlic spread, raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Clean, trim, and chop mushrooms and stems. Put the mushrooms aside in medium size bowl. Drizzle 1 T olive oil over mushrooms, add a large pinch of salt, and toss. Melt butter in large sauté pan until sizzling and then add the mushrooms. Sprinkle with half of the thyme leaves. Cook over medium to medium high heat until all liquid is absorbed, about ten minutes. Toss in the rest of the thyme, a big dash of salt and pepper and cook for a minute. With a slotted spoon remove mushrooms from the pan. Put back into medium sized bowl. Let cool for ten minutes. Add shredded cheese and combine. Spread mushrooms and cheese evenly across the garlic schmeared crust. Return to oven and cook 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and serve. This is also great at room temperature or the next morning cold from the fridge.
Flageolet beans are a French kidney bean whose color ranges from a lovely pale green to creamy white. They are usually prepared simply in order to showcase their delicate flavor. My friend Tricia gifted me a pound of these delightfully tender beans as a thank you for my donation of some duck breasts to her cassoulet party that she had in January when I was in Mexico. I am sad to have missed the party but I am happy to have benefitted from the gift of the beans! The flavors in this classic French soup perfectly complement each other and possess a depth of flavor that invites one to pique-nique par le feu. Spread out a blanket, find a friend, open a good bottle of Pinot Noir and voilå—a cozy and deliciously satisfying night at home. Add some good, crusty bread, some olives marinated in citrus and some French feta to make the meal perfection.
Flageolet Bean Soup
2 T good olive oil
*3 slices thick sliced bacon, chopped into 1/2 pieces (I like Dailey's brand)
1 onion, chopped to 1/2" dice
2 carrots, chopped to 1/2" dice
1 fennel bulb, quartered and sliced thinly
3 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
1 # flageolet beans (from Corti Brothers or Rancho Gordo) soak the beans overnight in water, drain and rinse or do a quick soak...place beans in a pot and cover with cold water, bring to a boil then turn off and let sit for one hour. Drain, rinse and proceed.
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
1 (14.5 oz) can chopped tomatoes
6 c chicken stock (substitute veggie stock if you like)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Pour the olive oil into a large soup pot and heat for a few minutes, add the bacon and fry until crispy and browned. Add the onion, carrots, fennel and garlic and cook until soft and golden, stirring often. Add the beans, rosemary, stock and tomatoes. Bring soup to a boil and skim off any foam. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for about 2-3 hours until the beans are tender. Taste for salt and pepper. Don't add salt until the end or the beans won't cook. This soup freezes well.
*For a vegetarian version, leave the bacon out and add 1 tsp of smoked paprika.
Out in Annie's garden the asparagus are shooting up quickly, standing up so straight and tall, just waiting to be broken off, cooked and enjoyed. There are so many easy ways to prepare asparagus, roasting, steaming, sautéing...but I have decided to pan sear a salmon filet today so I am going to prepare the asparagus in the same pan for ease. Topped off with an Orange-Pistachio Pesto, (my friend and co-chef, Kathleen is sharing her recipe for this special sauce that is a favorite at Wren Catering) this dish cooks up in just 20 minutes and is fancy enough to serve for a spring dinner party or even an Easter feast!
1 # asparagus spears, broken at the bend point
2 T unsalted butter
salt + pepper
Melt the butter in a large skillet until bubbly. Add the asparagus, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, (depending on the thickness) browning slightly, until you can pierce easily with a sharp knife. Take out and set aside on a sheet pan and let come to room temp or keep warm in a 200 degree oven.
Pan-seared Salmon Filet
4 - 8 oz salmon filet, skin off, about 1" thick at the center
2 T unsalted butter
2 T olive oil
salt + pepper
Pull any bones out of the salmon filets and place the salmon on a plate. Sprinkle 1 T olive oil over the filets and massage on all sides to distribute then sprinkle with salt and pepper. In the same large frying pan, set over medium heat add the butter and the rest of the oil and heat until melted and sizzling. Add the filets, top side down and cook for 2 minutes, then turn the heat to low and continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Turn over and cook for
5 minutes more. Remove the salmon from the pan to a platter and allow to rest for a few minutes before (if) plating. Serve atop the asparagus and spoon some of the pesto on top.
1 c toasted pistachios
2 T lemon juice
1/3 c olive oil
grated zest of one orange
1/4 c fresh orange juice
Place pistachios in the food processor, purée. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Feel free to try using other nuts such as almonds or hazelnuts for a different flavor direction. This sauce is equally good on chicken, pork or veggies.
Note: This sauce is vegan so spoil your vegan friends.
Spaghetti ala Carbonara is so simple to make and you probably have all of the ingredients on hand. I have been thinking about my Dad a lot lately. He used to make Carbonara all the time. He wasn't a super experienced cook but he loved a good pasta dish to go with his nightly glass (or two or three) of wine. I too, love the flavors of the smokey bacon and pungent garlic with the tangy parmesan and the creaminess of the eggs. The freshness of the parsley and the spicy pepper are the perfect finishing touch. A hand held bowl of Carbonara on a cold winter evening is just right for the couch, a fire, a friend and a fond memory..
.1 lb dry spaghetti (or any pasta shape that you have in the pantry)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb bacon, cut into strips
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
4 large eggs
1 c freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender but firm. While the pasta is cooking, get your sauce ready. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat, add the bacon and sauté until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté for just a minute to soften then turn off the heat and wait for the pasta to be done. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if needed. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss briefly to coat the spaghetti in the bacon fat then pour the egg and cheese mixture into the pasta, tossing quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (remember your heat is OFF). Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, if needed, until it reaches desired consistency (mine didn't need any water but yours might). Season the carbonara with freshly ground black pepper and add salt to taste. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass the cheese please! For a spicier version add some red chile flakes. I paired mine with a beautiful glass of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc from Hatcher Winery, a local fave.
Mexico has a colorful and delicious national dish called Chiles en Nogada. The colors of red, white and green mimic the Mexican flag and symbolizes faith, hope and charity. I think it could be the perfect dish for this holiday season! Easier than it looks and so beautifully presented, your friends and family will be delighted and their taste buds, joyous!
'Tis the season!
Chiles en Nogada
6-8 poblano chiles,* roasted, seeded and deveined (easier than you think!)
1 lb ground pork
2-3 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/2 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 c crushed tomatoes
1/2 apple, diced (fuji or johnagold)
3 T dried fruits chopped coarsely (I used raisins, dried cranberries, and dried apricots; dried mangoes or dried peaches would be yummy, too, whatever is on hand)
1/4 c sliced, toasted almonds, crumbled
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch of cloves
salt and pepper
One large pomegranate, seeded **
Heat 1 T olive oil in a frying pan and add the pork. Cook until browned and crumbly. Remove from heat, drain off any fat and set aside. In the same pan put in 2 T olive oil and the butter and saute the onions and garlic until soft, seasoning with 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t pepper. Add the cooked pork, tomatoes, apple, dried fruits, almonds, cinnamon and cloves. Cook for 10 minutes to blend flavors. Taste for seasonings and set aside to cool. If the mixture seems too thick add a couple of tablespoons of water. Prepare the chiles (see below) and stuff with the filling. Just before serving, place the chiles on a sheet pan, cover with foil and heat at 250 degrees for 30 minutes. The sauce can be at room temperature or heat in microwave for 15-30 seconds until barely warm (traditionally it is served at room temp). Top a chile with the walnut sauce and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. YUM!
1 c shelled walnuts (supplied by my friend Nanette, I shelled mine but please buy, easier!)
3/4 c half & half
1/4 c sliced, toasted almonds (Trader Joe's has some already toasted lightly)
1/2 c mild goat cheese
2 T dry sherry
1/2 t salt
1/4 t cinnamon
1 t sugar
Puree all ingredients in a blender. Add more half and half if the sauce is too thick. Set aside.
*To roast the chiles: Open flame method: Place chiles directly over the gas flame or on a medium hot charcoal or gas grill. Roast, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all sides but not soft, about 5 minutes. The broiler method: Lay chiles on a baking sheet set about 4 inches below a preheated broiler. Roast, turning occasionally until blistered and blackened on all sides but not soft, about 10 minutes. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to steam for about 10 minutes. Peel the charred skin off the chiles and rinse them if necessary. Make a long slit in the side of each chile and carefully remove the seeds and veins. Now they are ready to stuff!
**Pomegranates are easy to seed, just split open by inserting a knife in the top and twisting. Put the whole thing in a bowl of water and separate the seeds underwater then pour off the water through a strainer. I love this method, it keeps you and your counter from all those red splatters!
As a caterer for over 30 years, I have established a reputation for consistently creating original menus inspired by the occasion and the season, presenting them with an ease and elegance uniquely my own. Fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are the basis of my creative “from scratch” menus, which range from the classically elegant to rustic and whimsical.
"Love your recipes! Pat made your avocado toast a few weeks ago, delish! I'm taking them to a party in a few weeks, although the mushroom crostata looks pretty darn good!"