Sunday, November 19, 2017

Simple Jacques

Jacques Pepin was born in France in 1935. Pepin's love of cooking began at his parents' restaurant, Le Pelican, where he worked in the kitchen after school. At age 17, he moved to Paris and began working in some of the best restaurants at the time. In 1956, he worked as a chef for the French Navy, and then became personal chef to three heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. In 1959, Pepin came to the United States, where he began working at Le Pavillon in New York City. After a few years, he was hired as director of research and new development for the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain, while simultaneously earning his Bachelor and Master of Arts degree in French literature at Columbia University. In 1970, after leaving Howard Johnson's, he opened a soup restaurant called La Potagerie, and later was in charge of food operations at the World Trade Center. Jacques has since published over 20 books, numerous articles for The New York Times and Food&Wine magazine, and hosted 9 acclaimed public television cooking programs. Busy man!

I read an article a few years ago, where Jacques was discussing how his food philosophy is simplification, inspiring his Fast Food My Way series of books. To his surprise, they have become his most popular cookbook series out of all his books! His belief that good food does not have to always be complicated has really resonated with people around the globe. A great example of this is his recipe for "Butternut Squash Velvet." This elegant soup takes less than 30 minutes to prepare, can be made ahead, and even freezes well! Although this chic velvety soup is effortless, it truly elevates any occasion, and would be a thoughtful beginning to any Thanksgiving feast!


Butternut Squash Velvet

Makes 5-6 cups.

Ingredients:
For the Soup
1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup dices (1-inch) onion
1 cup sliced, leek, including some of the lighter green inner leaves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium if store-bought
1 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
For the Garnish
1/4 cup crushed pistachio nuts
A few sprigs of fresh chervil, dill, chopped fresh tarragon, or chives

Directions:
For the Soup
Put the squash, onion, leek, olive oil, salt, pepper, stock, and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover partially, reduce the heat to low, and boil (I think he means simmer) gently for 20 minutes.


Emulsify with an immersion blender (See Gadgets) until smooth. You can use a regular blender or a food processor, but an immersion blender is more convenient. (The soup can be prepared to this point a day ahead, covered, and refrigerated or frozen.)

At Serving Time
Add the cream and bring the soup to a boil. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of crushed pistachios and a sprig of fresh chervil or dill or a sprinkling of tarragon or chives.

Recipe from More Fast Food My Way, by Jacques Pepin.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

There's No Place Like Rome! There's No Place Like Rome!

This recipe is not named after Dorothy's dog, but rather a trattoria in the center of Rome. This is a great pasta recipe to have up your sleeve, especially around the holidays. I find that when preparing for a full blown holiday meal (e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.), I often overlook the fact that I need to feed my company the night before. What to do? Nothing is easier than pasta, right? Only one problem: the men in my family find pasta dishes unsubstantial. The solution: add Italian sausage! Don't let the ingredients fool you. They may seem simple, but the result is divine! This recipe is easily doubled, to suit your needs, and served with a big green salad, wine, and crusty bread, and the result is a surprisingly quick, satisfying and elegant meal.


*Because it is a cream sauce, you need to serve it right away! Also, don't skip the addition of the fennel seeds!

Rigatoni alla Toto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (if necessary)
1 cup dry white wine
6-8 whole fresh basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/8 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds, or ground fennel (but freshly crushed is better)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 cup freshly grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving (this dish really needs real Parmigiano-Reggiano)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sausage and red pepper (if using) and brown on all sides, breaking up the sausage as you stir. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the basil, crushed fennel, and cream and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through.

While the sauce simmers, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the rigatoni in the boiling water until al dente. Drain well and add to the sauce and toss. Add the 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss well. Serve immediately with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on top. 

Adapted from Rome, at Home, by Suzanne Dunaway.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pan de Muertos

Halloween is over. Now what? Let me take you to Mexico, for Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. In Mexico, Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 (for children and infants) and November 2 (for adults), to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead. These dates correspond to the Catholic, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, brought to Mexico by the Spaniards. However, Day of the Dead has been celebrated for centuries, all the way back to the Aztecs, when it was celebrated for the entire month of August. Day of the Dead is a time to remember the dead, by cleaning their grave sites, adding flowers (particularly marigolds), gathering pictures, favorite foods and drinks of the deceased, and by eating sugar skulls and Pan de Muertos or Bread of the Dead. It may sound morbid, but it isn't. After all, wouldn't it be nice to know that you wouldn't be forgotten?

In honor of the tradition of Day of the Dead, I'm offering an authentic recipe for Pan de Muertos or Bread of the Dead. It is an exotic yeast bread, flavored with a hint of anise, sugar, milk, and eggs. Sometimes other flavors are added, like cinnamon and orange, but it is it's shape that makes it distinctive. Pan de Muertos is traditionally decorated with sugar, two "bone-shaped" pieces of dough, and topped with a skull or tear shape to represent sorrow. Something like this:


Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead)

Serves 14-16

Ingredients:

For the dough
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest

For the glaze
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons colored or white sugar

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix together the milk and butter until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the warm water.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and sugar, blending well. Stir in the warm milk mixture, eggs, and orange zest, mixing until well blended. Slowly add flour, 1 cup at a time to create the dough. Place the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch the dough down, removing 1 fistful of the dough and set that aside. Take the larger portion of dough and place it on a baking sheet, shaping it into a round dome.

Using the dough you had set aside, shape two small, long bone shapes to be placed on top the dome. Lightly cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to double in size, about 1 hour. Bake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on wire rack to cool slightly.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix together the 1/4 cup of white sugar, orange juice, and orange zest, stirring until it comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and brush over the warm bread. Sprinkle with colored or white sugar. 

Recipe adapted from Texas Cooking Online.