Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tortellini en Brodo with Greens

I don’t think I’ve opened a food magazine in the past two years without seeing an article about greens.  Swiss chard, mustard greens, beet greens, collards, spinach and more.  These leafy edibles are current darlings of the culinary world and come by their accolades honestly—high in nutrition and fiber, low in calories.  You can even forage for some of them in urban areas and this fact alone makes them absolute stars in the culinary universe.  

The trouble with being the food media’s current fascination is the eventual backlash and ennui.  Soon writers will move on to another super food and greens could be left on the shelf, growing more bitter with each passing month out of the spotlight and off magazine covers. 

While their moment in the sun may soon be over, there are those of us who will always have them in our back pocket to add to stews and soups, omelets and gratins.  We’ve been filing away some of the newer recipe ideas for a rainy day. 

What does any of this have to do with the simple classic soup tortellini en brodo (stuffed pasta in broth)?  Greens may be the only thing you can add that won’t overpower the delicate balance of this hydrating comfort meal. 

Traditionally a dish for cold dark nights, even when the weather gets warmer a handful of cheese tortellini cooked in homemade chicken broth is restorative.  Try it after a day riding surf at the beach, a few sets of tennis or a backcountry bike ride when your muscles are sore and a little chilled. 

Toss a large handful of rinsed baby spinach leaves into the bubbling broth when the tortellini are cooked and just before serving. You have something that no energy drink could ever compete with.

Note: You can make this soup with canned broth but if you've never made homemade chicken broth, this is the recipe that deserves it.  See this blog's entry for November 27, 2009, What's Next, to learn how to make a broth from roasted poultry.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chick Pea Salad for Picnics

Here’s a weekend bean salad for summer inspired by a pasta salad I saw at my local deli.  The base is chick peas (aka garbanzo beans) in a tomato-based vinaigrette that can be changed up to suit your refrigerator’s or garden’s bounty.

Just abut any recipe for macaroni or pasta salad can be updated and given a jolt of fiber by substituting beans for all or part of the pasta. 

This weekend I add steamed sliced zucchini, but you can also toss in green beans, fresh peas, zucchini blossoms or tiny cooked potatoes from your garden.  Fresh chopped herbs like basil, Italian parsley or dill are also great additions. 

Chick Pea Salad
Serves 6 –8 as a side dish
2 cups cooked or canned chick peas (about a 14 oz can)
1/2 green bell pepper, minced
1 zucchini, steamed whole then sliced in half moons
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 small celery stalk, sliced
1/4 cup chopped black olives
3 scallions, chopped up to green part
3/4 cup tomato juice
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard powder
Salt & pepper
Optional: hot sauce

  1. Drain the chick peas if canned.  
  2. In a medium bowl, toss beans with remaining ingredients.  
  3. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mushroom Salisbury Steaks

Just because a dish has become a TV dinner classic, doesn’t mean it can’t be tuned up for a family meal that qualifies for greatness with pure and fresh ingredients.  Mushroom Salisbury Steaks are a little more than hamburgers and a little faster than meatloaf but satisfy like both.  This is also a meal stretcher.  The bread crumbs in the patties not only extend the portions, they keep the patties light and moist.  The ‘steaks’ are browned in a skillet then finished in a hearty mushroom gravy in the same pan. 

Mushroom Salisbury Steaks
Serves 4

Steak patties
2 lb lean ground beef (90% lean)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon each dried basil and thyme
1 egg
1t Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoon oil (for browning)

Mushroom Gravy
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 14-oz can beef broth
2T ketchup
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 T molasses
1 14-oz can chicken broth
2t+ Worcestershire sauce
salt & black pepper
(If needed to thicken sauce further: 2 t cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup cold water or cold broth)

  1. Mix ground beef, bread crumbs, egg and Worcestershire sauce together.  Form into 4-6 oblong-shaped patties.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside while making gravy.
  2. In a large skillet, sauté mushrooms in butter.  Add flour and brown over low heat.  Deglaze with 1 cup broth.  
  3. Finish making gravy by slowly adding remainder of broth, ketchup, mustard and molasses.  Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper to taste.   Remove mushroom gravy from skillet and set aside.  
  4. Wipe skillet out and add 2 teaspoons oil.  Brown patties, 3 minutes each side in a bit of butter or olive oil. 
  5.  Return gravy to skillet and cook patties 10-12 minutes until cooked through.  If gravy seems a bit thin, add cornstarch in cold liquid and simmer an additional 2 minutes.  
Serve with noodles or mashed potatoes.
You probably won’t have leftovers, but if you do, this meal freezes well.  Just like a classic TV dinner should. Store Salisbury Steaks in the type of container you will reheat them in.  For a microwave safe container, reheat on medium power to 6 minutes, then on high for an additional minute.  If reheating in an oven, store in a glass or metal pan and reheat, loosely covered, in a preheated 350˚F oven 35-45 minutes.

NOTE: Dr. J.H. Salisbury, who pressed Americans to eat leaner meats during the 19th century, is credited with inventing this dish.  His was a simple lean meat patty, broiled under a moderate flame and served with condiments like Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, lemon juice or mustard.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Grandma's Roast Duck

A 4-5 pound duck will serve 4 people when served with a hearty serving of vegetables.
At no time is it more obvious to me that my mother’s side of the family is from eastern Europe than when duck is being discussed.  Most of my friends know duck only from Chinese restaurants where the crisped skin and tender meat is nestled into pancakes with plum sauce and scallions.  I love that both Chinese and Czech cuisines know how to coax out the fat from beneath the skin to cook up a dichotomous meal of juicy meat under brittle crisp skin.  

Every culture that celebrates duck has identified its local flavor counterpart.  Plum sauce and scallion cut through the unctuous tones of the meat in Asian cuisine.  The French have found that oranges do the trick as in Duck a l’Orange.  Tart cherries make me think of German or Austrian preparations.  Czech tradition calls for saurkraut cooked with onions and potatoes to accompany the bold meat. 

I recently used my grandmother’s recipe for roast duck that I had transcribed from her directions to me when we cooked duck together in the early 1980s.  I’ve updated it with a few tricks to help prepare the skin but her method remains simple and successful.  Next time you see fresh duck at the store, try her recipe.  She used a very sharp carving fork to pierce the skin while the bird roasts, releasing the fat to render a crispy skin.  I use a well-sharpened knife to do the deed.  The sharpness helps pierce the skin just to the fat strata so you do not pierce the meat.

If saurkraut is not your thing, place vegetables like quartered potatoes and carrot chunks at the bottom of the roasting pan for the last 1/2 hour.  This step adds some humidity and helps keep the meat tender while the skin continues to crisp.  Serve the duck with a tart fruit sauce made from dried cherries, marmalade and lemon for balance.

My grandmother would use the carcass and any leftovers to make duck soup.  I make a brie and duck panini with cherry-apricot relish.  The duck carcass joins chicken bones in my freezer for a future poultry stock.

Grandma’s Roast Duck
Serves 2-4, recipe is easily doubled. Roast birds side by side in a large roasting pan. 
1 4-5 pound fresh duck
2 stalks celery, halved
1 onion, quartered
1/2 small orange or tangerine
salt and pepper
1 cup boiling water

Sides: Prepared and rinsed saurkraut, par-boiled potatoes quarters, sliced onion or potatoes and carrots chunks, parboiled. 

  1. Remove duck from packaging and wipe inside and out with paper towels to dry off skin and meat.  Optional: place duck on a rack and refrigerate uncovered 24 hours to dry out skin.    
  2. Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Spray a roasting rack with spray oil to prevent sticking.  Salt and pepper inside and out of bird.  Place onion, celery, parsley and orange in cavity of duck.  
  3. Using a very sharp knife, score the breast skin just to the fat level in 4 1-inch slits on each breast.  Lightly pierce the thigh skin  also.  
  4. Pour boiling water over duck, especially the breast area and let water drain into bottom of roasting pan.  Roast with water in the pan at 350˚F for 1 hour.  Periodically, repierce skin with knife to release fat into bottom of pan.
  5. Check bird with a thermometer.  Your ultimate goal is 170˚F.  After one hour, the bird should read about 110-130˚F.  Once it reaches 130˚F, remove bird from oven and place bird with rack on a platter.  
  6. Drain duck fat into a dish to keep for later use*. Leave a tablespoon or two in the pan.  
  7. Toss together rinsed saurkraut, parboiled potato quarters and onion and place in the roasting pan.  Stir to coat vegetables with some duck fat.  
  8. Take duck off roasting rack and place it directly over the vegetables in the roasting pan.  Return duck to oven and roast an additional 1/2 hour or more until internal temperature of breast meat reaches170˚F.  
  9. Remove duck from oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.  Discard vegetables from cavity.  Use kitchen sheers to cut duck in quarters to serve with potatoes and saurkraut. 
*Duck fat can be used to saute potatoes and other vegetables.  It is very good with cabbage for example and can also be frozen for the day you are tempted to make liver pate. 

And here are my grandmother’s verbatim instructions for handling duck.  She did not use a roasting rack:
"In a roasting pan, place bird with a large onion, celery, parsley, caraway inside cavity.  Put a large glass of water in bottom of pan to stop sticking.  Cook for 1 1/2 hours at 350˚F.  Pierce skin frequently to release fat.  Serve with potatoes and saurkraut.  To make saurkraut, rinse it, then heat it up with some onion, and sugar maybe.”