Beet and Feta Galette

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My girlfriend gifts me wonderful cookbooks, and one of the last ones I received from her was Falastin, by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published in 2020.

Sami Tamimi is well known for his co-authoring of many Ottolenghi cookbooks. At least that’s how I became familiar with him. In fact, Falastin’s foreword was written by Yotam Ottolenghi, sighting that the authors “have picked up the baton where it was left after Jerusalem.”

On the back cover, it’s written: “This is a cookbook about Palestine. About its food, its people, and their voices. It is a book about the common themes that all these elements share, and how Palestine weaves stories and cooking into the fabric of its identity.”

Falastin reminds me of the Ottolenghi-Tamimi cookbooks, in the size and heft, the beautiful photos, and fascinating stories. The recipe I chose to make is called Beet and Feta Galette with Za’atar and Honey.

It’s so easy to pull out puff pastry for a savory or sweet galette, but I was attracted to this recipe because a delicious, oregano- and thyme-laden dough is used for the crust. A nice change from puff pastry, or a plain pie crust.

Beet and Feta Galette with Za’atar and Honey
Serves 4

2 small purple beets
1 small golden beet
Salt
Black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

Crust
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 tablespoon oregano leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, fridge-cold, cut into 1/2” cubes
1/4 ice-cold water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 1/2 teaspoon
1 large red onion, cut into 1/4” slices
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Salt
1 tablespoon za’atar
1/4 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup oregano leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup ricotta
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Black pepper
3 1/4 ounces feta, crumbled
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Wrap the beets individually in foil and bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until completely soft and cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then use an old dish towel to gently rub away the skins.

Slice each beet into 1/8” slices and place in separate bowls, to keep the purple away from the golden beets. Add 1/8 teaspoon of salt a good grind of black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of oil to the golden beets. (I only had purple beets.) Combine the purple beets with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a good grind of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon oil. Set both aside until needed.

To make the crust, put both flours into a large bowl along with the sugar, salt, and herbs. Add the butter and use your fingers to rub it into the flour. Don’t overwork the butter – you want chunks of it throughout the dough. Add the water and use your hands to gather the dough together. Transfer to a well-floured surface and roll out into a rough rectangle, about 11 x 7”. The dough here is fairly wet and sticky, so you’ll need to flour your hands, rolling pin, and work surface often.

Fold the shorter ends in toward each other so that they meet at the center, then fold the dough in half, like a book. Roll out the dough once with a rolling pin and then just fold once in half again. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

Put the 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a medium sauté pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned. Add the sugar, vinegar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook for 1 minute, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool for about 15 minutes, then stir in 1 teaspoon of za’atar, the parsley, and the oregano.

Put the ricotta, garlic, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper into a bowl and set aside. (I happened to have leftover creme fraiche, so I used that.)

Generously flour a 12” square of parchment paper. Transfer the crust dough to the prepared parchment paper and roll out to form a rough circle. It will have uneven edges but should be about 11” wide. Lifting up both the baking parchment and the dough, transfer to a baking sheet; you don’t want to be lifting it onto the sheet once filled.

Spread the ricotta mixture over the base of the dough, leaving a 1/2” rim clear around the edges. Top with half the feta, then the onions. Next, and this time leaving a 1 1/2” rim clear around the outside, top with the beets, alternating between purple and golden, with a little overlap between each piece. Wash your hands well, then scatter the remaining feta on top.

Using a knife, make 3/4” incisions spaced about 3 1/4” apart around the edge of the galette. Creating these “strips” will allow for the beets and cheese to be encased. Take a resulting dough strip and fold it over the beet, in toward the center of the galette. Repeat with the next strip, pulling gently to slightly overlap and seal the last fold. Continue this way with the rest of the strips, then refrigerate the galette for 30 minutes, or up to 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg and bake for 30 minutes, or until deeply golden and cooked through.

Drizzle with the honey and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon of oil, then scatter with the remaining 2 teaspoons za’atar.

Transfer to a wire rack so that the bottom remains crisp and let cool for about 15 minutes.

Garnish with thyme leaves.

Slice once set, and serve.

And that crust?! Flaky, tender, and herby!

Jambon Persillé

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For this recipe, I referred to Glorious French Food, written by James Peterson, published in 2002. All of the following information is from his recipe. He is very serious about French food, as you can tell from the book’s title!

“While no two versions are exactly the same, jambon persillé is cooked ham that’s been layered in a terrine with chopped parsley and the gelatinous poaching liquid used for cooking the ham. Depending on whose recipe you follow, the terrine may consist of pieces of ham suspended in gelée or contain very little gelée at all, just enough to hold the terrine together.

An exact recipe for jambon persillé is hard to give because ham is one of the few things that aren’t made the same way in different parts of the country. How you make jambon persillé depends on the ham or ham shoulder you start out with and how ambitious you’re feeling. The traditional method consists of soaking a fully cured raw ham for several days to rid it of excess salt and then braising it for several hours in a wine-and-carrot-flavored court bouillon (vegetable stock) to soften it. The ham would probably be a jambon de Moruan in Burgundy, where jambon persillé originates, but prosciutto di Parma, or a less expensive domestic prosciutto, or Smithfield ham would make a good substitute. Split calves’ or pigs’ feet are simmered in the court bouillon with the ham to provide gelatin, which holds the finished jambon persillé together. The ham is cut into cubes or shredded and combined with freshly chopped parsley and the braising liquid in a terrine and allowed to set.

My own approach is somewhat different and takes a few days of forethought. I salt a fresh, raw ham and convert it into demi-sel, a trick that enhances its flavor, and then make stock with pigs’ or calves’ feet, reduce it, and add use it along with vegetables, herbs, and white wine to poach the ham instead of simmering the feet along with the ham in the way most recipes suggest. There are two reasons for making a separate jelly stock. First, this allows you to cook the stock for 10 hours instead of only 6 or so, to extract the maximum of natural gelatin. Second, jambon persillé needs a very gelatinous stock to hold it together, and making the stock in advance allows you to reduce it before you poach the ham.

While my own preference is for homemade demi-sel, you can make a jambon persillé out of just about any form of ham. If you have some decent cooked ham, you don’t need to cook it more. Just slice it, cut it into cubes, and layer it in the terrine with melted fonds gelée, clear stock with some extra gelatin added to hold it together. If you have a fully cured ham, soak a piece of it for 3 days in cold water, changing the water a couple of times a day, and then cook the piece as I describe in the recipe.”

Jambon Persillé
Ham in Aspic

6 quarts when melted fonds gelée
4 pounds [1.8 kg] boneless raw uncured fresh ham or shoulder (5 pounds [2.3 kg] if the bone is in), partially salted or left raw and uncured
4 medium-size carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch [2.5 cm] sections
2 large red onions, peeled, cut in half through the root end
3 cups [750 ml] dry white wine
1 medium-size bouquet garni
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, large stems cut off and used in the bouquet garni

Bring the gelée to a gentle simmer on the stove and simmer about 2 hours to reduce it to 10 cups [2.5 l]. Skim.

To make the gelée, I simmered 5 cut up pigs feet in water and wine, with onions, leeks, parsley, thyme, chives, and bay leaves, plus a dried mixture of soup mix. I cooked, and skimmed, for about 6 hours.

Put the ham in a pot just large enough to hold it. Pour enough of the fonds gelée over the ham to cover it. Add the carrots, onions, wine, and bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Turn down to between low and medium heat to maintain a gentle simmer for 5 to 6 hours, until a knife slides easily in and out of the meat. Add water or more broth from time to time to make up for evaporation.

Transfer the ham to a cutting board and strain the poaching liquid into a clean container. Chop the parsley very fine.

Ladle ½ cup [125 ml] of poaching liquid into the bottom of a 1½-liter (6-cup) terrine and sprinkle over it about 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley. Pull the ham into shreds and put a layer on top of the parsley and poaching liquid. Pour just enough poaching liquid over the meat to barely cover it, sprinkle more parsley, and add another layer of meat.

Keep layering the terrine in this way, finishing it with a layer of broth and parsley. Refrigerate overnight.

I didn’t shred the ham; I preferred the look of the terrine with large pieces.

When you’re ready to serve, just cut slices right out of the terrine. Or, for a more dramatic effect, you can unmold the whole thing: put a platter upside down over the terrine, invert both together, and lift off the terrine.

If you like, serve with bread, mustard, and cornichons.

Instead of just slices, I roughly chopped the ham in aspic to make more of a salad – something I like to do when I make pigs’ feet.

I also made a caper and parsley vinaigrette for the salad.

Straight red wine vinegar is also good, plus a few capers.

Any size terrine can be used for jambon persillé. In fact, if you want the slices to fit on bread, a long, narrow terrine is best.

Stuffed Zucchini

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Many years ago I wrote the main food article of the food section for our local newspaper. My favorite articles to write were when I interviewed people who traveled the world to cook and eat.

One such woman I wrote about attended a cooking class with Lorenza dé Medici at her home, Badia a Coltibuono, an 11th Century monastery, estate, and winery, in Tuscany. (There is no longer a cooking school, just their wines and olive oils are sold from the website.)

If I remember correctly, she spent a quite a few days in the spacious kitchen learning Tuscan specialties, using ingredients purchased at the local market. What an experience.

In the evenings all of the attendees and the Signora enjoyed the prepared food and locally grown wine. And because of that experience, I was exposed to Lorenza dé Medici and her many cookbooks.

I’ve posted on one recipe by Lorenza dé Medici from her Antipasti cookbook – Crostini al Tonno – but this Stuffed Zucchini recipe is from The Villa Table, published in 1993.

This recipe was posted years ago, but I needed to re-do the photos!

Courgettes Stuffed with Ham
Zucchine Ripiene al Prosciutto

6 medium zucchini (I recommend only 3 medium)
3 eggs
5 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
6 ounces cooked ham, chopped
Salt
Pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Cut off and discard both ends of the zucchini. Using an apple corer, scoop out the pulp from the centers, leaving both ends intact, to make the hollow of the boat.

I also let the zucchini boats rest on paper towels to collect moisture.

In a bowl beat the eggs. Add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, butter, and chopped ham. Mix well.

Transfer the mixture to a small frying pan. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Stuff the zucchini with the mixture. Pour the oil and 2 tablespoons of water into an ovenproof dish and arrange the zucchini in it.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

I sprinkled the stuffed zucchini with chopped Italian parsley and a little flaked salt.

Enjoy as a side, or as a meal!

And personally, I loved the white pepper instead of black!

Smoked Salmon and Tomato Quiche

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I follow an Instagram account called Stephen Cooks French, all one word, of course, which always messes with my brain. A recent photo of his that he posted was a tarte au saumon fumé, or a smoked salmon tart, pictured here.

According to Stephen, the crust is puff pastry, topped with a seasoned fromage blanc with chives, baked, cooled, then smoked salmon is layered on top.

Loving all things salmon, I immediately searched for recipes. There were many similar, but the one that jumped out to me was a smoked salmon quiche with tomatoes.

What I like about this recipe is that it isn’t too quiche-y, so the tomatoes and smoked salmon really shine. The cheese element is crème fraiche, which is perfect because it’s not salty.

One day I will make the tarte au saumon fumé, and serve it as a first course. Or as Stephen, whoever the heck he is, suggested, cut it into squares and serve as an hors d’oeuvre.

Smoked Salmon and Tomato Quiche

1 pie crust for 9 1/2” pie pan, not deep-dish
Smoked salmon, about 5 ounces, cut up
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
8 ounces crème fraiche
5 or so small-medium ripe tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Chopped chives, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the pie crust in the pie pan and keep chilled in the refrigerator.

Cut up the smoked salmon in small pieces and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, and crème fraiche.

Slice the tomatoes evenly and use the most uniform slices only, not the ends. Lay on paper towels to dry for at least 15 minutes, also laying paper towels on top.

When ready to prepare the quiche, place the smoked salmon inside the pie crust.

Give the egg-crème fraiche mixture a whisk and pour over the top gently.

Then top the quiche with the tomato slices, and season them with salt and pepper.

Bake for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and cook for ten more minutes.

Let the quiche set for at least 15 minutes, then slice and serve.

This quiche was fantastic. The smoked salmon cooked slightly but no too much to alter its lox texture.

And the creme fraiche was perfect with the salmon and seasoned tomatoes.

Asparagus with Beet-Lemon Dressing

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It’s finally spring, and asparagus is abundant. Like many of you as well, I love asparagus. Simply steamed or packed into a savory pie, it’s a lovely vegetable with a punch of flavor.

Asparagus of course works well as a side vegetable, with a little olive oil and salt, but it also lends itself to a dressing or vinaigrette.

I posted on warm leeks with a spicy Creole dressing on the blog. It just shows that just about any vegetable can also be a salad.

For the salad, I decided to use a dressing made with beet juice and lemons. I use beets a lot in my cooking, and when I use canned beets, I always save the beet juice. That way, I can reduce the juice and create a fabulous beet syrup that can be turned into a number of things, like the beet-lemon dressing below.

Asparagus with a Beet and Lemon Dressing

Strained juice from 1 can (15 ounces) of beets, about 1/3 cup
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Generous pinch of salt
Few grindings of pepper
1 pound fresh asparagus
1 diced shallot, optional

Place the beet juice in a small pan and begin reducing it over very low heat. It’s best not to leave the kitchen during this process because it can happen quickly towards the end.

When only about 2 tablespoons of the reduced juice remains, remove the syrup from the heat and let it cool.

Whisk in the lemon juice and oil well, then add the salt and pepper.

If you don’t like the look of the syrup separating from the oil, place the mixture in a mini blender. If you prefer it a little creamier, add a 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise or cream, but know it will be pink! Set aside.

Meanwhile, clean the asparagus, which means removing the hard, woody ends. I simply snap off the ends where they snap.

Some people prefer to shave the ends, using a vegetable peeler. There’s really no right or wrong here. When you have a pile of asparagus ends, use them to make asparagus broth using a little onion and garlic, and use that for asparagus soup! It just adds a deeper flavor.

For this asparagus salad, I steamed the asparagus. They can be steamed with any kind of contraption, as long as the asparagus is sitting above water, in the steam, and the pan has a lid. Once the steaming begins, I don’t ever go beyond 5 minutes, but you’ll have to play with this time.

Once cooked, place the warm asparagus on a plate, and add some of the beet-lemon dressing. Sprinkle with some extra salt, if you like.

If you like shallots, sprinkle some on top.

Also, a bit of crumbled goat cheese or chopped toasted walnuts or chopped hard-boiled egg would also be good on this salad. It would make a fabulous first course.

Note: I know some people try to pick out the skinniest of asparagus, thinking that they are more tender, but they all come out of the ground in varying thickness, and are all tender, as long as the weather hasn’t gotten too hot.

Yogurt and Chèvre Cheesecake

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Before you get too excited, I must warn you that this cheesecake is not for dessert! I have made sweet cheesecakes with chèvre before, and they’re fabulous, but this one is classified as a savory first course – perfect for a holiday meal.

I had a recipe once for something similar, but for the life of me I can’t find it anywhere. I’d made it for a party I catered, and it really confused people. They just weren’t too sure what to do with it, even though I’d sliced it up into thin wedges, which I thought made it obvious. Some people stuck crackers in it, treating it like a dip, and I can’t remember what else occurred. I’ve probably blocked it for psychological reasons. Sometimes it’s an anthropological study watching people eat at parties. Which reminds me, I’m really glad I don’t cater any longer.

But back to this cheesecake. I was inspired by Chobani’s #MadeWithChobani project to create a yogurt-based recipe. And immediately this recipe came to mind, although I ended up creating one out of thin air.

As with all yogurt with which I want to cook or bake, even Greek yogurt, I first placed the 32 ounces of yogurt into a paper towel-lined colander placed in a large bowl.

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I then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, or about 8 hours. About 1/2 cup of whey came out of the yogurt, which you can keep to use in cooking. Yogurt can certainly be used as is, but I prefer the more yogurt cheese-like texture for cooking and baking.

This cheesecake “batter” can be mixed with basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto for completely different flavors. In fact, they can be layered for a really Christmassy look. But I wanted the yogurt texture and the chèvre flavor to really shine in this simple, yet stunning appetizer.

There was no payment or any kind of compensation for my use of the Chobani yogurt. I’ve purchased it many times and it’s a quality product. And you can participate in this project as well! (Obviously this is an old post, so ignore!)

Yogurt and Chèvre Cheesecake

2 tablespoons butter
Approximately 1/3 cup bread crumbs
12 ounces Chobani plain yogurt cheese (see above), at room temperature, made from Greek yogurt
8 ounces chèvre or other creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
1 egg
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For this cheesecake, I used a shallow, oven-proof baking dish, with an 8″ base. I didn’t want a really thick cheesecake because they’re more challenging to bake properly, and a small slice is all you need for an this appetizer.

Start by melting the butter in the dish using the microwave.

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My bread crumbs were made by processing a piece of French bread, with the crusts mostly removed. I toasted them in a skillet just until golden.

Tilt the dish all around to get the butter all around the sides and bottom. Then add the bread crumbs and do the same. There should just be a light coating of crumbs; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, mix the yogurt cheese, the goat cheese, eggs, and salt until smooth.

Carefully place the yogurt cheese mixture into the dish, smoothing the top.

Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. At this point test the cheesecake to make sure it has baked thoroughly. If it needs a few more minutes, just turn off the oven and let it sit for about ten minutes more. It should be slightly firm, and not wiggle in the middle.

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Then remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool slightly and set.

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When you’re ready to serve the cheesecake, carefully cut into wedges. I served this particular cheesecake with a salad of greens with blackberries and toasted walnuts. The dressing was orange oil and balsamic vinegar. I also added a generous sprinkling of salt.

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You will notice that this cheesecake has a slight mealiness to it. But unlike a poorly, overcooked cheesecake that becomes horribly mealy, this texture instead is from the yogurt cheese. It’s also still important not to overcook this version, just like all cheesecakes.

I hope you all enjoy this savory twist on a cheesecake, and from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!!!

Leeks Creole

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I have never thought of leeks as an accessory ingredient because of this recipe. These leeks, topped with a warm spicy vinaigrette, could be a first course, a side dish, or a salad. But however you eat these leeks, you will always have respect for this fabulous Allium, if you didn’t already. They’re not just meant to be a filler for potato soup.

This recipe is in the Creole and Acadian recipe booklet from the Foods of the World series of Time Life. I actually remember the first time I made these leeks, as part of a full Creole meal.

Creole/Cajun/Acadian is an American regional favorite of mine, because of the spiciness, mostly.

leeks

The recipe is quite simple. It’s just a matter of first cleaning the leeks. Trim them and slice in half lengthwise. Then let running water rinse them off. If you need help with the cleaning technique, click here.

Place the cleaned leeks in a shallow pan, and cover with water. Bring to a soft boil, put a lid on the pan, and let the leeks cook for not more than 10 minutes. Using two spoons, carefully place the cooked leeks onto paper towels and let drain and cool off slightly. Alternatively, they could be steamed if you have a large enough steamer basket.

Meanwhile, prepare the spicy vinaigrette, recipe follows:

Creole Vinaigrette Sauce
Makes about 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon Creole mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
6-8 tablespoons olive oil

The way the recipe has you make it is like making a fairly thin aioli. I opted to just place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk them together.

And by the way, I didn’t have tarragon vinegar, so I used a combination of apple cider vinegar and fresh tarragon.

The recipe suggests that you serve the leeks cold. I notated on the recipe page that they’re good cold or hot, but I think the flavors really pop when at least the vinaigrette is warm. Alternatively, if your leeks are still warm, the room temperature vinaigrette will warm up on the leeks. The heat really enhances the spiciness.

Place the drained leeks on a serving plate. Then gently pour on the vinaigrette.

As you can tell, I also sprinkled the leeks with tarragon leaves.

The sweetness of the leeks really pairs beautifully with the spicy, warm vinaigrette.

You just have to try them!