Saturday, July 7, 2012

Veggie French Onion Soup, Family Style (leftover Italian bread)

In our area, there is an Italian bakery that supplies excellent fresh baked bread to every market. We can say with confidence that it's made without preservatives. The reason is that it becomes stale almost as quickly as you drive home with it. But nothing beats it for a sandwich.

Faced with a half loaf of tasty but hard bread, we devised this vegetarian onion soup, which you should be able to make without a trip to the store. Oh yeah, and we have a small kitchen that doesn't stock oven-proof bowls, so we made it in a casserole pan. Not as artistic but very practical.

French Onion Soup, Family-Style

3 medium onions, thinly sliced (or more, if you like)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 loaf leftover white Italian bread, cut into slices
6 ounces swiss cheese, grated
a few sprigs of fresh thyme 
canola oil

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Toast the bread slices directly on the rack until they are completely dried out. This could take up to an hour.
2. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of canola oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, carrots, celery, and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown. You should see plenty of browning on the bottom of the pot, but keep a close eye on the pot, as it will be very easy to let the vegetables burn.
3. When the vegetables are showing a good amount of browning, add the wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your spoon to loosen the brown bits. Allow the wine to reduce by about half.
4. Add four cups of water. Bring the pot to a simmer, and let it cook for about 45 minutes. Do not salt the broth at this point - it is ok if it tastes a bit under-seasoned.
5. In another stock pot, cook the sliced onions in two tablespoons of canola oil and a pinch of salt very slowly over low heat. Stir every once in a while. If you are short on time, you can cook it over higher heat, but there is no substitute for the taste of onions that have been slow-cooked over low heat. Cook until the onions are entirely limp, translucent, and have lost about half of their bulk.
6. Pour the vegetable broth through a strainer into the pot with the sliced onions. Mash the vegetables against the side of the strainer to get every last bit of broth.
7. Tie the sprigs of thyme together with kitchen twine and drop them into the pot. Simmer the soup for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Remove the thyme.
8. Turn the oven up to 450 degrees. Pour the soup into a 9-inch square casserole. Top with the toasted slices of bread. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
9. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and browning a little bit. If any pieces of bread start to burn before the cheese is bubbling, tent some aluminum foil over the casserole.
10. Serve by spooning the bread and cheese onto plates, and adding some extra soup from the bottom.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pasta Frittata (leftover spaghetti)

Oh, you could microwave up that little bit of leftover pasta and meat sauce for lunch. Yes, it’d be good. You could also add a few eggs, add a little salad, and turn a so-so lunch into an elegant dinner. Here’s how:

Pasta Frittata
¾ cup leftover pasta and sauce mixed and drained of excess sauce (if you have sausage or meatballs, by all means, chop and include)
5 eggs
3 tbsp water or milk
One really good 10-inch non-stick frying pan
One dinner plate

1. Heat about 1-2 tbsp oil in a pan over medium heat.
2. Next step depends on what kind of pasta you have. If it’s long and thin, like spaghetti, do nothing. If it’s short and fat, like penne, you need to cut it up. (Otherwise, the weight of the pasta will pull the frittata apart.
3. Add pasta to oil, and heat thoroughly. You can even brown it just a bit (tastes yummy that way)
4. In a bowl, beat your eggs with the milk or water.
5. Off heat, add them to the pan and shake. Throughout the cooking process, you want to be almost continuously shaking (or jiggling, really) your pan. Then return to the pan and turn heat down slightly.
6. Using a spatula, do this: Swirl the egg around in a circle so coats the outside of the pan, then scrape the coating back down to the rest of the egg. Don’t stop shaking.
7. If you have too much liquid in the center, scramble it a little in the center of the pan. Continue shaking.
8. Finally, your eggs should be pretty set with a little liquid on top. If you’ve been shaking enough, it all should float freely along the bottom of the pan.
9. Now, off heat, clap that dinner plate over the top of the pan. Flip the whole thing over so the egg falls onto the plate.
10. Put the pan back on the heat, add a bit of oil, swirl, and the slide the egg back into the pan starting with the back edge.
11. Cook while jiggling for about two minutes.
12. Slide out and serve with wine and a salad.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Leftover Broiled Seafood Fritters

Yuck. A simple summation of the leftovers of most dinners you get at a seafood restaurant. Soggy fries. Sad scallops. Sole wrapped around crab stuffing that won’t stand a bit of reheating. Most people understandably say “no thanks” to a doggy bag.
Don’t. It’s actually quite easy to turn this pile of unloved leftovers into a tasty lunch. The key is to roll with the flavors you’ve been given, and don’t forget to drag home the fries.
Seafood Fritters
½-1 cup leftover seafood, broiled or baked
The leftover fries or potatoes that came with it
1-2 eggs
Vegetable oil

1.       Cut the seafood into small pieces.
2.       Tear the fries apart or cut them into smallish pieces as well. In a bowl, mash them up a bit with your fingers.
3.       Add them both together and break in 1-2 eggs
4.       Now, add breadcrumbs until your mixture is not sopping wet and holds together when you make a ball out of it.
5.       Heat a pan over medium heat and add oil.
6.       Make a small, one inch ball of the mixture, and flatten it, rounding the sides so it makes a little disk.
7.       Fry it in the pan until it’s browned nicely on both sides.
8.       Remove and taste. You’ll probably be fine with the seasoning, since you’re starting with a restaurant dish that is likely salted half to death. But you may want more pepper or something.
9.       Now make balls about 2 inches in size and flatten them down the same way. We usually make them about the size of sliders. But this is up to you.
10.   Fry until nicely browned on both sides. Drain on a paper towel.
11.   Serve with a sauce of your choice (perhaps that leftover tartar or cocktail sauce you snagged from the restaurant.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Homemade Whole Wheat Pizza

If you want to make good pizza at home, you have to recognize your limitations. You don’t have an 800 degree pizza oven with a hot brick floor and a 7 ft. pizza peel. But that’s ok. You may not be able to make one just like your favorite pizzeria, but you can make a darn good one if you take a few extra steps.

This recipe may seem a little involved, but the steps are short, and it actually takes no more time than any other. We eat this at least once a week, and serve lots of them at parties. Oh, yes,and if you already have a dough recipe you love, then please look down at least at how we cook ‘em. We haven’t seen this method anywhere (though we highly doubt it’s original), and it makes for a great crust.

What you’ll need: a normal oven, a cheap pizza stone, an inexpensive aluminum pizza pan, and a pancake turner.

Whole Wheat Cheese Pizza

(makes 4-5 medium sized pizzas, takes a full day to create dough, but you can shorten it)


2½ cups all purpose flour
2½ cups white whole wheat flour
½ cup dried instant mashed potatoes (optional, but makes for a nicer texture)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp instant yeast (also known as bread machine yeast)
2 ½ tsp salt
3 cups water (see below)
2 tsp garlic powder (optional)
3 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning (optional)

Toppings and Assembly:

Cooking spray or oil
Cornmeal (optional)
1 can tomatoes (broken up) or tomato sauce
8 oz or so packaged mozzarella or similar semidry melting cheese (using fresh mozzarella usually results in a soggy mess of a pizza)
Spice mix (garlic powder, paprika, oregano)

Making the Dough

1.     In the morning, put the flours, potatoes, oil, yeast, salt, and spices into a large stand mixer (or a bowl).
2.     Mix these ingredients together using a spoon.
3.     Add 2 ½ cups water and mix for 15 seconds using the paddle (or your hand).
4.     At this point, pull the dough off the paddle. Now, it’s time to adjust to get the right amount of water. What you want is something that’s a little sticky, kind of like what electrical tape feels like. If you’re not sure what to do, err on the side of wet rather than dry.
5.     If you’ve got time, let the dough sit for 15 minutes. That will allow the water to redistribute itself evenly. If possible, you want to avoid adding flour or water during the kneading process.
6.     Knead the dough in the stand mixer (or your hands) for about 3-4 minutes. Stop it once or twice to make sure it’s not too wet or dry. It’s done when you can form it into a ball and the surface is not quite smooth.
7.     Put it into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
8.     The first rise will take about 4-5 hours at room temperature. You can always speed this up by adding more yeast (up to a tablespoon is fine), but your crust won’t taste as good.
9.     Once the dough has doubled in size, fold it over itself and reform to a ball. Do not worry too much about what “doubling” means—be in the ballpark and you’ll be fine.
10.  Let it double again in size (2-3 hours), fold it over again, and form into a ball.
11.   Flour up a cutting board and place the dough on it. Divide it into 4-5 smaller balls.
12.  Cover the balls with oiled plastic wrap and let rest at least 15 minutes.

You can refrigerate your dough for three days, or freeze it. Simply remove the balls from the fridge an hour or so before using.

Making Your Pizza

1.     Place your pizza stone in your oven and preheat to about 450.
2.     Place a ball on a floured board, flour up a rolling pin, and start rolling out your dough. If it keeps snapping back and won’t get thin enough, take a break for a few minutes. You’ve over-activated the gluten, and it needs to relax again.
3.     Roll it out until it’s as thin as you like. Usually you’ll get a good 12-13 inches in diameter.
4.     Spray your pizza pan with cooking spray or wet it with vegetable oil (not olive, which tends to stick). Dust the pan with cornmeal (optional, but adds great flavor)
5.     Lift the dough onto the pan. Now go around the pizza pan, and crumple together the outside inch of the dough, making a little ridge. Your uncooked pizza should resemble a cooked one in its shape, flat in the middle with a raised edge.
6.     Add spoonfuls of sauce into the middle of the pizza and spread out towards the edges. Then sprinkle with some spices. Cover in cheese. (Add toppings now too, if you have any.)
7.     Last step. Go over to the sink and wet your hands. You know that outside edge of the pizza you made? Wet it lightly with your fingertips, going back for more water if you need it. Again, you can leave this step off, but the edge won’t rise so nicely and may get a little dry and hard.
8.     Ok, into the oven your pizza goes, pan and all. Set a timer for six minutes.
9.     After six minutes, get an oven mitt. Rotate the pizza 180 degrees and then slide it off the pizza pan directly onto the hot stone. (This is all about crust, if you cook it wholly on the stone, it’ll be rock hard; if you do it all in the pan, it’ll be soft).
10.  Cook another 2-4 minutes, while you get out a wire baking rack (Don’t have one? Slide out the grate from your toaster oven and flip it over).
11.  Here’s how you figure out if it’s ready: Take a pancake turner and slide it under the pie and try to lift. You should be able to lift the pizza off the stone without sagging. (otherwise your pizza crust isn’t going to be crispy enough, though this depends on your taste).
12.  Using the pancake turner, lift the finished pizza from the oven onto the grate/rack you’ve prepared.
13.  You’re done. You can drizzle a little nice olive oil on top, but it’s not necessary. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Vodka Cabbage Lasagna (leftover cabbage)

Nope, it's not a new way to get your teenagers to eat their veggies. We just used a traditional (if there is such a thing) penne ala vodka sauce to punch up a veggie  lasagna. And as usual, the types of vegetables or cheeses you use can be tailored to whatever you have in your fridge.

Vodka Cabbage Lasagna

1 small head of cabbage, sliced and with the core removed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
4 ounces brick mozzarella cheese, grated
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup half & half
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
4 tablespoons vodka
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
olive oil
canola oil

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the sweet potato chunks with a tablespoon or so of oil and some salt. Spread them evenly on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes, tossing every five minutes or so. Remove them from the oven when they are cooked through and starting to brown. Set the sweet potatoes aside.
2. To make the vodka sauce, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When it is hot, add the chopped garlic and cook until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the tomato sauce, and then the vodka. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 20 minutes.
4. Turn the heat back up to medium and add the butter. When it has melted, start to add the grated romano a bit at a time. Stir well after each addition of cheese to ensure it melts.
5. When all the cheese has been incorporated, turn the heat back down to low. Add the red pepper flakes and the half and half. Simmer for about five minutes, and then simply keep the sauce warm until you are ready to use it.
6. Meanwhile, in a wide, shallow skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and a pinch of salt. Cook until the cabbage is nicely wilted, cooked through, and just beginning to brown. Set the cabbage aside.
7. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
8. Assemble the lasagna in a 9-inch square casserole pan. First, smear some sauce in the bottom of the pan. Spread one third of the cabbage mixture over the sauce. Top the cabbage with one half of the sweet potatoes, and then top the sweet potatoes with some sauce and one third of the mozzarella. Spread a second third of the cabbage over the mozzarella. Top the cabbage with the other half of the sweet potatoes, then top them with more sauce and another third of the mozzarella. Spread the final third of the cabbage over the mozzarella, and top that with more sauce and the final third of the mozzarella.
9. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese on top has melted and browned, and the lasagna is bubbling. Keep an eye on it and be ready to tent it with tin foil to prevent the top from burning.
10. Let the lasagna rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting into it. Serve topped with a bit more grated romano cheese.