Sunday, October 30, 2011

roasted beet risotto

Growing up, I didn’t know you could do anything with a beet but pickle it. And I loved eating my beets, pickling my mashed potatoes pink while I ate all my other favourite things at my grandparents’ house.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when we consciously started trying to eat more root vegetables in the winter that I learned about roasting beets.  Turns out, roasted beets come out sweet and earthy . . . and just begging to be added to risotto. (Seriously, I hear their little beet voices calling to me, almost as soon as I pull them out of the oven.)

Roasted beets just love nestling into a comforting creamy and cheesy zucchini risotto, much like nestling into the couch with hot chocolate and good book while the autumn rains pour down outside.

The beet gems are bright and lift the risotto up, up, up and into my bowl for dinner. 

Crazy but true: this risotto actually started its life as a sun-dried tomato risotto on Epicurious from Gourmet Magazine. Thank you, Gourmet, for this solid risotto foundation. And thank you to Angela of pear ginger jam and apple chutney fame for sharing it with me.

Now, a couple notes about risotto.

1. If you’ve never made risotto before, do not be overwhelmed. It is possibly the most exciting thing to make on the stove top. I mean, can you imagine anything more fun that coating each grain of rice in oniony-garlicky oil and then slowing adding liquid and watching the rice absorb it? I find it truly absorbing.

2. If you don’t have white wine, under no circumstances should you use red wine instead. Did you hear that? UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES. Just skip the wine and add a bit more broth. Just don’t add the red wine. Trust me, I used red wine for my very first risotto. The resulting blue risotto was so visually horrifying that I didn’t attempt to make risotto again for two years. Don’t let this happen to you.

Last October: pear ginger jam

roasted beet and zucchini risotto
adapted from a Gourmet recipe

serves 4

375 g. beets (a few small beets), peeled and chopped in small pieces
3 tbsp. + 1 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 c. chicken broth
1 c. Arborio or carnaroli rice
150 g. (about 1 c.) zucchini, finely chopped
1/2 c. white wine
1/3 – 2/3 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
parsley, finely chopped for sprinkling as garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the prepared beets in a casserole dish and cover. Slide into the oven. Roast until tender, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Heat a pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Fry the zucchini with a bit of salt and pepper for about 5 minutes, until softened, but not mushy.

In the meantime, heat the chicken broth in a medium saucepan. Keep it covered and lightly simmering, but not boiling.

Then, heat a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over low heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion. Stir frequently. When it’s almost soft, after about 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the rice and stir, until each grain is glistening. Add half a cup of the simmering broth and stir in. Once the liquid is absorbed, repeat. And so on.

Once you’ve added much of the broth and the rice is almost al dente (about 20 minutes), stir in the wine. Once it’s absorbed, taste to see if the rice needs to cook more and you need to add more liquid. If you do, add another half cup of the broth. And so on.

Once the rice is al dente, stir in the parmesan. Taste to see if you need more salt and pepper. Stir in the zucchini. Stir in the parmesan. Stir in the beets gently – try not to let every grain of rice become bright pink – contrast is pretty here. Serve sprinkled with a bit of parsley on top.

Friday, October 21, 2011

quince almond cake

A homely little fruit has changed my life.

It is called a quince and it is the most beguiling fruit I have ever eaten.

I am so enamoured of my fuzzy little friend that I’ve done all kinds of reading about the quince. Did you know the quince might be the very fruit Eve was tempted to eat in the Garden of Eden? Did you know there are more recipes for quinces in medieval cookbooks than any other orchard fruit?

I know! I had never even eaten a quince until three days ago and it has this epic history. Which – now that I have eaten one – I must say seems apt.

A quince looks like a deformed apple or pear. He has a dusting of uneven fuzz, much like an adolescent boy. (This fuzz comes off easily with warm water and a bit of rubbing, also much like an adolescent boy.)

Once you peel that quince, you will find a light beige flesh, almost like an old apple. You must sharpen your knife before attempting to cut said flesh, as it feels like an old piece of wood while you saw through it.

But this – this! – is why the quince is so alluring.

With just a few hours (!) of poaching, his flesh gets soft and . . . pink. Yes, pink! If you cook him even longer, he’ll get almost ruby red. And all the while, he'll be releasing this lovely quince perfume, making you very, very hungry to eat him.

So you can see why I’m in love. The quince has officially taken his place as my new favourite fruit.

I’ve been wanting to try quince since I read about vanilla-poached quince, quince almond cake and quince jelly on Chocolate and Zucchini last fall. Naturally, I followed Clotilde’s advice as I dealt with my beloved new friend. I set aside half my quinces to poach with a vanilla bean, à la Chocolate and Zucchini.

Once my first set of quinces were done poaching, I threw in a bit more sugar – maybe half a cup – and kept boiling them in the hopes that I might end up with an informal quince jelly. Then I forgot about them while we were eating dinner . . . only to smell something burning and to run back to the stove to find the liquid almost boiling over. I quickly poured the dark liquid into another pan to cool, thinking it was a goner.

But once again, my little quince pulled through! After 20 minutes, I had quince paste or membrillo (which is a lot more fun to say). 

We have eaten shiny slices of membrillo as dessert and are also planning to try it with cheese.

Now, back to the story about the cake.

You should make this cake. Probably today. Because if you make it tomorrow, you’ll wonder what you’d been waiting for. It has a lovely moist crumb, flecked with little pieces of soft pink quince. The ground almonds give it an earthy quality, but don’t weigh it down at all. It’s springy and tender . . . and even keeps for days without drying out.

I know, I know, quinces are hard to come by. (Look at me: I had to wait a whole year to find them.) But pears are not. And pears are good, too. (They’re in my top 10 for fruit.) So try this with pears and let me know how you like it. But truly, truly, just make this cake. Oh, and go find yourself some quinces.

Last October: pear ginger jam

Clotilde’s recipe is so good that I’ve only cut it in half, switched the sugars and converted it to gluten-free.

Here is the recipe for vanilla-poached quince. If you don’t have quinces, raw pieces of pear will work, too.

Clotilde uses weight measurements for her recipes, which makes them exact and easy to convert to gluten-free. I’ve left the weights, with rough volume measurements for those of you who don’t have a scale yet. Just buy one!

quince almond cake from chocolate and zucchini

100 g. (3/4 c. + 1 tbsp. + 1tsp.) wheat flour 
50 g. (1/4 c. + 2 tbsp.) ground almonds
            Or – for gluten-free:
            22 g. (1/4 c.) pure oat flour
            22 g. (3 tbsp.) sweet white sorghum flour
            22 g. (3 tbsp.) tapioca starch
            22 g. (3 tbsp.) potato starch
            22 g. (3 tbsp.) sweet rice flour
            40 g. (1/4 c. + 1 tsp.) ground almonds
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg
100 g. (1/2 c.) white sugar
25 g. (2 tbsp. + 2 tsp.) vegetable or grapeseed oil
100 g. (1/3 c.) plain yogurt
a splash of brandy or rum
200 g. (heaping 1 c.) vanilla-poached quinces or chopped raw pears
brown sugar to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius). Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper.

Stir the flour(s), ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together. Stir in the oil, yogurt and brandy. Add the quince or pear. If you used wheat flour, stir gently to mix it together. If you used gluten-free flours, stir as much as you want – you don’t need to worry about activating any gluten.

Pour into your prepared pan. Use a knife or spoon to level the top. Sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake for 30 – 33 minutes or until a knife or cake pick comes out clean. It will be golden brown by this point. Keep it in the pan, but let it cool on a rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

star anise plum jam

It’s a melancholic time of year.

I stopped to stare at three different kinds of plums at the store on Sunday. I felt this whoosh of regret: soon, the plums will be gone and I won’t be able to eat nearly enough of them before the oranges and grapefruit have recolonized the store for winter.

That sad thought made me think of my pretty little gold sandals, peaking up at me in the back room . . . not knowing they've been sent there because I can’t bear to put them away for winter yet. (But there is no question I won't wear them again this year. When a girl puts on mittens to drive to work in the morning, she does know that open-toed footwear will have to wait for spring.)

It is getting cold and windy and rainy and summer is done. There: I’ve said it out loud. Alas.

But there is still a little window to do something with all these lovely plums. 

My jam idol, Marisa at Food in Jars, suggested Italian plum jam with star anise and – after putting up a small batch – I must report that she was spot on.

In fact, she was so spot on that I didn’t change the recipe one bit, except to double the goodness.

I grew up eating Italian prune plums every day in September and October. We had a tree in the front yard that always gave us lots to take in our lunch. They are not the juiciest of plums, with a thin purple skin and almost green flesh. But when they’re ripe, they’re sweet. And – since I have an intense aversion to sticky hands – really easy to eat without making a mess.

I had no idea prune plums would stew up to be dark and deep and altogether more romantic. The star anise brings out an almost amaretto quality in the plums, which I found surprising and just right.

I like Marisa’s ideas of eating this jam with cheese and crispy bread or a cracker. Marisa had a nice truffle goat cheese. My unfortunate nostrils think goat cheese smells like a dirty barn, so I would also recommend Taleggio. Really, anything creamy with a hint of sharpness would do, I think. Just do something before all the plums are gone!

For Marisa’s original recipe, see here.

italian plum jam with star anise from food in jars

yields almost 3 cups

5 c. Italian prune plums, chopped
1 1/3 c. sugar
6 star anise blossoms

Put a small plate in the freezer. Leave it there.

Stir the plums, sugar and star anise together in a good-sized pot with a heavy bottom. Cover and set aside for about an hour or until it has created a syrup and/or you can’t bear it any longer.

Remove the star anise blossoms if you don’t want your jam to be too star anise-y. (I left mine in for the cooking process and don’t find it’s too much. But I leave that up to you.)

Place the pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered, for 10 – 15 minutes. The jam will thicken and darken. When the time is almost up, take your small plate out of the freezer. Dollop a bit of jam on the plate. Leave it for one minute. Use the back of a spoon to push against that bit of jam. If it wrinkles a bit, it has set. Remove the jam from the heat.

If you haven’t already, remove the star anise blossoms now! Remove any skim on the jam.

Ladle into sterilized jars and process in a hot water canner for 10 minutes.