Category Archives: Recipes

Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tart

Asparagus Tart

There are hints of both the blessed and the accursed about some Sundays.  The good parts, of course, are obvious.  A day of worship for many.  A day of rest.  It is a day of sleeping in, and long breakfasts, and lolling and lounging and hot baths and long runs and maybe even a nap.  All good.  All very good.  But there is this whiff of despair in the air some Sundays, or maybe it’s just me, looking ahead and counting the dwindling hours of freedom and ease.  Instead of staying in the pleasant now of couch and cat and book I start doing mental arithmetic: this many hours until I need to get ready for work tomorrow, and then get to bed and then get up and go to work and oh, my week is going to be so busy, and I don’t want to go to work, not yet…and there I am, dreading Monday morning instead of living Sunday afternoon.  I’m sure I smell a whiff of brimstone in the air, possibly hear the echo of devilish laughter.

But you know what helps drive back the darkness?  A little time spent in the kitchen–not hurrying, just flowing with the chopping and stirring.  And then a good meal, like this summery tart. Yes, the leftovers will be good for lunch on Monday morning.  But don’t think about Monday while you are making it.

Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tart

  • 1 shortcrust tart shell
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 15 oz whole milk ricotta
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • several grinds of pepper
  • small handful of fresh parsley, minced fine (1-2 tbsp)
  • 15-20 stalks of asparagus, ends trimmed
  • drizzle of olive oil

You will need a tart shell that is approximately 10 inches wide for this recipe.  Buy one, take one out of the freezer, or use your favorite shortcrust recipe to create one from scratch.  Whichever way, you’ll need it rolled out and pressed into a pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

Coarsely chop onion.  In a sauté pan or wok over medium heat, stir onions in 1 tsp of olive oil,  then cook very, very slowly until caramelized—at least half an hour, stirring occasionally.  Add a splash of water every now and then if needed to keep onions from frying/burning/overbrowning.  They are done when they are soft, golden brown, and smell sweet.

Meanwhile, prebake the tart shell for 10 minutes, then remove from oven.

Vigorously stir together ricotta, cream, egg, lemon zest, parsley, salt and pepper.  Pour into tart shell.  Top ricotta mixture with caramelized onions, distributed evenly.  Arrange asparagus spears on top of onion layer.  Drizzle very lightly with olive oil.

Place tart pan on a baking sheet and place in oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, then check periodically and remove from oven when ricotta is set, asparagus looks cooked, and tart is generally golden brown on top.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

I’ve been on the fence about whether to write about Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe here.  As you can see, I’ve come down on the pro side of that fence.  But just barely, and here’s why.  Boeuf Bourguignon is, to quote my dear friend and fellow blogger Natalie, “quite simply the best thing that I have ever cooked.” But it is also the most complicated, exacting, and time consuming thing I have ever cooked–including cassoulet, which is really saying something.

So if you decide to try this recipe, be ready to go all-in.  Shop carefully and don’t make substitutions.  Set aside the entire day for cooking. Follow the detailed instructions to the letter.  Plan to clean a fine layer of grease off of every surface in your kitchen (including yourself). Get your kitchen zen on.  And you will be rewarded richly.

Boeuf Bourguignon fully engages all five senses in the cooking process.  In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m sharing my cooking experience in a non-prose (maybe poetry, maybe not!) format.

Squashy cold meat and crisp vegetables distinct in the hand
slide under the knife blade.
Prickly fine droplets of hot fat hit arms in fiery rain.
Ease tired shoulders toward ears,
feel the floor under the balls of feet. Go get soft slippers.
Sizzling and simmering compete with loud, loud, loud music to chop and stir by.
Sharp metallic beef blood transitions to
smoky browned meat, onions sting nostrils and eyes,
a waft of cork and fresh wine–take a sample gulp from the bottle—
the mellower scent of reducing sauce.
Pale mushrooms soften and exude liquid, then
brown to just the right color as promised by Julia.
Steaming finished dish pulled from oven bubbling, deep caramelized brown.
Layer upon layer of flavor: first punch of umami in the mouth
then more subtle notes of thyme and salt and bacon and beef.
Lingering richness on the tongue.

For the original Julia Child recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon, as well as the recipes for sauteed mushrooms and brown-braised onions that are necessary to complete the dish, click here.

Cassoulet

Cassoulet

“The composition of Cassoulet is, in typical French fashion, the subject of infinite dispute, so much so that if you have read or heard about Cassoulet and never tasted it, you come to expect a kind of rare ambrosia rather than the nourishing country fare it actually is.”—Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I beg to differ, Julia.  As much as I love your brisk good sense and can-do spirit, we disagree on this point.  Cassoulet is nourishing country fare, yes.  But that entirely misses the point of cassoulet.  The point is that it actually is a kind of rare ambrosia.  Cassoulet is a dish that is far more than the sum of its parts.  It is days (weeks, really if you make your own duck confit!) of careful preparation of ingredients in order to serve yourself and your loved ones with a dish of savory meat and beans that first fills the room with a rich aroma, then fills tummies, then hearts.

It is indeed a rare ambrosia when, on a rainy winter night, I shed my damp coat and settle into a chair across from a friend in a favorite French restaurant, and we order a half carafe of red wine, then the waiter lists the specials and one of them is cassoulet.  I feel all hollow in my middle in anticipation.

I am reminded of N.M. Kelby’s words at the end of White Truffles in Winter, and I think that the question before us is not just country fare vs. ambrosia, but “who we…are when we address the plate. The magician, the priest, the dreamer, the artist—it is our most hungry self.”

My imagination was captured many, many years ago, when I had yet to taste cassoulet, the very first time I read A Moveable Feast:

 I walked in the early dusk up the street and stopped outside the terrace of the Negre de Toulouse restaurant where our red and white checkered napkins were in the wooden napkin rings in the napkin rack waiting for us to come to dinner.  I read the menu mimeographed in purple ink and saw that the plat du jour was cassoulet.  It made me hungry to read the name. –Ernest Hemingway

Now there was a man who understood hunger of all kinds.

Cassoulet

(Inspired by Mastering the Art of French Cooking and adapted from Anthony Bourdain)

  • 2.5 cups Tarbais beans or small white beans
  • 1 pound fresh pork belly
  • 1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 bouquet garni 
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup duck fat
  • 3 pork sausages, halved
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 2 confit duck legs

Day One
Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight.

Day Two
Drain and rinse the beans and place in a large pot. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, and the bouquet garni. Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are just tender, about 30-40 minutes. Let cool slightly, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni. Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch squares, and set aside. Strain the beans and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.

In a saute pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon of the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, draining on paper towels. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic and the reserved squares of pork belly from the beans.  Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of duck fat and puree until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a deep, ovenproof dish, arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork belly puree between each layer. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving ½ cup in the refrigerator for later use. Cover and cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 250F and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Day Three
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Cook the cassoulet uncovered for an hour. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add about 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid if it seems dry. Reduce the heat to 250F and continue cooking another 15 minutes.

Serves two plus generous leftovers for the next day, or four if you can share your duck legs nicely with others.

Duck Confit

Duck Leg Confit

Before Christmas, I was struck by the urge to serve a classic Cassoulet for our holiday dinner.  And as a building block for that savory dish, I decided to prepare my own duck legs confit.  I duly consulted the internet, my cook books, and my coworker Ira (a former chef and my go-to person for advice on big cooking projects).  Ira got all excited about this scheme, and we had several lively conversations about the best places to buy duck legs (he suggested an Asian grocery store, but I went with the upscale grocery near my house), where to buy huge quantities of rendered duck fat (I went with the Asian grocery store on that one), whether to confit an entire duck or just the legs, and several other miscellaneous conversations about unrelated duck recipes.  It was a lot of fun.

When I was ready to buy my ingredients,  I figured that if I was going to bother confiting duck legs, I might as well do a bunch, and keep the surplus on hand in the freezer for future need.  And I could give some away for Christmas presents!  In short, I decided to go big.  I made twelve.

It turns out that it actually would have been a lot less trouble to start with a more reasonable number of duck legs, like four.  For one thing, duck legs and duck fat are not cheap.  For another, working with that many legs is just unwieldy.  So maybe you can learn from my experience and start with two or four legs—truthfully, I know I will dive headfirst into my next big cooking project without sparing one second’s thought for lessons learned from the duck legs and will probably quadruple that recipe as well, then wonder what I got myself into.  It’s just what I do.

But regardless of quantity, making your own duck legs confit is not hard.  It does require planning ahead to allow time for curing, cooking, and resting in the refrigerator.  But duck legs in the fridge are like money in the bank.  There are so many delicious meals that you can make with the tender, succulent meat once it’s waiting for you, nicely preserved in an opulent bath of beautiful, beautiful duck fat.

Here’s the method for making the duck legs.  I’ll also share some ideas for how to use them in upcoming blog posts.

Duck Legs Confit

(adapted from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)

  • duck legs
  • 8 grams of salt for every pound of meat
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • 1 sliced garlic clove per leg
  • ½ bay leaf per leg
  • approximately 8 oz additional duck fat per leg

Sprinkle duck legs with salt and put them in a nonreactive container (I used baking sheets lined with waxed paper).  Sprinkle with thyme, freshly ground pepper, and press garlic slices and broken bay leaves into each leg.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48  hours.

Rinse the duck under cold water, wiping off seasonings.  Pat dry.

Preheat the oven to between 180 and 200F.  I suggest checking oven temperature with a thermometer to make sure it is at least 180F.

Place the duck legs in a stockpot or Dutch oven.  You want them tightly packed, as they will need to be fully submerged in fat while they cook.  Cover with fat, bring to a simmer on stove top, then place in the oven and cook uncovered for between 6 and 10 hours (this will depend to some extent on how many duck legs you are cooking).  They are done when fat is clear, and the duck legs are very tender.

Remove from the oven and cool to near room temperature in the pot.  Move duck legs to one or more storage containers, pouring fat over legs and making sure they are completely submerged.  Refrigerate for up to a week to ten days.  Or freeze for longer.

Note that you can use pink salt (curing salt) to extend the shelf life of duck confit for up to six months—see instructions in Charcuterie or another manual for preserving meats.

*******

Elsewhere: Over at Edible Books, our February book selection is going to be The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.  Join the conversation!

Eating Alone

Just the other day a friend told me she had taken herself out for a nice lunch and a glass of wine, and enjoyed them while reading a book.  All alone.  It sounded wonderful and relaxing.  And a little brave.

I don’t know that I have ever gone out for a real meal on my own.  And I’m not sure why not. Now that I think about it, there’s something irresistible about the idea.

A table for one or a solo seat at the bar in a nice restaurant.  Gleaming cutlery and sparkling glassware.  A cloth napkin in your lap.  Familiar restaurant sounds.  The pleasure of choosing from a menu.  The routine of drinks and food appearing at effortless intervals.  Your book propped in front of you.  The occasional glance around the busy room, then back to the unhurried enjoyment of both food and literature.

I have never sat in a restaurant as part of a snug group and looked pityingly upon a happy, intentional solo diner.  That embarrassed feeling at the prospect of asking for a table for one?  I’m pretty sure it’s a waste of energy.  Who’s looking, anyway?

Yes, I firmly believe in shared meals and the importance of community.  But must we always sing for our supper?  Sometimes I want to be a community of one, alone with my own thoughts and enjoying my own company.

Why don’t we all treat ourselves to the luxury of a solo meal more often?

Warm Salad

Of course, I eat plenty of peaceful, utilitarian solo dinners at home after work.  Lately I’ve been obsessed with warm salads and have been eating them every night.  The basic formula I’ve been following is this:

  • A big pile of hearty salad greens
  • A medium pile of warm roasted root vegetables (leftovers work great)
  • A hot sliced sausage, or shreds of duck meat, or leftover hamburger or steak or…
  • ½ avocado, diced
  • ½ tomato, diced

Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sherry vinegar.  Salt lightly and pepper generously.  Toss to coat with dressing.  The greens will wilt just a bit, comfortingly, and the whole meal is indescribably satisfying.