Swiss Chard Gratin

Chard 1

Many years ago, well before I even knew I wanted to go to culinary school, I bought a book called Le Cordon Bleu At Home. It’s a huge book with a series of “lessons” that are supposed to take your cooking from simple to spectacular, Cordon Bleu style. I don’t know about that. Some of the recipes in the first couple of lessons are well above what I would define as beginner level, especially for someone who does not already know how to cook. But I’ve always loved Cordon Bleu cookbooks, for consistently reliable recipes and this one is no different. I make it every year and it has been delicious every time.

Chard 2

My husband often jokes about my 5-year recipe rotation. He’s right. I love experimenting with food and trying new recipes. However, once in awhile a recipe becomes a keeper, and I end up making it frequently.

This is one of those recipes. I grow chard every year and usually have an abundance of it. I’m always on the look out for a new recipe to take chard to the next level. In this case, chard leaves and stems are first blanched then mixed with a creamy béchamel sauce, topped with cheese, and baked until golden and bubbly. Yum, yum, yum!

Chard 3

Swiss Chard Gratin

6-8 Servings

I like to use rainbow chard for this recipe, but any chard will do. You could probably use kale if you prefer. I use a large oval 10-by-15 gratin dish for this, but you can also use a regular 9-by-13 dish. The recipe makes a lot, but it freezes well, so don’t worry about the leftovers.

Salt

2 pounds Swiss chard

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

white pepper

3/4 cup crème fraiche, divided

1/4 cup flour

1 3/4 cups milk

pinch ground nutmeg

1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 425. Butter the dish you plan to use for the gratin.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the chard leaves from the stalks. Tear the leaves into pieces and set aside. Cut the stalks into 2-inch lengths and add to the boiling water. Return the water to a boil and cook the stalks 8 minutes. Add the chard leaves to the pot cook another 2-3 minutes. Drain the chard and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a frying pan over high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and it has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 1/4 cup crème fraiche and cook until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to make a thick paste. Slowly add the milk a splash at a time, whisking the mixture after each addition. Add salt, pepper, and the nutmeg, and cook the béchamel sauce until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup crème fraiche.

Squeeze as much water out of the chard as possible, roughly chop it and place in a bowl with one half of the béchamel sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Spread half of the chard mixture in the gratin dish. Top with the mushrooms then the remaining chard mixture. Spread the remaining béchamel over the top and sprinkle with the Gruyere cheese. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 10-15 minutes.

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home by Le Cordon Bleu

 

 

 

Finally Fall – Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

Shanks 1

It’s a beautiful Fall day, and the weather has finally cooled down enough to start doing some comfort food. I’m not a fan of cooking cool weather foods when it’s still summer outside, even if it’s the end of September, but by the time I start seriously considering hanging the glow-in-the dark skeleton by the front door, I know it’s time.

Shanks 2

Today’s post is inspired by the restaurant, Sebillon Elysee, in Paris. They are famous for their Allaiton de L’Aveyron gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb), which is wheeled out on a cart and carved tableside. It’s served over creamy white beans that come to the table bubbling away in a copper pot. This century-old restaurant is one of my favorites in Paris; very old-world style without being stuffy.

Shanks 3

I had never even heard of braising until I went to culinary school. Coq au Vin was the first braised dish I made, and I fell in love with it and the technique. Braising is the combination of searing food at a high temperature then cooking it in a liquid in a covered pot at a low temperature. The meat is then removed and the liquid left in the pan is reduced to make a sauce. Although braising takes some time, it’s mostly hands off, and the restaurant- quality results are worth the extra time. You end up with fork-tender meat and a luscious sauce. Anyone can braise; once you get this technique down the possibilities are endless.

Shanks 4

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

6 Servings

If you don’t like or eat beans, or you are following a Paleo or Primal program, this dish is just as good with a side of creamy mashed potatoes or some sort of vegetable puree such as cauliflower, turnips, or parsnips. I used navy beans because that was what was available, but any white bean, such as cannellini or great northern, will do.

1 1/2 cups dried white beans

6 8-12 ounce lamb shanks

salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, diced

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups red wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 14.5 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

lemon zest from 1 lemon, grated

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Pick over the beans and soak them for at least 3 hours (preferably, overnight). Rinse the beans and place them in a saucepan with enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring the beans to a boil, lower the temperature to a simmer, and cook the beans until tender, 45-60 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the lamb shanks. Thoroughly season the shanks with salt and pepper on all sides. In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the lamb shanks until brown, 10-12 minutes. Remove the shanks from the pot and set aside on a plate. Add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pot and cook until the onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Use a stiff spatula to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf and lamb shanks with any juices from the plate. Return the contents of the pot to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours. The meat should be very tender and falling off the bone. Remove the shanks from the pot and keep warm. Bring the pot contents to a boil and reduce to sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Lower the heat, add the beans to the pot and cook on medium to warm the beans, about 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season the beans with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place a spoonful of the beans on a plate or bowl and top with a lamb shank. Garnish with lemon and parsley.

Adapted from Williams Sonoma Seasonal Favorites

 

 

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Pistou

Tom Mozz

It could have been worse. I could have broken my right arm in three places (I’m right handed), rather than the left. I could have knocked my teeth out or broken my jaw when I landed face down in the street, yet somehow I managed to keep my badly scraped up face intact. I was very lucky that my shoulder stayed in place and will not require surgery and that I should regain full use of my arm, even though it will take at least 6 months. There have been some important lessons learned during this ordeal.

Tom Mozz 2

I am one of those people who are busy, busy, busy, no matter what. When I am not trying to juggle doing several things at once, I’m preoccupied with what’s next. I never seem to be able to “stop and smell the roses” and quite honestly, I think I’m beginning to understand that is no way to live my life. A month ago when I fell while walking the dog, I was totally preoccupied with worrying about something I shouldn’t have been concerned about and wondering how I was going to be able to squeeze one more “to do” into an already packed schedule.

My accident has forced me to finally slow down. It’s a little difficult to rush through life with only one functioning arm, and it’s given me the opportunity to really think about what I want out of life. I still don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been able to narrow it down a bit. It’s time to ease back on the throttle and focus on the things I really enjoy, like this blog, and accept that other things might have to fall by the wayside.

Tom Mozz 3

Speaking of this blog, I was just dying to pick up my camera again and get back to it; hence this post. But, I had to question my sanity as I was crawling around on the dining room floor trying to get the perfect shot while using my tripod as a second arm. Maybe I should continue slowing down, i.e., resting and healing a little longer?

Slowing down while healing also meant turning over the kitchen duties to my husband, who has done a wonderful job of keeping food on the table. I’m back in the kitchen now, albeit one-handed, and the food I’m able to cook is limited, which might not be a bad thing. Simple dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves sound really good to me right now.

Tom Mozz 4

During the summer I am always more inclined to simplify my cooking anyway. There is so much great produce out there. This year we joined a CSA for the first time. The season just started, and the jury is still out – garlic scapes and kohlrabi anyone? But this week we did receive a huge bundle of basil in our weekly selection. I was originally just going to make a Caprese salad but decided to go one step further by making a Pistou to drizzle over sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Provençal Pistou is very similar to its Italian cousin, Pesto, with the difference that Pistou does not contain pine nuts. I was looking for a more pure basil flavor for this sauce. Pistou is one of those sauces that have so much versatility. Try it stirred into vegetable or legume soups or over any kind of grilled meat or fish.

 Tom Mozz 5

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Pistou

4 Servings

The number of servings for this salad can vary depending on how many tomatoes and how much mozzarella you have on hand. The recipe makes enough Pistou to double the amount of servings. I used two really large heirloom tomatoes for four servings, which would also equate to two nice lunch servings.

 Pistou

1 clove garlic

2 cups packed basil leaves

1/3 cup grated Parmesan

7 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Salad

4 medium or 2 very large tomatoes

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella

Make the Pistou. Peel and halve the garlic clove length wise and remove the germ in the center of the clove. Note: This isn’t so important when you are cooking garlic, but the germ can be somewhat bitter when garlic is not cooked. Place the garlic, basil, and Parmesan in the mini-bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add salt and pepper to taste and pulse to blend.

Assemble the salad. Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella. I like slices that are a little under half an inch, but not as thin as a quarter of an inch. Arrange the tomato slices on individual plates or a serving platter. Top each tomato slice with a slice of mozzarella. Drizzle with the Pistou and serve.

 

 

 

Herb-Scented Gougères

Gougeres 1

When I was in culinary school, we spent a considerable amount of time honing our pâte à choux skills.  Choux pastry is a combination of eggs, flour, water and butter that results in a light fluffy pastry used for éclairs, cream puffs, and other pastries.  I think we probably made it every way possible, but I never had the chance to make gougères, the savory puffs with cheese in the dough. I often saw the pastry class making them, even had the opportunity to try them, but waited in vain for the day our class would finally make them.  Maybe I missed that day, who knows?  It was many years ago and I had all but forgotten my desire to make gougères, when I came across a recipe for them in an old copy of Bon Appetit magazine.  I was looking for ideas for a party and decided herb-flavored gougères would make the perfect cocktail snack and they did. I had a pile of fresh thyme that I didn’t want to lose and it turned out to be wonderful with the gruyère I used. You could vary the type of cheese you use and use any type of herb – an Italian version with parmesan and oregano, a fall version with sage and fontina…the possibilities for this recipe are endless.

Gougeres 2

Herb-Scented Gougères

Makes about 40

Please do not be put off by the difficulty level of this recipe.  It’s actually quite simple to make and the results are well worth the trouble.  These can easily be made ahead of time and frozen.  Place frozen gougères on baking sheets in a preheated 325-degree oven and warm for 15 minutes.

6 tablespoons butter (3/4 stick or 3 ounces)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups grated gruyère cheese (6 ounces)

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, divided

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg yolk, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.  Place butter, salt, and 1 cup warm water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil and stir until the butter is melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour.

Place the pan back on the stove on medium heat and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 2 minutes.  Continue stirring for another 2 minutes.  A dry film will form on the bottom and sides of the pan and the dough will no longer feel sticky.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated, then stir in the cheese, half of the thyme and the pepper. 

Place the dough in a piping bag with a 1/2-inch round tip or a plastic bag with a 1/2-inch opening cut from a corner. Pipe 1-inch rounds about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Whisk the last egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water and brush it on the dough rounds.  Sprinkle the rounds with the remaining thyme.

Bake the gougères until puffed up and golden; 20-25 minutes.  They will dry out in the center and will sound hollow when you tap them.   

Adapted from Bon Appetit