Tuscan Spinach Torta Rustica

April 18th, 2014

Tuscan Torta

 

There are many foods that we associate with Easter; ham, eggs and chocolate bunnies to name a few.  In Italy this Spinach Torta is made around Easter time to celebrate the season.  There are many versions of the dish.  Some are made with a yeast crust and a lattice top.  Some top the dish with pine nuts, instead of the almonds that I used.  I added ham to my version.  To me this would make a perfect brunch dish to celebrate Easter.

Tuscan Torta 2V

 

The torta is an Italian version of a quiche.  The flavor additions include Mozzarella and Parmesan instead of Swiss or Gruyere, Italian seasonings instead of a hint of nutmeg and a pine nut or almond topping.  The spinach, eggs, roasted red peppers and cream round out the dish.  Since I was in a hurry I used a store bought pie crust, but you could certainly make your own or leave it out completely.  I actually made another version of this torta a few years ago that is also great to make ahead of time for a brunch party.  Here is the link.

Tuscan Torta 3 This makes me wish for a trip to the Amalfi Coast.  Since that is not possible, David and I will be attending The East Tennessee Italian Fest blogger party at Big Dude’s Almost Heaven South on Saturday June 7th.  For details see Larry’s post here if you are interested in joining us.

TUSCAN SPINACH TORTA RUSTICA

1 Refrigerated Pie Crust or Homemade 1 crust pie pastry
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard

2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup diced cooked ham
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 9 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup diced roasted red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Fit pie crust into 10-inch tart pan or 9-inch pie plate.  Blind bake in oven for 5 minutes.  Remove foil or parchment paper lined bean weights.  Paint bottom of pie crust with mustard.  Return pie crust to oven and bake for 5 more minutes.  Remove, set aside and reduce oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat.  Add ham and onions and cook until onions are soft and ham is slightly browned.  Add red peppers, spinach and seasonings and cook a few minutes to meld flavors.

Beat eggs in large bowl.  Add cream and shredded cheeses.  Add the spinach mixture from the skillet and stir to combine well.  Place in prepared pie crust.  Sprinkle almonds over the top.  Place tart pan in oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until custard is set.

Printable recipe

 

Pork Schnitzel with Red Beans and Chow Chow

April 15th, 2014

Pork Schnitzel 1

 

Last week my friend Penny and I had our annual first Spring shopping trip to Asheville.  We always like to stop for lunch at Fig, our favorite French bistro.  It was a lovely day and we ate on the patio.  Penny ordered the Pork Schnitzel with Cranberry Beans and Chow Chow.  Here is how it looked.

Fig Pork Schnitzel She said it had a lot of flavor.  The flattened pork tenderloin was slathered in mustard before being breaded in Panko crumbs and deep fried.  The smooth cranberry beans and piquant chow chow relish sounded to me like the perfect balance of flavors.  So I had to see if I could make it at home.  I am very happy with the results.

Pork Schnitzel 3

 

I could not find cranberry beans, so I substituted simple red beans.  I pan fried the flattened pork tenderloin filets after dipping them in flour, thinned Dijon mustard and Panko crumbs.  I bought the chow chow relish at a local roadside stand.  This made a wonderful meal.

Pork Schnitzel V

 

It feels good to get inspirations from a restaurant and be able to come up with a new and special dish.  Although this came from a French inspired restaurant, it has all of the earmarks of a true Southern dish, albeit with German overtones.  I guess you could call it Global.  I am linking this to Tasty Tuesday at Penny’s Comforts of Home.

PORK SCHNITZEL WITH RED BEANS AND CHOW CHOW

1 (1 1/2 lb.) Pork Tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 3-inch pieces.  You should get about 5 pieces
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Dijon mustard thinned with a little water (You may need more)
1 cup Panko crumbs

Enough vegetable oil to come to 1/2 inch in a large skillet

Pound each pieces of pork tenderloin, cut side up, between 2 sheets of waxed paper until the meat is very thin.  Dip each piece into flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper.  Then coat with mustard mixture.  Finally dip into panko crumbs to cover.  Place the pieces on a sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set the crumbs.

Heat oil in the large skillet.  When hot, saute the pork pieces until they are browned on each side.  Watch carefully so they do not burn and adjust heat as needed.  You may have to do this in batches.  When they are well browned they should be done.  Keep warm in slow oven if you are not ready to serve.

Place each individual pork cutlet on top of a serving of the red beans on individual plates.  Top with store bought or homemade chow chow relish.

RED BEANS

Cook beans according to directions on a one pound bag of dried beans.  One hour before beans are done, saute one chopped onion with 1 cup of cubed ham until onions are soft and ham is browned.  Add to the bean pot along with 1/2 cup of cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Season with salt and pepper.  When beans are soft, add 1/4 cup of chopped parsley and serve.

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Potato Tots with Malt Vinegar Aioli

April 12th, 2014

Potato Tots 1

 

My husband is always getting me into trouble.  He was watching the Food Network show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, the other day and said, “Come here, you have to see this”.  He rewound the program and we watched as a food truck guy explained how he made homemade tater tots.  I scribbled a few things on a piece of paper and stashed it away in my food folder.  The recipe  was not shared on The Food Network website.

Potato Tots 2V

 

I finally had a chance to try making the Potato tots a few nights ago and they were outstanding; crispy on the outside and rich and creamy on the inside.  The malt vinegar aioli was an easy recipe from Bobby Flay.  We usually try to stay away from deep fried food and I never buy tater tots in the grocery store, but I have to say that I would definitely make these again.  They are a special treat.

Potato Tots 3

 

Go ahead and give them a try.  Betcha can’t eat just one.  I am linking this to Tasty Tuesday at The Comforts of Home.

POTATO TOTS WITH MALT VINEGAR AIOLI

4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed
1/2 to 3/4 cup Pepper Jack Cheese,grated
1/2 to 3/4 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
Flour for dusting
2 eggs beaten
1 cup or more of Panko crumbs, seasoned with more garlic and paprika
Enough canola oil for deep frying

Place potatoes in a pot of cold water.  Bring to a boil and cook until they are just tender.  Drain and cool slightly.  Peel off the skins and then grate them into a large bowl.  Add the cheeses, garlic powder, paprika and salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the potatoes into small cyllnders and place on baking sheet.  Put flour, eggs and panko crumbs in 3 separate bowls.  Dust the potato mixtures in flour, then the egg and then cover with the panko crumbs.  Return each cylinder to the baking sheet.  Place the potato tots in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to set the crumb mixture.

Heat enough oil in a large pot to just cover the potato tots and when it is shimmery cook the tots in batches until golden brown on each side.  This should not take long.  Drain on Paper towels and serve with the Malt Vinegar Aioli.

MALT VINEGAR AIOLI ( I halved this recipe)

1 cup prepared mayonnaise
1/4 cup malt vinegar
2 garlic cloves, mashed into a paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground coarse black pepper

Mix all together in a small bowl and serve.

Printable recipe

 

 

 

Testing Recipes from Simca’s Cuisine

April 7th, 2014

SIMCA'S PASTA 1

 

I have been a faithful follower of all of Julia Child’s recipes for a long time.  Every one of them works well if you follow the instructions.  As Julia and her collaborators Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle devised Mastering the Art of French Cooking, nothing was left to chance.  Each recipe was meticulously tested and refined.  When volume two of their book came out, sans Louisette Bertholle, both Julia and Simca (as Simone Beck was affectionately known) scored another fine publication.  But, by this time, tempers were flaring between the two dear friends.  Simca was very opinionated about the superiority of French cuisine and argued with Julia about cooking methods needed to translate recipes to the American kitchen.  She was also beginning to feel slighted by the popularity and recognition that Julia was receiving because of The Mastering books and her television show.  Simca had her own way of doing things and felt that many of her recipes were left out of the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Julia and Simone

One of the recipes that she wanted included in Mastering II was a Pork Roast that she had developed.  Julia, knowing that the book was too far along in the publication process, had to veto the recipe.  There was no time for testing and preparing it for inclusion.  After Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume II was published, in part to placate Simca,  she was offered the opportunity to publish her own cookbook called simply Simca’s Cuisine.  One of the first recipes in the book is Pork Braised with Bourbon and Prunes.  I am assuming that this was the recipe that she had wanted to include in The Mastering volume.

Pork Braised in Bourbon

I made this pork roast recipe last week.  I give Simca high praise for the flavor combinations in this dish.  The pork is slathered with Dijon mustard and rolled in brown sugar before being sauteed and then braised in bourbon that is first flamed in the dish.  The prunes are a perfect accompaniment.  But I did not lard the dish with pickled tongue as suggested.  Who of us home cooks has a larding needle or has easy access to pickled tongue?  She did offer the alternatives of prosciutto or smoked ham, but I was still put off by this step.  I also found the cooking time of 1 3/4 hours much too long for the pork.  It was dry.  Maybe the larding would have made a difference. The sauce made with the bourbon juices offset the dryness.  To me it was a good recipe that needed tweaking.  You can find my version of the dish here.

Casserole of Ham and MushroomsThe second recipe that I tried, Molded Casserole of Ham and Mushrooms with Macaroni, Cheese, and Cream, did not work at all.   It had such promise.  I was excited about cooking the quiche-like filling in my charlotte mold.  It was supposed to be unmolded onto a plate and then drizzled with a tomato cream sauce.  One of the instructions was to cook the macaroni and then chop it up, after draining well.  This made absolutely no sense to me, but I did it anyway.  After baking everything in the charlotte mold, I flipped it over onto a plate and it had not set up.  Everything just puddled out.  Since this was supposed to be dinner last night, I just put it all into a casserole, rewarmed it and served it.  The flavors were great.  I would make this again as a casserole.  It is like a sophisticated macaroni and cheese with ham, mushrooms and Gruyere cheese.

So I guess the moral of this story is that Julia Child knew what she was talking about.  When you publish a cookbook it is best to test and retest.  Simca’s recipes are inspiring.  They have great flavor, but the techniques do not always work.  Here is my version of her macaroni and cheese.  I hope my techniques and flavors work for you.

HAM AND MUSHROOM MACARONI AND CHEESE

1 cup Macaroni
2 cups diced ham
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
Juice of 1/2 a lemon, strained
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup half and half
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Nutmeg, freshly grated

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter a heavy casserole dish.  Cook the macaroni in a large quantity of boiling salted water until barely tender.  Refresh under cold running water, drain, and dry on paper towels.  Combine with the diced ham.

Clean the mushrooms and slice.  Sprinkle them with the lemon juice.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the mushrooms, and saute, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes.  Salt lightly, pour in the light cream, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the mushrooms are tender and the cream has almost evaporated.  Drain if necessary.

Beat the eggs thoroughly with the heavy cream and the grated cheese.  Add the mushrooms, macaroni, and ham, and season highly with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Mix thoroughly and put mixture into casserole.  Cover casserole with lid or foil.

Bake casserole for about 30 minutes.

Printable recipe

 

Asparagus Tart For Spring

April 3rd, 2014

Asparagus Tart 1

 

It is so good to be back in the North Carolina Mountains.  There is nothing more beautiful.  Our timing for the trip back was perfect.  The temperatures have been even warmer than in Florida.  The only downside to being back is the amount of work that we are facing.  Because of the brutal winter, we had to deal with cracked water pipes; no water for the first couple of days.  There are leaves to be raked, downed limbs to be hauled, porches to be cleaned and fresh paint needed in several places.  But one of the first areas I tackled was the upper porch.  It is warm enough for meals out there overlooking the lake.  I made this asparagus tart for lunch yesterday to celebrate our good weather.

Asparagus Tart 2V

This is very simple to pull together if you have sheets of puff pastry in your freezer.  I found the recipe on Pinterest.  It came from Nicole at Heat Oven to 350.   You may want to visit her blog to see instructions on how to shape the pastry.  The filling in the tart is a mixture of ricotta cheese, egg and cream.  The asparagus is not blanched ahead of time, but if you have large stalks, you may want to consider doing it.

Lake Upper Porch

Relaxing on the porch for lunch was a good respite from the tasks at hand.  The asparagus tart was light and delicious.  I served it with leftover corn and black beans with picante sauce.

Asparagus Tart 3

This was a wonderfully flaky tart with a mild and creamy filling that supported the vibrant green asparagus.  The recipe makes two tarts.  One tart can be cut into 4 pieces to serve four or if that is all you are serving, perhaps two hungry people.  I halved the recipe to make this one tart.

ASPARAGUS TART

Ingredients

  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed according to package directions (There are two sheets in one package. You can find puff pastry in the freezer section, usually near the pies.)
  • 1 large egg, beaten, for crust
  • 1 large egg, for filling
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

Directions

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower position and hear oven to 375 degrees. Unfold each pastry sheet one at a time and, using a rolling pin, roll each pastry slightly to smooth out the seams and increase the size.
  2. Lay each pastry sheet onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush each pastry with the beaten egg. Fold the edges on opposite sites of the tart over by about 1/2 inch and brush with beaten egg. Repeat with remaining two edges and brush with egg. Fold the first two sides over once more and brush with beaten egg. Use a paring knife to cut through the folded edges and corners. (See photos below) Prick the inside of the tart shell repeatedly with a fork. Bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on a wire rack. (If the middle of the pastry has puffed up at all during cooking, push it back down. It’s easier to do this before it cools.)
  3. Turn oven down to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, beat together egg, ricotta, cream, milk, salt and pepper. Pour half of the mixture into each baked tart. Lay half the asparagus on top of the ricotta mixture in each tart. Bake another 15-20 minutes or until golden and set. Serve hot or cold.

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© Penny Klett, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. All rights reserved.