Thursday, August 22, 2019

Crêpes Parmentier


Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was a badass French scientist from the 18th century who is best known for his extensive work with potatoes. He's the reason the humble potato became an acceptable food source for human consumption rather than one designated simply as hog feed in most European countries.

I was incredibly proud to visit his grave in Paris back in May, which unsurprisingly is adorned with carvings of potatoes, surrounded by potato plants, and even topped with a few edible roots left by admirers.

Parmentier's name is used to describe dishes that feature potatoes as an ingredient. In Paris I dined on duck Parmentier, similar to a shepherd's pie with duck confit as the meat component and of course topped with velvety potato purée, and crêpe Parmentier, a crispy buckwheat crêpe filled with melted Emmenthal cheese, an egg, and cubes of potato. It is this "Parmentier" dish that has inspired today's post and trip down memory lane.

Crêpe Parmentier at La Crêperie in Paris

From a regional standpoint, crêpes hail from Brittany, a coastal region in western France, just southwest of Normany, although they have gained popularly throughout the country, and are found in many crêperies in Paris. Buckwheat crêpes in particular are referred to as galettes in Brittany, typically feature a savory filling, and are a delicious gluten-free alternative to traditional crêpes.

In my attempts to recreate the crêpe Parmentier from Paris, I lacked the typical tools one would find in an establishment featuring crêpes prominently on their menu, such as a crêpe maker like this one, with wooden spreader and all. I used a large non-stick pan, and yielded very good results. My crêpes were approximately 11-inches in diameter, which was still smaller than the one I had in Paris, but more than large enough to fold around my filling.

The result of my experiment was excellent! The dish was delicious and extremely satisfying, keeping me full for many hours, and provided nostalgia of a lovely memory of a Parisian breakfast I'll never forget.

Crêpe Parmentier
Serves 1

1 buckwheat crêpe (recipe follows)
1 to 2 ounces shredded Emmenthal (Swiss) cheese (1/4 to 1/2 cup) (use less for a smaller crêpe, more for a larger crêpe)
1 fried egg
1 1/2 to 2 ounces (1/4 to 1/3 cup) peeled and cubed Yukon gold or yellow potato, boiled in salted water until tender

Place the cooked crêpe on a non-stick skillet over medium heat, sprinkle the cheese over the center of the crêpe, leaving about a 2-inch border around the edges. Top with the fried egg, and sprinkle the cubed potatoes around the egg and over the cheese. Cook until the cheese melts and the bottom starts to crisp, fold over the edges of the crêpe to make a square, and carefully slide the crêpe pocket onto a plate. (Alternatively you can slide the crêpe onto a plate first, and then fold over the edges). Serve immediately.

Buckwheat Crêpes (Breton Galettes)
Makes 7 to 10 (depending on diameter and thickness of batter; I yielded 7 eleven-inch crêpes of moderate thickness)
(From King Arthur Flour)

1 cup (120g) buckwheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (227g) milk, any type
1 tablespoon (14g) melted unsalted butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup (57g to 113g) water

To make the crêpe batter: Combine all the ingredients (except water) in a blender, and blend until smooth. Cover the batter and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When you're ready to make crêpes, thin the batter with water, using less water for thicker crêpes and more water for thinner ones.

Preheat a crêpe pan or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the pan with butter, oil, or pan spray, then pour in enough batter to thinly coat the bottom of the pan; swirling the pan as you pour the batter will help ensure an even coating.

Cook the crêpe for 1 to 2 minutes on the first side, until it's golden and lifts from the pan easily. Flip it over and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes on the other side.

Transfer cooked crêpes to a plate, stacking them on top of one another, and keeping a towel over them. (The first crêpe may not turn out as well as the others, similarly to the first pancake in every batch). Fill as desired; serve warm. Crêpes can be stacked with wax or parchment paper in between, and refrigerated or frozen.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pastelitos de Queso y Guayaba


Pastelitos are flaky Cuban pastries typically filled with cheese and/or fruit preserves. They are easily prepared with frozen puff pastry, and a quick dual filling of whipped, lightly sweetened cream cheese, and guava paste or preserves.

This flavor combination is not uniquely Cuban, as I've had similarly filled pastries in Puerto Rico, and seen the like on other Latin American menus. The tart and sweet guava is a perfect foil for the tangy cream cheese, and the lightly glazed puff pastry pocket is the ideal vessel for indulgence.

I used less than a tablespoon of each filling for each pastry a) to ensure there was enough for all of the dough, and b) because the pastries were comfortably full between the duo of fillings.

The simple syrup glaze creates a beautiful sheen with a light sweetness without yielding a soggy exterior. The pastry is crispy and flaky, and utterly decadent. These pastries were lovely for company, and easy enough to prepare relatively last minute.

Pastelitos de Queso y Guayaba
Makes 18 pastries
(Adapted from The Cuban Table)

2 sheets frozen puff pastry dough, thawed (from one 17 1/4-ounce package)
1 large whole egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Cheese Filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

Guava Filling:
8 ounces guava paste, cut into chunks
2 teaspoons orange or lime juice

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

In a mixer or food processor, bear together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, and orange blossom water until light and fluffy.

In a food processor or blender, add the guava pasta and orange or lime juice and process until smooth.

Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper.

Roll out the first sheet of pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch square, 1/8-inch thick. Using a small knife or pastry wheel, cut the dough to measure out 9 squares, 4-by-4-inches each. Add a scant tablespoon of guava topped with scant tablespoon of cream cheese filling, off center, to each square. Brush the egg wash around the filling, fold the pastry into a triangle, and seal. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Transfer the filled pastries to the prepared baking sheets and refrigerate until firm, 20 to 30 minutes.

While the pastries chill, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare the glaze by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

Brush the tops of the chilled pastries with egg wash, then bake until lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets halfway through baking time to ensure even browning.

Remove from the oven and brush pastries with the simple syrup. Allow the pastries to rest for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Remy's Ratatouille (Confit Byaldi)


Everyone who has seen the movie Ratatouille remembers that iconic scene towards the end when cynical food critic Anton Ego dines at Gusteau's and takes his first bite of the movie's namesake dish, ratatouille. That moment is one of my favorite cinematic moments ever, as it perfectly captures the nostalgia that a single bite of food can offer its diner.

Traditional ratatouille is a simple, rustic dish of stewed zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes, but world-renowned, three-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller created a much more refined version of the dish especially for the movie, for which he served as a food consultant.

Thinly sliced zucchini, summer squash, Japanese eggplant, and tomatoes are arranged in a gorgeously colorful pattern atop a bed of piperade, a tomato and bell pepper sauce. Although you could certainly use a single color bell pepper, the variety of red, yellow, and orange creates a beautiful compliment to the rest of the dish. I think it was worth it, but you could easily use 1 1/2 red bell peppers if you can't source the other colors.

So here's the deal. Mandolins scare the every-loving crap out of me. For real. I own one. It lives in the basement, practically untouched. I dug it out for the purposes of slicing up my vegetables, braved my fingers while I sliced the zucchini and summer squash, but didn't like the way it was slicing my Japanese eggplant, and switched over to a super sharp knife instead.

To be honest, I preferred the way the eggplant slices turned out anyway. I used the knife to slice my tomatoes as well. In all honestly, I yielded way more sliced vegetables than necessary for this recipe. I didn't even slice the entire eggplant or zucchini, both of which were larger than 4 ounces each, and I now have a tupperware full of extra veggies which I will use for another purpose (probably a stove-top ratatouille). With that said, I could have easily made this dish in a slightly larger pan than my 9-inch skillet, as there was also plenty of piperade where I could have spread it out in a slightly thinner layer if necessary.

This is a time-consuming recipe, mostly because it bakes for 2 1/2 hours not counting the time to make the piperade, slice the vegetables, etc. It can easily serve as a vegetarian (technically vegan) main dish or side dish, and can technically be served hot or cold. It's even better the next day if you're willing to be patient. I particularly like the vinaigrette component as the tiny bit of balsamic lends a nice acidic note to the dish.

Here is an artist rendering of my actual face when I took my first bite...

It's really that good! There is so much concentrated flavor, and the practically paper-thin vegetables simply melt in your mouth. For a considerably light dish, it has a certain decadence to it, a richness, an intensity that can only come from a low-and-slow approach. Friends, I encourage you to hit up your local farmer's market, your garden, your supermarket, honestly anywhere you can buy these ingredients, and treat yourself to something special! Bon appetit mes amis!

Confit Byaldi
Serves 2 to 4
(Slightly Adapted from Recipe by Thomas Keller)

1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded, and finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 small bay leaf
Kosher salt

1 green zucchini (4 oz), sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 Japanese eggplant (4 oz), sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 yellow summer squash (4 oz),  sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
3 Roma tomatoes, sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and stem discarded
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees F. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve 1 tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-to-9-inch oven-proof skillet (I used a 9-inch All-Clad French skillet, had plenty of piperade and more than enough vegetables to use a larger skillet or baking dish next time).

For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees F. Starting from the outside working inward, arrange alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed.

Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350 degree oven until warm.)

For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Meatball Soup with Potatoes and Carrots


My mom is a soup-making ninja. Everyone loves her soups, and this particular recipe is a huge family favorite. Even my soup-hating brother-in-law swoons over mom's meatball soup. It's gluten-free unlike her other meatball soup recipe with bulgur wheat, so my gluten-sensitive nephews can eat it too.

Lean beef combines with rice to form the meatballs themselves, and the broth consists of chicken broth and tomato sauce along with chunks of carrot and potato. It's utterly satisfying, and considerably light for such a hearty concoction.

My family never tires of this soup, and we enjoy it year-round! I hope your family will enjoy it as well. Thanks mom for the awesome recipe!

Meatball Soup with Potatoes and Carrots
Serves 8

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
3/4 cup medium-grain rice, rinsed
1/3 of an onion, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 of an onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
2 quarts chicken broth
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and paprika
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Fill a small bowl with some water and place next to the mixing bowl. In a large mixing bowl combine all of the meatball ingredients and mix thoroughly by hand. Constantly wetting your hands, make little meatballs by rolling small bits of the mixture between your palms. They should be about 1-inch in diameter. Place the small meatballs on a tray or baking sheet until ready to cook. You will have about 120 meatballs. Refrigerate meatballs until needed.

In a pot over medium-high heat saute the onion for 2 to 3 minutes until somewhat softened, then add the carrots and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and paprika to taste, and raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the cubed potatoes, then reduce the heat to simmer for about 18 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are almost completely cooked through. Test a cube to be sure.

Raise the heat to medium-high and carefully add the meatballs, mixing in between additions to make sure they don't stick. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes until the meatballs (and rice within them) are cooked through. Check for doneness by tasting one of the grains of rice poking out of the meatballs. Rice will escape from the meatballs and settle into the soup, but this is expected. Adjust seasonings if necessary, stir in the parsley, remove from heat and serve.


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