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.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Eggplant Parmesan Stacks


I feel like eggplant is not the most universally loved summer vegetable, and yet even eggplant-haters often make an exception for marinara-soaked, cheese-cloaked eggplant parm. There is something about the combination of tender eggplant, acidic tomato sauce, and melted mozz to win over hearts all around.

Instead of making a traditional casserole-style eggplant parmesan I wanted to make composed stacks so each person can have their own pretty little portion. I skipped the messy steps of breading and frying my eggplant slices for a much lighter version that is only 3 Weight Watchers SmartPoints per stack (the cheese is the only culprit in this version of the classic dish).

Before baking

With that said, you can still use the same recipe to make a casserole if you'd prefer. Simply cook the eggplant and sauce the same way as described, but assemble it into layers in a casserole dish with a puddle of sauce on the bottom, and bake it for a bit longer until bubbly throughout.

This stacked delight is just as comforting as the original rendition but a bit more composed and personalized. I sliced my eggplants lengthwise for slightly larger portions that are appropriate as a main dish, however you can also slice your eggplants into rounds to create smaller but more plentiful stacks to serve as a side dish or even starter.

The tomato sauce used here is my go-to hardly-any-ingredients basic marinara which I use for various purposes. It's easy, quick, and fat-free. You can add more spices or use your favorite sauce recipe, or even a jarred sauce if you prefer. You'll likely have a bit more sauce than you'll need for these stacks.

Eggplant Parmesan Stacks
Serves 4 to 6 (depending on your eggplants)

2 medium eggplants (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds total)
Oil spray
Kosher salt

1 (28-ounce) can crushed or ground peeled tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 to 9 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Chopped fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Spray 2 large sheet pans (or 1 extra large sheet pan) with oil spray.

Trim the eggplants, peel them if you desire, and slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange eggplant slices on the prepared sheet pan(s), season with salt, and spray the tops with a little more oil spray. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping the eggplant slices over halfway through, until they are tender and slightly golden.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by adding the crushed tomatoes and garlic to a small saucepan, and heating over medium heat until bubbly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to use.

Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Assemble the stacks on the same pan used to roast the eggplant slices (I just pile them up over to one side and assemble the stacks on the other side of the pan). Top one slice of eggplant with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of sauce, and 1/2 ounce shredded mozzarella. Repeat twice more until you have 3 identical layers. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices, most of the sauce (you will have more than you need for this), and the cheese. Depending on the size of your eggplants and quantity of slices, the number of stacks may vary in number and size (you will likely have a couple of mini-sized stacks with some of the smaller edge pieces from your eggplants--they are still delicious!). Each stack will use approximately 1/3 cup sauce and 1 1/2 ounces of cheese. I yielded 4 normal-sized stacks and 2 smaller stacks.

Bake the eggplant parmesan stacks for about 10 minutes or until heated through, bubbly, and the cheese has melted. Meanwhile, reheat the remaining tomato sauce if needed.

Spoon a few more tablespoons of the sauce onto each plate and carefully place an eggplant stack on the top. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped fresh basil, and serve immediately.


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