Herb Pie

 

Herb PieThis recipe is a play on familiar spanakopita, made with spinach Whenever I have made spanakopita in the past, I made it from a recipe-driven point of view, buying special ingredients from the grocery store and assembling them in specific amounts.  Chock that up to my inexperience, but it never really occurred to me, until now, to make that pie in a free-form way.  As Yotam Ottolenghi describes in his book Jerusalem, this isn’t a recipe to be made from buying little packets of herbs from the store.  This is what you make when you’ve come from a true farmer’s market with unruly heads and bundles of fresh greens and herbs, or, even better, you are growing them yourself and you have so much you need ways to melt them down into savory dishes.  This is additionally a good way to use up bits of delicious cheese.  You pretty much can’t go wrong with the filling proportions and because the filo pastry looks all the better with rustic flourishes and scrunches, that part is worry-free, as well.

In addition to being a delicious way to use an abundance of produce, this is an extremely versatile dish to have on hand this time of year, particularly if you have company.  It is a splendid side dish to any kind of meat you have cooking.  It also makes a comforting breakfast as well as a classy lunch with salad.  It keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Rewarm portions in a 350 degree oven.

Herb Pie

Adapted from Jerusalem

Serves 6

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 lbs (about 8 cups) hearty greens (Swiss chard, bok choy, spinach, kale etc…) thick stems separated from leaves, each roughly chopped
  • 1 large bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed fresh herbs and tender greens (parsley, mint, dill, arugula etc…) chopped
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz other cheese, grated (sharp cheddar, goat cheese etc…)
  • Grated zest of l lemon
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1/3 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 9 oz filo pastry

Pour olive oil into a large, deep frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute for 8 minutes, without browning.  Add the green stems and continue cooking for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the green leaves, increase the hat to medium-high, and stir as you cook for 4 minutes, until leaves wilt.  Add the green onions, tender greens, and herbs and cook for 2 minutes more.  Remove from the heat and spread the vegetables into a 9′ x 12′ baking pan. Put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes to cool.

Once the mixture is cool, squeeze out a much liquid as you can and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add the cheeses, lemon zest, eggs, salt, pepper, and sugar and mix well.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay out a 9′ x 12′ baking dish.  Divide 1/2 packet of filo pastry into two roughly equal portions.  Freeze remainder for another use.  Place a damp dish towel over the sheets.  Pour about 3 tablespoons olive oil into a small bowl.  Dampen your hands with olive oil and pick up a sheet of filo.  Brush your hands over the sheet and then place it into the bottom of the baking dish.  Continue in this way, placing some of the sheets so they overlap the sides of the dish, until 1/2 of the filo packet is used.  Place the filling on top of the pastry and bring sides around it.  Then, continue placing the rest of the filo packet, in the same way as before, on top.  Finally, tuck the filo sheets down around the sides of the pie.

Brush the top generously with olive oil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is bubbling and the top is crisped and golden.  Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Whole-Milk Ricotta Cheese and Milk-Braised Pork

I am not a fearless dairy woman.  Last summer, I documented my lifelong squeemishness about cowy milk containing thick chunks of cream or downright butter.  I like a pasteurized layer of separation between me and the bovine source of my dairy.  But, in every place I have lived outside of the US, there are only extremes in dairy production and no middle ground.  One either buys raw milk, still steaming, delivered directly from farmers in metal cans or you buy ultra-pasteurized milk in UHT boxes, with all culture cooked out of it to allow it a shelf life of years.

I have been wanting to dabble in the queso-arts lately, but I’m not brave enough to flag down the local farmer who I see delivering milk from the back of his truck, using a giant dipper to pour it into the residents’ own jugs.  I think that is a beautiful thing and I should try it, but actually I don’t have the language skills to even approach it.

When I was in London two weekends ago, we went to the venerable royal provisioner temple of Fortnum and Mason.  Mostly, we bought English cheeses that we can’t get here:  cheddar and Stilton.  I will now admit, though, that I tucked in two quarts of very creamy whole milk with a cheese-making project in mind.

The process for making ricotta or cream cheese is actually as simple as claim says.  The difference between the two is the ratio of butter fat to milk:  more fat= cream cheese, less fat= ricotta.

Once the curds have been lifted from the whey, the whey can be used in a very nice meat braise, like milk-braised pork shoulder.  This was another of the recipes I piloted during my month-of-endless-cooking in April.  The leftover meat is fantastic shredded into tamales or on tostadas.

Whole Milk Ricotta and Cream Cheese

© 2010 Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

Makes 1 1/4 pounds

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon high quality whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

1. Line a large colander with a layer of cheesecloth and place in the sink or over a bowl if you want to save the whey. Wet the cheesecloth to hold it firmly in place.

2. Over medium-high heat, bring the milk and salt to a gentle simmer in a heavy large pot. Stir in the lemon juice and continue to simmer gently until curds begin to form and float to the top, 1 to 2 minutes. They will first look like spatters of white, then gather into soft, cloud-like clumps. When you see the liquid begin to clear of cloudiness and the curds are firming up but not hard, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or sieve.
3. Let the curds drain thoroughly in the lined colander. If very soft, press gently to extract a little moisture, but take care not to dry out the cheese. Turn into a bowl, cover and chill.

Refrigerated cheeses keep for a week, but the ricotta is at its best eaten fresh.

 

Milk-Braised Pork

From Wood-Fired Cooking, Mary Karlin

Ingredients

  • 1 (3-4 pound) boneless pork shoulder, some fat trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, coursely chopped
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs rosemary or savory
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk (or whey)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Directions

Season the pork with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy casserole over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer.  Add the pork and sear all over until well browned.  Transfer the pork to a plate and set aside.  Remove all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the pot.  Return the pot to medium heat and add the onions, juniper berries, bay leaves, and rosemary and cook until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to cook until the garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes.  Return the pork to the pot and pour in the milk.  Cover and place in the oven (350 F) to braise for 2 hours, turning the pork 2 or 3 times during the course of cooking.

Uncover the pork after 2 hours and cook for 30 minutes, or until the meat is fork-tender.  Transfer the roast to a plate and tent with aluminum foil.

Remove the bay leaves, rosemary, and juniper berries from the milky sauce.  Skim any excess fat from the top.  The milk may have curdled in the cooking process.  Using an immersion blender, process the sauce until smooth.  Add the nutmeg and walnuts.  Return to the oven to heat through.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Slice the meat and serve with the sauce spooned over the top.

Czech Beer-Cheese Bread

Our friends from Prague have been visiting this week.  At our final potluck gathering last night they treated us to a typical Czech pub snack called beer-cheese.

Beer-cheese is a variety of extremely pungent cheese and it is also the name of a dish that is the result of mixing and smashing the cheese with chopped onions, paprika, mustard, and a little actual beer to create a dish that is called beer-cheese.  Here is a short video showing the technique.

Actually, it’s NOT as bad as it looks, or smells.  I tried it spread on a Tunisian baguette and it was tasty.  It was so tasty that the flavor lingered in my mouth through the next five marinated olives I ate.  It really has staying power.

As we were saying goodnight and goodbye, they gave us our own packet of beer-cheese (Pivni syr) to enjoy at home.  It was already factory sealed in plastic, but because its odorous qualities were escaping the seal,  I immediately double-wrapped it when I got home and put it in the fridge.

The next morning…

When I opened the fridge this morning to get milk for my coffee, my first thought was, good Lord, a mouse has died and decomposed behind (or in) the fridge.   Then I remembered my friend talking about packing this cheese (smaller than a stick of butter) in baking soda and multiple bags to transport it to Tunis and I truly understood what she had been working with.

Using this cheese, today(!) came to the immediate top of my priority list.  Leaving it in our fridge to bring out as a novelty at our next social gathering was not an option.  I felt I needed to use it in combination with tempering ingredients that could hopefully soften and diffuse the pungency.  A cheese bread came to mind.  Dispersing the cheese throughout the mellow flavors of whole wheat flour, browned leeks, and toasted walnuts with a bite of paprika on top seemed like a good way to bring out its best qualities.

Cheese, Leek and Walnut Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 4 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 medium leek
  • 6 ounces walnuts
  • Paprika, 1 tablespoon
  • 12 ounces cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola…) or ½ that much Pivni syr

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire whip, combine the yeast, water, 1 tablespoon of the oil and molasses. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Combine the flours and salt together.

Change the mixer attachment to a dough hook. Add the flours and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and climbs up the dough hook.

While dough is rising, toss walnut halves in 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Turn out onto a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree F.  oven for approximately 10 minutes.  When slightly brown, remove from the oven, turn out onto a cutting board and roughly chop.  Reserve.

Chop leek.  Saute in 2 teaspoons olive oil until lightly brown.  Reserve.

Grease a larger mixing bowl with the remaining teaspoon of oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning once. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free area. Allow the dough to rest until double in size, about 2 hours.

Divide the dough in half. Set one half aside. Roll or pat the dough out into a rough rectangle or circle. Sprinkle half of the nuts and 4 ounces of the cheese over the dough.  Work filling with fingers to thoroughly mix cheese into the leeks and walnuts.   Fold the sides in toward the center and knead the dough several times, working in all ingredients. Repeat with the remaining dough, walnuts, leeks and cheese. Form the balls of  dough into two small rectangles.

Grease 2 rectangular bread pans with the remaining oil. Place the dough in the prepared pans; press the dough to form to the pan. Sprinkle the top with more cheese, if desired.   Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise again until double in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place the pans in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and continue to bake for 20-30 minutes more or until brown. Remove from the heat and cool on a wire rack.

Allow the bread to cool before slicing.

Between the Pear and Cheese

I love putting French phrases into Google translator to see what I get.  The super literal translation, messing around with the syntax, sometimes puts words in a slightly more poignant order and makes me take them more poetically.  Take for instance this French starter recipe I found this week.  Obviously, it is a lovely stack of pear/cheese/pear etc, but isn’t that title just begging for an ellipses?  Are you already filling in the blank for what comes between the pear and the cheese?  Literally?  Metaphorically?

I’ve been playing around with a magazine this week that is the French equivalence of Bon Appetit.  It is called a table.  I’ve learned so much translating recipes, making predictions about what I think is called for and then sometimes getting surprised.  For example, many recipes call for 1 c. a café de ________ or 1 c. a soupe ____________.  Even though it didn’t exactly make sense for the recipe I was fairly assured that I was going to be using a coffee infusion and some other sort of liquid solution.  It turns out that the first one is a teaspoon and the second is a tablespoon.  That’s all.  Now, isn’t that surprising and nonintuitive?
            This recipe says almost everything with the photo.  It is simply a strata of pear and cheese that has been sprinkled with lemon juice and dusted with a cracked pepper mixture.  It comes together more deliciously than the short list of ingredients suggests.  If you want to make it more substantial, place it on a bed of greens that have been tossed with olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper.  For the full winter detox meal, follow the salad with a bowl of my favorite lentil soup. 
6 small pears
200 grams of any delicious cheese
½ lemon, juiced
Mixed peppercorns, cracked
1.     Peel pears, leaving stem. Core them from below.  Sprinkle all sides of pears with a few drops of lemon juice.  Cut into 4 pieces each (see photo).  If bottom doesn’t sit flat, trim it straight across.
2.     Thinly slice the cheese, preparing about 5 slices per serving.  Encourage some rough edges.
3.     Arrange on a plate.
4.     Sprinkle with cracked pepper.
6 s