Roasted, Smashed, Dolloped, Devoured

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There is nothing new or unusual about mashed squash or about mashed vegetables on toast. (What’s new is that the toast is now frequently called crostini, but that’s not exactly revolutionary.) Still, there is such a broad range of foods that can be served on toasted bread that it’s not surprising some of these will come as revelations.

 

This squash-and-toast combination is served by Dan Kluger, the executive chef at ABC Kitchen. Something about it drives me wild: the squash is creamy but chunky, rather than puréed. There is a lot of complex sweetness, but acidity as well, and it’s lean as well as fatty. (It doesn’t take a detective to see the layer of ricotta underneath the squash.)

Put it on a nicely toasted piece of bread and you have a real winner. But it also occurred to me that the mashed squash alone would make a terrific Thanksgiving side dish.

So I asked Dan’s boss, my friend Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to show me how to put it together.

I would not have figured the dish out myself, which made this a rewarding experience. Jean-Georges peeled the squash: almost any winter squash will yield to a sharp knife and some patience, though as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thin-skinned varieties like delicata are easier to peel or can be left unpeeled entirely. He cut the squash in half, took out the seeds and sliced it into not-quite-random pieces, mostly about 1/4-inch thick. These he roasted with oil until they were tender enough to mash; by that time, a few had blackish, caramelized ends.

To cut to the chase: next, he confited onion slices with both maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Veteran cooks will immediately get the idea: Cook the onions awhile, until they’re dark and soft, then add the two liquids and continue to cook until they’re jammy. The process could take as long as an hour, depending on the heat, your attentiveness and the water content of the onions. But it isn’t difficult.

At that point, the two preparations are simply mashed together. If you serve them in a bowl at Thanksgiving, you will be serving something on a, er, higher level than mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Otherwise, lightly toast some good bread in olive oil, spread it with a light, fresh cheese and top with the squash. Do not forget the mint; it’s not the same without it.

Watch the video here, and get the recipe here.

Posted in American, Recipes

Fear of Frying

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Unless you’re a routine visitor to KFC, fried chicken is probably not in your weekly diet. Which is fine: it is, after all, a treat. But even though you can get fried chicken that’s way better than the fast-food variety all over the place, it remains a specialty of home cooking, and one that anyone can handle. To me, the best has a simple, flavored coating of flour or the like, rather than thick, ultracrusty preparations or spongy batters.

After trying a number of contemporary and often needlessly complicated fried-chicken recipes, I decided to refine my own standard, which was first published 14 years ago in “How to Cook Everything” and itself was an adaptation of a recipe that initially appeared as Paula Peck’s Best-Ever Fried Chicken in her 1961 classic, “Paula Peck’s Art of Good Cooking.” That was among my favorites when I was learning how to cook, as varied and sensible a cookbook as existed at the time. (Her other book, “The Art of Fine Baking,” is equally brilliant and provides perfect instructions for making croissants.)

While I never met Peck, and although her cookbooks are out of print (her granddaughter Megan is doing her part to reacquaint new cooks with Paula’s work at meganpeckcooks.com), her cooking remains with me. Her treatment of chicken is a fine example; she was among the first cookbook authors to suggest that chicken breasts substitute for veal (hard to believe, now that it’s the other way around), and she was also a fan of chicken legs.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, Recipes

A Different Shade of Risotto

As more varieties and better qualities of brown rice become increasingly common, it’s growing clear that you can do pretty much anything you want with this less processed version of the world’s second-most-popular grain. (You guessed it: corn is numero uno.)

This includes making risotto. Real, creamy, tender risotto. There is really only one adjustment to make, and that is to parboil the rice so that the risotto-making process takes about the same amount of time — 20 minutes or so — that it does with white rice.

As you normally would, choose short- or medium-grain brown rice, which is crucially important because these are the varieties that emit enough starch to make the final product creamy. One could argue, and some will, that you should begin with Italian varieties like Arborio. But good Spanish, Japanese and, yes, American short- and medium-grain rices give equally good results.

Read the rest of this article here, and get the recipe here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

Bell Peppers, 16 Ways

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The sweetness of bell peppers — they’re never hot, unlike nearly all of their relatives — is especially pronounced in summer, which is also when you’re most likely to wind up with one that was grown domestically. Even a green pepper — which is unripe — is sweeter when the weather is hot.

A good red pepper is the sweetest and most flavorful of the lot — yellow and orange are simply other varieties — but there’s no denying that a multicolored tangle of peppers is a beautiful thing, and that even the relative bitterness of green peppers adds complexity to the mix. In any case, you can use any color pepper you like in any of these recipes.

Unless noted, use a pound of peppers in all of them. That’s roughly equivalent to two whole large peppers, three cups sliced or 2 1/2 cups chopped. Core and seed everything. My favorite method is just to cut around the core, standing the pepper up and slicing it like an apple from the outside.

One of the most basic and wonderful preparations for bell peppers is roasting; a roasted red pepper with olive oil, capers or anchovies (or all three) remains one of the great, simple joys of this territory. Put whole peppers on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast in a 450-degree oven, or broil, turning the peppers as each side browns, until they have darkened, even blackened, and collapsed. (A hot grill is even better.) Gather the corners of the foil and wrap up the peppers; cool until you can handle them, about 15 minutes, then remove the blackened skin and seeds. (Do this under running water to make it easier; you probably won’t get all the skin off, and that’s O.K.)

The recipes are thorough, but far from exhaustive. Peppers combine beautifully with eggs, with vinegar and with eggplant and probably a dozen other ingredients I didn’t have the space to get to.

 

Posted in Produce, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Corn Chowder with Cheddar

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By Meghan Gourley

Ubiquitous as it is, it’s easy to forget the subtle side of corn. Chowder—here with cheddar and scallions—reminds us that summer’s favorite crop is versatile. The key to this chowder is finding the freshest summer corn you can, and shaving it off the cob like a pro: spare nothing. Get as close to the cob with the blade of your knife as you can. Work slowly and carefully, and don’t waste anything—the meatiness of the kernels is what makes this soup so hearty. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in American, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Peppers

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By Alaina Sullivan

Aside from color, a roasted bell pepper bears little resemblance to its raw counterpart.  After a stint in the oven, the skin becomes charred and wrinkly, sagging around the flesh it once held so tautly. The molten inside easily sheds its blistered skin – emerging incomparably more succulent and sweet than the raw version. The transformation is magical and delicious, and can easily be achieved in the oven, under the broiler, or over an open flame. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

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By Alaina Sullivan

In the time that it takes to wait for take-out, you could already be sinking your chopsticks into this savory stir-fry. Nothing more than pork and greens dressed in a garlicky soy-lime sauce, it is not only weeknight-dinner easy, but also a foundation for any number of variations (each more delicious and more fun than any take-out version). I used red chard here, but any green is fair game (bok choy, spinach, mustard greens, kale and collards are other great options).

The trademark flavors of lime juice and soy sauce create a bright, umami-rich sauce. If you want to give it extra kick, toss in a bit of lime zest and some crushed red pepper flakes. I also added a drizzle of toasted sesame oil (and sesame seeds too) for some nuttiness and extra crunch. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Chinese, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Rice Pudding in the Oven

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By Alaina Sullivan

Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded. The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple — rice, milk and sugar. From there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow’s milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).

The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Baking, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Chicken Cutlets

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By Alaina Sullivan

Baked chicken wrapped in breadcrumbs immediately conjures up memories of the dry, bland versions I used to endure as a kid. (The kind where a vat of dipping mustard was essential and you needed a glass of milk to wash down each chalky bite.) This recipe is anything but dry or bland. Part of it is because the breadcrumbs are limited to a topping – they maintain a strong textural presence without sealing the chicken in a dusty coat. Using thinner cutlets instead of full breasts ensures that the ratio of crust to meat is just right. The other part of the equation is using fresh breadcrumbs – homemade crumbs from a decent loaf of bread will take your dredge to a whole new level. Add some fresh parsley and grated Parmesan to the mix and you’ve got yourself an easy and flavorful crust that makes the store-bought version all-but useless. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Continue reading

Posted in Recipes

How to Cook Pizza Better Than a Restaurant

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I’M here — back in the Dining section with a new column — to insist once again that not only can you cook it at home, but you can likely cook it better.

“It,” in this case, is pizza, and the impetus for today’s installment was a visit to a highly acclaimed pizza joint in Manhattan, where I was served (for $15, or about four times the cost of the ingredients in a supermarket) a perfectly ordinary, overly poofy, drearily sauced pizza. Granted, the mozzarella was first rate. Big deal.

Read the rest of this column, watch the video, and get the recipes here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes