Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Swiss Chard Flan

My father said, "that does not sound good."

That was after I mentioned that I would be making Swiss Chard Flan for dinner. To him the idea of swiss chard and flan in the same meal was completely unappetizing.

Being the horribly indecisive person that I can be, his comments through me for a loop. My whole plan for dinner was flying out the window.

Should I switch to couscous? Not pasta again. It's Meatfree Monday! What do I cook?

After a few hours of that nonsense, I came back to my original plan -- Swiss Chard Flan from Canal House Cooking Volume 1. I promise I am going to stop with all of this Canal House Cooking Volume 1 business.

Easy for me to say, because I just purchased the next three volumes! I am a very proud owner. Please go to the Canal House website, buy their books, and become a subscriber. As I've mentioned before, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton are capturing the spirit of food, good cooking, and swell living in exactly the manner that I would like to. Their style is simple and seasonal. Their photography is gorgeous.

Go see!

The Canal House women are using the term flan loosely. My efforts did not produce a creamy custard. This particular flan is more closely related to a frittata. Certainly, there are fewer eggs and more cream here, but in no way are you getting a crème caramel with greens in it.

The shopping list is short -- olive oil, onions, garlic, swiss chard, half-and-half, heavy cream, eggs, and parmigiano-reggiano. You probably have most of that in your kitchen already. The preparation is quick. The cooking time is about an hour.

Just start early, because the idea is to eat the flan at room temperature. Needless to stay, starting to prepare this dish at 8:15 at night will likely mean you are eating your flan, hot. This is not necessarily the end of the world. It was quite tasty hot, but eating it at room temperature for lunch today was better.

You chop. You sauté. You wait.

The recipe suggests you use two bunches of chard. Oh, how I hate that kind of instruction. The size of a bunch of chard is so variable. I used one and a half bunches. It was about six cups of chopped leaves. This seemed like plenty of chard. Perhaps the dish would have been more custardy with less. I was satisfied with the egg to vegetable ratio.

One other note on the chard. Give it a spin after washing it. Just as with the Spinach Cake, you do not want a watery final product. Without spinning the greens, you will likely have a flan that is leaking puddles of liquid.

After all the sautéing, you pour the egg and cream mixture over the vegetables. The recipe gives you the option to cook the dish entirely in the oven or on the stove for twenty minutes with a quick finish under the broiler. I opted for the latter.

The parmigiano-reggiano sprinkled over the flan will turn a deeper golden brown under the broiler. I used a modest amount of the cheese -- just enough to lightly finish the dish. You don't need much. There is already a cup of half-and-half and a half cup of heavy cream here.

No need to further overdo it.

That being said, this dish does not seem at all heavy. It has quite a lot of chard in it. So while you may feel a little guilty about the cream, you do feel quite virtuous about all the greens you are eating. The chard has a wonderful sweet flavor that is nicely complemented by the salty cheese.

We ate the swiss chard flan with a bit of warm bread and a crisp green salad, dressed with olive oil, lemon, garlic and anchovy. Not bad for a Monday. Also most appreciated by myself and Fe, this Tuesday.

Swiss Chard Flan

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bunches young chard, stems and leaves chopped separately
3 eggs
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Grated parmigiano-reggiano

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about five minutes, until tender. Add the chard stems and cook covered for 10 minutes. Add the leaves and cook covered until wilted, about 10 minutes

Beat the eggs, half-and-half, and cream in a bowl. When the chard has wilted, season it with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the chard. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the custard has just set, approximately 20 minutes. It may still be a bit jiggly in the center.

Preheat the broiler. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, and brown the flan under the broiler. If the handle of your skillet is not ovenproof, leave the door ajar. Serve the flan from the pan or from a platter. Serve at room temperature.

Or cook the flan in a pre-heated 375 degree oven the whole time. It will take about 45 minutes.

Serves 4-6

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mangiare In Famiglia

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, while clutching my somewhat distended belly, I wondered -- who the hell do I think I am? Who in their right mind eats five courses of pork in one sitting?

No one with an ounce of sense would do something so gluttonous and potentially dangerous!

Unless you're a true foodie, a fan of eating nose to tail, or a devout member of the cult of Nancy Silverton.




If you've checked all three, pick up the phone and call 323-297-1133 to reach Mozza2Go and the Scuola Di Pizza. You'll want to reserve a spot on a Friday or Saturday night or Sunday at lunchtime for Mangiare In Famiglia.

This festive family-style dining experience is one of the most exciting meals I've had in Los Angeles in a long time. Silverton takes the notion of nose to tail cooking and spins it, asking her diners to eat it all in one sitting.

Fridays are a Feast of Five Feathers, featuring duck, quail, pheasant, guinea hen, and chicken. If you've been reading along, you know that was not in the cards for me, because A. won't touch our feathered friends -- none of them.

Good news! Saturdays are Pork, and they feature some of the very best pigs around, Heritage USA Berkshire pigs. We partook heartily.

But not to worry, if you don't roll with the swine. Sunday lunch features beef in the style of Tuscany. From what the marvelous chef and charcuterie master, Chad Colby told me, diners on Sunday would be lunching on tartar, bone marrow, braised oxtails, short ribs, and four-pound porterhouses.

I saw the meat myself, and folks, it looked like the most exquisite heart attack waiting to happen.

We ate the pig. Happily.

The whole affair takes place in the Scuola di Pizza that is tucked in between Mozza2Go and Osteria Mozza. The room is large and the ceilings high. There is a large rectangular table running the length of the room that cozily fits twenty-two. Behind that the open kitchen runs the length of the back of the room.

Oh, to cook in a space like that! The impossibly high BTUs stove top! The grill! The gorgeous marble counter tops! And most of all the wood burning pizza oven!

The festivities began at 7:30 with a hearty welcome from the affable Mozza staff, a glass of Prosecco, and the suggestion to mingle with the other guests.

Make yourself comfortable. Take any seat you like.

A wedge of absolutely unreal onion focaccia followed directly. Being offered food and drink immediately upon arrival is the mark of a good host or hostess. Clearly, Nancy Silverton knows how to entertain.

I must dwell on the focaccia for just another moment. The crisp crack of the crust followed by its glorious chewiness was brilliant. The sweet onions and slight olive oiliness leave you embarrassingly grasping for words like heavenly and perfection.

Damn you, Silverton!

The anticipation was overwhelming. We all knew we were in for something remarkably unique. Nancy Silverton and Chad Colby, the man splendidly running the show while Silverton saw to Osteria Mozza, spoke with us enthusiastically about what was in store.

No one could have guessed at the generosity of the first course.

The Salumi e Paté Nostrano course was outrageous -- easily a whole meal of charcuterie in itself. Included were such gems as salame and Parmigiano-Reggiano, slightly funky (in a great way!) liver paté wrapped in caul fat with spicy mustard, ham with horseradish, and a beautiful vegetal head cheese. All perfect with the grilled bread served alongside.

But these crazy people didn't stop there. We were offered boards of coppa, bowls of pickled green and yellow beans and shallots, and marinated summer squash with garlic, all to be passed around.

The ciccioli was what Colby referred to as pork butter. Ridiculous! All the softness of butter and fat were present, but with the flavor of pure pig. It is very similar to the French rillettes, just a whole lot smoother.

And were those fried pieces of bread?!? A lesson in decadence.

The thing is though, that you absolutely do not want more than a little bit of any of this. A modest taste of each is all we had, but I swear we were already filling up.

With four more courses of pork to go!

The Mozza folks are skilled at pacing, giving us just the right amount of time to recover without letting us get anxious about when the next installment would arrive.

The second course was Salsiccia Fresca. The fresh sausage was served with grilled broccolini. Very smart to serve the plump, fatty sausages with the contrasting charred and slightly bitter broccolini. Not only did the broccolini provided a bit of relief, it knocked our socks off. Our entire end of the table was a-buzz about recreating it at home.

That is not to say that the sausages were anything but delicious. Their juiciness burst in your mouth, making you so sorry that you couldn't eat more.

The smart folks held back.

There were actually two sausages offered -- the regular and then my favorite -- the sausage with liver. One bite of the livery sausage sent me right back to my childhood. It must have been a memory of eating liverwurst. Fantastic!

Up next, something light -- Soffiata Di Parmigiano-Reggiano with Ragù di maiale.

Ahem, maybe not so much. That's Parmigiano-Reggiano soufflé with pork ragu, to you!

This course was sublime. Soft, warm, luscious. Everything you'd want to warm you on a chilly autumn evening, but yet absolutely desirable in the middle of summer.

It took an assembly line of men to plate this course. Slicing into these lofty soufflés required absolute focus. A light hand with the ladle was necessary for the saucing. And a quick flick of the wrist scattered the Parmigiano-Reggiano over all.

The course that followed was the epitome of how I like to eat. The Arrostito Spalla Di Maiale was an absurdly beautiful roast shoulder of pork served with a chicory salad. Rich roast meat with a bracing salad is the stuff of deep longing.

Oh, pork shoulder! I adore you!

The shoulder is a fatty cut of meat that yields the most succulent results. This was no exception -- salty, unctuous and divine.

Just look at that roast!

The bite of the emerald salsa verde was an exceptional counterpoint to the sweet pork. I liked that this particular salsa verde was very heavy on the parsley. The flavor provided a clean green lift to the swine.

Our final pork course was Costelleto Di Maiale with cippolini al forno. As you might expect, this was not your run of the mill pork chop with roasted onions. Not by a long shot.

Please notice the girth of these chops.

They sat perched upon their porcine post gloating at us throughout the meal, waiting for the finishing fire before joining the sticky sweet alliums on our plate -- the pig's final hurrah!

Chef Colby was kind enough to let us know that of the entire pig his favorite bit was the fat near the bone on these chops. That announcement sparked a spontaneous group gnaw on the bones-o.

A nibble then pass to the right!

No doubt about it. This is family dining!

The chops were liberally dusted with fennel pollen. I bought a tin of this powdered gold, when I first purchased Silverton's A Twist of the Wrist. The pollen has an earthy flavor that comes close to capturing the essence of wild fennel. Perfect with the moist meat.

Exhausted and full as never before, I didn't think I would have the stomach to try the Gelati E Sorbetti, let alone the coconut almond biscotti. But a funny thing happens when you've been gorging on such culinary mastery.

You can't help yourself.

You dive head first into the vat of plum, greek yogurt, and fruit of the woods gelato and sorbet. And the plum! Oh, my. It smacks you in the face with a plum flavor that is almost more pure than biting into the most luscious Santa Rosa.

I have no idea how they did that.

This epic experience costs $75 a person without wine. There are five wines to choose from running from $48 - $85. Or you may select one of three beers on the menu, all priced at $7.

You will likely have spent a fair amount of money once you're through at the Scuola, but in the end this feels like the best deal in town. And although it took us until Monday to fully recover, I cannot recommend Mangiare In Famiglia enough.

Mozza2Go/Scuola Di Pizza
6610 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eggplant, Tomato, and Onion Gratin

I have a funny relationship with eggplants.

I love their gorgeous purple sheen. I think they can taste rather delicious. Weirdly, in college, I used to run off at the mouth about how they have no nutritional value (Remember that, Dad?!). Wherever did I get that idea?

The problem is that more often than not, when I buy an eggplant (heck! even when I grow an eggplant), it sits around on the counter or in the refrigerator for an awfully long time -- not the best way to treat the lovely vegetable.

I'm at a loss as to what to do with them. Yes, I love baba ganoush and grilled eggplant and it's true that ratatouille can be really quite satisfying.

I suppose that I just lack real inspiration in the eggplant department.

So I turn to friends like Alice Waters for help. In the vegetable arena, Waters has yet to let me down. I've mentioned her fantastic work, Chez Panisse Vegetables, previously.

I'd almost certainly be lost without her. Chez Panisse Vegetables is organized alphabetically by vegetable, making it exceedingly reader-friendly. And during this season of abundance, when we are bringing home vegetables by the truck-load, it is very comforting to have Waters by our side.

So with an eggplant waiting impatiently in the crisper, I optimistically turned to E. And right there I found the perfect dish to take advantage of my lonely eggplant and bounty of tomatoes from the garden -- Eggplant, Tomato and Onion Gratin.

To my mind, Waters is using the term gratin very loosely. There are no bread crumbs or cheese in sight. Perhaps the cookware you use, alone, is enough to support the name.

In any event, the dish is quite delicious in a pure and honest way. There are few other ingredients beyond the tomato, eggplant, and onions. No intense sauces or oily cheeses are masking the flavors of the vegetables here.

Because this gratin is so simple and the flavor is entirely dependent on the quality of the ingredients, choose your produce wisely! Utterly ripe tomatoes and firm glossy eggplants are imperative.

The recipe calls for Japanese eggplants, but I'll confess to using a regular old globe eggplant from the farmer's market and a bit of a beautiful white eggplant from the C.S.A. These proved more than adequate. I plucked the reddest, heftiest tomatoes right off the vine and a few bushy sprigs of thyme out of the flowerpot just before preparing dinner.

This is summertime cooking!

Waters suggests serving this with grilled or roasted lamb. As terrific, was pairing it with couscous with toasted almonds, raisins and green onions and superb merguez sausage from McCall's Meat and Fish Company in Los Feliz.

What was left, perfectly fed little Fe's ever expanding palate. It also satisfied us mightily the next evening served over penne with grated parmesan and chopped basil strewn about. It proved an excellent vegetarian supper.

Eggplant, Tomato, and Onion Gratin

3 large, sweet white onions
3 cloves garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
3 medium Japanese eggplants
3 ripe tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the onions and garlic and give them a fine chop. Cook them, along with the thyme leaves, the bay leaf, and salt and pepper in the butter and half the olive oil in a medium sized pot over a medium flame, covered for about 5 minutes, until soft.

Cut the eggplants into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut the tomatoes into slightly thicker slices.

Butter a gratin dish.

Pluck the bay leaf out of the onion mixture, and cover the bottom of the gratin dish with the onions. Cover them with rows of overlapping and alternating tomato and eggplant rounds. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil, cover with foil and cook in the oven until the eggplant is soft, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 15 minutes or sooner if the tomatoes are giving up too much liquid. Spoon the juices over the top from time to time during the cooking, so the top does not dry out.

The gratin should be moist but not at all watery.

Serves 6

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Steamed Mussels

Like many folks, I spent my junior year in college abroad. The obvious choice for me was France, considering my French Canadian background and the fact that I'd been studying French since seventh grade.

I arrived in Bordeaux without a clue about living on my own, cooking for myself, or what it would be like to be so far from my family.

They were back home in Los Angeles. And although I had spent my first two years in college in Santa Cruz, three-hundred and fifty miles is nothing compared to the vast stretch of the United States and the Atlantic Ocean that now separated us.

It was heartbreakingly hard.

My homesickness was overwhelming throughout the fall. Christmas was the turning point for me, and it had everything to do with food.

My utterly crazy boyfriend from Santa Cruz was visiting. It was my first Christmas away from my family. The way I coped with the separation was to cook up a Christmas like I would have at home for the two of us -- luscious rare beef and ultra-rich Yorkshire pudding.

I'll share those recipes when it is seasonally more appropriate!

This is all to say that cooking is what turned my whole year around. It opened up everything. I had cooked side by side with my mother, but having lived in the dormatories the first two years away from home, I had very little experience cooking for myself.

I ventured into my new cooking life with only a paperback edition of the Joy of Cooking and a lot of enthusiasm.

I remember attempting soup for the first time and ending up with a flavorless puddle after three hours. I had so much to learn.

I was adventurous. Chicken Kiev, anyone? It's warm! Let's have gazpacho!

Eating in Bordeaux was wonderous. Walking to the corner boulangerie for a buttery pain au chocolat that would leave tiny flakes on your lips was the stuff of great romance.

Riding on the back of the baker's motorcycle out to the coast for oysters and wine made from grapes grown just around the bend was rather romantic too.

One of my housemates in Bordeaux was a Frenchman named Patrick. He introduced me to rillettes from his home-town, LeMans. The only place to get proper rillettes! Or so says Patrick. My love for the fatty, earthy pork is as strong today as it was after my first dip into the little crock that he had brought home for us.

He also taught me how to make mussels. Steamed mussels as good as at any French bistro in this country or his. The simplicity of it is impressive -- a little garlic and some shallots, white wine, parsely and mussels. And ten minutes. Just ten.

What puzzles me is why it has taken me until just a couple weeks ago to recreate these mussels in this country. I'd see the shiny black mollusks at the fish market and feel, get this -- intimidated!


I'd absolutely forgotten the ease of their preparation. I can't let any more time pass without sharing this recipe with you, in case you, dear readers, have been suffering from the same sort of mental confusion.

I eat moules frîtes in restaurants frequently, and those preparations have nothing on these. My sister ordered the very dish at Bouchon just a few weeks ago and these were on par with those without a doubt.

I don't make frîtes at home, and if I am going to be honest right now I am a little bit sick of them. My preference is to serve them with a crusty, chewy loaf of bread, a green salad and an exceedingly dry Riesling.

The evening I made these steamed mussels, I was feeling particularly extravagant and actually served them with chanterelle toasts -- decadent and sublime.

I was so tickled by the success of the mussels that I gave them another go a couple of nights ago. To keep my parents and sister happy, I substituted clams for half of the mussels. The preparation is exactly the same and the results just as pleasing.

In Los Angeles, you can pick up mussels at most markets, but I found the mussels from the Hollywood Farmer's Market to be especially nice, as were those at McCall's in Los Feliz.

The mussels will need cleaning. Be sure to give them a good scrub and to de-beard them. De-bearding just means to yank the fibrous strands out of the mussels -- very easy, I swear.

You may be surprised by how much garlicky sea broth you get using only half a cup of white wine. The mussels release a lot of liquid, which you will be very happy about -- the more briny liquor the better! That's what the bread is for!

I've also been know to slurp it right out of the bowl.

Steamed Mussels with Garlic and Shallots

5 pounds black mussels (figure about a pound per person)
4 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
A handful or two of chopped parsley

Clean the mussels.

Melt the butter in a good sized heavy pot. Sauté the shallots and garlic over medium high heat until soft, about five minutes. Add the mussels and white wine. Turn heat up to high and cover. Cook for ten minutes, shaking the pot every few minutes. Check the mussels. They should be open. If not, give them a couple more minutes. At this point they really should all be open. Discard the few that may not be. Scatter parsley all over and serve in deep soup plates with plenty of broth.

Serves 4 to 5