Greens, Pumpkin and Rice Torta

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If I had to pick all time favorite vegetarian meals they would have to be Mediterranean. They probably focus on lots of greens and wrapped in thin flatbread or dough (proper Falafel is probably on the top of that list). This Italian gem of a recipe from Paula Wolfert is one of those recipes and I’m happy to write about it at this time since it seems very autumnal.

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Ligurian cuisine is famous for the emphasis on herbs and greens. That’s where the beloved basil-pine nut pesto comes from, herb studded olive oil soaked Focaccia and all manner of simple pasta and seafood dishes. So, it is not surprising that Wolfert’s Ligurian recipe relies on large amount of greens sauteed in generous doses of olive oil and filled in a pastry enriched with more olive oil.

I prepared the dough first by mixing flour, water, olive oil and salt. The dough is very nice and pliable. It smells great due to the fruity extra virgin olive oil in it. That gets divided into two equal portions and can sit in the fridge wrapped in plastic for up to a couple days. It could seep some oil in that time but that is ok.

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Spinach and swiss chard made up the greens portion of the filling. The most important step is to make sure these are very very well washed. There is nothing more irksome than grit in an otherwise delightful dish (same goes for removing the poop “vein” from shrimp…I hate it when lazy cooks leave it in and we get nasty grit!) Anyways, back to the filling. I shredded a few handfuls of a small pumpkin using the coarse side of the grater and tossed these in some salt for a bit. The same salting treatment was used for the coarsely chopped greens. The salt draws out some of the water and helps reduce the astringency of the raw greens.

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After rinsing and draining the greens I sauteed them with onions and olive oil until wilted but still retained their firmness. I tossed in the shredded pumpkin and cooked that for a few minutes too. Once the mixture is cooled, I added a bit of short-grain rice that was soaked in water for 30 minutes, Parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella and a couple of eggs. I rolled the dough into large 14-inch rounds and topped one with the filling before covering it with the second round. I debated building the whole thing on a pizza peel and sliding it on my baking steel directly. I decided against that and went with building and baking the torta on a round metal baking pan. Next time I might give baking it directly on the baking steel a shot and see what happens (hopefully no burnt dough or a huge mess). My favorite way to enjoy this pie is at room temperature, sliced into wedges and eaten by hand. It is delicious, satisfying and keeps well. It makes lovely meals for days if you do not polish it off the first night.

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Gingerbread, Pumpkin and Walnut-Pear-Bourbon Ice Cream

Just like the venison dish I posted about earlier, this dessert happened because of Diana. More specifically, it was because of her dislike of gingerbread cookies. Earlier in December I had made some gingerbread cookie dough in hopes of making gingerbread men with my son, however Diana was sure that he will not like those spicy cookies and that I should’ve made sugar cookies instead. So, into the freezer the dough went. I certainly did not want to throw it out but I figured that most of it will go to waste if I simply bake gingerbread cookies. Diana did say that she would not mind a dessert that would use gingerbread cookies. Pumpkin pie or tart was the first idea that came to mind using the dough for the crust. That was the theme, with a few more “twists”, that brought this dessert together and this is a dessert I am very proud of, it was delicious and looked stunning.

My original plan for plating this, and the one I actually sketched, involved making “cannoli” shells from the gingerbread dough and filling that with the pumpkin mousse. I did doubt that this would work though, considering the high percentage of butter in the dough, and I was right. They simply fell apart when fried and got bent out of shape when baked. So, I just cut the thin dough into squares, baked them and broke some of them in half to get smaller rectangles.

For the ice cream, I cooked pears sous vide with butter, vanilla seeds and a little sugar. That, by the way, made the most amazing poached pear slices. I had to keep myself from eating them all. I pureed the pears with ice cream base made from Β walnut flavored cream/milk (toast walnuts, and steep them in the dairy mixture for 24 hours, then strain them out), eggs, sugar and bourbon. This is also another recipe I was very happy with and will make again. All the flavors worked great together and were distinct.

I candied a few butternut squash rings and reduced the now squash (plus clove and cinnamon) flavored candying liquid into a thick syrup to serve as a sauce for the finished dessert. The pumpkin mousse is basically pumpkin pie filling. So, I roasted a a small pumpkin (or that might’ve been a butternut squash as well) and pureed the flesh. Then I followed a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Kitchen to Yours” and made a pumpkin pie filling with eggs, cream, sugar and a little spice. I baked this in a brownie pan till set, then pureed it to a smooth mousse when it cooled.

For garnishes, I used more walnut. I caramelized roasted walnuts and salted them lightly and made dry walnut butter. To make the butter I followed a similar process to making my regular peanut butter. I processed roasted walnuts, a pinch of salt and sugar and a couple of table spoons walnut oil until I got a fairly smooth and spreadable walnut butter. To dry it up, I processed it with Tapioca Maltodextrin unitl it got dry and crumbly. At plating time, I broke it into irregular shapes, almost like rocks and sand, and scattered it around the plate.

Here is a slightly different plating I served the day after

VDP: Quinoa with Roasted Winter Squash

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I am not sure why it took me so long to try cooking Quinoa. I’ve had this bag of it sitting in my pantry for a couple of months now. I guess I was worried it would be tough to cook, or maybe Diana would not like it or I would not like it… Sure, I’ve had it once before, at El Bulli in Spain of all places, but it was such a small sample and I did not remember exactly how it tasted. Today was the day though.

I roasted some winter squash and glazed them with soy, ginger and maple syrup following a Cook’s Illustrated recipe and made quinoa to go with them. I used a basic recipe in Bittman’s vegetarian book. It could not have been simpler and cooks pretty fast. I sautΓ©ed the tiny grains in some olive oil with onions and added twice the amount of quinoa in water. Let it simmer, cover and cook. Very much like making rice.

The result was excellent and appreciated by everyone. The quinoa was fluffy and tender with a bit of texture. The taste was mild and very slightly vegetal. I will by using it instead of rice in many dishes in the future.

The squashes? Of course these were great. I love them in all their varieties, here I used an acorn squash and a couple of baby pumpkins.