Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tart Alsace with Caramelized Onion

There is a wonderful Alsatian Tart at Trader Joe's, one of the very few ready-made dishes I buy. Although it is called a tart it looks rather like a flat bread, but it is neither. It is not really a tart, because is not made on a short crust, and it is not a flat bread, because flat breads are usually made using a pizza type, yeast dough, which this tart is not. It is very flat, crispy, and aromatic thanks to a rich topping, which contrasts nicely with its ascetic base.

Because this tart is imported from France I am afraid that it may disappear from the shelves one day as many other good items did. And since it is my whole family's favorite tart I decided to try to make it at home in case it will be discontinued one day.

I started to look for the right recipe on the internet but unfortunately none of them was exactly the same as the one which is used for that particular tart. The list of ingredients on the box is really short. For the base they include just flour, oil, and water. I decided to give it a try and make the dough from those ingredients. After a couple of adjustments, and modifying their proportions, my tart base was ready. I finished with the topping and after just ten minutes of baking the whole kitchen was filled with a smell of onion and melted cheese. A perfect Tart Alsace with caramelized onion was ready for dinner.

Tart Alsace with Caramelized Onion
(Serves four)


For the crust:
2 cups all purpose flour,
3-4 tbsp olive oil,
1 cup water,
1 tsp salt.

For the topping:
2 medium onions peeled and sliced,
1/2 cup sour cream,
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese,
4 oz pancetta or bacon,
2 tbsp olive oil,
1 tbsp fresh thyme,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. To make the dough, place flour and salt in a bowl of a standing mixer with a hook attachment. Mix water with oil and add to the flour. Run engine and mix all the ingredients until a smooth ball of dough forms. It will take between 3-5 minutes. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic foil, and let it rest for 30 minutes.
2. To prepare the topping, heat the frying pan and fry chopped pancetta or bacon until it releases all the grease. Drain the bacon and set aside on the plate. Discard the grease.
3. On the same frying pan heat the oil and fry the onion until gold. Season with salt and pepper. Add fried bacon and mix with caramelized onion.

4. Grease a large baking sheet with oil.
5. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
6. Sprinkle a working surface with flour and roll up the dough as thinly as possible (to obtain a circle of about 12 inches in diameter). Using a rolling pin transfer the dough on the baking sheet.
7. Spread the sour cream on the top of the dough. Sprinkle with onion and fried bacon. Finish with Gruyère cheese, salt, pepper, and chopped thyme.
8. Pinch the end around the of the dough with fingers making a slightly thicker edge.

9. Put in the oven and bake 10-15 minutes until tart becomes gold.

Serve with green salad and beer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sponge Plum Cake--Almond Flavored

Plum cakes are among my favorite fall cake desserts. They remind me of my childhood and the cakes I was eating this time of the year in Poland. So I wanted to share a plum cake recipe, which requires Italian, or as we call them in Poland, Hungarian plums. Unfortunately, they have not yet showed up in our area food stores this season. So instead I had to make this cake with whichever plums were available and I could only imagine how much better it would taste with the proper Italian plums, which are perfect for cakes and preserves.

It is not a typical plum cake which I make most often, meaning obviously a tart, but I was curious to try this new recipe which seemed interesting from the combination of plums, almond sponge cake, and sugar crumbs on top.

The cake turned out almost perfect. "Almost" because plums were a bit too hard and not as mushy and moist as the Italian plums become when baked. Nevertheless, it was still a very nice fall dessert which I will make again when I get the true Italian plums.

Sponge Plum Cake
(For a 9 by 12-inch baking form)

2 lb of Italian plums, cut in half, stones removed,
2 sticks of butter, plus an extra tbsp. to grease the baking form,
1 and 1/3 cup sugar,
5 eggs,
1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour,
2 tsp baking powder,
1 and 1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour),
4 tbsp preferably almond liqueur as Amaretto, or any liqueur or rum,
1/2 cup sparkling water.

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. To make sugar crumbs, place one stick of butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup flour in a medium bowl and, working with fingers, make sugar crumbles. Put them in a refrigerator while preparing the rest of the cake.
3. Place one stick of butter and a cup of sugar in a bowl of a standing mixer and run the engine until the ingredients combine into smooth batter. Add one after one eggs while beating the batter in between.
4. Add liqueur and beat gain the batter.
5. Sift flour and baking powder into the batter. Mix again all the ingredients.
6. Finally pour in ground almonds and sparkling water. Mix the batter for the last time.
7. Grease the baking form with butter and sprinkle with flour, preferably Wondra. Spread the batter on the form and arrange plum halves (or quarters if plums are bigger) on top.

8. Sprinkle plums with sugar crumbs.

9. Put the cake in the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes until cake become brownish and sugar crumbs become slightly gold.
10. Let it cool and serve.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Linguine with Radicchio

Somehow I still did not get into the usual cooking mood, so my meals are really simple and often limited to salads, even for dinner. In such lazy and disorganized moments Italian cuisine and pasta come to the rescue. And they never disappoint me. So today I made radicchio pasta for dinner.

I love radicchio. Unlike some people, I do not mind its bitter taste and its texture, which is harder than in most other salads. I usually eat radicchio raw but I often read about meals that use cooked or grilled radicchio. However, my experiment with grilling it discouraged me for a while from experimenting. Grilled radicchio turned out dry and rather forgettable in taste.

But my Italian friend convinced me recently about giving a chance to cooked radicchio. She told me about all different dishes based on radicchio she prepares--pastas, lasagnas, pizzas, and warm salads, where radicchio is cooked and tastes really delicious.

Radicchio, in its basic version, is easily available almost everywhere those days. I usually keep a head or two in my refrigerator to enrich green salads. So when this pasta came to my mind as a dinner idea I already had the basic ingredient. It took no time to make this pasta dish. The sauce became creamy and slightly bitter from the radicchio, and fried pancetta rounded up the flavor.

Linguine with Radicchio
(Serves four)

1/2 box of dried linguine,
1 head of radicchio, sliced,
4 oz of pancetta or lean bacon,
1/2 medium onion, cut in half and sliced,
3 garlic cloves, minced,
1/2 cup table cream,
freshly shredded Parmesan cheese,
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper.

1. Cook pasta until al dente in salted water.
2. Heat a heavy duty pan and fry pancetta until it releases its grease. Remove as much of the grease as you can and add olive oil to the pan. Add onion and garlic and fry everything until onion becomes transparent.
3. Add radicchio to the pan and toss for about 2 minutes until radicchio become soft. Pour in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring sauce to bubbling and cook for another 2 minutes.

4. Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta and shred fresh Parmesan on top. Serve hot.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Italian Tart with Young Onions

After coming back home from vacation in Poland, where we indulged in wonderfully tasty specialties of Polish cuisine, my kids craved for pasta, pizza, and other Italian dishes, which we did not eat at all over there. So, for the past two weeks, I have been cooking and serving many pasta and gnocchi dishes. Yesterday, still in the Italian culinary mood, I tried a new recipe for tart with ricotta and young onion.

This tart could be a wonderful farewell to summer. It still has strong summer flavors, thanks to the tomatoes and asparagus, but young onions already remind of the upcoming fall. Asparagus can be replaced by baby zucchinis but sweet onions make a huge difference in the dish--very sweet and delicate they almost melt in the mouth and contrast nicely with the delicate sourness of the tomatoes.

The fresh ricotta filling is also lighter than a typical cream and cheese filling that is used in onion tarts. The crust can be made in a food processor, using a combination of all purpose and wheat flour, and spiced up with grated Pecorino, which gives it a rustic finish.

So, today, I propose for a lunch or dinner a slice of this ricotta tart with a glass of red wine.

Ricotta Tart with Young Onions


2/3 cup all purpose flour,
2/3 cup wheat flour,
8 tbsp unsalted butter,
4 tbsp iced water
2 tbsp grated Pecorino
1 tsp salt.

1 cup fresh Ricotta cheese,
3 eggs,
1/3 cup table cream,
one bunch (about 6-8 young onions),
one cup cherry tomatoes,
a small bunch of asparagus (or baby zucchini),
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Put both flours, butter, and salt in the food processor. Pulse the engine until crumbles forms.
2. Add 4 tbsp of cold water and run the engine until the mix turns into a dough. Add Pecorino and once again let the dough mix.
3. Roll out the dough on a rolling surface dusted with flour. Transfer the dough on a rolling pen to a 9-inch form with high walls and a removable bottom and let it chill in a refrigerator for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes.
5. To make the filling cut onions head from the green parts. Cut in half. Cut off 1/3 of asparagus stalks and cut the rest into smaller pieces.
5. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add asparagus and onion and fry until slightly transparent. Add tomatoes and fry all the vegetables for another minute.
6. In a large bowl mix ricotta, cream, and eggs until well combined.
7. Place vegetables on the pre-baked crust. Cover with ricotta filling and bake for about an hour until the top is set and slightly gold.
8. Cool the baked tart, remove from the form, cut into triangles, and serve with green salads.