Monday, November 18, 2013

Apple Meringue Tart

The recipe I will be sharing today is for a cake that was one of the first I ever made. For a long time, it was my favorite cake because it was different from what my grandmother had baked. All her cakes were absolutely delicious, of which I am even more convinced today than ever, but at that time this cake looked more intriguing and flamboyant than anything that she made. With time my view changed and I even adapted her crust--the best I have ever tried--instead of the original one, which was too hard for my taste.

I made that cake then for our guests and it always earned all the wows not only because of its taste but also the presentation. The crust was buttery and sour and juicy apples melted in mouth and the delicate and fluffy meringue stuck to lips.

I was reluctant to share this recipe for a long time mainly because I still did not find in the U.S. the apples that would be suitable for this type of cake. The cake is filled and baked with apple halves therefore they need to bake rather fast before the crust turns too brown. So far, none of the apples I tried here really stood up to the task. Although the cake tastes great anyway and everyone likes it, apples remain still too firm, not mushy. Having a comparison I miss that special softness and winey taste that the Polish apple varieties that were especially good for cooking have.

But because fall is a season for apples I share this recipe anyway. I used golden ginger apples type but if you have available sour apples that cook well this cake will turn absolutely amazing.

Apple Meringue Tart

6-7 medium cooking apples
2 sticks unsalted butter plus extra 1 tbsp at room temperature,
1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour,
3 eggs,
1 tbsp sour cream,
1/2 tsp baking powder,
1/4 cup plus extra 4 tbsp sugar,
2 tbsp dried raisins or cranberries,
2 tbsp sliced almonds.

1. Place 2 cups of flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Add butter and working with hands quickly incorporate butter into the flour until crumbles form.
2. Separate the eggs. Place whites in a large bowl. Put yolks, sugar and sour cream in a small bowl and mix until well combine.
3. Pour the yolks mixture into the flour and quickly form a dough. Use remaining half a cup of flour to clean hands and incorporate the scraps into the dough.
4. Roll out the dough on a working space slightly dusted with flour. Using a rolling pin transfer the dough into the greased tart form. Make nice edges and chill the dough in a refrigerator for at least an hour (you can keep it refrigerated for up to a week).
5. Preheat the oven to 350F.
6. Soak the raisins in a warm water. Meanwhile peel off the apples, cut in halves and remove the core. Place the halves of apples at the bottom of the raw tart. Using a fork run a strips on top of the apples ( it will help to bake the faster and evaporate the extra moisture)

7. Place the tart in a oven and bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is gold and apples become softer.
8. Beat the whites until soft peak. Add a tbsp of sugar and beat until whites become shiny. Follow gradually with three remaining spoons of sugar.
9. Drain the raisins from the excess of water and sprinkle on top of the apples. Cover the apples with meringue, spread it using a spatula and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the meringues become gold.

10. Let it cool down a little bit and serve.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cream of Pumpkin Soup

Those who, like me, still have a Halloween pumpkin sitting on the front porch or keep its leftovers in a refrigerator, will find today another idea on how to use it: another soup.

There are many pumpkin soup versions and everyone has one's favorite. I like this one for two reasons-- it is easy and not sweet. I am not a big fan of pumpkin in a sweet version. The more spicy the pumpkin is the more I like it.

This particular soup however is rather delicate and only garlic and a little bit of nutmeg add the necessary yet not an overwhelming spiciness to its taste. Easy to make, this soup is a nice and warming fall dish.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup
(Serves eight)

4 cups peeled and seeded pumpkin, cut into small cubes,
2 medium potatoes, peeled off and cut into small pieces,
one medium onion, chopped,
4 cups vegetable broth (or water),
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg,
1/2 tbsp cream,
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste,
2 tbsp chopped parsley leaves,

1. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add onion and fry until transparent. Add potatoes and pumpkin. Cook them in oil for about 2 minutes stirring until the vegetables are coated with oil.

2. Add vegetable stock or water and cook for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are soft.
3. Puree the soup with an electric hand blender. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and garlic. Pour in cream and bring the soup to boil. Let it simmer for about a minute. Turn off the heat. Let it stand for another 5 minutes and serve hot, garnished with chopped parsley.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fried Sage Leaves with Mozzarella

Ever since I learned about fried sage leaves they have become my favorite garnish for many dishes. Each year I cannot wait until fall to make the familiar and try some new dishes with fried sage leaves. And although sage can be harvested almost the whole year and can sustain not too harsh winters, nothing tastes better than fall dishes finished with sage leaves. I like particularly all pumpkin family vegetables to be enriched with the sage aroma.

Today's recipe comes from the Italian cuisine. It is a snack featuring sage as a main ingredient. It reminds me a little bit of another Italian speciality--fried zucchini blossoms--that are almost nothing than just a snack but at the same time taste so good and sophisticated that makes them more remarkable than just a snack deserves to be.

The other week I harvested a bunch of the sage leaves and made my first batch of fried sage with mozzarella. It was a delicious snack, which even my picky son complimented. Sage leaves were very crispy, mozzarella almost running, and everything was coated in a delicate, fried batter.

If you are a lover of fried zucchini blossoms, here is another dish to fall in love with. Serve it as aromatic fall party snack with a glass of wine.

Fried Sage Leaves with Mozzarella

About 30 large sage leaves,
7 oz (usually 2 balls) of mozzarella, preferably, mozzarella bufala,
2 eggs,
4 tbsp all purpose flour,
1/8 tsp dried yeasts,
1/4 cup dry white wine,
2 cups olive oil for frying.

1. To make a batter separate eggs. Place yolks in a medium bowl and whites in the other. Add flour, yeasts, salt, and white wine to yolks and beat together until smooth. Set aside for about half an hour.
2. Cut mozzarella into slices than cut into halves (to make about 15 pieces).
3. Place each piece of mozzarella on one sage leave and cover with another. You can use wooden toothpicks to fasten mozzarella and leaves together.

4. Beat the whites and fold in into yolk mixture.
5. In a small heavy duty pot heat the oil until very hot. Dip sage leaves with mozzarella in the batter and place in a bubbling oil. Fry on each side until dark gold.

6. Dry on a paper towel, season with sea salt, and serve warm.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Spaghetti Squash with Fried Sage

Last month, for the first time ever, I bought a spaghetti squash and it became my latest food addiction. Spaghetti squash makes a wonderful, very easy, and all vegetable dinner dish. It is very delicate and after cooking, when scrapped with fork, creates spaghetti-like strings. Not only it can make a vegan, low calorie dish but also just with one serving provides a lot of valuable nutrients, such as beta carotene, folic acid, potassium and vitamin A.

Trying to get an opinion on the best way to serve spaghetti squash I looked for different suggestions and recipes. Most of them called for traditional pasta sauces on top. But I find Alfredo or meat ball sauces too heavy for such a delicately tasting vegetable, whose taste should be enhanced by but not lost in the rich topping.

Following this principle, I first made a delicate tomato sauce with shallots and parsley. I used fresh tomatoes which I cooked briefly. The dish turned out to be delicate and quite different than a typical pasta dish. You could still taste squash while tomatoes added extra sourness to the mild taste.

But today, exploring further the potential of the spaghetti squash, I have tried a different idea. I like to use sage for dishes made with squash family vegetables. I did so for gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, or risotto. So I took a bunch of fresh sage leaves from my herb yard and fried them in butter. I drizzled squash with sage-infused butter and finished with fried sage leaves. I think this combination turned out to be absolutely perfect--a delicate squash, strong sage flavor, and contrasting textures of the soft squash and crispy sage leaves.

Spaghetti Squash with Fried Sage
(Serves four)

1 spaghetti squash (3-4 lb),
1 bunch of fresh sage,
1 stick of butter,
freshly grounded pepper and salt.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Cut squash in half and using a spoon or an ice-cream scoop remove the seeds.
3. Place halves of squash on a large baking form, skin up. Poke it a couple of times with the fork to pierce the skin.
4. Bake for about 40 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, prepare sage. Melt the butter in a small heavy duty pot, on a high heat. When it starts bubble add sage leaves, turn the heat to medium high and fried until leaves twiddle and turn dark green. Drain the leaves on the paper towel. Reserve the butter.
6. Remove the baked squash from the oven. Turn it flesh up and using a fork scrub the spaghetti-like flesh out.

7. Place the squash spaghetti on a serving plate. Drizzle with butter, finish with sage leaves, and season generously with salt and pepper. Serve hot.