gougères with shallots, bacon & greens

gougeres-2-3I first discovered the magic that is Zuni Café after moving to Berkeley in 1998. Their cookbook, which came out a few years after that, has pretty much been open on my counter ever since. I always am drawn back to Judy Rodger’s food. She has an amazing talent at finding the perfect balance of flavors and textures while really honoring the seasonal ingredients. Like she says about her book, “Many recipes call for little active work and require only the skill and will to select excellent ingredients, perhaps the most useful culinary skill of all.” I couldn’t agree with that more.

One recipe in her book that I come back to over and over again is her New Years Eve Gougères.  It’s become my go-to dish for any special occasion. Basically a savory, cheese-studded cream puff pastry which here are stuffed with pickled onions, bacon and arugula. There being that perfect balance….rich buttery dough and nutty gruyère cheese balanced with the smoky salty bacon, the bright, sweet tang from the onions and the bitterness of the arugula. It’s perfection. I always add an option for vegetarians where I fry shallots until they are dark and crispy and pair it with frisée dressed in sherry vinegar and olive oil. The crunchy, earthy sweet shallots give that sort of umami element that the bacon has and the vinegary bitter greens balances it all out.

This dish guarantees to impress at your next gathering. You can make the batter ahead of time and then pop them in the oven while guests are arriving. They smell so good while they are baking and everyone will be in awe when you take them out.  Serve all of the ingredients in separate little bowls so your guests can split open the warm gougères and make their own little sandwiches. You will be deemed the fanciest person they know, trust me.gougeres-2


Zuni Café’s New Year’s Eve Gougères

makes 20-24 three-bite-sized gougères

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4oz all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
  • 4 large eggs, cold
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2oz gruyère cheese, grated
  • 10-12 slices bacon cut into 1/2″ lardons
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 heaping cup arugula
  • 1 heaping cup frisée
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400º  In a 2-4 quart saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a simmer over medium heat. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture masses and detaches itself from the sides of the pan. reduce the heat to low and cook, beating constantly, until the batter is stiff and almost shiny, usually a few minutes. Transfer the dough to a standing mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-low adding one egg at a time, beating thoroughly to completely incorporate each egg before adding another. The mixture will initially resist but will come together to form a sticky paste. Add the pepper and gruyere after the eggs are all incorporated.

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Pan fry the bacon until crispy and drain on paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil  in a small sauté pan and fry half of the sliced shallots until deep amber brown and crispy. Drain on a paper towel. In a small sauce pan, bring to a boil 1/4 cup water, the vinegar, sugar and peppercorns. Remove from heat and add the remaining sliced shallots, letting them soak for at least 30 minutes, then drain. Finally, dress the frisée with a splash of sherry or red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. Serve the gougères warm from the oven split through the middle and stuffed with any combination of fillings you’d like.

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fava and jamón salad

favas-3I have a bitter love for fava beans. I get so excited when I see them in the market for the first time in spring and always load up a huge bag to take home. Then I usually stare at them for a couple of days while I try to figure out a time I can sit down for more than 20 minutes to go through the dreaded task of peeling the things. The art of slow living just doesn’t exist in my home at the moment. BUT this spring my 4 year old has taken on the duty as sous chef and shucking beans has become her specialty. Now we can up our fava intake.

If you can find the pods when they are finger length snatch them up because they are amazing eaten whole. Toss them with olive oil and grill until tender then sprinkle with a nice flake salt, squeeze of lemon and some crushed red pepper. Once larger than that the pods are too tough and they must be shucked. The beans inside then need to be peeled of their paper thin outer shells. A lot of people don’t think this process is worth the end result. I’m just obsessed with the sweet, earthy, hearty, protein packed little green gems.

One of my favorites and a classic way to eat fava beans is on a crostini of burrata cheese with lemon, olive oil and basil. They also go amazingly with ham. On a warm spring day, a bit of jamón serrano, manchego and a pile of favas dressed in sherry vinegar, good quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs is a perfect light meal.  You could also use prosciutto and pecorino just don’t forget the really good loaf of bread and bottle of rosé. It’s simple perfection.

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nettle gnocchi in parmesan brodo with spicy pork meatballs

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Every week my first stop at the farmers market is Foraged and Found Edibles. Whatever they have always sets the tone for our meals for the week. They are chefs turned foragers who harvest wild foods from the surrounding Seattle area and always have an amazing selection of things you will most likely never find in the grocery store. This last visit confirmed that Spring is in fact HERE and I walked away with wild nettles, fiddlehead ferns, miner’s lettuce and watercress filling my bag to the brim.

What I was especially excited about though were the nettles. The seasonal window of time is so brief for these barbed little things. February and March is prime for eating them as by April they start to become coarse and you should not eat them once they start to form flowers. If you are lucky enough to have them grow wild in your neighborhood, pick only the tips. The first 4 to 6 leaves on each spear are the most tender. Don’t forget to always wear heavy gloves and long sleeves when handling these ferociously stingy things but don’t worry, once cooked, the sting dies off.

It will probably come as a surprise to you (as it did to me) that nettles beat both spinach and broccoli in their richness in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and iron. A tea made by steeping nettle leaves has long been used as a tonic. The flavor is similar to spinach and can be used in its place in most recipes. My favorite ways to eat them is on pizza, or made into a soup or pesto. Here I’m trying something new and putting them in gnocchi paired with bite size spicy pork meatballs all swimming in a nutty parmesan broth. For a veggie option you can replace the meatballs with cannelloni beans. Adding fresh peas would also be delicious.

I hope next time you see nettles at the market or growing along the sidewalk, you snatch some up and discover how tasty and healthy they really are!

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a Sunday roast: spring lamb, minty peas & garlicky potato roasties

lamb meal

One of the things that excites me most about the coming of spring is the first lamb. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible squeal at the market last week when I stumbled upon some from Glendale Shepherd, a local farm here on Whidbey Island. They have the most beautiful pasture-raised humanely harvested lamb. And since my in-laws were on their way to visit from England, a Sunday roast was in order. Though, due to a crazy wind storm which downed a tree causing an all day power outage that happened just as I was putting the meat in the oven, it turned into a Monday roast.

Whatever the day of the week is, this meal really is simple and depending on how you like your meat cooked, could take anywhere from 50 minutes to 3 hours to prepare. I prefer my roast falling apart tender which takes hours so I tend to reserve meals like this for the weekend when I can have a lazy afternoon with the family smelling the amazingness coming from the oven…..but if you like your meat rare, you’re done in under an hour!

My favorite things to go with lamb are minty peas, garlicky potatoes with lots of rosemary and olive oil. I’ve added anchovies to the lamb which I learned from The River Cottage Meat book. They melt into the meat giving it a beautiful salty richness. You’ll never go back to not using them once you see how much umami they give to this roast!

Enjoy and happy spring!

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