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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charred romanesco salad

Anytime I see Romanesco at the market I can’t help myself to snatch up as many as I can. I just want to leave them in a bowl on my countertop to look at. They really are a piece of nature’s art. Technically an Italian broccoli variety, I think it’s closer in resemblance to cauliflower. It’s sweet and mild and has a dense texture that holds up to a variety of cooking methods. You can find them in the cold months of late fall and winter.

My favorite way to cook these beauties is roasting in a super hot oven until just tender and slightly charred. You can go as simple as a roasting them with a little chile flake, lemon and olive oil or braise it with some san marzano tomatoes, garlic and anchovies then toss with pasta. Here I’m using it as the base to a hearty salad. Though, if you throw in a hunk of crusty bread, this dish is really an entree. Plus it’s a great way to use up some of that ricotta you just made!

This recipe is inspired by a dish in Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, NOPI. I hope you enjoy!

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winter preserving

I recently took a soft cheese making class at The Pantry here in Seattle. Making cheese has been on my bucket list every year for about 15 years so I thought it was about time I’d get to it. This was a great introduction and gave me the confidence to do something with the gallons of milk I have in the fridge since my kids suddenly decided they “do not like” milk the day after we got our weekly delivery. Fine. They better like ricotta.

My local market also had a load of Meyer lemons calling out to me the other day and my stash of preserved lemons ran out about 6 months ago so perfect!

These are two staples I always have in my kitchen. Ricotta is so versatile…..sweet, savory, creamy….I eat it on toast, in gnocchi, pasta, salad, topped with honey & nuts for desert…. and preserved lemons add life to any dish….stews, fish, grains, salad dressings, roast veggies….as well as a little sunshine to these endless cold, wet, dark days. (Which this California girl only two winters in to the PNW really needs right about now). I’ll post some recipes using these lemons when they are finished. Believe me, once you get used to having that intense lemony goodness handy year round, it will be hard to live without them.

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