Friday, April 27, 2007

Mango Pico de Gallo

Before the summer tomatoes reach the farm stands, ripe for fresh pico de gallo, try making one with mangoes, which are currently in season. From now until September, bright yellow champagne mangoes from Mexico are at the market, and from May until August, the reddish-green Florida variety will be available. Mangoes are an excellent source of beta carotene, containing 50 percent more than an equal portion of apricot, and 21 percent more than cantaloupe. Flavored with traditional salsa seasonings — lime juice, cilantro and jalapeños — this mango pico de gallo makes a refreshing appetizer. Serve with pappadums for a nice change from tortilla chips.

Mango Pico de Gallo
Yield = 3 cups

1 red bell pepper
1 jalapeño
2 mangoes
½ medium red onion
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon sugar

store-bought pappadums (Whole Foods or Trader Joe's)

Cut the red pepper in half, core and remove stem and seeds. With a knife, remove the white interior membranes, then finely dice the pepper (to yield about ¾ cup). Place in a large bowl. Repeat with the jalapeño. Peel the mangoes, then slice fruit from the pit. Finely dice the fruit and add to the bowl (about 1¾ cup). Finely dice the onion (about ½ cup) and add to the bowl with the cilantro, lime juice, salt and sugar. With a large spoon gently toss the ingredients together, being careful not to bruise the fruit. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary with more salt or lime juice.

Serve with pappadums.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Crispy Baby Artichokes

Artichokes originated in the Mediterranean and have been grown for over two thousand years. Edible, immature flowers of a cultivated thistle, artichokes produce crops twice a year — from March through May and August through October. As Sicily is believed to be the actual birthplace of these edible flowers, artichokes have been an essential part of the Italian diet for years. In Italy, young artichokes are eaten raw dipped in extra virgin olive oil, or fried whole in olive oil.

My husband and I recently tasted the baby artichokes “alla romana” at Osteria, a new Italian taverna opened by the owners of Vetri. Cooked slowly in olive oil with rosemary and garlic, the artichokes were, for me at least, the highlight of the evening.

Baby artichokes are the small buds that grow on side shoots off the central stem of the large plants and currently can be found at the market. Unlike the large globe artichokes, the tender small ones have no fuzzy inedible choke and are easier to prepare than the large. Served with a little salt and lemon, these crispy and caramelized little buds make a wonderful appetizer.

Osteria-Inspired Artichokes
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 lemon, halved
15 baby artichokes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
2 sprigs rosemary
4 cloves garlic, lightly smashed

Fill a large bowl with cold water and squeeze half the lemon into it. Cut off the rough spiky tops of the artichokes and peel away leaves until the pale green leaves are exposed. With a paring knife, cut off very bottom of stem and peel dark green layer off sides of stem. Repeat with each one, dropping each cleaned artichoke into the prepared acidulated water.
In a medium, deep heavy pot, add ½ cup water, the oil, salt, rosemary and garlic. Place over medium-high heat until oil and water mixture begins to bubble. Add the artichokes. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove cover, and increase heat to medium-high. Let the artichokes cook undisturbed until the bottom side begins to turn golden brown and get crispy. Once nicely colored, flip artichokes and cook until second side becomes similarly golden-brown.
When artichokes are crisped all over, remove with slotted spoon, sprinkle with salt to taste and serve with remaining half lemon.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns, associated with Good Friday for centuries, have a storied history. Some trace the spiced sweet rolls back to spring festivals in pagan Britain, when the cross atop the buns represented the four seasons of the year; others believe an Anglican monk in 12th century Britain began adorning his small breads with crosses to honor Good Friday, also known as the Day of the Cross; and another tale describes an English widow who baked cross-topped buns every Good Friday and vowed to have one hanging on her front door until her son, on a journey at sea, returned home.
Perhaps the popularity of hot cross buns, however, stems particularly from an old superstition. In 17th century Britain, many believed that if the buns were made on Good Friday itself, the baker, and everyone eating his festive baked goodies, would be protected from misfortune for the rest of the year.
This weekend, wake to the smell of freshly baked cinnamon-spiced hot cross buns. Prepare the dough a day in advance and store in the refrigerator overnight, where the buns will slowly rise. Treat your family, friends and yourself to these warm, delectable hot cross buns, and begin celebrating the Easter weekend with this ancient tradition.

Overnight Hot Cross Buns
Yield = 16

½ cup milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
½ cup whole wheat flour

1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
3½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ - ½ cup raisins (optional)

1 egg
2 teaspoons milk

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk

To make the sponge, place milk in microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add sugar, yeast and flour. Stir and let sit 15 minutes until bubbly.
In separate bowl, whisk butter until fluffy and smooth. Add milk, brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon and nutmeg, and whisk until smooth. Add the sponge and stir until smooth. Add flour and stir until stiff dough forms. Turn dough out onto work surface and knead for 4 minutes, adding only enough flour to prevent dough from sticking to surface.
At this point, if you wish to add raisins, divide the dough into two equal portions. Flatten one of the portions and sprinkle _ cup raisins over it. Fold dough to enclose the raisins, then knead for 4 more minutes until raisins are evenly dispersed. (Note: If you wish to add raisins to all of the dough, add ½ cup raisins to whole ball — do not divide the dough — and knead for a total of 8 minutes.) Place dough in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour or until almost doubled in bulk.
Knead remaining portion of dough and place in separate greased bowl also covered with plastic wrap.

Grease two 8-inch square or round baking pans with butter. Punch one of the dough balls down, and turn out onto floured work surface. Roll ball into a 12-inch log. Divide into 8 equal portions and shape each into a ball. Place balls in pan, evenly spaced. Repeat with remaining dough ball. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rise overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove pans from refrigerator and with a very sharp knife or razor blade, make a cross through each bun. Beat egg with the two teaspoons of milk, brush buns with the mixture, place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with milk to make the glaze.
Let buns cool five minutes before drizzling glaze overtop. After the buns are topped with glaze, serve immediately. Note: the glaze is optional — they are delicious spread with softened butter as well.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Passover Chocolate Cake

Of all the symbolic foods on the Passover Seder table, matzoh is the most important. Made without yeast and quickly baked, matzoh reminds Seder participants of the Jews fleeing Egypt who had no time to leaven their bread or bake it properly. Flour used to make matzoh is made from wheat that is “watched” from the moment of harvesting to ensure it never contacts any water, which might cause the flour to expand and rise.
As leavened flour is prohibited during Passover, flourless chocolate cakes are popular Passover desserts. This rich chocolate cake rises dramatically, cracks and then falls. When dusted with Passover “confectioners’ sugar” and garnished with berries, the cake looks striking on the table.

Flourless Chocolate - Almond Cake
Yield = 1 9-inch cake

8 oz semisweet chocolate
8 tablespoons margarine or butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon almond extract
4 large eggs, separated
2 large eggs, whole
1/3 cup plus ½ cup sugar
½ cup almond flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon potato starch
or confectioners' sugar (for non-observers)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place chocolate and margarine or butter in bowl and microwave on high for one minute, stirring once after 30 seconds.
Coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom with round of parchment paper, then spray the parchment as well.
Whisk chocolate mixture until smooth, then add salt and almond extract and stir until blended.
Whisk the four yolks and two whole eggs with the 1/3 cup of sugar just until blended. Add yolk mixture to chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in almond flour.
In the bowl of an electric mixture, whip the four egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the ½ cup sugar and beat until egg whites become shiny and hold their peaks, but are not too stiff.
Stir one third of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten. Then, in two additions, gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour batter into pan and place in oven. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes.
Cake will rise and have cracks running across it. It should feel only slightly wobbly when gently pressed. Remove from oven and let cool in pan 10 minutes before removing sides and transferring to cooling rack. Meanwhile, pulse sugar and potato starch in a spice grinder to make a powder. Sift mixture over cake and serve.