November 20, 2012

crostata rustica

I have been really enjoying collecting recipes on my pinterest page. Lately, of course, I have excitedly been keeping an eye out for dishes I can use for Thanksgiving. I have come across some real winners for herbed almonds, roasted potatoes, stuffed zucchini, and Nutella sea-salt fudge that I am surely packing when I head to my sister's home on Thursday. One thing I was not planning on bringing was a baked good. But now that's changed thanks to testing out a recipe for a simply delicious rustic apple tart I made last week.

Photos and recipes and been emerging everywhere I seem to look these days of these mouthwatering, handcrafted, crusty little pies. It seemed like it had to be an easy enough venture into pastry making and since I had two apples about to turn bad in my fruit bowl, the time was ripe. I hoped the homey rusticity of this dessert would camouflage any of my mistakes. I looked over a few recipes and complied this one here:

1 stick of butter cut into 3/4 and 1/4
1 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon of course salt
7 teaspoons sugar
2-3 tablespoons of chilled water
2-3 apples peeled, cored & sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup of brandy, rum or red wine

Start by peeling, coring and slicing your apples. Put the cores and skins in a pot just covered with water and add 1/4 cup of sugar and you liquor (optional). Let this boil down for about 30 minutes until it reduces into a syrup. Once you have that going, start your pastry. Sidenote: you can always put your sliced apples in a bowl of water with lemon juice in it to prevent them from turning brown. For the pastry dough mix together the flour, salt, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Add the 6 tablespoons of butter in chunks until the mix becomes coarsely crumbled. Add the chilled water one teaspoon at a time and blend into until the dough forms into a smooth ball. Press it into a disc shape and place in the freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for anywhere from an hour to overnight.
This was the first time I ever made pastry dough in my food processor and I have to confess, it will not be last. I've always enjoyed making it by hand with my grandmother's old pastry cutter but this batch was done instantaneously and resulted in a great texture that was a real dream to roll out. I flattened the dough out to about a 16" rough circle shape and kept the thickness as even as possible. I transfered the pastry to a parchment lined baking sheet and then, starting in the center, laid out my apple slices going in a spiral shape.

After the slices were all fanned out, I roughly folded over the edges of dough. The last step-- brush the remaining two tablespoons of butter (melted) over the tops of the apples and edge of the pie crust and cover that with a sprinkling of 6 teaspoons of sugar. In the oven it goes at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
And don't forget about the syrup! Once it has reduced, strain the fruit and reserve the remaining liquid. Keep it on top of the stove to keep warm and pour over the sliced tart as it's served. Enjoy!

November 15, 2012


A few weeks ago I finally got around to visiting Greensgrow Farms, a local urban farm located smack in the middle of Kensington in Philadelphia. It's shameful really, that is has taken me this long to stop by this magical place considering I live a quick 30 minute walk from it. On my opening visit to this 15 year old farm, in the middle of a brisk, slightly overcast November afternoon, I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of the farm and hear all about what they do, what they grow, how it all began and what some of the future plans of the farm are. If you are ever in the area I encourage you to stop by this colorful, friendly, bountiful place. They open a farmstand on Thursdays and Saturdays to sell their own produce, plants and flowers as well as produce and products from local farms, artisans and canners. I exited happily with a bag of locally made cheeses, hummus, handmade soap and some paperwhite bulbs that have already started sprouting on the windowsill of my office.

November 13, 2012

fresh ricotta

Three months ago, after starting a new job, I found a new culinary curiosity and challenge-- fresh ricotta cheese. This subtle, spreadable charmer is featured on the menu at my work place and so I began conversing with the lady of the kitchen on how she whips this customer favorite together. In addition to my cheese chat, I also scoured recipes online to hear what different cooks had to say. What I came to learn is that the process of making fresh ricotta is a ridiculously simple one.

Fresh ricotta is one of the few cheeses you can make without interning at a creamery or getting too technical. Though traditional ricotta is made from the whey of mozzarella cheese, this version is made from simple ingredients; whole milk, cream or buttermilk, lemon and/or white vinegar and optionally, salt. That is all. Beyond that you will need a pot, wooden spoon, cheesecloth, colander and bowl. After a few different attempts, this is the recipe I have settled on and am starting to perfect.

4 cups of whole milk
1 cup of cream
large pinch of sea salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Start by adding your milk and cream and salt to a sauce pan or small pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally while you wait for the milk to come to a boil being careful to not scald the milk. In the meantime line a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth and position this over a large bowl. Once the milk begins to boil, remove it from the heat and stir in both the lemon juice and vinegar. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes to curdle. Then pour the entire batch into the cloth-lined colander and let it strain anywhere from 5-15 minutes. I prefer closer to 15, which will produce a drier, crumbling finish. You can always add back some whey that has drained into the bowl below. At this point you can refrigerate for about a week (if it lasts that long) or put some crushed or chopped herbs in while it's still a bit warm. I did this to the last batch I made adding about a tablespoon of both parsley and chives along with crushed black pepper. And just a word about the leftover whey... DO NOT throw it away! There is so much to do with it! Tonight I plan on using it in my polenta in place of water. For other ideas you can find them here.