Thursday, December 2, 2010

Deborah Madison rocks!

For years now I've been a guest at Thanksgiving dinners.  Sometimes it's fun, sometimes not.  This year's dinner was deliciously enjoyable.  Hootie and I took the train to NYC where we had turkey and the fixings at my son Greg's inlaws.  Luckily his mother-in-law Renee is a terrific cook, so we ate well (Hootie likes white and dark meat alike).  But not having particpiated in Thanksgiving cooking, I didn't post anything this week.

Today, however, my kitchen jumped back to life as I started experimenting with dishes I want to make over the holidays.  My repertoire this afternoon included sauteed garlic, focaccia, broccoli/scallion puree, and braised leeks.  The sauteed garlic is delicious, the focaccia and braised leeks were super,but the broccoli/scallion puree was merely okay.  Interesting conceptually but sorta dull by mouth.

Although there are probably dozens of good focaccia recipes out there, I chose one from John Ash, whose cookbook ("From the Earth to the Table") I used frequently in the mid-1990's when northern California cooking was tres chic. I find myself going back to it lately, and am happy to report that his focaccia recipe is both easy and delicious.  I like his method of incorporating fresh herbs in the dough itself, as well as using them on top halfway through baking.  I threw in fresh thyme, fresh chives, and dried rosemary.  I'd have liked some marjoram in there but the grocery store didn't have any and my spice rack is mysteriously missing dried marjoram (why?).

Whenever I want to make interesting vegetable dishes, the first books I turn to are those by Deborah Madison, surely the most prolific and outstanding vegetarian writer around.  The broccoli/scallion dish sounded delish, and while it wasn't bad, I don't think I'd make it again (although it's so easy it's a shame to throw it away).  She has several braised leek recipes in "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," and I chose the one labeled "Braised Leeks" (duh).  She recommends saving the broth to use for risotto or soups, but since neither is on my immediate cooking horizon, I didn't,  I tasted it, though, and see what she means.

So, here are the recipes.  I hope you enjoy them.

Sauteed Garlic:  take about 50 garlic cloves, clip off the root end, put them in a saucepan, cover them with vegetable oil, and simmer for 40 minutes or so.  Keep the heat low for they're to simmer, not fry.  When they're finished cooking, let them cool and then put in a jar and refrigerate.  Add them willy-nilly to whatever seems appropriate...or just eat them.  They're mellow and delicious.

Focaccia (from John Ash)

1 T plus 1/2 t active dry yeast
1 1/2 c warm water (100 degrees)
1/2 c fruity olive oil (divided)
3 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t salt
1-2 T fresh herbs (optional)
Optional toppings:  thinly sliced red onions, seeded slivered tomatoes, grated cheese

In large bowl, stir yeast into warm water and let stand approximately 10 minutes.  Stir in 1/4 c oil, then flour, salt and herbs, if desired.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8-10 mintues.

Lightly oil a large clean bowl and add dough, turning to coat it.  Cover bowl tightly w/plastic wrap and let dough rise until doubled, 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

Lightly oil a 12 x 17 inch jelly roll pan.  Flatten and stretch dough to cover as much of the pan as possible, then dimple the top quite vigorously with your fingertips to stretch it some more.  Cover w/towel and let it relax for 10 minutes.

Dimple and stretch dough again to completely cover the pan.  Cover w/towel and let it rest another 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 425.

Brush dough w/remaining 1/4 c olive oil and bake on the upper rack until it just starts to turn golden, 12-15 minutes.  Scatter whatever toppings you desire over the top and continue to bake until golden brown, approximately 10-15 minutes longer.  If desired, remove focaccia from pan at this point and finish cooking it directly on the oven shelf for a crisp bottom crust (I didn't do this).

Braised Leeks (from Deborah Madison)

Aromatics (parsley, sprigs of thyme,  several bay leaves) and 1/2 t peppercorns
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 celery rib, sliced
4 leeks, trimmed, halved, and rinsed
Butter or evo
Chopped herbs--fines herbes, chives, marjoram, tarragon or parsley

Bring 3 qts water to simmer in a deep skillet or Dutch oven w/2 t salt, the aromatics, carrots, and celery.  Slip leeks into pan and cook gently until tender when pierced w/a knife, 15-25 minutes.  Lift them out and arrange them, cut side up, on a platter.  Glide a piece of butter over the top or drizzled w/olive oil, then cover lightly w/herbs and season w/salt & pepper...The cooking liquid makes an excellent broth for risotto or soup.

Broccoli and Scallion Puree (from Deborah Madison)

1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 - 1 1/4 lb broccoli, stems peeled and chopped, florets separated
1 bunch scallions, including an inch of the greens, chopped
2 T butter
Pinch grated nutmeg
2 t lemon juice
2 T cream or creme fraiche (optional)

Bring 2 qt water to a boil w/bay leaf in saucepan.  Add 1 t salt, then broccoli and scallions.  Cook until stems are tender, 4-6 minutes.  Scoop out the vegetables, discard bay leaf, and reserve the water.  Puree in food processor, leaving a little texture.  Add a little of the cooking water if needed to loosen the mixture.  Stir in the butter, taste for salt, and season w/a little pepper, the nutmeg, and lemon juice.  Seasonings should be lively.  Stir in cream, if using.

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