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  SAUCE MAGAZINE
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Jul 28, 2014
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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By the Book

By the Book: Michelle Tam and Henry Fong’s Uova In Purgatorio

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

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Nutritionally speaking, can the Paleo diet really save us from ourselves? You are invited to think so. I mean really invited – strongarmed even – by the vocal, rather overheated boosterism of those espousing the movement. Admittedly, the constant pro-Paleo rhetoric is getting a bit wearisome these days, despite the slick packaging and glib explanation of its premise.

That premise is this, essentially: Homo sapiens, as a species, physiologically haven’t evolved to be able to metabolize things like grain, legumes, sugar and other omnipresent sources of sustenance in our modern, industrialized food complex. The logic is that eating like our pre-agriculture, hunter-gatherer ancestors (read: cavemen) will help the modern, often sedentary human to be healthier, lose weight and enjoy a longer life expectancy.

It’s a gutsy claim. Never mind that anthropologists have refuted much of Paleo’s scientific underpinnings, pointing out that nearly all the things we eat – grain, beef, nuts or otherwise – were selectively bred by humans in the first place. (On a quiet night, I can sometimes hear hoots of laughter emanating from Wash. U’s anthropology building, a few blocks from my apartment.) Still more dietitians have questioned Paleo’s ability to provide enough of the nutrients found in legumes, grains and dairy, all no-nos under the rules. Yet the movement has taken hold.

But let’s decamp from the ideology battleground and consider Nom Nom Paleo, a hip, well-curated cooking tome assembled by husband-wife duo Michelle Tam and Henry Fong: Crossfitters, card-carrying Silicon Valley-ites and parents to two young boys. Turning the pages, it’s a rather nice family affair, shot through with Paleo talking points, tasteful layouts and Fong’s gorgeous photography on matte gloss pages.

Kudos to its logistics, too. The first 40 pages are devoted to Paleo ingredients and how to procure them, and the recipes are laid out in a flow chart-esque format, not unlike a comic strip.  Indeed, the book is splashed with charming cartoon renderings of the authors and their children as they quip their way around the kitchen. As a production, this cookbook outclasses most others.

Following the Tam-Fong family’s instructions, I made Uovo in Purgatorio, a classic Italian ragu appropriated by the Paleo set. The simplicity of most Paleo dishes is on full display here; the ingredients cost less than $15, there’s minimal chopping involved, and the whole ensemble’s ready in a half-hour.

 

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The first ingredient is ghee, or clarified butter, a basic recipe on a separate page. Divorcing the dairy fats from the butter makes for a high smoke-point oil that’s useful for sauteing (and is Paleo-approved). It’s easy enough to make, though lacking cheesecloth, I strained the melted butter with a coffee filter, which took a long time.

 

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The sausage will braise in the sauce, but it’s good to brown it a little beforehand.

 

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I regularly worship at the Church of Put an Egg on Top, so I welcomed the opportunity to crack a couple over the marinara-sausage ragu. Lacking four oven-safe cocottes, I used two 16-ounce Corningware dishes – which meant more eggs for me.

The pepper flakes are a nice touch here, offering robust heat without overwhelming the palate. After baking 17 minutes (two more than prescribed), I had to switch on the broiler to finish off the egg whites, which made the top surface crispy and extra good. This is a hearty, protein-rich dish that goes well with sauteed vegetables.

 

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The marinara sauce is the weak link in the recipe: It’s a Catch-22 of convenience versus quality. Store-bought marinara makes this a quick, easy option for after work or feeding kids on the go. But homemade sauce always tastes better, and since it dominates the flavor profile of the dish, is essential if serving this to more discriminating company.

 
Uova In Purgatorio
4 servings

1 Tbsp. ghee or fat of choice
½ medium yellow onion, ¼-inch dice
¼ lb. cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. loose Italian pork sausage
2 cups marinara sauce
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 large eggs

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the upper-middle position.
• Melt the fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Toss in the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes or until the moisture released by the mushrooms evaporates.
• Add the sausage to the pan, breaking it up with a spatula. Cook until it’s no longer pink. Pour the sauce onto the meat and add the red pepper flakes. Stir to combine the ingredients, and cook until the sauce simmers.
• Divide the saucy mixture into 4 8-ounce ovenproof ramekins or mini cocottes. Makes a small well in the center of each, and crack an egg in it. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the eggs. Place the ramekins on a tray in the oven, and bake until the eggs are done to your desired consistency, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

What fad diet dish has made regular appearances in your kitchen after you first tried it? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Nom Nom Paleo. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

By the Book: John Currence’s Maryland-style crabcakes and green apple-celery salad

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

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John Currence is a Mississippi culinary legend. A lifetime of food appreciation – first in New Orleans, then Europe, then back South – led him to open City Grocery, Snackbar, Big Bad Breakfast and Oxford Boure. He was named the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South in 2009 and has received numerous accolades from Southern food organizations. To put it simply, Currence knows his stuff. So when I started reading Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups (And Then Some), I was hooked.

Currence is obsessed with technique, something that’s obvious when you see how his book is divided. First comes his manifesto, laying out his rules for quality tools, ingredients and passion for cooking, then chapters dedicated to “Stirring, Shaking & Muddling,” “Pickling & Canning,” “Frying (Pan & Deep),” “Brining & Smoking,” and more. Pages of beautiful dishes, preserves, roasts and more set my mouth watering.

 

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But for all the stunning images and elaborate dishes, the recipe I tried needed another round of editing. My Maryland-style crabcakes required me to whisk egg yolks, cream, spicy mustard and more into a small bowl, then, in a separate bowl, season a full pound of crabmeat with salt and pepper before adding lemon juice and zest… Hold up. I scanned the ingredient list and sure enough, there was no mention of lemon zest.  I was then instructed to refrigerate everything for 30 to 45 minutes – except the recipe skipped the part where I actually added my spice mixture to the crab. Thank goodness for common sense.

 

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While the crab mixture chilled, I worked on the green apple-celery salad (which turned into a green apple-romaine salad since I was unable to find any celery with its leaves still intact that night). This was simple enough, and my knife skills got a great workout while I attempted to uniformly julienne apples.

 

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I also ran into problems during the breading process. One of my first two crudely shaped “hockey pucks” fell apart in the flour, and the survivor met its doom in the egg wash. No one likes a bready crabcake, but just a half-cup of breadcrumbs was not enough for one pound of crab. Currence did say to add more, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the cakes just barely hold together. Another half-cup later, mine finally made it to the final crumb coating intact.

 

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Many of Currence’s dishes reference his list of Basic Recipes at the front of the book. To bread the crabcakes, I needed to consult a separate page for Seasoned Flour (all-purpose flour doctored with spices), another for Egg Wash (eggs beaten with milk, cream and hot sauce) and another for Clarified Butter (I drew the line there. I didn’t have the time to spend another 30 minutes clarifying butter; milk solids never hurt anybody.). By the time I got to the suggested New Orleans-Style Remoulade (see page 106), I threw up my hands, grabbed a jar of my own homemade mayonnaise, beat some Dijon mustard, and declared it close enough.

Despite my struggle with the recipe itself, the result was pretty spectacular. The outside was perfectly crisp and the interior was deliciously spiced with creamy crabmeat. The green apple provided a great textural element and lightened up what would have otherwise been a very heavy meal. Novice cooks may have trouble with this book, but more experienced home cooks can rely on their common sense to create fantastic results.

 

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Maryland-Style Crabcakes with Green Apple-Celery Salad
6 servings

2 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. Creole mustard (or grainy French)
2 Tbsp. minced shallots
3 Tbsp. very small dice red bell peppers
3 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1 lb. lump blue crabmeat
2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup toasted breadcrumbs, plus more to coat crabcakes
3 cups Seasoned Flour (Recipe follows.)
3 cups egg wash
¼ cup clarified unsalted butter

• To make the crabcakes: in a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, mustard, shallots, red bell peppers and Sriracha. In a separate bowl, season the crabmeat with the salt and pepper and blend to combine well. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and breadcrumbs, cover and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes. This will give the mixture a chance to tighten up and it will be much easier to handle.
• When removed from the refrigerator, the crab mixture should be moist but not runny. If more bread crumbs are needed, add them 1 tablespoon at a time, until the crabcake mix just holds together.
• Scoop the mixtures by the ¼ cup into the seasoned flour (you want 12 crabcakes). Form crudely into small hockey pucks. Knock off excess flour and dip in the egg wash. Turn the cakes in the bread crumbs until fully coated. At this point the cakes can be cooked immediately or returned to the refrigerator, covered, to cool again, or they can be frozen.
• To cook the crabcakes: Heat the clarified butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter begins to shimmer. Carefully place the crabcakes in the pan, decrease the heat to medium-low, and allow the cakes to brown on the bottom side, about 3 minutes. Move them slightly from time to time with a spatula to keep them from sticking. Once browned, carefully flip them over to brown on the second side for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.
• Place some apple-celery salad in the center of each place and top with 2 cakes per serving.

Green Apple-Celery Salad
6 servings

4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Champagne vinegar
½ cup whole celery leaves
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. celery seeds
1 cup peeled and julienned green apples

• Mix together the oil, mustard, vinegar, celery leaves, sugar, salt, pepper, and celery seeds in a medium stainless-steel bowl. Add the apples and toss together well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Seasoned Flour
Makes 3 cups

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1½ tsp. garlic powder
1½ tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. cayenne

• Toss the flour, salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic and onion powders and cayenne in a stainless-steel bowl and combine well. Store in an airtight container until needed.

What’s the best crab dish you ever had? Tell us about it below for a chance to win a copy of Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. We’ll email the winner! 

By the Book: Julie Mueller’s Blueberry Superfood Smoothie and Peach and Kale Stem Smoothie

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

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I weigh the merits of single-subject cookbooks in the same way that I do single-purpose kitchen gadgets. Do I really need an avocado slicer or a garlic peeler when I can get the job done with a universal tool like a knife? So when a cookbook wholly devoted to kale comes along, I ask myself whether it’s outstanding enough to replace the ones I have that encompass the whole brassica family – along with every other leafy green on the planet.

Julie Mueller’s Let Them Eat Kale! Simple and Delicious Recipes for Everyone’s Favorite Superfood, published this month, offers 75 recipes for using kale morning, noon and night. A tidy introduction provides a primer on the health benefits of kale, varieties of the plant and methods for preparing it, which range from using it raw to putting it under heat via blanching, braising, sauteing, roasting and grilling.

 

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Smoothie recipes comprise half of the breakfast section of the book. A colorful image of a purple-specked blueberry smoothie caught my eye, as did the minimal (five!) ingredients needed to make it. And, when it’s 6 a.m. and you’ve not yet had that cup of coffee, the uncomplicated task of blending appeals, too.

 

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The smoothie was thick and filling, but it tasted mostly of banana and blueberries. While you can feel good knowing there is 1 cup of vitamin- and fiber-packed kale in there, its earthy flavor is lost amid the fruit. Were I to make this recipe again, I’d double up on the kale.

 

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Mueller smartly offers a few recipes for using kale stems. Though tough and fibrous, stems hold some nutritional value. Rather than discard them, they can be chopped and used like broccoli stems or celery to add crunchy texture or, in this case, to bulk up a peach smoothie.

 

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The herbaceous quality of kale was completely masked in the resulting beverage. Fruit flavors abounded, but the drink was overwhelmingly sweet. That’s logical, I suppose, since it held ripe peaches, bananas, almond milk, orange juice and coconut milk. Based on information from Nutritiondata.com, the sugar clocked in at 49.68 grams. That’s nearly 25 grams of sugar per serving and 20 percent of the daily recommended sugar intake, per the National Academy of Sciences. How beneficial is a “superfood” when it’s smothered in sugar? What I did like about this recipe was the undertone of fresh ginger. Next time, I’ll add more ginger, kale and ice, and ease up on orange juice and one of the nut milks.

Let Them Eat Kale! isn’t going to take up precious cookbook space in my kitchen. But those just jumping aboard the kale bandwagon will appreciate Mueller’s easy recipes for incorporating the vegetable (whether sneaking it in by the cupful or letting the big green leaves shine by the bunch) in their diet.

Blueberry Superfood Smoothie
2 servings

1 cup kale leaves, loosely packed
1½ frozen bananas
1 cup frozen blueberries
¼ cup coconut milk (full-fat from the can)
1½ cups almond milk

• Add all ingredients to a blender, starting with the liquids (This will help blend everything together.). Blend until smooth.

Peach and Kale Stem Smoothie
2 servings

2 ripe peaches, pitted and frozen
2 ripe bananas, peeled and frozen
2 kale stems
1 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
8 ice cubes
½ cup almond milk
¾ cup orange juice
¼ cup coconut milk (full-fat from the can)

• Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. If necessary, add more almond milk or juice to help the blender process the frozen fruit.

What’s your favorite way to eat kale? Tell us about it in the comments for a chance to win your own copy of Let Them Eat Kale! 

By the Book: Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzas

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

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I first learned of chef Gabriele Bonci on an episode of Travel Channel’s “The Layover,” when host Anthony Bourdain traveled to Rome and went to a tiny restaurant near Vatican City called Pizzarium. There were no seats, just a counter, and under a sheet of glass, Roman-style pizzas were on display. These long, thick rectangles are definitely not the traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas commonly associated with Italy.

Bonci used scissors to cut up dozens of pies for Bourdain, from a more traditional Margherita and a potato pizza to the show-stopping foie gras with berries and a Hawaiian pizza. His toppings were inventive, but Bonci is best known for his dough, and that’s what spurred me to try Pizzarium last month during a trip to Italy – and to try my hand at his new cookbook, Pizza: Seasonal Recipes from Rome’s Legendary Pizzarium.

 

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{Our selfie with Bonci at Pizzarium}

 

He’s been called “The Michelangelo of dough,” and while it’s a pretty lofty title, I can’t really argue after trying his pizzas. The crust isn’t pillowy and airy like Neapolitan-style pizza; instead it has a more artisan bread feel. It’s denser with more chew. It’s also complicated; he spends nearly 14 pages of the book detailing exactly how to make it.

Cooks more ambitious than I will attempt to make the dough, but for my impromptu pizza party, I used my go-to pizza dough and experimented with his fun topping combinations instead. Several recipes require baking pizzas with only some toppings, then finishing them with fresh or raw ingredients after they are removed from the oven – a revelation!

 

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I started with Bonci’s Margherita, which requires that you only bake the dough with the sauce, the remove it from the oven at top it with mozzarella and basil. This worked well; it kept the crust crisp, the herbs had more flavor and the cheese started to melt when it was served but wasn’t a watery mess.

 

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Next, I tried his zucchini pizza (Uncle Pietro’s Uncle Pizza), which saw the sliced summer squash baked onto the crust, then removed from the oven and finished with ricotta, raw zucchini and olive oil. The flavor was bright, redolent of springtime, and instantly took me back to my visit at Pizzarium, where I had this exact pie. Finally, I made the shrimp pizza. Like the Margherita, only the sauce was baked onto the dough, and was then topped with sauteed shrimp and a nice remoulade-type sauce – think shrimp cocktail via Italy.

I loved cooking out of this book for its inventive toppings, but most of all, I loved reliving my Roman holiday through my kitchen and sharing it with family and friends.

Classic Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, and Basil
3 to 4 servings

1 12-oz. ball pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
2 cups canned peeled tomatoes
Fine sea salt to taste
1 lb. buffalo mozzarella
3 cups loosely packed basil leaves

• Preheat the oven to 450 to 475 degrees.
• Stretch the dough and place it in a well-oiled pan. Place the tomatoes in a small bowl. Drizzle the tomatoes with a little oil, season with salt and toss to combine. Squeeze the tomatoes through your fingers to break them up and drop them onto the dough.
• Bake the pizza until golden brown and well-risen, about 25 minutes.
• Remove the pizza from the oven. Immediately tear the cheese into pieces by hand and scatter it over the pizza. Scatter on the basil leaves, then drizzle with some oil and season with salt.

Uncle Pietro Uncle’s Pizza
3 to 4 servings

1 12-oz. ball pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
1 lb. zucchini
10 oz. sheep’s milk ricotta
Fine sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg to taste

• Preheat the oven to 450 to 475 degrees.
• Stretch out the dough and place it in a well-oiled pan. Slice the zucchini very thinly (a mandoline works well) and arrange about two-thirds of the zucchini slices in a single layer on the dough, reserving the rest.
• Bake the pizza until golden brown and well-risen, about 25 minutes.
• Remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for at least 5 minutes. Distribute the ricotta on top of the cooked zucchini, then place the raw zucchini slices on top of the cheese. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Shrimp Cocktail Pizza
3 to 4 servings

1 yellow onion, minced
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
1 apple, peeled, cored and minced
2 cups tomato puree
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 whole cloves
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 12-oz. ball pizza dough
2 cups canned peeled tomatoes
10 large shrimp
1 head frisee (I used arugula.)

• Make the ketchup: In a medium saucepan, saute the onion in a small amount of oil over medium eat until softened. Add the apple, tomato puree, bell pepper, sugar, vinegar and cloves. Bring to a simmer and simmer until thickened, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the cloves, then puree the entire mixture in a blender and set aside to cool. (This is more ketchup than you will need for this recipe, but if you place the remaining ketchup in a clean jar and refrigerate it, it will last for up to 1 week.)
• Make the mayonnaise: Emulsify the eggs with the ¾ cup oil. An immersion blender is the best tool for the job.
• Make the cocktail sauce: Combine about 1 ½ cups of the mayonnaise with 3 tablespoons of the ketchup.
• When you are ready to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 450 to 475 degrees.
• Stretch the dough and place it in a well-oiled pan. Crush the canned peeled tomatoes and scatter them onto the dough.
• Bake the pizza until golden brown and well-risen, about 25 minutes.
• While the pizza is baking, in a saute pan over medium heat, cook the shrimp in a small amount of oil until just pink, about 5 minutes. Shell and devein the cooked shrimp, but leave them whole.
• Remove the pizza from the oven and tear the frisee leaves over it, letting them fall on top of the tomatoes. Top with the cocktail sauce and the warm shrimp.

Reprinted with permission from Rizzoli International Publications

What recipe takes you back to a favorite vacation? Tell us about it in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Pizza.

By the Book: Faith Durand’s Blueberry Angel Food Trifle

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

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When summer hits St. Louis, we stay cool by any means necessary – and that includes avoiding the oven. Who wants to add extra degrees to an already hot kitchen? Faith Durand, executive editor of The Kitchn and author of the new cookbook, Bakeless Sweets, couldn’t agree more. The recipes in this book disavow the oven in favor of the refrigerator, the freezer, and in a few cases, the assistance of the stove. And who knew there were so many no-bake desserts to choose from? Durand divides her book into seven chapters: stirred puddings and custards; rice, tapioca and whole-grain puddings; panna cotta and other gelled puddings; mousse and blended puddings; real fruit jellies; whipped cream desserts and fluffs; and icebox cakes, pies, trifles and cookies.

With Fourth of July right around the corner and berry season in full swing, I decided to prepare Durand’s Blueberry Angel Food Trifle. To keep things patriotic, I substituted half the blueberries for juicy red strawberries (which also happen to be my Kryptonite).

 

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The homemade pudding was the best part of the trifle by far. Do not cheat and reach for the boxed stuff, as tempting as it may be. I promise the extra effort required for Durand’s Rich Vanilla Pudding is well worth it; I found myself wishing I had doubled the recipe to eat again later.

 

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Pudding novices like me can handle this recipe; Durand outlines every step clearly and concisely. Have a good whisk ready, as you will use it during almost every step. My biggest fear was tempering the slurry, but I followed the directions exactly and was rewarded with a bubbling custard that smelled “like the best vanilla ice cream ever,” according to my kid sister.

 

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After the adult-task of making the pudding is complete, kid sous chefs love to help layer the cake and sprinkle the fruit, as my sister did. After tasting the trifle, I wish the cake cubes were a little smaller (bite-sized pieces would have made for easier eating), but the larger pieces supported all the pudding and fruit well, even two days after creating it. This treat was sweet, refreshing, and most important, cold – a perfect summer dessert.

 

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Blueberry Angel Food Trifle
8 servings

About 8 cups (12- to 16-oz.) cubed angel food cake,
1 batch Rich Vanilla Pudding, well chilled (Recipe follows.)
4 cups blueberries
2/3 cup cream
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

• Spread about one-third of the cake cubes in the bottom of a large trifle bowl (or any deep 3- to 4-quart bowl). Spread about one-third of the pudding over the cubes and top with one-quarter of the blueberries. Repeat twice, finishing with the third layer of pudding.
• In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until it holds soft peaks. Spread it over the top and garnish with the remaining blueberries. Refrigerate the trifle for at least 2 hours, or up to 24, before serving.

Rich Vanilla Pudding
8 Servings

¼ cup cornstarch
½ tsp. salt
1½ cup cream
3 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

• Make a cornstarch and egg yolk slurry: Put the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl and whisk out any lumps. Slowly whisk in the cream, making sure there are no lumps. Whisk in the egg yolks. It is important that this mixture be as smooth as you can make it. (To be really sure, reach into the bowl and gently rub out any lumps with your fingers.).
• Warm the milk and open a vanilla bean: Warm the milk with the sugar over medium heat in a 3-quart saucepan. Meanwhile, if you are using the vanilla bean*, open and scrape it out into the pan. Whisk the mixture so the vanilla seeds are incorporated into the liquid. (It should looked speckled, like milk after an Oreo has been dunked in it repeatedly!) When the vanilla bean has been scraped out, drop the entire pod into the milk as well. Warm until bubbles form around the edge of the milk and the entire surface begins to vibrate. Remove the vanilla bean and discard it. Turn off the heat.
• Temper the slurry: Pour 1 cup of the hot milk into the bowl with the slurry. Whisk vigorously to combine. The mixture should come together smoothly, with no lumps. If you see any, add a little more liquid and whisk them out. Pour the combined mixture back into the pot slowly, counting to 10 as you do and whisking vigorously.
• Thicken the pudding: Turn the heat back on to medium. As the milk comes to a simmer, stir constantly but slowly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan evenly so that the milk doesn’t scorch or form a thick skin on the bottom of the pan. In 2 to 5 minutes, the custard will come to a boil, with large bubbles that slowly pop up to the surface. Boil, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.
• Flavor the pudding: Turn off the heat. (If you didn’t use a vanilla bean, stir in the vanilla extract now.)
• Chill the pudding: Immediately pour the hot custard into a shallow container. Place plastic wrap or buttered wax paper directly on the surface of the pudding (if you don’t like pudding skin). Put a lid on the dish and refrigerate it. This pudding is firm enough to be eaten warm after 30 minutes or so in the refrigerator.

*To scrape a vanilla bean, lay the bean flat on a cutting board and use a small, sharp pairing knife to make a slit down its entire length. Splay it open with your fingers over the pot of warming milk, and run the tip of a spoon (or the knife, carefully) down the length of the bean to thoroughly scrape out the paste of tiny seeds inside.

Reprinted with permission from Stewart, Tabori & Chang

What’s the best no-bake dessert you’ve ever made? Tell us about it in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Bakeless Sweets.

And now, congratulations to Earen, whose comment on last week’s By the Book won a copy of Extra Virgin. Earen, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew!

By the Book: Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar’s Mozzarella, Tomato and Farro Salad

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

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Almost a year ago to date, I cut the cord and ditched my cable company. I already had Netflix, Hulu Plus and a Google Chromecast; why was I forking over so much money every month for basic cable? So I bit the bullet, and with the exception of a few missed Cardinals games, it hasn’t been nearly as traumatic as I’d anticipated.

There is one glaring omission, though – I miss my cooking shows. I’m not talking about the Food Network’s next greatest baker/pitmaster/food truck/oyster shucker competitions. I’m talking about the how-to programs on The Cooking Channel (where Food Network moved all the how-to programs). I picked up some of my basic cooking skills by watching people like Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten aka Barefoot Contessa and Alton Brown. Thanks to them I know what a dice, stiff peaks and “generous glug” of olive oil look like.

 

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That’s why I was excited to find Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from Our Tuscan Kitchen in the Sauce cookbook library. Authors Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar also host Cooking Channel’s “Extra Virgin,” which I loved watching both because Corcos is a true Tuscan chef and because they really are so down-to-earth. Their cookbook reflects their personalities; reading their back-and-forth commentary in the introduction and the outset of each chapter is much like watching their tête-à-tête on TV. At the end of the day, Corcos and Mazar say cooking isn’t about making the most elaborate or perfectly executed dish; it’s about sharing good food with the people you love.

 

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I chose to make their Mozzarella, Tomato and Farro Salad. Originally, I had grand plans to make an elaborate pasta dish studded with ground pork and wrapped in slices of eggplant. But after running around preparing for vacation on one of the hottest days so far this year, heavy pasta was the last thing I wanted to eat at 9 p.m. I needed simple sustenance.

 

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My colleague Meera Nagarajan has long extolled the virtues of farro (fiber, vitamins, iron!) here at the Sauce offices, so I decided to try this ancient grain for the first time. The verdict: delicious, like a toothsome rice and way easier to prepare than fickle, often soggy quiona. If you have 20 minutes to boil water and chop a few ingredients, then you have time to make this filling, nutritious grain salad – and still pack a suitcase.

A note on the ingredients: The only seasoning in this salad is salt, pepper and some fresh basil, so be sure to pick high-quality cheese and olives, and the ripest cherry tomatoes you can find. After all, cooking is about making good food for people you love – even if it’s just you at 9 p.m. on a weekday.

 

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Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar’s Mozzarella, Tomato and Farro Salad
4 servings

Kosher salt
1 lb. farro
10 oz. cherry tomatoes, quartered
8 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand
1 5-oz. ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 oz. pitted Kalamata olives
Extra virgin olive oil, for serving
Freshly ground black pepper

• Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, toss in the farro, and cook 20 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse the farro with cold water.
• Combine the farro, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and olives in a bowl. Drizzle with oil, then salt and pepper to taste.
• Serve right away, or cover and refrigerate for the next day (this would be great for a picnic).

Reprinted with permission from Clarkson Potter Publishers

What’s your go-to late-night meal that won’t undo your whole day? Tell us about it in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Extra Virgin.

 

 

By the Book: Elizabeth Sims and Brian Sonoskus’ Gumbo Bell Peppers with Corn, Peas, Spinach and Okra

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

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The story goes like this: a Jersey chef with a Johnson and Wales pedigree decides to relocate South and winds up running the kitchen at Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina – that melting pot of melting pots where folk revivalists, coffee pundits, mountain romantics and outdoorsy types rule the roost. Chef Brian Sonoskus teamed up with “Garden & Gun” writer Elizabeth Sims to stitch together an eponymous collection of his recipes, and while they don’t always hold together, there’s plenty in this book to try, and cheerful bits of commentary and nostalgia to tide you over while you read.

 

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I went with Sonoskus’ bell peppers stuffed with summery vegetables swimming in a curious tomato curry broth. But first, I had to hunt down the quintessentially Southern ingredients. Once, while traveling in eastern Kentucky, I remarked on how the only vegetable available in the groceries was iceberg lettuce. This was before noticing that most families, at least the ones with means, grow their own in well-appointed gardens in the backyard. That’s tough to replicate in the middle of the city, so frozen okra and black-eyed peas will do in a pinch.

 

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Note: No-salt Creole seasoning is tough to find in the store, so the low-sodium kind will do (look in the seafood section). Still, plan to season more than the recipe lets on. Most of this dish’s components wanted for salt by the end.

 

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Be sure to stir the Arborio rice mixture constantly to ensure the correct texture. Owing either to my extra-hot stove element, or the recipe overshooting the time, my rice took closer to 12 minutes than 25.

 

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The tomato curry broth is the dark horse of this recipe. Aromatic and slightly spicy, mix up an extra-large batch of this to use in other cooking projects. It’s worth it.

What was troublesome about the finished product was a dissonance of flavor. The red bell peppers were too powerful for their otherwise tasty innards. (Green or yellow would have worked better.) And for all its individual gifts, the tomato curry broth just doesn’t jive with this catalog of vegetables. The “whiff of Punjab” advertised by the authors accentuated the pepper and eclipsed what should have been the showpiece (and only Appalachian representative) of this dish: the filling.

 

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Gumbo bell peppers with corn, peas, spinach and okra
6 servings

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup diced onion
¾ cup sliced celery
1 cup sliced fresh or frozen okra
¾ cup fresh or frozen corn
½ cup fresh or frozen black-eyed, crowder or field peas
1½ tsp. gumbo file
¾ tsp. no-salt Creole seasoning
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup Arborio rice
1½ cups water
1 cup vegetable broth
½ cup V8 juice
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
6 large red bell peppers
½ cup tomato curry broth (Recipe follows.)

• To a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, then the onion and celery and saute for 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the okra, corn, peas, file powder, Creole seasoning, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the rice and add the water, broth and V8 juice. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the rice is al dente and the mixture is creamy, stirring often, about 25 minutes. Stir in the spinach, remove from the heat and let cool.
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the stem ends off the peppers and remove the seeds and membranes. Fill the peppers with the risotto mixture. Stand the peppers up in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Spoon the Curry Tomato Broth around the peppers. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the peppers are tender. Place each pepper in a shallow bowl and spoon the juices and broth over the pepper. Serve immediately.

Tomato curry broth
Makes 1¾ cups

1 cup V8 juice
½ cup vegetable broth
¼ cup coconut milk
¼ tsp. no-salt Creole seasoning
¾ to 1 tsp. curry powder

• Combine the V8 juice, vegetable broth, coconut milk, Creole seasoning and curry powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

What’s the most unusual yet successful fusion of cuisines that you’ve made? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of “Tupelo Honey Cafe.” We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, congratulations to Joe, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won a copy of “Coi.” Joe, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

By the Book: Daniel Patterson’s Popcorn Grits

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

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“This is not a cookbook. This is the story of Coi, written through the food,” writes chef Daniel Patterson in the introduction to his new book named for his restaurant in San Francisco.

When I first picked up “Coi,” I was struck by color photos of artistically plated dishes interspersed with shots of the northern California landscape that inspires Patterson in the kitchen. Normally, I would pass such a book over to Sauce art director Meera Nagarajan for a first look, but once I began reading the 300-page tome, I guarded it until I was finished. Why? Because Patterson, recently named James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: West, accomplishes something I prize in any cookbook. He offers a highly personal connection between himself and the dishes he shares. (Even if he doesn’t consider this a cookbook, there are more than 50 recipes, which equates to a cookbook in my mind.)

 

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A home cook likely won’t prepare the majority of Patterson’s recipes; they are labor-intensive, call for hard-to-find ingredients and require equipment typically found only in professional kitchens. Among those I tabbed as “ I can actually make that”: musk melon; carrots roasted in coffee beans; quinoa with almond, cauliflower and popped sorghum; butter; and – my pick – popcorn grits, which sounds like fun and required only five ingredients.

 

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Patterson weaves commentary and advice into each of his recipes. It’s as if you’re standing next to Patterson while he makes the dish, erstwhile chatting about the products and the process. In this instance, Patterson observes that some professional cooks are inept at making popcorn: “It’s amazing to me how many well-traveled, well-trained cooks have no idea how to pop popcorn. Give them a bag of gellan, and they’ll spew out ratios. Give them a bag of popcorn, and they’ll look confused.” His advice for turning out good popcorn: Begin with quality, fresh kernels (an heirloom variety, if possible) and, for this recipe, opt for yellow over other corn colors.

 

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The next step is to soften the corn by putting it in a pot with 750 grams water, 100 grams butter and salt, then strain it through a fine-mesh sieve. Yes, you read that right. All Patterson’s weights and measures in the book are listed in metric units. Thank you, chef! The rest of the world works in metric –why aren’t we?

However, when it came time to “strain” the softened kernels, I had problems. I used a potato masher to press the softened popcorn through the sieve, but I didn’t get much meat. I even enlisted the help of my husband and a friend who had (ahem) popped in that evening. Moreover, what Patterson said would look like stiff grits was thick and coarse, more like No. 3-size cooked bulgur wheat. I took the miniscule amount of strained corn, added it to a saucepan with the reserved cooking liquid and put it under some heat. Patterson prescribed more butter and water to achieve a grits-like texture. I followed suit, but 20 minutes later, my popcorn grits still looked more like bulgur instead of the thick, creamy grits in the picture.

 

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My results weren’t as pretty as Patterson’s. However, they did taste like chef said – a cross between grits and a movie theater.

 

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Daniel Patterson’s Popcorn Grits
4 servings

500 g. vegetable or corn oil
1 kg. popcorn
750 g. water
100 g. butter
Buttered popcorn, to serve

• Popcorn requires a lot of heat and a lot of oil. In a large pot (The one I use at the restaurant can pop an entire recipe of popcorn at a time.), heat a generous amount of vegetable or corn oil to smoking. Add a thin but solid layer of kernels, cover, and shake the pot a few times until you hear the corn starting to pop. Lower the heat to medium-high, shaking often so there are no hot spots, and listen – it’s the only way to know when to pull the popcorn. When the popping slows to a trickle, remove the pot from the heat and let it stand 1 minute. Uncover and pour the popcorn into a bowl, watching for any burnt pieces on the bottom, which should be discarded. If the corn tastes burnt, the grits will taste burnt.
• Bring the water, butter and some salt to a simmer. Throw in a big handful of popped kernels, simmer for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the corn has softened, and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Transfer the liquid that strains through back to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Add more popcorn. Repeat until all the corn is gone. Add water as necessary, although you shouldn’t need to add too much.
• Press the softened kernels through a medium strainer basket, discarding the hulls and seeds that cannot be pushed through. Transfer the strained corn, which will look like stiff grits, into a pot. Add the reserved cooking liquid, which should be slightly thickened from the cornstarch, and should taste like popcorn (On its own, this makes a nice sauce for steamed fish.). Add butter and more water as necessary to make a grits-like texture – we find that slightly on the thicker side is better. It should taste like a cross between grits and a movie theater. Serve with a bowl of buttered popcorn on the side.

Reprinted with permission from Phaidon

What restaurant story would you most like to read about and why? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of “Coi.” We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, congratulations to Jason, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won a copy of “Pasta Modern.” Jason, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

By the Book: Francine Segan’s Pasta with Zesty Horseradish-Tomato Sauce

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

 

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Ever since my dad sneaked horseradish into my corned beef sandwich when I was 6, I’ve craved the delectable root. So when my editor, Ligaya Figueras, assigned me to prepare Francine Segan’s Pasta with Zesty Horseradish-Tomato Sauce, I jumped at the opportunity. Horseradish and pasta – what could possibly go wrong?

Segan’s cookbook, “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy,” contains beautiful pictures that attempt to shatter the modern American idea of what Italian pasta is. Through the gorgeous photos and minimal ingredients, the book made cooking haute Italian cuisine very simple. (I’ve bookmarked her recipe for pasta sushi as a must-try.)

 

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The ingredients are simple, but I substituted multigrain rotini for pasta al ferretto. As an avid knitter, I do want to try the aforementioned “knitting needle pasta” soon, but the rotini served its purpose well.  I recommend a lighter colored pasta if you’re going for looks, thought. The dark beige breadcrumbs and sauce blended right the wheat pasta.

 

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I made homemade breadcrumbs using a store-bought loaf. Next time I’ll use a food processor, because tearing pieces of bread into smaller pieces of bread ad infinitum was a little exhausting and still didn’t result in a fine crumb.

 

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I learned a nifty trick to help peel the tomatoes: Before placing them in boiling water, cut a small X on the bottom of each tomato. After a quick dip in the hot water, the skin practically falls off in your hands.

Once I had softened the onions and mixed the tomatoes in, I covered the pan and set to chopping the walnuts. The walnut-breadcrumb mixture smelled absolutely heavenly, even though the amount of oil called for in the recipe gave it an overwhelming olive oil flavor.

 

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After the time had passed for the sauce to simmer and my pasta was al dente, I finally cracked the lid to look at all the tomato-onion goodness. To my surprise, the onion-tomato ratio was incredibly skewed. The sweet onion overwhelmed the tomatoes, even though I had added almost twice the amount Segan called for. Once I tossed the pasta in the sauce, it was virtually invisible among the noodles.

 

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Hoping for the best, I topped the dish with the breadcrumb mixture and fresh horseradish from Ligaya’s garden. I was apprehensive about a full of tablespoon of the pungent root on top of my pasta, but surprisingly, it still wasn’t enough to sate my appetite, and I wanted to add even more. The horseradish lent itself well to the dish, but don’t be stingy, since there is no horseradish elsewhere in the recipe. The sauce, which looks ruby red and delicious in the cookbook, looked sad and watery when tossed with my pasta. Next time, I’ll add even more tomatoes and a little extra salt to add more flavor. Extra sauce never hurt anyone, and when liberally topped with walnut breadcrumbs and fresh horseradish, it probably has healing powers –even if just to clear your sinuses.

 

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Francine Segan’s Pasta with Zesty Horseradish-Tomato Sauce
4 servings

1 lb. fresh tomatoes
1 sweet onion, finely minced
5 Tbsp. Olive oil
1/3 cup homemade coarsely ground breadcrumbs, toasted
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 lb. pasta al ferretto or any pasta
Fresh horseradish

• Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for a few seconds, then remove them with a slotted spoon. Peel, deseed, and dice the tomatoes.
• In a wide saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons oil and cook the onions until very soft, about 5 minutes. Stir the tomatoes into the onions and cook, covered, on very low heat for about 20 minutes.
• Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs, walnuts and 2 tablespoons oil in a small nonstick pan, and cook on medium-high heat until the breadcrumbs are dark golden. Set aside.
• Boil the pasta in salted water until it is al dente. Drain and stir into the tomato sauce until well combined, adding a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water if needed. Sprinkle with walnut-breadcrumb mixture and serve. Top with a tablespoon or two of fresh horseradish grated on a cheese grater.

Reprinted with permission by Stewart, Tabori & Chang

What’s the most unconventional pasta dish you’ve ever eaten? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of “Pasta Modern.” We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, congratulations to Lu, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won a copy of “My Italian Kitchen.” Lu, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

 

By the Book: Luca Manfè’s Frico

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

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I have never watched “MasterChef,” Fox’s culinary competition where groups of home cooks duke it out for the chance to impress judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot to earn the title MasterChef. So when “My Italian Kitchen: Favorite Family Recipes” by Season Four winner Luca Manfè crossed my desk, I truly had no idea what to expect from him or the recipes.

If you love cookbooks for the culinary education and elegant food writing that accompanies photos of sumptuous dishes, “My Italian Kitchen” is not your read. Manfè’s first book is clearly tied to promoting his win as MasterChef (and presumably future seasons). Forewords from judges Ramsay and Bastianich are expectedly glowing, applauding the restaurant manager and home cook extraordinare’s perseverance in the face of cutthroat culinary competition — and Ramsay’s yelling face. Manfè’s own introduction reads like an acceptance speech at a high school awards ceremony, praising the opportunity the show gave him and talking about how he’d “never won anything in his life.”

However, the advantage of a book written by a home cook is that the recipes are relatively simple, quick and delicious. You won’t find delicate chocolate tuile-topped desserts, obscure ingredients or preparations requiring immersion circulators or 17 pans. Manfè draws heavily on his family’s Italian roots in Fruili-Venezia Giulia to offer dishes that are varied, flavorful and true to the region.

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I decided to try Manfè’s Frico, a dish he declares “one of the most traditional dishes in Fruili.” Here is where his knowledge of the region’s rich culinary tradition shines; he goes into great detail about the dish and it’s history. Essentially, a frico is a large onion and potato pancake oozing with one pound (yes, a pound) of traditional Montasio cheese. And there are few things better in this world than a plate of molten cheese, especially when its encased in a crisp golden shell.

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The ingredients are simple and few (onions, potatoes, olive oil, cheese), but tracking down both aged and young Montasio cheese proved trickier here in St. Louis than in Fruili. However, Manfè advised purchasing one young cheese (no older than two months) and one aged at least six months; he recommended an Asiago or a young Gruyere. I found a two-month Kasseri and a six-month Asiago that melded beautifully together.

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The toughest part of this dish comes at the very end — the flip. Sauce intern Mary Baker, who patiently sliced onions and grated potatoes, held the camera at the ready while I placed a dish atop a sizzling pan of bubbly cheese as Manfè instructed, to document the flip (and a potential worker’s comp case, I thought) and I wondered exactly how I planned to get this sticky, cheesy pancake back into the pan. Much like flipping that first pancake, it didn’t quite turnout as prettily as I’d hoped.

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Luckily, I am an expert at covering up culinary mistakes (from years of turning overloaded omelets into last-minute “scrambles”). After the frico thoroughly browned on the other side, I popped the serving plate on top and flipped it again, hiding the ugly, half-crusted side on the bottom.

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The result was gooey, stunning fried cheese held together by tender onion strings and soft potato shreds. The fried crust provided crunch and a delicious caramelized cheese flavor. Mary and I should have let the frico rest a few minutes before slicing, but after nearly 45 minutes of smelling sauteed onions and bubbly cheese, we couldn’t resist. Serve up this dish with a fresh green salad, a slice of toasted baguette, and, as Manfè insists, lots and lots of red wine from Fruili.

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Luca Manfè’s Frico
4 to 6 servings
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 white onions, very thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
8 oz. young Montasio cheese, cut into small cubes
8 oz. aged Montasio cheese, cut into small cubes

• Bring a small pot of water to a slow simmer over low heat and keep it warm.
• Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook 20 to 30 minutes, until the onions are very soft, taking care not to let them get caramelized and adding a little hot water if the pan starts to get dry.
• First, raise the heat to medium. This is where it gets a little tricky: Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the potatoes right into the pan with the onion (If that seems a little daunting, quickly grate them into a bowl and add them to the pan all at once.). Using two wooden spoons, work the potatoes and onions together until they are fully incorporated into a very sticky and wet paste; this will take about 5 minutes. Work that paste! We want to make it as homogenous as possible.
• Add the cheeses to the potato mixture. Using two wooden spoons, work the mixture—grabbing it, lifting it up, stretching it and repeating—until all the cheese is melted and incorporated and you have a uniform paste; this will take about 5 minutes.
• Smooth the mixture into an even layer to cover the pan’s bottom and cook until lightly browned on the bottom, 5 to 10 minutes (Use a spatula to lift and check on the color of the bottom crust.). Place a large round plate upside down on top of the pan. Turn off the heat, then very rapidly invert the pan and the plate together so the frico ends up on the plate. Set the pan back on the stove, slide the frico back into the pan, and turn heat to a medium-low. Continue to cook until a light brown crust brown crust forms on the bottom, 5 to 10 minutes.
• I suggest serving this classic on a large wooden tray or even a cutting board.

Luca’s Tips:
Three simple but very important steps will give you a perfect frico: 1) Cook down the onions very slowly; 2) Grate the potatoes—don’t cut, chop or shave them; and 3) Most important, you absolutely need a nonstick pan to get that all-important crust. Don’t even waste your time if your nonstick is old and scratched—it will be impossible to flip your frico. It just won’t work!
Reprinted with permission from Stewart, Tabori & Chang Publishing

What’s the best cheesy dish you’ve ever had? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of “My Italian Kitchen.” We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, congratulations to April, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won her a copy of “Giada’s Feel Good Food.” April, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

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