Pasta Baked with Potatoes and Leeks

October 31, 2007

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Leeks and potatoes are an almost magical combination. Bake them with pasta and cheese, and you have the ultimate comfort food. SAM

1 pound new potatoes (4 medium)
1 pound onions, thinly sliced (2 medium)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium leeks
1 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin seed
4 ounces small pasta [curls, oriechetti, macaroni]
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons unseasoned breadcrumbs, divided
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch gratin dish and set aside.

In a small saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, cool, and roughly chop.

Trim away the heavy green ends of the leeks. Leaving the roots intact, slice the leeks into quarters from roots to tips. Rinse under running water and place upside-down in a sieve in a large bowl of cold water. Soak for 30 minutes or until free of sand and dirt. Chop into 1-inch pieces.

In a large chef’s pan over medium heat, sweat the onions in 1 tablespoon oil for 15 minutes. Add the leeks, raise the heat to medium, cover, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes more. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the cumin and sauté until fragrant, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes.

Boil the pasta in lightly salted water until al dente. Drain, toss with 1 tablespoon oil, and stir into the onions and leeks. Add the potatoes, crème fraîche, 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, and pepper. Turn into the prepared casserole and top with the remaining 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until browned.
Makes 2 main or 4 side servings.

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COOKING TIP: Cleaning Leeks

October 31, 2007

Here’s an easy way to clean leeks: Trim away the heavy green part of the leaves. Leaving the roots intact, slice the leeks into quarters from roots to tips. Rinse under running water and place upside-down in a sieve in a large bowl of cold water. Soak for 30 minutes or until free of sand and dirt.


Roasted Red Pepper-Potato Gratin

October 30, 2007

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A perfect casserole for cooler weather … Use whatever cheese you find in your market. Paneer would be fine or a nice hard sheep’s cheese. The goat’s cheese-water mixture functions as the sauce. You can substitute a béchamel or use heavy cream. Actually, heavy cream would be wonderful! SAM

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced (4 medium)
1 pound new potatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
3 ounces log goat’s cheese
3 ounces water
6 ounces roasted red bell peppers, minced
2 tablespoons grated mild cheddar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unseasoned breadcrumbs, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch gratin dish and set aside. in a large, covered chef’s pan over low heat, sweat the onions in 1 tablespoon oil, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic after 15 minutes and continue cooking another 15 minutes, until translucent. In a small stockpot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. In a small saucepan over very low heat, combine the goat’s cheese, water, and bay leaf stirring until melted. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the onion mixture, potatoes, goat’s cheese mixture, roasted peppers, cheddar, and 1/3 cup breadcrumbs. Discard the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Turn into the prepared gratin, sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Bake for 50 minutes or until browned.
Makes 4 servings.


Lentil-Butternut Soup

October 29, 2007

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With farm markets full of winter squash, this is the perfect soup to make on a cold morning! The seeds and pulp from the butternut cooked in the steamer water add a burst of flavor. The polenta makes everything creamy and rich. Make it on Monday and you can enjoy it all week. SAM

1/2 cup dried Puy lentils or gray-green French lentils
5 1/2 cups cold water, divided
1 1/2 pounds onions (2 large), thinly sliced, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 medium butternut squash
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup marsala wine
1 tablespoon butter
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
1/3 cup instant polenta
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan and chopped parsley

Pick through the lentils and rinse. Place in a stockpot with 1 1/2 cups of cold water and 1 thin slice of onion, cover, bring to a low boil, and simmer for 25 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, in a large, covered chef’s pan over low heat, sweat the remaining onions in 1 tablespoon of oil until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic after 15 minutes and continue cooking another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bottom of a 2-quart steamer pan over medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the shallot and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Cut the squash in half and scrape the seeds and pulp into the steamer bottom with the shallot. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring, until fragrant and colorful, about 4 minutes. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Place the squash, cut-side down, in the steamer basket, cover, and steam until tender, about 20 minutes. Strain the steamer water, discarding seeds, fiber, and shallot, and reserve. Scrape the squash flesh into the onion mixture, along with the bay leaf. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté until reduced by 1/4, about 15 minutes. Add the marsala and reduce, about 2 minutes. Add the butter and lentils along with any pot liquor.

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring to a boil 1 cup of lightly salted water. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the polenta. Return the pan to medium-low heat and whisk until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and stir into the squash-lentils mixture, along with the remaining 1 cup of water. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by 1 cup, stirring frequently, about 30 minutes. Garnish with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.
Makes 2 quarts.


Irish Coffee

October 28, 2007

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Whiskey in coffee may have been around forever, but true Irish Coffee is said to have been invented in County Limerick in the 1940s. It’s one of the easiest bar drinks to make at home, and is a warm and comforting treat on a cold and windy night. SAM

1 teaspoon sugar or to taste
3/4 cup hot strong coffee
1 ounce Irish whiskey
2 tablespoons whipped cream or topping

In a glass or mug, dissolve the sugar in the coffee. Add the whiskey and stir thoroughly. Top with whipped cream.
Makes 1 serving.


Chocolate-Molasses Bars

October 27, 2007

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I modified these chewy bar cookies slightly because some ROL readers don’t like the combination of orange and chocolate. If that’s you, substitute chopped raisins or dates for the orange zest. And by all means use your favorite nuts. However you make these cookies, they’ll be fabulous. If you’re feeding kids, they’ll make a great lunch box snack. SAM

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light molasses
2 1/2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate, grated
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans, hazelnuts, or walnuts
1/4 cup coarsely grated orange zest or chopped raisins or dates

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, soda, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg and set aside. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Add the flour mixture alternately with the molasses, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in the chocolate, nuts, and orange zest, raisins, or dates by hand. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Cool in the pan on a wire rack and cut into bars.
Makes 3 dozen bars.


Date-Nut Hermit Cookies

October 26, 2007

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These are called ‘hermits’ because the date-nut filling hides in a little cave of cookie dough like a hermit in the rocks. Emily’s family has been making them since time immemorial. Taste one, and you’ll see why. SAM

1/2 cup shortening
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

Date-Nut Filling
1 pound pitted dates
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon cognac
1/2 cup chopped pecans

With an electric mixer, thoroughly cream the shortening and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, nutmeg, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt and add to the shortening mixture alternately with enough ice water to form a medium stiff dough. Form the dough into a cylinder 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours.

While the dough is chilling, make the Date-Nut Filling. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the dates, sugar, water, and cognac. Cook, stirring frequently, until smooth and thick. Remove from the heat and add the pecans. Cool.

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the dough into 1/4-inch rounds and place 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling on each slice and top with a second slice of dough. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 5 dozen cookies.