Peperonata rustica.

Well, I finally channeled Christmas last week, and it was exhausting. I made countless batches of cookies—earl grey tea cookies, chocolate chips, Heidi’s ginger chip, linzer cookies, peanut butter ones, and almond spritzes—and a Catalan beef stew for 10.  We spent Christmas at Jim’s family’s, then the next day at mine (where we didn’t cook; thanks for the lamb, Dad!), Monday at the doctor’s office (not Christmasy, I know), and didn’t stop to rest before the week began again today.

peppers
We’ve got another holiday looming—New Year’s Eve—and Jim and I will spend it alone; which is not to say it won’t be exhausting in itself, as we’ll be cooking pork belly confit for the first course and pasta with sea urchin and caviar for the main.  I’m already exhausted just thinking about all those delicious calories, but it’s been a tradition of Jim’s and mine to send the waning year out with a delicious bang.  A few years ago we had $30 dollar baked potatoes (with black truffle) and beef tenderloin with artichokes; last year we had foie gras for an appetizer, and a roast chicken with truffles slipped under the skin for our main course.  We always add a few shots of icy, viscous vodka while the time ticks towards 12, and a few chocolate desserts for once the ball drops.

Peppers for roasting

And then, once we wake in the morning, dazed and a little hungover, we start the next year.  We exercise and eat healthily, diligently read the New York Review of Book and the brush up on our studies.  We’re pretty serious about new year resolutions, and this year is no exception.  We have a wedding coming up, you know.  And I’ll be damned if I don’t look just-so in my wedding dress.

Peppers, steaming
Come 2010, I’ll be making this peperonata rustica, from the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook, often.  It’s healthy without going overboard (I’m not one for restricting my diet to skinless chicken breasts and wheatgrass during a diet, anyway) and packed with enough flavor to make a little go a long way.

But enough of that resolution stuff, let’s talk the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook. It’s amazing!  This peperonata rustica is amazing! The soffrito that goes in it, that takes 5 glorious hours to make, is amazing! It  also gave me the Catalan beef stew, which I deemed amazing enough to suit us for Christmas dinner. Egads! This cookbook is… well, you catch my drift, amazing. And if you don’t have it already, you need to.  Besides being flippin’ gorgeous, this book will make you a better cook.  No question about it.

Peperonata rustica

Even if this peperonata rustica isn’t the first recipe you try from the cookbook (there’s a ton of good stuff in here: I’ve tried the Catalan beef stew, fried chicken, stewed prunes, and meatballs with pappardelle so far, and have not been disappointed yet), put it on your short list.

You take sweet-tart, fresh roasted red and yellow bell peppers, and smoky, sweet piquillos and stew them with some soffrito and chicken stock, and Espelette pepper if you can find it (I couldn’t, so I used a touch of pimenton de la vera, dulce and a smaller amount of cayenne—not a perfect substitute, but it worked fine.)  I’m obviously a little smitten with the soffrito; it’s made with a whole lot of good olive oil and onions, slowly caramelized over a low heat, with tomatoes added after a few hours, and a bit of garlic at the end.  The result is beyond words. The perfect flavoring agent for this peperonata, or for stew. I’m not going to give you the real recipe because I really, really do think you should buy this book (I can be downright bossy sometimes) but if you refuse, I’m sure the above directions will get you by.

I would buy you all a copy of the book if I could (and I’m a little displeased with Santa, since I specifically asked him to do just that) to ring in the new year.  But since I can’t do that, here’s one recipe.  It’s delicious as a side for fish, or as a base for fried eggs, or eaten alone over some fluffy white rice.  It’s also achingly pretty, with bits of green chive and bright reds and yellows. It’s something I can make resolutions for.

Peperonata Rustica

Peperonata Rustica

from the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook [excluding side notes]

serves 6

6 yellow bell peppers
6 red bell peppers
Canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces piquillo pepper, drained, peeled, and seeded
About ½ cup soffrito (see recipe in cookbook, or make up your own soffrito of oil, onions, tomatoes, and a touch of garlic)
1½ cups of chicken stock
¾ teaspoon piment d’Espelette
1 tablespoon minced chives

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.   Cut the bell peppers lengthwise in half and remove the stems and seeds.  Toss the peppers with oil to coat and salt and pepper to taste.  Arrange the peppers cut side down on the baking sheets, the red peppers on one, the yellow peppers on the other.

Roast the peppers until the skin is blistering, 30 to 35 minutes for the red and 35 to 40 minutes for the yellow, do not allow the edges to blacken.  Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or put in an airtight container with a lid.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them.  Tear them lengthwise into strips about ¾ inch wide.  Tear the piquillos into strips in the same way.

Combine all the peppers, the soffrito, stock, and Espelette [or whatever you are substituting] in a medium saucepan over medium heat, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 30 minutes, to soften the peppers completely and meld the flavors.

Transfer to a bowl or platter, sprinkle with chives, and serve.

Maida Heatter’s English Gingersnaps

Hi there.  It seems I’ve been missing.  The holiday season flew right by me, Thanksgiving was a bust (well, not totally, but there wasn’t any turkey), and I’m not really sure how all of a sudden it’s Christmas next week.  How on earth did that happen?

pile o' cookies

I guess I’ve been preoccupied with client dinners and wedding planning.  And these scallops had clouded all thoughts of other food.  Wednesday, however, I made a batch of Maida Heatter’s English Gingersnaps, so I hope that counts for something.  I’m betting most of you have your cookie-making planned—or executed—by now, but if you’re like me and haven’t gotten that far yet, these are for you.

Spices

They’re gloriously easy, and delicious to boot.  The spices—lots of them—are sifted with flour and added to butter creamed with dark brown sugar and molasses, and then the dough is rolled into balls and tossed in sugar. That crackly sugar crunch is essential to holiday cookies; I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without it (the thought of one is probably what knocked me into the holiday mode at last). The combination of spices, too—of cinnamon and clove and ginger and allspice and black pepper—-is Christmas to a tee. Don’t let the black pepper scare you: all you’ll notice it some gentle heat that, with the right amount of salt, makes this the perfectly seasoned cookie.

dough

It looks like we’re in for a snowstorm this weekend, so I’ll be baking some more cookies. It’s the perfect time, actually, to fall into the holiday spirit. I’m just not sure which cookies to bake. Any suggestions? Preferably the kind that can be pulled off after a few glasses of eggnog, of course.

ginger cookies

English Gingersnaps

These cookies are from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, my all-time favorite cookie book, worthy of a spot on any cook’s bookshelf.  Besides having a wide range of recipes, each one I’ve tried has been delicious, with that perfectly seasoned quality I’m so smitten with.

This is a classic recipe for large, dark, semisoft gingersnaps.

2 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
6 ounces (1½ sticks) butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
Granulated sugar (to roll the cookies in)

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and black pepper and set aside.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter.  Add the brown sugar and beat well.  Add the egg and the molasses and beat for a few minutes until the mixture is light in color.  On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until incorporated.

Refrigerate the dough briefly (in the mixing bowl if you wish) until it can be handled; 10 to 15 minutes might be enough.

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Spread some granulated sugar on a large piece of wax paper.  Use a rounded tablespoonful of dough for each cookie.  Roll it into a ball between your hands (rubbing your hands with a bit of canola oil helps keep the cookies from sticking ), then roll it around in the granulated sugar, and place the balls 2½ to 3 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes, reversing the cookie sheets top to bottom and front to back once during the baking to insure even browning.  The cookies are done when they feel semifirm to the touch. (I found that my cookies, in my electric oven, took about 11 minutes.)

With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Barely cooked scallops with tomato compote and champagne beurre blanc

Eric Ripert is easy to love. He’s got those charming French looks, and a fantastic food show, and Le Bernardin of course, with its pounded tuna over foie gras and toasted broiche.

scallops

He also has these scallops, served over a tomato compote, drizzled with champagne beurre blanc, which would be impossible not to love, and are the reason I’ve been doggedly devoted to the man as of late. In the past few weeks I’ve made this, and this and tonight will be making this; but these scallops remain my favorite, even though that’s like choosing between chocolate and craft beers.

DSC03927

You’ll need to find good scallops for this recipe; nothing frozen, or slimy, or discolored. Small dayboat scallops are best. “Dayboat” means that the fishermen who dredged up your scallops were only out on the water for the day before heading back with their bounty. Otherwise, your scallops could have been sitting out at sea on the boat for up to ten days before the fishermen returned to harbor. And, trust me, eaten mostly raw, scallops that are over 10 days old are as yucky as they sound. The quality of the scallops matters much more than the champagne here, so spend your budget on those and buy yourself a $10-$15 bottle of bubbly—just make sure it’s drinkable, since you’ll have a lot leftover.

tomato compote

The freshness of the scallops is also more important than the freshness of the tomatoes; though Ripert uses fresh ones, I’ve only made this with canned San Marzano (whole, peeled, which I core and de-seed) and I’m assuming it doesn’t affect the quality of the compote, being that I adore it so much. I’m looking forward to using ripe, fresh tomatoes next summer, though I have a feeling I may like this version even better. There’s something luscious about good canned tomatoes cooked down with a bevy of shallot and garlic and a good slick of olive oil.

Scallops

It’s the perfect time of year for scallops in champagne beurre blanc anyway, whether you make them now, in the week right after Thanksgiving and before the Christmas gorging begins, when you need something healthy but not too healthy, or you could wait and serve them as a first course for a luxurious New Year’s Eve bash of a dinner party. It’s pretty darn holiday looking, too, don’t you think?

DSC04043

Barely Cooked Scallops with Tomato Compote and Champagne Beurre Blanc

adapted slightly from Avec Eric

Ripert uses this recipe as an appetizer for four people, but I’ve also used it as a main course, with a good bread alongside, for two. If making it for two, you’ll have a lot of beurre blanc left over (not a bad thing…) as it’s more than even to sauce the four appetizer plates.

The recipe also alludes to smoked salmon being used. I watched the episode and there was no sneaky smoked salmon tip-toeing around, so I think it’s a typo.

The Tomato Compote:

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup diced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (28 oz) can of good quality tomatoes, drained, cored, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Champagne Beurre Blanc:

1 cup Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
¼ cup finely minced shallots
½ cup butter
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Scallops:

¾ pound day boat scallops
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
1 tablespoon olive oil, or more to taste
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and cook over medium low heat stirring frequently, until almost dry, about 15-25 minutes.

Combine Champagne and shallots in a sauce pot and reduce to ¼ cup. This can be done ahead and kept covered.

While the wine is reducing, slice the scallops crosswise into ½ – inch thick slices.
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Finish the beurre blanc by whisking in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Season to taste with a genorous amount of salt and pepper.

Lay the scallop slices in a single layer on a baking pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the scallops and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the scallops are just warm to the touch, about 4 minutes. Remove the scallops from the oven.

Plate the tomato compote in the bottom of a ring mold (you can use the tomato can for this, just use the can opener to remove both ends) and add the scallops in a pinwheel patter over the compote. Sprinkle the chives on top of the scallops and spoon the sauce over the scallops.

Serve immediately.