Tuesday, April 19, 2011

French Onion Soup


It is another drizzly day in New York. I now know what they mean by, ‘April showers before May Flowers’. Growing up in Los Angeles, I never fully understood the meaning of this phrase. Sure, it rained in April, but not that much and certainly no more than in February or March. Note to self, any phrase about weather is probably not referring to Southern California, where I am now convinced we have some of the best weather in the country.

Anyway, it is raining and I have just spent an hour trying to scrub grease stains and oil spills out of my chef’s coats and aprons. Since I don’t have class tonight, I put a pot of soup on the stove and am going to spend the rest of the afternoon inside, eating soup and reading Kim Severson’s Spoon Fed. I highly recommend her memoir. Especially if you, like me, have a hard time buying any novel or memoir that is not food-related. It is a great read and one I totally relate to as a California transplant in New York.

The soup I’m making to keep me and my book company is a super simple French onion soup. Super simple is really a tad redundant because if you have homemade stock on hand, French onion soup should always be simple. The key is cooking your onions low and slow for a long time to get them nice and caramelized. After that, just add stock, let everything simmer away for a bit and season. If you have some crusty bread on hand, all the better. Slice it up, place a slice on each bowl of soup and cover with gruyere cheese. A quick run under the broiler and you have a beautiful bowl of restaurant quality French onion soup. If I have them all on hand I like to use brown or yellow onions, red onions and shallots, but if you only have one kind, that’s okay too. I can’t stress enough what a difference homemade stock makes in a soup like this. If you want to try your hand at it, here are the steps for veal stock. If not, use a good-quality beef stock from your grocery store.

French Onion Soup
Serves 4

2 pounds mixed onions
2 T canola oil
2 quarts (8 cups) beef or veal stock
1 thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
4-8 slices crusty baguette
1/2 cup grated gruyere

Peel the onions. Cut them in half and then into thin slices so you have a large pile of half-moon slices. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Sauté the onions until beginning to soften, season with a little salt and pepper, and cover the pot. The steam captured by covering the pot will help to soften the onions without using too much oil. Uncover the pot and stir occasionally. When the onions are beginning to brown, remove the lid and continue to cook until caramelized. This can take up to 30 minutes.

Add the stock to the pan and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme and bay leaf and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove the thyme and bay leaf and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Preheat your broiler. Divide the soup among four serving bowls. Top with one to two slices of bread, depending on what will fit in your bowls, and sprinkle a few tablespoons of gruyere over the bread. Run under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Take care when serving the soup as the bowls will be extremely hot from the broiler. Enjoy with a good book on a rainy day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Harbinger of Spring


Growing up, eating artichokes meant simmering them until tender and serving them with a dip of mayonnaise mixed with a bit of soy sauce. Had we been hip to it at the time, we might have called it a soy aioli, but to us it was just the perfect creamy salty accompaniment to those boiled leaves and still, to this day, I can’t eat artichoke leaves without it. Luckily, my artichoke repertoire has expanded ever so slightly beyond boiled leaves.

At FCI we prepare artichokes by ‘turning’ them, or removing all the outer leaves and using a paring knife to remove the green skin until you’re left with the tender heart of the artichoke. Once you have the heart, you can braise, roast, grill or do just about anything you want with it. Currently, in the restaurant at FCI, we serve slivers of braised artichoke heart with a roasted rack of lamb. They are delicious.

One of the perks of working on set at a cooking show is the opportunity to bring home the occasional excess produce. Once the segment is complete, the produce that was used to dress the set is usually still perfectly good, but won’t be visually appealing if saved for another shoot on another day. After the crew has been fed and talent takes what they want, the rest is up for grabs. I am very lucky to be working on these shows as the spring season rolls in and great produce such as asparagus, dandelion greens, spring onions, and of course artichokes, are the topic du jour. I made off with a few artichokes last week and while I was craving my mother’s simmered artichoke with ‘soy aioli’ I decided to broaden my artichoke horizon a bit more and see what I could come up with.

Enter Plenty, the new cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi. I won’t say much about the book today, because I am smitten with the recipes and have a feeling that you may be hearing a lot about it over the coming weeks. Just know this: If you’re looking for some inspiration in the vegetable department, you are sure to find it in this book. I found mine when a relish of fava beans jumped off the page at me via some gorgeous photography. Favas are my ultimate harbinger of spring and they seemed the perfect accompaniment to the artichokes I had waiting. And a little hint about that other accompaniment I love so much? Hold on to the leaves you remove from the artichoke. Simmered over low heat they go very nicely with a little soy aioli.

I am providing the recipe here as Ottolenghi wrote it, but I was out of panko so I used a mix of walnut flour and whole wheat flour to bread the artichoke hearts. Use whatever, even plain old flour works well too.

Globe Artichokes with Crushed Fava Beans
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1 3/4 cups shelled fava beans
1 small garlic clove, crushed
4 T extra-virgin olive oil plus more for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ t Maldon sea salt
2-3 globe artichokes
3 lemons
1 egg, beaten
3 T panko
3 T fresh mint, chopped
2 T fresh dill, chopped

Bring a pan of water to a boil, add the beans and blanch for three minutes. Drain, refresh and leave in a colander to dry. Remove the outer skins by pressing each bean gently between your thumb and forefinger. Put the shelled beans in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, four tablespoons of oil, some black pepper and half a teaspoon of salt, then pulse until just roughly chopped – don’t overdo it.

Cut off most of the stalk from the artichokes and pull off the tough outer leaves. Once you reach the softer, pale leaves, trim off the top, so you're left with the heart and some very soft leaves around it. Scrape off any remaining tough leaves and the 'hairs' in the center. Rub with a cut lemon to keep the artichokes from turning brown.

Bring a pan of water to a boil, drop in the artichokes and simmer until a knife cuts easily through the flesh, seven to 10 minutes. Drain and dry on paper towels. Put the artichokes in a bowl with the beaten egg, mix, then lift them into a bowl filled with the panko and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and coat them well.

Add enough oil to a pan to come 1 1/4 inches up the side. Heat until almost smoking. Fry the artichokes until golden, for about four minutes, turning them as you go. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

Put the fava bean mixture in a bowl and stir in the chopped herbs and the juice of a lemon. Spoon some of this over each serving plate, top with an artichoke heart and spoon more of the beans on top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with a lemon wedge, if desired.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Favas for Spring!


Yes, those are shelled fava beans in my cuisinart which means either...

A. It is finally spring.
B. I have already been in the kitchen for an hour to get a mere two cups of favas out of their shells.
C. I just got Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook, Plenty, and have been inspired.
D. A new recipe will be up on Apples and Butter shortly!

How about all four? Check back tomorrow afternoon for Ottolenghi's delicious Globe Artichokes with Crushed Fava Beans!