Saturday, October 30, 2010

Family Dinner

Sliced Grapes

My dad was back in town again this weekend, but this time all for pleasure, rather than mostly work like last time.  And this time, my mom came along too.  My Aunt Carol and Uncle Gary (Cousin Joe’s parents) drove over from Cincinnati also.  And we all met up on Friday night for a big pasta dinner at our place. 

Flatbread with Gorgonzola, Grapes & Rosemary
Mixed Greens with Walnuts, Apples, Currants, Celery, Fennel & Parmesan
Pasta with Shrimp, White Beans, Garlic & Parmesan
Ciabatta Bread
Chocolate-Orange Whoopie Pies with Vanilla Cream Filling

As the out-of-towners made their way up the four flights of stairs to our too-high dwelling at the top of the building, they were led by the warm aroma of fresh baked bread and pungent rosemary wafting from the hot oven.  Timed just perfectly, the first flatbread pizzas was lifted from the oven just as our guests made it to our door, piping hot and filling the room with its thick, alluring fragrance.  The crust - delicate and crisp, with golden edges and a blistery bottom.  The crumbled gorgonzola - molten and oozing, melted into a delicious oblivion.  The sliced grapes – hot and sugary, like tiny neon pink coins.  And the rosemary infused olive oil, sharp and floral, an intoxicating elixir.  With all this goodness mixed together, we had on our hands a totally delicious, completely sensational pizza.  What a start to the night!

Ready to go into the oven

Pizza Fixin's

Following such a tough act, the mixed green salad more than held its own.  Chock full of all sorts of everything – thin crunchy slices of celery, licoricey fennel, warmly toasted walnuts, chewy dried currants, fresh parsley, tender tarragon, sweet apple slices, spicy red onion, translucent ribbons of nutty parmesan – every single bit yielded something delicious. 

Thinly-Sliced Celery

Toasted Walnuts

This pasta was just so amazingly tasty, I really can’t say enough about it.  One thing I can definitively say though is that it was just filled with shrimp.  My dad is a total shrimp freak, and so I boosted the shrimp factor as a treat for him.  But it’s not surprise that the extra heaps of shrimp meant a big treat for all of us.  And I’m not kidding about lots of shrimp.  The noodle to shrimp ratio was nearly one to one! 

Pasta with Shrimp, White Beans & Parmesan

All extreme shrimpiness aside, these saucy noodles alone were unbelievably good.  Springy tubes of noodles in a buttery brew of mellow garlic, with meltingly tender white beans, fresh specks of green parsley, gooey hints of melted parmesan, spicy kicks of crushed black pepper, briny undertones of clam juice and bright overtones of white wine and lemon.  All around the kitchen table, this was a fantastic hit.  I forgot to ask, but I’m pretty sure each and every one of us gave this dish a perfect ten.    


Speaking of perfect tens… these whoopie pies are definitely deserving of that exalted distinction too.   The intensely chocolaty, cake-like cookies (which are, I suppose, at least in this instance, officially pies – cake-like, cookie-looking pies) were so tender and unbelievably moist, just on the edge of gooey, with deep cocoa flavor and a soft, rich crumb, studded with bright, sugary flecks of candied orange.  All alone, they’re just about the best all in one cookie-cake-pie imaginable.  But take two of them, and stick them together with a fluffy vanilla bean cream in between, and they are, I do believe, just about the best whoopie pies in the world.  Suffice it to say, Whoopie!


Before I sign off today, I just want to wax sentimental a bit on candied orange peels, one of my absolute most favorite things in the world.  My love of this sparkling, sweet-tart treat stretches all the way back to my childhood.  In fact, the very first recipe I ever tried on my own was for candied orange peels.  (A bit of a dud, to tell the truth, as was my second cooking attempt, homemade ketchup.  It was my third try at cooking, a pie of wild black raspberries picked in my back yard, that sealed my future fate as a chef.  It’s to this day, the best thing I’ve ever made.)  Anyways, I’d seen the recipe for candied citrus in one of my mom’s cooking magazines, and to my eight year old eyes, these glittering strips of citrus looked like a homemade version of Sour Patch Kids.  I just had  to try them for myself.  Well, I can’t remember what went wrong exactly, but I do remember being pretty disappointed with the results.  And maybe nothing went wrong at all.  Maybe they turned out just how they were supposed to, just not enough like Sour Patches to satisfy my eager hopes.  But even with this disappointing first experience, my fascination with these shimmering citrus confections never waned.  Years later, I think it was in college, I finally came face to face with some true candied orange peels.  And they were everything I always knew they would be - sweet and sour and just a touch bitter, bursting with bright orange flavor, tender and a little chewy, with a rough, sticky coat of granulated sugar.  My faithful wait was finally over, and I’ve ever since been completely head over heels. 

Sliced Oranges


Flatbread with Gorgonzola, Grapes & Rosemary
Makes four 10-inch round flatbreads
Flatbread with Gorgonzola, Grapes and Rosemary
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 full sprig fresh rosemary plus about 1 tsp finely chopped
about 8 oz gorgonzola cheese
about 1/2 pound grapes, washed and thinly sliced cross-wise
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make the dough:  Before starting with the rest of the recipe, you should have the dough all ready to go.  You can make it a few hours ahead of time, or even a full day before. 
Make the rosemary flavored olive oil: Combine the olive oil and rosemary sprig in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  As soon as the oil begins to sizzle and simmer, remove the pot from the heat.  Let stand at least an hour, to allow the rosemary flavor to infuse into the oil. 
Assemble & bake the flatbreads: Adjust an oven rack to the top-center position in the oven.  Place a pizza stone on the rack, and preheat the oven to 500°F.  (Allow about 1/2 hour for the oven to come to temp.)

Liberally dust a wooden pizza peel with semolina or cornmeal.  Roll and stretch out the dough into a 10-inch circle, pressing up the  sides to make a slight rim.  Place the dough on the dusted peel, and give it a shake back and forth, to make sure the dough is loose.  (If it isn’t, remove it and dust with more semolina/cornmeal.)  Cover the dough with a thin, damp towel and allow it to rest about 10-15 minutes.

Brush about 1 Tbl rosemary oil over the entire top surface of the dough.  Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary evenly over the dough.  Crumble a quarter of the gorgonzola cheese (about 2 oz) evenly over the dough, then arrange a quarter of the sliced grapes evenly over the dough.

Using the pizza peel, put the pizza directly onto the hot pizza stone, giving the peel a jerk to slide the pizza onto the stone.  Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes.  Slide the peel under the pizza and lift it off the stone and out of the oven. 

Season the pizza with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil around the crust.  Slice into 6-8 pieces and serve hot.

Repeat these steps with the following three flatbreads. 

Mixed Greens with Walnuts, Apples, Currants, Celery, Fennel & Parmesan
Serves 4 to 6
Salad with Walnuts, Apples, Currents, Celery, Fennel & Parmesan
For the vinaigrette:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 small clove garlic, peeled & finely minced
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, thyme, minced garlic, a good pinch of salt and a good few grinds of pepper. Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour. This can be made ahead (but only by about a day, thanks to the raw yolk) and stored in an airtight container.
For the rest of the salad:
about 12 oz mixed baby greens (spinach, arugula, radicchio, frisee, mache, etc…)
6 sprigs tarragon, leaves plucked and stems discarded 
2 Tbl whole flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup walnuts, toasted
4 oz parmesan cheese, sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
2 medium stalks celery, very thinly sliced
1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and very thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced and soaked in cool H2O for 15 min *
1/4 cup dried currants
1 large apple, cored and thinly sliced
kosher salt & finely ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the greens, tarragon and parsley in a large mixing bowl.   Add most of the walnuts, parmesan, celery, fennel, red onion, currants and sliced apple.  (I say most  because you’ll want to keep a little bit left over to top the salad.  It’s always nice to have some of the pretty stuff right on top.) Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette on top.  Don’t use it all here, just enough to thinly coat everything to your liking, and save the rest for a nice salad tomorrow.  Season with a good pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Toss to coat thoroughly, and place onto salad plates or in a serving bowl.  Top with the rest of the walnuts, parmesan, celery, fennel, onion, currants & apple.  Serve immediately.
Pasta with Shrimp, White Beans, Garlic & Parmesan
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, November 2008 issue
Serves 4
 Shrimp Pasta & Sliced Ciabatta
1 1/2 pounds large (31-40 per pound) shrimp
6 medium-sized garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbl plus 2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound short, tubular pasta (I used mezze-rigatoni)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup clam juice
one 15-oz can Great Northern white beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (finely grated to a powder-like consistency), plus another
     1/2 cup or so (grated on the small holes of a box grater) for passing at the table
3 Tbl unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tsp lemon juice
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Peel the shells and tails off of the shrimp.  Be careful not to rip off the entire tail while you’re removing the shell – An intact tail makes for a much prettier shrimp.   

De-vein the shrimp (i.e. remove the intestinal tract).  Use a paring knife to make a shallow slice along the center of the outer edge of the shrimp.  This will expose the dark grey ‘vein’ running along the length of the shrimp.  Scrape it out with the knife.  (You may not even have to do this.  Many times shrimp is already de-veined when you buy it.  If it hasn’t been de-veined, the outer edge of the shrimp will be intact, and you’ll see the vein just below the surface.  If it has been de-veined, a tell-tale slice will run down the edge of the shrimp.) 

Finely minced two of the garlic cloves and set aside.  Smash the remaining four garlic cloves with the broad side of a chef knife. 
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, toss the prepped shrimp with the minced garlic, 1 Tbl olive oil, and a good pinch of kosher salt.  Let marinate at room temperature for about half an hour, or in the refrigerator for up to four hours. 
In a very-large skillet, heat the four smashed gloves and the remaining 2 Tbl olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is light golden brown and fragrant, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic from the skillet.  Set aside the skillet, and discard the garlic. 
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Cook until just tender, then drain the pasta in a colander, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.  Transfer the cooked pasta back to the pot.
While the pasta cooks, place the skillet with the garlic-flavored oil over medium heat, and let sit for 1 minute.  Add the shrimp with its marinade to the pan, arranging it in a single layer if possible.  (If not possible, you’ll have to cook the shrimp in two batches.)  Cook the shrimp, undisturbed, until the shrimp starts to turn pink around the top edges, about 1-2 minutes.  Flip over the shrimp and continue to cook about 1 minute longer.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl. 
Add the red pepper flakes to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.  Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.  Stir in the white wine and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute more.  Add the clam juice and drained beans.  Cook until the sauce starts to thicken, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the half cup of finely grated parmesan and stir until melted into the sauce, about 3o seconds.  Turn off the heat, then stir in the butter, parsley and lemon juice. 
Add the shrimp and sauce to the pasta in the large cooking pot, and stir to combine.  Add the reserved cooking water if the sauce is too thick.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve hot.  Pass with the extra grated parmesan around the table.
Chocolate-Orange Whoopie Pies with Vanilla Cream Filling
Adapted from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti
Makes about 15 Whoopie Pies
For the pies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbl instant espresso powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup whole milk
1 cup roughly chopped candied orange peel (which, don’t forget, must be made at least
     a day ahead)
Preheat the oven to 325°F and arrange the two racks in the mid-upper and mid-lower positions.  Line three sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt together into a medium-sized mixing bowl, then whisk by hand to combine.  In a second, larger mixing bowl, whisk to combine the sugar and egg.  In a third, medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the espresso powder with the boiling water.  Stir to dissolve then add the oil and milk and stir to combine. 
Add half of the flour mixture to the sugar-egg mixture and whisk to combine, then add the coffee-mixture to this and whisk again until smooth.  Add the rest of the flour mixture and whisk until just smooth.  Fold in the orange peel using a rubber spatula. 
Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons onto the parchment-lined sheet pans, spacing them about 2-inches apart.  Try to aim for 30 pies in all.
Bake, first two pans and then the one, until the pies are puffed and set, but still soft enough to hold a slight indentation when pressed with the fingertip, about 12 minutes.  Make sure to rotate the pans, switching positions and turning them 180°, about half-way through the baking time.  Let cool completely on the pans, placed on wire cooling racks. 
Whoopie Pie Cookies
Technically, though I wouldn’t advise it, the pies can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 1 weeks.  Make sure to place sheets of parchment paper between separate layers of the pies, to keep them from sticking together.  And even with this precaution, arranging one pie on top of the next like this tends to mar the smooth top surfaces of the cookie.  They’ll still be insanely yummy, but if aesthetics count to you, I’d advise storing these in a single layer with nothing (not even plastic wrap) touching their tops.  Alternatively, just don’t store them at all, and assemble the pies with the whipped cream filling soon after they cool.
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbl plus 1 tsp powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split length-wise
Combine the cream, vanilla extract and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with a whisk attachment.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream mixture.  (Discard the remaining pod.)  Whisk on medium speed to medium-stiff peaks. 
Dollop a good scoop of cream onto the center of the bottom surface of one pie.  Top with a second pie, bottom side down, and press gently to adhere the filling to the pies.  Store, uncovered and in a single layer, in a cool place until serving. 
Candied Citrus Peels
Adapted from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti
Candied Orange Peels
6 large oranges OR 4 medium Ruby Red grapefruits 
5 cups granulated sugar
4 1/4 cups water
2/3 cups light corn syrup
Cut the fruit into six equal wedges through the stem end.  Pull out the flesh of the fruit (the part we normally eat) and save for another use or a snack.  Leave the pithy white underside of the skin in place. 
1. Orange Slices
2. Orange Peels
Fill a large saucepot with water and bring it to a boil over high heat.  Add the citrus peels to the boiling water.  Keep the heat on high, and allow the water to return to a boil, stirring occasionally.  As you wait for the water to boil, fill a large mixing bowl with ice water.  Drain the peels from the boiling water in a colander, then plunge the peels into the ice water.  (This is the first of three times you’re going to do all of this.  But don’t get ahead of yourself – step 3 is a little bit different.)
Refill the saucepot with water and bring to a boil again.  Drain the peels from the ice water, then again add them to the boiling water and wait for the water to return to a boil.  Drain the peels again, and then again plunge them into a new bowl of ice water. 
Refill the saucepot with water for a third time, and again bring to a boil over high heat.  This time, while you are waiting for the water to boil, slice off about half of the thickness of the white pith from each piece of citrus peel.  It’s best to use a thin, sharp, flexible knife to do this, such as a fillet knife.  Discard the slices of pith. 
Place the peels in the boiling water for a final time, and again return the water to the boil, then drain the peels from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water.  Drain them from the ice water when cooled. 

3. Orange Peels in Water, Bringing Back to a Boil
4. Peels with Pith Sliced Off
Now it’s time to candy the peels.  Stir together the sugar, water and corn syrup in a large saucepot.  Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, cut 2 rounds of parchment paper slightly wider than the circumference of the pot.  When the sugar syrup comes to a boil, add the citrus peels and bring back to a simmer.  Cover the peels with the 2 sheets of parchment paper, to keep them submerged in the sugar syrup.  Adjust the heat to low or medium-low to maintain a bare simmer.  Cook until the pith is soft and the peel begins to look translucent, about 1 hour 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and allow the citrus peels to cool in the sugar syrup, at room temperature overnight, with the parchment paper in place and undisturbed.
The next day, transfer the citrus peels and syrup to an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator.  The candied peels will keep indefinitely.
5. Orange Peels Simmering in Sugar Syrup, Covered with Parchment
6. Candied Orange Peels in Sugar Syrup 
For an extra special treat:
While you can use the candied citrus peels just as they are for recipes like the Chocolate-Orange Whoopie Pies, they’re really, especially lovely all on their own, dusted with sugar.  To do this, first remove the peels from the syrup.  Rinse off the syrup in cool running water.  Slice the pieces lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.  Place a wire cooling rack over a parchment paper or foil-lined sheet pan, then arrange the strips of candied citrus over the rack.  Leave them at room temperature overnight, or until dry.  Place granulated sugar in a bowl. Add the dried peel, a few strips at a time, and toss to coat evenly with sugar.  Store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place (but not in a refrigerator).
Air-Drying the Sliced Candied Orange Peels
Dipped In Sugar


  1. Really excited to try the pizza...but what is a pizza peel? And the candied orange peel....seems like a lot of work but delicious!!!

    Can I make the pasta with chicken we don't eat shrimp (although Josh might like it with shrimp actually) what would I put instead of clam juice?

  2. Hey Dana :). A pizza peel is one of those really big wooden spatulas for pizza. It's what you use to put the pizza onto the stone, and then lift it off when it's done cooking.

    The pasta might be okay with chicken, but in all honesty, I wouldn't bother. There are plenty of other great chicken-pasta recipes out there that would be much, much better than substituting chicken in this. And as far as the clam juice... I know it sounds a little disgusting, but you can hardly taste it at all in end. It just adds a layer of complexity, but absolutely no fishiness. If it's a matter of a seafood allergy, I'd advise switching it with a little more white wine or some of the pasta cooking water.