Sunday, November 13, 2011

Broccoli with Gremolata Bread Crumbs

Thanksgiving is here, which means dinner at my younger sister's home. I have four sisters, and all but one (she lives in Houston) will be there, along with my 98 year old father, and my daughter, who will be coming home for the weekend. Though we are a thoroughly Italian family, our Thanksgiving meal is very traditional and quite American, so no pasta that day. I consider all of my sisters and myself to be good cooks, so everything is made from scratch. My sister (the hostess) makes the turkey (always fresh) and handles all the details, like beverages and appetizers, but the rest of us handle the majority of the side dishes and desserts. My charge is always the pumpkin pies and sometimes the green vegetable for the day.

With so many rich foods on the menu  I prefer to keep the green veggie that day relatively simple, so no dishes with a buttery rich sauce or creamy-cheesy base. But, I can't seem to settle for just plain veggies either. To dress them up a bit I like to top them with a flavorful gremolata bread crumb topping. For those unfamiliar with the term 'gremolata', it is an Italian condiment typically made of minced lemon zest, garlic and parsley traditionally served with veal, Osso Buco in particular, or other meats. I add breadcrumbs and a few finely chopped walnuts to make it a more suitable compliment for vegetables. The parsley and lemon zest add a wonderful fresh taste to the veggies, and the bread crumbs and walnuts lend a crispy crunch; all a nice contrast to the many creamy, soft foods on the menu that day.

Gremolata is best when made with freshly made bread crumbs, and though it goes without saying, fresh, not dried, parsley. Any good artisan-style bread, white, wheat or multi-grain, will do. Just pulse a few slices a few seconds in a food processor and then bake the coarse crumbs in a 250 degree oven, till they are dry but not brown, about 15 minutes or so. They can be made a day or two ahead, and stored in a glass jar to prevent the crumbs from picking up flavors or odors from other foods in the refrigerator.

For this blog post I have prepared just a small amount, enough for 4 generous side servings. By all means, double, triple or quadruple the amounts to fit your needs. And, feel free to change the proportions-a little more parsley, lighter on the nuts, etc. Gremolata has many, many interpretations and I've noticed it is featured frequently in many holiday food magazines.  I can't emphasize enough what this simple, easy to make topping adds to any vegetable. It adds a delicious flourish and is an easy way to dress up a dish for a holiday buffet appearance.   Happy Thanksgiving.

Broccoli w/ Gremolata Bread Crumbs

1 bunch broccoli, trimmed, and cut into bite size pieces
2 T. olive oil
12 c. dry, fresh bread crumbs
2 small or 1 large garlic clove, very finely minced
1/4 c. finely chopped parsley
1/4 c. finely chopped walnuts, toasted in saute pan
2 tsp. lemon zest, finely minced
salt to season the vegetables

Prepare the broccoli:
Steam for 4 minutes till tender, but not soft or mushy.  Remove broccoli from steamer and put into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil, about 1 tablespoon, and some salt and mix together.

Prepare the Gremolata:
In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for just a minute to soften and flavor the oil. 

Add the breadcrumbs and saute till  well coated and crispy but not brown. 

Remove from heat and add the walnuts, parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Mix well together and let sit for at least 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend. 

Plate the prepared broccoli and generously sprinkle the gremolata over the top, and serve.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ALBONDIGAS - Mexican Meatball Soup

This is the second time I am making this Mexican flavored soup. The first time I made it, I was blown away at how incredibly delicious it was and how robust the Mexican notes of the dish played out. The flavors of the cilantro, cumin and medium-hot salsa melded beautifully together; and the rice and tender meatballs gave the soup a thick, creamy texture that was wonderfully satisfying. I vowed I would definitely make this soup again. This time I used brown long grain rice instead of the white variety as directed in the recipe, and prepared the rice separately instead of cooking it in the soup. I also used ground beef that the recipe called for, instead of ground turkey.

Though the second time around the results were equally delicious, there were notable differences in the two versions. Cooking the rice separately and then adding it to the finished soup made a more 'brothy' dish, as opposed to the creamier, thicker version when it was cooked in the soup.  Using ground beef also made firmer, meatier tasting meatballs, while the ground turkey ones were considerably more tender and mellow in taste. Fortunately, both of those changes, for the most part, impacted the overall texture of the soup, and not the taste. Either way, the soup hits the spot on a cold evening and is a great weekend soup. 

The recipe comes from the December, 2000 issue of Bon Appetit  magazine. The recipe is written as directed in the magazine. I added the jalapeno pepper to add a bit more heat to the soup.  Don't skimp on the cumin or cilantro, especially if using the ground beef for the meatballs. And, if you like your dishes spicy hot, use hot salsa instead of the medium-hot version. Next time, I plan to replace the regular tomatoes with the Mexican version, which contain chili peppers and a bit of heat, and eliminate the jalapeno pepper and salsa from the recipe. 

Albondigas - Mexican Meatball Soup

1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
1/4 pound pork sausage
1 c. finely chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
6 T. yellow cornmeal
1/4 c. whole milk (don't need is using turkey)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. black pepper


2 T. olive oil
1 3/4 c. chopped onions, medium dice
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 small bay leaves
5  14 1/2 oz. cans beef broth
28 oz. diced tomatoes with juices
1/2 c. chunky medium-hot salsa
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1/2 c. long-grain white rice 


Heat oil in a large, heavy pot. Add 1 3/4 c. chopped onions, chopped jalapeno pepper, 2 minced garlic cloves, and bay leaves; and saute for 5 minutes.  
Add the beef broth, tomatoes with juices, salsa and 1/4 c. cilantro. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. 

 Meanwhile, combine the ground beef (or turkey), pork sausage, cornmeal, milk (don't need for turkey meatballs), egg, salt, pepper, cumin, 1 c. finely chopped onions, 1/4 c. cilantro and 2 finely minced garlic cloves in a medium bowl. Mix well together. Shape meat mixture into 1 to 1-1/4 inch meatballs. 

Add uncooked rice and raw meatballs into soup and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice and meatballs are cooked, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper (extra cumin and cilantro too, if needed). Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and chopped green onions.

Makes 6 - 8 generous servings.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Cake w/ Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

I had a hankering for pumpkin bars this weekend. I made a batch about a year or so ago for a Bunko party that were simply delicious - moist, spicy, topped with a cream cheese frosting. While searching for that recipe I happened upon this one -- Pumpkin Spice Cake -- that sounded equally delicious and surprisingly simple to make. The ingredients are essentially the same, but instead of slicing into bars, you serve it as a slice of cake. What I also liked about the recipe was that you could mix up all the ingredients in a bowl with a whisk or wooden spoon. No need to pull out the Kitchen Aid or hand beater. Not that those appliances couldn't be used, but why add more items to wash unnecessarily.

The recipe comes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. I made the recipe as written, but added some golden raisins, which provided tiny bits of sweetness from an otherwise not overly sweet cake.  The cake is quite moist, but a bit more dense than I would have liked (in hindsight, perhaps the Kitchen Aid would have helped in that area). Flavor-wise, it was really good, delivering that full-bodied, warm, spicy flavor that so characterizes the season.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. pumpkin pie spice
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin puree

for the Honey Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 bar (8 oz.) regular cream cheese, very soft
1/4 c. mild honey (like clover)
1/4 c. powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

 In a large bowl, whisk eggs, pumpkin and sugar.

 Gradually add cooled melted butter and mix till combined. 

Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, one half the amount at a time, and mix till just combined. Fold in the raisins. 

Turn batter into the prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.  Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan and cool completely, right side up, on a rack. 

Make the frosting. In a medium bowl, whisk butter, cream cheese, honey and powdered sugar until smooth. Spread on cooled cake and serve.