Stuffed mushrooms are so retro. They were very popular in the 1960s, but you almost never see them now except at the Olive Garden. That is too bad, because they are easy to make and delicious to eat. They are perfect with cocktails and also make a good first course. The important step is to sauté the mushroom caps before you stuff them. Then you can let your imagination run wild and stuff them with whatever sounds appealing. We have a big bowl of pistachios that we have been snacking from for days, and even though pistachios are surprisingly low-cal, they are not when you eat them by the bowlful. Stuffing them into mushrooms seemed like a good dodge. That’s partly because I have no idea how many calories are in a stuffed mushroom.
- 8 large crimini mushrooms (the largest you can find not labeled as Portobellos)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 scallions, including green ends, chopped coarsely
- ¼ cup shelled pistachio nuts, chopped coarsely
- ¼ cup shredded Swiss cheese
- ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoons Pernod
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the mushroom caps. Sauté for about 3 minutes and turn over. Sauté the other side of the mushroom caps until cooked through. Remove to a plate, draining any liquid that has accumulated in the caps.
- Remove any woody part of the mushroom stems and chop finely. Return them to the sauté pan along with the chopped scallions. Add more olive oil if needed. Sauté until cooked through. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the pistachios, Swiss cheese, bread crumbs, sour cream, and Pernod. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- With a small spoon, fill the mushroom caps with the pistachio mixture. Sprinkle the tops with the grated Parmesan cheese, and place under a hot broiler until the mushrooms are heated through and the tops have browned.
- Serve immediately.
Ready for the broiler
Ready to serve
Just as with everything else, there are trends and fashions at the farmers market. Year before last it was cardoons. Last year it was kohlrabis. Now those are old hat. This year one of the new items is black haricots verts. Actually they’re not black but a very deep shade of purple that looks black. The beans are very distinctive, heaped up in baskets next to the regular green pole beans. It’s very hard to resist buying some if you are looking for something a little different to try out.
Many of you experienced cooks probably already know this, but I was surprised and more than a little disappointed when I dropped the beans into boiling water to blanch them, and the purple/black color disappeared. Suddenly my haricots verts were, indeed, green.
Curious to know why that happened, I turned to the most reliable expert on kitchen science that I know, Harold McGee, author of a regular column in the New York Times and numerous books including On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Second edition, Scribner, New York, 2004). Sure enough, there he had a short scholarly discussion of anthocyanins (pp. 267-268, 281-281) It turns out that the red and purple colors of most flowers and vegetables are due to a group of about 300 related chemicals known as anthocyanins. They are very sensitive to alkalinity and acidity as well as some metals, which help to determine the color that the chemical gives to a flower or vegetable. They are also highly water-soluble, so when the spaces where they are stored break open during the cooking process, the coloration is rapidly diluted and dissipates. Hence, the beautiful black beans turn a beautiful chlorophyll-green. And that’s ok, too, because the blanched haricots verts can be used for whatever might be one of your favorite dishes.
I decided to use them in a chilled salad with scallions and dill, topped with a balsamic vinaigrette. The bright green chlorophyll color was terrific.
Haricots Verts Vinaigrette with Scallions and Dill
- 1 pound fresh haricots verts, washed and trimmed
- 4 scallions cut in ½ inch slices, whites and greens included
- ¼ cup fresh dill fronds, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (not the expensive stuff)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- salt and pepper
- pinch of sugar
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff)
- In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil
- Add the green beans in a single batch and return the water to the boil
- Boil the beans for no more than 4 minutes so that they remain crisp. Drain and immediately plunge into a prepared large bowl of ice and chilled water.
- When the beans have cooled, drain and transfer them to the refrigerator until they are ready to use. (Remove any remaining pieces of ice)
- Prepare the scallions and dill. Set aside.
- Using a whisk and a small bowl, combine the vinegar, minced garlic, mustard, salt, pepper, and sugar.
- Whisking continuously, slowly stir in the olive oil to make a vinaigrette. Correct the seasoning.
- In a large bowl, combine the haricots verts, scallions, and dill. Dress with the vinaigrette to suit your taste. Adjust the seasoning. Chill, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for an hour to let the flavors blend.
- Serve alone or on lettuce leaves.
“Black” haricots verts
Haricots Verts Vinaigrette with Scallions and Dill
The other evening we were invited to a dinner party. It was a little bit of a pot luck, and we were asked to bring a light appetizer. I decided to use some puff pastry from the freezer to make empanadas, but that seemed a little bland, so I also made some mayonnaise as a dipping sauce.
Mayonnaise is so easy to make, and it tastes so much better than the bottled kind, that it seems crazy not to make your own. Especially when you have a fool-proof recipe (so far at least) from one of the world’s greatest chefs. Michel Roux of the Michelin-starred, much-honored Waterside Inn in England, has written a beautiful little book simply called “eggs” (John Wiley and Sons, 2005) filled with amazingly creative, not-so-classic and classic egg recipes including, of course, mayonnaise.
I doctored up the basic recipe using some tricks from Sarah and Evan. The additions of freshly grated horseradish and finely chopped chives or green scallion tops make a great dip that perks up the empanadas.
I filled the empanadas with hearts of palm, parsley, and grated Parmesan, but you can let your imagination run wild: tiny button mushrooms, little shrimp (is that redundant?), water chestnuts, olives (seed removed, of course), cubes of cheese, dolma filling, etc., etc., would all be good. I don’t know, but maybe a little oyster would work.
This recipe makes 20-24 appetizers depending upon how big you make the empanadas
- Put the egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl with handles and/or on a towel or other non-slip surface. Combine with a balloon whisk until smooth.
- Whisking continuously, add a few drops of oil. When the oil is completely incorporated, add more oil, repeating the process until the mayonnaise thickens. You may then add the oil in a more continuous stream, but pause occasionally to make sure the oil is fully incorporated before adding more.
- When all of the oil has been incorporated, whisk for another minute or so until the mayonnaise is smooth. Then add the lemon juice. The mayonnaise will become visibly less yellow. Adjust with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper to suit your taste.
- Stir in the horseradish and chives or scallions. Add more of either to suit your taste.
- Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to use. This should hold for several hours.
Puff Pastry Empanadas
- ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated
- 1 sheet commercial frozen puff pastry, thawed according to directions
- 1 14½ ounce can hearts of palm, drained and cut into ½ inch coins
- 1 egg, beaten well with 2 tablespoons water
- In a small bowl, combine the parsley and Parmesan cheese. Set aside
- On a lightly floured work surface, open the thawed sheet of puff pastry. With a lightly floured rolling pin, flatten the pastry to about 1/16 inch thick
- Using a 3 inch circular cookie cutter (a 2½ inch biscuit cutter will do) cut circles in the flattened pastry dough. Working quickly, place a palm coin and about ¼ teaspoon of the parsley/Parmesan mixture in the center of each circle. Paint the edges of the circles with the egg mixture, using a small pastry brush.
- One by one and using your hands, stretch the dough gently to cover the palm disk. Pinch the edges of the half-moon empanada closed with your finger and then seal with the tines of a dinner fork
- Arrange the empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
- Paint the tops of the empanadas with the egg mixture, trying not to let it drip onto the parchment.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
- Serve with the dipping mayonnaise either at room temperature or gently rewarmed.
Egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper ready to receive the oil
One cup of peanut oil
Parsley and grated Parmesan
Puff pastry empanadas ready for the oven
Baked puff pastries
In my quest to get to the bottom of our freezer, I found a plastic bag containing four thick ham slices separated by waxed paper. I managed to break one of them free and decided to make a gratin of potatoes, onions, and ham. One of our family favorites is Julia Child’s râpée morv andelle (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1, page 153). In that recipe, though, you are supposed to grate the potatoes and finely dice the ham. The ham steak from the freezer seemed too big and thick to suffer the indignity of fine dicing.
I was reminded of a wonderful dish that a Swedish friend of ours always prepared for her Christmas smörgåsbord: Jansson’s frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation). Potatoes and anchovy filets were arranged in alternating rows and then topped with onions, cheese, cream, and eggs. The casserole was baked until the mixture was puffed and golden. I decided to try that same thing, substituting thinly sliced potato for the grated potatoes and ham cut into bâtonett instead of dice. Scallions would serve as the onion representative.
Ham, Potato, and Onion Gratin
Using a mandoline, slice the unpeeled potato crosswise into 1/16 inch thick rounds. Soak in water until ready to assemble the casserole.
- Remove any fat and bone from the ham steak and cut into strips ½ inch x ½ inch x 2 inches. Set aside until ready to assemble the casserole.
- Combine the beaten eggs with the cream and season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
- In a well-greased 8 x 8 x 2 inch ovenproof glass pan, arrange an overlapping row of potato slices that have been drained and patted dry.
- Next to the row of potatoes, arrange a row of the ham slices. Then begin a second row of potatoes, another row of ham pieces, and finish with another row of potato slices.
- Sprinkle the top with half of the cut-up scallions, half of the grated cheese, and cover with half of the egg and cream mixture.
- Make a second layer of alternating potato and ham slices, using all of both. Sprinkle with the remaining scallions and grated cheese. Cover with the remaining egg and cream mixture
- Bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 350° (175°C) for 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the top becomes too brown, cover with aluminum foil.
- When the casserole is golden brown and the potatoes are tender (test with a small knife), remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes to set up a bit, and serve immediately while still warm.
First layer of alternating rows of thin potato slices and ham, topped with onions and Swiss cheese
Shreds of cheese and ham pieces
Alternating rows of potato and ham
Ham and potato gratin served with a side of coleslaw
One of the things I found in the freezer was a big plastic bag of vegetable scraps – carrot peelings, celery bottoms, onion skins and roots, bits of tomatoes – which I had been saving from a couple of months’ worth of cooking projects. For years I have made chicken stock from chicken parts and bones and beef stock from bone. But I never made my own vegetable stock until I picked up a tip from Sara Moulton on her television show, “Sara’s Weeknight Meals”. Save your scraps in the freezer, and when you have enough, put them in a pot, cover with water, and simmer for thirty minutes to an hour, cool, strain, and freeze into cubes to be used whenever you need vegetable stock. Works like the proverbial charm, and forms the beginning of today’s recipe.
The other thing I found in the freezer was a package of shrimp (21-30/pound size), and they became the inspiration and base for shrimp creole. In Louisiana, shrimp creole can be a simple country dish or a fancier version for company dinners and buffets. For that reason, some folks think it is just too complicated for a quick dinner. Too bad, because it is easy to make and fairly fast. This version took me about two hours to prepare, but that was because I was running around finding props and making images. You should be able to whip it up in a flat hour or so. Served with cooked rice, this recipe should serve 2 to 4 persons.
Making vegetable stock from frozen vegetable peelings and scraps
Thawed frozen shrimp with shells still on
Making shrimp stock by boiling shrimp shells in vegetable stock
Green pepper, one of the “Holy Trinity” of Creole and Cajun cooking
Celery and onions, the other parts of the cooking “Holy Trinity” along with tomatoes
Scallions, white and green parts, ready to be choppe
Paprika – this is mild, but you may use a hotter variety if you like
Canned tomato sauce makes for easy cooking, but chop up a few fresh tomatoes for texture
Shrimp have been added to the sauce and cooked for just a few minutes until they have become pink and lost their translucence
Finished shrimp Creole sauce served over cooked white rice. Add classic Louisiana hot sauce if you like.
Something you need to know before you start this recipe is that shrimp creole can be as piquant as you like. For family reasons, we don’t put much heat into Cajun and Mexican dishes, but if you enjoy heat, by all means use the hot sauce with abandon. For this dish – since it is from Louisiana – I suggest either Tabasco or Trappey’s.
- fresh or frozen shrimp (21-30/pound), shells on – allow 5 to 6 for each serving
2 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons bacon drippings
- ½ large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 scallions, chopped, including green tops
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon ground bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon ground thyme
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional or to taste)
- 1 can (14 ounces) tomato sauce
- 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- juice of ½ lemon
Peel and clean the shrimp. Refrigerate the peeled shrimp until ready to add to the cooked sauce. Save the shells.
- Prepare shrimp stock by combining the vegetable stock and shrimp shells in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Strain. You should have about 1½ cups of shrimp stock.
- In a 4 quart stockpot, melt the bacon drippings over medium heat. Add the onions, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sweat the onions for 5 minutes or until they are translucent.
- Add the scallions, celery, and green pepper, raise the heat again to medium and cook the vegetables until tender, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the shrimp stock, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper, paprika, and optional Tabasco sauce. Bring to the boil for 5 minutes.
- Then add the tomato sauce and reduce heat to the simmer for 10 minutes or so.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer just long enough until the tomatoes are softened
- Correct the seasonings, add the sugar and lemon juice. Then add the shrimp and stir them into the sauce until they are cooked and pink – no longer than 5 minutes.
- Serve immediately over cooked rice. Allow about ½ to 1 cup of rice for each serving.
A well-made spoonbread is haute cuisine cooking with corn. There are lots of recipes for spoonbread, but many of them are not much more than a version of cornbread. The version I love is more like a cornmeal soufflé, and baking one requires many of the methods and techniques used to make a soufflé. According to Bernard Clayton in his classic, The Complete Book of Breads, spoonbread was developed by accident in colonial Virginia when a batch of cornbread was forgotten. To me, that seems likely to be apocryphal because spoonbread – at least this recipe – uses entirely different techniques from cornbread.
When we were dating, my wife, Susan, often made spoonbread at my request. She had many special dishes that proved she was a great cook, but without a doubt, spoonbread was one of her major achievements. After our children became old enough to have favorite foods, spoonbread was one of them, so much so that Susan sometimes made two separate spoonbreads for one meal.
During our most recent visit to East Texas, Susan made spoonbread for her brother, sister, and brother-in-law. I flew in for a late dinner, and all I got was a dab. That was better than nothing, though, and many a late diner has missed out on Susan’s spoonbread.
Dogwoods like ghosts in the forest
The different hues of green in the springtime forest
A field full of Texas groundsel
Some recipes call for added cheese. This version gilds the lily with added ham, mushroom duxelles, and scallions. The cheese can be added by serving the spoonbread with Mornay sauce. You don’t have to add all of those things. The basic model is good enough to keep you coming back for more.
For this post, I combined the dressed up spoonbread with fresh asparagus and braised lamb shanks – both go well with Mornay sauce.
Ham and Scallion Spoonbread
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup milk
- 3 extra-large eggs, separated
- ½ cup cooked Black Forest ham, finely chopped
- ¼ cup finely diced sautéed mushroom duxelles, squeezed dry
- ¼ cup scallions, finely chopped, including the green tops
- In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the cornmeal and milk. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes until the cornmeal is soft.
- Remove the cooked cornmeal from the heat. Then stir in the salt, baking powder, melted butter and additional milk.
- Beat the egg yolks until foamy. Stir into the cornmeal mixture. Mix well to reduce lumps – you won’t be able to get rid of all of them.
- Stir in the chopped ham, mushrooms, and scallions.
- Beat the separated egg whites to form stiff peaks. By thirds, fold the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture. Do not beat.
- Pour the batter into a greased two-quart soufflé dish and bake for 1 hour in the middle of an oven preheated to 325°F (163°C).
- Serve immediately while the spoonbread is still puffed.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ cup grated Swiss cheese
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- juice of ½ lemon
- In a 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat
- Stir in the flour and cook for several minutes to remove the raw flour taste.
- Add the half and half, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens.
- Remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese until it is completely melted.
- Stir in the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings.
- Keep warm until ready to serve with the spoonbread.
Black Forest ham, scallions, and mushroom duxelles
Fresh asparagus tips
Ready to go into the oven
Baked and ready to eat
Spoonbread and asparagus with Mornay sauce, braised lamb shank
Just two more dishes to finish the description of the celebratory meal we had from foods we collected at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Both are easy to make but surprisingly unique.
The first was a refreshing salad made with amazingly crunchy and green baby cucumbers and fresh salad greens accented with bits of nori and toasted white sesame seeds.
Royal trumpet mushrooms
The second was a delicate sauté of royal trumpet mushrooms with scallions.
Sautéed mushrooms and scallions ready to serve
As a bonus not from the farmers market we had a fresh loaf of home-baked Tartine basic country bread made from the recipe in Chad Robertson’s elegant and detailed cookbook, Tartine Bread, Chronicle Books, Ltd, San Francisco, 2010, pages 41-79. (Yes, that’s a long recipe. I plan to post an abbreviated version soon. That should enable you to reproduce the absolutely best home-made bread I have ever tasted).
Fresh loaf of Tartine-style bread
- 4 small, firm baby cucumbers cut crosswise into ½ inch slices
- 2 Cups mixed baby salad greens
- ½ 7 inch sheet of nori cut into ½ inch squares
- vinaigrette (home-made is the best, but use your favorite)
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
- Combine the cucumbers, greens, and nori in a serving bowl.
- Dress lightly with your favorite vinaigrette. If you like, add the optional sesame oil. Toss.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Should serve four
Sautéed Royal Trumpet Mushrooms with Scallions
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil (use EVOO – extra virgin olive oil – if you like)
- 1 small basket (about 2 Cups) fresh royal trumpet mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
- 1 bunch (6 to 8) scallions, trimmed and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces, including the green tops
- salt and pepper
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat.
- Add the mushrooms and scallions and sauté until cooked through.
- Correct seasonings with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately.
Table set with sweet peas
We set the table with the bouquet of multi-colored sweet peas bought from the flower stall, plated up the feast, and enjoyed it while Evan finished his last day at the restaurant.
Ready to eat