Roasted Beet Soup with Thyme, Lemon, and Crème Fraîche

RECIPE: Roasted Beet Soup with Thyme, Lemon, and Crème Fraîche
Roasted Beet Soup

Roasted Beet Soup with Thyme, Lemon, and Crème Fraîche

Right now, in London, it’s decidedly cold.  In that surprising way, where you wake up and get out of the shower, chilly, and think, is it really late October already?

It’s soup time.  Time to armour myself with something warm and intensely healthy, that will ward off colds and the cold, in one pot.

I think of beets as French probably because my mom has always been a beet devotee, juicing them for me as a kid, slicing them into salads, and roasting them alongside anything that goes in the oven.  So it was with happy nostalgia that I made this simple soup.  Beets, roasted simply with a little olive oil and salt, until they are soft with caramelized edges.  Simply puree them with softened leeks, fresh woodsy thyme, vegetable broth, and the squirt of lemon that balances their sweetness.  The soup is smooth, hot, like intensely, intensely red drinkable velvet.  I stir in a spoon of crème fraîche to calm the heat, color, and intensity of soup, and give it a creamy lushness.  Serve with a torn hunk of baguette, you have the perfect fall soup.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.  Bon app!

Roasted Beet Soup with Thyme, Lemon, and Crème Fraîche
serves 4

Roasted Beet SoupINGREDIENTS

  • 5 beets
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 small leek, white and light green parts sliced
  • The leaves from 4 stems thyme
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Crème fraîche for serving

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Peel and dice the beets, and place them on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Toss with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until tender to the point of a knife.

When the beets are roasted, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large stockpot.  Add the sliced leeks and season with salt and pepper, and the leaves of thyme.  Sweat on medium-low heat until the leek is tender, but not golden.  Add the beets, vegetable broth, and lemon juice, and bring to a boil.  Use an immersion blender to purée the soup.  Ladle into bowls, and top with a dollop of crème fraîche.  Bon app!

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Series, Soup, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

Lean Chinese Five Spice Pork with Asian Slaw

RECIPE: Lean Chinese Five Spice Pork with Asian Slaw
Chinese FIve Spice Pork Loin with Asian Slaw, Charred Mushrooms, and Peanuts

Chinese Five Spice Pork Loin with Asian Slaw, Charred Mushrooms, and Peanuts

I find, living in London, that I really, really miss New York takeout.  The exotic options.  Thailand.  Persia.  Ethiopia.  They were, without exaggeration, just around the corner.  So, while I am always encouraging in this column that cooking at home is cheaper, healthier, and faster than takeout, I have to come clean that I have a fourth reason: I miss the flavors that I learned to love from New York delivery.

It was those forlorn Manhattan gastronomic reminiscences that inspired this meal.  Like all Dinners for Two, it’s easy and quick, but I think it’s also probably the most exotic, and consequently one of my favorites.

I start with lean pork loin, and roll it in a crust of sea salt and Chinese five spice powder.  I really am a huge proponent of buying regional spice blends.  It’s a great way to add a kick of China (or India, or Morocco, depending on the recipe), without having to invest in all the separate components.  I find I use up these blends far more quickly then I ever do individual spices.  Five spice consists of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds, so it has a spicy, musky fragrance, and that really powerful sweetly spiced pungency that creates the most fascinating crust on the pork.  I sear that in a pan, and throw in some exotic mushrooms, and they all roast together in the oven without any interference from me until the pork is juicy and the mushrooms are crisp and charred.  They’re done in just 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I toss together cabbage, cilantro, and green onions, with a light sauce of mayonnaise thinned with water, rice vinegar, and sriracha.  It’s crisp and refreshing, but the rice vinegar and sriracha pack so much flavor into all the veggies.  I slice the pork, place it on the slaw, and top it with the charred mushrooms and salted peanuts.

At first, Mr. English and I thought this might be more of a dinner for three than for two, but within fifteen minutes, we’d devoured the whole thing.  It’s light, it’s lean.  But it’s satisfyingly alluring and different.  And for a little while, I didn’t miss New York.

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Lean Chinese Five Spice Pork with Asian Slaw
2 servings

Chinese FIve Spice Pork Loin with Asian Slaw, Charred Mushrooms, and PeanutsINGREDIENTS

  • 1 1-pound pork loin
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 5 ounces exotic mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • Up to 1 tablespoon sriracha (to taste)
  • 1 sweetheart, Napa, or green cabbage, shredded
  • 4 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1 cup (about 1 bunch) roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • A handful of salted, roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS

Arrange the oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Season the pork with salt, and coat in the five-spice powder.  Preheat a sauté pan that can go from the stove to the oven over medium-high heat.  Add the oil, and the pork.  Sear about 2 minutes on one side to get a golden crust, then flip the pork over.  Coat the mushrooms in any extra five-spice powder that didn’t stick to the pork, and scatter the mushrooms, left whole, around the sides of the pan, and toss them to coat in oil.  Transfer the pan with the pork and mushrooms to the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pork is cooked through and the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes while you make the slaw.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, water, rice vinegar, and sriracha.  Season with salt, and toss in the cabbage, green onion, and cilantro.  Toss to coat.

Slice the pork into thick rounds.  To serve, place a mound of the slaw on a plate, and top with the sliced pork.  Scatter the mushrooms on top, and crown with chopped peanuts.  Serve extra sriracha on the side for the pork.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Meat, Recipes, Series
 

Crispy Cod Cooked ‘Unilateral’ with Creamed Leeks

RECIPE: Crispy Cod Cooked ‘Unilateral’ with Creamed Leeks
Crispy Cod Cooked 'Unilateral' with Creamed Leeks

Crispy Cod Cooked ‘Unilateral’ with Creamed Leeks

Cooking fish ‘unilaterally’ is something I haven’t done since cooking school, but I thought, that’s stupid.  It’s one of those things you learn in cooking school that is actually easier than everyday cooking.  All it means is that you sear the fish in a pan without ever turning it.  Because you need to leave the fish in the pan for a while to get it to cook all the way through, the side searing in the pan develops this thick, delicious golden crust.  It’s fantastic, and it couldn’t be easier.
To go with the cod, which I find rather mild, I make a bed of simple creamed baby leeks, which serve as both sauce and side dish.  This is French cooking at its best–a few ingredients, a simple but inspired technique.  Parfait.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.  Bon app!

Crispy Cod Cooked ‘Unilateral’ with Creamed Leeks
serves 4

Crispy Cod Cooked 'Unilateral' with Creamed LeeksINGREDIENTS

  • 4 6-ounce filets of cod
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 baby leeks, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

PROCEDURE

Season the cod with salt.  In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the cod, presentation side down.  Allow it to cook, without turning, until the fish is cooked through.  The heat from the bottom of the pan with create a crisp crust on the bottom of the fish, and will steam through the rest of the fish to cook it through.

When the fish is cooked—the flesh should be opaque white and flakey after about 15 minutes—carefully use a fish spatula to remove it to a plate.  Pour off most of the oil from the pan, and return it to medium-low heat.  Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper, and sweat until soft.  Add 1/3 cup of water to help soften the leeks further.  Once this has evaporated, add the cream and let it come to a bubble.  To plate, scoop the creamed leeks on the bottom of a serving dish, and top with the cod, carefully plated golden side up.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Fish, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

How to Truss a Chicken in One Minute, No Needle Required

I have recently been spending a lot of my time perfecting my roast chicken.  Whether it’s preparation for married life, or just feeling insecure that as a cook my roast chicken wasn’t up to snuff, I felt that I needed to remedy the situation.

One thing I realized, a bit reluctantly, is that you really do need to truss the bird for the perfect roast chicken.  Why?  Tying the chicken into a compact package means that the breast stays juicy and the legs don’t burn.  It makes all the difference.

But it’s not very me to get out a long trussing needle and tie the bird up.  So, here is how to simply use a piece of twine and one minute to create the perfect chicken bundle.

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Crunchy Rigatoni with Rosemary, Garlic, and Parmigiano Reggiano

RECIPE: Crunchy Rigatoni with Rosemary, Garlic, and Parmigiano Reggiano
Crunchy Rigatoni with Rosemary

Crunchy Rigatoni with Rosemary

You know when there’s no food in the house? You’re working all the time and didn’t get a chance to go grocery shopping. Here in London, supermarkets are only open for a handful of hours, which I, being from New York, have forgotten every weekend since moving here 51 weekends ago.

Instead of going hungry this week, I did what all the TV chefs tell me to do: dive into that “well-stocked” pantry of mine. I recommend the challenge. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only you get to eat the puzzle at the end.

Found: pasta, breadcrumbs, almonds, garlic, Parmesan, and rosemary, which grows on my windowsill.

I blitzed together the crumbs, garlic, rosemary, Parmesan, and almonds, with a bit of butter and toasted them in a pan. Together, they made this dry, crisp, super-fragrant delicious thing. I set them aside, and boiled up the rigatoni, reserving some pasta water after draining for an old French cooking school trick: a sauce called monté au beurre. Just put a cup of pasta water, full of salt and starch, back in the pan over high heat, and whisk in some cold butter. It creates a light, but milky, sauce, which perfectly contrasting the dryness of those crumbs.

Then it was time to toss the rigatoni into the light butter sauce and top with the crumbs and a bit of extra Parm (of course) and torn rosemary leaves.

Talk about a Frankenstein creation. But it is so good, different, and proof that unless you’re one of those people who keep only mustard in their fridge (which I totally get, by the way), it’s always possible to cobble together something great.

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Crunchy Rigatoni with Rosemary, Garlic, and Parmigiano Reggiano
serves 2 to 4

Crunchy Rigatoni with RosemaryINGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, preferably fresh
  • 1 clove garlic
  • The leaves from 1 stem of rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus 3 tablespoons
  • 1 pound rigatoni

PROCEDURE

In the food processor, blitz together the breadcrumbs, garlic, rosemary, almonds, Parmigiano Reggiano, and salt and pepper until everything is equally combined.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter, and pulse until the butter is evenly distributed into the crumbs (just don’t over blitz it, or it will turn into a ball).  Place the mixture in a sauté pan over medium heat, and toast, stirring often, until the crumbs are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni according to package directions in a bit pot of salted water.  Reserve 1 cup of cooking water before draining the al dente pasta.  Add the water back to the empty pasta pot, and bring to a simmer.  Cube the remaining cold butter, and whisk it in a little at a time, to create a milky emulsion.  Immediately take off the heat once all the butter is incorporated.  Stir in the rigatoni and season with salt and pepper.  Pour into a serving bowl, and top with the breadcrumb mixture, extra Parmigiano Reggiano, and torn rosemary leaves.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Meatless Mondays, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

Amazing Creamy, Crispy Fennel Gratin Dauphinoise

RECIPE: Amazing Fennel Gratin
Fennel Gratin Dauphinoise 2

Fennel Gratin Dauphinoise

I have not forgotten the first time I, as a six year old vegetarian, stuffed my first bite of potato gratin Dauphinoise into my mouth at La Duchesse Anne near Woodstock, New York.  So memorable was the occasion, that I continued ordering the side dish as a main course for the next twenty-three years.  But now that I know how to cook for myself, and it’s been almost twenty-five years, I thought it might be time to brush up the old classic and give it a bit of edge.

This is not a hard dish–not nearly as hard to get right as the original potato version.  But it’s different, and I like that.  Instead of potatoes, start with anise-scented, crisp, bright fennel, thinly sliced.  Heat that briefly in cream thinned slightly with water, and cover under a snug blanket of breadcrumbs, Pecorino Romano, and herbs.  Bake until the fennel is soft and mellow, the cream is bubbling, and the topping is a crispy crust.

Fresh from the oven, this dish is not as heavy as the original scalloped potato.  Light, complex, still comforting.  I can only describe it as delightful.  The perfect side next to a grilled steak, or, in my childhood fashion, as the main event accompanied by a fresh green salad.

Fennel Gratin Tray

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.  Bon app! Continue reading

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Series, Sides, Vegetables, Vegetarian
 

Sesame Seared Tuna with Soy Lime Noodles and Veggies for Two

RECIPE: Sesame Seared Tuna with Soy Lime Noodles and Veggies
Sesame Tuna with Soy Lime Noodles

Sesame Tuna with Soy Lime Noodles

This is quickly winning over the coveted place in my heart for Best Dinner for Two.  It has all the criteria: Superman speed, phenomenal taste, and it’s pretty guiltless.

Just buy some good tuna and coat it with sesame seeds (I use a combination of white and black because I have them on-hand, but use either, or you could even omit them).  Give it a quick sear in the pan, followed by a bunch of asparagus.  My supermarket sells ready-cooked Asian egg noodles in the produce section.  I just toss them with some soy sauce, some lime juice, and some water–so light and savory and refreshing–along with the asparagus, chopped green onion, and fresh cilantro.  Then, the tuna is placed on top, the crowning glory–pink on the inside and crisp from sesame coating.

It’s take-out done right, in less time, for less money, and for a lot fewer calories.  Mr. English and I took it outside to soak up the last of the London summer.  This is a once-a-week meal; it just hits the spot.

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Sesame Seared Tuna with Soy Lime Noodles and Veggies
serves 2

Sesame Tuna with Soy Lime NoodlesINGREDIENTS

  • 2 4- to 5-ounce tuna steaks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • Oil for searing
  • 1 12-ounce bunch of asparagus, trimmed and quartered
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 14-ounce pack of cooked egg noodles
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 1-ounce small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

PROCEDURE

Pat the tune dry with paper towel and season on both sides with salt and pepper.  Pour the sesame seeds onto a wide plate, and coat the tuna on both sides with the seeds.  Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a wide nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Sear the tuna one minute on each side for medium doneness (30 seconds each side for rare, 90 seconds to 2 minutes per side for well done).  Remove the tuna and set aside.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cook just until charred, about 3 minutes.  Just before removing the asparagus, add any sesame seeds from the plate that didn’t stick to the tuna to the pan to toast.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the soy sauce, water, and lime juice.  Add the noodles, scallions, cilantro, and asparagus and toasted sesame seeds, and toss to combine.  Plate the noodles.  Cut each tuna steak in half, and perch on the noodles.  Serve!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Recipes, Series