Monday, January 16, 2012

Luncheon Dishes: Mushroom & Tallegio Tart

I have to say this. I've been holding it back for years. Only a few of those closest to me know this, but I feel now that I have to make this more widely known.

I hate quiche.

"Oh no," some will say, "'Hate' is such a strong word." OK, Mom, you're right, it is. How about, "I loathe quiche"? I do. I loathe quiche.

Quiche lovers (or, as we quiche loathers refer to them, "the unwashed masses") will claim I've not had a good one. I have eaten quiches in people's homes, in restaurants, and made them myself, and I have yet to come across one that I would friend on Facebook, much less have as a meal. (As an aside, is "quiche" like "sheep"? Are the singular and the plural the same word? Or is "quiches" a word? I am too indifferent to look it up, so I will just use whichever suits me at the time. If you see me use "quiche" as the plural, you'll know I was too lazy to execute the additional keystroke.)

I've had quiche that were no thicker than the average IHOP pancake, and ones that were 4+ inches deep (true story). Every single one was completely, and in all ways, feh. I think this whole response to milk and eggs cooked together actually dates back to my early childhood. When I first was able to eat solids, my mother lovingly made me a custard of the finest ingredients, carefully coddled, and served with the deepest maternal pride. (This is my mother's version of the story, as you may gather.) She popped a spoonful into my precious little mouth, whereupon I turned my head to one side, and ever so delicately pushed it right back out with my tongue and refused to take so much as one more bite. When you consider knowledge of this event--an event that took place long before my conscious memory could have recorded it--you will deduce that my mother told the story many, many times over the years. (MANY times.)

So it is, perhaps, not suprising that quiche is not on my list of Dishes to Serve at My Last Meal on Earth. Nor even on my List of Things I Like to Eat Very Much. Every quiche I've ever had has been an unfortunate combination of bland and soggy. It's just not possible to put milk and eggs into a pie crust and not have the crust get sodden. And no matter how much bacon and cheese you put in, milk and eggs are just never going to be that flavorful. I am a firm believer that there is almost nothing on this earth that can't be improved with the addition of some combination of bacon, cheese, heavy cream and/or Dijon mustard. But quiche, in my opinion, is beyond redemption, even by those most holy of ingredients.

Poor quiche. What did it ever do to me to excite such venom in my being? And so, because I feel in my deepest heart a bit guilty over my unqualified aversion to a foodstuff that never really caused me any harm, I offer an alternative to it.

If you've never had mushrooms with Taleggio cheese, I'm quite envious of you, because you're in for an amazing discovery. It is, in my opinion, one of the classic pairings, like mozzarella and tomatoes. Because the crust of this tart includes some cornmeal, it's sturdier than a regular pie crust. And since the filling is held together by just a suggestion of creme fraiche and an egg yolk, it doesn't turn the crust to mush.

The filling can be varried according to your taste and the tastes of your guests. If you're serving vegetarians, you can leave out the proscuitto and increase the red onion and mushrooms. If you don't have (or don't like) red onion, you can substitute something else--scallion, perhaps, or shallot.

And, in the cliched words of every cookbook author that ever wrote, this tart, along with a green salad, makes a nice lunch or light dinner.

Mushroom & Taleggio Tart
serves 6-8
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
11 tablespoons butter, chilled
3-6 tablespoons ice water
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup crème fraiche
2 egg yolks
1 ½ ounces prosciutto, chopped fine
½ pound mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 tablespoons butter
½ red onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ pound of Taleggio cheese, rind removed, sliced thin


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray and set aside.

2. In a food processor, combine the flours and salt and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter, cut into small pieces, and pulse 10-12 times until butter the butter is in pieces the size of a pea.

3. With the motor running, add the egg yolk and ice water until the dough pulls together. Start with 3 tablespoons and add more tablespoon by tablespoon as needed. Do not overprocess.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a 12” circle. Roll the dough up on the rolling pin and unroll it over the tart pan. Press the dough down into the pan and up the sides. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan to cut off the edges. Using a fork, prick the dough all over. Line the pan with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

5. Bake the crust for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven, take out the pie weights. Return crust to the oven for another 10 minutes. The crust is done when it’s lightly brown. Remove and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

6. Make the filling. Combine the crème fraiche and egg yolks in a small bowl. Set aside.

7. Over medium heat, melt the butter until foaming, then add the mushrooms. Sautee until the mushrooms release their liquid and it evaporates, and the mushrooms are starting to get golden brown, about 10 minutes. Turn the mushrooms into a bowl, and return the pan to the heat.

8. Add the olive oil and sauté the red onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Turn the onion into the bowl with the mushrooms. Return the pan to the heat and add the prosciutto. Sautee until crisped, about 4 minutes. Stir into the mushroom and onion mixture.

9. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

10. Once the crust has cooled slightly, spoon the filling into the crust, making sure to distribute it evenly around the crust. Pour the egg yolk mixture over the top, distributing it evenly (use a spoon to push it around—you may need to push the filling along with it, but you can smooth the filling back into place; there should be a thin coating of the egg yolk mixture all over the tart).

11. Top the tart with the cheese, placing slices close to, but not touching, each other. They’ll spread out as they cook.

12. Bake for 22-27 minutes until the filling is set. The cheese will puff slightly and may turn golden in spots. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes for the filling to set up. Slice tart into 6 or 8 wedges and serve warm.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Basics: Two Ingredient Bread

A little over 15 years ago, my mother in law died very suddenly. This was, as you can imagine, hard on everyone, but it was particularly hard on my father in law, and for reasons beyond the obvious lonely/sad that comes with the loss of someone who’s been part of your life for most of your adulthood. My mother in law, as is the case for so many men of his generation, was his conduit to the world. She arranged his social life, sent out the Christmas cards, and was the primary point of contact for their kids.

She was the one who called us, extended invitations for holidays, organized family gatherings when we were visiting. She knew what was going on in our lives and what we were planning—buying and selling houses, changing jobs, etc. With her gone, my father in law really didn’t know how to connect with us.

As he struggled to forge a different kind of relationship with Alex and me, he sought a common interest among the three of us, and settled on food. The problem is, my father in law is a really bad cook. Alex describes his “signature dish” from their childhood, which evidently consisted of a can of corned beef hash mixed with ketchup and a few other components (after the canned hash and the ketchup, I’m always too nauseous to absorb the rest of the ingredient list, so I can’t tell you what’s in it beyond that, but really, does it matter? Ick). This food (I use the term loosely) was known as “Special Dish” and was evidently the pinnacle of my father in law’s culinary abilities.

So our conversations about food were primarily limited to his descriptions of what was currently in his refrigerator, along with what kind of soup he’d recently made or was planning to make. With my mother in law gone, he became an almost fanatical consumer of soup, it seemed. Any and every ingredient was fair game. I remember his coming for Fourth of July one year and Alex made, as he did every year, a big pot of dirty rice to take to an annual party. At the end of the party, there was still quite a lot left, and my father in law lamented that he couldn’t take it home and make soup out of it.

On a related note, he was also notoriously bad about throwing things out that were past their prime. During one visit, my sister in law and I decided that we couldn’t bear the fug of the refrigerator any longer, and launched a campaign to clean it out. He agreed, but insisted on overseeing the operation. Things went fairly well until we came to a little Styrofoam bowl of mashed potatoes. As we pulled them out, he kept insisting that those were “perfectly good” and that they were “just from when Shirley was here!” (Shirley being my husband’s aunt, and her visit had happened a good six weeks earlier. "That's just from when Shirley was here!" has become a catchphrase in our family, used when disposing of leftovers or containers of ingredients that are past their prime.) My sister in law made the mistake of opening them and actually taking a whiff, causing her to lunge for the sink, unsure if she was going to be sick, and to immediately dump the offending potatoes down the drain. She said later she had no idea why she’d bothered to smell them, as the green fuzz growing all over them left not a shadow of a doubt as to their fate. Doubtless they would have found their way into a pot of soup if we hadn’t intervened.

All of this is a very roundabout way of getting to the recipe I have for you. Not unlike my earlier ramblings on Christmas cookies, these stories and this recipe have only the most tenuous of connections. The recipe is for the world’s simplest bread. It’s two ingredients, and both of them are cheap and easy to come by. If you can turn on the oven and stir, you can make this bread. It’s great hot from the oven, but also makes good toast if you have it left the next day. I urge you to use the cheapest beer you have for this. Anything with any real distinctive flavor is going to make the beer taste in the bread too strong. When I was in college, we went to the grocery store and happened on generic beer. It came in white cans and had the word “BEER” written in black letters on it. If you can find this, it would be perfect. Budweiser or PBR is fine too. The flour must be self-rising. Regular all-purpose won’t do the trick. You should be able to find self-rising flour along with all the other flours in the grocery store. And don’t bother adding salt either. Self-rising flour has salt already in it, along with the leavening it contains.

I love this bread because it means we can have hot bread with dinner on a cold night with very little effort. You can leave it plain, or you can jazz it up with a couple of handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese, or some chopped herbs, depending on what you’re having with it (of course, then it’s no longer two ingredient bread). It’s nice with chili, stew, or even soup, if that’s what you happen to be having. Too bad I never thought to give my father in law this recipe when he was in his soup phase all those years ago.

Two Ingredient Bread
Makes 1 loaf

2 ½ cups self-rising flour
1 can (12 oz) cheap beer

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan (mine is about 8 ½” x 4 ½”—you can use any size you like, even two smaller ones, but if you use one substantially larger, your loaf will be wider and shorter as the batter spreads to fill the pan).
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour with the beer. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
3. Bake about 40-50 minutes. The loaf will sound hollow when you knock on the bottom, but really, if your oven is reasonably accurate, after about 45 minutes, this bread will be done. It’s such a cinchy thing to make that I don’t want to stress you out by even worrying about knocking the bottom of loaves, or checking it with skewers or thermometers.
4. Allow to sit for about ten minutes, then slice and serve.