Friday, January 21, 2011

There is Always Macaroni and Cheese - Wisconsin Parmesan and Pasta Cacciatore Frittata

Parmesan & Pasta Frittata

Come January, after lavish weeks of festive eating, we are all looking for a meal that settles in nicely between the extremes of stuffed goose and dry toast. We know that calorie-deprived fare wears thin only days into the New Year, causing the infamous boomerang effect which turns us into scavengers in our own kitchens, piling up on the very foods we've vowed to avoid.

But post-holiday dining needn't be a sacrifice of nourishment, flavor, or comfort - not when there is macaroni and cheese. Prepared with a foundation of ingredient staples, you likely have most of the fixings for this recipe already on hand. Cooked on the stove top and finished in the oven, a medley of colorful vegetables and Italian herbs flatter a dense disk of omelet fortified with Wisconsin Parmesan and glowing with the blistered, melted crust of Mozzarella. Appropriate for brunch or a light supper, it can be served elegantly for adults when paired with wine and a baby greens salad, yet it is also fun for kids to eat out of hand like pizza, cutting cleanly for fuss-free dining. When macaroni and cheese is served, everyone is happy.


Wisconsin Parmesan and Pasta Cacciatore Frittata - My own recipe developed for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Makes 6 servings

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 eggs
1 cup grated Wisconsin Parmesan Cheese
2 cups cooked pasta (a small shape such as penne or rotini)
2 cups shredded Wisconsin Cheese (I used a blend of reduced-fat Smoked Provolone, Parmesan, Asiago, and Mozzarella, although any one of them is a tasty complement.)
Fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

In a 10-inch non-stick skillet, over medium-low heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil until it shimmers (10 seconds). Add red and green peppers, onion, mushrooms, and garlic. Sauté vegetables, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned but not soft (about 10 minutes). Stir in herbs, salt, and black pepper. Remove from heat and reserve.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with grated Wisconsin Parmesan Cheese. Stir in cooked pasta, then stir in sautéed vegetables. Wipe clean the interior of skillet used to cook vegetables. Return it to stove top. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil briefly over medium heat, making sure it thoroughly coats bottom of skillet, using a pastry brush if necessary. When olive oil sizzles, quickly pour in egg/cheese/pasta mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook mixture undisturbed until the egg is mostly set and the sides of the frittata rise along the circumference of skillet (about 12 minutes). Remove skillet from heat. Carefully invert a very large plate over the skillet, one that is larger than the skillet itself. Holding the plate in place with your dominant hand, grip the skillet handle with your other hand and quickly flip the skillet over to release the frittata onto the plate. The browned and cooked bottom of the frittata will now be face-up on the plate. Gently slide frittata off the plate, back into the skillet to cook the underside over medium-low heat (another 5 minutes).

Preheat oven to 300°F. Slide cooked frittata onto an ovenproof plate. Top frittata with shredded Wisconsin Cheese. Bake frittata until cheese melts and browns. If your ovenproof plate can withstand the highest heat, you can finish the browning more quickly under the broiler. Remove from oven and let cool for five minutes. Cut into wedges with a sharp knife. Garnish with parsley, if desired. Serve immediately. Leftovers keep well and are easily restored with a brief reheating.

Fritatta Mosaic

F.T.C. Disclosure - This recipe, text, and photographs were created at the request of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board who compensated me for my work.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shiruko - Japanese Mochi and Azuki Bean Dessert Soup


Had it not been for dear Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen, who selected rice as her current theme for this month's No Croutons Required, I'm not sure that I would have landed on this recipe in any hurry. I was specifically hunting down something unusual. By the looks of this, I think I was successful. It did, however, take me endless hours of research, including a stumble onto what have instantly become my favorite You Tube tutorials for Japanese food preparation. Francis, the charming, intelligent, and patient host of the channel, does not yet feature instruction for shiruko, a sweet slurp of red azuki bean broth decorated with a floating raft of grilled mochi, but you can find several simple and reliable recipes from Japanese Food, Taste of Zen, and Dosankodebbie's Blog. Each is slightly different, but all include the essential traditional ingredients: red beans and white rice cakes.

For slightly more pizazz, and to minimize the very elastic chew of the mochi, I opted to grill each hard rice rectangle in a square waffle iron cell for 15 minutes. The texture was crispy, crunchy, and light, not unlike puffed rice. I finished each bowl with the lightest rub of dried green mugwort from my fingertips. Mugwort is a distinctively hued herb not unlike green matcha tea, that is used to blend into soft mochi and noodles for novel color and subtle aroma and flavor. A member of the artemesia family, mugwort has many culinary and medicinal uses throughout Europe and the Far East, and has been ascribed with magical properties.

While I cannot vouch for its fanciful characteristics, I do believe that a steaming bowl of shiruko can comfort the soul and lift the spirits. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.


Shiruko - Adapted from the Taste of Zen recipe, with the addition of my own touches.

Serves 4.


2 - 7 1/2 - 8 ounce cans cooked and sweetened red azuki beans* (they should not be drained nor rinsed)
6 cups cold, filtered water

Granulated sugar (optional to taste)
4 kirimochi* (hard rectangular rice cakes)
Pinch of salt
A few pinches of dried mugwort* (optional)


Combine azuki beans in a large saucepan with water and salt. Taste for sweetness. Add more sugar if not sweet enough to your preferences. Bring saucepan contents to slow simmer over low heat. Skim off any foam that might collect on the surface with a mesh skimmer.

In meantime, heat square waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions. When ready, place 1 kirimochi carefully in very center of each waffle cell. It will take about 15 minutes before they are flattened, shaped, and crusty. Remove to a plate to let cool before separating.

Divide hot bean broth into 4 bowls. Top each with 1 waffle mochi. Carefully spoon some azuki beans onto waffle. Pinch a touch of dried mugwort on each waffle and in the soup. Serve immediately with chopsticks, and a spoon to collect any leftovers.

* Kirimochi; azuki beans, dried, canned sweetened and unsweetened; and powdered mugwort are easily found in better Japanese markets. A suitable Western substitute for the azuki would be canned light red kidney beans or small red or pink beans with at least 1 cup sugar. Cooked white sushi rice could be used in place of the kirimochi.

This recipe is for Lisa and Jackie of Tinned Tomatoes, the creators and co-hosts of NCR, this very long-running event featuring vegetarian soup and salad recipes.

I'm also sending this to Simona, hosting MLLA 31, another long-running and popular event. Although NCR just closed for this month, Simona will be welcoming your legume recipes through the 31st.

And I've just learned of another fun event by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. Her Souper (Soup, Salad and Sammies) Sundays run every week and are a great and easy way to share a bite that you've probably prepared more often than you think. Who doesn't make at least one soup, or salad, or sandwich in a week's time?

Been There, Done That ~
Chinese Steamed Red Bean Buns
Agedofu with Dipping Sauce
Japanese Corn Cream Soup

Other People's Eats ~
Red Bean Mochi from Christine's Recipes
Chewy and Sweet Red Bean Mochi from Eating Out Load
Moffles from Just Hungry

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking Stock - Pignoli Financier Tart

Pignoli Financier Tart

It's January 17, well beyond my unofficial deadline for extending everyone belated New Year greetings before it becomes as asynchronous and silly a thing to do as wishing you a Happy Easter. Most of you have moved on to your resolutions, and have been already bargaining with them, at that. January 1 is quite a celebration of the past, a palpitating anticipation that explodes in your face with the firecrackers and confetti, and dies the instant all those lurid pink and red Valentine displays hitch up in the marketplace. ( I think the only time a retailer will pay for overnight staffing is to position the next holiday's gewgaws while we are sleeping off the last one's excesses.) There is no excited savoring of a holiday anymore; so my act of rebellion has been to drag my heels and wallow a little more in the past.

Not that 2010 was a particularly good year. While there were some highlights (a photo gig for National Geographic Traveler; an excellent first crack at baking the inscrutably temperamental French macaron; and the serendipitous blossoming of a new friendship), 2010 and I did not like each other.

There are no official resolutions for me this year. I have mostly honored my 2010 to-do list, although it took just about a year to finesse it. Holiday and business commitments have left me with little energy to return to the kitchen, but I suspect the impasse has more to do with the practical than the psychological. I cannot see the counter tops for the cans. Everything's a jumble, and without the ability to assess, never mind access, my overstocked larder, how am I supposed to cook and bake in any organized and pleasurable way?

So I've taken a pledge (rather than a resolution) to purge my less-than-sacred culinary space one package, sack, and box at a time. With the exception of perishables that need routine replacement, I am putting a moratorium on purchasing anything that can sit in my cupboard for a year. From now on, I'm just reaching in and grabbing the first thing that my fingers touch and will work with that, so help me. I'm clutching an unopened cellophane of ground almond meal at the moment. Yep, I can work with this and whittle down my flour, sugar, and butter reserves, to boot. Now all I have to do is empty the oven of ten tons of pots, pans, and pastry tins.

Pignoli Financier Tart 3

Pignoli Financier Tart - Adapted from Patricia Wells' recipe

Serves 6-8

[Because there is no separate crust, this is not technically a tart, but the ingredients and initial baking temperature create a chewy, dense, and rich casing for the buttery cake center. No one will complain, and you will have saved yourself a great deal of bother in preparing pastry.]


1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup ground almonds (also known as almond flour or meal; do not use marzipan or almond paste)
1/2 cup cake flour
6 large unbeaten egg whites
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled in a small saucepan
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup pignoli nuts

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Sift powdered sugar, almonds, and cake flour into a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Pour in egg whites, beating with the whisk or a large spoon until they are well mixed. The batter will be wetter than you'd expect, moderately thick and slightly elastic. Pour in melted butter and stir until smoothly blended without any butter separating from batter. Stir in almond extract.

Well grease an 8-inch tart tin with removable bottom. Place tart tin on baking sheet for support. Pour batter into tin. Cover batter with pignoli nuts. Position baking sheet on center oven rack. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 degrees F and continue baking another 9 minutes. Turn off heat to let set in cooling oven for a final 10 minutes. Test very center with the blade of a dull knife. If wet, return to oven another 3-5 minutes. The center will be the last to match the light, firm crumb surrounding it. Even if the knife comes out clean, you may sense a certain heaviness around the blade when you first insert it. If so, make sure to give it that few extra minutes. Let cool ten minutes in tin before carefully lifting tart to a serving plate without trying to separate it from the removable bottom.

Ready for Oven

Oven Ready.

Pignoli Fianancier Tart 2

This recipe is for Champa of Versatile Vegetarian Kitchen, hosting her weekly Bake-Off event which she publishes every Thursday.

Been There, Done That ~
Hazelnut Financiers
Almond Cherry Mini Tarts
Orange and Coriander Madeleines

Other People's Eats ~
Lychee Honey Financiers from Dessert First
Pignoli Almond Cookies from 6 Bittersweets
Peanut Butter Financiers from Technicolor Kitchen