For ‘real’ meatballs, fry in a skillet, then add sauce

Meatballs can be many things: large, small, sweet, savory, spiced or sauced. But they should always be succulent and satisfying.

Making meatballs for an ACCESS cooking class in Rogue River was an enjoyable exercise, which I mentioned in this blog’s previous post. But concessions to ingredients more wholesome than run-of-the-mill ground beef and white breadcrumbs left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.

I will concede that meatballs can be healthful and still satisfying, but we would have needed to finesse our recipe a bit more. The other measure we took, both for ease of cooking, and health was baking the meatballs in the oven, which drains off much of the fat, but also eliminates the base for a richly flavored sauce.

As directed in this recipe for “real” meatballs, I prefer to fry mine in a skillet, deglaze the browned bits and stir them into my sauce. And a day later, that’s exactly what I did, craving my signature Sicilian meatball recipe, the subject of a 2007 post. Admittedly, they’re a bit unconventional, but pine nuts and golden raisins make them a real crowd-pleaser.

More mainstream are meatballs like these that combine ground beef and pork or sausage. And if you want to get really serious, you add veal, which I never use, but my grandmother swore made up the meat trifecta of “real” meatballs.

Tribune News Service photo


Real Meatballs and Spaghetti

Meatballs:

4 slices white bread, crust removed

1/2 cup milk

1/2 pound ground veal

1/2 pound ground pork

1 pound ground beef sirloin

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 extra-large egg, beaten

Vegetable oil, for frying

Olive oil, for frying

Sauce:

1 tablespoon good olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

1 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Freshly grated Parmesan

Place the bread slices in a bowl and pour the milk over, submerging bread in milk. Set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, place the ground meats, fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and egg. Squeeze bread slices, getting as much milk out as possible. Add bread to meat mixture. Combine all very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form mixture into about 2-inch meatballs. You will have about 24 meatballs. Chill in refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes before cooking.

Pour equal amounts of the vegetable oil and olive oil into a large, shallow sided skillet to a depth of ¼ inch. Working in batches, add meatballs to skillet and brown them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. Don’t crowd meatballs. Remove meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard oil but don’t clean pan.

For sauce, heat the olive oil in same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all brown bits in pan, until almost all liquid evaporates, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return meatballs to sauce, cover and simmer on lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on the cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Makes about 24.

Adapted by the Detroit Free Press from www.foodnetwork.com

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Use ‘claw’ for mixing up these and other meatballs

It’s been quite a week for meatballs.

The commencement was an ACCESS cooking class I taught at the Rogue River community center. Detailed in an April post, the class ran for six weeks and culminated with a celebratory meal of spaghetti and meatballs, albeit a more healthful version to accommodate the MyPlate dietary guidelines.

The recipe reinforced some important concepts in the kitchen. No, you can’t just add an entire package of meat, disregarding its actual weight, without increasing the quantities of other ingredients to maintain flavor and consistency. When incorporating firm-textured ingredients, such as onions, garlic and other vegetables, it’s best to mince them as finely as possible to achieve a meatball that both holds together well and offers a pleasing texture.

And finally, when assembling a mixture of meat for meatballs, meatloaf, burgers or any other purpose, use the “claw” technique to avoid compacting the meat, making the end product tough and dense. My group of participants hadn’t quite reached the point of kneading the meat like bread dough, which drives me INSANE. But they were manhandling it plenty by the time I stepped in.

It’s easier to demonstrate than to explain the claw. Very simply, however, hold an imaginary apple or orange in your hand, and then keeping your fingers curved, just run them through, under and around the meat, gently distributing all the ingredients but keeping the mixture loose. No need to slam the meat against the side of the bowl or strangle it in your fists. This animal’s already dead, folks.

The class recipe called for using ground turkey, along with whole-wheat noodles. But as most of us know, grass-fed beef can be very lean, as can grass-fed lamb. I keep the latter in my freezer and often incorporate it with turkey or pork sausage into my signature meatball recipe.

This one, served with a yogurt sauce, provides much of the flavor of lamb wrapped in phyllo, but it comes together much, much quicker and doesn’t require fussing with pastry or deep-frying. It’s courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo


Lamb Meatballs in Yogurt Sauce

In a bowl, stir together 1 small onion, minced; 1/2 cup minced parsley; 2 eggs, beaten; 1 teaspoon salt; and 1/2 teaspoon each pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Mix in 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb until blended.

Form mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Fry meatballs in batches until golden-brown and cooked through, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Pour out all but 1 tablespoon fat from pan. Add 1 cup chicken broth. Heat to boiling; cook to reduce slightly, for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup sour cream. Simmer for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup yogurt. Season with salt and pepper.

Return meatballs to pan; simmer until hot, for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with warm pita and garnished with almonds and paprika. Makes: 6 servings.

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Lamb-phyllo cigars are the Middle East’s taquito

Judging from some responses on social media, this blog’s previous post found favor with fans of phyllo pastry.

But as convenient as phyllo can be as a crust for quiche, the box in my freezer has been earmarked for a recipe that I hit the food wire a few months ago. The background story for this dish, an example of the addictive qualities of crunchy food, ran in A la Carte, but not this recipe as near as I can tell.

So here it is, basically a Middle Eastern take on the taquito, just much crispier. Phyllo pastry encases spiced, savory lamb, and the whole thing is deep-fried for dipping in a mint-yogurt sauce.

It’s an involved process, but I’m counting on the results being so worth it. An instant-read thermometer is needed for monitoring the oil.

Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Lamb and Phyllo Cigars

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 pound ground lamb

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, plus more for drizzling

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

Peanut or canola oil, for frying

7 sheets phyllo dough (14 by 18 inches), defrosted

1 large egg, beaten

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Once oil shimmers, add the onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring several times, until it’s lightly golden.

Add the garlic to skillet, then the salt, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lamb, breaking it up with your fingers as you go. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until lamb loses its raw look and spices are evenly distributed.

Clear a spot at center of pan; add the tomato paste and spread it a bit; cook for 2 minutes, then remove pan from heat. Add the pomegranate molasses, pine nuts and the parsley or cilantro, and stir to combine.

Pour about 3 inches of peanut or canola oil into a deep saute pan; heat over medium-high heat to 350 F. Seat a wire cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Meanwhile, unroll the phyllo sheets and stack them; cover with damp paper towels. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface and coat it with a light application of olive oil cooking spray (or brush lightly with olive oil). Repeat this step to build and coat a second layer.

Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut sheets in half lengthwise, then cut each of those halves horizontally into 3 rectangles of equal size, so you have 6 rectangles total.

Use the beaten egg to brush 3 edges of each phyllo rectangle, leaving 1 long side plain. Spoon a tablespoon of lamb mixture an inch inside unbrushed edge, in a line parallel to edge, leaving a 1/2-inch margin at either end. Roll dough over filling, tightly. Once it’s rolled, use your fingers to gently push and fold in sides of roll. Keep cigars covered with a damp paper towel. Repeat to use all but 3 tablespoons of filling, forming 18 cigars.

Spray/brush last phyllo sheets with oil, then fold it in half lengthwise; cut fold, then cut folded phyllo into 3 equal rectangles. Repeat the egg-wash, filling, rolling, sealing, spraying and covering steps, so you have a total of 21 cigars. Check to make sure seams of phyllo are tightly sealed; if not, brush with more egg. (Discard any leftover egg after you’re finished frying.)

Working in batches, gently drop cigars into the hot oil; fry cigars for about 3 minutes, turning so they’re evenly and lightly browned. Use tongs to transfer them to wire rack to cool. (If cigars open a bit along seam, you can cut or pinch off that bit.)

Just before serving, drizzle some pomegranate molasses over the dipping sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature, with sauce.

Makes 7 servings (makes 21 cigars).

DIPPING SAUCE: In a medium bowl, whisk 1 cup plain, low-fat, Greek-style yogurt with 2 tablespoons low-fat milk, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 6 fresh mint leaves (stacked, rolled and cut into thin ribbons), 1 tablespoon ground sumac and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt until well-blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (and up to 1 day).

Adapted by the Washington Post from a recipe by Adeena Sussman on FoodRepublic.com.

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Phyllo crust puts crunch in quintessential quiche

Pasta carbonara, the topic of this blog’s previous post, soon will be a welcome way of using more eggs.

That’s my expectation since some long-awaited chickens arrived on our property last week. They’re still too young to lay but in short order should produce more than enough eggs for our typical needs.

Quiche is another dish likely to crop up more often. It’s always been one of my preferred ways to use up a half-dozen or so eggs, along with just about any assortment of veggies and bits of meat and cheese.

Over the years, I’ve transitioned from using a standard pie crust in a pie plate to a puff-pastry crust in a tart pan, which cooks much more quickly. I’ve only made my own dough a handful of times, preferring to prepare quiche on the fly with pantry staples, like refrigerated puff pastry. But if I wanted to lavish some extra effort on quiche, I’d consult Julia Child’s classic recipe for Quiche Lorraine.

More recently, I’ve experimented with packaged phyllo dough for quiche, much like the method for this recipe from the Detroit Free Press. Flaky phyllo brings a crunchy contrast to quiche’s soft, rich custard.

This is a lovely treatment for peak-season asparagus but can transition with the seasons. One of my favorite formulas for phyllo quiche combines grated zucchini, lemon zest, fresh mint and feta to play up phyllo’s Greek origins.

The tissue-thin sheets can be a little tricky to handle. It’s key to keep it covered with a damp tea towel or paper towel. Once air hits phyllo, it will dry out.

But if you make a little tear, it’s OK because most recipes involve lots of phyllo layers, typically brushed with melted butter (sometimes clarified) to impart crispiness. Take care that the layers aren’t too butter-soaked, however, or they will tear more easily. You can rewrap and freeze the unused phyllo dough.

Tribune News Service photo

Asparagus Quiche With Phyllo Crust

4 large eggs

1 cup low-fat milk

1/2 cup fat-free or low-fat half-and-half

1 1/4 cups Italian-blend cheese

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper, to taste

8 (9-by-14-inch) sheets phyllo dough, thawed

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces (plus 8 spears, about 3 inches long, with tips)

1 1/2 cups frozen leaf spinach or fresh spinach

4 thin tomato slices

Preheat oven to 350 F. Have ready a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, half-and-half, cheese, Italian seasoning, flour, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Set the phyllo on a clean work surface and cover with a damp paper towel. Working with 1 sheet at a time, brush it lightly in streaks with the melted butter. Place 1 sheet in pie plate’s center allowing at least 1 inch to hang over edge. Brush another sheet and place it, crosswise, on top of the first. Continue brushing sheets with butter and layering them in this fashion, making sure you have an overhang around entire edge. Fold overhang over to form an edge and brush with butter.

Bake in preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the asparagus pieces and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the spinach and sauté for 2 minutes or until almost dry. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

Remove partially baked phyllo crust from oven. Place asparagus-spinach mixture over bottom of crust. Pour egg mixture over asparagus. Arrange the tomato slices in center and then arrange the 8 asparagus spears in a circular pattern out from tomato slices.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until filling is set and slightly puffy. If edges begin to brown too quickly, cover them loosely with foil.

When filling is set, remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Makes 1 (9-inch) quiche (8 slices).

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It’s a make-or-break sauce for spaghetti carbonara

It’s been a week of rare meals from my kitchen, meals that materialized on the plate just as I saw them in my mind’s eye and tasted them on my mental palate.

I can credit an extra measure of focus, a precise hand with seasoning, uncanny timing and a bit of luck. Because for all the fresh ingredients in the hands of an experienced cook, it’s those tiny details that make or break a meal.

In my repertoire, there’s one dish that’s a make-or-break endeavor — literally. Depending on the forces in my favor (or arrayed against me), the result is either the most soul-satisfying mouthful or the most disappointing plate of food that I’m compelled to eat.

It’s pasta carbonara. I say “pasta” rather than spaghetti because a straight noodle of any width really suffices, although spaghetti probably is as thin as I would attempt.

And attempt it I have, for years. Usually at least once every month, this supremely savory dish beckons.

I’ve adapted carbonara with all manner of ingredients, the common element being the egg-enriched sauce. Prosciutto and American bacon can double for Italian pancetta. I’ve supplemented the noodles with winter greens, asparagus, leeks, zucchini, wild mushrooms and even spaghetti squash. Parmesan and pecorino cheeses can be complemented with smoked mozzarella, Gouda and even Brie.

But for all my fondness of this dish (“carbonara” crops up 10 times in this blog), I’ve never posted an actual recipe. Sure, I explained the technique back in a 2009 post, but my own technique has evolved considerably in the past seven years, coming closest to this recipe from San Francisco’s Boccalone.

One change I made early on is omitting cream. A true carbonara, according to Mario Batali, has no cream. And even he concedes in “Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home” that the dish is “slightly tricky in its execution.”

Anyone who’s ever tasted a top-notch carbonara knows the sauce should be silky, almost custard-like, the eggs cooked just enough by the hot pasta to thicken, lose a bit of their sheen and adhere to the noodles. A ruined carbonara is quite simply pasta surrounded by scrambled eggs.

The key, according to all the experts, is adding the eggs off the heat. Then continuously toss the pasta until it’s coated in the eggs. “Tossing” seems to be the preferred maneuver, but I would describe the technique I’ve perfected for my cast-iron skillet more as continuously stirring and scraping the eggs, using a wooden spoon, so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan while simultaneously folding the pasta into them.

And while saving some pasta water is critical to loosening the sauce, I deviate from many of the recipes, including this one, by transferring the pasta directly from its cooking water to the pan, using tongs, rather than draining it. That extra bit of water clinging to the pasta also keeps the eggs from setting up on initial contact.

I find the sauce also comes together more easily if the eggs are beaten and combined with the grated cheese before adding to the pan. Simply top the dish with more grated cheese.

Although recipe testers for the Detroit Free Press attest that cooking the sauce should take just a minute or two, mine often takes as long as five minutes of continuous stirring and gradually increasing the heat, until just the right consistency is achieved.

Tribune News Service photo

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces pancetta or guanciale, sliced ¼ inch thick and cut into large dice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound good-quality dried spaghetti

4 large eggs

1/2 cup lightly packed, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 cup grated Pecorino (or more Parmigiano-Reggiano)

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt.

Meanwhile, in a 10-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta or guanciale, season with the pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions but just barely al dente, for about 8 minutes. Dip a glass measure or coffee cup into pasta water, scooping out a good cup of it; reserve. Drain pasta.

Remove skillet from heat and spoon off all but about 2 tablespoons fat. Add a few tablespoons pasta water to pan and scrape any brown bits from bottom.

Add pasta to skillet, set it over medium heat and toss spaghetti with tongs to coat it with fat and finish cooking to al dente, for about 1 minute. If pasta is too dry or starts to stick to bottom of pan, add a little more pasta water. Bottom of pan should be a little wet so eggs won’t scramble when added.

Remove skillet from heat and pour eggs over pasta, tossing quickly and continuously until eggs thicken and coat pasta, for about 1 minute.

Sauce should be creamy, coating pasta. If needed, add more pasta water a few tablespoons at a time to loosen sauce. Stir in the Parmigiano and Pecorino. Garnish with the chopped fresh parsley.

Makes 4 generous servings.

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Seared Belgian endive updates grilled Caesar

Greens of all varieties have benefitted from the caprices of recent weather. The plants in my garden grew lush during unseasonably warm temperature, then cooled their heels in a cold snap that kept them from bolting.

So the past week’s meals have incorporated plenty of greens: chard, spinach, lettuce, even the ruffle-edged tops from beets. Cooked or raw, on their own or paired with other ingredients, greens can wear many faces.

But when I want a singular sort of green, I reach for Belgian endive. Actually a member of the chicory family, this pale but sturdy vegetable makes a chopped salad of incomparable crunch, particularly when combined with crisp chunks of apple and toasted nuts.

That was my preferred preparation before discovering a technique that revealed another side of endive. Searing it in a pan tempers some of endive’s crunch but brings out so much more flavor. It’s like the grilled Caesar salad concept only so much better.

The following recipe from Tribune News Service doesn’t list quantities, making for a loose interpretation. Writer Leah Eskin notes that one endive head per person constitutes a side dish. Two is a meal unto itself

I adapted the recipe further by toasting some panko breadcrumbs in the residual oil and butter from searing the endive, adding a little anchovy paste and Aleppo pepper and deglazing with some sherry for a warm dressing. Given those flavors, I stuck with a mild cheese, fromage blanc, for topping.

Tribune News Service photo

Crisp Endive

Belgian endive

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Butter

Garlic

Feta, goat or mild blue cheese

Slice each of the endive in half from root to tip. Trim away root end. If outermost leaves look sad, peel them away. Rub endive all over with the salt and pepper.

Set a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Drop in 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. When butter has melted, halve 1 clove garlic and slide it in, cut-side down. Settle in endive in a single layer, cut-side down.

Cover pan. Let cook over medium-low (no stirring, prodding or fussing) until flat sides crisp to a deep brown and curved sides steam tender, for about 20 minutes. (Times vary depending on size of endive from as little as 15 to as much as 25 minutes. But err on the long side; you want a deep-brown flat surface.)

Set endive, crisp side up on a platter. Crumble on a little cheese. Enjoy warm.

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Spuds satisfy morning or night in Spanish tortilla

Ideas for morning meals, most recently with quinoa, have proliferated in A la Carte and this blog.

Absent, perhaps conspicuously, have been potatoes. They’re another source of satisfying starch for anyone who’s gluten-free, a dietary concern noted in this week’s story.

But that doesn’t mean hash browns and home fries are the only ways to go. One of my favorite preparations of breakfast potatoes, particularly from leftovers, is frittata. A slightly more involved method starts with raw spuds that are fried for the classic Spanish dish tortilla.

Make this for a simple dinner, then grab a slice for the next morning’s breakfast. It’s just as good cold. Aioli is bonus recipe from La Dulce in Royal Oak, Mich., courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Tortilla de Patata

Oil, for frying

4 Idaho potatoes, peeled

1 1/2 pounds Spanish onions, peeled and diced

10 eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

Aioli (recipe follows)

You will need two (10-inch) nonstick skillets for this recipe. In a pot, heat about 3 inches of the oil.

Slice the potatoes thin on a mandolin; pat dry. Working in batches, deep-fry potato slices until slightly crispy. Set aside.

In a separate large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and cook until caramelized, for about 15 minutes. Remove from skillet and cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with onions, season well with the salt and pepper. Fold in crispy potatoes.

Coat 1 nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Pour in egg mixture. Keep pushing down sides with a spatula, and cook until bottom is starting to brown. Start a second skillet set over medium-high heat and coat it with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Then in one quick motion flip tortilla to second pan. (If you do this over a plate, anything you lose can be added back to pan).

Cook until bottom is just browned, still pushing down sides with a spatula if need be. Wipe out first pan, and get it oiled and warmed up again. Flip tortilla once more and let cook until not quite set in middle. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Tortilla should still ooze a bit in the middle when sliced. Serve with toast and the aioli.

Makes 8 servings.

AIOLI: Place 1 large egg yolk in a bowl set over simmering water. Whisk in 1 small peeled and minced garlic clove and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Continue simmering until mixture begins to thicken. Drizzle in a neutral oil a teaspoon at a time until mixture emulsifies and thickens without scrambling egg.

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Tiny goats produce local cheese to rival feta

Southern Oregon has proven fertile ground for the gamut of artisan foods, notably cheeses.

Along with Rogue Creamery, several smaller operations were highlighted for a story in this year’s Our Valley. Among them is Pholia Farm near Rogue River, where playful Nigerian dwarf goat kids frolic every spring. The diminutive herd produces ultra-rich milk for several cheese varieties, including Pholia’s flagship Pheta.

Pholia’s version is creamier than the typical cheeses labeled “feta” but domestically made from cow milk. True Greek feta is made from sheep milk, or a mixture of goat and sheep milk. My personal favorite is sheep-milk Israeli feta. But I’m keen to try Bulgarian feta, described as tangy, since spying this recipe from Tribune News Service.

Combining just a few ingredients, this salad of Brussels sprouts would be a lovely canvas for fine-quality feta of any provenance, including Pholia. White balsamic vinegar, rather than dark, is used for a delicate finish. Consider sherry or Champagne vinegars if you don’t have white balsamic. This dish is from Forest, a Birmingham, Mich., restaurant recently lauded by the Detroit Free Press.

Tribune News Service photo

Feta & Brussels Sprouts Salad

2 1/2 cups Brussels sprouts, ends removed and shaved on a mandolin, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more to taste

3 tablespoons golden raisins

2 ounces Bulgarian feta

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place ½ cup of the shaved Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a few pinches of the salt and pepper. Drizzle with a few drops of the olive oil and toss to coat. Roast in preheated oven for about 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool.

In a large bowl, combine remaining raw Brussels sprouts with roasted sprouts, the raisins, feta, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and pine nuts. Gently toss to coat. Serve.

Makes 2 salads.

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Frittata muffins are grab-and-go breakfast fare

Formulas for fast breakfasts with a little flair filled this week’s A la Carte.

The most novel among them is a “pizza” prepared on naan bread and sauced with pumpkin puree. This incorporates pantry and freezer staples of my kitchen in a way I likely would have never devised before this week’s story.

Although baked ham cups are among the more predictable concepts, it’s the one to which I personally gravitate. Blame my undying and unwholesome fondness for McDonald’s Egg McMuffin.

Yes, the recipe could be much more wholesome with a sprinkle of veggies. But here’s an alternative that uses just about any cooked grain in individual, muffin-cup frittata. Made the night beforehand, these could constitute true grab-and-go fare because they would eat like quiche, which I don’t mind cold, while masquerading as an actual muffin.

The recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, calls for quinoa, although the title indicates that any grain could be used. I’d also reach for amaranth, mentioned in a previous post, which is so small and sticky that it doesn’t disrupt the egg’s texture. Amaranth souffle is a dish I’ve made, but these would be much simpler.

Tribune News Service photo

Frittata Muffins for Any Grain

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, preferably red or black

2 cups fresh or frozen peas (do not thaw)

3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Grana Padano cheese, Parmesan or sharp cheddar, plus 1/4 cup finely grated, for sprinkling

1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (about 3)

1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped herbs, such as a mixture of mint and parsley or dill and mint

1 to 2 teaspoons minced serrano chili, veins and seeds removed for less heat (optional)

7 large eggs

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grounded black pepper

12 pitted salt-cured black Moroccan or green olives (optional)

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 F. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick, with olive oil or coat with cooking spray.

Place the quinoa, peas, shredded cheese, scallions, herbs and chili in a medium bowl and combine well with a fork. (If grains are precooked, make sure to separate any clumps.) Divide equally among muffin cups, about 1/3 cup for each, filling until almost full.

Place the eggs in a large bowl and season with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. (If using previously cooked salted grains and greens, only use 1/4 teaspoon salt.) Whisk well until foamy, for about 30 seconds. Divide egg mixture into cups, using about 1/4 cup for each. Sprinkle each muffin with about 1 teaspoon of the finely grated cheese and gently press in 1 olive (if using).

Bake in preheated oven until frittata muffins puff up and turn light golden on top and golden-brown around edges, for about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool for about 5 minutes. Using a knife or thin rubber spatula, carefully go around edges of each muffin to gently release from pan. Eat warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 muffins.

From “Simply Ancient Grains,” by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

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Soaking overnight is an ancient method for grains

Among the feats of 20th-century food processing are ready-to-eat cereals. But filling the stomach quickly come morning is an age-old human urge. So it only stands to reason that soaking grains overnight is a method even older than many so-called “ancient grains.”

I never used to fret over the time it took to simmer my steel-cut oatmeal. Anticipating the dish while I sipped my coffee was all part of the enjoyment. Then I had kids, which means I’m pressed to polish off a bowl of cold cereal between distractions before it disintegrates into a soggy mess.

Steel-cut oats are still a staple of my pantry, but the current cache has been there for a good year and should be replaced. I really have no excuse to let them languish because, according to McCann’s, the easiest way to prepare them is to soak them overnight. To 4 cups boiling water, add one cup of oats. Stir until the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave overnight.

Its sticky cooked texture makes amaranth another great choice for porridge. Actually a seed, amaranth is among the tiniest “ancient grains.” I’ve been looking for likely amaranth recipes for several years and plan to try this one, which reminds me of my “Moroccan oatmeal.” It’s from Maria Speck’s “Simply Ancient Grains.”

Like so many other whole-foods proponents, Speck vouches for making batches on weekends for use in salads, soups and even muffins on hectic weeknights. Cooked grains will keep for seven days in the refrigerator.

Tribune News Service photo

Amaranth Porridge With Apricots and Pine Nuts

1 cup amaranth grains

3 tablespoons chopped dates

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons chopped soft dried apricots

Pinch of fine sea salt

1 tablespoon honey, or more as needed

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

2 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts, for garnish

The night before serving, combine in a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan the amaranth, dates and cinnamon stick. Pour over 1 ½ cups boiling water, cover and allow to sit at room temperature overnight (or chill, covered, for up to 2 days.)

The next morning, finish porridge by adding the milk, apricots and salt to saucepan; cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, stir well once with a wooden spoon, decrease heat to maintain a lively bubble and cook until mixture starts to thicken, for about 8 minutes. Stir thoroughly, scraping bottom, and continue cooking at a simmer, stirring often, until amaranth is creamy, for about 2 more minutes. Grains will swell and become translucent but maintain a little crunchiness.

Remove from heat, discard cinnamon stick and stir in the honey and orange zest. Taste and adjust sweetness with a bit more honey and milk, if desired. If you have time, cover and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve warm, garnished with the pine nuts.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Simply Ancient Grains,” by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

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    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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