Thursday, February 25, 2010

Serve with Flatbread

I made naan to serve with Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots. I wanted to title this post something catchy and clever like, “Jack of All Trades, Master of Naan,” or “Naany Naany Naan Naan,” but, as you can see none of these made the cut. This recipe, however, did. It’s delicious and simple, quite easy to make, even if it takes some time, and totally undeserving of silly post titles.

Naan is a soft and flexible flatbread from India, traditionally made in super-hot tandoor ovens. I don’t know about you, but my apartment didn’t come equipped with a tandoor, and I don’t think they’d let me build one on the property. A pizza stone in a hot oven may not exactly replicate traditional conditions, but it allows me to make a darn good flatbread that just happens to be a fantastic accompaniment to virtually any stew or curry.

Naan is usually made with ghee (Indian-style clarified butter), but to save effort and cut corners (and because the recipe I adapted from Joy of Cooking (an older edition than this one) gave me permission by not even mentioning ghee) I used plain ol’ melted butter. Naan is also usually made with yogurt, which I tend to have in abundance, since I make it myself (with the help of this contraption). As a result it is tangy in flavor and soft and pillowy in texture. The dough is firm, but still surprisingly easy to work with, and I think that’s all because of the yogurt. Of course, not actually being a master of naan, I could be wrong.

In addition to using melted whole butter instead of ghee, I had to break another rule to make this naan. It is a rule I established for myself in order to make mealtimes less hectic and to allow me to enjoy the process more. My rule is to never try more than one new recipe in a single meal. Well, to paraphrase Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean, that rule is more like a guideline. I break it so regularly it can’t really be considered a rule. Anyway, to alleviate some of the chaos of testing and taking note of two recipes at once (this one and the chickpea stew), I streamlined the naan process by using my heavy-duty mixer to make the dough. (I usually knead dough by hand, just to burn a few more calories. Using the mixer has come to feel like cheating on a diet.)

I love this bread and can’t believe I waited so long to try to make it. Now, I think I’ll break out this recipe whenever I make something that suggests I “serve with flatbread.” In fact, I might start combing my collection for such recipes just to have an excuse to eat naan again.

Naan with Whole Wheat Flour
I adapted this from Joy of Cooking by swapping out some bread flour for whole wheat flour as inspired by the naan recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I recommend serving the naan as hot as you can stand it. Just don’t burn your fingers or your mouth!

¾ cup plain yogurt
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 ¼ teaspoons yeast (about half of an envelope-style package)
water as needed
a few pinches of coarse salt (optional)

1. To prepare: allow the yogurt to come to room temperature. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and allow to cool slightly.

2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, mix the yogurt, melted butter, bread flour, whole wheat flour, ½ teaspoon salt and yeast until a coarse ball of dough is formed. Add warm water, 1 teaspoon at a time if the mixture is too dry to come together.

3. By hand or with the dough hook of the mixer, knead the dough 10 minutes or until firm but smooth.

4. Oil or spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough inside and oil or spray the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough and cover with a clean towel. Allow the dough to rise about 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 475 F. Place a pizza stone or inverted baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven.

6. Deflate the dough and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball, cover with a towel and let rest 10 minutes.

7. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. Roll 2 (or more if they will fit on the peel) dough balls into long ovals, about 8-10 inches long and 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Place the dough ovals on the dusted peel. Brush each with melted butter.

8. Carefully slide the two dough ovals onto the preheated pizza stone. Bake at 475 F for about 8 minutes or until they have puffed up slightly, the bottoms are beginning to brown, and the tops have a few browned spots. Remove from the oven and brush again with butter. Sprinkle each naan with a small pinch of salt if desired. Wrap in a clean towel to keep warm until ready to serve. Roll and bake remaining two dough balls similarly. Serve hot with dishes that recommend serving with flatbread.

Makes 4 naan or 4-8 servings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Adapted from The Original

I had set aside a recipe for a pork stew with dried apricots to try soon. Actually, what attracted me to the recipe was neither the pork nor the apricots, but the generous amount of parsnips for which it called. I’ve been carefully storing parsnips from our CSA (okay, so they’re jammed somewhere amongst the other long-storing root vegetables on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator) for a few months and wanted to use them up.

I don’t remember exactly how it came to me, probably from reading Indian and vegetarian cookbooks, but I thought perhaps I could replace the pork with chickpeas. I had more dried chickpeas in the cupboard (a couple bags from the bulk bins totaling roughly three pounds) than I did pork in the freezer (roughly none), so this seemed to be the simplest (and most frugal) thing to do.

Since I was using dried chickpeas, I decided to cook them along with the other vegetables (onions, celery, carrots and parsnips). For me, the key to working with dried chickpeas is soaking them for plenty of time, at least overnight and usually for 12 hours or so, so that they are fully rehydrated. Only when they can be popped in my mouth and chewed like a vegetable rather than breaking my teeth like a rock do I put them to the heat.

I’ve heard from and read in many sources that beans should not be cooked with salt or acids until near the end of the cooking time. The beans can become tough and will never reach the creamy state we’re looking for. While I’ve never tested this myself, I’m sacrificing nothing by going along with conventional wisdom in this case (not always my preferred practice). I resisted the temptation to salt the vegetables while they sautéed, and waited until the chickpeas were nearly cooked to add the tomato paste.

The pork may not be essential to this pork and apricot stew, but the dried apricots sure are. They add a sweet and tangy fruitiness that I enhanced with some lemon juice. I like to use California dried apricots as opposed to the Turkish variety. They are darker in color, more leathery, and less plump, but they are also more tart, fruity and flavorful. I think the Turkish apricots, which are probably both easier to find and more economical, would also work in this stew. The result is likely to be a little sweeter.

After I replaced the sage, thyme and black pepper with a little oregano, lots of cumin and some hot red pepper flakes, this dish no longer much resembled the original inspiration recipe. After a few spoonfuls, however, my interest in the pork stew diminished to mere fleeting curiosity. The chickpeas are hearty and the broth is sturdy but light and a little tangy. The carrots, parsnips and chewy bits of apricot make it a little sweet, but by no means cloying. I served it with a homemade naan flatbread (a recipe I hope to post later this week) that was great for dipping in the yummy broth and sopping up all the last little puddles at the bottom of the bowl. This recipe makes a huge pot of stew, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it a few more times this week. I don’t expect the pork to show up any time soon.

Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots

12 ounces dried chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped peeled parsnips (about 1-inch chunks)
2 cups chopped peeled carrots (about 1-inch chunks)
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chopped dried apricots (preferably California apricots)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

1. To prepare the chickpeas, rinse them well, remove any debris or bad-looking chickpeas and place in a large pot or bowl. Fill the vessel with water to cover the chickpeas by a few inches. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours (no more than 24 hours). When the chickpeas are completely rehydrated, drain them well and discard the soaking water.

2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, parsnips and carrots. Saute until the vegetables begin to soften and the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add the drained chickpeas, 6 cups water, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover and cook at a low boil for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the chickpeas are almost tender.

4. Add the tomato paste, apricots, 2 teaspoons salt, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes. Return to a boil and cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until the broth has thickened somewhat and the chickpeas and vegetables are very tender.

5. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste the stew for saltiness. Add more salt if desired. Remove the bay leaves. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Makes about 8 servings.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bean There, Done That

I’ve tried black bean burger recipes before. The results were usually just fine in the flavor department, but sadly lacking where texture is concerned. Actually, they tended to resemble greasy black bean puddles rather than burgers, so I gave up for quite some time.

Later, I came across the concept of the bean (or lentil) croquette, sort of an elongated meatball (meatless, of course). Since they’re smaller, I thought they may not fall apart as the burger shapes do when I attempt to flip them. I then found an old recipe (from Eating Well magazine) for a black bean croquette, complete with southwest flavors. It even had instructions for baking rather than frying, so even if these fell apart, at least they wouldn’t be drowning in oil.

Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and just try the recipe. I swapped out the tomatoes, pretty pathetic in the markets this time of year, with some bell pepper and green onion. They’re not exactly seasonal either, but they’re at least consistent through most of the year. I also consulted at least one other recipe for ideas on flavoring and thickening.

I decided on a combination of brown rice and bread crumbs to help the croquettes to hold together. Since I had some leftover cornbread in the freezer, I turned it into crumbs and pressed it into service. I also used those crumbs to coat the croquettes before baking. They add a nice crunch to the outside and a sweet flavor to the inside that I think is an improvement over plain breadcrumbs.

These might not go well on a bun, but I often find bean burgers on a bun kind of starchy and heavy anyway. What they do need, though, is a dipping sauce, and I’ve included the recipe of the one I put together. By a stroke of luck, the dipping sauce recipe only made a bit more than I needed for dipping. This just makes me look like I know what I’m doing. You know, bean…ahem…been there, done that.

Black Bean and Corn Croquettes
These are a good use of leftover cornbread and rice. You could also shape them into smaller balls to serve as an appetizer.

1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped bell pepper, any color
1 ¼ teaspoon salt, divided
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups cornbread crumbs, divided
½ cup cooked brown rice, cooled
½ cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
a few splashes hot pepper sauce, to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 cups home cooked or canned black beans (drained and rinsed if canned)

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Heat canola oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt. Sautee until pepper just begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the green onions and garlic. Cook 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine ½ cup cornbread crumbs, rice, cheese, cumin, chili powder, cilantro, hot pepper sauce, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and cooked peppers, onions and garlic. Process until well combined and beginning to form large clumps.

3. Add the beans and corn. Pulse until well-combined, but some beans and corn are still distinguishable in the mixture.

4. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray or oil or line it with a silicone baking mat. Place the remaining 1 cup cornbread crumbs in a bowl or on a plate. Scoop up about ¼ cup of the bean mixture and use your hands to form into a log-shaped croquette. Dredge the croquette in the cornbread crumbs, pressing slightly to make the crumbs stick. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining mixture. You should get about 12 croquettes.

5. Bake at 425 fro 25 minutes or until the crumb coating is golden brown and the croquettes are firm enough to move without falling apart. Serve with Cilantro Cream Dipping Sauce (see recipe below).

Makes about 4 servings.

Cilantro Cream Dipping Sauce

1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 green onions, finely chopped

1. Combine all ingredients and stir well to combine. Chill until ready to serve.

Serve with Black Bean and Corn Croquettes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Stout Bread

At the risk of seeming bitter in the face of an impending romantic holiday, I decided to post another recipe for a treat that’s a lot less sweet. Now, I’m all for the employment of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and pink-frosted cupcakes in the celebration of Valentine’s Day. I’ve just been married long enough (10 ½ years) to know what my Sweetheart likes, and that is foods and beverages with at least a hint of more bitter flavors.

One of Harry’s favorites is this bread fortified with Guinness stout and studded with bittersweet chocolate and dried cherries. It starts with a simple starter of the beer, some bread flour and yeast and ends with soft bites of melted chocolate and hints of sweet and tart from the cherries. Actually, it ends with an empty plate and rather quickly, which is why I form the dough into two small loaves and freeze one for later. Delayed gratification can be a very romantic thing.

I’ve made this bread by kneading it in a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook, but recently, I’ve been kneading bread by hand. This bread comes out best if I allow the dough to remain a little sticky rather than too stiff. The dough is slow to rise compared to other doughs and if I add too much flour, I find the loaves to be too dense.

I’m afraid I may have posted it too late to make it for Valentine’s Day. The starter requires about 8 hours to properly mature, so you have to think about making it ahead of time. If your tooth is not as sweet as your romantic disposition, you might like to make this bread instead of a sugary treat, for some other romantic occasion. If, on the other hand, you’re more bitter than romantic, this might fit the bill as well. Our plans for the big Valentine weekend: curl up with a homemade pizza and watch the movie Zombieland. You keep Valentine’s Day in your way, I’ll keep it in mine.

Stout Bread with Chocolate and Dried Cherries
adapted from Cooking Light magazine

3 ½ - 4 cups bread flour, divided
1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness Stout
2 teaspoons dry yeast (or about 1 package)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dried tart cherries
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken or chopped into bite-size pieces

1. Combine 2 cups flour, stout, and yeast in a large container. Stir well to combine completely. Cover loosely (I just set the lid of the container on top without sealing it) and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

2. Remove the starter from the refrigerator and let stand until it warms to room temperature, at least 1 hour, perhaps longer.

3. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, and salt and stir to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (or into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer.) Knead the dough by hand (or with the mixer’s dough hook) until it is smooth. While kneading, add ½ to 1 cup flour a little at a time. The dough should still be slightly tacky, but should not continue to cover your fingers or stick to the kneading surface (or the mixer bowl).

4. Stretch the dough out into a thin circle or rectangle. Place the chocolate and dried cherries on the dough and roll it up. Work the dough to evenly distribute the chocolate and cherries.

5. Shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place the dough in a large bowl that has been oiled or coated with cooking spray. Oil or spray the top of the dough ball. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough and cover with a clean towel. Let the dough rise until it is double in size, 1-1 ½ hours.

6. Oil a large baking sheet or coat it with cooking spray or line it with a silicone baking mat. Divide the risen dough in half. Form each half into a smooth ball and place on the baking sheet. Cover with a towel and let rise about 1-1 ½ hours or until about double in size.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 F. With a sharp knife, cut an X into the top of each loaf. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes. To ensure the loaf is fully baked, you can insert a thermometer probe. The bread is done when the internal temperature is 200 F. Cool on a wire rack. You can slice and serve slightly warm, or when it cools completely.

Makes 2 loaves of 8-10 slices.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet Treats

You don’t have to have a Sweetheart to enjoy chocolate for Valentine’s Day. In fact, you don’t even need a Valentine’s Day to enjoy chocolate. Our world seems to demand an excuse for even our minor indulgences, however, so as long as the calendar is willing to oblige, I’ll make some truffles.

Bittersweet chocolate-almond-amaretto truffles, that is. 60% cacao chocolate (I used Ghirardelli brand) melted with heavy cream and a pat of butter, laced with amaretto liqueur and coated with toasted almonds. I’m rarely speechless, even when drooling, but it’s really not necessary to say more anyway.

Well, I suppose I should say some more, because truffles are really pretty easy to make yourself. They have relatively few ingredients, and do not require any fancy-schmancy techniques. Just warm some cream, pour it over chopped chocolate, stir it up, add some butter and liqueur and let it chill until it’s scoopable. Rolling the ganache (the milk and cream mixture) into balls and coating them can get a bit tedious, which is why I adapted this recipe for a smaller batch.

I don’t know if I don’t warm the cream enough, don’t chop the chocolate finely enough, or just have a kitchen that is much colder than test kitchens tend to be, but when I make truffles, the warm cream is never enough to melt all the chocolate as the recipes tell me it will. When this happens, I use the microwave to give the mixture a boost, which is fine as long as it is just a short boost (about 15 seconds or so at a time). The instructions in the recipe below include this re-warming step if you find it necessary.

Since there are so few ingredients, it is important to use those of high quality, or at least what you really like. I went pretty intense with the bittersweet chocolate, but you could use something milder, or even milk chocolate if you prefer. I used bar chocolate, but the recipe (from The Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein) from which I borrowed lists chocolate chips as an alternative ingredient. You could also use a different liqueur, or, if you prefer not to use liqueur, you can replace it with about 1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract. You could also coat the truffles in a different chopped nut, or roll them in cocoa powder (their resulting grubby appearance is what inspired them to be named after the greatly prized fungus truffle). I also like them dipped in more melted chocolate.

Whatever your excuse for enjoying and sharing truffles, it is best to keep them in the refrigerator, but serve them at room temperature. I’ve heard tell that much of chocolate’s sensual nature is due to its melting at or near human body temperature. These truffles are no exception. Use them with discretion and share with extreme caution. And if Valentine’s Day (which is Sunday, by the way) is not your “thing,” please try not to be more bitter than the 60% cacao.

Bittersweet Almond Amaretto Truffles
modified from The Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 60% cacao), chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (such as Disaronno)
¾ cup finely chopped almonds (You could start with whole, sliced or slivered almonds. I used whole almonds.)

1. Place the chocolate into a medium-size microwave-safe bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over low heat just until it begins to bubble. The cream under the surface may appear to be moving or bubbling. Do not allow to come to a full boil.

2. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand about 30 seconds. Stir the chocolate and cream together until the all the chocolate has melted. If the chocolate will not completely melt, microwave on HIGH for 10 to 15 seconds. Continue to stir until the chocolate melts. Microwave another 10 seconds if needed. Make sure the mixture is warm before proceeding to the next step.

3. Add the butter and amaretto and stir until the butter is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until the mixture (ganache) has become firm enough to scoop and roll into balls (at least 1 hour).

4. While the ganache is chilling, place the almonds in a large skillet. Heat over medium-low heat until they are beginning to brown and become fragrant, stirring or tossing often. Transfer to a plate or bowl and cool completely.

5. When the ganache has chilled, scoop out by heaping teaspoons and roll into approximately 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the toasted almonds, pressing lightly to make the almonds stick.* If the ganache becomes too soft to roll into balls, put it back in the refrigerator until it is sufficiently firm. Serve at room temperature. Store extras in the refrigerator in layers separated by wax paper in a sealed container. They can last at least a week in the refrigerator if you don’t eat them all right away.

Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch truffles.

*You may have leftover toasted almonds, but you can use them on ice cream, in oatmeal, whatever you like. Keep them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Winter Tomato Soup

I don’t need Punxsutawney Phil to tell me that winter will be sticking around for a while. But, since there’s not much I can do about it, I just warm up with a bowl of hot soup.

I suppose one could say that this soup if full of Spanish flavors, but I’ve never been to Spain and I don’t know any Spanish people, so I wouldn’t dare describe it as “authentic Spanish cuisine.” I did put smoked paprika in it, which had the word “Spanish” on the label, so that must count for something. Smoked paprika may be difficult to find, but I got mine from a Penzeys Spices store, and it is available on their web site.

I did base this soup on an idea I had for a smoky-flavored Gazpacho (which may also support its Spanish-ness), but the weather is cold and so is Gazpacho, so I made a comforting hot soup instead. More brands seem to be canning fire-roasted tomatoes these days, so they may be easier to find than they used to be. (I usually use Muir Glen brand, which is always good.) You could use roasted red bell peppers from a jar for this soup, or you could roast your own as described in this post. I used homemade vegetable broth, but I think you could use your favorite vegetable or chicken broth.

Just a few words about salt: First of all, I tend to like my soup salty. I used unsalted tomatoes, fresh peppers that I roasted, and unsalted broth to make this soup, so I ended up putting in about 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons. (I’m not sure, since I added more at one point when I was unsure if I had added some already. Don’t do this.) I use kosher salt, which has a more coarse grain than regular iodized salt.

I’ve found that it’s best to add some salt with the sautéing vegetables, to help them sweat a bit, then add more salt only to taste. Look at the sodium content of your ingredients, then decide how much salt to start with, then, when the soup has boiled down, taste it. If it needs more salt, put some more in. If it’s too salty, you may be out of luck. I don’t know that any of the old home remedies for over-salted soup really work.

Upon the first test, this soup turned out as well as I had hoped. It is thick, but soft, a little tangy and acidic, and just a bit spicy. You could probably spice it up even more by adding more hot pepper flakes, or even a minced chipotle chile, which would bump up the smokiness as well. You might also make it even heartier if you added a drained and rinsed can of chickpeas near the end of cooking, or diced up some Spanish chorizo sausage and sautéed it with the onion and celery

Mmmmmm! That all sounds so good, I might just have to go out and buy a few more cans of fire-roasted tomatoes! I wish I knew more Spanish, so I could give a proper send-off!

Tomato and Roasted Pepper Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt (plus more to taste)
5 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 (14.5 ounce or 411 g) cans fire roasted tomatoes, do not drain
2 roasted red bell peppers
3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions appear translucent and begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, smoked paprika and cumin. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the fire roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers and broth.

3. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, until the celery is tender and the soup has thickened, about 45 minutes. Taste the soup and add more salt to taste if necessary.

Makes about 6 servings.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hidden Beets

There are many reasons for people to hide food: to protect it, to keep it for themselves, to keep calories out of sight. I hide beets, but for none of those reasons. I hide them because I’m afraid of them.

First I hide beets in the refrigerator, cramming them into the back on the bottom in hopes they will be assumed into root vegetable heaven when I’m not looking. This never happens. Beets are immortal. This is why they have become a staple food among peoples who have come to understand and appreciate them. I am descended from some of these folks. So much for genetics.

When I finally realize that the beets in the refrigerator are not going away on their own, I have to find a way to eat them. I continue to explore “safety beet” recipes like these Beet and Carrot Burgers or Black Beans with Beets and Oranges, but I’m also learning to hide them in other dishes, like Potatoes Anna.

Potatoes Anna is made by layering very thinly-sliced potatoes in a cast iron (my preference) pan with butter, salt and pepper, and baking it until the potatoes sort of meld together into a nice brown cake. I had some potatoes that were getting uppity, sprouting delusions of grandeur, so I thought this would be a good thing to make to hide some beets from myself and still keep them from going to waste. I like to use a mandolin-style V-slicer to cut the potatoes and beets as thinly as possible. You could probably use a knife if you’re particularly skilled.

When I made this before (and other dishes as well), I found that beets don’t seem to cook as quickly as other vegetables, especially potatoes. They stay firm enough to really announce themselves amongst the layers (like their weird reddish-purplish color and wicked taste don’t do that enough already). This time I solved the problem by partially cooking the beets before slicing them and layering them with the potatoes. They still have a slight textural difference (they tend to be a bit slipperier than the potatoes), but overall this method was a success.

I won’t pretend I can’t taste the beets in this dish, but it definitely fits my definition of “safety beets.” Since I haven’t seen a recipe like this published anywhere, I’d like to call it “Potatoes Anne Marie,” but I’m really not ready to have my name go down in history in association with beets. Maybe next year.

Potatoes Anna with Hidden Beets
I recommend peeling, slicing and layering one potato at a time. It will keep them from turning brown while you work, and if you find you have allocated more potatoes than you need, you won’t be left with unnecessarily sliced potatoes.

12 ounces (about 350 g) whole beets
2 pounds (about 1.3 – 1.5 kg) potatoes
3 tablespoons (30 ml) unsalted butter, melted, divided
2 teaspoons (10 ml) coarse (kosher) salt, divided
¾ teaspoon (about 3 ml) freshly ground black pepper, divided

1. Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C). Scrub the beets and cut off any remaining greens or root tips. Place the beets in a microwave-safe bowl or on a microwave-safe plate (the dish will get beet juice on it, but should be washable). Microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Peel the beets and slice very thinly, preferably using a mandolin-style slicer.

3. Peel and slice potatoes very thinly, as you did the beets. I recommend working with one potato at a time to prevent browning. Do not rinse the potatoes. They need their starch to stick together in the pan.

4. Brush the bottom and sides of a 10-inch (25 cm) cast iron pan with melted butter. Arrange a layer of the sliced potatoes, slightly overlapping each other, in the pan. Brush the layer of potatoes with butter and sprinkle with a pinch of the salt and a small pinch of the pepper.

5. Place another layer similarly over the top of the first. Brush with butter and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a small pinch of pepper. Repeat this procedure with half the beet slices. Place two more potato layers, then place the remaining beets. Place the remaining potatoes in similar layers, brushing the final layer with butter and sprinkling it with salt and pepper.

6. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the potatoes and press down to compact the layers slightly. Place a heavy oven-proof object, such as a skillet or saucepan (I use a cast iron sandwich press) on top of the foil.

7. Place the pan in the oven and bake at 450 F for 25 minutes. Remove the weight and the foil and continue to bake for 20 minutes more.

8. Remove from the oven and cool 5-10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the pan to loosen anything that may be sticking. If desired, place a serving plate large enough to hold the potatoes over the pan. Carefully flip the pan to release the potatoes and beets onto the plate. They should come out easily and hold together in a cake-like shape. Slice into wedges and serve. If you do not want to flip the potatoes onto a serving plate, you can simply cut and serve from the pan.

Makes 6-8 side-dish servings.