Monday, June 12, 2017

Asparagus Flatbread

My cooking dreams are loaded with recipes like this one. All homemade. Somewhat sophisticated. At least a little gourmet. Sometimes it’s tough for me to make even such a small dream into a reality, since, just like everybody else, my time and physical energy aren’t always up to task. Time and energy managed to conspire in my favor last week, however, and I got a lovely Asparagus Flatbread with Aged Gouda and Hazelnuts onto the dinner table. And it was so good!

Part of my success was due to applying a bit of efficiency to my overwhelming recipe wish list. There were two recipes on it calling for shaved asparagus. One was the asparagus pizza recipe in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The other was a salad recipe from Fine Cooking magazine. I wanted to try out the concept of an asparagus pizza, but I also wanted to sample the flavors in the salad, and so I combined the two recipes.

My inspiration recipes directed the cook to shave asparagus spears with a vegetable peeler, but mine wasn’t effective enough (or I wasn’t patient enough), so I simply cut my asparagus into long, thin strips using a knife. I did the same with a couple of scallions. I used my usual Whole Wheat Pizza Crust dough as my flatbread base, (You can use what you like or find convenient.) and I put a thin layer of mozzarella on that, which not only tastes great, but also helps hold everything together. On top of that went the “shaved” asparagus and scallion, which I then sprinkled with some toasted and skinned hazelnuts.

After this flatbread was baked, I shaved some deliciously nutty aged Gouda cheese over it all. This time, I did use a vegetable peeler, which was great for the job. The aged Gouda melted just right over the still-hot flatbread. It’s what it did for the flavor of this dish that’s really exciting, though. It’s rich sharpness and nuttiness go so well with the asparagus, and help tie it to the dark and toasty goodness of the hazelnuts.

Roasted asparagus, aged Gouda and hazelnuts really make a fabulous flavor combination. That being said, other nuts and cheeses might be good here, too, such as almonds or walnuts with shaved Gruyere or Parmesan. I also think a light drizzle of roasted hazelnut oil or even good olive oil would be pretty fabulous.

I don’t really know who might agree or disagree with my personal nomenclature when it comes to pizza, topped flatbread, focaccia, and such. I like to think of pizza as a crust with a sauce, usually tomato-based, a pretty good shower of mozzarella cheese, and may be some other good, melty cheeses, and then some vegetable and/or meat toppings. A common American Friday or Saturday night thing. This asparagus-based dish with no sauce and less cheese fits into my “topped flatbread” category, so that’s what I’m going to call it. I’m also going to call it delicious. And I’m really hoping to call it over for dinner again soon!

Asparagus Flatbread with Aged Gouda and Hazelnuts

1 recipe Whole Wheat Pizza Crust dough, left to rise overnight in the refrigerator or for several hours at room temperature

½ pound asparagus spears
2 scallions
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup hazelnuts roasted, peeled (as demonstrated in this post), and chopped
½ cup shaved aged Gouda cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Return the dough to room temperature if it has been refrigerated. This could take a few hours.

2. Preheat oven to 450 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. On the lined baking sheet, stretch or pat out the dough into a rough rectangle, about 8 x 14 inches. Cover with a towel and let rest while completing the rest of the recipe.

3. Cut the asparagus into long, very thin strips, or shave with a vegetable peeler. Cut the scallions similarly.

4. Distribute the mozzarella cheese over the dough. Cover evenly with the asparagus and scallions. Sprinkle the hazelnuts evenly over the top.

5. Bake at 450 F for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the asparagus has softened and browned in places. Remove from the oven and distribute the aged Gouda over the top. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Let stand until the aged Gouda has melted. Cut into squares and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Orange and White Chocolate Cookies


I’m always skeptical of claims that something “tastes just like” something it is not. That’s why I wasn’t sure what recipes that called themselves “Creamsicle Cookies” could do for me. When I read through a couple of these recipes, however, I liked where they were going. I picked the most straightforward one and the rest of the story is delicious.

These basic drop cookies are flavored with plenty of freshly-grated orange zest and white chocolate chips.  Orange zest is particularly effective at punching up the orange in just about anything and it really goes a long way in that role here. I love the white chocolate chips with that orange flavor, too. Maybe there aren’t popsicles in my mind when I bite into one of these, but that orange and cream flavor is wonderful nonetheless.

This recipe is as simple to put together as any other drop cookie. I like to make such cookie doughs the day before I’m going to bake them. I find that at least a little refrigeration time makes my cookies come out a little nicer, perhaps because the flour can absorb a bit more of the butter and moisture. Whatever the reason, I liked the way my Orange and White Chocolate Cookies came out slightly crisp on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. Their crispness does soften as they sit covered in a container for a day or two, but their flavor doesn’t suffer for it.

An orange zest and white chocolate flavored cookie may not “taste just like” an icy creamsicle, especially on a hot summer day, but if you love those iconic creamsicle flavors and you love cookies, this might just be the recipe for you. And you and I can definitely be friends!

Orange and White Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Oh, Sweet Basil

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips

1. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk or sift together. Add the orange zest and whisk in to distribute well. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another medium bowl if mixing by hand), combine the butter, sugar and brown sugar. Beat together with the paddle attachment on medium-low speed until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the egg until well combined. Beat in the vanilla.

3. Beat in the flour mixture on low speed a little at a time. Continue beating until well combined. Stir in the white chocolate.

4. Cover and chill the cookie dough for two hours or up to 24 hours. (You can also wrap the dough well and freeze for up to 3 months.) When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 F.

5. Lightly grease cookie sheets with cooking spray, or by your preferred method. Scoop balls of dough about 2 tablespoons each and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.

6. Bake at 375 F for 9-11minutes, or until just browned around the edges. Cool on the pans for about 2 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

21 Seasonal Favorites

While I love, love, love trying new recipes, there are so many seasonal favorites that I love to revisit just as much. This time of year, I go for all the new and tender spring produce I can get at the local farmer’s market, or sometimes even in my own garden: lettuce and other tender greens, asparagus, radishes, peas (English or snap or snow), fresh herbs, and rhubarb. With a grocery list like this, I get a lot out of a few characteristic methods and dishes, such as all kinds of salads, often with homemade dressings; pasta with vegetables, herbs, or pesto sauces; and desserts with rhubarb, often including other fruits.

The easiest salads are simple lettuce salads with a few other favorite vegetables tossed upon them. I’m a salad dressing junkie, but I feel best about the ones I’ve made myself, such as Buttermilk Herb Salad Dressing

and Feta and Lemon Vinaigrette all of which are versatile as well as delicious.

I also like to keep some other vegetable salads in the refrigerator for quick sides at simple meals. I look forward to making this Sesame-Soy Asparagus with Garlic and Ginger every year, and this Sugar Snap Pea and Radish Salad with Feta and Dill is full of some of my favorite things. 

 If I’m lucky enough to get a whole bowl of freshly-shelled green peas, rather than eating each one straight from the pod, I like to make this simple salad of Fresh Peas and Mint.

Seasonal vegetables also contribute well to more substantial salads made with grains. I like using asparagus raw in this Spring Vegetable Tabbouleh. Asparagus also goes well with the peas in Brown and Wild Rice Salad with Asparagus and Peas.

Wheat berry salads are also nice to have around, like this Wheat Berry Salad with Sugar Snap Peas and Lemon Vinaigrette.

As the weather gets nice, quick and easy dishes based on pasta tossed with lovely vegetables are always welcome at mealtime. My absolute favorite right now is Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon. Love it! 

Even more convenient and also delicious is Pasta with Asparagus, Snap Peas and Lemon, which can be varied endlessly as I discussed in this post.

It’s also great to toss hot pasta with lush, green pesto-type sauces. Pea and Almond Pesto with Pasta and Peas is a unique variation on this theme. 

Other pestos that I love to make with currently seasonal ingredients range from particularly zesty, like Arugula Pesto with Kalamata Olives or Radish Leaf and Peanut Pesto 

to somewhat mild, but still deliciously flavorful, like Spinach-Chive Pesto.

Lots of early-season herbs are ready to go this time of year, too, as well as those unusual green stems from garlic plants, known as scapes. I like to treat those scapes like a cross between an herb and a clove of garlic when I cook with them, and they’re great in this Pasta Carbonara with Garlic Scapes and Garlic Chives

Any leftover garlic scapes or garlic chives can go along with whatever other herbs I might have into this White Bean Soup with Fresh Herbs, especially on a cool, rainy day, with some bread on the side.

But let’s not get so excited about herbs and vegetables that we miss dessert! There’s lots of rhubarb right now, and I’m still loving this cake that I posted recently. I have to give some love to my old favorites, however, and make some Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Graham Cracker Topping

I also love to have a bowl of either Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce or Blueberry Rhubarb Sauce in the refrigerator. They’re both great when served with this cake or ice cream, and they’re great stirred into plain or vanilla yogurt for breakfast.

I’m still hoping to try some new recipes soon, like another rhubarb cake, asparagus pizza, and spring vegetable risotto, and maybe they will be new recruits for my list of seasonal favorites. I doubt I’ll ever abandon these 21 gems, however, which make me happy every year.

Coming soon: Orange and White Chocolate Cookies

Another post like this one: Featured Ingredient: Rhubarb