Blog - what’s in season
The cooler weather of fall always brings me to soups…and I really enjoy all types: creamy purées, thick lentil soups, chunky vegetable soups, clear consommés and so on. But in my opinion, the king of all cold weather soups has to be the famous Tuscan ribolita. It is a thick, stick-to-your-ribs soup filled with healthy vegetables, beans and potatoes. It is excellent when first prepared, but like the name suggests (ribolita means to re-boil), the soup improves in flavor when reheated, which makes this soup perfect for keeping around a couple of days
Most ribolita soups you will encounter are somewhat different than the original…either lacking in vegetable variety or packed full of tomato puree and cheese. My version below is very similar to the actual DOC designated recipe, which was officially declared on the 24th of May, 2011 at the Florence Academy of Italian Cuisine. The designation followed a long research period with some of the finest restaurants in Florence participating. The concluding recipe implied most restaurants in Tuscany do not serve the real version, but mere impostors.
It doesn’t take very much time these days to search for and find soup recipes made in a pressure cooker. In fact, you can even search within this blog from just a few months ago and locate my marvelous Caramelized Carrot and Ginger Soup, adapted from “The Modernist Cuisine.”
So why is there a sudden spike in popularity amongst soup enthusiasts in using pressure cookers? Well, I think the answer is simple; pressure cookers cook soups quickly and create unmatched flavors. That’s the bottom line…and that’s all that should matter.
My two newest soups this fall are based on a couple of regulars: Curried Pumpkin and Orange and Creamy Pumpkin and Chestnut.
Strudel desserts are perfect during cool fall evenings because they really highlight the fruit inside. I like to think of a strudel as a rolled up pie – much the same as a calzone is basically a rolled up pizza. The classic recipe, of course, is apple strudel which is very difficult to beat in terms of overwhelming satisfaction. But I like to tinker a bit, so I added some pears or green figs to the recipe…you know, just to be a bit different. Sometimes I even feel a bit more bold and replace the traditional roasted hazelnuts with walnuts.
However I decide to make the filling, I always make sure to make the dough in the same manner which is more in the Austrian style.
Austrian-style strudels are typically a bit smaller in diameter than their German or Hungarian counterparts…and the dough is much crispier – somewhat reminiscent to phyllo dough. German-style strudels are typically made from a dough similar to puff pastry, while Austrian strudels are made with essentially a pasta dough which has vinegar added to it. The addition of vinegar to the dough is very important…if not a bit odd sounding at first. Vinegar will help the formation of a very elastic gluten network, which helps greatly when stretching out this dough to a paper thin consistency. I always use a mild flavored white wine vinegar in my strudel dough.
Most traditional recipes include copious amounts of butter – both inside the filling and as part of the dough. I personally think the butter covers up the wonderful fruit and spice flavors, so I replace it with oil…plus, I don’t eat any dairy products.
Rhubarb crumble is one of the very first desserts of spring using fresh ingredients. It is so delicious that I think everyone should eat this dessert at the beginning of April. Unfortunately for many, making a crumble is off limits. Gluten is often included in recipes to create the tasty browned flakes. Additionally, butter and eggs are also frequently used to bind everything together and help the browning and crisping of the crumble. But is it really necessary to include gluten and use eggs or dairy products in this recipe?
I set out to create a crumble which has no gluten and is otherwise completely free of eggs and dairy products. The end result is quite satisfying…and I don’t think I will ever attempt to make another crumble with dairy or gluten.
As a variation, add sliced strawberries to this recipe…preferably waiting until the local strawberries appear. I also think I will try apricots, blackberries and apples as the season changes.
I really enjoy the flavors of spring…especially when the young greens emerge from the soil. My favorites are the wild garlic greens of Switzerland called bärlauch, young dandelion greens, wild sorrel or young blood sorrel. All of these greens have tremendous nutritional value, especially in the amount of antioxidants, which are very good to ward off any winter crud lingering in your blood stream.
I always use this type of mixture to create a nice spring salad, but lately I have decided to quickly sauté the greens in a bit of water and coat with oil after they are wilted. This method really enhances their flavor characteristics while minimizing the amount of fat you are consuming.
As for the beans… Well actually you can use any type of starch. I have used roasted potatoes as well as creamy polenta to mix with the wilted greens. I think beans are very nice if you are looking for something completely different. I prefer using fresh beans when they are available. Otherwise, just cook your beans in a pressure cooker as follows.
To cook your beans very easily, begin by soaking the dried beans in cold water with a dash of baking soda for about one hour. The beans will get a bit wrinkly after this treatment, but don’t worry, they will still cook just fine. Place your beans in a pressure cooker and cover with about 4-cm of water. Add a bay leaf to the water, then close the pressure cooker very well. Place the pressure cooker on a burner with high heat. When the pressure hits 2 bars, reduce your temperature to low and maintain pressure for 65 minutes (I find this time works best for most beans). Release the pressure by running cold water over the top of the pressure cooker. Check the consistency of the beans. If you are happy, season them well with salt and remove them from the pressure cooker to cool. If they are underdone, return the pressure cooker to the stove, cover well and bring the pressure back up to 2 bars like before. Maintain this pressure for 10 minutes and then release the pressure again. The beans should now be just about right!
I always seem to get an urge to make something with carrots whenever the first hint of spring emerges from the cold winter soil. This year, carrot soup filled my mind. But, I wanted to make a carrot soup which really represented the taste of carrots stuck firmly in my memory – a distant recollection of pulling carrots out of the ground in the garden I planted.
The idea of caramelizing the carrots seemed like a good place to start, but I didn’t want the roasted notes to overpower the flavor of the carrots. Plus, roasting the carrots in the oven adds to the overall sweetness – something I wanted to avoid. So I settled on a different technique of caramelizing the carrots, which I found in the wonderful book, “The Modernist Cuisine” (also great stuff on the web). After reading the recipe, I was convinced that using the pressure cooker would achieve something different – caramelized carrots without drying them out. But, I wasn’t too thrilled with their recipe because I felt it was more complicated than necessary. I wanted simplicity…and elegance.
I decided to add the ginger to the recipe, which I felt would balance the overall sweetness of the carrots…and after tasting the results, I was pleased with the slight tickling in the throat from the ginger…but the soup still lacked acidity. My response was simple. I felt inspired from a favorite Moroccan style salad of carrots and oranges, so I added the orange juice to just give the soup enough acidity to create a nice balance in the mouth.
I also replaced the butter with olive oil and added a splash of sherry wine (I used an Oloroso). And that was it…the total time in making the soup was about 45 minutes and the results…well, I think this is one of the best soups I have made…or even tasted.
I really enjoy shopping at the market just after winter and before the explosion of fresh ingredients arrive in the heat of spring. I think this period is quite interesting – especially in Switzerland where it is very simple to find products coming from the southern part of Italy. And when I shop…I get inspired to come up with something very fresh and very quick!
During my latest trip to the market, I was inspired by the selection of Italian artichokes, which were both large and small. They are especially good right now and perfect to prepare in so many ways. I elected to use the carciofini (the small ones, which are fully mature, just smaller because they grow on the bottom part of the plant), because they are really tender at the moment. It may seem like you are removing too much of the small artichoke, but in reality, the entire flower is edible. I just remove the outer 1-2 layers and any green bits that remain…as well as those nasty little stickers. I also ran across some delightfully large artichokes with very long stems still attached – a gold mine for those in the know! I really enjoy eating the artichoke marrow which is easily revealed by trimming away the outer part of the stem. The flavor is very similar to the heart and a part of the artichoke which is usually discarded…at least outside of Italy (Italians are always clever in finding the tastiest bits of food).
I’m not one to generally use recipes I see out of cookbooks. I prefer instead to scan through my books looking for inspiration and flavor matching ideas instead of recipes. But, when I was thumbing through Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, I knew right away I needed to try making his Celeriac and lentils with hazelnut and mint recipe. The combination sounds simply irresistible!
But alas, I gave into my instincts as a cook and decided to make some changes…changes which I believe are better-suited for Switzerland in February.
The first change was replacing the celeriac with salsify…which seemed like such a natural decision for me. Celeriac may be popular in North America or the UK, but I think in mainland Europe it is a bit…well…pedestrian. Salsify on the other hand, is relatively underappreciated. It’s flavor is somewhat akin to asparagus and it is incredibly healthy. Next, I decided to switch from Puy lentils to brown lentils because I think the nuttiness of brown lentils matches better with the hazelnuts in the recipe. Finally, I decided to go for tarragon to dress up the final version of the dish instead of mint. I don’t have anything against mint, but I really don’t think it is appropriate in mid-February.
I’m happy with the outcome, which can be served either hot or cold…and cold is how I will be enjoying this dish as part of my Meatless Monday.
Find out what’s in season at markets throughout Switzerland – and get inspired to cook fresh!
I was quite surprised to be served cornbread with steamed lobster during my recent trip to Boston and Maine. I really didn’t know this was a common accompaniment to sweet lobster. My previous experience with cornbread always came with a good steaming bowl of chili…and I really enjoyed the combination. But the lobster connection was completely new to me.
I didn’t actually taste the cornbread-lobster combination because I don’t eat anything made with dairy products – and cornbread has lots of butter and milk in the ingredients. Bummer really, as I could imagine the taste of a well-made moist cornbread would match nicely with the sweet meat of steamed fresh lobster. This idea stayed in my head and I knew I would be making cornbread my way very soon.
I decided to experiment a bit and try to create a version of cornbread which would have a very moist consistency and rich corn flavor. I replaced the milk with rice milk, which worked very well and basically identical to normal milk versions. I used my standard conversion of 75% olive oil to butter in the recipe, which again worked perfectly. Substituting the eggs were a bit more challenging. I have used a smashed banana in combination with ground flax seeds successfully in the past, but I didn’t want any strange banana flavors in my cornbread. The idea of using a smashed avocado just came to me one morning and it seemed like a good replacement of the banana.
The outcome was very good, if not a bit different. A friend of mine commented on the cornbread and told me it was quite ‘Californian’ of me
Not a bad thing really!
This recipe makes about 12-16 squares…depending on the size of pan you use and how big you cut the squares
175 gr. Bramata Polenta (coarse cornmeal)
175 gr. all-purpose flour
50 gr. masa harina
20 gr. baking powder
10 gr. salt
1/2 avocado, mashed
1 Tbl. ground flax seeds
10 gr. vinegar
75 gr. olive oil
30 gr. honey
4,25 dl. rice milk
Preheat your oven to 180°C before you start gathering the ingredients. Generously coat your baking pan with oil – I use a 20-cm X 30-cm stainless steel pan. In a large bowl, mix together the polenta, flour, masa harina, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, add the mashed avocado, ground flax seeds and vinegar. Mix in the olive oil. Combine the rice milk and honey, then add these two ingredients to the avocado mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed together. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean – this will be about 35-40 minutes. Cool slightly, then slice into squares. I like storing any leftover cornbread on a plate with a paper towel draped over them. Storing them in an airtight container makes them go mushy.
I think this version of sweet corn and garlic soup is one of those perfect seasonal recipes which I look forward to each year. The combination of plenty of fresh garlic with fresh corn ooze a delightful sweetness in your mouth, which is balanced nicely with a slight acidity from the tomatoes and a bit of heat and smokiness from the Spanish paprika. I also added a touch of turmeric to preserve a nice yellow color. I elected to use masa harina (typically used to make tortillas) to create a sort of roux with the olive oil and onions and to highlight the corn flavor in the soup. I think this is really important in this soup, but you can feel free to use whatever flour you like to help bind the soup.
The garnish is really rather simple as I sautéed fresh summer chanterelle mushrooms (try to use the smaller ones and keep them whole) with some chopped onion and a few tablespoons of the fresh corn kernels.
One final tip… If you are just using water, which is what I often do in making this soup, then enhance the flavor slightly by boiling the corn cobs (after removing the kernels) for about 20 minutes.
This recipe will make about 2 liters
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
4 Tbl. olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
2 tsp. pimenton de la vera (Spanish paprika)
½ tsp. turmeric
4 Tbl. masa harina
1 tomato, chopped
5 ears fresh corn
2 ½ liters water or vegetable broth
salt & pepper
Boil the garlic cloves to soften them and to make them milder in flavor. Place the cloves in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and repeat 4 more times. After cooking the garlic cloves, place them in a small blender with 2 Tbl. olive oil and puree until very creamy. Reserve. Remove the corn from the ears and reserve. In a large pot, heat the remaining 2 Tbl. of olive oil over medium-high heat and cook the red onions, stirring often until wilted and soft. Add the reserved garlic puree, the paprika, and the turmeric. Mix well, then add the masa harina and stir until well incorporated. Add the chopped tomato and reserved corn, then half of the liquid. Stir well, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. When the liquid begins to boil, add the remaining liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often. Purée the mixture in a blender (Careful!…only fill the blender half-way and hold the top down with a towel before turning on the blender), then strain into a clean pot, making sure to press out all of the liquid. Re-heat the soup, check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper and serve hot.