Things You Should Know About

My computer died-ish the other morning, which is why I made a lot of promises about upcoming posts I didn’t end up keeping (and you know from experience I’d never do that otherwise). But it turns out there’s an only slightly limiting WordPress app for my phone. And I just had to share these with you, even if it means eternal thumb cramps. I care about you way too much for my own good.

Ok, imagine you are eating the fluffiest, most buttery biscuit in the whole world. And imagine if it was a perfect marriage of blissfully sweet and decadently cheesy. And imagine that even though you made it from a mix (secret recipe!) it still sort of required enough culinary steps for you to tell your friends and family you made it. If that doesn’t sound like heaven food to you, then stop paying attention to me, try Jim n Nick’s Cheese Biscuits and come up with a better description yourself. Odds are you can’t- they render most people speechless. They’re incredible. We ate them alongside fried eggs, sausage and orange juice but they’re meant to be eaten by the millions with whipped butter and a side of barbecue. Or just alone. In all seriousness my roommate ate nine.

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Make them with mild cheddar, not sharp, and remember that cutting in butter means rubbing it into the flour with your hands. Now you know everything you need to know. If you don’t live with anyone from Alabama, you can, and should, order a bag here.

Just Peachy

My roommate this year had a pair of purple Crocs that followed me everywhere. If I was at my desk, the Crocs were underneath, if I was by my bed, they were under my ladder, and if I was walking across the floor, I could be sure that the Crocs would be right smack dab in the middle. I think most people would be annoyed, or creeped out, if a pair of shoes were stalking them. But I’m a big believer in fate (one day I’ll tell you the story of how my parents met, and you’ll understand), so I knew it must be a sign of… something.

It was a sign of this pie, if you can believe it...

 

So it made perfect sense when, in March, I got an email from John Moore, who works with none other than Mario Batali, asking me to write a post on one of Mario’s recipes. At the time I was still in New York  – so close to Eataly but so far from my kitchen – but I hurriedly immersed myself in the vibrant Babbo Cookbook so I could get cooking as soon as I got home.

 

This cookbook is awesome

 

Picking a recipe was next to impossible. Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Fennel Pollen sounded so decadent, but then again homemade Gnocchi with Oxtail Ragù was reminiscent of the first meal I ate out in New York. I read about Duck with Chicory, Preserved Lemons and Kumquat Vinaigrette, Asparagus Vinaigrette with Black Pepper Pecorino Zabaglione, and even a Saffron Panna Cotta that sounded perfectly indulgent. It wasn’t actually until I got home that I could even make a decision. But when late May came around, and the sun began to shine, and the thermometer hit 90, and I got out my shorts and skirts and began to spend my days building fairy houses in the backyard with Francesca and Isabella, the answer was clear. “This weather clearly calls for a Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if Mario has a recipe for anything like that…”

 

Woah....

 

And you can imagine my utter shock when Mario had a recipe for exactly that…

(Just kidding) (I fudged the details of that story a bit)

 

A cross section of the crostata

 

I ran out to pick up some beautiful Georgia peaches, turned on Andrea Bocelli Radio (which is the only thing you can listen to while making Italian food, or really just while making food) and got to work baking. And I should warn you – making all the parts of this recipe will take you a good part of the day. But I can promise that it is ridiculously worth it. And even if you can’t, for example, make the gelato because you haven’t got the time (or the gelato maker), please make the Crostata. It is the perfect Italian twist on Peach Pie (or to use Mario’s words, what happened when “the perfect summer pie happened to take a little ride uptown”) and it brings summer wherever you are.

I began a bit scared because I have very little experience in tart doughs. But this one, to my shock, took about 10 minutes, and it smells and tastes, like an amazing cookie. I kept on calling my family over to smell it while I was making it. Which is a weird thing to do with a tart dough. But it really smelled that good. And, in fact, I actually made cookies out of the extra dough, and filled them with spekuloos (although in the spirit of Italy, I’d actually recommend using Nutella instead). They’re a bit tougher in texture than the tart shell, since you have to knead them and roll them out again, but it’s so much better than letting the dough go to waste.

 

Cookies&Milk

 

There are just a few important things to remember. First of all, freeze your butter after you dice it so that your crust will be nice and flaky. It’ll only take a few minutes, but it makes a big difference. Second of all, if your refrigerator has a tendency to freeze things, as ours did the day I made this, then only chill the dough for three-four hours, rather than overnight, so it doesn’t have a chance to freeze. Otherwise you will have a very interesting time trying to roll it out. If it does for some reason, freeze, you have little choice but to let it thaw a bit, so just be careful to make sure the thawed dough doesn’t stick to your work surface. Put down a little flour underneath when you roll it out, but if it does still stick, carefully run the blunt end of a chef’s knife underneath the dough to separate it from the countertop. Then just pick it by draping it over your rolling pin, and lay in the tart pan.

 

How to make a crust

 

With the crust behind me I moved on to the filling and the gelato. Everything went off delightfully without a hitch. The almond filling is about as simple as a buttercream (and the process is very similar), and the peaches just need to be tossed with a few things to accentuate their flavor and texture. And as for the gelato, just remember – making gelato is quite a bit like making a creme brulée, or a creme anglaise – it’s very important to temper your eggs by whisking in a little bit (1/3 cup or so) of your cream, before slowly pouring the yolks into the cream, whisking all the while. That’s the best way to avoid fancy scrambled eggs (unless you like that kind of thing). But that’s the hardest part of the recipe, and it’s really not as scary as it sounds. Then just freeze the gelato in a better gelato maker than my $30 disaster (there are horror stories, but you don’t need to hear them… they involve cursing and a kitchenaid), and you’re done!

 

The crostata again

 

I hate to say it, but I always expect to have to change something when I use a restaurant cookbook, because professionals often don’t measure when they cook, making their recipes difficult to transcribe. So you can imagine my actual surprise (as distinct from the fake surprise of before) when everything came out the first time, without editing anything. This recipe translates beautifully from restaurant kitchen to home kitchen, which I think is one of it’s chief successes. The other thing I love, is that while there are many steps, none of them are too difficult, which perfectly illustrates the Fig philosophy, that a recipe doesn’t need to involve ridiculous techniques and liquid nitrogen to be absolutely perfect. The essence of good cuisine lies in knowing the best way to accentuate an ingredient, or in understanding how to blend flavors, which this recipe does perfectly. So whether your summer is here, or right around the corner, this Crostata is the perfect way to welcome it in. Serve it warm, or chilled, with a scoop of gelato and a drizzle of honey butter. Put on your favorite pair of Crocs, turn up Andrea Bocelli, and love your life. If you can get local fruit, even better – I can’t wait to make this after the first time I go peach picking. But even if you can’t, this quintessential, sophisticated summer dessert is tutto delicioso e tutto perfetto. Buon Appetito!

 

Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato

From: Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook

Ingredients:

    1 recipe Tart Dough (see below)

      Almond Filling

      • 1 1/2 cups blanched, sliced, almonds
      • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
      • 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
      • 1 egg
      • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • pinch of kosher salt

      Streusel

      • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
      • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
      • 1/2 cup blanched, sliced Almonds
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

      Peaches

      • 6 medium ripe peaches
      • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
      • 1/2 cup sugar

      Honey Butter

      • 1 cup honey
      • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
      • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

      2 pints Honey Vanilla Gelato (see below)

        Directions:

        1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
        2. Roll the chilled Tart Dough into a 12-inch circle, large enough to line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the sides and trim the top so that the dough is flush with the tart pan. Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator and chill until completely firm, about 30 minutes.
        3. To make the filling: spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Allow to cool completely, then place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not powdery.
        4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and the confectioners’ sugar until very smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and the salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Thoroughly beat in the ground almonds. Set aside.
        5. To make the streusel: Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Place the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the melted butter and pulse to form pea-size crumbs. Spread the streusel out onto a cookie sheet and chill briefly.
        6. Peel the peaches and cut into 1/4-inch wedges. In a large bowl, toss the peach wedges with the lemon juice, vanilla, flour and sugar. Spread enough of the almond filling on the bottom of the tart to completely cover it, and arrange the peach slices densely on top. Sprinkle the streusel crumbs over the tart. Place the tart on a baking sheet to catch any juices and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust and streusel are nicely browned and the juices are bubbling. Allow to cool completely before removing the tart from the pan.
        7. To make the honey butter: In a small saucepan, combine the honey and the insides of the split vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the hone is reduced by 2 thirds. Whisk in the butter until it is completely incorporated.
        8. Serve with a scoop of the Honey Vanilla Gelato and drizzle with the honey butter.

        Tart Dough

        From: Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook

        Ingredients:

        • 2 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
        • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
        • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
        • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
        • grated zest of 1 orange
        • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes
        • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
        • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
        • 2 teaspoons heavy cream

        Directions:

        1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and orange zest. 
        2. Add the cold butter cubes and toss lightly to coat. Pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.
        3. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and heavy cream, and add it to the flour-butter mixture. 
        4. Pulse to moisten the dough, then pulse until it begins to come together. 
        5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand. 
        6. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of heavy cream. 
        7. Shape into a small disk, wrap, and chill thoroughly for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

        Honey-Vanilla Gelato

        From: Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook

        Ingredients:

        • 9 egg yolks (*note from Gabrielle – save the whites, we’re going to do something with them in an upcoming post)
        • 1/2 cup honey
        • pinch of kosher salt
        • 2 1/4 cups milk
        • 3/4 cup heavy cream
        • 1 plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise
        • 2 tablespoons sugar

        Directions:

        1. Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk together with the honey and salt.
        2. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the milk and cream come to a rolling boil, quickly whisk some of the boiling milk into the egg yolk mixture, then return the egg yolk mixture back tot he pot. Whisk well to combine the rest of the milk with the egg yolk mixture. Strain through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer and save the vanilla bean for future use.
        3. Chill the custard completely, then freeze in a gelato maker according the the manufacturer’s instructions.

        Prête à Etudier? I am now…

        I am currently quite extremely busy studying away for exams, but I’m taking a study break to let you in on a little secret. Its name is spekuloos and it’s keeping me alive.

        Spec-you-lohse. Just for the record, the dagoba hot chocolate behind it is aweful. Do not buy it. I won it, and I keep it on my shelf because it looks nice. But it has the texture of chalk, as does the actual chocolate they make. It is not good.

        If you live within a million mile radius of New York, you need to make a pilgrimage to Wafels and Dinges, the best food truck in the universe. No exaggeration – A million miles, Best in the universe. The truck travels with their waffles and dinges (which I believe loosely translates to “thingies” but for our purposes means toppings) around the city every day, and they can be found by their twitter feed. If you can go, order a lièges Waffle, made with dough, not batter. But even if you can’t go, because you live more than a million miles away, you absolutely must try their spekuloos spread, which you can, and should, order from their website. It’s a spread with the texture of a less sticky peanut butter, but made with “de Belgian Gingerbread Cookies.” Essentially it tastes like gingerbread without the unnecessary extra spices. It’s so much better than peanut butter. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the next Nutella (remember, you heard it here first). It’s perfect on bread, crepes, matzah, bananas and waffles, and I spekulate (sorry) it would be a fantastic glue for a gingerbread house.

        Some might say this is not helping me study for my impending French and Bio exams. But as I eat the above spekuloos with a spoon, my digestive system is breaking the sugars in it down into glucose monomers (yeah, that’s right), which are giving me energy through the rather complicated cell respiration system I’m about to memorize. And hey, they speak French in Belgium, right?

        *”Prête à étudier” means “ready to study.” I’m practicing my prepositions and everything!

        Fig Travels: Nashville and Fried Chicken

        You haven’t been to Nashville if you can’t come home raving about your favorite “meat ‘n’ three” spot. The hometown of Country Music is also the birthplace and epicenter of this heavenly rich comfort food package. A meat ‘n’ three consists of one meat, fish or poultry dish and three “vegetables,” (i.e. baked beans, cole slaw, candied sweet potatoes, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fried okra and, yes, macaroni and cheese). Nothing in the world is more comforting or more delicious and as for calories, with food this good, honestly, who’s counting?

        Ask 20 Nashvillians their favorite place to have this uniquely southern meal, and you’ll get just as many different answers, but The Loveless Café was, hands down, our favorite. The biscuits served with all natural homemade jam, and fried chicken that blew us away. You have to taste it to believe it, and fortunately, we’ve included our own perfected version of their fried chicken below so you can!

        Locals and tourists have been coming to Loveless from miles around for more than 50 years, ever since Annie Loveless first started serving her unusually light and tasty biscuits. An anointed “keeper,” most recently Carol Fay Ellison who sadly passed away in April, guards the secret recipe. No biscuit comes close to being as flavorful and airy as a Loveless Biscuit, and our (perhaps impossible) dream is to one day recreate the taste in our own test kitchen. And after devouring our little pieces of heaven with peach and blackberry jam, our immense platter of golden fried-to-perfection chicken arived. Thank goodness we ordered it family style because we just couldn’t stop eating.

        Here is our version of this classic southern comfort food inspired by the Loveless Café’s own cookbook. But first, please keep in mind that there are some essential ingredients and tools that are important to assemble if you want to make your chicken truly special. We are just as health conscious as many of our readers, but we believe in cultural food immersion, and that means eating like the locals. After the jump you’ll find a breakdown of what you may need to make these and many other first-rate southern dishes.

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