Posts Tagged ‘fresh’

Napoleon of Crisp Potato, Goat Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, and Caramelized Onion

March 4th, 2010

Potato, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Napoleon

A traditional napoleon is a luxurious dessert. Layers of puff pastry and custard or whipped cream, often interspersed with berries, topped with fondant or powdered sugar. It is meant to be admired before eating. Just looking at one brings to mind images of royal powdered faces with stained lips. The pastry gives some resistance and crackles as the side of one’s fork bares down to make the first cut, just before the pastry layers give way and the custard oozes from its trappings, making an orgasmic mess of the dish.

To the best of my recollection, in the early 90s, somewhere a chef decided to translate the napoleon into a savory dish and added the vegetable napoleon to their menu, sparking a glut of vegetable napoleons nationwide. Then came the napoleons with ragu or duck confit. There wasn’t a menu without a savory napoleon on it. Anything that was layered was now called a napoleon.

I instantly fell in love with vegetable napoleons, their flavors and variety; but after seeing them everywhere for several years, they became a little corny and passe. Though I still spy one here or there, it seems their time in the limelight has passed.

I was thinking of this the other day when I decided to attempt to recreate the layers of a napoleon with what I had on hand. The potatoes became the crisp layer, an herbed goat cheese the custard, and the roasted peppers and caramelized onion the fruit, topped with a layer of melted parmigiano cheese. These are classic flavors, and the assembly created that same orgasmic mess the dessert does. Of my two tasters, one commented that, while delicious, the instability of the layers wasn’t to his taste, while the other declared this was her new favorite dish. Personally I felt the experiment a great success. Served with a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, it made for a visually appealing and deliciously satisfying dinner.

Napoleon of Crisp Potato, Goat Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, and Caramelized Onions

Makes 3 napoleons

– 2 red bell peppers
– 3 oz. soft goat cheese, room temperature
– 2 tablespoons sour cream
– 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 3 small yellow onions, peeled, halved, and sliced thin
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 2 large russet potatoes
– 2/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated

1. Preheat a broiler and place the peppers directly under the heating element, turning occasionally until the skin is black and blistered. Remove peppers from the oven and set aside to cool (you may wish to put a narrow cut in the top of the pepper to release the steam). Reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, keeping the flesh in large pieces.

2. While the peppers are broiling, cream together the goat cheese, sour cream, and basil, with a pinch of salt and a few grounds of black pepper to taste. Set aside at room temperature.

3. Melt the butter and one tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet at medium-high heat. Add the onions and the sugar. Once the onions have wilted a bit, before they are brown, turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and caramelized, approximately 45 minutes.

4. Slice potatoes no more than 1/4 inch thick. Place in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt, rubbing the oil and salt over the potato slices. Arrange 9 large center-slices on a baking rack on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Once they are fork-tender, increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees. use a spatula to loosen the potatoes from the rack, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until lightly browned and slightly puffed. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. (I baked the remaining slices until crispy and ate them as chips. You can also use them to make more napoleons, if desired.) Set the oven temperature to broil.

5. In assembly-line fashion, working carefully (hold the potato slices with tongs if too hot to handle), working on the same rack the potatoes were baked on, spread three of the potato slices with a thick layer of the goat cheese mixture, one layer of pepper slices, and a heaping tablespoon full of the onions. Add another potato slice, and repeat the layering. Top the second layer with a potato slice, and then with a third of the parmigiano. Place the napoleons under the broiler just until the cheese melts and gets lightly brown. Keep an eye on them, they brown very quickly. Serve hot, along with a side salad with a vinegary dressing, or the napoleons may be served as a side dish to an entree.

Butternut Squash Soup

October 22nd, 2009

Jersey City’s Journal Square is a pretty beat up neighborhood. There’s barely a hint of the metropolitan city it used to be, except for the two majestic, well-preserved movie houses, one of which serves as a meeting hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a major transportation hub, with both a PATH station that runs to Newark and New York, as well as a large bus terminal, and there is a community college. It is a busy neighborhood, but not a particularly nice one. The massive improvements made downtown since 9/11 have yet to stretch to this part of the city.

I work between a salad bar, otherwise known as the “salmonella bar” due to its questionable temperatures for food safety, and a typical coffee shop with OK food. Other dining choices in the immediate area include Popeye’s, McDonald’s, White Castle, Blimpie, Subway, a few pizza places, a hot dog stand (with good hot dogs!), and, for the real fine dining experience, a Quiznos.

So on Wednesdays in the summer and fall, when Farmers’ Market is just across the street, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Not that it’s a great Farmers’ Market, it’s pretty bare-bones, only six vendors or so. But just to see all the colors of fresh produce under the tents is a sight for sore eyes.

Unlike most market days when I wander around buying what looks good and winging it, yesterday I went with one clear purchase in mind: butternut squash. I become very pumpkin-minded during the autumn, and I’ve been craving some squash soup. I think people are a little intimidated by winter squash, which is a shame. They are one of the easiest fruits to work with, very versatile, and can go to either the sweet or savory side of the culinary spectrum depending how they’re prepared.

There is pretty much nothing easier than this soup. There are five main ingredients: Butter, onion, butternut squash, stock, and nutmeg. The rest are optional, and you could mix it up by using a different winter squash, such as acorn or pumpkin, or adding an apple when simmering the squash. One could also spice things up with cayenne (red pepper) or chipotle, paprika, or curry powder. This soup is ready in less than 30 minutes!

Ingredients (makes approximately four servings):
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 onion, large dice
– 2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1.5″ pieces.
– 1 2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in a large dice (optional)
– 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
– 1/4 tsp nutmeg
– Lemon juice to taste (optional)
– Salt and pepper to taste
– 2 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
– Sour cream (optional)
– Chives (optional)

1. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the onion and sauté until the onions are soft.

2. Add the squash to the pot, sauté for a few moments, add the stock, ginger (if using), salt and pepper. Simmer the squash on a high simmer until soft, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Purée the soup with either a hand blender, or transfer the soup to a blender in batches, purée until smooth, and return the blended soup to the pot.

4. Bring the soup back to the heat and add your nutmeg, and a good squeeze or two of lemon juice (if using). Taste for salt and pepper, and season if needed. Once the soup is hot, remove from the heat, stir in heavy cream (if using).

5. Spoon the soup into bowls, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives if desired.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Onion

October 21st, 2009

I’ve been on a mission lately to eat more home-cooked food, trying to overcome a takeout-and-TV dinners habit that is clearly not doing me any good. (I think I’m showing my age here. I’m sure they call TV dinners something else now…frozen entrees?) Anyway, Monday night is “watching House on the couch” night, and I wanted something quick, warm, and relatively healthy. The following fit the bill.

– 1.5 pints Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half (or quarters if they’re large sprouts)
– 5 slices bacon, cut into lardons
– Extra virgin olive oil
– 1 large onion, diced
– Lemon juice to taste
– Salt and pepper to taste

I had a big batch of Brussels sprouts lingering in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator from a farmers’ market visit about a week and a half earlier. They weren’t looking so good:

I cut the bottoms off and peeled away the brown bits. Voila, beautiful Brussels sprouts!

I cooked the Brussels sprouts in a big pot of boiling water for four minutes and drained them, rinsing them in cold water to stop the cooking and keep their bright green color.

I cut five strips of bacon into lardons (crosswise strips), and rendered them in a large sauté pan so that they were cooked, but not yet crisp, and removed them from the pan with a slotted spoon. OK, full disclosure, I would have used three strips of bacon, except there were five left in the package. If I left two behind I’d have to use them for something else, for which there might not have been enough. There certainly would not be enough for all the members of my household if I cooked only two strips of bacon for breakfast. I mean, really, what do you do with just two pieces of bacon? So I used all five.

I drained most of the bacon fat, leaving just enough in the pan to sauté the diced onions. Once the onions were soft and translucent, I added the Brussels sprouts and cooked them with the onions until the Brussels sprouts were getting toasty on the outside. I added the bacon back to the pan, gave everything a good squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt, and quite a bit of black pepper.

Voila! Brussels sprouts with bacon and onions (terrible photo, but you get the idea):

The onions were super-sweet and the Brussels sprouts tender. Smoky bacon, acid from the lemon, and some heat from the pepper rounded things out. Now that’s a TV dinner.