Saturday, April 11, 2015

Wild asparagus, yoghurt and ricotta galette with whole-wheat pastry

Greek holidays are not for vegetarians. We celebrate with lots of food, mostly meat, and especially on Easter (Orthodox Easter is this Sunday), the food is for hard-core carnivores and not for the faint-hearted.




We roast a whole lamb on a spit, we make kokoretsi (lamb’s liver and lungs wrapped with lamb’s intestines), kontosouvli (pork neck pieces on a spit), sausages, fried veal liver and so on and so forth, you get the picture. In case you don’t, check out this post in which I shared some photos from my Easter in Greece two years ago.


There’s always a need for something fresh on the table alongside all that meat, like salads, legume dishes and pites (Greek pies). You know I love making pites, small or large, but I also love making galettes, like this one I made the other day using the wild asparagus I raved on about in my last post.




It would make a perfect side dish for the Easter table or any other occasion really. It would also make a perfect light lunch or dinner to pair with a glass of wine and eat outside. Have you noticed how the days are getting warmer and warmer?


The pastry, which is partly made with whole wheat flour, is smeared with a mixture of Greek yoghurt and ricotta and then topped with wild asparagus that have been tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. After baking, the asparagus are drizzled with some more extra virgin olive oil that makes them glisten and even more irresistible than they already are.




The flavors of the fresh and mildly bitter wild asparagus mingle with the sweet and smooth creaminess of the ricotta-yoghurt and the short, crumbly and buttery base that melts in your mouth and that has an earthy quality which pairs beautifully with the wild asparagus. A knockout spring tart.




Kali Anastasi and Kalo Pascha (Happy Easter) to all my fellow Greeks and to all those who celebrate!







Wild asparagus, yoghurt and ricotta galette with whole-wheat pastry

If you’re in Greece, you can substitute the ricotta with anthotyro.
If you can't find wild asparagus, you can substitute them with slender green asparagus spears.

The pastry can be made one or two days in advance and kept in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap.




Yield: 1 galette / 6 pieces

Ingredients

for the pastry dough
130 g whole-wheat flour
130 g all-purpose flour
170 g unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
60 ml (4 Tbsp) cold water

for the filling
150 g Greek yoghurt 2% fat
150 g ricotta cheese
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 + 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
200 g wild asparagus

1 small egg, beaten, for glazing

Special equipment: large food processor, plastic wrap, rolling pin, baking paper, baking sheet, pastry brush


Preparation

for the pastry dough
• with a food processor
In a large food processor, add the flours, cold cubed butter and salt and process for a few seconds until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Then add the vinegar and the cold water and process in order to bring together the mixture into a rough dough. Don’t over mix.


• by hand
In a large bowl, add the flour, cold cubed butter and salt and, using two knives, a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut it into the flour, until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Then add the vinegar and the cold water and mix with your hands, working quickly, until you have a rough dough.

Empty the dough onto a clean surface and knead lightly to form a smooth dough. Don’t knead too much or vigorously. Shape it into a ball and then a flattened disk. Wrap it with a large piece of plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill, for 2 hours.

for the filling
While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling.
Add yoghurt, ricotta, a little salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Rinse the asparagus under cold running water and snap off the woody parts at the bottom end. In order to do that, take the end of the asparagus between your thumb and forefinger, holding the top half with your other hand, and bend it until it snaps. It will automatically snap at the part where the woody part ends and the tender part starts. This snapping point will be lower or higher depending on the spear.
Cut the asparagus in half if they are too long and place them in a bowl. Toss them with salt and pepper and 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Preheat your oven to 200°C.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and discard the plastic wrap and place dough between two large sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into an approximately 35cm round, with a 3mm thickness. The dough should be somewhat pliable yet it will be a little stiff. (If it tends to break apart when you roll it out, let it warm a bit before you try again). Remove the top baking paper and place the rolled out dough, along with the bottom baking paper, onto a baking sheet.
Smear ¾ of the yoghurt-ricotta filling evenly on top of the dough, leaving a space around the edges of the pastry, about 4cm. See photo for reference.
Top with the asparagus and fold the edges of the dough up and over the filling, making sure to seal any cracks. You can use the baking paper to pull and fold the dough over the filling.
Using a pastry brush, glaze the dough with the beaten egg.


Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 35-37 minutes until the pastry takes on a golden-brown color and the asparagus look a bit charred.
Take the galette out of the oven, leave to cool for 10 minutes and drizzle the filling with a little olive oil.
Optionally, you can top it with some freshly grated lemon zest or even a grating of parmesan.

Serve with the remaining yoghurt-ricotta filling on the side.

You can keep the galette for a day or two, covered, at room temperature, but it is best eaten the same day.




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Monday, April 6, 2015

Wild asparagus tagliatelle with lemon, olive oil and garlic

It’s that time of the year, when you go to the market and it’s filled with all possible shades of green. Vegetables I have missed seeing and tasting are popping up left and right and it’s impossible to choose what to take home with me.




Artichokes and spinach, dandelions and nettles, chard and peas, they are all there, even the first rhubarb of the year with its seductive reddish color to break the green monotony.




When I caught a glimpse of some wild asparagus hiding in the corner of one of the market stalls, I was drawn to them like a moth to a flame. I jumped and grabbed them before anyone else could, put them in my bag and didn’t think twice about getting anything else. They were all I wanted.


I bought more than we could eat in one meal, so I used them in a couple of different recipes. One of them was this tagliatelle with garlic, olive oil and lemon. It couldn’t be simpler really, because when you have fresh, in-season and rare ingredients like wild asparagus, you must treat them with respect and great care. You definitely shouldn’t fuss around too much with them or pair them with ingredients that will mask their flavor, but with ingredients that will complement and highlight it.




This light, healthy and fresh pasta dish was perfect, with the slightly bitter flavor of the slender wild asparagus—bitter flavor gets a bad rap, we need more bitter foods!—with the lemon brightening the dish up and the parmesan adding umaminess and dairy acidity.




If you can find wild asparagus, this is the dish to try. Well, this and the one I will be sharing in a few days. Stay tuned.







Wild asparagus tagliatelle with lemon, olive oil and garlic

I am aware that wild asparagus are not widely available in every country, so if you like the idea of this asparagus pasta dish but you can’t find wild ones, simply substitute them with an equal amount of tender, young green asparagus spears. However, you will need to blanch the regular green asparagus for 2-3 minutes before using them in the dish as they are far tougher than the extremely thin wild ones. Wild asparagus have half the thickness of a pencil.




Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients
200 g dried tagliatelle
200 g wild asparagus
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 garlic clove, minced
2½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan, grated

Special equipment: colander, grater


Preparation
Rinse the asparagus under cold running water and snap off the woody parts at the bottom end. In order to do that, take the end of the asparagus between your thumb and forefinger, holding the top half with your other hand, and bend it until it snaps. It will automatically snap at the part where the woody part ends and the tender part starts. This snapping point will be lower or higher depending on the spear.
Cut the asparagus in half if they are too long.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the tagliatelle. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking.

While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, prepare the asparagus “sauce”. You will need to add some of the pasta water to the asparagus so keep that in mind.

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large, wide sauté pan (one that will fit the pasta as well) over medium heat and add the garlic. Sauté for a few seconds and add the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for a couple of minutes, stirring gently and frequently. Add the lemon juice and keep sautéing the asparagus for one more minute. Add a little less than ¼ cup of the pasta water and cook asparagus until tender but not too soft. You want them to have texture and not turn into mush.

When the tagliatelle are ready, lift them from inside the pot using tongs, allowing the excess water to drain back into the pot, transfer them to the pan with the asparagus and toss gently to mix.

Serve immediately on individual plates, drizzle with some olive oil and grind some black pepper on top. Finally, grate some parmesan and sprinkle it over the top.


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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lemon cake with Greek wild thyme honey glaze and pistachios

Since last week, the weather has taken a turn for the worse and it seems that spring is playing hide and seek, which I don’t mind at all. I don’t know why, but I’m not eager for the cold weather to go away just yet.




I’m still in winter mode and the weather conspires in my favor with heavy rain, howling winds and skies that have the most beautiful shades of dark blue and grey. Staying inside, watching movies and cooking was the perfect way to spend the weekend.



A cake felt necessary somehow.




I have baked this one numerous times. It is so good. It’s irresistible, even for a chocoholic like me. It’s a lemon cake with a Greek wild thyme honey glaze and pistachios.


The cake has the full flavor and aroma of the citrus fruit, it’s very moist and buttery, with a soft and dense crumb yet still very light. The glaze has the sweetness and fragrance of the thyme honey and is creamy and smooth, with the chopped pistachios on top adding texture.


It is perfect as a light, low-profile dessert after a big meal, or served thinly sliced with a cup of tea or coffee.









Lemon cake with Greek wild thyme honey glaze and pistachios
Adapted from Patisserie made simple by Edd Kimber

I don’t usually mention it in my recipes, but whenever I use lemon zest, it is from organic, unwaxed lemons. Unless you have picked the lemons yourselves from your backyard lemon tree (I have many of those in my home in Greece – sigh!), then please use unwaxed.

If you don’t have or can’t get hold of lemon extract, grate the zest of one extra lemon.


Yield: 1 cake / 8-10 pieces

Ingredients

for the cake
115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
250 g caster sugar
Zest of 2 lemons, grated
1 tsp lemon extract
4 large eggs
220 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
125 g sour cream (or full-fat Greek yoghurt)

for the glaze
160 g icing sugar
75 ml (5 Tbsp) cream, full-fat (35%)
1 Tbsp Greek wild thyme honey (or a floral honey if you prefer)
Pinch of salt

A handful of shelled, unsalted pistachios, chopped

Special equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, jug, sieve, loaf pan (23 x 9 x 8 cm), baking paper


Preparation

for the cake
Butter the bottom and sides of your loaf pan with butter and line it with baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the softened butter, the sugar, the lemon zest and lemon extract, and using the paddle attachment (or your hand-held mixer), beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for about 5 minutes.
Add the eggs into a jug and beat them lightly with a fork. Add the beaten eggs to the bowl in four additions, beating well after each addition to fully combine them.


Sieve together in a separate bowl the flour and baking powder. Add half of it into the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add the sour cream (or yoghurt) and beat on medium until fully combined. Then add the rest of the sieved flour and baking powder into the bowl and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Don’t overmix the batter or the cake will be tough.

Empty the cake batter into your prepared loaf pan and straighten the top with a spatula or the back of a spoon.
Place the pan on the low rack of your oven and bake for 35 minutes. Then transfer it to the middle rack of the oven and bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.


Once ready, take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the pan, lifting it up from the baking paper and allow it to cool completely on the rack.

for the glaze
In a medium-sized bowl add all the ingredients for the glaze and using a hand whisk, mix them well until you have a smooth glaze.


Take the cooled cake, remove the baking paper from the bottom and place it on the wire rack. Using a spoon or a spatula, glaze the cake and top with the chopped pistachios.

You can keep it at room temperature, covered, for 4-5 days.


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