Monday, February 04, 2008

Easy Peasy Dining In - a la Chez Panisse

Insalata Pizza
Ok, maybe I'm making that up - I have never actually eaten at Chez Panisse - but this is the kind of food I imagine one would eat there! (In the cafe, at least.)

I wanted to share the formulas for some simple and delicious meals I've made recently, using a blend of convenient short cuts and local ingredients. Call it Fast Slow Food. All of these can put on the table in about an hour (or less,) and they involve few ingredients - some of them repeat, which helps keep the grocery bill, and the food waste, down. All that measuring really slows things down, so these aren't exact by any means.

I used the shortcuts that made sense to me - but if you have access to locally-made prosciutto, or if you like to make your own pizza dough - then by all means knock yourself out. I'm also pretty sure that Alice Waters would never approve of frozen brownies, but we all know how out of touch she is. (The gluten free peanut butter cookie dough is pretty damn good too!)
La Milpa Greens ready for cooking
Roast Chicken with Braised Greens

Shopping List - a four pound organic chicken, some fresh sage and thyme, four or five bunches of organic greens - collards, kale, chard, beet greens, etc. (La Milpa at the Farmer's Market has a great selection right now,) Niman Ranch uncured bacon, an onion, red wine vinegar, chicken broth.

In the morning (say before work) dry-brine the chicken by towel drying it, rubbing it liberally with kosher salt inside and out and under the skin. If you have some, put a few sprigs of sage and thyme in the cavity and slide some up under the skin. Cover loosely with paper towels and leave on a plate in the fridge all day.

About an hour before eating - roast the chicken according to the Zuni directions - heat the oven to 425, put a jelly roll pan (or other shallow baking pan) in the oven and pre-heat it. Dry the bottom of the chicken with paper towels and set it on the pan - it should sizzle. Roast the chicken for about 45 mins on 425 and flip it over with tongs - roast about 15 mins upside down, and flip back over for the last 15 mins. Check it with a thermometer - it should be about 175 when done.

Meanwhile, chop two slices of the bacon into lardons, and dice half the onion (about half a cup). Wash and tear the greens, like you would for salad. If you have beets attached to your beet greens, cut them off and wash and trim them too.

Fry the bacon in a large dutch oven or saute pan over medium heat until crisp, and remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease behind. Fry the onion in the bacon grease, and add the greens (and beets if you have them) - pour a little broth or water over, and cover the pot so they will steam. Using tongs, stir and toss the greens a couple of times while cooking -When they're almost completely wilted - add a light drizzle of red wine vinegar and toss, and cook a few minutes more. Add the bacon back in just before serving. Mound the greens on a plate and serve with the chicken and some toasty bread.

Insalata Pizza
This idea came courtesy of my good friend Lisa - I bought everything I needed to make it at Trader Joes one day last week when I was stranded without any La Milpa greens - which I'm addicted to now, it seems.

Shopping list - ready-made pizza dough, Quattro Formaggio cheese blend, prosciutto (I like the lightly smoked German one), salad greens (I used arugula and spring mix), baby tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil - or lemon juice and olive oil.

Let the dough sit out until room temperature, and roll out on a flat pan. Spritz or brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with the shredded cheese. Bake until the cheese is nice and brown. Immediately top with slices of prosciutto, so some of the fat melts into the crust. Toss the greens with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and ground pepper and some shaved parmesan, add the tomatoes, or whatever other salad-appropriate vegetables you might have. Place the pizza dough on a platter and mound the salad on top. Using a pizza cutter, cut pieces of the dough, wrap them around the salad and eat.

Sauteed Mushrooms with Lemon and Garlic
Shopping list - fresh oyster mushrooms (La Milpa had some this week - and cheap - the basket practically disappeared while I was standing there.) You'll need at least a quarter pound per person, since they cook down. A lot. A clove or two of garlic, two or three scallions, Meyer lemon for squeezing, about a tablespoon of torn cilantro, pepper, and a little oil and stock round things out.

Wash and cut the mushrooms into strips about a half inch wide - trim off any woody parts. Mince the garlic and slice the scallions - rinse and tear up the cilantro. Heat a little oil in a skillet and cook the garlic and onion until soft. Add the mushrooms and a little (just a teaspoon or two) of broth and cook until the mushrooms are soft. Grind a little pepper, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the cilantro cook just a few seconds to meld the flavors. Serve immediately - with a green salad and crusty bread.

With this, we also had some prosciutto-wrapped stuffed dates. A good friend brought back some dates from Saudi Arabia that are so sticky and sweet they're almost like caramel. I removed the pits and stuffed them with a tiny baton of Reggiano Parmesan, and wrapped them with some of the prosciutto (the same smoked variety that I used for the pizza.) These came out much better than the ones I made a while back with bacon. The prosciutto gets nice and crisp, but isn't nearly as greasy. There's a woman at the La Mesa farmers' market who sells dates that look almost as good as the ones my friend brought me - when I run out I'll try some of hers!

For a quick dessert with any one of these - I can highly recommend the ready to bake brownies in the Trader Joes frozen aisle. When my husband tried one last week, he said to me "How is it that something frozen from Trader Joes can be better than anything you've ever made?" Of course, he backpedaled immediately, but enough said!

Enjoy the week!


  1. "How is it that something frozen from Trader Joes can be better than anything you've ever made?"

    Oh no he dint! A lot of the things you've made for Daring Bakers look amazing!

  2. They are pretty darn good - more like a molten chocolate cake than brownie to me though. He doesn't actually like brownies that much though - so anything he says about them should be taken with more than a grain of salt!

  3. I ate at Chez Panisse about 4 years ago. It was tasty, but a tad too studied and fairly soul-less, overall. However, they let you tour the kitchen, which was nice. The next night, I ate a Mustard's Grill in nearby St. Helena. I've got nothing but raves for that place.

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