Category Archives: Snacks

Rustic Spanakopita-style Tart

Sometimes it seems as though some of my favorite recipes are either born out of impatience with an original recipe (I have to do allllll these steps? Really?) or sheer disaster that arises from an ingredient or process that blindsides me with its idiosyncrasies. A good example of this is phyllo– I’ve worked with it before, and knew, just knew that it required a lot of attention, adequate defrosting, the right level of moisture, etc. And yet! And yet, when I was getting ready to put together the Cook’s Illustrated version of a spanakopita pie, complete with authentic phyllo, I ignored everything that I knew. Who can say why this happened, but in the end I was left with a delicious filling…and disintegrating phyllo.

Here, though, is where my genius mother came to the rescue! “Why not just put a pie crust under it?” I tell you, the woman is a superhero. The following recipe is the closest thing to a perfected version of the spanakopita-style tart that resulted from her idea, with a few more tweaks to the original (already pretty perfect) Cook’s Illustrated recipe.


Rustic Spanakopita-style Tart
adapted from Entertaining from Cook’s Illustrated, Spring 2009

Ingredients
8 oz crumbled feta cheese
4 oz grated aged Myzithra cheese [If you can’t find it, sub a bit more feta.]
8-10 oz ricotta cheese
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 tbs dried dill [I’ve always used dried, but I think that fresh dill would be nice as well– maybe even better! If using fresh dill, use about 1/3 cup.]
juice from 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
pinch of nutmeg
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and dried [Really, really squeeze all the moisture that you can out of the spinach. You don’t want to end up with a sad, soggy little tart.]

For the crust, I have (shamefully, yes) used store-bought pie crust (I recommend Trader Joe’s all-butter), but I’ve also made and used a double-batch of Orangette’s pie crust (with delicious results). So, really, it’s up to you. All that filling has to have something to sit on!

Method
Mix all ingredients except spinach in a large bowl. Add spinach and stir until uniform.

Roll out the pie crust into a large rectangle (about the size of whatever sheet pan you’re using) and place it on an ungreased sheet pan.

Spread the filling over the crust– you can go pretty close to the edges, as there will be little to no spreading or leakage.

Bake in a 425-degree oven for about 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

Crispy, cheese-stuffed eggplant fritters

We had something similar to this at our wedding, so when I came across this recipe I knew I just had to make it. And really, what’s not to love? It’s a fried ball of eggplant with a chunk of cheese in the middle. DONE. The process is  bit more laborious than I would usually recommend for an appetizer, but these are worth the effort if you’re looking to be slightly more impressive than prosciutto-wrapped melon (always an awesome, low-effort standby). Oh, and don’t fear the frying! It’s much less scary than actual deep-fat cooking.

Crispy Eggplant Fritters with Smoked Mozzarella

Adapted from a recipe in the August 2007 issue of Bon Appetit

Ingredients

2 large eggplants (2 pounds total)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
Olive oil (for brushing and frying)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cups plain dry breadcrumbs, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 20 cubes) [You can also use Fontina, or another cheese that has a consistency similar to either of these two. See? Endless variety!]

Method

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut eggplants crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place on layers of paper towels. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Brush 2 large baking sheets with oil.  Pat eggplant dry; arrange in single layer on prepared sheets. Brush lightly with oil. [This can get pretty oily– you can spray them with nonstick cooking spray if you like, or give them a spritz with olive oil rather than brushing. Eggplant is shockingly absorbent, really.] Bake until eggplant is tender and dry, about 1 hour. Cool slightly; chop coarsely.

Whisk 1 egg, grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Stir in chopped eggplant (mixture will be soft). Spread 1 cup breadcrumbs on plate. Whisk 1 egg and flour in another bowl. Press and shape eggplant mixture into 1 1/4 -inch-diameter balls. Press 1 piece smoked mozzarella into center of each ball, making sure eggplant mixture covers cheese. Dip balls, 1 at a time, into egg batter; roll in breadcrumbs to coat. [This is discussed in cooking shows, I know, but try to have a “designated hand” for dipping in dry ingredients– crumbs, in this case– and another for dipping in wet ingredients. Things get pretty clumpy, otherwise.]

Pour enough oil into large skillet to reach depth of 1/4 inch; heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add balls to skillet; sauté until browned, turning often, about 4 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve with slightly warmed marinara or tomato sauce of your choice.

P.S. Maybe it was recipes like this that contributed to my 6-pound weight gain over Lent, when I foolishly decided to give up meat. I lasted about 33 days, but then noticed I was wobblier than usual. Turns out I was filling the void with cheese and carbs–my favorites!

Gougeres

You know how every cook has Their Thing? The thing that they make every time there is an occasion? You know, like a dinner party, or a potluck, or…Wednesday? Well, these gougeres are my thing. The recipe was an accidental discovery– after attending a party at which the birthday girl’s mom had made some sort of Cheeto Puffs from scratch (with actual cheese, and not just cheese-themed food product), I decided I had to have them. Luckily for just about everyone, a Google of “cheese puffs” yields the Ina Garten recipes for these cheesy, airy puffs of deliciousness. And the rest is history.

I’m not going to lie: the pate a choux that you make for these is sticky. This stickiness means that it will make all sorts of mess in your food processor, all sorts of craziness in your pastry bag (I have a for-cheaters-only frosting gun that works like magic…easily-cleaned magic), and all sorts of residual stickiness that you’ll find for months and months after your husband tips over one of the to-be-baked sheets of parchment in the fridge. But look how cute they are!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk [whole is probably best, but I have used everything from whole to nonfat with relatively little variation in the final product]
  • 1/4-pound (1 stick) unsalted butter [go a little lighter on the salt if you’re using salted butter]
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg [secret ingredient alert!]
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, plus extra for sprinkling [I’ve substituted Jarlsberg, and the results were just as delicious. You can allegedly use just about any type of cheese, but I worry about things like melting and moisture content– but experiment away!]
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash [dilute with a little more water for less-brown puffs]

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. [I can usually fit about 20 puffs per sheet of parchment, and the original recipe says that the yield should be 40. Last time I made these, however, I ended up with 56. For those playing along at home, more parchment was needed.]

In a saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg over medium heat, until scalded. [You’ll know it’s scalded when there are small bubbles and steam. Do not boil the milk! It will burn and be awful.] Add the flour all at once and beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes. The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan. Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Immediately add the eggs, Gruyere, and Parmesan and pulse until the eggs are incorporated and the dough is smooth and thick. [I’m willing to bet you could do this by hand, but your arm(s) will be crazy-tired.]

Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. [I’ve used a star tip, but beware! The little ridges will brown a little more than the rest of the pastry, so it’s up to you.] Pipe in mounds 1 1/4 inches wide and 3/4-inch high onto the baking sheets. With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff. [Again, those little tips will brown well before the puffs are done. Press ’em down!] (You can also use 2 spoons to scoop out the mixture and shape the puffs with damp fingers.) Brush the top of each puff lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a pinch of Gruyere. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown outside but still soft inside.

Et voila! Gougeres are yours! Try not to eat all of them in one sitting…