Quick, Creamy Mushrooms with Frisée

It’s fair to say that the food I make is heavily influenced by the weather. Take this past Saturday, for example. On Saturday the fog in New York was thick enough to erase the view from my apartment, rendering the landscape milky white. I suppose I prefer to see the city obfuscated by a white of hazy, rather than snowy, precipitation, but the damp chill in the air makes me yearn for a comforting meal all the same.

With the intention of creating a bit of comfort in mind I headed into the kitchen early Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t really planned on being at the stove that day, at least not after breakfast, so when I set my mind on cooking a little lunch I had to scavenge for ingredients leftover from meals past. Searching the fridge, I found wild mushrooms, bought the prior day before that evening’s plans changed, as well as some frisee that never made it into salad and a single remaining vidalia onion. I also happened upon a half bottle of local organic cream, the surplus of a failed pastry attempt earlier that week. Between those finds and the garlic and herbs that are constant fixtures in my pantry, I was set to create something amazing.

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When you have great ingredients to work with, beautiful meals come together with little effort. As much as I try to plan meals that are inventive most of the time, my best efforts are always those that come about haphazardly, like this one. Creating meals out of necessity with limited supplies is what brings out my creativity, forcing me to think outside the box of what I know has worked in the past to create something new out of the ingredients I have now.

This meal is the product of such creativity. The mushrooms are cooked down to a gentle earthiness with the onion, garlic, and rosemary. They are joined by the frisée, which provides a bright vegetal counterpoint to the mushrooms’ fleshy tenderness. Finished with cream, the dish has a milky resemblance of the fog outside. Rather than being dreary and cold, though, each bowl has a rich warmth, and brings the soothing comfort needed to brighten a gloomy day.

Quick, Creamy Mushrooms with Frisée

Serves two as a main dish, or four as a side

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For crunch, I sprinkled toasted almonds over the finished dish. The traditional way to toast nuts would be to heat them in a low-temperature oven or in a pan over moderate heat until they smell fragrant but are not yet burnt. The much easier way is to zap them in the microwave for a minute, stirring halfway through. Don’t tell a real chef I said to do this – it’s super uncool – but it totally works.

I did this dish a complete injustice by not eating it with a hunk of toasty bread. Bread isn’t really something I have around my house much, but if you have some on hand you’re going to want to use it as a spongy mop for all the delicious cream in the bottom of the bowl.

Ingredients:
2 cups mushrooms, preferably a mix of wild varieties
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 vidalia onion, sliced in half vertically and then thinly sliced horizontally into half-moons (you could alternatively half an ordinary onion, a few scallions, or even a leek)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
1 tbsp butter
1 head endive frisee – strip enough leaves to equal about half the volume of mushrooms (save the remainder for salad another day)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped

Sautee the mushrooms: Place a saucepan or pot over medium-high heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the mushrooms. Season aggressively with salt and pepper – mushrooms require a lot of seasoning, and the cream added later will somewhat mute the dish, so you might need to compensate with more salt than you would normally use. Allow the mushrooms to cook for five minutes or so, in which time they will give off a lot of water and begin to collapse.

Add the aromatics: After the mushrooms have wilted a bit, add the onion, garlic, and rosemary. Cook for another minute or two until they become fragrant and the garlic turns lightly golden. Add the butter.

Stir in the frisée and cream: Add the frisée and cream, and bring to a simmer. You want to wilt the frisée a little bit so it loses most of its crunch. After two or three minutes the cream will have reduced. Stir to ensure that the cream is thoroughly mixed with the butter and olive oil.

Serve: Serve warm, garnishing with the toasted almonds.

 

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Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

My favorite way to cook dinner, one which you’ll probably see me employ over and over again on this site until you beg me to learn to cook another way, involves roasting. It’s a pretty magical process, that of turning bits of raw meat and vegetables into tender, sweet, crisp, delectable dishes simply by closing a hot oven door. Really, though, as wonderful as food cooked this way tastes, I don’t prefer roasting simply with flavor in mind.

The true reason I love to roast is due to the method’s flexibility and forgiving nature. A roasted dish is pretty impossible to screw up. With your oven hot, and it doesn’t really matter how hot, add a bit of oil and seasoning and toss your barely handled ingredients into the oven, then cook until done. Or cook past done, if you’ve got vegetables in there – they’ll only get sweeter and more delicious.

Roasting is incredibly practical, too, especially when cooking dinner just seems like another chore. With all the cooking done in one pan, cleanup is practically non-existent, especially if you’re clever enough to line your baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper – then entire cleanup process just takes crumbling up that lining and tossing it in the wastebin. As for the rest of the time you’re “busy” cooking, hop up on the countertop with a good book and tell people to please leave you alone while you’re getting dinner ready.
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Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

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Serves 4… or, at my house, 2 with lots of leftovers

This is a really lovely winter salad that would do well as an appetizer or side dish. To add a bit more protein and make it more appropriate for dinner, I incorporated some shrimp as well. We don’t often think about roasting shrimp (normally we have them boiled or grilled, or perhaps sauteed) but it’s such an easy way to cook them, especially if you’ve already got your oven hot. It’s harder to overcook them in the oven than it is in a pan and, most importantly, there’s no cleanup involved.

Because of its color and scale, this dish takes well to a rustic presentation. I like to plate it all on one big platter and let people serve themselves from that, though you could plate individually, as well. Note that because the cheese and prosciutto are already quite salty, you may want to hold back on the salt when you season your finished dish.

Ingredients:
1 butternut squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
1 small red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
1/2 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto
Mesclun salad
Balsamic vinegar
Small wedge of Parmesan

Preheat your oven to 375

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Butternut squash: Cut the neck off the squash, and then halve each of the two sections lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds, and cut each of your sections into quarters. Place these segments onto a roasting pan and scatter some olive oil over them. With a pestle and mortar (or with the end of a wooden spoon in a small bowl), bash up your chile with the coriander and a very big pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Rub this seasoning into your squash, and roast for 45 minutes. Squash will be tender and golden when ready. Allow to cool slightly before plating.

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Shrimp (if using): Toss shrimp with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Distribute on a parchment lined baking sheet. When the squash has only 10 minutes left on the timer, place the shrimp in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then carefully flip the shrimp, and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes until golden and pinky-white throughout.

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Plating: First lay your prosciutto on the plate. It will look nicest if you sort of let it fall onto the plate, twisting into little organic piles. With your hands, pull the squash apart into roughly 1-inch pieces, and tuck these amongst the prosciutto. Scatter a few handfuls of salad greens over the dish, tucking it in in places so that everything is visible. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, then olive oil, over the entire dish, and season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave off shards of Parmesan over the finished dish.