White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (with or without Pancetta)

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About two and half years ago, in the infancy of this blog, I posted a recipe for Barefoot Contessa’s chicken pot pies. In that post, I told you all that I don’t actually eat chicken pot pies. That still holds true to this day – I’ve made them a number of times between then and now, and I always give them away – I have a bite here and there just to make sure they’re edible, and I know they’re good, but they’re just easy for me to pass up. I first made this white bean version when Deb’s cookbook came out three years ago, and I haven’t made them since (until now) because I actually do eat them. I ate half of one when they came out of the oven the other night, even though I was going to dinner an hour later. I’m debating defrosting one for dinner tonight. My mouth is literally watering just thinking about them, that’s how good they are. They’re worth an extra mile or two on the treadmill – even if it’s an extra mile or two every day for the next two weeks.

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I think one of the reasons I love this recipe so much is because I just adore the white bean and greens combo – remember my soup? Deb also introduced me to this stew, which is essentially a fancier version of my soup – but it calls for wine, which is always fun, and you get to serve it on a piece of garlic toast. Next on my list: Molly’s braised beans with escarole.  Beans and greens just feel healthy and hearty and comforting to me, I guess – the perfect cozy fall or winter meal – although the sauce and crust definitely negate most of the health factor in this case.

Another reason I have a hard time turning these pies down is because the filling is absolutely divine – the sauce is creamy and velvety and decadent, basically like a chicken pot pie sauce without the chicken, but not quite as rich (it doesn’t actually contain cream). The recipe as written is technically called “Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies” – although Deb tells you to feel free to skip the pancetta. I eat chicken but not pork (don’t ask me to explain why) so I’m ok with chicken broth but I leave the pancetta out. You can make it fully vegetarian by using vegetable broth, but the chicken broth is pretty dang good. Of course I don’t miss it at all, but I’ve made these pies with pancetta in the past and the people I fed them to felt pretty strongly I was missing out, so if you don’t have an issue with pork I would recommend trying it – I include instructions for either version, or a combo of both, below.

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But finally, the thing I love most about these pies, the reason I was burning my tongue inhaling one the other night as they were steaming-hot-out-of-the-oven and I needed to save my appetite for dinner, is the crust. Yes, I love the beans and greens, but if I’m craving that I can make my soup (in a fraction of the time). If I want something richer and heartier I’ll make Deb’s stew. This pie crust, however, takes these from being really really good pot pies to absolutely freaking to die for delicious pot pies. And I’m not really even a pie crust person! Deb describes it as croissant-like, and she’s right, it’s a pie-crust-croissant-combination in the best way possible. She adds sour cream and vinegar to the dough, and I don’t know why we haven’t been doing that all along, with all pie crusts, because it does something really miraculous. The crust is flaky and buttery and slightly tangy – the filling really would make a delicious stew all on it’s own, but once you try this crust you would never not make it (although I will say, Ina’s version holds it’s shape much better, thanks to the crisco). If you’re wondering why I wouldn’t just use this crust for chicken pot pies, it’s because I’m perfectly happy not eating them, and I’m afraid trying them with this crust would give me a newfound love for chicken pot pie – which is basically the last thing I need.

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So now you know why I can only make this recipe once every three years, and/or for very special occasions (funny story, I actually made these for my cousin who just had her third baby, and who is a strict vegetarian – so as I was pouring the chicken stock into the pan it dawned on me that I’ll need to make her a new batch….and thus these are calling my name from the freezer). Apologies for the excess of photos, and the entire paragraph devoted to pie crust (it’s a long recipe, an even longer blog post – if my high school English teachers/law school legal writing professors could read this they would cry). Full disclosure, this recipe will take you about two hours – longer if your pies need extra time in the oven like mine did – but I think you’ll find it time well spent.

Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Pie Cake (there’s no “one year ago” as apparently November 2014 was a bad blogging month for me!)
Pot Pies, Previously:
Chicken, two ways

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies, from Smitten Kitchen (on her blog and in her cookbook)

Yield: 4 large pot pies (would also work well in an 8×8″ baking dish)

For the Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
13 tablespoons (1 stick + 5 tablespoons from a second stick) unsalted butter, cold and diced
6 tablespoons sour cream or greek yogurt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash (for topping crust)

For the Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces (3/4 cup to 1 cup) 1/4″ diced pancetta, optional*
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped (I used 2)
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped (I used 2)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thinly sliced swiss chard leaves from an 8-10 ounce bundle, approximately 4 cups (I just use an entire bunch, large or small, without worrying about ounces or cups)
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (remainder of second stick from crust, plus an additional 1/2 tablespoon)
3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, ideally low-sodium
2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from about 1 and 1/3 cans (I used two whole cans)

Make Crust: In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the flour and salt. Add butter, and using a pastry blender or your fingers, mix butter into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles. In a small dish, whisk together sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine with butter/flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, combine until mixture forms a dough. You may need to use your hands to knead it a few times (it will be sticky). Pat into a flat-ish ball and refrigerate for one hour (or up to two days – but it needs at least an hour, which conveniently is about the time it will take you to chop your veggies and make the filling).

Make Filling: Heat olive oil in large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat (if using pancetta, see * below). Add onions, carrot, celery, pinch of red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook for one minute longer. Add greens and cook until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.

Make Sauce: Wipe out your pan, add butter, and melt over medium-low heat.  Add flour, whisk to combine, and cook for two minutes. Slowly whisk in the broth, one ladleful or splash at a time, mixing completely with each addition. Once all the broth is added, bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until sauce is thickened and gravy-like, about 10 minutes, and then remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Add white beans and veggie mixture (and pancetta, if using).

Assemble Pot Pies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Divide filling between four large ramekins (you could also use ovenproof bowls).  There should be a total of 6 cups of filling, or 1 1/2 cups per ramekin (I somehow had a greater volume of filling and chose to fill all four ramekins very full rather than filling a fifth, which was fine except that they all boiled over; if you would rather have a pretty crust than a super-hearty portion – I certainly would! – make sure not to fill ramekins too full). Set the ramekins on a baking sheet. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each into a circle large enough to cover the ramekin and leave a 1″ overhang (I used large ramekins and had plenty of dough). Whisk the egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water) and brush it lightly around the top rim of the ramekins so that dough will stick. Drape pastry over each ramekin, pressing lightly so that the dough sticks to the dish. Brush crusts with egg wash, then use a sharp knife to cut slits or decorative vents in each to help steam escape. Bake until crust is bronzed and filling is lightly bubbling (hopefully only lightly!) through vents, 30-35 minutes (mine took about 45 to get the crust bronzed, and still not as bronzed as Deb’s photos).

To Make Ahead: the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap and then in a freezer storage bag, will last up to two days in the fridge or a couple months in the freezer. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and kept covered in the fridge.

*If Using Pancetta: Before cooking your veggies, sauté pancetta in one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove pancetta from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Leave pancetta renderings in the pan, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil, and then sauté veggies as written above and go from there. Add pancetta back to filling when you add veggies and white beans to sauce. If you’re feeding a group that’s half pancetta-friendly and half not, rather than cooking all the veggies in the pancetta renderings, just make the pancetta-free version, cook the pancetta separately, and then stir it into the individual pot pies.

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Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin

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I realize that by this point most of you already know exactly what you’ll be making for dinner this Thursday – whether you’re in charge of an entire Thanksgiving meal for 20, or just picking up a pie on your way to dinner. But in case anyone is in need of last minute ideas for sweet potatoes or veggies (I think this dish could fall into either category), I wanted to post this gratin that I made for a “practice Thanksgiving” a couple weeks ago. It’s from Smitten Kitchen, again – I promise that after this I really am going to start getting more creative with the blogs I copy recipes I share. I’ve been wanting to try this for the past few years, however, and since I finally made it, I thought it might inspire the few of you that are still looking for inspiration.

Full disclosure, I’m still debating what I’m going to be making – and I have to start grocery shopping tonight. As much as I love the old school sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, about 90% of my relatives prefer a savory sweet potato dish like this one, so I’m going to be making a couple different casseroles (Grandma and I need our marshmallows!). Another favorite is this scalloped sweet potato and yukon gold casserole, which people go nuts for. If anyone has a favorite sweet potato recipe, sweet or savory, I would love to hear it in the comments.

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My mandoline will be a year old tomorrow – it was a birthday gift last year and I love it even more now than I did when I received it. It makes the thought of potato casseroles for 45 so much less daunting.

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The swiss chard is a pain to prep (wash, de-stem, chop), and made even more complicated because this recipe calls for the stems to be used as well – just separated from the leaves as they have to cook longer. They’re good for us, though, and if you use rainbow chard it looks so pretty!! I’m thinking of subbing spinach when I make it this time, just to save myself about three hours of chopping and stemming effort. You could use any green you like, I think – my friend Kirsten tried it with collard greens, which is even more Thanksgiving-y.

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But the rainbow chard stems are really pretty – and surprisingly delicious.

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Simply sauté the chard stems with a little diced onion, then add the greens, which will cook down significantly (I cut this recipe in half when I made it for practice Thanksgiving, and the raw chard filled my 5 quart Dutch oven; once cooked it was barely two cups of greens).

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A pile of grated Gruyère always makes me happy.  This is probably more than the recipe called for, oops! Five ounces, eight ounces, who’s counting? Not me.  It is Thanksgiving, after all.

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Layer: potatoes, herbs, cheese, chard, béchamel; repeat.  I’m starting to get concerned that all of my grocery stores are going to be out of fresh thyme again – I feel like it happens every year, and every year I swear I’m going to stock up ahead of time – and then forget to do so.  I couldn’t find fresh thyme when I made this the other week, so I just used dried (with fresh parsley) – but I bet it will be even better with the fresh thyme that I’m hopefully going to find tonight (fingers crossed).

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A little more cheese, and it’s all ready for the oven.  SK says (and I hope she’s right!!) that this can be prepped ahead of time, and just baked on Thursday, or fully baked ahead of time and then re-heated before your meal, assuming you have oven space.  Oven space is a hot commodity when you have a large group in a non-commercial kitchen, so neither option is ideal for me, but I’m just going to worry about that on Thursday.  The good news is a gratin will stay pretty hot.

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Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin, from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 12

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 lbs swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and both cut into one-inch pieces
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream or whole milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 lbs medium sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Fine sea salt
Freshly grated black pepper
1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

Prep greens: cook onion in two tablespoons butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add chard stems, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until vegetables are browned, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high and add chard leaves by large handfuls, stirring, until all greens are wilted. Season with salt and pepper and then transfer to a colander and press out liquid with a rubber spatula or large spoon.

Make sauce: combine cream or milk and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in the flour. Cook roux, whisking, for one minute, then slowly whisk in cream/milk and bring to an almost-boil, whisking constantly, for one minute longer. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Assemble gratin: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread half of the sweet potatoes in the prepared dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a quarter of the herbs and a quarter of the cheese. Distribute half the greens mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and a quarter of the cheese over that. Pour half of the bechamel sauce over the first two layers and then continue with the remaining sweet potatoes, more salt, pepper, herbs, and cheese, and then the remaining chard mixture, salt, pepper, and herbs. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the gratin and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake gratin: bake the gratin for about one hour, until golden, bubbly, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Let stand for ten minutes before serving.

Do ahead: you can make the entire gratin but not bake it up to a day in advance (just store it in the fridge). You can also make and bake it in advance, and reheat it, though it will take almost as long to reheat as they do to bake in the first place.

Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens

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I made this recipe for the first time when I was staying with friends in Boston last month, and it was both simple and delicious. As such, I made it a second time last weekend, when my parents hosted 40 people at their home for my grandparents’ birthday party (yes, they were born a day apart and thus share their party every year). It’s the perfect meal for anything from an intimate dinner to a large group, as it you can do it ahead of time and its easy to serve, but it still seems a little fancier than a lasagna or boring casserole-type dish.

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I found broccoli rabe without incident the first time, but not the second – so when I quadrupled the recipe for the birthday party I used swiss chard instead. Both were great, but Smitten Kitchen suggests regular broccoli or brocolini if you can’t find rabe; I would think any hearty green would work as well (next time I might try kale). The only time consuming part of the dish is stemming and chopping the broccoli rabe/chard, everything else is pretty quick and easy.

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When I made it the first time, I followed the recipe exactly, except that I only added sausage to half (recipe makes one 9 x 13 casserole, but can easily be split into two 8 x 8s). SK lists proportions for a “light” amount of sauce, and recommends you multiply them by 1.5 for a “heavier” sauced dish. I did that, and did not find it overly saucy at all, so that’s what I list below as I really can’t imagine less sauce would be enough. But I suppose its all personal preference – you can check out her version in the link. I also found the original version to be pretty garlicky, although I don’t love garlic so it could be just me. Regardless, when I made it a second time I roasted the garlic (a whole head, drizzled in olive oil and wrapped in foil, at 400 degrees for about half an hour). I then used the same number of cloves called for (3 per batch), and found the garlic flavor to be much more subtle. Again, just personal preference. My friend Lindsay made this the other night and added minced garlic in with the sausage when she cooked it – same idea.

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Finally, when I made four batches for the party, I did four separate casseroles so that I could accommodate as many preferences as possible – three different types of sausage (sweet, spicy, and chicken) and then one vegetarian. When I had the vegetarian version in Boston I really thought it could use something, so this time I roasted a butternut squash. SK suggests mushrooms would be another good alternative – but the squash got rave reviews even from the meat eaters, and seems pretty perfect for this time of year.

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Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Pasta and Assembly
1 lb. campanelle, or any chunky pasta you like
1 bundle broccoli rabe, swiss chard, or green of your choice (the greens will cook down a lot, so what looks like a ton raw ends up being not that much)
1 lb. Italian sausage (sweet or spicy pork or chicken), casings removed (or one butternut squash)
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes

Béchamel Sauce
3 cups whole milk (I used half whole and half 2% the second time and found it to be a little less rich – in a good way)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/8 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I used a lot)
3 cloves garlic, minced – if roasted, I just gave them a rough smash and chop
Small sprinkle of nutmeg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions, add broccoli rabe five minutes before pasta is to be finished (if using chard, wait until two minutes before cooking time is up; if using another green, you’ll want it to cook for a lesser time the more delicate it is, or longer the heartier it is – i.e. broccoli would also be five minutes, spinach would be one minute). Drain pasta and greens and set aside in a large bowl.

Brown your sausage in a small amount of olive oil. If you’re making the vegetarian version, peel, seed, and dice a medium-sized butternut squash. You can buy it pre-chopped almost anywhere, but its kind of fun to do it yourself and it really doesn’t take much time. Toss it with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and roast on a well-greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet at 400 degrees for about half an hour, turning once or twice. If it gets a little crispy, like mine did (as evidenced in the photo above), that’s ok. Either the sausage or the squash can be done ahead of time, and it will make putting the casserole together that much quicker.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir until smooth, then cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add a small amount of the milk and whisk until combined. Continue to add milk in very small amounts, whisking the whole time – this is where a plastic, flat-bottomed whisk comes in really handy. Once about half of the milk is added and combined, you can add the other half more quickly. Once all the milk is added and the mixture is smooth, add salt, pepper, garlic, and nutmeg and let simmer for about ten minutes (I always worry that mine won’t thicken properly, and thus turn the burner up for about a minute before I turn it down to simmer – no idea if it helps or not but it makes me feel better – regardless, do that at your own risk). Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Finally, add mozzarella, half the parmesan, sausage (or squash), and béchamel to the bowl with the pasta and greens; toss to coat everything with the sauce. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 or 3-quart casserole dish, sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top of the pasta, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Bon Appétit!