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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Melissa Clark’s Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs

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When I first started this blog two years ago (!!!), it felt like I was posting a Melissa Clark recipe every other week.  I forced myself to take a break for awhile, so that I wouldn’t post every recipe she’s ever written, but tragically that meant that this, my most successful dinner party recipe to date, never made it onto the blog. Since I don’t eat red meat, I can’t tell you from personal experience how delicious these ribs may or may not be. However, I’ve made them a number of times now, and have passed on the recipe to family and friends, each time with rave reviews. Since I cook primarily for the accolades, I make these ribs a lot.

This recipe comes from the January chapter of Cook This Now (Melissa organizes the recipes in this cookbook by month), so I had every intention of posting it two months ago. But as you may have noticed, Blueberries and Basil is off to a slow start this year, so my “January Short Ribs” are a little delayed – I hope you can forgive me.  After all, most of the country is still experiencing January weather. And even in the Pacific Northwest, where it feels like May, it turns out short ribs are still well received even when it’s 50 degrees at dinner time.

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Many of you are probably familiar with how to braise short ribs – but I really wasn’t, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is. it’s the perfect make-ahead meal (dinner party or otherwise) because you can prepare it in advance, pop it in the oven, and not give it a second thought for the next three hours. Simply reduce your port* and wine**, brown your meat, sauté your veggies, dump everything into your Dutch oven and bake (technically braise, I suppose) for three hours while you clean your kitchen, make dessert, take a nap, run errands – you get the idea. Three hours to do whatever you like while a delicious meal comes together in the oven, all on it’s own. *Melissa uses port and wine, but if you don’t feel like buying a bottle of port only to use half a cup, I confess I’ve made them without the port before and haven’t heard any complaints. **The recipe calls for a dry red wine – I googled “dry red wine for short ribs” (because that’s the level of sophistication I have when it comes to using wine in cooking) and found most people recommend a petit syrah, so that’s what I’ve been using, but I think you could use whatever you have on hand.

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Meat usually grosses me out, but even I have to admit, they’re kind of pretty.  And they make your kitchen smell amazing!  The original recipe is technically for oxtails (speaking of being grossed out) rather than short ribs, so Melissa tells you the meat should be “almost” falling off the bone after two and a half hours. I’m assuming the rules for short ribs are different, as mine are usually actually falling off the bone after an hour or so. Again, I don’t eat them so I can’t say for certain, but I’m constantly asking people if they’re overdone and am assured they are perfect. But that said, if you needed to shorten the cooking time a bit I think you’d be ok. The beauty of braising, I’m learning, is that you really can’t go wrong. Bon appétit!

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Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
1/2 cup ruby port
3 lbs beef short ribs
Kosher salt, for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 shallots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary  sprigs
1 bunch parsley stems (use some of the leaves for garnish, if you like)
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and diced small
Balsamic vinegar to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the wine and port to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, brown the short ribs. Season them generously with salt and pepper (you will need at least two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon pepper, or possibly more – enough to get the meat well coated). In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil. Working in batches, arrange the short ribs in a single layer and brown on all sides.  Take your time with this and let them get good and brown; don’t crowd the pan, or they will steam and never develop that tasty caramelized crust. Transfer the short ribs to a bowl.
3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the Dutch oven and add the shallots, garlic, leeks, and celery.  Cook the vegetables, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan, until softened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.
4. Arrange the short ribs over the vegetables and add the reduced wine-port mixture. Using kitchen twine, tie together the thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, and bay leaves, and drop into the pot. (You can skip the twine and simply drop the herbs into the pot if you don’t have kitchen twine on hand – although it’s a bit of a pain to fish them out before serving).  Bring the liquid to a boil on the stovetop, then cover and transfer the Dutch oven to the oven. Cook, turning the ribs occasionally (or not), until the meat is tender but not yet falling off the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours (mine always seem to be falling off the bone by the two hour mark, but I give them 2 1/2 regardless if time allows). Add the carrots and cook another 30 minutes.
5. Season with balsamic vinegar and additional salt, if desired. Serve over mashed potatoes and top with parsley.

*If you’re serving the short ribs right away, as I usually am, you can spoon some of the fat off of the surface if it looks a little greasy (mine never seem to). You can also refrigerate and serve the next day; in that case the fat is easy to scrape off – although you lose a lot of your vegetables with it.

**In lieu of short ribs, you could use: 4 1/2 pounds oxtail pieces, 4 lamb foreshanks, 2-3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, or 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat.

***In lieu of mashed potatoes, you could serve over polenta, roasted potatoes, roasted root vegetables, or anything else that suits your fancy. You could also serve it on its own, as a simple stew.

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Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore

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I’m not entirely sure if lasagna is a “sexy” enough topic for a blog post, but I’ve had enough people ask me for this recipe over the years that I thought I should share it with all of you. Plus, it seems appropriate to celebrate our first official week of rainy weather with a recipe from my “Celebrate the Rain” cookbook from the Junior League of Seattle. [Sidenote, my career in the Junior League was sadly short lived – but this cookbook was one of the best things I got out of it.]  I’m not ordinarily a huge lasagna fan – I don’t eat red meat, which means I often can’t eat it anyways, but even when there’s a veggie option I find it’s usually heavy and/or mushy and/or bland.  It’s hard for me not to like a dish made up of pasta plus cheese plus tomato sauce, but rarely have I experienced a truly stand out dish – this is one of the few lasagna recipes I’ve found that I can truly say I love. So much so that I made it for a dinner party last week, and have been pouting about lack of leftovers ever since.

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Chicken cacciatore is basically chicken braised in tomato sauce, usually with some combination of onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and herbs. I made that definition up, but it’s a combination of the first five or so recipes I read after a quick google search. This recipe, as the name implies, is a combination of chicken cacciatore and lasagna. We make a “cacciatore sauce” of sorts using lots of fresh vegetables, shred the chicken into the sauce, and layer it with noodles (or pasta sheets!) like a lasagna, only using mozzarella and parm instead of your typical ricotta layer. While there is still plenty of cheese, it somehow seems so much lighter than traditional lasagna – and so full of veggies that you don’t even feel that bad about going back for seconds.

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This isn’t the quickest of recipes, but as lasagnas go it’s pretty simple to put together. The chopping takes some time, but it’s so worth it. I’m now really wishing I had doubled the recipe, as this will keep well in the freezer (baked or unbaked), and as long as you’re doing one, you might as well do two (or even three!) – the increase in time is marginal. Time saving tips include no-boil noodles or pasta sheets and rotisserie chicken. Boiling lasagna noodles is a total pain – no matter how much oil I add to my cooking water, they seem to always stick together and then break when I try to pull them apart. I’ve used no-boil noodles before and think they’re fine, but I know some people don’t like them – the pasta sheets really are the way to go if you can get them. They’re so easy and so fun, and it makes it a lot easier to serve your lasagna without having to worry about cutting in between the noodles (no pretty ruffles like regular lasagna noodles, though). Rotisserie chicken is a huge time saver, and I find the meat easier to shred. For once I can’t tell you to use the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions (my apologies to your eyeballs), but slicing doesn’t take too terribly long.  Pre-grated cheese seems so un-gourmet….but if that’s your thing, I won’t tell and it will still taste yummy.  Honestly though, if you can force yourself to be at least sort of efficient in the kitchen (slice onions while chicken cooks, slice mushrooms/mince garlic/dice pepper while onions cook, grate cheese while sauce simmers, etc.) it really doesn’t take that long to put together.

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Layer your lasagna: noodles, sauce, cheese; repeat; repeat again. Don’t the pasta sheets look so fun?!? Dump an extra can of tomatoes over everything (except the top layer of cheese) if you’re short on sauce (see my note at the bottom of the recipe). You can stop here and then bake later (if you’re making this ahead of time), or freeze now and bake later, or bake and then freeze – the possibilities are endless.  For my aforementioned dinner party, I put the lasagna together ahead of time, went about my day, and then popped it in the oven right before everyone arrived. The house smelled yummy, we had a lovely 30 minute cocktail hour, and then I took the lasagna out of the oven, popped dessert in, and we sat down to a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven dinner (and then an hour later, a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven apple crisp).  For someone who’s always scrambling around and doing everything last minute, I was pretty proud of myself!  Lasagna may not be the sexiest blog topic, but it gets major points for the make-ahead factor. Serve with a simple green salad and bread, and it’s a great meal to share with friends – you can sit and chat and enjoy yourself rather than frantically throwing everything together at the last minute. And with a fire in the fireplace and a couple bottles of wine, it’s the perfect meal with which to celebrate the rain.

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Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore, from Celebrate the Rain

Serves 8*

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
3/4 lbs. boneless, chicken chicken breast**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
10 ounces button mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed, and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes***
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 lb. mozarella cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
12 cooked lasagna noodles OR 9 no-boil lasagna noodles OR 3 fresh pasta sheets

To make sauce:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and cook until browned on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook until tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool; reserve the saucepan. When the chicken is cool, shred it and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes longer.  Add the bell pepper and sauté until nearly tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and dried red pepper flakes. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

To prepare lasagna: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce (avoiding large chunks of chicken or vegetables) on the bottom of the dish.*** Line the dish with 4 cooked lasagna noodles or 3 no-boil lasagna noodles or one pasta sheet. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Repeat the layering of noodles, sauce, and cheese two more times.  (The lasagna can be prepared a few days ahead, covered with plastic, and refrigerated, or covered securely with plastic and foil and frozen for a few weeks). Bake the lasagna until the cheese turns golden brown in spots and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes (if after 30 minutes the sauce is bubbling but the cheese hasn’t started browning, turn the oven to broil and watch the lasagna carefully – it will brown quickly).  Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the lasagna sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*The recipe says 8 servings, but I’ve found it usually yields closer to 10-12. You’ll want leftovers, though.
**You could use a store-bought rotisserie chicken here as a shortcut. I usually do, and wondered why I didn’t this time (not that it’s hard to cook the chicken, but I always manage to get oil splattered all over my stovetop). You’ll need about two cups cooked, shredded white meat, skin and bones discarded.  One chicken should yield this easily.
***Every time I make this recipe, I find that I’m way short on sauce (in part probably because my lasagna pan is bigger than 9×13, so this may not be as much of an issue for you). My new trick is to use an extra can of crushed tomatoes – you could use a jar of spaghetti sauce as well if you’re in a pinch.  I like to pour 1/2 cup – 1 cup crushed tomatoes into the bottom of the pan before I start building the lasagna (rather than using the sauce as instructed). Then I do the recommended 1 1/2 cups of sauce per layer (possibly a little more if it looks like that isn’t enough). Once I reach the third layer I’m a little short, so I use up the homemade sauce and then dump the rest of the can of crushed tomatoes over the casserole before I add the final layer of cheese.  You could use a 15.5-ounce can of tomatoes if your lasagna pan is closer to 9×13 size/if you find you aren’t that short on sauce, but I used an entire 28-ounce can this time and it turned out great.  You could also just add the second can of tomatoes to the sauce as you’re making it (along with the can called for), but my saucepan is usually close to overflowing so I’ve been doing it this way.  Making sure the top layer of pasta is fully covered with sauce is especially important if you’re using the no-boil noodles or the fresh pasta sheets as they’ll need the liquid to cook. photo 3