Saturday, March 10, 2012

Easy Caramelized Onion Tarts

Let me start by making one thing perfectly clear: the fact that an onion likes to get dolled up every now and again does not mean s/he's a tart (or "easy," for that matter). But this post is actually about the kind of tarts that you bake in the oven, and it is totally easy, so there's no harm done. I hereby present one of those recipes that gives the impression of being kind of fancy, yet is perfect for a fundamentally lazy person like yours truly because it uses frozen puff pastry instead of a homemade crust. I literally had the idea to make this at 6pm one evening, and by 7:30 we were happily eating it in front of the TV. You could add other vegetables on top of the onions, but be careful not to overload: sliced mushrooms, baby spinach, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, or pretty much anything you'd put on a pizza would be fine in moderation. I used two packages of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry to make four tarts, and cut them into big squares to eat as a main dish, but smaller slices would make a nice appetizer or party snack, especially if you want your guests to think you worked really, really hard. (And if, like the onions pictured above, you're wearing a little lipstick when they arrive, they'll think you're organized and glamorous!)

Easy Caramelized Onion Tarts
The Topping
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2-3 large yellow onions, sliced into thin crescents
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 1 tsp. each salt, oregano, basil, parsley
~ Fresh black pepper
~ Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil on medium and add the onions.
~ Cook the onions for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic, drained tomatoes and seasonings. Stir well to combine and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and allow to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Remove the lid, raise the heat to high, and cook 10-15 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is gone and the onions are sweet, caramelized, and beauteous. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.

The Ricotta
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water at least 30 minutes
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice
~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each salt, basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/4 - 1/3 cup nutritional yeast

~ Drain the cashews, then pulse a few times in a food processor to break them up.
~ Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth; use more or less nooch to reach a "ricotta" texture (you don't want it too wet, or it will make the pastry soggy).

And now...
~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Lay out 4 sheets of thawed, frozen puff pastry on 2 large baking sheets. Gently fold in the sides of the pastry and crimp to make a rim.
~ Divide the ricotta evenly between the 4 pastry sheets, smooth with a spatula, and top with the caramelized onion mixture. Sprinkle with a little extra basil if you like.
~ Bake for 25-30 minutes until puff pastry is golden brown.
~ Remove from oven and allow to cool briefly before slicing.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Savory Chickpea Pancakes

The pancake-bell rings, the pancake-bell! Trilill, my hearts!
Oh brave! Oh sweet bell! O delicate pancakes!
Open the doors, my hearts, and shut up the windows!
Keep in the house, let out the pancakes!   

As you may know - and if you don't, you soon will - Shrove Tuesday has long been referred to as "Pancake Day" in the UK. This is because, once upon a time, pancakes were an indulgent way of using up foodstuffs like sugar, butter, flour, and eggs that were often restricted during the fasting associated with Lent. The above quote, from Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday, or The Gentle Craft, illustrates the degree of excitement pancakes were once capable of eliciting. In fact, when the hero of the piece, Simon Eyre, an eccentric shoemaker known as "one of the merriest madcaps" in the land, becomes Lord Mayor of London (!), he uses his newfound influence to create a holiday for apprentices. And what day does he choose? That's right: Pancake Day! 

What's more, when Simon invites all the London apprentices to breakfast, even the King shows up to have a look at this "brave lord of incomprehensible good-fellowship," declaring himself "with child, till I behold this huff-cap." The sovereign is apparently content with the issue of this (presumably metaphorical) pregnancy, since he not only agrees to allow the holiday but joins the feast, telling his host, "Eyre, I will taste of thy banquet, and will say/ I have not met more pleasure on a day." So by this we see that pancakes are not merely delicious, but have important political and social applications as well. 

We enjoyed this savory version for brunch the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday, since it was the first chance I had to cook pancakes or anything else that week. Unlike more "traditional" breakfast pancakes (whether the thin UK variety, sprinkled with lemon and sugar, or their fluffy US counterparts, slathered with butter and maple syrup), these are made with chickpea flour, and have a distinctly Indian influence. In fact, they could serve just as easily for lunch or dinner with some dal and/or extra vegetables alongside.

I sautéed a few vegetables from what was a relatively empty larder, but you could obviously throw in whatever's on hand. Diced carrots, peas, mushrooms, cubed, cooked potato; any or indeed all of these would work, as long as you take care not to overwhelm any individual pancake's dainty sensibilities. My one caveat is that these are best eaten pretty immediately: the texture is a bit delicate, so they don't reheat as well as pancakes made from wheat flour. But they make for a nice change, and let's face it: who doesn't want to drop everything and eat pancakes once in awhile?

Nay, more, my hearts! Every Shrove-Tuesday is our year of jubilee; and when the pancake-bell rings, we are as free as my lord mayor; we may shut up our shops, and make holiday...Oh brave!

Savory Chickpea Pancakes
~ 1.5 cup chickpea flour
~ 1 tsp. each: baking powder, curry powder
~ 1/2 tsp each: turmeric, salt, chili powder, garlic powder, parsley, cilantro
~ 1/4 tsp. asafoetida (optional, but don't be a wimp)
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 2 teaspoons oil (I used mustard oil, but any oil would do)
~ 1.5 cup water
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil (for sautéeing)
~ 1 onion, diced fine
~ 1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
~ 1 large tomato, diced
~ 1.5 cups baby spinach, chopped

~ Place a nonstick baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 200 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large bowl, sift together the chickpea flour, baking soda, and dry seasonings. Add the mustard oil and water, mix thoroughly to make a smooth batter, and set aside.
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the canola oil and sauté the onion, ginger, and tomato over medium high-heat about 5 minutes, then stir in the chopped spinach and cook one minute more. Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.
~ Wipe out the skillet, return to medium-high heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour a ladleful of batter into the pan, then spoon some of the vegetable mixture on top. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, then carefully flip and cook about 2 minutes more. As each pancake is cooked, transfer to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm.
~ When all the batter has been used, serve the pancakes hot with chutney, pickle, hot sauce, or whatever you like.