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December 2006
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February 2007

Kurt Gutenbrunner's Celery Root and Apple Salad


I had never been one for fruits in my salad. Maybe it was a throwback to the times when I refused to let the foods on my plate touch each other (some kind of deep-seated attempt to control things out of my control, I'm sure), or perhaps it was just a particularly rigid set of taste buds rearing their fussy heads, but in my world fruit always came at the end of a meal, alone.

When my mother start tossing segmented blood oranges into our fennel-endive salad in winter, it only took me one meal to adjust to this new world order. More blood oranges for everyone! I couldn't get enough. But, to this day, the thought of Waldorf salad, or canned Mandarin segments in "Chinese" chicken salad, or dried blueberries in simple mesclun (as I was subjected to at a wedding last summer, and that got lodged, grittily, in my teeth) still induces a bit of a shudder in me.

How, then, did I actually get to the recipe in question? Well, you might remember that glorious potato salad I wrote about last year from Kurt Gutenbrunner (incidentally, readers, ChefDB? Has this site been around for a while? I'm tickled by it. It's like IMDb for food dorks, or something.). In that article, he'd also included a recipe for celery root and apple salad. And despite my aversion for fruits in my salad, I could never bring myself to throw this particular recipe away. Perhaps because of the cider vinegar and the flat-leafed parsley, and the lack of mayonnaise or chewy dried fruits or anything else of the squicky variety?

Or maybe I just finally grew up. Who knows. In any case, I decided last night that this simple salad would be the best end to a meal of spicy potatoes and chicken. And it was - cooling and refreshing to our tingling tastebuds (I got a little slap-happy with the dried chiles). The celery root, cooked briefly and then cooled in its hot bath, was earthy and almost creamy against the tart apple batons. The vinegar brightened and clarified the flavors, and the bold, green parsley leaves tucked here and there among the matchsticks added an herbal grace note to the salad.

A dish so sprightly can be hard to come by in winter, which made it even more of a treat. And though Ben was skeptical at first (a raw celery root can be a shock to behold, it's true), he ate up his portion and declared it delicious. I still think leafy greens with fruits are an abomination, but I can get behind this kind of fruited salad for sure.

One thing to note: this salad tastes delicious quite cold, so if you can plan ahead and cook the celery in advance, you'd be well-served...

Celery Root and Apple Salad
Serves 4

1 pound celery root, peeled and cut in matchsticks
1 Granny Smith apple
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
10 flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Place celery root matchsticks in saucepan with water to cover. Add lemon juice, sugar and generous pinch of salt. Bring to simmer and cook 3 minutes, until celery is crisp-tender. Let celery root cool to room temperature in cooking liquid, about 20 minutes. Drain.

2. Place celery root in bowl, Peel and core apple, cut in matchsticks, and add to celery root. Toss with vinegar and oil. Add additional salt if needed. Sprinkle with parsley leaves.

Marie Louise's Rice Pudding


I realize that a post about rice pudding might seem a bit pedestrian, but it was that kind of Sunday - gray, lazy, and quiet. I sat and read on the couch and heard barely a rumble from the outside world for hours. It was a day of simple foods - green tea and toast for breakfast, cold green beans and pasta for lunch. There could be, then, no better afternoon snack than a bowlful of barely warm, just-cooked rice pudding.

The last time I tried to make rice pudding, I ended up with rice soup (that's what happens when you try to make pudding with anything but whole milk). This time, I was determined that wouldn't happen to me. Armed with a gallon of whole milk, a sack of Carolina rice, half a vanilla bean (times are tough, people, and I'm cutting corners where I can), some sugar, and the dark horse of the day, a bay leaf, I busied myself at the stove.

I'd had the recipe, clipped from an article about Mexican vanilla by Florence Fabricant, for almost three years. The recipe came from Christian Delouvrier's book, Mastering Simplicity, and, with the mention of that bay leaf, had lodged itself in my head as something that simply had to be tried. Bay leaves, at least in my corner of the universe, only ever show up in soups and sauces. Sure, some people have you stick them on gleaming fillets of fish, or tuck them into a braise of meat. But in dessert? Never.

And doesn't it sound intriguing, now that you've thought about it for more than a split second?

I brought rice, water, and the bay leaf to a boil, then drained the rice immediately. This step still perplexes me, but I'm sure it served some purpose. The rice, the bay leaf, most of the milk, half the sugar and a good pinch of salt went into a second saucepan, along with the split vanilla bean. (Remember, I only used half a bean because I'm feeling pinched. But after tasting the results, I actually think half is plenty. No need to go whole bean here.) Over very low heat, the mixture slowly, slowly cooked together - each grain growing plumper, the vanilla-specked milk thickening and turning a rich, pale yellow.

When all the milk had been absorbed, I added another cup and let that cook down for a quarter of an hour before turning off the heat. The pudding was incredibly lush, like a risotto cooked with cream. The familiar scent of vanilla and cooked milk rose up from the pot, but it mingled with a faint, floral fragrance that I barely recognized - the bay leaf! I plucked out the bay leaf (I was feeling wary - bay can get so strong) and let the pudding cool before dolloping a luxuriant spoonful of it into a bowl.

The pudding was delicious - the rice still had an agreeable chew to it, despite being swollen with milk and sugar. The vanilla and bay combined to give the pudding an air of sophistication, but just barely. After all, rice pudding doesn't need too much gussying up. I didn't continue with Delouvrier's caramel sauce, though I imagine that step would turn the pudding into something worthy of a dinner party. Though these accompaniments might be even more dazzling.

For me, this rice pudding was an afternoon snack of the best kind - wholesome, nutritious, gently perfumed with the scent of my grandfather's laurels, and most definitely a good cure for any kind of Sunday blues.

Marie Louise's Rice Pudding
Serves 4 to 6

3/4 cup long-grain rice
1 bay leaf
6 cups whole milk, approximately
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Large pinch of salt

1. Place rice in a small saucepan with bay leaf and 2 cups water, bring to a boil over high heat, then drain immediately. Transfer rice and bay leaf to a heavy 3-quart saucepan.

2. Add 4 cups milk, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla bean and salt. Place over very low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until milk has been absorbed by rice, about 1 hour. Add 1 or 2 more cups milk, and continue cooking over low heat 15 to 20 minutes longer. Rice should be tender and mixture should be very creamy. Remove from heat, and allow to cool to room temperature.

3. Combine remaining sugar with 2 tablespoons water in a 1-quart saucepan. Place over medium-high heat, and stir gently until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until mixture turns a medium amber color. Remove pan from stove and place on a heat-proof surface to cool. Caramel will darken somewhat and harden as it cools.

4. No more than 30 minutes before serving, add a little milk to rice if it has become too thick, then remove bay leaf and vanilla and transfer pudding to a shallow serving bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water to caramel, return it to stove and place over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes until caramel has softened. Stir to incorporate water. Remove from heat. To serve, drizzle caramel sauce over pudding.


Russ Parsons' Minestra of Root Vegetables


Okay, I know I need to end my streak of LA Times recipes (I think it's been seven in a row now, and my NY Times recipes are looking at me pitifully, wondering why I've been ignoring them), but before I do, I have another hit to tell you about. Though I suspect you're starting to wonder why you need me to tell you that Russ Parsons' recipes are ridiculously good. You absolutely don't. It should go without saying. In fact, at this point Russ might start to feel uncomfortable if I start raving yet again. But I can't help it! He's that good.

And this soup? Oh yes, that too.

First of all, it'll make you buy a rutabaga! Which, if you're anything like me, is kind of exciting. I don't believe I've ever bought a rutabaga before (and incidentally, those of you who buy rutabaga on a semi-regular basis, what's the deal with the waxy coating all over that homely root?). Furthermore, it'll help clean up your kitchen by using up those two stray carrots languishing in your fridge, and that scant cup of lentils gathering dust in the cupboards, and the last, lonely onion in its lovely little basket.

The soup, which simmers together parsnips and carrots and leeks and rutabaga (rutabaga!) into a thick, sweet, fragrant stew, is completely delicious. All those differing strong flavors break down and fuse together into a rich amalgam that is totally vegetarian, yet has real body and character. Thin, soft strips of cabbage and chewy little lentils round out the textural components. A spoonful of vinegar brightens what could end up a somewhat muddy soup into a dinner that truly shines. As Russ says, all you need is a slice of good Gruyere and some bread to turn this into a fantastic, warming meal.

Which is what we did tonight. And it was perfect. Thank you, Russ, once again. Your food keeps us happy.

Minestra of Root Vegetables
Serves 8

2 leeks
2 tablespoons butter (I used olive oil)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 parsnips, coarsely chopped
1 rutabaga, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 big sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Savoy cabbage
2/3 cup French green lentils
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, or more, to taste

1. Trim the tough green tops of the leeks, leaving only the white stalk behind. Cut each stalk in quarters lengthwise, cutting down to but not through the root end. Rinse well under cold running water, separating the layers of the leeks to get rid of any dirt that might be hiding there. Thinly slice both leeks crosswise.

2. Melt the butterin a heavy 4- to 6- quart soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add the leeks, carrots, parsnips and rutabaga, cover tightly and cook gently until the vegetables are bright in color, beginning to soften and become aromatic, about 5 minutes. The vegetables do not need to be added all at once; you can chop them one at a time (they should be chopped to about the same size) and add them to the pot as you go along. Add the garlic and cook about 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant.

3. Place the thyme sprigs in the center of the bay leaf and fold the bay leaf around them. Tie with string to hold together in a packet. Or you can fold the bay and thyme in a square of cheesecloth and tie it closed. Add the herb packet to the soup and cook for a minute or two.

4. Add 8 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot, leaving the lid ajar, and reduce the heat to maintain a sprightly simmer. The liquid should be bubbling quickly, but not boiling

5. Cook until the vegetables have softened and their flavors have married, about 1 hour. You should not taste any individual vegetable, but a more complex combination of all of them.

6. Cut the cabbage in lengthwise quarters and cut out the solid core. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise and then slice it about one-fourth to one-half inch thick. When the soup vegetables are cooked, add the cabbage to the pot and gently stir it in. Continue to simmer until the cabbage is silky and sweet, about 30 minutes.

7. While the soup is cooking, in a separate medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a rolling boil. Add the lentils, reduce the heat to a simmer and, with the cover slightly ajar, cook until they are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.

8. When you are almost ready to serve, remove the bay leaf bundle from the soup. Raise the heat under the soup to a faster simmer and add the lentils. Stir gently to avoid breaking up the root vegetables. Stir in the vinegar and let the soup cook another minute or two to lose the raw smell. Season with a generous grinding of black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or vinegar as needed, then ladle the soup into warm bowls. Serve immediately.

SHF #27: Thomas Keller's Chocolate Bouchons


I'm beginning to wonder. Is there something wrong with me? Because I'm having trouble with Thomas Keller's recipes and I can't help but think that I might be the only person in the world with these problems. First, the green beans in whipped cream, then these chocolate cakelets which are lovely to look at, yes, but almost inedibly salty. It seems that Thomas Keller is a kitchen god to everyone but me. Can that really be?

Inspired by the adorable little chocolate corks bobbing around at Molly's house the other day, I dug through my folders to emerge triumphant with Keller's recipe for a similar confection that was published in the Los Angeles Times several years ago. I'd been hanging on to it for a long while now, waiting for timbale molds to come into my possession. But after Molly wrote about her bouchons, I was overcome with the oddest sensation that if I didn't immediately go home and make my own batch of bouchons, I might possibly faint and die.

That ever happen to you?

So, armed with a block of fresh butter and two bars of Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate (it's the only baking chocolate besides Baker's - and I refuse to use Baker's - that I can get at the grocery store closest to my apartment. I end up using Ghirardelli's for a lot of my chocolate baking and I'm usually quite pleased with it. It's cheaper than Scharffen Berger and though it might be lacking somewhat in complexity, I am pinching pennies around here these days.), I whipped up an impossibly thick and fudgy chocolate batter. Have you ever even seen a recipe that calls for an entire cup of cocoa powder?

Instead of using timbale molds, I filled a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and plopped the rich, luscious batter down into each cup. In the oven, the cakelets rose and cracked beautifully, just like those infamous Belgian Brownies. Waiting for them to cool was pleasant torture.

And when I finally broke open a cooled bouchon, I found a dark, cakey brownie-like interior, studded with glossy craters of melting chocolate. But when I bit in, what I tasted was s.a.l.t. And not as a faint background note that makes chocolate taste fruity and complex, or that transforms caramel into something deeper and more nuanced. No, I had a bite of salty chocolate cake in my mouth and it wasn't exactly pleasant.

The cakes weren't salvaged by vanilla ice-cream or confectioner's sugar - neither could properly cloak the saltiness. And after I did a little web research, I came up with this item, which makes me wonder. Clearly, other people have had problems with this recipe. But is the culprit really the faulty amount of sugar? I actually liked the balance of sugar and chocolate - these are grown-up cakelets and shouldn't be too sweet. I think the problem lies more with the salt. If you feel the urge to make these, try the recipe below with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let me know how it works out if you do.

If you're wondering, I did finish that bouchon, and I brought another one to work the next day, thinking that an overnight rest might help the situation. It didn't. So I'm left with a freezerful of salty chocolate cake, a small case of aggression, and a few questions. What is it with me and Thomas Keller? Am I ever going to find a recipe of his that works? Who is going to eat my salty chocolate bouchons? And where I can get a replacement chocolate fix in the meantime?

Chocolate Bouchons
Makes 16 2-inch bouchons

Butter and flour for the timbale molds
3/4 cup flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
24 tablespoons (12 ounces) unsalted butter, melted, just slightly warm
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into pieces the size of chocolate chips
Confectioner's sugar

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 16 (2-ounce) timbale molds or fleximolds. Set aside. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a hand-held mixer, mix the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until very pale in color. Mix in the vanilla.

3. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then one-third of the butter, and continue alternating with the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

4. Put the timbale molds on a baking sheet. Place the batter in a pastry bag without a tip, or with a large plain tip, and fill each mold two-thirds full.

5. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When the tops look shiny and set (like a brownie), test one cake with a wooden skewer or toothpick. It should come out clean but not dry (there may be some melted chocolate from the chopped chocolate).

6. Transfer the bouchons to a cooling rack. After a couple of minutes, invert the timbale molds and let the bouchons cool upside down in the molds, then lift off the molds. (The bouchons are best eaten the day they are baked.) To serve: Invert the bouchons and dust them with confectioner's sugar. Serve with ice cream if desired.

Charles Perry's Rumtum Tiddy


You might ask yourself what could possess a smart girl like me to melt together condensed tomato soup, chopped Cheddar cheese, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper in a pan before pouring it onto a slice of good miche and broiling (broiling!) it until it bubbles.

Commitment to this blog and all those crazy newspaper recipes is what.

Most days I'm grateful that my palate is privy to different tastes and flavors and experiences. On days like today, however, I seriously question my judgment. Because, as you might well have imagined, condensed tomato soup and chopped Cheddar cheese and Worcestershire sauce and black pepper melted together and broiled on top of miche doesn't taste very good at all.

It seemed like a good idea, romanticized by my notion that apple-cheeked, golden-locked children in Victorian England ate this in their nurseries, overseen by a stern but loving governess. Where else could a name like Rumtum Tiddy be applied to anything other than a card game?

But I warn you. It is not a good idea at all. What you will find on your plate is a lurid orange puddle that tastes of salt and preservatives, and even though I ate the entire slice because I was in an uncomfortable state of hunger, I would seriously advise against doing so.

You know what's such a better idea? Slicing off a piece of that nice miche, cutting a wedge from your block of good Cheddar and eating the two out of hand as you decompress on your couch. Leave the Rumtum Tiddy to long-dead Victorians. Take it from me, your martyr in the kitchen.

Rumtum Tiddy
Serves 2

8 ounces good-quality cheddar cheese, chopped
1 (10 3/4 -ounce) can condensed tomato soup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 thick slices whole-grain bread
1 tablespoon snipped chives

1. Put the cheese, tomato soup, Worcestershire sauce, onion and pepper in a skillet. Stir over medium heat until the cheese is thoroughly melted.

2. Remove the skillet from the heat for 1 to 2 minutes for the cheese mixture to firm up slightly. Ladle the mixture onto the slices of toast and broil until the tops start to bubble — but don't let them brown. Garnish with the chives. Serve hot.

Russ Parsons' Roasted Squash Puree with Apple and Ginger


Of all the winter squashes, I'd have to say that acorn squash is my least favorite. I always find it a bit watery, somewhat stringy, not as creamy and toothsome as kabocha, for example, and not so lusciously silky as butternut can be. Too often, I see acorn squashes filled with some hippy-dippy mixture of wild-rice and dried fruit, which seems to me a somewhat tired way of fulfilling the vegetarian main-course option, contributing, perhaps, to my lukewarm feelings on the subject.

But when Russ Parsons tells me to eat acorn squash, I listen. Because it's Russ. Has he ever led me astray? Rarely. If ever. So last week I bought an acorn squash, watched it balefully out of the corner of one eye for a few days, and then got down to business. I halved it and roasted it in a puddle of water for an hour (the only time I've ever roasted anything that way), then pureed it in the food processor with a Granny Smith apple, some chopped ginger, half-and-half (instead of whipping cream) and diced butter (half of what was called for, which was a perfectly buttery amount). What I got was a silky-sweet, rich yet tart pile of whipped squash. It was loose and creamy, more like a thick applesauce than mashed potatoes, with a wonderful tang from the apple and the ginger.

I ate one helping and then another and soon realized that if I had been dining alone, I might have eaten the entire bowl for dinner. Luckily, I had Barbara there to keep me in line. After all, it was because I had a guest for dinner that I'd prepared more than just the pureed acorn squash. We had pork chops soaked in a warm adobado oil bath and then broiled to a crispy-edged and juicy state. The sweet and tart puree alongside the heartily spiced chops was a match made in heaven.


So you'd like to know about those pork chops?

(I thought you'd never ask.)

I actually got the recipe from the same Best American Recipes as the glorious apple pancake. The chops recipe came from the Louisville Courier-Journal (and was published on September 12, 2001, which strikes me as ghoulish, but I suppose there must have been food sections published the day after. It's just hard to wrap my head around that.). Anyway.

The chops are soaked in this wonderful red oil (made red by the paprika), fragrant with oregano and cumin and chopped garlic, before you turn on the broiler and slide the marinated chops into the flames. And, speaking of which, now might be the time I confess to you that Saturday was the first time I'd ever actually used my broiler. Yes, I am aware of how humiliating this admission is. After all, haven't I posted recipes before in which meat or fish is broiled? Yes, yes I have.

Here's the deal: I always thought my broiler was at the top of my oven, so when something needed to be broiled, I just put the oven rack at the top-most position, turned the oven to "broil" and waited. Then, of course, I'd have to really wait, because putting food in a very hot oven under absolutely no heating element doesn't exactly cook food at the same speed a broiler does. Yeah. I figured that out this weekend, when I tugged on the handle at the bottom of my oven and realized that there was the broiler spitting flames (and harboring absolutely no lounging mega-cockroaches, which was always my darkest fear about hot, cavernous places in my kitchen) and that there were no flames or coils or heat of any sort at the top of my oven.

But now that this wonderful discovery has been made? I can broil broil broil to my heart's content! And thick, spiced pork chops stuck under hot, licking flames makes for an entirely different dinner than thick, spiced pork chops stuck into a 500-degree oven.

Yeah. Hu-mil-iating, I tell you.

Roasted Squash Puree with Apple and Ginger
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds winter squash (such as 1 large acorn squash)
1 tart apple (about 1/2 pound)
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup butter, cut in cubes (I used only 1/8 cup)

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a jellyroll pan (a baking sheet with sides) with aluminum foil. If the squash is whole, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon.

2. Place the squash cut-side-down on the jellyroll pan and add about one-fourth inch of water. Roast 40 minutes, then turn cut-side-up and cook until the squash begins to collapse and is soft enough to be easily pierced with a knife, about 20 more minutes.

3. Remove the squash from the oven and cool briefly, about 5 minutes. Peel, core and chop the apple. When the squash is just cool enough to handle with a kitchen towel, use a spoon to scoop the flesh into a food processor or blender (a food processor will make a fairly dense, sticky purée; the blender will be lighter and smoother).

4. Add the apples and the whipping cream and purée, stopping and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the ginger and the butter and continue puréeing until you can't see any traces of the butter. Add one-fourth teaspoon salt, pulse a couple of times to mix well, then taste and add more salt as necessary.

5. Scrape the purée into a small saucepan and warm, covered, over medium heat, 2 minutes. The recipe can be prepared 30 minutes in advance and kept warm in a covered pan over very low heat. Serve hot.

Deborah Madison's Chard and Saffron Tart


Solitary weekends can be so lovely. You can sleep as late as you want, you can spend the entire day indoors with no reproach, you can have cold pancakes for breakfast, take long walks in the mist, and scheme about making totally-from-scratch Icebox Cake with a similarly food-obsessed blogger. You can wear the same ratty sweatshirt three days in a row, you can go from watching five episodes of Grey's Anatomy on one day to seeing La Grande Illusion the next, you can have a four-way Internet conversation for hours on end with your friends from Frankfurt, Boston and Los Angeles, and eat all the leftover vegetable tart you want.

Oh yes, lovely indeed.

For a girl's dinner last week, I made the Swiss chard-filled tart that Russ Parsons included in his article about Phil McGrath's sustainable farming operation near Los Angeles in early December. No other recipe has seemed as mouth-watering to me as that one in recent times. The sound of the words "yeasted", "tart", and "dough" together was enough to have me yearning for the kitchen on a daily basis. Doesn't it do the same for you?

The tart was a joy to put together - the dough was soft and pliable, the filling a snap. It took my oven 20 minutes longer than the recipe indicates to bake until it was properly cooked, so keep that in mind for your own ovens. The creme fraiche-enriched dough baked up into a marvelous crust that was crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. The filling was truly crammed with greens, and got its complexity from saffron, lemon peel (go easy on the lemon, I warn you), nutmeg and Parmigiano. The tart was gorgeous to look at, with its golden-brown filling studded with browned pine nuts, and even better to eat.

But even even better than that? Eating it the next day - when the cold of the refrigerator had miraculously transformed the trembling custard into something silky and smooth, when the greens relaxed into undulating waves through each slice of tart, when I could pick up a sturdy slice and eat it at the computer, chatting with my dear friend as she showed me her pregnant belly from more than 3,000 miles away.

As for the final wedge, at lunch on Sunday I drew from the fridge a Frigoverre of leftover tomato sauce (chopped onion, a few diced carrots, one can of tomatoes, fresh oregano - my grandmother's method), warmed it up and turned the sauce into a deep soup plate. I plopped the final piece of tart onto the sauce and and as the sweet flavors of the tomato sauce warmed the earthy tart, I realized that with all the blissful cheer inside, I'd barely noticed the dark gloom outside. Which really made my day. What more could I ask for?

Chard and Saffron Tart
Serves 6 to 8

Yeasted tart dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast ( 1/2 package)
Pinch sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
About 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons crème fraîche

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in one-fourth cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees) and set it in a warm place.

2. If the egg is cold from the refrigerator, cover it with hot water and let it sit a few minutes to bring it up to room temperature. Combine 1 cup of the flour and the salt in a bowl and make a well. Break the egg into the middle of it; add the crème fraîche and pour in the yeast mixture, which should be foamy with bubbles. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon to form a smooth, soft dough, adding more flour as necessary. Dust it with flour, gather it into a ball, set it in a clean bowl and cover. Let the dough rise in a warm place, 45 minutes to an hour. If you are not ready to shape the dough at this time, punch it down and let it rise again.

3. Flatten the dough, place it in the center of the tart pan, and press it out to the edge using either your knuckles or the heel of your hand. Add only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. If the dough shrinks back while you are shaping it, cover it with a towel, let it relax for 20 minutes, then finish pressing it out. It should be about one-fourth inch higher than the rim of the pan. It can be filled immediately or refrigerated until needed.

1 large bunch chard, enough to make 7 cups leaves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
Large pinch saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 recipe yeasted tart dough

1. Cut the chard leaves away from the stems and save the stems for another purpose. Chop the leaves into pieces roughly an inch square, wash them in a large bowl of water and set them aside in a colander.

2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a wide skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat; add the onion and cook it until it is translucent and soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, the chard leaves (by handfuls, if necessary, until they all fit) and the salt. Turn the leaves over repeatedly with a pair of tongs so that they are all exposed to the heat of the pan and cook until they are tender, 5 minutes or more. When the chard mixture is cooled, squeeze out any excess moisture with paper towels.

3. To make the custard, beat the eggs, then stir in the half and half, infused saffron, lemon peel, grated Parmesan, a few scrapings of nutmeg and the parsley. Stir in the chard and onion mixture. Season with more salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper.

4. Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over medium heat until they are lightly colored, 2 minutes. Pour the filling into the tart shell and scatter the pine nuts over the surface. Bake until the top is golden and firm, about 40 minutes.