Friday, September 18, 2009

Spaghetti with Tomato Vinaigrette and Breadcrumbs

I'm in love. With dry farmed early girl tomatoes. And not just any dry farmed early girl will do. I'm in love with dry farmed early girl tomatoes from Dirty Girl Produce. Dirty Girl Produce sells at the the Farmer's Market in Berkeley on Tuesdays and the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market in S.F. on Saturdays. I discovered their dry farmed early girls a few years ago and have been a faithful follower ever since.

Maybe it is because they were my first, but other dry farmed early girls just don't seem to have the same exquisite balance of bright acidity and intense sweetness. Yes, all of the heirloom varieties can be quite beguiling with their rainbow of colors, but now my heart belongs to the simple red early girls. I think they are the most perfect tomatoes on the planet. Even when my own garden is producing lovely red, orange and yellow globes, I can't resist buying some of Dirty Girl's early girls.

Ella and I made this pasta for dinner last week. We both loved it. "This is belicious" is how Ella described it. Aside from being belicious, it is also really easy and comes together in the time it takes to boil the water and pasta.

You chop the tomatoes and toss them with some olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and let them marinade while you boil the water and pasta. They will release some of their juices to the sauce and soften slightly. Toss the hot pasta with the the marinated tomatoes and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs and basil. The heat from the pasta releases wafts of vinegar which make you salivate before the first bite enters your mouth. It also opens your senses to the sweetness from the tomatoes. The basil brings an almost peppery quality. An earthiness that lingers at the back of your throat. And the breadcrumbs, please don't forget the breadcrumbs. The combination of soft pasta and crunchy breadcrumbs is rather addicting.

Spaghetti with Tomato Vinaigrette and Breadcrumbs

The quality this pasta depends on the excellence of the tomatoes, so use the best you can find. Cherry tomatoes also work well here.

5 cups of chopped tomatoes
about 1 cup of olive oil
about 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
a handful of fresh basil leaves (about 1/4 cup chopped)
1 pound of spaghetti (This is my favorite)

Chop the tomatoes and marinate them in olive oil, red wine vinegar to taste, and salt and pepper. The amounts here are really to taste. I pour in a few good glugs of olive oil, maybe 1/2 cup and a couple of glugs of red wine vinegar, about 1/3 cup. You want the marinade to be nice and bright because the flavors will become muted when you add the pasta.

Toss the breadcrumbs with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and toast in a 350F oven until dry and golden brown, 5-10 minutes.

Cut the basil leaves into ribbons, chiffonade. I do this by laying all of the leaves on top of each other, rolling them into a log and making thin slices across the log.

Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain and add to the bowl with the tomatoes. Toss in half of the basil. Garnish with the remaining basil and breadcrumbs.

Serves 4-6

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chocolate Fleur de Sel Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche

Last Friday was a colleague's last day at work. I wanted to give him a sweet sendoff. So I made cupcakes.

Actually it wasn't completely altruistic of me. It was an opportunity to make something that I would never make for just the three of us at home. Even though cupcakes and chocolate are two of Ella's favorite things.

When I got home on Thursday, Louis was in the kitchen and Ella was playing in the living room. I went into the kitchen and told Louis that I was going to make cupcakes. Ella came running in from the other room, "Cupcakes!! Where?!" That girl seriously has selective hearing. Occasionally, when she isn't paying attention to me or answering me when I ask her something, I say "Do you want some ice cream?" And then I have her attention!

So for the cupcakes, I wanted to do some variation of chocolate and caramel. I've made chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel cream cheese frosting, and those are amazing. But I was inspired by this picture, so I decided that I was going to do a ganache frosting. I usually find ganache frosting to be too much. It is often too dense and rich for me. Like a giant truffle on top of cake. I decided to whip the ganache to produce a lighter texture. It was so good! It was light and airy and melted instantly, coating your tongue in rich dark chocolate. The final taste sensation came from the fleur de sel crystals which yielded a slight crunch and intensified the chocolate flavor.

I also decided to fill the cupcakes with dulce de leche. I love filled things. Turnovers, ravioli, empanadas. They are little packages. Each one like a gift with a surprise hiding inside. The dulce de leche became sort of melty and seeped into the cake creating a supermoist chocolate caramel cake all topped with whipped ganache and fleur de sel.

Everyone at work lucky enough to get one raved. One guy came up to me and said it was a taste revelation. He said he had to take a moment to be in his own world, hypnotized. Now that's a complement, and one of the things that keeps me in the kitchen. Giving people new experiences, revelations, is so satisfying. It is what I am addicted to.

Devil's Food Cupcakes
adapted from Michael Recchiuti

2 cups all purpose four
2/3 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup espresso (or 2 tablespoons espresso powder in 1 cup boiling water)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
2 extra large eggs (I used 2 large eggs)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Line cupcake pans with 24 cupcake liners.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar together into a medium bowl. Whisk in the salt (the salt grains are usually too large to sift).

Whisk the eggs. Then combine with the milk, oil, vanilla, and espresso. Whisk until well mixed. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. The batter is pretty thin, pourable.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about half full. Place the pans in the oven and decrease the oven temperature to 325F.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

makes 24 cupcakes.

Dulce de Leche

1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Place the can in a pot large enough to cover the can with about 2 inches of water. Bring the pot to a boil, lower to a simmer. Simmer the pot uncovered for 3 hours. Make sure that the can remains covered in water by 2 inches. You will need to periodically add additional boiling water to the pan. Remove the can from the water and let cool before opening.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
adapted from

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped
4 tablespoons butter

Heat the cream until bubbles start to form around the edges. Place the chocolate in a medium sized bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit about 30 seconds. Then whisk until smooth. Add the butter in pieces and whisk to combine.

Set aside and whisk occasionally until cool and thickened. Beat mixture with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. The color of the chocolate will change from dark to a more milk chocolate color.

Assembling the cupcakes:

Use a small paring knife to cut a cone shaped hole about the size of a tablespoon in the center of the cupcakes. Flip the top over and cut off the cone.

Fill each cavity with the dulce de leche.

Replace the top of the cone. Covering the hole.

Pipe or spread the frosting over the cupcakes.