Month: August 2018

What Is a Garlic Germ, and Should You Remove It?

What Is a Garlic Germ, and Should You Remove It?

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] My husband, Ham, is a chef’s chef. He takes pride in what I think are entirely useless skills1, like being able to stack perfect quenelles of ice cream on top of one another or turn a potato into a seven-sided potato. So…

Grilled Tarragon-Mustard Chicken Skewers Recipe

Grilled Tarragon-Mustard Chicken Skewers Recipe

1. If using bamboo skewers, soak skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together tarragon, mustard, lemon juice, honey, olive oil, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the chicken in the marinade until fully coated, then…

Eggplant and Goat Cheese Tart, Made Easy With Frozen Puff Pastry

Eggplant and Goat Cheese Tart, Made Easy With Frozen Puff Pastry

Overhead of finished eggplant tart on sheet tray

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]


All About Cheese

Everything you need to know about eating and cooking with curds

Even the best ingredients treat you only as well as you treat them. That’s why we all know to take extra care when working with perfectly ripe market peaches or a plump heritage bird. But what about when your stuff is less than top-tier? I’d argue that that’s just when you need to bring all your chops to the kitchen.

Find yourself stuck with flavorless out-of-season berries? Whip out one of Stella’s
tricks, and roast them with aromatics and sugar to fool even the most discerning of palates. Daniel brings a bit of summer to the dreariest winter day by roasting canned tomatoes to concentrate their flavor.

And here’s a quick tip of my own: When I’m stuck with nothing but Eggo waffles for brunch, I always double-toast them, for that fresh-from-the-iron flavor.

A prominent theme comes up when you’re trying to wring flavor out of an ingredient that’s seemingly run dry—heat. Heat does magical things: Excess moisture is driven out, textures change, the gears of caramelization and the Maillard reaction start turning, new flavors are born.

Close-up of finished eggplant tart

Heat is the secret to making the most out of frozen puff pastry. Don’t get me wrong; nothing turns me on more than the demands of making puff pastry from scratch. But when I’m not interested in turning dinner prep into a full-day affair, I defrost a shortcut.

This eggplant tart uses premade, frozen puff pastry for its crust, which allows you to throw it together in a flash. When adequately baked until golden and crisp, frozen puff pastry is a powerhouse ingredient, offering a quick foundation for snacks, appetizers, and dessert.

However, adequately baked is the key phrase. Undercooked puff pastry is gummy, bland, and one of my biggest pet peeves. Unfortunately, undercooked puff pastry is a culinary epidemic, knocking out even the best cooks. And “Big Puff Pastry” is partially to blame, with bake times as low as just 15 minutes on the back of many boxes.

In fact, frozen puff pastry needs to be baked until bien cuit, which means “well done” and refers to the deep, dark color on the crust of an adequately baked bread or pastry. Stella blind-bakes her pie crust for up to 75 minutes, so that it stays shatteringly crisp even under the juiciest filling. Frozen puff pastry is no different, requiring longer than you’d expect to bake through, drive off moisture, and fully express all its flaky layers.

How to Make an Eggplant, Cheese, and Honey Tart

Here, I’ll show you how to make a quick and easy tart with boxed puff pastry. By blind-baking the pastry, I can make sure that it stays crisp regardless of what’s spread on top. The tart is then finished with a blast of high heat to deeply brown it, becoming toasty and flavorful—and no one will know that you didn’t start out with the best.

Collage of salting eggplant process for eggplant tart

For the topping on my tart, I drew inspiration from the classic Spanish combination of eggplant and honey, but any number of vegetables, meats, or cheeses could work well. I like to think of these simple tarts as a way to clean out the fridge. As long as you stick to either fully cooked or quick-cooking ingredients, just as you might for a pizza, they’ll bake up just fine.

I start by thinly slicing the eggplant using a sharp knife, though a mandoline is also an excellent tool for making picture-perfect rounds. By keeping the slices thin, I can evenly distribute them across the pastry, allowing me to cut clean and even portions later.

I then place the eggplant slices in a colander and toss them with a generous tablespoon of kosher salt. Salting not only draws out moisture, resulting in a meatier texture once the eggplant is cooked, but also removes the bitter flavors often associated with eggplant that’s past its prime. Just 30 minutes is enough time for the slices to release a significant amount of liquid.

I next rinse the slices and pat them dry.

Collage of rolling out puff pastry dough for eggplant tart

Meanwhile, I turn my attention to the pastry. Always thoroughly thaw puff pastry before unfolding it; otherwise the sheets can crack and break. I find it’s easiest to take the passive approach by thawing it overnight in the fridge. When I’m in a bind, a couple of hours at room temperature can also do the trick.

Once it’s thawed, I stack two sheets of puff pastry on top of one another on a surface that’s lightly dusted with flour. Using a rolling pin, I then roll out the pastry so it just fits a rimmed half-sheet tray—a rectangle about 11 by 15 inches. When undocked and left to its own devices, puff pastry bakes up thick and unruly, quickly overwhelming the toppings. By rolling the pastry out thin, I get a better ratio of toppings to crust.

Collage of prepping eggplant for eggplant tart

I then lay out the rinsed and dried eggplant slices across a parchment paper–lined rimmed baking sheet, seasoning them with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. Both the eggplant slices and the puff pastry base will be twice-baked.

For the blind bake, I top the rolled-out pastry with a sheet of parchment and weigh it down with one of the eggplant-lined baking sheets, allowing them to bake at the same time. When I want puff pastry crisped through and baked in a clean sheet—as I might for a mille-feuille or tart—I always bake it weighed down by either another rimmed baking sheet or a wire cooling rack. The baking sheet or rack transfers heat directly to the pastry, so it evenly cooks from the top and bottom, while staying flat.

After round one in the oven, the bottom of the pastry will be light golden brown, while the top will be dry and firm to the touch. The eggplant will grow tender, without developing any color or falling apart.

Collage of eggplant tart assembly steps

The last bit is the fun part: putting it all together. If I’m making this tart for a dinner party, it can be made up to this point and assembled a couple of days in advance, then baked just before serving.

I first spread tangy goat cheese evenly across the pastry, then sprinkle on nutty grated Gouda and aromatic nigella seeds. Nigella seeds are one of my favorite spices, and deserving of a permanent spot in your spice cabinet if they don’t have one already. They’re earthy in flavor, reminiscent of onion and oregano, with a slightly bitter finish. For a quick weeknight sauté, when I’m too lazy to peel and chop an onion, a pinch of nigella can offer up a similar aromatic quality and save a heck of a lot of time.

Next, I shingle the tender eggplant slices on top of the cheese and drizzle them with a touch of honey. The tart then heads into the oven for round two, where the pastry grows golden brown, the eggplant softens fully, and the goat cheese and Gouda melt together.

Overhead of finished eggplant tart

I finish the tart with an extra drizzle of sticky honey and some fresh herbs for color. Here, I’ve used some micro basil and scallion that I picked up from the market, but a few snips of chives or the delicate tips of thyme can also add a bright pop.

If I’m serving the tart as an hors d’oeuvre, I’ll slice it up into bite-size squares or diamonds, but for an appetizer, I prefer to go with larger portions. Because I’ve taken the time to adequately bake the puff pastry, it’ll be crispy even in the center, and each piece will be as good as the last.

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Eggplant Tart With Goat Cheese, Honey, and Nigella Recipe

Eggplant Tart With Goat Cheese, Honey, and Nigella Recipe

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] Store-bought puff pastry gets all gussied up (or should we say tarted up?) with the help of creamy goat cheese, nutty Gouda, aromatic nigella seeds, and late-summer eggplant. This tart is finished with a drizzle of honey to contrast the salty bite…

Special Pizza Sauce: Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener Talk Pie, Part 2: Pie Harder

Special Pizza Sauce: Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener Talk Pie, Part 2: Pie Harder

[Scott Wiener photograph: Dana Delaski. Adam Kuban photograph: Joshua Bousel. Paulie Gee’s pizza photograph: Vicky Wasik] The self-described pizza nerds Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener are back with me on this week’s Special Sauce to continue our deep dive into our favorite food. Scott took…

How to Make Sicilian Swordfish Pasta With Eggplant and Tomatoes

How to Make Sicilian Swordfish Pasta With Eggplant and Tomatoes

Sicilian rigatoni with swordfish (pesce spada)

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]



Essential techniques, recipes, and more!

I like to think of Italian pasta sauces as branches on a family tree, all of them converging on a handful of foundational sauces made from the most basic ingredients—tomato, butter, and olive oil. I’ve written about this taxonomy of mine before, when I described pasta al limone as nothing more than a classic fettuccine Alfredo with lemon added.

Today, I’m sharing another interesting pasta-sauce variant, rigatoni con pesce spada e melanzane (rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant). It’s a classic Sicilian pasta dish, and at its heart, it’s nothing more than Sicilian pasta alla norma, with the swordfish taking the place of the ricotta salata.

I should be clear: I don’t mean that rigatoni with swordfish is a direct descendant of pasta alla norma, not in any literal historical sense. I have no idea whether it was Giuseppe who thought to hold the ricotta salata and add swordfish instead, or whether it was Maria who decided she didn’t want fish one day and grabbed the cheese for a change. Or maybe they have completely unrelated origins. Regardless, in structure and appearance, there’s more in common than not.

Cutting swordfish steaks to make Sicilian rigatoni with swordfish (pesce spada)

However it happened, pasta with swordfish and eggplant is a beautiful summer dish—one that’s just hearty enough, but not so heavy that you wouldn’t want to eat it on a hot day. It’s also an easy and quick one that comes together in just a little longer than it takes to boil the pasta, so you can spend minimal time in the kitchen.

How to Make Rigatoni Con Pesce Spada e Melanzane: Step by Step

Step 1: Fry the Eggplant

Cooking eggplant to make Sicilian rigatoni with swordfish (pesce spada)

First up, we fry the eggplant in olive oil until it’s golden. Some people insist on salting the eggplant first to drain away some of its bitter juices, but that’s something I do only with older eggplants that have large seeds. In the summer, which is when eggplant is in season, most eggplants have smaller, less developed seeds, and less bitterness overall—at least, as long as you’re buying from a trusted stand at a farmers market or other local source.

As soon as it’s done, I transfer the eggplant to paper towels to drain, using a slotted spoon so that some olive oil remains in the skillet.

Step 2: Infuse Oil With Garlic

Next, I drop a clove of garlic into the oil and let it gently sizzle for a few minutes, just to infuse some of its flavor into the mix.

This isn’t generally a dish that’s heavy on garlic (though, of course, it’s entirely your prerogative if you want to make it one), so after the garlic has turned golden and given up a bit of its flavor to the oil, it’s time to take it out.

Step 3: Add Swordfish and Cook

Collage of cooking process for making Sicilian rigatoni with swordfish (pesce spada)

Into the pan goes the swordfish, which I cook only enough to sear it slightly. A light amount of browning will deepen the flavor of the dish, but you have to be careful—the swordfish will quickly overcook, so it’s better to cut your losses after a minute or two and move on to the next step, rather than insisting on deep color.

Step 4: Add Tomatoes, Wine, and Herbs

Now it’s time to finish the sauce. In go the tomatoes—cherry or other small tomatoes work well here—followed by a glug of dry white wine. The whole thing then simmers until some of the raw-alcohol smell of the wine has cooked off. I like to grab a wooden spoon and break up some of the fish pieces a little bit here, since I find the broken chunks and shards more enjoyable than perfect cubes when it’s tossed with the pasta.

Fresh mint, or a mixture of mint and oregano, adds an herbal layer to round things out. The herb traditionally used here is one called nepitella (which sometimes goes by the name mentuccia in Italy), but that’s next to impossible to find in the States. Mixing mint with oregano comes close to approximating its menthol-woodsy flavor.

Step 5: Add Eggplant, Then Finish

At this point, the eggplant can go back into the pan, and the sauce is ready for the pasta. Add the rigatoni to the pan, tossing it with the sauce and some of the pasta water, until a silky sauce clings to everything.

Sicilian rigatoni with swordfish (pesce spada)

Perhaps most importantly, just before serving, rain a generous amount of fresh olive oil down onto the pasta to bump up the flavor and add a glistening shine.

Of course, as with everything in a dish this simple, success is tied to quality: Bad supermarket olive oil, out-of-season tomatoes, and tired herbs will leave you with a shadow version of what this dish should be. So treat yourself with the good stuff. Not only do you deserve a better dish, you also deserve to not have your time wasted—after all, there’s a whole family tree of other pasta sauces left to explore.

Sicilian rigatoni with swordfish (pesce spada)

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Pasta With Swordfish, Tomato, and Eggplant (Rigatoni Con Pesce Spada) Recipe

Pasta With Swordfish, Tomato, and Eggplant (Rigatoni Con Pesce Spada) Recipe

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] On the southern Italian island of Sicily, seafood reigns supreme—as do tomatoes, and eggplant. In this summery pasta, all three of those Sicilian stars come together for an easy, hearty, yet still light dish. Choose your ingredients well—poor-quality ones will fall flat…

Fruit Syrup for Swirled Ice Cream

Fruit Syrup for Swirled Ice Cream

With this technique, any high moisture fruit can be made into a thick and gooey syrup to ripple through your favorite ice cream. From a toasted oat ice cream swirled with cherries, to pineapple ice cream with a blackberry ripple, the only limit is your…

How to Make a Fresh Fruit Swirl for Ice Cream

How to Make a Fresh Fruit Swirl for Ice Cream

freshly rippled ice cream

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Perhaps the most rewarding thing about homemade ice cream, aside from the sheer delight of churning up something even more delicious than the store-bought stuff, is its potential for customization. Once you’ve got the flavor of the base locked down, whether through extracts or infusions, the freshly churned ice cream can be rippled with all kinds of fruity swirls.

From toasted oat ice cream with a cherry ribbon to pineapple ice cream shot through with a blackberry swirl, the only limit is your imagination.

Commercial jams and jellies are a perfectly legitimate option for swirling, as are homemade preserves, since most have been cooked to a temperature of about 220°F, resulting in a relatively high sugar/low moisture product, which means that it will freeze quite well. But if you plan on taking advantage of the market’s seasonal bounty, it pays to have a game plan for transforming fresh fruit into something that will freeze just as well as the jams, jellies, and preserves you might find on a supermarket shelf.

While most folks will never be challenged to whip up a fresh raspberry ripple gelato on the fly, as was the case during my farmers market adventure with Sohla, anyone who enjoys homemade ice cream will appreciate having a go-to technique for dealing with fresh fruit.

raspberry ripple gelato

Thanks to its high water content and its penchant for freezing solid, plain fruit needs a bit of help before it can be swirled into ice cream. This helps comes in the form of sugar and heat: The addition of sugar will lower the freezing point of any fruit purée, and the application of heat will reduce the amount of water in the purée that’s available to freeze in the first place.

Not only will this ensure the ribbon in your ice cream is saucy and smooth when frozen, it also gives it a thick-bodied consistency that makes it easier to swirl in the first place. Fresh fruit purée is inclined to run, drip, or pool in the bottom of the pan, or else simply homogenize into the ice cream when stirred. A thick, syrupy ribbon, on the other hand, will stay put and remain distinct, even after a bit of stirring, for beautiful scoops with a fruity ripple.

scoops of rippled ice cream

How to Make a Fresh Fruit Syrup for Ice Cream

Start by preparing those juicy fruits; peel peaches, remove the leafy caps from strawberries, pit cherries, core a pineapple, you get the idea*.

For fruits with a thick skin like cherries, or fibrous flesh like mango, purée with an immersion blender before getting started.

*For this style of syrup, avoid fruits with a moisture content below 80%, such as bananas and figs (when in doubt, ask Google or check a reference guide such as How to Dry Fruits). It’s not that they can’t be used in a ripple, only that they require a different technique, which I won’t be touching on here.

pureeing thick-skinned fruit

Tender fruits like peaches, blueberries, and blackberries can simply be mashed into a purée with the other ingredients (I prefer the sharp edge of a metal spatula over a potato masher, which tends to encourage splattering as the plump fruits burst).

blackberry and sugar mixture cooking on the stovetop

To minimize the sweetness of the syrup, it helps to start with lightly toasted sugar, since it tastes less sweet than plain. Of course, a generous pinch of salt will go a long way as well.

Otherwise, raw and semi-refined sugar styles can be a great way to reduce perceived sweetness if you have something that sounds like it will pair nicely with the fruit, such as jaggery and pineapple. For more info, consult our guide to raw sugars.

I also recommend adding a splash of something acidic to brighten the fruit’s profile, which will seem duller once frozen. Lemon juice is a near universal complement, but this is a fantastic occasion to play with funky vinegars to create more depth of flavor; the Serious Eats Guide to Vinegar will get you started if you need some ideas.

Before cooking the syrup, tare a digital scale and make note of the total starting weight (including the pot itself). This info makes it a snap to track the reduction without a thermometer, as you can check to see exactly how much water has been cooked off.

adding sugar and acid, then weighing the syrup prior to reduction

Using a scale is an especially useful trick for making small batches that don’t have enough depth to accommodate a probe. (Surprise: tipping the pan to the side to create more depth for a thermometer will always produce artificially low readings.)

straining the syrup after reduction

For a thick and gooey swirl that won’t drip when scooped up with the ice cream, I like to cook off about five ounces of water from a batch this size (to about 224°F). For a slightly thinner swirl that gets a little saucy as it melts, I’ll cook off just four ounces, instead (to about 220°F). Given the small amount of syrup, I find weight to be the quickest, most reliable way to monitor the reduction, but if you have enough depth to achieve an accurate read on a digital thermometer without tipping the pan, that certainly works too.

However you go about the reduction, the finished syrup can be strained for a smoother consistency, or left as-is for those who enjoy the natural texture of seeds and pulp in the fruit.

Amplify the Aroma

rose water and vanilla

As a final step, I like to doctor the syrup with an aromatic to complement and amplify the fruit’s natural flavor. The goal isn’t to taste the additive itself, but to coax out a stronger aroma to overcome the muting effect that freezing temperatures can have on our palate. A little like adding a pinch of nutmeg to make béchamel seem even more buttery.

Some examples would include a bit of rose water for strawberry, orange blossom water for blueberry, elderflower cordial for raspberry, a few drops of almond extract for cherry or peach, and a hint of vanilla with pineapple.

I’ve sussed out most of these pairings through trial and error (I’ve been at this for a while), but if you’re not sure where to start, The Flavor Thesaurus can be an invaluable guide.

viscosity of cold syrup

How to Incorporate a Fruit Swirl

Sure, frozen ice cream (whether homemade or store-bought) can be softened to swirl with fruit, but semi-melting and refreezing ice cream doesn’t do it any textural favors. If frozen ice cream is all you’ve got, it’s far better to use the fruit syrup as a sauce instead.

freshly churned ice cream

For the the most striking ripple, layer the cooled syrup and freshly churned ice cream into a heavy glass or ceramic dish that’s been chilled down to 0°F. I like to use a 2-quart baking dish, as this makes it easier to drizzle the syrup over the wide, flat swaths of ice cream.

layering ice cream and fruit syrup in a chilled pan

You can drizzle the thick syrup over the ice cream with a fork or spoon to produce a ribbon with random variations in thickness. Or, if you’d prefer to have a bit more control, the syrup can be transferred to a disposable pastry bag to create a perfectly uniform ribbon.

bagging a fruit syrup to pipe into ice cream

After you’ve layered all of the ice cream into the pan, along with as much or as little of the syrup as you prefer, you can gently stir the whole thing a spatula.

piping an ice cream ripple for precision

This is nice for creating zones of plain and marbled ice cream, in addition to the bands of gooey syrup. However, if you prefer to keep the ice cream pure, with a distinct ribbon of syrup running throughout, don’t bother to fold or stir the layered ice cream.

raspberry ripple gelato being scooped out

Can I Use Less Sugar?

In a word, no.

With any syrup cooked above 212°F, the final cooking temperature is a direct reflection of the water content/sugar concentration. Even though this particular technique involves monitoring the syrup’s water loss by weight rather than temperature, it’s just the other side of the same coin.

When using less sugar, the syrup will simply take longer to reduce, because its water content will be relatively higher to start. By the time the same amount of water has boiled away, it will have an identical sugar concentration compared to a recipe that started with more sugar. In short, using less sugar won’t make a syrup less sweet, it will only make less syrup.

blueberry ripple ice cream

Starting with lightly toasted sugar is the easiest way to reduce sweetness, but the judicious use of salt, acid, and aromatics will go a long way toward creating a greater depth of flavor that will, in turn, make the syrup seem less sweet. It can also be helpful to add an extra pinch of salt to the ice cream itself, since the base recipe was likely not formulated with the inclusion of syrup in mind.

With a few minor adjustments, a basket of fresh fruit can be quickly transformed into a thick, saucy ribbon for swirling into your favorite ice cream.

This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.

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Sweet-Sour Broiled Summer Squash Pairs Perfectly With Corn and Avocado

Sweet-Sour Broiled Summer Squash Pairs Perfectly With Corn and Avocado

Editor’s Note: We’re very excited to welcome writer, photographer, and cook Michael Harlan Turkell back to the virtual pages of Serious Eats. In this series, Michael will share some of his favorite recipes that use the broiler, one of the most powerful and underutilized tools…