I don’t know what it is, but whenever I think of pao de queijo, I think of my mother. In that she is the first generation on her mother’s side born outside of Brazil, she made a big deal about passing on the culture and heritage of our ancestors down to my sister and I. For the two of us, culture always related to the kitchen in some way, shape or form, and the true “mother” of heritage came in the Brazilian feast, feijoada completa. A celebration through and through, feijoada completa meant cherished guests and many, many plates and platters on the table, all marks of a few days of cooking in order to stage all of the dishes. It was some kind of special, and the meal kicked off with a special treat – pao de queijo. Translated into English, it literally means “cheese bread,” but make no mistake – these babies are so much more. Made of tapioca flour and crumbly, salty cheese, they more closely resemble cheese puffs than actual bread. Eaten fresh from the oven, we noshed happily while waiting for the rest of the feast to come together (usually waiting for the white rice to finish cooking or for dad to put the final touches on the greens).
Interestingly enough, my mom’s a french professor, and over the years my sister and I have become mini-francophiles by association. My sister even downplays the influences from over the years, cracking jokes in a perfect French accent. Petite Beurre cookies and homemade madeleines were just as much a part of our kitchen as Brazilian specialties. In a complete and total cultural blend, our beloved pao de queijo held many of the same characteristics as the classic French cheese puffs, gougère. The little treats, made of gruyere or comte cheese, were savory, chewy and airy just like their Brazilian cousins. An apropos association, if I do say so myself.
Because pao de queijo are traditionally made with a cooked dough called a pâté choux, the old school recipe can be a bit daunting. In fact, we often purchased the frozen variety from specialty markets for quick snacking. But when my mom turned me on to a blender version, I tried it out with great success and haven’t looked back since. In fact, the hardest part of the recipe is tracking down the tapioca flour, which is barely a challenge in that not only Whole Foods, but most regular grocery stores carry the stuff under the Bob’s Red Mill brand. I’ve had the most success with making the batter and baking these guys pretty much right when I have the craving to snack away. I’ve also had excellent success with a 24 mini-cup muffin tin – it allows a mess of pao de queijo to be baked all at once for aggressive snacking. And, as you know, aggressive snacking is what we were all born to do.
Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Puffs)
1 1/3 c. of tapioca flour
2/3 c. of whole milk
1/3 c. of olive oil
6 oz. of queso fresco, crumbled
1 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a blender, add the egg, milk, olive oil, salt, queso fresco and white pepper. Put the tapioca flour on top and blend on low until mostly mixed. Scrape down the flour on the sides of the blender and blitz again on low. Pour batter into greased muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes or until puffy and golden. Serve immediately.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that a dish with a fancy name and a fancier presentation can also be soul-satisfying comfort food. This seemingly hoity-toity recipe is, at its most base form, an open-faced pulled pork sandwich. The ingredients married together create a taste profile that is wholly sumptuous and ever so necessary. I fell in love after first bite and promised myself that I’d make this one on repeat and revel in the glory as much as possible.
I use wild boar shoulder for this recipe, and thought the cut can take some time to braise until tender, I speed up the process with a trip to the pressure cooker. If you can’t get boar, simply substitute pork shoulder – the taste won’t be nearly as rich, but you’ll still be able to get down. Once the meat is shredded and cooled a bit, it rejoins the party on a raft of ciabatta, sharp provolone and a zesty homemade lemon aioli. Miner’s lettuce serves as an interesting counterpoint for the unctuous boar and salty cheese – it’s texture alone, similar to spinach, adds the fresh finesse that makes this one a stunner. Although this dish is an appetizer, just know that if you serve this dish first, chances are very good that people will fill up on these suckers with reckless abandon without a thought of saving room for anything else. They are just. that. good.
Pulled Boar Panini with Miner’s Lettuce and Lemon Aioli
1 lb. wild boar shoulder, cut into 2-3 large chunks
4 c. of chicken stock
1 fennel bulb, quartered
1 onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
1 tsp of fennel pollen
2 cl. of garlic, minced
zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp. of dijon mustard
1/2 c. of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 oz. of miner’s lettuce, stems removed
1 1/2 c. of sharp provolone cheese, shredded
1 loaf of ciabatta
Begin by preparing the wild boar. Add the boar, fennel, onion, stock, fennel pollen and bay leaves to a pressure cooker. Bring to high pressure and then allow to cook for 30 minutes. Let the pressure subside naturally and remove boar from cooking liquid. Shred with two forks and set aside.
Now make the aioli. Add the egg, lemon, zest and mustard to a blender. Blitz on high and slowly stream in the olive oil. Turn off blender and taste for salt and pepper. The aioli should be pretty loose and not as thick as a traditional mayonnaise, so thin with additional olive oil if necessary. Set aside.
Halve the ciabatta lengthwise and spread with some of the aioli, saving a few tablespoons for drizzling. Top with the shredded boar and add the provolone to the top. Bake in the oven on 400° until the cheese has melted. Remove the two ciabatta loaves to a cutting board and cut into 8 pieces for each loaf. Sprinkle miner’s lettuce liberally over the top of the panini and drizzle with additional aioli. Serve while still standing, eating it right from the kitchen and not stopping to take it to the table.
*in my best Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls voice* Picture this, Tuscany 1952, you’re in need of a dish to feed your family and all you’ve got is the minestrone from last night, some stale bread and an old prosciutto bone lying around. What do you do? Make only the most delicious soup imaginable, quite possibly better than that minestrone from the night before.
But seriously, kids, how lovely is it when a great plan comes together. A few pantry ingredients, maybe even some leftovers and a bit of time putzing around the kitchen and voila! Gorgeousness on a plate, or in this case, a bowl. The name itself gives it away with this one – ribollita is Italian for reboiled. Any glamour and cache that this soup might garner from its placement on modern Italian menus is only a recent distinction – the dish has the humble origins of true peasant food. Just as in Brazil, a pot of black beans can be extended for additional eaters with some water and a little more rice, this soup is extended by day-old bread soaking up the rich vegetable broth. A smidge of good quality cheese (which you regular readers know that, for me, is a smattering of locatelli) and you are in like flynn.
There are much fancier versions than this one, but I love this recipe because it’s a weekday charmer. No prosciutto bone here, and a parmesan rind only if you have one around. Black kale (cavolo nero or dinosaur kale) is the star of the show, but can be replaced by any kale or bitter greens you can find. Canned beans and pantry chicken stock speed along the process, and by dicing everything in the food processor saves a hell of a lot of time. In addition, if you leave out the bacon and chicken stock, you’ve got a comforting vegetarian supper on your hands. No cheese and it’s vegan. A warm bowl of love for all sorts of eaters? It doesn’t get any better than that.
2 qts. of stock
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 bunch of black kale, ribbed and roughly chopped
1 can of canellini beans
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
sprig of rosemary
sprig of thyme
parmesan rind (optional)
2 tbs. of olive oil
3 strips of bacon, roughly chopped
slices of old, stale bread or toasted ciabatta
Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven on high and add your olive oil. Once it begins to shimmer, toss in your bacon and allow it to crisp up a bit. Add your onions and cook until translucent. Add the carrots and celery and cook until fragrant. Add your tomatoes, rosemary and thyme and stir to warm through. Lastly, add the stock, parmesan rind and cannelini beans. Allow stock to come to a boil and fold in the black kale. Cook until kale is tender over medium-high heat, about 15-20 minutes.
To serve, place a few slices of ciabatta (or hunks of old bread) on the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle hot soup over the bread and top with grated parmesan.
I’m a bacon and eggs girl all the way, and I believe in the savory goodness of a breakfast served 24 hours a day. And given my proclivities to resurrecting leftovers with simple ingredients lying around, a strata is a glorious combination of toasted bread and eggy custard, studded with your favorite toppings. Bacon, mushrooms, spinach, chard, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, you name it – if you can put it in an omlette, you can most likely include it in a strada.
I love this recipe for brunch guests for a couple of reasons. It’s a great make ahead recipe that requires little to no babysitting. Assemble leisurely and pop into the oven an hour before you want to eat. Drink mimosas until it’s time. Another thing I love is that this recipe rarely involves a trip to the grocery store – if you save your old bread when it gets too hard to eat, and just pluck some choice toppings from the fridge, you are in business. Worst case scenario, you have to go to the store for eggs and cream. Lastly, and most importantly, when this comes out of the oven, it looks incredibly impressive for being absolutely no work. The best kind of recipe there is.
If you are watching your waistline, you can absolutely make this recipe with egg beaters in lieu of eggs and fat-free evaporated milk instead of the cream. It is not as luxe, but it tastes damn good for having little to no fat. You’ll just need to figure out what you want to do about the 2 c. of cheese and 1 c. of filling – if you use full fat cheese and say, bacon, don’t assume that it’s full fat. Canadian bacon, good veggies, and a bit of sharp cheese (you need less because the taste is stronger) are good alternatives. I don’t even want to talk about fat-free cheese – why waste the calories on tasteless drivel. Lemme tell you how I really feel (ha!)
Ok, breakfast time!
Savory Breakfast Strata
3 c. of old bread, cubed (or fresh bread, cubed and toasted with a bit of olive oil)
1 1/4 c. of cream
1/8 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of nutmeg
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
1/8 tsp. of black pepper
2 c. of grated cheese (sharp cheddar, swiss, provolone, mozzarella, fontina, etc. – definitely blend types)
1 c. of cooked meat and/or veggies (chopped bacon, ham or prosciutto, spinach, swiss chard, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, etc.)
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a medium sized casserole or small ramekins with cooking spray or butter (I used some el cheapo parchement rounds from Sur La Table for the version in the photo above). Sprinkle 1/2 c. of the cheese on the bottom of the ramekins or casserole. Place on a cookie sheet and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the one cup of your choice of meat and veggies, and 1 c. of the cheese. Dump into the casserole dish or split amongst the ramekins. Using the same bowl, beat the eggs, cream, nutmeg, salt, black pepper and white pepper. Pour the custard over the bread, pushing down on the cubes to make sure that they are all saturated with the liquid. Let sit for about 5 minutes and then gently push the cubes down a second time. Top with the remaining 1/2 c. of cheese and then put the pan in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the center is no longer jiggly and the strata has puffed up like a soufflé.
Serve hot, or wait a bit and eat at room temperature.
Turning the Busted into the Beautimus is Totally Bananas
I’m no freegan (or as my Dad would say, dumpster diver), but banana bread is my favorite celebration of letting as little as possible go to waste. When you’ve forgotten to hit Chiquita up fast enough and your bananas have gone from yellow to brown (or black, even!), that’s when you need to pull out this recipe. Banana bread is not only exceptional with old bananas, it truly can ONLY be made with old bananas. So next time you’re thinking about tossing those seemingly junky bunches, save them for this delicious treat.
Banana bread is certainly a morning treat, and has a reputation for being a nutritious breakfast. This is not that banana bread. Gooey dark chocolate and crunchy pecans are mixed into the rich, buttery batter. I make this bread when I’m looking for something slightly sweet for dessert – it’s still light like banana bread, but the chocolate just takes it to another level. Don’t skimp on the chocolate, by the way – the finer the cocoa content, the better. I like the Lindt bars with 60% cocoa, broken into pieces. If you’ve only got chips in the house, though, you can certainly use them. Just try to buy good ones, like Ghiradelli.
Banana bread, as you may have guessed it since I’m the one making it, takes no skill whatsoever to bake. Although it takes about an hour to bake, it’s one of those excellent dump and stir operations that you can do without much thought. That’s the kind of baking for me 😉
Dark Chocolate Pecan Banana Bread
3-4 very ripe bananas
1 tsp. of vanilla
1/2 c. of butter, softened
1 c. of sugar
1 1/3 c. of flour
1 tsp. of baking soda
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 c. of pecans, chopped
1/2 c. of dark chocolate chunks