A Feast for a Snowy Night

Thursday morning I woke up to a pile of snow on the fire escape outside my window and the prettiest fattest flakes you ever did see filling my Brooklyn skies. With no work that day, I put on my snow boots and walked through the snow to buy groceries, wine and daffodils (a reminder that spring is actually coming), and spent the whole day happily cooking and doing chores. That night Laura, Joe, Ari, and I feasted on my snow-day creations while the snow kept blowing outside. That snow gave us permission to linger between each course; there was nowhere better we could have been. We started with garlic and cheese souffles, each billowing out of its little ramekin like a big snowball and melting in the mouth a with a happy garlic puff. Our next course was a small composed salad of watercress, frisee lettuce, slices of avocado, pear, and blood orange, was topped with grated Parmesan and a blood orange zest infused vinaigrette. Fresh and sweet, that salad made my mouth water for fresh spring produce to come. Our main course was my favorite chicken thighs Marbella, with roasted polenta wedges topped with a compote of baby tomatoes. Dessert was my proudest creation on the menu: lemon labne cheese tart made with a gluten-free pistachio crust, topped with crunchy bits ground pistachio and lemon zest and served with a generous drizzle of blood orange syrup. It was tangy and sweet and salty in all the right ways and we all had seconds even though were were already stuffed. Friday it was still snowing, and it snowed all day long, stopping near the end of the workday, just in time to go home. Since I still had plenty of food leftover from Thursday, Grif and I feasted together on the very same menu as I’d served the night before- a menu that proved itself, twice, to be just the thing for a snowy night.

The idea for the garlic souffles were adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark that I stumbled upon by chance last week on the NY Times website. Her recipe calls for green garlic which is not yet in season, so I used normal garlic instead. The salad I made up based on my ongoing craving for blood oranges, and I’ve posted the recipe for chicken thighs Marbella (from The Silver Palate Cookbook) previously, here. The polenta was a new experiment, adapted from a recipe from A Table in the Tarn by Orlando Murrin. It’s a totally not the traditional Italian way to cook polenta, and when I told my mother how I was cooking my polenta on Thursday she was very worried about it… but it turned out better than any polenta I’ve ever made, so I don’t think I’ll be going back to “the real way” anytime soon. I used buttermilk in my version, but whole milk could also be used, which is what the original recipe called for. I forgot to write down the recipe for my baby tomato compote as I made it up (I’ve got to get better about writing things down as I go… but I don’t like measuring things!) but basically what I did was saute two chopped shallots in olive oil with herbs de provence, salt, and pepper, add a carton of baby tomatoes and enough white wine to cover them, then let it simmer, covered, for a good long time until the tomatoes are soft and mushy and there’s not much extra fluid. You’ll have to wait for tomorrow to hear more about the dessert…

Garlic Souffles 
makes 6 individual souffles

5 Tbs butter, plus extra for greasing ramekins
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

6 cloves of garlic, finely minced (use a garlic press)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups buttermilk
2 sprigs thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 egg yolks
2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/3 cup chopped chives
6 egg whites

Preheat oven to 400.
Butter six small ramekins and dust with Parmesan cheese (do this the same way you would butter and flour a cake pan, making sure the whole inside is coated in grated cheese).
Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then add garlic and flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden and thick, about five minutes.
Whisk in buttermilk and thyme sprigs and continue to cook, whisking constantly, another two minutes until thick and smooth.
Pour into a medium bowl, and whisk in salt, pepper, nutmeg,  egg yolks, Gruyere, and chives.
Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks.
Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold egg whites into the mixture, removing the thyme sprigs as you fold.
Divide mixture between the ramekins, smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake until golden brown and puffy, about 25 minutes.

Watercress and Frisee Salad with Avocado, Pear, and Blood Orange
serves 6

For the Dressing:
1 tsp blood orange zest
1/4 cup + 1 Tbs unfiltered extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
fresh ground pepper, to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon 

For the Salad:
1 bunch watercress, leaves snipped off of stems
1 head of frisee lettuce, loosely chopped
1 large avocado, cut into slender slices
2 small pears, cut into thin slivers
3 small blood oranges, supremed (see here for how-to)  
grated Parmesan cheese and minced chives, for garnish

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar with a lid, and shake to combine. Let sit at least half an hour before using to let the flavors settle.
Compose the salad on individual plates however you see fit and then drizzle with dressing just before serving.

Roasted Buttermilk Polenta Slices 
serves 6-8

1 Tbs olive oil + 2 Tbs butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbs minced fresh rosemary
1 Tbs minced fresh thyme
2 cups cornmeal
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk + 2 cups water
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese + 5 Tbs. butter
fresh ground pepper, to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil and butter until melted.
Add onion, and saute until tender, about 5 mins, then stir in the garlic and rosemary and continue to cook another min or so.
Stir in the cornmeal, salt, buttermilk, and water, and continue to stir constantly as the polenta comes to a boil.
Let the polenta keep boiling, while stirring constantly, until the mixture is very thick without excess liquid. Once it reaches this point, taste it to make sure it is not still grainy in texture- if it is grainy, add more water and keep cooking until it is soft.
Remove from heat, and stir in the Parmesan and butter until fully combined and melted, then season to taste with pepper and more salt if desired.
Dump the mixture out onto a large cutting board (or two medium cutting boards) and spread it out into a rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick (don’t worry too much about it being perfectly level) and let cool.
Once cooled completely, cut the polenta into long slices, and if not serving immediately, refrigerate the slices until ready to serve (up to 3 days). 
Before serving, set the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat, and brush with olive oil.
Roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 until gently sizzling and lightly crisp (don’t let them get brown).