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Archive for the ‘Savory pastry’ Category

The soufflés I make always start sinking before they even reach the dinner table. It’s irritating, but I’ve gotten used to it. Deflating doesn’t hurt the taste any, only the appearance. I never make them for guests, though – both for the aesthetics and because it’s hard to fit the timing of a soufflé into a dinner-party menu. It’s easier for an everyday dinner for two: the eating can wait for the dish, not vice versa.

Cheese soufflés are what I mostly make, far more often than dessert soufflés. I usually make them with whatever cheeses I have on hand, not just the statutory gruyère. And since I know my soufflés will never sustain a dramatic puff, I never try to extend the height of the mold with a strip of buttered foil. In fact, I often use a larger mold than indicated, to prevent any possible spillovers. Rough and ready, they’re still always good.

mastering-iThe soufflé recipe I use for a guide is the basic one from the first volume of Julia Child’s Mastering. After years of consulting it, I just recently I noticed in that section a recipe for an unmolded one: soufflé démoulé mousseline. Julia says it’s light and delicious, and while it doesn’t rise as high as the standard soufflé, it sinks only a little bit. Well, that sounded good for a change!

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For the past few days we’d been enjoying an interesting cheese called Alex – a Bavarian mountain cow’s milk cheese, related to that region’s emmenthaler, gruyère, and appenzeller. It seemed just the thing for a soufflé, so I coarsely grated a suitable amount of it and sprinkled a little of that all around the inside of a heavily buttered charlotte mold.

souffle-2

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The cooking technique starts in the usual soufflé way: Melt butter, stir in flour, foam together for two minutes. Beat in boiling milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg; boil for one minute. Off heat, beat in egg yolks.

souffle-1

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A difference here was slightly smaller quantities of butter, milk, and egg yolk than in the usual soufflé of its size. Also, a larger proportion of egg whites: twice as many whites as yolks. My ever-reliable Kitchen Aid mixer whipped them easily, as always.

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I folded the whites into the base mixture, stirred in the grated cheese, and scooped it all into the mold. I set the mold in a large pot and poured in boiling water all around the mold. That’s like the way you treat a baked custard – not at all what you do to a standard soufflé.
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souffle-4

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Everything then went into a 350° oven for 1¼ hours – again, very different from the 30+ minutes at 400° that a standard soufflé takes.

While it was baking, I prepared the sauce that was to be served with it. Julia called for a fairly elaborate tomato sauce, which I approximated by gussying up a jar of my plain homemade sauce. I sauteed a little chopped onion, carrot, and celery; added my sauce and a dollop of strong homemade broth; simmered it until it thickened a bit.

The soufflé rose beautifully in the oven, but then came the anxious part. Would it unmold cleanly? Or would it fall to pieces? Julia gives directions for dislodging it onto a plate, with reassurance that it should unmold perfectly. But in case of blemishes, she calmly advises, just pour the tomato sauce over instead of around it, “and decorate with parsley.”

I’m happy to say that my soufflé did unmold properly but – inevitably, because it was mine – it immediately sank to about half its original height. Curses, foiled again!
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Nevertheless: If you didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to look like that, you’d think it was just fine. And so it was: light and spongy, with an enticing smell and a rich, savory taste – a little tangy from the Alex cheese. It liked the tomato sauce very much. Despite deflation, a very successful soufflé.

And it has one more virtue: Before unmolding, this soufflé can sit in its little bathtub, in the turned-off oven with door ajar, for up to half an hour without harm. It’s true: I tried it. So one of these days now I can serve a soufflé to guests.

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One of my most reliable first-course dishes, whether for family consumption or for guests, is an eggplant quiche. The recipe I use is different from – and to my mind better than – any other I’ve seen, even the one in From Julia Child’s Kitchen. Interestingly, the source of “my” recipe is a former collaborator of Child’s: Simone Beck, the third-listed author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Simca's CuisineBeck published her own book, Simca’s Cuisine, a decade after the two volumes of Mastering appeared. It’s a chatty, personal book, arranged by menus. Her eggplant quiche recipe is in a chapter called “A Carefree Luncheon,” and though I wouldn’t call it exactly a carefree recipe, for me the result is well worth the effort. What mainly makes this version different from other eggplant quiches is a complete absence of milk or cream, a near-absence of cheese, and a presence of tomato puree and bacon.

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The recipe starts by having you make and partially bake a pastry shell, using Simca’s own pâte brisée, which is made with flour, butter, oil, salt, and an egg yolk. It’s a very flavorful pastry, and I use it for many kinds of savory tarts. Before putting the pan in the oven, you brush the bottom with Dijon mustard and sprinkle it with grated Swiss cheese. For my palate, these two ingredients make a major contribution to the finished dish.

pastry shell

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Turning to the main ingredient: You peel a 1½-pound eggplant and cut it into ½-inch cubes. Spread them on paper towels or a cloth; salt them; after 15 minutes toss and salt them again; rinse and pat them dry.

eggplant cubes

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Next steps:

  • Sauté the eggplant cubes in a generous amount of oil (I always use olive), drain, and lightly season them with salt and pepper.
  • In the oil remaining in the pan, fry ¼ pound of bacon until crisp, and crumble it when cool.
  • Beat three eggs in a large bowl and add the eggplant, the bacon, 1½ cups of either Simca’s very elaborate provençal tomato purée or pureed Italian plum tomatoes (my usual choice), and two tablespoons each of chopped parsley and basil.
  • Fill the pastry shell with this mixture, sprinkle the top with more grated Swiss cheese, and bake for about 25 minutes.
  • Serve while warm, or reheat when ready to eat it.

Quite a bit of work there, it must be admitted. But what you get is an unusual and truly delicious treat, which has pleased everyone I’ve served it to.

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eggplant quiche

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Though I opened this post by calling this a first-course dish, Beloved Spouse and I also enjoy it by itself, for lunch or as a light supper.

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SandovalLast week I wrote about a deeply disappointing dish that I’d made from my newest cookbook, Richard Sandoval’s New Latin Flavors. Despite the recipe’s problems, I resolved to give the book another try, so this week I got right back on the horse – with much happier results.

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I was attracted to a recipe for Shrimp and Bacon Quesadillas. Very cautious reading revealed no omissions or contradictions, no disappearing ingredients. The dish seemed to entail a fair amount of work, compared to quesadilla recipes I’d seen elsewhere (I’d never made my own before), but the ingredients weren’t particularly outré, and the entire filling mixture could be put together hours in advance. It looked promising.

ingredients

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To start the filling I tossed peeled shrimps with chili powder, oil, and salt, then cooked them briefly in a skillet. Sandoval hadn’t specified the kind of chili, and what I had was de Arbol, a Mexican variety that’s extremely hot (“has tannic, smoky flavor with searing acidic heat.”). The specified tablespoonful of it looked like a daunting amount on my six ounces of shrimp, but I went ahead with it. They came out with considerable pungency.

shrimp

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The shrimp then had to cool in the refrigerator. While they did, I crisped some bacon, chopped it, and mixed it in a bowl with shredded sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced scallion, chopped pickled jalapeños, chopped cilantro, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. To me, that seemed an odd combination: the mayonnaise in particular. But I soldiered on. I confess, though, that when it came time to chop the shrimp and add them to the bowl, I wimped out: I put them in a sieve and sprayed them with water to rinse off some of the chili.

The completed filling went back into the refrigerator for the whole afternoon, and when I took it out in the evening, one whiff was enough to know that there was still plenty of chili in it.

filling

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As I said above, I’d never made quesadillas before, and cooking these was a bit tricky, requiring a rapid assembly-line technique. Fortunately I was able to enlist Beloved Spouse to work with me. Here’s how we did it:

  • Heat a large nonstick skillet.
  • Put in a 6-inch flour tortilla, cook 30 seconds.
  • Flip it over, spoon a portion of filling on the bottom half.
  • Fold the top half over the filling, cook 30 seconds.
  • Turn the tortilla over (not letting the filling spill out), cook 30 seconds.
  • Transfer it to a baking sheet, put it in a warming oven.
  • Put next tortilla in the skillet and repeat.

In this partnership, I did the filling and the transfers between countertop, stove, and oven; he did the skillet work. If we’d been line cooks in a restaurant kitchen, I suspect it would have been a breeze; as it was, I couldn’t help thinking of Lucy and Ethel at the conveyor belt in the chocolate factory.

To my happy surprise, no disasters occurred; the filling didn’t even try to ooze out. In fact, I was a little concerned at how thin the layer of filling was. Would the quesadillas be too dry?

quesadillas

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No, they weren’t dry at all. And, even though they seemed thin, they were quite substantial – and they really tasted good! The flavor was hard to describe: Everything had come together so that no one of the individual ingredients prevailed. We probably wouldn’t even have guessed shrimp or bacon if we hadn’t known they were in there. But the combination was delicious, with just the right amount of chili heat. To top it all off – or, more accurately, to wrap everything up – the soft flour tortillas had developed a rich wheatiness from the toasting. Each bite we took made us eager for the next one.

So the book stays on my shelves for at least a while longer.

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Making a meal of dishes featured in Andrea Camilleri’s novels about the Sicilian police inspector Salvo Montalbano seems to have become an annual event for me.

When, in the middle of an investigation, our hero is struck by “his customary wolflike hunger,” the meals he eats are described with such gusto that I’d give montalbano cookbookanything to be able to join him at the table. That not being possible, my next choice is to page through Stefania Campo’s I segreti della tavola di Montalbano: Le ricette di Andrea Camilleri and plan a dinner around some of that cookbook’s recipes. I’ve written about my results here four times in the past four years; so to keep up the tradition, here’s this year’s installment – one dish from each of three of the novels, which I made for a small dinner party with friends who are also Montalbano fans.

Sfincione

With aperitifs in the living room, I made a sfincione, which is a kind of focaccia or thick-crust Sicilian pizza, very popular even here in the US, that’s mentioned in Excursion to Tindari. Montalbano himself doesn’t eat this. He hears about it from a garrulous old citizen he’s questioning, who tries to describe the entire meal his nephew, who lives in Tindari, served him on the day of the titular excursion – starting with a sfincione.

Sfincione

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The book’s recipe calls for already-risen bread dough (purchased, presumably), into which you are to knead grated pecorino, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. I made my own dough, using my favorite focaccia recipe. I pressed it into a pan, spread over it a quickly made tomato-onion sauce, dotted it with bits of anchovies, strewed on shavings of caciocavallo cheese, and baked it in a hot oven until just barely done.

I did all this early in the day, so in the evening all I had to do was add a topping of fine breadcrumbs sauteed in olive oil and return the pan to the oven for 10 minutes. Cut into small squares, the sfincione was a very tasty snack. We made short work of it.

Sfincione finishing

 

Polpettine di polipetti

Of the day’s three dishes, this was the most unusual one, which I was most eager to make: octopus croquettes. One of Montalbano’s two favorite restaurants is the eponymous trattoria of his friend Calogero. In The Smell of the Night he arrives there at lunchtime with that wolflike hunger of his and eats spaghetti in squid ink followed by a dozen fried octopus meatballs. They sounded fascinating, but since I had never even heard of making croquettes from octopus, much less tasted any, I didn’t want to chance them as the main course of my dinner party, so I made them as a hot antipasto.

It was quite a production. Here are the main stages:

Polpettini

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I had already-cooked octopus tentacles in the freezer, left over from a previous cooking event. We put them through the meat grinder (those are Tom’s hands in the picture) and I mixed in grated pecorino cheese, bread soaked in white wine and squeezed almost dry, garlic, parsley, and an egg. I shaped the mixture into balls, put them in refrigerator for a few hours to firm up, dipped them in egg and then breadcrumbs, and fried them. All this this was early in the afternoon. At dinner time I reheated the croquettes in the oven.

Alongside, we served cut-up lemons and a spicy tomato sauce (Tom’s idea and invention). With great curiosity, everyone tasted them. Oh, dear! While they were perfectly acceptable croquettes, they had no flavor of octopus. Squeezes of lemon brought out a hint of it, but so mildly that the basic ingredient could have been any white meat – chicken, pork, veal, even alligator or rattlesnake. I suspect it was the pecorino that masked the flavor of the octopus, but you couldn’t even taste cheese as such. We all ate a few, but the dish was a letdown – edible, certainly, but far from exciting. I can’t believe Calogero wouldn’t have made it better.

Agnello alla cacciatora

Every reader of the novels knows that Montalbano would much rather dine on fish than meat. He doesn’t get that choice on an occasion in The Voice of the Violin: Calogero’s place is closed that day and he tries La Cacciatora, an osteria 20 kilometers inland from the coast. When the proprietor asks him what he’ll have, Montalbano says “Bring me whatever you like.”

He receives a fiery hot pasta to start, followed by the house’s lamb hunter’s style. He likes it, particularly enjoying the “pleasant fragrance of onion and oregano.” That made me a bit suspicious of the cookbook’s recipe, which contains black olives, capers, celery, red wine, tomato paste, only a little onion, and no oregano. (I added some at the end.)

lamb cacciatora

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It was a pleasant enough lamb braise. But it would have seemed much more Sicilian to us – and probably more interesting – if it had been made with swordfish rather than lamb. I’ll bet Montalbano would have liked it that way too.

The lamb I cooked a whole day in advance, since stews and braises generally taste better if given some time for their flavors to develop and blend. Which they did, but not in a way as to really excite our palates. On the positive side, none of these three dishes seemed to have been at all harmed for having been done in advance and reheated. A very useful attribute for a busy dinner-party cook.

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Under the crust of this innocent-looking pot pie is a Faisan à la Vosgienne, which owes its debut at my dining table to D’Artagnan. That is, not to Dumas’ dashing musketeer, but to New Jersey’s excellent purveyor of foie gras, game birds, and similar delicacies. An online flash sale (serious discounts, free shipping) caught my eye, and before I knew it I had acquired a shoulder of wild boar, a Muscovy duck, a squab, a chicken, and a wild Scottish pheasant.

These pheasants, I was assured, are truly wild birds, living free on private estates and preserves, available only in hunting season. They even come with a warning to chew carefully, in case of shotgun pellets. Unwrapping mine, I was dismayed to discover that its wings had been entirely removed. Shot off? But otherwise it was an attractive little beast, weighing just over a pound.

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I scoured my cookbooks for something appropriate to make with the pheasant and Willansettled on an Alsace recipe from Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. The à la vosgienne preparation most commonly involves sauerkraut, but Willan gives a version in which the cut-up pheasant is baked with mushrooms and egg noodles under a pastry crust. It sounded delicious, and I thought the moist cooking would help tenderize my bird, whose active lifestyle would have given it more muscle and sinew, and less fat, than the more readily available farm-raised pheasants.

The recipe that proved to be as labor-intensive in the preparation as it turned out to be in the eating. I started early in the afternoon by making and refrigerating the pastry, using 6 ounces of butter and 2 of lard for 1½ cups of flour. Next I browned my bird in butter in a casserole, poured half a cup of white wine over it, and cooked it covered in a 375° oven for 45 minutes. Then I set it on a plate to cool while I made the sauce.

For the sauce I added more wine to the casserole; deglazed and reduced the liquid by half on a stove burner; added broth; brought it to a boil; and whisked in bits of butter kneaded with flour until the sauce thickened nicely. That also got set aside to cool.

I sauteed the mushrooms in fresh butter, cooked the noodles and tossed them with more butter (Are you noticing a theme here?), and cut the pheasant into serving pieces. Finally it was time to put everything together in a baking dish – buttered, of course.

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Half the noodles went into the dish, followed by the pheasant, the mushrooms, the sauce, the remaining noodles, and – guess what – dots of butter. I rolled out the pastry, cut a cover and laid it over the dish, brushed the pastry with egg glaze, and baked the pie in a 400° oven. As it baked, it filled the kitchen with a heavenly aroma.

The flavors were pretty heavenly too. The pheasant was intensely meaty, just gamy enough to be clearly not a domestic fowl. I must admit, it wasn’t the easiest thing to eat: definitely chewy (though no birdshot) even in the dense breast meat, and lots of sinews in the darkly rich leg meat. In its lifetime that bird must have done a lot of fast running through the Scottish fields and forest. The sauce clothed the noodles and mushrooms most elegantly.

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To accompany the pheasant pie, Tom had taken from his wine closet an older Riesling from Alsace, which we drank from a treasured pair of 19th-century Rhine wine glasses, just for the fun of it.

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I’ll let him tell you how the wine was.

The wine was 2001 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frederick Émile – not the top of Trimbach’s line, but a respectable bottle. The color had gone golden, with amber tints – very pretty, and in no way indicating tiredness or overagedness: Riesling just normally deepens in color like that. The nose was fine, with a mature nuttiness and the scent that those who dislike it usually call diesel oil – unflattering, but approximately true. On the palate, the wine was lovely – medium-bodied and very round, with dried white fruit and nuts (almond and hazel- rather than wal-), and a delicate, lingering finish. It matched beautifully with the dish, having no trouble with the gaminess of the bird or the earthiness of the mushrooms or the pervasive butteriness of the noodles and crust.  We sipped the last glass slowly, by itself, after game-bird-and-butter satiety had set in.                       – TEM

 

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This wonderful pizza with lardo, which I had in Rome on my recent trip, has continued to haunt my memory. I knew I’d never be able to recreate it at home, but I also knew I’d have to try.

Now, the crust of Roman pizza is very different from Neapolitan. In texture it’s almost like matzoh, extremely thin, crisp, and crunchy, with only a slight puffing around the rim. All over the Web there are recipes that say they’re for Roman-style pizza, but none of them is like the one I use. I acquired my recipe some years ago when Tom and I stayed for a week in an apartment in Rome. It was in an article printed out from an Italian website, which I found among the magazines on the coffee table. Its unique feature is that the dough does not rise at all: It goes straight from kneading to rolling out to topping and baking. This, the article said, is what makes a pizza crust Roman.

And it was, too, as I found when I tried it, back home. Since then I’ve made pizzas in the Roman style only occasionally, as we usually prefer the Neapolitan crust; but now, for my pizza with lardo, I returned to my Roman recipe. It’s not unusual in the proportions of flour, water, and salt, but it calls for much less yeast. I like to use Italian 00 flour because I find it rolls out more easily than dough with American all-purpose or bread flours. Here’s one of the nice thin disks it made for me this time.

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The lardo was a bit of a problem. Lardo is pure pork fatback, uncooked but cured with various herbs and spices. Many Americans are appalled at the idea of eating it, but it’s a popular antipasto item in Italy. Lardo from Colonnata, in Tuscany, is the most highly prized of its several varieties, but no Italian lardo of any kind is allowed into the USA. I had to use a domestic product, which had sort of a barnyardy aroma and was really too soft. Tom had to work hard to slice it as thin as we wanted it (freezing helps immensely).

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I dressed a round of pizza dough with tomato, mozzarella, and lardo. Here I was too timid. The dough was so thin that I feared the topping might spill out over the edges as the heat got to it, so I left a wide margin of clear dough.

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That was a mistake. The crust rose up nicely, and the toppings stayed mostly where they were put, leaving a lot of bare crust. I should have used more of everything – especially more lardo, for the pieces shrank to mere dabs, unlike the large smooth slices there were on the pizza I ate in Rome. The liquid fat those dabs exuded did flavor the entire pizza, however.

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It was tasty enough, and the crust was just right. It cooked wonderfully fast on the pizza steel: four minutes under the broiler, in an oven that had been heated to 450 degrees for an hour. But it still had a sort of barnyardy flavor, which wasn’t the case with my lovely lardo pizza in Rome. Different breeds of pigs, no doubt, raised differently as well as cured differently.

I still had three small balls of Roman pizza dough, so we continued dinner that evening with more pizzas: one with sauteed mushrooms, one with roasted poblano pepper strips, and one more with lardo. An interesting and satisfying meal.

3 pizzas

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Pissaladière has always been one of my staple dishes to put out for large parties. These days I’m happier with smaller sit-down dinner parties, so I probably haven’t made more than one pissaladière in the past decade (that was for my 40th wedding anniversary party).

???????????????????????????????In my younger days I mostly used the recipe in the first volume of Julia Child’s Mastering, and sometimes the one in Mireille Johnston’s Cuisine of the Sun. This week, browsing through my old copy of Julia Child & More Company, a book from her “French Chef” television series, I came across a recipe called Pissaladière Gargantua that was a bit different from both those others, and decided to give it a whirl.

The experience was both good and bad: quite good in the outcome, but with some surprising defects in the procedure. Let’s have the good news first: It made an attractive tart.

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The pastry – just the book’s basic dough, indicated for pies, quiches, tarts, tartlets, and flans – was wonderful; the best I can ever remember making. It was rich and tender and softly crumbly, with a faintly nutty flavor. I don’t know why it was so much better, because the proportions of flour, butter, and lard were only negligibly different from those of my usual recipes (Irma Rombauer’s and Bernard Clayton’s). The only thing I did this time that I don’t regularly do was to smear out the dough with the heel of my hand to make a final blending of fat and flour. I can’t believe that would make such an improvement, but I think I’ll keep doing it in the future!

The problems emerged with my downsizing of the quantities of filling ingredients – and this time they were not the fault of my arithmetic. The recipe called for a full-size jelly roll pan, about 11 by 17. I didn’t want a gargantuan version, so I planned to use a 9 X 13 pan, which holds about 60% of what the larger pan holds. Here are the two sizes.

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The full recipe calls for 4 cups of sliced onions, 60% of which is about 2½ cups. That’s how much I sliced and cooked slowly in olive oil until tender but not browned. I did this in the morning, without any thought for how that quantity would work in my chosen pan. Toward dinner time, when I started assembling everything, I realized there wasn’t going to be anything like enough onion. I quickly pulled out a 9 X 9 pan. When I’d lined it with pastry and spread in the onions, they barely even covered the bottom of that.

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Now, this could NOT have been my error. Here’s the book’s photo of the pissaladière being assembled. Look at the vast amount of cooked onion there. No way could that have started out as four cups raw!

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Nothing daunted, I soldiered on.

To complete my small panful I didn’t even try to calculate amounts of the remaining ingredients. I just arranged some anchovy fillets and black olives on top of the onions and sprinkled on grated cheese and a little more olive oil. While doing that, I discovered another problem with the recipe. There was a teaspoon of oregano or thyme listed among the ingredients. Oh drat, I thought, I’ve forgotten it! Where was it supposed to go? A good question, but no answer. There was no mention of the herbs in the instructions. (I made Tom read through them too, just in case I was not seeing it.) So I skipped the herb.

I have to say the pissaladière came out well enough, considering that we really would’ve liked more onion. The oil-cured Moroccan olives were fine. For the grated cheeses, the recipe encouraged a mixture, so I used Manchego and Podda, which were very nice. And, as I said above, the crust was truly delicious.

I did get a bit carried away with the anchovies. The recipe called for canned filets packed in oil. Mine were large whole ones packed in salt, and even after gutting, boning, and careful rinsing, they were very strong. I used only six filets, but in that small a tart they took over the flavor. Not a big problem, though: we just picked some of them off.

The lesson here, I guess, is that sloppy copyediting can spoil the best of recipes if you aren’t nimble enough to make mid-course corrections. Out of curiosity, I later checked back on the pissaladière recipe in Mastering, volume I. There Julia calls for two pounds of onions for an eight-inch round pan. So I suspect the quantity for this Gargantuan one ought to have been four pounds, not four cups. I’ve marked the correction in my book.

One happy ending, however: I now have a lot of extra excellent pastry dough in my freezer!

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