A.J. – Whether I have baked or purchased a large crusty artisanal-style bread, I never waste a single crumb. A freshly baked loaf, especially one that emerges from my own oven, stimulates all of my senses and needs very little to enhance it. But as the bread ages, it becomes my inspiration for many wonderful dishes. I often rub thick toasted slices with garlic and tuck them into bean or vegetable soups. I add giant croutons to my salads, make an array of crostini and grilled sandwiches and often add crunch to gratins by topping them with coarse homemade breadcrumbs. Another favorite way of using slightly aged bread is to lightly toast thin slices and make open-faced sandwiches the French call tartines. They can be topped with almost anything. The simplest tartine is spread with sweet butter and a layer of jam. I’ve enjoyed tartines made with meat, cheese, fresh or cooked vegetables, purees, spreads and any combination of the above. An important feature of a tartine is that it looks as good as it tastes. This is when the food stylist in me really comes out.
This tartine is made with fresh ricotta, preferably one that is produced locally. By stirring an extra virgin olive oil into the ricotta, it gives the cheese a light fluffy texture and fruity flavor. The cheese is topped with roasted canned San Marzano tomatoes. I roast the tomatoes until they have a sweet concentrated flavor and they have begun to caramelize. Be sure when purchasing San Marzano tomatoes that they are not just San Marzano style tomatoes. The tomatoes should actually be grown in the San Marzano valley of Italy. This information can be found on the label.
One 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes in tomato puree
Extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, flat parsley or thyme
Garlic Confit with Thyme (recipe previously posted)
4 large ½-inch-thick slices country-style bread, lightly toasted
A large handful of baby arugula
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil an 8-inch shallow, non-reactive baking pan. Drain tomatoes and reserve puree for another use. Puncture tomatoes and drain the interior liquid. Arrange tomatoes in the prepared baking pan; season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle tomatoes with 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and roast in preheated oven for 60-75 minutes or until they are dry and pulpy and their edges are lightly browned. Set tomatoes aside to cool.
Blend ricotta with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Stir in herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Coarsely chop tomatoes. Peel 3 confit garlic cloves. Mash with a fork adding some of the confit oil to make a paste. Stir garlic into the tomatoes.
Spread a layer of the ricotta mixture over each slice of bread, dividing it equally. Arrange equal amounts of the roasted tomato over the ricotta. Drizzle with olive oil and top with an equal amount of arugula leaves. Serve immediately.
A.J. - I always find it convenient to prepare one or more types of condiments to store in the fridge. I keep them in mind when planning my meals. It could be a bowl of garlic infused roasted peppers, a salsa verde, slow-roasted tomatoes with herbs or a garlicky aioli. It’s a convenient way of adding another layer of flavor and texture to a dish. One condiment that seems to find it’s way into many of my preparations this time of year is Garlic Confit with Thyme. It takes merely minutes to prepare but offers a multitude of uses for at least a month or two. I toss it with blanched or roasted vegetables, use it as a base for vinaigrette, and often puree it with beans.
Maya – Pulling together multiple elements is a common task for stylists and often times layering helps to do this. Each ingredient on the surface need not float alone like a specimen. Instead, grouping items brings naturalness and cohesion. So in the same way that friends pile in to a car for a ride together, the dark wooden board is a “vehicle” for unity for the bread, cheese, and greens pictured below. The variation of the tones and textures of the layers also keeps a rhythm going throughout the composition and more elements to play with.
Beth – Such a simple shot but somehow it always takes time to adjust the image till it’s how we want it to look. The last few minutes I’m always running back and forth between the set and the computer finalizing everything and making sure that the food looks casual and as fresh as possible. You wouldn’t believe how many times I run back and forth.
For this image we got everything into place, then come all the adjustments. AJ moistened the tomatoes, added oil to the ricotta and we took the photo. We noticed that the arugula had wilted and needed to be replaced and the oil in the ricotta had all but disappeared, having run to the bottom of the bowl. We took another photo. Looking closely at the computer we decided that we needed more crumbs around the bread slice. Once again the tomatoes were dry and needed moisture. We had to nudge the greens– check the monitor– add a little more oil to the ricotta and after last looks, took this final shot. Far from casual, right?
A.J. – After weeks of cold dreary winter weather, I thought it would be fun to bring a little sunshine to the table in the form of golden beets. I love how quickly this recipe comes together and what an impact it always makes. I never measure the ingredients so feel free to dress the beets according to your own taste. Have all the ingredients ready then assemble just before serving.
1 large scallion, white and light green part chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
Parmigiano Reggiano, for shaving
If beets have their tops still attached, remove, leaving about 1½-inch stems. Scrub beets and place in a pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, 30–40 minutes.
While beets cook, toast walnuts in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until lightly browned; let cool.
Drain and refresh beets under cold water to stop the cooking. Peel and slice very thinly. (This can be done with a knife or mandoline.)
Arrange beet slices in a single layer on a large platter. Sprinkle walnuts and chopped scallion over the beets; season with salt and black pepper to taste. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then shave Parmigiano over the top using a vegetable peeler. Serve immediately.
Beth – In most of our postings we’ve photographed the food props as detail shots and thought it would be fun to capture the assortment of dishware brought for the shoot as a change. By turning the image into black and white, I felt it highlighted the simplicity and beauty of the shapes of these props as well as the composition Maya created.
Maya – When Beth mentioned that AJ would be making a roasted yellow beet salad, I knew that Yellow was going to be the star of the show. I thought of the props as a black and white movie and the yellow beets as the moment where there is suddenly color. Remember in The Wizard of Oz, seeing that brick road and the vivid colors of Oz for the first time after all the black and white? Yes, kind of like that!
So for our two beet shots we have “black and white” surfaces: a light wood for the ingredients shot and a deep, darkened metal for the finished dish. All the other supporting characters– glasses, plates, bowls– lean towards a warm palette to subtly enhance the pop of those golden beets.
A.J. – Don’t be put off by the lengthy ingredient list in this ultimate comfort dish. It is an excellent way to take advantage of winter root vegetables that are packed with great flavor. I’ve added texture by mincing the lamb rather than using ground. If you are short on time, ground lamb can be substituted. Most importantly use good quality lamb. I purchased mine from the Catskill Merino Sheep Farm. They can be found at the Union Square Market on Saturdays. They offer a variety of top quality lamb cuts and sausages that cook up tender and delicious. Most importantly, their sheep are lovingly cared for.
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
1 ¼ cups meat broth
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium turnip, peeled and diced
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½–inch chunks
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
6 tablespoons butter
3 scallions, white and light green part, chopped
⅓ cup milk
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, leek and celery; cook until tender. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Add lamb and increase heat to medium high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lamb has lost its raw color. Sprinkle flour over lamb and stir until dissolved. Add tomatoes and simmer briskly for 2 minutes. Add broth, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Add carrots and turnip; simmer for 1 more hour or until lamb is tender. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasoning.
While the lamb simmers, combine potatoes and parsnips in a large pot. Fill with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Add salt to taste and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes and parsnips are tender. Meanwhile, combine butter and scallions in a small saucepan; heat until butter is melted and bubbling. Drain potatoes and parsnips, transfer to a large bowl and whip with an electric mixer until almost smooth. Add butter and pour milk into the saucepan; heat until scalded. Continue beating potatoes until smooth; add scalded milk, salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Transfer lamb mixture to a large casserole, top with potato mash and bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until lamb is bubbling and potatoes are golden.
Kira – I’m a big fan of Shepherd’s pie and when I read AJ’s recipe it took me to a very cozy place. In creating an environment for these ingredients, and later the finished dish, I really wanted to capture that sense of hearty, wintery comfort food. The somewhat masculine, dark wood helps anchor us there.
A.J. – Whether you plan to be sitting in front of a television this weekend cheering on your favorite team or relaxing beside a roaring fire, I think you’ll enjoy this very easy to prepare snack.
I always keep a jar of rosemary salt in my pantry. It’s a convenient thing to have on hand when fresh rosemary isn’t available. I sprinkle it over grilled chicken or fish and have stirred it into soups, stews and pasta sauces. So when I recently purchased a bag of popping corn from the Union Square Greenmarket, it occurred to me that my rosemary salt would be the perfect condiment to toss into the steaming hot popcorn along with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil; it was. The recipe below calls for loose popcorn kernels. If your popcorn is on the cob, remove the kernels before proceeding with the recipe.
⅓ cup rosemary needles, washed and thoroughly dried
1 cup coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
⅔ cup popcorn kernels
Combine the rosemary and sea salt in a food processor. Process until finely ground. Transfer the rosemary salt to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Only a small portion of the salt will be tossed with the popcorn. The rest can be reserved for other uses.
Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large heavy pot. Add a few kernels of the popcorn; cover and heat over medium-high heat. When the popping begins, uncover and add the remaining popcorn. Cover and shake the pan back and forth while the corn is popping to keep it from burning. When the popping ends, immediately uncover and transfer the popcorn to a large bowl. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary salt to taste. Toss the popcorn well.
Store the rosemary salt in a cool, dark pantry. It will keep for several months.
Beth - It’s been a while since we last posted. Time is flying by! This image was styled by Kira Corbin since Bette is away. We love Kira’s sensibility when it comes to composition and props. She brings her own style to the blog.
AJ mentioned the idea of popping popcorn in olive oil finished with rosemary salt for Superbowl fans who might want something a bit more special. I thought it was a great idea and contributed these corncobs, which came from my CSA this past fall. They have been sitting on my coffee table for me to admire and eventually photograph. This is the perfect story to use them for.