Tag Archives: picnic

Cauliflower and Herb Spread

3 May


It’s picnic season! I knock on wood as I say this, but Portland has really been delivering some fine spring weather this year, and I can’t wait to keep our outdoor time at its maximum level. Playing outdoors, eating outdoors, sleeping outdoors—it’s all in our future.


My love of picnics is no secret, but I do sometimes wonder how I can shake up our picnic spreads without diverting too much from what makes a picnic meal so enjoyable for me. Picnics are casual affairs for us, without a reliance on silverware or fussy presentations. While we do sometimes pack a picnic that includes a salad or two thrown into a lidded container, it seems almost antithetical to the very spirit of a picnic to make your food fork or spoon-required. This means our picnics tend to include a lot of cheese selections to pair with bread, a good amount of fruit and vegetables in their most casual form, and, of course, a treat or two…or threeoh, fine to round out the meal. It’s a lovely way to eat, but, tough as it may be to imagine, even I, at times, get a bit overloaded by cheese and sweets.



Last week, when thinking of ways to diversify our picnics, I started dreaming of my favorite white bean spread. It’s a nearly perfect item to slather over a hunk of crusty bread, and, with silky pureed cauliflower swapped in for the creamy white beans, I began to imagine a new picnic food to audition this year. As it turns out, this combination of sweetly sautéed onions, fresh herbs, and smooth cauliflower is even better than I thought it would be. It’s even better, dare I say it, than cheese. For your friends who are allergic to legumes, it makes a great alternative to hummus or other bean spreads. For your vegetarian friends, it’s a super flavorful topping for bread that needs no meat to make it shine. For your vegan friends, try swapping the butter for ¼ cup of good olive oil, and sauté the onions and garlic slowly, until they begin to really melt. For everyone, make a batch of this right now, grab yourself a picnic blanket and a baguette, and head outside.


Last Year: Crisp Baked Vegetable Wontons and Spinach, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Hazelnuts

Cauliflower and Herb Spread

1 medium head of cauliflower

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped

2 pinches red chile flakes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Trim cauliflower of leaves and tough inner stem. Cut cauliflower into small florets, then place in a steamer basket. Over a pot of boiling water, cover and steam cauliflower florets for 10 to 12 minutes, until the florets are tender. Remove steamer basket from pot, and allow cauliflower to cool a bit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In separate saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat, then add onions, garlic, herbs, and chile flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent about 7 to 10 minutes. Add steamed cauliflower. Mash or puree with a food processor or stick blender until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a dish or bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.

Pane Coi Santi, Bread of Saints

4 Sep

Sometimes it still confounds me that for many years I was hesitant to attempt making any yeast-based breads that extended beyond a basic pizza crust. I contribute this lack of confidence to a spotty history of using my purchased yeast in a timely manner (thus rendering it dead and unusable). To boot, there is also my rather sad history of trying to make whole wheat bread 15 years ago in what can only be called The World’s Coldest Apartment, where the lack of heat (we’re talking steam from my breath being visible inside the house here, folks) inhibited my bread dough from rising. To add insult to my bread-baking confidence’s injury, I still ate the squat, leaden loaves that I ended up baking. If I was too poor to pay for heat, you’d better believe I was also too poor to throw out food, unpalatable as it may have been.

Now, having worked with yeast-based breads for many years, I find the process of making bread to be a soothing respite from my generally busy day-to-day schedule. Proofing bread involves a lot of waiting, so when making bread I am not only involved in the process of physically making the bread, but also waiting around while the bread slowly proofs, coming to leisurely life before my eyes. Some people might find this maddening, but I rather enjoy it. Truth be told, however, I usually use my bread proofing time to conquer all manner of mundane tasks like cleaning the kitchen or, you know, working. Because I am no fun at all.

This is one of my favorite breads. I generally buy a loaf of it from Pearl Bakery, a wonderful little bakery downtown that turns out a fantastic selection of breads and pastries. The Pearl Bakery’s pane coi santi, a traditional Tuscan bread that is dotted with dried fruit, toasted nuts, and a varying selection of seasonings, is a slightly different animal than the version I make. Theirs is made with a levain, a natural sourdough starter with a mild and pleasantly sour tang that gives the bread a good, hearty body. My version has a softer crumb, with a lightly chewy crust and a body that is decidedly less dense. Both versions are tasty, but, not having the gumption to start my own levain (perhaps this will be my next step in bread baking), I instead start my bread with a sponge of rye and wheat flours left to sit overnight and develop a slightly tangy and complex flavor. I also use dried sour cherries in my version in lieu of the Pearl’s golden raisins, and I think the swap is a good one. The sour/sweet note of cherries adds a nice touch to the heat of the black pepper that lingers in the bread, nicely bridging the two flavors together.

Even if you are not a bread baker by nature, I think you should take a stab at this bread. In reality, the preparation is not at all difficult, and, if nothing else, you’ll be giving yourself a bit of time to sit around and wait on your bread, perhaps while reading a book, catching up on email, or, if you’re as insufferably over-focused as some people around here, cleaning or working. Really, though? I think you should go with reading.

Last Year: Seared Tuna Steaks with Salsa Verde

Pane Coi Santi Recipe

Part of the base of this recipe hails from the basic country bread recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, but the tweaks and additions added to it that transform it into pane coi santi are mine.


1 cup warm water

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup medium rye flour

½ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

Bread Dough

3 ½ to 3 ¾ cups bread flour

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 1/3 cups warm water

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 cup coarsely chopped, lightly toasted walnuts

1 cup dried sour cherries

To make the sponge:

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, then stir until completely incorporated. The mixture will be sticky and somewhat shaggy. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 6 to 24 hours, until the sponge has risen and fallen. I find it best to mix the sponge in the evening, then allow it to sit overnight.

To make the bread:

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 3 ½ cups of bread flour, honey, and yeast. With the mixer on low speed, or, if mixing by hand, while stirring with a sturdy wooden spoon, add the water and mix until the dough comes together, 1 to 2 minutes. When the dough comes together, stop mixing, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes

After 20 minutes, remove the plastic wrap and add the sponge, sea salt and black pepper. Knead the dough on medium-low speed if using a stand mixer, or knead the dough by hand while it is still in the bowl. If you are kneading the dough by hand, you will need to add in a bit more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough ceases to become a sticky mess. Mind you, the dough will be very sticky no matter what you do, so a reasonable amount of stickiness is to be expected. The same advice applies to mixing the dough in a stand mixer: if the dough is unrelentingly sticky, add in more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes. Add the walnuts and dried cherries during the last minute of kneading.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand to form a smooth, tight ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Using your fingers, gently deflate the dough. Gently stretching and pulling, shape the dough into a 12-inch by 16-inch rectangle, with the long side facing you. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into two 12-inch by 8-inch rectangles. Roll each rectangle into a tight log by folding the top two corners towards the middle of the rectangle, then tightly rolling the dough, tucking as you roll, into a loaf. Pinch the end seam closed.

Line a large overturned or rimless baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Place the two loaves on the parchment paper, spray or brush lightly with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Half and hour before the dough is done rising, adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a heavy baking sheet or  baking stone on the lower middle oven rack and allow to heat up for 20 to 30 minutes.

When the dough is done rising, remove the plastic wrap and, using a very sharp knife, slash the tops of each loaf with three diagonal cuts. Lightly spray the tops of the loaves with water. Carefully slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the heated baking sheet or baking stone in the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake the loaves, rotating halfway through baking, until they are dark golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf registers 210 degrees, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove loaves to a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour.

Makes two large loaves.

White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta

9 Aug

My best friend recently had a baby, her second, and lately I have been spending a pleasingly large amount of time over at her house. While she readjusts to life with an infant, I stand beside her and offer whatever assistance I can, mainly in the form of handing her things when she runs out of arms to complete the task herself. This dance of ours is not unlike that of a surgeon and the nurse assisting her in surgery. Diaper? Diaper. Extra wipes? Extra wipes. Coffee? Oh, yes. Coffee!

Aside from the coffee (consumed in only moderate amounts, for those of you who might be prone to concern), we have also been taking part in some delightful light lunches. Sitting in the kitchen while her son sleeps, my best friend and I swipe crackers in to hummus, top slices of bread with egg salad, and wrap big leaves of crisp lettuce around chicken salad with chutney. The conversation and company is always wonderful, but the lunches always seem to cement the reason why we are best friends. Nowhere else will you find two other people whose most favorite meal structure happens to be a composition of bits of things piled on top of other bits of things.

It was with my best friend in mind that I made this fresh, summery bruschetta. Grilled bread, brushed with olive oil, then topped with a garlicky combination of white beans, fresh tomatoes, and a handful of herbs, makes for a highly enjoyable meal, whether you are interested in throwing together a simple dinner for two or a light appetizer for a crowd. Serve this with sturdy crackers for dipping and it transforms into an even more casual affair. Mix it up with some orzo and you’ve got a great summer salad on your hands (and in your mouth). Or you can do what I did: take it over to a friend’s house, place it in the refrigerator, then sit around chatting and enjoying each other’s company until  hunger strikes or a certain newborn baby allows for a bit of respite by taking a long afternoon nap (whichever comes first).

Last Year: Tiny Party Sandwiches

White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta Recipe

1 clove of garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups chopped tomato, seeds removed

1 ½ cups cooked white beans (canned, rinsed beans are fine)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

salt and pepper to taste

optional: a sprinkling of finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

1 loaf of crusty bread, cut into slices, brushed with olive oil, and grilled until crisp

In a large bowl, combine minced garlic with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Stir to combine, then set aside while you seed and chop the tomatoes. Add tomatoes to garlic and olive mixture, along with the white beans, chopped herbs, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then taste for seasoning.

To serve, pile on top of slices of grilled bread, then, if using, sprinkle with a bit of grated cheese.

%d bloggers like this: