For this week’s Dark Days challenge, I tried out two new recipes. The first comes from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, a really wonderful cookbook that a friend lent to me and I’ve been hoarding for way too long. Deborah Madison was the genius behind the delicious goat cheese and leek tart, and this recipe for onion and smoked cheddar custard looked particularly delicious. I really liked the finished product – for a vegetarian dish, it had an amazing meaty flavor. Or, umami if you prefer the technical term. The recipe calls for it to be baked in six 1/2 cup ramekins. I used 4 one cup ramekins because that’s what I had and it seemed like a better size for one serving anyway.
I served it with braised escarole, using a recipe from Tyler Florence. Escarole isn’t really a vegetable I’m too familar with, but they were on full display at the farmer’s market on Saturday, so I thought I’d give it a try. I thought about a salad, but felt like experimenting and opted to cook it. If you had told me that what was essentially boiled lettuce would taste good, I would have thought you were joking. But, wow. The recipe said it served four, but we had no problem finishing it off, it was that good. Thank you, Tyler Florence.
Just about everything here is local, with the exceptions being the flour in the custard, the oil, and the red pepper flakes.
Savory Custards with Carmelized Onion and Smoked Cheddar
Recipe by Deborah Madison, Local Flavors
1 tablespoon butter, plus butter for the ramekins
large yellow onions cut into a medium dice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large market eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (2 % will taste fine) or light cream
pinch of nutmeg
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup finely grated smoked Cheddar cheese
Heat a large skillet with the butter. I didn’t have a large enough non-stick one, which is what the recipe recommended, so I used stainless steel. Add the onions and mix well with the melted butter. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cover. Cook over medium heat until the onions are very soft, about one hour. During this time, you’ll need to give them a stir every 5-10 minutes. I found I needed to add 1/4 cup of water a couple times during the cooking because they were starting to stick. It could have been because I didn’t use a nonstick pan or because my stove runs hot. In any event, just keep an eye on it, and if it’s starting to burn or stick, a good splash of water isn’t going to hurt them. After an hour and the onions are nice and carmelized, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Preheat the oven to 375. Boil water for the baking dish. Grease the ramekins.
Crack the eggs in a bowl and whisk in the milk, nutmeg, flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and a grating of pepper. Split the onions and cheese among the ramekins and pour in the custard.
Stir the contents of the ramekins to mix up the onions and cheese. Put them in a baking dish and add the boiling water so that it comes up to at least an inch up the sides. Bake them in the middle of the oven until golden and well set, about 50 minutes. The tops should puff up a bit. The recipe said that they shouldn’t brown but mine did.
With the custards, I made the braised escarole.
Braised Escarole with Garlic and Lemon
Recipe by Tyler Florence
1 head escarole, about 1 pound
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1/2 lemon, cut in thin slices
2 cups water, chicken broth, or vegetable broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Break off the leaves of the escarole and wash them carefully. They will likely be very dirty, so this might take a while. Dry the leaves, and slice them crosswise into 1 1/2 wide ribbons.
In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and lemon slices. Saute for a couple of minutes, until the lemon starts to get soft and the garlic gets golden.
Add the escarole, sauteing it until it starts to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add a sprinkle of sugar, salt, and pepper. Add the water or broth and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the escarole is tender. I removed the lid around 18 minutes because there was a lot of liquid in the pot and I wanted to boil some of it off.
I served it along side the custard with a couple slices of ciabatta from a local bakery to soak up the juices from the escarole. So good!
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