Lunch at Ducali with Cookbook Author Crescent Dragonwagon

I recently joined a small group of Boston Bruncher bloggers to have lunch and conversation with the noted and published author Crescent Dragonwagon.  The setting was Ducali, a casual Italian restaurant in the North End. Crescent's publisher, Workman, graciously sent each blogger a copy of her latest cookbook, Bean by Bean.  The book is divided into chapters by season and includes everything from appetizers to desserts (yes, beans can be used in sweet preparations).  She gives helpful hints for bean storage, soaking, and the always interesting historical background of bean varieties.  Conversation with Crescent and her husband, David (an accomplished writer and photographer) ranged from her thoughts on creative writing to starting a writer's colony in Arkansas to her favorite beans,

Bean by Bean was a book four years in the making.  Crescent is no stranger to the lengthy writing process as she has published 50 books in her career.  She has a children's book called All the Awake Animals coming out in the Fall of 2012.  To Crescent, "the best part of writing is the writing". She encouraged writers (especially young writers) to write across genres, Another key takeaway was to find your voice in every story.  Crescent leads creative writing workshops that encourages writers to do just that.

All of the bloggers commented on Crescent's warmth, perspective, and humor. She can be reached via Twitter as @cdragonwagon

All this talk about the cookbook and writing was served up alongside pizzas and salad.

Our first course was carciofi (broiled artichoke) served with homemade garlic aioli.

The baby spinach salad with goat cheese and dried cranberries was enjoyed by all, as evidenced by these almost clean plates.

We tried three pizzas, all vegetarian.

Spinaci fresh mozzarella, garlic and spinach, topped with black pepper and Romano cheese.

The rugola, a mozzarella topped with arugula, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. The chunks of cheese were salty and irresistible especially with the drops of truffle oil.

Grilled eggplant, mushroom, zucchini and mozzarella topped with fresh goat cheese.

Ducali (@ducali on Twitter) is located along the northern border of the North End out of the fray of Hanover Street.  The restaurant's name comes from the nickname of a soccer team in Parma.
Blogger's note: Lunch was provided free of charge by Ducali and the cookbook was also provided by Workman Publishing.

Baked Eggs + Cream + Herbs

In continuing the egg theme, I recently made an all-time favorite: baked eggs in cream with herbs.  It is simple and quick for one eater and easily ratcheted up for a larger crowd.  Each person receives his or her own dish of a baked egg. No sharing, no dividing between plates. 

Fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, or oregano work well in this dish as they can withstand the baking; a sprinkle of chives or parsley would be a nice touch once the eggs come out of the oven.

PS: my ratio per person is 1 egg : 1 tablespoon heavy cream : 1 dish

Baked Eggs + Cream + Herbs
yield: one egg per person

1 egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream or half & half
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Turn on the oven to 375 degrees.

Crack the egg into a small ramekin or flat dish that is oven-proof.

Pour the heavy cream over the egg and add the thyme, salt, and pepper.

Place the ramekin or dish on a baking sheet for easy retrieval from the oven.  The baking sheet should be placed in the middle of the oven.

Watch the egg carefully as it should cook between 6-9 minutes, depending on the oven.  The egg white should be set, but not too firm.  Once removed from the oven, the egg will continue to cook a bit.

Serve with wine, bread, and a salad.

Deconstructed Egg Salad Sandwich

The egg salad sandwich has many iterations, but after recently trying a version made with Greek yogurt, I had an idea to layer the components rather than mix them together.

Like mustard? Great! Don't like mayo? Leave it out.  Add some capers or sprinkle smoked paprika on top (totally forgot this ingredient and might have to make another sandwich just to try it...all in the name of research). 

Deconstructed Egg Salad Sandwich
yield: one open faced sandwich

1 hard boiled egg (see steps below)
garlic clove (optional)
bread cut into a 1/2" slice, toasted (optional)
grainy mustard
mayo
spinach, chopped
herbs like parsley, dill, mint, or cilantro, chopped
black pepper & flaky sea salt, to taste

How to boil an egg:

In a small sauce pan, cover egg with cold water and bring to a boil.  Neither a poach nor a simmer, but a full on boil.

Turn off the heat and cover pan with a lid or small sheet pan.  Let eggs sit in the water for 12 minutes. 

Pour out hot water and cover eggs with cold water to stop the cooking.  Peel and slice.

To assemble sandwich:

Rub a small clove of garlic over the toast (this step is optional, but it ups the flavor factor).

To taste, smear some of the grainy mustard and mayo on the bread.  Top the bread with chopped spinach and herbs.  Lay the sliced hard boiled egg on top of the greens and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and black pepper.

Enjoy and then plot when to make the sandwich again.

Spicy Tomato Bleu Cheese Soup

The first time I made this soup was early January 2010 for a New Year's party.  I decided to make the full batch which serves four to six people and when ladled into small bowls, it can stretch for a gathering.  In this recipe, I scaled the ingredients down for a smaller batch.  San Marzano tomatoes are typically sold in 28 ounce cans - feel free to use a 14 ounce can of whole tomatoes (regardless of brand) or open the larger size and use the remaining tomatoes for another use.  I'm sure that won't be a tough challenge!

Spicy Tomato Bleu Cheese Soup
adapted from the Amateur Gourmet
originally from Michael Symon's Live To Cook by Michael Symon

Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small-ish red onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 14-oz can San Marzano tomatoes with the juice
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce, or a little less depending on taste (don't buy it, make your own)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup Blue cheese (Roth Kase is recommended; Maytag or Buttermilk are also good)

Heat the olive oil in a 2 quart pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and a large pinch of salt and sweat for two minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sweat for two more minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice and the stock and bring to a simmer.  Add the cream, sriracha sauce, and thyme and simmer for 45 minutes.  Take care to not let the soup boil - heavy cream doesn't like it!

Add the blue cheese to the soup, and using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.  A regular blender could also be used and work in batches if necessary.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot, taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary, and reheat to serve.

The soup will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for a few days.

Tortilla & Lime Soup

Cooler temperatures have returned to Chicago.  It is mid-May and those summer breezes haven't arrived.  This tortilla soup is perfect for lunch or dinner and packs a spicy punch.  Add roasted chicken or grilled steak for a heartier meal or top with avocado, cilantro, cheese, or red onion.  

Tortilla & Lime Soup

Adapted from: Soup Chick 
Serves 1-2

2 corn or whole wheat tortillas
1 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced, plus 1/2 tsp adobo sauce

1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes 
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup water
Juice of 2 limes, plus the rinds (4 halves of squeezed lime)
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano 
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Garnish options: diced red onion, chopped avocado, cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice tortillas into thin matchsticks, 2-3 inches long and 1/4-inch wide and spread on a cookie sheet. Leave out on the countertop to get a bit stale while the soup is prepared.

In a stockpot, heat the oil. Sauté onion until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the chipotle, adobo sauce, and tomatoes and stir 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, water, lime juice, lime halves, oregano and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove lime rinds. Set soup aside, covered. 

Bake the tortilla strips for 10 minutes, or until crisp and browned. Stir half of the tortilla strips into the soup, and let sit for 5 minutes. Ladle soup into individual serving bowls, and garnish with more crispy tortilla strips and garnishes.

Fennel and Black Olive Pizza

For some reason, fennel has become my new favorite vegetable.  Maybe it is because it can be chopped into thin slices for salads or the stalk saved for vegetable broths or that the fronds make for a pretty garnish.  

This pizza combines tangy goat cheese, bright lemon zest, salty olives, and the crunchy fennel.

The dough is of the no-knead variety and takes up to 24 hours to rise.  I like to make this dough later in the day allowing it to rise overnight; it is a definite time-saver.

Fennel and Black Olive Pizza

adapted from The Kitchn 

makes one 10-12" pizza

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 fennel bulb, cored and sliced thin 
a few spoonfuls flour
1 ball pizza dough (recipe for No-Knead)
a few spoonfuls coarse cornmeal
2-3 oz goat cheese
3-5 black olives, pitted & torn into pieces
1 teaspoon lemon zest
a few cracks freshly ground pepper
8-10 one-inch pinched fennel fronds

Preheat oven to 450° F.  Stick a pizza stone or sheet pan in the oven.

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add fennel slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned. Remove from heat.

With floured hands over a floured surface, stretch the dough until it is 10-12", taking care not to stretch it too thin. Uneven is okay, this dough makes a rustic crust. Press small thumbprints around the crust and brush with remaining tablespoon olive oil.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and transfer the crust over. Re-shape if it's gone askew. Top with the goat cheese, fennel, and black oives. Slide onto the pizza stone or baking sheet in oven.

Cook until crust looks golden brown and cheese is bubbling, 6-10 minutes. When ready, carefully pull from the oven, top with lemon zest, a few cracks of pepper and the fennel fronds. Slice and serve.