I didn't think it was possible but Deb Perelman managed to do it effortlessly. I laughed out loud while reading a cookbook. Does that ever happen? You can feel inspired by a cookbook which will lend a comfortable smile while perusing the recipes, or you can be more placid until you flip to a dish that excites your taste buds and creates excitement. But that's all very civil and contained. Not so with The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, you will have bouts of real, natural laughter. That's some talented Manhattanite, that Deb.
She brings funny anecdotal stories and recounts how she came to create some of the recipes. The ingredients get a life of their own as she describes them in such vivid words that you have no choice but to stick a bookmark on that page because she's convinced, or better yet coerced, you, again, that this is the best recipe in the book that you must promise her you'll try.
And there are many such recipes. Too many, I should add. Though I easily cross off the blatantly non-kosher ones, such as the ones with bacon and seafood. Deb does steer back to her tradition and gifts us with a beautiful fig, olive oil and sea salt challah.
But there are so many other delicious recipes to try like the raspberry ricotta scones, and the corn-risotto stuffed poblanos (which is part of a larger Vegetarian section). It's not until you get towards the end of the book that you find the really good stuff, that leaves you off on a sweet note: Deb's desserts. Imagine images of buttered popcorn cookies (popcorn in a cookie? genius!), and chocolate hazelnut crepe cake (which might turn into my husband's next birthday cake), and many more cookies, tarts, and cakes.
Overall, the cookbook is very much an extension of the ever-popular blog by the same name. The recipes are delivered with ease and detailed guidelines that can make the greatest novice into a seasoned chef. They are definitely tried and true, rightful to Mrs. Perelman's obsessive perfectionism.
The first recipe I decided to try from the book is the Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onions Galette. It's not very hard to understand why. This dish represents all the goodness of fall in irresistible flavors. A rustic savory dough wraps slices of sweet, caramelized onions and pieces of roasted butternut squash; a perfect hearty weekday dinner.
After the very first bite, I was demanded the recipe. It was that good. So here it is, Anabelle. Thank Deb Perelman for it.
Oh, and Deb, just wanted to add that my kitchen is positively tinier than yours.
for the pastry:
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour (including 1/2 cup of whole wheat if you'd like)
1/2 teaspoon of table salt
16 tablespoons (225 grams or 2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (120 grams) sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of white-wine vinegar
1/3 cup (80ml) ice water
for the filling:
2 small or 1 large butternut squash
3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of butter
2 large sweet onions
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
2 cups (185 grams) of grated Italian fontina cheese (I substituted with
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons chopped sage
1 egg yolk, beaten, for the glaze
1. In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole sticks of butter and, using a pastry blender, break up the bits of butter until the texture is like cornmeal, with the biggest bits the size of pebbles. In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream, vinegar and water, and pour this over the butter-flour mixture. Stir with a spoon until a dough forms, kneading it once or twice on the counter if needed to bring it together. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
2. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel the squash, then halve and scoop out the seeds. Cut into 1/2-3/4 inch chunks. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large baking sheet, spreading it to an even slick. Lay the chunks in one layer, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and freshly ground black pepper, and roast for 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender, turning the pieces occasionally so that they brown evenly. Set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.
3. While the squash is roasting, melt the butter and the tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet, and cook the onions over medium-low heat with the sugar and the remaining teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cayenne pepper, if you are using it.
Mix the squash, onions, cheese and herbs in a bowl.
4. On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 16-to-17 inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the squash mixture over the dough, leaving a 2-to-2 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the squash, pleating the edges to make it fit. The center will be open. Brush the outside of the crust with the egg yolk wash, if using.
5. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the galette from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide it onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
note: this recipe can be divided to make two 9-inch galettes.