Grilled Maitake Mushrooms

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Grilled Maitake Mushrooms with Smoked Sea Salt

You either love mushrooms, or you don’t. I do, and I’ve just decided that maitake mushrooms are my favorite. Grilled Maitake Mushrooms to be precise. Weirdly, until recently I’d never grilled a mushroom before. That’s probably because I’ve been to one too many vegetarian barbecues and listened to everyone half-heartedly exclaim how the grilled portobello mushrooms were every bit as good as “real” meat. Well, I have news for you – they’re not. In fact, grilled portobello mushrooms aren’t even as good as “real” mushrooms. In my opinion, grilled portobellos have given grilled mushrooms a bad name. Unfortunately, I’ve never introduced my grill to a “real” mushroom before.

Then, while walking the Hollywood Farmers Market with my good friend and fellow blogger Jackie, The Beeroness, our discussion turned to mushrooms and her favorite “mushroom guy” occupying the last stall before Sunset Blvd. I soon found myself with a bagful of maitake mushrooms and a vague idea of grilling them. Grilled Maitake Mushrooms.

If you could peek inside my bag you’d see that the maitake mushroom (a.k.a. hen of the woods) is a fanciful-looking thing. Frilly and bulbous, like a cross between brain coral and a ruffled shirt. They grow on the forest floor in large, ragged clumps at the base of oak trees. They look nothing like the mushrooms we’re used to seeing in the grocery store. If a hedgehog went to Phyllis Diller’s hairstylist it might leave the salon looking like a maitake mushroom. In other words, maitake mushrooms look intimidating but they’re not nearly as delicate (or as exotic) as they seem. Which makes them terrific for grilling.

Grilled Maitake Mushrooms

You’ll often see maitake mushrooms chopped and sauteed in Asian dishes. They’re delicious, but the ingredient can get a bit lost in the muddle of a stirfry. Besides, I’m a purist when it comes to beautiful ingredients. So I suggest you keep things simple and serve Grilled Maitake Mushrooms in big clusters – the way they grow in the woods. They make an impressive presentation and they won’t fall through the grates either.

To grill them lay them out on a tray and drizzle generously with oil. By generously I mean way more than you think you’d need; they absorb oil like a sponge. The fat of the oil certainly enhances the flavor, but it also helps the mushrooms stand up to the high heat of the grill. Once the Grilled Maitake Mushrooms are nicely charred simply season them to taste. That’s all.

Grilled Maitake Mushrooms may be my favorite grilled mushroom, but I admit they can be hard to come by in pristine condition. In that case, I encourage you to experiment. You can use this same simple method to grill shiitake, porcini, oyster, or even portobellos (if you must). GREG

Grilled Maitake Mushrooms with Smoked Sea Salt Grilled Maitake Mushrooms

Grilled Maitake Mushrooms with Smoked Sea Salt

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Inspired by Greg DentonPublished
Grilled Maitake Mushrooms with Smoked Sea Salt

Ingredients

  • 2 pound maitake mushrooms (separated into 8-10 similarly sized chunks, make sure each piece has some stem attached so they stay in 1 piece)
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 4 green onions (thinly sliced)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt (such as Maldon)

Directions

Place the mushrooms on a rimmed baking sheet taking care to keep the mushrooms intact. Drizzle ½ cup oil over the mushrooms gently turning them as you slowly pour the oil to get them all very well coated; season with salt and pepper. Let the mushrooms sit at least 10 minutes to absorb as much of the oil as possible. You may need to gently turn them a few times to get all the crags, crevices, and ridges in contact with some oil.

Meanwhile, prepare a charcoal or gas grill to high heat, or set a grill pan over high heat.

Once the grill or grill pan is hot, oil the grates well and lie the mushrooms onto the hottest part of the grill or grill pan. Cook until charred, 3 to 4 minutes; flip and grill on the other side until nicely colored and cooked all the way through at the thickest part of the stem. You may need to gently turn the mushrooms a couple of more times to ensure all the surfaces char evenly. Do not crowd the grill, work in batches if necessary.

Transfer the charred mushrooms to a serving platter. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, green onion slices, chopped rosemary, and smoked sea salt.

The Basque Book: Mussels Escabeche

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Mussels Escabeche from The Basque Book

The Basque Book by NYC’s Txikito restaurant chefs Alexandra Raij and Elder Montero (with Rebecca Flint Marx) is a breathtakingly beautiful and perfectly inspiring cookbook. The Basque country is a part of Europe that spans the Pyrenees between France and Spain. It maintains a special ambiance all its own. The Basque are proud of their particular identity, despite their unspecified geography. They tend to converse in Euskera, the Basque language – “agur” (goodbye) and “kaixo” (hello) – with an occasional interjection of Spanish “buenas” or French “salut”.

If you’re willing to pick up and read The Basque Book from front to back you’ll certainly be bowled over by the depth, nuance and tenacity the authors bring in introducing Basque culture. However, if you simply start by flipping through the recipes you may find that this book reads like a slightly intimidating master course in Basque cooking. It’s a book whose recipes are dedicated to the culinary concept that ‘simple’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘easy’ and ingredients matter – a lot. While this book is fascinating on a cultural level and is a mouthwatering page-turner, I still had trouble choosing a recipe to try for myself. That’s because I’m new to the concept of Basque cuisine. I was a little concerned how I could translate so much exciting new information to my own plate.

To truly appreciate this book you probably need to already love Basque cooking. It’s best if you’ve actually traveled to the region, or dined at the authors’ restaurant, and are comfortable with consonants (especially “K” and “X”). That’s because the recipes in The Basque Book are the Txikito chefs’ personal interpretations on traditional Basque cooking. They’re presented with engaging stories that effortlessly meld the authors’ love of Basque cuisine with Raij’s Midwest background. Yes. Really.

However, if Basque flavors are new to you don’t use that as an excuse to ignore this book. Instead, skip straight to page 41 and start your education by reading the section on “The Art of Pintxos” (pronounced PEEN-chos).

The Basque Book: Mussels Escabeche

Pintxos are essentially bar food, eaten all day and all night: chorizo, cheese, meat, seafood, or simple vegetables. Many of these little treats start with jarred or pickled items. Quite simply, pintxos are the Basque version of tapas and they’re traditionally served on toast. It’s easy to fall in love with new tastes when they’re presented as toasty slabs of culinary art. These pretty little open-face sandwiches are often enticingly displayed on the counter of each bar tempting the patrons to order as many as they like.

Which is why (after much flipping through The Basque Book) I decided that pintxos would be the place to start for me. I chose Mussels Escabeche served Basque style on toast with mayonnaise. Escabeche is a traditional sweet and sour taste that I love, and already know something about. So it seems a great gateway to the unique style and flavors of the sometimes confusing Basque region.GREG

PS The recipe is beautifully written by the authors and was a smashing success. The recipe below has been rewritten in my own words.

The Basque BookFresh Mussels The Basque Book: Mussels Escabeche Steamed Mussels

I received a review copy of The Basque Book. All opinions are my own.

Mussels Escabeche (Mussels Poached in Vinaigrette)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield Source Adapted from The Basque BookPublished
Mussels Escabeche (Mussels Poached in Vinaigrette)

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ pound fresh mussels (in the shell)
  • dry white wine (as needed)
  • 1 cup extra-vrgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks (white and light green parts finely diced)
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 1 red onion (finely diced)
  • 1 carrot (peeled and finely diced))
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 sprigs lemon thyme
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 jalapeño (halved and seeded)
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup Champagne vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • lightly toasted baguette slices
  • mayonnaise (optional)
  • sweet Spanish paprika (as needed)
  • dill fronds (as needed)

Directions

Steam the mussels: Rinse the mussels thoroughly under running water. Gently remove their beards by pulling in the fibers that protrude from the shells. Add about ½-inch dry white wine to a large saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring the wine to a simmer and let it gently bubble a few seconds to burn off some of the alcohol. Add ⅓ of the mussels to the pan, cover and steam the mussels about 30 seconds. Uncover the pan and use tongs or a slotted spoon to move any of the mussels that have already opened to a large bowl. Cover the pan again, checking and removing the opened mussels every 30 seconds. Discard any mussels that have not opened after 3-4 minutes of following this process.

Add more wine to the pan to return the level to about ½-inch. Repeat the steaming process with the remaining mussels in 2 more batches.

Once the mussels are cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the shells. Place the meat into a clean, heatproof bowl as you work. Discard the shells.

Make the escabeche: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add leeks and a pinch or two salt, sweat until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the onion and carrot, and continue to cook until tender, another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, use a double thickness of cheesecloth to create a sachet by combining the coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and lemon thyme sprigs secured with kitchen string.

Add the sachet, sugar, water, jalapeño, and all three vinegars to the pan of vegetables. Simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. The vegetables should be tender but not mushy.

Remove the sachet and jalapeño halves from the mixture and discard. Pour the escabeche mixture through a fine-mesh sieve held over the bowl of mussels. Allow to cool about 10 minutes, then cover and chill well. Transfer the vegetables from the sieve to a separate bowl, cover and chill until ready to serve.

To serve: Bring the mussels and vegetables to room temperature.

Spread toasted baguette slices with a thin swipe of mayonnaise (if using). Top with mussels and vegetables. Garnish with a drizzle of the escabeche liquid, paprika and dill fronds.

A Truly Southern Rhubarb Chess Pie

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Rhubarb Chess Pie

A custard pie is not Chess Pie. Neither is a buttermilk pie. Though if you examine most Chess Pie recipes you’ll see cream and egg in roughly the standard ratio of custard – one or two eggs per cup of fatty liquid. My Rhubarb Chess Pie follows that ratio exactly. Does that make it a custard pie? Well, that depends on where you live. A lot of Northerners would call most any pie with that sort of ratio a custard pie. Add apple and they might call it Marlborough Pie. In the south (with or without apple), they’d probably call this pie Chess Pie.

In my opinion, these Southerners would only be partially correct.

There are plenty of other names for these very basic pies. In the mid-west, some call this pie Desperation Pie because you can make it even when you desperately need to restock the pantry. Here in the west, there’s a similar pie called Crack Pie, but that’s a terrible name. I like the Southern version (and name) best.

Rhubarb Chess PieRhubarb Chess Pie

Rhubarb Chess Pie

There’s more to Chess Pie than a custardy ratio of egg to cream. Remarkable in its simplicity and timeless in its appeal a Southern Chess Pie in not unlike a Northern custard pie because at its heart it contains four basic ingredients that most cooks always have on hand: flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. Of course, you can get fancy and add fruit (i.e. Rhubarb Chess Pie), cream, cocoa powder, or a sprinkling of nutmeg or cinnamon. However, it isn’t these optional additions that separate Chess Pie from a standard custard pie. The difference comes when Southern cooks add tablespoon or two of gritty cornmeal and a nearly undetectable sour tang (which usually comes by stirring in some vinegar).

There’s one more step that truly separates Southern Chess Pie from its cousins. It’s also (who really knows?) may be (could be) the reason behind the name. Chess Pie is chilled in the ice ches’ after baking. Which doesn’t mean it’s eaten cold. No self-respecting Southerner I’ve heard of would ever eat it cold, but once it’s been baked, you allow it to cool on a rack and then refrigerate it for a few hours. At serving time the pie sits at room temperature 15 or 20 minutes before slicing. It’s a texture thing. Try it and see. GREG

Rhubarb Chess Pie

Rhubarb Chess Pie

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8Source Adapted from Better Homes and GardensPublished
Rhubarb Chess Pie

Ingredients

  • single-crust pie pastry
  • 2 cup (½-inch thick) slices rhubarb
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar (divided)
  • 2 teaspoon unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 3-4 pinch kosher salt (divided)
  • 4 large eggs (lightly beaten)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup melted unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Set oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400ºF.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to a 12-inch circle, a generous ⅛-inch thick. Carefully transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate and gently press it up the sides. Drape any excess crust over the edge, then fold under and crimp decoratively. Use a fork to prick holes in the bottom of the dough. Line the dough with parchment or foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and parchment or foil, then continue baking for another 5 minutes, or until the crust is dry and pale colored. Remove from the oven and set aside on a rimmed baking sheet to cool.

Meanwhile, toss together sliced rhubarb, ¼ cup granulated sugar, butter, and a big pinch of salt on a separate rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, until just tender, about 12 minutes. Scrape the rhubarb, and any juices, evenly across the bottom of the prepared pie pastry. Lower the oven temperature to 350ºF.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, remaining sugar, cream, melted butter, vinegar, cornstarch, cornmeal, vanilla and 2 or 3 big pinches of salt. Once well-combined pour the mixture over the rhubarb in the pie pastry. Place the pie, on the rimmed baking sheet, in the heated oven and bake for 40 minutes., or until the center of the pie is just set. If the crust get too brown lightly tent it with foil for the last 10 or 15 minutes of baking. Cool on a wire rack 2 hours. Cover and chill the pie at least 3 hours. Allow the pie to sit at room temperature 15 or 20 minutes before slicing.

Rhubarb Chess Pie

I Love Broccolini. I’ve Always Loved Broccolini.

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Grilled Broccolini

I have an issue with broccolini. It feels like fake food to me. I’d even swear it’s a new invention – if food can be an invention. The first time I saw it I just assumed it was baby broccoli (it’s not). Then I figured, it must be some sort of dumbed down broccoli rabe (well, it’s not that either). So rather than try and understand it I simply built a huuuuge rhetorical wall around it and curmudgeonly resisted buying it. Problem solved. Enough said. I don’t need to tell you.

Besides, we’ve already got regular broccoli which is the greatest broccoli in the world. Absolutely beautiful. People are always telling me, how beautiful broccoli is. It’s fantastic. That’s what they say. They’ve never seen anything like it. As far as I’m concerned they can just round up all that broccolini stuff and ship it back to where it came from.

Because some vegetable cooked up by marketing geniuses looking to fill a niche in the market just has to be bad, huh? Ugh! Why would you eat that? You know these marketing guys are worse than the media people, some of whom have blood coming out of their eyes. That’s how horrible they are.

But the thing about niche marketing is this: no matter how ridiculous the product seems to be there’s always an audience that eats it up. Besides, I know you know the niche I’m talking about. You are a part of it and so am I. We are the people always looking for something new. And we have a specific list of requirements when it comes to the latest thing for our plates. So let’s face it, these marketing geniuses know exactly what people like us are looking for – they’ve done studies. So naturally I resisted it. I refuse to be studied. I mean the head honchos at Big Agro can’t manipulate me, right? Right?

Grilled Broccolini

Wrong. I bought broccolini recently because I’d read on Twitter that grilled broccolini was the greatest thing. Just ask anybody and they’ll tell you. It’s much better than grilled broccoli. Have you ever tried to grill regular broccoli? Ugh, don’t bother. I mean look at it. Regular broccoli tends to dry out on the grill. So I’m here to say that I drank the broccolini Kool-Aid. Which means I am on the broccolini bandwagon. The latest broccolini booster. A cruciferous crusader. Shall I go on? I could ya know… GREG

Yeah. I stole this joke from Steve Lopez. But it’s a good one.

broccolini on iceGrilled Broccolini Grilled Broccolini

Grilled Broccolini

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Slightly adapted from Around the FirePublished

I made this dish about an hour ahead of serving time. In order to bring it to the table hot, I plated the grilled broccolini on a heatproof serving dish and stuck it under the broiler until the sauce began to bubble.

Grilled Broccolini

Ingredients

  • 1 pound broccolini (trimmed)
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 1 ½ cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounce taleggio cheese (rinds trimmed away, cheese cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Freshly ground white pepper (as needed)
  • 3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup pine nuts (lightly toasted)

Directions

Prepare a grill to medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, to blanch the broccolini, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and set a large bowl of ice water next to the stove. Divide the broccolini into three bunches and place one bunch into the boiling water. Cook until bright green and slightly tender, about 1 minute; transfer to the ice water. Repeat with the remaining broccolini bunches. Drain and transfer to a towel to dry.

Pour the heavy cream into a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low. Add the taleggio pieces and whisk slowly into the hot cream until melted. Add the nutmeg, then season with salt and white pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

Coat the blanched broccolini with the oil and season with salt. Transfer to the grill, using a grill basket if desired, and cook until the florets begin to char lightly, 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side for 1 minute.

To serve, place the broccolini on one large or four small plates. Spoon the taleggio cream over the broccolini, dividing it evenly. Garnish with the chopped pine nuts.

 

Edamame Pasta e Fagioli a Springtime Update

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Edamame Pasta e Fagioli

Dean Martin crooned, “When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool, that’s amore!” Mr. Martin, often favored that sort of relaxed improvisation. In today’s jargon, the fact that Dino’s lazy tongue was placed firmly in his cheek would simply be part of his brand. So it’s no surprise his audience didn’t mind his Americanizing the pronunciation of the classic Italian soup Pasta e Fagioli. In fact, Americans soon learned to swoon for the stuff. That’s because Pasta e Fagioli is as simple, as it is tasty and delicious. It’s easy to fall for this gutsy soup.

I share a bit of Mr. Martin’s love of relaxed improvisation. Pasta e Fagioli is the perfect candidate for my style of free-wheeling, culinary spontaneity. That’s because there are as many versions of this quintessential and beloved Italian dish as there are cooks. There are even Americanized translations. I know because pasta fazool makes many appearances at my American dinner table. When faced recently with a bag of impulsive frozen edamame (just when did I buy it and why??) I decided to follow Dino’s lead and treat this recipe as a rough outline rather than a set of specific instructions.

Edamame Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli, for instance, is traditionally made with borlotti beans, but it doesn’t have to be, does it? What about tomatoes for that matter? While we’re on the subject would you call parmesan a mandatory ingredient? Oh, and is there any reason you’d have to serve this soup by the fire? In fact, my version of Edamame Pasta e Fagioli seems better-suited to warm weather. So why not add mint?

Which begs the question. Is a classic still a classic if you update its basics? Can comfort food remain comfortable if parts of it are completely unfamiliar? When something’s always been done one way is it OK to do it a totally different way? This fresh, non-traditional version of the Italian soup Pasta e Fagioli uses frozen edamame (soy beans) in place of traditional borlotti beans, along with meaty bits of bacon and a big sprinkling of crumbled feta (yes feta). Edamame Pasta e Fagioli, that’s amore! GREG

Edamame Pasta e Fagioli

Edamame Pasta e Fagioli

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Inspired by Food & WinePublished

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for serving )
  • 3 slice thick cut bacon (cut crosswise ½ inch thick)
  • 1 large carrot (halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick half-moons )
  • 1 yellow onion (cut into ½-inch pieces )
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 1 (3-inch) rosemary sprig
  • 4 cup chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 cup dried ditalini pasta (or other small pasta)
  • kosher and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 8 ounce frozen, shelled edamame beans (thawed)
  • 20-30 mint leaves (to taste, plus more as garnish)
  • crumbled feta (to taste)

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring often, until crisp, about 6 minutes. Add the carrot, onion, garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat, add the stock, cover and simmer until the carrot is tender, about 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Discard the rosemary sprig and season the soup with salt and pepper. Add the thawed edamame, cooked pasta, and mint. Spoon the soup into bowls, garnish with a few fresh mint leaves, then drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with crumbled feta (if using) and serve.

 

Good-Looking Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut

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Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut

There are secrets to impressing people. You can buy the book and learn how to “win friends and influence people” the old fashioned way. Or you can be born good-looking. That’s a surefire way to impress people (and thereby win friends). I’m not being glib either. Attractive people get all the breaks in life. There’s science to prove it. But this is a food blog. You can’t actually see me, so I have to impress you with good-looking food! This Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut with Summer Squash is really good-looking food.

While there are quite a few similarities between good-looking people and good-looking food (both are broadly perceived to be healthier) there are also differences and they’re as plain as the aquiline nose on my face.

To start, good-looking people usually require a lot of work to remain good-looking. However, good-looking food doesn’t usually last long enough to have to toil through the burden of middle age. And unlike the beautiful people I know, the beauty regime of most food is really quite simple. It can even be as easy as combining ingredients in new or at least uncommon ways. I figure this trend probably started with bacon. Bacon is a lot like good-looking people, you can’t help but look twice and lick your lips. So somewhere down the line, someone got the idea to wrap unattractive food – like chicken livers and scallops – in bacon.

When it comes to either people or food – I like to think I’m not always swayed by a pretty face. I often love the ugly stuff even more than the obvious beauties (oysters, blue cheese, noni). But not everyone is as self-involved (I mean evolved) as I am. Take fish. Some people go all squeamish at the thought of fish, especially raw fish. That’s because raw fish, like my aquiline nose, doesn’t appeal to everyone. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut

To prove this theory I’ve decided to wrap a piece of fish in bacon. Well, prosciutto really. Because if bacon can make a chicken liver pretty, imagine what the elegance of prosciutto could do for fish. Which also makes me wonder what it could do for my aquiline nose. GREG

raw halibut frilletProsciutto-Wrapped Halibut Halibut in Brown Paper Wrapper

Prosciutto- Wrapped Halibut with Summer Squash

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2Published

*Brine the fish: Combine ¼ cup kosher salt and 2 cups water in a large mixing bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Add 4 cups ice. Place the fillet in the brine and leave for 1 hour. Remove the fish from the brine, dip briefly in salt-free ice water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Lay fish out flat on parchment-lined baking sheets and refrigerate, unwrapped, for a minimum of 4 hours.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut with Summer Squash

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil (divided, plus more for drizzling)
  • 1 small yellow summer squash (cut into ¼-inch dice)
  • 1 small green summer squash (cut into ¼-inch dice)
  • 3 (3 x 1-inch) strips jarred, roasted red pepper (cut into ¼-inch dice)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (divided)
  • 1 pinch each kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper (as needed)
  • 1 brined halibut fillet (about 7 x 3½-inches) * see note
  • 10 very thin slices prosciutto
  • 2 tablespoon crème fraîche
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, divided

Directions

Place the oven rack in the top position and heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saute pan set over medium heat. Add the diced squash and cook shaking the pan often until the vegetables soften some, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the diced red pepper and ½ teaspoon thyme leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Starting directly in front of you lay a slice of prosciutto flat on a parchment-lined surface. Lay the second piece just above the first overlapping about 1 inch, followed (working upwards) by a third, fourth and fifth slice. Then repeat the overlapping pattern with the second five slices starting from the top down. This should make the overlapping seams unaligned in a way that adds strength to the rectangle of prosciutto slices about 6 x 11-inches that lays in front of you.

Slice the fish fillet in half lengthwise giving you two equally sized strips about 1 ½-inch by 7-inch. Place one of the pieces crosswise at the bottom of the prosciutto slices. Dollop the crème fraîche just above the fish, spreading directly on the prosciutto, then sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of the squash mixture onto the crème fraîche, followed by the lemon zest. Lay the remaining piece of fish just above the squash and crème fraîche, snuggling them together somewhat. You should have a sandwich of fish and filling laying on its side just at the bottom edge of the rectangle of overlapping prosciutto slices.

Then, working carefully to keep the prosciutto slices interconnected, roll the fish upwards until it is completely wrapped in the prosciutto. Tie the bundle closed in three places with kitchen twine, leaving the end of the fish exposed.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in an oven proof or cast iron skillet. Add the prosciutto-wrapped fish and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon thyme leaves, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and black pepper. Move the skillet to the heated oven and roast until the fish is cooked through, about 7 minutes depending on thickness. Fillets are done when a thin-bladed knife will pass through their thickest point with little resistance.

While the fish finishes cooking gently reheat the remaining vegetables, then divide them between 2 plates. When the fish has cooked, use a serrated knife to cut the prosciutto-wrapped halibut on a diagonal into 2 equally sized pieces. Lay them on top of the warm vegetables, drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut

 

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Fried Egg

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Blistered Shishito Peppers with Fried Egg

You probably know this already, but I’m not a vegetarian. Nor would I ever choose that particular path. If you remember I’m the one who anguished over, but ultimately decided to eat whale while I was in Norway. Which proves I’m more of a “never say never” sort of eater. It makes no sense to me to automatically exclude one food group from my dietary experience. I’m not judging, but I am hoping. I’m hoping I still have scads of unknown dining adventures in my future. Why preclude any of them with an emphatic “no thank you I don’t eat that”?

Of course, I’m not a voracious carnivore for the very same reason. I’d never alter a perfectly delightful dish of sweet peppers and roast eggplant tossed in a nutty tahini dressing just to have the bone of a dead animal to chew on.

What I’m trying to say is that I may be at the top of the food chain, but meat is rarely at the top of my shopping list. I often go for days and days without eating it. It isn’t that I put myself through contortions avoiding meat, it’s simply that I think about other things first: vegetables, fruit, beans and invariably eggs.

Eggs make a meal truly satisfying. This may be going a bit too far but right here, right now (in the mood I’m in) I’d say eggs are the ultimate comfort food. I remember in my college days, when meat was out of the budget, that I could survive an entire week on a 12-pack of beer and a dozen eggs.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Fried Egg

I’m still a big fan of eggs. I’m glad they made it back on the ever-changing healthy list. However, my tastes have evolved. These days I’m enamored by vegetables that were not available to me in my fraternity days. Top of that list: shishito peppers.

It was not that long ago when I didn’t even know the word shishito. I remember some expensive skin care from the 1980s with a similar sounding name. But I can’t imagine I ever considered “blistered” and “facial” in the same sentence.

Then one day I stumbled into a random Japanese restaurant on Ventura Blvd. I was served a plate of blistered shishito peppers. They were topped with a big sprinkle of bonito flakes. I remember being fascinated by the way the dried bonito danced and popped atop those piping hot blistered shishito peppers. Soon after blistered shishito peppers became an obsession.

It didn’t take long for me to bring these peppers home and add an egg. The only thing missing now is the bone to chew on. GREG

Charred ShishitoFried Egg Blistered Shishito Peppers with Fried Egg

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Fried Egg and Nori Komi Furiake

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Published
Blistered Shishito Peppers with Fried Eggs

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon hot mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon lightly toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 1 (2-inch piece) fresh ginger (peeled and grated)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil (divided)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 cup fresh shishito peppers
  • 8 radishes (thinly sliced, optional)
  • 2 teaspoon black seaweed seasoning mix (nori komi furiake)

Directions

Make the sauce: In a blender or mini-food processor purée soy sauce, vinegar, honey, mustard, sesame oil, white sesame seeds, garlic, ginger, and black pepper until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in ½ cup canola oil until sauce is emulsified; set aside.

Fry the eggs: Warm a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add ¼ cup oil, then crack the eggs into skillet taking care to keep the yolks intact. Raise heat to medium-high and cook the eggs to your liking while basting the whites occasionally with the oil in the pan to help them set up.

Blister the peppers: Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a separate large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, but not quite smoking, add the peppers, tossing occasionally, until they begin to blister and char on all sides.

To serve: Divide the warm peppers and radish slices (if using) between four plates. Top each with a fried egg, a drizzle of the prepared sauce and a good sprinkling of roasted black seaweed seasoning. Serve immediately.

 

Apricot Cherry Crisp Season

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Apricot Cherry Crisp with Pate Brisée Crust

Apricot Cherry Crisp with Pate Brisée Crust. It’s not quite a pie or even a cobbler exactly. It’s sort of in-between. That’s how it is here too. We’re on the cusp-of-summer in Los Angeles. However, unless you know what to look for, you might not know it. Despite the jokes about Southern California having no weather, there are small, unmistakable events that mark the change in each season: the autumnal shift of evening temperatures, the blazing blue skies of winter, the mist-veiled mornings of May gray. Once you’ve lived here long enough you get to know and predict the shifts that signal the annual equinoxes.

There’s another sign in the shift in our seasons and it’s best observed walking the stalls of our Farmers Markets. As the days lengthen, delicate greens give way to brilliant shades of yellow and red as summer’s fruits replace spring’s veggies. I’m not talking about the dog days of summer which bring us endless hordes of drippingly sweet peaches and rainbows of ripe plums. I’m talking about now. Right now. In Los Angeles you know it’s just past spring (but not quite summer) when apricots and cherries show up at the Hollywood Farmers Market. These early stone fruits are two of my favorites. So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be a bit like a “kid-in-a-candyshop” when faced with huge piles of glistening, ripe red cherries, and barely blushing, lightly freckled apricots.

Apricots and CherriesApricot and Cherry Stack

While cherries always entice it takes very good apricots to excite. Very good apricots can be elusive, capricious and frustrating. They infuriate as often as they delight – leaving many a shopper wondering why anyone would bother with the cotton-mouthed texture of a none-to-sweet apricot. The problem is good apricots are soft-fleshed and don’t travel well. They need to ripen on the tree to fully develop their nectar. They get bruised and mealy if they’re stored too cold and travel too far. What’s more, their season is brief. When they show up in our Farmers Markets you know they’re local. So I grab a bundle and bring them into the kitchen where even the most mediocre specimens can be transformed with heat and a heap of sugar. That’s not something I’d normally suggest for most fruit.

Of course, a sweet partner can have the same effect as loads of sugar. Maybe it’s just because they share the same season, but apricots and cherries are a classic combination. So as we sit at the brink of summer I’ve decided to bring these natural partners together in a crisp that’s on the cusp of a pie. All they need to succeed together is a little sugar for balance and a little flour for thickening. Well that and enough crust to ensure some savory crunch in every bite. GREG

PS About the name Apricot Cherry Crisp. Some might consider this Pate Brisée-topped fruit dish a rather untraditional crisp. However, the sweet and savory combination of fruit and buttery pastry is classically delicious. Besides, I’m tired of crisps that don’t stay crisp.

Apricot Cherry Crisp

Pie Dough SquaresFruit CrispApricot Cherry Crisp Apricot Cherry Crisp

Pate Brisée-Topped Apricot Cherry Crisp

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8-10Published
Apricot Cherry Crisp with Pate Brisée Crust

Ingredients

  • unsalted butter (at room temperature for baking dish)
  • 3 pound ripe apricots
  • 3/4 pound ripe cherries
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ recipe Pate Brisée
  • 2 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Directions

Butter a 2-quart baking dish; set aside.

Slice the apricots into quarters or sixths, depending on size. Discard the pits and place the cut apricots in a large bowl. Remove and discard the pits from the cherries and place them in the bowl with the apricots. Gently toss the fruit with flour and granulated sugar. Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out Pate Brisée into a 12-inch round. Cut into four 3-inch strips; then cut the strips into 3 or 4-inch pieces. Place the pieces over the fruit mixture in a random, patchwork pattern. Refrigerate uncovered for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

When ready to bake, lightly brush the exposed pastry with water and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Place the crisp on a rimmed baking sheet and place it in the heated oven. Bake until crust is golden brown and the juices bubble; about 55 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool before serving.

Traditional Pate Brisee

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1 pieSource Martha Stewart LivingPublished
Traditional Pate Brisee

Ingredients

  • 300 gram all-purpose flour (about 2 ½ cups) plus more for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup sticks chilled unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
  • ¼-½ cup icecold water

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together in jagged clumps without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Around the Fire: Ash-Seared Lamb Loin

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Ash-Seared, Cocoa-Rubbed Lamb Loin with Celery, Cilantro, Charred Orange, and Cumin-Chile Oil

Fire makes food taste damn good. So good that I believe cavemen invented fire just to get a nice char on their brontosaurus steak (ug ug). Paleontologists will insist that fire was invented not so much to make food more delicious, but to make it more digestible. Malarkey! This is 2016, science has been debunked! The earth is flat and cavemen loved brontosaurus steak. So gather around the fire because Greg Denton and Gabi Quiñónez Denton have written a marvelous new cookbook designed to get us out of our cooking rut by playing with fire. Around the Fire: Recipes for Inspired Grilling and Seasonal Feasting from Ox Restaurant.

Around the Fire focuses on wood-fired food inspired by Gabi‘s South American heritage and the great grilling traditions of Argentinan campestre cooking. A style of live fire cooking that’s as straightforward as it is appealing. It’s known in Argentina as asado, and it typically consists of beef, lamb, chicken, and/or sausages topped with a pungent herb-laced sauce called chimichurri. It’s more than just a way of cooking meat. In South America, it’s a social occasion.

Around the Fire takes that blueprint and updates it with global influences and seasonal produce. Of course, there are lots of creative takes and techniques for grilled meat, but there’s also an entire chapter devoted to grilled vegetables. Snap peas blistered over an open flame are tossed with “everything bagel” seasoning. Grilled butternut squash is sprinkled with za’atar. Portobello mushrooms are served like a grilled steak with “faux béarnaise“. These creative combinations will inspire you to “devote more real-estate on the grill to vegetables” because they’re the kind of recipes that could work as either a side dish or a vegetarian entree.

However, this book is far more than just another backyard BBQ primer. It’s changed the way I think about cooking in general. This book will influence the food I cook and the flavors I crave for quite some time. I’m sure you’ll see its influence on these pages in the future.

As inspiring as this book is, it’s also quite challenging. Both for its techniques and for the way it uses and chooses ingredients. It may even make you look at something as simple as soy sauce differently. Which I hope won’t discourage too many cooks because Around the Fire is a cookbook that presents bold flavors in restaurant-style recipes, but manages to explain these tastes and techniques in approachable terms that should inspire all levels of cooks.

Including me. I am unabashedly inspired by every page in this exciting cookbook. Which doesn’t leave much room for constructive criticism. Therefore, this post is not so much a review as it is the beginning of a very long exploration. An exploration that will extend beyond the grill and permanently color my creative choices in the kitchen.

Lamb LoinOrange-Chile Oil

Around the Fire: Recipes for Inspired Grilling and Seasonal Feasting from Ox Restaurant

To get the exploration started I’ve chosen one recipe that sums up the book for me. It’s boldly creative, it’s ingredient focused, and it’s taught me something new about cooking with live fire. I’m talking about a Cocoa-Rubbed and Ash-Seared Lamb Loin with Celery, Cilantro, Charred Orange, and Cumin-Chile Oil.

The “new thing” that caught my attention about this recipe is the unique technique the authors call ash-searing. The loin is seared on a hot metal cooling rack that sits directly on the coals while they’re at their hottest. It sounds challenging (frightening? dangerous?) but actually it’s a very simple (and very theatrical) technique that I enjoyed quite a bit. I didn’t have a metal cooling rack (or even know what it is) so I used a cast iron sizzle plate. The technique has the cook nestling the searing surface directly in the hot coals then turning and searing the meat until a very nice charred cocoa crust forms. The meat is then wrapped while still hot in heavy duty plastic where it finishes cooking. The result is meat that is pink all the way through with very little of that over-done gray part around the edge.

The recipe also features grilled oranges, which are also new to me. Well almost new. I’ve grilled oranges before, but I’ve always used sliced oranges. The pulp pretty much cooks away to nothing and you’re left with a very flavorful rind which I like very much. However, in my experience 80% of the people I serve them to leave them sitting irritatingly on the plate. Not so with the grilled oranges in Around the Fire. These oranges are peeled whole and grilled that way. The sugars are amplified by the flame and the flesh takes on a delicious smoky quality. However, they stay plump and juicy. Imagine these oranges (as the authors do) on “everything from sweetened yogurt to a smoky Old-Fashioned”.

Around the Fire will change the way you think about and cook with fire. GREG

Cocoa-Rubbed Lamb LoinAround The Fire CookbookAsh-Seared, Cocoa-Rubbed Lamb Loin with Celery, Cilantro, Charred Orange, and Cumin-Chile Oil

I received a review copy of Around the Fire. All opinions are my own.

Ash-Seared, Cocoa-Rubbed Lamb Loin

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Around the FirePublished

I used a thermometer to monitor the interior temperature during the searing process. I removed the meat from the heat when the loin reached an interior temperature of 115 degrees F. The plastic-wrapped loin continued to cook while resting. Ultimately an interior temperature of 120 degrees F. was achieved. The searing process took me several minutes longer than this recipe indicates based, I suppose, on the temperature of my ashes.

Ash-Seared, Cocoa-Rubbed Lamb Loin

Ingredients

  • 1 (12-oz) boneless lamb loin (you may tie the loin into a tight log for more even cooking if you like)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa (plus 1 teaspoon more as garnish)
  • ¼ cup Orange-Chile Oil (see recipe below in my recipe index)
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3 oranges
  • flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • 1 large celery rib (sliced thinly on a diagonal)
  • 6 chives (cut into 2-inch pieces)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves

Directions

Coat the lamb loin with Kosher salt, pepper, and cocoa powder; rubbing with your fingers to help the spices adhere. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Prepare a grill to high heat. Meanwhile, to make the Cumin-Chile Oil, in a small bowl, whisk the Orange-Chile Oil with the soy sauce and vinegar. In a small pan over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant and starting to pop, about 1 minute. Remove and add to the chile-soy mixture.

Using a sharp knife, cut away the orange rinds and reserve the fruit.

While the grill is at its hottest, grill the lamb and the oranges: Unwrap the lamb loin and place it on the hottest part of the grill (if it’s a gas grill), or – if using coals – set a metal cooling rack directly atop the coals and place the lamb loin on top. Cook for about 1 minute, until seared, then flip and cook the other side for 1 minute. (If your lamb loin is more round than oblong, give it a one-quarter turn every 30 seconds so that it cooks evenly.) Remove the loin from the heat (it will still be rare to medium-rare) and wrap it tightly in fresh plastic wrap to allow it to keep cooking while you grill the oranges. At this point, you can store the cooked, wrapped lamb loin up to 3 days.

To finish the dish, place the oranges on the hottest part of the grill and cook, rotating until charred – and almost burnt – around the side 4-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest until cool enough to handle; slice into 1½-inch thick rounds.

To serve, divide the orange slices among 4 plates. Unwrap the lamb loin and slice it into ¼-inch thick medallions; divide among plates. Garnish each slice with a light sprinkling of sea salt. Garnish with celery, chives, and cilantro leaves. Drizzle the toasted cumin-chile oil over the meat and vegetables, stirring between each spoonful to properly distribute all of its ingredients. Sprinkle a small amount of cocoa across each plate and serve.

Orange-Chile Oil

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8-10Source Around the FirePublished
Orange-Chile Oil

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup dried hot chiles (such as Thai, pequin, or arbol, stemmed)
  • 2 cup neutral-flavored vegetable oil (plus ⅓ cup more as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup Hungarian sweet paprika
  • 3 oranges (zest only)

Directions

In a dry skillet, toast the whole chiles until slightly darkened but not blackened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, then pulse to roughly chop.

In a small, heavy non-reactive pot over medium-high heat, combine 2 cups of the oil, the salt, and the chopped chiles. Once the oil starts to shimmer and the chiles start moving around, remove from the heat and add the paprika and orange zest. If the oil is too hot and the paprika starts to sizzle and burn, be ready to cool it off quickly by adding an additional ⅓ cup oil.

Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer lined with a few layers of cheesecloth. This oil will keep indefinitely when stored in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

Martha’s Manly Rhubarb Cake

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Rhubarb Cake

I bought rhubarb specifically to make a rhubarb cake I saw in Martha Stewart Living magazine. Pistachio-Rhubarb Yogurt Cake. Martha’s magazine is a guilty pleasure of mine – though it seems everything about the magazine is geared towards women. But that’s alright. I skip right past the make-up tips and arts and crafts stuff and look at her recipes. They always feature creative yet unapproachable seasonal ingredients. I’ll admit it’s not a magazine I’d read on a plane, but I still subscribe and I still skulk to the mailbox each month to retrieve it. Do you think I could get it delivered in a plain brown wrapper?

I feel the same way about rhubarb. It’s so pretty it blushes. Fruit that blushes is not what I’d call manly fruit. But (like Martha’s magazine) it’s frivolous first impression belies its practical place in our seasonal fruit bowl. Which means there’s an obvious disconnect here. That’s partly because rhubarb isn’t a fruit it’s a vegetable. A vegetable that’s best-known as a dessert. Rhubarb may be botanically a vegetable, but it is legally a fruit, as ruled by the U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1947. Whichever way you want to classify it, rhubarb bridges the seasonal gap between winter citrus and summer stone fruit nicely. It’s perfectly suited to a no muss, no fuss in-between-season rhubarb cake.

However there’s another contradiction: On its own the sour stalks of rhubarb are no one’s favorite fruit. Rhubarb may wear a flamboyant crimson frock, but it can be so tart it verges on astringent. However, its flavor mellows when roasted with sugar. That’s exactly where this rhubarb cake starts.

Rhubarb Cake

In fact, whenever I’m faced with a bunch of rhubarb I immediately toss it with butter and sugar and stick it in a 400 degree oven. A bright-pink batch of roasted rhubarb can add a sweet and sour twang to almost anything. Spoon it on ice cream, set a bowl next to a pork loin, layer it in a silky parfait or make this manly rhubarb cake. Yes, rhubarb cake can be manly. Men invented cake. And fire. And weapons of mass destruction. I think I read that in Martha Stewart Living magazine. GREG

Rhubarb Rhubarb Cake Rhubarb Cake

Pistachio-Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8Source Martha Stewart LivingPublished
Pistachio-Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature (plus more for pan )
  • 2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 pound rhubarb (trimmed and cut crosswise into 3-inch pieces )
  • 1 ½ cup granulated (plus more for sprinkling )
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon orange blossom water or pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup confectioners' sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch-round, 2-inch-deep cake pan and line bottom with parchment; butter parchment. Place 1 cup yogurt in a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl; let drain in refrigerator.

Meanwhile, toss together rhubarb, ½ cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon butter, and ¼ teaspoon salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, just until tender, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, finely grind pistachios. Add flour, baking powder, and remaining 1 ½ teaspoons salt; pulse to combine. Beat together remaining 1 stick butter and 1 cup granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then orange-blossom water. Reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with remaining 1 cup yogurt.

Transfer batter to pan and smooth top. Arrange about half of rhubarb over top; refrigerate remaining rhubarb in syrup until ready to serve. Sprinkle cake with granulated sugar and bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour, 15 minutes. (If browning too quickly, tent with foil.) Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Run a small sharp knife around edges. Invert onto a cutting board, then immediately flip onto rack; let cool completely.

Stir confectioners’ sugar into drained yogurt. Chop remaining rhubarb and swirl into yogurt, along with some syrup. Serve cake with yogurt, drizzled with more syrup.