Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Julia Child & Me: Torte Milanese


“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appetit.” (Julia Child)

This is one amazing dish.  I'm sharing the recipe b/c it's so good I want everyone to make it.  The recipe can be adapted; I've never actually followed it.  Basil instead of spinach (I CANNOT / WILLNOT eat cooked spinach), salami instead of ham, whatever cheese I can get, and sundried tomato pesto in addition to or instead of the roasted peppers. I also double up on the eggs and add what ever fresh herbs I can find to the eggs.

I don't make it often b/c I have to make the puff pastry by hand -- but in the 1st world I'm sure you can get/buy perfectly lovely puff pastry in the freezer section of any respectable grocery store.  (i.e. NOT 7-11 or AM/PM.)  We can get it here but it's never made with butter.  (If you are in Zambia and in the mood for this deliciousness, Woolworth's at Levy Junction sometimes has one made partially with butter which I'd use if they ever stock it. And if they don't have any and you still want to make the recipe, use Kellygold or Plugra butter to make the puff pastry.)

There is no chicken-whacking going on in this recipe but you can sure add it.  

Make this with the spirit of Julia Child, don't be intimidated. It's a long but, truly & honestly, totally uncomplicated recipe. Improvise. Do all the prep for for this recipe the day before and assemble it / cook it/ the day you want to eat / devour it.  You won't regret it.

If I was in the emerald city today, I'd be making this for my mom who is in hospital recovering from a nasty fall and surgery to repair some of the many resulting broken bones that resulted.  

Feel better, mom.
  
TORTE MILANESE

1 pound puff pastry, chilled - homemade or store bought.  If using store bought, roll both sheets together for 1 lb, then cut off a 1/4 lb for the top of the torte. Use any scraps to cut out designs for the top, if desired.

For the Eggs
10 large eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons snipped fresh tarragon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Filling
6 large red bell peppers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds spinach, trimmed and washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
8 ounces Swiss cheese or Gruyere, thinly sliced
8 ounces smoked or honey ham, thinly sliced
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt
DIRECTIONS:
1. Prepare the pastry: Generously butter an 8 1/2-inch springform pan. Cut off one quarter of the pastry, cover, and set aside. Roll out remaining puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface to a 1/4-inch thick round. Carefully fit the pastry into the pan, pressing to get a smooth fit, leave a 1-inch overhang. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry until it is 1/4 inch thick. Cut out an 8-inch circle of dough for the top of the torte and lift it onto a plate or baking sheet. Cover both the crust and the lid with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling. If using scraps for cut-out designs, like leaves, place the cut-outs on a separate plate, cover with plastiv wrap and chill in fridge along with top and lined springform pan.
2. Make the Eggs: Whisk eggs, herbs, salt and pepper together. Melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat and pour in the eggs. Gently but constantly stir the eggs around in the pan, pulling the eggs that set into the center of the pan. Slide the eggs onto a plate, without mounding them, and cover immediately with plastic wrap. You want a loose, soft scramble since the eggs will be baking for a little over an hour.
3. Roast the peppers: place whole and untrimmed, directly over the flame of a gas burner. As soon as one portion of a peppers skin is charred, turn the pepper. When black and blistered all over, drop into a bowl…cover with plastic wrap and let steam (I throw them all in a paper or large ziplock bag and seal it shut) for about 20 minutes.  Use your fingers to rub off skin –DO NOT rinse under water, you lose flavor.  Cut each pepper once from top to bottom, cut away the stem, open the peppers, and lay them flat. Trim away the inside veins and discard the seeds; season peppers with salt and pepper and set aside, covered, until needed.
Alternatively, lay the peppers on a baking sheet and place them under the broiler, turning them as each side chars   Then continue to skin and seed them as instructed above.
The peppers release a lot of liquid once roasted. Make sure the peppers are dry (blot with paper towels) before adding them to the tourte. I cut up the roasted peppers because sometimes you end up with big or whole pieces pulling out with each forkful.
5. Cook the spinach: in a large quantity of boiling salted water for 1 minute to blanch it. Drain spinach in a colander, rinse with cold water, and press it to extract all of the excess moisture. Heat the oil, butter, and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. Add blanched spinach and sauté for 3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and add a little heavy cream. Bring quickly to the boil and stir so it mixes with the spinach. Remove the spinach from the skillet with a slotted and set aside.  Once it’s coole, squeeze as much liquid out before adding it to the tourte.
6. Assemble the Torte: Remove the pastry-lined springform pan from the refrigerator and layer the filling ingredients in the following order: (quick tip: Sprinkle a little dry bread crumbs or grated Italian hard cheese on the bottom of the raw crust before adding first layer of scrambled eggs to protect against a soggy bottom crust).
  • half the eggs
  • half the spinach
  • half the ham
  • half the cheese
  • all the roasted peppers, laid flat
Continue layering in reverse order;
  • remaining half of cheese
  • remaining half of ham
  • remaining half of spinach
  • remaining half of eggs
With each layer, make certain that the ingredients are spread to the edge of the pan. Fold the excess crust in over the filling, and brush the rim of crust you’ve created with the egg wash. Center the rolled-out top crust over the torte and gently push the edge of the top crust down into the pan, pressing and sealing the top and bottom crusts along the sides. Brush the top with the egg wash and cut a vent in the center of the crust. Use the point of the knife to etch a design in the top crust, taking care to cut only halfway into the dough. Chill the fully loaded tourte for 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.
20 minutes prior to baking; position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F.
7. Bake the Torte: Place the torte on a jelly-roll pan, give it another coat of egg wash, and bake it for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until puffed and deeply golden. Remove from the oven and let rest on a rack until it reaches room temperature. Run a blunt knife or offset spatula around the edges of the pan and release the sides.  Let cool for 20 – 30 minutes before cutting.  Let it cool for 1 hour before cutting.

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