Friday, November 18, 2011

Grilled Romaine with a Soft Boiled Egg

Lettuce?  Grilled?  Hot?  You may be skeptical.  Maybe even afraid.  But fear not, your world may change forever.

For something that you're so used to having only one way, at only one temperature, with only one texture, it can be scary to do something different with it.  But let me tell you that although high heat and a crisp, fresh head of lettuce seem to be instinctively incompatable, they create something on your plate that is texturally and flavorfully delectable.  

This dish shines with simplicity, and has a list of ingredients that you can count on one hand;  romaine lettuce, an egg, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and olive oil (salt and pepper too...but these are mainstay seasonings, not ingredients).  And with recipes as simple as this, the quality of each ingredient is tremendously important.  

Use a fresh, sturdy head of lettuce, and fresh eggs.  Buy a piece of parmesan cut from a certified wheel of parmesan cheese from Parma, Italy, from your local store's cheesemonger (dear god, not from the green can please).  And for the olive oil - the one you are drizzling on top with the lemon juice - make it extra virgin;  one that actually contains flavor profiles of earthiness and hints of fruit, that finishes with a bite of pepper in the back of your throat.  If you have never tried an olive oil like this before, please do.  It will change your view of what olive oil actually can, and should, taste like.  

From the seared, caramelized marks on the outer leaves, to the steamed, leafy center, to the nutty salty parmesan, the richness and natural sauce of the egg yolk,  the grassiness of the olive oil, and the brightness of the lemon, your taste buds will be blown away with every bite, all the way from the first bite until the last (or until you're licking your plate....not that I'm speaking from experience).  

In fact, get a good loaf of crusty bread to take care of that.  All together you'll have a full and satisfying meal that beats a regular old chopped romaine salad any day.  

Grilled Romaine with a Soft Boiled Egg 


1 head of Romaine Lettuce (Romaine Hearts work best for this since they are sturdier and not as 'leafy' as regular romaine.  It helps maintain texture and structure against the high heat of the grill or skillet)
1 egg, soft boiled (instructions below)
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, to taste
1-2 tablespoons quality Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 tablespoon other oil; either canola, vegetable, or other less-flavorful and high-heat tolerant oil
Juice of a quarter to half of a lemon


Start your method for preparing your soft boiled egg(s) as described below.

In the meantime, heat a grill, grill pan, or saute pan over medium high heat.  Rub the Romaine heart with the high-heat tolerant oil and season all around with salt and pepper.  Have your grated cheese, lemon wedge, and extra virgin olive oil ready next to your plate to assemble the dish easily once the other components are ready.

Once your egg is done cooking in the water, drain the hot water and let the egg sit in cold water to cool down.  Now put your romaine heart on the heat, rotating it with tongs to sear it on all sides.  Remove the lettuce when it has slightly wilted but still holds shape when you pick it up - about 1-2 minutes.

Remove the lettuce to your plate and sprinkle with a generous snowfall of freshly grated parmesan, big squeeze of lemon juice, and healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Peel your soft boiled egg and place it on top, repeating with another layer of cheese, lemon, oil, s&p.

Break the yolk with your fork.  Cut your first bite of wilted-yet-still-crunchy-and-caramelized lettuce, swirl it within the river of cheesy, yolky, olive-oily, lemony heaven, and taste the salad revolution you've been waiting for.  Repeat.

Soft Boiled Eggs

Heat water with a pinch of salt in a saucepot over medium high heat (the right size pot and amount of water for the number of eggs you are cooking to be fully submerged in the water once placed inside.)

Once the water just barely begins to show signs of boiling - beyond a simmer but not at a rolling boil - gently place the egg(s) inside the water, using a spoon to lower them to the bottom of the pan.

Let the eggs cook for 5-6 minutes while never letting the water come to a rolling boil.  Exact timing will depend on elevation, which takes a bit longer the higher up you are, and on desired doneness of the yolk.   It takes a few rounds of cooking soft boiled eggs to learn your stovetop and your water temperatures and your eggs to know your exact rules to make your own perfect soft boiled egg.

Drain the hot water and run cool water over the cooked eggs.  Gently peel off the shells and devour.  Dont forget a sprinkle of salt and pepper on top.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake

I am in love with what happens to apples when they're baked.  In it's natural state, an apple is firm, true to it's shape, solid and crisp throughout.  Once baked, however, this persona slowly surrenders to a more mellow and tender self.  It gives away easily under your bite, soft and sweet, instead of fighting back with a crisp crunch.  Its sugars condense and an intense apple flavor remains, that is eager to pair with warm fall flavors like cinnamon, ginger, and molasses.

Still in the spirit of fall, I wanted to use my orchard-picked apples in a different way than in a crisp or in the muffins that I had just written about.  I wanted something more festive, more complex in flavor.  Gingerbread has always been a favorite of mine because of these reasons, and to pair it with baked-in apples made it a dish that I could not pass by.  
It's an easy cake.  It bodes a festive look, yes, but that only equates to its greatness of the flavor, not the level of difficulty to make it.  And, with all gingerbreads, especially this one, whipped cream (homemade, please!) is an absolute must.  It's practically begging to be on your Holiday Table, so go make one and share it with your loved ones who deserve it most.  

Happy Festive Fall!

Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake

Adapted from Karen Bates at the Philo Apple Farm via the New York Times
Also on

Serves 12

4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
4 apples (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch wedges

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Very softly whipped cream

Make the topping: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 10-inch cake pan. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, four minutes, then swirl in salt. Remove from heat and pour into the bottom of your cake pan. Make circles of overlapping apple slices on top of the caramel. Chop any remaining slices and place them in the gaps.

Make the batter: Using a mixer, blend 1/2 cup butter and the sugar on medium-low speed. Increase the speed to high and cream until light and fluffy.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, molasses, honey and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Alternate mixing the flour and molasses mixtures into the butter mixture, adding the next once the last has been incorporated.

Pour the batter into the pan. Bake at least 45 to 50 minutes (thanks to commenter klp for reminding me this took a bit longer) or until a wooden tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a platter (one that will catch spills, unlike what you see in the pictures above).

Serve warm or cool with very softly whipped cream.