Back for an encore

Times Staff Writer

EVERY year, we publish close to 400 recipes, and some just cry out to be on our annual Top 10 list. It tugs at your heart to hear them: “Pick me! Oh, pick me!”

This year we loved simple, rustic dishes that had been given a glamorous makeover with the best ingredients. We loved stone-ground grits dolled up with shiitakes and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a bruschetta topped with pickled radicchio and locally made burrata. Roast chicken was lavished with black truffles and the best butter we could find. Even good old mac ‘n’ cheese — one of the year’s biggest favorites — used imported Gruyère and a large shell pasta called chiocciole to create a luscious spurt of cheese sauce with every bite.

All in all, it was a delicious year. But don’t take our word for it. Recipes follow on Pages 3 and 4.


Arabic coffee pot de crème

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, plus 1 hour steeping time and several hours chilling time

Servings: 8

Note: Amy Scattergood highlighted this recipe in a July 19 review of Ana Sortun’s cookbook, “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean.” Sortun flavors a classic French dessert with the favorite Bedouin combination of coffee and cardamom for a luscious, eye-opening treat. You will need eight (4-ounce) espresso cups or ramekins.

1 cup espresso beans

2 tablespoons whole green cardamom

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons brewed espresso, cooled

1 1/2 tablespoons very finely ground espresso

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Crush the espresso beans and cardamom by placing them together in a thick plastic bag and lightly pounding them or crushing them with something heavy (a rolling pin or wooden mallet works well). The espresso beans should have the texture of coarsely chopped nuts, and the cardamom pods should split open.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, milk and crushed espresso and cardamom to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Cover the mixture and let the coffee and cardamom steep in the cream for about 1 hour.

3. Heat the oven to 300 degrees.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thoroughly combined. Strain the cream (which is now infused with cardamom and coffee) through a fine sieve into the yolks, while whisking.

5. When combined, strain again through the fine sieve to remove any pieces of cooked or lumpy yolk. Stir in the brewed espresso and espresso grounds.

6. Fill eight espresso cups or ramekins with the mixture, pouring almost to the top, and place the cups in a large oven-proof baking dish. Pour lukewarm water into the baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups or ramekins. Using a small spoon, skim any fine bubbles that form on the top of each custard. This will ensure a smooth and creamy top.

7. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Carefully remove the foil, because escaping steam can burn fingers. Test for doneness by shaking the pan gently; the crèmes should be set around the edges and not quite firm in the center. Remove the crèmes immediately from the pan and set them onto a baking sheet or tray, allowing them to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

8. Refrigerate the crèmes for several hours to chill and set. Top with whipped cream beaten to soft peaks and serve.

Each serving: 606 calories; 7 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 51 grams fat; 30 grams saturated fat; 384 mg. cholesterol; 83 mg. sodium.


Torsh kebab

Total time: 30 minutes plus overnight marinating

Servings: 6

Note: From Shoomal Restaurant in Tarzana. This kebab, unique to the Caspian Sea region of northern Iran, appeared in Charles Perry’s story on Persian restaurants on Feb.15. The rich marinade is made with ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses (rob-e anar, dibs rumman), available in Middle Eastern markets.

1 onion

1 (3-pound) piece of beef fillet

1 cup pomegranate juice or

1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

1 cup walnuts, finely ground in a food processor to a paste

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut the onion into chunks and purée in a blender or food processor, adding 1 tablespoon of water if necessary to make a smooth purée. Strain the onion through a fine sieve. Discard the solids and reserve the onion juice.

2. Slice the beef horizontally into two long strips, then cut it crosswise into 12 roughly equal rectangles. Lay one rectangle on a cutting board that has been wetted so the meat will stick. Hold the meat down with the palm of one hand. Using a very sharp knife, make a cut parallel to the cutting board one-third of the way from the top of the meat, going from one end nearly to the other but not cutting the meat into two pieces. Rotate the piece of meat and make a similar cut one-third of the way up from the bottom of the meat. Unfold the meat into 1 long slice. Repeat with the rest of the meat.

3. In a medium nonreactive bowl combine the onion juice, pomegranate juice or molasses, walnuts, salt and pepper. Add the meat and rub in the marinade. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

4. Thirty minutes before cooking, remove the meat from the refrigerator. Wipe the excess marinade off the meat. Insert a skewer through one end of each strip and poke the skewer in and out of the meat so the strip will stay flattened.

5. Grill 2 minutes on the first side, then turn and grill on the other side for a total of 4 to 5 minutes for medium rare. Serve with plain rice pilaf and quartered limes.

Each serving: 506 calories; 50 grams protein; 4 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 32 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 142 mg. cholesterol; 872 mg. sodium


Grits with leek and shiitakes

Total time: About 1 1/2 hours

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: Regina Schrambling’s March 29 story focusing on stone-ground cornmeal grits showed how well this once-humble ingredient gets along with upscale companions. Anson Mills grits are available at Silverlake Wine in Los Angeles, and Surfas in Culver City, and online at . Store them in the refrigerator. They take longer to simmer than the bland kind that come in the round carton — anything from half an hour up to 2 hours.

Kosher or sea salt

1 cup coarse grits such as Anson Mills

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 leek, white part only, washed well and thinly sliced

1/4 pound shiitakes, stemmed, wiped clean and diced small

1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

Tabasco to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. In a heavy saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a rolling boil with 1 teaspoon salt. Add the grits and stir until smooth. Lower the heat to simmer and cook, stirring often, until the grits are tender and cooked through (1 to 1 1/2 hours for Anson Mills grits). Add more water if the mixture gets too thick and dry.

2. While the grits cook, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and leeks and sprinkle with about one-fourth teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the remaining butter and the shiitakes and continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes. Stir in the tamari or soy sauce and the Tabasco.

3. When the grits are cooked, add the leek mixture and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

Each of 8 servings: 171 calories; 3 grams protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 9 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 23 mg. cholesterol; 80 mg. sodium.


Open-face Manchego and fig sandwich

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: 4

Note: Donna Deane, Times test kitchen director, was inspired by specialties of France, Spain and Denmark while developing ideas for her Aug. 16 article on open-faced sandwiches. Here she combines Manchego, the Spanish cheese, now widely available, with our local Mission figs for a summery treat.

1/4 cup sweet white wine such as Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise

6 black Mission figs, cut in half

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

6 cups sliced onions, 1/4 -inch thick

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 slices organic multi-grain bread, toasted

3 ounces shaved Manchego cheese

Fleur de sel

1. In a small saucepan, heat the Muscat to warm and pour it over the fig halves in a bowl. Let the figs stand 30 minutes to marinate.

2. In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the sliced onions, then stir in sugar, thyme, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover and slowly cook until the onions are golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep the onions warm.

3. Brush both sides of the bread slices with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Grill until lightly toasted, about 1 to 2 minutes, then turn and toast 1 to 2 minutes on the other side. Keep warm.

4. Drain the figs and place them on a paper towel. Brush the cut side of the figs with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and put the figs cut-side down on a heated grill pan; cook 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned. Turn the figs and grill another 2 to 3 minutes until the figs are tender yet retain their shape.

5. Divide the warm caramelized onions onto toasted bread slices on a baking sheet. Top with shavings of Manchego. Put the sandwiches under the broiler just until the cheese begins to melt, 1 to 2 minutes. Top each sandwich with three fig halves and a sprinkle of fleur de sel on each fig. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 265 calories; 5 grams protein; 46 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 12 mg. cholesterol; 811 mg. sodium.


Monkfish and clams with chorizo

Total time: 1 1/2 hours

Servings: 6

Note: Russ Parsons developed this fish and shellfish stew with a Spanish twist provided by saffron and sausage for an Oct. 11 article. The best sausage to use is the semi-cured Spanish chorizo available locally as chistora, though any other Spanish chorizo will suffice. (Mexican chorizo is not a substitute.)

1/2 pound small potatoes, cut in bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 pound Spanish chorizo, chopped

1 onion, minced

1 red bell pepper, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cup dry white wine

Pinch of saffron


1 1/2 pounds monkfish, cut in

1-inch chunks

1 pound small clams

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1. In a covered pot, steam the potatoes over rapidly boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes.

2. In a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, warm the oil and add the chorizo. Cook until it has rendered some of its fat and looks cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, white wine and saffron and cook until the tomatoes have melted into the sauce, which should have lost its alcohol smell. Add the potatoes. The texture should be loose and slightly soupy, but not broth-like. Taste and season with salt. (The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 2 hours in advance, or even further if tightly covered and refrigerated.)

3. When almost ready to serve, warm the base over medium heat. Add the monkfish and cook just until it changes color, about 3 minutes. Add the clams, raise the heat to high, cover tightly and cook until all of the clams have opened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Each serving: 306 calories; 26 grams protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 53 mg. cholesterol; 276 mg. sodium.


Bruschetta with burrata and radicchio marmalade

Total time: 20 minutes

Servings: 8

Note: Russ Parsons’ April 26 celebration of Vito Girardi, the man who taught L.A. to love burrata, included this simple way of showcasing the “foie gras of mozzarella.” Look for Gioia’s burrata at Bristol Farms stores; Wally’s Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles; Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica; and other small markets. Cantare Food’s burrata is carried at Whole Foods markets and at Tutto Latte Express in Hollywood.

1 pound radicchio, preferably Treviso

4tablespoons olive oil, divided

5 whole garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 baguette

1/2 pound burrata

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Trim ends, then cut each head of radicchio into lengthwise quarters and then into crosswise ribbons about one-fourth-inch wide. Combine the radicchio in a cold skillet with 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, salt and balsamic vinegar. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the radicchio has softened, about 10 minutes.

2. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the radicchio is quite soft and the bitterness has cooked out, about 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and perhaps just a little more balsamic vinegar. Remove from heat and set aside. Remove the garlic before serving.

3. Slice the baguette into half-inch slices and toast until lightly browned on both sides.

4. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the radicchio marmalade onto each slice of bread and top with a similarly sized spoonful of burrata. (Try to get both the filling and the wrapping in each spoonful.) Sprinkle each with a light grinding of black pepper and a drizzle of the remaining olive oil and serve.

Each serving: 270 calories; 10 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 22 mg. cholesterol; 416 mg. sodium.


Roast chicken with truffles and truffle butter

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, plus overnight refrigeration

Servings: 4

Note: This simple but unbelievably delicious dish was part of S. Irene Virbila’s Feb. 22 article about cooking with black truffles. Use best quality butter; we used Double Devon Cream butter. Fresh black truffles are available through February or March from Plantin America, (201) 867-4590 or (212) 564-4313; fax (212) 658-9120; .

Truffle butter

3 tablespoons minced black truffles

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Peel the rough outside of the truffle with a peeler or paring knife before mincing, or use truffle scraps reserved from another recipe.

2. Mix the truffle into the softened butter. Form a log, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate. (You’ll use 2 tablespoons with the chicken; save the rest for another use.)

Roast chicken

1 free-range chicken, 3 3/4 to 4 pounds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 (1- to 1 1/2 -ounce) truffle

1 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons truffle butter

1. The night before, wash and thoroughly dry the chicken. Lightly salt the cavity and the outside of the chicken with kosher salt (kosher salt is essential). Loosely drape the chicken in paper towels, place in a pan or on a tray in the refrigerator and leave overnight.

2. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 3 hours before you want to roast it. Rinse off the salt, dry the chicken and carefully place three thin slices of truffle (about one-sixth-inch thick) under the skin on each of the side of breast (six slices total), being careful not to rip the skin. Tie the chicken legs together with kitchen twine and let the chicken rest for 3 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat a small heavy roasting pan (preferably not much larger than the chicken) at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.

4. Place the chicken in the hot roasting pan (no rack), breast side up. You’ll hear a sizzle and know it’s hot enough. A 4-pound chicken should take 55 minutes to 1 hour to roast. No basting is needed.

5. When the chicken is done, set it aside on a cutting board and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep it warm.

6. Meanwhile, pour off everything but a tablespoon or so of fat and set the roasting pan over a burner, scraping up the caramelized bits with a wooden spatula and adding a splash or ladle of chicken stock, probably about a cup. Cook until it’s reduced and slightly thickened, remove from the heat, and whisk in 2 tablespoons of room temperature truffle butter.

7. Pour the juices into a sauce boat and add a tablespoon of minced truffle. Serve on the side with the chicken carved into pieces.

Each serving: 540 calories; 56 grams protein; 0 carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 33 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 238 mg. cholesterol; 741 mg. sodium.


Potato pancakes with apple-onion jam and horseradish crème fraîche

Total time: About 1 1/2 hours, plus cooling time

Servings: 14 pancakes

Note: On Sept. 20, Regina Schrambling explored the idea of using pears and apples in savory rather than sweet dishes. Here an apple-onion jam is given a vinegar tang and a topping of horseradish cream.

1/2 cup crème fraîche

1 tablespoon freshly grated horseradish

1 small yellow onion, peeled, quartered and sliced very thinly

1 1/4 cups apple cider, divided

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

4 allspice berries

1/2 small jalapeño, seeded and julienned

1 large sweet apple (your choice)

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (about 4 medium)

2 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Butter, vegetable oil or duck fat for frying

1. Combine the crème fraîche and horseradish in a small bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or as long as overnight.

2. To make the jam, combine the onion in a small saucepan with three-quarters cup of the cider and the vinegar, allspice berries and jalapeño. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the allspice. Peel and core the apple, then cut lengthwise into eighths and crosswise into very thin slices. Add the apples to the onion mixture along with the remaining cider. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is soft, about 30 minutes. Remove the mixture to a bowl and cool to room temperature.

3. Peel the potatoes and, using a box grater, shred them into a colander set over a bowl. Press the grated potato to remove excess liquid. Place the grated potato in a clean bowl and add the eggs, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

4. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons butter or fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the potato mixture into the hot fat and press to make a pancake about 3 inches across. Repeat with as many pancakes as the pan will contain. Cook about 3 minutes, until golden, then carefully flip each pancake over, press down to compact and cook 3 more minutes, or until the pancakes are crisp and cooked through. Transfer the pancakes to the baking sheet and hold in the oven while frying the remaining pancakes. (Blot any excess grease off.)

6. To serve, spoon a tablespoon or so of the apple-onion jam onto each warm pancake and top with a dollop of the creme fraiche.

Each pancake: 101 calories; 2 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 5 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 37 mg. cholesterol; 140 mg. sodium.


Really the best-ever mac ‘n’ cheese

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: 12 to 16

Note: Betty Hallock’s Oct. 4 article asked why so many Los Angeles restaurants serve weird, badly made versions of good old macaroni and cheese. She and Donna Deane came up with this majestic recipe, which uses large elbow macaroni or extra-large shell pasta such as chiocciole or conchiglie so you get a squirt of liquid cheese with every bite.

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon melted butter

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup flour

5 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

4 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided

3 cups shredded Swiss Gruyère cheese

1 pound shells or elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions in salted water

1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the panko bread crumbs with the melted butter on a small baking pan. Toast the bread crumbs until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted, then stir in the flour. Heat and stir until the mixture is smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. Add the dry mustard, white and cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and bay leaf. Heat and stir to boiling, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf.

3. Stir in 3 cups of the cheddar and all the Gruyère until melted. Pour the sauce over the cooked macaroni in a large bowl, stirring until all of the macaroni is coated. Pour the macaroni into a well-buttered 9- by 13-inch casserole. Drizzle heavy cream around the edges of the casserole. Sprinkle on it the remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese, then the toasted bread crumbs.

4. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. Put under a preheated broiler for 5 minutes.

Each of 16 servings: 415 calories; 19 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 25 grams fat; 15 grams saturated fat; 75 mg. cholesterol; 565 mg. sodium.


Coffee-infused duck breast with French lentil salad

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, plus 24 hours standing time

Servings: 6

Note: When Amy Scattergood designed a menu for a cool-food summer dinner party for the Aug. 23 issue, she turned to Marcus Samuelsson’s cookbook, “Aquavit,” for the main course of a coffee-marinated duck breast and then created a lentil salad to complement it. You can buy duck breasts or a whole duck and cut it up yourself. The rest of the duck can be reserved for another use.

Coffee-infused duck breast

3 cups hot coffee

6 cardamom pods, crushed

2 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks

6 (6-ounce) or 3 (14- to 16-ounce) duck breasts

2 teaspoons cardamom pods

3 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces

2 cups espresso coffee beans

3/4 cup Port

1. Combine the coffee,

crushed cardamom pods and whole cinnamon sticks in a bowl and allow the mixture to cool.

2. With a fork, prick the skin of the duck breasts all over. Then with a small, sharp knife, score the skin of each breast a few times. Place the breasts skin side up in a baking dish. Pour the coffee mixture over them, cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

3. Remove the duck from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the marinade. Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in a large skillet. Add the cardamom pods and the broken cinnamon sticks and cook over medium-low heat for 3 minutes. (If you have six duck breasts, you may want to do this in two batches, dividing the cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks, but combine both batches of duck before adding the Port.)

4. Scatter the coffee beans (if working in batches, use half the coffee beans) around the duck breasts and cook, gradually increasing the heat as the duck breasts render their fat, about 9 minutes longer for 14- to 16-ounce breasts (5 minutes for smaller, 6-ounce breasts), or until the skin is crisp and brown. Transfer the duck breasts to a plate and discard the coffee beans and spices. (If working in batches, clean the pan and repeat with the remaining cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, coffee beans and duck.)

5. Return the duck, skin side up, to the skillet, add the Port and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook the duck breasts for 7 to 9 minutes (about 5 minutes for smaller breasts). Remove them from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes to finish cooking.

6. Refrigerate the duck; remove from the refrigerator about an hour before serving to bring to room temperature.

French lentil salad

and assembly

1 cup French green lentils

2 teaspoons salt, plus additional for vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 cups chiffonade of fresh greens: mizuna, flat-leaf parsley, celery greens, arugula

Freshly ground black pepper

Fleur de sel

1. Bring about 3 quarts of unsalted water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the lentils, remove from heat and let soak for an hour. (They can soak overnight.)

2. Drain and rinse the lentils. Bring another 3 quarts of water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil. Add the lentils and boil until cooked but still firm. This can take only 2 minutes or longer, depending on the lentils; watch carefully so that they don’t overcook and become mushy. Drain and rinse under cold water.

3. Make a vinaigrette from the olive oil and sherry vinegar, adding salt and ground pepper to taste.

4. Cut the greens into very thin strips (a chiffonade) and put them together in a large bowl. Add about half the vinaigrette and the green lentils. This can be done ahead of time; the flavors are better if they have time to stand and the greens have time to wilt.

5. Slice the duck breasts very thinly on a bias. Arrange on a plate and spoon the lentil salad beside the fanned-out duck. Spoon a tablespoon of the reserved dressing around the duck and sprinkle with fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 660 calories; 50 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams fiber; 37 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 231 mg. cholesterol; 541 mg. sodium.