Cozy up to winter foods


With all the fancy-schmancy meals presented at restaurants these days, I long for soothing comfort foods that have a bit of a twist. Tasty all-American dishes like bread pudding soothe us during the winter months. Roasted foods, particularly poultry and root vegetables, cook quickly in a hot oven, so dinner is ready in a matter of minutes.

I like to roast a big, fat capon once a week because the leftovers are marvelous, and I use the bones to make stock for soup. I pull the excess fat from the bird and store it in a covered container in the freezer. When I have enough chicken fat collected, usually an average-size plastic container full, I make "schmaltz," Yiddish for chicken fat. All you have to do is set the collected chicken fat in a frying pan, turn the heat to medium-high, and allow it to melt. You may have to turn the heat down a bit because you don’t want the fat to sizzle.

Once the fat is cooled, pour it into a jar and store in the refrigerator. It will solidify and turn a yellowish-white. It will keep for weeks and weeks. There is nothing as tasty as chicken fat when preparing roasted or saut�ed root vegetables. According to a study prepared by Cornell University, chicken fat, duck fat and goose fat has less cholesterol than butter.

I’ve been hungry for roast quail, which can be served as either an appetizer or entr�e. I always buy them fresh from Godshall’s in the Reading Terminal Market. In fact, I buy all my poultry there because chickens, capons, turkeys, pheasants, squabs — just about any type of bird — are farm-raised and free of hormones and antibiotics.

To keep quail juicy and succulent, I wrap each bird with a thin slice of pancetta, the unsmoked bacon imported from Italy. It’s fancy these days to serve roast quail on a bed of greens. The natural pan juices wilt the greens, which take on a distinctive flavor. Any combination will do, including watercress, arugula, mesclun mix and coriander.

While leafing through Chez Panisse Cooking by Alice Waters, I happened upon a recipe for bread pudding using panettone, the celebrated yeast bread of Lombardy and Milan. Although Waters gives a recipe for making the bread from scratch, I bet there are a number of people who have one or two loaves left over from Christmas.

Here are recipes for comfort foods with a twist.

Roast Quail on a Bed of Greens


8 quail
Sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Imported sweet Hungarian paprika
8 slices pancetta
Mixed greens of your choice, including watercress, arugula, mesclun and coriander


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Wipe the quail down with paper towels. Sprinkle on the kosher salt, pepper and paprika. Wrap one slice of pancetta around each of the eight quail.

Place the quail, breast side up, in a shallow roasting pan. You may have to use two pans if you do not have one large enough for the quail. Roast for about eight minutes. Using tongs, turn the quail over and roast for another eight to 10 minutes.

While the quail are roasting, make a bed of greens on each of four dinner plates. Place two quail on each plate and pour the sauce from the pan over the quail and greens.

Serves four.

Turnips Saut�ed in Schmaltz


4 medium turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sprinkling of either cumin or sweet imported Hungarian paprika
2 tablespoons schmaltz


Place the turnips in a large bowl. Sprinkle on the kosher salt, pepper, cumin or paprika. Toss to coat well.

Melt the schmaltz over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the turnips and saut� for about eight to 10 minutes, or until turnips can be easily pierced with a fork. Do not overcook, however.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: Olive oil can be used in place of schmaltz.

Oven-Roasted Parsnips and Carrots


3 large parsnips, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons, or more, olive oil


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Place the parsnips and carrots in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil and toss well to coat evenly. You may need to add a bit more oil.

Place the pan in the oven and roast the vegetables for eight to 10 minutes. Using a large plastic or wooden spoon, toss the vegetables around the pan and roast for another eight to 10 minutes. Do not overcook. The vegetables should retain a bit of crispness.

Panettone Bread Pudding
From Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertoli with Alice Waters


4 cups milk
11 tablespoons sugar
5 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 loaf Panettone
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Heat the milk with the sugar until it is just hot and the sugar has dissolved. Place the eggs and egg yolks in a bowl. Whisk in the hot milk until well-combined. Stir in the vanilla extract and strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the panettone into 1/4-inch-thick pieces and cut each slice in half. Place on a baking sheet and bake for six to eight minutes, or until crisp and lightly toasted. Melt the butter and brush one side of the panettone slices with it. Arrange the slices evenly in a baking dish (8-by-8 inches), pour the custard over the slices and let stand for 15 minutes.

Place the dish of bread pudding in a larger baking dish containing enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the bread pudding. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes. When the custard puffs around the sides of the baking dish and is only just set in the center, the pudding is done. Remove from the water bath and cool slightly. Serve while still warm.

Serves 12.