Tips for Rookie Cooks

Small Plates and  Main Dishes. The second part

Savory Pumpkin and Sage Flan

Whip out your trusty ramekins and whip up this savory flan for your next dinner party. A perfect accompaniment to a hearty winter dinner.

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup (about 1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 15-ounce can puréed pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼–½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼–½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (tightly packed) minced fresh sage leaves

Preheat oven to 400°F. Boil about 2 cups of water. Lightly oil four 8-ounce (1-cup) ramekins.

In a large bowl, mix eggs, milk, cheese, puréed pumpkin, syrup, cayenne, salt, pepper, and sage leaves until well combined. Place ramekins in a 2-inch-deep baking pan. Fill each ramekin almost to the top (leave about 1/ 8 inch) with the pumpkin mixture. Pour boiling water into the pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 45 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of one of the ramekins, comes out almost clean. To serve, run a knife around the edge of each flan, invert a plate over the ramekin, and then turn it over. Flans should come out easily. Or just serve the flans right in the ramekins after they’ve cooled down a bit.

Serve it with

  • Salad of Bitter Greens with Asiago
  • Broccoli Rabe Sautéed with Garlic and Hot Pepper

Creamy Baked Scallops with Capers

Bring a little bit of New England to wherever you are with these tasty seafood appetizers. The individual servings are perfect as a starter or part of a small-plate lunch or dinner. For this recipe, frozen scallops are a fine substitute for fresh.

  • 1 pound small bay scallops (or diced large sea scallops), rinsed and patted dry
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼–½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup (lightly packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ½ ounce)

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Lightly oil six 4-ounce (½-cup) ramekins.

In a medium bowl, combine scallops, sour cream, capers, zest, parsley, salt, and pepper. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs and cheese. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet for easy transfer in and out of the oven. Scoop scallop mixture into ramekins, dividing evenly, and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the tops. Bake in preheated oven until scallops are just cooked through and breadcrumbs are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes.

Make it ahead

  • The scallop mixture can be made and scooped into ramekins several hours ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge. Top with breadcrumb and cheese mixture just before baking. Note that cold ramekins will increase cooking time, so factor in several extra minutes.

Serve it with

  • Lightly toasted sourdough bread and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes or sliced fresh tomatoes

Smoked Trout Brandade

France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal all make regional variations of this dish, traditionally a purée of salt cod, olive oil, milk, and potatoes served as a spread for crusty bread or toast. Here we simplify the technique and substitute smoked trout for a rich, unique flavor.

  • 1½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 pound smoked trout, skin and any bones removed
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup whole milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • kosher salt to taste

Bring to a boil a pot of water large enough to hold the potatoes. Add the potatoes and boil until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Place trout in a large bowl and, using a fork or your fingers, flake into small pieces. Drain potatoes and add to the fish, mashing well with a fork or potato masher. Slowly work in oil and milk, mashing mixture to a fine, smooth texture. Stir in garlic. Taste, and add salt if needed. Serve warm.

Serve it with

  • Toasted baguette slices and fresh tomatoes
  • Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
  • Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad
  • Salad of Bitter Greens with Asiago
Spicy Crab Cakes

If you’ve ever tried to make crab cakes, you know that they’re not as easy as they look. It takes forever to form all those patties and coat them in breadcrumbs, and then you have to stand over the stove frying them a few at a time—and to rub salt in the wound, they always fall apart. Not these! Make a quick crumb crust right in a muffin tin, scoop in the crab mixture, top with more crumbs, and pop them in the oven. Toss together a quick side salad while they bake and you’ll still have time to enjoy a glass of wine with your guests before dinner. Use either fresh crabmeat or pasteurized crabmeat found in the refrigerator section of your supermarket—don’t use the stuff you find on the shelf near the canned tuna! If you can’t find mascarpone, substitute regular cream cheese.

  • ¾ cup (6 ounces) mascarpone, at room temperature
  • 3 ounces (about 1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 medium jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (loosely packed) minced cilantro
  • 1 pound crabmeat, broken into small pieces
  • 1½ cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

In a medium bowl, combine mascarpone, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, egg, jalapeño, salt, and cilantro. Stir to mix well. Stir in crabmeat and set aside. In a saucepan on the stovetop or a medium bowl in the microwave, melt the butter. Add the panko and the remaining ¾ cup Parmesan and mix with a fork until the breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Place 1 heaping tablespoon breadcrumb mixture in each of the muffin cups, pressing into the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. Scoop crab mixture into the muffin cups (a standardized ice cream scoop works perfectly), dividing equally and pressing down a bit to flatten. Top with another spoonful of the breadcrumb mixture, spreading it out with your fingers to form an even crust. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Remove pan from oven and let sit about 5 minutes. To remove crab cakes from the pan, run a knife around the edge of each cup and carefully lift it out. Serve warm.

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