I don’t usually make it my business to tell people how to spend less time in the kitchen. I can bang together a five-minute meal with the best of them but, time permitting, I prefer to tie on an apron and stay a while. Especially when the clocks fall back, and darkness seeps in around the edges of our already too-short days. It’s the season of slow braises; long, yeasty rises; double batches of cookies; and quick breads just because. With a lineup like that, it’s hard to complain. But try planning a dinner for a Friday night, when the so-called Sabbath “eve” tiptoes in by late afternoon, and things can get a little tricky.
So let’s talk menu planning. One obvious solution to the short Friday crunch is to get cooking earlier in the week. Then, come Friday evening, all that’s left to do is reheat and serve. But not so fast. Anyone who has ever come face to face with a dried out piece of meat, or pushed a fork all too easily into a limp stalk of broccoli at the Shabbat table knows that not all food takes well to a second round in a warm oven. The key is to choose recipes that are designed to be prepared in advance, dishes that actually do better when left to soak, marinate, ripen, relax, or whatever it is they do there on the counter beneath shiny films of plastic, or behind closed refrigerator doors. Skip the risotto that demands to be served immediately, creamy and hot. Instead, go for a soup that’s at its best when it has had a night (or even two) to pull itself together, or a cake whose texture improves by the second day.
Take, for example, a roasted carrot and fennel soup with flavors that brighten over time. This soup may look like one of those wintry, orange purees that flirts clumsily with dessert and sits heavily on the tongue, but it’s different. It contains no cream; no cinnamon, or pie spice of any kind; no maple syrup, and no sugar. It relies instead on the flavors of its starring ingredients: carrots and fennel, roasted to unveil their subtle, earthy sweetness. It’s the kind of sweet you have to reach for, an understated sweet that leaves dessert to dessert, as it should be.
This olive oil citrus cake, adapted from Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson’s “Rustic Fruit Desserts”, also improves with age. It’s an unassuming cake, fragrant and moist, with a feathery crumb that tightens to perfection overnight. The citrus, oil, and vanilla settle in, and by morning, the flavor is in full bloom.
Note: To maximize efficiency, you can prepare the two recipes simultaneously, and have the soup pureed and the cake in the oven in about an hour. I’ve included my strategy for moving between recipes at the bottom of this post.
Roasted Carrot and Fennel Soup
1 medium yellow onion
1½ pounds carrots
1 fennel bulb; discard the stalks, but reserve the fronds
2 Tbsps olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 cups vegetable broth, plus one additional cup of broth or water
1 tsp fennel seeds
Sea salt and black pepper
1) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2) Cut the fennel bulb in half, lengthwise, and then into half-inch-thick wedges. Peel and slice the carrots into quarter-inch rounds. In a large bowl, toss the carrots and fennel with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and several grinds of sea salt and black pepper. Spread the carrots and fennel evenly on a lined baking sheet, and slide into the oven for approximately 30 minutes, stirring once or twice along the way, until browned and tender.
3) While the carrots and fennel are roasting, toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the aroma rises and they turn lightly brown. Grind the seeds to bits with a mortar and pestle. Coarsely chop the onion.
4) In a large, heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and ground fennel seeds, and cook until the onion softens and turns slightly translucent. Turn the heat to low, add the tomato paste, and stir to incorporate. Remove the carrots and fennel from the oven, and add them to the pot together with four cups of vegetable broth. Bring the soup to a simmer, and turn off the heat.
5) Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Be careful – it’s hot! Wrap the top of the blender in a dish towel before blending to protect against any leaks. Chill the soup overnight, and reheat before serving.
Note: The soup will thicken as it cools. Add up to one additional cup of vegetable broth or water before reheating to thin it. Taste, season with salt and pepper, if necessary, and garnish each bowl with chopped fennel fronds.
Olive Oil Citrus Cake
Adapted from “Rustic Fruit Desserts” by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson
1¼ cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp plus ¾ cup sugar, divided
Zest of 1 grapefruit
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1½ tsps vanilla extract
¼ tsp lemon oil or a squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
1 cup fruity (not super-strong or spicy) extra-virgin olive oil
Powdered sugar for finishing
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2) Using a paper towel, coat a 9 x 2 inch round baking pan with olive oil, and then sprinkle it with the 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar.
3) Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together twice. Using a handheld mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and zests on high speed for five minutes, until the mixture thickens and lightens in color. Add the vanilla (and lemon oil or juice, if using). Turn the mixer down to medium-low speed and drizzle the olive oil into the batter, pouring slowly along the edge of the bowl.
4) Add the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
5) Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake is golden and slightly domed in the center. Cool to room temperature in the pan. Wrapped in plastic, the cake will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days.
6) Dust lightly with powdered sugar just before serving.
Note: I like to serve this cake with a sauce made from the rhubarb that I stored in the freezer during the spring and summer months. I’ve included the recipe, below.
1¼ pounds chopped rhubarb (if frozen, do not thaw)
3 Tbsps granulated sugar
1½ tsps vanilla
Juice of ½ a lemon (you can use half of the lemon that you zested for the cake)
1) Combine all of the ingredients in a medium, non-reactive saucepan.
2) Cover and heat over a medium flame, until the rhubarb pieces soften and melt into each other. Stir occasionally to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
3) Taste, and add another tablespoon or two of sugar if you prefer a sweeter sauce. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
To make both recipes at once:
While the carrots and fennel are roasting, get started on the cake. Oil and sugar the baking pan, sift together the dry ingredients, crack your eggs into a glass, zest your citrus fruits, and measure out your sugar, olive oil, and vanilla. Then, carry on with the soup. Sauté your onions and seeds, add the tomato paste, vegetables, and broth, bring the soup to a simmer, and turn off the heat. It’s a good idea to let the soup cool a bit before you puree it. While you wait, adjust the oven temperature from 450 to 350 degrees, put together the cake with the ingredients you’ve prepared, and get it into the oven. Finally, puree the soup in batches while the cake bakes.
Jessica Fechtor writes the food-inspired blog, Sweet Amandine, and is a PhD candidate in Yiddish literature at Harvard University.