Tom Douglas: The Key 3

Jennifer Russell

With 13 restaurants and bakeries in Seattle, a farm, a radio show and cookbook, you could call Tom Douglas the king of the food scene there. The James Beard Foundation named him the 2012 best restaurateur in the U.S.

Here are Tom's Key 3, as told to Lynne:

Get back in making a little effort, your family deserves it, your friends deserve it. If you want to watch American Idol, put a TV in the kitchen -- but take some time to cook.

1. Tom's Tasty Tomato Soup with Brown Butter Croutons

We all grow up with soup, and having one that transitions through mom and through you to your kids is a great thing to have at your disposal. My mom’s came out of a Campbell’s can. My tomatoes are now coming out of a can because it’s not tomato season. I’ve transitioned from a can of soup to a can of tomatoes.

In tasting these tomatoes, they just need a touch of sugar, not very much. You can always test your tomatoes and find out what your sugar add is. You don’t want sweet and sour tomato soup, that’s not what we’re going for.

With tomatoes, I would buy one of each of [a local grocery store’s] tomato cans. It might be a $10 investment to get their selection. Take them home, open them up, and decide which one you like the best. Most of the tomatoes are canned at the end of the season. They are in that can for the year. It’s not like in May you are going to get a different tomato than you get in February. That gives you a way to taste and find the best tomato in your market. It’s only a $10 effort and it’s fun.

If you are reduced to dry herbs, I would put the oregano in [the sauté] and let it balance itself out. If you by chance have fresh herbs in your garden, then I finish with the oregano because I don’t want to cook out that beautiful, floral aroma.

I’m adding a little bit of cream, and I like it for mouth feel. For me, when I eat a tomato soup without any cream, it’s a little bit acidic on the tongue. The cream just knocks that back just a touch.

When your tomatoes are packed in cans, you will see that these are whole, peeled tomatoes. Sometimes they are packed with water, sometimes they are packed in tomato concentrate. You need to use the water to thin it down from stew to soup. It could be that you don’t need anything.

I used to think [the immersion blender] was the most unneeded tool in the kitchen. Now I just love it. You could take this very same pot of soup and try and scoop it into the blender. You have the risk of getting it into the blender, when you hit the “on” button and when you pour it out of getting burned by hot soup. The immersion blender just goes right into the pan.

When I was a kid and my mom made tomato soup, she would cut buttered toast into squares and float them on top of each bowl. My twist on mom’s toast is to make brown butter croutons, though when I'm really feeling feisty I go all the way and make grilled cheese croutons to float on the soup. To cut the bread for the brown butter croutons, take a 4-inch chunk of rustic bread (5 to 6 ounces) and cut off and discard the crusts using a serrated knife. Cut the bread into 4 slices, then cut the slices into 3 1/4- to 1- inch cubes.

Special equipment: Blender

Ingredients

Soup:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife and peeled
  • 5 cups canned whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
Brown Butter Croutons:
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 slices european-style rustic bread, crusts removed, cut into 3/4- to 1- inch cubes (30 to 36 cubes) kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, cream, salt, red pepper flakes, celery seed, oregano, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and puree in batches in the container of a blender. Return the soup to the pot and reheat to a simmer, seasoning to taste with more salt and pepper.

3. Meanwhile, to make the brown butter croutons, preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the butter in a small pan over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until the butter is golden brown and aromatic, about 3 minutes after the butter melts. Remove from the heat. Put the bread cubes in a bowl and pour the brown butter over them, tossing to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss again. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and place it in the oven. Bake until the croutons are toasted and golden, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the oven.

4. Serve the soup hot, garnished with the croutons.

2. Serious Biscuits

I’m a dude -- I’m always talking from a dude’s perspective. You’ve had a date, maybe things worked out pretty well, and you get up in the morning. You could have the awkward morning, or you could get down in the kitchen and make what we call a Serious Biscuit. I think nothing says love and "I want you to come back and have a second date" than cooking for someone in the morning.

These are the same biscuits we make for the biscuit sandwiches served at Serious Biscuit, downstairs from our pizza joint, Serious Pie Westlake, but at Serious Biscuit, we cut the dough into bigger squares, about 3 1/2 inches, bake them, split them in half, and fill them with everything from fennel sausage with fried egg, melted fontina, and spicy-sweet pepper relish to crispy fried chicken with fried egg and savory black pepper gravy. If you want to make your own biscuit sandwiches, just cut the squares a little bigger than directed in this recipe, bake them, split them in half and fill them. This smaller, 2 1/2-inch biscuit is perfect for breakfast or brunch.

When getting started on the recipe, dice the cold butter first and keep it chilled in the refrigerator while you assemble the rest of the ingredients. Also, be sure your buttermilk is very cold. An inexpensive pastry blender, a tool consisting of several thick parallel wires attached on both ends to a wooden or metal handle, is a nice, old-fashioned, low-tech device for cutting butter into flour by hand. A metal bench scraper or bench knife is useful for cutting the dough into squares. Rolling biscuit dough into a rectangle and cutting the biscuits into squares is more efficient than cutting out round biscuits, and there are no scraps to reroll, though if you prefer you could certainly cut these biscuits into 2 1/2-inch rounds. These southern-style biscuits have plenty of salt. Kosher salt is coarser than table salt. If you are substituting table salt, be sure to cut the quantity of salt at least in half.

Special Equipment: Pastry Blender (optional), Metal bench knife (optional)

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups (1 pound 14 ounces/865 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks/12 ounces/340 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice, plus a few tablespoons melted butter for brushing
  • 3 cups (1 pound 9 ounces/708 grams) cold buttermilk
Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 475°F.

2. In a large bowl, using a whisk, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the cold butter to the bowl and, using a pastry blender, 2 forks, or your fingertips, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is the size of peas. Add the cold buttermilk and use a rubber spatula or both hands to mix the dough until everything is just combined. Do not overmix.

3. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 4 or 5 times, just until you have a smooth surface area on top. Use your hands to shape the dough into a rough rectangle, then use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a rectangle 3/4 inch thick. Use a knife or metal bench knife to cut the rectangle into 2 1/2-inch squares. You should get about 20 biscuits.

4. Place the biscuits on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about an inch apart. Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter.

5. Put the biscuits in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes. Serve the biscuits warm.

When you are planning your dinner, you don’t start planning your dessert after the appetizer and after the entree, you plan in accordance with the menu. A dessert is a fitting finish to a proper menu. 
 
You know summer is really here when the farmers’ markets are bursting with ripe, juicy berries -- red and yellow raspberries, small fragile strawberries, lush purple-juiced blackberries -- and the bakers rush to put them on the bakery and restaurant menus at the peak of their short, intense season. Crostatas, or rustic pies, are an excellent way to use peak-of-summer berries or other fruit. These small free-form crostatas make a lot of sense in the home kitchen. You can serve each of your guests an individual pie without having to buy tartlet pans or other special equipment.

When you bring out these golden flaky-crusted little pies, bursting with purple fruit and topped with a scoop of ice cream, a chorus of oohs and aahs will ring out around the table. Crostatas are best served warm. You can bake them several hours ahead of serving and reheat in a preheated 375°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes. We like the herbal note of thyme with the blackberries, especially the citrusy fragrance of lemon thyme if you can find it at a farmers’ market or if you grow it in your garden, but you can omit the thyme if you prefer. If you have made vanilla bean, you can use it here in place of the regular sugar and omit the vanilla bean.

Special Equipment: Metal Bench knife (optional)

Ingredients
  • Flaky but Tender Pastry Dough, formed into a flattened rough rectangle, about 4 x 6 inches, and chilled for at least 2 hours
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces/150 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 2 pints/680 grams) blackberries

To shape and finish the crostadas:

  • 1/2 cup starch water
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces/43 grams) heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces 43 grams) sugar
Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Using a metal bench knife or a chef’s knife, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (cut it in half the long way and into quarters the short way) and shape each piece into a flattened disk. Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll each disk into a 6 1/2-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Place the pastry rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets (4 rounds to a pan), cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate while you assemble the filling.

3. To make the filling, combine the sugar, cornstarch, flour, thyme, and zest in a small bowl. Slice open the vanilla bean pod lengthwise and, using a paring knife, scrape the vanilla seeds into the bowl. Stir the sugar mixture until well combined. Put the blackberries in a large bowl, add the sugar-cornstarch mixture, and toss to combine.

4. Remove 1 baking sheet with 4 pastry rounds from the refrigerator. (Leave the other 4 rounds in the refrigerator to stay chilled until you need them.) To shape a crostata, place about one-eighth of the berry mixture (about a generous 1/2 cup) in the center of a pastry round, leaving a 1-inch border of pastry all the way around. (If some of the sugar and cornstarch mixture or a slurry of berry juices plus sugar-starch has settled to the bottom of the bowl, be sure to divide this evenly among the mounds of berries.)

5. Using a pastry brush, brush the pastry border with starch water. Fold the pastry border up and over the berries (the mound of berries will be only partially covered with dough), crimping the dough up with your fingers and allowing the dough to fold into pleats around the filling. When you have finished pleating, use your hands to press down gently but firmly on the folds of the crostata to seal it well so that it doesn’t unfold and open while baking. 

6. Repeat filling and shaping the remaining crostatas. When you are done, brush the pleated pastry rims of all the crostatas with some of the cream and sprinkle with the sugar. (If the pastry seems warm, chill the crostatas for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.)

7. Bake the crostatas until the pastry is evenly golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes, rotating the pans once halfway through the baking time and switching them between the racks. Remove the pans from the oven and cool on wire racks.

8. Serve the crostatas while still warm from the oven or allow them to cool to room temperature and reheat them when you are ready to serve.
 

The Key 3 is a series of discussions with great cooks (not just professional chefs) about the three recipes or techniques they think everyone should know.

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