Cauliflower Cauliflower Cauliflower
Lately this cruciferous vegetable, a beautiful mind, a compact head of rumbled white curd, has been The Thing
The Veggie King !
Raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, sauteed,
it has turned up in all kinds of dishes that I have eaten at restaurants, or read about in blogs, or cooked at home.
What was once commonly boiled into oblivion and buttered, or chopped into florets and tossed onto a tray with other crudites and dip, has taken on new respect and new dimension.
At Etch, a forward restaurant in our downtown area, chef Deb Paquette makes magic with that vegetable. A recent lunch special featured a riff on an egg salad sandwich–using blanched cauliflower. The components–aioli, mustard, capers, onions, celery, and olives–all cloaked the “curd” in what had the feel and flavor of egg salad,
but no eggs.
Trust me, it was an improvement over an egg salad sandwich.
She also serves raw cauliflower curds broken into granules and folded with creamy feta to spread on a crostini. Incredible.
Our food blogging friends have made terrific contributions of late, as well.
Check ‘em out:
Rachel made a lush casserole, “cauli-cheese” where the florets melt under a blanket of perfectly made bechamel.
Faith roasted a head generously doused in her “bloomin” Indian spices.
Over at Food 52, the editors highlighted slabs of cauliflower, grilled like steaks.
It’s a testament to good change, creativity,
And the versatile meaty nature of this vegetable.
I have one to toss into the fray: roasted cauliflower with sweet red pepper sauce over vegetarian brown rice, dusted with buttery Marcona almonds, and chopped scallions.
The recipe is simple–and points more to technique than ingredients. But it yields a delicious main-dish meal that satisfies many dietary concerns.
Not only vegetarian, it is vegan AND gluten-free.
But “meaty” enough to make us omnivores happy too.
The recipe is in three parts, but easily accomplished in about the same time. (it won’t challenge your multi-tasking too much!)
While you’re roasting the grand florets, simply brushed with good olive oil and sea salt, you can also roast red bell peppers, onions, and garlic on a separate tray. As the nubbed edges of curd get that compelling brown crisp, red bells and company get charred and candied.
Caramel sweetness all around.
Meanwhile, make the brown rice.
I admit; I have shunned brown rice, and wrongly so. It stuck in my mind that it takes too long to cook. I also believe that I had one too many dishes of it, improperly prepared. You’ve probably experienced it too–either undercooked and waaaaay too chewy, or underseasoned and overcooked: gummy and insipid.
This recipe is more about technique. When you soak and rinse the brown rice and “scrub” the grains between your fingers, it helps to soften the outer husk. Cooking in vegetable broth helps infuse more flavor. I discovered that it takes less liquid and less time to cook, and yields savory rice, not clumpy, but plump nutlike grains.
This rice, which we know is better for you, is now a pleasure to eat.
CAULIFLOWER WITH ROASTED RED PEPPER PUREE, BROWN RICE, MARCONA ALMONDS
1 large head cauliflower, cleaned, and cut into large florets
olive oil, to brush over florets
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over florets
to garnish later:
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/4 cup chopped scallions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place cauliflower pieces onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil.
Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the pieces.
Roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
Keep cauliflower warm in the oven (set on 200) until time to assemble the dish.
ROASTED SWEET RED BELL PEPPER SAUCE
2 red bell peppers, cut in half, seeded
½ medium onion, cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic
salt and black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Brush red pepper halves with olive oil and place on baking sheet.
Brush onion chunks with olive oil and place next to pepper halves.
Coat garlic cloves with olive oil and place underneath pepper halves.
Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Roast until the pepper skins get blackened and blistered—about 15 minutes.
Cool and remove skins.
Place roasted peppers, onions, garlic, and any residual oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade.
Add ¼ teaspoon (or less) of cayenne, if desired.
Process until smooth.
Keep sauce warm in a saucepan on the stovetop.
SAVORY BROWN RICE IN VEGETABLE BROTH
1 1/4 cups brown rice
2 cups vegetable stock
Place rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes.
Stir the grains around in the bowl—you’ll notice that the water has become cloudy.
Return the rice to the bowl and cover with fresh water.
Dip your hand into the bowl, and rub the grains between your thumb and fingers, “scrubbing” the grains. Drain.
Place rice in a large saucepan. Stir in vegetable stock. Bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice sit and steam for another 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and serve.
Makes 2 1/2 cups cooked rice
Place a layer of cooked brown rice on the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Nap a layer of roasted red pepper sauce over the rice, and nestle the roasted cauliflower pieces into the sauce. Dot remaining sauce over the cauliflower, garnish with marcona almonds and cilantro.
POST SCRIPT: Several of you have been very kind to check on me, in my blogging absence. I’m happy to report that I am making excellent progress on the cookbook, which has taken so much of my attention. I’m seeing an end point–and ahead of my May deadline. So, with luck, I’ll be around here a bit more. Nancy
It is a wonderful moment, when a food writer makes the leap from blog to book. As a follower and supporter, I applaud her achievement. I am also pleased to take part in the launch.
Her book, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair, compiles over 100 recipes that come from the region known as The Levant, (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine,) where Faith has both traveled and lived.
Not only does Faith have a love for the cuisine, she also has an inside track to its traditions. Her Syrian mother-in-law, Sahar, has guided her on authentic recipes and techniques. Faith has put this knowledge into practice, and created recipes that are enticing but not overwhelming to the novice cook.
Her book is an excellent introduction to this healthful, flavorful cooking. And, her photographs are beautiful.
The recipe that she asked me to share is a fragrant rice dish, flecked with onion, sultanas, and pine nuts. It is uncomplicated to prepare, yet possesses complex tastes. Basmati rice alone has a wonderful nutlike flavor; the other ingredients bring toasted notes, sweetness, and a hint of pungent spice.
The original recipe calls for saffron, those delicate, heady, and costly stigmas collected from a type of crocus. If you don’t have saffron in your pantry, Faith writes that turmeric is an acceptable (and widely used) substitute. The result will be less sophisticated, but delicious, nonetheless.
Either way, the rice has versatile applications, and, by virtue of being vegan and gluten-free friendly, universal appeal.
The trick to making the grains light and separate is by rinsing them in warm water. (This could be a wide-spread regional technique-my friend Muna from Iraq insists that the rice be rinsed 3 times–until the water is clear!)
This releases the starches that can cause clumpy-sticky rice. This also serves to soften the grains, thereby lessening the amount of water needed in the actual cooking.
Another trick is sauteing the rice before adding the liquid. First, Faith pan-toasts the pine nuts in oil. After removing the golden bits, she stirs the onions and ultimately the rice in the now-toasty oil. When you add the water, you’ll notice that it is at a much smaller ratio than, say, conventional recipes that call for 2:1. This is almost 1:1.
Covered, the rice absorbs all the flavor, and steams into a savory dish, ready for any accompaniment. Faith recommends a shrimp-tomato dish, also featured in her book.
For my meal, I marinated and pan-grilled thick lamb chops in a piquant blend of coriander, cumin, and cayenne. The marinade quickly infuses that lamb with flavor, and grills to a nice charry crust. You can use this for cubes of kebab meat, too, with great success. It’s a recipe that we teach our young chefs in Teen Cooking Camp.
SAFFRON RICE WITH GOLDEN RAISINS AND PINE NUTS
Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.
Serves 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes to let the rice sit after cooking
1½ cups (325 g) basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 onion, ﬁnely diced
4 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
1¾ cups (425 ml) boiling water
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon saffron threads (or ½ teaspoon turmeric)
1. Soak the rice in tepid water for 10 minutes; drain. While the rice is soaking, put half a kettle of water on to boil.
2. Add the oil to a medium, thick-bottomed lidded saucepan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer the pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside.
3. Add the onion to the saucepan in which you cooked the pine nuts. Cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sultanas, boiling water, salt, and saffron (or turmeric), turn the heat up to high, and bring it to a rolling boil.
4. Give the rice a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the rice sit (covered) 15 minutes, then ﬂuff with a fork.
5. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top; serve.
OPTIONAL Add two pods of cardamom, two whole cloves, and one 2-inch (5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick at the same time that you add the rice.
CORIANDER-SPICED LAMB CHOPS
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
2- 1″ thick lamb chops
Whisk the ingredients together in a medium bowl.
Add the lamb. Toss to evenly coat. Marinate 10-15 minutes.
Skillet-sear on medium heat, 4-5 minutes per side, until the meat is crusty brown but still pink inside.
In early November, on one of those rare days when the skies roll out wide and blue and the sun shines with the strength of summer, Maggie and I took a day trip to Falls Mill. Located in Belvidere Tennessee, it’s about a hundred miles from home, and over a hundred years back in time.
There, in the bend of a creek, by a rushing cascade, sits a grist mill built in 1873. Outside, a great water wheel churns, powering a system of belts and pulleys that drive huge cutting stones inside the mill. From inside, emanate the slow, almost groaning sounds of the stones in deliberate rotation, a bass line to the melody of water rippling over rocks, falling in sheets from the mill buckets.
And, inside are bins filled with the results: unbolted yellow and white cornmeal and grits. In an adjacent room, a 19th century press is poised to print a stack of white sacks, soon to be filled with those prized grinds.
Jane and John Lovett own and operate Falls Mill, and have earned a reputation for their extraordinary milling. Sustainable practices–from the pure water-driven power to the sourcing of local, chemical-free grains, are part of what makes this so. The milling stones themselves hold the key. Unlike commercial steel rollers which smash the grain and adulterate it due to increased friction and heat, these stones slice the grain, leaving more texture, nutrients, and taste intact.
Chefs and cooks across the country who value that difference order from Falls Mill–especially the white corn grits. They are……..grittier! in the best possible way.
I’ve been having a lot of fun working with their products, baking wonderful cornbread and corncakes, buttermilk spoonbread, and rich grits casseroles. The difference in texture and taste is delightfully Huge.
Today I’m sharing a couple of easy recipes that together make a New Orleans-style dish, often enjoyed for brunch, but good anytime.
Toasted garlic, brown butter, white cheddar and pinch of cayenne combine with these pearly Falls Mill grits to make a luscious casserole.
And, then, the Grillades: (pronounced Gree-yahds)
The grillades are often made with a cheaper cut of beef, such as round steak—but it is acceptable, by NOLA standards, to use pork. Browned and then braised with tomatoes, spice, and the “Trinity” ( onions, bell peppers, celery) it’s a Creole take on stew: hearty and delicious with the grits.
There’s nothing new or surprising about the method. There’s a modest assembly of ingredients. The pieces of meat are pounded, dredged, and browned.
A saute of tomatoes and “The Trinity” form the foundation for the grillades to finish in a long simmer. To add some savory toasted depth, you can make a quick roux, using the leftover seasoned flour. Cook it in a skillet with a little butter and vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, as it acquires a medium brown sheen. Stir in water or broth, and add to the Tomato-Trinity saute.
Grillades, like stews, improve with time.
These fabulous grits, though, are creamy perfection, right out of the oven.
TOASTED GARLIC GRITS
2-3 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1 1/2 T. Butter
2 cups Water
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 t. Black Pepper
dash or two Cayenne
1/2 cup Stone Ground Grits
1/4 c. Half and Half
1/2 c. shredded White Cheddar
Melt butter in a 2 qt. saucepan on medium heat and sauté minced garlic until it becomes toasty golden brown. Add water. Stir in grits. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Simmer for about 20 minutes—grits will become creamy. Remove from heat. Stir in half of the shredded white cheddar.
Beat egg with half-and-half. Beat mixture into cooked—and slightly cooled grits. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Dust with remaining shredded cheddar.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.
1 lb. boneless Pork, cut into chunks, trimmed, pounded (the “grillades”)
Seasoned Flour Mixture: 1/3 c. All Purpose Flour, 1/2 t. Salt, 1/2 t. Black Pepper, pinch Cayenne, 1/4 t. Paprika, 1/4 t. Granulated Garlic
2 T. Vegetable Oil
1 T. Butter
1/2 c. each Diced Onion, Sweet Red Bell Pepper, Celery (aka “The Cajun Trinity”)
1 t. Fresh Thyme
1 can Tomatoes (whole or diced) and Juice
1 1/2 t. Worcestershire Sauce
1 t. Louisiana Hot Sauce
1-2 T. Quick Roux
1/2 c. Water or Broth (chicken or vegetable)
Dredge the grillades in the seasoned flour and shake off excess. Reserve unused flour mixture to make quick roux.
In a skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Brown the grillades well on both sides, a few at a time. Transfer the grillades to a plate. When finished, melt butter over medium heat in the same skillet, scraping any browned bits from the meat. Add the Onions, Bell Pepper, Celery, and Garlic and cook until the vegetables are soft. Stir in Worcestershire, Tomatoes and their juice, fresh thyme.
Make quick roux:
In a separate skillet, melt 1 T. Butter with 1 T. vegetable oil. Add the remaining seasoned flour mixture and stir well, dissolving the flour. On low heat, cook the flour mixture until it becomes toasty brown. Add water or broth and stir well, until thickened. Pour into the other skillet, and fold into the tomato-vegetable meld.
Return the grillades to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Taste for seasoning, and add a few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce to deepen the mild heat.
It’s a rainy afternoon in Nashville, and I should be doing other things. I have a writing assignment, due tomorrow, barely started. We leave early Tuesday morning for the long drive up to DC for Thanksgiving festivities with my daughter and son-in-law—and I gotta get cooking, too.
Cornbread dressing needs its cornbread base; pumpkin pies need their butter-rich crusts, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes ain’t nothin’ without a bundle of roasted garlic cloves.
I will get to all of that; I promise. I’m a seasoned procrastinator, if nothing else. For ill or naught, I’ve convinced myself that I do better work under the tick-tick-tick of a deadline.
Besides, I have something more enticing at hand to share with you: a rich bowl of risotto, laden with gold: Chanterelles!
For their rare yellow-orange hue, silken but meaty texture, and delicate taste—nutlike, earthy, with hint of stone fruit—-I prize these mushrooms above the others.
Foraged or harvested, Now is their Time. I’ve seen these beauties turning up at the grocery store (Whole Foods) but I was stunned this week to find them at Costco. And, at $10 a pound.
The chanterelle’s distinctive flavor warrants simplicity in preparation, perhaps imbued in a bisque, or tangled in a pasta. You really want to showcase this mushroom–and not overpower it with heavy or competing tastes.
Today, using some pantry staples, I made a risotto. It didn’t take long, and was a pleasure to make. Leeks lent a sweet green contrast. Chanterelle stems chopped and cooked into the mixture added depth.
A good risotto is dependent on a good broth. Organic mushroom broth purchased at the market is a bit of a “cheater” –but a respectable product. I find it preferable to vegetable or chicken broth in this instance.
I didn’t use it exclusively—I added water as well. If there had been a bottle of sherry in my pantry, I would have stirred in a cup.
I’ve talked about Carnaroli Rice before, and if you can find it, I encourage you to give it a try. A larger, plumper grain with higher starch content, the Italians call it their superfino.
Stir-stir, pour, and stir some more–
It’s actually fun to watch the rice absorb the liquid, plump up, and release its starches. Time? Thirty minutes–and it goes quickly. When you’re immersed in the process, that dimension vanishes.
Risotto-making gives you time to think–and today, while stirring and savoring its perfume, I thought about you, and this blog. And how I’d better post this recipe as soon as possible. Because you’d enjoy this dish on a dreary fall afternoon.
It is simple comfort food, with fancy-pants style.
My thoughts also turned to this season of giving thanks and expressing gratitude, the ebb and flow of what we give and what we receive. Health. A warm home and loving family. A stocked pantry. A garden. Art. Words. Beautiful things.
And, many friends, some unseen.
I want to thank you all for stopping by to visit, reading and commenting. It’s always nice to have you along on my little culinary journey, sharing good food and camaraderie. I value our connections.
Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving! If you’re traveling, be safe. Enjoy the bounty at the table and the time spent together. We’ll visit again soon—
1 lb. Chanterelles
8 T. Butter
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 qt. Mushroom Broth
2 cups Water (or 1 cup Water, 1 cup Sherry)
Salt and Cracked Black Pepper
a few shavings of Parmegiano-Reggiano
Carefully clean the mushrooms. Trim the stems, and reserve.
Cut the remaining bulk of the mushroom (mostly cap, some stem) into slices.
Clean and thinly slice the leeks. Divide.
Coarsely chop the reserved stem pieces.
In a large stockpot set on medium heat, saute the chanterelle pieces with half of the chopped leeks in 4 T. melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in short-grain rice, and let the grains get coated with the buttery saute. Reduce heat to low.
Pour in one cup mushroom broth and stir well.
In a separate skillet, melt remaining butter. Saute sliced chanterelles and leeks with a flick of salt and pepper for about 5 minutes–until leeks collapse, and chanterelles become soft, tender. Remove from heat. (You can do this step before cooking the rice, if you like.)
Continue adding liquid to the rice mixture, stirring often, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot so that nothing sticks. Alternate mushroom broth and water. (or water/sherry), adding more liquid as the rice absorbs it.
It takes about 30 minutes for the rice to plump up, while releasing the starches that make that delectable spoon-creaminess.
Stir in sauteed chanterelles and leeks, reserving a few spoonfuls to place on top of each bowl.
Spoon risotto into bowls. Place a scoop of sliced chanterelles in the center. Garnish with a few shaving of parmegiano-reggiano, if desired.
How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly, I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has fallen in the horse’s mane.
I found this Robert Bly poem, “Watering the Horse” tucked in the back of a mottled recipe notebook, long untouched. It was on a sheet of mimeographed paper, that odd purplish ink, the public school printing method of long ago.
I still love this poem today, perhaps more than when I was a teen–the notion of ambition having altered with experience. At the other end of child-rearing and career building, I call it into question: what I embrace; what I give up; what has meaning.
And then I cook.
One clear ambition, I tell myself, is that each autumn, I seek out alternative ways to prepare butternut squash.
You may recall, in seasons past, that we’ve cooked up Butternut Lasagna layered with leek bechamel, swiss chard-butternut gratin, flan-like timbales with walnut pesto, and savory bread pudding , served with vegetable veloute, perfect for the holiday dinner table.
Each recipe, a tasty vehicle for this versatile gourd.
Now, that ambition could run wild: this being the first year that I tried my hand at growing our favored winter squash—and harvested a healthy basketful.
All sizes and shapes!
This morning, a cushy blanket of fog cloaked our neighborhood. Emerging colors of yellow, gold and burgundy fairly glowed as the fog gave way to an overcast day. I love how brilliant colors come forward in that kind of dull, diffuse light.
The air was cool, too. Chili weather! And then, it occurred to me that the meaty nature of the orange-hued squash would work well in a vegetarian chili.
I decided to give it a go. With Rancho Gordo beans in my pantry, assorted peppers: poblano, banana, jalapenos along with a few stray tomatoes from the garden, garlic, onions, and spices, I had the foundation for a hearty batch.
While the beans began their long simmer, I roasted the diced butternut pieces along with the poblanos. I let them get a little caramel crust, and set them aside to cool. Not wanting the squash to break down in the chili, I would add the chunks towards the end of the cooking cycle, to meld with the “pot liquor” the sauce made by the beans as they cook. I turned my attention to bread–cornbread.
My go-to recipe uses 12 tablespoons of melted butter–an ingredient I lacked. My friend Maggie has a skillet cornbread recipe that uses canola oil–another ingredient missing at the moment in my pantry. What if I made the cornbread with olive oil?
What if, indeed!
I hand whisked the batter. It came together quickly-easily, and went into the cast iron skillet, into the oven.
It baked into a firm but tender crumb, the olive oil imparting depth, an Old World sense to a New World dish.
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the Rancho Gordo Beans (used in this recipe: “Good Mother Stallards” but other beans would also be delicious) are remarkable for their richness. Meaty beans make mighty good chili.
The butternuts proved their mettle in the mix, too. Slightly sweet, they latched on to the layers of peppery heat. A little allspice and cumin, perfect with this squash, added intrigue. It’s a worthy veggie chili, complex with minimal ingredients, hearty, full-bodied, aand satisfying on a gray autumn day.
And, not at all ambitious to make.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH-HEIRLOOM BEAN CHILI
3 cups chopped (large dice) Butternut Squash (I used 2 small butternuts for this)
1 large or 2 medium Poblano Peppers
1 heaping cup of dry Beans ( I used Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stallards. But, use a good bean of your choice. This recipe would work with black beans, too.)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 Banana Peppers, chopped
1 Jalapeno, sliced thin
2 t. Allspice
1 t. Cumin
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread diced butternut squash and halved poblano peppers on a baking sheet pan. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes. The squash will roast and caramelize. Pepper skins will blister—peel, chop and set aside separately.
In a large saucepan on medium heat, saute diced onion, banana peppers, and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until onion is translucent. Add dry beans, and stir until they are coated with the olive oil-onion mix. Pour in water, covering the beans by at least 2 inches. Add roasted poblano pieces.
Simmer until beans are tender ( at least 2 hours), adding more liquid as necessary. When the beans are “soupy” and yield tender flesh, add the roasted butternut. Season with allspice and cumin. Taste for salt, and spicy heat.
Serve alone, or over rice. Dollop with sour cream, garnish with green onion, if you like. Enjoy with cornbread.
OLIVE OIL CORNBREAD
1 1/2 cups Cornmeal
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 T. Sugar
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
12 T. Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup corn kernels (optional)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs, oil, and milk together lightly, then beat into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in corn kernels, shredded white cheddar.
Pour into an oiled cast-iron skillet (or bread pan.)
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness. Cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve right out of the skillet.
How’s your summer going?
Some writing projects, a bit of catering, and teaching teen cooking camp this month have kept my days very full; and like those lumbering yellow squash in the picture below, summer is fast getting away from me. I’ve been remiss at blogging.
But, I’m going to make it up to you today with not one, but two recipes: one is wonderfully healthful, the other a bit guilt-laden; both are gluten-free vegetarian dishes that revel in the glory of summer.
We’ll start with healthy: these herbed quinoa stuffed tomatoes are downright delicious. A variation on the Provencal style baked tomato that is topped with herbs, cheese, and breadcrumbs, I created these to suit a friend who needed a gluten-free menu for her guests.
You’ll want to select ripe juicy tomatoes for stuffing. These are Cherokee Purples–one of my favorites. But other heirlooms would be just as terrific: Bradleys, Brandywines, Mortgage Lifters…
Part of the heirloom is diced and cooked into the quinoa, further flavored with bits of onion and sweet basil.
Ah, the wonders of quinoa. Unusual in the plant kingdom, it possesses a balanced set of amino acids, making it a complete protein. ( A marvelous source, too, for iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and dietary fiber.)
Once stuffed, this versatile seed/grain takes on the sweetness and juices of our beloved tomatoes, and bakes up toasty and nutlike under a shower of parmesan cheese.
And now, for the guilt-laden…
I have a couple of urban gardens that I’m tending. One is tee-niny: my front yard patch of herbs, swiss chard, and tomatoes. The other, larger garden is located in the backyard of my brother’s office, where we are growing haricots verts, yellow wax beans, a variety of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, along with prodigious squashes: zucchini, butternut, and yellow crookneck. (I’ll post some pics soon.)
This is the time of year when people complain about zucchini overrun. In our garden, it’s been yellow squash.
This recipe is the right one for using some of those colossal squashes that somehow escaped your notice and went from barely emerging on the vine to baseball bats. Well, not quite that big, but you know how it goes.
An old school recipe, it’s one that I came across in 1984 when I was working for a large catering firm. It had been supplied by a client, and boasted a fancy-pants name: “Posh Squash Casserole.” Ingredients include eggs, parmesan cheese, and (shudder) Hellman’s mayo; I confess that I was leery of the recipe.
But, of all the squash casserole recipes I have ever made, this one is, without question, the best.
It’s great for cooking up a squash bounty. You can feed a crowd with thick bubbly casseroles, or “posh it up” with petite souffle scallops or ramekins. The recipe multiplies easily without compromising the outcome. We would extend the recipe to make it for parties over 200!
Throughout the years, it’s remained tried and true. Rich for sure. Despite that, it has a lightness, a compelling souffle-like quality.
Even people who claim to hate squash and casseroles love this one. And love it in all its forms.
From time to time, for variety’s sake, I’ve tweaked the recipe by using both yellow and zucchini squashes, or roasting the squashes and onions, or adding other veggies, like sweet red bell pepper, even steamed broccoli.
It’s okay to indulge in a little guilt, especially when it’s balanced by a lot of health. Here are some of summer’s best. Enjoy ‘em soon, before they get away from you.
HERBED QUINOA STUFFED HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
4 medium sized ripe Heirloom Tomatoes (cherokee purple)
1 small Onion, diced
6-8 Sungold Cherry Tomatoes, quartered (optional)
2 T. Olive Oil
1/2 cup Quinoa
3 T. fresh Basil, chiffonade
1/4 c. grated Parmesan Cheese
Core tomatoes with a wide slice around the top, and deep enough to remove some of the inside. Dice the meaty tomato flesh from the coring, and place into a bowl with quartered sungold tomatoes.
In a medium saucepan, warm olive oil. Saute onion until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in quinoa and let it get gently toasted in the saute–about 2 minutes or so. Stir in diced tomatoes and juices and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until quinoa is tender, fluffy, but nutlike. Stir in basil chiffonade afterwards.
Rub casserole or oval ceramic dish with olive oil. Stuff cored tomatoes with quinoa mixture. Dust heavily with grated parmesan and bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
SQUASH SOUFFLE CASSEROLE “POSH SQUASH”
2 lbs. Summer Squash, sliced into medium sized pieces
1 Onion, diced
1 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 cup Hellman’s Mayo
1/2 t. Sea Salt
1/4 t. ground Black Pepper
1/4 t. granulated Garlic
1/4 t. Paprika
Boil squash until tender. Drain and cool. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, mayo, parmesan, and seasonings. Fold in diced onion, then fold in cooled squash.
Place mixture into individual ramekins, or a casserole dish. Bake in 350 degree for 20 minutes (if in ramekins) to 30 minutes (if in casserole dish) until puffed and golden.
A recent post of food blogger friend Tracy reminded me of the contemplative pleasures of repetitive vegetable prep—stringing sugar snaps, husking and de-silking corn, shelling peas. I recalled how, in my catering kitchen, my assistants–especially my sister and comrade Jennie— would always scramble and fight over who got to snap the bushel of green beans, or peel the shriveled skins off of roasted tomatoes and red bell peppers.
“Kids,” I’d have mediate these women like a mother, “there’s enough for both. Share.”
But, I understood “the fight.” The hands happily occupied, it was fun, and soothing, to move through these tasks while chatting with co-workers, or imagining how the meal would take shape, or allowing the mind to drift to some other far-away place. It’s a blissful part of kitchen life.
Like Tracy, I also find pleasure in focusing on the process itself, its tactile sensations, studying the size and shape and color of the produce, the incremental chipping away at what some might deem a daunting task.
Fava beans satisfy in all those ways.
Favas have thick, fleshy pods, with a fine bit of fuzz on the exterior of the jackets. If you’re lucky, they’ll zip open to reveal a number of plump, light green seeds. The white interior is a custom cushion, protecting each one.
If small enough, (as in smaller that your thumbnail) you can cook those beans as they are. Larger ones need to be briefly blanched to remove yet another sheath, making it a two-fold process.
Trouble? Not at all. Fava beans have a special look and flavor that makes them worth the work–if you want to call it that. In the time it takes to prepare them, you can slow down, enjoy the moment,
breathe as Tracy says.
And then, Dine. Mightily!
This past week, I was able to buy a bagful through our Fresh Harvest Co-op. And, in harmony with the solstice, the summer bounty is beginning to show itself in my garden. Volunteer plants from last year’s lemon basil have sprung up, and a sun gold cherry tomato plant, covered in a mass of yellow flowers, is now offering a handful of ripe yellow globes.
I had a salad in mind: favas cooked in olive oil with pieces of garlic scapes, later to be combined with the sweet-acid bite of those sun golds, along with a chiffonade of lemon basil, and a few shards of pecorino.
As I was pinching the beans to squeeze out each lovely green seed, a larger idea began to form: Accompaniments.
Often, throughout the summer, we will eat an all-vegetable plate for supper. It’s a true embrace of the garden.
I would make a couple of other side dishes, simple in preparation,using our just-harvested goodies to go along with our fava salad:
Tiny new potatoes and pearl onions pan-roasted together in brown butter.
The bi-colored Zephyr squash, remarkable for its sweet nut-like flavor, julienned and quickly sauteed.
At the last minute, I fried each of us a farm egg–add a little protein, a little more summer yellow to the plate.
FAVA BEANS WITH SUN GOLD TOMATOES, LEMON BASIL, SHAVED PECORINO
1 lb. Fava Beans (in their pods. shelled will yield about 1 cup)
3″ piece of Garlic Scape, chopped, (or 2 cloves minced garlic)
Good Olive OIl
5-6 large SunGold Tomatoes, cut into tiny wedges
Several leaves Lemon Basil (Fresh Mint is also very good)
Salt and Black Pepper
White Wine Vinegar–a splash
a piece of Pecorino Romano, for shaving
After removing beans from their pods, blanche for 2-3 minutes in rapidly boiling water. Shock in an icy bath to cool the beans. Pinch each one , to squeeze out the beautiful green seed.
Gently heat 3 T. good olive oil in a skillet. Add beans and chopped garlic scape. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to coat beans well. Cover and simmer, effectively poaching the favas, for 10 minutes.
They will absorb the oil as they cook.
Place favas in a bowl. Stir in sliced sun golds, lemon basil chiffonade. Splash with white wine vinegar. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Dust with shaved bits of pecorino romano and serve. Makes 2 servings.
SPECIAL NOTICE, PLEASE READ:
Until I started reading The Ordinary Cook, an anything-but-ordinary food blog written by Kath of the UK, I had never heard of The Fairy Hobmother. What you need to know is that this British based Wonder of Appliances On Line visits Food Blogs the world over, and is drawn to interesting posts and comments. It is The Fairy Hobmother’s task to spread Joy by granting gifts to worthy commenters. No strings attached, either. Very Nice Indeed.
I know this, because I was the recipient of such a joyous gift ( a tidy-sum of a gift card to Amazon, to spend however I like. Oh, yeah. )
So, dear readers, know that by commenting on this post today, you’ll be drawing the attention of said Fairy Hobmother–and could be the recipient of a special gift yourself. How cool is that?
Several years ago, Bill and I spent a week in Menton, France, a small town on the French Riviera. Like many places dotting the Cote d’Azur, it is both port, and tourist destination. Part of the Alpes-Maritime department, Menton is at the sheltered base of the Alps, with a unique micro-climate favorable to citrus. Lemons abound! There are beautiful homes and lush gardens built into mountainside.This community has a charming pedestrian-only town center, pretty beaches, and mosaic-like promenades along the waters edge.
And while it does have an Old World aristocratic beauty, it doesn’t possess the same haute nature as its neighbor, the chi-chi Monte Carlo. We found it be more family-oriented, and mainly French and Italian families at that.
It was a lovely place to be. We were lucky to find a room in a modest but pleasant hotel across from one of the smooth-stoned beaches. Mornings began under the canopied patio with a carafe of coffee, baskets of croissants, butter, and Bonne Maman preserves. Days were spent floating in the buoyant Mediterranean, or exploring the Old City, or hiking up the lavender-laced hillsides. What a view! Sometimes you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began.
Menton is only a couple of kilometers from the Italian border. One evening, after dinner, I said, “Let’s walk to Italy.”
In no time our stroll took us to the douane, the abandoned checkpoint separating the countries in the pre-EU era. The toll-gate style structure looked like it had built in the early Sixties, and you could imagine the lines of cars, people with passports in hand, getting their stamp of approval to enter.
We walked a little further towards the Ligurian town, Ventimiglia. Sometimes, crossing borders, you sense an immediate difference between one country and the next. But not so here. There was a melding of French and Italian sensibilities.
I was reminded of our French walk to Italy when I made this tasty dish. It, too, blurs the Franco-Italian borders.
Have you cooked with Flageolets? These delicate beans are French, cultivated immature kidney beans that are white and pale green in color. They have a firm yet creamy texture, and are the bean of choice for cassoulet. What I’ve created is a sort of Provencal version of Pasta e Fagioli, flavored with spring green vegetables from the garden, seasoned with fresh thyme, and flecked with savory bits of crisp pancetta. It’s simply delicious-delicieux-delizioso!
PROVENCAL SPRING PASTA AND FLAGEOLETS
1 cup dried Flageolets, rinsed and soaked for an hour
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 small white Onion, chopped
2 T. Olive Oil
a few sprigs of Fresh Thyme
Heat the olive oil in a 3 qt. saucepan and saute the garlic and onions for a couple of minutes. Season with sea salt. Stir in the flageolets, and let them get coated with sauteed mixture. Add water, covering the beans by 2-3 inches. Stir in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, cleaned tops of the leeks (see below), cover, and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours, checking periodically on water level. The beans will become cooked throughout, and will be soft, but intact.
SPRING VEGETABLE-DITALINI PASTA
1/2 bundle of Swiss Chard, cleaned and sliced thin, into ribbons
1 Leek, cleaned and chopped (reserve cleaned tops to season bean broth)
1/2 lb. Sugar Snaps, chopped on the bias
Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup Ditalini (or another small pasta shape) “small thimbles”
A good Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for finishing
Fresh Thyme for garnish
A few pieces of crispened Pancetta
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet and saute leeks, chard, and sugar snaps. Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Saute until chard is collapsed and tender, about 5 minutes.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and combine with sauteed vegetables.
When Flageolets are tender, remove from heat. There should be a little cooking liquid in the pot.
Combine beans and pasta in large bowl. Stir in bits of pancetta. If you are vegan, omit this step!
Drizzle with a good finishing olive oil, garnish with fresh thyme and serve.
COOK’S NOTES: You can find Flageolets under the Roland label, (at Whole Foods) or order them, along with other fabulous heirloom beans, from Ranch Gordo. You can substitute cannellini or navy beans if you like.
Making risotto invokes cooking tips I’ve come across that sound like life aphorisms, from the practical “Your risotto is only as good as your broth.” to the lofty “Time and loving patience create the creamiest bowl.” to the cautionary “Never turn your back on a bubbling pot.”
I don’t make risotto often, so when I have all the right elements for a perfect one: a mound of fresh asparagus, fresh herbs and green onions from my little garden, a delectable lemony vegetable broth, and my favorite Carnaroli rice— I am ready to slip into a meditative mode and stir up a big loving batch.
Have you ever used Carnaroli rice? Its grain is longer than Arborio, and has a higher starch content. Firmer too–It retains its shape better, and yet yields a marvelous creamy texture. The Italians call it “superfino” and the king of rice.
I found this bag in an unexpected place–the gourmet food shelf at a TJ Maxx discount store. There, you can usually count on an assortment of vinegars, preserves, and olive oils at a savings, but a bag of Carnaroli? A lucky-lucky find.
With the bounty of local asparagus arriving at our markets, making an asparagus-rich risotto is not only irresistible, it is also easy. I like to load it with a couple of bundles, and use the entire spear.
Nothing is wasted. The woody ends go into the vegetable broth. The middle section is chopped small, and sauteed into the risotto’s foundation. The delectable tips are saved for last—stirred in during the last ten minutes of cooking to retain a nice tender-crisp green.
I prefer a vegetable broth to chicken. It brings a lighter touch ( and zero fat content!) that truly enhances the springtime ingredients. And, unlike chicken or meat based broths which benefit from long-slow cooking, you can make a lively veggie broth in thirty minutes. ( Any more time, and it can go bitter.) Lemon juice and strips of zest lend a pleasant tartness that marries well with the asparagus.
The risotto itself doesn’t take as long as you might think to make. From the time the rice gets stirred in with the onions and asparagus, the process entails thirty minutes. With its heavy enameled cast-iron, my Le Creuset Dutch oven works well on low-to-medium heat, insuring a creamy-not-sticky risotto.
At around the twenty-minute mark, I add the asparagus tips. They will finish cooking, retaining nice bite, in the remaining ten minutes.
And, it does not require constant stirring. Oh, I keep up with the process, pour in the sumptuous broth, paddle the thickening rice to coax out that starch. It’s a zen thing to watch the grains become plump.
But I have been known to turn my back on it, just for a moment or two, to monitor the busy finch-feeder in my backyard. A new addition to the shade garden, it has drawn a remarkable number of brilliant yellow and purple finches, a migrating rose-chested grosbeak and some feisty chickadees.
2 lbs. fresh Asparagus: stems removed and set aside for broth, tips cut and set aside for later incorporation in the risotto, remaining center section of the spear chopped small
1 bundle Scallions, chopped
2 Tablespoons Butter (can use good olive oil)
Salt and Black Pepper
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio Rice
8 cups Lemony Vegetable Broth (see recipe below)
a few shavings of Romano cheese (optional)
Melt butter in a deep saucepan or Dutch oven on medium heat. Sprinkle in salt and black pepper. Saute chopped onions and asparagus spears for about 5 minutes.
Add rice, and stir well, coating all the grains. Pour in 2 cups of broth and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Pour in another cup of broth and stir. Continue this process–about 20 minutes, add broth and stir, add broth and stir. Gradually the rice will plump and get glossy and a creamy soup will begin to form.
Stir in the Asparagus tips that had been set aside along with more broth and cook for another 10 minutes.
Pour into bowls. Top with a few shavings of romano cheese, a few grindings of salt and pepper, garnish of chopped chives or parsley, and serve.
LEMONY VEGETABLE BROTH
Peel and Juice of 1 Lemon
3 Carrots, cut into chunks
1 medium Onion, quartered
2 cloves Garlic
Asparagus stems (see above)
10 cups Water
Salt and Black Pepper
Bouquet Garni: parsley, dill, thyme
Place all the vegetables and herbs into a stockpot and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a rolling simmer. Simmer for no longer than 30 minutes. Strain vegetables from broth, squeeze out any remaining juices, and toss. Have pot of vegetable broth ready to cup into the risotto.
Think that thick lush-looking white sauce cascading over the lasagna stack is a heavy cream-based bechamel—rich beyond words?
The sauce here doesn’t have a speck of dairy, let alone the high butterfat favorite. Nor does it use any soy or tofu based products to mimic cream or cheese.
It’s cannellini beans!
And, not just any cannellinis. These are Rancho Gordo’s pride–great, fat white runner beans, that swell up to mammoth proportions when soaked, with meaty interiors that become creamy-dreamy when pureed.
This recipe experiment was prompted by Bill’s simultaneous love and intolerance of All Things Dairy. It might be better to say that, while this vegetarian loves it, it doesn’t always love him in return.
And, while I have no interest in omitting cheeses and milk from our diet, I have been considering different ways to achieve that creamy satisfaction in cooking—without him resorting to a carton of Lactaid.
Doubtless you have made Tuscan White Bean Dip—that garlicky puree we like to serve alongside a bowl of pita chips, or spread across crisp crostinis. Our White Bean Sauce is made in similar fashion—just thinner.
It’s like you’re making a vegetarian White Bean Soup, vigorously seasoned with garlic, onion, bay leaf, thyme, that you puree, beans and broth, until the melange becomes velvet—a smooth and pourable sauce.
Like all lasagnas, it’s really more a matter of creating all your layers that takes the time. Assembling them goes quickly.
I decided that sauteed Swiss Chard would make a terrific lasagna layer–seasonal, and compatible with the sauce. Other winter greens would be good too. I recommend Lacinato, or Black Kale.
I had an opened jar of sundried tomatoes packed in oil, shoved into the back of my fridge. In keeping with my intent to use good things before they go bad, I sprinkled these over the chard in my layering process. They added a sweet, sunny note to the dish.
I admit, this is not the most eye-appealing lasagna. When it bakes, there’s a slight crustiness to the top layer of white bean sauce. Not pretty–but savory.
I had some extra sauce left after the layering. You can warm it, and pour a little over your servings. It softened the look, and added more of the cannellini goodness.
I served this at our potluck—an icy night where 17 potluckers braved the slickened streets for good food. We were surprised that anyone came! But those who did loved the no-cheese lasagna. It had rich creamy mouthfeel, robust greens, a hint of heat and sweet.
Bill did not miss the cream, not one bit.
WHITE BEAN LASAGNA
White Bean Sauce
2 cups Cannellini Beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
6 cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 large Onion, sliced
Red Pepper Flakes
In a deep saucepan on medium heat, warm the olive oil. Saute garlic and onions for five minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Add soaked and rinsed cannellinis. Stir until the beans are coated with the olive oil.
Cover beans with water. Add a couple of bay leaves, a few pinches of thyme, and a shake of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.
Simmer, covered, for two hours. Check periodically and give the beans a stir.
Test for bean doneness-the exterior will remain intact, but will give way to a creamy interior.
When beans are tender, remove from heat. Discard bay leaves.
Puree beans and broths, a few cups at a time, in the food processor. (Or,use a portable immersion blender if you like) Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Sauce should be smooth and pourable—ready to go! But, this can be made in advance, and refrigerated until you are assembling the lasagna.
Swiss Chard Layer
2-3 T. Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 bundle Swiss Chard, cleaned, stems removed and diced, leaves coarsely chopped
Heat olive oil in a skillet and saute onions, garlic, and chard stems. Season with salt and a dash of red pepper flakes, and cook for about 9 minutes. Stir in leaves, and cook until they are collapsed. Add 1/2 cup water to facilitate the “collapsing” process–and allow the water to cook away. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
1 Box dried Lasagna, cooked al dente, drained, cooled and oiled
1 cup Sundried Tomatoes packed in oil, drained
1 9″x13″ casserole/lasagna baking pan, coated with olive oil
Preheat oven to 350º
Spoon a layer of the white bean sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top with lasagna noodles. Spread sauteed chard over the pasta, dot with sundried tomatoes, and place pasta layer over that. Repeat the layering, until the pan is filled.
Be sure that you finish with the white bean sauce, dotted with sundried tomatoes.
Also, reserve about a cup of the white bean sauce to spoon over the cooked lasagna squares when you serve them. Garnish, too, if you like, with additional sundried tomato pieces.
Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and finish baking for another 10 minutes. You want the casserole to be heated thoroughly. Since all the elements are already cooked, now you are cooking them all together.