I recently spent a week in New York City helping my girlfriend Pat pack up her apartment, a studio on the tenth floor of a grand old building overlooking Gramercy Park.
Rare and remarkable are two words for Gramercy Park, secluded within the heart of this electric city. Four short blocks of mid-rise brownstones surround the gated haven full of shade trees and flowering plants. No major streets, no rumbling traffic, no Lexington or Madison avenues barreling through. It’s a neighborhood that still feels like old New York.
Pat’s building, constructed in 1909, is unique to the square; the facade of the 12 story landmark is white terra cotta, Gothic in design, with ornate detailing. At the entry stands a smiling doorman in dapper uniform to greet you; inside is a gilt vestibule with a reception and two narrow elevators. Step inside those gleaming brass doors for a lift up to 10T.
Pat’s apartment measures right at 330 square feet. Yes, it’s small. Basically a room and a bath. Tall ceilings, wide windows, minimal furnishings, and a couple of strategic angles that trick the eye into thinking there is something more around the corner all combine to give it a more spacious feel.
I dubbed it her “Gramercy Palace.”
When you are out in the frenetic thrum that is Manhattan, a nest such as hers is the ideal respite–all you need, really. Over the years, I have enjoyed staying in its cozy quarters.
Change happens. And one begets another. Last fall, Pat’s husband died. She quit her high-powered job of many years. Then, she got an unsolicited—and generous—offer for her apartment. The end of a cycle. The closing of a life chapter.
When I learned that Pat was selling this special place, I wanted to be there to help close things out, say good-bye. It wouldn’t take the whole week to pack. We wanted to relish the final days at The Palace, and soak up as much of the city, from the perspective of being a resident rather than a visitor.
As someone who was born in New York (Queens) there is always a part of me that yearns for time there. Partly to reconnect with the place, and its magnificent and gritty sense of place. The city is potent with memory—each visit serves to recall visits gone by while creating new experiences. Making memories.
This time, I got a good dose.
We saw the Broadway play, Hamilton. (Hard to imagine, but this Hip-Hop musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton is one of the best things I have ever seen.)
We went to museums: MOMA and the new Whitney. We strolled the Highline. We met friends for drinks in different neighborhoods. We ate at some wonderful restaurants.
I also did some cooking.
Union Square, with its open air Green Market (open 4 days a week!) is an easy walk from the apartment. From an array of vendors, I purchased heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, corn, basil and melon.
Walk a bit further south, and you’re in Little Italy. Pat’s sister Lynn and I jaunted over to Alleva Dairy, the oldest Italian cheese store in the city—and the United States. Lynn bought sausages and I got pasta and a ball of luscious burrata.
It was fun to cook in the tiny kitchen and dine on a fresh summer feast. Bittersweet. A last supper, to be sure. Are other New York adventures still to come? No telling when, but I feel certain they will.
ZUCCHINI-LINGUINE TANGLE WITH SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
3 small zucchini (small size is more tender)
1/2 pound linguine
salt and black pepper to taste
Sweet red bell pepper-tomato sauce (recipe below)
toasted pine nuts
Place a large pot of salted water on medium high heat and bring to a boil.
Trim the zucchini ends and slice it lengthwise into thin slabs. Take each slab and slice it into long thin julienne strips.
Cook the linguine according to package directions.(about 10 minutes) Drain and set aside.
Return the pot to the stovetop. Set the heat on medium and add olive oil–about 3 tablespoons.
Add the zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and saute for 2 minutes—so that the zucchini becomes pliable. Stir in the linguine. Toss until the two are entangled.
Ladle the red sauce into each bowl. Top with the pasta. Garnish with grated pecorino-romano and toasted pine nuts.
Sweet Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce
3-4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut in half
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Place red bell pepper and tomato halves onto a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath the peppers. Brush the tops with olive oil.
Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the skins of the peppers and tomatoes are blackened and blistered.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
WATERMELON-PEACH SALAD WITH BURRATA
4 cups large dice watermelon
2-3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 jalapeno, cut into very thin rings
1 bunch of basil (or mint) finely sliced
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 round of burrata
salt and black pepper
Place cut watermelon, peaches, jalapeno and basil into a large bowl. Pour lime juice and olive oil over the salad. Gently toss.
Place the round of burrata in the center of the salad. Drizzle a little more oil over it. Season with salt and black pepper.
When serving, break into the burrata so that shreds and the creamy inside become mixed with the fruits.
Puttering in the garden. A dip in the pool. A day trip to the country. Stirring a pot of blackberry jam. Tomatoes, and more tomatoes, at every meal.
That’s the summer in my mind.
I’ve caught glimpses of that idyllic summer, even taken the occasional dip and day trip. For the most part, that slow carefree pace has eluded me. It’s not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. In the life of a food writer-educator-recovered caterer-grandmother, you gotta roll with whatever assignments come your way! From cooking camps to grandson care, life has been full.
But, here I am. And, I have hopes for a languid August. Beautiful produce is coming into the markets; look at that bounty. I haven’t stopped cooking. Here are a few summer dishes I’ve enjoyed.
ROASTED TOMATO-PESTO FRITTATA
Have your heard of Juliet tomatoes? They are a paste variety that look like mini-romas. I really like them for certain applications. Thick sauces. Salsa. Ketchup. And, they slow-roast into meaty ovals of sweetness.
I used them, in their slow roasted state, to make this frittata. The process started on the stovetop in my cast iron skillet, and finished in the oven.
A frittata is a fast and versatile recipe to have in your repertoire. You can find numerous variations here. I served this for an impromptu brunch for friends–it couldn’t have been simpler, and more satisfying.
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup cream (you may substitute half-and-half or whole milk if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 pound roma or paste tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9 inch cast iron (or oven safe) skillet with butter.
Beat eggs, cream, salt and black pepper together until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Place skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the egg mixture.
Add the tomatoes, dollops of pesto and shredded cheese. Cook on the stovetop for about 5-7 minutes.
Place the skillet into the oven to finish—about 15 minutes.
SPICY SUMMER-YELLOW VEGETABLE SALAD
One of the teen cooking camps I taught at the food bank was all about “Street Eats.” We explored cuisines around the world, from the standpoint of what you’d buy from a street vendor, pushcart, food truck: some times the most delicious dishes ever! One day, we made Mexican fare—grilled fish tacos, pickled cabbage, churros dusted with cinnamon sugar, and elotes—those spectacular ears of grilled corn slathered with lime-and-chili spiked mayo.
We had a few extra charred ears which I brought home. They soon wound up in this salad that celebrates summer yellows: wax beans, sweet bell pepper, onion, sungold tomatoes and crookneck squash. I blanched the beans (fresh picked from a friend’s garden!) in water seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. I sauteed the peppers, onion and squash. I scraped the grilled and slathered kernels off the cob, and mixed the whole she-bang together. Finished with a scatter of sungolds, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Mercy. Summer in a bowl. It was so so good.
1/2 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut into julienne strips
1 golden bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 ears of corn, cooked: grilled, oven roasted, boiled
1 cup sungold tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Elote Dressing (recipe below)
Fill a skillet with water and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook the wax beans ( a few at a time–do not crowd) until tender-crisp–about 4 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Empty the skillet, dry it, and place over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the squash, peppers and onions. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, place the wax beans and sauteed vegetables. Scrape the corn kernels into the bowl. Add the sungold tomatoes, cilantro, and Elote dressing. Toss well and serve.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cayenne
lime juice from 1 lime
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
Makes a scant cup.
MANGO BLUEBERRY LIME YOGURT PARFAIT
What do you do when you have a ripe mango, a pint of blueberries, a container of plain Greek yogurt and a lime? This is the answer. Easy-Pretty-Tasty-Healthy.
This one is barely a recipe.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of your favorite honey
1 lime—juice and zest
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add lime juice, zest and honey. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness, if desired.
Set up 4 glasses (or whatever serving vessels you’d prefer.) Place a dollop of yoghurt in the bottom of each. Follow with a handful of berries, a few slices of mango, and repeat the layering until the glass is full. Garnish with basil or mint leaves and serve.
Welcome the return of
Neighbor Ray’s petite green beans, true haricots verts
grown in his meticulous urban backyard garden.
Sleek and delicate, just picked and crunchy sweet.
The sack still holding the day’s warmth.
A summer highlight that had gone missing for a couple of summers.
Two years ago, Ray’s crop did too poorly. Pests and such.
Last year, I was out-of-pocket. Book promotions and such.
But this year, they’re back.
And I’m back. Thank goodness.
As I’ve done in productive summers past, I’ve created a dish to celebrate them.
This time, I gleaned inspiration from a favorite local chef, Roderick Bailey of The Silly Goose, who makes a bowl of green beans and yukon gold potatoes, nestled in a pool of hazelnut romesco sauce. He finishes the dish with shavings of Manchego cheese and a flourish of paprika oil, in Spanish tapas fashion.
Now, in my pantry and fridge I had many of the ingredients to replicate. Those golden potatoes, buttery companion to the beans. I had cremini mushrooms to add to the mix, impart their own kind of meaty umami.
As for the romesco, I had ripe bell peppers. An anaheim too, for a mild kick of heat. A couple of tomatoes. Half an onion. A piece of shallot. The critical sherry vinegar.
A few missing elements, though. No hazelnuts, nor Manchego cheese. No paprika oil, either.
No matter. I could still achieve a luscious base for the dish. A simpler romesco. I even eliminated the soft breadcrumbs often used as a thickening agent in traditional preparations. Let’s keep it gluten free. The peppers, once roasted and pureed with a splash of vinegar, a teaspoon of paprika, would have rich body and deep flavor.
It all comes together with minimal work. Blanche the slender green beauties–done in just minutes. Roast potatoes and mushrooms. Roast, then puree peppers, tomatoes, onions and the like. Pool and spread the romesco. Arrange the vegetables; let them settle into the sauce.
(If you have Manchego, or toasted hazelnuts to garnish–go for it.)
Stand back and admire the brilliant composition of colors and textures.
Then, dig in.
For other ideas for preparing and serving romesco sauce, visit here.
RAY’S BEANS AND ROMESCO
1 pound haricots verts, or young thin green beans, stems removed
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into cubes
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
coarse ground black pepper
Bring a large skillet of lightly salted water to a boil. Put in the beans and cook for 3 minutes. Plunge them into an icy bath to cease the cooking and set their bright green color. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cubed potatoes onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place quartered mushrooms onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place each pan into the oven and roast until the potatoes are crisp and lightly browned, yet have soft cooked interiors—about 20 minutes. The mushrooms will roast more quickly, about 15 minutes.
Set both aside and make the romesco sauce.
SIMPLE ROMESCO SAUCE
1 red (or yellow or orange) sweet bell pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 Anaheim pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
Place peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil and dust with salt.
Roast in the preheated 425 degree oven until the skins of the peppers are blistered—about 20 minutes.
Remove and cool. Peel and discard the skins of the peppers and tomatoes.
Place the vegetables into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Pulse and process.
Add the sherry vinegar and paprika.
Pulse and process until smooth. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Pour most of the romesco sauce onto the bottom of a shallow bowl.
Toss the green beans, potatoes and mushrooms together. Place on top of the pool of romesco.
Dot the vegetables with remaining sauce and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
Note: This is delicious served warm or room temperature. Enjoy!
Whether we can tolerate gluten in our diet or not, there’s one thing for certain: We all have benefited from the gluten-free food revolution. The mass introduction of alternative grains has added wonderful variety to our pantry, replete with taste and nutrition. Beyond corn and rice there’s amaranth, kasha, millet, teff, and quinoa, just to name a few. And alternative flours? I can’t keep up.
We don’t have any problems with gluten in our family, thank goodness. But I’d like not to rely on wheat as much as I have. (Sorry, pasta!) Living with a vegetarian, I am always on the lookout for meat-free protein-dense recipes to satisfy a hearty appetite. Over the past months I’d noticed several dishes from Cooking Light that use a quinoa pastry crust. The idea intrigued me.
I’ve had success with cornmeal crust in the past, why not quinoa?
The folks at Cooking Light have developed 2 pastry crust recipes using the New American grain—one with already-cooked quinoa, the other with uncooked, toasted and ground. For this Southwest-inspired vegetable tart, I opted for the former. It couldn’t be easier to make–combine the grains with egg and oil, press the mixture into the pie pan and bake. (It’s a good way to use up any leftover quinoa too.)
The crust has integrity–it holds the roasted vegetables and custard while imparting its toasty nut-like flavor. We like the smoky taste of the poblanos with the other summer vegetables, a Southwest spin—but you can use your imagination and veggies at hand to create whatever filling you like. The quinoa crust is an amenable canvas.
The latter, which also has ground almond meal and cornstarch in the mix, seems like a contender for fruit pie, maybe plums—if the devil-squirrels don’t wipe out the potential bounty from my backyard tree.
QUINOA CRUST from Cooking Light
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix quinoa, egg, olive oil and salt together in a bowl. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a pie pan.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
SOUTHWESTERN VEGETABLE TART
2 yellow squashes
1/2 red bell pepper
1 medium onion
1 poblano pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded cheese: combination of white cheddar and cotija
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice zucchini and yellow squash lengthwise. Coat with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.
Slice peppers (red bell and poblano) into strips, onions into thick slices. Coat with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each pan with salt and black pepper.
Place both into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool.
Beat the eggs with half-and-half, salt and black pepper until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Sprinkle a little cheese over the bottom of the crust and place the first layer of roasted vegetables. Repeat until you fill the shell.
Pour the custard mixture over the vegetables. Top with remaining cheese.
Place into the oven and bake until the custard is set and the top is golden—-25-30 minutes.
Cut into wedges and serve.
I had forgotten how it is, when I travel by car for any length of time. In mere days, the rhythm of the road takes over as the rhythm of life, marked off in mile posts and fuel stops, Best Western Motels and Starbucks coffees, paced by the hospitality of friends and family along the way.
Thoughts and cares of my own home fade. What is present becomes my focus–the endless flat stretches of highway through Kansas prairie, the shifting views of snow-capped Rockies in mist, the blue skies over Utah, wide and deep, dotted with lolling cotton clouds, the pink and white oleanders, heavy in bloom, spilling over the median on the California freeway.
Driving away from the day-to-day takes you to new places in the mind. For me, it brings up the curious mix of lives not claimed, and yet, the pervasive connection of all life.
What if the barren high desert of Nevada was the place I called home? Can I imagine life on a lone ranch, miles from neighbors? “Choosing this life sends out roads to earn their way without us.”
And then there’s the wonder of connection. My cousins and I see one other rarely, and yet the warm familial love doesn’t care about the years. It time jumps. Hanging out in the kitchen, making food for the book event, talking and laughing…we’ve never been apart.
Here’s another one: On the morning of the book signing, my cousin Jeanne got an email from a woman named Nancy H. Turns out she used to play bridge with my aunt, AND she is a long-time follower of my blog. It wasn’t until she read my last post with the invitation that she made the connection. She came to book signing, and we got to meet. How amazing is that?
That theme continued on our journey. In Berkeley, a friend from high school days–again someone I’ve seen little of over 40 years– helped me get ready for the signing at Pegasus Books. We shopped at the Berkeley Bowl together. I made Cornbread Panzanella in her kitchen.
And, at the Pegasus signing itself: Gerlinde of Sunny Cove Chef took the sweet notion to drive up from Santa Cruz to attend. We’ve virtually met through our blogs, now we’ve really met. The power of the web. The power of connections.
Five thousand miles, and we’re back home. Bill and I thought that everything looked fine, but felt different. We wandered from room to room, detached from our place. We’d taken up the gypsy life and hadn’t switched back into our old and familiar ways.
There’s nothing like preparing a meal in your own kitchen, sharing it with friends, to get you grounded. I’m getting there.
For today’s dish, I rummaged the fridge and pantry—found viable potatoes, beets,and green onions…green peas in the freezer. I snipped arugula and thyme from the yard.
It was kind of a throw-together, but it worked. Roasting the veggies, coating them in mustardy sweet-sour marinade, pulsing tangy arugula into the vinaigrette combined to make a delicious late spring salad.
LATE SPRING POTATO-PEA SALAD WITH ARUGULA-THYME VINAIGRETTE
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 ” slices
3 medium beets, cleaned
1 cup olive oil, divided
kosher or sea salt
2 cups small green peas, frozen
1 bundle green onions, divided
8 ounces fresh arugula
1/2 cup, divided white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup coarse grain mustard
1 bunch fresh thyme
3-4 strips crumbled bacon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On one sheet pan, place the sliced potatoes. Pour about 1/4 cup oil over the slices, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
One another sheet pan lined with foil or parchment, place the beets. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place into the preheated 425 degree oven to roast for 25-30 minutes.
Place the peas into a saucepan. Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer on low heat, cooking the peas until tender, but still with bright green pop. Remove from heat, drain and cool.
Chop two greens onions and pick 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves. Stir into the peas and set aside.
Remove potatoes from baking pan. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons coarse grain mustard. Stir up any crusty bits into the sauce. Pour over the potatoes.
Remove the beets and allow to cool. Peel and slice into rounds. Splash with 1 tablespoon vinegar and set aside.
Make the Arugula Thyme Vinaigrette:
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard, 3 chopped green onions, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, and 1 cup arugula leaves. Pulse until chopped together, then process, pouring in the 1/2 cup olive oil, a little at a time.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Place a bed of arugula onto the base of the salad bowl. Place a ring of marinated potato slices, followed by a ring of sliced pickled beets, finished with a mound of peas. Dot the salad with little pours of the green vinaigrette. Sprinkle bacon bits over the salad if desired.
This week, my mom Joanie passed a milestone birthday–85 years on the planet. Jumpin’ Jive, Joanie’s 85! With the exception of some minor aches and pains, she is blessed with good health and a sharp mind. She and my dad (a robust 88!) live on their own, and go about their day-to-day with enthusiasm and gratitude.
Five years ago, she celebrated her 80th with a big hullabaloo. This anniversary, however, she decided to observe on the down-low.
From me, she requested an afternoon of my cooking and company, with time reserved to solve the Sunday NYTimes crossword. Preparing a special meal, dining together, and then escaping with our erasable ink pens into the world of cleverly constructed words: That’s a gift I am happy to provide.
For our lunch, I made three dishes–puree of cauliflower soup, grilled strip steak smothered in sherried mushrooms, and chocolate pudding parfaits. All three were delicious, but it’s the soup I want to tell you about today.
It is lush and creamy, without a speck of cream. No roux or other thickening agents either. A couple of potatoes, an onion, a parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot work together with the cauliflower to give the soup its silken body.
Simply put, it is vegetables and broth, simmered and pureed.
And, with a modicum of embellishments, it elevates to a soup for celebrations.
About those embellishments:
I reserve a handful of cauliflower curds, which I oven roast to crispness and drop into the soup, like croutons. Then I sprinkle in crumbles of gorgonzola–or any blue, which slightly melt into the soup where they fall, supplying little knobs of pungency in select spoonfuls.
To finish it: A whirl of chili oil–for a brilliant streak of heat, a scatter of sliced green onions for a hit of brightness and fresh taste. (Green onions are a gift. What savory thing isn’t improved upon with a bit of fresh green?)
Joanie and I loved the soup. I was happy, because it was beautiful to serve, delectable to eat and easy to make. The fact that it is gluten free, vegetarian, (and if you omit the gorgonzola, vegan and dairy-free) makes it one that I’ll keep in my repertoire, knowing that I can serve any guest with any dietary preference with confidence.
Now, back to puzzling…got to figure out 94 Down, site of ancient Greek Olympics…four letters beginning with E…
PUREE OF CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER CROUTONS
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot, peeled and sliced
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large head cauliflower, washed, cored and chopped, 1 1/2 cups of curds reserved
1 quart vegetable broth
salt and black pepper, to taste
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola (or blue cheese)
Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil.
Add onions, carrot or parsnip, and potatoes. Saute for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chopped cauliflower and continue sauteeing for another five minutes.
Pour in the broth. Stir well. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender–12 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Blend until smooth—I use an immersion blender to puree the soup, but you may use a food processor or regular blender if that’s what you have.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with roasted cauliflower “croutons,” crumbled gorgonzola, green onion, and chili oil, if desired.
Makes 6 servings
Roast the cauliflower curds:
For more tips on roasting cauliflower, with corresponding recipes, visit Cooking Light’s healthy makeovers here.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the cauliflower in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Spread over a baking sheet and place into the oven.
Roast until golden brown and slightly crispy, about 15 minutes.
Happy 2015, friends! I have begun this year in focused down-sizing mode. After living in a wonderful old–and large– house for fifteen years, Bill and I have decided that it is time for a change. Simplify. This calls for a smaller home, more efficient living, in space that better meets our needs.
Before we can make that kind of move, we must start where we are. When you live in the same place for many years, stuff accumulates. You don’t even see it! (so much crammed into drawers and closets!) And if you are planning to live in a third less space—-well—it’s easy to figure out. A third of your things gotta go–at the very least.
It’s imperative to adopt a detached point of view. I find myself in this sort of mental dialogue: Is this something that I have used in the past year? 2 years? More? Probably don’t need it, right? Is this something that I want to pack up and move to the next place? No? The response is simple: Say bye-bye.
It is a gratifying process, this letting go of stuff. Home furnishings, kitchen goods, books, clothing, electronics. We have made countless trips already to the Goodwill and recycling centers. We’re not into selling the stuff–just give it away, right now. (Except for a tandem ocean touring kayak. I know, beyond ironic for life in land-locked middle Tennessee —Bill needs to find a buyer for it!)
With the lightening of our home comes a lightening of spirit. What an uplift. Shedding these often unseen, all unused items also sheds psychic dead weight.
And now, for a lightening of another kind. After such fun feast-filled holidays, my body could use a little down-sizing too! Today’s recipe fits the bill, for just about anyone. With cauliflower as its centerpiece, it’s vegan, gluten-free, yet meaty and satisfying.
In recent years, cauliflower has demonstrated its versatility, in soups and purees, mimicking chicken piccata, egg salad, rice… This preparation uses just three ingredients. But what fantastic, complex flavors, thanks to za’atar.
Do you know about this seasoning, used throughout the Middle East?
The word za’atar is Arabic for wild thyme.
But that’s just one of the elements. Crushed sumac, toasted sesame seeds, oregano, salt, and sometimes cumin combine to make a beguiling blend that you can stir into plain yogurt, (terrific dip or marinade) or extend with olive oil to brush onto grilled flatbread.
I read here that some consider Za’atar brain food. In which case, it seems all the more fitting to have it roasted onto the brainlike round of cauliflower.
I’ve made this dish twice this year–to rave reviews. The rumpled curd becomes crispy, the za’atar mixture caramelizes onto the cauliflower as it roasts. Redolent spices fill the kitchen!
The first time, I served it as a side dish. Another time, I cut the roasted head into florets and cast them over a salad, dressed with citrus fruits and pistachios. Lovely.
If you cannot find za’atar at your global market or specialty spice shop, you can make it yourself. Here’s the recipe.
Here’s to being lighter.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER ZA’ATAR
2 tablespoons Za’atar
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 head cauliflower, washed, leaves removed, head left intact
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, place the za’atar spice blend. Add the olive oil and stir. Let it sit for about five minutes.
Place the cleaned head of cauliflower onto a baking sheet.
Brush the entire surface with the za’atar-olive oil mixture.
Place into the oven and roast for an hour.
Makes 4-6 servings
My friend Heather had overbought produce for an event, and found her fridge bursting with 12 bunches of assorted winter greens–curly kale, lacinato kale, and great fronds of Swiss chard. She called me, wondering, what could she do? They were becoming limp, and it would be a shame for them to be fodder for the compost.
Later that day, she arrived at my door, arms laden with grocery bags, a jumble of green leaves, bright and dark, veined and rumpled, some sturdy and sweeping, some starting to look a bit weary.
Great greens, girl. Gotta get to work.
Before I could figure out their destiny, I had to assess their condition. I trimmed their stems, and plunged them in tubs of fresh water to rehydrate. Within an hour, most of the greens had perked up. The chard plumped and straightened, out of the tub. The rumpled kale regained its bounce.
Now, what to make?
The thing with greens—any sort really—is that what starts out as monumental quickly cooks down to manageable. Nonetheless, I had enough chard to make a great pot of stewy-soup, and plenty of lacinato kale to make this beguiling recipe I’d just discovered on Food 52.
Both are simple wintertime recipes, hearty and delicious. Most of work is in prepping the greens–cleaning, deribbing, tearing, chopping.
You begin this soup the way you do most soups: You build a foundation. Saute hunks of portabello mushrooms with diced onions and carrots to get a meaty base before adding vegetable broth and tomato paste. The mushrooms and tomato are the powerhouse duo, making the sienna-colored broth in which the chard simmers a veritable umami-bomb of flavor.
And this kale gratin? Ridiculously easy. Only 6 ingredients, 3 of them being salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Everything gets tossed into a baking dish and then placed into the oven. That’s it!
I made two modifications.
The original recipe calls for 3 cups of Cream. I know. So rich, so luxurious, so over-the-top—but I couldn’t bring myself to go there. And, I already had a quart of half-and-half in the fridge. I dialed it back a bit–and substituted the half and half for cream. Instead of placing slabs of sharp cheddar over the top of the casserole, I shredded the cheese–4 ounces each of New York yellow and Vermont white—to generously sprinkle over the mass, the pieces nestling in and around the greens.
Don’t worry about the tower of kale in your baking dish–it cooks down in that hot oven. Some of the leaves get dry and crispy on the top—and boy, is that ever a boon. (Kale chips!) The cheese, as it bubbles and melts, forms a savory caramel crust too. Scoop through that layer of crunch into this compelling press of green, cooked to tenderness, the kale absorbing the nutmeg-scented dairy in the process–a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.
I cannot overstate the absolute wonder and earthy delectability of this dish. If it’s this marvelous with half-and-half, the cream version must be Heaven. I just want to be a little mindful of my heart, and not get there too soon.
SWISS CHARD-PORTABELLO MUSHROOM SOUP
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 pound portabello mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves cut into ribbons
Place a 6 quart pot over medium heat. When warm, add the olive oil. Then add the onions, sauteing them until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to stir and saute for another three minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms.
Season with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir. The mushrooms may stick to the bottom, but don’t worry–that will add to the flavor of the base.
Pour in the vegetable stock. Add the tomato paste and a cup of water. Stir well.
Add the Swiss chard, folding into the broth. It will collapse as it cooks. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings.
Serve over hot cooked rice.
Makes 10-12 servings
LACINATO KALE GRATIN adapted from Food 52 and Renee Erickson/A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus
2-3 bunches lacinato kale (a.k.a. black Tuscan or dinosaur kale)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
3 cups Half-and-Half
1/2 pound shredded sharp cheddar (can be a combination of yellow and white sharps)
Preheat oven to 350 convection or 375 conventional.
Remove the kale ribs and tear the leaves into pieces. Place into a large bowl. Sprinkle the leaves with salt, black pepper and nutmeg and toss. Heap the seasoned kale into a 9 inch by 13 inch baking dish. Pour the half-and-half over the kale, taking care that it doesn’t spill over the sides. Top with shredded cheddar, tucking some of the shreds underneath some leaves.
Place into the oven, middle rack, and bake for 45 minutes (convection) or an hour (conventional)
Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.
Makes 8 servings
A few years ago, farmer and friend Tallahassee May introduced me to this vibrant root vegetable, the Watermelon Radish. An apt name, I thought, for this member of the daikon family. It grows rather large–its size and heft ranging from golf ball to soft ball. A slice through the outer mottled green peel reveals a shock of magenta ringed in white.
I later learned that this heirloom is a native of China, and the Chinese have given it a better name: Xin Li Mei, which means Beautiful Inside.
Sometimes our challenges in the kitchen mirror those in the world: how to uncover that inner beauty so often hidden?
Unlike other radishes—such as cherry bombs, white icicles and French Breakfasts, which have a bright snap and crunch—the slower-growing watermelon radish can be a bit on the tough side.
I discovered this the first time I made a snack with them. Prepared in the French manner, it was a simple tartine: salted radish slice over soft butter on toasted bread. The big brilliant coins curled up on the open face sandwich, their earthy taste buffeted by leathery texture.
This time, I thought that the radishes might benefit from some “down time,” relaxing in a light vinaigrette before I’d place them on the rounds of bread.
I used avocado oil–clear, clean, slightly nutty in taste–to cloak them, (although a favored olive oil would work well too.) followed by a generous frill of grapefruit zest, a squeeze of the tart juice for acidic counterbalance, and scatter of coarse sea salt.
I covered the gleaming coins in plastic wrap. An afterthought (after I’d set aside the camera too), I placed a tea kettle, as a weight, on top, and left them alone for about an hour at room temperature.
Meanwhile I sliced a crusty baguette, slathering each piece with creamy chevre.
Then, lifted the kettle and peeled back the plastic.
Time in the marinade, under the kettle’s weight infused a delightful citrus essence into the radish slices. Salting tenderized. Avocado oil made them glossy.
One by one, I placed the watermelon jewels onto the smeared bread rounds. Then took a bite.
Hmmm. Beautiful, inside and out.
MACERATED WATERMELON RADISH-CHEVRE CROSTINI
1 pound watermelon radishes
coarse sea salt
4 tablespoons avocado oil
zest from one grapefruit
1-2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
12 ounces chevre, softened
1 crusty baguette, sliced 1/4 inch thick, toasted if desired
small bundle fresh chives, optional for garnish
Wash, peel and slice the watermelon radishes into thin rounds. Arrange the rounds on a plate or platter and sprinkle coarse sea salt over them. Drizzle avocado oil over the radishes, followed by sprinkles of grapefruit zest. Squeeze some grapefruit juice over the radishes too.
(Eat the grapefruit–or keep to slice on a salad!)
Cover with plastic wrap. Place a weight (like a tea kettle!) on top and allow the liquids to macerate the radishes, for about an hour.
Spread the softened chevre over the baguette slices. Uncover the platter of radishes, and place a macerated round on top of each slice. Garnish with chives.
Makes 3-4 dozen.
It’s the last day of August, and my summer garden is looking ragged. The ongoing battle with Johnson grass is over and I’ve surrendered: a thick border now entrenched along the fence row, and tall clumps reside undisturbed among the tomatoes and wax beans.
Arugula, long since bolted, has reseeded, trying to bully its way up through the weeds. One by one flourishing squashes have collapsed, victims of those dreaded borers. Two large tomato plants yellowed and died, seemingly overnight, the reason unknown.
Nonetheless, my visits remain fruitful and full of wonder. My stand of Mexican sunflowers continues to put out astonishing blooms in copper, bronze, and blazing yellow, even when their primary heads are bare, petals dropped, seeds picked clean by feasting goldfinches.
The slow-growing Italian roasting peppers are showing streaks of bright red, their fiery signal for harvest.
A few heavy rains have inspired the tomatoes to produce again, although not in the gargantuan sizes of July, and their skins are a bit tougher.
And my lone eggplant, which weathered an early onslaught of flea beetles, is forming plump white and purple streaked fruit. Sweaty, dusty, but excited, I return home with my pouch filled with just-picked things for dinner.
What to make?
Today’s recipe comes from my cookbook: Caroline’s Warm Eggplant Salad. It uses my garden spoils so well! I’ve embellished only slightly–having found a genius idea in the Farmer’s Market issue of Cooking Light (June 2014).
Chef Deborah Madison shared a simple beefsteak tomato salad with fried tomato skins. It’s those fried skins that caught my attention. They are easy to prepare, and add a welcome bite as a garnish-a clever use for these late summer-tough skinned “maters.”
After you plunge your tomatoes in boiling water, quickly cooling them in an icy bath, you slip off the skins. Your tomatoes are ready to cube for the salad. Dab the skins dry and pan fry them in a small amount of oil. They’ll become like thin glassy pieces of cellophane, crisp–and when drained and salted–almost “bacony.”
Even without the fried skins, the salad is simply delicious. A splash of sherry vinegar (a nice change-up from balsamic or red wine,) minced garlic and salt coax out the sumptuous tomato juices. Chunks of roasted eggplant gain a rich brown crisp, and soft sweet flesh.
If you’d prefer this to be vegan, omit the fresh mozzarella. I like the extra meatiness the cheese brings. It turns the salad into a one-dish meal, especially if you serve it with crusty bread to mop up all those lush juices.
I haven’t tired of the tomatoes—not yet. In fact, knowing that their time is waning makes me savor them all the more. The seasonal shift is soon to come.
WARM EGGPLANT-TOMATO SALAD WITH FRIED TOMATO SKINS
adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook
1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse kosher salt and black pepper to season eggplant
5 ripe heirloom tomatoes, skins removed* and cubed
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced
*Recipe to follow
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl combine the cubed eggplant with the olive oil in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Spread the eggplant out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Bake for 12 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and bake until soft, with browned edges, about 12 minutes longer.
While the eggplant is cooking, toss the cubed tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped basil together in a large salad bowl. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss gently to blend.
Allow the eggplant to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add warm eggplant to the tomato mixture and toss. Let this sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to marry.
Right before serving, fold in the diced fresh mozzarella. Garnish with fried tomato skins and serve.
FRIED TOMATO SKINS
from Deborah Madison for Cooking Light
5 heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher or sea salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core tomatoes; discard cores. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds. Plunge tomatoes into ice water; drain. Peel; arrange skins flat on a jelly-roll pan. Cut peeled tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of skins to oil; cook 2 minutes or until crisp, turning occasionally. Drain on a paper towel; repeat procedure with remaining skins. Discard oil in pan. Sprinkle skins with 1/8 teaspoon salt.