July 21st, 2014

BIG Tomato Suppertime

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I’m not one to boast, but the scores (hordes, legions, truckloads) of plump, ripe, succulent tomatoes that I’ve been picking from my little garden have afforded me bragging rights.

Never–and I really mean NEVER–have I had such success.

Biggest Juiciest Tomatoes EVER!

Check it out—this handful is more the norm than the anomaly.

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My friend Kimmie, an avid gardener who follows the Farmers’ Almanac, tells me that it is because I planted them in alignment with the full moon.

I checked back on the calendar, and why, yes, I did. Unintentionally.

Bill speculated that it is because our winter was extra cold, killing off the destructive insect larvae and/or fungus-mold-rot starters hidden in the soil.

I figured the damp spring got our plants off to a terrific start in making blooms, and now that the hot summer days are here, they are bearing beauteous fruits.

And, maybe, it was just time.

Bill’s dad, who was a dedicated farmer by profession, always said you could count on 1 great growing year in 7. Maybe this is that year.

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Whatever the case—and I suspect it is a serendipitous confluence of all these factors—I am the happy harvester of Cherokee Purples, Lemon Boys, Sun Golds, Black Krim, Amish Paste, Bradleys, German Pinks, Teardrops, and one other heirloom variety whose clever name escapes me.

We’ve been eating them all ways—caprese, savory tart, pasta sauce, on sturdy bread swiped with mayo—but this salad, a featured recipe in my cookbook, has been favored both at the dinner table, and in my cooking demonstrations.

Cornbread Panzanella is a Southern take on the much loved Italian bread salad. The season’s bounty of ripe sweet tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and sharp red onion are at the heart of each version. But, instead of using hunks of leftover, stale rustic bread, you make cornbread croutons. (Hint: the cornbread is the only part of this dish that requires turning on the oven. Everything else is either chopped or whisked!)

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Instead of tossing the vegetables and bread cubes in a red wine vinaigrette, you make a tangy buttermilk ranch to coat the mixture.

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It works beautifully.

After chopping the tomatoes, you put the chunks into a bowl and sprinkle them with salt to coax out their juices. When you toss the mixture with the herbed buttermilk ranch,(enlivened with lemon, flat leaf parsley and scallions) those juices meld with the dressing, creating a luscious rose-tinged sauce.

That soaks into the cornbread croutons, which you’ve toasted to a toothsome crunch. There’s a marvelous combination of textures and tastes.

You could add bits of bacon or pancetta, shavings of parmegianno-reggiano, or a good sharp white cheddar, if you wanted to make it “meatier.” But this big tomato salad makes satisfying summer meal, just as it is.

PS
It has been fruitful outside the garden too–busy promoting the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook. It’s been getting great reviews, I am happy to report, and I’ve been compiling the blogpost and articles here. I appreciate everyone’s kind words and support.

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CORNBREAD PANZANELLA

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CORNBREAD CROUTONS
1 1?2 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1?2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking sheet.
In a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter, and milk until well incorporated. Do not overbeat. Pour onto the baking sheet.
Bake until set—golden brown—about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Cut into cubes and spread out onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
Toast for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Makes 2 cups.

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HERBED BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING
1?2 cup buttermilk
1?2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 green onions, chopped finely, tops included
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1?2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1?4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper

In a medium bowl combine the buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, green onions, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasonings and adjust. This will keep, refrigerated, for a week.

Makes 1 generous cup.

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PANZANELLA
1 1?2 cups diced Bradley tomatoes
1?2 cup peeled, seeded, and cubed cucumbers
1?2 cup sliced red onion
1?2 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, basil, salt, and pepper. Add 2 cups of cornbread croutons. Pour the Real Ranch Dressing over the croutons and toss well. Serve immediately.

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Posted in Breads, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 11 Comments »




June 30th, 2014

A charred red onion-string bean-new potato dish, the book, and a busy summer

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Cool mornings, steamy afternoons, with isolated downpours daily,
have been the recipe for a lush, dense, almost tropical backyard,
and a happy garden plot:
Chest-high tomato plants are laden with the promise of abundance;
Prolific golden-bloomed squashes double in size overnight, hidden under their great leaf umbrellas;
Aggressive cucumber vines amble over stakes and wires, ever-seeking new places to latch on and climb.

June is done. Summer is here in full regalia.

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And, the cookbook is out! Between tending my garden and teaching teen cooking camp, I’ve been making presentations–in book stores, at two restaurants, our farmers’ market, on local television: demonstrating recipes, reading, signing, answering questions, telling our story. The response has been wonderful.

And, it is just the beginning.

In the meantime, I wanted to check in with you and share a recipe. This one is of the quick-and-easy variety: a kind of potato salad (I know, another potato salad recipe?)

New potatoes and string beans are dressed in a Greek yogurt sauce folded with charred red onions. There’s something about it that harkens to old school tastes in an appealing way–however updated. The combination of sea salt, cayenne, a dash of Worchestershire sauce with those crispy onion pieces in thick yogurt cream reminds me of “French Onion Dip.” Only I think you’ll find this one to be much, much better—and certainly healthier.

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Stirred into a mixture of petite new potatoes (still slightly warm!) and whatever young string beans you can find (I am partial to yellow wax beans.) the charred red onion dressing (and, yes, it doubles as a dip. Get out your sweet potato chips!) creates a delicious picnic side dish. It is a different take on potato salad.

And goodness knows, as long as there are potatoes and ingenuity, there will always be yet another take on potato salad. Embrace variety!

Thank you all for your interest in and support of my cookbook.
For those of you who have asked “How Can I Buy It?”
Here are the possibilities:
Online at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Books-a-Million (links are upper right on this page)
In Tennessee: All of the SAM’S CLUBS are stocking the book.
In Nashville: These independent booksellers: Bookman Bookwoman Books in Hillsboro Village and Parnassus in Green Hills.

You may also ask your local bookstore to order the book for you.

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Garden New Potatoes with Yellow Wax Beans and Charred Red Onion
1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1/2 pound yellow wax beans (or young green beans), ends snapped
charred red onion dressing (recipe below)

Place potatoes into a large saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Simmer and cook until tender—about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Fill a skillet with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Blanche the beans in batches (do not overcrowd) for 3-4 minutes.
Fill a bowl with ice water. Plunge cooked beans into the ice water bath to chill and stop the cooking.

Drain well.

In a large bowl, fold the potatoes, beans, and charred onion dressing together until well-coated. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Serves 6-8

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Charred Red Onion Dip/Dressing
adapted from Cooking Light

1 cup chopped grilled red onion
1 cup plain lowfat Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the onion into chunks and place onto a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt. Roast until the onion edges become dark brown and crispy.
Remove from oven and cool. Chop coarsely.

Combine the onion with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir until well combined.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Sauces, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




April 28th, 2014

Asparagus Times Two

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Some plants suffered mightily at the hands of this extreme winter. All over town, rosemary, the size of bushes, died in single digit freezes. Fig trees still look skeletal, no promise of buds yet. But winter’s harshness seems to have brought about an unforeseen benefit for others. Dogwoods, redbuds, crab apple, cherry trees have burst out in vivid profusion. Thickets of narcissus, tulips and iris are in glorious bloom.

It has been hard on our farmer friends. John’s strawberry crop was threatened by an April 15th freeze. Thank goodness he got all the plants covered with plastic the day before–a trying task for sure. Tally notes that her rows of spring vegetables are coming along…however slowly. In comparison to years past, everything is delayed by at least three weeks.

But, I am heartened by warmer days and blooming trees. Soon, plantings of beautiful lettuces will be big as bouquets.

Already, feathery leaves and tender spears are emerging in asparagus beds.

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There was a time when you only ate asparagus in season. Over the past two decades or more that shifted, with the globalization of commerce, and produce from far-flung places got shipped in. Asparagus in December! Tomatoes in February! I am glad that we are returning to the practice of eating seasonally. We appreciate the fruits and vegetables all the more, at their peak, in their time, grown in their locale. Indeed, they taste better.

A long time ago, (pre-globalization!) I remember a very fun Asparagus Dinner that I attended, actually helped prepare. It was hosted by our friend Lanny, who lived in a decrepit warehouse on Second Avenue near Nashville’s riverfront. Lanny was a graphic artist, stained glass craftsman, Karman Ghia mechanic, architectural antique collector, consummate barterer and all-around wheeler-dealer.

His warehouse home/studio was a remarkable chaotic assemblage of these passions. You never asked where he got any of it, but, be assured, there was a story behind it all. Curiously, in one of his deals of the day, he had acquired 8 big bundles of freshly cut spears. Soon to follow was the call for Asparagus Dinner. About a dozen of us showed up to wash, peel, trim, snap, steam, blanch, and stir-fry the formidable stack.

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This was sometime in the early 1980′s. Our menu reflected the cooking tastes of the time. I remember some of what we whipped up: old school hollandaise sauce to nap over steamed asparagus, creme fraiche-dill sauce as a dip for blanched-chilled spears, and a creamy pasta primavera sort of dish laced with crabmeat. I remember that it was all delicious, this asparagus feast.

With asparagus as the centerpiece, we celebrated spring.

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Today, I am offering two asparagus suggestions, both of which have a more modern spin: An asparagus salad dressed in gorgonzola vinaigrette, and asparagus roasted with a Persian-spiced pistachio blend. I love how different they are from each other: Cold and hot, pungent and fruity, crisp and toasty. For my friends who are not in love with asparagus officinalus: the gorgonzola dressing is delicious on salad greens alone—and the spiced pistachio would be just as incredible roasted onto cauliflower!

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Looking for other wonderful asparagus preparations? Here are a few to check out from springs gone by: Green Goddess Salad, luscious springtime Risotto, and Asparagus-Dill Potato Salad

Wishing you all the flavors of young spring green things!

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ASPARAGUS AND SPRING GREENS WITH GORGONZOLA VINAIGRETTE (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 bundle fresh asparagus (about 1 pound), cleaned, trimmed, and cut on the diagonal into thirds
2 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola, divided
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 pound mixed spring lettuces

Fill a large skillet or pot with water. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil on medium high heat.
Plunge in the asparagus pieces and cook for one minute–no more than two minutes (depending on how fat or thin the spears are)
Drain and place into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. When well-cooled, drain the spears and set aside.

Make the vinaigrette:
Place 1/4 teaspoon salt, minced chives, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon zest, black pepper and 1/4 cup gorgonzola crumbles into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.

Place spring greens, asparagus and pine nuts into a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss until all ingredients are well-coated. Sprinkle with remaining gorgonzola crumbles and serve.

Serves 4

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ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH PERSIAN-PISTACHIO COATING
1 bundle asparagus spears (about 1 pound) washed, dried, and trimmed
olive oil
1/2 cup toasted pistachios, finely ground
1/4 cup sumac (available at ethnic markets)
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drizzle olive oil (2-3 tablespoons) onto a baking sheet. Lay the asparagus spears onto the pan and roll, coating the spears with the oil. Add more oil if needed.

In a small bowl, mix the finely ground pistachios, sumac, thyme, salt and pepper together. Spread this mixture over the asparagus.

Place into the oven and roast for about 15 minutes. Spears will be tender-crisp and the nut mixture will be toasty.

Serves 4-6

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Serves 4

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »




January 13th, 2014

Pan-seared Potato Gnocchi with parsnips

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In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.

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This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!

Before it vanished.

Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.

The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.

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There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.

Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.

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The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.

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While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.

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Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.

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There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.

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Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.

Elusive no more.

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PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish

Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.

Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.

Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.

Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.

In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.

Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.

Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 17 Comments »




December 16th, 2013

Funky Kitchen Karma and Yummy Eggplant “Lasagna”

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It was more than my hope, it was my intention to have numerous posts this month. The kitchen muse thought otherwise. What a spate of not-quite wonderful dishes and complete duds the past two weeks!

The first was the worst: my glaceed chestnuts. Mealy and a misery. Ugh. A chuck into the trash bin was all they deserved, with no looking back.

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Next up, Maggie and I made panettones. What an involved fun project! We ordered the special baking forms and Fiori di Sicilia extract. I candied orange, grapefruit, and clementine peels. Maggie made the Biga, or starter.

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As the breads baked, they imparted incredible aromatics but they lacked the distinctive soft, spongy texture that makes them a pleasure to eat. Maggie and I both plan on turning that misfortune into panettone bread pudding.

More yolks? A better rise? I will rework the recipe, and try it again. Practice! Failing that, I will respect that most Italian households with accomplished cooks in the kitchen still purchase their Christmas panettones from their local bakers.

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And lastly, something went awry with the beautiful Linzer cookie recipe that I found here. The crumbly dough would not roll out. I’ve since figured out what I did wrong.(I used frozen raw egg yolks—but I should have added 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the 4 yolks before I froze them. Then, they wouldn’t have been gummy.) I rescued that though, by baking the cookies in individual petite tins in a variety of shapes, and filling them with raspberry preserves.

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Okay, The power of threes–three up, three strikes, three outs. Let’s hope this spell of funky kitchen karma is over.

In the meantime, I want to share a successful recipe that you’d be pleased to serve during the holidays. It’s vegetarian; it’s gluten free, and will serve a crowd. It’s even got the Christmas colors going for it: roasted tomato-sweet red pepper sauce and fresh spinach-laced ricotta are spread between thick roasted slabs of eggplant. It is not eggplant parmesan. It’s not lasagna either. There’s no pasta–the eggplant takes the place of the noodles. The best part: it is simply delicious.

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I’ll be back soon, with other good things, I promise.
I wish you beneficent times in the kitchen. May the muse smile upon your efforts.

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ROASTED EGGPLANT “LASAGNA”

Like most lasagna recipes, there are 3 easy steps to the recipe, before you assemble the layers.

RED SAUCE: Sweet Red Pepper-Tomato

4 large red bell peppers, each cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over the vegetables
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes and sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the red bell pepper halves and onion quarters onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place the canned plum tomatoes and their sauce onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the red bell pepper skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the pepper skins and discard.

Combine the roasted red bell peppers and onions with the roasted tomatoes into a large saucepan. Using an immersion blender, puree them together until smooth. You may add a little water–start with 1/2 cup—-if the mixture is too thick. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

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“GREEN CHEESE” Spinach Ricotta
1/4 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until all of the spinach is finely chopped and incorporated into the ricotta. The mixture will be creamy green.

ROASTED EGGPLANT
3 large eggplants
kosher salt
olive oil

2 cups shredded cheese: 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp white cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch thick. Lay the pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Allow them to “sweat”—about 15 minutes—-then gently dab the water droplets with a paper towel.

Drizzle both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and place back onto the baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove, and using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant. Roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Keep the shredded cheese handy for the assembly.

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ASSEMBLY

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 casserole pans with olive oil. Ladle a generous spoonful of red sauce onto the bottom. Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, followed by a layer of spinach-ricotta, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Repeat the process: red sauce, eggplant, ricotta, shredded cheese.

Baked uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling hot. Let the eggplant lasagna sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 15-20

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »




November 25th, 2013

Grateful for Autumn Greens

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Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.

Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.

Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!

Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.

Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.

Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!

After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.

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Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.

Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.

I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)

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The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.

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A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.

In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.

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HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces

Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.

Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Makes 8-10 servings

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WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS
adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.

Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.

Makes 8 servings

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




October 30th, 2013

Chanterelle Bread Pudding

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Hail Cantharellus cibarius!

Yes, it is that time of year again, when chanterelles, those golden hued beauties of the forest make their appearance at the market. I’ve been keeping a watchful eye out for them–their beguiling apricot color and scent, curious funnel-shaped stems, and soft gill-like ridges that stretch up to frilled caps. Trumpets of delectability!

So infrequently do I cook with them, that I want make the most of the occasion. Because of their nature, their keen readiness to yield into a silken umami state when sauteed in butter–I don’t want to do too much.

In the past, I’ve paired them nicely with caramelized onions in this tart, and made them the foundation and star of this spoon-creamy risotto. Today, I’ve folded them with cubed bread, eggs, cheeses, and an herb-infused milk, baked into a sumptuous Chanterelle Bread Pudding.

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A pile of chanterelles looks formidable at purchase, but reduces quickly in the skillet, so be sure to indulge in a full pound of them.
They’ll retain their meatiness and won’t get lost in the mix. Cleaning them can be a bit of a chore however most necessary; click here for Cooking Light’s foolproof guide to a proper prep. The cleaning may be the most time-consuming part of the recipe!

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For the rest of the process, it moves along simply, with simple ingredients. Likely you already have them in your pantry. Stale crusts of bread, eggs, some nutlike cheeses, a little onion and carrot to chop into a mirepoix to add to the base.

What makes this pudding exceptional—besides the grand chanterelles, of course— is the warmed half-and-half, with its plunge of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage. That trio muddles in the rich milk, infusing it with woodsy herbal notes.

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I saute the chopped chanterelle stems with carrot and onion in a nob of Kerrygold butter. After a few minutes, I toss in the mushroom caps, which I prefer to tear into pieces, rather than attack with a knife. In no time, they release their essence–both peppery and fruity– and become lustrous as they simmer. You could add a splash of white wine or sherry at this point—-chanterelles like a nip of the grape—-but it is not essential.

Once they are cooked, the rest is basically a mixing thing. Add your herbed-up half-and-half, shredded cheese (a combination of parmesan and gruyere is quite nice) beaten eggs and cubed bread.

I keep a bag of leftover bread–nubs, scraps, and pieces—in my freezer. Recipes like this one make me glad that I do.

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The pudding puffs as it bakes. The interior sides and rumpled top become wonderfully brown and crusty, while the interior maintains its rich creaminess. Tasting the dish–which made a great meal with a green salad—reminded me of big holiday feasts on the horizon. And I realized that this would make an elegant side dish, or dressing. Some of my friends always make Oyster Dressing for Thanksgiving. I think this Chanterelle Bread Pudding rivals that.

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CHANTERELLE BREAD PUDDING
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms, carefully cleaned
2 cups half-and-half
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
4-5 sage leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups cubed sturdy stale bread
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese–combination of Parmesan and Gruyere
4 eggs, lightly beaten

1- 8 cup baking or souffle dish, coated with butter

Cut the stems from the chanterelles, setting aside the caps to work with later. Finely chop the stems.

Pour the half-and-half into a small saucepan. Add fresh herbs and place on medium low heat. When bubbles begin to form on the pan’s edge of the liquid, remove from heat. Let the mixture cool as the herbs infuse the half-and-half.

Melt the butter in a large skillet or pot placed on medium heat. Add the chopped chanterelle stems, carrots, and onions. Season with salt and black pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Chop, or tear by hand, the chanterelle caps into bite sized pieces. Add to the vegetable mixture. Stir gently as the mushroom caps soften and collapse in the saute. This should take about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Discard the herbs and pour the infused half-and-half into the pot with the mushrooms. Stir in the bread cubes and cheese.
Finally–and quickly—stir in the beaten eggs. When all of the ingredients are well-combined, pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. You may place a sprig of rosemary ( or sage, or thyme) on the top.

Allow the bread pudding to sit for at least an hour (or several hours—you may cover and refrigerate this overnight and bake the following day.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the casserole on the middle oven shelf and bake for 35 minutes.

Serves 6-8

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Posted in Casseroles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




August 28th, 2013

Summer’s End Vegetable Pot Pie

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How has your summer been?

It’s hard for me to accept that September is almost here, and the moments of leisure, like dips in the pool, are vanishing.

As August wanes, I’m reminded that soon we will be transitioning. Daylight hours will visibly shorten; leaves will begin to turn; sweaters will be pulled out from the back of the closet; and heartier foods will be prepared in the kitchen.

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Already, the bounty of the garden is shifting, as heirloom tomatoes dwindle, and winter squashes–acorn, butternut–appear ready to harvest.

You might find, as I did, a handful of summer stragglers. An ear of corn or two, a big red bell pepper, a few squashes, a fistful of green beans.

Each, on its own, is not enough to make much of a meal.

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But combined, have the ability to make something great.

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Inspired by the summer stragglers, this vegetarian pot pie fits right into this time of transition. Pot pies–in their best form–embody comfort and offer one-dish ease. We often think of chicken or beef as being the central ingredient, but roasted vegetables can make a rich and satisfying filling on their own.

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Roasting, of course, brings out all the caramel sweetness of the veggies. The other key is making a rich veloute for the filling. For a vegetarian version, I started with a saute of onions and garlic, and made a simple roux. Lightly browning the flour-butter mixture helps to bring a deeper layer of flavor to the sauce. Vegetable stock (store-bought is fine) heightened with a splash of white wine makes a fine base, especially enhanced with the onion-garlic roux. I finish the sauce with some fresh thyme leaves.

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The other important element is the pot pie topping. Crust or biscuits–which do you prefer? I like both, but the biscuit topped pie ( made with chicken) that I saw in the September issue of Cooking Light really appealed this time.

In the time it takes for the veggies to roast, you can put together the biscuit dough. Here’s a couple of biscuit-making tips:

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Start with very cold butter, cut into small cubes, to blend into the flour-soda mixture. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two knives. You can also rub the butter into the flour by hand. It should resemble coarse meal.

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After you add the buttermilk, work quickly. The dough will start out being sticky, but soon will come together into a ball.

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You want a light touch, rolling out the dough, and cutting out the biscuit shapes. Overworked dough toughens–beware!

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The buttermilk biscuit recipe is very easy to put together, roll out and shape.

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The biscuits puff and brown beautifully, encasing the savory vegetable filling. As you scoop up a serving, you’ll notice how the veloute has baked into the bottoms of the biscuits. Mercy.

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SUMMER VEGETABLE POT PIE
2 yellow squashes, diced
2 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, large dice
1 jalapeno or cayenne pepper, small dice
1/2 pound green snap beans or pole beans, cut into 1/2 pieces
1-2 ears corn, cut off the cob
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chopped vegetables on a baking sheet and toss in olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and place in the oven to roast for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven.

In a 2 quart saucepan set on medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to saute for 2 more minutes.

Stir in the flour, coating the onions and garlic. Continue stirring, cooking the flour to make a light roux. Pour in the vegetable broth and wine, stirring all the while. The mixture will begin to thicken. When it looks like it has nice sheen, remove from heat.

Coat a 2 quart casserole round with butter or pan spray. Add the roasted vegetables, and then pour the sauce over them. Stir to coat all the vegetables.

Make the biscuits (recipe follows).
Arrange the biscuits over the top of the casserole. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika, if you like.
Place into the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes–until the biscuit tops are browned and the filling is bubbly.

Serves 4

BISCUITS FOR POT PIE TOPPING from Cooking Light
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup buttermilk

Place a level cup of flour (4.5 ounces, by weight) into a medium bowl. Mix in the baking soda and salt.
Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal.
Stir in the buttermilk.
Form a doughball and gently knead 5-6 times. It is important to NOT overwork the dough.
Roll into a circle–about 9 inches round. Use a 2 inch biscuit cutter, ( or a flour-dusted glass of approximate size) and cut the biscuits.
Arrange them over the top of the pot pie.

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Posted in Casseroles, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »




June 27th, 2013

Pasta “Lecce”

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When Bill and I were in Rome last month, the weather–by Roman claims–was unseasonably cool and somewhat rainy. We decided, at a certain point, to rent a car and follow the sun. That trip took us first down to the Sorrento Peninsula, to a sleepy cliff town called Vico Equense. Brilliant sun, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance–it was a lovely place to be. After two days, the rains came, so we headed east over the Apennines and then south—way south—to the heel of the boot.

We ended up in Lecce, a beautiful city sometimes called “The Florence of the South.” Particular to the region is a sandstone that is easily carved when first quarried, yet hardens over time. Lecce is replete with its own form of Baroque architecture made from this stone. The structures, churches and building facades, exhibit a more refined sensibility in their exuberant ornateness.

Ten kilometers inland from the Adriatic, Lecce also has a wilder feel to it–and I mean this in the sense of less traveled, less touristy, less sophisticated. Maybe bohemian is the right word. The pace is very laid back. The vibe is very friendly and welcoming. Perhaps because of its proximity to Greece and North Africa, it benefits from a confluence of cultures.

We became quickly captivated by the place and the people. We stayed in the centro storico-historic city center, in a flat on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Within the piazza confines is an amphitheater, circa 200 A.D. On the perimeters are numerous coffee bars, gelateria, and eateries with outdoor dining, where you could just sit in the breezy sunshine and soak up the beauty.

Cars are not permitted in the center; we could walk the maze of cobbled streets and discover what the old city had to offer.

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In our meander, we found a restaurant that we loved: i merli
Contemporary in look, intimate in size, fresh and seasonal in menu offerings–it suited us. We snacked on delicious fritto misto di verdure–tempura-like fried vegetables, including the delicate zucchini blossoms—and petite mussels with pungent aioli. Bill enjoyed a risotto, creamy green with fresh asparagus, but we were both crazy for my pasta dish–a housemade tagliatelle tossed in good olive oil, sweet Sicilian cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mint, and ricotta salata.

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All of the ingredients tasted so fresh, prepared with such care and immediacy, that it was a pleasure to eat. It was that touch of mint that elevated the dish from something predictably good to something unexpected and wonderful. I knew that I would try to recreate it after I returned home.

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Rounding up the right ingredients would not be a problem: John and Tally at Fresh Harvest Co-op have their terrific Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Zephyr squash, and fresh mint is everywhere! I located ricotta salata, the aged, salted, and pressed version of ricotta at Whole Foods.

But, making fresh egg pasta was another key piece.

I experimented with a couple of fresh pasta dough recipes–seeking that golden yellow I had been served on countless occasions.
In my research I found a winner by Lydia Bastianich, made—improbably–in the food processor.

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She calls it “Rich Man’s Golden Pasta.” Five egg yolks whipped with olive oil and water are poured into the processor already filled with flour and salt. I was skeptical–shouldn’t the dough be diligently hand-kneaded for at least 8 minutes?

But Ms. Bastianich knows her pastas.

The dough comes together in a blink.

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After you remove the doughball from the processor, just lightly dust it with flour, knead it 5 times, form a disc and seal it in plastic wrap. The dough should rest a minimum of thirty minutes at room temperature–and if it rests longer, so much the better.

I rolled the dough seven times—through settings 1-7 on my machine—before rolling it through the ribbon cut. The dough remained supple and elastic. It was easy to make, and easy to cook: scarcely two minutes in the boiling water.

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The flavor of the pasta alone was incredible, and the texture light. Yet, it stood up well in the toss of vegetables, mint and cheese.

The recipe makes a big batch of pasta–enough for 8. You can cut the dough into half, reserving the other piece for another pasta dish, if you like.

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“RICH MAN’S GOLDEN PASTA” from Lydia Bastianich, for Cooking Light
2 level cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place flour and salt into food processor fitted with the swivel blade and briefly pulse, mixing the two together.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the water and olive oil.

Turn on food processor, and slowly pour, in a steady stream, the egg yolk mixture into the flour. As the flour absorbs the egg yolks, it will begin to form a ball. Once the ball is formed, cease processing. Remove and gently knead ( 30 seconds, that’s all) forming the dough into a disc shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.

When you are ready to roll, remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into quarters. Dust with flour, and run each piece through the pasta machine, starting with notch 1–and go through notch 7 before using the fettuccine slicer. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of flour to dust the dough as you work with it. You don’t want it to get sticky!

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PASTA LECCE
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 lb. “Zephyr” summer squash (zucchini works well too) cut into julienned strips
3/4 pint “Sungold” cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup ricotta salata, shaved or cut into thin batons
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a large pot or saucepan on medium and add olive oil. Add julienned squash and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in halved cherry tomatoes and mint. Cook for another couple of minutes and remove from heat.

Bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta. The strands should only take a minute or two to cook.
Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.

Toss the pasta into the pot with the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pour in the pasta water, tossing and folding, so that the squash strips become enlaced with the pasta ribbons. Sprinkle in the ricotta salata as you fold.

Mound into bowls. Garnish with extra cheese and mint. Makes 2 huge bowls, or 4 small bowls.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




June 11th, 2013

Garlic Scape Pesto, and first impressions of Rome

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Overseas flights haven’t gotten any easier over time and experience. On our overnight to Rome I slept a little. But I was ill-prepared for the shock of day as we emerged out of straight-jacket seats, stumbling bleary-eyed through the terminal, baggage and customs, and into a van that carted us off to our friends’ home in the north part of the city.

What I remember about those first few hours:

Poppies. So many poppies. Hosts of bright red growing wild along shoulders of highways, dotting fields, saturating hillside patches in scarlet brilliance.

Cooler springtime air. Blue sky jockeyed by dark clouds and a rumble of thunder, spit of rain.

Ancient pines trimmed and sculpted to make towering umbrellas. The surprise of tropicals: palms, lemon and orange trees.

Lush jasmine-like honeysuckle vines, tiny white blooms in thick patches of green that climbed up buildings, tumbled over balconies, made elegant trails from large stone urns.

Espresso. Dark with airy crema top, the sign of a proper pull. Smooth, with a slight bitter edge.

Taralli. ring-shaped fennel crackers from Puglia. Our friend Heather kept bags of these distinctive, delicious crisps around for snacking.

And, pasta. Oh, my. Our first lunch. Plates of fat rigatoni. Tagliatelle. Spaghetti. Bucatini. All fresh made egg pastas that were impossibly, deeply yellow in color. The type of flour, no doubt, and rich golden egg yolks must be the reason.

Over two weeks time, we ate a lot of pasta.

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There are the Roman classics, such as
Cacio e Pepe–strands tumbled and coated in a generous shower of piquant Roman cacio cheese and black pepper–seductive and complex in its simplicity.
Spaghetti Carbonara–laced with guanciale and egg beaten so creamy that it both sauces and binds.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana—guanciale and tomato, (pork and tomato–wow) sparked with peppercino, and pecorino
Tonnarelli alle Vedure–a squared-off Roman spaghetti tossed in green: both light sauce and an array of springtime vegetables. (Artichokes, if you are lucky!)

I tried the tonnarelli with green at three different eateries over my two week adventure. The first was at De Cesare on Via del Casaletto, where I met Rachel and Luca for lunch. The Vignarola had braised spring onions, fava beans, artichokes, and peas. You could order it with guanciale or senza–without. It was divine.

Subsequent samplings yielded different but no less delicious results.

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When I returned home, I vowed that I would try to replicate that deep yellow egg pasta and the fennel-flecked rings from Puglia. A little research–and I’ll get back with you on those projects.

In the meantime, I got a hold of an early June treat: Garlic Scapes.

You can find these fabulous loops at the farmers markets now. Tally May of Fresh Harvest Co-op is offering them now. They have a vibrant–but not sharp—garlicky taste. Think green garlic. The stem makes a marvelous pesto for dipping crudite, or swirling into a batch of hot pasta and spring vegetables.

The recipe has some other elements to boost its green nature, give it texture and body–and increased nutrition. I used a mix of arugula and spinach leaves, (but you may use one or the other) toasted walnuts, and cannellini beans. It’s a thick pesto, creamy and luscious.

As a dip or a green “vedure” like sauce, we have loved it both ways.

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GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
8-10 scapes, bloom cut off and discarded, cut into 2″ pieces
1 cup arugula leaves or baby spinach leaves, packed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup cooked cannellini beans
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place scapes, walnuts, arugula, and cannellinis into a food processor bowl, fitted with the swivel blade. Pulse, chopping the scapes together with the other ingredients. Add lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes. Pulse. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you continue pulsing. The pesto will become a lush creamy green, with nice texture from the walnuts. Taste for salt.

Scrape pesto into a clean lidded jar and refrigerate. Flavors will develop and intensify over a few hours. Makes about 2 cups.

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PASTA WITH SPRING VEGETABLES AND GARLIC SCAPE PESTO (inspired by numerous “tonnarelli alle vedure” dishes dined on in Roma)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 green onions, chopped
4 young carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces
1 bundle asparagus spears, cut into 2″ diagonal pieces
1/3 lb. sugar snap peas, strung

1/2 lb. paparadelle or linguine
1 + cup reserved pasta water
Recipe garlic scape pesto (1 1/2 cups at least)

Warm olive oil in a large deep skillet. Saute green onions, carrots, asparagus pieces and sugar snaps, cooking each vegetable for a couple of minutes as it becomes “tender-crisp” yet retains a bright color. Remove each successive saute from the pan.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, but set aside at least 1 cup of pasta water.

Add pasta water and garlic scape pesto to the skillet. Add all the vegetables and toss to coat. Add the pasta and continue tossing to coat all the strands. Add more pesto if you like.

Mound into warm bowls. Dollop with more pesto and serve. Makes 2 large or 4 regular servings.

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The view from Heather’s kitchen window–honeysuckle vines, palm tree…

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The Colosseum, one moment stormy, one moment blue.

Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Sauces, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 18 Comments »