May 30th, 2016

Heirloom Grains, and Moving Musings

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roasted cauliflower-vidalia onion ragu over blue corn grits and
sea island peas cooked in bay laurel over carolina gold rice

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Bins, boxes, bubble wrap,
newsprint, packing tape, Sharpies.

Bit by bit, over the past weeks, moving mode has taken over, as I prepare to leave our home of sixteen years. While my mind churns, What will come with us? What will we sell? What will we give away? shelves and drawers begin to empty. Closets shed their contents. Sturdy cardboard boxes bound in wide tape line up along the walls. Bit by bit, the life force of this house ebbs away.

It’s a process, and through most of it, I’ve felt detached. It’s the best way to plow through the stuff you’ve been living with forever, all snippets of a bigger story. My friend Vicki calls it the house diary, and reviewing it can bring moments of pleasure.

One afternoon clearing out the secretary I found the menu from a little walk-up eatery in Mendocino that served the freshest tasting vegetable burrito I’d ever had. In a flash, I’m on that breezy rise overlooking the Pacific, limitless blue. Another day, a cache of my daughter’s elementary school art work surfaced, like her sweet Thanksgiving drawing of our green planet with her message “I am thankful for the world.”

Sometimes it’s caught me off guard, tapped into feelings deep within, a gush of grief, a pang of regret. Wrapping the little urn that contains photos and ashes of our cats, beloved and long deceased. Or coming across a random catering picture of me and Bill from 1993. We were so young. And I looked so pretty. Why did I not believe that about myself then?

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Sorting through the house diary also entails closing out the kitchen pantry. My mission has been to use up those ingredients in the freezer or larder. Of late, I’ve been cooking with an assortment of heirloom grains and legumes I ordered from Anson Mills of Charleston South Carolina.

Do you know about this place, its mission and its products? Since the late ’90’s, Glenn Roberts has labored to repatriate the Southern pantry with heirloom grains once prominent and –due to corporate farming practices–passed over.

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Carolina Gold rice, a specialty of the region revered for its plump texture and nutlike taste, had all but vanished. So had different strains of dent corn, which made the best tasting cornmeal and grits. On the wane, too, was the drought-resistant, protein-rich small red peas grown by the Gullah people of the Sea Islands dotting the Carolina coast. Reviving these southern foodways for us to enjoy now, and preserving them for future generations has been monumental work.

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Treat yourself (they are pricey) to these heirlooms. The rice, which I cooked in a sofrito of onion, garlic, and sweet red bell pepper and vegetable broth was addictive. Each deep-flavored grain-separate- had satisfying mouth-feel. True gold. The Sea Island red peas, cooked simply as you would other dried beans in onion, garlic and bay leaf, had a delicate savory-sweet pop. Together, they rivaled any bowl of red beans and rice I’d ever dipped my spoon into.

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As for the blue corn grits, a native American strain, I took care to follow the Anson Mills directions. The grits really benefit from a long soak and cook. Coarsely ground, my batch yielded a rich pebbled yet creamy texture. And what a color! When I topped it with the caramelized cauliflower-vidalia onion mixture—a tower of candy-sweet tastes—the result was so delicious, Bill and I could have been at Husk. Almost.

BLUE CORN GRITS WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-VIDALIA ONION RAGU
1 head cauliflower, washed, chopped or broken into florets
2 Vidalia sweet onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into eighths
several sprigs of fresh thyme
kosher or sea salt
coarse ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place cut pieces of cauliflower and onions in to a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Liberally coat with olive oil and spread out onto a baking sheet.
Place into the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until pieces are browned and caramelized.

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BLUE CORN GRITS (recipe adapted from Anson Mills)
1 cup Anson Mills Blue Corn Grits (or coarse grain white or yellow)
2 1/2 cups filtered water
2 cups vegetable broth
Fine sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the grits in a 3 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the water. Stir well and let the grits settle for a few minutes. The chaff and hulls will rise to the surface—skim and discard. Cover and let the grits soak at least an hour–or overnight at room temperature.

Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pan. Meanwhile, warm 2 cups of broth in a small saucepan. Every 10 minutes or so, uncover the grits and stir them; each time you find them thick enough to hold the spoon upright, stir in a small amount of the hot water, adding about 1½ cups water or more in 4 or 5 additions. Cook until the grits are creamy and tender throughout, but not mushy, and hold their shape on a spoon, about 50 minutes if the grits were soaked or about 90 minutes if they weren’t. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. To finish, season to taste with salt and pepper.

ASSEMBLY

Ladle grits into bowls. Mound each with roasted cauliflower-onion mixture. Sprinkle shredded pecorino and chives over the tops. Serves 4.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 26 Comments »




March 14th, 2016

Beets all the way: hummus and pesto

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Kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, parsnips, beets:

After years of being forgotten, feared, distained, dismissed, each of these veggies is having its moment of redemption. They all have found their way back onto the restaurant menu and everyday dinner table, in creative delectable ways.

We’re no longer surprised by roasted Brussels sprouts, pan-seared cauliflower steaks, or parsnip puree.

I had to laugh, when I went to a modern diner that offered “The Obligatory Kale Salad.”

We’re in the midst of a vegetable renaissance.

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So, here’s my latest discovery I’d like to share: beet hummus.

(Upon viewing my gleaming magenta bowl, friend Steve jokingly declared, “There’s no such thing as beet hummus.”)

Well, yes. In part, it’s all in a name—although I have seen some recipes that puree the root vegetable with hummus essentials chick peas and tahini.

But I decided those might overshadow the earthy-sweet complexity of the beets.

Plus, by themselves, beets possess enough body to make a thick, hummus-like dip. So, I made mine in simpler fashion, relying on another middle Eastern staple, Sumac, to give it tangy depth.

(You can find sumac at most global markets and some grocery stores such as Whole Foods.)

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After you’ve cooked (you may either boil or roast ’em–whichever works for you at the moment!) and chilled your beets, you’ll pulse them in a food processor with garlic, lemon juice and zest, sumac, ginger, salt, red pepper flakes and olive oil.

Healthful and delicious and, in its way, beautiful.

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If you want add a little more pizzazz to the batch, top the ruby churn with crumbled goat cheese and chopped scallions. Or toasted walnuts. Sesame seeds. Cilantro.

Serve with crackers or pitas.

But wait, one more thing!

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Don’t pitch your beets’ leafy green tops into the compost bin. Not only delicious, beet greens are rich in vitamins and minerals. More iron than spinach. More nutritional value than the root!

You can saute them in a bit of olive oil and garlic, as you would with Swiss chard, or finely cut and marinate them for a salad, as you would kale.

The leaves make a mighty fine pesto, too. I’ve included that recipe below. Use it in any applications that call for traditional pesto. The simpler, the better: Spread over flatbread and topped with roasted vegetables or tossed over penne, coating the warm pasta with garlicky-green piquancy.

Following the way of The Third Plate, use the whole beet.

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BEETROOT HUMMUS
2-3 beets
2-3 garlic cloves
1 lemon for zest and juice
1 tablespoon sumac
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil

Toppings:
1-2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1 green onion, finely chopped

Place cooked and chilled beets into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.
Add garlic cloves, lemon zest and juice, fresh ginger pieces, sumac, salt, and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the ingredients are chopped up together. Continue to pulse while pouring in the olive oil.

Taste and adjust for seasonings–for salt, citrus, and peppery heat.

Spoon into a serving bowl. Topped with crumbled goat cheese, chopped green onion, and any remaining lemon zest.

Drizzle the top with olive oil and serve with crackers, toasted flatbread, or pita chips.

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BEET GREEN PESTO
1 bundle fresh beet greens, saved from 1 bunch fresh beets–washed and dried
2 cloves garlic
1 green onion–green and white parts
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.
Pulse, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place into a clean jar. Cover and refrigerate. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »




November 10th, 2015

Chanterelle Confit

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Confit: from the French word confire meaning “preserved”
a confit is any type of food cooked slowly, often in fat, as a method of preservation.

If the stars align and I happen to be shopping at Costco soon after their shipment of chanterelles arrives, I am able to delight us all with something delicious using these wild mushrooms. (The Costco price, around $10 a pound, makes them irresistible.)

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Some years it works out, prompting me to make the likes of chanterelle tart, risotto, and savory bread pudding. When I discovered the cache this year, I knew in an instant that I could use them on crostini for a party I was catering. (toasts, slathered with butternut squash puree, topped with simmered chanterelles and shallots.)

Catering?

Um, yes. I fell off my no-catering wagon, and put together a fall-inspired menu of passed hors d’oeuvres for a fundraising event last Thursday evening. 150 guests! It was for a noble cause–Radnor Lake State Natural Area--an extraordinary 1000+ acre preserve in the heart of a Nashville suburb.

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So, while I was figuring how to prepare these for the event, I wanted to learn a way to preserve the golden beauties. Add some staying power to their ephemeral nature.

We’re all familiar with duck confit; wouldn’t confit of chanterelles work?
A little interweb research confirmed my suspicions.

The Earthy Delights Blog, devoted to hard-to-find funghi, truffles and such, has an informative post about the confit in question: a slow savory meld of chanterelles, onions, garlic and dried apricots (fitting–the mushrooms themselves have a stonefruit essence) in olive oil and chicken stock.

I adapted the recipe, opting for vegetable stock instead of chicken, adding a splash of sherry vinegar and some fresh thyme. (For those of you with certain dietary concerns, my version is vegan and gluten-free.)

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The result? A jammy mushroom mix that is exotic,
supple, sweet, meaty, with a little sherried vinegar tang…truly luscious.

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Guests clamored for the chanterelle crostini at the Radnor Lake party. (Overall a huge success, by the way, wherein many guests asked, “Who’s the caterer?” Knowing that I was doing this as a one-time thing, my friend Bev came up with the best answer: “It’s Anonymous Catering.”)

Days later, I cooked some brown rice and ladled gently warmed confit and juices over the top for our dinner. Some still remains in my refrigerator–enough to fold into omelets, or spoon over creamy polenta, or blend with sour cream and dry mustard for a stroganoff sauce.

Refrigerated, the confit keeps a month (if it lasts that long.) You can freeze it too, for up to six months. Perhaps I’d better go back to Costco and get some more—if they’re still in stock!

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CHANTERELLE CONFIT (adapted from The Earthy Delights Blog)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned and cut (or torn) into 1/2″ strips and pieces
1 large onion, small dice
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
pinch crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
a few sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the chanterelles, onions & garlic and saute until the onion becomes translucent and the mushrooms begin to soften. (15 minutes) Stir often, making sure that the ingredients cook evenly. Add the diced apricots, sugar, salt, pepper and crushed chili, then pour in the sherry vinegar and vegetable stock. Add the sprigs of thyme.

When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and the mixture thickens. ( 40 – 60 minutes.) Taste for seasoning and set aside to cool.

Spoon the confit into a clean glass jar and top it with a pour of olive oil. Cap it and refrigerate. This will keep for a month. You may freeze the confit for up to 6 months.

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 14 Comments »




September 25th, 2015

New Ideas, New Techniques

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The Plus Element

That’s what my friend Maggie calls it. On any path to mastery, there’s always one more step.

I think that’s why I both enjoy and feel challenged by my kitchen calling.

Thirty plus years on this culinary path, and I am still learning.
Thirty plus years, and I am still excited about food.

Today’s post shares two of my most recent discoveries, and they couldn’t be more disparate.

The first took its inspiration from a meal at a new vegan-raw food eatery AVO.
The second was the product of a little pre-Thanksgiving research and experimentation.

I served both at our last potluck, to raves.

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AVO (as in avocado) is Nashville’s first full service vegan raw food restaurant. (Nothing heated above 118 degrees, can you imagine?) I was beyond surprised by how delectable–and creative—it’s offerings are. No-bake sea salt chocolate “cheesecake” made from soaked cashews pureed with coconut milk, maple syrup, and bitter chocolate. Pad Thai noodles made from threads of zucchini, daikon, and kelp in a spicy almond-based sauce.

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And a remarkable tabbouleh, made from pulverized cauliflower curds.

And while I’m less likely to attempt the mock cheesecake (despite its incredible, creamy mouthfeel, and rich, deep chocolate taste) the tabbouleh-style salad using cauliflower as its grain is nothing short of genius.

Finely chopped by hand, or pulsed in a food processor, the curds have the right appearance. The texture is a ready receptor for the lemony vinaigrette. The taste is convincing–bright, fresh, healthful and delicious. To the ever-growing repertoire of dishes where this species of Brassica oleracea mimics something else (like mashed potatoes, or piccata, or pizza crust…) add this recipe.

Isn’t cauliflower the versatile one?

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My recipe takes the Middle Eastern mainstay, and flips it further. Instead of flat leaf parsley, I chopped a mound of tangy peppery arugula to fold in with the cauliflower. I “quick-pickled” thinly sliced red onions, for spark and color contrast. I added finely chopped broccoli. I even cooked up a batch of pearled couscous, to extend the salad for our group. (It didn’t need it.)

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The second trial is the “Dry Brine.”

We are all familiar with brining–immersing a hunk of meat or poultry in a highly seasoned-salted bath for an extended, which acts as both marinade and tenderizer. I’ve brined pork roasts to my satisfaction, but my efforts with turkey have not entirely pleased me.

The flavor was there. The juiciness too. But the skin never got that same compelling crackle.

And the gravy–not that rich brown.

I attempted dry brining a turkey breast. So easy and less cumbersome. It was always a challenge to find a receptacle Large enough to hold the brine-and-bird, much less fit it into the fridge without making a sloshing mess.

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Create your dry brine blend of salt, pepper, and herbs. Sprinkle all over the bird. Place into the refrigerator UNCOVERED for 24 hours. Remove the next day, thirty-minutes before roasting–let it lose some of the chill while you preheat the oven. Drain off any collected liquid at the bottom of the pan. Slip some pats of butter underneath the skin.

Roast, uncovered.

The result?

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It’s a WOW.

Crisp browned skin, tender, juicy meat, wonderful infusion of seasonings. And this was for the breast—which can get dry. I’m looking forward to using this technique on a whole turkey for our grand Thanksgiving feast. Another step on the path.

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CAULIFLOWER-ARUGULA TABBOULEH
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly
1 head cauliflower, washed and cored
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 head broccoli, washed and stemmed
2 cups arugula, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Quick-Pickle the Red Onions: In a separate bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, salt, black pepper, and sugar together. Add the red onions. Cover and allow the mixture to soften and pickle the onions—about 15 minutes.

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Break the head of cauliflower into manageable sized pieces. Finely chop the curds and stems.
If you prefer, you may use the food processor and pulse them into fine pieces. Place into a large bowl.

Add lemon and juice. Season liberally with salt and black pepper. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat the pieces.

Fold in the arugula.
Finely chop the broccoli. Add it to the salad.
Drain the pickled red onions and fold them into the salad as well.
Taste for seasonings and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings

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DRY-BRINED AND ROASTED TURKEY BREAST

8-10 pound turkey breast
poultry rub
4 tablespoons butter

Poultry Dry Rub:
3 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Rosemary
1 tablespoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Ground Sage
1 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

The Day Before Roasting:
Rinse the turkey breast under cold water. Pat dry. Sprinkle the rub over the entire breast, pushing some underneath the skin. Place onto a baking pan and refrigerate uncovered, overnight.

Roasting Day:
Remove the turkey breast from the refrigerator. Drain off any liquid which may have collected on the bottom of the pan. Cut the butter into small pats and slip them underneath the skin.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the turkey breast onto the middle rack and let it roast undisturbed (and uncovered) for 1 1/2–2 hours. Check the turkey after an hour and rotate the pan.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 24 Comments »




July 29th, 2015

Summer on the Move

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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.

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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.

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1 tablespoon butter
6 eggs
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.

Serves 4-6

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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.

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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.

Serves 2-4

“Elote” Dressing:
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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted in Breakfast, Desserts, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 14 Comments »




June 28th, 2015

Ray’s Green Beans and Romesco

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
olive oil
kosher salt
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
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, cut in half
kosher salt
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.

ASSEMBLE
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!

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




February 10th, 2015

A Celebratory Soup!

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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.

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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.

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Simply put, it is vegetables and broth, simmered and pureed.

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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.

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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…

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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)
chili oil

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.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 16 Comments »




January 26th, 2015

Korean-style Beef Short Rib Tacos

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I don’t know too much about Korean food, but on the rare occasions that I dine on dishes like Bibimbap or Galbi Jjim at one of the homespun Korean eateries here in Nashville, I always experience this brilliant palate awakening. The spices, sugar and chili pepper heat, fermented vegetables and grilled meat hit on all the taste buds: Sweet-salty-sour-bitter-umami.

Envigorating!

And I chide myself: Why don’t I eat here more often? Why don’t I try to cook like this?

The truth is, I tend to cook in my culture-comfort zone–which is a mish-mash of Italian-French-Southern-New American whatever! But today’s post reflects a little expansion beyond that zone.

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It’s not authentic Korean, to be sure. The seasoning of the meat–soy-ginger-garlic-sesame—falls in line. Lashing it with the sweet-sour crunch of pickled red cabbage and grassy fresh cilantro fits too–although it’s much tamer than traditional Kim-chi. And, eating it wrapped in a griddled corn tortilla makes it more like Mexi-Korean fusion.

No matter. The result is simply delicious.

Kogi BBQ, a food truck in the Los Angeles area, gets the credit for originating the cleverly filled tacos over 6 years ago. It’s an idea that has caught on across the country–and inspired all manner of taco fusion treats.

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My prompt started back in December, when I had purchased–and overbought– some boneless beef short rib for a big family meal. (which was a classic French preparation.) I put the extra meat into the freezer, knowing that I’d soon have the chance to use it in a different flavor profile:

Tacos inspired by Kogi, for our community potluck.

I did a little research, and put together my plan.

First: the marinade. Easy to make–what is key is allowing enough time for it to permeate the meat. Six to eight hours, if you start in the morning. A 12 hour-overnight would be even better. Don’t worry if you can’t locate an Asian pear. I used an apple that I already had! The texture and mild sweet fruit taste gets communicated into the mix.

Note: if you cannot, for whatever reason, get short rib then I recommend flank steak. These Korean-style beef tacos at Cooking Light use it to great advantage—marinated and grilled.

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Next: The Sear and the Braise. It’s important to get a nice rich brown finish on the beef. The marinade goes far in that regard, caramelizing as you sear the meat. Once you’ve accomplished that, you smother the strips in deglazed juices from the pan, along with the remaining marinade.

Cover and place into a low oven and forget about the meat for the next two to three hours.

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What emerges, after that time, is succulent beef, steeped in garlicky gingery tastes.
You really don’t need a knife to shred the meat for the filling–pick it apart with a fork.
Save all those braising juices, too.

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I didn’t have the time needed to make Kimchi, which is about a week. Instead, I whipped up a quick pickled slaw, using red cabbage and red onion. In short order, it provided a snappy sweet-sour topping.

Finish the taco with some cilantro and a stripe of Sriracha sauce.

Gosh, these were good.

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KOREAN STYLE BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB TACOS
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
marinade and braising mixture
vegetable oil

The Marinade:
1 Gala apple or Asian Pear, cored and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sesame oil
a few pinches red pepper flakes

Place the apple, onion, garlic, and ginger into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse the ingredients together.

Add the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, water, and sesame oil. Process until smooth.

Place the meat into a non-reactive bowl or container. Pour about 1/2 of the marinade over the meat (reserving the rest for later use in the recipe.) Make sure the meat is well coated. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate–marinating overnight is best.

The Braise:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place a large skillet or pot on medium heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil.
Remove the beef from the marinade and brown the pieces a few minutes on each side.
Place the browned pieces into a shallow baking dish.
Pour remaining marinade over the beef.
Cover with aluminum foil and oven-braise for 3 hours.
When done, the meat will be juicy and fork-tender.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, break it up into small pieces for the tacos. Pour braising juices over the meat. Keep warm until ready to assemble the tacos.

Makes 2 dozen 6 inch tacos

“PICKLED RED” RED CABBAGE AND RED ONION SLAW
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 large red onion
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and place into a mixing bowl.
Slice the onion as thinly as possible and add to the cabbage.
In a separate bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar, and salt together.
Pour over the slaw and let marinate for 20 minutes.

TACO ASSEMBLY
warm beef in braising juices
pickled red slaw
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
24 6 inch corn tortillas
Sriracha hot sauce

Place a skillet on medium heat. Brown the tortillas on both sides–about 1 minute a side.
Spoon in the beef. Top with pickled red slaw, fresh cilantro, and a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Sandwiches | 16 Comments »




January 18th, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower Za’atar

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




July 29th, 2014

Summer Risotto with sweet corn and purple hull peas: a cook’s musings, while stirring

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As a first time author of a cookbook, having just passed a milestone birthday, I have found myself in a reflective mood. I’ve been thinking about my culinary evolution, how I got here today, how I’ve grown up and grown in the world of food. It had a shaky beginning: a girl, born in New York, who didn’t care for most foods at all.

Moving to The South made a big impact. It took time, but I came to embrace its culinary ways. There’s a real focus on vegetables that we never experienced up North.

The climate supports a greater variety, that alone surprised me. I had never seen or tasted okra, crookneck squash, pole beans, yellow wax beans, collards, turnip and mustard greens, October beans, or purple hull peas.

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Have you heard of purple hull peas? These are tender pulses belonging to the family of Cowpeas, Vigna unguiculata, whose relatives include black-eyed peas, crowders, lady peas, and field peas. High in protein (24%) and easy to grow: they actually thrive in poor soil, and hot, dry conditions.

Their history in the South has dark roots in slave trade. Their seeds were brought on ships, along with enslaved West Africans to the Caribbean and eastern Atlantic seaboard. Rejected by the Europeans as poor man’s fodder, fit only for cattle, they acquired the name “cowpeas.” Little did the Landed Gentry realize all the good they were rejecting.

Make no mistake, the lowly legume has far-reaching benefits for man, animals, and plantlife. Easy to grow and prepare, the peas are delicious. They are high in amino acids, lysine and tryptophan. According to Cooking Light’s notes on healthy living, they are among the foods that will help insure better sleep. (Ahhhhh.)

And, used in crop rotation, cowpeas infuse nitrogen in vast quantities into the soil. That’s important, as corn, for instance, consumes nitrogen greedily. (NOTE: read Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate–which goes beyond “farm-to-table” detailing an integrated model for vegetable, grain, and livestock production that is truly sustainable.)

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As a picky child, I did enjoy corn on the cob–what self-respecting kid doesn’t? Once you got through the task of shucking (and avoiding any green worms!) the prospect of eating it was as fast as a plunge in the kettle of boiling, lightly salted water.

There’s nothing as blissful as sitting on a back porch stoop, chomping on an ear in the summer, hands and face sloppy with kernels, spurted “corn milk” and butter .

But until I came to Nashville, I had never eaten fresh fried corn–cut from the cob, scraped and skillet-simmered in butter and water. More a technique than a recipe–this is not “creamed corn.” No cream, milk, or flour.

I learned about the pure pleasure of this dish at my first restaurant job in the late ’70’s at a Southern style “Meat-and-Three” called “Second Generation” run by Anna Marie Arnold. Anna grew up cooking with her mother, first generation founder of The White Cottage, a tiny yet legendary eatery that vanished–closed and bulldozed in the ’90’s, when a city bridge had to be widened.

Silver Queen was the favored corn of the day–a small kerneled white corn that had candied sweetness.

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Peas–Corn–Rice

A delectable summer combination.

One of the shifts in my “food evolution” is using local ingredients in classic recipes. That practice makes good sense, but I didn’t awaken to that sensibility until more recent years. Nonetheless, a creamy risotto lends itself readily to accepting these Southern staples in the stir:

Purple hull peas, cooked in onion, garlic and red pepper
Sweet Corn, cut and scraped from the cob
Short-grain Rice, cooked in tomato-vegetable broth

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The tomato-vegetable broth is key too. Certain ripe tomatoes have high water content. When you cook summer tomatoes to make sauce, or chop them to make salsa, if you strain the pulp, you’ll have a lot of remaining juice, or “tomato water.” Use it, in combination with vegetable broth (made with trimmings of carrots, celery, onions, garlic)

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Stir—stir—stir. It can be a meditative process. You might find yourself reflecting on your own life in food!

As the rice becomes plump and savory, releasing its starch into the broth, a seductive creaminess results. Fold in the corn and its scrapings, and finally the purple hull peas, along with the “pot likker” in which they were cooked.

Garnish with fresh thyme, if you like, or a few curls of pecorino romano.
But it is not necessary–the risotto is rich with flavor, and wonderful texture. Enjoy it with spoon, to capture every luscious bite.

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SUMMER RISOTTO WITH SWEET CORN AND PURPLE HULL PEAS
3-4 ears fresh corn
1 pound purple hull peas (weight is unshelled)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, slivered, divided
2 medium onions, chopped, divided
1 chili pepper of choice, split in half (cayenne, serrano, jalapeno)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter (may use oil to make this vegan)
1 1/2 cups short grain rice, like Arborio or Carolina Gold
8 cups tomato-vegetable broth
salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the corn from the cobs, scraping the cobs for extra “corn milk,” into a bowl and set aside.

Shell the purple hull peas, rinse, drain, and place into a bowl. Set aside.

Place olive oil into a 2 quart sized saucepan on medium heat. Add 2 cloves slivered garlic and 1/2 onion, diced, into the saucepan to saute for 2 minutes. Add chili pepper, purple hull peas and enough water to cover the peas by 2 inches. Season with a little salt and black pepper. Increase the heat to bring it to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, until peas are tender, yet still firm. Let the peas cool.

Place tomato-vegetable broth into a saucepan and warm.

In a large heavy duty pot, (such as an enameled cast iron Le Creuset) melt the butter over medium heat. Add remaining diced onion and minced garlic. Saute for a minute, then add the rice. Stir until the grains are well coated.
Begin adding the broth, a cupful at a time, stirring the rice, watching it plump up from the savory liquid, monitoring its creaminess from the released starch.

This process will take 30 minutes: stirring, pouring in more cups of broth, stirring, stirring, but I do not constantly hover over the pot. I’ll turn my attention to making salad, slicing tomatoes, visiting with my friends…

At the 20 minute mark, fold in the corn. Stir stir stir.
At the 25 minute mark, fold in the cooked purple hull peas. Stir Stir Stir.
At 30 minutes, turn off the heat. Taste for seasonings. Serve

Serves 8

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 16 Comments »