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 »




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 »




May 22nd, 2012

(Surprisingly Wondrous) Zucchini Sauce, pasta, peppery watercress pesto

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I wish that I had a clever name for this dish.

Pasta with Zucchini Sauce seems rather lackluster, a ho-hum title that belies its subtle garden-green flavors, its whipped up creamy texture–with nary a trace of cream!–and its overall brilliant use of the soon-to-be ubiquitous squash, which are already starting to show up at our farmers’ markets.

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Rachel Roddy, a British ex-pat living in Rome for the last 7 years, and author of the splendid blog, Rachel Eats, deserves the kudos for this recipe, about which she posted in beguiling style here.

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It is tribute to the Roman zukes, zucchine romanesche, whose appearance she likens to little zeppelins, or twee fluted Corinthian columns. Prepared in umpteen delectable ways–sauteed with tomatoes, stuffed with orzo, grilled and folded into a frittata, cut into batons and fried like pomme frites–the zucchini is prized in Roman cuisine for its versatility and taste.

While I am familiar with many of these preparations, I had never tasted, seen, even imagined zucchini braised in olive oil with garlic, and pureed into a lush green sauce for pasta.

With our community potluck looming, it seemed to be the perfect time to make it.

I followed Rachel’s lead–assembling the first of the summer green squashes. In place of garlic cloves, I substituted a bundle of spring garlic scapes, those delicious curly-ques clipped from forming bulbs. Beyond that, the list of ingredients is short–olive oil, a bit of butter, salt, pepper, water and white wine.

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Plus, the pasta. Really, any shape you’d like will work.

Gigi had been praising Cipriani’s Tagliardi–imported, small, super-thin egg pasta rectangles that come boxed like some fabulous gift—so that’s what we chose as a base for the sauce. If you can find–try it. It is very very good.

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Young zucchinis cut into rounds are piled into a heavy duty pot with the scapes; all are tossed well in olive oil, salt, and a dash of pepper. A small amount of butter—a knob, as Rachel likes to say—along with a slow braise, helps to coax out the zucchinis’ savory-sweetness.

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It doesn’t take long for the squashes to release their inherent water. White wine simmered into the “soup” (indeed, this would be a terrific soup) adds depth, and a tinge of acidic bite. It’s important to check for salt—it is key in balancing the delicate taste.

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An immersion blender handily whips this into a supple, somewhat airy sauce that still retains integrity. There are lively bits of squash flecked throughout. The color—ah. Beautiful, don’t you think? And the taste–surprisingly wondrous.

I hasten to add: In lieu of passing a few grindings of cracked black pepper over the pasta, I dotted the dish with Watercress Pesto. It is simply watercress, good olive oil, and salt. Another vibrant green, it adds a fresh peppery finish to the dish.

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SURPRISINGLY WONDROUS ZUCCHINI SAUCE
½ c. Olive Oil
4 T. Butter
10 c. sliced Zucchini (5 lbs.)
1 c. chopped Garlic Scapes (1 bundle)
1 T. Sea Salt
1 c. White Wine
1 c. Water

immersion blender

1 lb. Tagliardi Pasta (or pasta of choice)

In a large (5-6qt. size) stock pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium. Add zucchini and garlic. Season with salt. Stir, coating the vegetables well. Saute for 5-7 minutes, as vegetables begin to soften.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Zucchini will collapse and release its liquid—becoming “soupy.” Add water and wine, and continue cooking uncovered for another 7 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for salt.

In a separate large pot, cook pasta of choice according to package directions. (Tagliardi, thin egg pasta squares, require 4 minutes cooking time.)

Drain and return to pot. Spoon warm sauce over pasta, and fold throughout—gently coating the squares. Dot with peppery watercress pesto oil. Dust with cheese: parmesan or pecorino.

Serves a crowd at potluck!–or makes 8-10 generous servings

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Not always easy to find at the grocer (but easily foraged in some creeks and riverbeds) watercress is crisp and peppery.
You could make an arugula pesto instead, if you are unable to locate the cress.

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WATERCRESS PESTO
1 bundle fresh Watercress
1 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Sea Salt

Place all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until watercress is ground fine. The infused olive oil will be bright green. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables | 35 Comments »