December 27th, 2012

From (Under) an Escarole Leaf

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On fleet and chilly foot, this year is surely making its exit. I trust that your holidays have been full of joy and camaraderie, and good food shared with those you love. Ours have been exceptional, heralded by the birth of my first grandchild, Zachary James. He was due to arrive on the first of December, but he chose—wisely, no doubt– to wait until the 12th to make his wondrous entrance. For parents who married on 10-10-10, his 12-12-12 birthdate is all the more auspicious.

I was privileged to be a part of the birth team, and witness his entry. I was thrilled to be one of the first to caress his pink cheeks and welcome him into this strange new world.

A week after his arrival, I returned to my own home after a month-long absence to put Christmas together. A hectic pace, but the tree got trimmed, presents got wrapped, the beef got roasted, and the chocolate mousse trifle got mounded high in the bowl.

But what I’d like to share with you today veers away from the indulgences of the season.

It is a healthy, hearty dish using Escarole.

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This great green bouquet resembles lettuce in appearance, but belongs to the Endive family. (The sprawling head made me think of the old wives tale imparted to children about where babies come from…) Also known as broadleaf endive, Bavarian endive, or scarola, it is one of its less bitter members. Escarole can be eaten raw in salads, but it is really luscious when braised into soups or stews.

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I’ve never prepared these greens in any form before now. But the forces aligned. Friend and farmer Tally May of Fresh Harvest Coop had grown splendid rows of escarole, market ready on my return. A vivid description of this recipe from my cousin Cathy and her husband John (given as they drove me to the airport!) left no doubt that a pot of escarole with fusilli and cannellinis would be simmering on my stovetop soon.

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It is a traditional Italian dish, which, depending on the amount of liquid that you choose to add, becomes either a stewy pasta or a robust soup. Either way, you’ll want to serve it in a bowl, with a spoon and hunk of bread to sop up all the sumptuous broth.

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It’s a garlic-friendly dish, too. Don’t be timid with those cloves!

Highly seasoned cannellini beans are also key. I used Rancho Gordos mega-meaty, super creamy beans, which I prepared the day before. If you use canned beans, be sure to drain and rinse them before simmering them in good olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf.

Cathy also insists–and rightfully so–on using DeCecco brand fusilli. It’s an excellent pasta: full-flavored, with terrific texture. Those tight curls capture the broth while remaining resilient in the sauce.

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Here’s a trick I used to add more body to the broth. I reserved a cup of cooked beans and pureed them before stirring them into the pot. The sauce becomes almost silken. And the greens themselves maintain integrity in the braise–toothsome, juicy, with a pleasant hint of bitterness.

In the waning days of 2012, we’ve been enjoying our bowls of beans, pasta, and escarole. Bill calls this peasant food, and he means it in the best possible way. Simple. Soothing. Nutritious. Satisfying. You really couldn’t want for anything more.

Wishing you all the benefits of peasant food in the coming year–

Many thanks for your continued visits to Good Food Matters.

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ESCAROLE WITH FUSILLI AND CANNELLINI BEANS
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 head escarole, cored, washed, and chopped into ribbons
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups vegetable broth (you may use chicken broth if you prefer)

3 cups cooked cannellini beans (recipe below)

1/2 lb. dried fusilli (De Cecco is a preferred brand)

1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino-romano

In a large stockpot set on medium heat, warm olive oil and saute garlic and onions until translucent.
Add chopped escarole and stir well to coat the leaves.
Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Stir, allowing the heat to collapse the leaves.
Pour vegetable broth over the escarole. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Boil fusilli in lightly salted water until al dente–about 9 minutes. Drain.
Puree one cup of cannellinis, and return to bean pot. (discard bay leaves)
Combine pasta and beans (whole, pureed, and liquid) with the braised escarole. Toss well.
Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread.

Makes 6 generous bowls.

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CANNELLINI BEANS
1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked for 3 hours (or overnight) and rinsed (Rancho Gordo’s cannellinis are big and meaty!)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup diced onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves

Heat olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan set on medium. Stir in garlic and onions. Add salt and black pepper, and saute until translucent.
Add cannellinis, stirring well so that the beans are coated with oil.
Pour water over the beans–enough to cover them by two inches.
Stir in bay leaves and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Skim off any scum that may accumulate as the beans cook.
Cook, partially covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed.
Cannellinis will retain their structure, but will creamy to the bite. Discard bay leaves.

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Nanoo and Zachary

Five days old, Zachary in my arms

Sleepy Zach

Sleepy Dreamy Babe

Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




September 6th, 2012

Silken Tomato Soup

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Sungolds, Black Cherokees, Sweet Millions: these three varieties of cherry tomatoes showed up unannounced in my garden. Volunteers!

Make no mistake, I’ve been thrilled with their appearance, and their profusion of tangy-sweet yellow, orange, and dark red-green fruit.
(no doubt my most successful crop!)

When we haven’t been popping them into our mouths for snacks, I’ve been finding other ways to use them.

Easy–I’ve cut them in half and strewn them over salad greens.

Crafty–I’ve hollowed them out, and piped pesto cream cheese into little tomato cups. (Makes nice, kinda fancy hors d’oeuvres.)

A little different– I slow-cooked a few handfuls with a dab of honey into tomato jam. (tasty with cured meats on a sandwich)

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But now, faced with an overwhelming number of them
(don’t they look like candy?)
I’ve surrendered.

The best thing, I decided, would be to toss them into a big pot and turn them into soup.

I know–tomato soup. How mundane is that?

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But, wait. Let me tell you, this one surprised me. The taste is so pure, so bright and intensely tomato.
It reveals what a true summer tomato soup can be.

Cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt-n-pepper, a few sprigs of thyme:
There are so few ingredients that it is barely a recipe. More of a technique, really.

The first part is laissez-faire.

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Once you toss your little truckload into the soup pot, let it simmer, covered, for thirty minutes, or so. You can practically forget the pot while you tend to other things.

Meanwhile, all the little globes collapse and release their juices.

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The second part is where the magic happens: with the food mill.

I discovered that milling twice—once with the coarse grinding disc, once with the fine sieve—is the key to making silken full-bodied soup.

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The first pass really crushes the pulp, and removes some of the peel, and few of the seeds.

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It’s the second pass through the mill that extracts all the remaining juices, and that intense flavor. I’ve read that the most acidic part of the tomato (which gives its sweetness dimension) is in the gel that surrounds the seeds. In this second pass, you get that essence, and leave the seeds behind.

There’s no added water. There’s no cream, and yet it seems creamy.
It’s All Tomato.

Dress it up, like I have here, with a scoop of arborio rice and diced roasted veggies–a late summer meal in a bowl.
Or enjoy it for its acid-sweet goodness alone…
Or with a grilled cheese?

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SILKEN TOMATO SOUP
6 pints assorted Cherry Tomatoes, washed
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons fresh Thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Black Pepper

Food Mill

Place all the ingredients into a large heavy duty soup pot on medium heat.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Occasionally stir, mashing the tomatoes to release their juices.

Remove from heat.

Set food mill fitted with coarse grinder over a 4 qt. bowl. Run all of cooked tomatoes and juices through it. The mixture will contain a fair amount of seeds and peels. Discard peels and seeds that remain in the mill.

Rinse off the food mill and fit it with a fine grinder. Place it back over the soup pot and churn the tomato mixture through the it.
This time, the soup will be velvet smooth, with scant seeds.

Warm the soup, tasting and adjusting for salt. Makes 4-6 servings.

Serve simply by itself, or make it heartier with the following enhancements:

ENHANCEMENTS

Diced Roasted Summer Squashes

Sticky Rice–spoon in a mound of arborio, or another favorite short grain rice

Fruity Olive Oil–a zigzag pour over the top

Shredded White Cheddar

Pesto

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




August 10th, 2011

Seared Sea Scallops, sweet corn, in tomato-pepper broth

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Today’s beauteous recipe was inspired by the work of a Nashville chef, Roderick Bailey. He owns The Silly Goose, a charming restaurant in East Nashville, one of my favorite dining haunts. Don’t be misled by its name. While the Goose attitude is upbeat, light-hearted, and occasionally silly, the Goose Food is anything but.

In an economy of space, The Silly Goose folks make some serious good food.

Recently, Roderick offered a dish, similar to the one above, as an evening special. We had taken a seat at the bar that looks into the kitchen, and asked for his recommendation. His description made my decision a simple one.

“The scallops just came in and look really really nice,” he said. “And, I’ve made a kind of pureed gazpacho using these fantastic heirloom tomatoes, and organic peppers. I’ll quickly pan-sear the scallops, and place them in the soup mounded with skillet fried corn–fresh silverqueen. And then, I’ll garnish them with young pea tendrils.”

Sold!

What a bowl of pleasure. A spoon-only meal! I could scoop through the crisp-seared scallops, the spoonful holding corn and heady broth along with each tender bite. Each element held its own kind of sweetness: from candy-acid delight of tomatoes, to the bursting kernels of corn to the briny, almost floral sweet notes of the scallops. The bright green tangle of pea tendrils collapsed and cooked into the broth.

I couldn’t wait to recreate it, and had the right opportunity the following week, when we had guests for dinner.

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Well-conceived, the recipe can be made in three simple steps.
Its success relies on fresh picked produce for imparting deep flavors.

Lucky-lucky, my garden had already provided tomatoes and peppers a plenty.

I spread them out on a baking sheet pan, coated them with olive oil, a little sea salt, and roasted them to bring out the natural sugars. Then I simmered and strained the caramelized mass, until it made this lush red broth.

The rest was easy. I love skillet-fried corn, a true Southern cooking technique; unlike creamed corn, or corn pudding, its taste is true, uncomplicated by dairy or eggs. I recommend this preparation to enjoy on its own. Good scallops don’t require much–a liberal dose of salt, pepper, and paprika—cooked on high in a butter-oil combo. No pea tendrils in my purview, but some fresh arugula readily accommodated–a peppery green contrast.

I served these sumptuous bowls with wedges of cornbread, baked in my cast iron skillet, riddled with jalapeno bite. Almost unthinking, one by one, we all broke small hunks into the soup. It added yet another dimension. The table fell quiet, each of us savoring the rare union of soulful sophistication.

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ROASTED TOMATO-PEPPER BROTH
4 lbs. Ripe Tomatoes, cored and cut in half (can use a combination of cherry tomatoes, if you like)
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut in half, deseeded
3 Assorted Banana Peppers, stems removed
2 Jalapenos, stems removed
1 large Onion, quartered
4 cloves Garlic
Olive Oil
salt and pepper

Place all the vegetables onto a roasting pan. Brush with olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, until skins are blackened and blistered.
Cool, and run all the veggies (and their juices, and oils) through a food mill–twice.
Heat in a saucepan and thin with water.
Taste for seasoning.

Makes 8 cups.

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SKILLET FRIED CORN
4 ears Fresh Corn on the Cob, husked and cleaned of corn silk
4 T. Butter
Sea Salt and Coarse Ground Black Pepper
Water about 1/4 cup

The trick to this is how you cut the kernels. Holding the ear of corn upright in a bowl with one hand, slice down through the kernels—only halfway through, exposing the kernel center and the most “corn milk.” Using the back of the knife, scrape down the cob to get out the remaining kernel pulp. Scrape back and forth to get the most out of each ear.

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet and add the scraped kernels. Stir well, coating the corn. Add water, as needed. (Some ears of corn are milkier than others!) Season with salt and pepper. Sometimes people add a pinch of sugar, but fresh corn is naturally sweet and won’t need it.

Stirring often, cook for about 10 minutes. The frying of the corn is more like a sauté; the natural sugars and starch from the corn will lightly thicken the mixture.

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SEARED SEA SCALLOPS
1 lb. (or so ) Diver’s Sea Scallops (figure 3-4 scallops per person)
Paprika
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
Olive Oil and Butter–combo for searing, 1-2T. each

Rinse scallops and pat dry. Liberally season both sides with paprika, salt and pepper.
Heat butter and olive oil together in a heavy skillet, just below smoking point.
Sear scallops, about 1 minute per side. Remove from heat.

ASSEMBLY
Ladle hot Tomato-Red Pepper Broth into bowls.
Spoon fried corn to the center of each bowl.
Place scallops on top of corn mound. They will sink a little into the broth—that’s good.
Garnish with fresh arugula, if desired.

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Posted in Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews | 27 Comments »




March 15th, 2009

Red Lentil Soup, part one: South Louisiana

I’m a city girl at heart, but whenever I get the chance to spend the day in the country at my friend Maggie’s, I’m in my little car motoring out to that cozy spread on Bogle-off-Burnt Knob before you can say Bogle-off-Burnt Knob.

Going there is not just a step out of the urban beat; it’s also a step back in time. Don’t get me wrong—everything’s up to 21st century techno-speed— but Maggie (with husband Steve) has created a lifestyle that moves on a slower track, harkens to simpler times.

In the growing season, a day in her life might take in tending garden tomatoes, making zucchini pickles, foraging wild blackberries but it will certainly include walking the grounds to admire the wildflowers, enjoying picnic lunch creekside under the boughs of an ancient tree, or having a coffee and toast on the sun porch— perfect for viewing bluebirds and chickadees at the feeder.

I’ve told Maggie–and she takes it as supreme compliment–that when I’m at her place, I feel like it’s 1978.

We hadn’t gotten together since harvest time last fall; with light green hints of springtime now emerging, I was anxious to visit: review garden plans, inspect the newly-tilled beds, discuss food and life,

And cook.

Maggie comes from a family with Italian and South Louisiana roots—there’s a compelling combo for good food–and she wanted to teach me her recipe for red lentil soup. It’s a common sense down-home recipe—as in down-south-louisiana-home cooking—using ingredients that are simple, readily available, and cheap.

The protein-rich red lentils provide more of a background and body for this soup while the andouille sausage imparts the spice and heat. The package of Savoie’s that she purchased at Publix was made as it has been for 60 years– in Steve’s hometown Opelousas, LA. A little of this lean sausage goes a long way on flavor.

“And, I guarantee,” Maggie said, “there won’t be an ounce of fat from it either.”

We used a quart jar of insanely sweet (candy!) tomatoes that Maggie had put up from last summer’s harvest—they melted into the soup—but it’s fine to use a can of your favorite red-gold.
I don’t know why I forget about cooking with cabbage; a young head, gently steamed–or poached as it is in this soup– is tender, and adds an earthy-sweet element.

Maggie often makes skillet cornbread—another great recipe I’ll share soon. She and Steve like to break up pieces of it into the soup. In the summer, she’ll scrape in some fresh Silver Queen corn.
Steve swears she’ll make a good cook out of me yet!

South Louisiana Style Red Lentil Soup
2 T. Olive Oil
2 Onions, chopped
4 stalks Celery, chopped fine
5 cloves Garlic, minced
6 Carrots, diced
10 oz. Andouille Sausage, sliced
1 cup Red Lentils, rinsed
1 qt. Tomatoes and juice (or 28 oz. can)
1 ½ qt. water
1 T. Salt
2 cups Cabbage, cut into medium shreds

Heat a large (6-8 qt.) stock pot, then coat the bottom with olive oil. Sauté onions until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add celery, garlic, and carrots. Continue to sauté another 5 minutes, then stir in andouille sausage. Cook for 5 minutes, add lentils, diced tomatoes and juice, and water. Stir well and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, so that the lentils, as they swell and break down, do not stick to the bottom. Add the cabbage last. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Serves 8 generously.

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews | 13 Comments »




December 21st, 2008

Tally’s Turnips

When I picked up my order from Fresh Harvest Coop, I was drawn to these small white globes lying in a basket on the sales table.

“They’re hakurei salad turnips,” grower Tally said.

“Turnips?” For me, turnips fall into the category of something beneficial, but avoidable, like castor oil. “These look beautiful. But, I’ve never been a fan.”

Tally smiled. “That’s been almost everyone’s reaction. But these are so sweet; you can eat them raw. I think you’ll really like them.”

Since I believe that there are few people more trustworthy than our local farmers, I heeded Tally’s words and made the purchase.

When I arrived home, I washed one off and took a bite. I was surprised by its earthy sweetness, a firm but tender texture; I immediately sliced one up and tossed it into a salad. A few nights later, another found its way into a tomato-based vegetable soup. In both instances, the hakurei was an amicable background player.

But I wanted to cook something that could bring it to the fore, and show off that sweetness and texture. On a chilly day that begged for more soup, I decided that a vegetable bisque might be the perfect vehicle for these babies.

Potatoes create the creamy base for the bisque without adding any cream. As the potatoes cook down and get mashed up, they provide body. Because I live with a vegetarian, I use vegetable stock to extend the base. If I don’t have some already made, I use the types you find in those pourable cartons. Adding the turnips at the end keeps them chunky and the flavor fresh.

“This is really good,” my vegetarian partner said, ladling another bowl.

“It’s the turnips,” I said.

“Turnips?”


Sweet Turnip Bisque
2 Tablespoons olive oil–divided
1 Tablespoon butter
3 medium potatoes, (about 1 ½ cups) peeled and diced (I used russets, but try others!)
2 carrots, diced small
2 celery ribs, chopped finely
1 medium white onion, diced
2 cups diced turnips (don’t peel)
2 Tablespoons fresh dillweed
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup lowfat milk
salt & white pepper, to taste
a few grindings of black pepper, a few sprigs of dillweed to garnish

In a 2qt. saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter with 1 Tablespoon oil.
Add potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions and saute, stirring frequently.
Add one cup of the stock, stir, and simmer until the potatoes become tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and mash the potato-vegetable mix with a hand potato masher until the mixture resembles a thickened puree-like base.
In a separate skillet with the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil, saute the turnips for 5 minutes. Scrape the cooked turnips into the saucepan with the potato-vegetable mix. Add remaining stock and milk. Stir well and return to heat. Season with salt and white pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Garnish with black pepper and dillweed.
Serves 2 hearty main meal appetites, or 4 regular ones

Posted in Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 7 Comments »