Thursday, April 29, 2010

Penne with Escarole and Pancetta

Escarole is one of those interesting greens that I have yet to cook. It is a member of the endive family but is less bitter than its cousins. Mark Bittman blogged about using it in a rice soup here and I thought it was high time I tried it out for myself.

I followed Bittman's lead and used some pancetta since he generally is right about flavor pairings. Adding some red onion and garlic and tossing it with pasta made it a divine lunch: creamy almost buttery escarole with slow cooked garlic, onion and pancetta, what was not to love!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tuscan Tuna Salad

Tuna salad is one of those childhood staples that many people either write off once they develop a more adult palate or eat in secret, slightly embarrassed by their craving for tinned tuna. Since I didn't eat mayonnaise as a kid, tuna doesn't fall into that category for me. Instead I learned to love it as a starving graduate student, making a very piquant version with mustard, fresh garlic, and green onions.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miracle Marinade

I am not one for sauces - it is part of the reason that I find fancy French cooking unappealing (sorry Julia Child!) I have always thought of them as too "chefy" and I never want to worry that much about how I am cooking. But once I started cooking traditional Chinese dishes and found that marinades were essential for those dishes, I eased up on my fussiness. I even started creating my own marinades, like this one which was originally created for pork chops. It was so incredible that it pushed me out of my comfort zone to wonder if it might make a great sauce, just by reducing it (similar to what I recently did with my first wine reduction sauce)

It was amazing, mind altering. I wanted to eat it on everything, all the time, everyday.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tangy Sweet Cabbage Salad with Almonds

This is a deceptively simple looking salad that packs a wallop of flavor. At first glance it looks like regular ole coleslaw with some nuts and a few sesame seeds sprinkled on for garnish.

But beware, it is seriously addictive.

Shredded cabbage is mixed with almonds, sesame oil, honey and rice vinegar to create a smoky, sweet and tangy dressing that will have you forking this salad into your mouth on a near continuous basis. I always make double this batch because it gets eaten up faster than you can imagine. I haven't tested it on kids' palates, but I wonder if those families who feed their children a broader range of cuisines would find this a winner with kids. Let me know if you find any answers!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Baby Zucchini and Green Garlic Saute

Several weeks ago the Farmers' Market began selling zucchini blossoms and the price finally dropped to a reasonable one last week so I bought them. Being ignorant of how to prepare them I bought the blossoms still attached to the baby zucchini, which are apparently the female blossoms, and are less desirable for stuffing. In addition, I was a little too experimental in my making of the stuffed blossoms and while I was successful in stuffing, breading and frying these delicate items, the breading I used (polenta) totally overpowered the blossom. So look for a later post with a more successful attempt at frying them.

All that is to say I had some gorgeous baby zucchini on my hands and I was very excited to make a simple saute to enjoy their delicate flavor. I had a few green garlic left and knew that they would be the perfect foil for these zucchini.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fusilli with Roasted Spring Vegetables

Spring, no matter where you live, is the greening of the earth. In terms of fresh local produce, nothing heralds Spring like asparagus. For me, it is one of those vegetables that really should only be eaten during this season. Or maybe that is simply my excuse for gorging on it at this time of year. No matter the reasoning, enjoying asparagus truly is a Spring rite of passage for me.

Most of the time I steam them in a pan, adding olive oil and salt and pepper so that their green goodness is unvarnished. But I also love roasting them to create a crisp outside as a foil to their tender buttery inside. Grilling them is also a great choice as I did in my last post!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Grilled Radicchio and Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto

A couple of months ago I attended a wine-tasting dinner at Mario Batali's Osteria Mozza and one of the courses included prosciutto wrapped radicchio grilled over a wood fire. It was divine and I have been thinking about duplicating it ever since. Now that Southern California has emerged from the rainy season (AKA winter) we are grilling more often and when I found freshly harvested radicchio at the Farmers' Market I knew the type was right.

I figured the asparagus would be delicious wrapped as well, so I added them too. The menu soon mushroomed to include baby cipolini onions, button mushrooms, grilled artichokes, and a simple marinade of chicken with lemon and salt and pepper.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Moroccan Inspired Roasted Potatoes with Artichokes and Mint

Several weeks ago I made marinated artichokes and have been wondering what to use them in.

Strangely enough, I often enjoy making food more than I like eating it, a tendency that I find highly amusing and so counter to may cooks' inspiration for preparing food. I find prepping food meditative and therapeutic, so creating a finished product isn't always my primary purpose for making something. This was definitely the case with the artichokes.

As I noted here, I fell in love with the beauty of these baby purple artichokes and over-bought. Roasting them in garlic and marinating them was a way to keep them from going to waste. But what to do with a jar full of marinated artichokes? They would undoubtedly be great in a bean salad or on pizza and I will surely try that soon. But my first use of them was in this potato dish.

This dish took its inspiration from a recipe in Co-opportunity's newsletter which called for roasting potatoes with rosemary and then tossing them with roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts and some parsley. As usual, I made some substitutions not having the pepper or parsley. Adding the mint, red pepper flakes, dried fruit in the form of raisins, and preserved lemon gave it a Moroccan twist that I found very satisfying!

Moroccan Inspired Roasted Potatoes with Artichokes and Mint 

2 lbs thin skinned potatoes (yukon, red, new) cubed
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups artichoke hearts
3 tablespoons raisins
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon mustard
1/4 preserved lemon rind, minced (or zest from 1/2 lemon)
1 1/2 lemons, cut in halves
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss potatoes with olive oil, salt, garlic and rosemary and bake for 30 minutes. In large mixing bowl whisk together juice from 2 halves of lemon, mustard and 2 tablespoons olive oil until well blended. Add raisins and allow to soak for a few minutes. Add hot potatoes and remaining ingredients and toss well. Squeeze remaining lemon half over all and adjust salt and pepper (if using preserved lemon be judicious in your use of salt!) Serve immediately or at room temperature.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Smashed Fava Beans with Rosemary and Soba Noodles

Fava beans are something I had only read about in cookbooks or seen on the menu of fancy restaurants, that is until I arrived in California where the Farmers' Markets were full of them and I was curious.

It turns out that favas, along with lentils and chick peas, are the only legume indigenous to Europe. All other beans are from the Americas! Favas grow like weeds all over the Mediterranean and quite often are used dried in soups or stews or salads.

This is what they looked like. I fell in love with them, even though they require a lot of manual preparation. First you have to shell the favas, then you boil them in order to pinch them out of their skins. Not until then do you eat them. Now I understand why most restaurants serve them as a puree or a light sauce because two pounds of raw favas will only produce about 1 cup of cooked beans. That's a lot of food prep time spent on a very small portion!

The picture to the right shows the favas in their final stage of shelling; in the pot are the cooked beans, the bowl contained the favas after they've been pinched out of their skin, and obviously the pile to the right are the leftover skins which are not edible (or at least are pretty tough, so don't think you can skip that step!

I haven't experimented much with them, just making a traditional preparation of mashing the cooked favas with salt, fresh minced rosemary and some olive oil, which tastes delicious on toast or crackers. The other morning I wondered how that would be over noodles, specifically soba noodles, which are buckwheat flour noodles. It was pretty tasty so I decided to share.

I grew some because the cost was so high for the small amount that ultimately surfaced. Happily, they grow like weeds and are prodigious producers. Here are some pictures of those plants. If you live in California or a similar Mediterranean climate give these a try.

Smashed Fava Beans with Rosemary and Soba Noodles

2 lbs fresh fava beans
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz Soba (buckwheat) noodles

Shell fava beans and place in pot of boiling water. When water comes back to boil, cook for 2-3 minutes until beans begin to change color and you can discern the green fava within its skin. Drain and set aside to cool. When cook enough to handle, pinch out of skins and discard skins. Mash with a fork, adding rosemary, salt and olive oil. Cook Soba noodles as directed and add mashed favas, adjusting for salt and adding olive oil to ensure even distribution.

I'm sending this in for this week's Presto Pasta Night, hosted by Daphne of More Than Words. If you want to participate, please email your submission to Daphne and Ruth at daphnesu16 (at) yahoo (dot) com and a cc to ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com. Then be sure to check the round up on Friday. Pasta may be an Italian word, but it originated in Asia, only brought to Italy by Marco Polo, so don't let the word fool you, its use truly is limitless!


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bouillabaisse - Pantry Style

I have to confess that there are certain recipes that intimidate me just by virtue of their name - paella, cassoulet, and bouillabaisse - to name a few. I know that they are all peasant in origin, and being a self-proclaimed peasant cook this seems a bit of an anachronism but everyone has their foibles. It might be the long list of ingredients or the fact that the ingredients change depending on the recipe (and they all claim to be authentic). No matter the excuse, it took my mother whipping it up from her pantry to break my spell of immobility with bouillabaisse.

It turns out my mom is even less of a follower of recipes than I am (she never waits for the oven to preheat, and yet her cooking is always fantastic!) She announced the other morning that she was making bouillabaisse and began gathering ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry. I was astounded by her nonchalance but came home to a gorgeous soup, truly made from the pantry and freezer. Although she admitted that it really should have had fennel and saffron in it, her audacity reminded me that all food fears disappear as quickly as you chase them away.

Traditionally Bouillabaisse is served by placing toast dabbed with rouille in a soup bowl and ladling the soup over it, which usually contains a variety of shellfish along with various white fleshed fish. While this recipe may not measure up to a Marsellaisse cook's version, it certainly was delicious!

Bouillabaisse - Pantry Style

1 1/2 lb firm flesh white fish (halibut, cod)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
10 large cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
2 bottles clam juice (8 oz)
15 oz can of clams, juice drained and reserved
32 oz chicken stock
2 tablespoons dill
2 bay leaves
* Saffron and fennel seeds
toasts (optional)
Rouille (add a pinch of saffron threads to turn Aioli into Rouille) (optional)

Brown fish pieces in olive oil in large dutch oven or similar size pot, 5-7 minutes, turning once. Remove from pan and reserve. Add onion and garlic to pot and cook 2-3 minutes until soft. Add carrots and celery and stir well and cook another 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, clam juice from bottles and reserved juice from drained clams, bay leaves and dill and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add fish back to pot, clams and peas and turn off heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

* Grind a pinch of saffron and 1 teaspoon fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle. Add to chicken stock when adding to pot.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Spring Peas with Mint

It has literally been more than two decades since my family has ate Easter dinner together, when my sisters and I were all teenagers. It's just my mom, my two sisters and me but we've been nomadic for more than twenty years (living in more than 20 places between the four of us) and not in the same place. So while none of us are particularly religious in the traditional sense, we do all love food and Easter is a celebration of Spring and renewal, no matter your religious affiliation.

We decided to make a very Spring menu of lamb, asparagus, peas and new potatoes, grilling the marinated lamb chops and asparagus and making some fresh peas. Fresh peas are so delicious that you really don't need to do much with them. But to make them a bit more festive I barely heat them in melted butter with some fresh mint. The mint is so crisp and fresh that it actually makes the peas taste even better. Trust me, this is the truth!

Spring Peas with Mint

2 cups shelled peas (frozen peas, defrosted and drained will work as well)
2 tablespoons butter
4-5 large mint leaves, chiffonaded (Stack leaves and roll and cut into slivers)

Melt butter in large skillet on medium heat, do not allow to brown. Add peas and mint and continuously stir to coat with the butter; you will begin to get a whiff of the mint. Remove from heat and salt if desired.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Farmers' Market Bounty - April 7

It's been a few weeks since I, a) remembered to bring my camera to the market and, b) went to the market. The flowers look amazing and so vibrant!

Here's what's new and exciting in the market.

Baby artichokes are here with a vengeance. I held off on buying them just yet because I still have so many from marinating them a couple of weeks ago. Fava beans also made a first appearance and I will post what I do with them in the coming week.

I'm still tempted by the squash blossoms, but the price here was just too high. Here's hoping that will come down as the season continues, $8 is just too much for my limited budget!

I finally allowed myself to sample some of the freshly made cheeses. I've been giving this stall a wide berth knowing that I couldn't resist if I tried some. I went home with some fresh ricotta and smoked mozzarella. I'm not sure if I'll make a stuffed pasta - ravioli, tortellini - or just take the easy way out with a pizza. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kale and Blue Cheese Pasta

Presto Pasta Nights has really inspired me to eat more pasta. That doesn't sound like something hard to do except I cannot eat traditional dry pasta made with with semolina durum wheat; I can't digest it. If I want pasta I either have to make homemade egg noodles or suffer through brown rice pasta which I have never been able to successfully cook properly.

Until I discovered Trader Joe's Brown Rice Penne Pasta. What a revelation!

Since I found it I have been making pasta left and right, riffing with vegetables and cheese, it's been such a delight! It has been years since I was able to pull together a pasta dish so fast! I don't usually endorse products but I have to say that this stuff is fantastic.

I will be submitting this for this week's Presto Pasta Night, hosted by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast - Every Kitchen Tells its Stories. If you'd like to participate as well, send her a submission at ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com. I am hoping to be sending more of these submissions each week if you are keeping track. So make sure to stop by and see what other dishes are offered up for your consideration.

Kale and Blue Cheese Pasta

2 tablespoons blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 onion, cut in strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
1/2 bunch of kale, chopped
1/2 lb pasta

Cook pasta as directed. Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil until soft. If using the anchovy add it to the pan, mashing it until it begins to melt into the onion mixture. Add kale and cook until wilted. Drain pasta and add back into pot and add cheese. Toss so that cheese melts. Add kale mixture to pasta and stir well. Season with pepper liberally, salt carefully.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Asian Salad with Mandarin Oranges

I love cabbage, particularly raw as a base for salad because it has a little more heft than lettuce. While most Asian style salads call for napa or savoy cabbage, I prefer the red for its gorgeous color.

I had some leftover Persian mint from this recipe and added that along with some cilantro to give it a Thai flair. Toss in some toasted sesame seeds and you've got a restaurant quality salad at home!

Asian Salad with Mandarin Oranges

2 cups red cabbage, shredded
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/2 daikon radish, sliced
1 tablespoon mint, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 mandarin oranges, peeled and sectioned
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Toss all together and adjust salt and pepper. Serve with toasted sesame seeds if desired.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Portabello Meatloaf

Meatloaf - the word either conjures childhood feelings of ickiness or complete comfort. Happily I fall in the later camp and the few times a month that I crave some beef this meatloaf is usually at the top of my go-to recipes.

I am usually fairly modest about my own creations but with this one, I have to crow just a little. The addition of portabello mushrooms really makes this loaf sing. The earthy, woodsy, almost smoked flavor of cooked portabellos combined with good grass-fed beef produces a juicy and luscious loaf that is light years away from any icky loaf you might remember from your childhood. Knowing my love of frugality and using up odds and ends from the vegetable bin, meatloaf is perfect on so many levels.

This was the first recipe with beef that I made after being vegetarian for 15 years, and while I cannot remember precisely why I decided to saute the vegetables first before adding them, I have stuck with that preparation ever since because it brings such an amazing flavor to the meatloaf. Use cremini mushrooms if you don't have portabellos, but not white or button ones since they will not impart the same depth of flavor.

Portabello Meatloaf

1 lb ground beef (grass-fed if possible)
1/2 onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1/2 carrot, minced
2 portabello mushrooms, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup bread cubes (or croutons or bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl, combine milk and bread cubes (or croutons or bread crumbs) and allow to soak. In hot skillet, saute onion and garlic in olive oil and cook until translucent. Add carrots and celery and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until it begins to give up its liquid but not dried up. Remove from heat. Add vegetables to bread soaking and mix in beef, egg, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Blend well (use your hands to fully distribute the ingredients evenly.) Bake for 45-50 minutes. Allow to rest for 2-3 minutes.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Garlic Lovers Pasta

I first met this salad at Just Food co-op; it was the star salad of the deli offerings. Deceptively creamy and decadent looking, it actually is a very light sauce that allows the spring flavors of green onions, peas, and parsley to spark up your taste buds.

The tang of the buttermilk and the lemon along with the boldness of the raw garlic, softened by the hot pasta make this a near perfect quick dinner to pull together in practically seconds. But wait, it gets better. Literally. This dish can also be a cold salad and the flavors soak into the pasta as it chills in the refrigerator. I have brought this dish to many potlucks, and watched as people approached it thinking it was going to be just another ole creamy pasta salad and laughed with delight at their happily surprised faces once they tasted it.

In this version I added some fresh basil since we were just out of parsley. I love the flat leaf Italian parsley for its smoother taste but the basil was pretty delicious as well!

This is my entry for Presto Pasta Night, hosted by founder Ruth over at Once Upon A Feast - Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories. In case you haven't heard of this fun weekly roundup, it is simply making a pasta dish of any type and submitting it to the person in charge of the round up for the week. Check Presto Pasta Night for how to participate and visit Once Upon a Feast - Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories tomorrow for a fantastic roundup of pasta dishes!

Garlic Lovers Pasta

1/2 lb penne pasta
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons green peas (frozen is ok)
2-3 green scallions
3-4 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded (stack leaves on top of each other, roll and snip or cut into strips)
1/2 cup parmesan, finely shredded

Cook pasta as directed. In large bowl combine buttermilk, mayonnaise, garlic and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. When pasta is done cooking, drain well and add to white sauce and toss well. Add parmesan cheese (you can grate it directly into the pasta at this point, using the punch holes on a box grater or pre-grated cheese.) Toss in green onions, basil and adjust for salt and pepper. Add some more of the lemon juice if you like, it brings some zing to all of the ingredients!