March 12, 2015 § 1 Comment
Today’s Birthday Week indulgence is homemade comfort food that brings together two recent Waste-Less Wednesday ingredients: lemons and herbs. Remember those 7-Day Preserved Lemons? After a week of climbing the kitchen stepladder to shake those babies up, it’s time to crack them open and take them for a taste test!
Opening the mason jar of marinated lemons after it spent a week in the surprisingly warm upper-reaches of my kitchen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they actually taste ok, or would the flavors be off? Would this be another kitchen experiment to hit the compost bin?
The first bite was soft, tart, and salty. The rinds and flesh had softened, but weren’t mooshy, with the lemon flesh coming away from the soft rinds easily. The flavor was definitely Meyer — lemon with a hint of tangerine — and tart, but not puckeringly so. Ooooh, this was gonna be good! (And a little weird when I realized that I was eating wedges of lemon!) I almost forgot the final step of the process, which was to cover the lemons in olive oil to help preserve them in the fridge. So, now I have these salty, somewhat-tart, soft lemons dipped in olive oil. Nothin’ bad about that!
In general, I wouldn’t eat these preserved lemons out of the jar, but I could think of all the ways that they would be a flavorful accent to pasta, fish, or a composed salad. What to make first? I love the idea of gremolata — a classic Italian condiment of fresh lemon zest, parsley, and garlic — but with a twist. When making the classic version, you’ll get the best results when all ingredients are freshest. But what if your ingredients aren’t super-fresh? How about a variation that brings together roasted garlic, preserved lemons, and minced parsley?
Using preserved lemons means that you can use the whole lemon, not just the zest. Roasting garlic cloves lets you extend the life of your garlic, giving it a sweet but complex flavor and soft texture that makes it more versatile. And even less-than-fresh parsley has something to add to this combo! (I’ll confess that I keep my parsley in a ziplock bag for two weeks or more, weeding out the <ahem> discolored or floppy branches. It’s not always pretty, but I’m doing what I can to get the most out of a bunch of parsley.) And the best part is that you can prepare all the components in advance and store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to put them together!
So, inspired by the classic gremolata, here’s my recipe for a homemade mid-week meal that is flavorful, comforting, and indulgent.
Recipe: Soba Noodles with 650 Gremolata
Yield: 1 serving
This pasta is on the lighter side and perfect for a weeknight spring meal or weekend lunch. The recipe makes enough for one person. Double up if you’re cooking for two (or just want some leftovers). Scale up if you’re cooking for a crowd. Feel free to make adjustments to the parsley, garlic, or lemon or amount of pasta based on your taste and preferences. Add a seasonal green salad with grated carrots or tomato wedges to round out the meal.
Ingredients (per serving):
1 wedge preserved lemon, chopped finely
4 large roasted garlic cloves*, peeled or removed from their papery casings
2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped finely
2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauté pan
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons shredded cheese (Asiago, Parmesan, or a blend)
2 – 2¼ ounces soba noodles
Salt and black pepper to taste
Optional: 1 – 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
* To roast garlic: You can roast garlic in a toaster oven or toss it into the baking dish when making roasted vegetables in a full-sized oven. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut the top off a head of garlic and peel away a couple of the head’s outer paper-like layers. Place the garlic head in the center of a 5″ square piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil (don’t douse it) and then fold the foil around the garlic head, enclosing it. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the cloves are soft enough to pierce with a sharp knife or skewer.
What you need:
Small sauté pan
4-quart pot for the noodles
- Start heating the water for the noodles while you make the gremolata.
Review the package directions for the amount of water to boil. By the time you’ve made the gremolata, the pasta should be ready to go into the pot.
- Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in the sauté pan over medium heat.
- Add the chopped preserved lemon and sauté for 2-3 minutes until lightly brown and fragrant. Remove from heat.
- Place the garlic cloves in the medium bowl and crush them with the back of a spoon until you have a garlic paste.
- Add the olive oil to the garlic paste and mix together using a spoon or fork.
- Add the parsley, sautéed lemon, and roasted red pepper, mixing to combine. Set aside while you make the noodles.
- Follow the package directions for making soba noodles.
Make sure that you drain the noodles well, removing as much water as possible after cooking.
- Add the noodles to the gremolata mixture, tossing to coat the pasta thoroughly.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Turn out into a serving bowl or dish and sprinkle with shredded cheese.
- Want to add to the indulgence? Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.
December 17, 2014 § 3 Comments
Do you have a “Leftovers Night” at your house? Or a day when you clean out the bits and bobs that have been lingering in your refrigerator? You know what I mean: those three limpy, sad carrots that are too soft for salad, or one lonely baby bok choy whose only hope of being saved from the compost bin is a last-minute soup craving. Oh wait — that’s my fridge. Well, maybe you’ve got something similar going on at your place.
I’ve declared Waste-Less Wednesday at my house as a way of dealing with the leftovers, the oops-I-forgot-about-that, and the meant-to-cook-it-except-I-ate-cereal-for-dinner. Why Wednesdays? Well, like a lot of people, I tend to do my grocery shopping on the weekends, so by mid-week or so, the supplies are starting to run low, and I need to clear out the old before bringing in the new. Rather than just resigning the old, soft, less-pretty produce to the compost bin, I’m often thinking about ways to use up what I’ve got before that next run to the grocery store or the arrival of my CSA box.
As an advocate for reducing food waste, I’ve written a few posts about how I’m walking the talk, so to speak. Broth, roasted and sautéed vegetables, and purées are a few of my quick-and-easy solutions. But I’ve also been thinking about how I can reduce waste even further by finding ways to use all parts of the fruits and vegetables I buy — not just the fruit or vegetable itself. A vegetable version of “nose-to-tail” cooking, if you will. (Not sure what to call it — root-to-leaf, maybe?)
Honestly, vegetable stems are still a tough sell for me, as I learned during my brief dalliance with Swiss chard earlier this year. Fruit and vegetable skins are a different story, though. Unless they’re really bitter, tough, or have a nasty texture, I’ve found that many fruits and vegetables don’t need to be peeled. Carrots are a fine example of a vegetable that I’m now using “skin-on.” Deborah Madison, in her beautiful book Vegetable Literacy says “Much of the flavor and nutrition in carrots resides in the skins, so it’s better to scrub the carrots rather than peel them” (Madison, D. (2013) Vegetable Literacy. Berkeley, CA: 10 Speed Press). If you’re buying locally grown organic or pesticide-free carrots, a thorough washing and good scrub to remove dirt and grit is all you need.
Leaves, on the other hand, have turned out to be oh-so-versatile and are now part of my regular cooking repertoire! (Important to know: most vegetable leaves are safe to eat, but avoid leaves from rhubarb and the nightshade family as they’re poisonous.) Beet leaves, radish leaves, and yes, even Swiss chard leaves pair nicely with most root vegetables and alliums and are delicious when sautéed or braised, then finished with a sprinkling of cheese or toasted nuts.
All of this new love for cooking leaves got me thinking… what about carrot greens? What can you do with those? The Nantes carrots that arrive in my CSA box always have the greens attached, and for months I’ve been cutting those greens and storing them in the bottom of my refrigerator while waiting for inspiration to strike. Didn’t happen. Unfortunately, I ended sending those bunches of carrot greens, along with a serving of guilt, to the compost bin.
Then finally, a few weeks ago, I happened to pick up a copy of Diane Morgan’s Roots cookbook, which is an inspiring source of education and recipes for just about any root vegetable you can think of. (If you love root vegetables, you will want to add Roots to your cookbook collection.) And whaddaya know? In Roots I found a carrot top pesto recipe that I wanted to try — no, wanted to eat. It’s become my new go-to snack/pasta topping/fish condiment. It’s a perfect quick holiday party dip, complement to roasted vegetables, or finishing touch to a comforting vegetable soup.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering whether you can eat carrot greens (there’s some misinformation floating around the interwebs that carrot greens are poisonous), you should know that not only are they are perfectly fine to eat, but they’re good for you. Deborah Madison says in Vegetable Literacy that carrot greens are “[r]ich in Vitamin K, chlorophyll, and potassium,” but “they can be somewhat bitter…. Just use the most tender of the fern-like branches.” Of course, if you’re allergic to carrots or carrot tops, then make sure you take the appropriate precautions, or better yet, play it safe and just enjoy the food porn below.
Recipe: Carrot Top Pesto
Adapted slightly from Roots by Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books)
Yield: about 6 ounces pesto
I’ve modified this recipe based on my home equipment (an 11-cup food processor), and the ingredients I had on hand. I’ve also added tips that I hope you’ll find helpful. Just so you know, carrot greens have a grassy, somewhat bitter flavor, that can dominate the pesto when it’s freshly made. If you can, chill the pesto in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours before serving so that the flavors marry and the mixture mellows a bit.
What you need:
1½ cups well-washed, loosely packed feathery carrot leaves, removed from the stems (1½ cups is about the amount of leaves from the greens attached to a pound of carrots. To remove the leaves, grab the center of a stem with one hand and use your other hand to pull the leaves downward and off the stem.)
3 ounces of extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, smashed and broken into 3 or 4 pieces
Scant ½ teaspoon kosher salt
4½ tablespoons toasted pine nuts
45 grams (1.6 ounces) shredded or grated parmesan (I used a combo of finely shredded parmesan, asiago, and fontina. I like the rustic texture of shredded cheese, but if you want super-smooth pesto, go with finely grated cheese.)
- Technique for toasting pine nuts: Preheat toaster oven (or large oven) to 325°F. Place nuts in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking pan. Heat for about 5 minutes or until nuts are a golden-brown color. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Combine the carrot leaves, olive oil, garlic clove, and salt in the food processor bowl. Pulse until the carrot tops and garlic are finely chopped.
You’ll be pulsing the mixture a few more times when you add the pine nuts and cheese, so don’t worry if everything isn’t finely chopped and smooth. I’ve found that processing the carrot leaves too finely early on brings out the bitterness. (Of course, if you like that sort of thing, then rock on.)
- Add the pine nuts and pulse until finely chopped and combined with the other ingredients.
- Add the cheese and pulse just until everything is combined.
If you prefer a smoother pesto, process the mixture a bit more until you see the consistency you prefer. If you like a chunkier, more rustic pesto, then your work here is done.
- Taste the pesto and adjust the salt as necessary.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the flavors to marry and mellow.
Depending on your palate, the pesto might taste very “green,” with the carrot leaves dominating (also, if you processed the mixture more finely at the beginning, you’ll also taste a more green or grassy flavor). Letting the pesto rest and chill brings the pine nut and cheese flavors forward so that the flavors are more balanced.
November 20, 2014 § 4 Comments
FINALLY we’ve been getting some much-needed rain here in the 650. (Damn, wish I’d remembered to cover the patio furniture before that started!) Unfortunately, for those of us prone to sinus-related misery — colds, infections, allergies, and the like — the season’s first round of feeling-under-the-weather ick has blown in with the rain. Ugh.
Yes, I’ve been a frequent flier with this sort of thing, so I have refills of the appropriate pharmaceuticals on speed dial, but I usually go there as a last resort. I’d rather fight the bugs with extra sleep, homemade nourishing food, and lots of filtered water. The problem is that when you’re feeling all draggy-ass and foggy-brained, you don’t really want to be in the kitchen cooking anything. And yet, this is the time when you want — maybe even crave — comfort food: something warming, flavorful, and easy to eat. (Somehow crunchy and raw food just don’t cut it when you’re feeling under-the-weather.)
But what to do when you feel rung out, sniffly, and just want to curl up in a blanket fort? Unless you have a staff of minions anticipating your every need, figuring out what to eat — let alone cook — seems like too much trouble. Here’s where a little advance planning can go a long way. No, I don’t mean stocking up on canned soup and frozen meals. While those might be quick and easy choices, the added salt, fat, and sugar aren’t doing your body any favors. And well, there’s something about homemade that just hits the spot when you’re feeling all yucky. Keeping vegetable stock and some prepared (washed and chopped) vegetables on hand can go a long way toward easy-to-make, comforting dishes that can help you feel better.
I know I’ve been hit with a bug when I start craving soup — a bowl of steamy, flavorful broth brimming with a colorful assortment of bite-sized pieces of perfectly cooked carrots, potatoes, and leeks.
Here’s where having a batch of Spring Vegetable Broth (I should have called it “Any Season Broth” because it really is) on hand in your refrigerator or freezer is a lifesaver. So, on those days when you need soup — oh snap! — you’re all prepared. Heat up the broth and add whatever you’ve got handy — prepared or leftover vegetables, pasta, rice, tofu, last night’s grilled chicken — simmer on the stove top for about 20 minutes, et voilà: comfort food.
Tip: Need a pointer to a foolproof vegetable soup recipe? Try Chow’s Basic Vegetable Soup. The recipe is really versatile, so you can use whatever you’ve got in the refrigerator or pantry.
Roasted vegetables are always on in my house. Carrots and sweet potatoes are at the top of my list, and I usually make enough for leftovers (and oh, how those leftovers come in handy when I don’t feel like cooking!). Their bright orange color and roasted, sweet flavor complement so many dishes. Plus they’ve got that whole Vitamin A, good-for-you thing going on.
As far as comfort food goes, you can’t beat roasted vegetables for a satisfying flavor-texture combination. Best right from the oven, they’re earthy, slightly caramelized, a little crispy around the edges, with a texture that falls between soft and al dente when you bite into them.
Prep is minimal: cut the vegetables into evenly sized pieces (after washing/peeling as you like), toss them in olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven for 20-40 minutes. Sweet potatoes are on the low end of that range, carrots on the higher end. Other root vegetables will fall somewhere in between.
Tip: You can make small batches of roasted sweet potatoes in your toaster oven. Preheat the oven to 400℉. Line the baking tray with two layers of foil, then spread the prepared sweet potato pieces onto the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes, flipping the sweet potato pieces halfway through cooking so that the bottoms don’t get too crispy or dark.
Kale, spinach, beet greens, chard greens, and even radish greens can all be sautéed for a healthy, flavorful dish. Need a place to start? Try this Savory Kale Saute recipe, substituting other greens if you like. Aside from being a good source of vitamins and protein, sautéed greens are quick-cooking, filling, and can be paired with pasta, scrambled eggs, soup, or roasted vegetables (see what I did there?).
Tip: Give yourself a break and split up the prep and cooking times. Wash, dry, then chop or chiffonade your greens and store them in an closed bag or container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to sauté.
Added Bonus: Garlic, Ginger, and Crushed Red Pepper
The power trio of garlic, fresh ginger, and crushed red pepper (yes, together!) are tasty and healthful additions to soups, roasted vegetables, and sautéed greens. All three have therapeutic properties that can help you fight off bugs:
- garlic has mild antibiotic properties
- fresh ginger can act as an antihistamine and decongestant
- crushed red pepper has anti-inflammatory properties
Sure, that’s all good, but flavor is the big draw here. The combo of spicy, earthy, and slightly sweet really amp up the flavor of a dish, making it more interesting and complex. (Helpful if your senses of taste and smell have taken a hit from the winter nasties.)
That’s how I’m trying to handle the latest round of the sniffles. What’s your feeling-under-the-weather comfort food?
July 1, 2014 § 4 Comments
How did you mark the official arrival of summer? Did you barbecue at home with the family and neighbors? Take your kids to the park for a picnic? Pass a leisurely afternoon day drinking with friends on the patio of your favorite restaurant? Whatever you did, I’ll bet it included friends or family and food!
I get a little giddy when I think of all the wonderful, fresh food that’s available from our gardens and local farms this time of year — which you could probably figure out from my recent posts about local stone fruit and coastal strawberries. We’re so fortunate to have fine weather and a long growing season here, but also a culture that values growing, making, and sharing good food.
So how did I mark the official start of summer? With some delicious food and fine cocktails, of course! CUESA’s Summer Celebration at the Ferry Building on June 22 was the perfect summer kickoff party. The event, which benefits CUESA’s educational program, celebrated the bounty of summer produce with small plates and handcrafted cocktails created by some of the city’s best chefs and bartenders. (There were also fresh nonalcoholic libations: juice blends and shrubs.) Each plate or beverage was inspired by one of six categories of summer produce — or “culinary families,” as CUESA calls them:
- Grains and legumes
- Leaves and flowers
- Stone fruit
Most of these food families are probably familiar to you — especially berries and stone fruit. Alliums and cucurbits might be less-familiar names, but you’ll recognize their family members. Allium, the latin name for garlic, includes all varieties of garlic and onions, including shallots, leeks, and scallions. But what the heck are cucurbits? (Ok, am I the only person who hears Bill Cosby’s voice saying “Riiiiight. What’s a cucurbit?”). The cucurbit family includes vine-growing produce, which are botanically classified as fruits: squashes, melons, and cucumbers.
More than just a tasting event, CUESA’s Summer Celebration brought together farmers, chefs, beverage crafters, and food lovers of all kinds from around the Bay Area to taste, savor, and learn. While you might know CUESA as the people who put on the Ferry Building farmers’ markets, much of what CUESA does involves educating consumers about sustainable agriculture and local food systems. (Want to know more about their mission? Check out their site.) The Summer Celebration included a variety of fun and creative educational games to teach attendees more about each culinary family. (An added bonus for food geeks!)
Santa Cruz’s Dirty Girl Produce had a gorgeous display of alliums and challenged attendees to an allium “sniff test.” Could you tell the difference between onions, leeks, shallots, and scallions with just your sense of smell? Not as easy as you might think! I had a chance to test my berry knowledge by spinning the Wheel of Berries to answer a berry trivia question. My prize? Yum — a tasting of fresh berries! However, one of my favorite games of the evening was “What’s Your Stone Fruit Name?” (I won’t tell you how it works, but there’s not much skill involved). For the rest of the evening I was “Flavor King,” and my date? “Golden Blaze.” We wrapped up our game-playing at Grains & Legumes Jeopardy, rocking the Grains category, but stumbling on the Legumes. Looks like I need to brush up on my legume facts, but it was fun all the same.
The event was also an opportunity to connect one-on-one with food growers, such as Frog Hollow Farm, Sierra Cascade Organic Blueberry Farm, Star Route Farms, and Dirty Girl Produce. I learned some “Fruity Facts” and talked food waste solutions with the Frog Hollow folks, who grow some of sweetest, most flavorful peaches and apricots in the area. I got the lowdown on how Sierra Cascade’s farmer, John Carlon, created a sustainable farm by understanding and working with the synergy between the blueberries, bumblebees, and gophers. And I experienced edible blossoms and leaves (oh my — Meyer lemon blossoms! Floral, perfumey, sweet, and citrusy, with a bit of crunch.) at Star Route Farms’ beautiful display.
There were so many delicious creations to try, but here’s the short list of favorite tastes from the event.
The Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham flatbread from Il Cane Rosso doesn’t look fancy, but it’s so flavorful and craveable. To me it was like a next-level nacho plate. The flavors paired well, as did the contrast between the crispy flatbread and the tasso ham. Even thinking about it now is making me hungry.
Most of the handcrafted cocktails showcased locally produced spirits — and gin seemed to the spirit of choice. I’m not a gin fan, but this cocktail of raspberry, lemon, bitters, and No. 29 gin was a favorite. Plus, it had a super-cool (pardon the pun), large ice cube.
Everyone I talked with listed “the pork belly” as one of their top tastes of the evening. 1760’s tasting spoon paired rich pork belly with a sweet berry compote. A bit of bad planning on my part, as I tasted this one later in the evening, not leaving enough time to round back for seconds… or thirds…
And this is why I love tasting events: being surprised by something unexpected! I was thinking “yeah, yeah, stuffed squash,” when I saw this plate, but this stuffed squash from Bluestem Brasserie was delicious!
I was holding off tasting most of the desserts until later in the evening, which meant that I missed out on a few — and maybe that worked out for the best. Yigit Pura’s Panna Cotta was worth it, and he has restored my faith that there is well-made, creamy panna cotta in the world. Perfect summer dessert: light, balanced, fruity. Trust me, if I weren’t so full, I would have eaten two more.
Grains & Legumes
Andrew Court’s Ancient Grains & Seaweed Salad was another surprise of the evening, which is why there’s no photo of the plated dish. (Sorry, you’ll have to make do with this fancy copper baby bathtub full of the grains and legumes used in the salad.) I pretty much inhaled it once I tasted it. The grains were perfectly cooked, the seaweed added a bit of umami flavor and crunch, and the dressing brought it all together. Deliciously healthy, and yet indulgent at the same time.
Leaves & Flowers
Here we have the first gin cocktail of the evening, and it might have changed my opinion about gin! This one, made with the 650’s own Rusty Blades Gin, was probably my all-around favorite. Again, not a gin fan, but Rusty Blades reminded me more of an aged whiskey and was really tasty with a bit of sweetness. The cocktail was summery, citrusy, and floral, and garnished with a pretty flower. Loved it!
Smoked salmon? Yes, please! I thought Gaspar’s English pea and chive blini would be nothing more than a delivery device for the salmon, but I was so wrong! This bite pulled together the sweet flavor and soft, creamy texture of the blini with the smokiness of the fish and the herbal accent of the chives. So good!
If you’ve read past posts, you know that Campo de Ecanto Pisco is regular in my home-bar lineup. Pair that with Frog Hollow Farms apricots for Rye on the Road’s Pisco Apricot Tropical, and wow! Yes, I’ll be doing some major “research” to reverse engineer this one at home.
Last, but in no way least, was A16’s Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad. The beets and fruit played perfectly together, while the yogurt and nuts added texture and flavor. The kind of salad you could eat all summer long!
Did you attend CUESA’s Summer Celebration? What was your favorite drink or small plate?