Tag Archives: vegetarian

Nosh: Potato Tatin

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Lest I run the risk of sounding like I am a corporate shill for a publishing house or for a high-end celebrity chef, I’m only going to say this once: if you want to find new ways to fall in love with vegetables, buy anything ever written by Yotam Ottolenghi. He’s not a vegetarian but he cooks veggies like a superstar, and should I ever find myself in front of him I would fall to the ground and kiss the hem of his robe. Chef’s apron (so long as it was the beginning of his shift). Whatever. He is that good.

This recipe is taken from his book Plentywhich is easily one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever bought and is sort of a gateway drug. After buying it (family, please do take note), his other books have ended up on my Amazon wish list and you all know how I feel about the items on my Amazon wish list: Shop early, shop often. All contributions to my cookery appreciated.

So. Here is a beautiful potato tatin recipe, adapted from Plenty. Ottolenghi calls it a “surprise” tatin, I suppose because tatins are usually desserty and sweet, and this one’s surprise is its savory goodness. Nevertheless, it works. I’ve made this for us, and for guests, and it hasn’t disappointed yet. Be forewarned: this tatin does take a while, but it’s all easy work–the hardest part comes right at the end. It’s a great recipe for kitchen puttering on those long, slow Sundays. You’ll need:

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 lb unpeeled potatoes, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium-to-large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp butter
  • oregano sprigs/thyme sprigs/rosemary, all to taste and to flavor preference
  • 1 4-oz package of goat cheese, sliced
  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • salt/pepper/olive oil, as necessary

Preheat your oven to 275°. Take a sheet of puff pastry out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw. Wash the pint of grape tomatoes and cut them all in half. The tomatoes are going into the oven to slow-roast for 45 minutes, so toss them with some oil, salt and pepper, and arrange them on a baking sheet. Face down, face up, it doesn’t matter, since you need to stir everything about half-way through the roasting time and really, we needn’t be so fussy. Put them in, let the oven do the work for you. You can, if you’re pressed for time, use store-bought sundried tomatoes, but, two things: 1) If you’re pressed for time, don’t make this recipe and 2) When you can work with this…

Who needs the sun when you've got steady, dry oven heat?

Who needs the sun to dry tomatoes when you’ve got steady, dry oven heat?

…why settle for anything less?  Side note: should you discover, when you assemble the tatin, that you have more tomatoes than you want or need, then the worst thing that happens is you have leftover slow-roasted tomatoes. You’ll thank me when you eat them in your salad tomorrow.

Moving on.

While the tomatoes roast, prepare your potatoes and onions. Give the potatoes a good scrub, then cut them and put them in a pot of water so you can boil them. You do want them to be roughly uniform one-inch cubes (but don’t make yourself crazy when some chunks aren’t exactly an inch; it will be fine), and yes, cook them thoroughly, but not to the point of mushiness. Drain them and set aside. Slice the onion in thin slices and toss in a big saute pan with some oil and let them get beautifully soft and golden, stirring as necessary so they don’t stick and overly brown. Set aside.

As far as the timing of this recipe goes, it’s very important that all your ingredients are fully prepped before you move on to the next step. You can park this recipe here for several hours or overnight, if you’re not planning to move forward. If you are, then make sure your potatoes are boiled and drained, the tomatoes are roasted, the onions are golden. If you’re using fresh herbs, make sure they’re washed and dried. If you’re using dried herbs, have them at the ready. Because next you’ll be making the caramel, and it will not wait for you.

Take a 9-inch cake pan and brush the sides and bottom with oil, then cut a piece of baker’s parchment to fit the cake pan. Brush the top of the parchment with oil, too.

Seriously. Have this ready.

Seriously. Have this ready.

Take a small pan and add in the butter and sugar. Let both things start to soften in the heat.

I swear, I did NOT arrange my pan this way.

I swear, I did NOT arrange my pan this way.

And then stir stir stir and keep stirring until you get a beautiful, rich brown caramel, which we will NOT stick our fingers in and taste because we never mess with hot sugar and we want to avoid second-degree burns as much as possible.

Look! But no touch.

Look! But no touch.

Then pour this into your prepared cake pan. Get it to smooth out as evenly as possible, but bear in mind that it won’t be smooth because the caramel will start to seize as soon as it leaves the heat.

Smooth! Meh. We do what we can.

Smooth! Meh. We do what we can.

Top with herbs, then start to arrange potatoes so they sit, relatively neatly, in a tight but not necessarily super-tight formation

Fairly even sizes. See why?

Fairly even sizes. See why?

Then layer with the gorgeous roasted tomatoes, kind of sticking them in the crevasses between potatoes.

Like so!

Like so!

And then layer with onions, doing much the same thing.

Laying things out and then jamming them into corners is *kind of* like how I clean.

Laying things out and then jamming them into corners is *kind of* like how I clean. Only this yields happier results.

Add on the layer of goat cheese and then top everything with the puff pastry, rolling it long enough so it’s an even thickness that you can trim and tuck into the sides of the pan.

Nothing that a good pair of kitchen shears can't fix.

If it’s slightly long, that’s nothing that a good pair of kitchen shears can’t fix.

A word about puff pastry: to dock, or not to dock? It’s a good question. If you dock it (i.e., poke the dough a bunch of times with a fork so the steam that makes the pastry rise escapes instead), it won’t puff as dramatically, but will still be delicious. If you don’t dock it, you’ll get a super-puffy crust that can be intimidating when you have to finish the tatin. It’s up to you. I’ve made it both ways, and they’re equally beneficial…though docked dough is probably easier, in the end, to work with. It’s your call.

Once the dough is placed and tucked, you can once again park this recipe in the fridge overnight; just take it out about an hour before you’re ready to cook it, so it can warm up to room temperature before it goes in the oven. If you’re ready to finish the tatin, then raise the oven temp to 400° and put it in the oven for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, rotate it in the oven (if yours cooks unevenly, like mine does), then drop the temp to 350° and let it bake for another 10 minutes. The puff pastry should be beautifully golden and (if undocked) quite puffy.

Behold, le pouf!

Behold, le pouf!

Let this settle for a few minutes, then (this is the hardest part) place a large serving plate over the top of the crust and flip the whole thing, inverting the tatin onto the serving place like it’s a great big savory upside-down cake. Pie. Tatin.

Which is really what it is.

Et voila!

Et voila!

We had friends over for dinner, and served this with parmesan roasted acorn squash, a fattoush salad and chocolate panna cotta with pepita brittle (recipe coming soon). For real. It was almost too good.

So you see, nothing in this recipe is hard, though it does take time. The hardest part is the inversion to the serving plate at the end. Work out with some wrist weights if that makes you anxious. Otherwise…enjoy!

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Nosh: Fattoush Salad

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MMmmmmmm….fattoush salad.

I adore fattoush salad; I’ve been known to fall upon it like it was my first meal after a week of starving in the desert, and small children have been warned to stay away from me while I’m eating it. It’s that good. And sadly, it’s not terribly well known in my corner of the world.

Fattoush is a beautiful salad that features a gorgeous blend of bright, citrusy flavors, fresh herbs, and savory crisp shards of pita. It’s an amazing Middle Eastern bread salad, and it’s easy, especially as ingredients are more and more readily available, even here in my centrally isolated little burg.  I’m sure there’s some of you out there thinking, a salad is a salad, right? Raw veggies, a dressing, how exciting can it be?  I hear that, I do, and I understand that raw veggies can seem (seem!) a little…meh, OK, what else you got? But the abundant fresh vegetables serve as a healthy backdrop for a freakishly delicious dressing that, combined with fresh herbs and toasted pita, steals the show.  Here’s how to go about a fattoush dressing:

  • 4 teaspoons ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
  • 3 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) pomegranate molasses (local peeps, you CAN get this at the grocery store)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons (or more) white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Sumac, for those of us unfamiliar with it, is a tart spice that we could, theoretically, harvest from the tons and tons and tons of central PA sumac trees, most of which (I think) are growing in my back yard.

Yep. That stuff.

Yep. That stuff.
Photo from whittleddown.com

Soak the four teaspoons of sumac in an equal amount of warm-to-tap-water-hot water to help the flavors bloom and turn it into a tart, bright flavor base.  Don’t use boiling water; it will turn the sumac bitter. (If you added a cup full of water and then strained it, you’d have a tea, which is apparently a common drink in other parts of the world, and I’ll have to check out for a later blog.) While it’s soaking, assemble things like your lemon and mint.

This is a good start to anything, really.

This is a good start to anything, really.

And yes, of course zest the lemon first. Why wouldn’t you? Lemon zest is just deliciousness; throwing it away seems foolhardy at best.  If you have fresh mint (like I did, see above) use it, just remember to use double the amount of dried mint they ask for in the recipe since fresh herbs are less concentrated than dried ones. And if you don’t have white wine vinegar or prefer champagne vinegar or white balsamic vinegar (my personal favorite), feel free to use that instead.

Once the sumac has soaked for 15 minutes and everything else is chopped/zested/juiced, put it all in a small mixing bowl and whisk in some good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil.  Then tinker. Maybe you want some more pomegranate molasses?  Maybe you want a splash more vinegar? Play with it until the flavors please you, then season with some salt.  The dressing can, of course, be made ahead of time and allowed to sit in your fridge or on a countertop until you’re ready to eat. I always think homemade dressings taste better after giving the flavors some time to mingle, so if you can get this done earlier in the day, bravo! Go for it. As you get closer to dinner time, prep the rest of your salad.  Heat your oven to 350°. Take two (or three, if you want one to snack on later, like I do) pita breads, put them on a cookie tray and brush their tops with some olive oil. Then season them with a dusting of za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of sesame seeds and (more) sumac and other delicious things as well. Toss the pita in your hot oven and check them after 6 minutes.  They usually take more like 8 minutes to get crispy and golden-brown, but depending on your oven… *shrug*  And there’s no rescue for burnt pita, so check early, check often.

And you’ll get this.

*om nom nom*

*om nom nom*

You want them toasted and brown and dry enough to easily crumble, since they’re going to serve like big flat za’atar-y croutons. Oh, heavens, yes you do want that.

As far as assembling the salad goes, the “official” recipe calls for this.

  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 pound Persian cucumbers, or one 1-pound English hothouse cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Little Gem or baby romaine lettuces, or 1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4″ strips
  • 2 cups (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 cups purslane leaves or additional 3/4″-strips romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • Ground sumac (optional)

But I’m here to tell you, you can use whatever kind of vegetables you want, in whatever proportion. I recommend going heavy on the cucumber and less heavy on the scallions, and adding in some thinly sliced red onions. Personally, I’m not crazy about carrots or celery in fattoush but will say yes to radishes every time. Don’t skimp on the fresh herbs, but feel free to use whatever ones you have handy: basil, mint, chives?  Go for it.  Parsley or cilantro? Yum! I’d stay away from using fresh rosemary or oregano because I think they’d compete too heavily with the dressing, but otherwise? Play with your food! See what you like.  And I also tend to not garnish with more sumac at the end, simply because I want the dressing to shine and not become overwhelming, with the brassy addition of more sumac.  Sometimes, less is more.

When the pita has cooled and your vegetables and herbs are all chopped and in your salad bowl, crumble the pita and mix it in with the salad. Top with some dressing (yes, I always dress salads at the last minute) and…voila!

Breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's when I could eat this.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s when I could eat this.

The tart from the dressing combined with the freshness of the herbs and the savory crisp pita makes the flavors burst out of this salad. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t love it after the first try, so if you’re looking for ways to perk up your drive to eat more healthily, give the fattoush salad a whirl.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Falafel

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One of the truths about living in a small town in the US: if you want groovy global cuisine, you’d better learn how to make it yourself.  It’s gotten considerably more food-diverse here in the past few years so I have less and less reason to kvetch, but nonetheless there are foods I like to eat that are difficult to come by. Falafel is one of them. Raw materials = abundant. Final product = scarce. Since we are learning creatures, we adapt. We even compromise. There are not a lot of foods I’m willing to fry in my house, but falafel is one of them. Because oooh, crispy balls of fried chickpeas, how I love you so. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 16-oz bag dried chickpeas, picked through and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 handfuls fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, leaves coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Candy and fat thermometer (really, you need this)

This is a recipe that requires a bit of prep work, since you need enough oil for frying, a high heat, fat-friendly thermometer, and time to soak the chickpeas overnight. Don’t use canned. Plan ahead. I also highly recommend getting a kitchen spider, if you don’t have one yet, for working with food in hot oil. Anyway.

Empty the bag of dried chickpeas into a strainer and give them the ol’ once-over to check for stray rocks that have been collected with said legumes. Rinse them, then put them in a pot and cover them by 2 inches with water. Lid, overnight, leave it alone on the stovetop, done until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the next morning...

Meanwhile, the next morning…

Next day!  Drain your swollen chickpeas. They’ll be nice and plump and definitely softer than they were, but not smooshy. Which is good; when you process them, you want them to maintain their integrity, not turn into a paste. Take cumin and coriander seeds and put them in a dry pan. Turn your heat on to medium-low and let them start to toast. In about five minutes (give or take) they’re get slightly brown and super-fragrant. Don’t wander too far away because once they reach the oh-hell-yeah fragrant part, they’re close to burning. Take them off the heat and put them in a spice grinder.  IF you don’t want to do this step–you don’t have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, you just don’t feel like, whatever–that’s fine. You can skip this part. The spices just won’t taste as “deep”. It will still be yummy.  Trust me on this one. :)

Put everything–chickpeas, and everything on the ingredient list from baking powder to fresh cilantro–into a food processor. Whirl it all together until you have a mix that is nicely ground together but not paste-y.  You may have to whirl it in batches (like I do); if that’s the case, once everything is ground to the right size then put it all in one big bowl and mix well until all ingredients are evenly combined.

Et voila!

Et voila!

See how the falafel mix is kind of nubbly and not smooth? That’s what you want. Taste it, then season with salt and pepper and give it another stir.  Roll them into ping-pong sized balls, then put them in the fridge and let them set while the oil heats up.

Of course, the oil is the fun part.

Pour 3 inches of a mild-tasting oil (vegetable, canola) into a nice, deep, heavy pot. I used this fantastic cast-iron Dutch oven my boyfriend has had for years; make sure your pot is sturdy and deep, and can provide a place to clip on a candy and fat thermometer, because you’ll need one.  Clip the thermometer to the side of your pot, making sure the end does not touch the bottom of the pot, since that will give you an inaccurate temperature reading. Turn on the heat and let the oil come up to 375°, which is the temperature you’re going to try and maintain during the cooking process (there will be more on the importance of temperature in a minute). While the oil is heating, set up your workstation. You’re working with hot oil, so you don’t want to mess around.  Get a spider so you can lower the falafel balls into hot oil and retrieve them, with as few burns as possible. Have a plate lined with paper towels as a landing pad. Have more paper towels at the ready so you can stack layers of draining falafel.

Kinda like this. And put away things that can get in your way, like errant cans of spray-on oil. (Whoops!)

Kinda like this. And put away things that can get in your way, like errant cans of spray-on oil. (Whoops!)

Once the oil hits 375°, get to it. You want to maintain that temperature as consistently as possible because it will cook the falafel balls thoroughly and create a lovely crisp exterior with a nice light center, without soaking in and making heavy, greasy balls of oily chickpea meal.  If the oil gets too hot it will scorch the outside while the inside remains untouched.  If it drops too cold it will…well, see “heavy greasy balls of chickpea meal”. Both are bad outcomes.  Ideally, this is what you’ll want in a finished falafel.

Not overdone, not cooked through, not greasy, still fresh and soft inside. Yummmm!

Not overdone, just cooked through, not greasy, still fresh and green and soft inside. Yummmm!

Load up your spider with four or five falafel balls and lower them into the…

Seriously, use the right equipment.

Seriously, use the right equipment.

Please be careful.

After frying each batch for 4-5 minutes, you can go from raw green falafel to beautiful fried goodness.

Dinner, in process!

Dinner, in process!

Falafel is often served as an appetizer, or in a wrap or pita with lettuce/tomato/cuke/red onion and a tahini dressing, which I love and you are more than welcome to do. BUT. What I don’t love is buying an entire can of tahini paste to make the dressing, using a small portion of it for one recipe, and let the rest go bad in my fridge. Or, I’ll feel a bizarre pressure to use it all (and experience a sense of failure when I have to throw out the gone-bad portion anyway). Who needs their dinner to shame them?  So.  We had a mid-east feast and served the falafel with a super-simple tzatziki sauce (recipe coming soon), over fattoush salad (recipe coming soon).

Dig it.

Dig it.

This recipe will make a ton of falafel and those of you cooking for one or two…or might have a large family with eaters who wouldn’t dream of eating this so you’d only be making it for yourself…cheer up! Cooked falafel freezes beautifully, so you can stash them in your freezer for months with the help of a little wax paper and an airtight container.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Sweet and Spicy Brussels Sprouts

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I know they’re a trendy vegetable, but the fact is: with or without the trend, I love Brussels sprouts.  That wasn’t always true but then, that wasn’t always true for me and most vegetables.  We live, we learn.

So.  What do you do when you’re handed something that looks like this?

Fun with CSA produce!

Fun with CSA produce!

  1. Shake it like it’s a set of maracas.
  2. Check it for alien spawn.
  3. Eat it.

Happily, “eat it” is correct.  Brussels sprouts still on the stalk may look a little daunting but appearances can be deceiving.  Or…well, not deceiving, really, because I think it’s pretty obvious what you’d need to do, which is cut them off the stalk.  It’s just unfamiliar to the average US supermarket shopper. Normally, I opt to roast Brussels sprouts (with just a little soy sauce and some olive oil…yum!) BUT in the interests of branching out–one can’t live on roasted sprouts alone–I figured I’d try something that involved shredding and sauteing said sprouts.  So I made a little sweet and spicy sprout concoction, and it was one of my better ideas.  Here’s what I used:

  • 1 stalk Brussels sprouts (or a bag of, what 20 or so, for two people?)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, dry toasted*
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • Salt and black pepper to taste (and I recommend going a little heavy on black pepper, but more on that later)

*You probably won’t need the full half cup of walnuts to make this dish work, but I always prep extra because–not gonna lie–I snack on them like crazy while cooking.  Adjust accordingly.

First, cut the sprouts off the stalk and rinse them, then trim them by removing any weird, gnarly outer leaves.  You’ll go from the mutant alien arm pictured above to…

Want. To eat.

Want. To eat.

…beautiful compact mini-cabbages just waiting for you to have your way with them.  They’re much more recognizable this way, not so far a cry from the sprouts my mother used to get in those cellophane-wrapped cardboard tubs (remember those?).  Anyway.

I usually take care of toasted walnuts first, for two reasons.  Once you get them started, you can leave them alone for a couple of minutes with minimal attention while you tend to other cooking tasks (but don’t wander too far, they will burn easily) AND once they’re ready, the snacking can begin.  So.  Take your walnuts, put them in a dry pan (as in, no oil), and set them on your stove over medium heat.  Let them go–giving them the occasional shake to aid in even cooking–for five minutes or so, until they brown in spots and start to smell toasty and warm.  If you think they’re ready, then pull them from the heat, because it’s better that they’re less browned than if they’re burnt.  There’s no recipe rescue for a burnt walnut.  Once they’re done, set them aside but don’t let them sit in the pan since the residual heat from the pan can push them over the edge.  Put them in a bowl.

Commence nibbling.

Commence nibbling.

Slice the Brussels sprouts into thin ribbony bits, and don’t try and use anything fancy like a mandoline for this.  You don’t need perfectly even shreds, and you’re just asking to slice into fingertips since the sprouts are so small.  Just have at it with your knife, and while you’re at it?  Mince the garlic.  You’ll have a glorious, fluffy mound of sprouty-garlic goodness that will cook very quickly, once you get it in hot oil.

I don't know why; I just thought the border on this pic was funny.

I don’t know why; I just thought the border on this pic was funny.  Probably because I’m trying to distract you from the reality that this is not one of my best pictures, but it’s what I’ve got that fits this section of text. And I digress.

To cook: Give the shredded sprouts and garlic a stir to make sure they’re all evenly mixed. Put some olive oil in a pan that’s ready to go at a medium heat, then add in the shredded sprouts and garlic.  Add in thyme and crushed red pepper flakes, give it all a stir in the pan, and then spread it out so it’s one even layer across the pan.  Leave it alone for a three or four minutes.  You want the sprouts on the bottom to start to brown, but don’t go too far because once they brown this dish is almost done.  Give the sprout mix a stir and a shake to knock loose anything that might be adhering to the bottom of the pan and let it saute for a minute or two longer.  Stir in the honey and give that a minute to incorporate evenly through the dish, then add salt and pepper to taste and remove it from heat.  I like a lot of pepper, both for its lovely bite and for the subtle woodsy-floral component it brings.  Mix in the amount of walnuts you feel is appropriate, and kind of crumble them before tossing them in so you have big, rustic walnut chunks.  And that’s it.

You’re done.  Really.

Quick, easy and delicious. Does it get any better than this?

Quick, easy and delicious. Does it get any better than this?

The walnuts keep this dish grounded, the sprouts and garlic bring the savory, the red pepper flakes add fire and the honey balances everything with sweetness.  This could, possibly, be a perfect dish.  I’m not sure.  I’ll have to eat a lot more of it to find out.

We served this with two-way fennel and capers with pasta and a crisp green salad, and celebrated the very good fortune we have in available vegetables.  Make this.  Enjoy it.  And when Brussels sprouts stop being trendy, you can still make it and enjoy it and rattle your cane at those crazy kohlrabi-eating kids who don’t know a modern classic when they see it.

Nosh: Two Way Fennel and Capers with Pasta

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Hi folks.

Good to see you all again.

I know, it’s been a few weeks.  I had a rough one.  I had a bout of the blues, a touch of PTSD after my car accident, and a major funk when I reflected on 2013, which was a dismal year for me.  Thankfully I have a patient boyfriend and friends who care enough to let me open up to them.  Right now, it’s all good.

So I’m back!  And I want to talk to you all about the savory goodness of fennel.  Consider it a New Year’s gift.  Resolutions often involve eating more vegetables.  Sticking with more vegetables means eating them in surprising and tasty ways.

Fennel, fennel, fennel.  Big oniony-looking bulb, stalks that resemble celery, frothy fronds at the top.  Vaguely smells of licorice. What. The hell. Does one do with that sort of thing?

Delicious dietary addition or freak veggie?

Delicious dietary addition or freak veggie?

The answer, friends, is a simple one.  EAT IT!!!

Currently in the US, fennel is mostly seen a sort of curious, marginally exotic mystery vegetable that one can only cook if one is a wizard or a professional chef.  In the US the bulb usually shows up sliced thin and raw, in salads, with oranges, which is certainly delicious but, limited in its scope, a sad underuse of fennel and all its works.  If a vegetable is nose-to-tail friendly, as it were, this would be the one.  The fronds are a fantastic garnish for everything from chicken to pasta to green beans to potatoes to hummus.  The stalks are nice and crunchy and would be a great addition to any snack bag or crudite tray, and they shave nicely into salads.  The bulb, though…you can do anything with it.  Saute it.  Fennel is fantastic grilled.  Braise it in milk (yes, really).  You’ll thank me for it.  Or…

You can turn it into healthy and delicious pasta sauce.  Because yum.  Here’s what I used:

  • 2 medium-to-large fennel; stalks very thinly sliced, bulbs cored and diced, fronds set aside
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 teaspooon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup (ish) of vegetable broth
  • 2 generous tablespoons drained and rinsed capers (or more, if you’d like)
  • A handful of fresh chopped parsley

And I always cook for one package of pasta, because I completely lack the patience to measure ounces of pasta.  I’m no stranger to leftovers, and this sauce is even better the next day.  Moving on.

The first thing to do is attack the fennel, so to get started…scroll back up and look at the picture above.  Halve your fennel bulbs and cut out the knobby core at the bottom of the bulb.  Cut off the stalks and slice them very thinly; set them off to the side.  Dice the bulb like you would an onion: planks, sticks, then cubes.

planks sticks cubes-001

Straightforward, no?

While you’re at it, cut an onion in the same way, and mince however much garlic you’d like.  Get a big pan warming to a steady medium-level saute heat, and when it’s hot enough (you don’t need it screaming hot, just hot), add oil and toss in the diced fennel.  Fennel can be dense and it often surprises me that it takes longer than onions to cook, but there’s the truth.  So.  It goes in first, and let it cook happily for a few minutes.  It may start to brown; that’s fine, just don’t let it burn.  After five minutes or so, add the onions, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes and some fresh-ground pepper.  Zest the lemon right over your pan; the essential oils that spray out of the skin when you zest will go directly into the pan, adding to the subtle, but present, lemony goodness.

Like so.

Like so.

Juice the lemon and set the juice aside.

Get a pot of water going for your pasta, if you haven’t done so already.  When your water is ready and you cook the pasta, you’ll take it to not-quite-doneness, as it will finish cooking when you add it in to the fennel sauce at the end.  And before you drain your not-entirely-cooked pasta, reserve a half-cup or so of pasta water, some of which you’ll add to the fennel sauce to finish.

Let the fennel and onion mixture all cook together in your pan, over a nice medium heat.  You’ll want to see the onions get soft and the garlic fragrant, which should take another 8 or 10 minutes.  Again, some browning and sticking to the bottom of the pan is fine.  Desirable, even, since it creates the fond which, when pulled up with some stock and stirred back into the pan, adds a tremendous flavor boost.  When the fennel is soft and the onions are translucent, pour in the stock and stir well with a wooden spoon, so any browning on the bottom of your pan comes up.  Add the bay leaves.  Simmer for 10 minutes or so.

This is moving along as it ought.

This is moving along as it ought.

You can also deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of white wine before adding in the stock, since fennel loves to work with white wine.  I just didn’t have any in the house.  If you do, then pour in the wine, give it all a stir to pull up the fond.  Simmer for a few minutes, until the alcohol cooks out and the wine smells more like sauce and less like hot wine.  Add the stock at this point and carry on.

A note about the amount of stock: I say use about a cup, but this is entirely dependent on how you prefer your pasta sauce.  I want the sauce to be nice and thick, so I’m not going to use enough stock to make the sauce soupy.  The stock is going to cook off a little in the simmer, and then the entire thing will be blended together.  You’ll have an opportunity to thin the sauce after blending if you’d like, so my advice is to approach stock with a gentle hand and see how it goes.

Anyway.

Get another pan going and add your very thin slices of fennel stalk, with just a little salt and pepper added to bring out the flavor. You’re going to want to get these nice and browned and yummy, to serve as a crisp contrast to the soft fennel of the sauce.

Truth: cut them thinner than this.

Truth: Next time, I will cut them thinner than this.

Once these are nice and brown, remove them from the heat and top with the reserved lemon juice.  Set aside until the pasta is complete.

When all the contents of your pan have cooked together and the veggies are nice and tender, remove the bay leaves and give everything else a whirl in a blender or food processor.  Put the blended sauce back in the pan and back on the heat and if you feel like it’s too gloppy for your liking, thin your sauce by adding very small increments of stock.  Add in your drained pasta and the grilled fennel stalks, and a splash or two of reserved pasta water.  Let that cook together a minute or two longer, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce has become a lovely, clingy unit.  Check for seasonings and adjust salt and pepper as necessary.  Chop some fresh parsley, and drain and rinse your capers.

Normally I’d say capers and parsley are optional, but…not in this dish, they’re not.  The capers add a playful, deep, briny punch to the mellowed aroma of the fennel and heightens the hints of lemon in the sauce, and the parsley adds a fresh green pungency that lifts this dish off the plate and right into yo’ mouth.  You can also add some of the fennel fronds as a garnish, but I used most of them in the salad.

I want to make this again.  Right now.

I want to make this again. Right now.

When we sat down to eat dinner, my boyfriend took his first bite, then looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Wow!  And it’s not…totally weird!  You don’t need some fancy palate to enjoy this!”

Ummm.

Actually, though, that’s really cool.  Reviewer Number One thinks my fennel pasta sauce is yummy and generally accessible.  I’ll take it!  As this dish stands it’s entirely vegan, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be amenable to a shot of cream or butter at the end, or a sprinkling of good, hard cheese.  We ate this with a fresh salad and sweet and spicy Brussels sprouts that were insanely good.  We ate it the next day, too.  We’re going to eat this again and again.  Yay for fennel!  Eat more of it, because it’s delicious!  You don’t even have to be a wizard.

George standing between two absolutely enormous wild fennel plants; Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland.

George standing between two absolutely enormous wild fennel plants; Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nuggets

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First things first: the original recipe I adapted this from calls them bars, but I cut them small so they’re nuggets.  OK?  Plus, it’s cuter that way.

Anyway.  Hi!  Holiday snack creation under major way in the House of Paisley, since someone (who would be me) is way, way, waaaaaay behind in her baking this season.  I have no idea what happened.  Time just got away from me.  Anyway.  This recipe is mostly easy, though it does come with a little bit of caution.  It takes a chunk of time because it involves layers setting up in your freezer and you can’t rush that.  And, I always want people to be aware when something requires working with hot sugar, which is no joke and can cause a burn.  I worked from a recipe online (that you can find here) but altered it…beeeecause…I can’t help myself.  Here’s what I used:

  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, divided
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup peanuts (meaning, 1 cup’s worth after they’ve been removed from their shells)
  • a sprinkling of kosher or sea salt, to taste

First things first: take the cream out of your fridge and let it sit on the counter.  You really do want it to be warm…or at least warm-ish…when the time comes to use it.  Shell your peanuts.  The original recipe called for the use of salted, roasted peanuts, but I used unsalted because I am a bit of a control freak and want to determine for myself how much salt goes into a recipe.  Get 4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate melting in a double-boiler.  Line a bread pan with baker’s parchment, and give the parchment a good shot of your favorite non-stick cooking spray.

Getting this parchment set may be the most difficult part of the process.

Getting this parchment set may be the most difficult part of the process.

When choosing the chocolate that’s currently melting, remember: you can use whatever sort of chocolate you’d like.  I used semi-sweet because it’s my favorite for desserts, and recommend against using milk chocolate because the caramel is pretty sweet and milk chocolate won’t provide any bitter balance.  I also wouldn’t use a chocolate that’s higher than 70% cacao unless you’re making this for hardcore chocofiends.  But.  Once the first four ounces of chocolate have melted, pour it into your prepared bread pan and add a sprinkling of salt over it.

Step one: complete.

Step one: complete.

Put this in the freezer to set for 15-ish minutes.  Keep your double-boiler handy, since you’re going to use it again for the second batch of chocolate.

While this is heating, gather up the peanuts and cream (measured out to 1/3 cup, so it’s ready to use).  Put the sugar and water in a sauce pot and start heating it over low-to-medium heat, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid turns clear.  Stir it occasionally, but not too much.  While the sugar is turning into syrup, chop the white chocolate.  You will want it to be fairly small.

Try to resist nibbling.  But go on, have a taste.  :)

Try to resist nibbling. But go on, have a taste. :)

So, peanuts, cream, white chocolate, and a heat-proof silicone stirrer, all close at hand?  Great.  Because this stage moves along fairly quickly.  Get the chocolate layer out of the freezer and have that handy, too.  When the sugar starts to look like this:

Looks like sweet toasty napalm!

Looks like sweet toasty napalm!

And by “this” I mean, golden on the edges with slow thick bubbles, then take the pot and slowly start to swirl the sugar, over heat, until it turns rich brown and smells like deep caramel.

For the love of all that is holy, resist sticking your finger in to have a taste.

For the love of all that is holy, resist sticking your finger in to have a taste.

Move this off the heat and be ready to move fast.  The cream goes in first, and it will bubble fiercely.  Don’t freak out, it’s OK, just stir it in really quickly.  Follow that with the peanuts and chocolate.  You may notice that the candy is giving some resistance; it’s cooling and trying to set, which it will do as soon as it’s able, which is why you A) don’t want to use cold cream, because the cold will make the sugar set even faster and B) need everything close by and ready for use.  Give it all a couple of stirs until everything is fully incorporated, then pour it on top of the frozen chocolate and smooth it out into a nutty layer.  Sprinkle with a little more salt, if you’re so inclined.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas noms.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas noms.

Put this back in the freezer.  Go have some lunch, because this should set for about 45 minutes.

Once your peanut layer is frozen, put the second batch of chocolate on the double-boiler.  Melt that, pour it on top, put it back in the freezer.  Leave it alone for another half an hour.  When it’s fully frozen, take it from the freezer and lift it out of the bread pan with the parchment.  Peel off the parchment and put it on a cutting board.

Like so.

Like so.

Then take your trusty chef’s knife and cut it into whatever size pieces you want.  I like bite-size, because they’re adorable and you don’t have to commit to an entire bar.  These are kind of like biting into a slightly harder Snickers, and oh…they’re so good.  Creamy, chocolately, peanutty…if you show up with these at a family event you’re sure to become the favorite niece or nephew soon enough, and work your way to the top of crazy Uncle Arthur’s will.

All is nommy and bright.

All is nommy and bright.

If only I had a crazy Uncle Arthur.

And so.  The biggest problem I find with these?  Is that they manage to get in your mouth.  Relentlessly.  :)  Enjoy!

Nosh: Black Forest Cookies

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No holiday cookie tray is complete without something chewy and fruity.  I think that’s how fruitcake has managed to hold on for as long as it has, despite the fact that it’s inherently creepy.  (Note to home fruitcake makers: I’ve never had a fruitcake that isn’t commercial, and gross.  I’m willing to give homemade cakes the benefit of the doubt.  And I digress.)

Thank you, but… No.
Image from jbinghamoc.wordpress.com

Never fear, good people!  I have the solution!  Plus, you get to mainline chocolate in the process and when is that ever bad?  Right.  Never.  Presenting: the Black Forest Cookie.

A take on the traditional black forest cake, the nominal cookie is made from dense, rich chocolate and is loaded with…what should ideally be entirely cherries, but you know…we’ll get to that in a minute.  This drop cookie is uncomplicated and comes together fairly quickly, so it’s going to find itself in my reserve of go-to recipes.  I got this recipe from one of those mini-cookbooks you can impulse-buy at the cash register of your local supermarket (because I impulse-bought one).  It’s a Martha Stewart recipe, which pains me because I have no love for her, and yes, I realize she’s crying over that all the way to the bank.  But more importantly (for our purposes), it’s readily available online.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 package (about 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cherries

Get the butter and chocolate going in a double-boiler.  If you don’t have a dedicated double-boiler, then do what I do and put a mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water.  There is one caveat: don’t let the bowl touch the water, because then you might scorch the chocolate, and who wants that?  You don’t need much water in the pot to get the job done, maybe just an inch or two.  And don’t bother chopping the chocolate (which, for some reason, I haaaaaaate to do); just break it into chunks and let heat do the work for you.

Behold the awesome power of buttery chocolate goodness!

Behold the awesome power of buttery chocolate goodness!

I promise you, if you keep it over the steam heat rising from the water in the lower pot, the butter and chocolate will melt.

While this morphs into a beautiful mass of buttery chocolate, measure out your dry ingredients and keep them handy, because you’re going to be mixing them all at the same time.

Measured and a'waitin'.

Measured and a’waitin’.

BUT FIRST!

When the chocolate is entirely melted, take your melting vessel (mixing bowl, top pot of the double boiler) off the heat and whisk in the eggs, one at a time.  Give yourself a minute between removing the chocolate from the heat and adding the eggs.  The chocolate mixture will cool slightly and you’ll run less of a risk of ending up with chocolate-covered scrambled eggs (which can happen if the chocolate is too hot when you add in the eggs.  See: don’t scorch the chocolate).  And, as always, add the eggs one at a time by cracking them into a separate cup first so you can retrieve any rogue bits of shell that end up in your egg.

Just a tiny bit of patience pays off in this step. Big time.

Just a tiny bit of patience pays off in this step. Big time.

Whisk that together, then dump in all your dry ingredients and give that a mix.  Don’t overmix, just incorporate.  You’ve got more mixing to come and you don’t want to toughen up your cookies from overmixage.

The next step is to add the bag of chocolate chips (yes, a whole bag, no real measuring required) and the cherries.

Ahhh…the cherries.

So I went into this recipe thinking, I have a giant bag of dried cherries (local peeps: that I got at the Natural Food and Garden Store), no need to check how much I have.  Conveniently forgetting, of course, the handful I would snack on with each trip into the pantry.  I pulled out the bag of dried cherries and…

Rut ro.

Nowhere near enough.  I had a moment of panic and then I thought…you know…here’s a golden opportunity to use those spare ends of bags of fruit I’ve had hanging around, and turn this into sort of a kitchen-sink cookie.  So.  In went the cherries, and some currants, and Craisins, and then raisins to top it off, until I reached my 1 1/2 cup mark.

Batter has become secondary. The chunky bits are all that matter.

Batter has become secondary. The chunky bits are all that matter.

Fold this all together with your trusty rubber spatula until it becomes a glorious riot of nuggety goodness and smooth, rich batter.

It's so hard to not just eat it like this.

It’s so hard to not just eat it like this.

Then cover this with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in your fridge for at least 30 minutes.  This is where you could park it for a while (up to overnight) if you don’t have the time to finish them.  Or, you could preheat your oven to 350° and line your cookie sheets with baker’s parchment and, after half an hour, take it from the fridge and get to spoonin’.  The dough becomes a pretty solid mass as you leave it in your refrigerator to set up, so it can be hard to scoop to the proper size, especially if you have not-necessarily-the-strongest measuring spoons.  Like mine.  So.  Use a heavy spoon to dig the first two tablespoons of dough’s worth of cookie out and measure that into a measuring spoon.

Use the resources available to you.

Use the resources available to you.

Then? Use that as a scale model to measure out the rest of your cookies.  It goes much more easily that way, instead of fighting with measuring spoons that would bend and/or break (I mean, look at them, they’re so thin).  Before you know it you’ll have…

Mmmmm...

Mmmmm…

…row after row of dropped chocolate cookies.  Put these beautiful tastebombs in your hot oven and bake for 11-13 minutes, until the edges look nice and firm.  Rotate them once halfway through bake time if you think it’s needed, then remove them from the oven and let them cool on the trays for five minutes, and then on racks until they’re thoroughly cool.  Bonus, holiday bakers: these cookies freeze well, so you can make them early and stick ‘em in the freezer until you’re ready to load them on gift trays.

Side note: is it possible to experience an independently generated smell memory?  Because there’s nothing baking in my house and I swear I can smell their chocolatey goodness right now.  Anyway.

Once they’re cool and ready to eat…don’t forget to have them with some milk.

Yay!

Yay!

Two things…  1) This cookie is little more than a hand-held chocolate delivery system with occasional pockets of fruit, and that’s not a bad thing.  EVER.  And 2) I enjoyed this cookies-and-milk photo op way more than I probably should have.  (No, I think we need another shot…TAKE TEN!)  (I’m only partially joking.)

Enjoy!  And happy baking.

Nosh: Roasted Spiced Beets and Sauteed Beet Greens

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What do you do when you have a beautiful batch of beetses?

Are they tasty, Precious?

Are they tasty, Precious?

We got these from our CSA and they were totally gorgeous.  Plus, somewhere along the line (and I really don’t remember how) we ended up with extra beet greens.  So.  Beautiful beets, and a ton of beet greens; this sounds like the beginnings of a feast to me.

I love…LOVE…LOVE roasted beets (as I’m sure you may have noticed from previous posts) but the thing about them is, they’re so distinct in their flavor I often find that recipes don’t do much other than emphasize their beety goodness.  Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.  But, you know.  Beets is beets.

However.

My restless search for beet diversity paid off handsomely when I came across this recipe, which plays on different nuances of the flavor of the noble beet.  Of course, because I am me, I had to change it a little, largely because who has fresh lemon thyme laying around?  (OK, I know some people do, but I don’t.)  And I wanted a peppery bite because I totally dig the interplay between cinnamon and black pepper.  Here’s what I used.

For the beets:

  • 2 cups of beets (-ish, that’s hard to measure, it may have been more like 2.5 cups, but ultimately, use what you’ve got), trimmed and peeled and cut into thick wedges
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper (admittedly this can be a little intense, so if you’re not ready for that much black pepper, be kind to yourself)
  • 1/4 tsp (or more, to taste) Aleppo pepper/crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp each Balsamic and red wine vinegar
  • salt to taste

For the greens:

  • One large bunch beet greens, with leaves separated from thicker stalks (this saute would also work nicely with Swiss chard, FYI)
  • Half a medium yellow onion
  • As much garlic as you’d like (I generally use 3-4 cloves)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 c veggie broth/water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and drain your beet greens and stalks, and then set them off to the side because you won’t need them for a while.  Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Scrub, peel, and trim the beets, then cut them into nice thick chunks.  Be forewarned…beets have…you know…THAT quality, wherein the beet juice will get all over your hands and the cutting board if you don’t coat yourself in rubber and…oh, GOD, the stains, the stains…

Really, I’ve discovered that beet juice stains are not so tragic.  It washes out.  If you don’t have a plastic cutting board and rubber gloves to protect against stains, then do yourself a favor: Don’t panic.

Toss your chopped beets into a baking dish.

Ooh, chunky.

Ooh, chunky.

Aren’t they pretty?  I think they’re kind of bad-ass.  Anyway.  Once your beets are in the roasting pan, add in everything else.  Yes, everything else that is beet (not greens) specific, and toss it with a nice glug of oil.

Yup. That's it.

Yup. That’s it.

And into the oven wit’ ye!

Not bad.

Let these cook for 25-30 minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking time.

While they’re in the oven, turn your attention to your beet greens.  I love beet greens!  The sweet flavor of the beets is somewhat preserved in the greens (primarily in the red stalks) but there’s also the peppery bitterness that you find in all good greens.  They’re an awesome flavor package.  Beet greens are nutritional powerhouses (as opposed to rhubarb greens, which can kill you), packed with Vitamins A, C, and K, and are also a good source of calcium for those looking for non-dairy calcium sources.

Yes, you can get calcium from something other than milk. No, you don’t need a supplement if you eat right.  Moving on.

Cut the onion into a small-ish dice and chop your garlic.  Get them off the cutting board if you don’t have a spacious one; chopping large amounts of greens can take up a lot of room, so you’ll need as much choppable workspace as possible.  Take your rinsed and drained greens and separate the stalks from the leaves–both are perfectly edible, but the stalks are thicker so you need to start their cooking earlier and give them a few extra minutes.

Just hack away, where the leaf meets the stem. Done!

Just hack away, where the leaf meets the stem. Done!

Start the onions and garlic sauteing with some salt and pepper, and after a minute or two add thyme.  Chop the stalks into delicious bite-sized morsels and then?  Once the onions are nice and soft and translucent?

You know what fate awaits these beet stalks.  NO MERCY!

You know what fate awaits these beet stalks. NO MERCY!

Oh, yeah.  Don’t forget to use a nice, roomy pan that you can cover, because there’s a lot of stuff you’re going to try and cook and later you need a lid.  So.  Beet green stalks are in the pan, getting chummy with the onions and garlic.  Start on your leaves.

The easiest way to chop leaves like this is to stack them and cut them into ribbons.  If you want smaller greens after that then have at it with your kitchen knife.  What can I say?  It’s not rocket surgery.

Give the stalks a few minutes to cook in with the onions, and by a few I mean a few.  No more than five minutes, really.  Then toss in your greens, and sprinkle nutmeg (or freshly grate it if you have the whole nut and a handy microplane) and a shot of salt and pepper on the greens.  Give it a stir and let them saute.

Almost home, my brothers and sisters.

Almost home, my brothers and sisters.

They’ll probably start to sound kind of loud and angry pretty quickly as the water cooks out of them, which is fine, but don’t let that go on for more than a minute or two, because you want to make use of their moisture (plus some).  Give another stir to make sure nothing’s stuck to the bottom of the pan, then add the 1/4 cup broth, put the lid on the pan, and remove it from heat.  The objective is to let the greens finish cooking in their own steam.  If the rest of the dinner is still cooking and you aren’t ready to eat the greens after a few minutes of steaming, knock the lid back so the steam can escape.

Put it all together.  If you can put it on polenta, it’s a happy day!  When corn (polenta is corn, after all) and beets get together, they pull out each other’s green grassiness.  When that’s combined with the sweet and the cinnamon and the pepper and the bitter-ish crunch?  OMG yes.

THAT is what I'm talking about!

THAT is what I’m talking about!

We ate this with Baked Pumpkin with Yogurt Sauce, roasted parsnips (recipe coming soon) and George’s extraordinarily delicious polenta, which is his specialty so you may have to ask him how to make it.  I’ve never done it.  He’s good at it.  Win!

Do you have a favorite way to eat beets?  And do you always eat the greens?

Enjoy!

XOXO —  Terri

Nosh: Baked Pumpkin with Yogurt Sauce

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I learned a new word today: cucurbitacean.  It means, “A person who regards pumpkins or squashes with deep, often rapturous love.” Guilty. As. Charged. And let me make this clear if I haven’t done so already: if loving pumpkin is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

When I went to the Helmand Restaurant in Baltimore, I tried this gorgeous Afghan dish called kaddo bourani.  In a traditional kaddo, pumpkin is slow roasted in sugar and oil until it’s caramelized and deliriously silky, then topped with two sauces, one made of yogurt and the other from ground beef.  I’ve not had it with ground beef but I assure you, the vegetarian, yogurt-only version kicks some serious ass.  The major downsides to kaddo are that it takes like four hours to make (prep time, plus three and a half hours or so in the oven, and ain’t nobody got time for that) and it uses a ton of sugar. Like, three cups worth of sugar.  I can’t bring myself to do it unless it’s a special occasion (and I’ve done it and the results have been worth it, I do confess; it’s so not hard, it’s just mega time consuming).  Here’s what I used for the lower-sugar, shorter-time, non-traditional baked pumpkin goodness:

  • 1 regular-sized (3-5 pound) baby blue hubbard squash, seeded and cut into chunks (more on this in a minute)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sumac/your seasoning of choice (more on this in a minute)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • enough oil to coat the pumpkin well
  • chopped fresh mint for garnish

And for the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (rein it in here, since the garlic is raw. My cloves were very small inner cloves, so I used two)
  • 1/4 teaspoon honey
  • a pinch of salt/pepper to taste

So this is based on the idea of a kaddo bourani, sort of, but cooked at a higher temp so it doesn’t take anywhere near three + hours, and only uses a wee tiny bit of sugar.  Traditional?  Not by a long shot.  But still delicious.  And easy.  As always, the hardest part of this is getting inside the pumpkin.  Just go about it piece by piece, use a sharp, heavy chef’s knife, and let the blade do as much of the work as possible.  There’s no “easy way” to break down a thick-skinned squash.  And as a warning: I will generally use the words “squash” and “pumpkin” interchangeably here, so if I refer to a pumpkin I don’t mean a jack-o-lantern type thing, unless I specify.  So a blue hubbard squash?  Is also a pumpkin.  Dig?

Slow and steady, that's the way to do it.

Slow and steady, that’s the way to do it.  To pumpkin.

I used a baby blue hubbard squash because I saw it at a farmer’s market and had to buy it; it’s simply what I had on hand (regular, non-baby hubbards can weigh up to 11 pounds, so unless you’re feeding an army, I don’t recommend it).  Use whatever you can get your hands on–sugar pumpkin, butternut squash.  Acorn or sweet dumpling squash could be interesting, plus you wouldn’t have to peel it, which is a bonus.  (I know I’ve said this before but reminder: YES you can eat acorn squash skin. And I digress.)  Each pumpkin will impart its own characteristics to the dish.  Hubbard squash, for example, is a bit more starchy and floury than butternut, so the end product will have a bit more of a crumbly texture, while retaining its deeply sweet flavor.  Did I mention how good and sweet the hubbard smelled just when I cut it open?  It smelled like fresh pie.  Oh, the joy.  I could go on but instead?  Next step.

Preheat your oven to 425°.  Dismantle the pumpkin and cut it into thick strips.  Or you could big-chunk it.  Whatever you prefer.

Place your squash in the bottom of a roasting pan that has a lid, or one that you can tightly cover with foil.  Coat it with oil, salt and pepper and give it a good stir so it’s evenly distributed, then arrange the squash so it’s got the concave side (the one receptive to holding yummy spices) facing up.  Add the sumac and sugar.

There's some good stuff going down in this roaster!

There’s some good stuff going down in this roaster!

Regarding sumac: it’s not a spice found in most US pantries, I get it, I know.  If you’re feeling adventurous you might want to buy some and try it; it’s fruity and tart and not spicy-hot at all.  If not, then feel free to use coriander or cumin.  Fennel would be fun with this.  I chose sumac because it’s a Middle Eastern spice and I thought…well, if I can’t make a traditional Afghan kaddo, the least I can do is use region-appropriate flavors.  But ultimately, the objective should be to find something that’s kind of fruity and not overwhelming and will blend harmoniously with the sweetness of the pumpkin and the added sugar.

Once you’ve added your preferred spice and the sugar, take the 1/4 cup of liquid and add it to the bottom of the roasting pan.  You don’t want to pour it all over the top of the pumpkin because you don’t want to disturb the sugar and sumac, so pour it in along the side.  You just want something to create steam and help with the cooking, and create a little bit of a sauce.  You could add some more liquid if you don’t feel like you have enough, but don’t go crazy and add any more than 1/2 cup total.  Once that’s in, put the lid on and toss it in your nice hot oven.  For like an hour.

That’s it.  Well, almost.  But the hard work is done.

While the pumpkin cooks, make the yogurt sauce.  Mix yogurt, garlic that you’ve pressed or grated on a fine grater, honey, salt and pepper.  If you can’t eat garlic, some lemon zest works really well instead.  Taste, and adjust your seasonings if necessary.  Take a moment to be overwhelmed by how good a simple sauce like this can be.  Set it aside.

Clean, pat dry and roughly chop some fresh mint.

Hang out and read something while you wait.  Or, you know.  Cook whatever else you’re eating for dinner.

Check on the pumpkin after about a half an hour, and shift it in the pan.  If you don’t shift it, the sugars in the part of the pumpkin that’s touching the bottom of the roaster will start to caramelize and you’ll have a semi-solid lower shell that’s, quite frankly, pretty tasty but can be hard to get your fork through.  My boyfriend likes it; I think it’s kind of annoying.  Check it at an hour to see how fork-tender it is; the texture will depend on the pumpkin you used, how thick you cut it, etc.  I left mine in the oven for 70 minutes total.

Leave the lid on the roaster after you take it out of the oven, while you set the table and do whatever else you need to do to get ready for dinner, as this will add some steamy carryover cooking time, ensuring soft deliciousness.  Take the pumpkin out of the roaster and loosen up any thick, caramelly sugar with some additional broth or water; you’ll have a very thin, sweet sauce to drizzle over the pumpkin before serving.  Toss on your chopped mint and serve with yogurt sauce on the side.

Cucurbitacean and proud of it. And this is why.

Cucurbitacean and proud of it. And this is why.

This is the sort of hearty, beautiful cold weather food that makes me get all a-flutter.  We ate this with roasted spiced beets and sauteed beet greens (recipe coming soon), roasted parsnips (recipe coming soon) and polenta that George made and about which I cannot blog (having never made it), except to say that he makes a wonderful polenta and I am a lucky woman.

And really, if you have the time, try making real kaddo bourani some day.  (Or make your way to Baltimore and have some at the Helmand.)  It’s extraordinary.

Nosh: Roasted Kohlrabi Chips

Standard

Kohlrabi.

Kohlwhatti?

Kohlrabi!

Gesundheit.

In my relentless pursuit of discussing unfamiliar produce, let me introduce the uninitiated to the joys of kohlrabi.  A member of the cabbage family, this bulby thing is, ummm…is, errrr…

Just what the hell is it? Photo from restaurantwidow.com

Just what the hell is it?
Photo from restaurantwidow.com

This, friends, is kohlrabi.  And it’s crunchy and kind of watery, and versatile, and can add an unexpected, cruciferous, broccoli-ish mellowness to a meal.  Which, you know.  Can be good or bad, depending on how you feel about mellow broccoli.  George doesn’t care for it all that much.

Unless, of course, you cut it into chips and roast it.  Changes the game entirely.  True story: the first time I made these, I burnt the hell out of them.  They were totally brown, almost black, definitely useless.  Or so I thought.  George couldn’t get enough of them, told me not to throw them away because he would absolutely eat them.  Ummmm…OK?  I tried one, and I got his point.  It goes from kind of watery to deeply flavored, roasted and crisp, even crunchy if you cut it thin enough.  And the flavor totally morphs into…well, imagine the best kind of gnarly, down-home, thick-cut potato chip you’ve ever had.  Then imagine it was roasted in the oven and is actually good for you.  Bonus!  Here’s what you need:

  • As much kohlrabi as you’d like (dinner for three, we had three kohlrabi, which made plenty for feasting plus some next-day nibbles)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Your seasonings of choice (I used grated parmesan and Aleppo pepper, but feel free to use whatever you’d like)
  • A mandoline slicer or a very sharp knife (I used a knife. Partly because I like to work on my knife skills but also because I really need a better mandoline, as mine kind of scares me and I’m accident-prone…but I digress

Heat your oven to 350°.

Trim your kohlrabi.  You don’t even have to peel it for this dish, but you should cut off the weird little pointy thick nodes that grow off its sides.

IMG_0099-001

Who you callin’ cabbage?

Tip: If you’re cutting these by hand, they can be a little unsteady because they’re round and that can be daunting, especially if you’re working on your knife skills but don’t quite feel that you’re “there” yet.  Just cut off a bit of the round part so it lays flat on the cutting board, and then have at it.

No waste, flat surface, fingers are safer. Win!

No waste, flat surface, fingers are safer. Win!

Once they’re very thinly sliced, you can rejoice, for the hardest part is over, and that wasn’t so bad, now, was it?  Then…

See?  Not paper thin.  Manageably thin.

See? Not paper thin. Manageably thin.

…get them greased up and ready to go.  Because they’re so flat, and I like shortcuts when they work, and who needs to lay out a trillion rounds of kohlrabi to painstakingly dab with oil on one side, then the other, then transfer to a pan?  Not me.  Oil the pan you’re going to lay them on.

Let the baking sheet do the work for you. Kind of zen, no?  ~~~Be the baking sheet~~~

Let the baking sheet do the work for you. Kind of zen, no?
~~~Be the baking sheet~~~

Then you just have to worry about daubing the tops of the kohlrabi slices before they go into the oven.  To the purists who would argue that both sides aren’t getting properly seasoned I say: these slices are about 1/8 inch thick, possibly less.  Between the salt and the pepper and the Aleppo pepper and the parmesan, they’re getting plenty seasoned.  The whole thing will taste fine, you can calm down.

Once you have what you want on them, you can just put them right in that nice hot oven.

I want some. Like, right now. For breakfast, I don't care.

I want some. Like, right now. For breakfast, I don’t care.

Set a timer for 15-20 minutes (you do want to keep an eye on them; experience is the best teacher, and they will burn).  You do want to flip them midway through cooking (and, you can always add more seasonings at that point; if you must, then I advocate more cheese, because cheese, that’s why) and then put them back in for another 10-15 minutes, until they’re browned and crisp and fully cooked.  It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.  If you cut them by hand then inevitably you’ll find that some are thicker and less crunchy than others, so a mandoline would eliminate inconsistencies.  Or you could experience the wide range of roasted kohlrabi, from the thicker slices whose innate, mild sweetness has been deepened by the roasting process, to the crispy, crunchy, super-thin ones that are like little umami-bombs.

How could you say no to a plate filled with this?

How could you say no to a plate filled with this?

We served this with butternut squash pasta, bread with tapenade, roasted cauliflower (recipe coming soon), and a green salad.  It was a perfect vegetarian dinner and a great way to greet the colder weather.  Let me know how you like this recipe!  It made George a kohlrabi convert, and I had all but given up hope that that was possible.  :)

Enjoy!