Nosh: Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese.

You read that right.

Whipped goat cheese.

WHIPPED GOAT CHEESE.

whipped goat cheese

Yes.

How, you wonder, does one go about preparing such a culinary delight?  Such a feast for the senses?  Such a groovy thing to do with cauliflower?

Easy!  It takes a little time, but that doesn’t change the “easy” factor.  Here’s what you need for the cauliflower.  I’ll talk about what to do with the goat cheese later, mostly because I’m evil and want to heighten your anticipation.  Can’t bring it home too early, see.  Anyway.  Cauliflower.

  • 2 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Juice from 1 lemon and juiced lemon remains
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar/honey/agave nectar
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 1 head of cauliflower, leaves removed
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

Cooking this cauliflower requires two steps; braising makes the cauliflower tender and infuses it with a variety of flavors, while roasting coaxes out the savory nuttiness and gives it a crusty texture.  Plus, it looks and sounds elegant as hell.  (Is that a legitimate term?  Who cares.  You all dig, I’m sure.)  I’m a hearty advocate of making things that sound impressive to boost my cooking cred.

Oh, yeah.  P.S., it tastes great.

Trim the cauliflower so it’s cleared of leaves and its stem is pared down so that the cauliflower can sit flat on a serving plate.  Assemble all the ingredients you need for the braise.

Pretty uncomplicated ingredients, I'd say.

Pretty uncomplicated ingredients, I’d say.

When choosing the braising wine, make it as dry as you can stand.  You don’t necessarily want the cauliflower to become oaky or sweet, you just want it to become fragrant and delicious.  So go dry, and make it a decent bottle.

Put the wine, salt, butter, oil, lemon (juiced, and then toss in the halves as well because why not?), sugar, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a large pot and get them cooking over a high heat.  I did add some red pepper flakes when I made my cauliflower but frankly, I didn’t think they brought much at all to the party, so meh, only add them if you’re really committed to their presence.  When everything’s going along at a pretty steady boil, add the cauliflower.  CAREFULLY, so you don’t cause a big splash and burn yourself with water and boiling oil.

Hooray for the incredibly practical mesh spider!

Hooray for the incredibly practical mesh spider!

If you think you still need a little extra cooking liquid in the pot, feel free to add some water or broth.  Lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook for 15-20 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is soft enough to sink a knife in but still offers some resistance.  You don’t want it to be mush, you just want it to be soft-ish.  When it’s ready, take it out and let it drain.

The nice thing about this dish is, you can park the cauliflower here for a while if you need to take care of other business in the kitchen; once the braise is done you’ll only have to worry about getting it in the oven when you’re in serious dinner-prep mode.

When you are ready for Phase Two: Roasting, make sure your oven is pre-heated to the not-messing-around temperature of 475° and that your oven rack is positioned roughly in the middle of the oven.  Put the cauliflower in a baking dish, give it a light drizzle of olive oil and toss on some salt and pepper.  Then?  In it goes, for 30-40 minutes.  Turn it once halfway through.  You’ll want to pull it out of the oven when it’s nice and browned and toasty on the outside.  It should look something like this:

Roasted cauliflower perfection.

Roasted cauliflower perfection.

While it’s roasting you can whip your goat cheese.

Because seriously, words fail.  Just saying it is sexy: Whipped goat cheese.  Yes!  It’s that good.  You need:

  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 ounces feta
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened Greek yogurt (or more, in the interests of a smooth and creamy texture)
  • drizzle of honey
  • Fresh-cracked pepper to taste

Measure out your ingredients.

That extra 1/8 oz is a nibble for the cook. :)

That extra 1/8 oz is a bonus nibble for the cook. 🙂


And then…ready for this?  Put all the ingredients in a food processor.  Process.

That’s it.

I mean, taste it and see what you need to add.  I don’t say you should add salt because feta and goat cheese are plenty salty on their own, but if you feel like the salt–or the pepper, or the honey–are lacking, then adjust accordingly.  If you think it needs to smooth out a little more you can add some more yogurt, or some milk or water, but only do so in small increments so as to not make it too soupy.  You want it to stick to the cauliflower, not run off.  As further evidence that this may seem complicated but isn’t really, your goat cheese can be whipped ahead of time.  I made mine the night before and it was perfect, I just had to let it warm up to room temperature and give it a couple of stirs to loosen it up.

Your guests, your family, your dining companions will be dazzled sho’ ’nuff when they walk in your kitchen and see this waiting for them.

I repeat: Elegant as hell.

I repeat: Elegant as hell.

It’s soft enough to cut with a serving spoon, so don’t be afraid to dive into the cauliflower, dress it with a happy dollop or seven of goat cheese and feast yourself silly.  A dish this gorgeous makes every dinner better.  Set aside a little time.  It’s worth it, if for no other reason that it’s ultimately really simple and if you do what the dish requires (braise, roast, food process), you’ll look like a kitchen rock star.

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Roasted Red Pepper-Walnut Dip (Muhammara)

During one of my semi-annual trips to visit my old Russian professor in the Boston area, George and I got to experience the red pepper dip known as muhammara for the first time.

Oh. Em. Geeeeee.

Amazing.  It was deeply flavored and fruity and sweet and spicy and roasty and redolent of garlic and rich, toasted walnuts.  All that in one dish?  Yeah!  I knew after trying it that my mission (which I chose to accept) was to learn how to make it myself, since my local supermarket sure isn’t carrying pre-packaged muhammara.  Happily, they carry all components.  After years of tasting and experimentation (a rough job, I know), I can finally say neener neener, made it myself, and celebrate one more weirdo recipe in the repertoire.

Here’s what I used:

  • 2 fresh roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded, plus the liquor they exude after roasting
  • 2/3 cup (ish) plain bread crumbs (or maybe not as much, or maybe more; it depends on what you need to achieve the right texture)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 or 3 or 4 garlic cloves, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (check the ubiquitously dubbed “international” section of your grocery store)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or none, or more, purely to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste (if you use pre-roasted peppers, be sure to go easy on the salt since they will be saltier than if you roast them yourself)
  • olive oil for garnish

The first thing to do is roast the peppers.  (If you are pressed for time you surely may use jarred or frozen roasted peppers.  Just drain or defrost them and make sure they’re peeled and seeded.)  There are two different camps surrounding roasted peppers; you can char them at high heat just so the skins blister off, but the flesh of the peppers really won’t cook.  Or, you could roast them at a lower heat so the peppers cook thoroughly.  It depends on what you want to achieve.  I chose to roast the peppers at a lower, slower heat (400°, 20 minutes, turn once, back in the oven for 20 more minutes) since I wanted them to be softer and more amenable to become a dip, and not as dependent on a fatty olive oil added at the end to provide a soft texture.  Plus, I love the liquid they exude.

Mmmm, peppery goodness.

Mmmm, silky pepper goodness.

See that golden liquor oozing out among the roasted peppers?  That’s pure concentrated pepper sweetness, and it would be a crime to not include that in your dish; it is TOO GOOD.  Once the peppers are roasted and cooled  (in a heat-proof bowl that’s covered with plastic wrap, so the skins will steam apart from the flesh, making your job that much easier), peel them, pull out the stems and seeds, put the roasted pepper flesh into a food processor and strain that pepper liquor into your food processor as well.  You won’t regret it.  If you use jarred or frozen peppers, you won’t have this, and you’ll need to resist the temptation to use the liquid from the jar.  It’s probably going to be too salty and/or vinegary to be of much use; you can throw in a splash of cranberry juice or broth or water if you want to get a little extra liquid rolling around in your dip.

While the peppers are roasting, measure out your walnuts, put them in a dry pan (meaning, one with no oil in it) and let it start warming over a medium heat.  Don’t wander too far away since it won’t take long for the walnuts to start to brown and once they’re brown they’re ready to burn.  Don’t let that happen.  Also, you need at least 1/3 cup, but make 1/2.  You may need more than the third, depending on how soft (or not) the dip is when you first blend it, and walnuts will help add structure.  Besides, the temptation to snack on fresh-roasted walnuts is great, and you wouldn’t want to short the muhammara.  I speak from experience here.

And so.  Put all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor; remember to start with 1/3 cup each of bread crumbs and walnuts, and then taste test your muhammara so you may appropriately tinker.

Give it a whirl!

Give it a whirl!

Blend, scrape down the food processor bowl, taste.  Repeat.  Bread crumbs and walnuts will provide structure so if your dip is too runny, add in a little bit more of one or the other (or both!) at a time.  You’ll want it to be firm yet scoopable, like a really thick hummus.  Scoop it into a bowl, drizzle it with a little olive oil for a garnish and serve with bread or crackers or pita wedges.

Hell yeah.

Hell yeah.

Trust me, once you try this you’ll want it again.  And again.  And again.  Bonus: it’s easy!  Enjoy.  xoxo

Nosh: Broiled Beets with Horseradish Cheese

Beeeeeeeeeeeeets.

Spring is here, and that means my CSA is about to go beet-crazy.  Huzzah!  In anticipation of needing to have beet-ready recipes, I decided to take one for the team and do some early tinkering with nuggets of beety goodness.  This recipe was inspired by the good people at Putney Farm, though I wanted something less brightly citrus and more heartily savory-umami.  Besides, I have horseradish cheese in my fridge that I don’t want to go to waste.  Of course I thought to pair horseradish, even in cheese form,w ith beets.

p.s. I wasn’t really taking one for the team; I just said that because I wanted you to think I was doing you a tremendous favor.  Fact is, I liked it.  A lot.

So.  Here is what I used:

  • Beets (I used three medium-sized beets)
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil to drizzle on said beets for roasting
  • 2-3 slices of horseradish cheese from the deli counter at your local supermarket
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chives (or other herb you have on hand) for garnish

Annnnnd…that’s it.  Entirely.

Really.  This is easy.  It just takes a little time.

So.  Wash off your beets.

Beets!

Beets!

I’ve seen varying opinions of what to do with beets when you roast them (and yes, sure, I know boiling is an option…I guessbut honestly, people, why? It doesn’t take any less time and roasting is so much more yummy.  But to each their own.) and I kind of can’t believe there’s so much debate.  Cut off the greens.  Cut off the roots.  Some people peel them and trim them entirely beforehand, but whatever.  Yes, beet juice will run into the roasting pan if you peel or cut them open while they’re raw.  And?

Anyway.  Drizzle some oil on them, then toss with thyme, salt and pepper.

My fancified technique is: drizzle and toss in yummy things.

My fancified technique is: drizzle and toss in yummy things.

And then cover your beets.  Either use a pan with a lid or cover your pan with foil (that’s what I did).  Put them in a preheated 400° oven and leave them alone for at least 40 minutes, maybe an hour depending on size and such.  Mine cooked for about fifty minutes.  In that meantime you could…read a book, maybe, or prepare the rest of your food.  Take a nap.  Whatever.  The point is, you can’t rush beets.  Nor should you want to.  Because they are nutritional powerhouses, and good things take time.  Patience, people.

You’ve reached the end of your beet roasting when a knife sinks into them like butter.  Check the beets after forty minutes and if the knife meets resistance when you try to pierce them, put the foil back on and put said beets back in the oven.  Give them another ten or fifteen minutes or so after that depending on how almost-done they felt.  Once they have fully cooked, take them out of the oven to let them cool for a few minutes.

While they cool, get a baking sheet and lightly coat it with oil (rub it on or spray it, whatever works), turn on your broiler and boost the heat.  My broiler tops out at 500° so that’s how high I hiked up the temperature.  When you peel your beets you can choose to wear rubber gloves OR, of course, you can choose to not, which will dye your fingers red.  That’s no big deal.  A day later, my hands have returned to their normal flesh tone and I am none the worse for the experience.  So.  Peel, and cut into nice flat slices of beet about half an inch thick.

So close! Just a little bit longer.

Just a little bit longer before nommy time.

Next, take a few slices of that beautiful, tangy, slightly spicy horseradish cheese and just break them up to fit on top of your sliced beets.

Cheesy goodness!

Cheesy goodness!

And put those tasty veggies right in the broiler.  Do not wander too far afield.  Your oven is super-hot and it won’t take very long for the cheese to melt and bubble on top of your beets, and it won’t be too much longer until it blackens and burns and then all this?  For naught.  Ever vigilant!  Stay in your kitchen, guard your beets.  Chop your teaspoon of chives and keep them at the ready.  When the cheese is browned and melted and gooey, take the beets out of the oven and hit them with the chives and another shot of fresh-ground pepper.  Within a very few minutes you’ll have a dish that looks like this:

Sup sup sup sup suppertime!

Sup sup sup sup suppertime!

When we started to eat these, George started chuckling.  “I feel like I’m eating a steak,” he said, as he cut into a beet that was dense and pungent and almost chewy.  He wasn’t off base–those beets had some heft!

Serve this with some garlic and herb mashed potatoes and a nice fresh salad, because it’s all so good for you I can’t even stand it.  Some people get ready for bikini season.  I get ready for beet season.  And you know?  I’m just fine with that.

Nosh: Parmesan-Roasted Acorn Squash

Ready for one of the easy-peasiest recipes ever?  Because this is it.  I’m here to help.

I’ve already confessed my love for gourds of all kinds in a previous blog, and acorn squash is no exception.  My biggest problem with acorn squash is that most recipes insist on adding even more sugar…brown sugar, maple syrup, whatever…to an already deliciously sweet vegetable that is bred for even more sweetness.  I realize as a culture we love to mainline sugar, but this?  Makes squash a little boring.  One-note.  There’s no complexity to the flavor it delivers.

So how do we season it?

Some other way!

When do we do it?

Now!

OK, for real…this is probably the closest I’ve ever come to being a cheerleader.  And I digress.

We’re going to roast our acorn squash, fer sher.  Only we’re going to do so with a little savory thyme, a little Parmesan cheese.  It will still be sweet and delicious, but also a little nutty and herbal-cheesy-toasty fragrant.  Is there anything that could possibly be wrong with that?

No.  I didn’t think so.

Here’s what you need for two squash-loving hungry people, or four normal people who can share what’s in a bowl.

  • 1 acorn squash, unpeeled and thoroughly washed (the skins are edible!)
  • 1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • enough olive oil to coat the squash
  • salt & pepper to taste

Seems simple so far, right?  Right.

Preheat your oven to 425°.  Cut your squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and then cut those halves into half-to-3/4-inch half-moons.

So far, not so bad, right?

So far, not so bad, right?

Put the squash in a large mixing bowl.  Coat it with olive oil and add in the salt and pepper and thyme.  Give it all a really good toss around until it’s all nicely coated.

Still seems pretty doable, yes?

Still seems pretty doable, yes?

Then lay the slices of squash out in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Food needs room to cook, so don’t let the squash overlap or crowd too closely together.  Sprinkle the tops of the slices with half the Parmesan.  What’s nice about this is, you really don’t need a lot of cheese and you still get a lot of flavor.

Get 'em cooking!

Get ’em cooking!

Put the squash in the heated oven.  Go do something else for twenty minutes.  I don’t know; read a blog, go pet the cat.  Make a salad.  It’s up to you.  At the end of twenty minutes, flip the squash and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on it.

No tricks up my sleeve.  Just dinner.  And not literally.

No tricks up my sleeve. Just dinner. And not literally.

After another 15, maybe 20 minutes in the oven, they’re ready to eat.  These are–literally–a dish I have to walk away from before I stuff myself silly with every bit of squash I can wrap my greedy little mitts around.

Try and stop yourself from hoovering.  I dare you.

Try and stop yourself from hoovering. I dare you.

The squash gets nice and soft and a little creamy, almost.  The skin and heavily browned parts get a little crispy.  And it is all?  A crazy-good way to expand your vegetable repertoire and shake up the side dishes, which aren’t always the most interesting part of a meal.  Who needs canned peas when you can have this?  And all you do it cut some stuff and stick it in the oven!  Super-easy-peasy.  We served this last week with Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe Sauce and Fiery Onion Relish and I’ve already made this squash again.  It’s that good.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Roasted Turnips and Pasta

I came home from a visit with my family with a giant bag full of turnips.

Turnips.

There are few things that are less sexy than a turnip.  The word is unsexy.   The raw root in its un-manhandled state is unsexy.  And most people, when they think of how they’ve eaten turnips, think of them mashed.

Image from food.com

Image from food.com

which looks like baby food.  By definition…unsexy.  Delicious, maybe.  But unsexy.

Not that I always need my food to bring the sexy at all times but it’s nice to think of other things to do with it an ingredient that…well…doesn’t remind you of baby food.  And turnips are good!  They’re bright and peppery, but their flesh can be a little watery and thus marginally difficult (marginally; let’s not make this seem more bleak than it really is) to manage in the cooking process.  This is where roasting comes in.

I have come to the conclusion that roasting makes everything better.  Kale?  Sure!  Tomatoes?  Roast ’em slow for a few hours and then just try to contain yourself.  Parsnips?  Brussels sprouts?  Yes and yes!  I just roasted grapes and shallots to stuff into some crêpes.  I even roast lemons when I make lemon risotto, because it deepens and mellows the lemon flavor so you don’t bite into a tart lemonade-flavored pile of hot rice.  Because roasting is a (relatively) dry heat it can help eliminate the water in the turnip and temper its peppery bite, especially if it’s a larger, older turnip.

Anyway.  I had these turnips and…what else?  Since I saw this as a great opportunity to clear out some stuff in my fridge it became a little bit of a kitchen sink dinner (as in, “everything but the…”).  I wrote out a rough draft of the recipe, but it’s written to accommodate how I think (and I always plan for leftovers) so it’s probably best if you read along in the blog first.

Heat your oven to 350°.  Prepare your garlic first.  Why?  Because you can start it roasting while you prep the veggies and said garlic will be ready earlier.  This means you can let the garlic get cool enough to handle, squeeze out the cloves while everything else finishes in the oven, and mix them in with the ricotta cheese without missing a beat.  Cut an entire bulb straight across the top, exposing the cross-sectioned cloves.  Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.

IMG_0036-001

Mmm…roasted garlic…

There are two things to bear in mind regarding roasted garlic.  One: if it’s too much for you, or you don’t like or can’t eat garlic, don’t worry.  Skip this step entirely and mix something like pesto or maybe roasted red peppers in with the cheese.  Be creative.  It’s your dinner.  And two: if you don’t have a fancy clay garlic roaster, don’t sweat it.  Neither do I.  Or rather, I think I do but I have no idea where it is.  Notice that the garlic is on a big piece of aluminum foil?  That’s there for a reason.  Fold the foil up around your garlic, crimp the edges together and voila!  Instant garlic roaster.

Peel your turnips and onions, and cut them and the zucchini into roasting-friendly chunks.  Put them all in pans and toss them with salt-pepper-oil, and let them roast for a half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, checking on them and giving them a stir after the first twenty.  Do you want to sprinkle the veggies with thyme?  All right.  Or, do you want to toss them with some balsamic vinegar?  Go for it!  I just wanted the pure vegetable/garlic combo the day I made this but you know, try what you think will make you happy.  It’s all good.  I do admit, I had way more turnips to start with than this recipe needs, but in the interests of making my life easier I roasted all of them at once.  Whatever’s left over the next day can be topped with breadcrumbs and reheated as a side dish…or stuffed into peppers…or loaded into a quesadilla…the possibilities are endless.

Loads of veggies ready to roast!

Loads of veggies ready to roast!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend to cook in “one”s.  One onion, one zucchini, one bulging bag of turnips, and if I cut too much or cook too much, I incorporate what’s left into something else.  Who wants to measure things?  Not this girl.  Anyway.

I had about a half a cup of ricotta cheese left in my fridge and it was at the “use it or lose it” point…you know when you buy something to make one, specific thing, and then you’ve got that pathetic, almost-but-not-quite useless amount lurking on your shelves until you finally, months later, give up and throw it away?  Yeah.  It makes me crazy; I hate to waste food.  So why not use it here?  I also had a reasonable chunk of Swiss cheese that was approaching “use it or lose it” so I ask again: why not?  You could also use that lonesome piece of mozzarella you have left over from pizza night, or that chunk of muenster your kids won’t eat because they think it’s “monster cheese”.  Creative use of straggler food is what makes for a great kitchen sink dinner; you are virtuously not wasting either food or the money you spent to buy it while in the process making a healthy meal for you and your loved ones, and who doesn’t feel good about that?

Ricotta, garlic, Swiss, and some hot pasta water.  Dinner is mere moments away.

Ricotta, garlic, Swiss, and some hot pasta water. Dinner is mere moments away.

If your veggies are approaching doneness then your pasta should be boiling by now.  Mash howevermuch garlic you want into the ricotta (or, see above for non-garlic suggestions), reserve one cup of your pasta water, drain your pasta and then prepare for major assemblage.

Put a few handfuls of cleaned spinach into a bowl.  Shake some red pepper flakes on it and toss it with some of the hot, starchy pasta water so it begins to wilt.

Step one: Complete!

Step one: Complete!

Then: add the ricotta and garlic mixture and the rest of the water, and give that a good stir.  Pour the steaming pasta on top of that, and then top with your veggies.  If you think you roasted more turnips or zucchini or onions than you want in the pasta, that’s fine, only add as much as you think is right.  Mix in the Swiss cheese and, if you want, more fresh-ground pepper or some fresh herbs like parsley or chives.  Stir to combine, and let the Swiss cheese get all ooey-gooey-melty.  Have some Parmesan on the side for grating and serve with a green salad, and you’ve got one heck of a lovely turnip dinner.

Yes.

Yes.

For the record, my sister–who only ever associates turnips with mashing and of which she is not a fan–stopped by the night we made this.  I asked her if she wanted to try a little; she stayed for a whole plate.  It has the power to convert.  Don’t be afraid.  Just take the leap.

Nosh: Sweet Potato, Red Onion and Fontina Tart

I was going to start this blog with the sentence, “I love a meal that is complete with perhaps the addition of a salad.”  But who am I kidding?  That’s maybe the fussiest thing I’ve ever said about food.  Ever.  I love a meal and it can be any kind, though I do seem to have a particular adoration for tarts.  What’s not to love?  The word is derived from a word that means cake, and yet they look sort of like pie, and you can pretty much put anything you want in them.  You want sweet?  OK.  Savory?  Fine!  Summery?  Done.  Hearty?  You got it!  And if there is one thing I unequivocally love without guilt or repentance, it’s a dish that is inherently mixy-matchy.

Today I bring you something hearty.  Sure, this is probably more seasonally appropriate in the winter and right now everyone’s looking to asparagus and okra, but you know what?  The fresh herb crust kicks ass, and delicious is delicious at any time of year.  With that in mind, I now present the sweet potato, red onion and fontina tart.  Complete with occasionally manoodled pictures.  🙂  Because I can’t help myself, that’s why.

First, make your crust, the preparatory phases for which (for some godforsaken reason) I don’t have any pictures.  Go figure.  Get it mixed and shaped into a disc and in the fridge, so it can chill while you prep your sweet potatoes.  For said potatoes: nothing fancy, folks.  Just peel them, slice them about a quarter-inch thick and toss them with oil, salt and pepper.  Be careful not to slice them too thick because they won’t cook properly and frankly, there is little that causes me more disappointment than an undercooked sweet potato.  It holds so much promise of deliciousness, but never delivers.  Don’t give me a sad.  Cook your potatoes.

Oil/salt/pepper, ready to roast.

And so, put them in a 425° oven for ten minutes, then take them out and set them aside (and drop the oven temp to 375°).  They can cool, that’s fine.  You need to get your dough and cheese ready.

Mmmmm, cheese.  Earthy, melty, nutty fontina cheese.  Did I digress?  Yes?  Too bad.

Lay out a piece of parchment and roll out your dough.  I do recommend putting it on parchment and not just rolling it onto a floured tabletop, because then it becomes just so easy to pick up the whole thing and slide it onto your baking tray.  So.  Roll it out, roughly into a 15″ circle.

So it looks more square than round. So what?

Consider this to be a piece of evidence, as though you were in court.  When looking at exhibit A, bear this is mind.  It is indeed kind of squareish, not round, and can hardly be called “beautiful”.  This is OK, because you’ll fold it all over and nobody will ever care.  Exhibit A is also way more flecked than you might imagine considering the amount of herbs the recipe calls for.  That is because I probably used twice as much fresh herbery.  Further, it specifically says to use rosemary and/or thyme, both of which are delicious for sure, but I’ve also used parsley and oregano.  Do you have an herb garden?  What’s growing there?  Use that.  (Though I would probably stay away from both basil and cilantro, simply because they’re so delicate I don’t know that their flavor would withstand the cooking time.  And mint in this would just be weird…but maybe…I might think about mint with this and a little ricotta and spinach and lemon.  See?  Tarts.  They make me get all tangent-like.)  Exhibit A demonstrates to the jury that tarts can be easier than one might think.

Next, CHEESE!  Share the goodness that is fontina!

The thing is, you don’t get too crazy with said cheese. You put on just enough to create a tasty, somewhat gooey, super-nommy bed.

And then start in with your veggies.  Leave some room so you can fold over the edges when you’re done (but they won’t fold all the way into the middle, so don’t plan for that) and lay down your first ring of sweet potatoes.

See? Leave a good inch, inch and a half of dough around the edges.

Next, put down your layer of red onions, which are cut to roughly the same thickness as the sweet potatoes.  You won’t traumatize me nearly as much if you cut these thicker than the potatoes and they don’t cook as thoroughly, but 1) things cook together better when they’re roughly the same size and 2) why wouldn’t you want the onions to get as caramelized and sweet as possible?  You’re not thinking straight.  Do you feel quite well?

Layer of onions, with a distorted focus. Because it is that dreamy.

Then put on your next layer of taters, and keep going until you get to the middle.  You can have fun with it, build it into a rosette.  Because it just looks frigging nice, mmmmkay?  Though I may have gone a little over the top making this picture look like an old-timey photo, but you know what?

It makes me happy. I don’t apologize.

Top it with the rest of the cheese and some fresh chives, and then carefully-but-don’t-sweat-it, fold over the edges of the crust.  Like I said, you won’t come anywhere near the middle.  Don’t worry.  Just anticipate.

This is sooooo ready for baking.

Bake it for fifty minutes and let it cool for ten.  At the end of it, you’ve got a fantastic, hearty, healthy vegetarian entree.  Which really is perfect with a salad, and I don’t care if that sounds fussy or not.

And now we see not what we’ve already had, but what can still be ours. Mmmmm.

Musings about food and maybe a little nosh

When I was a kid, I was the pickiest eater in the world.  The.  World.  If it was a vegetable (with the notable exceptions of corn, carrots, and…mashed potatoes are a vegetable, right?), I didn’t want to know about it.  Turnips?  What?  No.  Brussels sprouts?  Are you KIDDING me?  Cabbage?  Stinky.  Tomatoes?  Good in sauce, ketchup and soup, but on their own?  *hurl*  My pickiness was not limited to vegetables, either.  If it came out of a can (which constituted much of my mother’s cooking—who had the time or money to feed five kids fresh veggies on a blue-collar budget?), I was instinctively skeptical.  Unless, of course, it was the aforementioned corn or carrots, or Campbell’s tomato soup, which I still jones for to this day.  What’s up with the meat in soup?  Why is it often suspect, occasionally spongy?  I always thought Spaghetti-Os had (maybe still have; I don’t know, it’s been years since I ate them) a weird, cloying sweetness and almost gummy quality to the sauce that I couldn’t get around.  For years, my only concept of Chinese food was La Choy, which makes Chinese food that may swing American but tastes like…wait…you know, I don’t even remember the taste (thankfully, I must have blocked it), but the smell always reminded me of the high school gym after a class was over…you know, the smell of unwashed socks and unanswered promises.  Canned spinach?  I’m still not entirely convinced that “canned spinach” isn’t something that’s strained out of the Arthur Kill and spends its time masquerading as a foodstuff…waiting…watching.  Once, my mother got me to try asparagus.  Fresh asparagus, that there was some sort of special on at the grocery store.  All she did was boil it for a few minutes, season it with a little salt and pepper, and bring it to the table.  It was delicious; it was crisp and tasted of green and springtime and unslimy wholesomeness. I was a nine-year-old asparagus convert.  The next time she served asparagus I piled it on my plate and took a big bite, expecting it to deliver that same effect.  Instead, I got a pile of tinny sludge in my mouth; she’d made canned asparagus and didn’t tell me.  It was a bait and switch.  I cried.

Later, I realized, it’s not that I was picky because I didn’t want to eat *food*, it’s that I was picky because I didn’t want to eat *crappy* food.  This generally holds true despite the fact that I still have a soft spot in my heart for those weird, frozen, pre-formed oval-shaped “veal” patties.  Does anyone remember those?  I’m sure I wouldn’t have to wherewithal to actually ingest one today, but for some reason I remember them fondly, even though I know they’re basically the veal version of pressed, frozen, oval-shaped, breaded hot dogs.

I didn’t enter into my love affair with food easily.  There are all these fables about people who love food, and how they’ve always been in front of a stove, and Bobby Flay made his mother pudding when he was four and he was hooked forever.  That?  Was not me.  Certainly, my mother—who is a very good cook in her own right (tendencies towards cans and vegetal baits-and-switches notwithstanding), but super-straightforward and non-adventurous in her cuisine—taught me the basics of spaghetti sauce-making and pot roast-roasting as part of my after-school duties.  But once I grew up?  Meh, I wanted nothing to do with it.  I harbored some erroneous idea that cooking carried an inherent gender bias and represented servility for a woman (though not for a man, why is that?), and my (now ex-) husband was a good cook.  Why bother?  His social status wouldn’t be harmed by his cooking endeavors, and I didn’t mind doing the cleaning-up.  It worked just fine.  Until, of course, my husband and I started working different shifts.  I went from having dinner cooked for me pretty regularly to being on my own, since the ex- didn’t like to cook a full meal if I weren’t right there to enjoy it at that exact moment (hello, people…leftovers?).  So, when faced with the choice of heating up a seemingly endless parade of Campbell’s Tomato Soup which, despite my enduring affection, becomes tiresome after a few days, OR fending for myself in the kitchen, I began to fend.  Eventually.

Anyway, to try and keep a long story from continuing on that much longer…I love food.  I want to talk about it, I want to write about it, I want to eat it.  Food has so much more power than just serving as the fuel that propels our bodies; it has emotional impact, cultural impact, and can bring out the best or the worst in a person.  (And if you don’t believe me, watch how people behave when they go out to dinner and how they treat their waiter, particularly if their meal gets messed up.)  I am in love with the process of preparing food.  I love to cook it, I love to have my hands in it.  I love to pull a butternut squash apart and turn something practically rock-hard and virtually inedible into crispy-puffy-savory squares, or a silky sauce.  I love to pickle things, I love to caramelize things (and I will knock you down for caramelized shallots, Mom), I love to imbue foods with rich and smoky flavors that speak to the depths of your soul.  I love the power of food to bring people together in a family ritual, or bridge a social gap through the process of breaking bread that had not been bridged before.  It’s a kind of magic, it’s the chemistry of magic, and it keeps me centered and happy like no other thing.  When I broke my leg, the one thing I said, consistently, when I was asked what I couldn’t wait to do again, was cook (as it is exceedingly difficult to prepare a full meal when you are forbidden to put any weight at all on one leg, though I did occasionally prop myself up on a cushion and chairs and demand to sauté something…and I digress).

Once I was in the kitchen and embraced it as an adult aspect of life, I realized what cooking was really about.  It wasn’t just about being the ‘girl’ in the relationship and accepting a gender-code according to your household duties.  Cooking is about…maturity.  Freedom.  The ability to take care of yourself at the most basic level, while defining your own sensibilities.  This is why I missed it so much when I was in a cast; I wanted to be able to care for myself even a little.  It’s a faux feminist ideal that gives women the idea that they don’t have to know how to cook as a point of rebellion; all it does is weaken your capacity for self-sufficiency.  There’s no practicality in crippling yourself to prove a poorly-conceived point; it’s like cutting off your own feet because you don’t like wearing high heels.  Learn how to cook so you can feed yourself, learn how to sew so you can put buttons back on your shirt, and learn how to change a tire so you can drive out of a bad spot.  Enjoy your capability.  It’s your life—do you REALLY want to live it according to the quirks of fate and the whims of others?

And so, with my mature sense of foodie-ism, I present one of my favorite recipes.  No, I didn’t write it, but I was happy to take it from the pages of Bon Appetit.  Presenting: Pomodori al Forno.  In Technicolor!  Seriously…om nom nom.  (As an aside, there’s something really right about my first food post involving tomatoes.  Those who want to get the joke will probably get the joke.  Moving on.)

Pomodori al Forno

Ingredients

1 cups (or more) olive oil, divided

2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley

Aged goat cheese (such as Bûcheron)

1 baguette, thinly sliced crosswise, toasted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 250°F. Pour 1/2 cup oil into 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange tomatoes in dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle with oregano, sugar, and salt.  (OK, sooooo…I used nowhere near as much oil, thyme instead of oregano, and I roasted the garlic in with it, which I’ve done every time I’ve made this dish, to the tune of zero complaints.  And I forgot to seed the tomatoes, but whatever, it’s all good.)

Nom, phase one

Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over.

Nom, phase two

Bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over again. Bake until deep red and very tender, transferring tomatoes to plate when soft (time will vary, depending on ripeness of tomatoes), about 15 to 45 minutes longer.

Nom nom, nearing the conclusion...

Layer tomatoes in medium bowl, sprinkling garlic and parsley over each layer; reserve oil in baking dish. Drizzle tomatoes with reserved oil, adding more if necessary to cover. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours. DO AHEAD Cover; chill up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tune in tomorrow to see it finished in all of its parsleyriffic glory.

Serve with aged goat cheese and toasted baguette slices (and dive in ecstatically).

And here is the finished, parsleytized, nommy product:

…in the dish…

Oh, to be a decorative retro Pyrex dish and have such a filling as this...

…and on my plate.

Though for some reason, my camera kept wanting to focus in the Peruvian purple potatoes behind it, so sorry if it’s a little blurry.  But yes, crepes to the left, purple potatoes to the right.  Tomatoes and goat cheese and toasted bread, front and center.  All in all…a meal that didn’t disappoint.

Joy!

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