Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fettuccine with Roasted Eggplant, Peppers and Basil


I am on a Deborah Madison kick. And for good reason. Next weekend, as part of the let's-make-my-birthday-last-a-full-month edict that I issued in the household, we're headed to Greens (the restaurant once under Madison's tutelage). 

I have loved this cookbook well and for quite some time (almost 17 years), but these days I don't seem to cook from it often enough (in fact, I have only posted recipes here and here). Certainly, I have turned to other delightful books by Madison, but it does feel nice to land back home here with one of my favorites.



Much has changed in these past two decades since I acquired this book (I am no longer a vegetarian, I am not afraid to cook a recipe with a long list of ingredients or steps (although this one has neither), I know what a garlic clove looks like), but coming back to this book, with its dog-eared pages and its curving and stained cover, is lovely on this first day of fall. 

So, here I am 40, turning the pages in a book that was gifted to me so handsomely by a dear friend who now lives in Vermont and who wanted me to keep cooking, even as I made many a mistake in that little Utah house we shared so long ago. Nowadays, the CSA box has been regaling us with the end-of-season grapes, eggplant, and peppers, and they have threatened that this past week may be the last of such delights for another year's time. We are preparing our palates to tuck into some chard, kale, and daikon radishes soon, I suppose, but we keep our fingers crossed for another box with a last tomato or cucumber. True, autumn has its music too, or so Keats tells us, but I just want one more over-brimming box of summer fruits and veggies.



Some notes: I cut the olive oil from 6 tablespoons to 4 in the marinade, and it was plenty; in fact, I would argue that you could cut it to 3 tablespoons, but the husband insists that 4 is the perfect amount. Further, I let the eggplants and peppers (both of which I roasted Saturday morning) rest in the marinade for about 18 hours (in other words all Saturday night and most of Sunday day). Results: very flavorful and unctuous with the bite of garlic and the sweet of basil. Finally, the breadcrumbs may seem extraneous, but they may be my favorite part of this dish.  They add a gratifying crunch to a sweet, silky pasta that cannot be beaten. 

One Year Ago: Alton Brown's Blueberry Muffins


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Fettuccine with Roasted Eggplant, Peppers and Basil
Adapted from  The Greens Cookbook

Yield:
Serves 2-4

Ingredients:  
1 lb fettuccine (fresh or dry)
1-1 1/2 pounds Japanese eggplants
2 bell peppers, red or yellow 
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
20 Nicoise olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs
Balsamic vinegar to taste
Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prick the eggplants in several places and place them on a baking sheet with the bell peppers. Bake until both eggplants and peppers are wilted and soft, about 20 minutes.  Set aside the cool.

2.  When the eggplant and peppers are cool enough to handle, slit open the eggplants and peel away the skin.  Tear or cut the eggplant into pieces, and cut the peppers into strips 1/4-inch wide. Combine the eggplant and peppers with olive oil, garlic, olives, and half the basil.  Set aside.  (I did all of this the day before and set aside to marinate overnight.)

3.  Toss the breadcrumbs with enough oil to moisten them and then toast in the oven until crisp and golden.

4.  When you are ready to cook the pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water, cook the pasta until al dente (if it is fresh, this should take about 3-4 minutes; if is dried, this should take about 7-9 minutes). 

5.  Transfer the eggplant/pepper mixture to a skillet and warm gently over low heat.  When the pasta has finished cooking, drain and add to the heated vegetables. Add the rest of the basil, toss well with tongs, and season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

6.  Lift the pasta and sauce to individual plates; garnish each plate with the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.








Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad


This summer seems to be one of abundance. These giant, globular tomatoes are almost overwhelming our CSA box (grapes, eggplant, and green beens are straining against the cardboard seams this year as well). While we're smack in the middle of an extreme drought here in California, the tomatoes are plumping up into sheer perfection. The zucchinis seem to be almost atomic. And as it happens when I feel the abundance of vegetables, I turn to the tried and true Ottolenghi to guide me.

Indeed, Ottolenghi serves up many a carnivore's delight; however, I find that Ottolenghi prepares vegetables in usually interesting and always delicious ways.  This little number is a variation of the Palestinian salad, mafghoussa (which simply means "mashed").  And while it ain't much to look at, this sweet, creamy, savory, little salad that can be served as an opener, a side dish, or as a spread on some well-toasted bread.  Quick recommendation:  chop or mash the veggies even further if you want this to have more of a spreadable quality.  Keep the veggies a little more rough if you want a more salad-y quality.



Beyond food-related abundance, it also seems to be a time of baby-related abundance.  Five of my friends--count them--are due to have babies between now and December (and when I say "now," I mean now, as in she is due in two days). Seriously, I will get to do a lot of baby holding soon.

For one of the wonderful showers, I needed to bring a side dish, so I whipped this up.  I will also point out, I did not decide until that morning to make this recipe; thus, the husband fired up the grill while I went in search of date syrup. While I ended up with fig syrup (a fine substitute that you can make yourself should you be in the mood to remove seed from liquid), molasses and maple syrup may be other substitutes you have more handy.  After dashing home, I did some hasty chopping and took a quick shower while the veggies drained.  I whisked everything together, and we arrived only 15 minutes late.  Not a soul noticed, and we got to fête two dear friends who are about to become three dear friends.  Now, that's abundance indeed.





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Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad

Yield:
Serves 6

Ingredients:  
8 zucchini (about 2 1/4 lb)
5 large, very ripe tomatoes (1 3/4 lb)
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 red chiles, seeded and chopped
grated zest of 1 medium lemon and 2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp date syrup, fig syrup, maple syrup or molasses plus extra to finish
2 cups walnuts or pistachios, roughly chopped
2 tbsp chopped mint
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and black pepper

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a griddle pan over high heat. 

2. Trim the zucchini and cut them in half lengthwise. Halve the tomatoes as well. Brush the zucchini and tomatoes with the olive oil on the cut side and season with salt and pepper 

3. By now the griddle pan should be piping hot. Start with the zucchini; places on the pan, cut side down for 5 minutes. The zucchini should be nicely charred on one side. Remove the zucchini and repeat the same process with the tomatoes. Alternatively, the vegetables could be prepared on a grill.

4. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan and place in the oven for about 20 minutes until the zucchini are very tender.  Remove the tray from oven and allow the vegetables to cool down slightly. 

5. Chop the vegetables roughly and allow to drain in a colander for about 15 minutes.

6. Whisk the yogurt, garlic, chile, lemon zest and juice, and the syrup in a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped vegetables, nuts, mint and most of parsley and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and drizzle with some syrup and olive oil.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lahmacun



Last fall, the husband and I went with his parents to Kitchen on Fire for a Mediterranean Feast cooking class. In addition to me getting my literary weird on (I decided to sign in as Beatrice Rappacini given that we were reading that story in the 9th grade curriculum--don't ask, I have no idea why), we learned how to make lahmacun, Turkey's answer to the pizza question. Or perhaps, pizza is Italy's answer to the lahmacun question. Either way, I love this flatbread with lamb.

In fact, I have become a full convert to lamb in general.

I never thought I would write that (or that I love rabbit, liver, and fruitcake--just not all together, of course).



This past week, the bookclub met to discuss The Black Book, a weird, dreamy, lush book set in Istanbul that made me want to immediately book passage to Asia Minor. Turkish hüzün permeates the pages--the melancholy of living in a lost empire--yet the book is playfully postmodern and strange.  Given the gathering of highly intelligent and literate folks (and the fact that I had not yet read to the last page), I knew I needed to step up my game in the culinary department. I am not above using food to cover my other inadequacies.

This lahmacun is an amalgamation of two recipes--one from Kitchen on Fire and the other from a lovely website on Turkish cooking. I liked the addition of red and green peppers and mint that the Kitchen on Fire recipe did not have; however, as instructed by Kitchen on Fire, I didn't use yeast in the dough, which allowed for a much quicker dough-readiness time.



Do be careful to not overcook--I did overcook the second lahmacun (this recipe is ample enough to make two full lahmacuns with some topping leftover*), and it was a little tough to bite into, given that there was no yeast to lighten up the crust. However, the first lahmacun turned out beautifully. Pull from the oven just as you see the edges of the crust begin to brown.

*We sauteed the leftover topping the next day with some eggplant and ate with pita.  Yum.

Finally, a word on how to serve lahmacun. I opted for the more "pizza"-like approach of a large lahmacun rolled out and then cut into squares with yogurt and cucumber on top. Traditionally, you would make individual portions, about the size of a pita bread, put some yogurt, cucumber, and cabbage in the middle, and fold the lahmacun around it like a taco. Either way, though, you're going to love this way to get more lamb in your life. Also recommended: a Pamuk novel to bring you right into Istanbul if you cannot find a way to overlook the Bosphorus.


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Lahmacun

Yield:
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:  
For the base
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup water

For the topping
2 bunches parsley
1 handful mint
2 cloves garlic
1 large onion
2 tomatoes
1 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
2 green chiles
1 lb ground lamb
1Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
Olive oil as needed

For the yogurt sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cucumber
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch mint
salt and pepper to taste

Optional:
Red or green cabbage, shredded

Instructions:
For the base:
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Sift flour onto the worktop. Make a well int eh center, and sprinkle salt and sugar into the well. Pour in the olive oil, and knead with the flour, gradually adding the water, until smooth and shiny (about 10-15 minutes--this is the hardest part, I promise). Wrap in a damp cloth and chill for 30 minutes.

For the topping:
3. In a food processor, pulse the parsley through chiles until the consistency is somewhere between a paste and a sauce.

4.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the parsley-pepper mixture with the ground lamb, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, paprika, and cumin.  Add olive oil as needed to smooth the mixture.

For the yogurt sauce:
5. Combine the yogurt through mint in a separate small mixing bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Assembly:
6.  Dust worktop with flour.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and break off 8 equal-sized pieces.* Lightly dust each piece with flour.  Slightly flatten each piece with your hands and then roll out with a rolling pin.

7. Divide the ground lamb mixture equally between the circular bases and spread on each base almost to the edge.

8.  Bake on a pizza stone for about 10 minutes (or on the back of a baking sheet that has been coated with a little cooking spray).

9.  Serve the lahmacun with a little yogurt sauce and if desired some shredded green or red cabbage.  Roll the lahmacun around the yogurt sauce and cabbage like a pita or a taco.



*Note:  An alternative is to could make one large lahmacun and serve it more like a Western pizza.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Macaroon Tart


Two years ago, I finished my yoga teacher training with some amazing women. While, of course, my yoga practice shifted in immeasurable ways due to an intense four weeks of 8-hour days of yoga (and yoga lectures and practicum and note taking and reading), I was unprepared for the way my circle of friends would broaden.  I was unprepared for how much more I would laugh.

These women whom I have had the privilege to know are funny (as in wickedly funny), gracious, generous, and just plain ambitious.

To celebrate the fact that two years have passed since we met, we held a little reunion party in the hills up in Orinda. And there was no way I was showing up empty handed. These ladies can cook (or buy really great turkey meatballs at Whole Foods), so I knew I had to bring my A-game. Who better to guide me with a natural, organic dessert than Heidi Swanson--101 Cookbooks blogger, author of three healthy and natural foods cookbooks, and Bay Area resident?



While this dessert is heavy on the sugar (indeed, I think cutting a little might be okay (what is it with me and wanting to cut back on sugar these days?)), I could justify the sweetness because, it's true, I did go buy organic natural cane sugar.  (Yet, you could just use regular granulated sugar if that's what you have on hand).  Look! I was being healthy (or so I justified). What I loved the most, though, was the salt. From time to time a little salt would burst through--either from the filling or from the pistachios--and knocked up against the creaminess of the coconut, the freshness of the blackberries, and the sweetness of the (organic natural cane) sugar: it was just perfect. It seemed a general success with the crowd, too, for I returned home with one lone square in the corner of the pan (to share with the husband).

Indeed, the recipe is entitled Macaroon Tart, and it does taste like a giant macaroon, only better because it's in bar form (easier to tote from plate to mouth) and has fruit and nuts (all the better to justify its health benefits).


Further, don't be shy.  This crust and filling would work well with any fruit and nut combination that suits your fancy or is in season.  Cherries and almonds? Cranberries and walnuts? Peaches and pecans? Apricots and cashews?  You knock yourself out.

Finally, what a joy it was to sit around long into the evening, eating really wonderful food with these women.  As the Bay Area fog rolled in over the hills and the sun went down, we laughed a lot, talked yoga, put our entrepreneurial spirits together, laughed, took some pictures, and laughed.  It was a perfect early August night.




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Macaroon Tart

Yield:
24 bite-size servings 

Ingredients:  
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut
3/4 cup sifted and lightly packed natural cane sugar
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
10 tbsp (5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
2 cups unsweetened finely shredded coconut
1/2 cup sifted and lightly packed natural cane sugar
4 large egg whites
8 ounces  fresh blackberries, halved
1/3 cup pistachios, crushed

Instructions:
1.  
For the crust:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter an 8x 11-inch tart pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper.

2.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt. Stir in the melted butter and mix until dough is crumbly but no longer dusty looking. Firmly press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan (it should form a solid, flat layer). Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden. Remove and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

3.  For the filling: In the meantime, prepare the coconut macaroon filling by combining the coconut, sugar, and egg whites. Mix until well combined.

4.  Evenly distribute the blackberries across the tart base. Then using your hands, drop little dollops of the macaroon filling over the tops of them, and mush and press the coconut topping around into the spaces behind the berries. Be sure to let at least some of the colorful berries pop through for visual flair.

5.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the peaks of the macaroon filling are deeply golden brown. Let the tart cool, then garnish with the crusted pistachios before slicing into small squares.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sweet Corn Panna Cotta with Fresh Blueberries





This recipe for an amazing sweet corn panna cotta with a blueberry topping comes to you twice.  Let's talk about attempt number one.



The real name of this recipe from Food and Wine and Tracy Obolsky is Sweet Corn Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote; however, the recipe that followed in the magazine was not for a compote at all.  It seemed more like a fresh blueberry. So I went to David Lebowitz for a rescue, and I made his blueberry compote, complete with a splash of gin.  He swears by that little hint of pine with the blueberries.  I just swear by gin. The compote was sweet with an unexpected but completely mellow earthiness.  I could eat this compote by the spoonful, and when it turned out that I had plenty left over, I almost did.  I did show some restraint and smoothed some of it onto toast the next morning.  The compote was beautiful.

However, there was one problem.

The compote was much too sweet for a corn panna cotta and you couldn't taste the corn at all.  Plus, the panna cotta was too overpoweringly sweet itself.  Everything just smacked of sugar.  Now, I love sugar as much as the next sucrose addict, but this was ridiculous.  Both the compote and the sugar in the panna cotta had to go (or at least be radically cut down).

(I didn't include the recipe for the blueberry below because it didn't work for this recipe.  However, if I make it again (and I bet I will because there are crepes and pancakes and waffles that need it), I'll link to it here).

So I tried again.



Attempt number two was much more successful.  After husking the corn (with that squeak that reminds me of summers in the Midwest.  My father would send my brother and me to the back deck to husk the corn into paper bags.  Hot, sticky, and humid, the air roared with cicadas or crickets as we watched fireflies begin blinking in the dusk.  And corn has that smell--green, sweet, summer.  Ah, corn.)--anyway, after husking the corn, I steamed it up, cut back on some of the sugar (reflected in the recipe), and renamed the recipe.  Now, it's not Blueberry Compote, but Fresh Blueberries. 

The blueberries are no longer cooked, but left whole, and I removed the sugar from the blueberries and added the gin--because David Lebowitz said so.

And you'd be none the wiser if I hadn't told you that I made all these alterations, for now it's a much more delicate dessert, one worthy of sweet corn and fresh blueberries.  One worthy of the end of the summer.

If you want to see the original recipe, and to try tweaking it on your own, click the link below.  However, if you want a recipe that has been tried and verified by a Midwesterner who loves corn, follow the recipe below.  I still put the gin in the blueberries.


-------------
Sweet Corn Panna Cotta with Fresh Blueberries
Adapted from  Food and Wine

Yield:
Serves 4

Ingredients:  
Panna Cotta
2 ears of corn, husked

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk

1 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons granulated sugar
2.5 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Blueberry topping
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Splash of gin
Pinch of kosher salt


Instructions:
1.  For the panna cotta: In a medium pot fitted with a steamer basket, steam the corn until tender, 15 minutes. Let cool, then cut the kernels from the cobs (you should have 1 1/2 cups); discard the cobs. Transfer the kernels to a blender.

2.  Meanwhile, in a heatproof medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of the milk. Let stand for 5 minutes.

3.  In a small skillet, combine the remaining 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of milk with the cream, salt and both sugars and bring to a bare simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugars. Scrape the hot milk mixture into the gelatin and stir until the gelatin dissolves. Pour the mixture into the blender over the corn and puree until smooth.

4.  Strain the puree through a sieve into a large bowl, pressing on the solids; discard the solids. Strain again without pressing; discard any solids in the sieve. Pour the panna cotta into four 8-ounce ramekins in an ice bath.  Cover and refrigerate overnight until firm.  (I did overnight.)

5.  For the blueberries: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

6.  Serve the panna cotta in the ramekins with the blueberries.

Note:  The panna cotta can be refrigerated in the ramekins for up to 2 days. The blueberries can be refrigerated overnight.