Sunday, February 23, 2014

Celeriac and Lentils with Hazelnut and Mint

I have a habit I cannot kick, and it is Ottolenghi's cookbooks.  This is the sixth recipe I have cooked from either Plenty (2011) or Jerusalem (2012), and for Valentine's Day, the husband bought me Ottolenghi (2013).  In the past three years, Ottolenghi's prolific cookbook writing has only fueled the fire. Now if only Ten Speed Press or Chronicle Books would recognize how much I love Ottolenghi and send me advance copies of the cookbooks gratis.  I wait patiently and without expectation.

Here's what I have made from his cookbooks (and I'll have this one and even one more after this entry to add.  Clearly I have a serious problem.): 

I love these cookbooks mostly for their vegetarian fare.  In fact, the only recipe that I have made that includes an animal is the salmon, which was divine.  Perhaps someday I'll branch out to his lamb or poultry recipes.  I wait patiently and without expectation.

Part of the reason for the vegetarian focus is that from time to time I like to eliminate meat from my diet.  It's a throwback, yes, to the decade I was a vegetarian, but it also just makes me feel if not a little lighter, at least a little more aware of my food choices.  Further, many of Ottolenghi's recipes are gluten-free: again, a choice I make not because I am intolerant of gluten (indeed, far from it.  I love sourdough bread, and should I ever truly or seriously think about leaving the Bay Area, I would probably have to rethink such a relocation for I would miss the bread).  It is a choice I make again just to be a little more aware from time to time about how much bread I can consume if given free rein.  Which turns out to be a lot.  And what I don't consume, I take over valuable real estate in the freezer with frozen slices of bread to be popped into the toaster when need be.  This is a point of contention with the husband. He believes such real estate be reserved for the best bacon on earth.

The husband is wrong.

Nonetheless, I carry on with my love of all food Ottolenghi with this little recipe for a lentil and celeriac salad.  Celeriac is one of my favorite vegetables--it has all of the glorious pungent taste of celery (a taste I really do enjoy) without all the fussiness of the celery strings and an added earthy, nutty taste.  While the root isn't pretty--what, with all its knobby ugliness--it is really quite a solid vegetable to take you through the winter, especially when it appears spring will never spring (even I am getting antsy for spring, and I haven't been buried in snow or been forced to withstand sub-zero temperatures).  

Bonus, this recipe is just as good the next day as a satisfying cold lunch.  (Ah, an at-work lunch.  A lazy weekend repast.  Picnics, anyone?)

Finally, I have returned from my week in the cabin.  I have one more Ottolenghi recipe to report back on that I made while I was up there.  Next entry, I will tell you all a little about what I learned will alone for a week.  Mostly, it's that I like to talk.

My mother will tell you that she knew that already and didn't need me to go away for a week to find that out. 

One Year Ago: Blood Orange, Goat Cheese and Beet Salad
Two Years Ago: Chicken with Cauliflower and Red Peppers
Three Years Ago: Celery Root and Wild Rice Chowder
Four Years Ago: Swiss Chard Flan

Celeriac and Lentils with Hazelnut and Mint
Adapted from  Plenty
You can also find the recipe straight from Ottolenghi's website.  

Serves 4

1/3 cup hazelnuts, skin on
1 cup puy* lentils
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 small celeriac, about 1.5lbs, peeled and cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
3 tbsp olive oil**
2 tbsp hazelnut oil**
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp mint, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp chopped fresh mint

*I used red, and they were very tasty but mushy.  If you care about appearances puy or any other firm lentil; if you don't care, use whatever lentil you have on hand.

**I find that Ottolenghi uses a lot of oil for my taste.  I reduced the olive oil to 3 tbsp from 4 and the hazelnut oil from 3 tbsp to 2.  Feel free to add it back.

1.  Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Scatter the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let them cool before roughly chopping.

2.  Place the lentils, water, bay leaves and thyme in to a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Let them simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

3.  Meanwhile in another saucepan cook the celeriac in boiling, well-salted water for 8-12 minutes, or until just tender.  Drain and set aside.

4.  Place the hot lentils in a large bowl (hot lentils will absorb more of the dressing).  Mix them together with the olive oil, 2 tbsp of hazelnut oil, the vinegar, salt and pepper.  Add the celeriac and toss it all gently together.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

5.  To serve, stir in hazelnuts and mint (and save a little of each for garnish).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower with Hazelnuts Salad

No one told me that allspice could do this to cauliflower.  Well, nobody until now.  And let me, via the wisdom of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, be the one to tell you that allspice can do this to cauliflower:  not only is it a surprisingly sharp burst of flavor, especially when paired with  said cauliflower, it is a remarkably good one, particularly when added to little vinegar and maple syrup.

As detailed in my previous entry, I am spending my days holed up in a cabin in the woods, where I am reading, grading, running, gathering wood, doing yoga, grading, cooking, making fires, grading.  Thus far, I have graded 20 papers, which given that I average 3 an hour (I do wish I were a faster grader—I thought when I first entered teaching that the grading would somehow become quicker. It has not.), well, let’s not do the math.  Good news:  only 44 more to go.   

When I am not reading about who is to blame for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, I am taking care of business with another of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks.  (Seriously, I have an Ottolenghi habit.  More on that next entry.)  I put together this wonderful cauliflower and hazelnut salad—enough for a solo dinner and lunch to boot.  It's sweet, savory, crunchy, and soft.  Consider it texture and flavor heaven.  It is a paradoxically light but robust meal.  It’s light in that there’s not a lot going on: we’re talking cauliflower, nuts, celery.  But satisfying because of this spice combination and the roasted cauliflower, a veggie I always find more pleasing in its roasted state.  Ottolenghi recommends this be served with chicken or fish, but I found it to be delightful all on its own. 


Actually, scratch that—not entirely on its own.  I had been aching to reread Island of the Blue Dolphins.  This comes inspired by a long walk I took about a month ago along the headlands of Mendocino.  Posted along most of the cliffs around here are signs decrying the poaching of abalone.  I remember my first introduction to abalone through Scott O’Dell’s little book, where Karana and Ramo hunt them.  As I walked in the wind and fog, I longed to return to this little book, which I have distinct memories of checking out from the local library.  Thus, I trekked from the headlands to the delightful Mendocino bookstore (the Gallery Bookshop), where they did not have Island, neither then nor the time I returned last week.  Thanks to the modern miracle that is Amazon Prime, I had a dinner companion last evening. 


Now go mix some allspice with your cauliflower, pronto!

One Year Ago: Cioppino
Two Years Ago: Chicken with Cauliflower and Red Peppers
Three Years Ago: Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
Four Years Ago: Frakh Ma'amra (Mediterranean Pigeons or Squabs Stuffed with Couscous)

Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnuts Salad
Adapted from  Jerusalem
Serves 1-2 (main dish), 3-4 (side salad)

1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
5 tablespoons hazelnuts/filberts 
2 medium to large celery stalks, sliced 
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley leaves 
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds (I didn’t have any, so I substituted blueberries) 
generous ¼ teaspoon cinnamon 
generous ¼ teaspoon allspice 
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar 
1 teaspoon hazelnut oil 
1 ½ teaspoon maple syrup 
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 
2.  Mix the cauliflower with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and some black pepper.  Spread out in a roasting pan, and roast for 25-35 minutes, until the cauliflower is crisp and parts of it have turned brown.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool down. 
3.  Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, until they smell nutty.  Be careful not the burn them. 
4.  Allow the nuts to cool a little, then coarsely chop them and add them to the cauliflower, along with the rest of the ingredients.  Stir, taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Green Pancakes with Lime Butter

This week, I am spending my time in Fort Bragg—or to be more precise, about four miles north of Fort Bragg—where I am watching sunsets, grading, and prepping for my spring classes.  This weekend came at just the right time, as I was feeling the perennial Funk of February.  For as long as I can remember, every February, I descend into The Funk.  The days feel too short for the too many things to do. Thankfully, I now teach in California, where most schools are granted what is often abysmally entitled Ski Week (I call it pedestrianly “February Break,” for I would never have been one of those students, nor am I truly one of those teachers, who could afford to take a week off just to ski). February Break not only coincides with The Funk, but it also marks the end of our second term, so I am often holed-up grading final papers and writing comments.  However, I get to perform such activities in my pajamas, and this week, in a cabin in the woods. 

Two nights ago, the husband and I saw the most spectacular sunset, another five miles north of where we were.  Not only was the sunset flaring with colors, but the waves.  Oh, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley.  I hear you.  This, this was the sublime. The heart-racing thrill of seeing something so beautiful that could kill you.  The husband and I sat on a cliff for about an hour and a half watching waves crash with loud booms and then shoot 30 feet into the air.  The remnants of the waves roiled and foamed.  We grew cold.  We stayed well after the sun went down.

After the husband and his parents returned to the Bay Area, last night, I made these little green pancakes from Plenty, Ottolenghi’s cookbook and my go-to recipe maker.  Before cooking up the spinach or making the infused butter, I started a fire in the iron stove, took a few sunset pictures from the back porch, and settled in for the evening.  That meant more pajamas, a quick sweep of the floor, and the turning on of music (this time, a mix of French songs). 

I cooked, taking my time, chopping, slicing, mixing at my leisure, trying to push that February Funk away.  The cabin kitchen is without many of the instruments that I have, perhaps erroneously, come to rely upon at home.  No zester:  thus, I had to rock the knife through the lime peel many, many times to make it fine.  No baking soda or baking powder: thus a return to street clothes and the grocery store.  What I thought I needed, I really didn't (read: zester) or it was a simple fix to get (read: baking soda and baking powder).  I felt resourceful.  Simple, but resourceful.

The spinach, as is usual, went from feeling abundant (I had halved the recipe, and even four cups seems ample until you cook it down to ½ a cup) to being surprisingly scarce.  The butter, which smacks of late 90s, early 00s cooking, reminded me why cooks once embraced it so fully: it really is quite tasty.  (Indeed, there will be some butter left over after this recipe, and Ottolenghi recommends saving it to slather atop a warm sweet potato.  I think that can be done.)  The pancakes, themselves, are quite tasty, if a bit cumin-y.  I might halve the cumin next time. 

I paired these little discs of green yumminess with a simple handful of arugula tossed with some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt.  The evening had fully descended.  I had a book club book (At Swim-Two Birds) to read, a stack of papers to gently ignore for another day. It is truly vacation.  There may be light at the end of this Funk.

One Year Ago: Cioppino
Two Years Ago: Chicken with Cauliflower and Red Peppers
Three Years Ago: Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
Four Years Ago: Frakh Ma'amra (Mediterranean Pigeons or Squabs Stuffed with Couscous)

Green Pancakes with Lime Butter
Adapted from  Plenty

Serves 3-4

Lime Butter
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
grated zest of 1 lime
1 ½ tablespoon lime juice
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
½ garlic clove, finely chopped
¼ tsp. chile flakes

½ lb. (about 8 cups) spinach, washed
¾ cup flour
1 scant tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 egg
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cumin (Ottolenghi calls for 1 teaspoon, which I found too heavy)
2/3 cup milk
6 medium green onions, finely sliced
1 egg white
olive oil for frying


1.     To make the lime butter:  Put the butter in a medium bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon until it turns soft and creamy.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients.  Put onto a sheet of plastic and roll into a sausage shape.  Twist the ends of the way to seal the flavored butter. Chill until firm. 

2.     To make the pancakes:  Wilt the spinach in a pan with the water still clinging to the leaves from washing.  Drain in a sieve and, when cool, squeeze with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible.  Roughly chop and set aside.

3.     Put the flour, baking powder, whole egg, melted butter, salt, cumin, and milk in a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth.  Add the green onions, chiles, and spinach and mix with a form.  Whisk the egg white to soft peaks, and gently fold it info the batter. 

4.     Pour a small amount of olive oil into a frying pan and place on medium-high heat.  For each pancake, ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan, and press own gently.  You should get smallish pancakes, about 3 inches in diameter and 3/8-inch thick.  Cook for about 2 minutes each side, or until you get a good golden-green color.  Transfer to paper towels and keep warm.  Continue making pancakes, adding oil to the pan as needed, until the batter is used up. 

5.     To serve, pile three warm pancakes per person and place a slice of flavored butter on top to melt.  Serve with a salad of seasonal lettuces or herbs.