Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cannellini Beans and Wilted Greens

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine recommended this book, The Everlasting Meal. It has since become one of my favorite works of food writing*, and I am not alone; in fact, The New Yorker loved it as much as I do and conducted a lovely interview with Tamar Adler once her book was presented in paperback. The book combines poetic meditations with long form recipes (those that become intertwined with the stories she tells) with a sprinkling of some separated "how to" recipes.

*If you're looking for a great gift for the foodie in your life, I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Recently, in the CSA box we were presented with a giant bunch of turnips, a bundle of chard, and one of arugula. We also had a bag of dried cannellini beans. Using Chez Panisse (where Adler once cooked) and Adler 's book, I turned to the process of making wilted greens and cannellini beans, a simple supper that extended into a week of lunches and eventually into a Friday night simple meal. In true Adler fashion, I made the pot of beans into its own everlasting meal.

Adler opens this seventh chapter on the humble bean with a Tuscan saying, si stava meglio quando si dtave peggio--we were better off when things were worse--and she keeps her focus on beans as a long-term process often relegated to those who have been worse off. Advising us to divorce tonight's soaking of beans from tomorrow's hunger, she cautions a long view, and she promises that we will, indeed, be better off the more often we embrace the modest legume.

While canned beans are passable in a pinch and dried ones dandy when that's all you have, Adler suggests using fresh beans when you can: "When you know the taste of a fresh bean, you taste in dried ones the invisible mark all true loves bear: a memory of what it was we first fell in love with.  Fall in love with a fresh bean, and you will stay in love with a dried one." All I had were dried ones, so I did as instructed and soaked them overnight. The longer the soak, the faster the cook, but don't let such a dictum belie the true patience you must exhibit while preparing the bean. Instead, put the beans in a bowl, cover them with water, walk away.  Come back in a few hours to determine if you need more water, as the beans will draw the water in until they are engorged and wrinkly. Keep the beans submerged: the more water you give them the better.

When it comes time to boil the beans, fill the pot with the good things you can find in your refrigerator--some herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, oregano--these will all do nicely) and aromatic vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, garlic). However, the biggest trick is to toss in the butt ends of cheese (parmesan, reggiano, asiago), for these make the broth creamy and thick. Then set the pot on low and walk away again. Beans can cook for up to four hours (but as low as 30 minutes if you have fresh beans).

Adler states that the best advice for determining the done-ness of a bean came to her from The Best in American Cooking by Clementine Paddleford. The book instructs to simmer "until beans have gorged themselves with fat and water and swelled like the fat boy in his prime." Adler gives her own, equally descriptive encouragement: "A cooked bean is so tender that the mere flutter of your breath should disturb its skin right off."

When you drain the beans, keep the cooking liquid. No matter what. That broth is divine, and you can add it to soups, pastas, or stews, but it is also lusciously satisfying just on its own.

Once the beans are done, the rest is up to you. Here I used the guidance of Chez Panisse to wilt some greens and mix the beans and greens together for a simple supper that turned into a week's worth of lunches. Generously drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmesan, and salt and pepper. At the end of the week, I sauteed up some onions, tomatoes, and garlic to which I added the beans and greens. I then tossed this mixture with a pot of penne, a liberal dousing of pepper, and a sprinkling of olive oil to create the perennial favorite, Pasta with Beans and Greens (here I have another recipe for Pasta e Fagioli, but winging it seemed to work beautifully, too, and making it with dried beans was worlds better; however, canned will do in a pinch).

Finally, a closing quotation from Adler, which is how she ends her own chapter on the bean: "We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn't been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live."


Cannellini Beans and Wilted Greens
Adapted from  Chez Panisse Vegetables and Tamar Adler's The Everlasting Meal

Serves 6-8

2 cups dried cannellini beans
Bouquet Garni (Tie together herbs you have on hand a few sprigs of thyme, parsley, oregano, rosemary, bay leaf)*
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
Any cheese ends
salt and pepper
1-2 large bunches chard, kale, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, or turnip greens (about 1 pound)**
6 cloves garlic
5-6 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp thyme or rosemary
Extra-virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese

*I used thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf
**I used chard, arugula, and turnip greens

1.  Soak the beans overnight, being sure to check to see in the beans need additional water a couple of hours into their soaking.

2.  The next day drain them and put them into a heavy-bottomed pot with the bouquet garni. Add the onion (quartered), carrot (halved), celery stalk (halved), and any cheese ends  Cover with water or stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, skimming off any grey foam that forms on the surface.  Cook the beans until very tender, usually 2-3 hours, but be willing to cook them four 4 hours. Salt the beans generously once they start to soften. When fully cooked, remove from the heat and remove the onion, carrot, celery and cheese ends from the pot.  Reserve the liquid.

3. While the beans are cooking wash, trim and chop the greens.

4.  When the beans are ready, finely chop the garlic cloves and gently saute them in the olive oil with the rosemary or thyme, about 1 minute. Add the beans and about 1 cup of their cooking liquid.  Simmer for about 5 minutes, until some of the beans have crumbled apart--press a few more with the back of a wooden spoon.

5.  Add the greens to the beans, and stew together, uncovered, until the greens are wilted and tender. Add more of the bean liquid if needed, to keep the vegetables moist and a little soupy. Taste for seasoning and grind in some pepper. Serve with olive oil drizzled on the surface or with grated Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Acorn Squash Soup with Spicy Yogurt Topping

It's the season of the squash; as such, I have been trying to stay atop the weekly arrival of a squash in the CSA box.  Admittedly, I am behind.  I won't tell you how behind, but let's just say there is only so much squash that two people can eat in a week.  I have wrapped it in pastry, roasted it with dates and thyme, and now folded it into soup.  I have two bags of cut squash in my freezer.  And I fear that there will be more squash in this week's CSA box.  It is a founded fear.

This recipe hails from a lovely cookbook--Ancient Grains for Modern Meals--and to qualify this soup for the cookbook, Maria Speck simply adds oatmeal to this soup, which thickens the soup nicely.  Thus inspired, I have recently taken to adding oatmeal (raw, believe it or not, but cooked would be equally yummy) to my morning smoothie.  It adds only a modicum of thickening, but more importantly it adds all the good stuff we know oatmeal can do.

Oatmeal is a whole grain, so it helps (as all whole grains do) reduce high blood pressure and reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes.  Further oatmeal contains a plant chemical, lignans, that purportedly helps to prevent heart disease.  Oats are full of beta-glucans, or so this Guardian article tells me, which help slow the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream and thus reducing the highs and lows of blood sugar.  Further, oatmeal can help lower cholesterol and is a good source of fiber.  Not a bad deal for what seems to be just a way to use up some of the abundant CSA squash in a soup.

A few notes: When I made this number, I added two apples (which I peeled and sliced and threw in with the squash)--in part because I like apples in my soup and because, like the squash, apples were multiplying in my household every time I turned my back.  I needed to use those up, too.  The original recipe does not call for apples.  The original recipe does not know what sort of replication is happening in my kitchen.  Also to save a step (read: because I didn't follow instructions), I mixed the parsley into the yogurt topping.  It wasn't as pretty, but it was just as tasty.

This morning, it's finally raining, and I have every window open in the house.  The husband is still asleep, but it's his birthday, so I am planning to cook him a little breakfast when he wakes up.  The cats are running around the house, and I have papers to grade.  But it's raining.  Oh, I love fall when it finally comes to Northern California.

Acorn Squash Soup with Spicy Yogurt Topping
Adapted from  Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

Serves 4-6


For the soup:
¼ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onions

3 cloves minced fresh garlic 
¾ tsp fine sea salt

2 pounds acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
2 peeled and sliced apples
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

*But really, you can use any kind of dense winter squash, such as acorn, butternut, kabocha, hubbard, buttercup, even pumpkin

For the yogurt topping:
 ½ lemon

1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

¼ tsp fine sea salt

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or just a pinch

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1.  To prepare the soup, grind the oats in a food processor or blender until it becomes coarse meal, about 20 seconds. If you don’t own a handheld blender, do not clean the processor bowl or blender yet.  
2.  Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is glassy and soft, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium, add the squash and apples, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute (in order to cover the squash with oil). Sprinkle the oatmeal, nutmeg, pepper and pepper flakes across the top. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3.  Add the broth and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom to release any toasted oatmeal bits. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the squash is tender, about 8 minutes.

4.  While the soup simmers, make the spicy yogurt topping. Finely grate the lemon half until you have ½ teaspoon zest. Squeeze the fruit to get 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add the yogurt, lemon juice, zest, salt, cayenne, and parsley to a small serving bowl and beat with a fork until smooth.

5.  To finish, puree the soup with a handheld blender in the saucepan or in batches in the food processor or blender. If using a food processor, return the mixture to the saucepan and gently rewarm over medium heat until bubbles appear just below the surface, stirring a few times. Taste for salt, pepper, and adjust. Serve with a generous spoon of yogurt topping into each.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Creole Mushroom and Pepper Stew

Do you need something satisfying to take to lunch this week?  Well then, set aside some time now at the end of the weekend to compose a little batch of this Creole Mushroom and Pepper Stew.  The last of the season summer vegetables are singing their swan song until next year; autumnal veggies are crowding out the tomatoes and bell peppers both in the CSA box and at the farmers markets.  Some parts of the US are experiencing the bracing chill of autumn (while California remains drought and heat-ridden).  In other words, it's officially fall.

While this recipe does require quite a bit of preliminary chopping, it comes together easily and quickly. Admittedly, there wasn't much that made this particular dish "Creole" other than a little heat from the cayenne and the hint of thyme (and it uses only two of the "Holy Trinity"--bell pepper, onions, and celery).  Perhaps the addition of paprika and celery would kick this into Louisiana territory.  On the other hand, it was quite tasty as is.

Out of curiosity, I started to wonder what was the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine from Louisiana, and I happened upon a couple of great articles.  Both Cajun and Creole cuisines share an ancestry with that of the French, with nods to the Spanish, West Africans, and Native Americans. Creole food is often thought to be a little more "high brow" than Cajun food, often because Creoles were/are more urban than their Cajun kin; traditionally Creole food has more layered spices, uses butter and more dairy products, and uses tomatoes--in part because access to these foods was traditionally easier for a wealthier, often aristocratic, urban dweller. Nineteenth-century Creoles had more access to markets and servants (read: slaves), and thus Creole food often takes more time to compose than does Cajun food.  However both cuisines balk at the over-spicing (usually via cayenne) and assert that, like any other cuisine, it is the combination of flavors and the process of layering them just right that produce their signature flavors.

So I am not sure, now, if one can call this Creole stew at all.  I have thoroughly talked myself out of it.  But I do think you can easily call this a tasty and spicy Mushroom and Pepper Stew. Served with a batch of brown rice on the side, this recipe lasted for a week of lunches, and they felt healthy and hearty. It's not a glamorous dish, but it is one that will stick to your bones as we move into the chill of autumn (which I am still, not so patiently waiting for).

Creole Mushroom and Pepper Stew
Adapted from  Fields of Greens

6 Servings


2 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped (about 3 cups) or 1 28 oz can tomatoes with juice chopped, or 3 lb roasted tomatoes, without skins, chopped*
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb white mushrooms, halved or quartered (about 5 cups)
salt and pepper
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 bell peppers, seeded, cut into thick strips, then triangles (about 3 cup)  (red, yellow, green or a combination)

1 medium fennel bulb, quartered lengthwise, cored, sliced 1/2" thick (about 2 cups)
2 bay leaves
2-3 jalapeno or serrano chilies, seeded and finely diced
cayenne pepper
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2" think (about 2 cups)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

*Somerville recommends roasting the tomatoes as they will add even more flavor.  However, I used fresh tomatoes (and I didn't even peel or seed them).  All was right with the world.


1. If using fresh tomatoes, move on to step 2. If you're using canned tomatoes, simmer over low heat while vegetables are cooking to reduce acidity. If you're roasting them, preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Core the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Place the tomatoes cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Roast for 2 hours or until the tomatoes are very shrunken.  

2.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet; add mushrooms, with some salt (1/2 teaspoon) and freshly ground black pepper, and sear until golden and browned (about 7 mins). Add half garlic and wine, stir to loosen pan juices. Reduce the wine until nearly dry and transfer the mushroom mixture to a bowl.

3.  In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add onion, 1/2 tsp salt, dried thyme. Saute on medium heat until soft (about 7-8 mins). Add the remaining garlic, peppers, fennel, bay leaves, chiles, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. Saute over medium heat for 10 mins. Add zucchini and cook till heated through (about 5 mins). 

4.  Add tomatoes and mushrooms. Simmer uncovered over medium low heat for 20 minutes. Season with more salt and cayenne if needed. Add scallions, fresh thyme and lemon juice just before serving (possibly with a bowl of brown rice or couscous). If the stew still tastes a little acidic (depending on your tomatoes), add a few pinches of sugar.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chorizo and Goat Cheese Quesadilla with Tomatillo Salsa

It's October baseball, people, which means that, as a Giants fan, I have bitten my nails to the quick and I have cursed the Cardinals--an easy thing to do because I have always professed that I am a Cubs fan first and a Giants fan second.  Lucky for me, the possibility of the Cubs and the Giants battling it out any time in the near or even distant future in the National League Championship Series seems pretty slim.

For Game One of the NLCS, the husband and I sat down to an evening of delight with these chorizo and goat cheese quesadillas with a homemade tomatillo salsa (to be clear, for Game Two, we sat down to a plate of disappointment.  There may have been food then, but I don't remember).  On the first of what I hope to be four nights of the Giants winning, the tartness of the tomatillos plays well with the savoriness of the chorizo and the tanginess of the goat cheese.  Chorizo, that little pork sausage originating on the Iberian Peninsula, can come both in the fresh or smoked and cured forms.  I used fresh chorizo, so it was easy to peel off the casing.  However, if you used the smoked form, equally tasty I imagine, you can simply slice it thinly rather than break it out of the casing after you have heated it through.  (In fact, this seems to be the method that Bobby Flay, the originator of this recipe, recommends.)

Further, Flay endorses serving these quesadillas with three layers, but we found that a little much on the breadiness.  Thus, I have modified the recipe to just be two layers.  However, if you feel the urge to put another tortilla and cheese in your quesadilla, I won't tell anyone.

Today marks Game Three at 1 p.m. San Francisco time.  Given that I will be at work, I imagine that my lunch will hardly be as delightful as this one, but let's hope that the results of the game will be the same as they were on Saturday.  My fingernails can't take any more crazy bases loaded wild pitches and walk-off homeruns.

To be clear, the view to my left included the husband and the two cats who refuse to sit on me but are more than happy to sit on him.  It did make his eating of dinner more difficult, for which I feel only slightly vindicated.

Chorizo and Goat Cheese Quesadilla with Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from  Bobby Flay's Bold American Food

Serves 4 (as an appetizer)

For the salsa:
8 medium tomatillos, husked and coarsely chopped
1 Tbs finely diced onion
1/2 Tbsp minced jalapeno (seeded)
Juice of two limes
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the quesadilla:
4 flour tortillas (6 inch)
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup grated Monterey Jack
4 ounces chorizo
salt and freshly ground pepper

To make the salsa:
1.  Combine the tomatillos to the honey in a bowl,  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate for up to a day.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

To make the quesadillas:
2.  Peel and crumble the chorizo.  In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the chorizo for 10-12 minutes.

3.  Pre-heat the over to 450 degrees.

4.  Place 2 tortillas on an ungreased baking sheet.  Spread half of the cheese and chorizo and cheese on each.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cover each with the remaining tortillas.

5.  Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until the tortillas are slightly crisp and the cheese has melted.

6.  Cut into quarters and serve hot, garnished with tomatillo salsa.  Serve extra salsa in a bowl on the side.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The National Heirloom Exposition

This post, while food-related, is not a recipe-related one.  Instead it is a celebration of pure, local, organic, anti-GMO, sustainable food.  In other words, it is a birthday dream come true.

On the occasion of one's birthday around our household, one gets to choose one's way to fete--as mentioned previously ad naseum, we went to Greens for dinner; but the husband had another trick up his proverbial sleeve: I also got a trip to Sonoma County, where we attended The National Heirloom Exposition last month.

So many vegetables! So many fruits! With over a thousand varietals on display, one could not possibly have a gander at so much food, so we picked our way through the exhibition hall, oohing and ahhing over the many pretty and pretty weird edibles.  Ray L. Duey, watermelon carver extraordinaire and master chef, carved up some melons to our delight.  I won a packet of seeds in a "name that food" competition (correctly identifying chayote and tamarind, mind you (I was feeling a little full of myself after that, a perch from which the husband had to talk me down)).  I got to pet some sheep.  (That alone made the trip worthwhile.)  And we got to hear a favorite band, Parsonsfield.  And that doesn't even cover all of the other vendors, speakers, exhibits. For now, I believe I have completed all of my "I turned 40" birthday celebrations.

I just wanted to share a few of my favorite photos from the event.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chard, Ricotta, and Saffron Cakes

This mighty but miniature recipe is quite similar to another recipe I posted on this website, so I believe that a face off is in order. 

To be fair, I had forgotten that I had already posted a pancake chock full of chopped greens, so this face off is happening more in virtual rather than literal time, but I think we can make the connections. We, you and I, can do this.

Thus, in the bout of the century (okay, okay, this might be a little hyperbolic), let's pit Ottolenghi against Madison in a vegetarian pancake showdown. May the best batter cake win.

(Also to be fair, the photographs suggest that the former pancake (Ottolenghi) was actually cooked at the same time as the latter (Madison) pancake, and I had the wherewithal and foresight to photograph them together; however, to tell the truth (which is what we do here), the photograph is just of two of the Chard, Ricotta, and Saffron Cakes.  Now, all these asides aside... let's get down to business.)

In the right corner wearing the spinach trunks: as you may remember, the Yotam Ottolenghi Green Pancakes with Herb Butter were composed while I lounged in my pyjamas while in Fort Bragg. Such an environment as well as a sartorial presence, of course, gives a scanty advantage to Ottolenghi.  Environment means a lot.  But in food battles, it cannot be everything--to be fair, let's examine the taste details.

Ottolenghi's cakes were loaded with spinach and served with a dallop of (quite bright and delicious) herb and spice (cilantro, garlic, chile, and lime) butter.  That said, the cakes were a little cumin-y. I would halve the cumin, keep the butter, then slather the butter on everything I own (including my clothing, my cats, and any sweet potatoes), and soon after snack on those pancakes any time.

In the left corner, wearing the chard shorts: Deborah Madison's cakes call for greens again, a cup of ricotta, a splash of milk, a smattering of green onions, and a pinch of saffron. Madison recommends serving these pancakes as appetizers, a recommendation I shall ignore, as I found them a little more labor intensive than I care for when I am hanging out in the kitchen with guests.  However, as a weeknight meal when I have no pressure other that time constraints (those papers don't grade themselves), I am more than happy to drop ricotta batter into a little oil.  Yes, I am willing to make those kinds of commitments on a Thursday.

Further, I'll admit that I have a penchant for saffron; there's nothing like that briney, sweet, complex subtle taste from one of the world's most expensive spices (no worries, you need only a few threads that have been soaked in some hot water, thus releasing their flavor).  Therefore, in a not-unexpected choice wherein I select saffron over cumin, I would make these little Madison cakes over the cumin-y Ottolenghi ones.

However, I think you should make both and hold our own taste test, for (let's admit it), I would pass up neither of these.  Perhaps, I too should make both again and hold my own crowd-pleasing taste test.  What time can you be over for dinner?

One Year Ago: Ottolenghi's Salmon Steaks in Chraimeh Sauce

Chard, Ricotta, and Saffron Cakes
Adapted from  Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy

1 bunch Swiss chard, thick stems removed, leaves washed well
2 pinches saffron threads
1 cup whole-wheat flour*  
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4-1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
3 Tbsp olive oil plus additional olive oil for frying
1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream (for garnish)
Large handful chives (for garnish)

*But you could use regular flour, if that's what you have on hand

1. After washing the chard, put it in a large pot with the water that clings to it. Cover and cook over high heat for 3-4 minutes or until wilted and tender. Watch it carefully so it becomes tender but does not overcook. If the pot seems dry, add a few splashes of water. Drain the chard in a colander and set aside to cool.

2. In a bowl combine the saffron and 2 Tbsp boiling water and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder to blend them.

4. In another, larger bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, 1/4 cup of milk, and eggs, until smooth. Add the olive oil and the saffron and mix well.  Whisk in the flour mixture.  If the batter seems too thick, add 1/4 cup more milk.  This batter isn't as thin as a pancake batter, but it should be dropable by spoon.

5. With your hands squeeze out as much water as possible from the chard. Chop it finely. Stir the chard into the flour mixture.

6. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter by the spoonful into the hot pan, making small or large cakes. The batter is quite thick; it will not behave like a pancake. You need to give it plenty of time in the pan to cook through. Cook for at least 3 minutes or until golden on the bottom, then turn the cakes once—resist the urge to pat them down—and continue cooking for 3 minutes more, or until the underside is done.

7. Serve each cake with a spoonful of yogurt and sour cream, along with chives (or any other garnish).