Friday, July 29, 2016

Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Caramelized Onion, and Pine Nuts

My affinity for bookclub is strong. These three other women and one man are truly fabulous people, and I am not just saying that because one of them is related to me (Hi, Father-in-Law!).  No, I am saying that because they are smart readers who push me, after two hours of snacking and drinking very good wine, to reconsider whatever bogus theory I have had about a book, and who push me to see far more deeply into books.

Even if I haven't finished reading them. But I swear, I actually finished this one.

So, when bookclub rolled around this July, I mixed up this perfect grain salad.

And it's a delightful summer salad. It is nutty and savory and a perfect mate for all of the morsels and sauces that inevitably--and delightfully--make up the bookclub table fare. From pakoras to olives, cheeses to almonds, our table boasts eclectic and inclusive food--much like the eclectic and and inclusive members of the book club, given that it is made up of a journalist, a businesswoman, two artists (one a librarian and the other a teacher), and an education administrator (that's me!).

This salad won't overwhelm, but delightfully, it won't underwhelm. It's just the right amount of companionable. I like the congenial. I am a fan of the affable. Hence, I am a champion of farro, one of Italy's many contributions to the ancient grain world.

Farro, sometimes called emmer, is a hearty, nutty, crunchy little wheat grain that makes a spectacular little salad. And it is loaded with fiber, protein, magnesium, and iron. Farro, like many grains can be confusing, as it comes in whole, pearled, and semi-pearled versions.

--Whole farro has all the grain's nutrients but all the grain's dilatoriness in cooking.
--The semipearled has had part of the bran removed but still contains some of the fiber.
--The pearled takes the least amount of time to cook, but it has no bran at all.

This can be confusing, especially when the packaging at your local food purveyor merely says "farro."

What we're looking for here is the semi-pearled version, only because it cooks a little faster than the whole and has more fiber than the pearled. But if you have some cooked farro, of any sort, on hand, you'll be fine. And if you're not sure which kind of farro you have, just keep cooking until it is chewy and satisfying.

No one is here to judge.

In fact, if you need to substitute out freekah or quinoa or wheatberries, the gods will still be on your side.  This will still be a healthy dose of goodness.

However, I remain a fan of good old farro with this recipe because the nuttiness plays of perfectly with the eggplant.

But you choose your grain. There is no farro police.

A few notes on the changes I made to the recipe below. I found that it needed lot more vinegar, olive oil, and salt than Maria Speck's original recipe; I have merely made the changes below. However, you should play around with the amounts to suit your proclivities. 

Further, the next day for lunch, I drizzled some yogurt over the top, just to add a little more creaminess. The yogurt was a nice addition, especially because of the mint.

Let's turn our gaze back on bookclub before we close out this post, shall we?

We read John Lachester's Capital. Oh, I liked this book. It has absolutely no connection to farro or eggplant or mint or pine nuts. But, my friends, you just might need a good book this summer, one that considers money and capital and immigration and gentrification and community and real estate and death and family and passion on the precipice of the 2008 economic collapse. This is the one. It's a staggering little book that clocks in at 500 or so pages, so I guess it isn't so little, but my friends, it's worth a read, if for no other reason than the description of Petunia's garden.

Finally, the book lends itself to a great discussion of about wanting what other people have, a central point in this book.

I could be glib and say that others will want this farro salad, but I won't. Just make it and share it. Simple as that.


Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Caramelized Onion, and Pine Nuts

I made some shifts in this recipe, for I found the original to be a little dry. My alterations are below.

4 Servings (as a main dish, 6 as a side dish)

2 cups water
1 cup semi-pearled farro (or about 3 cups cooked) (if you use the whole-grain variety, you'll need an overnight soak)
1 bay leaf
1 dried red chile pepper
1 tsp minced hot green chile, such as serrano
3/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
3/4 tsp dried mint
1 1/2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided (more as needed)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup loosely packed torn fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
8 ounces ricotta salata or feta

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. To prepare the farro, add the water, farro, bayleaf, and dried chile to a 2-quart saucepan, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the grain is tender with a slight chew, 20-25 minutes. Remove the bay leave and chile, drain if needed, and transfer to a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with the minced chile, Aleppo pepper, and dried mint. Toss to combine.

3. Meanwhile, place the eggplant and the onion on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and combine well, using your hands. 

4. Roast the mixture until the eggplant pieces have softened and are browned in spots and the onion slices have caramelized, turning them once with a spatula, about 30-35 minutes. remove the baking sheet from the oven and immediately sprinkle the vegetables with mint and drizzle with 1 Tbsp of the vinegar. Toss well with a spatula.

5. To finish, add the warm eggplant mixture to the farro. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and vinegar and toss to combine. Season with salt, olive oil, and vinegar to taste. Top with the remaining pine nuts and cheese.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Potato and Leek Soup

There is not much at all to this soup. In fact, even my photographs are a little stupidly simple. But I have always been a fan of potato and leek soup. And I like stupidly simple from time to time. Usually on a weeknight.

Oil. Leeks. Potatoes. Liquid. Salt. Dairy. Parsley. Do you really even need a recipe? 

Given that this is a food blog, I am going to provide you one. But, seriously, change every amount to fit your palate, your taste, your proclivities on a random Tuesday night. Throw this recipe to the wind. Sure, use it as a guide if you want, but you should play and dabble and change this one for yourself.

But let me tell you a little secret about this recipe. Even though I don't fully believe in it, I have a soft spot for the recipe and for its cookbook. But I am about to donate this cookbook to the little free library in my neighborhood. 

I loved this cookbook in the 90s, and I have waxed nostalgic about it previously. But it's time. It's time to let this cookbook go. 

Sadly, I have used it only twice in the past six years, and both times it was because I had given myself the gimmick of cooking from a specific page (page 210 and page 215). I find myself reaching toward other, more recent cookbooks. 

In part because in the 90s, I was a new cook, and I would have needed the recipe to guide me. In part because my palate has changed. In part because I think there are a plethora of really great vegetarian cookbooks out there.

But I do want to bid a proper farewell to this standby cookbook. So, I give you a recipe that I loved in the 90s and I have strayed away from in the 10s.

But this book has served me well.

Potato and Leek Soup

Adapted from Almost Vegetarian

4 Servings 

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 large leeks, cut in half, cleaned, and sliced into thin crescents
4 large boiling potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup plain yogurt (nonfat, lowfat, or full-fat)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks and saute until the leeks begin to soften, but do not brown, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the potatoes, broth, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover, and turn the heat down to medium-low. 

3. Simmer until the potatoes are tender enough to cut with a spoon, about 40 minutes.

4. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in the cooking water and broth, doing this in batches and/or adding more broth and water if necessary. Then return to the saucepan.

5. Add the yogurt, and heat slowly over low heat, uncovered, until just warmed through. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl with Snap Pea and Edamame Salad

What I love the most about my CSA box is the surprise every Tuesday. While Full Belly Farm sends an email newsletter on Monday announcing what they will be sending, I like to resist that siren call and to open the box to find tomatoes and grapes and basil and potatoes. 

It's like my own Tuesday-afternoon version of Chopped.

Recently one of my mystery ingredients was cabbage. As in more cabbage. As in this is the third time I have gotten cabbage this summer. I never knew there wold be so much cabbage in July. 

While certainly this is the tail end of the season for cabbage, it is the key ingredient in all of your slaw needs this summer.  And what better way to make a slaw than one that accompanies an ahi tuna poke bowl? 

Have you noticed, by the way, the recent popularity in rice bowl cooking? They're everywhereAs in everywhereEverywhere

This fascination with serving food atop of a starch, usually rice but quinoa or barley or freekah or farro have made appearances, seems to have its roots in Asian cooking--Korean bibimbap (one of my favorites) or Japanese chirashi immediately come to mind. The popularity of these grain bowls (and what separates them from, say, a stir fry) is that all of the veggie and meat components are composed atop the starch, and you get to decide how to mix them together. 

And, indeed, rice bowls have moved far from their Asian influence: you can make Mexican, Peruvian, Greek, and yes, even Californian bowls. Have at it, I say.

Sara Forte, of Sprouted Kitchen, has made a lovely contribution to this food trend with her book Bowl + Spoon, which I wrote about here. So, when cabbage showed up in the CSA box, I decided to crack open her little book, jump on this culinary bandwagon, and make this perfectly summery, Hawaiian-influenced poke bowl with a snazzy little slaw of edamame and sugar snap peas on the side. 

It is a little bit of a special occasion bowl (as sushi-grade ahi can be expensive), but it smacks of easy-going dining, begs for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and encourages backyard sitting. 

Hop to it, my summer-loving, cabbage-cooking, food-trending, Chopped-challenge-willing friends.

Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl with Snap Pea and Edamame Salad

4 Servings 


3/4 cup rice (brown is fantastic, but choose what you like)

For the Salad:
1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cup shelled edamame beans
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp chopped mint
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (black, white, or a combination)
2 tsp yellow miso
1 tsp honey
2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Ahi tuna
1 1/2 pounds sushi-grade ahi tuna
3 Tbsp soy sauce (low sodium is fine)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
wasabi paste, sriracha, or your favorite hot sauce
2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 large, ripe avocados
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
3 sheets of dried nori, crumble

1.  Make the rice according to whatever method you generally use. If you don't have a preferred method (I just use my rice cooker), here's a simple method that takes about 45 minutes, during which you can put together the rest of the recipe. (This recipe for rice is from Rinse the rice with cold water for 30 seconds. Bring 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt to a boil over high heat in a heavy pot with a lid. When the water is boiling, add the rice, stir, and partially cover. Cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, pour the rice into a sieve. Return the strained rice to the pot off of the heat. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and set aside to allow the rice to steam for 10 minutes. 

2.  Meanwhile, add the peas to a large bowl with edamame, cabbage, green onions, cilantro, and mint. Stir everything together.

3. For the dressing, in another bowl, whisk together the miso, honey, sesame oil, rice vinegar, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and pinch of salt and pepper until smooth. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Chill the salad until ready to serve.

4. Cut the ahi tuna into 1-inch cubes. In another large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and a bit of wasabi or sriracha. Add the ahi and green onions and stir gently.

5.  Just before serving, pit and dice the avocado into small cubes. Gently stir them into the ahi with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds and a hearty grind of pepper. 

6.  Arrange the bowl with a scoop of salad, a scoop of rice, some of the ahi mixture, and crumbled, dried nori on top (which I forgot).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lavender-Goat Cheese Crostini with Peaches and Mint

I have mentioned the husband's new hobby: cheese. That means I have been looking for multiple ways to use cheese. On its own, in omelettes, tucked into frittatas, crumbled onto salads. 

And now: slathered onto crostini with a drizzle of lavender honey and a layer of sweet peaches. 

This little appetizer is, let's admit it, overkill in terms of summer. Lavender! Honey! Mint! Peaches! And it needs just the right creaminess of goat cheese to root it down a little, to remind these crostini they need not be so brazenly ensconced in full-blown summer.  

You could mix out the peaches for a slice of apple or a pile of pears. You could top the fruit with basil or even a pop of rosemary (imagine with me now--atop roasted figs). Sure, you could go these other, more autumnal or late summer routes. But this little toast refuses to let you get ahead of yourself and it insists you grab these peak days of July and hold onto them.

Because come autumn, I'll be mixing the goat cheese into souffles or with the last of the tomatoes into a tart or even with a pasta topped with beets, squash, and sage.  And I'll miss these heady days of sweet peaches and lavender and mint.

But I guarantee, the husband will still be making cheese.

(P.S. Do you see his first foray into ValençayI am going to admit it here--it was quite good.  All fresh and nutty and creamy and mild. Well done, husband. Well done.) 

Lavender-Goat Cheese Crostini with Peaches and Mint

Adapted from Twenty Dinners

4 Servings

1/2 cup honey
A pinch of lavender, fresh or dried
2 peaches
1/2 baguette, cut into 1-inch slices, toasted
6-8 ounces goat cheese (any kind--young, aged, covered in ash)
Fresh mint leaves, chiffonade

1. In a small pan, warm the honey and lavender on low heat for about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the honey to cool to just above room temperature.
2. Slice the peaches into wedges, about 1/4 inch thick.

3. Spread the toasted rounds with goat cheese. Top with peach slices. Add a few mint slices, then lightly drizzle with the lavender-honey mixture. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ottolenghi's Lemon and Eggplant Risotto

Risotto is such a delightful dish. Comforting, creamy, simple, stable.  

And I am a huge fan.

As in, I will make me a risotto any chance I get, with any sort of ingredient you can imagine. It doesn't matter--any season. 

Spring--lemon and peas; 

Summer--tomato and parmesan; 


Winter--butternut squash and pancetta. 

If it's in your fridge, you can put it in this Northern Italian rice dish.

However, you will want a very specific kind of rice--a high starch, medium- or short-grain rice--in order separate this delicacy from any other rice dish. The high starch means that as you cook it, it releases its starch, making that requisite creamy smoothness to risotto.

The most popular risotto rice in the United States is, hands down, Arborio rice. This short-grained rice isn't as starchy as some of its popular Italian counterparts, but it is the most easily procured. However, a great article from Fine Cooking that details other risotto rices that are becoming more readily available in North America, including carnaroli, vialone nano, baldo, and Calriso.

All risotto follows a pretty standard process--in fact it never really changes. 
  • Cook up a mirepoix or simply some onions or garlic in some butter or oil. Then cook the dry rice in the fat and aromatics. This early step coats the rice in fat. 
  • Then you toss in a bit of wine, which is quickly absorbed by the rice. The wine adds another layer to the dish.
  • And then the adding of the broth begins (and here's where risotto takes patience that pays off).  Stock is added one ladleful by one ladleful, as you stir constantly and ensure that the rice completely absorbs the broth before adding more. This constant stirring and the slow adding of broth loosens the starch from the surface of the rice (remember, you want that high starch rice for a reason) and creates that smooth, creamy texture that separates risotto from a bowl of rice. That said, you do want the rice to still have a little "bite" or "chew," like you would a good al dente pasta, so you have to be careful not to add so much broth that you make mush.
  • After all of the liquid has been absorbed, you take the risotto off the heat and add the mantecatura, the final fat (usually cheese or butter) that you stir in at the end.
Even Yotam Ottolenghi, our culinary hero of the 21st century, makes his risotto just like that.

And so, when we were away for the week, I put together Ottolenghi's simple, summery risotto--in part because some beautiful eggplants arrived in our CSA box from Full Belly Farm.

The lemon in this recipe is strong, but it's just perfect for the hot days of summer. Remarkably, this dish felt relatively light, even though it is a cooked rice dish. Seriously, though, try this dinner the next time you need a simple vegetarian entree or want a lemon-y side dish for grilled chicken from your bbq. 

Lemon and Eggplant Risotto

Adapted from  Ottolenghi's Plenty

4 Servings 

2 medium eggplants
½ cup olive oil plus 1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup arborio rice (or other risotto rice, see above)½ cup white wine 
3¼ cups hot vegetable stock* 
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
1½ tablespoons butter
½ cup grated parmesan cheese 
½ cup basil leaves, shredded
Salt and black pepper

* recipe for a simple, very good veggie stock from Parsnip Dumplings in Broth follows

1. Begin by burning one of the eggplants. This can be done one of several ways: 

  • On a gas stove, the eggplant can be put directly on a moderate flame and roasted for 12-15 minutes (turning frequently with metal tongs) until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. 
  • To roast in the oven, pierce the eggplant with a sharp knife in a few places. Put it on a foil-lined tray and place in a 500 degree oven for 1 hour. 
  • Or on a grill, place the eggplant over a high heat flame, and using metal tongs, keep turning it for about 20-25 minutes. 
No matter your method, the eggplant needs to deflate completely and its skin should burn and break. 

2.  Once the eggplant is ready, remove it from the heat and make a long cut through it (allow any steam to escape before handling). Scoop out the soft flesh while avoiding the skin. Discard the skin. Chop the flesh roughly and set aside.

3.  Cut the other eggplant into a ½-inch dice, leaving the skin on. Heat ⅓ cup of the olive oil in a pan and fry the eggplant dice in batches until golden and crisp. Transfer to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to cool.

4. Put the onion and remaining oil in a heavy pan and fry slowly until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the rice, stirring to coat it in the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until nearly evaporated. Turn the heat down to medium.

5. Add the hot stock to the rice, a ladleful or cupful at a time, waiting until each addition has been fully absorbed before adding the next and stirring all the time. When all the stock has been added remove the pan from the heat. 

6. Add half of the lemon zest, the lemon juice, grilled eggplant flesh, butter, most of the parmesan and ¾ teaspoon salt. Stir well, then cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if you like, plus some black pepper. Stir in the diced eggplant, the remaining parmesan, the basil and the rest of the lemon zest.

7. To serve, spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and serve with additional basil, parmesan, and lemon zest.

*Here's the recipe for a good, basic broth from Ottolenghi's recipe in Plenty for Parsnip Dumplings in Broth
The broth can be made ahead of time and reheated when ready to add to the risotto. I actually began the broth as I was waiting for the oven to preheat for the eggplant, and then the broth and eggplant were ready at about the same time.

Vegetable Broth
Adapted from  Ottolenghi's Plenty

4-6 Servings 

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and cut in slices
5 celery stalks, cut in chunks
1 large onion, quartered
1 small celeriac, peeled and quartered
7 cloves of garlic
5 thyme sprigs
2 small bunches of parsley, plus some for garnish
10 black peppercorns, whole
3 bay leaves
8 prunes
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large stock pot. Add all the vegetables and garlic, sauté until the vegetables color slightly. Add the herbs, spices, prunes, and enough water to cover the vegetables. Simmer for 90 minutes, adding liquid as needed to maintain the water level. Strain the broth through a sieve into a clean bowl, salt and pepper to taste.