Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stuffed Baby Pumpkins

When I grow up, which could totally happen someday, I want to be a professional recipe breeder. We crossed this one with that one the other night and the product was out of this world.

2-3 miniature pumpkins
Olive oil
Small handful pecans
1/4 cup finely chopped leek
4-5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
Freshly ground white pepper 
1 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the tops out of the baby pumpkins on a slight inward angle, and scrape out the seeds. Put the tops back on each pumpkin and bake for 30-45 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, heat a small pan over medium-high heat. Break the pecans into pieces and toast in the pan until fragrant, then add a glug of olive oil, the leeks, and a pinch of salt and turn the heat down to medium. Saute until the leeks begin to soften, then add the sage and saute for another couple of minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle liberally with white pepper.

Fill each baby pumpkin with the leek mixture, top with some goat cheese, and serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mizuna Salad with Sweet Potato and Pomegranate

Mizuna is on the savory, peppery side, which makes it a perfect complement to the sweet potato and pomegranate in this recipe. You could also use baby arugula or another flavorful green. Feel free to substitute regular sweet potatoes and/or regular sliced almonds, or to jettison one ingredient in favor of another -- the trick is just to keep in mind the balance between savory and sweet. 

Several large handfuls of mizuna or other baby greens
Part of a leftover roasted Japanese sweet potato, cut into small pieces
Seeds of 1-2 pomegranates (see this new page for an easy seeding trick)
Handful toasted Marcona almonds, halved lengthwise
1-2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Coarsely chop the mizuna a few times if the leaves are large enough to be unwieldy (you don't want the leaves to mass together later while all the other ingredients fall through - shoot for pieces that are about an inch long). Whisk together a liberal glug of olive oil with a bit less than half as much balsamic vinegar, add salt and pepper to taste, and toss with the greens till the leaves are lightly coated.

Arrange mizuna as a bed on each plate, then sprinkle generously with sweet potato, pomegranate seeds, almonds, and goat cheese.

Serves 2.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Roasted Bok Choy

Have I mentioned that just about any plant tastes better roasted? I put this notion to the test a few nights ago with a big head of bok choy from our CSA box, and was delightfully surprised at how well it turned out.

Olive oil
1-2 heads of bok choy

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the bottom inch off each head of bok choy, separate the leaves, and rinse carefully. Dry well, slice crosswise a couple times if desired, and toss on a baking sheet that you've lightly drizzled with olive oil. Toss the greens to coat lightly with the oil, then stick in the oven.

Roast for 8 minutes, turn the leaves, and roast for 6-8 minutes more or until stems are tender and tops of the leaves are just starting to turn a little crispy. Sprinkle with salt, and serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

Variation: Half bok choy and half dino kale works well, too -- cut both crosswise a few times first, and reduce the cooking time by a couple of minutes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Carrots and Parsley

Found in our produce box: Purple (!) sweet potatoes
Found at the coop: The freshest, crunchiest carrots imaginable

2 orange or purple sweet potatoes, peeled
3-4 purple, white, or orange carrots, peeled
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly-ground white pepper*
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the sweet potatoes crosswise into 3/4-inch thick slices, then halve or quarter each slice into bite-sized pieces. Cut the carrots crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Toss with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and throw in a small roasting pan (I used a loaf pan, so that they were several layers deep and crowded together).

Roast in the oven for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. About halfway through, turn the heat down to 400 and add a little more olive oil if the pan has gotten dry.

When the sweet potatoes are very soft and the carrots are just tender and a little browned, remove from the oven and toss with a little more salt, a liberal dousing of freshly ground white pepper, and some parsley. Serve hot, with a little parsley sprinkled over the top.

Serves 2-3.

*If you don't have a grinder full of white peppercorns, get one. I'm swiftly become a white pepper fanatic, but freshly ground versus not is just as different in this case as it is for black pepper, which actually never occurred to me until my husband brought home a bottle of white peppercorns. It's particularly good with squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, because it gives sweet things a hint of pepper that blends with the sweetness instead of overpowering it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spaghetti Squash with Peppers and Greens

I know this shouldn't come as a shock, but plants, it turns out, have leaves. Or in other (slightly less obvious-sounding) words, we often ignore the leaves of non-leafy plant foods, like beets or amaranth grain, and are for some reason surprised when they turn out to be both edible and delicious (or in the case of amaranth greens, to exist in the first place).

Case in point: Fava greens, which turned up in our CSA box this week for the second time, and which are my new favorite throw-a-handful-into-just-about-anything vegetable. They're similar in this way to spinach or amaranth greens, with a very mild, fresh taste and a lovely fava beany scent when raw.
If they come in clumps, like ours did, you may want to separate the individual leaves from the stem before cooking. We added them to a new recipe for spaghetti squash last night, while we continued our search for oven leprechauns.

1 medium spaghetti squash
Olive oil
Pasture butter
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
A big bunch of fava greens, amaranth greens, or spinach (all will cook down quite a bit, so use more than you think)
1/2 tsp ñora pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Halve the spaghetti squash and brush cut surface with olive oil, then place face down on a baking sheet. Bake for 35-50 minutes, depending on size, until a fork inserts with little resistance (you want it to be tender but not mushy, or the noodles won't retain their shape). Let cool for a few minutes, then gently remove seeds with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat a glug of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until it softens, then add the garlic and a small pat of butter and cook for a minute more. Stir in the peppers, cook for a couple of minutes, then add about half of the fava greens and fold in with the peppers until they begin to wilt. (If you need a bit more liquid in the pan, add just a little chicken broth or white wine). Next, add the ñora pepper, half the parsley, a pinch of salt, and a liberal dousing of black pepper.

Gently scoop the spaghetti squash out of its rind with a big spoon, and add to the peppers and greens mixture. Use the spoon and a spatula to gently pull apart the strands of the squash and mix them into the greens. Add the rest of the greens and more parsley to taste, stir until the greens just begin to wilt, sprinkle with some Parmesan, and toss one last time. Serve hot, topped with some more Parmesan and parsley.

Serves 2-3.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Beet Reprise

Curiouser and curiouser. Apparently, beets can be...well, I can't quite bring myself to say it. I'll just note that we polished this off much more quickly than I would have expected.

The secret seems to be to leave them raw, and to offset the sweetness with something tangy (in this case, a mustard vinaigrette). I found this recipe on the NY Times website, and tweaked it just a bit:

1 large shallot
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
Small spoonful grain mustard
Salt and black pepper to taste
A small handful of parsley, finely chopped (about 1 tbsp)
2 small to medium beets, peeled and grated

Quarter the shallot lengthwise, turn it 90 degrees, and slice. Saute in a little olive oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes till just soft, and set aside. In a smallish mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard, then add the shallots, salt, pepper, and parsley. Add the grated beets and mix to coat evenly. Let sit for 5 minutes to let the flavors blend, and serve.

Serves 2.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Rehabilitation of the Beet

We are not exactly a beet-loving household. We tolerate them from afar -- in Spain, for example, they sometimes place a beet on an otherwise perfectly acceptable veggie sandwich, and we are fine with that (as long as we are not actually in Spain). But up close -- in the same country, for instance -- they become decidedly more troubling. Let's put it this way: there are only three things in the world that my husband won't eat, and the beet is one of them.

But we knew they were coming. It's that time of year. So when they showed up in our CSA box this week, we did not jump, or scream. We calmly extracted them from the box, turned, and stuffed them safely in the back of the vegetable drawer, buried under a heap of parsley, carrots, radishes, and about six other things we managed to cram in on top of them. We returned to our lives, and did not think about beets. Or rather, we thought about not thinking about beets. We tried not to think about not thinking about beets. We thought about beets.

We could, we reasoned, try the beets. A little, tiny, modicum of beets. A beetlette. We could try a beetlette, mixed in with other things, and see if maybe it wouldn't be quite so beety. And a fellow beetophobe had suggested trying them raw, rather than cooked, which would make them less beety as well. We could try a raw, practically infinitesimal, highly camouflaged bit of a beet, and see. Yes. We would do that. We would do that, and see, and then we could never ever ever eat beets ever again.

Except that after all that, we kind of liked them.

Baby greens
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sherry vinegar
2-3 lemon cucumbers, peeled, quartered, and sliced
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 radishes, halved, sliced, then turned crosswise and sliced into thin strips
1 beet, peeled and grated
1-3 carrots, peeled and grated
2 medium- or hard-boiled pastured eggs, quartered

Whisk together a generous dousing of olive oil with about a third as much vinegar to form an emulsion, and add a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste. Toss the greens with enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat them (you'll also want a little more vinaigrette to drizzle over the salad, so save a bit or make more if necessary).

Arrange a heaping bed of greens on each plate, then layer on the cucumbers, radishes, and chickpeas. Sprinkle liberally with the grated beets and carrots, and drizzle a couple more spoonfuls of vinaigrette over the top. Add the egg on top or on the side, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Serves 2 hungry beetophobes as the main part of a meal, or more as a side salad.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Simple Chickpea Spread

This could easily be made in larger batches and stored in the fridge. You would think that using "home-grown" versus canned chickpeas wouldn't matter for something like this, but the home-grown ones surprised me yet again -- they give the spread a deeper, fuller, nuttier flavor.

2-3 cups cooked chickpeas
Olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, pressed
Pinch or two of saffron
Ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/3 cup vegetable broth
Small handful cilantro, chopped

Saute the onion with a pinch of salt in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add the garlic. Stir a few times, then add the chickpeas, saffron, and a liberal dousing of cumin. Saute for another minute or two. Add the turmeric and veggie broth, stir, cover, and turn the heat down slightly. Simmer for 10 minutes or so to let flavors blend, stirring once or twice and adding a little more broth or water if it starts to dry out. Turn the heat off, and add the cilantro.

Blend the chickpea mixture in a Cuisinart or blender until smooth, adding a little olive oil and/or broth if it's too dry. Serve warm or at room temperature on bread, toast, or crackers.

Serves 2-3 as part of dinner, or more as an appetizer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Braised Turnips with Apple and Nutmeg

It's a turnipy time of year, and if you get a CSA box, you're likely to find them soon and find them repeatedly if you haven't already. We've been experimenting with different ways of cooking them, and here's a new one -- the sweetness of the apple offsets the slight bitterness of the turnips, and the whole thing tastes very autumny.

1/2 tbsp pastured butter
1-2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 turnips, peeled, sliced, and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
Pinch salt 
1-2 apples, peeled, sliced, and cut into smaller pieces
1/4-1/2 cup veggie broth
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Liberal dousing of freshly ground white pepper
Pinch brown sugar

Heat butter and olive oil in a wide pan over medium-high heat. Add the turnips and stir to coat. Cook until lightly browned on one side, then mix in the apples. Cover the pan and continue to cook for another minute or two to brown, then stir, cover, and let brown again. When the turnips are a nice golden brown on all sides, turn heat down to medium, add a little veggie broth, and cover the pan to let simmer for about 5-7 minutes or until turnips are tender (you should check the pan every 2 minutes or so, stir, and add more broth if it's starting to dry out). Last, add the nutmeg, white pepper, and a pinch of brown sugar, and season with salt to taste.

Serves 2-3.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Best. Squash. Ever.

We're completely addicted to Delicata squash, but roasting it and filling it with sauteed leeks and sage and toasted pine nuts takes that obsession to a whole new level.

Olive oil
2 Delicata squash of similar size
A small handful of pine nuts
1 small to medium leek, white and light green parts, minced
8-10 fresh sage leaves, sliced into thin ribbons or chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Rinse and dry squash, cut in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Rub cut face with a little olive oil and place face down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 25-35 minutes until they just start to soften slightly.

Meanwhile, heat a small pot over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and toast, stirring or tossing occasionally, until they begin to turn golden. Push to the side and add a generous glug of olive oil. Wait for a few seconds till it heats, then stir to coat the pine nuts. Add leeks and continue to cook for several minutes, stirring, until they soften. Add sage and a pinch or two of salt, cook for another minute, then add white pepper to taste and turn off the heat.

Turn squash cut side up on the baking sheet. Spoon the leek mixture into the squash halves, spreading it evenly along each one, then return them to the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes until the squash is just soft enough that it gives easily when a spoon is pressed into it.

Serve hot. I just found out that you can eat the skin of a Delicata squash and it's often delicious (thanks, Dad), but we thought this version was even better just scooping out the insides. This would be a good dish for a dinner party -- fancy-looking and fancy-tasting, but pretty much a breeze to make.

Serves 4 as a dinner party side dish when everyone is on good behavior, or 2-3 if you're unconstrained by social norms and can't help but go back for seconds.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Roasted Pumpkin with Cilantro, Chickpeas, and Thyme

I should be posting something from this past week, which has been stuffed, one might say, like a turkey (or perhaps, like a homemade ravioli) with collective cooking and shared food...starting with a homemade pasta party on Sunday and continuing through yesterday with a vaguely Thanskgiving-themed gourmet feast.

But all this will have to wait, because, as everyone knows, the first question that pops into your head after you've cleared out your houseguests and leftovers and emerged from your post-Thanksgiving food coma several hours or days later is: Can I eat that? And if you're gazing at the pie pumpkin you bought up at Apple Hill several weeks ago because it looked like it would make a nice autumn-evoking centerpiece, the answer is a resounding and emphatic YES.

1 smallish pumpkin (ours was a pie pumpkin about 8-9 inches in diameter, or substitute an heirloom or butternut squash)
Olive oil
2 small yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 large jalapeno, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
A big handful of cilantro, chopped
1/4-1/2 cup veggie broth
1 tbsp brown sugar (or less if using a sweeter squash)
2 cups well-cooked chickpeas

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut pumpkin in half, scoop out seeds, and rub cut sides with a little olive oil. Roast face-down for 25-40 minutes or until just tender, turning heat down to 375 if it starts to get too brown. Let cool until it's easy to handle, then cut into 1-inch slices, peel, and cube.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large, wide pan with deep sides over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and saute until soft. Add the jalapeno, cook for another minute or two, then add the garlic. Saute for half a minute and then add the pumpkin, thyme, a pinch of salt, and a little more olive oil. Stir to coat.

After sauteing for another minute or two, add the cilantro and 1/4 cup of the broth, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cover the pan. Simmer for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors blend, and until the pumpkin is soft, adding more broth if it starts to dry out.

Next, add the brown sugar, another pinch of salt, and a dash of black pepper, and use a potato masher to gently mash the squash to form a coarse puree. Fold in the chickpeas and cook for another few minutes until heated through. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve garnished with cilantro.

Goes well with brown basmati rice simmered with cumin and saffron.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pan-fried Garbanzos with Peppers and Greens

By all rights, this should have been a disaster. Bok choy and garbanzo beans clearly don't mix, and I honestly don't understand my fascination with saffron or my inability to keep from throwing it into dishes in which it obviously does not belong. And yet instead of being disastrous, this dish turned out surprisingly well, and even bordered on addictive. Which actually probably explains my obsession with saffron...I tend to throw it in when it a dish is already moving in bizarre directions, and then when it turns out, I associate the resulting deliciousness with the pinch of fiery red strands I couldn't help but toss into the pan.

Serve this over black Forbidden rice or brown jasmine rice.

Olive oil
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
A couple generous sprinklings of black mustard seeds
A pinch of saffron, crumbled
1-2 bell peppers (white, red, purple, green, whatever), halved and sliced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, pressed
2-4 heads of bok choy, sliced crosswise into one-inch pieces
1/4-1/2 cup veggie broth
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large, wide pan over high heat. When hot, add the garbanzos and shake the pan to coat them with olive oil. Let sit for a minute, then shake again. Wait until a few start to pop, shake to stir, and wait again, adding a little more olive oil if necessary to keep the bottom of the pan coated. After several minutes, they should start to turn a little golden brown.

Next, add the mustard seeds and saffron, stir a few times, then add the peppers and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Turn the heat down and add the garlic, wait a few seconds, then stir to combine. Add the bok choy, a pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup of broth, cover the pan, and let the greens steam for a minute or two until you can get a spatula under them to mix them in with the garbanzos. If the pan is dry, add a little more broth, stir, and cover to steam again for another minute or until greens have started to wilt. Uncover, stir-fry for another minute or so, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.

Serves 2-3.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roasted Kale

Speaking of kale, and of roasting, and of quick and easy ways to put plants on your table: Roasted kale may be both the easiest and the most delicious kale recipe we've tried yet. Wash and dry leaves, cut crosswise 3 or 4 times into wide strips, and toss with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet or baking pan (it should be a couple layers deep), and roast at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Toss or turn kale with tongs, and roast for another 6-8 minutes or until most of the pieces are a little crispy. Serve hot.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Easy Roasted Veggies

Swimming in a sea of swiftly approaching deadlines? Toss your plants in the oven while you type madly on your computer. I can't think of a vegetable that wouldn't be good roasted, although surely there must be something. Lettuce, I suppose. Please do not roast your salad. But yes on root vegetables, or cauliflower, or practically anything else. Cut them into chunks, toss with olive oil, a pinch of salt, and some freshly ground black pepper, and roast in the oven at 400-425 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until nicely browned and tender, stirring every 10-15 minutes or so.

Play around with spreading them out in a wider pan versus clumping them together several layers deep -- layering keeps them moist, but if they stay too wet, they won't brown as nicely. (My turnips tonight ended up getting wetter than I expected, so halfway through, I spread them out more sparsely in the pan, and they soon turned golden (and purple, due to the purple carrots, which ended up looking kind of neat).

Side note: I notice, upon rereading the preceding paragraph, a distinct lack of grammatical correctness, or at the very least a glaring absence of a second closing parenthesis. This is because my brainpower has been usurped by the aforementioned deadlines. I take no responsibility. None.

Onward, then: Turnips are particularly good with a little pressed garlic thrown in, and I always love huge pans full of roasted root veggies this time of year (turnips, parsnips, carrots, yams, potatoes, fennel bulb, you name it -- mix with olive oil and garlic, then add a bit of chopped parsley just before you serve). Roast cauliflower until tender and sprinkle with a tiny bit of ground cumin and some ñora pepper. Eat. Enjoy. Thumb your nose at the evil deadlines.

P.S. Found it:    )

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cucumber Salad with Pan-Seared Kale

I can't help but feel that kale and I have some unfinished business. After my summertime kale saga and subsequent declaration of victory, I pretty much checked kale off a mental list of untried vegetables and have been blithely ignoring it for the most part since. But kale, I suspect, has unplumbed depths. It is more than a risotto ingredient or toast topper. I have not, in short, given kale its due.

Case in point: It can apparently be pan-seared with black sesame seeds and tossed with cucumbers and rice vinegar for a delicious and vaguely Japanese-ish accompaniment to take-out sushi.

2 small or one large cucumber, diced
Seasoned rice vinegar
Olive oil
Black sesame seeds
7-10 leaves dino kale, rinsed, dried, and sliced crosswise into ribbons

Sprinkle the cucumber with rice vinegar, stir, and set in the fridge to chill and crisp for at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add a liberal sprinkling of sesame seeds and stir for 10 seconds or so, then add the kale. Toss with the sesame seeds (I found tongs to be the most useful here) and cook, turning occasionally but not too often, until wilted and just slightly browned or seared. Set aside (or in the fridge) to let it cool to room temperature.

Mix the kale and cucumber together, and serve.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fall Apples with Limoncello

We arrived home from our annual autumn pilgrimage to Apple Hill in Placerville a couple weeks ago loaded down with local mutsu, granny smith, wine sap, golden delicious, and rome apples (not to mention pears, honeycomb, and a bottle of wine from Wofford Acres). We've quickly devoured most of them, but had a few left to dress up a bit for dessert a few nights ago.

You'll want crisp apples for this, and slightly sour works well to balance the sweetness of the limoncello.

3 apples, chilled
A shot of limoncello

Slice apples and cut into bite-sized pieces. Toss with limoncello, and serve. (Guard carefully against errant forks from greedy dinnertime companions.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil

I never realized spaghetti squash was actually like spaghetti until we cooked one last night. I still don't quite understand how the noodly goodness that emerged could have possibly come from a squash, and I'm pretty sure we need to make this at least five or ten more times before I'm convinced that the transformation has nothing to do with oven leprechauns switching the squash innards out for noodles when I'm not looking.

1 spaghetti squash
Olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed
A basket of grape tomatoes, halved
1 regular tomato, diced
A big handful of basil leaves, chiffonade
A small handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
A handful of savoyed green mustard (or substitute regular mustard greens or arugula), chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Halve the spaghetti squash and gently remove the seeds (if they're hard to get, you can also wait until after it's cooked, which can make it a bit easier). Brush cut surface with olive oil and place face down on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on size, until a fork inserts with little resistance (you want it to be tender but not mushy, or the noodles won't retain their shape). Let cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the onion in some olive oil over medium heat. When soft, add the garlic, cook for another minute or so, then add the tomatoes, herbs, a pinch of salt, and a liberal dousing of pepper. After about a minute, add the greens and saute till just wilted.

Gently scoop the squash out of its rind with a large spoon, and toss with the tomato mixture (either in the pan or in a bowl if the pan's not big enough), gently pulling apart the strands of spaghetti squash. Grate some parmesan over the top, toss once or twice, and serve.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Baby Chard with Shallot and Tomato

I usually cook chard with some garlic and olive oil, but somehow we ran out of garlic a few nights ago and didn't notice until after we'd already been to the store. In my apprehensive fridge-raiding to find complementary ingredients that would be flavorful but not too sweet, I threw an assortment of random things into a pan, which somehow became what may actually be my favorite chard recipe yet. (If you don't have access to baby chard, just slice regular chard into ribbons and cook it a few minutes longer.)

Olive oil
1 medium shallot, sliced
1 mild or medium chili pepper, minced
1/2 carton cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
A big, two-handed pile of baby chard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sherry vinegar

Saute the shallot and chili in olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes and saute, stirring, for another minute or two, then add the chard and a pinch of salt. Saute for 1-2 minutes until the chard is just wilted, then turn off the heat and add pepper and a spoonful of sherry vinegar or a little more to taste. Toss to coat evenly, and serve.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chayote (or Zucchini) Stuffed Squash

Just when we thought the produce in our produce box couldn't get any more exotic, these appeared.

It seems to me that even the most stalwart of vegetable adventurers might be forgiven for taking one look at these and stashing them in the depths of the vegetable drawer for a couple of weeks.

Fortunately, they keep well. When a second round appeared in our box again last Friday, I resigned myself to having to actually figure out what on earth to do with them.

Step 1: Consult handy weekly insert that explains what on earth is in the box. Insert calls them "chayote." Hello, chayote. You look weird. Not that weird is necessarily a bad thing.

Step 2: Consult the Google. A Wikipedia entry helpfully notes that these are also called choko and pear squash and a handful of other names, and says they are native to Mesoamerica. Also they are edible. Good to know. There are a handful of online recipes, many of which pair it with cilantro, which would require a trip to the store, and some of which suggest peeling it. This is comforting: One is not required to eat the spiny outcroppings. I peel one. It looks light green and shiny and, compared to its pre-peeled state, reassuringly domesticated.

Step 3: Gaze half-heartedly into the depths of the fridge for inspiration. Notice the Thema Sanders Sweet Potato Squash (also from the CSA box, shaped like an acorn squash but colored like a butternut) languishing on the top shelf. (No, I do not know why we put it in the fridge. It's been that sort of month.) Precipitously decide to try something random and hope for the best.

1 acorn or sweet potato squash, halved, with the seeds scooped out
Olive oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 rounded tbsp pine nuts
1 chayote, peeled, grated, and squeezed gently to drain excess liquid
   (or substitute a zucchini)
A small tomato, diced
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
A pat or two of pastured butter

Preheat oven to 375. Brush the cut surface of the squash with olive oil and set face down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes until it starts to get tender (when you poke the outside of the squash, it should give a little).

Meanwhile, heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts and toast until they start to turn golden, then add the olive oil and the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion starts to caramelize. Turn the heat down to medium, then add the chayote and saute for about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, a pinch or two of salt, and a liberal dousing of freshly ground pepper, and cook for another minute or two. Last, add the parsley and butter, stir until melted, and turn off the heat.

Turn the squash cut side up. Fill each half with the chayote mixture, then return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until the squash is very soft. Let cool for a few minutes, and serve.

Serves 2, and makes for a good dinner party side dish (relatively simple for something that ended up looking so fancy, and got high marks taste-wise from our house guests this weekend).

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lemon Pappardelle with Tomatoes, Basil, and Smoked Bacon

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This post, though, is about pasta. Trader Joe's has this lemon pepper pappardelle that has relatively few ingredients (all recognizable), despite being processed enough that it can't really count as a whole food. But it's really, really good. And not every night can be a cook-everything-from-scratch night.

Serve this recipe with something green on the side. It's fairly easy, and (did I mention?) really, really good.

Lemon pepper pappardelle (or you could probably use egg pappardelle, and add a little lemon zest or lemon basil to the sauce)
Olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 1/2 slices Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon (or other good-quality, pastured bacon or pancetta)
A bunch of fragrant tomatoes, cut into chunks
A big handful of fresh basil, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Splash white wine
A little Parmesan

Cook the pappardelle according to package directions, then drain.

Meanwhile, saute the onion in some olive oil over medium heat till soft, then remove and set aside. Add the bacon to the pan and cook for a few minutes until it starts to brown a little, then add the onion back in and also the garlic. Cook for a minute more, then stir in the tomatoes, half the basil, a pinch of salt, and some pepper. After a minute or two, add a small splash of wine, cook for another minute, and then turn off the heat.

Add the rest of the basil and the cooked pasta to the pan, toss, and serve with a little parmesan grated over the top.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eggplant with Curry and Cilantro

I tend to be ambivalent about big purple eggplants -- on the one hand, they're so delightfully purple, and can sometimes taste wonderful grilled. On the other hand, I find it suspicious and worrying when vegetables bite back. Japanese eggplants and other smaller varieties lack the bitterness and tough skins of their fat purple cousins, and often seem more buttery and flavorful, and are especially addictive in curries or (in this case) recipes vaguely inspired by the notion of a curry.

Eggplant (We used three smallish purple-and-white ones, which may have been an Italian variety called Listada de Gandia, but Japanese eggplant would certainly work here and a regular eggplant might too)
Olive oil
A little chopped yellow onion
A scattering of black mustard seeds
Small spoonful of good-quality curry powder
A few thin slices of fresh ginger, julienned
Small handful of cilantro, chopped
Splash of cream (optional)

Cut the eggplants into pieces (if you're using a smaller variety, try cutting them in half lengthwise and then (still lengthwise) into half again or wedges, then turn 180 degrees and slice into one-inch pieces).

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat, add the mustard seeds and then the onion, and saute until soft. Push to the side of the pan, add a little olive oil to the opposite side, and turn up the heat a bit. Add the curry powder to the olive oil and stir a few times to toast, then combine with the onion. Add the ginger and a pinch of salt, stir once or twice, then add the eggplant and a little more olive oil if the pot has gotten dry. Stir and saute for a minute or two, then add a little water (a quarter cup or less), stir, cover, and turn the heat down to medium or medium-low. Simmer for 3-8 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding a little more water if needed, until the eggplant is soft but not mushy. Add the cilantro when it's almost cooked through.

Turn off the heat, add just a small splash of cream if desired, and serve hot.

Serves 2.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cucumber Salad with Radish and Lemon Basil

Found in our CSA box this week: Radishes, with lush green leafy tops, lemon basil, and more melons-masquerading-as-cucumbers.

2 medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced
3-4 large radishes
A little olive oil
White wine vinegar
8-10 leaves lemon basil, chiffonade

Toss the cucumbers with a little olive oil and some vinegar, and pile them on a plate. Refrigerate for at least five minutes to get them cold and crisp. Meanwhile, cut the radishes in half lengthwise, turn cut side down, and slice each half lengthwise. Turn 90 degrees and slice crosswise (so you end up with little strips). Spoon the radishes over the cucumber, top with lemon basil, sprinkle with a little salt, and serve.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Carrots with Cumin and Mustard Seeds

I have this pet suspicion that anyone who says they don't really like vegetables must be thinking of the boiled, steamed, or canned variety.

As soon as you toss a carrot or bean or zucchini in some olive oil and put it over high enough heat to start browning, transubstantiatory and addictive things start to happen. We've definitely tucked away a full pan of oven-roasted root vegetables in a single evening between the two of us, and a single vegetable cooked on the stovetop really doesn't stand a chance of making it to the leftover phase. So if you feel a certain dispassionate aloofness toward the carrot, try cooking this. It may be that underneath your calm and cool exterior, you love them, deeply and madly.

Carrots (preferably fresh, carroty ones from a farmer's market or CSA box), cut into sticks
Olive oil
A spoonful of black mustard seeds
A small spoonful of cumin seeds

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds, stir once, and add the carrots. Use tongs to toss the carrots with the seeds until they are evenly coated, then add a tbsp or so of water, cover the pan, and turn the heat to medium.

Continue cooking, adding a spoonful of water from time to time if the pan gets too dry and turning the carrots occasionally, until they're just tender and starting to caramelize a nice goldeny brown color on the bottom (you'll want to adjust the heat up if they don't seem to be browning, and down if they start to brown too quickly). Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and serve.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Soba Noodles with Luffa Squash

This is one of those everything-but-the-kitchen sink recipes that can be made with whatever you have on hand. Luffa squash appeared in our CSA box this week, but Japanese eggplant would make a good substitute. If you have spinach or Chinese cabbage, chop some and throw it in. If you don't have curry leaves, add a bit more ginger and cilantro to keep it flavorful; if you don't have cilantro, increase or substitute something else. In other words, adjust all proportions to taste and switch things out for whatever strikes your fancy. But definitely call it Luffa Noodles at least once, out loud, because you'll feel instantly and delightfully transported into the midst of a Dr. Seuss book. (It really can't be helped. Consider: If you quickly turn the corner near the farthest side of town/and follow Horton's footprints down the block and then around/the Christmas-stealing Grinch who sometimes suntans on his stoop/you can often join the Lorax for some Luffa Noodle Soup.)

2/3 package soba noodles (typically, two of the three bundles in a package)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
Several fresh curry leaves
A spoonful of black mustard seeds A spoonful of good-quality medium curry powder
A few thin slices of fresh ginger, julienned
2 luffa squash, peeled and cubed (you can also cook it without peeling it, but we decided we liked it a little better without)
Luffa Squash
Some shiitake mushrooms (or oyster, or enoki), brushed and cut into wide slices
A few long beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup chicken or veggie broth
1 egg
Freshly ground black pepper
Small handful cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
A handful of pea shoots or bean sprouts, for garnish

Boil the noodles one minute less than directed on the package, drain, and set aside.

Heat some olive oil in a big pan over medium-high heat. Add the curry leaves and mustard seeds and stir for 15-20 seconds, then add the onion and cook until soft, turning the heat down to medium. Push onion to the side of the pan, add a bit more olive oil on the other side, then add a spoonful of curry powder to the oil, stirring to toast for a few seconds. Combine with the onion, add the ginger and saute for a minute, then add any vegetables that take a little longer to cook (the luffa squash, in this case). Stir and cook for awhile, covering the pan if it starts to dry out to create a little more liquid (you can also sprinkle a little salt on the vegetables to encourage them to release a little water). After awhile, add the mushrooms and beans, and continue cooking until tender. Sprinkle with some chopped cilantro and pepper, and turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, heat the chicken broth until it simmers. Add the soba noodles, bring back to a simmer, and then add the egg to the center of the pot. Turn off the heat, and fold a few noodles over the egg so that it's immersed. After 30 seconds or so, stir to break the yolk and let it cook into the broth.

Serve in layers: Noodles, then veggies, and top with a few sprouts and a bit more cilantro if desired.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Green Beans with Caramelized Onion

We found a big bunch of purplish green beans in our produce box last week, and they turned out to be much heartier and less watery (and also slightly fuzzier) than the typical supermarket variety. I'm not particularly a fan of boiled or steamed green beans...they get all soft and bland and squeaky...but I love them sauteed or stir-fried so that they start to get a little sweet on the outside but still stay firm and beany. This version was easy and delicious.

Olive oil
A little chopped onion
Spoonful black mustard seeds
A bunch of green beans
A little chicken broth

Saute the onion in some olive oil over medium heat until soft and sweet. Add the mustard seeds and stir a few times, then add the green beans and a little more olive oil. Toss the beans with the onions, then cover and cook for a couple minutes. Uncover, toss again, add a bit of chicken broth (enough to create some steam). Cover, turn the heat down a little, and steam for a few minutes until they're just tender but not yet soft. If there's extra liquid in the pan, turn the heat back up and simmer uncovered for a few more moments. Serve hot.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wild Rice, Asian Pear, and Blue Cheese Salad

1/2 cup wild rice
Mixed baby greens or baby arugula
A handful of pecans, toasted
Some Bleu d'Auvergne or your favorite blue cheese, crumbled
1-2 Asian pears (or substitute Bosc pears), sliced and cut into 1-inch squares
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar
Salt & black pepper

Heat a little olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the wild rice, stir for a minute or two, then add 1 cup of water. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes until cooked.

Toss the greens with some olive oil in a salad bowl. If you're using arugula, add the rice over it while it's hot so that the greens wilt just a little bit (otherwise, add it after it's cooled a little). Toss with a little sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper, then top with the Asian pears, pecans, and blue cheese.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grated Trombocino with Tomato and Basil

Trombocino again, but Italian this time, and uncooked. As if this squash wasn't unique enough already, it has an entirely different character when raw, and tastes surprisingly like honeydew melon.

1/2 trombocino squash, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)
3-4 ripe and fragrant tomatoes, sliced and quartered
A handful of fresh basil, chiffonade (if it happens to be blooming, save the flowers for garnish)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Drain the grated squash by pressing or squeezing it gently to remove some of the excess water. Combine in a bowl with the tomato and basil, drizzle with olive oil and a couple spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar, and add some black pepper. Toss, serve, and garnish with basil flowers.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trombocino Squash with Cinnamon and Cardamom

I'm madly in love with the shape of this squash. Turns out it tastes too good to keep it around for long, so I was glad to see it reappear in our CSA box this week. It's different: thin-skinned like a summer squash, but with a texture that seems a little closer to a winter squash once cooked. (I'm not sure what possessed me to add cardamom and cinnamon to it, since I assume it must be Italian, but it works.)

1/2 trombocino squash, sliced crosswise into rounds
Olive oil
2 cardamom pods, crushed
Pinch saffron

Heat a glug of olive oil in a deep pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cardamom pods and stir for 10-20 seconds, then add the saffron. Stir once or twice, then add the squash slices, turning to coat. Adjust the heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook for 3-4 minutes until the layer of squash on the bottom just starts to brown. Flip the squash slices over, add 1/4 cup of water, cover, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes, turning from time to time and adding additional quarter cups of water as necessary (you want them to primarily cook by steaming, not boiling), until the squash are very tender. Remove the cardamom pods, sprinkle the squash lightly with cinnamon and a pinch of salt, and serve.

Serves 2-3 as a side dish.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chickpea Curry with Squash and Cabbage

Found in our CSA box last weekend: tinda squash and chinese cabbage, and a recommendation to make a curry. So we did.

Serve this over some Bhutanese red rice or brown basmati rice cooked with some cumin seeds, a pinch of saffron, and a couple lightly crushed cardamom pods. (Heat a little olive oil in a pot until very hot, add the cumin seeds and stir a couple times, then add the saffron and cardamom pods, then the rice, stirring to coat the grains. Then, add the water and cook as you normally would.)

Olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
A heaping spoonful of good-quality curry powder
1 tinda squash, scrubbed and cut into thin 1-inch strips (I removed the seeds as I went, since they seemed pretty tough, although I'm not sure if you have to)
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
Ground cumin
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or canned)
A little chopped spinach (frozen works fine)
A small bunch of Chinese cabbage, julienned, rinsed, and dried
A splash of cream
A little black pepper
Some chopped fresh cilantro

Heat olive oil in a large pan over high heat. Add the mustard seeds and stir a few times until they start to pop. Add onion and a pinch of salt and turn the heat down to medium-high. Saute until translucent, turning the heat down a little if necessary.

Push the onion to the side of the pan, turn the heat back up to medium-high, and add a little olive oil to the empty side. Add the curry powder to the olive oil and stir it in so that it toasts for 5-10 seconds, then stir into the onion. Add the tinda squash and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then add the chickpeas, a pinch or two of salt, the turmeric, and a liberal sprinkling of cumin. After a minute more, add 1/4 cup of water and cover the pan. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer for 10-20 minutes, adding more water if it starts to dry out, until the squash and chickpeas are tender. At some point, taste it and make sure it's flavorful -- if not, you might want to add some more curry powder. When it's almost done, add the spinach and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Last, turn the heat back up to medium, stir in the cabbage, and cook for just a few moments until it starts to wilt. Turn the heat off, add the cream and a dash of pepper, and adjust salt and other seasonings to taste. Sprinkle with a little cilantro, and serve.

Serves 2.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tomatoes Tossed with Lemon Basil

There were purple tomatoes in our produce box this week -- perfectly ripe and wonderfully fragrant. We cut them up, tossed them with a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and then added some freshly ground black pepper and a liberal sprinkling of chopped lemon basil. There's not much you have to do to amazing tomatoes to make them amazing, and so despite its simplicity, this salad was heavenly.

I hadn't appreciated lemon basil until it started showing up in our weekly box, and I can't remember seeing it in stores very often. It seems like the sort of thing that might be worth sticking in a pot on your back porch to have on hand. Use less of it in a salad like this than you would with regular basil.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Squash, and the Zen of Cooking

The school year has started, and with it, the typical fall onslaught of meetings and manuscripts and grant deadlines and teaching and treading in a sea of urgent emails. A few nights ago, I dragged myself to the car after a ten-hour day only to get stuck in a freak traffic jam for an hour, then arrived home and realized I still had six things left to do after all, and my husband was going to be stuck at the hospital until 9. I thought about my sanguine summer self with a kind of wistful resignation. My mind felt vaguely like it had been run over by a truck, I was sleep-deprived enough that my eyes hurt, and the last thing I remotely wanted to do was cook an involved dinner out of stupid, non-microwaveable, time-consuming whole foods. I wanted a packet to open and dump into a bowl, or a can, to open and dump in a bowl, or something hot and salty and deliverable. I wanted to lie on the couch and not move except for chewing purposes.

But, we were out of cream for coffee in the morning. So I at least needed to go to the coop and get cream. And while I was there, I could pick up a less-processed-than-most-processed-things processed thing from the deli. And I could bring it home, and stick a fork in it, and then stick the fork in my mouth. Yes. That is what I would do.

So I went to the coop, exhausted, and I walked in the door, exhausted, and I walked over to the dairy case, except that on the way there I noticed the avocados. And then I got distracted by pea shoots. Plus they have this amazing house made Andouille lamb sausage, which would be pretty easy to cook. And figs. And delicata squash.
In just a few minutes, my basket was full.

I came home, still tired but less so, and started peeling cucumbers, and picking up big fistfuls of pea shoots, and slicing into the squash, and thinking about where these plants came from and how they were harvested, and how before that they sat out in a field eating energy from the sun and transforming it into leaves and shoots and seeds, and how we then take that energy and transform it yet again. And suddenly, instead of feeling exhausted, I felt happy and energized, like when you think you're too tired to go for a swim or a run but then feel enlivened halfway into it. I sliced and chopped and  roasted and pan-fried, and we ate a late feast.

So what I'm saying, I think, is that this food thing is important. I'm going to try, very hard, not to lose it in the shuffle.

Roasted Delicata Squash

Delicata squash, halved lengthwise, with seeds scooped out
Pasture butter
Pine nuts (optional)
Freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place the squash halves cut side down on a large piece of foil on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn cut side up. Flake just a little butter into each half, and sprinkle with some pine nuts.

Fold the foil so it covers the squash and continue cooking until tender (about 15-25 more minutes). Grate nutmeg over the top, let cool for a couple minutes, and serve.