Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grilled Corn Soup with Peppers and Cilantro

I am deeply ambivalent about corn.

On the one hand, everything I wrote here.

On the other hand, corn muffins, corn bread, cornmeal gnocchi, corn pancakes, cornmeal pizza crusts, grilled corn on the cob. Back on the first hand, corn on the cob after it's gotten stuck in your teeth when you're sitting somewhere trying to have a polite conversation with someone while developing a new technique for turning your tongue 270 degrees in order to try, and of course ultimately fail, to get it out. On the second hand, corn soup. CORN SOUP.

I have this fixation about it. Can't not order it when I see it on a swanky restaurant menu. Roll my eyes around embarrassingly in front of fellow diners while eating it. Chatter about it incessantly through the rest of the meal. "Go home!" the fellow diners say, and I reply, "Corn soup! Corn soup! Did you taste it? Wasn't it amazing?"

After a recent episode involving corn and zucchini soup at Chez Panisse, I decided it was finally time to stop mooning over it in restaurants and make it ourselves. So we did. This version serves two (or maybe three, if you were just serving little cups of it), but would be easy to double or triple. If you can find Padrón peppers (available right now at our co-op in Sacramento as well as The Spanish Table in Berkeley), they work perfectly as a garnish on the top, and you can fry a batch up to serve on the side while you're at it.

3 ears fresh summer corn
1 clove garlic, pressed
Olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsps cream
3-4 Padrón peppers (optional -- you could also try a little grilled bell pepper, chopped, or just a bit of mild jalapeno, minced)
Small handful baby arugula, coarsely chopped
A few fresh cilantro berries (15 or so) or sub a little chopped fresh cilantro

Shuck the outermost leaves off the corn, leaving a couple layers of husk all the way around. Dunk the ears in a bowl of cold water and let soak for about 15 minutes. Preheat the grill to 350 degrees.

Shake the water from the ears, peel back the husk (but don't rip it off) and remove the silk. Rub each ear with some olive oil and garlic, then replace the husk and tie once around each ear with twine. Grill over medium heat for about 8 minutes, turning two or three times as it browns. Move away from the heat or to the upper rack and continue cooking another 10 minutes or so until kernels are tender. Set aside to cool, then cut the kernels from each ear.

Heat a pot over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil, then the onion and a pinch of salt. Saute until the onion is soft and sweet-smelling. Add the corn and saute for another couple of minutes, then add enough chicken broth to cover the corn. Bring to a gentle boil, turn the heat down to medium low, and cover. Simmer 5-10 minutes, until the corn kernels taste tender and fully cooked.

Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add a drizzle of olive oil, then the Padrón peppers. Fry for 1-3 minutes, turning as white blisters develop on the bottom of each pepper. When all sides are blistered, turn off the heat and set the peppers aside for a couple minutes to cool. Slice crosswise into small rings.

When the soup is done, turn off the heat and puree with an immersion blender until smooth or desired consistency. If the soup is too thin, you can simmer off a little more liquid for a minute or two; if it's too thick, stir in just a bit more broth to thin it out. Next, add a dash of cumin, some freshly ground black pepper to taste, and a little more salt if needed (you probably won't need it unless your chicken broth is very low in salt). Stir in a small slosh of cream, and serve.

Garnish with cilantro berries, sliced peppers, and some chopped arugula.

Serves 2.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Smoked Trout, Two Ways

Once upon a time, we thought we shouldn't plant cilantro in the summer because it would bolt. Now we know better. Not only is green coriander an amazing find, balanced halfway between cilantro and coriander, but this week, our produce box came with a big bunch of fresh, green cilantro berries. They're like little bursts of cilantro with a hint of citrus, and we've been scattering them on everything we can think of.

Meanwhile, it's summer, and we're on the prowl for meals that don't involve turning the stove on. Like putting things on bread and eating them.

These two versions of open-faced smoked trout sandwiches taste completely different and yet share most ingredients in common, so it's easy to make both at once if you want a fancy-feeling summer picnic with fairly minimal effort. The bread could probably be toasted, but we liked it untoasted, and it's best to stick with something relatively plain to avoid overpowering the trout--a levain would work nicely, and Village Bakery's walnut levain (available at the Co-op or Taylor's, where you can also find smoked trout) was an unexpectedly perfect complement.

For a side veggie, try sauteed beet greens or chard.

Fresh bread, sliced
1/3 lb smoked trout
2 small scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts)
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 ripe, fragrant tomato, thinly sliced
Cilantro berries (or sub a light scattering of chopped fresh cilantro)

Arrange the bread slices on a plate or two, then divide the avocado and trout equally among them, layering one over the other (avocado on the bottom is slightly easier to eat later, since it's less prone to slipping off the bread).

For trout with dill and tomato: Liberally sprinkle each piece of bread with scallions and dill, and top with a slice of tomato. Grind pepper over the top, and serve.

For trout with fresh cilantro berries: Sprinkle each piece of bread with just a few scallions and some cilantro berries (6-8 cilantro berries for each half-round of bread was a good amount for us...you won't taste them much unless you bite directly into them, and then they give a burst of cilantro-y flavor...so you want to end up with about one per bite). Sprinkle with black pepper, and serve.

You'd never guess (or at least, we never would have), but the cilantro pairs amazingly well with a glass of Gnarly Head old vine zinfandel.

Serves 2 for dinner.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sauteed Zucchini and Spinach

It's best to enter late summer armed with a well-diversified portfolio of zucchini recipes. Just in case. You never know when a neighbor or friend might drop by with a smile and a small basket of what turns out to be a slip of paper promising you six truckloads of extra summer squash from the cute little innocuous vine they planted a couple years ago during their home gardening phase. Or when your own innocuous-looking vine will stop swooning melodramatically from dehydration and unexpectedly produce ten to twelve billion squash that you must then foist onto your own friends and neighbors. These things happen. And when you've reached week number three of grilling, stuffing, lasagnaing, baking, and of course eating all of that zucchini, you'll want this. Trust me. You'll love it. Here, have a truckload of zucchini.

Olive oil
1 medium to large zucchini, cut into sticks
1 medium spring onion, sliced crosswise into rings
(or sub about 1/4 cup quartered & sliced red onion)
1 garlic clove, smashed
1-2 handfuls Aztec spinach (or sub baby spinach)
Salt & freshly ground white pepper

Heat a wide pan over medium-high heat. When very hot, add a glug of olive oil. Wait till the oil heats up too (it will shimmer a little), then add the zucchini sticks and toss to coat with the oil. Spread them out evenly in the pan, and let them cook for a couple minutes until they start to lightly brown. Flip them over to start browning a different side, and add the garlic somewhere (I usually pour just a little more olive oil over the top of the clove to start it sizzling). Reduce the heat to medium.

A minute or so later, when the zucchini sticks are golden on most sides, add the onion. Continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and turns translucent. If the zucchini start to dry out at some point, you can add a pinch of salt to draw out more liquid, and/or a bit more oil.

When the zucchini is well-browned and the onion has caramelized, add the spinach. Toss to combine, and saute, stirring, until the spinach is about midway through wilting (some leaves wilted, some still not quite there). Turn off the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, stir once more, and serve.

Serves 2.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Warm Purslane Salad

Proof that whole food is not necessarily slow food: A quick and easy picnic of fresh bread and sharp cheddar, avocado, and tomato, and a simple reprise of this recipe, version 2.0. Dinner in about 10 minutes...just enough time for the wine to open.

Olive oil
2 spring onions, halved lengthwise and sliced into half rings
A big bunch purslane, cut into 1 inch pieces (thickest stems discarded)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sherry vinegar

Heat a wide saute pan over medium heat. When hot, drizzle lightly with olive oil, allow to heat through, then add the onion and a pinch of salt (to prevent it from browning). Saute until soft and sweet-smelling, about 2-3 minutes, turning the heat down a bit if necessary.

Turn the heat back up to medium and add the purslane and a touch more olive oil. Saute with the onion for about a minute -- you're basically warming the purslane, rather than cooking it. When the edges of a few of the leaves just begin to wilt, switch off the heat, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, and stir once or twice more.

Divide into bowls. Sprinkle about half a large spoonful of sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt over each serving.

Serves 2-3.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Quick Lunch: Tuscan White Beans and Chard

A perfect summertime recipe for leftover home-cooked cannellini beans, and fits the bill when you're in the mood for a weekendy backyard picnic with a glass of wine and something Italian, but can't really muster up the patience to wait for pasta water to boil.

You can substitute canned beans if you don't mind them clumping and mushing a bit (which affects looks more than taste) -- just be sure to rinse and dry them well first, and handle them a bit more gingerly than their less-overcooked homegrown cousins. 

Olive oil
2 cups cooked cannellini beans, very well drained (pat dry with a paper towel if necessary)
1 clove garlic, slivered
A big bunch of chard, sliced crosswise
4 small (2" round), ripe, fragrant tomatoes, cored and cut into large bite-sized pieces
Fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons (about 2 tbsp)
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a wide saute pan over medium to medium-high heat. When hot enough that a drop of water evaporates immediately, add a generous glug of olive oil. Wait about 15 more seconds to let the oil heat, then add the cannellini beans. Shake the pan so that the beans spread out in a single layer. Toast for 2-3 minutes until they turn lightly golden, then shake the pan again to turn them. Continue for another couple minutes until the beans are golden on multiple sides.

Add the garlic and a bit more olive oil and stir once or twice. After about 20 seconds, add the chard and a pinch of salt (as always, go easy on the salt if your beans are already salted). Saute, stirring occasionally, until the greens wilt and the stems are just cooked through, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and stir gently to combine. Cook for only about a minute more (you basically just want to warm the tomatoes), add the basil, and turn off the heat. Sprinkle in the parmesan and a generous grinding of black pepper, stir well, and serve.

Serves 2.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pasta with Pea Pesto and Bacon

There are approximately ten billion varieties of basil now growing in our garden. Or four, if you like precision, but you know what I say? I say precision is for bakers. Bakers can have four varieties of basil. I have ten billion. Ten billion basils basking in the sun, reminding me incessantly of pesto. I'm like the greedy cartoon characters with dollar signs in their eyes, only mine are full of pasta.

The thing is, though, they are small, fledgling basils. Not yet fully grown. And when you have only ten billion (four) fledgling basils, you can't really make pesto. You need, by my hyperbolic calculations, approximately six gazillion fledgling basils to make pesto. What's a slightly unhinged, grant-deadline-racing, pesto-obsessed cook to do?

Answer: Peas. (Other possible acceptable answers include: 42, and get some sleep for goodness sakes.)

Seriously, make this. It's delightful. If you have fresh peas, use them, and I'm thinking that some asparagus thinly sliced at an angle would make it even better.

Fresh linguine or tagliolini for two
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, blanched and drained
1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves
(use a bit more if it's regular sweet basil, or a bit less if it's a stronger variety like fino verde)
2-3 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts
2 large cloves garlic, one whole and one slivered
Olive oil
2 slices Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise into thin strips*
Dry white cooking wine
Several handfuls baby arugula and/or coarsely chopped amaranth greens (1/3 lb or a bit less)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a few shavings for garnish
Freshly ground white pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Combine the peas, basil, whole clove of garlic, and pine nuts in a Cuisinart and blend until smooth.

Heat a wide saute pan over medium heat. When very hot, add just a bit of olive oil, followed by the bacon. Cook until it starts to turn golden (you can remove some of the bacon grease at this point, if you want, and add a bit more olive oil in its place), then lower the heat and toss in the slivered garlic. Cook for another minute or so until the garlic is tender.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until al dente.

Meanwhile, add the pesto to the bacon and stir to combine. Allow it to warm through, then add a slosh of wine to help thin. Turn off the heat, and add the greens.

Reserve a ladleful or two of pasta water, then drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss to combine, adding pasta water as needed to thin the sauce (add just a little bit more than you think you need if the pasta is homemade, since it will soak up a bit more liquid on the way to the table). Stir in the grated parmesan.

Serve hot, with a little freshly ground white pepper and some shaved Parmesan over the top.

Serves 2.

*If you double the recipe, you only need three strips of bacon (rather than four).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sauteed Green Beans with Almonds

The trouble with green beans, I've decided, is all about texture. They insist on being too mealy, or too dry, or too rubbery and squeaky when steamed, or too shriveled when forgotten in a pan of roasted vegetables under the asparagus (although I admit the fault for the last one might technically lie with me). We found lovely, fresh, organic beans in our CSA box last week, and they sat in our fridge for days while I studiously avoided acknowledging their existence. But today, we ran out of leafy green things, and the beans were all that was left.

Fortunately, it turns out you can solve the whole dry and mealy thing with a simple one-two punch: slice, and then saute. So next time you're confronted with slightly overgrown, endearingly misshapen, texture-challenged green beans, try this.

Several handfuls green beans, sliced diagonally
(this is much easier with wider, flatter green beans, rather than round ones)
1-2 tbsp sliced almonds
Olive oil
1 small clove fresh summer garlic, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Set a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the almonds and toast, stirring or shaking the pan frequently, until they just start to turn golden brown. Add a bit of olive oil and stir to coat. Turn the heat to low, then add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds, stirring once or twice.

Add the beans, turn the heat back up to medium, and saute, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until the beans are just tender (you want them at that perfect in-between al dente between raw and completed soft and cooked).

Turn off the heat, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a bit of freshly ground white pepper, and stir. Leave in the pan until you're ready to serve so they stay hot.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

White Bean and Chickpea Spread with Cumin and Cilantro

You know how chickpeas are slightly too thick to make a good spread, and white beans are slightly too watery?

I think I may have had a culinary epiphany. Or possibly the 100 degree weather has addled my brain. Regardless, this was both easy to make and delicious. I have witnesses.

1-2 cups cooked chickpeas
1-2 cups cooked cannelini beans
1 small clove fresh summer garlic
(if you don't like the bite of raw garlic, try using a clove or two of roasted or boiled garlic -- just add one clove at a time to avoid overpowering the flavor of the other ingredients)
Fresh cilantro (again, use sparingly -- try a five-fingered pinch of leaves to start)
1 tbsp(ish) olive oil
Generous sprinkling of cumin
Dash or two paprika
Pinch or two salt (unless your beans are already highly salted)
A little freshly ground white pepper
2-3 radishes, julienned

Toss all the ingredients except the radishes in a Cuisinart and blend until smooth. Adjust the beans to chickpea ratio until you've got your desired consistency, and adjust all the herbs and spices to taste (too little spice? Add more cumin. Too much cilantro? Add a few more white beans to dilute it down again).

Serve with or over toasts or crackers (I think thinly sliced, toasted french bread would be perfect, but all we had was crackers, and that worked well too). Garnish with julienned radishes and a few leaves of cilantro if desired.

Serves 2-4 alongside other small plates for tapas.

Pairs amazingly well with a $5 bottle of Honey Moon Viognier (available at Trader Joe's. I know, we're classy).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Eggs on Toast with Aztec Spinach and Green Coriander

I'm in love with June produce. (True, some people might think of today as July, but I prefer June 33rd. Anything to maintain the illusion that my grant is due next month.)

First, there's the garlic. Soft-skinned, totally fresh, balanced between the wimpy spring variety and the dried out autumn and winter staple, perfect for adding in slices or slivers to every green vegetable you can think of. Not to mention the ones you couldn't think of because you'd never seen them until they showed up in your CSA box.

Case in point: Aztec spinach. Similar to regular spinach, but milder, and a bit drier so it holds its structure better when sauteed. Perfect for pairing with an egg atop toast on a lazy summer Sunday.

And finally, a new discovery in our produce box: green coriander. I always thought you could either eat the cilantro fresh or dry the seeds for a few months until they turned into brown coriander, but it never occurred to me to taste them in between. And, go figure, they taste more corianderish than cilantro, but fresher and more cilantro-y than coriander -- another perfect halfway point.


The point being, you should cook this and eat it. But then, that's always the point.
2 pastured chicken eggs, medium-boiled (about 7 minutes) or poached
Olive oil
1 small clove garlic, slivered
Several handfuls Aztec spinach, coarsely chopped (or sub chard, amaranth greens, or spinach)
A sprinkling of green coriander
2 slices fresh whole-grain bread, toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 nasturtium flowers* (optional)

Heat a wide pan over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and the garlic, turn the heat down a bit, and saute for about 30-60 seconds or until the garlic is tender. Add the greens, turn the heat back up to medium, and toss with the garlic and olive oil (I often use a spatula and a cooking spoon together to corral the greens until they cook down a bit). Saute for 2-4 minutes, until greens are wilted (saute regular spinach for just a minute or two, and other greens for longer). Add a light sprinkling of green coriander about a minute before it's done (you can substitute a couple pinches of chopped cilantro or parsley if you don't have green coriander).

Toast the bread, drizzle very lightly with olive oil, cover with wilted greens, and top with an egg. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garnish with a nasturtium, and serve.

Serves 2 for breakfast.

*Nasturtiums, it turns out, are not just another decorative edible flower...they actually have their own, slightly floral, slightly radishy, totally delicious taste. We kind of want to wander around our garden grazing on them like some new breed of flower-obsessed sheep.