Friday, September 30, 2011

Orzotto with Ripe Tomatoes and Sweet Basil

Have I mentioned that the fall quarter started? The fall quarter started. Inevitably, this means we run completely out of groceries without noticing, and then act shocked when it happens, as though we vaguely remembered there being small and assiduous grocery gnomes who did this sort of thing for us last time. (There have never been grocery gnomes, just in case you were suddenly perking up, wondering where to get some. Maybe at Costco. I will check).

Anyway, a few nights ago, after a fruitless 8pm run to our beloved Co-op for some quick-and-easy dinner ingredients, which happened to all be completely sold out, we begrudgingly started rooting around in our cupboards and fridge and garden for something remotely palatable to cook. Except that this turned out to be wonderful -- an Italianish, risotto-esque dinner that cooks in a fraction of the time thanks to the orzo pasta substituting for rice. So next time you have perfectly ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, try throwing this together. You can use white orzo instead of whole wheat if the latter proves difficult to track down (we found ours at Market of Choice in Oregon, but surely there must be other places that carry it), and either way, the whole dish takes less than 20 minutes.

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dried whole wheat orzo pasta
1 small clove garlic, pressed
3 medium-sized ripe, fragrant tomatoes, cut into what I'm going to call hunks (1-inch pieces or so) and sprinkled with 2 pinches salt (let sit for up to 30 minutes to bring out flavor)
30 leaves fresh sweet and/or purple basil, chiffonade
1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
3 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted (heat in a pan over medium heat, shaking frequently, till lightly brown)

Bring the broth to a boil in a medium-sized pot and add the orzo. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 8-10 minutes until just barely al dente. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more, then add the tomatoes and basil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are warmed through. Turn off the heat, throw in the parmesan, stir to combine, and spoon into bowls. Sprinkle with pine nuts and garnish with a small sprig of basil.

Serves 2, and pairs very well with Cline's Ancient Vine Zin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roasted Kale with Parmesan

Let us say, hypothetically, that you have been eating a lot of roasted kale. And let's say that perhaps, despite the fact that deep down, you know you have an unholy and unshakeable addiction, you like to occasionally exclaim, just for appearance's sake, "Oh, I wish there was something different to do with this plain old kale!"*

Funny you should mention it, because here is something different to do with that plain old kale: Roast it, and then sprinkle it with a little parmesan cheese.


1 bunch green kale, cut crosswise into strips, rinsed very well, and dried in a salad spinner
Olive oil
About 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated with a microplane**
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the kale with some olive oil (enough to lightly coat the leaves) and arrange on a baking sheet. Slide into the oven, roast for 10 minutes, then flip the pieces and roast for 5-10 minutes more until the leaves are crisp and the stems are soft. Sprinkle lightly with parmesan, and roast for another minute. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, and serve hot.

*Some people may in fact say this in a vain attempt to convince others not to eat their kale, because of its supposedly boring nature, therefore leaving more for some people to eat themselves. Some people have deep-seated, leafy obsessions where their moral compasses used to be. Just saying.

**Microplanes are awesome, but that wasn't the point of this footnote. Instead, I was planning to mention that when you grate cheese with a microplane, it ends up quite a bit fluffier and larger in volume than when you grate the same amount of cheese with a regular cheese grater, so adjust the amount accordingly. You don't want too much parmesan here -- just enough for a light dusting over the kale.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Warmed Tomatoes and Basil over Garlicky Greens

This was a let's-cook-whatever's-in-the-fridge dish, and yet the flavors turned out to be perfectly balanced and wonderfully complex. You could use just regular sweet basil if you didn't have both kinds (and maybe try adding just a bit more sherry vinegar to compensate for losing the hint of lemon).

Olive oil
1 slice multigrain bread, chopped into small croutons
1 cup cooked and well-drained chickpeas and/or cannellini beans
1 clove garlic, sliced
2-3 large handfuls fava greens, amaranth greens, or spinach
1 tsp sherry vinegar, divided
Salt and black pepper
Ñora pepper
6-10 fresh sweet basil leaves
2-3 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1 rounded tsp chopped lemon basil

Heat a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add a generous glug of olive oil and swirl around the pan. Add the bread and toss to coat lightly, then shift to the side of the pan and scatter the beans on the other side (everything should be just one layer thick). Toast, shaking or stirring occasionally, until everything begins to turn golden brown.

Turn the heat down slightly, add the garlic and a bit more olive oil, and toss to combine. Saute for about a minute, then add the greens and saute until they begin to wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper, add a few dashes of ñora pepper if you have it, drizzle with 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar, and throw in the basil leaves. Stir a few times, then serve into bowls.

Replace the pan on the heat, add about 1 tbsp olive oil, then slide the tomatoes in and sprinkle with salt. Saute for about a minute, stirring occasionally (you basically just want to warm them up without really cooking them). Add the lemon basil, a little black pepper, and a half tsp (or just a little more) of sherry vinegar. Saute for about another minute or until the tomatoes are just barely warmed through, then serve over the beans.

Garnish with basil, and serve hot.

Serves 2 for lunch, or pair with a salad and bread for dinner.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tomato Risotto with Spinach and Saffron

It's autumn. The breeze has turned crisp, the squirrels have begun the careful process of remodeling our lawn into an artful (from their perspective) and not-so-artful (from our perspective) treasure trove of random holes and buried nuts, and our fall quarter officially starts today. It is time, one might conclude, to transition from summertime tomatoes and cool salads to roasted root vegetables and warm autumnal soups.

Except that yesterday, it was 95 degrees in Sacramento, and it seemed like it would be deeply irresponsible to turn on the oven for an hour. Next week, maybe. For now, I'm still stuck on tomatoes.

14 oz chicken and/or veggie broth
2 pinches saffron threads
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, one pressed and one slivered
Olive oil
1 rounded cup Arborio rice
White wine
3 cups Aztec or baby spinach (or sub baby arugula)
2 cups or so cubed ripe tomatoes
1/2-3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
A few chives, for garnish

Combine the broth and saffron in a small pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add a generous glug of olive oil. Add the onion and saute, stirring, until it begins to smell sweet, then add the pressed garlic. Continue cooking for another minute or so.

Add the rice, and stir to coat the grains. Saute, stirring, for about 2 more minutes, then add a ladleful of wine. Cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed, then begin adding the saffron-infused broth by the ladleful, stirring until each one is absorbed before adding the next. It usually takes about 20 minutes for a two-person risotto to cook (that time can increase quite a bit if you double the recipe), but it depends on how high your heat is and how often you stir.

When you have about three ladlefuls of broth left and rice is almost done but still just slightly crunchy on the inside, add about a third of the tomatoes to the risotto and stir to combine. Meanwhile, heat a saute pan over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and the slivered garlic, and saute for a minute until it softens. Add the greens and a pinch of salt and stir a few times, then add the rest of the tomatoes. Saute for a minute or two until they are just warmed through, then turn off the heat.

When the rice is tender and you have about one ladleful of broth left, add about half of the sauteed tomato mixture to the risotto, stir gently to combine, and turn off the heat. Add a little more broth if necessary to get a creamy texture, stir in the cheese, and adjust salt to taste.

Spoon into bowls, top with the rest of the sauteed tomato and greens, and sprinkle with chives before serving.

Serves 2-3.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Roasted Kale and Quinoa

Something about the crispness of roasted kale goes perfectly with light and fluffy quinoa. This has become our go-to pairing with our Co-op's house-made, local lamb sausages for a quick and easy (but absolutely mouthwatering) late-night dinner, but it would also go well with chicken or fish or a simple chickpea recipe.

1/2 cup red quinoa (firmer and nuttier)
1/2 cup white quinoa (lighter and fluffier)
Olive oil
1/2 med to large yellow onion, chopped
1 1/3 cups chicken broth
1 bunch red kale, cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch pieces, rinsed very well, and dried
Kosher salt

Combine the red and white quinoa in a sieve and rinse, then soak in cold water for 10-20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the quinoa well, then add it to the onion and sauté for a few moments more. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Drizzle a baking pan with olive oil, add the kale, drizzle with more olive oil, and toss to coat well. When there are about 15 minutes left on the quinoa, slide the kale into the oven and roast for 15-18 minutes until the pieces turn crispy and the stems are soft (you'll want to remove it from the oven once in the middle and turn the pieces over so they crisp evenly. If it's spread out in a single layer, it will cook more quickly than this, and if it's more than three layers deep, you might need a few extra minutes).

Sprinkle the kale with kosher salt, and serve over the quinoa.

Serves 3-4 (but note that once you're properly addicted to roasted kale, 1 bunch serves 2 people at most).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


There has been, I'm afraid, a distinct lack of pickles in our household since the Great Deprocessing of Aught Ten, which has struck some of us as a deep and abiding tragedy. So when Delikatesse cucumbers appeared in our produce box along with a suggestion to pickle them, we insightfully remarked, with our typical culinary eloquence: "Ooooh, pickles!"

I had pictured pickling as some involved, painstaking process involving special jars and effort and jets of steam (not sure where I got the steam idea, but it's definitely in my inner mental pickling picture). Turns out it involves none of these, takes less than ten minutes, and produces absolutely delicious, crunchy, tart, delightful pickles.

Make them. Eat them. Promise yourself that you'll bring some to your friends. Delight in your generosity. Eat a pickle to celebrate it. Sorrowfully notice that you seem to have no pickles left. Make more.

Ingredients (recipe adapted from our produce box insert)
About 6-8 crunchy, short-and-fat cucumbers, cut lengthwise into halves or quarters
1 cup good quality white wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped spring onion (could sub red onion, or a little less shallot)
Big handful parsley, chopped
2-3 tsp sugar
1 tsp pink peppercorns (optional but highly recommended)

Pack the cucumber spears into a glass tupperware or other container. Combine the rest of the ingredients except the peppercorns in a pot and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Pour over the cucumbers, add the peppercorns, and let sit for about half an hour to cool. Cover the container tightly and stick it in the fridge for at least three days.

After 2-3 days, you can taste one and adjust the salt or sugar if needed (ours were a bit too acidic and so we added a bit more sugar...this will depend on the sweetness of your vinegar).

We assiduously and selflessly tried our pickles every day for a week, in the name of Science and also in the name of that deep, primal, and no doubt universal "Ooh! A pickle!" response upon opening the refrigerator door, and concluded they were best on Days 5 and 6. But you should probably conduct your own tests, just to be sure.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pardon Me, Waiter, but There's Some Champagne in My Fruit Cup

Okay, let's say you're stranded on a desert island with only one coconut husk, a bottle of sparkling Viognier, and some strawberries and figs. On the surface, this would seem like a horrible situation -- do you use the coconut husk as a glass to drink the champagne, thereby missing out on dessert, or do you use it as a bowl for a fruit salad, but miss out on the champagne? (Obviously, you can't just drink the champagne out of the bottle, since you don't want to risk looking like a lush when the cruise ship drops by to rescue you.)

Fear not, sea-bound readers. We have discovered the perfect solution to what is surely an age-old dilemma. Just make sure to only frequent desert islands with free Wi-Fi so you can refer back to this and other single-husk recipes as needed.

Ripe, fragrant strawberries, sliced crosswise (or any berries)
Fresh figs, cut into quarters or sixths
Sparkling Viognier or champagne (you'll probably want to stay on the sweeter side unless your fruit is very sweet)

Combine the fruit in single-serving dishes. Drizzle each serving with a slosh of champagne, and let sit for 2-3 minutes before serving.

P.S. In other news, look what photo was recently picked to feature on FoodPornDaily!
(Thank you to Ann at Il Fiorello for directing us to the website!)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Baby Lettuces with Trombocino and Tomato

It may be September, but summertime ain't over till the fat lady sings about tomatoes not being in season anymore.

2-3 handfuls mixed baby lettuces
2 cups grated trombocino squash (if you can't find this, zucchini might work in its place), squeezed gently to remove a bit of the excess water if it's very juicy
1-2 cups sliced tomatoes (if large, halve or quarter before slicing)
Several sprigs cinnamon basil, chopped (can sub any other basil)
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar
Freshly ground white pepper

Whisk about 3 parts olive oil to 1 part sherry vinegar in a small bowl to form an emulsion. Add a pinch or two of salt and a liberal dusting of white pepper.

Toss the lettuce in a salad bowl with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat. Add the grated trombocino and drizzle with a little more vinaigrette, then top with the tomatoes and a sprinkling of basil (note that cinnamon basil and fino verde are both stronger than sweet basil, so adjust the amount down or up accordingly). Drizzle with another spoonful or two of vinaigrette, and serve.

Serves 2 as part of a light summer dinner. Toss gently before serving onto plates.