Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peppery Greens with Strawberries

The sweetness of ripe strawberries offsets the spiciness of baby mustard greens and arugula in this quick and easy side salad.

Couple handfuls baby red mustard greens
Couple handfuls baby arugula
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar
Handful ripe strawberries, halved lengthwise and sliced

Wash greens and spin dry in a salad spinner.

Rip any larger leaves into bite-size pieces, then toss with some olive oil and just a hint of sherry vinegar (about one spoonful per salad). Serve, scatter liberally with strawberries, and sprinkle each salad with a small pinch of salt.

Serves 2-3.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mustard Seed Salmon with Garlic Blossoms and Parsley Butter

Our house guests this week brought fresh-caught salmon with them (which we think all future house guests should take as a challenge), and our produce box sent the scapes and tops from young elephant garlic. Good things were bound to happen.

To use the blossom-filled tops of the garlic scapes, cut each in half crosswise. Empty the little buds from the top half into a small bowl, then peel the bottom half and cut the buds away from the center. Garlic blossoms have a light, springy, and subtle garlicky flavor and ended up complementing the fresh salmon well without overpowering it. If you don't have garlic blossoms, use a little chopped green garlic or a finely chopped leek in its stead.

Olive oil
4 salmon filets
Black and yellow mustard seeds
Blossoms from 2-3 elephant garlic tops
2-3 big handfuls flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Pasture butter

Brush the salmon lightly with olive oil and sprinkle both sides lightly with garlic blossoms (use about half of the blossoms you have, and reserve the other half). Next, liberally sprinkle mustard seeds on both sides of the salmon.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot enough that a drop of water evaporates right away, add a bit of olive oil and let it heat for another 20-30 seconds or so (heating the pan until very hot and then heating the olive oil before adding the salmon will help make sure the fish doesn't stick to the pan).

Place the salmon in the pan skin side up. Sprinkle each fillet with a little salt, and pan fry until the bottoms are lightly golden or until the salmon is cooked through about a third of the way. If the fillets are very thick, you can lower the heat slightly and cover the pan for a couple minutes to help it cook through.

Flip the fillets, sprinkle the tops with a little salt again, and continue to cook until the salmon feels firmer when you press it gently on the top. (If you're open to trying it medium or medium-rare, do -- it's amazing. If you'd prefer to cook it through all the way, you can do that too, but turn off the heat just before it's done, since it will cook a bit more on the plate before you have a chance to eat it.)

Meanwhile, heat a small pot over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and a pat of butter, a pinch of salt, and the rest of the garlic blossoms. Saute for 10-20 seconds, then add the parsley, stir, and turn off the heat.

Arrange the salmon over rice or quinoa pilaf, and drizzle a little parsley sauce over the top. Serve right away.

Serves 4.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sorrel Soup

Spring arrived in our CSA box last week in the form of sorrel, which is apparently the gastronomic equivalent of a robin. When you acquire sorrel, you are to make sorrel soup, just as when you see a robin, you are to shout "Hey! The first robin of spring!" Now usually, when I shout about the first robin of spring, my husband smugly informs me that he saw a robin yesterday, to which I smugly reply that I actually saw a robin two weeks ago, and so begins the first faux-argument of spring. In contrast, the sorrel soup produced murmurs of contentment on both sides, and no season-specific altercation. I'm not saying I don't like robins, but if I had to vote in a bird vs. plant run-off for most beloved springtime indicator, I think I would pick the leafy green one.

Regardless of your relative preference for sorrel versus robins, here is what you should do with the former, adapted from this recipe.

1 tbsp pasture butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large-ish red spring onions, halves lengthwise and sliced (white/red part only; about 1 cup)
1-2 stalks green garlic, chopped (2-3 tbsp)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 large yellow potatoes, peeled, halved, and sliced
3 cups chicken broth
2-3 big handfuls spinach, briefly steamed or blanched, drained, and chopped
1 bunch sorrel, sliced
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Splash cream

Heat the butter and olive oil in a pot over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the spring onion and saute until soft, then add the garlic and herbs and saute for a minute more.

Next, add the potatoes and stir to coat with the onion and garlic mixture. Saute for 3-4 minutes, then add the broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about half an hour, until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, put the sorrel in a Cuisinart and blend until finely chopped.

When the potatoes are soft, remove the bay leaf and thyme stems. Stir in the spinach and then use a hand blender to puree the soup (or pour the soup into a regular blender to puree, which may be easier to do in small batches). Add salt and a little freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Just before serving, stir in the sorrel and a splash of cream (you want to do this moments before you bring the soup to the table, since sorrel turns grayish green as it cooks and after a few minutes your soup will lose some of its vivid green color. The spinach helps with this, and so does adding the sorrel raw right at the end, but it will still be prettier if you serve it sooner).

Ladle into bowls, and serve with some crusty multigrain brain and aged gouda.

Serves 3-4.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Nopalitos with Cilantro

Found in our produce box: Spineless nopales. Which seem on par with seedless watermelons, as culinary inventions go. Now if someone would only develop stingless nettles....

2-3 medium (6" or so) Luther Burbank Spineless nopales (cactus pads)
Small handful cilantro, chopped
Olive oil
Black pepper

Slice the bottom off each cactus pad, then cut crosswise into 1 inch sections. Turn 90 degrees and slice each section lengthwise (or what would have been lengthwise when the pad was whole).

Toss in a bowl with olive oil, cilantro, and a little freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve as a side salad or relish with tacos, or layer over rice and beans (here, we sauteed some chopped spring onion, Aleppo pepper, and green garlic, added a can of black beans, and simmered for 5-10 minutes before serving over red rice and sprinkling with a little pepper jack).

Serves 2-4.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mostly Plants in a Hurry: Egg Sandwich with Leafy Greens

The basic idea here is to take something oniony, something green, and a bit of a fresh herb and let them play nicely in a pan together with a couple of eggs. Dinner in ten minutes, but all leafy and fresh and flavorful. (Unlike the TV dinners that I catch myself missing once every few months when I'm mournfully wandering about our whole-foodified kitchen late at night looking for something quick and easy to make.)

Ingredients, per sandwich
Olive oil
1-2 shallots, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 cup frozen organic cut leaf spinach
1 cup sliced mystery greens from your CSA box
Couple pinches fresh chopped oregano
2 pastured eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ñora pepper
2 slices multigrain, not-too-many ingredient bread, toasted*

Heat a glug of olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, add the shallot and a pinch of salt and saute until lightly golden. Add the frozen spinach and continue to cook, stirring, until it thaws in the pan, then add the fresh leafy greens and saute until tender (a minute or two for baby greens; longer for something like chard or big mustard greens which might need to be covered for a bit of quick steaming to cook through).**

Add the oregano, stir a couple times, then turn the heat down to medium low. Crack the eggs into the pan, let sit for 10-20 seconds, and then slowly stir into the greens, breaking first one yolk, waiting a moment, then breaking the other. Sprinkle with a pinch more salt, some black pepper, and a bit of ñora pepper if you have it. Stir or flip the eggs a few times until cooked through, then turn off the heat.

Drizzle each piece of toast very lightly with olive oil, and serve with the eggs sandwiched in between.

*Finding good sandwich bread without a mile long, super-processed ingredient list can be surprisingly difficult. If you live in the Sacramento area, our current favorite is Grateful Bread Company's Woodstock bread (available at places like Taylor's and the Co-op). Or, head to your local bakery and pick up something fresh.

**Note that the secret to this recipe is all in getting enough flavor from the shallot and the greens. If you use a yellow onion instead of shallot, use about half an onion per sandwich, slice into half or quarter rings, and make sure you give it time to lightly brown in the pan before adding anything else (onions release more liquid than shallots, too, so you might wait on the pinch of salt until they've already browned). And make sure there's more greens than eggs...it seems like adding more egg would make it richer, but it's actually much more flavorful with lots of greens and only one egg than it is with mostly egg and a little green.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fresh Fava Beans

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And when fresh favas show up in your CSA box for the fourth week in a row, any patient fondness you had for the quaint pastime of shelling broad beans tends to give way to a sudden need to drastically reduce the proportion of your life spent wrestling them out of their pods as compared to, say, sleeping.

So here, then, are the shelling shortcuts that turned two big bags full of favas into one smallish bowl full of beans in about half the time that it would have taken me a few days ago. I suspect these have already been discovered by many fava aficionados, but here they are in detail for the rest of us.

Shortcut #1: Speedy Shelling

Step 1: Set yourself up with a pile of unshelled beans on one side of you and a big colander or bowl on the other. I found it easier to stand with the bowl below me (so that I could angle the beans down into the bowl more easily).

Step 2: Take a pod and hold it horizontally in front of you. With your right hand (if you're right-handed), pinch the first bean (within the pod) from the right between thumb and forefinger.

Step 3: Push the bean forward with the flat of your thumb, bending the pod until it breaks open. Try to place your thumb about a third of the way down the bean, and push diagonally (forward and to the left). You want to break the pod so that a little bit of bean is already sticking out (rather than breaking it right in the middle of two beans, in which case both will be stuck inside the pod).

Step 4: Keep pushing with your thumb, and pinch the pod to squeeze the bean forward and to the left, out of the pod and into the bowl. (Warning: once you get good at this, the beans start shooting out very quickly, so aim down into the bowl if you don't want beans zinging around your kitchen.)

Step 5: Move down the pod to the next bean, and repeat.

Play around with where exactly you're pushing on each individual bean until you find a sweet spot that allows you to break the pod and push the bean out in a single quick motion. When you find it, you'll be able to do the whole pod in just a couple seconds.

Shortcut #2: Faster Peeling

Step 1: Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. Drop your shelled but still unpeeled favas in and blanch for 2 minutes or until the skins just start to turn white. Drain and run under cold water until the beans are about room temperature.

Step 2: Take each fava bean and break open the bottom of the bean (the fat end, where the skin is thickest). With your other hand, gently pinch the skin on the unbroken side, to squeeze the inner bean out through the opening you just created.

Saute your favas with olive oil, pancetta, and slivered garlic, or combine with other fresh and mild ingredients for a simple pasta or risotto. Favas remind me of fresh peas -- they seem to work best in dishes that are simple enough to complement their fresh, springy flavor without overpowering it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quinoa with Fresh Favas and Crispy Kale

We've been getting fresh fava beans in our CSA box. I'm still not sure if they're amazingly delicious, or if you just end up thinking they're amazingly delicious to justify all the effort that goes into preparing them. But either way, I suppose, you end up enjoying your dinner. This recipe only calls for a few, so it doesn't actually take too long, and although I think that perhaps you're supposed to do some complicated blanching thing with favas after getting them out of their outer pods, I am impatient and just used my fingernail to peel off their outer skin and it seemed to work fine. 

1/2 cup white quinoa
1/2 cup red quinoa
1 cup veggie or chicken broth
1-2 shallots, quartered lengthwise and sliced
3 stalks green garlic (bottom half only), sliced crosswise
One or two handfuls of fresh fava beans, shelled
1/2 bunch dino kale, sliced crosswise into strips

Rinse the quinoa well in a sieve, then set in a bowl of room-temperature water and let soak for 10-20 minutes. Rinse once more, and drain well.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Heat a little olive oil in a pot over medium heat. When hot, add the shallot, green garlic, and a pinch of salt, and saute for a 2-3 minutes until soft.

Add the quinoa and cook for another minute, stirring, then add the broth and just barely under 1/2 cup of water. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to let simmer 10 minutes.

Add the fava beans, stir once, replace the cover, and simmer for another ten minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the kale with a little olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for 6-10 minutes until crispy, stirring once.

Fluff the quinoa, and serve with small crispy pieces of roasted kale over the top.

Serves 2-3 as a side dish.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pappardelle with Mushrooms and Radicchio

I think that sometime in the last few months I may have suggested, somewhere between one and fifty-six times, that there is nothing better than homemade pasta. Correction: There is nothing better than getting home late on a weeknight, wondering what to have for dinner, and taking out the extra pasta you made last weekend for a quick and easy, throw-it-together dinner that tastes like you must have secret Italian house elves working away in your kitchen at all hours. So here is what you should do: Make a double-batch of this recipe on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Cut half the sheets of dough into pappardelle noodles and make the recipe below, but let the other sheets dry for a couple hours (so they're not sticky anymore) before running them through your fettuccine attachment. Carefully lay the noodles in wax paper in a wide tupperware, cover tightly, and stick them in your fridge. Later in the week, you can just drop them in a pot of salted boiling water for two minutes and toss them with some olive oil, garlic, sauteed greens, black pepper, and parmesan.

On Sunday, meanwhile, you have this:

2 servings homemade multigrain pappardelle
2 strips Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon (or sub pancetta), sliced crosswise into strips
Olive oil
1-2 shallots, quartered and sliced
1 clove garlic, halved and slivered
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 spoonful Aleppo pepper
3 small heads radicchio, bottoms cut off, sliced crosswise into ribbons, rinsed carefully and dried in a salad spinner (about 3 cups)
2-3 sloshes chicken broth
Scant 1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
Scant 1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Salt and ground black pepper 
Slosh of the red wine you're having with dinner
Small handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

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

Heat a wide saute pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring, until it begins to brown very lightly. Push to the side of the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and add the shallot and slivered garlic to the other side of the pan. Saute, stirring, until soft, turning the bacon once or twice as well. Mix together, add the pressed garlic and a pinch of salt, and saute for another 30 seconds or so.

Add the radicchio and saute, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add a couple sloshes of broth, cover, and turn heat down to low. Simmer for five minutes. Uncover, adjust the heat up to medium, and boil off any excess liquid.

Add the mushrooms and drizzle lightly with olive oil, and saute, sprinkling with salt and pepper, for 2-3 minutes. Add a generous slosh of red wine and another slosh of chicken broth, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, stirring occasionally.

Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook for a few seconds less than two minutes or until al dente.

Meanwhile, add half the parsley and a bit of the parmesan to the sauce, stir once, and turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta, add to the sauce, toss, and serve. Top with grated Parmesan and parsley.

Serves 2-3.