Saturday, December 31, 2011

Roasted Butternut Orzo with Walnuts and Garlicky Greens

Armed with whole grain orzo, anything is possible. Especially if you happen to have a chunk of leftover roasted butternut squash idling away on the top shelf of your refrigerator. (If you're looking for a feasible and delicious New Years resolution, I highly recommend committing yourself to sticking a halved butternut squash in the oven one night and then congratulating yourself on your good sense and culinary prowess for your next two to six meals. One of which should involve making this.)

Just under 1 1/4 cups broth
1/4 cup broken walnuts, lightly toasted
2 small to medium cloves garlic, smashed
About 3 cups sliced greens (e.g., spinach, mustard, chard, and/or fava greens)
Slosh white wine
Salt, to taste
1/2 to 1 cup flat-diced* leftover roasted butternut squash
Liberal sprinkling white pepper
Pinch or two Meyer lemon zest
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring broth to a boil in a covered pot. Add the orzo, replace the cover, and turn the heat down to low. Simmer 9-10 minutes or until al dente. If there is extra liquid left at the end, simmer with the cover off for a minute until it evaporates.

Meanwhile, heat a wide saute pan over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and then the garlic, pressing it into the oil until it gets light hints of gold on both sides. Stir in the greens and a pinch or two of salt and saute, stirring, until they wilt. Add a slosh of wine and saute for a moment more, then gently stir in the squash and saute until heated through. Turn off the heat, add the cooked orzo, white pepper, lemon zest, and half the cheese, and stir to combine. Spoon into preheated bowls, and top with the rest of the cheese and the walnuts before serving.

Serves 2.

*As in, kind of like dicing, only imagine the cube you'd get and cut it in half to get a flatter square or rectangle. I don't understand why there's not a proper cooking term for this, since it's the perfect cut for so many things (mango over fish or chicken, butternut squash in risottos and pastas, apples or pears for a salad). I am hereby officially coining the term flat-dicing, unless someone can think of a better one, especially something that starts with Z. Zletting. Zanziputting. You get the idea.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sauteed Tatsoi with Ginger and Coconut

I never knew what to do with bok choy or tatsoi (a similar, slightly spicier and more tender leafy vegetable) except stir-fry them, until we came up with this. As far as I can tell, it's an addictive side dish by day, and a caped crusader that banishes any incoming colds by night (something about the ginger-garlic-leafy-green combination?). It's also the winner, in my book, for how to prepare roasted breadfruit, although if for some reason you don't happen to have a breadfruit on hand—perhaps because you've been forced back to the mainland by a return plane ticket that refuses to listen to what strike you as exceedingly compelling arguments about the fact that you have sand on your toes and clearly can't leave just yet—just make this without. It will still be delicious.

Olive oil
2-3 heads young tatsoi (or substitute baby bok choy)
1 clove garlic, slivered
1 tsp or so julienned fresh ginger
Pinch or two salt 
1/4 cup coconut milk (light or regular)
Optional: Some leftover roasted breadfruit, broken into smallish pieces (about 1/4 - 1/2 cup)

Heat a glug of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for 30-60 seconds or until the garlic just starts to soften, then add the breadfruit if you have it and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat with the oil. Next, add the greens and a pinch or two of salt and toss to coat. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the greens are just wilted.

Stir in the coconut milk, cover the pan, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for just a couple of minutes, then uncover, season with salt to taste, and serve hot.

Serves 2.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Adventures with Breadfruit

Our recent and much-needed vacation in Kaua'i gave us a chance to explore a whole new set of whole foods. The hands-down winner for weirdness (from our limited mainland perspective) was breadfruit—that round, green thing behind the papayas in the picture to the right—which we found first on a labeled tree in the Limahuli Botanical Gardens, and then growing by the side of the road as we hiked down to a beach on the north shore, and then in the weekly Kilauea farmer's market on a Thursday afternoon. The third time, we grabbed it.

Then we took it back to our little rental cottage, set it on the table gleefully, and wondered what on earth to do with it.

According to the internets, which we fortunately had, you can roast it over a fire for an hour. We didn't have a fire, but we had a Weber, and so we stuck it on the grill for an hour (medium heat, lid closed, in case you're thinking of doing this yourself) until it was charred on all sides and the stem end softened enough to yield a bit to firm pressure. Whereupon we removed it from the grill and photographed it. Obviously. Because that is what you do when you've cooked a breadfruit for the very first time.

Then we tried a variety of things.

Thing #1: We followed more internet advice and halved the breadfruit, peeled off the outer shell, scooped out the inner seeds, and sliced it. Only we, um, kind of dropped it somewhere between the grill and the cutting board inside, because it turns out holding it by just the stem isn't the fool-proof idea it seems when you first pick it up, so it didn't so much slice as break apart into pieces. Then we served it, hot, with butter, salt, and pepper. It was totally different from anything we'd ever eaten, and okay. Not mind-blowing, but worth it just to try.

Thing #2: We fried leftover breadfruit pieces in butter (they're kind of reminiscent of potato or sweet potato, only not), and served them with a papaya. This was better, although still a bit dry. Probably if you used a ton of butter, it would work well (don't try using olive oil...the taste is too strong for the mild breadfruit flavor).

Thing #3, and the winner, was to cook it with bok choy or tatsoi in a little coconut milk. Recipe coming soon to a blog near you.

Till then, I will be here, home again, complaining about the sudden change from summer to winter and the claustrophobic nature of socks.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Black Cod in a White Wine Butter Sauce

Don't judge. Just listen.

There's this whole world out there. We talk of Aztec spinach and dandelion greens, investigate the optimal roasting conditions for kale, rehabilitate beets, but what's a paltry reconnaissance of a single vegetable compared to this? The ocean covers 71% of the earth's surface, and it turns out its inhabitants are delicious.

Here's a very simple spin-off of the previous halibut recipe, which worked perfectly for the sustainably fished, wild Alaskan black cod that we found at our co-op tonight.

Serve this with sauteed greens and black Forbidden rice cooked with sauteed shallot, or basmati rice with a little butter and ginger (simmer 1 cup basmati rice in 1 1/4 cups water for 15 minutes, then melt about a tablespoon of pastured butter in a small pan, add a pinch or two grated fresh ginger, saute for 15-20 seconds, and fold into the cooked rice).

2 fillets of a fresh mild fish, like black cod (sablefish) or halibut, preferably wild and sustainable
Olive oil
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup stone ground whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt plus extra for sprinkling
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp pastured butter
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

Combine the flours, salt, and pepper, and dredge the fish to cover lightly on all sides. Melt the butter in a small pot over medium-low heat, add the wine, and let simmer while you cook the fish.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, add a glug of olive oil and swirl to coat, then add the fish. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper. Cook until the bottom is golden brown (the black cod signaled this by curling its sides slightly away from the pan), then flip. Serve just before the fish cooks through (again, the cod made this easy: at the perfect time, it pulled apart a bit of its own accord to show that its center was just moments away from cooking through).

Serve the fish over the rice, then decant the reduced wine and butter mixture into the pan and stir in the lemon and parsley. Simmer for 10-20 seconds, turn off the heat, and use a spoon to drizzle sauce over the fish and rice. Pairs well with baby greens sauteed with a little olive oil and garlic.

Serves 2.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pan-Roasted Halibut with Smoked Bacon and Lemon

Fish and I have a long and complicated history. Long ago, when I was young...last weekend, to be precise...I would have summarized our relationship as follows: (1) Raw fish is wonderful (except sea urchin "roe," which I vote we put in a separate category devoted to parts of animals I'd rather not think about). (2) Cooked fish is meh (technical culinary term; exceptions include salmon when we cook it or when ordered at Alouette; trout when my mom cooks it; unagi in good sushi restaurants). (3) Shellfish get more complicated and are not included in this summary in the interest of reader sanity.

As of last weekend, however, my carefully ordered fish worldview has been shattered, and it's just the latest in a long list of overturned culinary preconceptions. Could it be that my once extensive and carefully cataloged collection of disliked foods were all over-generalizations? That it's just a matter of finding the right way to cook something?

In any event, I now love halibut. LOVE halibut. At least when it's made like this (loosely adapted from here).

Serve this with a black Forbidden rice pilaf (Heat a little olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add a shallot, chopped, and saute until soft, then add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Stir in 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender).

2 halibut fillets
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup stone ground whole wheat flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Ñora pepper (optional)
Olive oil
2/3 to 1 strip Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise into strips
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of a little over half a Meyer lemon
1-2 tsp sliced castelvetrano olives (cured with salt rather than pickled, and therefore an olive even an olive-hater can love...available at Whole Foods and the Sacramento Co-op)
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp pastured butter

About ten minutes before you need it, take the fish out of the fridge so that it's cool rather than cold when you start to cook it. Mix together the flours, 1/2 tsp salt, and peppers to taste in a shallow bowl. Coat the fish on all sides with the flour mixture just before you start cooking.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pieces start to turn golden brown along the edges, lowering the heat a little if needed. Remove with a slotted spoon and let dry on a paper towel. Pour out most, but not all, of the bacon grease, and return the pan to the flame.

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil, stir, and increase the heat back to medium. Set the fish in the pan skin side down. Jostle the pan a bit to make sure they don't stick, and sprinkle the tops with a pinch of salt and a little extra black pepper. Let sizzle for 4 minutes or until lightly golden along the edges, then flip gently with a spatula or flat nonstick tongs. Cook for another 3-4 minutes or until golden brown, then flip back. When the fish is almost done, it may fall open a bit along a seam. The inside should be nearly cooked through, with a little bit of the center still translucent. Remove the fish from the pan immediately—it will cook through the rest of the way from its own heat.

Add the wine, lemon juice, butter, and 1 tbsp olive oil to the pan and bring to a strong simmer. Cook for about a minute, then add the olives and most but not all of the parsley. Continue to simmer for another couple minutes until the sauce is reduced and somewhat thickened. Turn off the heat, and add the bacon to the sauce to reheat.

Serve the fish over black rice, spoon the sauce liberally over both, and sprinkle with a little parsley and a bit of black pepper if desired. Pairs very, very well with roasted kale and a glass of Torrontés (like Urano's Torrontés from Mendoza, Argentina, available at BevMo).

Serves 2.