Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mostly Plants for Breakfast: Pan con Tomate

There is a time for thought and a time for action. And when the evening air turns crisp and cool and the last tomatoes of the season scent the air, one must not pause to think about one's tomato-phobic past, or the sorrow of tomatoless days to come. One must act, and act quickly.

In particular, one must launch oneself tomato-ward at top speed, past any intervening humans, shopping carts, small dogs, and/or cantaloupes, leaping or ducking as needed (depending on the relative heights of all parties involved) until one arrives at the tomato epicenter—then promptly snatch them up, take them home, eat them, and cackle happily.

Here's one of our summertime favorites: pan con tomate. Perfect for an Andalusian breakfast or an evening appetizer or anything in between.

Fresh bread, sliced
Ripe tomatoes (any size)
Fruity olive oil

Halve cherry tomatoes, or halve and then grate larger ones using the largest side of a box grater, discarding the skin as you go.

Toast the bread, then drizzle with olive oil. Spoon the tomatoes over the top, sprinkle with salt, and serve.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Now on Facebook!

Cook Food Mostly Plants now has a Facebook page! The page makes it easy to view recent posts, leave comments and ask questions, or share photos or suggestions when you try a new recipe.

Click the "Like" button in the top right corner under the banner to get links to new posts on your News Feed, or just to show your support!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Corn Soup with Sauteed Huitlacoche

There's no delicate way to phrase this. My husband is obsessed.

It all started innocently enough. In our Co-op, or in a corn field, depending on how far back you want to go. It doesn't really matter. The end result is still the same.

He returns home one day with An Announcement. "You'll never BELIEVE what I saw at the co-op." I perk up. (This was back at the beginning of September, when I was young and naive and innocently hopeful.) I think he's about to name a new exotic fruit that's shaped like a pear and colored like a parrot, or perhaps a six-foot long vegetable that gets roasted whole over a fire pit in certain areas of the Yucatan. "What??" I say, excitedly. He beams at me, or grins fanatically, depending on how you look at it. He leans forward. 

"There's this crazy mushroom that grows on corn."

"Yes," I say.

"Hyoo-it, hyoot, hwit..."

"Huitlacoche?" I say. (I had encountered it once in a phenomenal quesadilla at Toloache
in Times Square, where I'd learned both to pronounce it—weet-la-COH-chey—and not to think too carefully about what it looked like before it was prepared.)

"That," he says. He leans forward a little further.


"Well," I hedge, "It's kinda..."


"It's like corn mold. I don't know if..."

"I'll cook it. We're cooking it. It's amazing."

He turns to his laptop, starts typing. I think maybe it's a reprieve—he's gotten distracted by email. Five minutes later, he looks up, clearly delighted. "It's also called CORN SMUT," he announces happily.

I think that was the moment I knew. It was huitlacoche or bust.

To prepare huitlacoche, which you'll be reassured to learn is a delicately corn-flavored, nutrition-packed delicacy, rather than a fearsome fungal predator, peel back the corn husk and silk and gently pry the "kernels" of the mushroom from the cob either by hand or using a table knife for a little leverage. You can either chop them, slice them, or leave them whole, depending on how adventurous you're feeling in terms of texture and taste (we left the smaller ones whole, just to see what they were like, but I think next time I'd try slicing or chopping to keep the texture a little more even). The mushroom (also known as Mexican truffle) should be fairly firm, like corn itself, and a cloudy, faintly bluish-tinged color when you buy it (slimy means it's over the hill). And despite my initial skepticism, this truly was delicious.

Olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, 1 pressed and 1 smashed
3 ears fresh corn, kernels sliced from the cob
Chicken and/or veggie broth (about a cup)
Pinch ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp chopped Anaheim chile
2 tbsp huitlacoche
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra leaves for garnish 

Heat a pot over medium heat. When hot, add half the butter and a glug of olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and saute until soft. Stir in the pressed garlic clove and saute a minute more, then add the corn. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another couple of minutes, then pour in enough broth to just cover the kernels. 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 the rest of the butter and a glug of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and the Anaheim pepper, and saute for a minute or so until they soften, pressing the garlic into the olive oil to flavor. Add the huitlacoche and a pinch of salt, and saute for about two minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the garlic clove, and sprinkle in the cilantro.

When the soup is done, puree with an immersion blender until smooth or desired consistency. Add a dash of cumin, a slosh of cream, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into bowls. Place a dollop of the huitlacoche in the center, drizzle the soup with a little of the extra oil from the pan, and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Amador County's Taste

I've been meaning to wax lyrical about Taste.

There's this tiny little town called Plymouth, you see. A dot on the map in Amador County. And inside the tiny little town is a tiny little main street. And on the little main street is a little wooden porch, with two men sitting on what may very well be rocking chairs next to an old white ice box. And down the road a ways from the porch is a door, and on the door there is a fork.

  The fork, unlike the town, is large.

If you see it, pull it toward you. Because inside the door is this:

Local hand-labeled wine flights (try it, like it, visit the vineyard tomorrow)

Corn soup with prawn, chorizo, and chive
Fresh-caught sablefish with Del Rio Farms heirloom cherry tomatoes,
black pepper, watercress

...alongside giant raviolis stuffed with shrimp and crab and yellow corn

Rack of lamb, blackberries, sweet corn, barley, thyme, arugula, watercress,
blackberry puree, corn puree, food coma, mental elevation of chef to demi-god.

Chocolate sponge cake on a chocolate-painted plate, dark chocolate mousse,
honeycomb, chocolate-covered honeycomb, caramel

In other words, go there. Eat. Drink. Be merry. Worth a trip just for dinner, or go for the day. A picnic in wine country and a few hours of tasting is a decent way to wait for culinary bliss.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Orzotto with Ripe Tomatoes, Bacon, and Red Wine

I am not fanatically obsessed with bacon.

Watch. I will talk about other things. Spinach. Mushrooms. Tomato. Bac....bacalao. Yes. As in the Spanish fish. And bac...ardi. See? Lots of other things on my mind.

This recipe just happens to have bacon in it. Incidentally. A casual observer might not even notice it. Until they, you know, tasted its rich bacony wonderful goodness.

Despite the depths of bacony flavor here, there's actually very little bacon per serving, and tons of whole grains and vegetables. And the entire thing is a cinch to throw together, if you're cooking for two. (A recent reprise for four reminded me that doubling recipes is often trickier than I expect, because it's not just the ingredient numbers that change but also the cooking times. Double the orzo here, and you have to make sure to stir it a couple times so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot while it cooks and extend the cooking time by a minute or so. Double the tomatoes, and suddenly a pan that had very little liquid and could boil off a slosh of wine in 10 seconds gets a little soupy. The solution? Keep an eye on the depth of your ingredients...if you're doubling a recipe that calls for sauteing, it's good to also use a wider pan so the ingredients don't get too crowded. And, stay flexible. If something is soupy, you can always boil off a little liquid to fix it. If something isn't cooking evenly, give it a stir from time to time. And when in doubt, reassure yourself that it really doesn't matter if something is overcooked or undercooked or soupy...all anyone will notice once they start eating is the awesomeness of the bacon.)

1 1/4 cups broth
1 rounded cup whole wheat orzo
3 oz frozen spinach, microwaved for 2 minutes and drained
Olive oil
1 strip Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, sliced into strips
(you can substitute another kind of bacon, but you'll probably need to use twice as much and it still won't taste as roundly delicious.)
1 small to medium-sized shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Several ripe, fragrant tomatoes, cut into chunks
Lots of basil (to taste), chiffonade or chopped
Slosh or two red wine
About 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with salt and let sit while you start cooking, to bring out the flavor.

In a smallish pot, bring the broth to boil. Add the orzo and stir once, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a wide nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, add the bacon and cook for 2-3 minutes until it starts to turn lightly golden in a couple places. Add a little olive oil, the shallot and garlic, and a pinch of salt, and saute for a minute or two more until the shallot softens. Add the spinach, using two spoons or spatulas to separate clumps if needed, then add the tomato and saute for a minute till just warmed through. Toss in the basil and a slosh or two of red wine. Stir, let simmer for a minute more, then turn off the heat.

Fold the orzo into the tomato mixture, stir in the Parmesan, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot.

Serves 2.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Smoked Bacon and Mushroom Risotto

When I was young, my mother informed me that bacon is a vegetable. (So is chocolate.) As a loving and obedient daughter (note that comments from relatives have apparently been disabled on this post; no idea how that happened), I accepted this information without question and defend it to this day. Vociferously. Violently, if necessary.

Seriously, don't test me...I have a fork.

Unlike tomatoes and avocados and other bewildering plant products that vacillate daily between fruit and vegetable allegiances, bacon has always stayed true to its original vegetable classification. Possibly this is because I plug my ears when people talk about it as a (LALALALAICAN'THEARYOUhey can you pass the bacon, please?)

The secret to this most heroic of vegetables is Niman Ranch. Niman Ranch bacon is kind of like other bacon, only approximately six times more bacony and amazing and smoky and delicious. Which means that instead of six strips of bacon in a risotto like this one, you only need two to produce a doubly wonderful, rich, applewood-infused, creamy risotto with deep bacon undertones and silky mushroom overtones and...well, you should really just go make it yourself, and then we can rave about it together.

2 strips Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise
28 oz chicken and/or veggie broth
Olive oil
1 shallot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 rounded cup Arborio rice
Few sloshes sherry
10 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
5 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced a bit thicker than the crimini
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1-2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
3 oz baby arugula
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until it starts to turn golden brown in places. Remove with a slotted spatula onto a plate lined with a paper towel. Use another paper towel to soak up a bit of the extra bacon grease, so that there's about 1-2 tbsp left in the pot.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil and the shallot and saute for a minute, then stir in the garlic, about two-thirds of the thyme, and a pinch of salt and saute for a couple minutes more. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. After another minute, add a slosh or two of sherry and cook, stirring, until the rice soaks it up.

Begin adding broth by the ladleful, stirring routinely until the excess liquid is gone before adding more and adjusting the heat down a little if necessary (you want a definite simmer when you stop stirring, with small bubbles here and there, rather than a full-on boil).

Meanwhile, heat a wide pan over medium heat. When hot, add a glug of olive oil, then the smashed clove of garlic. Let simmer in the oil for about a minute. Add the mushrooms (you can add half now and half in a minute if the pan's a little too small for all at once) and stir to coat. Saute, stirring occasionally, for a couple minutes until the mushrooms start to brown a little. Add a pinch of salt, the rest of the thyme, and some freshly ground black pepper, and a little more olive oil if the pan has gotten dry. Continue to saute until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Add a slosh of sherry, stir to coat, and turn off the heat.

When the broth is nearly gone and the risotto is al dente, add the Parmesan, arugula, bacon, and mushrooms to the risotto and stir to combine. Turn off the heat, add just a little more broth, and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley and garnished with a bit of baby arugula around the sides.

Serves 2-3.