Thursday, November 16, 2017

More Easy Glam for a Thanksgiving Harvest Celebration

Another typical way to honor corn in the early New England style: pudding! But with southwest flavors!!
Corn Pudding
Serves 8-10

½ c all purpose flour                       
10-12 ears corn, husked
1 Poblano pepper, roasted with seeds removed                
6 lg eggs at room temperature        
2 c half and half                               
1 tbsp light brown sugar                 
1-2 tsp ground chipotle chili powder, depending on how much spice you like
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp ground nutmeg
4 tbsp soft butter, cut in bits

Butter a pie or baking dish 2½” deep and 10” round. Preheat oven to 350º.
Scraping upwards with a small, sharp knife, cut the corn kernels into a bowl. Using the back of the knife scrap downward to catch remaining kernels and corn milk. Put the corn in a food processor with eggs, half and half, flour, salt, pepper, chili powder and sugar. Process 3-4 seconds to blend. Dice the roasted Poblano pepper and stir it in. Pour mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle top with nutmeg and butter bits.
   Place baking dish in a large baking pan, put into the hot oven and fill the bottom pan with water halfway up the sides of the pudding container. Bake 1 hour or until a tester comes out clean. Serve hot.

Rutabagas may not be all-American but they have become part of the Thanksgiving tradition so here's a glamorous way to serve them. This recipe is from my book How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From the Farmers' Market 
makes 6

1 lb rutabagas, peeled            
2 shallots (cloves), minced      
2 tbsp butter                             
1/8 tsp ground cloves               
¾ c light cream
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1 star anise
¼ tsp salt
4 eggs
¼ c ricotta or soft cream cheese

Dice the rutabaga and cook it with a star anise in boiling water until very tender. Drain well. Remove star anise. Preheat oven to 400º and butter 6 ramekins or Pyrex dishes, 6 oz size. Boil about 2 cups of water. In a small sauté pan, melt butter and sauté shallots 2 minutes until soft. Puree the rutabaga. Add shallots, spices, cream, cheese, salt and lastly eggs and process until smooth. Ladle or pour rutabaga mixture into the buttered dishes, put the dishes into a large baking pan and pour the boiling water into the bottom of that pan; it should come at least 1/3 up the ramekin’s sides. Bake 25 minutes, or until center is puffy and firm. (Check with a cake tester.)  Remove from pan and let cool 10 minutes. Then carefully knock the bottom and sides of each dish to loosen the timbales. Shaking each slightly, invert them onto a serving plate and lift the dish away.

Sunchoke Soufflés
 If you don't put rutabagas into ramekins, you can try these sunchokes, which ARE all-American. They are the root of the sunflower that grows in the eastern United States and were mistakenly named by the early explorers "Jerusalem artichokes."

Makes 8 medium ramekins

½ lb sunchokes, scrubbed clean, cut into a small dice
1 bay leaf (optional)
12 walnuts
1 ¾ c whole cow or goat’s milk
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing
2 tbsp flour, plus extra for dusting
1/3 c mature cheddar, grated
5 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 tsp wholegrain mustard

In a small lidded saucepan, simmer the sunchokes, bay leaf and four walnuts in the milk and honey 15 minutes, until chokes are tender. Ladle the mixture into a blender or processor and blend into a smooth puree.

In a small saucepan melt butter over a low heat, add the flour and stir to form a paste. Cook gently 2 minutes, stirring continually. Stir in the sunchoke puree, bring back to simmer and cook gently 2 minutes. Stir in the cheddar and mustard, then remove from heat. Let this cool 2 minutes, then stir in the egg yolks one by one.

Grease 8 ramekins with butter, dust the sides and base evenly with the flour, knocking off any excess. Put the prepared ramekins in the fridge until you need them.

Preheat the oven to 400º. Whisk the egg whites in a very dry bowl to form soft peaks. Stir half of the whites into the sunchoke mixture to loosen it. Then fold in the rest carefully with a large metal spoon. The air you don’t lose will make the soufflé rise!

 When you are ready to eat, fill the prepared ramekins with the mixture almost, but not quite, to the top. Place a walnut on top of each. Place them on baking sheet in the hot oven for about 12 minutes. When they have risen and have a golden top they are cooked. Serve immediately.

The Gluten Free Dessert that Beats All! In other words, everybody's favorite.
This may not have gluten bu

serves up to 16 (it is very rich)

1 cup strong coffee
1 lb semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 c sugar
2 c unsalted butter
8 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 250º
Butter a round 9 x 3 cake pan with removable bottom and line the foil, pushing foil over the sides of the pan. Butter foil.

In large saucepan, combine coffee, chocolate, sugar and butter. While stirring, cook over medium heat until the chocolate is just melted and it is only warm.
Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the eggs.

Pour this batter into the prepared pan and bake1 ½ hours. The center might seem uncooked but it will harden up. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ c powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla

Before serving, trim the edges to level the cake, and invert it onto a serving platter. Remove foil.

Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla until heavy peaks form and it is thick enough to spread. Ice the cake.  Garnish with shaved chocolate to serve.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Annual All American Thanksgiving post

If you're really giving thanks next week, you might want to remember that what we have to be most thankful for are the astounding foods of the American continents that were discovered by Columbus and have ever since sustained the entire world. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to flaunt what we've got, to showcase the foods unique to North America. Just to remind and show you that's hugely impressive, here they are, in alphabetical order--North America only:
Avocados, thank Mexico
Beans: pinto and red (kidney)
Buffalo meat
Chili peppers of every kind and heat
Chocolate, a bean from Mexico
Clams, soft shells from New England
Cod fish, especially salted because that's what caused the discovery of America
Coho salmon, from the Northwest
Corn in every form and every color including popcorn and especially blue corn in the Southwest
Crabs, soft shells from the Chesapeake
Homarus Americanus, aka Maine lobster
Maple Syrup
Molasses, byproduct of sugar refining in the Caribbean and source of rum
Tomatoes, thank Mexico

Vanilla, the bean of a rare orchid that grows in southern Mexico
Wild Rice, a gluten-free grain of the Great Lakes
Winter squash, in its many forms

Try to imagine a month of meals without any of those ingredients: it will make you instantly thankful. So it isn't hard to build a celebratory meal out of genuine American food.

You can start with salt cod fritters or brandade (French salt cod with potatoes) or lobster bisque or stew or clam chowder, and/or guacamole with tortilla chips. You can continue with turkey, wild rice, cranberry, corn in any form including succotash which is corn and beans, maple syrup baked or roasted squashes
You can end with pecan pie or pralines and/or something lusciously chocolate as well as good old pumpkin pie or mousse and of course Indian pudding, which is cornmeal with molasses.

Here are a few glamorous yet easy ways to be all-American this year. Most of these recipes are reprised because they're perennial and can't be bested.

This is the French version of salt cod and it's a please make it again favorite in my house.
Serves 8-10 as a first course

1 lb skinless, boneless salt cod
1c milk
1 thyme sprig or 1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
5-6 peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground allspice or 2 allspice berries
2 whole cloves
1 lb boiling potatoes, cut in 1” cubes
6 lg garlic cloves, peeled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3-1/2 c olive oil
Pinch cayenne or red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp if you like this tangy)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 c crème fraiche plus another 3 tbsp
3 tbsp butter
1/2 c bread crumbs (coarse is preferred but fine works)

Rinse salt cod carefully, rubbing off any noticeable salt. Soak in a large bowl of water at least 8 hours, changing the water every four hours or leaving it overnight.  Drain and rinse again when ready to use.

In a medium/lg saucepan, heat milk with 1 c water. Add salt cod, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, allspice and cloves. As soon as the pot wants to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until the fish falls apart and flakes, about 15-20 minutes. Remove fish from the pot.

While the cod is cooking, put cut potatoes in another pot with a good pinch of salt and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Add the garlic cloves.  As soon as the potatoes are soft enough to mash, remove from heat and drain. Keep both the garlic and cooking liquid; you’ll need them.

Put the garlic in a small saucepan and crush or smash it lightly. Add the olive oil and over medium heat, warm the garlic. Don’t fry, just warm it.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes and flaked salt cod. Use a potato masher to blend them. Drizzle in the warm garlic and oil and keep mashing toward the look of mashed potatoes. Add the cayenne, nutmeg and lemon zest, thoroughly blending. Stir in 1/2 c crème fraiche and mash to blend.
Now using an immersion blender or hand mixer or your masher, add about 1/2 cup potato cooking liquid to thin the brandade into a soft mash. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste. 

Grease a shallow 1 qt baking dish or pie plate with 1 tbsp butter. Fill the dish with the brandade, leveling it with a spatula. At this point, you can refrigerate the mix overnight if you need to.

Heat oven to 400º. Bring the brandade to room temperature if you refrigerated it. Paint the top with those 3 tbsp crème fraiche and sprinkle on the breadcrumbs. Dot the surface with bits of the remaining 2 tbsp butter. Bake until golden on top and bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Serve immediately with toast. 

Pumpkin Pancakes (also made with winter squash)
This recipe is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, and even though it's Turkish, it showcases American pumpkin.
Serves 15 as hors d’oeuvres

4 c peeled, seeded and grated sugar pumpkin or butternut squash
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced*
2 eggs
1 c soft Ricotta or a similar spreadable cheese
1 c chickpea flour (or regular white or fine grain whole wheat)
½ -2/3 cup fresh dill, finely chopped*
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground Cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper to your taste
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 c corn oil for frying

*You can mince these two together in a food processor bowl, no problem

Combine all ingredients but the corn oil in a large bowl-- eggs last, and blend well to incorporate. Be sure the mix is reasonably dry, and add a tsp of flour if it seems too drippy to mold into a pancake. 

Cover the bottom of a large frying pan or skillet with oil, a little more than 1/8” deep—not too skimpy and definitely not deeper than ¼”.  Heat the oil over medium high heat.

To make small bite-sized cocktail fritters, take enough mixture to make a golf ball sized ball, then flatten it with your hand into a small pancake.  To make a meal-sized fritter take twice that amount and flatten it into a pancake with a diameter of about 2 ½ inches.

Fry the fritters in the hot oil in batches so they do not touch each other in the pan and you have room to flip them over with a flat spatula. Add oil as you need it. Fry about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown with crisp crust. Fry for a shorter time if they are starting to get burned. Remove and drain on paper towels before serving.

Herbed Popcorn

serves 8

1 c popcorn kernels  or One large bag plain popped corn already popped
2 oz Parmesan, finely grated (1/2 cup)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sea salt
Melt better with olive oil in a sauté pan. Add spices and cook 1 minute until they are fragrant.
Pour over the popcorn. Add Parmesan cheese and salt in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly.
That’s it!

Tomatillo/Avocado Sauce for your turkey
This Mexican green sauce is addictive but not to worry: it goes on just about everything worth eating. It will definitely embolden turkey, especially the next day.
 serves 6

4 tomatilloes, husked and quartered
1/2 med/lg avocado, out of the skin
1 garlic clove, smashed
1-2 sm Serrano pepper, seeded and chopped, depending on how much spice you like
salt to your taste
 2 tbsp onion, diced
juice of a lg lime
1/4 c cilantro leaves (a handful)
enough olive oil to attain the consistency you want

Put everything but the olive oil in a blender, food processor or bowl you can use with an immersion blender. Combine everything into a thick puree/soft paste. With a spatula or spoon stir in a bit of olive oil and keep going until you get the thickness/thinness you want. If it isn't spicy enough, you can toss in a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Wild Rice with Mandarins, Cranberry and Pecans

serves 6

4 cups cooked wild rice hot from the pot
1 cup toasted pecan halves (can be warm or room temperature)
2 seedless mandarins or clementines, peeled and segmented
½ cup fresh cranberries OR 2 tbsp. dried cranberries
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (about 6 sprigs)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. orange juice or 1/8 tsp. orange flower water
1 tsp. raspberry vinegar or Spanish sherry vinegar
¼ cup fruity olive oil or walnut oil

Combine the wild rice, toasted pecans, citrus segments and cranberries in a serving bowl.
 Combine in a small bowl the orange juice or flower water, vinegar, oil and salt. Whip to blend.
 Pour the dressing over the rice mixture and carefully blend.  Garnish with the chopped parsley to serve.

Cranberry Pecan Chutney
This will make enough to preserve, maybe 4 pints worth. It's one of the easiest recipes and very tasty without being cloying.

1 lb cranberries, cleaned          
1½ c granulated sugar
1 tbsp orange peel
1 c water                                   
1 c dark raisins or currants
1/3 c orange juice
1 c toasted pecan pieces         
¼ tsp ground cloves
 ¼ tsp ground allspice

Combine cranberries and water in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until the cranberries burst. Add sugar, raisins, spices, orange peel and juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until mixture is as thick as jam, about 10 minutes. Stir in the nuts. Remove from heat. If serving soon, refrigerate covered in a serving bowl. If saving, ladle into hot sterilized jam jars, seal and put in a water bath for 10-15 minutes depending on size of the jar. 

Grits Souffle 
A Southern recipe I put in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. 
You can slip it into the oven just as the turkey comes out because the turkey needs to rest before it is carved.

Serves 8

1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 c grits (raw or quick cooking but not instant)
4 c milk (can be no fat)
½ tsp ground chili powder
1 c (2 oz.) grated cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in 6-8 pieces
4 extra large eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 375º. Butter a two-quart soufflé dish and sprinkle the grated Parmesan around the bottom and sides.

Put the milk in a large saucepan and over medium heat bring to a slow boil. Just as it starts to boil, stir in the grits, salt and chili powder. Continue stirring until the grits thicken into porridge. Remove from heat.
 Stir in butter, cheese and cayenne.  Carefully stir in the egg yolks, not stopping the stir until they are incorporated.  Let the mixture cool.

Beat the egg whites into very stiff peaks. When the grits are warm but not hot, carefully fold in the egg whites.
 Pour the contents of the pot into the soufflé dish, being sure the top is level.
 Bake in the center of the oven at 375 for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. This will not rise as high as other soufflés so don’t worry.

Granny Smith Indian Pudding

This is about as fancy as simple Indian Pudding can get and people just love it because it presents like a cake. You serve it iced in whipped cream or thick yogurt. The recipe is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.
Serves 12 (cut in half for 6) T

5 cups milk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 extra large or jumbo eggs
2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup light brown sugar (use ¼ if you half the recipe)
½ cup molasses
3 tbsp real maple syrup
pinch of salt
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins (dark ones show up easier)
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

Optional: fresh whipped cream or thick honey yogurt

Preheat over to 325º. Butter a 3 quart soufflé dish or Charlotte mold or other deep ovenproof baking dish. (Use a 1½ quart if you half the recipe.)

In a very large saucepan or medium casserole, scald milk. (This means bring it to a boil fast over high heat so a skin forms and bubbles appear.) Whisk in cornmeal and over medium or medium high (depending on the strength of your stove) heat, continue to whisk until the mixture thickens (90 seconds-3 minutes).
Remove from heat.  Whisk in butter, then carefully eggs.  Whisk in brown sugar, molasses and maple syrup. Whisk in salt and spices.  Stir in raisins and apples, distributing evenly.

Pour mixture into baking dish, shake and level.  Bake at 325º in the center of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until the center of the pudding is firm when you shake the pan.  Remove from oven and cool.

To serve: invert the pan onto a cake stand or serving platter and “ice” with whipped cream or thick yogurt. Sprinkle with cinnamon or freshly grated ginger to serve.

Other thoughts: corn pudding, maple syrup glazed baked winter squash with your favorite spice mix on it (chermoula, berbere, garam masala), clam chowder, succotash, pumpkin mousse for the gluten-free.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Part 6: Chickpeas, the little black dress of your kitchen

They just keep coming, the chic pea recipes, from the European continent, North Africa and half of the Asian landmass to boot. Then there's Mexico. Everybody loves their garbanzos, ceci, pois chiche, Kabuli chana, chickpeas.  Here are more worldly ways--with many more to come in parts 7 and 8.

Moroccan Harira
This is a beloved, home-cooking Moroccan stew of meat with chickpeas, lentils and a pile of greens. It goes down so easily it's often made to break Ramadan's daylong fast. It's astonishingly hearty. It's radically simple too: you just put everything in the pot and cook it until voila!
serves 6

1 lb stewing lamb or beef cut into 1" cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
1 lg onion, diced
1 lg bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 celery stalks with leaves, diced
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground caraway seeds
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground coriander
1 can cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 c green lentils
1 qt beef broth
1 qt water
1 tsp salt or more to your taste
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 c all purpose flour
1 c tomato paste
1/2 tsp harissa (this is the local hot sauce)
1 1/2 c water

The last four items are for the "roux" that will thicken the stew at the end. Combine them in a bowl or cup with a pouring spout and whisk together until smooth. Set aside.

Lightly coat the bottom of a large heavy gauge casserole with olive oil and heat it over medium flame. Add the meat and cumin and sauté 3-5 minutes to brown the meat. Toss in the onions and stir. Add 1/2 of the cilantro, all the parsley, celery, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, coriander, 1 tsp of caraway, chickpeas, lentils, broth and water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 1 hour. Strain off the foam at the top.

Slowly pour in the tomato mixture, stirring to blend. Add salt and the remaining caraway plus a little more black pepper. If the stew looks like the liquid is drying up too soon, add another 1/2 c water or broth. Simmer 30 minutes. Strain off the foam at the top.
Ladle into bowls. Squirt with lemon juice, add chopped cilantro and serve with fresh dates and flatbread. (I sometimes cut the dates up at serving time and throw them in the soup bowls.)

English Parsnip Chickpea Soup with Cream and Saffron
Another ridiculously easy chickpea treasure, perfect for right now when parsnips are piled high at farmers' markets. This is a cream soup you can serve in mugs as you see here.
Serves 4

1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into thin disks
3 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp milk
good pinch of saffron threads
1/2 c heavy cream
3 tbsp fresh chives, snipped into bits, to serve

Combine the parsnips and broth in a large saucepan and bring to a boil, Cook until the parsnips are tender, 8-10 minutes. While they cook, crush the saffron threads and soak them in the milk.
   Add the chickpeas to the parsnips and cook 2-3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and cumin. Puree the contents of the saucepan and return the puree to the pan. Add the saffron milk and cook over med/low heat 2-3 minutes. Stir in the cream, have heat on simmer only and heat through for 5 minutes.
  Serve with the chopped chives on top.

Pasta e Ceci, a Roman classic
Easy, tasty, cheap and comforting.
Serves 4 when a main dish follows

1 med carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 med celery stalk, finely diced
1 med onion, peeled and finely diced
1/4 c + 1 tbsp best quality olive oil you have
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried rosemary leaves
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 c vegetable or chicken broth
any piece of a Parmesan rind**
1/2 lb small tubular pasta (dried not fresh)
To Serve: grated Parmesan cheese

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil, then add the carrot, celery and onion and sauté until they are soft and translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, Parmesan rind, red pepper flakes and rosemary leaves, stirring to blend. Add about 2/3 of the chickpeas and stir them in. Add the broth, which should cover everything, bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat to simmer and cook 20 minutes.

Boil the pasta according to package instructions until it is al dente.  Drain, keeping 1 tbsp of the water.

Using an immersion blender, a mouli grinder or a food processor, turn the contents of the chickpea saucepan into a smooth thickish soup. Return it to the pan, add the remaining chickpeas. Season to your taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the cooked pasta with that 1 tbsp of cooking water. Let this all sit for 5 minutes. Serve with freshly grated cheese and a dollop of your best olive oil.

Chickpea Chaat
This can be made with sea vegetables instead of thin asparagus.

1/4 c rapeseed or mustard or Canola oil
1 1/4 lbs new potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 lb thin asparagus or sea vegetable, cut into 1" lengths
1/2 lemon
For the Spice:
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp amchur (ground mango powder)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
salt to your taste
1/4 tsp chili powder
freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the spices in a small bowl.
In a large lidded frying or saute pan, heat 2 tbsp oil (make sure it is enough to cover the pan) on medium heat. Fry the potatoes 15 minutes until they are crisp outside and tender inside, stirring from time to time. Put them in a large serving bowl.

Add another tbsp of oil to the hot pan, turn the heat to high and fry the chickpeas 3-5 minutes, until they start to brown. Bring a medium saucepan with enough water to cover the asparagus/sea vegetable to a boil. Add the asparagus/sea vegetable and blanch 2 minutes. Drain.

Add the potatoes to the chickpeas in the pan. Stir in the asparagus/sea vegetable. Stir in the spice mixture, drizzle on a tbsp of oil and squirt in the lemon juice.

Serve with bread and yogurt.

COMING NEXT PART; Lebanese hummus with spiced lamb, Sicilian chickpea soup, Arroz al horno from Valencia, Spain; and more!   

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Taking in the garbage, aka refrigerator recycling

During this change of seasons, bits of this and that seem to pile up in the fridge. We've been trying to grab as much fresh produce as possible before frost disappears it for months. So we've got more than we can eat right away. Eventually that beautiful fresh food molders into "garbage." BUT before that happens, why not clean out the fridge and put all that buried treasure together into one delicious dish or another. Turn it into a free lunch. My own recent recycling efforts after clearing out and cleaning up the refrigerator produce these:

Minestrone Soup
I'm prejudiced toward this traditional Italian version of vegetable soup because it's such soul warming comfort, helped up the flavor heights by tossing in an old Parmesan rind. It's also vegetarian and gets hardy with the inclusion of white beans or chickpeas plus macaroni, ditalini or even orzo--any small pasta. Plus when serving you can top it all off with a spoonful of pesto--and use up the last fresh basil of the year.

There's no rigid rule for what vegetables you can use but it does help strengthen the flavor if you have a celery stalk and a carrot. Beyond that an onion. Then give it whatever you've got (cut into bite sized pieces): zucchini, green beans, corn, peas, tomatoes, bell peppers of any color, broccolini, cauliflower, kale.... If you've got fresh beans still in the pod, shell them and add.

What you'll need to proceed is olive oil-- enough to heavily coat the bottom of your soup pot, freshly ground black pepper, enough homemade or boxed vegetable broth or water to cover everything and make it soupy, half a can of white beans,  1/4-1/3 c small pasta depending on how much soup you have (it should not overpower the vegetables but just be one of them), 2 tbsp of tomato paste if you didn't have tomatoes to use, and a tsp of dried oregano. Optionally a tsp dried sage. Now further garbage recycling: a Parmesan rind; failing that about 2 tbsp grated Parmesan.  And finally in the end fresh flat leaf parsley and basil or pesto.

What to do?
Cover the bottom or a soup pot with olive oil.
Dice the onion, carrot, celery and any of its leaves. Toss into the hot oil with the Parmesan rind (not the cheese) and sauté on med heat while you chop up the other vegetables. Season the onion mix with freshly ground black pepper, oregano and sage. Add the other vegetables, stirring to blend. Add a pinch of salt. Pour in the broth/water, enough so that everything is submerged. Add the grated cheese if you didn't have a rind. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, cover the pot and cook 20 minutes until veggies are all tender. Add the canned beans and tomato paste, stirring to blend.. Bring the pot back to a boil, be sure everything is still submerged, adding liquid if not. Add the small pasta with a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and cook 10 minutes until the pasta has enlarged and is soft. Be sure there is always enough liquid so you will have a thick soup.

To serve, top with freshly chopped flat leaf parsley and a dollop of pesto or else a sprinkling of chopped fresh basil leaves. You can also freeze this.

My inevitable trash torte, this time with celery leaves added.
To the left you see the mountain of greenery clogging my vegetable bin after getting detached from its roots: red beet greens, Hakurei turnip tops, radish greens, celery leaves, scallion tops. All this garbage was enough for a nourishing, low calorie 9" Greek style torte with cheese. The perfect partner for minestrone soup!

I've posted the trash torte recipe before and it got included in the magazine ZEST! where it's still quite popular, I'm told. All you need, as the picture says, is a pile of greens.  This time I found celery leaves added addictive flavor and using red beet greens put intriguing touches of red in the baked torte.I also happened to have excess fennel fronds that gave a hint of licorice.

Best to use a removal bottom cake pan or pie plate; if not a pie plate. Olive oil whatever you use so the slices lift off easily. Preheat the oven to 400º.

Chop the greens or blitz them in a food processor.If you have the scallions themselves, include them. Onion flavor helps. Add chives if they're still in the garden or pot. Ditto dill. Cover the bottom or a saute pan with olive oil, heat it, add a spritz of freshly ground black pepper and then the greens. Cook over low heat just until they wilt, maybe 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Salt to your taste.

Stir in a big handful (say 1/4 c) grated parmesan cheese and another of whatever cheese you may have around. I had some shredded mozzarella this last time and it worked fine.  Lastly, stir in an extra large egg to hold it all together. If it looks like you need two eggs, or have only large eggs so need to, no worries. Blend it all up and turn it into the oiled pan. Level the top. Sprinkle with nutmeg. I sometimes sprinkle a few breadcrumbs on top, sometimes not. Sometimes I add cheese on top. Whatever.  Bake at 400º until a cake tester comes out clean or the top doesn't accept a fingerprint, should be 12-15 minutes.

Slice in wedges to serve. You can serve hot or at room temperature.

Cozy vegetable paella, with or without bits of chorizo 
Paella is the Spanish word for pilaf, a rice mixture dish of any kind. My Catalan friend, a professional cook, long ago taught me how her family whips up a vegetable version for fast food that's very comforting. Everyone eats it right out of the pan. There is no strict recipe for this; you just give it all you've got. In Spain that might include artichokes and chickpeas. At my house this time around it was celery, carrot, red bell pepper, Tuscan kale, leek, turnip, onion and a garlic clove. You add glam/bling with a pinch of saffron.

To feed 4, you'll need about 3 cups of chopped veggies, 1 1/2-2c paella rice (this is short grain starchy rice that cooks fast and soaks up juices) and 4 c veg broth. You can use chicken broth if you're not vegetarian just as you can toss in a handful of diced chorizo for authentic flavor if you're not kosher or halal either. A pinch of smoked paprika enhances authenticity too. Nobody will suspect you're just recycling leftovers.

A paella or a large sauté pan is what you need. Coat the bottom with olive oil without being skimpy. Over med heat, warm it up and put in the chorizo if using it to flavor everything. Cook 60 secs, then add the crunchier veggies like onion, carrot, celery, turnip, bell pepper. Grind the black pepper over them to your taste. Cook 5 min to soften. Season with smoked paprika. Add the remaining vegetables, a tsp of salt, the rice and a thick pinch of saffron, Stir to mix everything. Raise the heat and pour in the broth. When it begins to boil, drop heat to low/simmer, do not stir the pot! But watch to see if it needs more liquid as the rice rises. Cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and blossomed all over the pan, 12-15 minutes. Test a piece of rice to be sure it's soft. Serve and enjoy your thrifty treat.

Garlic Croutons
This is my favorite way to deal with three-day or more old bread. It beats tossing it into the trash because it saves you from having to purchase croutons made from some industrialized stale bread and lets you always have emergency crackers on hand. I've found these croutons add immensely to a Caesar salad as well as a tomato salad, the bread based salads known as fattoush and panzanella, to all sorts of soups when served on top, and when pressed into action under soft cheese slathered with homemade chutney or hummus or eggplant salad serve nobly. I store them in a tin.

Baguettes, olive bread, walnut bread, pain de levain, rustic all works.
Line a baking sheet** with tin foil and preheat your oven to 325º. Cut what you've got into 1/4" thin cracker size pieces. I thinly slice baguettes. Fill a bowl with enough olive oil to coat each piece and add a minced garlic clove. Pushing a large one threw a garlic press is good. Stir it into the oil. Quickly dip each piece of bread into the garlicky olive oil and lay it on the tin foiled baking sheet. Keep a single layer. When every piece is done, put the baking sheet into the oven and bake until the bread is slightly golden and hard, maybe 20-30 minutes. Cool and wrap in that tin foil and put away in a tin. Or put the tin foil into a zip tight plastic bag and put that in the fridge.

**if you don't have that much bread to process, you can use the tray of the toaster oven. I do that a lot.

And finally, if none of the above works, you can throw everything into a full swing omelet or frittata.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Celery Stalk: A Magic Wand in the Kitchen

Like Don Rickles, celery doesn't get much respect. It's cut into sticks for kids' lunchboxes or chopped into tuna salad just to add crunch. Dismissing it is a shame. A celery stalk is a magic wand.  It turns you into a kitchen wizard who performs miracles with just about anything stuck in the fridge or on the shelf. It perks up, soothes and sweetens --without adding a calorie. Plus it lasts a long time in the fridge. Best of all, it's cheap and easy to find. Little wonder Tuscan and French cooks start most of their favorite dishes by chopping and sauteing it. It's in the Holy Trinity at the heart of all that tasty Cajun food. It's a must have right now when mushrooms are popping up, a reach for when you want soulful pizazz in barley or farro. Here are eight examples of the fast magic you too can make with a stalk of celery, to convince you to keep some handy.

Pasta e Fagioli
Comfort food doesn't get more comforting than this classic, utterly simple Italian combination of beans, tomatoes and macaroni that can be either a soup or a bowl of pasta. It shows off the secret scent and sweetness of celery.

Serves 6

1 cup dried white beans  (Great Northern, Cranberry, Cannellini)**
2-3 tbsp olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pot)
1 sm yellow onion, diced
1 tsp dried rosemary leaves
1/8 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2 sm or 1 lg carrot, peeled and diced
1 lg celery stalk, diced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 cup chopped tomatoes in their juice (canned or boxed is okay)
4 cups vegetable or beef broth
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
¾ cup tubellini, ditalini, or other very small pasta
½ cup freshly minced flat leaf parsley
Parmesan cheese for garnish

The long way: soak the beans overnight. Then drain and rinse. 

Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot. Add the black pepper, onion, carrot and celery. Sauté over medium/low heat 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Do not brown. Add rosemary, oregano and sage and stir to blend. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are hot and bubbling. Add black pepper, salt and red pepper flakes. Add the uncooked beans and broth and cook 90 minutes until beans are soft. Add the macaroni and cook another 10 minutes.

INSTANT WAY: Add the canned beans to the tomato mixture. Slowly add the broth. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook 10 minutes. Add the macaroni and cook another 12-15 minutes until it is soft and the soup is fragrant.

Remove from heat, stir in the parsley and ladle into bowls. Top with freshly grated cheese.
Braised Chicken with Celery and Mushrooms
Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil or butter
2 skinless chicken leg-thigh quarters
1 skin-on chicken breast, split to yield 2 halves 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper  
3 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and chopped
4 carrots, chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped, leaves reserved for garnish
1 lb fresh mushrooms, quartered or sliced
3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried leaves 
2 c chicken stock

Heat oven to 350º. Put the olive oil or butter in a roasting pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle the leg quarters with salt and pepper and add them to the pan, flesh side down. Cook, turning and rotating the pieces as necessary, until well browned on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove, then add the breast halves, skin side down. Brown them well, then flip and cook 1 minute or so; remove to a separate plate.

Put leeks, carrots, celery, mushrooms and herbs in the same pan and cook until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

 Nestle the leg quarters among the vegetables, meaty side up (hold the breasts til later). Add enough chicken stock to come about halfway up the thighs. (The amount will depend on the breadth of your pan; add a little water if necessary.)

Put the pan in the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour, checking occasionally and stirring the vegetables  if they threaten to brown too much. When the thigh meat is tender, raise the heat to 400º and lay the breast halves on the vegetables, skin side up. Continue cooking 20 to 30 minutes longer until they are done.
Transfer the vegetables to a platter. Slice the breasts and and separate the legs from the thighs. Garnish with reserved chopped celery leaves.

Macedonian Bean Soup with Colored Peppers
A perfect fall dish when bell peppers are at high tide in farmers' markets. 
Serves 6

1 lb dried white beans (Great Northern, Kidney, navy, cannellini)
2 med/lg carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery with leaves, diced
1 lg onion, peeled and diced
1/4 tsp freshly ground or cracked black pepper
1 tsp dried sage
3½ cups vegetable broth
3 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
2 yellow or orange bell peppers, roasted and peeled
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (Balsamic is too strong)
5-6 tbsp olive oil
18-20 pitted Kalamata olives, slivered
Salt to your taste
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pick over the beans. Soak in enough water to cover and refrigerate overnight.
Roast the peppers. Remove stems, skin membrane and seeds. Chop into small ¼” cubes.  Combine peppers, vinegar and 1 tbsp olive oil in a glass or ceramic small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the beans. Put in a large pan, cover well with cold water and bring to a boil.
Boil for 5 minutes. Drain well.

In a large, heavy gauge soup pot, heat enough olive oil 4-5 tbsp to cover the bottom.
Add carrots, celery, onion, black pepper and sage. Sauté on low heat for 2 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Stir in the beans. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1½ hours until beans are tender.

Drain peppers. Add peppers and olives to the warm soup. Add salt to your taste and finally the lemon juice.
 Serve immediately.

Celery Date Salad
I've posted this before with other date recipes so now here it is with the spotlight on the crunchy celery.
8 celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal. Chop the leaves too.
6 fresh dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 c roasted almonds, halve. Whole is okay too.
1/2 sm red onion, diced
2 tsp minced fresh mint leaves
pinch red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 oz shaved Parmesan cheese 
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 c extra good olive oil

Combine celery and leaves, dates, almonds, onion and pepper flakes in a serving bowl. Moisten with the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cheese and olive oil and lastly stir in the mint leaves.

Persian Celery Stew with saffron
One of my all time favorites and my Eureka! about celery, this is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, and I've posted it before. It's just sublime, divinely simple and absolutely perfect for that Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
Serves 6-8

1½ bunches of celery, stalks apart and cleaned
4 tbsp butter
1 lg red onion, peeled and diced
¼ tsp freshly cracked or ground black pepper
2 bunches flat leaf parsley, cleaned and chopped (at least 3 cups)
¼ tsp saffron
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp dried crushed mint
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Cut celery into 1” pieces, even leaves.
 Melt butter in a large saucepan or medium casserole. Sauté onion over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add black pepper and celery and continue to sauté 5 minutes.  Add half the parsley (1½ cups or one bunch), saffron and vegetable broth. Stir to blend. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 30 minutes. Add remainder of parsley except for 1 tbsp. Add mint, salt and lemon juice, stirring to blend. Continue cooking for 10-12 minutes or until celery is soft.  Adjust for salt and pepper. Garnish with remaining chopped parsley to serve.  
Osso Bucco
Back to the northern Italians who just love to season with celery. 
serves 6

1 c yellow onion, finely diced
2/3 c carrots, finely diced
2/3 c celery, finely diced
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp minced garlic
2 strips lemon peel
1/2 c vegetable oil
4-6 sm veal shanks
3/4 c all purpose white flour
1 c dry white wine
1 1/2 c beef broth
1 1/2 c chopped Italian tomatoes with juice (boxed is fine)
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
salt to your taste

Heat the oven to 350º. Use a heavy casserole with a tight lid large enough to hold the veal in a single layer, standing up is fine.

Melt the butter in that casserole over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté until they are soft, 6-8 minutes. Do not brown them. Add the chopped garlic and lemon peel and remove from the heat.

Put the flour in a shallow bowl and coat each veal shank lightly on both sides, shaking as you finish.
Heat the oil in  a large skillet over medium/high heat and brown the veal on all sides. Then put it in the casserole with the vegetables, standing side by side if necessary.

Skim the fat from the oil and add the wine. Boil briskly, scraping the bottom, for 2 minutes. Pour over the veal.  Add the broth, chopped tomatoes with juice, thyme, bay leaves, parsley, pepper and salt. Make sure the veal is just covered by the broth. Bring this to a boil, cover and place in the oven for 75-90 minutes--until the veal is tender. Try to turn and baste the meat at least once, twice is better. The sauce should be thick and creamy now too. Remove the meat to a platter. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce. If the sauce is not thick, put the casserole on medium high heat on the stove top and boil to the desired consistency. Pour over the veal and serve garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

Cajun Gumbo
Most Cajun soul food starts with a stalk of celery as it's part of the Holy Trinity at the heart of crawfish etouffee, jambalaya and all the gumbos: celery, bell peppers and onion. This is one of the most authentic recipes I could find to share.

1 c vegetable oil
1 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c chopped onion
1 c chopped green bell pepper
1 c chopped red bell pepper
1 c chopped celery
3 tbsp minced garlic
3 c chopped okra
1 1/2 c dark beer
6 c seafood stock
2 tbsp file powder
2 bay leaves
2 tsps Cajun seasoning
1 (8-ounce) container crab claw meat, picked free of shells
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lb medium fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb red snapper fillets, chopped
2 (8-ounce) containers shucked oysters
1 (8-ounce) container jumbo lump crabmeat, picked free of shells
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Hot cooked rice
Garnish: chopped green onion

In an 8-quart stockpot, heat oil over medium heat 5 minutes; add flour, and stir together to form a roux. Cook, stirring often, until roux is the color of peanut butter, about 20 minutes.
Add onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, and okra. Cook vegetables, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add beer, stock, file powder, bay leaves, Cajun seasoning, crab claw meat, Worcestershire, salt, and cayenne. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer 1 hour.
Add shrimp, fish, oysters, and lump crabmeat to mixture. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until seafood is cooked through; add parsley.
Serve with rice, and garnish with green onion, if desired.

Mushroom Barley "risotto" with or without lamb
My version of traditional Scotch Broth.
serves 4-6

1 cup pearl barley
3 cups mushroom or vegetable broth
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lg onion, peeled and diced (red onion adds color)
1 sm green bell pepper coarsely chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 sm pasilla pepper, roasted, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, washed and diced
2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/4 tsp Szechuan peppercorns (don’t fret if you don’t have them)
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp celery seed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground clove
½ tbsp butter
¼ tsp freshly or coarsely ground black pepper
½ lb mixed mushrooms (shitake, crimini, button, Portobello, oyster), cleaned
 ½ roasted red pepper, diced, or a 2 oz jar of sliced pimentos, drained
Optional: 1/2 lb lamb stew meat diced into 1" pieces
juice of a lemon
1 tsp salt
2-3 oz baby spinach leaves

Heat the oil in a medium stockpot or large heavy gauge casserole. Add onion and sauté over medium heat 3-5 minutes until it’s lightly brown and glistening. If using the lamb brown it with the onions 3 minutes.

Add the green pepper, Poblano pepper, barley, thyme, Szechuan peppercorns and oregano.  Continue sautéing for a minute, stirring so nothing sticks and the barley gets hot. Add the celery, rosemary, celery seed, cumin, clove and coriander, stirring to blend. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cover the pot. Simmer one hour on low. (You don’t have to worry about overcooking this.)

Slice and chop mushrooms into large bite-sized chunks. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium low heat and when it’s bubbling add the mushrooms. Add black pepper. Sauté one minute. Remove from heat.

When the barley has been cooking for at least an hour and is starting to be soft to the teeth, add the contents of the mushroom sauté, the pimentos or roasted red pepper, and salt. Blend into the barley. Continue cooking  until the barley is tender. Add liquid if necessary to prevent burning.

Stir in the lemon juice. Put the spinach leaves on top, cover, turn off heat and let the spinach steam 3 minutes.
Serve hot.

You will also find Celery, Fennel and White Bean Soup, plus Mirepoix Soup (mirepoix is the French starter seasoning made of celery, carrots and onion) in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.