Monthly Archives: June 2012

Vegetables aren’t candy.

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You know when parents talk about sneaking vegetables into their kids food? None of us really believe that it works, right? Vegetable strips are not “french fries,” shredded vegetable patties aren’t “burgers,” and raisins may be sweet, but nature’s candy is a bridge too far.

Zucchini, however, is a different animal altogether. Put it in cookies, pancakes, bread and pizza, and I’ll gladly be fooled any day of the week. It was my Mom’s recipe for zucchini pizza – where shredded zucchini mixed with a little cheese, flour and egg forms the crust – that inspired me.

This meatloaf does everything that “sneaking-in-veggies” recipes are supposed to. It turns a pound of ground beef into eight, hearty servings, each of which has almost half a cup of zucchini. Replacing the usual tomato paste with a homemade tomato jam sneaks half a tomato in there t0o, along with an amazing amount of flavor. All these veggies lighten the meat loaf so it feels summery, not dense and wintry.

Zucchini Meat Loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 pound pancetta, diced or bacon*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar**
  • 2 medium or 4 small zucchini shredded, about 3.5 cups
  • 1 pound ground beef, not lean
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs chopped basil
  • 1.5 cups Parmesan cheese
*Pancetta is salt cured, not smoked. If you use bacon you can simmer it for a couple minutes first to remove some of the smoky flavor.
**Another magic vinegar from Sapore. If you need a substitute, use a nice, acidic Sherry vinegar.

Directions:

  • Make the tomato jam.: Over medium heat sauté pancetta in one tbs olive oil until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  • Add onion. Cook until soft. Add garlic. Cook 1 min until fragrant.
  • Add tomato and cook until thick and jammy. Add a little water when pan gets dry. Deglaze pan with vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Mix the warm jam with the rest of the ingredients, reserved pancetta and salt and pepper.
  • Fry a small patty of the mixture then season to taste adding additional salt, pepper, cheese or vinegar as needed.
  • Press into a 9” square baking dish or form into a loaf on a baking pan. Bake at 325 for about an hour.
  • Let rest 10 minutes tented with foil and serve.
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Because life should be beautiful.

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Tony, this is for you. No, not for my cousin, Tony, who nearly demanded a standing ovation when he first added lettuce to his tacos (today he has a highly sophisticated palate). This for the Tony who came to dinner two years ago and warily picked up a stuffed, fried zucchini blossom. “It’s a what?!” you asked. “A zucchini flower,” I replied. I think I noticed you scoping out the exits, but you bravely took a bite. I think you enjoyed it.

And how could you not? Zucchini blossoms taste mildly and sweetly of zucchini. Stuffed with a mild goat cheese, fresh herbs, salt and pepper, they are beer battered and fried. Think of it as a zucchini popper! This is Italian bar food, crisp and sprinkled with sharp flakes of sea salt. An indulgence to be sure, but pure gastronomic pleasure!

For those of you worried about a lost generation of zucchini, pinched off the vine at the start of their lives, sleep soundly. We only harvest the male flowers. The female ones go onto produce beautiful summer squashes. We’ll slice, bread and fry those later.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

The best way to remove food from hot fat is with a spider. Seriously, go into a cooking store and ask for one. They won’t laugh at you. If they do, tell them that your big brother is going to beat them up. Then give me a call.

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil for frying*
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 ounce chilled beer or club soda
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup mild goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh cream
  • 2-3 tbs fresh herbs – tarragon, mint and parsley are wonderful
  • 24-ish Zucchini blossoms
  • Sea salt

*Look for cooking grade olive oil in the grocery store. I wouldn’t touch it for sautéing, but it’s perfect, and cheaper, for deep frying.

Directions:

  • Heat 2″ oil to 350 degrees in a 6 qt pot. Check temperature with a deep frying or candy thermometer.
  • Mix together goat cheese and enough cream to make it pipeable from a pastry bag. Stir in fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Whisk egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add a pinch of cream of tartar, is needed, to get them started.
  • Using a pastry bag or ziplock bag with a corner cut off, pipe the cheese into the zucchini blossoms. Gently twist the filled flowers closed at the top. This will be immensely frustrating the first time. Forgive your inexperience, drink the rest of the opened beer, and keep going.
  • Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in beer just until smooth. Don’t overwork. Gently fold eggwhites into batter.
  • Roll a few flowers in the batter and gently shake off excess. Place them in the hot oil, being sure not to overcrowd. Cook them until golden, flipping once. Be careful not to burn.
  • Remove them to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt.
  • Return the oil to 350 and fry the remaining flowers in batches.
  • Eat them while nice and hot. Drink lots of chilled Prosecco. Or rosé. Discuss how fabulous and blessed your life is.

We’re having a heatwave.

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Ah, the nostalgic cucumber.

They always remind me of my childhood. Crunching through them, wet and sun-warmed right from the garden. Cold and crisp with dill and sour cream in my Mom’s salad. Moosewood’s cold cucumber soup. Mom’s gazpacho, Mom’s salad tossed with rice wine, salt, pepper and sugar, my Babci’s pickles.

This simple salad plays of their cool sweetness with fruity sweetness and a little heat. If you are serving the salad right away, just slice them in half rounds, toss them with the dressing and eat, but if you are going to hold the salad for a bit in the fridge or freezer, then remove the seeds before slicing the cuckes into thin crescents. The seeds hold much of the moisture in the cukes and this is an easy way to keep your salad from turning to soup.

How do you seed a cucumber? Easy! First peel it, cut off the ends, and then cut it in half lengthwise. Now scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon (the one from your flatware drawer, not the measuring spoon).

Finally, if you are holding the salad, then remember that it will release some moisture, diluting your dressing. Check the seasoning again right before serving.

Tropical Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced, about 3 cups
  • 1 tbs chopped mint
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbs Tropical Spice Vinegar*
  • 1/3 cup peanut oil

*If you or your family prefer less spicy food, try a lightly acidic, sweet vinegar like Champagne Mimosa or rice wine.

Directions:

  • Combine mint, shallot, sugar, Tropical Spice Vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  • Whisk in peanut oil in a thin stream. Dressing will become creamy.
  • Dress cucumbers lightly, reserving extra dressing.
  • Let salad rest for 5-10 minutes for flavors to develop. Check seasoning and add salt, pepper or additional dressing as needed.

*The cucumber will release some water while you let this rest. Season to taste right before serving. For a drier salad, lightly salt the cucumbers, drain in a colander for 15 minutes and pat dry.

I didn’t used to like tomatoes.

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I feel like I should be sitting in a confessional, leaning in close, talking directly to the camera.

“I didn’t used to like tomatoes,” I would say in a hushed tone. “For years I thought raw tomatoes were gross!” Perhaps this revelation is so shocking that I should ask to be silhouetted with my voice modulated.

It’s true. As a child I hated raw tomatoes. I loved Brussels Sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Give me artichokes and onions, just about anything Mom put on the dinner table, but I grimaced each year when she asked me to try one bite of a ripe tomato, fresh picked as we stood in her garden.

Nine years ago that started to change and today I love raw tomatoes. I chalk it up to a wiser palate. This past week I decided to venerate the first of this summer’s tomatoes, picked fresh under the hot sun. Two thick slices of beefsteak-type tomatoes didn’t need anything more than salt and pepper, but I went ahead and added a simple balsamic vinaigrette made with fresh basil and garlic scape pesto, fragrant from pounding in the mortar.  I fell in love with tomatoes all over again. Then I called my Mom.

Tomato Salad With Pesto Vinaigrette

For pesto:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or 2 tbs minced garlic scapes
  • 1.5 cups thinly sliced basil
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbs Arbosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil

For dressing:

  • 2 tbs minced shallot
  • 3 tbs pesto
  • 2-3 tbs Aged Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 cup Arbrosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil

Directions:

  • Using mortar and pestle, pound garlic or scapes with 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt. Then pound in basil, followed by pine nuts, cheese and oil. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt.
  • Make dressing: whisk together shallot, pesto and vinegar.
  • Whisk in oil in a thin stream. You may not need all the oil. Start with 1/2 cup and taste as you go.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Taste the dressing with a piece of tomato and correct the balance of oil , vinegar and pesto as needed.
  • Serve over thick slices of the freshest tomatoes you can find! Top with ribbons of fresh basil.

Crécy is not French for “carrot.”

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Anything this orange, made with root vegetables, should be served on a crisp fall day – rich and hearty with a crusty bread and some good farm-fresh butter (which I evangelize about here). But this carrot-beet soup is light and fresh, tastes as good cold as it does served hot and is perfect for summer.

Arriving home from a trip to the Market with baby carrots and golden beets, I began searching cookbooks for salads and sautés. Stumbling across a recipe for Potage Crécy first made me think of soup. Crécy, it turns out, is not French for orange root vegetables, but refers to a town known, once-upon-a-time, for growing exceptional carrots. However, there is debate about which of two French towns, one in the south and one in the north, each with Crécy in its name, first served up this light summer soup.

Reading through several recipes, I discovered a basic formula of carrots cooked with onions and stock, puréed and flavored with orange. We added the golden beets, sweet but far less earthy than red ones. I grabbed a bottle of Sapore’s Orange Oil off the shelf and we served up three bowls, each seasoned differently. It was a quick bite after adding turmeric but before adding cumin that was our favorite – although curry was a close second. Served warm, it is light and sweet. Once chilled it is herbal and far more carrot-y. Both are delicious.

Potage Crécy

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 candy sweet onion, or white onion, diced
  • 4 cups thinly sliced carrots
  • 3 cups diced golden beets
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 tbs Orange Oil*
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • Sherry vinegar

*If you don’t have Orange Oil, substitute 3 tbs olive oil, and one tablespoon grated orange zest

Directions:

  • Melt butter over medium heat in a 4 quart soup pot. Sauté onions until
  • soft and translucent.
  • Add carrots and beets. Sauté 7-10 minutes until golden on edges. Add ginger after 5 minutes.
  • Add stock and simmer approximately 30 minutes until vegetables can be mashed with a fork.
  • Pass soup through the finest blade of a food mill or purée with a blender. Return to pot.
  • Stir in Orange Oil and simmer an additional 5 minutes to bring flavors together.
  • Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and stir through cream.
  • Add turmeric a little at a time so as to not overpower the carrot flavor.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar.
  • Serve hot or cold.

Rule 1: No one cooks better than Mom.

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Our weeknight dinners are built around turning the bags of farm-fresh produce we carry home each weekend into new recipes for Saturday morning demos at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market. Recently, our friend Sam has joined us for Thursday night’s six-hour marathon sessions where we finalize Saturday’s menu.

Last week, eying a bag of Agora Farms black-red sweet cherries, he said” My Mom used to make a sweet and sour sauce with cherries and peaches. It started with a can each…”

I know. You’ve got a mental image of a loud record scratch accompanying this look of horror on my face. But you’re wrong. No one cooks better than your Mom. No one. At that goes for each and every one of you.

However, since Sam thought it would be fun to go home for a visit sometime and show Mom a new upscale version of her sweet and sour, cherry-peach chicken, we started experimenting. Sweet and sour dishes hang on the balance of sweet, acidic and salty. We began with shallot and fresh cherries, added brown sugar for sweetness and depth, and rosemary for a savory bite. Peach infused vinegar replaced the canned peaches and orange zest add citrusy brightness. The cherries we had were so sweet, and the the peach vinegar mildly acidic, that we added a splash of sharper vinegar to finish the thick, jammy, sweet and sour cherry chutney. Then we served it over wild boar sausages.

I’m still willing to bet that Sam’s Mom’s is better. After all, Mom’s who cook are nigh invincible in the kitchen. But we had a pretty darn-good meal.

Sweet and Sour Cherry Chutney

Sweet and sour is all about the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar. Taste often as you finish the sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs grape seed or vegetable oil
  • 2 large shallots, diced
  • 4 cups sweet cherries, pitted and quartered
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tbs minced rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  •  Peach Vinegar*
  • Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
*More wonderful vinegars from Sapore Oil and Vinegar on Capitol Hill. You can substitute with any fruit vinegar, just make sure you get enough acidity. We used about 1/4 cup Peach vinegar and reduced it down slightly as the chutney finished cooking. A splash of the Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar gave us the extra acidity that we needed. Sherry or cider vinegar would be a good substitute.
Directions:
  • In a small sauté pan, warm oil and cook shallots over medium heat until soft, without browning.
  • Increase heat to medium high and add cherries. Sauté 5 minutes until cherries start to soften and liquid begins to evaporate.
  • Reduce heat back down to medium. Add sugar and cook another 5 minutes until chutney starts to become jammy.
  • Add rosemary and orange zest and cook another 5-10 minutes until chutney is thick.
  • Season to taste with salt and vinegar. This sauce is all about balance, so taste after each addition of salt or vinegar. If your fruit vinegar is not acidic enough, add a splash of something a bit sharper. Add more sugar if needed.

Without exception.

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Absolutes are rare in cooking. Once you learn the basics of technique and flavor you can experiment freely – recognizing you’re going to bomb every once in a while and that every truly great dish has been practiced and refined over time. While researching broccoli rabe last week, I discovered an exception to this rule. Every single recipe I read began with blanching and included garlic and red pepper flakes.

Now, I’m sure there’s an exception out there somewhere, but once I spent some time getting to know broccoli rabe, it all made sense. Though it looks like broccoli, broccoli rate is closer in relation to the turnip, another member of the brassica family, which includes cauliflower, cabbage, mustard and kale. It has a sharp bitterness to it which is abated by blanching. The heat of the pepper flakes and richness of lightly browned garlic reveal subtler flavors in the rabe.

While there is no sauce in this pasta, I used a common Italian technique of adding the pasta cooking liquid to the sauté pan, along with slightly undercooked pasta, and letting the dish come together while the liquid is absorbed or evaporates. This leaves the pasta almost as flavorful as the greens.

Broccoli Rabe with Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches broccoli rabe, stems cleaned and peeled, and damaged leaves removed*
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbs chopped oregano
  • More olive oil – the good stuff!
  • 1 pound dried penne or farfalle
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
*Chop off the bottom 1/2″ of the stems, then peel them. If your rabe is very leafy, remove the leaves, blanch them separately, and add them about 2 minutes after adding the stems so that they do not become over-cooked.

Directions:

  • Blanch broccoli rabe for 1 minute in salted, boiling water and remove to ice bath. When cool, drain.
  • Chop broccoli rabe into 1” pieces.
  • Boil water and start cooking pasta.
  • Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and cook until starting to light brown. Be careful not to burn.
  • Add pepper flakes, cook for 30 sec.
  • Add broccoli rabe and cook 2-3 minutes until crisp tender.
  • When pasta is almost ready, drain, reserving two cups of liquid.
  • Add pasta and liquid to broccoli rabe. Cook until liquid reduces to coat pasta.
  • Toss with oregano, additional olive oil, cheese, pepper and salt.