Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spaghetti with Spinach, Cannellini Beans, and Garlic Chips

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I never thought to add beans to a pasta dish until I tasted this classic Tuscan-style dish at an incredible hole-in-the-wall restaurant down a charming, winding street in Siena, Italy. It turns out that whole wheat spaghetti is the perfect partner to high fiber, nutrient-rich dark greens, tomatoes and cannellini beans.

To recreate this classic Tuscan dish, I used fresh spinach as opposed to a bitter green, and cooked the onion, garlic and red chili flakes at the same time. I'm trying to find ways to incorporate more spinach into my diet and this dish is definitely a winner! To elevate the mildly favored cannellini beans, I added tomatoes, lemon juice, and kalamata olives for acidity and saltiness, garlic chips for a pungent crunch, and a generous mountain of finely grated parmesan for an earthy note. I used nutty whole wheat spaghetti to balance the wholesome, nutrient-packed dish.

What's not to love in this wonderful combination of bold, complex flavors? The best part is that using canned cannellini beans makes it an easy, quick, and satisfying dish. I used bunches of fresh spinach which took time to clean and prepare, but the bags of spinach would work well too.

After a couple bites, we were in agreement that this balanced and hearty dish must be added to the regular weeknight rotation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Truffled mushroom flatbread

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We just love love love the truffled mushroom flatbread at COCO500. The first time we ordered it, our server referred to it as "crack bread" and I can see why! Imagine a cracker thin crisp crust topped with a thin layer of minced mushrooms, drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with finely grated parmesan. A delightful taste of heaven! Often we just pop in COCO for a tasty cocktail (try the hot lips!) and a taste of the truffled mushroom flatbread.

Recently I went to get my "fix" and, to my dismay, the menu listed a truffled squash blossom flatbread instead. Our server explained that squash blossom was featured for the summer months and we would have to wait until September for the mushroom flatbread to reappear on the menu. Begrudgingly we ordered the flatbread and although tasty, it didn't hold a candle to the mushroom version.

We couldn't fathom the thought of waiting until September to have another taste of deliciousness. And so, given our recent pizza/flatbread adventures, we decided to try to recreate COCO's truffled mushroom flatbread at home. We knew achieving a crisp cracker thin crust at home would be a challenge. We took one ball of dough from the flatbread recipe and split into two and stretched it until it was evenly thin (i.e., we didn't leave a crust).

Now for the mushroom spread. We minced mushrooms, shallot, and garlic in a food processor until fine and cooked the mixture in olive oil until the juices release, seasoning well with salt, pepper, and a generous drizzle or two of white truffle oil. Taste check: perfection.

We spread the mushroom mixture over the flatbread all the way to the edge and scattered parmesan over the top. We placed the flatbread in a large 12" cast iron skillet and put it in the oven at 500 until the cheese melted and the edges were golden brown.

Amazingness. I think we just might make it to September.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Braised Artichokes in Lemon and Olive Oil

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Meet the most flavorful preparation of artichokes that I have ever tasted. Artichokes are lovingly braised in lemon and olive oil with a beautiful medley of fennel seeds, coriander seeds, lemon zest, carrots, shallots and garlic. Then the braised artichokes are seared cut-side down in a hot skillet and topped with the oh-so-delicious braising liquid. The distinctive flavor of the tender artichokes is enhanced by the exciting, complex spices and bright lemon zest.

As with most artichoke preparations, peeling back the tough layers to reach the delicious prize waiting underneath takes some time (thank goodness for my amazing sous-chef!). But if you are anything like me, I trust that you will find that this particular dish is absolutely worth the extra effort.  You just might even lick your plate clean (not that I would ever do such a thing) or at the very least, sop up the extra braising liquid with some crusty bread.


The braised artichokes are wonderful as a side, pureed into a tasty topping for cracker-thin flatbread, or as an accompaniment to eggs for breakfast (but only if you are Turkish).

As I was preparing the artichokes, it occurred to me how incredibly lucky I am to live in California even though I never saw myself living on the West coast. Artichokes in California are about as wonderful as they get. I've never laid eyes on such beautiful globes anywhere else in the country! Then again I could say the same for most produce out here; that reminds me, have you tasted the local heirloom tomatoes? WOW. It's almost as if I were destined to be in food and wine heaven.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shaved radish, carrot, fennel with lemony quinoa

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The weather has started to transition from cool rainy days to warm sun-soaked days and the local  produce seems to be reflecting this change. Piles of late spring carrots, radishes, and turnips lay next to summery heaps of white corn, avocados, and sweet peppers. Thanks to Capay Organic farms, my fridge is brimming with ears of corn begging to be grilled and root veggies that deserve to be treated more delicately than roasted in the oven with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. The range of ingredients certainly makes cooking especially challenging exciting during this time of year!

Because nothing is better than a margarita in the sun (except maybe a margarita on the beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea), friends came over to make tequila and mezcal cocktails. Drawing almost entirely on the contents of my CSA box, I whipped up the usual favorite parmesan roasted broccoli with garlic and lemon zest, grilled corn on the cob lathered in tequila lime butter and sea salt and sprinkled with lime zest (husks removed and grilled directly on the stove!), green leaf lettuce and avocado tossed with an unbelievable carrot ginger dressing, and gorgeous crisp, shaved radish, carrot, and fennel with lemony quinoa.


I was surprised at how much I (and my far-from-vegetarian dinner guests) loved the quinoa salad. The key to the dish is to thinly slice the radish and carrot with a vegetable peeler or mandoline, shave the fennel with a box grater, then place the shaved veggies in a bowl of ice water and refrigerate for about 45 minutes until they are crisp! The quinoa is tossed with bright lemon, lemon zest, canola oil, sea salt, and pepper and topped with the crispy vegetables. The result is a protein-packed, light refreshing dish with crunchy shaved vegetables that goes surprisingly well with a margarita made with homemade jalapeno-infused tequila.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

English pea ravioli with mint, lemon zest, and toasted garlic

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Many apologies for being silent the last couple of weeks. We've had a lot going on and I thank you all for your prayers and thoughts. Despite it all, I find myself saving up all of my energy to do what I love, and somehow things become bearable again, as we laugh and share beautiful, happy moments together.

One of our recent projects was to make fresh shelled English pea wonton raviolis. Ravioli made with wanton wrappers is simply wonderful and oh-so-gratifying. I must confess that I find it extremely relaxing to shell fresh peas. I realize that not everyone has the luxury to shell peas (or would derive the same level of pleasure in doing so), so no need to fret- a bag of frozen peas would work just fine for this dish.



For all of you Top Chef followers, remember Carla's heavenly peas? She blanched peas and tossed them in lemon thyme butter with lemon zest and shallot and finished with chopped tarragon. The elegant simplicity of the dish captured the true flavors of the fresh peas.

For this dish, I wanted to use simple flavors to balance the sweetness of fresh peas. We blanched fresh shelled peas until just crisp tender (about 3 to 4 minutes) in salted water, pureed them, and then cooked the pureed peas with garlic and shallot, gently mixing in parmesan, lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. We brushed the edge of a wonton wrapper with a beaten egg, placed the filling in the center, and topped with a dry wrapper and pressed along the edges. And just like that you have wonton ravioli!


We lightly boiled the raviolis and tossed them with butter, a splash of reserved pasta water, a pinch of chili flakes, a squeeze of lemon, and lemon zest. Then we finished the dish with chopped fresh mint, toasted garlic, a snowy heap of parmesan and my usual favorite... toasted bread crumbs! The brightness of the lemon zest and depth of the herbs and toasted garlic enhanced the peas without masking their true flavor. And, let's be honest, who doesn't love the combination of fresh peas and mint?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Asparagus and Spring Onion Quinoa

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"Eat more quinoa!" (and kale) has been my mantra for the last two years and roughly 9 months ago, farro was added to my list of staples. And I will tell you, having a CSA box makes it even easier to create simple, yet deliciously tasty whole grain, protein-packed dishes filled with seasonal veggies! Take this salad for example: thick-stalked asparagus boiled until crisp tender and macerated spring onions are gently tossed with light, fluffy quinoa dressed in a white wine vinegrette. Fabulous, I tell you! It is incredibly easy to prepare and is a healthy yet satisfying lunch option or a simple weeknight meal.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a series of delightfully tasty whole grain recipes like this showcasing different seasonal vegetables. I would love to hear your thoughts on the recipes, especially if you try any of them. For all of you vegetarians out there, I beg you to take note of these salads. You will love them and you won't believe that they are actually healthy and filling. I found myself eating far less pasta and rice once I started eating more quinoa, farro, bulgur, and whole grain polenta. If you are anything like me, I suspect that you will too.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Braised endives with orange and pistachios

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I came across this beautiful recipe for braised endives with oranges and pistachios in an orange reduction in the "The Temporary Vegetarian" column in The NY Times a few months ago and immediately bookmarked it. Previously I had only prepared endives as a quick appetizer, separating the leaves and topping with roasted sliced fig, crumbled Roquefort, and spicy candied pecans. I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which the juicy sweet figs, spicy candied pecans, and creamy, salty and piquant roquefort contrasted with the bitter and crisp endives.

When I read this recipe for braised endives, I immediately began to imagine how the bitterness of the endives would be balanced by the sweetness of the orange reduction. And the presentation sounded heavenly with crunchy pistachios and a gremolata garnish of bread crumbs, garlic, orange zest, and parsley.

It turned out to be a lovely dish with very pronounced, complementing flavors. I found the sauce a tad bit too sweet for my taste, even though I omitted the sugar called for in the original recipe. I think adding lemon juice would work well too. But then again, I just don't have a sweet tooth!

Endives are halved and braised in butter, olive oil, and white wine until tender.

 

Once the endives are done, orange (or blood orange) juice is added to the wine and reduced to a thick sauce. Orange (or blood orange) segments and pistachios are added to the bubbling sauce.

 

Gremolata, a mixture of bread crumbs, parsley, garlic and orange zest, is prepared as a garnish to finish the dish.


The gorgeous orange reduction is drizzled over the braised endives and the gremolata is sprinkled on top.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Mushroom and leek frittata

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I recently invited a few colleagues came over for Sunday brunch and was a bit nervous about what to serve the food-obsessed group. At the very least, I planned to serve mimosas, my favorite herbed baked eggs with parmesan and oven roasted new potatoes with rosemary and fleur de sel. I had originally planned to also make a french toast brioche bread pudding with orange zest but the group was definitely one that preferred savory dishes to sweet, so instead I opted to make a frittata with woodsy mushrooms, leeks, gruyere, and parmesan.

It was absolutely wonderful and I cannot wait to make it again for the next brunch I host! This is certainly one of those brunch dishes that impresses your guests while being easy to prepare ahead of time. You can make it in a nonstick skillet or any skillet that is ovenproof, or rather broiler proof. Sometimes I use my nonstick skillet and then invert the frittata onto a plate for serving, but this time I opted for a more rustic presentation, served straight from the skillet.

When I make frittatas, I like to use a little trick I learned during a stay at a B&B in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma: use a blender to whisk the eggs with a little milk. The result is a frittata that puffs up beautifully and is light and fluffy, as opposed to dense. I prefer to mostly cook the frittata on the stovetop and then topping it generously with a layer of parmesan and putting it under the broiler for a few minutes. The layer of parmesan creates a savory golden crust on top that elevates the frittata to a new level. Try it on your next frittata, you will not be disappointed!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spring Vegetable Ragout

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I love the simplicity of cooking in the springtime. Fresh, vibrant spring ingredients like fava beans, asparagus, mushrooms, and peas have such a natural affinity for each other and taste their best with very little cooking. That is primarily why I love making a beautiful, bright, and healthy vegetable ragout in the spring!

 

The approach is straightforward- cook your favorite spring vegetables until bright and crisp tender, finish off with a touch of cream, a squeeze or two of lemon juice, a pinch of lemon zest, and a dusting of parmesan cheese, and you have a taste of spring for dinner. For a little kick, I love adding a generous pinch (or two) of crushed pepper when I cook the veggies.

You can make the ragout as simple or as complex as you wish, depending on how much shelling of peas and favas you want to do! As a result this can be a quick dish to prepare in a pinch or an involved dish that can take an hour or so to make. Either way I think you will enjoy the burst of spring flavors. The ragout can be served as a side dish or as a main over polenta or tossed with pasta.

 

I simply drew on the contents of this week's CSA box to create this wonderful medley of spring goodness- fava beans, peas, radishes, thin asparagus, wild mushrooms (morels would have been wonderful too), and tiny new potatoes. Honestly, frozen peas would work just fine.  If it were not the end of a busy day, I would have added freshly pared artichoke hearts, but shelling the favas and peas gave me plenty to do :)

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