Asparagus, pea, fava bean, and barley ragout

May 31, 2017 at 9:37 pm (101 cookbooks, Alma's faves, Beans, Grains, My brain, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Spring recipes, Starches, unrated, Vegetable dishes) ()

I am embarrassed to admit that I have never cooked with fava beans. All that boiling and husking and peeling of individual beans … Seems like a lot of work. So I thought I’d start easy with basically ready-to-eat frozen, pre-shelled fava beans. But what to do with them? I found this recipe for a spring ragout on the 101 cookbooks blog, and it looked good, and toddler friendly. Alma likes asparagus and peas and pasta, so hopefully she’d like the dish. And she did. I decided to make it a second time, but then Alma got pasta at lunch at daycare, and I didn’t want to serve pasta twice in one day, so I subbed in barley instead. She loved it!  Read the rest of this entry »

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Homemade Progresso-style Lentil Soup

April 19, 2017 at 2:54 pm (Beans, Fall recipes, My brain, soup, unrated, Winter recipes)

The first food that Derek ever cooked for me was a bowl of lentil soup. He very carefully opened up a can of Progresso lentil soup, and then worked long and hard to “cook” it. And cook it he did, not in the microwave but in a real pot on the stove! It was piping hot and delicious.

Both of us still love Progresso vegetable classics lentil soup, but we can’t get it here in Germany. It’s probably for the best though, as I try not to buy canned foods, plus the sodium levels are through the roof. Still, we miss it, and so I decided to try to make it myself. I looked online for a copycat recipe, but couldn’t find anything that seemed promising. So I just took a look at the ingredient list and nutritional label and gave it a crack. I haven’t had the real thing in years, so I could be off, but to both Derek and I my soup tasted just like the real thing.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Green bean, kohlrabi, and celery stirfry

September 13, 2015 at 9:41 pm (Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, My brain, One pot wonders, Quick weeknight recipe, Tofu, Vegetable dishes)

Tonight was a “use what’s in the fridge and be quick about it” dinner. I threw together this stirfry and Derek liked it so much that he asked me to write up what I did. I didn’t measure or time anything, so below is just a best guess. Read the rest of this entry »

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Late Spring chopped salad

March 19, 2014 at 8:50 pm (My brain, Salads, unrated)

I made a spur-of-the-moment chopped salad (i.e., no greens) yesterday for breakfast, and it turned out delicious, so I’m going to try to write down what was in it.

  • Two carrots, grated
  • Half of a kohlrabi, peeled and then julienned (actually I used a spiral slicer)
  • About half a jar of hearts of palm, sliced
  • A handful of florets of raw cauliflower, which had been marinated in a very ginger-y, vinegary dressing overnight
  • One stalk of celery, sliced
  • A couple handfuls of chopped parsley

We dressed the salad with my homemade Annie’s tahini dressing. The salad was very tasty, but what I liked most about it were all the different textures. Everything except the parsley was crunchy, but each ingredient offered a distinct type of crunch. Read the rest of this entry »

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Roasted vegetables

December 28, 2012 at 12:38 am (Fall recipes, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, Tofu, unrated, Winter recipes)

I wanted to update my post on mixed roasted vegetables, but when I went to look for it I discovered there wasn’t one!  I’ve been roasting vegetables for years, and I have never posted about it?  Wow.  Normally I roast vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet, but today I wanted to try to heal my cast iron dutch oven, and so I decided to roast the vegetables in it instead.  I’ve always thought that a baking sheet (with its low sides) is better when it comes to roasting, because it lets the moisture escape and yields crispier edges.  But my dutch oven roasted veggies turned out great.  Better than normal, I would say.  But I changed a few other things as well, so I can’t really make a direct comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mango quasi-lassi with cucumber, mint, and almond milk

November 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm (Beverage, breakfast, B_, Derek's faves, My brain, Summer recipes)

It’s really too cold here for smoothies, but I bought some almond milk that I don’t care for in coffee, and was trying to figure out ways to use it up.  I also had some mint that needed to get eaten (from the escarole, sweet pea, and mint dish) and some homemade yogurt that was becoming rather sour.  I thought I’d try making a smoothie kind of reminiscent of the “Vitality” smoothie they serve here at Dean and David, which has cucumber, yogurt, basil, mango, honey, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  But the container of frozen orange juice that I pulled out of the freezer turned out not to be orange juice, but rather mango puree.  So this quasi-lassi was born. Read the rest of this entry »

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Vegan flourless brownies

October 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm (Brownies and bars, Dessert, My brain, unrated)

I’ve had about a third of a big block of date paste from the Turkish grocery store sitting in my pantry for a while ago.  I bought it to make Lara bars, but only attempted it once.  I decided to try to use the rest of the date paste to make some sort of raw fruit and nut bars, but I ended up adding lots of cocoa powder so they ended up a bit more like raw brownies. Read the rest of this entry »

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Escarole and beans in tomato sauce

October 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm (B plus, Beans, Beans and greens, Dark leafy greens, Derek's faves, Fall recipes, Italian, Meyer & Romano, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Spring recipes, Winter recipes)

Derek and I used to love the escarole and beans appetizer at Girasole in Pittsburgh.  It consisted of braised escarole and white beans in a rich tomato sauce.  It was hearty, warming, and satisfying.  I hadn’t thought about it for years, until this week I saw a green that looked a lot like escarole at the farmer’s market.  I asked the farmer what it was and he called it “Endivien”–the German word for endive.  I asked him if you could cook with it and he said Germans only ever eat it raw in salads.  But it looked similar enough that I decided to try making escarole and beans with it.  There are tons of recipes online for escarole and white bean soup, and a few for escarole and bean dishes, but none seem to call for tomato sauce.  So I decided not to try to follow a recipe.  Nonetheless, my beans and greens came out quite well.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Winter lasagne with spinach, shiitakes, and fromage fort

April 23, 2012 at 2:18 pm (French, My brain, Necessarily nonvegan, Pasta, Starches, unrated, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

Derek rented a car this weekend (to see Chick Corea in Luxembourg), and so we decided to check out the Cora across the border in Forbach, France.  It was enormous and packed, and (strangely) I heard tons of people speaking American English.  Why were there so many Americans in Forbach?   Could they be coming all the way from the military base in Kaiserslautern just to shop in France?   We explored the store a bit, but didn’t find much of interest.  Derek got some cheap Leffe Belgian beer, and picked out a few cheeses.  It turned out, however, that most of the cheeses were not very good.  He wanted to toss them but I hated to throw them away.  I found Alton Brown’s recipe for “fromage fort” online, and made it with half of the (quite sour) Little Billy goat cheese and half of a (quite stinky and sharp) Camembert.   I added quite a bit more garlic and parsley than the recipe calls for.  After pureeing everything together the cheese was more like a cheese sauce than something you could spread on crackers.  It tasted a little odd, but not bad.  Kind of like a very strong, stinky Boursin.  I decided to use it in a lasagne.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Shiitakes, tofu, and miso

December 26, 2011 at 9:44 pm (Japanese, Miso, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

When I first moved to Saarbruecken there were no shiitakes to be found, but in the last three years they’ve started appearing at a few stores around town.  They’re quite expensive, but at least they exist! I splurged on a bag of shiitakes the other day, and ended up throwing together a quick, tasty stir-fry with an onion, the shiitakes, some diced tofu, and miso.  I sauteed the onion and shiitakes in just a touch of olive oil, then added the tofu and the miso at the end.  I don’t have a recipe, but I loved the combination, and so I thought I’d record it here so I don’t forget it.

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Roasted sweet potato wedges

December 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm (Fall recipes, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches, unrated, Winter recipes)

I was in a rush to get some sweet potatoes roasted the other day, and so instead of baking them the usual way (stabbing them with a fork and roasting them whole), I cut them into long wedges (about 8 per sweet potato), and roasted them on a cookie sheet at 425 F.  I didn’t add oil or salt, and I didn’t peel the sweet potatoes first, just gave them a quick scrub.  They turned out really well, with a mixture of textures—some soft, moist parts like you’d get in a typical baked sweet potato, and some crunchier, more caramelized bits, like you’d get from a sweet potato fry.  Both Derek and I really liked the texture of the roasted sweet potato skin.  So don’t peel your sweet potatoes!

I made sweet potato wedges again a few days later, except that I sprinkled on a little salt and some olive oil.  The wedges ended up both a bit more moist and a bit more crisp than the previous time.  Delicious!

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Vegan banana bread with peanut butter frosting

November 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Dessert, Fall recipes, Mom’s recipes, Muffins and quick breads, My brain, unrated, Winter recipes)

I used to make banana bread all the time in Pittsburgh, but for some reason I stopped making it once I moved to Germany.  But yesterday I had five over-ripe bananas gracing my windowsill, and so I decided to resurrect my old recipe.  We were having guests for dinner, however, and Derek thought that plain banana bread was a little homely to serve for dessert, so he decided to dress the bread up a little with a peanut butter icing.  Banana and peanut butter is a ubiquitous combination, but somehow I’ve never had banana bread with a peanut butter icing.  But a quick internet search reveals quite a few recipes for banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, so clearly others have trod this path before us.  I even found one recipe for banana bread that calls for mini Reese’s peanut butter cups in the batter.  Wow.  Our banana bread wasn’t quite that decadent, but the peanut butter / banana bread combination was definitely a winner.

My recipe makes a basic banana bread with deep banana flavor, a moist, crumbly interior, and a golden, crisp top. Use older, more darkly speckled bananas because they are sweeter, more moist, and give more banana flavor than less ripe bananas.

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Mushroom, barley, white bean soup

July 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm (Beans, B_, My brain, soup)

I felt like beans and had some mushrooms in the fridge, so figured I’d try making a mushroom white bean soup.  I also added some barley because I wanted to use up the end of it.  So I cooked about 1 cup of (dry) white beans and 1/4-1/3 cup of (hulled, not pearled) barley together until soft.  I’m not sure what kind of white beans they were–maybe great northern?  The label on the bag just said “white beans,” but in German 🙂

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Beet and fennel salad with hard-boiled eggs

February 23, 2011 at 2:07 pm (Derek's faves, My brain, Root vegetables, Salads, Spring recipes, unrated, Winter recipes)

Beet and fennel salad is a standard combination.  You’ll find hundreds of recipes for it on the internet.  Some recipes call for roasting the beets and fennel, but I prefer the contrast of the crisp, raw fennel and the silky, smooth roasted beets.  Many recipes omit the lettuce, but I think it helps bring the salad together, both literally and conceptually.  Finally, I like to add hard-boiled eggs to this salad.  It’s not traditional but I think beets and hard-boiled eggs just go great together.  Traditionally this salad is dressed with a simple vinaigrette, sometimes made with the juice from the beets.  But I like it with Annie’s Goddess dressing, of course.  Even Derek, who groans whenever I say I’m making salad, really likes this salad. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cooking this weekend

November 8, 2010 at 2:28 am (AMA, Cruciferous rich, Fall recipes, French, frozen tofu, My brain, Other, Spring recipes, Starches, unrated, Winter recipes)

I don’t have time to post full recipes right now but I wanted to say a few words about what I cooked this weekend, before I forget the details.  I’ll come back and post the recipes when I get a chance.  For dinner last night I started with white bean, rosemary, and fennel soup, which I’ve blogged about before. I also made two new recipes out of my French vegetarian cookbook.  The first was a brussels sprouts dish with apples, onions, and cider, and the second recipe was for a beet and potato gratin. Read the rest of this entry »

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Grilled cheese with cheddar, jalapeno, lime, garlic, and sage

November 1, 2010 at 11:43 pm (B plus, Derek's faves, My brain, Necessarily nonvegan, Peter Berley, Quick weeknight recipe)

I don’t remember the last time I made a grilled cheese sandwich.  But we finally found cheddar that we like here in Saarbruecken, and I decided to celebrate by making grilled cheese.  I didn’t want to make just a regular old boring grilled cheese, though, so I pulled out various flavorful additions I had in the fridge:  jalapeno, sage, garlic, and lime. Read the rest of this entry »

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Veggie fried rice

April 26, 2010 at 12:02 am (Chinese, My brain, Tofu, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

I threw together a quick skillet of veggie fried rice today, and Derek said it was excellent and I should blog about it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t measure anything, but here’s my best guess at what I did. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tsimmes with lemon, ginger, and molasses

April 19, 2010 at 10:43 pm (B plus, breakfast, Fall recipes, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, Starches, Vegetable dishes, Winter recipes)

In my pantry I found a huge bottle of molasses with just 1 tablespoon of molasses still loitering at the bottom.  I was trying to figure out how to use it up (freeing up pantry space), when I spied one last sweet potato leftover from a big winter sweet-potato push.  I had a bunch of carrots that Derek bought yesterday at the Turkish market, and so I decided to make tsimmes.  I was never a fan of tsimmes as a kid, so I didn’t want to follow a traditional recipe.  Instead I created a more modern take, inspired by the orange-ginger sweet potatoes we made for passover and a honey and lemon glazed carrot recipe I used to make from the AMA cookbook. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mushroom, fennel, noodle soup

February 4, 2010 at 1:01 am (B_, Cruciferous rich, My brain, Pasta, soup, Starches)

I went to a Bauch, Beine, Po class tonight, and it just about killed me.  (That’s Belly, Legs, Bum for all you anglophiles.)  I had absolutely no energy afterward to cook dinner.  Also, I hadn’t been shopping for a few days and had very little in the fridge–just a large pack of crimini mushrooms and a small head of fennel, plus a number of leftovers.  My mom suggested I make soup, and so I did.

I quartered the mushrooms, and sauteed them in a little bit of butter briefly.  (Maybe 1.5 tsp?)  Then I added a little white wine and let the mushrooms soften slightly.  I added about 4 cups of water, a few big pinches of truffle salt, a couple pieces of dried porcini mushroom (crumbled), some freshly ground black pepper and one no-salt bouillon cube, and let it all come to a simmer.  Meanwhile, I used my mandoline to slice the fennel very thinly.  When the soup started to boil I added the fennel and offed the heat.  I also added a cup or so of leftover “cabbage noodles” (a variant of this recipe, which I will hopefully blog about shortly).  I let the soup stand while I toasted two slices of rye, multi-seeded bread.  I then broke a clove of garlic in half and scraped the garlic all over the now-crusty bread. (I learned this trick from my friend Amira, who learned it in Italy.)  I topped the soup with cubed pieces of the garlic bread, and a little freshly grated parmigiana-reggiano.

It hit the spot.  Derek liked it too.  There wasn’t a whole lot of  broth, but it had an intense, mushroom flavor.  The mushrooms were still pretty fat and juicy, and the fennel was lovely (as always in soup).  The raw garlic  on the “croutons” (and to a lesser extent the black pepper) added quite a bit of heat.  Rating: B+

Derek said it was satisfying and earthy, but not overcooked and stewy–more like some stuff with a little light broth in the bottom.  It reminded him of fancy restaurants where they bring you a bowl of something then the waiter pours a little broth over it at the table.  Rating:  B+

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French-style baked white beans

December 25, 2009 at 11:36 pm (Beans, French, My brain, unrated)

I’m not a fan of traditional tomato-y, ultra-sweet baked beans.  Instead, I put together a number of different “vegan cassoulet” recipes, and baked my beans with traditional French seasonings:  a base of carrot, celery, and onion, plus garlic, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.  I started out by “quick brining” my beans, as Cook’s Illustrated recommends.

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Carrot barley soup with mushrooms, thyme, lentils, and miso

December 9, 2009 at 12:11 am (B_, Jewish, Miso, Mom’s recipes, My brain, soup)

When I was a kid my mom would often make carrot barley soup.  There was something uber-comforting about the warm, orange broth and fluffy, exploded barley kernels.  I had some barley in the pantry and decided to make carrot barley soup for dinner, but Derek objected.  He would accede only if I made it into a miso soup.  I wasn’t in the mood to cook, so I decided to also throw in some mushrooms and red lentils to make it a one pot meal.  And thus, this soup was born.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 8 ounces grated carrot (about 1.5 cups tightly packed, or 2 medium carrots)
  • 9 ounces chopped onion (about 2 cups)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 9 cups stock or water + no-salt bouillon
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 Tbs. red miso
  • 2 Tbs. chopped parsley (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a 4-6 quart pot heat the olive oil over high heat.  When it’s hot add the carrots, onion, mushrooms, and salt.  Reduce the heat to medium-ghigh. Saute for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables stop releasing water.
  2. Add in the water, barley, black pepper, garlic clove, thyme leaves, and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil, then cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hours.
  3. When the soup is done, mix in the miso. Either mix it in a separate bowl with some of the broth from the soup, or put it in a sieve and slowly push it through into the soup.  Garnish with fresh chopped parlsey and serve immediately.

Notes:

I didn’t have any parsley so I left it out.

The red lentils totally dissolved, but added a bit of grittiness to the soup.  The sliced mushrooms ended up slightly rubbery but I liked the textural contrast compared to the gritty lentils and the fluffy barley.   I couldn’t decided if the red lentils added depth to the flavor profile, or if they muddied up the pure flavors of the soup.  Similarly with the miso.  I just couldn’t figure out whether the miso added a nice umame flavor, or muddied it up.  The thyme, on the other hand, was clearly a great addition.  I think the soup would have even benefited from another 1/2 tsp. or 1 tsp. of thyme added at the end.  Of course, if I had had parsley maybe the extra thyme would have clashed with the parsley.

Derek ended up liking the soup.  He said he’d eat it again, but he wouldn’t yearn for it.  He gave it a B.  He liked the barley, and said that with enough salt it had good flavor.  He thought the flavor was a bit muddy, but the soup was pretty satisfying.

I enjoyed the soup.  I think perhaps it could be improved a little, but it was very comforting and satisfying, just like my mom’s carrot barley soup.  Rating: B.

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Whole wheat linguine with chard, tomatoes, and chickpeas

November 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm (Beans, Beans and greens, Cook's Illustrated, Dark leafy greens, Italian, My brain, Pasta, Starches, unrated)

This recipe is based on the cook’s illustrated beans and greens recipe.  I used to make it with collards or kale, but since I can’t get those greens here I made it with swiss chard and added tomatoes, which blend nicely with the acidity of the chard.  Normally I add kalamata olives but I didn’t have any so I added a few spoonsfuls of capers instead.  I didn’t have any white beans so subbed in chickpeas.

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, 5 cloves sliced thin lengthwise, 3 cloves minced (1 Tbs.)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 medium red onion, diced small (about 1 cup)
1/2-2/3 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
20 ounces chard, stems halved lengthwise and sliced thinly and leaves sliced into ribbons
3/4 cups vegetable broth
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped (or 3 Tbs. capers)
10-12 ounces whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)
ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat oil and sliced garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and turning frequently, until light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic to plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
  2. Add onion and chard stems to pan; cook until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add half of chard to pan; using tongs, toss occasionally, until starting to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add remaining chard, broth, tomatoes, and salt; cover (pan will be very full); increase heat to high and bring to strong simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, tossing once, until chard is completely wilted. Stir in beans and olives or capers.
  4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in dutch oven or 5-6 quart pan over high heat. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is just shy of al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add the greens mixture to pasta, set over medium-high heat, and toss to combine. Cook until pasta absorbs most of liquid, about 2 minutes. Season with black pepper to taste.  Serve immediately, passing garlic chips and parmesan separately.

Note: By draining the pasta before its al dente, and finishing cooking in the brothy sauce, the pasta absorbs the flavors of the sauce and release its residual starch, which helps to thicken the sauce slightly.

Derek really loved this dish, even without the olives.  I thought it was reasonably flavorful, but I’m never as excited about beans and greens as he is.

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Tofu, bok choy, and caramelized shallots

November 1, 2009 at 6:53 pm (Chinese, Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, Derek's faves, My brain, Tofu, unrated)

This is a quick Chinese-inspired dish I whipped up for lunch today.

  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 Tbs.) [optional]
  • 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 pound medium firm tofu
  • 1 pound bok choy
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger , minced (about 1 tablespoon) [optional]
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sugar, minced garlic cloves, and chili flakes.  Slice the tofu into long rectangles (about .75” x .75” x 2”).
  2. In a 12-inch non-stick skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil until a drop of water sizzles.  Add the tofu in a single layer.  Do not move the tofu once you’ve placed it down.
  3. While the tofu cooks, wash and cut up your bok choy.  Break the bok choy into individual leaves, and remove the green part from the white stems.  Chop the stems into bite-sized pieces, halving vertically any particular fat stems.  When the stems are all chopped, throw them into the pan, filling up any spaces not taken by the tofu, and letting the rest of the pieces rest on top of the tofu.
  4. When the tofu has browned on the first side, toss everything making sure that each tofu piece ends up on an unbrowned side.  While the second side browns, slice the bok choy leaves into fat ribbons, and slice the shallots into 1/4 inch pieces.  Add the shallots to the pan.  Toss again, getting a third side of each tofu rectangle down this time.
  5. When the third side of tofu is browned, throw in the bok choy leaves and the soy sauce mixture.  Stir fry for about 1 minute, until the leaves are wilted.  Eat immediately.

You could serve this over rice or another grain, but we just ate it plain.  It’s salty, but not over the top salty.  The bok choy stems and shallots get nicely caramelized, and the tofu ends up crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.  It’s a satisfying dish.

If you use the ginger, add it about 30 seconds before the soy sauce mixture.

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Whole wheat penne with pan-fried brussels sprouts and rosemary

November 1, 2009 at 6:36 pm (Cruciferous rich, Fall recipes, My brain, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

We recently returned from 10 days in NYC, and were scrambling to figure out what to do for dinner given our uncharacteristically empty fridge and unusually busy schedule.  (When you disappear for 10 days there’s a lot to do once you get back!)  I left work too late to make it to the Asian and bio stores, so tofu was out, and the Turkish store was already closed.  My only option was the local, standard grocery store, where I almost never buy produce.  The Brussels sprouts looked reasonably fresh, and both Derek and I love brussels sprouts, so I decided on a simple dinner of pasta with brussels sprouts.  I also bought a few tart apples for snacking on.

When I got home I tried to figure out  what I could add to bump up the protein content of the meal, and make the pasta dish a little more interesting.  I remembered that I had a box of falafel mix in the pantry.  Falafel and brussels sprouts didn’t seem like too odd of a combination, so I mixed the falafel mix with water and fried it up as falafel patties in a little oil on the stovetop.  I removed them from the pan and then used the same pan for the sprouts.  I quartered the brussels sprouts and cooked them over medium heat in my large 12-inch skillet, until browned.  When they were almost done I decided to jazz the dish up a bit more, and added one diced granny smith apple, and a heaping spoonful of minced rosemary (from the plant on my windowsill).  When the sprouts were cooked through I tossed in some whole wheat penne, and crumbled in a few of the falafel patties.  The texture of the falafel crumbles reminded me a little of bread crumbs, but they were more flavorful.  The sweet/tart apple contrasted nicely with the heavier flavors of the falafel and brussels sprouts, and the rosemary added a nice “fall” flavor.  The dish ended up being tasty, if a little odd.  It was also a bit dry, so we ended up drizzling it with a little olive oil at the table.  I wish the dish had had more of a sauce, but I never know how to make a non-red sauce like you get at an Italian restaurant, without using 1/4 cup of olive oil per person.

Update Dec 2012:

We just got back from a long weekend in Paris, and faced with a near-empty fridge I threw together another pasta with whole wheat penne, brussels sprouts, and rosemary.  But this time instead of apples and falafel crumbs I added red onions, lemon zest, and crumbs leftover from our “bar nuts.”  Derek really liked the dish and asked me to write up what I did.

I put some water on to boil, then added 1 Tbs. of unsalted butter to my 12-inch nonstick skillet.  While I waited for the butter to melt I trimmed and halved my brussels sprouts.  (I cut the really big ones into thirds.)  When the butter was melted I added the brussels sprouts I had cut, placing them face down in the skillet.  I turned the heat down to 7 (out of 9) and kept cutting more sprouts.   As I got toward the end of my 500g bag of sprouts I began to run out of room, so I cut the sprouts smaller (into quarters or sixths) and just placed them on top of the other sprouts.  When I started to smell caramelization I flipped the sprouts, and indeed the bottoms were starting to get almost black in spots.  I turned the heat down to medium.  I chopped up about a tablespoon of rosemary and sprinkled it on the sprouts along with lots of aleppo pepper and some black pepper.  I sliced a medium red onion into thin rings, and added it to the pan.  But there didn’t seem to be enough free butter left for the onion to saute, so I added a half a tablespoon of olive oil directly to the onion slices.   Once the onion started to soften I turned the heat down even further, to 1, because I was afraid the sprouts would overcook.

At this point the water was boiling so I salted the pasta water and added 9.25 ounces of whole wheat pasta to the pot.  To the skillet I added a few cloves of crushed garlic, the zest from one lemon, the juice from half a lemon, and some salty, rosemary crumbs leftover from some bar nuts I made last week.  The crumbs contained a number of sunflower seeds, some rosemary, some nut skins, warm spices, and salt.  I put in a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water and then the penne once it was cooked.  I dished out the pasta and Derek grated a French sheep’s milk cheese on top (about 1/3 ounce per serving).  The ratio of sprouts to pasta was pretty good, and even though there wasn’t really a sauce to speak of the dish was quite flavorful.  It made about four small servings or two restaurant-sized servings.

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Kale, leek, mushroom pudding

October 5, 2009 at 11:59 am (Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, My brain, Necessarily nonvegan, unrated)

This morning I got up and decided to use up some of the odds and ends left in the fridge/freezer.  I started by roasting a bunch of parsnips, carrots, and a little bit of leftover cauliflower.  While the vegetables were roasting in the oven, I used the rest of the leftover vegetables to make a creamy kale, leek, and mushroom pudding.  I didn’t measure anything, so all the amounts below are approximate.

  • leeks, white and light green parts sliced (~4 cups)
  • ~ 1 Tbs. butter
  • mushrooms, chopped small (~2 cups)
  • kale, finely chopped (I used a 450g box of frozen kale)
  • dried oregano (1/2? tsp.)
  • ground fennel seed (1/4? tsp.)
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • soy sauce (~1 Tbs.)
  • 1 Tbs. nutritional yeast
  • 2 tsp. arrowroot
  • lowfat milk (~1.25 cups)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbs. light cream cheese
  • ~1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 4.25 ounces cheese (I used a mix of parmigiana-reggiano and manchego)
  1. In a 3-quart casserole pan warm the butter over medium heat.  Add the leeks and saute until lightly browned.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid is mostly gone.  Add the frozen kale, cover, and cook until the kale is defrosted.  Add some dried oregano and dried fennel, salt and pepper, the nutritional yeast, and some soy sauce.  Stir to mix.
  2. Mix the arrowroot in 1 Tbs. of water.  Make a well in the center of the vegetables, and add the arrowroot mixture.  Cook for a minute or two, until it starts to bubble.  Off the heat.  Mix the two eggs with the milk and light cream cheese.  Beat well.  Add the egg mixture to the vegetables, and stir to mix.
  3. In a mini food processor place the cheese, the peeled garlic cloves, and the basil leaves.  Pulse a few times until everything is finely chopped and uniformly mixed.  Mix most of the cheese mixture into the vegetables, reserving a little to sprinkle on top.
  4. Bake uncovered in a 375 degree oven until the casserole is set and top is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

My notes:

This casserole doesn’t have enough eggs or starchy vegetables in it to really set properly.  It’s not sliceable–more scoopable, which is why I called it a pudding rather than a casserole.  If I was going to serve this for company, I’d probably make individual puddings in my 1-cup ramekins.  The flavor was good, although I couldn’t specifically taste the basil, oregano, or fennel seed.  I guess I should have added more.  I think a little nutmeg or allspice would also have gone well with these flavors.  Surprisingly, no one vegetable really stood out flavor-wise.  Each added a distinctive texture however.  The mushroom pieces were  meaty and a tad rubbery.  The kale was slightly fibrous and chewy.  And the leeks were silky and a tad stringy.  The gestalt of the dish reminded me a little of the traditional Thanksgiving green bean casserole cooked in condensed mushroom soup–but in a good, comfort-food way rather than a cheap, overly-processed way.

Derek also liked the pudding–he said it tasted just like escargot.  I suspect it was the strong (almost raw) garlic flavor that he was responding to.

This recipe made approx. 2 quarts of pudding, so I would say 8 side-servings or 4 main dish servings.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1/8 recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 189
Total Fat 7.9g
Saturated Fat 4.7g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 66mg
Sodium 453mg
Carbohydrate 17.5g
Dietary Fiber 2.8g
Sugars 4.4g
Protein 12.6g
Vitamin A 197% Vitamin C 124%
Calcium    35% Iron 13%

Macro breakdown:  37% fat, 26% protein, 37% carbs.

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Fusion chipotle salsa soy stir-fry

August 28, 2009 at 6:07 pm (East and SE Asia, My brain, Summer recipes, Tempeh, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

Last night I was emptying out my fridge in preparation for my upcoming trip to Scotland, and I was trying to figure out what to do with about 1/3 cup of leftover chipotle salsa.  Good salsa is rare around here, so I didn’t want to just toss it.  But good salsa doesn’t seem to last that long, and I was pretty sure it would be moldy by the time I got back from my trip.  The salsa was a quite thick, cooked-style salsa, and visually it reminded me a little of a Thai chile sauce.  Derek was making sesame noodles with broccoli and cucumber for dinner, so I decided to make a stirfry with the salsa and what I found in the fridge:  4 ounces of tempeh, 2 small zucchinis, and a big bag of green beans.  I made a stir-fry sauce out of the chipotle salsa, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and a spoonful of maple syrup.  It was really tasty!  It didn’t really taste fusion–the Mexican flavors in the salsa faded away in comparison to the Asian kick from the soy sauce.  But everyone seemed to like it a lot, and it was an easy way to make a tasty stir fry sauce.

I used a still-oily non-stick skillet to crisp up the tempeh and green beans.  (I julienned the tempeh first.)  Then when the tempeh and green beans started to brown I poured in the stir-fry sauce, which I had watered down so that the tempeh would have some liquid to cook in.  I added the zucchini, which I had cut into thin planks, and covered to cook everything through.  When the green beans were tender-crisp I took off the lid and led the sauce cook down until it was more of a glaze.  I sprinkled the dish with fresh cilantro before serving.   Delicious.  I’d definitely make this “recipe” again.

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Simple sweet spiced chard

August 14, 2009 at 3:50 pm (Dark leafy greens, Derek's faves, My brain, unrated)

I made some chard tonight that was fantastic.  Derek said that if he was served it in a fancy restaurant, he would be impressed.  It’s a pretty simple dish, but it was just really tasty and interesting tasting.  I think it was the garam masala that really put it over the edge.  I’m not sure where this particular garam masala came from–I might have made it myself?  When you first smell it, it smells quite sweet–like cloves or allspice.  A cheap commercial garam masala usually skimps on the more expensive spices, so if yours doesn’t smell of cloves or allspice you might need to add a little extra. It’s funny, I’ve tried Italian chard recipes that call for raisins, and I never liked the addition of the sweet raisins to the chard.  But the sweet spices and the chard went perfectly together, especially with the salty, briny soy sauce flavor to balance things out.  Last week I made a much oilier chard recipe (probably the same amount of chard and 2 Tablespoons of oil, and 2 Tbs. of garlic), but this one–despite being low fat–was much tastier.

I didn’t measure everything, so the measurements below are only approximate.  I do know that I had exactly 4 very densely packed cups of raw chard, because I had it leftover from another dinner and I just managed to barely shove it all into one quart-sized tupperware.

  • 1 tsp. olive oil (this I measured)
  • 2/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 1.33 cups chopped chard stems
  • 1 very large clove of garlic (maybe two teaspoons minced?)
  • 1/2? tsp. garam masala (see note above)
  • 2.67 cups chard leaves
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup of water

Heat the oil in a 12-inch non-stick or cast iron skillet.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and saute over medium-high heat until starting to brown.  Add the chard stems, and saute until starting to brown.  Add the garlic and garam masala, and cook for about one minute.  Add the chard leaves and stir.  Mix the soy sauce into the water and pour evenly over the chard.  Cover immediately to trap the steam.  Cook for about five minutes, until the chard is softened but still bright green.  Do not overcook.  Serve immediately.

I think this made about 3 cups of cooked chard.  I know it seems strange that 4 cups of raw chard would turn into 3 cups of cooked chard, but the raw chard was really packed tightly, and when I measure cooked greens I don’t pack them that tightly.  Derek and I easily finished the whole dish between the two of us, but it’s probably more like four normal-person servings.

Update Sept 12, 2009:  I made this again last week and it didn’t turn out quite as well, I’m not sure why.  I don’t think there was enough garam masala, for one.  I tried again tonight and this time used 1 tsp. of garam masala, which was better, but still not as good as the first time.  I didn’t measure my chard stems, but I used a total of 2 pounds, 9 ounces damp chard leaves.  I think perhaps it was a bit too much chard for the amount of seasoning.  It wasn’t quite salty enough.

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Summer corn and zucchini lasagna

July 27, 2009 at 2:09 pm (B_, Derek's faves, My brain, Pasta, Starches, Summer recipes, Vegetable dishes)

It’s been a year since I made this lasagne, but now that there’s finally corn in the market I can make it again!  Originally posted August 7, 2008.

When I saw corn at the market I felt a sudden desire to make a light, summery, white lasagna.  Rather than use tomato sauce, I thought I could top the lasagna with the slightly caramelized and jewel-like tomatoes that crown Cook’s Illustrated’s summer gratin recipe (recipe here). This was a great idea–it made a beautiful presentation and the tomatoes were delicious.  The rest of the lasagna turned out great as well–it held together perfectly, was very flavorful, and looked gorgeous. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thai-ish tofu and green beans with whole wheat pasta

June 6, 2009 at 7:04 am (B_, East and SE Asia, My brain, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches, Summer recipes, Tofu)

I threw together this dish for lunch today, with various things I scrounged from the fridge.  I didn’t measure, so all amounts are a guess.  This recipe is similar to one I posted last year for green beans, red peppers, and tofu in a Thai chili paste, but its less fiery, and the addition of pasta and nutritional yeast and sesame seeds makes it taste a bit more co-op pan-Asian and a bit less Thai.

  • 2? Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
  • 2-4? tsp. oil
  • small onion
  • 1/4 – 1/3 pounds very firm tofu
  • salt
  • nutritional yeast
  • black pepper
  • 2 scallions
  • about 3 cups of green beans
  • 1/4? cup white wine
  • 1? Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1/4? cup water
  • 1/2-1? tsp. Thai red curry paste
  • 2 cups of cooked, chunky, whole wheat pasta
  • 1/2 cucumber (with peel), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • a small handful of mint and a small handful of basil, torn into small pieces
  1. Wash and snap green beans.  Slice the onion into rings.  Cube the tofu into 1-inch cubes.
  2. In a medium pan (I used a 3 quart slope-sided pan), toast the sesame seeds over medium-high heat.  When the seeds start to brown and smell fragrant, pour them onto a large plate or bowl.
  3. In the same pan, add enough oil just to lightly coat the bottom.  Heat the oil on medium-high until hot, then add the tofu and onion rings in a single layer.  Sprinkle on salt and nutritional yeast, and let cook until the bottom has browned.  Meanwhile, chop up a few scallions.  Use a metal spatula to scrape up the tofu and stir it around so another side gets browned.  When the tofu is brown enough for your taste, add the chopped scallions and sprinkle on more yeast and some black pepper.  Fry briefly just to wilt the scallions, then remove the tofu and onions to the plate with the sesame seeds.  Use your metal spatula to try to scrape up any cooked on tofu bits, but you won’t be able to get them all.  That’s okay.
  4. Keep the pan on medium-high and add a little more oil to the now-empty pan, and when the oil is hot add the green beans.  Stir-fry the beans briefly, until all the beans are slightly browned.  Then add the Thai red curry paste and the cooked pasta.  Stir to distribute.  Add a little white wine, soy sauce,  and water to deglaze the pan.  Immediately cover the pan and let the green beans steam for a few minutes, until they’re just tender crisp.  Meanwhile, cut up the cucumber and tear the herbs.  Remove the lid and cook on high until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, and all that’s left is a bit of glistening glaze.  Remove the pan from the heat, throw in the tofu and onions and sesame from the plate, the cucumber, and the torn mint and basil leaves.  Stir to coat everything with the glaze.
  5. Serve immediately.

This dish made a very satisfying lunch for two.  The basil was essential I thought.  The mint and basil combo was good, but if you just have basil that would work as well. (Thai basil would be especially good.)  The onion added a little depth and sweetness, and the little bit of curry paste added a nice bit of spice.  I also liked the earthiness that the sesame seeds added.  It might seem odd to add cucumber to a cooked dish like this, but it adds a moistness and crunch that is a nice contrast to the cooked green beans and soft tofu.   If you don’t have cucumbers, radishes or halved cherry tomatoes might also work well. If I make this again, the only thing I might add is a little garlic when I add the green onions.

I wouldn’t make this recipe with white pasta.  It really needs something more hearty.  If you don’t have whole wheat pasta, then maybe just serve it over brown rice or another whole grain.  If you don’t have curry paste probably any chili paste or even dried chili flakes would be fine. If you don’t have white wine then maybe use a little mirin or rice wine vinegar to add a bit of acid.  If you don’t have a very firm tofu, you might want to press some water out of your tofu.  The lack of moisture in the tofu really helps it to brown well.  Otherwise you’ll need to cook the tofu at a lower temperature and allow more time to cook all the water out, so that the tofu can brown.

I removed the tofu and onion from the pan before adding the green beans because I thought that if I didn’t the pan would be too crowded, and the green beans wouldn’t brown, and the tofu and onions would become soggy when I steamed the green beans.

Derek said this dish was delicious.  The vegetables were nice and crisp, the onions added a nice depth of flavor, and the tofu was excellent.  It was the essence of simple, ingredient-oriented cuisine.  “If only I could get this sort of thing at a restaurant in Saarbruecken,” he lamented.  Rating: A-.

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Passover apple rhubarb crisp

April 12, 2009 at 11:07 am (Cook's Illustrated, Crisps and cobblers, Dessert, My brain, Spring recipes, unrated)

This recipe is based on a generic crisp recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. I adapted it to make it kosher for passover, and to use the beautiful spring rhubarb. Read the rest of this entry »

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One fine burrito

March 23, 2009 at 4:18 pm (A minus, frozen tofu, My brain, Tofu)

I threw together a burrito the other day with some frozen, marinated tofu that was leftover from the tofu I prepared for chili.  Derek loved the burrito so much that he insisted I blog about it, even though it wasn’t particularly original.

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 lbs tofu, frozen, thawed, and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 Tbs. peanut butter
  • 3 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce (from a 14 ounce can)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 avocados, sliced or diced
  • 6-8? ounces cheddar cheese, grated
  • about 1 cup smoky chipotle salsa or salsa verde from Frontera Grill
  • 6-8 leaves Romaine lettuce
  • 6-8 regular-size flour tortillas

For the tofu:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Add 1 Tbs. of oil to a cookie sheet. Mix together peanut butter, garlic powder, soy sauce, and tomato sauce. Work the marinade mixture thoroughly into the tofu crumbles, using your hands.  Pour the tofu onto the cookie sheet and cook for about 15 minutes per side, until crispy but still moist in the middle.

Makes 6-8 small (but filling) burritos.

Although the combination is not particularly novel or healthy, I agree with Derek that the burrito was certainly very tasty.

Derek Rating: A

Rating: A-

On a second attempt I cut the avocado into slices and sprinkled on top fresh minced garlic, salt, and lots of lime juice.  We ate it with a salsa verde, and the sour tomatillos and lime juice went great together.  Delicious.  I just need to record the amounts and make this a real recipe now!

Update May 15, 2010:  I made 2 pounds of tofu and it made about 7 small burritos.  I served them with 2 avocados that had been sliced, doused in lime juice, and sprinkled with salt and fresh garlic.  Two avocados was just about right for 6-7 burritos.  The main problem was the burritos looked really tiny.  So although they’re high calorie and quite filling, Derek thought I should have made two burritos for everyone.  I’ve got to figure out a way to make them look as large as they actually are!  We ate the burritos with Frontera Grill green salsa and lettuce.  They were yummy.  Some raw onions might have been a nice garnish.

I served everyone one burrito, a small side of roasted carrots, a bowl of Locro, and for dessert a small bowl of vanilla ice cream with salted caramel sauce.  I was very full by the end of dinner!  Derek, however, ate two burritos.

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Feta and mint Persian sandwiches

February 14, 2009 at 6:59 am (My brain, Persian, Quick weeknight recipe, restaurant inspired, unrated)

There’s a tiny little tea and coffee shop in Saarbruecken that’s owned by a Persian family.  Everyday they offer a traditional Persian lunch, but the hot special is rarely vegetarian.  I do like their sandwiches, however.  The first one I tried was the feta and mint sandwich: half of a baguette spread with creamy feta, lots of fresh mint, and cucumber slices.  It was delicious–much better than the typical German cheese sandwiches.  I liked the sandwich so much I decided to make it at home.  However, I used up all my cucumbers making sesame noodles.  To replace the cucumbers, I added diced kalamata olives and thin slices of a fresh red chili from the Turkish market.  I don’t know what kind of chili it is, but it’s bright tasting and hot but not too hot.  My version of the feta and mint sandwich was delicious, even without the cucumber.  Derek was skeptical at first, but after eating his sandwich he asked for another!  I was out of the red chili, so I spread the bread with a little harissa, which was also tasty, but slightly bitter.

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Light Tom Kha Gai

February 14, 2009 at 6:47 am (B_, Dark leafy greens, East and SE Asia, My brain, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, soup, Tofu)

This version of Tom Kha Gai is vegetarian, and very light on the coconut milk.  Derek objected to calling it Tom Kha Gai (because it doesn’t have enough coconut milk), but I think it’s close enough.  If you want a more authentic version of this traditional Thai soup, simply reduce the water and increase the amount of coconut milk.

In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan combine and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for 15 minutes:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 bouillon cube
  • 15 quarter-sized slices fresh unpeeled ginger (about 30 grams)
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 10 wild lime leaves or wide strips of lime zest from one lime
  • 1 ounce of fresh lemongrass stalks, smashed with a heavy pestle, and cut into pieces that fit in your pan

Strain the soup, or use tongs to remove the flotsam.  Return the broth to the pan.  Add and cook for another 5 minutes longer:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 8 oz firm tofu, cut into bite-sized squares
  • 6 oz fresh, small button mushrooms, quartered (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • instead of mushrooms, I sometimes add ribbons of a fresh green, often bok choy.
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1/4? tsp. salt (it despends on how salty your bouillon cube and soy sauce are)
  • 1/2? tsp. brown sugar (maybe 1 tsp.)

Remove the pan from the heat and add:

  • juice of 1 lime (about 2? Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise (optional)
  • slices of hot red chilis (optional)
  • bean sprouts (optional)

Serve hot.  Makes 4 large bowls or 6 small bowls.

Rating: B

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Greek pasta with broccoli, olives, feta, and mint

February 5, 2009 at 3:53 pm (B_, Cruciferous rich, My brain, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches)

I threw together this quick Greek-inspired pasta dish for dinner tonight, in order to use up some feta that needed to get eaten. Although it uses a pretty standard combination of ingredients, we liked it enough that we thought it was worth writing up what I did. Unfortunately, I didn’t measure ingredients, so everything is approximate.

  • 1 small bunch of mint (about the size of a fist), leaves minced
  • about 75 grams of kalamata olives, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • splash of red wine vinegar (maybe a tablespoon?)
  • 2 small red onions, sliced into rings
  • a little olive oil
  • salt
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat linguine
  • 1 bunch broccoli, stem sliced and top cut into florets
  • 1/2 English cucumber, diced
  • feta, maybe 4 ounces?
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  While you wait, get out a very large serving dish.  Chop the mint and olives, and add them to the serving dish along with the chickpeas, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar. Slice the onions.  Heat the oil in a small frying pan.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook over high heat, briefly, until slightly softened and blackened in places.  Add to the serving bowl. Prep the broccoli.
  2. When the water comes to a boil, salt the water, and add the pasta.  When the pasta has only five minutes more to cook, add the broccoli to the pasta water.  Chop the cucumber.
  3. When the pasta is done (the broccoli should be done as well), drain it, and add it to the serving bowl.   Crumble in the feta, and mix well.  When the pasta has cooled slightly, add the cucumber, and serve immediately.

I thoroughly enjoyed this pasta.  The broccoli and mint and olives and feta and lemon were all essential.  The cucumber added a nice bit of cool crunch, but not a lot of flavor. The red onions added color and flavor, but probably aren’t essential.

Rating: B
Derek: B+

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Farro Risotto with Three Mushrooms

December 21, 2008 at 12:42 pm (B_, Grains, Italian, My brain, restaurant inspired)

In October Derek and I took a trip to Tuscany.  The highlight of our trip was the four nights we spent in Southern Tuscany, at Terre di Nano, an estate perched on a hilltop halfway between Montepulciano and the tiny medieval village of Montechiello.   When we arrived at Terre di Nano our first night, it was quite late, and the manager suggested we eat dinner at a nearby restaurant: La Porta, in Montechiello.  The drive took less than ten minutes, but it felt longer because the road was narrow, unpaved, and pitch dark.  Despite the fact that Montechiello is a tiny village, and off the main road, La Porta was almost completely full; a large group of about 20 Americans took up over half of the tables.  The hostess sat us upstairs on a balcony overlooking the main dining room.  Although the couple at the neighboring table kept complaining about the cigarette smoke wafting down from the attic kitchen, I didn’t notice it.  I quite enjoyed our balcony perch; I liked watching from above as the waitresses brought out the food for all the other guests. We had a lovely, if not spectacular dinner at La Porta, and headed back to Terre di Nano.

The next morning at breakfast we met all the other Terre di Nano guests, and discovered that almost all of them had also eaten dinner at La Porta the previous evening!  One woman (the one who had been complaining about the cigarette smoke) could not stop raving about their mushroom barley risotto.  She said it was the best risotto she’d ever had. I was skeptical, as I’ve never had a barley risotto that I’ve liked.  Still, when we headed back to La Porta a few nights later, I decided to take a chance, and ordered the mushroom barley risotto.  It was excellent.  The texture of the risotto was creamy, but each grain was perfectly chewy and nutty tasting.  The mushroom flavor was intense, but not overpowering.  Even after finishing the (quite) large dish of risotto, I wasn’t tired of it.  It was anything but the one-note, overly-rich dish I was expecting.

My only objection to the risotto was directed at the menu’s claim that it was a barley risotto.  I’ve had pearled barley, and hulled barley, but this didn’t taste like either.  The grains had more fiber and heft than pearled barley, and more chew and flavor than hulled barley.  I suspected that the risotto was actually made with farro, a local Tuscan grain.  I asked the waitress to confirm that the risotto was really made with barley—she said yes.  Then I noticed that behind me was a shelf of local agricultural products that the restaurant was offering up for sale.  The shelf contained both barley and farro.  I held them up to the waitress and asked which was in the risotto.  She looked back and forth between them a few times, then said she had to ask the chef.  When she returned, she confirmed that the risotto was indeed made from farro.

Our waitress and menu aren’t the only ones confused about the difference between farro and barley.  All over the internet you see confusion about whether farro is the same as barley, the same as spelt, or some other grain entirely.  There was an even an article about farro in the New York Times recently, which attempted to debunk some of the misconceptions about farro.

Farro is not barley, but wheat.  The wheat family encompasses a number of related grains, including durum wheat (used to make pasta), spelt, common wheat (used to make bread flour), and kamut.  The precise name for Farro is Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon), and it is more closely related to durum wheat and common wheat than to spelt. From Wikipedia, the major domesticated forms of wheat:

* Common wheat or Bread wheat — (T. aestivum) A hexaploid species that is the most widely cultivated in the world. [note: called der Weizen in German]
* Durum — (T. durum) The only tetraploid form of wheat widely used today, and the second most widely cultivated wheat. [note: often used to make pasta, called Glasweizen or Hartweizen in German, according to Leo ]
* Einkorn — (T. monococcum) A diploid species with wild and cultivated variants. Domesticated at the same time as emmer wheat, but never reached the same importance.
* Emmer — (T. dicoccon) A tetraploid species, cultivated in ancient times but no longer in widespread use. [note: most commonly eaten now in Italy, but also still used in other countries like Switzerland]
* Spelt — (T. spelta) Another hexaploid species cultivated in limited quantities. [note: now more popular in the States among the “bio” set, apparently called der Dinkel or der Spelz in German]

Kamut is another wheat variety, with unusually elongated grains.  Unheard of 20 years ago, lately Kamut has been growing in popularity in the states. Kamut’s taxonomical classification is still unclear: some say it represents a unique species, others say it’s simply a form of durum wheat, whereas others argues it’s a hybrid of durum wheat and another wheat. I’ve found Kamut in Germany in my local Biofrischmarkt, under the name Kamut.

Oops, back to mushroom farro risotto.

Determined to recreate La Porta’s risotto, I returned from Italy with a pound of farro (purchased from La Porta for 3 euros, compared to the 9-10 dollars you’ll pay in New York), and a bag of dried porcini mushrooms.  I spent some time searching around on the web to try to figure out the best way to cook farro for risotto, but found a lack of consensus.  Some people said just to boil farro in water as you would pasta, then once it’s tender add in butter and cheese to make it creamy.  Other recipes suggsted parboiling the farro, then treating it as if it were arborio rice.  I decided to go with the latter method, as I thought it would result in a creamier risotto, without requiring a huge amount of butter and cheese.

I started out by boiling 2.25 cups of farro in 5 cups of water for 20 minutes.  I ended up with about 8 cups of semi-cooked farro.  I soaked the porcini mushrooms, and cooked the button mushrooms ahead of time, because Derek is picky about overcooked mushrooms.  He likes them plump and juicy, and I was afraid that after 20 – 30 minutes of simmering they’d be dried out and tough. Besides holding the mushrooms aside until the last five minutes of cooking, I followed a standard risotto technique, using the following ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 cups of parboiled farro
  • vegetable broth, plus the strained soaking liquid from the dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1.25 pounds white button mushrooms
  • a bit of red wine
  • 3 Tbs. butter (1 in the mushrooms, 1 for the onions, and 1 after the risotto was done)
  • 1 shallot + a bit of red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1.75 ounces parmigiano reggiano
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • porcini salt and truffle salt
  • a pinch of sugar

The risotto turned out really well.  It had the same great chewy/creamy texture as La Porta’s version, and good flavor, although perhaps not quite as good as La Porta’s version.  Even Derek, who was very skeptical about my ability to replicate the original, said that it was excellent.

I ended up eating the rest of the farro plain, either for breakfast with soymilk and a bit of granola, or just treating it like brown rice.  It was delicious.  Farro is definitely now one of my favorite grains.

More about my farro: The label says Farro Decorticato, and it’s from Az. Agr. Barbi, which is apparently near Monticchiello.  I think decorticato means hulled.  The bag weighs 500 grams. I think it’s organic because it says “da agricoltura biologica.”  To prepare the farro, the label says to wash in cold water, then cook in a pot for 40 minutes.  It says it serves five people.

Update December 13, 2009:

I cooked 1.5 cups farro in 3 cups vegetable broth.  I brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer, and cooked until all the liquid was absorbed, about 35 minutes I think.  This produced 5 cups of al dente farro.  I used 4 cups for the risotto.  I sauteed 1.5 pounds mushrooms in 1 Tbs. butter, and added 1/4 cup white wine and some soy sauce (1/2 Tbs.?).  The mushrooms didn’t end up salty enough.  When the mushrooms were cooked but still quite fat and juicy, I removed them from the pan and set them aside.

I sauted the shallot and red onion (about 1/2 cup) in 1 Tbs. of butter and 1 Tbs. of olive oil, then added 2 garlic cloves chopped.  I added the 4 cups of parboiled farro, and some red wine (1/2 cup I think).  Then I added the liquid from the porcini mushrooms and more vegetable broth.  The farro ended up too soft.  I think I pre-cooked it too long.  Next time I would start with 1 cup of farro and 1.5 cups of vegetable broth, cooked for 20 minutes only.

At the end I added in the soaked, chopped porcini mushrooms and the cooked button mushrooms, and about 1/2 tsp. salt, then beat in the final 1 Tbs. of butter. We were out of truffle salt, and that definitely resulted in a less mushroom-y tasting dish.  It was still tasty, but less mushroomy.  We garnished the risotto with parmesan.  It was tasty, but not as good as last time.  I liked it with al dente farro much better than the somewhat soft farro I ended up with this time.

Derek rated this recipe a B+.  I would give it a B due to the texture and the absence of truffle salt.  With a few fixes it would definitely be a B+.

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