Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grilled Artichokes and Asparagus with Walking Onion and Basil Aioli

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, is there anything more awesome than the almighty egg?  The uses for this culinary golden child are seemingly endless!  There is, perhaps, no better example of the wondrous feats that an egg can achieve than aioli.  You start with eggs, lemon juice, and oil and somehow end up with a velvety, creamy, ultra-rich concoction that will make you swear off store-bought mayonnaise forever.

Admittedly, it isn't something I make often.  Aioli is not exactly what I would call "health food," but when you make it with locally-sourced, farm-fresh eggs, heart-healthy olive oil and enjoy it in moderation, there's nothing to feel guilty about!  There is also something very satisfying about making this flavorful condiment from scratch.  It is so simple and classic, yet always an elegant addition to any dish.

This recipe is full of Colorado's Spring harvest, including local walking onions from Red Wagon Farms (you can use green onions as a substitute), Penny's Eggs from Nunn, local asparagus, and some fresh basil from my porch garden.  Add a simple green salad and you've got yourself a meal (and a perfect way to celebrate a beautiful Spring day!). 

Walking Onion and Basil Aioli
makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 walking onions, roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup fresh basil leaves and stems
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp coarse salt
2 fresh egg yolks
1 cup olive oil

In a food processor, add onions, basil, lemon juice and salt and pulse until combined.  Add egg yolks and pulse again to combine.  Scrape the sides of the processor bowl to make sure the mixture is evenly distributed at the bottom (so the blades catch as much as possible).  Switch the machine on and with the blade running continuously, very slowly drizzle in the olive oil, stopping periodically (about every 1/4 cup or so) to, again, scrape the sides of the bowl so that the aioli blends evenly.  Turn the machine off as soon as all the oil has been added.  Adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Transfer aioli to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. 

Grilled Artichokes and Asparagus
Serves 4

2 large artichokes
1 bunch asparagus
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper

Prep artichokes by removing the first outer layer of leaves and trimming the pointed edges off the remaining leaves.  Cut the stem to about 1 inch in length.  In a large pot, add about 2 inches of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, then stand the artichokes on their stems in the pot and cover.  Steam until they are just barely tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool the artichokes off by running them under cold water for about 30 seconds, then slice each one in half.

Turn the grill on about medium-high and allow to preheat.  Brush the artichokes and asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Start grilling the artichokes first (they take longer) by placing them on the grill cut-side down.  After 8 minutes, turn the artichokes 90 degrees to create a cross-hatch pattern and grill for another 8 minutes.  In the last 5 minutes, place the asparagus on the grill and cook each side for about 2 to three minutes.  Remove vegetables from the grill and serve hot or at room temperature with aioli on the side.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spring Greens and White Bean Salad with Mint-Walnut Dressing

This year, my parents wisely opted into a CSA and they are thankfully sharing the harvest with Obe and me!  We are so excited to have a share of Red Wagon Organic Farm's CSA.  This week's share was the inspiration for this pungent, flavorful and lively salad which highlights Red Wagon's beautiful mixed greens, sweet and tender pea greens, pungent walking onion and spicy radishes.  A true taste of the flavorful bounty Colorado has to offer!

Some of the ingredients are a bit unusual, but they will surely all be available at the Farmer's Market this month.  If you can't make the trip (although it is truly worth the effort!) you can substitute the pea greens for regular mixed greens and the walking onion for regular green onions.  It won't be quite as special, but the salad will still taste wonderful.  The pungent onion and spicy radishes are gently balanced out by the mellow white beans and toasted walnuts.  The bright, minty dressing gives it a nice tang. 

Spring Greens and White Bean Salad with Mint-Walnut Dressing
serves 3-4

4 cups mixed greens
2 cups pea greens
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1 walking onion, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans, seasoned with salt
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 cup mint leaves
1 tsp. honey
2 T walnut oil
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Assemble dressing.  Add vinegar, mint leaves and honey to a blender and pulse until the mint is chopped.  Slowly drizzle in the oils while blender is on.  Add salt and pepper and blend. 

In a large bowl, combine all the salad ingredients.  Drizzle 1/4 cup of the dressing (or more, if desired) over the salad and toss well.  Serve immediately.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Zucchini & Feta Fritters with Mint Yoghurt

Here is a slightly naughty but oh-so-delicious addition to the recipe archives:  Zucchini & Feta Fritters with Mint Yoghurt! 

'Tis the season for zucchini!  It's everywhere and in abundance, and I know few people who aren't trying to come up with ways to use all theirs up!  These fritters are not only a clever use for zucchini, but they also taste wonderful.  The addition of rice flour gives them an extra crispy texture, but you can substitute wheat flour if you don't have any on hand.  These make a delicious accompaniment to Tabouleh salad (or any other type of Middle Eastern-style salad) and eaten with any other type of vegetable or mezze dish, they are filling enough to make a meal. 

This recipe was adapted from Greg and Lucy Malouf's cookbook, Saha.  My version is a little more heavy on the batter (maybe it's an American thing, but I like a truly crispy pancake rather than a just-enough-flour-to-barely-hold-things-together kind of recipe.  It makes them far less fussy to work with!).  Their version also calls for plenty of fresh and dried mint, but I felt that the mint flavor was really hard to taste in the final result, so I made a lovely minted yoghurt to spread liberally on top of each fritter.  The results are just marvelous!   

Zucchini & Feta Fritters with Mint Yoghurt
Serves 4

2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2-3 medium zucchini)
2 fresh eggs
1 small yellow onion, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup white flour
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 T fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup peanut oil, for frying

1 cup strained yoghurt (I used 0% Fage brand)
1 T olive oil
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

First, place the grated zucchini in a strainer or colander, sprinkle with salt, and drain for about 30 minutes.  Using a dish towel or paper towels, gently squeeze the zucchini as dry as you can get it. 

Meanwhile, make your yoghurt.  Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl (reserving a sprig of mint for garnish, if desired).  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Get your frying pan ready.  Add the peanut oil and heat over medium (you want to be able to fry the fritters as soon as the batter is assembled.  Otherwise, the zucchini will begin to seep liquid and the batter will become runny).  Add the eggs to a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine.  Add zucchini, onion and garlic and continue to beat until eggs increase in volume, slightly (just a minute or so).  Add flours, feta and dill and stir well with a wooden spoon.

Wet your hands with cool water and form fritters.  Take about 1/4 cup of batter and shape into a patty in your hand.  Carefully drop into the hot oil and pat down the center so the fritter is flat (use a spatula to do this if you are nervous about spattering oil).  Fry each side until golden-brown, about 2 minutes per side.  Allow to drain on paper towels and sprinkle with a little finishing salt while still hot.  Serve immediately with yoghurt on the side.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tabouleh Salad

In honor of Obe's 33rd birthday this Monday, I decided to put together a Lebanese-style ensemble of mezze dishes.  Mezze are a little bit like Spanish tapas in style.  They are a collection of small-plate dishes served for either lunch or dinner, and the variety is almost endless!

Middle Eastern cuisine has always been a favorite in this house, especially since Obe is half Lebanese.  He is particularly fond of anything with a lot of garlic and lemon juice, and I love all the wonderful spices.  Most of my inspiration came from my new favorite cookbook, Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  Not only is it filled with beautiful pictures and delicious recipes but they also include detailed stories of their travels through Lebanon.  It is a marvelous cookbook and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to explore authentic Lebanese cuisine.

This recipe is a playful twist on Tabouleh.  It has all the main elements of Tabouleh but with some feta to add richness and romaine lettuce to add bulk and crunch.  It can be served as a mezze dish or in larger servings as a lighter-than-air but incredibly flavorful entree.  Enjoy it right away and you get lots of heat from the pungent raw garlic.  Allow it to sit overnight and the garlic flavor mellows and the parsley and lemon juice have a chance to infuse the bulgar to make for a more complex taste.  Either way, this salad is absolutely delicious! 

Tabouleh Salad
serves 4 as a main course

1/2 cup bulgar
juice of 1 large lemon
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped
1-2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

First, soak the bulgar.  In a small bowl, add dry bulgar and enough cold water to just barely cover.  Allow to soak until the water is absorbed and the bulgar has expanded to about 1 1/2 cups (at least 30 minutes). 

Meanwhile, assemble the dressing.  In a medium bowl, add lemon juice with a pinch of salt and pepper to start.  Using a microplane, grate the clove of garlic into a paste and whisk into the lemon juice.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.  Add feta and whisk to break up the larger crumbles and incorporate the cheese into the dressing.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the bulgar, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and parsley and toss to combine.  Pour dressing over the mixture and toss well.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve with warm flatbread or naan, if desired. 

*Storage note:  If you wish to make this salad ahead of time (or are planning on having leftovers) keep the lettuce and tomatoes separate and combine dressing with remaining ingredients.  When ready to serve, add lettuce and tomatoes and toss to combine. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cabbage and Bean Chili with Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings

It has been "April Showers" all day long here in Colorado.  I do love the Spring rain and it puts me in the mood for something warm and comforting.  Hence:  Chili and Dumplings! 

When you eat "vegetarian-ish" for as long as I have, you come across about a million different chili recipes.  I, myself, rarely make the same chili twice because it is such a great way to clear out the pantry and the crisper!  Especially when the grocery budget is tight, I love to challenge myself to make dinner with whatever is on hand.  It often makes you combine things you wouldn't normally have thought to put together and it forces you to get creative with a limited number of ingredients. 

So, inspired by the rain and the contents of my pantry and fridge, I give you this chili.  This dish is deliciously warming and full of flavor!  The cabbage gives it lots of texture and crunch, while the beans and dumplings make it homey and filling without being heavy.  Not to mention the beautiful color pallete of bright purple cabbage, green onions, a rosy-red broth and pale, golden-yellow dumplings.  In the words of Ina Garten, "What's not to like?!?" 

Cabbage and Bean Chili with Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings
serves 8-10

1 cup dried black beans, cooked
1 cup dried kidney beans, cooked
2 T olive oil
1 T peanut oil
1 green pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups red cabbage (about 1/2 a small head), sliced and washed
1 28 oz. can diced San Marzano tomatoes
6 cups vegetable stock
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 T cumin
1-3 tsp cayenne, to taste
salt and pepper
Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings, recipe to follow

In a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat, add olive oil and peanut oil.  Add pepper, onions and celery and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add cabbage and stir well.  Cook until volume of cabbage is reduced by almost half, about 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and stir in maple syrup, cumin, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook, covered, about 15 minutes.

Gently drop the dumplings onto the surface of the chili and cover again.  Cook until dumplings have puffed up and are firm, about 25 more minutes.  Serve.

Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings
makes 14 dumplings
adapted from a recipe posted by Bon Appetit's website in January of 2011:

3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
3/4 cup almond milk or other milk substitute (or regular milk)
1 1/2 T peanut oil
1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary, finely chopped

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the wet ingredients and stir to combine.  Add chopped herbs and stir once more to combine.  Allow mixture to sit for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.

Wetting your hands periodically with cold water, roll dough into golf ball-sized pieces.  Drop into hot liquid, cover, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

Spring Has Sprung Pasta and Pesto

Nothing says "Spring" quite like fiddlehead ferns!  They look a bit like they belong in a fairytale (which is one of the things I love about them) but they also taste wonderful.  If you've never tried them, fiddleheads are a little bit like asparagus only more mild and sweet.  Asparagus is also at it's peak right now, which is the only way I like to eat it.  Although it is available shipped from South America year-round, you can often find locally-grown asparagus this time of year and it is much tastier!  Look for slender-looking stems with tight, green buds at the tip.

The pasta I used is Maestri Pastai's Foglie di Carciofo (meaning "artichoke leaflets").  It is a bit of a specialty item (you can, of course, find it at Marczyk's if you are lucky enough to live in Denver) but it is also one of my favorite pastas ever.  It is an Italian import made with semolina and dehydrated artichoke and looks like pale green petals.  Not only is it rather pretty but it's also wonderfully toothsome and delicious.  If you can't find this particular product, though, you can certainly substitute for just about any good pesto-grabbing pasta shape you can think of such as orecchiete or penne. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the pesto.  I absolutely adore pesto, not only because it makes everything taste amazing but also because it is so quick to put together!  This one calls for equal amounts of mint and basil for a brighter, "springier" flavor.  Other than that, and the welcome addition of fresh lemon juice, it is a pretty typical pesto.  Make sure to set aside a few leaf clusters for a pretty garnish.

Spring Has Sprung Pasta and Pesto
serves 4 as an entree, 6 as a first course

1/3 cup pine nuts
2/3 oz basil leaves (one small clamshell container's worth)
2/3 oz mint leaves
3 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
zest and juice of one lime
generous tsp kosher salt, or to taste
generous tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup parmiggiano reggiano, freshly grated

Pasta and Vegetables:
1 package (17.66 oz) Maestri Pastai Foglie Di Carciofo
1 T olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup fiddlehead ferns
juice of 1 lemon

Begin by cooking the pasta.  Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and add pasta.  Boil, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

In a food processor, pulse the pine nuts, herbs, garlic, lemon, salt and pepper until evenly chopped.  With the blade running, slowly stream in the olive oil.  Turn power off and remove blade, then mix in the parmiggiano reggiano with a spatula to combine.

Prep your asparagus by cutting the woody part of the stem (the bottom half, usually) and setting aside for use in stock or soup.  Cut the asparagus ends into 1-inch pieces.  In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high for about a minute or two, until just barely smoking.  Reduce heat to medium and add asparagus and fiddleheads.  Stir-fry until just heated through, about three short minutes.  Remove pan from heat immediately.

In a large serving bowl, toss pasta, vegetables, pesto, and lemon juice together until combined.  Adjust salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring has sprung!

The first tomatoes have made an appearance!  These are of the Sun Gold variety, which are little grape-sized, sweet, yellow tomatoes. 

Also making an appearance are the first of my Sweet Millions, another grape-sized variety.  The great thing about the small tomato varieties is that they grow up fast, and the yield is usually high.  This makes them perfect varieties for container gardening, when space is limited and getting the most out of your soil can be difficult.  I used organic potting soil and fertilized with organic buffalo compost (they sell it at Whole Foods).  So far, so good!