Sunday, May 30, 2010

Salad Handrolls

If you haven't yet experimented with making your own sushi rolls, now is the time to do it. Why now you ask? Because spring vegetables are at their peak and admit it, you're probably getting a little tired of salads but want to keep eating those gorgeous spring veggies. Enter a salad handroll.

I've written here and here about how easy it is to make your own sushi rolls, using toasted nori. With this version, similar to a wrap or burrito, you skip the rice and pile in salad items. I used some clover sprouts, which make for a lovely base, added some arugula and pickled ginger, and then drizzled on the Japanese Carrot Ginger dressing I've been making lately. Cut it in half or just start eating from one end, it's a salad in a roll and super delicious!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spinach Scacciata - A Sicilian Family Heirloom

Most of my youth I lived in Middletown, Connecticut, a small town on the Connecticut river most known as the home of Wesleyan University, a "little" ivy league liberal arts college. We moved there so my mom could get her Masters' degree but what most influenced me about living in Middletown were the abundance of Mom and Pop Italian eateries.

As I've written before, I worked at Mazzatta's Italian Restaurant, making pizza, calzones, and scacciatas (prounced SkaChaTa). Most of the world knows pizza and calzones - pizza everyone knows and calzones are pizza dough pockets stuffed with ricotta cheese and assorted goodies. While calzones are good when you're in the mood for lots of creamy cheese studded with veggies or some pepperoni or sausage, my favorite choice from the restaurant were the scacciatas - pizza dough wrapped around garlicky broccoli, spinach or potato topped with mozzarella and sausage.

I was not alone in my obsession with scaccaitas. Every major holiday customers would order huge sheet pans of scacciatas from Mazzattas (sheet pans are 18"x26" - that's a whole lotta scacciata!) Easter and Christmas scacciatas were particularly popular and I can recall hours of making multiple sheet pans for a single order. Yet, no one I have met, in either the U.S. or throughout my travels in Italy has heard of these delicious scacciatas. Finally, I did talk to someone who thought the word itself sounded like a Sicilian dialect term, which seemed to confirm my theory that scacciatas must have originated with a single family that brought it to Middletown and popularized the dish. This fit with the legend of Middletown as I was told it; the city was founded in 1650 but when four families from Sicily settled in Middletown in the early 1900s, the Italian American population grew to represent more than two thirds of the inhabitants of the town. So I present to you what I consider a Sicilian family heirloom, although of unknown family heritage!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Morel, Bacon Cheese Burger

Normally I wouldn't write about a burger, I think burgers are such a personal construction that it feels odd to write about this as a recipe. Obviously, this is the exception to my general rule of thumb. I also wanted to share it while the morel season is still here since I think the morels really make this burger special.

I do not eat a lot of red meat but when I do, I always go with high quality meat, meaning free range beef, whether it be a steak or a burger. Free range, also known as grass fed, not only tastes better to me but I like to support meat producers who use sustainable methods that are both healthy for the consumer as well as the animals, which in the case of beef means grass fed. Organic doesn't mean much in the beef world, other than the fact that the cows are fed with organic grain; they're still eating grain, which is not their traditional diet but was developed in order to increase production of meat products. If you want more information on why grass fed or free range beef is better all around, visit here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fried Squash Blossoms

For weeks I've been hoping to make fried zucchini blossoms and finally, finally! the stars aligned and I found some fresh blossoms, the time, and willing dinner companions ready for an experiment.

As I mentioned in an earlier post it's best to get the masculine blossoms, which are the ones with the stems on, particularly because that makes it easier to both dip them in the batter as well as turn them in the oil and pull them out of the pan.

I decided not to stuff them with cheese, although I have found several recipes for a similar version. Instead, I went with a light batter that I found here, dipped and fried them for a delicious appetizer that disappeared in seconds! Although this batter is lighter than most frying batters, but you might try it without the cheese for a lighter batter. But definitely use the sparkling water, it makes all the difference.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

French Lentils with Purslane

Lentils are so versatile, whether you're cooking Indian dal or French lentil soup, these lovely legumes cook up quickly and have tons of flavor not to mention protein, amino acids and vitamin b!

I recently read somewhere (sorry, forget the specific site) of the combination of French lentils, radicchio and balsamic vinegar. I told myself that if I saw radicchio at the farmers' market I was definitely making a similar dish. No radicchio but I did come across some purslane, another "weed" or wild green, which has a tangy flavor.

Purslane has tremendous nutritional benefits, including EPA which is an Omega-3 fatty acid normally found mostly in fish, some algae and flax seeds. It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, and some vitamin B and carotenoids), as well as minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. What a powerhouse!

While purslane isn't bitter like radicchio it makes a wonderful substitute. Eaten raw, it has a toothy bite to it, similar to mache with a slightly tangy flavor, less lemony than sorrel. It paired wonderfully with some sauteed bacon, shallots and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Stir the cooked lentils into the mixture and Voila, a quick weeknight dinner full of goodness!

French Lentils with Purslane

2 cups French Lentils
3 cups broth (I used broth leftover from a great chicken soup, but any will do)
1 large bunch purslane, washed and destemmed
1 shallot, minced
2 strips bacon, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Place lentils and broth in sauce pan and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cover and cook 20-25 minutes until soft but still holding their shape. Drain off extra liquid and set aside. Meanwhile, saute bacon bits until almost crisp. Add shallots and cook another minute or two until shallot is translucent and bacon is crisp. Add purslane and allow to cook until just brightening green. Add lentils and cook over low heat to combine mixture with lentils. Add balsamic vinegar and cook another minute. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Corn and Jicama Salad

Jicama is a little known root vegetable that is worth discovering. It is crunch and juicy, similar to celery, but with a sweet, citrus flavor and no stringy bits like celery. Native to Central America it is used in Mexican cooking but cooking is really a misnomer since you never cook it but eat it raw.

I wrote about it here. I find that every time I pick it up at the store I remember that I love this crunchy treat and need to eat it more often! If you come across some jicama in your local stores, buy it and make this salad. It's a sure-fire winner and a great treat for the coming summer potluck season! It keeps well in the refrigerator and all the flavors blend together without any one ingredient overpowering another.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scalloped Potatoes with Dandelion Greens and Bacon

I never made scalloped potatoes until I lived in the Midwest where people unabashedly love potatoes and think of them as a separate food group. Mashed, boiled, baked or scalloped, all are equally loved and consumed.

In some ways, scalloped potatoes are kind of old fashioned; they traditionally include cream, cheese and butter, creating a delicious but definitely not a low-fat dish. But when I was searching for items to serve at the co-op "hot food bar" in Minnesota, I knew scalloped potatoes would be a hit. I made two versions, one with ham and one with kale. Meat eaters appreciated the extra flavor of the ham and customers who needed to believe that they were getting something healthy along with the layers of creamy cheesy potatoes felt virtuous eating the kale version. Everyone was happy!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Farmers' Greens Phyllo Pie

Have you ever noticed that whatever you fear (at least in cooking) is generally unfounded? Too many people tell me they are afraid to use phyllo dough so I am sort of on a mission to get people to use more of it. This is not simply because I am a didactic sort of person (although I certainly was very guilty of that when I was younger!) But because phyllo pies are 1) so versatile - a great way to eat greens of all sorts, 2) relatively small amount of carbs for a very filling meal, 3) mostly vegetarian, and 4) taste great hot or cold or the next day for lunch or dinner...well you get the idea! I also think of them as key to pantry cooking or using up leftovers, whether greens about to go bad or lots of bits of cheese that need to be used.

This version of the pie was not pantry inspired because I was so excited to find lambs quarters at the Farmers' Market and decided this was the perfect dish to showcase them in an entree. The ricotta and mascapone, however, were "leftovers" so to speak but pairing their creamy goodness with the slightly tangy lambs quarters was divine inspiration!

As I mentioned earlier, lambs quarters (aka Pigweed) are seen as a "weed" by many gardeners, but only because they weren't planted on purpose. They are full of vitamin C (over 100% in a single serving),  Vitamin A and loads of calcium. They rank with nettles and dandelion in terms of the nutritional punch they pack and unlike those two greens, lambs quarters is tangy as opposed to bitter. Many people substitute them in dishes calling for spinach. All I can say is when you find them grab some, you'll love them no matter how you cook them!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Carrot Ginger Dressing over Spring Vegetables

My family has very few long standing traditions. I am unsure as to why that is true. It may be because there is no family home that my mom has lived in for years (we are all very nomadic) nor did either of my parents come from families that had deeply rooted traditions by which they lived. But there is one tradition that seems to have emerged that I have begun to notice. Whenever there is a celebration or marking of an event, we make Smorgasbord.

Smorgasbord is a traditional celebration feast for Swedes (and our father did have a bit of Swedish ancestry, hence our last name). It usually includes Swedish meatballs and some pickled fish. But we do not make your typical Smorgasbord (because if you know us, you know there is nothing typical about the Lindquists!) Our Smorgasbord is a little of everything so that everyone gets what they want. It usually includes pickles and olives, lots of cheese, some form of meat or fish (smoked of any kind is always a great choice!) and always vegetables. Our family is a great lover of vegetables! Most often the vegetables are cut up crudite style and dips abound. This is the sort of meal we have on Christmas Eve or New Year's Day or more recently for a send off of one my sisters as she left for the East Coast.

Needless to say, when we have these meals there are always leftovers, allowing for quick and easy assembly of great vegetable salads. I recently loved Smitten Kitchen's post for Avocado Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing and decided it would be the perfect dressing for all of those cut veggies I had. I followed her recipe almost exactly, except I added a teaspoon of soy sauce because I felt it needed just a bit to balance it out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Broccoli and Pasta, Sicilian Style

More than 20 years ago I spent the summer living in Washington D.C. and a college friend took me to an Italian restaurant in Dupont Circle. Neither one of us had much money but it was great food although not a "red" style Italian restaurant, meaning it was not typical meatballs, tomato sauce, and spaghetti fare. In fact it was the first time I had had a pasta dish that combined sweet and spicy in the form of raisins and red pepper flakes. While I could understand that red pepper flakes would be part of Italian cuisine I was shocked that raisins would be included. Years later with my expanded knowledge of Mediterranean cooking in general, of course raisins would make sense, since they are simply dried grapes, and grapes are one of the major crops of Italy!

I was recalling that summer recently and remembered that meal and decided to recreate it. It was fantastic! The crisp tender broccoli pairs with the sweet plump raisins gorgeously and the red flakes finish with a slight kick. The olive oil works like a conductor to make it all come together and your mouth sings!

This dish is also typically Italian since it uses simple, inexpensive ingredients to produce incredible results. It also is a great pantry dish since only the broccoli and garlic need be fresh so this is something that is pretty easy to whip together when you feel like you have no time to cook.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Purple Potato Pizza with Napoletana Style Dough

Pizza is one of my favorite foods by far. Even when it's bad, I still want to eat more and when it's really good, I have to exercise Heruclean restraint to not over eat. It used to be that finding really good pizza meant shopping around restaurants, which always meant there would be several disappointments. That was until I discovered Peter Rheinhart and The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

I have mentioned my love of this recipe in several other posts but never gave out the recipe. I wasn't being perverse or trying to get my dear readers to buy the book, it's just that Rheinhart's recipes are long; not only 2-3 pages long but most of the bread is made with homemade starters so that the breads themselves take up to three days to make, which adds up to time-consuming recipes that are often overwhelming to some people. On top of that, knowing me, I do not follow the pizza recipe to a T, so I was nervous about posting what I actually do for fear that I would leave things out and readers would end up with less than desirable results and be disappointed.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Farmers' Market Bounty - Cinqo de Mayo

Spring has Sprung! At least according to my understanding of spring. Here in Southern California, frequenters of the farmers' markets deem Fall the "second Spring" since locally grown veggies look like spring veggies and last through to the real Spring. But finally there are ramps and morels at the market, the true harbinger of spring for me.

You really know Spring has arrived when your farmers' market looks like someone simply grabbed anything green and brought it to market. There are sweet lettuces, cooking greens like the kale and spinach I have pictured above, as well as Swiss chards in every color! The dandelion greens (far left) are great cooked with some pancetta or similar meat and they may ended up as a side dish or in a pasta, not sure about that just yet. Herbs are popping up now and then we get the treat of the "young" things like young or green garlic, baby leeks (pictured to the left) and baby squash - coming to this space soon.

I already posted about a ramp and morel recipe; had to publish it before Friday for Presto Pasta Night. Still musing about what to do with the leeks, please send your favorite ideas if you like. I think the kale will become a raw kale salad my sister just made after spending a week at the Esalen Institute. For those of you waiting on a stuffed squash blossom recipe, it will come soon, I promise! 

Hope markets in your area are off to a great start!


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rotini with Morels and Ramps in Cream Sauce

Just the other day I was lamenting the lack of unique offerings at my Farmers' Market; I actually scoffed at the idea that it was the best market in Los Angeles. My derision was based on the fact that they haven't had ramps or morels and according to my barometer (developed in Minnesota) I hadn't seen either of these items, which for me, are the true heralds of Spring. Of course the universe has a perverse sense of humor. I went to the market yesterday looking for squash blossoms and instead I found morels and ramps, at the same stall!

Morels are the best fresh American mushroom you can find, at least to my mind. I first had them when I lived in Indiana and someone took me foraging for them in the woods. We fried up a our bounty, lightly dusted with flour, salt and cayenne and they were amazing!

I love how morels look, like gnome caps or rubbery brains.

I knew I couldn't just wing it with the morels because 1) they're expensive ($18 for a HALF pound) and 2) They are a delicacy and I didn't want to ruin them since their window of availability can be only a couple of weeks in the parts of the country were they're prevalent, so heaven knows how long they'll last here in a climate that they are not expected to grow well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Raw Spinach and Artichoke Dip

When I left Just Food Co-op in Minnesota to move to California I downloaded all of the recipes that I had developed while I was Deli manager. I also took some of the existing recipes because they were so good. I never planned to make profit off of those recipes, but sure enough the universe made sure to let me know that those recipes were not mine when my computer crashed and I lost all of them. C'est la vie!

This recipe is one of the co-op's originals that I have tried to reproduce. While it does not match exactly the dip we made, I think it's pretty tasty nonetheless.

As usual I was using up "pantry" items so I used aioli instead of the usual mayonnaise and I was able to use some of the marinated artichokes that I had made a few months ago. I still added some canned artichoke hearts since they give it a little more of a creamy consistency.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bok Choy and Broccoli with Hoisin Glaze

It used to be that when I needed cooking inspiration I would start looking through cookbooks, usually looking up ingredients in the index and look at recipes from that perspective. But currently, most of my possessions are in storage and only about a quarter of my cookbooks are on hand. So I do the 21st century approach and cruise the internet.

The other day my ingredient of choice was Hoisin sauce, that pungent sweet and sour sauce used in American-ified Chinese restaurants which I had recently bought at an Asian market. But when I say I cruise the internet, I do not just read any random recipes that I find when I search "hoisin"; I go to my internet friends, other food bloggers for suggestions. Where better to look for what to do with a pantry staple than The Perfect Pantry!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Farmers' Market Bounty - April 28

What a gorgeous bunch of fruit and vegetables, and all for the bargain price of only $24!

Of course I went to the market thinking all I was going to buy was sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes) but I was foolish enough to bring 24 dollars with me. Silly girl. When I am near fresh produce money just flies out of my hands. No sunchokes to be behold but I found squash blossoms (look for stuffed blossoms soon) and lots of gorgeous radishes, multi-colored as well as Tokoyo turnips (the white ones, also known as salad turnips because you eat them raw similar to radishes).

Since it is Southern California, the tomatoes are out along with the last of the citrus. The lemons are actually sweet lemons, or Persian limes and they are sweet! Can't wait to make Kombucha with them. The knobby dirty looking root to the left is celery root and that will replenish my jar of marinated Sicilian carrots and celery root.