Thursday, June 26, 2008

garden to table

I peek at my vegetables. I sneak into the garden and gently pull away zucchini leaves to see the gorgeous yellow blossoms announcing the impending arrival of a deep green bounty. I brush away beet greens and carrot tops to catch a glimpse of the baby roots just emerging from the dirt, ever a tiny bit larger in circumference each day. Sometimes I even pull a 'tester' to check on the progress (and to thin out the rows, I tell myself). I think I'm really only one short step away from taking a measuring tape to the newly formed tomatoes. Soon. So soon. They'll all be here.

On the other hand, how could one possibly wait when greeted by these:

Did you know fennel has roots? I didn't. I didn't really think about it, I guess - I think I just assumed it grew like any other bulb. Now I know. These lovely babies were my 'testers' the other day. Their cohorts are growing quite nicely in their little spot, but I just had to try these while they were still young.
I don't regret it.
I'll probably do it again.
fennel, white beans and artichokes with Parmesan polenta


1 Tb. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 baby or 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped (and cored if necessary), a few fronds chopped and reserved for garnish
salt and pepper
1 small (6.5 oz.) jar of quartered artichoke hearts (mine were marinated; canned artichokes would also be fine), drained
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tb. fresh basil, chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced fine (more or less to taste)
3 whole, peeled plum tomatoes and 1/4 C. tomato sauce from a can of whole, peeled plum tomatoes
1 - 16 oz. can of white beans (navy or cannellini)

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and fennel and saute just until onion is transparent, about 3-5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of fresh pepper. Add artichokes, thyme and basil (if using) and cook another minute. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands or the back your spoon. Pour in the reserved tomato sauce and add the beans, stirring gently to combine and cooking until heated through.
Serve with Parmesan polenta (recipe follows) and garnish with reserved chopped fennel fronds.

Parmesan polenta

(I can't say enough about Bob's Red Mill medium grind cornmeal. It is so good. It just doesn't compare to any other widely available cornmeal for making such things as polenta, grits, cornbread, muffins, or corn cakes. It's my favorite and really worth seeking out.)


4 C. water
3/4 C. medium grind cornmeal or polenta (such as Bob's Red Mill)
salt and pepper
1/2 Tb. fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tb. butter
1/2 C. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a small saucepan (3-quart, or thereabout) bring water to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, pour in the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while to avoid lumps and fully incorporate smoothly. Continue whisking fairly frequently for 15-20 minutes or until mixture has thickened, maintaining a smooth consistency. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper (I use roughly 2 pinches of salt and 1/8 tsp. of pepper), add the thyme, butter and cheese, and whisk to combine (the butter and cheese will melt and incorporate).
Serve topped with fennel, white beans, and artichokes (recipe preceding)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the monkey chased the weasel

I have a mulberry tree. Actually, I have two. And my mother has another two. What does one do with four mulberry trees? Why, one makes jelly of course!

It's not that I don't like the berries just fine straight off the branch - they're quite tasty. It's just that I don't really enjoy their little stems. They don't seem to detach easily. Or at all if you really want to know. So. Let's make some jelly.

Mulberry Jelly (with a little cranberry-pomegranate juice)

*For information regarding the sterilization process for jars and lids and general food preservation tips The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a comprehensive website.
To sterilize my jars I wash each one with soap and water, place them on a baking sheet (not touching), and put them in a 200 degree oven while I prepare the jam or jelly. The lids, bands, ladle and/or funnel I put in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes just before they are needed. The lids must be new. They cannot be re-used.


2 Quarts mulberries (or enough to equal 2 1/2 Cups juice when pressed)
2 Cups pure cranberry-pomegranate juice (such as R.W. Knudsen)
1/2 Cup water
1 (1.75 oz.) package 'Sure Jell' Fruit Pectin
1/2 tsp. butter (to help reduce foam)
6 1/2 Cups sugar

*sterilized jelly jars with lids and bands (enough to accommodate approximately 56 oz. of jelly - I used 8-4 oz. and 3-8 oz. jars)

Rinse and drain the mulberries. Place in a saucepan or small pot and heat gently over med-low and mash berries to a pulp. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and strain through cheese cloth (or a clean nylon stocking if you're un-fussy), reserving juice.

Measure reserved mulberry juice to be sure you have at least 2 1/2 cups. Add juice to a large, clean stockpot. Add the cranberry-pomegranate juice and the water. You should have a total of 4 1/2 cups of liquid. Sprinkle the 'Sure-Jell' over the juice mixture and add the 1/2 tsp. butter. Bring mixture to a boil and pour in the sugar. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, and allow to boil hard for exactly 1 minute.

Remove from heat, skim the surface for foam with a metal spoon, if necessary, and immediately ladle into sterilized jars filling them to within 1/8 inch of the rim. Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp towel and place lids on top. Lightly screw the bands on and place jars on a rack in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars with tongs and allow to cool. Check seals. If any jars did not seal properly, they may be stored in the refrigerator and used within 1 month.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

spice is nice

So, I didn't think I'd have a recipe to post this week. I thought instead, that I'd write about all the little 'experiments' I made the past week. Like the four berry jam that is delicious, but a bit sweet for my tastes. Or the pasta with green garlic and ricotta which was also very good, but did not have quite the right texture. Then there was Thai peanut tofu with a crunchy Thai salad and sweet chili dipping sauce that just didn't live up to its potential for that 'wow' flavor factor. I could also mention the chocolate mousse I made from another Rose Carrarini recipe. Now that was fantastic. But. I made it line for line from the recipe with no adaptations. And. I had to whisk the egg whites twice because the first batch, rather irritatingly, came just to the point before soft peaks would form and then fell dramatically back into liquid state. Frustrating for sure, but on the second take all went well. So, I had been busy, but with nothing really outstanding to brag about. Then, this happened:

On a Monday, for goodness sake. Perhaps the one day I have little to no motivation whatsoever for anything more strenuous than reclining on the sofa with cool beverage in hand. Especially when the heat index has been well over 100 degrees for several consecutive days. Lazy? Yup. Guilty? Nope.

Out of hunger came the need to make dinner of some sort and when feeling uninspired and not entirely up for being in the kitchen, I often turn to pasta. Good, simple Italian fare is almost effortless and always satisfying. And, it just so happens that this dish benefits from my new favorite pantry staple:
(which I am now looking to add to just about everything, including the aforementioned Thai dishes...)

So here's this week's winner:

Pasta with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Swiss Chard

(A note on choosing pasta: this dish would be fine with any type of shaped pasta, however I tend to choose my pasta shape by the shape of the other items in the dish; for this dish I chose a long (about 3-inch) tubular pasta to mimic the Swiss chard ribbons)


6 oz. dried pasta

For the sauce:

1 Tb. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 Tb. ground red cherry peppers (such as 'Sun of Italy' brand), more or less to suit your tastes
1 Tb. garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 14.5 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 pasta water
1/4 Lb. Swiss chard, stems chopped and leaves sliced into 1/2-inch ribbons
salt and freshly ground pepper

freshly grated Parmesan cheese for the top

While pasta is cooking in a large pot of salted water, make the sauce:

In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When oil glides nicely across the pan, add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until quite soft, but not brown. Add the ground red cherry peppers and stir for only about 10 seconds. Add the minced garlic and dried oregano and stir until garlic is fragrant (again only about 10 seconds). Add the canned tomatoes and stir to break up the whole tomatoes. Just before pasta is done, add the Swiss chard ribbons and stems to the sauce and stir until just softened. Add 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to the sauce and stir to thicken, slightly. Season with salt and pepper and add the drained pasta to the sauce in the pan. Toss to coat and serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Monday, June 2, 2008

one potato, two potato, three potato ... salad

I'm a potato-lovin' gal. Red Bliss, Purple Peruvian, Yukon Gold, Russian Fingerling, Russet, and New. I will eat them plain; I will eat them on a train. I will eat them in their skin; I will eat them while drinking gin. I will eat them sliced; I will even buy them when they are over-priced.

It's serious, I know.

But fortunately the local farmer's market is currently abundant with a great variety of the little gems. And since the sun has finally begun to shine down in my neck of the woods, I am able to re-visit one of my favorite summertime sides - warm potato salad.

While variations on this dish are innumerable, my favorites are always made with a good vinegar and a large handful (or two) of fresh, chopped herbs. And the recipe I'm about to share is no exception. It is, however, exceptional...

Warm Three Potato Salad
Adapted from Rose Carrarini's 'Potato Grabiche' found in her scrumptious book: Breakfast, Lunch, Tea

(I've changed some quantities and omitted some ingredients to suit my tastes, however I recommend obtaining a copy of this book and making everything in it at least once exactly as it is written. The recipes are phenomenal.)


3 Lbs mixed red, white, and purple small new potatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper

1/2 to 1 cup fresh, chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

For the dressing:

1/4 cup chopped dill pickles
2 tbsp. drained and chopped capers
2 medium shallots, chopped fine
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (I think white wine or Champagne vinegar would work nicely also)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 cup good olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit.

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Bring just to a boil and remove from heat and drain.

Transfer the drained hot potatoes to a rimmed baking sheet (in one layer), drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes or until cooked through and beginning to crisp.

While potatoes are roasting, prepare dressing:
In a large serving bowl, whisk all dressing ingredients together.

When potatoes are cooked through, remove from oven and let cool slightly on baking sheet. While potatoes are still warm, slice the larger ones in half and add all to the serving bowl with the dressing. Fold in gently and add the chopped parsley. Adjust seasonings and serve warm or at room temperature.