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Archive for April, 2010

OK, so this is one of those dishes that use every other pot and pan in your kitchen.  It requires a few different component parts, but much of the dish can be made in advance.  The result looks like one of those architectural creations that your nearest upscale Japanese fusion restaurant would sell for $29 a pop, but you can feed four people with this for the price of a block of tofu and a head of cabbage.  (That’s assuming you already have some star anise in your spice cabinet, which you should.  It adds a warm, vaguely licorice-y note to braised Chinese dishes, Mexican pork stews, poached fruit…)

And if you’ve never sauteed cabbage before, it will be a revelation.  Why, why haven’t I been sauteing cabbage for the last ten years?

  • 1 recipe Ginger-Star Anise Broth (below)
  • 1 head of cabbage
  • olive or peanut oil, as needed
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • 1/4 c flour
  • handful of herbs (cilantro, chives and/or mint)
  • Toasted Quinoa (optional)

Ginger-Star Anise Broth:

  • olive or peanut oil, as needed
  • the usual suspects from the Vegetable Stock bag (except Parmesan rinds)
  • 10 cloves of garlic (don’t bother to peel them)
  • 1 3-inch piece of ginger, cut into slices
  • 3 star anise (stars of anise??)
  • 2 T soy sauce, or more to taste
  • pinch of sugar
  • dash of rice or sherry vinegar
  • small pinch of cayenne

Put a small stockpot over medium heat and add a good glug of oil.  (Peanut oil would probably be keeping with the east Asian flavors of this dish, but I tend to use olive oil for everything.)  When the oil is hot, add the contents of your vegetables stock bag and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onions and carrots (if any) start to brown.  Add the garlic, ginger and star anise; add water to cover and turn the heat to high.  When the water comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.  Strain the broth into a saucepan, add the remaining broth ingredients and taste for seasoning.  Set over low heat to keep warm.

Core and quarter the cabbage, then slice into thin strips.  Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when the oil is hot, add the garlic and red pepper.  Add the cabbage and a generous pinch of salt.  Saute over medium-high heat until the cabbage is wilted and nicely browned, about 15 minutes.  Add black pepper to taste.  Set aside.

In a medium skillet (I told you this dish would use every pan), heat a 1/2-inch depth of oil over medium heat.  Cut the tofu into 4 pieces, about 3/4-inch thick; pat the tofu dry.  Put the flour in a bowl and dredge the tofu in the flour, turning to coat completely.  Shake off any excess flour.  When the oil is hot, add the tofu and fry over medium heat, turning the tofu over carefully when the bottom is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.  Cook the second side until it is also golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.  (If you’re ambitious, you can carefully stand the tofu up in the oil, holding it with tongs, to brown the sides.)  Drain the tofu on paper towels and season with salt.

Put a mound of sauteed cabbage in a soup bowl.  Put a piece of tofu on top of the cabbage.  Pour a ladleful or two of broth around the tofu until it covers the cabbage.  Mince the herbs and sprinkle over the tofu and broth.  Garnish the tofu with toasted quinoa, if desired.  Serve immediately.

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This is barely a recipe, just a celebration of the magical combination that is white beans and sage.  (And garlic, of course.)

While this dish will certainly be better with dried beans that you soak and cook yourself, canned beans will do in a pinch (just drain and rinse them thoroughly).  Cannellini, great northern beans or any other kind of white bean will do.

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • handful of fresh sage leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 c cooked white beans
  • 1/4 c bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Heat a cast-iron skillet or stovetop-safe, broiler-safe gratin dish over medium heat.  Add the butter, olive oil, sage, garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet; cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the beans and stir to coat thoroughly with the butter and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together the bread crumbs and Parmigiano and sprinkle over the beans.

Place the gratin in the oven for about 15 minutes; the beans should be hot and the topping golden brown and crisp.  If the topping needs to be cooked longer, run the gratin under the broiler for 2-3 minutes.  Serve immediately.

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Orecchiette

Orecchiette are fun to make, even if they do give me flashbacks to kindergarten arts and crafts classes.  I never could cut with scissors in a straight line, I always got glue everywhere, and I made the most ridiculously lopsided Play-Doh snakes.  I still can’t make good Play-Doh snakes—or, in this case, orecchiette dough snakes, which is what you need to do to form the pasta—which is why this might be a good dish to enlist the help of a small child for.  You make the dough, they make the snakes.

Cutting the snakes into 1/4-inch pieces and then pressing the pieces with your thumb to form the “little ears”—that I can do.

So here it is:  A traditional, easy-to-make, eggless dough that might be the simplest way to get homemade pasta on the table.  It is often paired with broccoli rabe in Italy, and one could hardly do any better.  (Although, in the pictures below, I used some of everybody’s favorite new “it” vegetable, kale rabe.  Delicious.)  Please note that, while the pasta is very easy to make, there are two thirty-minute resting periods for the dough.  Plan ahead, and you can make the pasta at a nice, leisurely pace.

  • 1 1/4 c semolina

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 1/2 c of water and a generous pinch of salt.  With the mixer on low, pour the semolina in a steady stream into the water.  After a few minutes of mixing, the flour-water mixture will come together as a dough.  Either switch to the dough hook and use it to knead the dough for a few minutes, or knead it by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Cut the dough into 5 equal pieces and cover with a clean dishtowel.  Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

With your hands, roll each piece of dough into a “Play-Doh snake”, about 3/4-inch thick.  Cut the snake into 1/4-inch lengths.  Press each piece of dough flat with your thumb, leaving a nice thumbprint and forming a “little ear”.

Repeat with the remaining “snakes” to form the rest of the orecchiette.  Allow the pasta to rest for 30 more minutes before cooking.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water, add the orecchiette and cook for about 5 minutes, until all of the orecchiette rise to the surface and are al dente.  Toss with sauteed kale rabe, tomato sauce or any pasta sauce of your choice.

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The more I learn about Spain, the more I’m struck by two themes that seem to run concurrently through its cuisine:  The first is the idea that food can and should be built from the humblest of ingredients.  Spain, after all, has historically been one of the poorer nations of Europe; this poverty led to frugality and making the utmost use of every scrap of food.  Ajo blanco (literally, “white garlic”) is a classic example of such thrift:  a filling, nourishing soup made out of garlic, oil, vinegar, stale bread, almonds and water.

The second trend in Spanish cuisine, however, seems to carom away at oblique angles from these peasant roots.  Contemporary Spanish chefs seem to thrive on contrast, on unexpected twists, on tweaking simple rustic food to make it urbane, postmodern, jarring, surreal.  (I’ve noticed that food writers can’t resist calling the work of Ferran Adrià and his fellow culinary explorers “Dali-esque“.)   Juxtaposing sweet and savory ingredients?  Topping foods with gelées, foams, dehydrated powders?  Cooking with liquid nitrogen and sous-vide poachers?  The avant-garde of contemporary cooking is in Spain.

This recipe is a perfectly simple, rustic soup which can easily and quickly be transformed into a sophisticated, urbane, even pretentious dish if one gets carried away—all without the use of liquid nitrogen or soy lecithin.  The basic ajo blanco is wonderful straight up in a soup bowl or a glass, but with a few simple garnishes, it can be dressed up for the fanciest of company.  I garnished a bowl with halved grapes, toasted red quinoa (since I happened to have some on hand) and thyme flowers (since the thyme plant outside was blooming).  This was pretty as a painting and fantastic-tasting to boot, but since I wasn’t willing to leave well enough alone, I decided to go for baroque:  I made a second bowl with all of the above garnishes plus a scoop of… (wait for it)… pistachio gelato.

“Ice cream in soup?” I hear you cry.  “Ice cream with garlic??”  Yes, and yes.  The almonds are the pivot, the hinge around which the dish turns.  It connects the sweetness of the grapes and the ice cream to the savoriness of the garlic and the olive oil.  In other words, it just tastes good.  Serve ajo blanco with pistachio gelato as a first course to your guests and they’ll think you’re a mad genius.

Well, mad at least, anyway.

This recipe is based on ones in The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen and Tapas:  A Taste of Spain in America by José Andrés.  Please note that the almonds need to soak overnight, so plan ahead.  (I’m not sure if this soaking step is strictly necessary; if you have any luck with skipping it, please let me know!)

  • 1 c blanched slivered almonds, covered with water and soaked overnight in the refrigerator
  • 2 c stale bread cubes, crust removed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/2 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/3 c olive oil

Drain the almonds, reserving the soaking water.  Grind the almonds as finely as possible in a food processor.  Set aside.

Put the bread cubes in a bowl and add the almond-soaking water; add additional water to cover, then soak the bread for 5 to 10 minutes.

Roughly chop the garlic and pound with a mortar-and-pestle and a pinch of salt.  Pound the garlic until it becomes a smooth purée.  Set aside.

Drain the bread, discarding the soaking water, and squeeze it as dry as possible.  Add the almonds, bread, garlic, sherry vinegar and 1 c of water to a blender.  Process over low speed, scraping the sides with a spatula occasionally, until you end up with a broken mess like this:

Add another 1/2 c of water and blend on high speed, scraping the sides as needed.  You should end up with a perfectly smooth mixture with the consistency of a thin vanilla milkshake.

With the blender on high, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.  It should be incorporated completely into the soup.  Taste the soup and add additional salt (or oil or vinegar) if necessary.

If you are so inclined, you can strain the soup through some cheesecloth to render it completely silky and smooth.  I don’t happen to have any cheesecloth, and the soup is fine without the straining, if a little coarser than you might prefer.

Serve with a drizzle of the best olive oil you have and any garnishes that you like, including:

  • fresh figs cut into quarters
  • green or red grapes
  • salted roasted Marcona almonds
  • edible flowers
  • herbs
  • toasted quinoa
  • gelato or sorbet

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Ginger “Tea”

I love thinking about the vagaries of the English language, how it occasionally has gaps in it, leaving us unable to express seemingly uncomplicated concepts with ease and eloquence.  For example, how do you address a complete (male) stranger on the street?  Should you call him “Sir”?  How about “Mister”?  “Bub”?  “Jack”?  The first choice sounds obsequious, the second one childish, the last two best reserved for starting a brawl at your local sports bar or soccer pitch.

Or, to take another way that English makes our lives needlessly complicated, why do our third person pronominal and adjectival forms insist upon gender distinctions?  (I love—love—writing sentences like that.)  Take a sentence like this:  “Everybody should share The Militant Carnivore Cooks For His Vegetarian Wife with his friends.”  His friends?  How glaringly sexist.  How about “his/her” friends?  Wait, I think I saw that in Webster’s under “cumbersome” and “awkward”.

I’ll state it here in print: Within my lifetime, the use of the plural form “their” to refer to a singular indefinite antecedent (as in “A Militant Carnivore should keep their blog focused on cooking, not grammar”) will be accepted standard English.

So it is with ginger “tea”.  (Thank God, I hear you say, we’ve left the grammar behind and are back to the cooking.)   This ginger “tea” does not contain any part of the Camellia sinensis plant and so is technically not “tea” at all.  What to call it then?  A “tisane”?  An “infusion”?  Malarkey, I say.  Why does English have no word that doesn’t sound ridiculous to describe a perfectly simple and absolutely delicious beverage?

Fortunately, each of my readers may choose what to call *their* hot ginger beverage.  (See?  It’s going to catch on.  You heard it here first.)  Whatever you call it, it’s just what you need during flu, cold-and-flu, allergy, or cold-flu-and-allergy season.  Or if you happen to really like ginger.

  • 1 large piece of ginger
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 1/4 c honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced

Place 4 c of water in a saucepan over high heat.  Peel the ginger as well as you can (don’t sweat it too much if you don’t get all the peel off), then cut it into 1/4-inch thick slices.  Add the ginger slices and the peppercorns to the water.  Once the water comes to a boil, adjust the heat so it maintains a leisurely boil for about 15 minutes.

Stir in the honey, then add the lemon slices.  Cook for 1 minute, then ladle the “tea” through a strainer into a mug.  (If you’re not serving all of the “tea” at once, let the ginger, peppercorns and lemon continue to steep; you can add more hot water and honey as needed.)  Serve hot.

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This bracingly sweet-and-sour(-and-bitter) dish is adapted from a recipe in Seven Fires by the Argentine chef, Francis Mallmann.  (Again, many thanks to Outlier One for giving me this book!)  Being Argentine, Mr. Mallmann likes to prepare this dish outside on a cast iron griddle over a live fire.  Despite my recent encomium to the joys of cast iron, I found that a regular stainless steel-aluminum skillet works better for this dish in the kitchen:  Cast iron is so dark that you can’t see how the caramel is developing.

The vinegary caramel sauce is intense, so use large endives for this recipe to get the proper vegetable-to-sauce ratio.  These endives would make a fantastic side dish to a thick grilled pork chop, or any other food whose richness would be nicely offset by their bitterness and acidity.

  • 6 Belgian endives
  • 1/4 c sherry vinegar
  • 1/3 c turbinado sugar, or white sugar

Wash the endives.  Trim off the root ends, then cut in half lengthwise.  Place the endives in a large bowl and toss with the sherry vinegar and 1/4 c water.

Place a large skillet over medium heat.  When the skillet is hot, add the sugar in an even layer across the bottom of the skillet.  The sugar will start to melt almost instantly.  When it is completely melted, remove the endives from the vinegar (reserving the vinegar) and place cut side down on the skillet.

Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the caramel from burning.  Flip the endives over.  Pour the vinegar around the endives and stir it into the caramel.

Cook for about 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally to glaze the endives.  Transfer the endives to a plate.  Spoon the caramel-vinegar sauce over and around them.  Serve.

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On the list of phrases that I never thought I’d write, “stinging nettle and red quinoa cannelloni” must be near the top.  But hey, when life gives you stinging nettles, you make… cannelloni?

Yes, you do.  But first, take care not to touch the nettles:  They do, in fact, sting.  A little Internet research reveals a variety of opinions on how long the nettles must be cooked to render their stinging hairs harmless, but all seem to agree that when the leaves are soggy and thoroughly wilted, they’re ready.  A few minutes in boiling salted water got the nettles to this state for me, but I continued to cook them for a full ten minutes, just to be on the safe side.

A whole bunch of nettles only yielded about 3/4 c of cooked greens, so I decided to combine them with some red quinoa for a cannelloni filling.  While I don’t think I could blind taste the difference between red quinoa and regular, the red quinoa looks fantastic, especially against the deep green of the nettles.

As for making the cannelloni, it’s very similar to making lasagna or any other baked pasta dish:  You need noodles (or, in this case, crêpes), bechamel sauce, filling and topping.  A lot of this work (preparing the nettles, cooking the quinoa, making the bechamel sauce) can be done in advance, so the preparation time really depends upon making the crepes and assembling the cannelloni.  More good news:  You can assemble the cannelloni and then refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook them.  This makes cannelloni a great make-ahead dish for, say, a holiday meal when you want to have a meatless entree for your Lovely Vegetarian Wife.  (Cannelloni with a mushroom-sage filling are one of my standards for Thanksgiving; this version with nettles is a very springtime dish, perfect for an Easter dinner.)

Savory Crêpe Batter (yields about six 9-inch crêpes):

  • 1/2 c flour
  • 3/4 c milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T olive oil

Cannelloni:

  • 1 recipe of Savory Crêpe Batter (to make about 6 crêpes)
  • 1 recipe (about 2 c) of bechamel sauce
  • 1 bag of stinging nettles
  • 1 c cooked quinoa
  • 1 T (or more, as needed) butter
  • 1 T (or more, as needed) olive oil
  • 1/4 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 c bread crumbs

Combine all of the Savory Crêpe Batter ingredients in a blender with a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper.  Blend until well combined; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the béchamel and quinoa.  You can make these well in advance and refrigerate until needed.

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Wearing gloves, wash the nettles.  Use kitchen shears to trim off any damaged or woody parts.  Salt the boiling water and add the nettles.  Cook at a rolling boil for about 10 minutes.  Drain thoroughly, and squeeze all of the liquid out of the nettles.  Set aside.

Heat a flat cast-iron skillet over medium-heat.  Add a pat of butter and a little olive oil to coat.  Ladle on 1/4 c of crêpe batter; swirl the skillet to distribute the batter in one thin layer.  Cook for about a minute until golden-brown on the bottom.  Flip the crepe and cook for 15 seconds on the second side.

Remove to a plate.  Repeat process with remaining crêpes; you should get about six crêpes, but a few more or less is fine.  (And don’t worry if they don’t look perfect:  Mine never do, and you’re going to cover them with béchamel and cheese anyway.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a broiler-safe gratin dish.  Roughly chop the nettles and stir to combine thoroughly with the quinoa; add salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon about 1/4 c of nettle-quinoa filling on one of the crêpes.

Roll it up, then place the crêpe crosswise in the gratin dish, seam side down.

Repeat with the remaining crêpes until the gratin dish is filled with crêpes in one layer.

Spoon the béchamel over the crêpes.  Combine the Parmigiano and the bread crumbs in a bowl, then sprinkle liberally over the gratin.

Drizzle with a little olive oil, then place in the oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until the béchamel is bubbling.  If the top needs to be browned, run it under the broiler for a minute or two, taking care not to burn the bread crumbs.  Let the gratin rest for about five minutes, then serve.

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