Spaghetti with olive oil and anchovies

If you purchase good anchovies in a jar, you will have a very good pantry ingredient.  Lasts in your refrigerator for longer than you will remember.  With a jar in your refrigerator, you are not more than 20 minutes from eating a very delicious, deceptively simple bowl of pasta.  And before you read it and think: “meh,” I am here to attest that the sum turns out to be much greater than its parts.  The parts are: good olive oil, lots of garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes and if ya got ’em, walnuts.  And spaghetti or linguine.

Ingredients (for two people)  (Psst you will need to eat this with someone who already loves you, since you will both end up with garlic/anchovy breath.  Your cat will find you very interesting.)  Here goes:

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 c extra virgin olive oil

good pinch red pepper flakes

3 anchovies, with their oil, from a jar

parsley, minced

walnuts, 1/3 c. toasted

Directions:

  1. Put up a large pot of water to boil for the spaghetti. When it comes to a boil, add a good amount of kosher salt.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and toast the walnuts for about 8 minutes, until they give off a nice aroma. Set aside to cool, and later break up into smaller pieces.
  3. Mince garlic.  Heat olive oil gently in small sauté pan, and add garlic and red pepper flakes. image
  4. Heat gently, stirring, adding anchovies.  Do not let garlic get too dark or burnt.  Add salt and pepper, walnuts and parsley.  Set aside.
  5. Cook spaghetti.  When almost done, warm olive oil mixture.
  6. Drain pasta, reserving a ladle or two of cooking water.
  7. Dump drained spaghetti into pan, turning off heat, and toss to coat.  You can add more olive oil if it seems to dry, or for fewer calories (though less flavor), you can add some of the reserved pasta water.

VARIATION:

Steam a good couple handfuls of spinach with salt.  Add to oil/walnut mixture (omit parsley) and stir around.

Winter vegetables

You may at this point be wondering if you’re ever going to get vegetables back in your diet, since the green vegetables shipped from California look not so good for the travel and/or questioning nutritional value after a week or more out of the field.  I hear ya and am here to pique your interest in vegetables to see you through winter.

I frankly do not understand why people buy cucumbers in the dead of winter, or heaven forbid dreadful styrofoam tomatoes.  Me, I’m not looking to recreate deficient summer salads.  So I leave the summer produce alone — see you later zucchini! — and reacquaint myself with winter staples.

Carrots.  Braised with water and butter, and then lift the lid to let the water evaporate and then — voila! — you have cooked carrots with just a bit of butter.  Add some thyme or other fresh herb, even parsley or cumin. Splurge on organic; they’re not expensive.  Adds color to your dinner plate, and they’re delicious (and nutritious!).

Cabbage.  Cabbage need not be vile.  Just don’t boil it and you’ll be fine.  I like it sautéed with olive oil and oyster mushrooms and maybe some pancetta.  Just quarter head, cut out core, and cut into thin strips. Savoy is good for this.  Napa cabbage makes an excellent cole slaw, such as Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois Chicken Salad (sans chicken).

Parsnips.  Julienne them with carrots and roast in olive oil in a hot oven of about 400 degrees tossed in olive oil and thyme.  Fantastic side dish.

Broccoli rabe.  This bitter green survives the trek from CA well, and is just the thing for green leafy vegetables mid-winter.  (Contra swiss chard which is too delicate to not wilt one week out of the field.)  Braise it with garlic (natch!), olive oil and red pepper flakes and you have a very delicious and somewhat bitter green.  Add beans and/or sausage (andouille is what I like) and you have yourself a one-bowl dinner.

Escarole.  This green too survives the cross-country trek well.  It is also on the bitter side but not as strong as broccoli rabe.  It is a perfect foil for the fattiness of pork, as in pork tenderloin with prunes and escarole I made years ago.  Escarole does well braised with beans.

Potatoes.  Roasted.  Boiled.  In a gratin.  These are winter standbys.  And there are some good ones to be had, either a framer has them in storage or seek out some interesting varieties.  Or make soup.  It’s the easiest soup to make, and is a recommended starter soup to make as your first soup.  It is delicious, easy (you can simply use onions rather than leeks), and will build your confidence to trek further into soup-dom.

Sweet potatoes.  Yes, these are just fine scrubbed, poked, rubbed with oil and baked in a hot oven, and smothered in butter.  Even better is to roast them in wedges with olive oil and then some chipotle peppers near the end of the roasting time.  Or if you’re having a crowd, make my friend Deb’s sweet potato salad.

Winter squash.  I confess I am not a big fan of acorn, etc.  I find the texture too stringy and not welcoming, and the flavor, meh.  But I am fond of butternut squash.  Steam or roast wedges, and puree and stick into a quesadilla.  Or add maple syrup and butter and serve in a bowl.

Cauliflower.  A fine vegetable to eat in the winter, and shines in flavor when roasted.  If you’re feeding picking kids, put steamed cauliflower in a pan, dot with butter and lay on grated parmesan and heat until cheese is melted.  Adults like it too.  It makes a fine soup, either as the main ingredient, or as part of a vegetable soup.

Avocados.  These happily high-fat wonders have seem a resurgence (did they ever surge?) in popularity, carried on the shoulders by health afficienados.  They are good in guac.  Even simpler to cut up, sprinkle with lemon, and smush or place onto a piece of toast and call it breakfast.  And if you’re making a salad, they have a fine place there.  I like the bumpy ones from California, and avoid the smooth larger ones from Florida.

Celeriac.  If there is a farmer in your midst that stores, celeriac is a welcome relief.  A gnarly root crop related to turnip (at least taste-wise) it carries a cheery celery flavor too.  (Am not pausing to google to see if it is in fact what some refer to as “celery root.”  I don’t think it’s a common celery plant root.)  Grate it in your food processor or by hand (as I did when I –yet again — snapped off a crucial piece of plastic comprising the safety latch) along with a carrot or two and make celeriac remoulade.  (I prefer to grate it, and add wine vinegar to mayo.) I hear you can make a gratin with celeriac and potatoes.

And don’t despair.  Buy some citrus fruits, which are getting into their peak season now.  Have you tried a Cara Cara orange?  They will make you happy — sweet, juicy and very flavorful.  For dessert, try slicing them as follows: Cut in half from tip to tip.  Lay flat insides down on cutting board.  With blossom tips facing you east and west, cut the end, then make three thick slices and cut off other end.  Repeat on second half.  Serve on a plate for dessert.  I like mine room temp.

 

 

Beans!

It’s winter, and you’re probably indoors a lot if you live near me in the Northeast US/Upstate NY.  So why not cook up a batch o’ beans?  Because it’s hard? No.  Because it’s tricky?  Not that either.  Because I don’t know how.  Well, it’s easy, and I’m here to tell you how, and encourage you to follow my lead here.

I like beans for several reasons.  First, I don’t eat a lot of meat, and beans and greens, or beans and other things can make a dinner for me.  Happily.  I’m not talking a quinoa, brewers yeast, chia seed “feast.”  It’s not weird. But a bowl of beans and greens, heavy on the garlic (a major food group for moi) is delicious.  Truly.  In the cold dead of winter, some bitter bracing broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and then braised a little with stock and beans is restorative in the soul-nurturing sense.  Grated parmesan doesn’t hurt either.

Here are my favorite beans that I recommend cooking:

Cannellini, aka white kidney beans.  They should not be called “kidney” anything because they are head and shoulders more delicious than those nasty minerally red kidney beans that star (?) in chili.  Cannellini are all that’s best in a bean.  Meaty, dense, mild and delicious, and a pleasure to eat.  I confess I generally buy them canned, though they’re hard to find.  Westbrae and Eden organic brands are my preference.  The can is coated inside so the beans are not sitting against metal for eons.  But now that it’s winter I — right now! — have beans cooking on the stove.  Here’s how.  And then I will get to other beans.

Take one pound of dried cannellini beans — Goya is fine, that will set you back less than two bucks. imageAt night before bed, empty the bag into a large bowl in stages, looking through to pick out any beans that don’t look good to you — cracked, shrivelled, etc.  And if there are any stones or other stray matter, discard that.  (It’s a food product from the field; it can happen.)  There are usually a couple beans in a bag you’ll want to remove, and this whole process at night takes all of two minutes or less, so don’t get discouraged yet!  Fill the bowl of beans with water and drain into a colander.  Put beans back into the bowl and add twice as much cold water as beans, or more.  Cover with a plate (to keep out cats, etc) and go to bed.  The next morning after your coffee or whenever, drain your now-plumped beans into that colander, rinse and put into a large pot.  Cover with cold water 2-3 times the volume of beans.

Put pot on stove and turn heat to high.  Cover and set timer for 15 minutes.  If you feel like it, add bay leaf and some peppercorns (whole, not cracked).  After several minutes, you will find foam rises to the top.  Skim that off with a ladle into a small-ish bowl you have set near the sink.  Do it again later.

When water comes to a boil, remove cover, turn down heat to low, and set timer for 55 minutes.  What you will want is a gently simmering pot or no bubbles at all for the cooking time.

imageI have neglected my pot and come back to the kitchen and found a vigorously boiling pot and my beans broke up into pieces.  Bummer.  Don’t let that happen to you, by turning the pot down to low.  Then once in a while, come into the kitchen, turn your pot up to medium to get some heat in, and stir gently with a wooden spoon to dislodge any beans thinking of sticking to the bottom of the pan.  The beans will cook just fine at barely simmering or even no bubbles.  If you get more foam, skim it off.  These words are a more than the effort required to cook a pot of beans.  As I said, as long as you keep the flame low, you will do fine.  As a bonus, an hour of simmering water on your stove adds needed humidity to your heated home in winter.

When the beans are al dente, or not yet done — taste one — add some salt and stir.  Don’t add salt early or it does something chemically to the beans to prevent the starch from breaking down/beans from softening.  Or that’s what I hear.  If you forget to add salt, no worries.

I said set the time for 55 minutes, because a fresh batch o’ beans will probably take about 1 hour to cook up tender.  So start testing at 55 minutes, and then set the time for another 5 or 10 minutes, and repeat.  Don’t rush.

Drain your beans, saving some of the cooking liquid to store them in, in the refrigerator and/or freezer.  Frozen assets of the best kind!

I will address more varieties of beans in later posts, including lentils and split peas, which cook quickly and no soak needed!

Here are a couple recipes:

Beans and greens

Beans and greens, a variation

 

 

Stuffed mushrooms — appetizers for party!

There are a lot of stuffed mushrooms recipes out there, and they are rightly popular.  Similar to deviled eggs, they are always a welcome sight at parties.  They consist of sautéed chopped mushrooms stems (and extra caps, if you have them), breadcrumbs, garlic, parmesan, parsley, and I like sausage.  To bind everything, I successfully used cream cheese, and did not load up on bread crumbs.  I added an egg yolk, ’cause we were already down the high cholesterol road what with the sausage and cream cheese, might as well go whole hog.

Ingredients:

crimini mushrooms — 3- 10 oz packages, or thereabouts

italian sausage links — about 3 chubby ones, removed from casing, and CHOPPED

fresh thyme

bread crumbs — about 1/3 c

parmesan — about 1/4 c

garlic — 3-5 cloves, minced

olive oil

fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

cream cheese — about 4 oz (I prefer Philadelphia brand), full fat

1 egg yolk

Directions:

  1. Prepare mushrooms by rinsing, and divide stems from caps, trimming off bottoms of stems.  Keep stems separate from caps.  If you have some extra mushrooms, chop them too.
  2. Sauté sausage, perhaps in some olive oil, if needed.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Sauté mushrooms, fresh thyme sprigs, and garlic.  When done, remove thyme sprigs (which should have shed their leaves into the cooked mushrooms). Return sausage to pan, or put all into another bowl.
  4. Mix in: bread crumbs, parmesan, parsley, S&P, and about 1/2 large package cream cheese, and 1 egg yolk. (or save some parsley to sprinkle on top of cooked mushrooms after oven baking).
  5. Mix and refrigerate up to 1 day. Refrigerate caps separately.
  6. Before your party, remove mushrooms and filling to come to room temp.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  7. Place mushroom caps on baking sheet, perhaps with a bit of olive oil on the bottom and as you place caps on tray, rub a little olive oil onto what will now become their bottoms, (or toss them in bowl with a bit of olive oil) and place on baking tray.
  8. Stuff mushrooms with filling, and bake about 15 minutes or until they look done.  With this large quantity, I baked in two batches so that they could stay hot.

Just try to get them all to the serving dish! If your party is like mine, people will be standing waiting for them to be removed from the oven.

Let me know YOUR favorite stuffed mushroom technique!

 

 

 

Simply Delicious Tomato sauce for pasta

Remember how I said/wrote that simple cooking can be very delicious?  Or that delicious, nutritious home-cooking can be simple?  Either/any way, I’m here to tell you to make this tomato sauce the next time you don’t feel like cooking.  All it takes is a couple minutes in the kitchen — half of that is time spent with a can opener, and the other half cutting one onion in half.  That’s it.  Okay, peeling the onion too.  But put this in a pot on your stove, leave the kitchen and do something else for 35 minutes, and you will have a home-cooked meal you will be happy to call dinner.

This is an adaptation of Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter.

Ingredients:image

1 can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano — 28 oz

1 large onion, cut in half and peeled

3.8 oz butter (7-1/2 T)

Parmesan cheese, for topping a la table

Directions:

  1. Open can.  Put tomatoes into large-ish sauce pot (so that simmering sauce does not sputter over).  I like to tear up tomatoes (and frankly, discard core/blossom end that is hard) as you put them into pot.  Pour any juice from can into pot.
  2. Cut ends off onion, and cut in half.  I do it lengthwise.  (I might try width-wise next to see if it prevents the onion from falling apart and having to fish around for it to remove at end.) Put into pot with tomatoes.
  3. Weigh out or measure butter and put into pot with a couple pinches of salt (assuming your butter is unsalted as it always should be in my world).
  4. Turn heat on to medium, bring to a simmer, lower heat, and simmer gently for 45 minutes or until “fat floats free from the tomato.”  (Whatever that means!)image
  5. Put water into large pot for pasta.  Penne and spaghetti are good here. I like the penne rigate, with ridges to catch the sauce.
  6. Cook pasta at end of sauce-cooking time.  Drain and serve under reasonable amount of sauce.  Grate on cheese.

Enjoy! Manga! Basta pasta!

 

 

 

A New Years Day Buffet

I hosted a New Year’s Day open house at my little farm house. I have wanted to host a get-together for a while, but everyone else seems to lead busy, busy lives and getting people together is not easy.  But I figured: New Year’s Day is a day of leisure.  Some nurse hangovers.  Some browse seed catalogs planning this year’s garden.  Most are not scheduled.  So enter Louise’s little party.  I enjoyed contemplating the menu and rolling ideas around in my head at leisure for weeks preceding.  Turkey or ham?  What would go with turkey?  I was fortunate in being able to obtain a fine turkey from a locavore’s delight of a store in the name of The Berry Farm.  It was a big one — 16.6 pounds.  Here’s the thing about getting a good turkey: it’s delicious.  Before Thanksgiving 2015 I commiserated with my best bud chef Deb about roasting turkey.  We were in agreement that turkey is just an obligatory item for once a year on Thanksgiving and any other day it’s “no thanks.”  Not a fan.  Does not taste very good.  All that changed for me Thanksgiving 2015 when I had the good fortune to snag a Northwinds Farms turkey from The Berry Farm.  Both at Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I was asked by several people what my secret was for delicious turkey. Here it is:  buy a good turkey.  And for Columbia County people, that means The Berry Farm or perhaps directly from Northwinds Farms (in Tivoli, northern Dutchess County).  That’s the secret.  A well-fed, well tended bird yields a delicious roast bird.

I did not go over to the frazzled overworked side of preparing for my party, which is perhaps a first for me.  I planned to make more desserts but then ran out of time and contrary to my usual MO, I stopped. So I did not resent my guests for coming because I had done too much.  Everyone loved the food, I accepted the reality that my mushrooms were being snagged up out of the baking pan before I could get them on a platter and to the dining room.  And I think that good food made the party more jolly.  I was playing host so was in the kitchen a lot of the time, but I had good company.  I had a really nice time.  And that I had a part in creating community and fostering good cheer is especially cheering.  I may just make this my tradition hosting a New Year’s Day party! Here’s my menu:

 

Roast turkey (16+ #)

apple chutney

Sweet potato salad

Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois salad — napa cabbage and romaine in rice vinegar dressing w/ black sesame seeds (no chicken)

Celeriac remoulade, with grated carrots; chopped added parsley on top (mayo, honey, red wine vinegar, mustard, S&P)

Appetizers:

Stuffed mushrooms (served hot) — sausage stuffed cremini mushrooms (put into oven when turkey came out to rest)

shrimp, boiled and chilled.  (boil water with whole coriander seeds, white and black peppercorns, juice of one lemon (cut in half, squeeze and drop in rinds), and Old Bay seasoning). Peel shrimp up to last segment next to tail; rinse and de-vein, and then  poach/boil for 3 minutes.

cheese platter with assorted crackers (sliced baguette would also be nice).  I had Rocquefort, triple creme and Comté.

Union Square Café roasted nuts (variation w/ whipped egg whites in lieu of butter; cayenne and fresh rosemary)

Castelvetrano olives (found ’em at the supermarket!)

Dilly beans (pickled, hot green beans, served cold in dish with:) carrot sticks, fresh red pepper (and olives)

Jacuterie Fuet salami

Desserts:

Matcha mochi cake

fruit salad

simple almond cake

 

Greens and beans, variation

Greens and garlic are a very happy way to eat veggies, garlic being a major food group in my book.  Last night a variation on my more standard greens and beans:  escarole, andouille, onions and beans in chicken stock. It’s like eating chicken soup, but so much zestier. (If you have leftovers, add more stock the next day and heat up as soup.)

I cut up some Aidell’s andouille sausage (pre-cooked), sauteed an onion, celery with leaves (my new thing for sauté — as is the accent!), garlic, threw in the sausage and then escarole, S&P, and chicken stock.  Covered and stewed a bit, threw in White Northern beans (canned, drained and rinsed) to warm a bit.  Topped with grated cheese.  Voila!  Deliciouse!

For those who need a recipe:

Ingredients:

chicken stock — small container, defrosted and heated

1-1/2 links andouille sausage (I like Aidell’s), cut up

one head escarole.  Cut off stem, rinse and drain leaves (wet is fine), rough chop

1 medium onion

1 stalk celery and some inner leaves, cut up

garlic, couple cloves, minced (with germ removed)

grated Parmesan or comté

Directions:

  1. Thaw and heat a small container of chicken stock.
  2. Dice 1 medium onion.  Rinse and cut up 1 small stalk of celery with some leaves.  Chop a couple garlic cloves.  Cut up sausage. Cut bottom core off head of escarole, wash, drain and cut, leaving in strainer.
  3. Heat large covered sauté pan, add a few T olive oil.  Add onion, and then celery and sauté for 5 mins, adding garlic in at end, and then sausage.
  4. Add in escarole, S&P. image
  5. Toss and add chicken stock to wet everything, though less than soup-ish.  Cover and cook for about 10 mins, adding in beans about 5 mins in.image
  6. Scoop out into bowls, grating cheese on top.  Mmmm!