Vegetables


from Riverford Farm: Recipes for Everyday and Sunday, p.

A box of vegetables from Riverford Farm in Devon arrives every week at my home-away-from home in London. In the US, we would call RF a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) company, in other words, a service that delivers organic produce to the homes of subscribers. The smaller scale of the United Kingdom allows Riverford to scale its operations closer to a nationwide enterprise than CSAs can do in the States. At least, people in southwestern, northern and midlands England are within a Riverford Farm’s range (as far as I can tell, only Kent in England is out of luck). The box that arrives with seasonal produce also includes attractively-printed, hole-punched recipes that subscribers can compile over time. After I tried a number of them when I had a chance to cook for myself in London, I knew I wanted their collection of recipes when it came out. The recipes are not particularly fussy, on the homey side, and substantial.

Imagine my pleasure when a copy of the newly published book arrived as a birthday gift not long ago. I dove right into the contents. Numerous dishes jumped right into my line of sight: Cabbage, Bacon, and Potatoes; Sausage Stew with Celeriac and Kale; Roast Saffron Potatoes with Almonds and Bay; Lamb Cooked in Milk and Fennel; Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Almond Pesto.

One drawback to the book, which is common among cookbook writers who stress seasonal ingredients in their cooking is that Riverford Farm has organized their recipes according to month. Nigel Slater’s wonderful Kitchen Diaries is similarly organized. There is no question that I tend to look through cookbooks in line with the season, but more often the gardener in me wants to thumb a book according to what I have on hand to eat from my garden. After all, seasonal produce here in northern California doesn’t match seasonal produce elsewhere in the U.S. much less in the UK. It seems short-sighted to assume one climate among a cookbook’s readership. But that’s a small cavil.

This recipe for spiced cauliflower was the first recipe I made from the book. Lately, all I desire for dinner is one simple dish and a glass or two of wine. The spices in this recipe gave me an opportunity to use another birthday gift, a brilliantly designed spice grinder that has quickly become an essential tool in my kitchen. The flavor of freshly ground spices surpasses spices already ground when you buy them. I’d never seen a spice mill like this one before a friend gave it to me. It’s made by Kuhn Rikon and available at Sur La Table for about $20. I’ve used it for all sorts of spices. My cooking friends don’t know yet that this Rachet Mill, as it’s called, is in their future. I like supporting companies that offer competition to Williams-Sonoma. Sur La Table may have stores all over the west coast, but I understand it still struggle for survival.

If I had had the energy to make basmati rice to eat with the cauliflower, I would have done so.

Serves 4-6

Shadowcook: HA! Sorry, I can down an entire medium-sized cauliflower. You can, too, no doubt.

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

15g (1/2 oz) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Shadowcook: If you buy one of the rachet mills I provided a link to above, then use whole seeds and grind right into the butter in the pan.

Pinch of turmeric

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2cm (1/2 sq inch) piece fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 cauliflower, cut into florets

1 teaspoon caster (superfine, baker’s) sugar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

Heat the oil and butter in a pan large enough to hold the cauliflower in one layer. Add the spices, onion, garlic, and ginger to the pan. When the mustard seeds start to pop quickly add the cauliflower, stirring vigorously. Add the sugar, season well, cover and reduce the heat. Leave for 10 minutes on a gentle simmer. Cover, and check the cauliflower is tender. Stir again, cover, and remove from the heat and leave to finish cooking for 10 minutes in its own steam.

Shadowcook: Don’t overdo the sugar. And you’ll be surprised at the liquid generated by the ingredients. Just watch to make sure the spices don’t burn.

Here’s another pasta and potato dish that suits the summer. No claims to originality here. This combination of ingredients can be found, I’m sure, in many other recipes. But, then again, how many combinations of basic refrigerator staples can there be? I open the door of the fridge, see a cauliflower that demands to be consumed before it grows mold, some pancetta or guanciale in the same condition, and a few fingerling pototoes in the straw larder. My options are limited, but fortunately I love the effect of combining these elements.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut either a small whole cauliflower or half a medium-sized one into florets. Then halve or quarter them. Put the cauliflower pieces in a bowl. Pour in a slug of olive oil and stir to coat the pieces. Add salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the cauliflower around the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the pieces. Put in oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cauliflower turn brown and caramelized.

2. Put on a pot of well-salted water to boil. Measure 3 1/2 oz of orecchiette pasta and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, mince a big clove of garlic. Dice 1 or 2 oz pancetta, a strip of bacon, or guanciale. Cut into small cubes about 4 fingerling potatoes. Scrap the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside.

4. Sauté the garlic in a bit of oil in a medium sized skillet. Add the pancetta or bacon and stir so that the garlic doesn’t turn golden. After a few minutes, add the potato cubes and corn and continue sauteing.

5. When the cauliflower is done, scrap the pieces off the foil into the skillet.

6. Add 3 1/2 oz. orecchiette to the boiling water and cook for the recommended time minus 2 minutes. Scoop out the pasta with a slotted spoon or spider and dump the wet pasta right into the skillet. Turn up the flame. Add a touch of pasta water (not too much) — just to provide moisture to keep the pasta cooking. Attend closely, let the water evaporate, season as necessary.

7. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and cut 1 oz parmesan cheese to have it ready to grate at the end.

8. When the pasta has reached the degree of firmness you like and the water has almost entirely evaporated, tip the contents of the skillet into a pasta bowl, scatter parsley over it, and grate the cheese.

9. Eat.

10. Savor.

from Saveur, #110.

In most respects, I’m not squeamish. It’s true I might duck the opportunity to witness the slaughtering of an animal, but I’d be there soon after to watch the butchering. But ever since I read years ago a study of the contents of your typical can of tomato paste, I have reluctantly used it. “Fly larvae” is all I’ll say. Hence, the appeal of this recipe in Saveur a while back. Seemed very straightforward. And so it is.

The Amish Paste plum tomato plants in my garden are performing wonderfully. What a tomato! Where has it been all my life? Forget San Marzano, Roma, and the others. This baby beats them all for meat and flavor.

The one drawback of this recipe is the ratio of tomato to paste. It takes one pound of good, meaty tomatoes to render two tablespoons of paste. If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, I figure it’s worth it. At the end of the long, slow bake, the paste tastes like candy. It was tempting to stand at the counter and eat it with a spoon, the paste was so sweet and tasty. But I didn’t and you shouldn’t. Do what I did and freeze it in 2-tablespoon amounts.

First of all, you have to make it…

5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

A food mill

1. Heat oven to 300. Roughly chop tomatoes. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a 12″ skillet over high heat. Add tomatoes and season lightly with salt; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until very soft, about 8 minutes.

Shadowcook: If you don’t have a food mill, you’re only choice is to blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and removing the skins before you chop them. Then you can put them through the food processor in batches after  this step. But it’s good to have a food mill.

2. Pass the tomatoes through the finest plate of a food mill, pushing as much of the pulp through the sieve as possible, leaving the seeds behind.

3. Rub a rimmed 13″ X 18″ baking sheet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; spread tomato puree evenly over sheet. Bake, using a spatula to turn the purée over on itself occasionally, until most of the water evaporates and the surface darkens, about 3 hours. Reduce heat to 250, cook until thick and brick colored, 20-25 minutes.

Shadowcook: The tomatoes became scorched in spots for reasons that were not clear to me. I recommend keeping an eye on the tomatoes and turning the pan around in the oven once or twice over the 3 hours. Actually, I liked the flavor of the char in the paste at the end. I let it roast for only 2 1/2 hours before turning it down. The paste was very caramelized by that point. The aluminum foil I lined the pan with was not just useless but also a pain in the ass to remove afterward.

4. Store sealed in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month, or freeze, wrapped well in plastic wrap, for up to 6 months.

Shadowcook: As you can see, I measured out 2 tablespoons on sheets of plastic wrap, folded them into packets and then put them all in one small ziplock plastic bag.

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travel in the Other China, p. 86.

I have owned this fabulous cookbook less than a week and already several pages, including this one, is bespattered and wrinkled.  As I went through the book page by page in the bookstore, I stopped counting when I reached the tenth recipe I knew I would make if I owned it. That’s my minimum. (On the same visit to the bookstore, I had the same experience with David Chang’s Momofuku, but that’s another post.) The day I brought the book home I made two salads, this Mongolian one and the Cucumbers in Black Rice Vinegar from Xinjiang (I have NO idea where that is). I have the summer ahead of me to delve more deeply. In the meantime, this is a salad that will suit the summer heat.

I learned one great trick from this recipe:

  • Pouring boiling water over the shredded cabbage in a bowl, waiting a minute or two, and then draining it keeps the color of the cabbage bright and the leaves still a little crunchy.

The recipe needs practically no emending:

1 small or 1/2 medium-large red onion (1/4 pound)

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

2 cups shredded Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise into thin slivers

2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil, or to taste

Shadowcook: Frankly, since most of us chop up a whole head of cabbage, I’d make it 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon rice vinegar, or to taste

About 1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves.

Slice the onion lengthwise into quarters, then very thinly slice each quarter lengthwise. You should have about 1 cup. place in a sieve, add 1 teaspoon of the salt, and toss well. Set over a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes to drain.

Meanwhile, place the cabbage in a bowl and pour over boiling water to cover (about 4 cups). Let stand for a minute or two, then drain in a colander. Place back in the bowl and set aside.

Rinse the onion with cold water, then squeeze dry and add to the cabbage. Set aside.

Heat the 2 teaspoons sesame oil in a small wok for small skillet over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add the vinegar, and once it bubbles, pour the mixture over the salad. Toss to blend, then add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and toss again. The salad can be served immediately or left to stand for up to an hour so flavors can blend.

Just before serving, taste and add a little more sesame oil if you want to bring that flavor forward, as well as more salt if you wish. Add the coriander leaves and toss.

 

From The Observer/Guardian, September 10, 2010.

It’s a good day when a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe fits within my Weight Watchers diet. Ottolenghi comes up with ideas that work better on paper than in the pan. This one is a keeper. In this spice fantasy of his, he takes summer (corn) and winter (squash) on a vacation to Southeast Asia. The directions are straightforward. The ingredients are not as outré as you might first think. Yotam offers good substitutions, if you can’t come up with lime leaves, like I can.

A bit of chopping but otherwise easy…

Serves 6

Amount per serving: 1 and a half cups

Weight Watchers points per serving: 5

Calories per serving: 350

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots (100g), peeled and chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

3 celery sticks, cut into 1 cm [1/4 inch] dice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

400g [14 oz] peeled pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 1 cm [1/4 inch] dice

2 bay leaves

3 lime leaves, or a few shaved strips of lime zest

1 liter [4.2 cups] water

1 chipotle chilli, soaks in boiling water for 15 minutes

Shadowcook: Or, if you can’t find dried chipotles, buy a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, rinse off the sauce, and chop. The more seeds you remove, the less heat you’ll taste in the soup.

4 sweetcorn cobs, kernels shaved off

160g [about half a cup] soured cream [that’s sour cream]

3 limes, halved

1 handful torn coriander [cilantro] leaves

Salt

Heat the oil in a medium pot, add the shallots, garlic, celery, ground cumin, ground coriander and a little salt, and sauté on low heat for 12 minutes, to soften the vegetables.

Add the pumpkin (or squash), bay leaves, lime leaves (or zest), and water. Squeeze the water of out of the chipotle chilli, remove and discard the seeds, chop roughly and add to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. Add the corn and cook for five minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to lift out about half of the vegetables, and removed and discard the bay and lime leaves. Blitz the remaining soup until smooth, then return to the vegetables to the pot and bring to a light simmer. Add a little water if you find it too thick. Stir in half the soured cream and taste for seasoning.

Shadowcook: I used my blender. A food processor works just as well.

Divide the soup into six bowls, squeeze the juice of half a lime into each portion, drop about a tablespoonful of soured cream in the middle and scatter over the torn coriander leaves.

Shadowcook: Or, for all you singletons, freeze in 4 or 5 small containers all but a cup and a half. A bowl of this soup in winter will remind you of August.

A couple of month ago, I decided to drop twenty pounds by New Year’s Day. As the first step on the road to Slimmerdom, I eliminated alcohol from my diet. That was hard until, suddenly, I got over it. Then in August, I realized that I had to return to the only method that has ever resulted in my losing weight: Weight Watchers. As the Sex and the City character Samantha says, overhearing two women in a bookstore talking about diets, in one episode, “It’s the only thing that works.” It’s true. If you follow WW’s program, you will lose weight. The genius of WW is its simplicity. Simplicity is also what makes it hard. It’s all about repackaging calories in a user-friendly form. You have to have a little bit of the control-freak in you to do it, since you weigh and measure everything you eat. In Spring 2004, I followed the WW regime for about 8 months, and by 2005 I had lost thirty pounds. Since then, my weight has slowly crept back to its starting point. It took a while, but I finally worked myself up to the decision to try WW again. And I’m glad to say that it’s working. Ten pounds down, fifteen to go. And then I’ll lose a last five pounds in a victory lap.

However, I am pissed off. Even though I am in my fifties, when metabolisms are notoriously slower, I am not ready to entirely relinquish my appetites. I like to cook and to eat in reasonable quantity and frequency. It’s the unfairness of life that gnaws at my innards. Some of my friends who are of a similar age eat like birds — or less. Others eat whatever they want and don’t gain weight. They all annoy me. I like to eat. But I am one of those people who will always have to be hungry in order to keep my weight down.

That, as I said, is life. I have to deal with it. The challenge in restraining myself for the next few months to only 1200-1300 calories worth of food a day lies in making it interesting. I don’t want to eat only steamed vegetables. Fortunately, in the five years since I was last on WW the recipe database has greatly improved. It still is by no means a Foodies’ paradise, but one can now make do very well and adapt the recipes to make them more flavorful without adding many calories. Whats more, there’s an iPhone app for WW! When I learned that, I thought all is well with the world.

The photo shows one green pepper cut in half and stuffed. That counts as two servings, if you’re eating anything else in the meal:

2 servings

350 calories or 7 points per serving

about pound of greens (Swiss chard, kale, spinach, or a combination of all three2 green bell peppers)

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 oz pine nuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup Israeli couscous

1 ounce hard cheese (Comté, Gruyère, any hard cheese conducive to melting)

Preheat oven to 350.

Clean and stem the greens. Shake the greens of water, but don’t dry the leaves completely. Roughly chop. Set aside.

Chop the half onion. Set aside.

Cut the pepper in half, seed and take out the ribs. Place cavity-side up in a very lightly oiled small baking dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet wide enough to accommodate the chopped greens. Add onion and sauté for a few minutes. When the onions are translucent, add the damp greens. Stir to coat with the olive oil and onion. Let the greens throw off their water and wilt. If you want to experiment at this point by adding spices to the greens (a pinch of nutmeg?), do so now.

Meanwhile, place a small saucepan of water on to boil. When the water is boiling, add the half cup of Israeli couscous and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and add to the wilted greens in the skillet. Stir to combine. Add the pine nuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill the pepper halves with the greens-Israeli couscous filling. Don’t pack it, but you can mound it. You’ll probably have leftover filling. Grate the one ounce hard cheese and sprinkle it over the pepper halves.

Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variations:

  • If you to add protein and have room for more calories, consider adding a few anchovies to the onions as they sauté.
  • Or skip the Israel couscous, beat an egg and mix it into the sauteed greens after cooling them. The egg will work as a binder.
  • Add a lttle lowfat ricotta to the cooled sauteed greens.

Wondering what to do with all those preserved lemons you either made or were given at the holidays? Are they taking up room on your counter or refrigerator door? Worry no more. For once, Ottolenghi has devised a recipe that works on the first go without tweaking. His talent for combining flavors that sing in unusual harmony is better known in London where he lives and works than in the U.S.  He deserves a lot more attention. This recipe is a freebie. You can find it here on the Guardian website. You’ll see a lovely photo of the completed dish. I’m supplying it here because I made it with the very first eggplants I ever grew and realized afterward that it was a fitting use of them. Over a couple of days, I made the recipe without the bulgar salad. The eggplant taste great just on their own. In the photo, you’ll see that I baked the eggplant and ate it with the remaining spices, olives, and yoghurt. I highly recommend this recipe.

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons coriander

1 teaspoon chilli flakes [his spelling, not mine!]

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon skin

140 ml [about 4 oz or 1/4 cup] olive oil, plus extra to finish

salt

2 medium aubergines [eggplants]

150g [5 1/2 oz] fine bulgar

50g [a scant 2 oz] sultanas [golden raisins]

10g [about a tablespoon but I’d add a bit more] fresh coriander [cilantro], chopped, plus extra to finish

10g [about a tablespoon but I’d add a bit more] fresh mint, chopped

50g [5 1/2 oz] green olives, halved

30g [2 tablespoons] flaked almond, toasted

3 spring onions, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

120g [4 oz or 1/4 cup] Greek yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/ gas mark 4. To make the chermoula, mix together the garlic, cumin, coriander, chilli, paprika, preserved lemon, two-thirds of the olive oil and half a teaspoon of salt.

Cut the aubergines in half lengthways and score the flesh of each half with diagonal, crisscross lines, making sure not to pierce the skin. Spoon the chermoula over each half, spreading it evenly, and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, or until the aubergines are very soft.

[Shadowcook: My eggplants are long and thin, so they took only 30 mins to bake thoroughly. Keep an eye on them.]

Meanwhile, place the bulgar in a large bowl and cover with 140 ml [1/4 cup] boiling water. Soak the sultanas in 50 ml [2 tablespoons] of warm water for 10 minutes, then drain and add to the bulgar, along with the remaining oil. Stir in the herbs, olives, almonds, spring onions, lemon juice and salt, taste and add more salt, if necessary.

Serve the aubergines warm or at room temperature. Place one half-aubergine per portion on a serving plate, spoon bulgar on top, allowing some to fall over the sides, spoon over a little yoghurt, sprinkle with chopped coriander and finish with a dribble of olive oil.

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