Thursday, June 16, 2011

Roasted Turnips with Wilted Turnip Greens

As any member knows, being part of a CSA can be a mixed blessing. Nary an asparagus spear, pod pea or apricot have we received yet, and spring is (already!?) almost over. But come Wednesday morning, we could barely close the fridge for the giant orbs that were spring onions, half a dozen stalks of fresh garlic, bags and bags of green things (basil, spinach, lettuce, arugula), and two giant bunches of tokyo turnips, with masses of greens attached. We got some strawberries and potatoes, too: all in all, a fairly random assortment of produce from which one might be hard pressed to create a meal.

Luckily, I had some bacon stashed away (from my carbonara escapades) in the freezer, and a bit of research revealed this simple recipe from a handsome blog(ger, Matt Wright of) WrightFood. A Brit living in Seattle, this recipe reminds me of something Nigel Slater or Jamie Oliver might whip up, just to defy those who think of British cooking (excuse me, cookery) as being stodgy.

Though I found many recipes for dairy-laden turnip gratins and fried turnip cakes (not that there is anything wrong with being dairy-laden, mind), it took a Brit to unveil the potential elegance of this often overlooked vegetable.

And it took Eatwell Farm to force me into looking for turnip recipes in the first place.

If the thought of these root vegetables makes you turn up your nose (I know, sorry), roasted turnips taste sweet and mild, with a creamy soft texture. The bitterness of the nutritious greens gets tempered by the sweet roots, a splash of lemon juice, and bits of salty bacon, making a light main course, or a unique side. If you're still not convinced, there's bacon in there, too.

But best of all, it makes a tasty way to put a dent in those random vegetables crowding the fridge. And make way for some asparagus.

Rooting Around:
Turnip and Spring Onion Potage
Oven Roasted Potatoes and Parsnips
Green Garlic and Chive Potato Cakes

One year ago:
(Gluten-Free) Chocolate Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

Roasted Turnips with Wilted Turnip Greens

Adapted from WrightFood

Makes 2 main-course (or 4 side-dish) servings

If you want to get fancy, use pancetta or guanciale in place of the bacon. And if you want to get completely bad ass, Matt will show you how to make your own guanciale. Most any soft herb would work in place of the chives: parsley, chervil or tarragon, for instance.

2 bunches small tokyo or salad turnips, with their greens (around 15 small turnips in all, weighing roughly 1 1/4 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking the greens
3 ounces (2 or 3 strips) bacon, diced
squeeze lemon juice
1/2 - 1 bunch chives, snipped
black pepper

Position a rack in the lower center of the oven and preheat to 450º.

Cut the greens off of the turnips and reserve. Wash the turnips and trim away the tail and stem ends. If your turnips are bigger than a ping pong ball, halve them; if they're much larger, cut them into quarters.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over a medium flame. Add the diced bacon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, a few minutes. Lift the bacon out of the pan leaving behind the fat.

Add the turnips to the pan, sprinkle with a few pinches of salt, and toss to coat them in the oil. Put the pan into the oven, and roast until caramelized and tender, about 30 minutes, turning the turnips a few times throughout the baking.

While the roots roast, wash the turnip greens well, and either cut each leaf off the stem, or use the lazy approach: stack a bunch of leaves on top of one another, and begin slicing the leaves into 1/2" ribbons until you get to the stemmy part, then discard. (If you cut off all the stems, have a beer, then stack and slice as directed.)

When the roots are done, remove them from the pan. Place the pan over a medium flame (don't forget - that pan handle is hot!) and swirl in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the sliced greens, and toss with tongs until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Season with a bit of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Add the turnips and bacon to the pan, then add the chives and a few good turns of black pepper. Adjust the seasoning as you wish, then serve.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Plow's Ricotta Pancakes

I spent my teenaged years at an LA high school which specialized in performing arts. Though some of my classmates already had agents, I dreamed of becoming a musical theater star, and dutifully attended audition after audition. At some point during my junior year, (and after failing to land any roles outside of the chorus) I smartened up and began taking art classes instead.

Mr. Osbaldeston was Hamilton High's art teacher, but everyone called him Mr. O. Though short in stature, he was not short on opinions, and gladly shared them with you, whether you asked or not.

Mr. O taught us how to frame a photograph, the difference between 'erotic' and 'pornographic' (eye contact, he said), and everything we ever wanted to know about modern art. We adored him.

One day, my friends and I took a trip down to Eagle Rock where Mr. O lived. I can't recall whether he knew we were coming or not, but I do remember the sour look on his wife's face when she saw our simpering, 18-year-old selves at the door. Mr. O gave us a tour of the house, beginning with the entryway which was decoed in all black and white. The living room was black and white with one red couch cushion, and the rooms progressively gained more and more color, culminating in the bedroom, which was done up, floor to ceiling, in what Mr. O informed us was not pink but fuchsia. 'Fuchsia is in the purple family,' he told us.

The purpose of our trip was to make Mr. O (and, reluctantly, his wife) breakfast. We brought potatoes to cook into homefries and a batch of blueberry pancake batter. Mr. O had a griddle built into his stove and as he heated it, I said that I'd thought griddles were old-fashioned and that nobody actually used them. Mr. O informed me that griddles were not only 'so now,' but they also cooked one's pancakes perfectly. Indeed, those were the handsomest pancakes I'd ever made. Even Mrs. O ate some.

I think of Mr. O every time I make pancakes. Though I love my cast iron skillets (well, actually, they're Jay's) for making just about anything, they are not the ideal shape for cooking pancakes, which unfailingly droop toward the center, and burn on the inside edge while remaining pale on the outer.

Though these pancakes may not be as picture perfect as Mr. O might like, I think he would overlook their appearance once he took a bite.

The recipe comes from Plow, a restaurant in my 'hood, Potrero Hill, that serves up exquisite breakfasts and lunches six days a week (closed Mondays). The owners, Joel and Maxine, also own a fabulous wine shop, Ruby, named for their precocious daughter, a block away. I've known the family since I worked at Farley's coffee shop six years ago, and am thrilled that their new business has proven a well-deserved instant success with a cult-like following. Plow is packed every weekday, and, come the weekend, boasts a line down the block.

Plow's decor is minimal - white, wood and metal - and every detail attended to, from the camellia blossoms iced tea to the white linen napkins. Mr O. would approve. The frequently-changing menu, which Mr. O would also approve of, manages to be both old-fashioned and 'so now,' with items such as a fried egg sandwich served with the crispiest potatoes ever, french toast with berries and mascarpone, and fluffy pillows of ricotta pancake love.

After a bite of said pancake, I was smitten. I had to have more. I emailed the owner, Maxine, who I've seen hard at work in Plow's busy kitchen every time I've been in, to ask if she would be willing to share the recipe. I waited to hear back (patiently!) for a week. Then another. Then I turned to the blogging goddess of all things yummy, Deb of Smitten Kitchen, and gave her ricotta pancakes recipe a whirl. These pancakes tasted similar to plow's, but I tweaked the flavorings a couple of times until I thought they were fairly close.

I ate a lot of ricotta pancakes that week.

Then one night just before bed I opened my laptop to see an email from Maxine with the much awaited recipe. I awoke the next morning wondering if I had dreamed it, but no, the recipe was there in my inbox.

Plow's recipe is similar to Deb's, but differs in that it contains vanilla, a generous amount of melted butter and more flour. I made Plow's pancakes right away, and noted that they are a bit more hefty and chewy, closer in texture to 'normal' pancakes than Deb's, which are a bit more light and delicate.

Both are excellent, so I've provided Plow's recipe below, with the butter-free variation following.

Mr. O, if you're out there, thank you for teaching me everything I know about photography. And if you (and your wife) are ever in San Francisco, please come by for pancakes. Maybe I'll even smarten up and get a griddle.

Pretty Pancakes:
Baked Pear and Cardamom Pancake
Buckwheat Crepes, with Figs and Honey
Sourdough Apple-Cheddar-Oat Pancakes, with Bacon

One year ago:
Saffron Risotto with Spring Vegetable Ragout

Plow's Ricotta Pancakes

Makes sixteen 3" pancakes, or 4 servings

These pancakes are both tender and hearty. For a more delicate pancake, and a gluten-free option, see the variation, below. Choose a good-quality ricotta here, preferably one free of gums or stabilizers, such as Bel Fiore, Calabro or Bellweather, or make your own. If your ricotta is very wet, drain it in a strainer for 10 minutes or so before proceeding with the recipe. These pancakes go with almost any fruit, compote or preserve; serve them with strawberry-rhubarb compote or fresh berries in the spring, peaches in the summer, sauteed apples or pears in the fall, or poached quince in winter.

3/4 pound (1 1/3 cups) good-quality or homemade ricotta cheese (see headnote)
4 large eggs, separated
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons/ 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more butter for the pan
1 cup flour

In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla, salt and sugar. Stir in the melted butter and flour until just combined.

In another large bowl with a clean whisk, beat the eggs whites until they hold firm peaks. Stir 1/4 of the whipped whites into the ricotta mixture, then fold in the rest of the whites.

Melt a pat of butter on a griddle or in a large skillet over medium heat, and when the pan is hot, drop blobs of batter (I use a very heaping soupspoon, about 1/4 cup) onto the pan. Cook until they look slightly dry around the top edges, and are golden brown on the bottom, 1 - 2 minutes, then flip and cook on the second side, another couple of minutes. Place the pancakes on a platter in a 200ºF oven to keep them warm while you cook the rest of the pancakes, adding a small pat of butter to coat the bottom of the pan between batches.

Serve the pancakes with fresh berries (or other seasonal fruit - see headnote) and maple syrup.

Extra pancakes reheat beautifully after being refrigerated; toast them in a pan or in a warm oven until heated through.

Variation: Delicate Ricotta Pancakes (optionally gluten-free): Adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen, no butter, less flour and more sugar produce a lighter, more delicate pancake. (These can be made gluten-free by subbing sweet white rice flour for the all-purpose. The texture will be a bit softer.)

Omit the melted butter from the recipe, reduce the flour to 1/2 cup, increase the sugar to 3 tablespoons and increase the lemon zest to that of 1 1/2 lemons.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pasta Alla Carbonara

While studying Italian language at UCSC, I fell in love. I loved rolling my Rs, I loved saying chiacchierare (to chat), I loved my adorable professor and her equally awesome name, Maria Antonella Principe De Chicchio (which I also loved to say). I even came to tolerate the subjunctive tense.

But I loved biscotti, tiramisù, and gelato. Therefore, when I spent my junior year in Bologna, I expected to fall in love with Italy and its citizens, too.

I found a room for rent in a small apartment in the center of town. The place had a 7 1/2 floor feeling about it, and while I'm of average height, I had to duck when walking through any of the doorways. My room didn't have a real door, but rather a sort of sliding screen, and the bathroom contained neither a shower nor a bath, but a hybrid: a tiny basin with a seat and a removable shower head (but it did have a bidet, certo).

I did adore my three Italian housemates, but I often found myself baffled by our cultural differences. Christiana ate milk and cereal with a shot of espresso in it for breakfast. Luisa swore by her Italian tarot cards. Deborah chain-smoked in the living room with all the windows closed. And the household kept the salt and sugar in identical, un-labeled containers so that one had to taste the contents each time one wished to season one's food or drink.

One day, I wandered into the hobbit-sized kitchen to discover two of them eating plain pasta dressed with nothing but a bit of olive oil. This was not merely the Italians' famed gastronomical minimalism; the girls informed me that they were in dieta. Puzzled, I asked why they didn't add some vegetables to their 'diet food.' They looked horrified. 'Troppo pesante!' they scolded. Too heavy!

I watched as they resolutely ate plain white pasta and risotto for lunch and dinner, day after day. It was unclear to me whether the diet had the desired effect. But weight loss or no, I still consider vegetables a necessary part of any (and every) meal.

I know it's cruel to even mention the word 'diet' in a post containing eggs, pasta, two kinds of cheese and bacon. But as I packed more and more vegetable matter into this traditionally sparse dish, I couldn't help wondering what Deborah and Luisa would think of me.

Pasta alla carbonara typically contains just a handful of ingredients: spaghetti or bucatini cooked until al dente and tossed with crisped bacon, peas, and beaten eggs. The thought of pouring raw eggs over my pasta repulsed me, too, until I tasted the finished dish: the heat from the pasta coddles the eggs into a voluptuous sauce. If you use eggs from happy chickens, the finished dish will taste happier, too.

Inspired by the handsome photo in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, and the less standard recipe in Sunday Suppers at Lucques which calls for ricotta and sauteed onions, I made several batches of this pasta until it tasted just right to my American palate. With plenty of fresh peas and pea greens, as well as onions, garlic and parsley, this pasta makes a nourishing one-dish meal. If you want to be really gluttonous, serve it with a crisp, green salad.

Just don't invite any Italians.

Oodles of noodles:
Mac and Cheese with Bacon, Collards and Sage

One year ago:
Rhubarb Streusel Coffeecake

Pasta Alla Carbonara

Inspired by The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Makes 4 medium-sized servings

Spaghetti and bucatini are the classic pasta choices for this dish, but penne and orecchiette work well, too. This makes some very saucy pasta; for a more spare, Italian-style dish, increase the pasta to 12 ounces, and reserve a splash of pasta water to add the the finished dish if it seems dry. Pea greens are sometimes called 'pea shoots' or 'tendrils;' if you can't find them, omit them, or throw in some baby spinach leaves or arugula with the peas, if you like. I'm guessing you could omit the ricotta if you didn't have any. Enjoy with a crisp white wine.

8 ounces dry pasta (see headnote)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces bacon (3 thick-cut or 4 thinner-cut rashers), sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 large spring onion (or a smallish yellow onion), diced
1 stalk of green garlic (or 1 clove of mature garlic) finely chopped
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for topping the pasta
freshly ground black pepper
2 - 3 ounces (about 2 cups) pea greens, roughly chopped
1 pound pea pods, shelled to make 1 cup peas
a few tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Put on a pot of water for the pasta, and salt it heavily.

If your eggs have been refrigerated, place the whole, un-cracked eggs in a medium bowl and fill it with warm tap water to bring them to room temperature.

Warm the olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly crisped, 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very tender and lightly golden, 10 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, put the pasta in the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent stickage, until al dente (if the pasta is overcooked, it will fall apart when you toss it with the sauce, so try not to do that).

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, ricotta, parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few solid turns of pepper in a medium bowl until combined. Set aside.

While the pasta cooks, add the pea greens to the onion mixture and saute until wilted and tender, a minute or two. Add the peas and cook for one minute, then remove from the heat.

When the pasta is done, drain it well and add it to the skillet (if your skillet is big enough, if not, put everything in the pasta pot instead). Pour the egg mixture over the pasta and veg, and toss it all together with tongs. Ideally, the egg cooks to a thick, creamy sauce from the heat of the pasta and veg; if the egg seems undercooked, place the skillet over medium-low heat and toss the mixture constantly until the egg thickens. Toss in the chopped parsley.

Serve the pasta immediately, with a good grating of parmesan.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fava Bean Crostini

Well, we must be officially cursed because we just spent another weekend in the Sierras getting snowed on. Jay's sea shanty band, The Barbary Ghosts, played at the Strawberry Music Festival in Yosemite. While for our last Yosemite trip we got fair warning of the chilly weather, the forecast last Thursday insisted that it would be sunny, with highs in the 70s, all weekend long.

It wasn't.

Though I desperately wished to see Aaron Neville croon away on Saturday night, we spent the evening huddled in our tent with a million layers on, listening to the show being broadcast over the radio, while the more hard-core festival-goers (probably from Alaska or Siberia) stuck it out in the open meadow before the main stage out as the freezing rain turned to snow.

This is about the least springy spring I can remember, and it's hard to believe that in just 21 days summer will officially begin. Yet the spring produce marches on. Every time I look at Rainbow's produce section, I am astonished to see more evidence of the season in full swing: apricots, cherries, peaches, blueberries as well as the usual strawberries and rhubarb; and in the vegetable section, peas, favas, asparagus and artichokes as well as cucumbers and even the first of the summer squash.

When I first subscribed to a CSA several years ago, I was mystified by the long, green pods filled with beans that arrived one spring. But I enjoy a challenge in the kitchen, and shucked, blanched and peeled with gusto. I grew to love fava beans not only as an indicator of the peas and asparagus to come, but also for their earthy, clean flavor, and the meditative experience of preparing them, which makes me feel quaintly old-fashioned and homesteader-ish. I'm sure if I had to shuck them for a living I would quickly wish to claw my eyes out, but I manage to enjoy preparing the few pounds I go through each spring.

This time around, I decided to make a fava bean puree, so I consulted the queen of obscure produce, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame. The recipe called for shucking, blanching and peeling the favas, then stewing them in olive oil with a few herb sprigs and mashing them to a purée. The amount of olive oil called for shocked me: half to three-quarters of a cup for a mere 3 cups of fava beans. But Alice warns, 'Don't be stingy with the olive oil; good olive oil is as important to the flavor of the purée as the beans themselves.' I think I got away with closer to half a cup in the end, and the resulting purée was quite rich, but then I went and brushed the crostini with more olive oil...

After all was said and done, I didn't have a whole lot of hope for the pea-green goop before me. But then I tasted it and thought 'chicken stock!' It tasted uncannily like chicken stock, rich and meaty. And yet the purée was not only vegetarian, but vegan. I rushed out for a baguette (well, Jay did) and put together these crostini.

The crunch of the radish and clean flavor of the slivered parsley compliments the richness of the bean purée nicely. A little bit of the precious purée goes a long way. Though I don't profess to being a oenophile, I highly recommend washing these down with a crisp white, such as sauvignon blanc.

Even if the weather outside is cold and rainy (or snowy), at least it will still be spring in your mouth.

Savory spring:
Saffron Risotto with Spring Vegetable Ragout
Asparagus Skillet Quiche
Green Garlic Chive Potato Cakes

One year ago:
Creamy Sesame Soba Noodles
Rosemary Pine Nut Biscotti

Fava Bean Crostini

Makes about 3 dozen

Though fava beans take a bit of prep - they must first be shucked from their pods, then the beans blanched and slipped, one by one, from their outer skin - a little of this purée goes a long way. I'd imagine any soft herb would work in place of the parsley, such as basil, chives, tarragon or chervil.

For the fava bean purée (adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables - makes about 3 cups):

3 pounds fava beans in their pods, shucked (3 cups of beans)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing the purée.
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
a few splashes of water
1/2 a lemon
fresh pepper

For the crostini:
1 fresh baguette, preferably sour, sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick
olive oil for brushing the baguette slices
8 medium radishes, slivered
a handful of italian parsley leaves, slivered
flaky salt and fresh pepper, for finishing

Make the purée:
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and dump in the shucked fava beans. Prepare an ice water bath. Let the water return to a boil, then boil the beans for a minute or so, until a bean will slip easily from its skin. Drain the beans and stick them in the water bath to cool. Drain the beans again, and slip the beans from their skins by piercing the tip with your thumbnail, then squeezing the bean out.

When all the beans are peeled, warm 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the peeled beans, salt, garlic, herbs and a splash of water. Stew the beans at a slow simmer for about half an hour, stirring often, until they are very soft and beginning to break down, adding more splashes of water to keep the pan moistened and prevent the beans from sticking.

Pull out the bay and thyme, and mash the beans into a paste (you can do this by hand with a wooden spoon, in a small food processor, or in a food mill). Add more olive oil and/or a splash of water to moisten the purée if it seems dry. Add a few drops of lemon juice to brighten the flavor, and a grind of pepper.

The purée is best served immediately, but will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Assemble the crostini:
Preheat the oven to 350º. Spread the baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Toast in the oven until golden, 5-10 minutes.

Spread each baguette slice with a smear of fava purée, and top with some radish slivers and then a few strands of the parsley. Finish with a pinch of flaky salt and a dusting of pepper. Serve immediately.