Posts tagged seasonal

Finally. . .Ramps!

I’m not sure if you remember, but last spring I wrote a rather pathetic post about my futile search for ramps. I had never tasted these coveted spring onions before, and visits to both my neighborhood and Union Square farmers’ markets were busts. Reading other bloggers rave on and on about ramps without knowing what was so special about them spun me into a ramp-related tizzy, and I remained so for the rest of 2009.

Well, I can finally relax. Over the weekend Jim came home with a bag of these slender greens from one of our local fruit and vegetable stands. With the help of this recipe, we took some whole-wheat dough out of the freezer and layered the ramps into a quick pizza bianca. With just olive oil, mozzarella, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese acting as the base of the pie, Jim and I were able to revel in the pure, onion-like flavors of spring’s first sprouts.

While I’m happy to declare the end of my ramp-infused innocence, I’m not sure I understand the frenzy that begins when ramps hit the farmers’ market every year. Sure, they are only available for a few short weeks in early spring. And I understand that by the time ramps arrive everyone is sick of winter root vegetables and any sign of fresh spring vegetables is a welcome relief. But the fetishization of ramps seems to have reached a fever pitch in the past few years; David Kamp, the author of The United States of Arugula, agrees. He recently declared ramps the new arugula, in the way this formerly little known food product was once over celebrated and scrutinized back in the eighties. Last week Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post went further and said ramps are simply overrated. Of course, these are just a few dissenting voices in a sea of ramp enthusiasts, so I suppose I should keep my griping to a minimum.

What do you think, readers? Do ramps deserve the hype? Am I just a grump? Don’t answer that last question…

Recipe for Pizza with Ramps (adapted from The Kitchen Sink Recipes)

  • 1 ball of your favorite pizza dough, white or whole-wheat
  • salt
  • 1 bunch of ramps, washed, with the bottoms trimmed
  • cornmeal
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • a small amount of grated parmesan cheese (less than 1/4 cup)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. (I use a pizza stone, so I am basing this recipe on this method.) Place your pizza stone in the oven so it can preheat.

While your pizza stone heats, put a medium size pot of salted water on the stove to boil. While you wait for the water to boil, roll out your pizza dough into a circle on a floured surface.

When the water is boiling, add the ramps. Let them boil for a minute or two, then drain and set aside.

Remove your pizza stone from the oven and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Place your circle of dough on a pizza peal. Brush it with olive oil. Sprinkle it with the mozzarella cheese. Place the ramps on top of the cheese so that they radiate out from the center of the pie. Sprinkle the pie with parmesan cheese. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil across the top of the pie. Season with black pepper. Carefully transfer the pie to your pizza stone.

Bake the pizza for about 10-15 minutes. Remove it from the oven when ready and top with another tablespoon of olive oil. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before cutting. Serves 3 to 4 people. Enjoy!

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Cooking from the CSA: Collard Greens

After almost three years of writing this blog, I have finally realized something fairly obvious: When I come across a food-related issue I’m excited about—no matter whether it’s a restaurant, recipe, or trend—I need to write about it immediately. Putting the story on the back burner just never works; the struggle to get my words down becomes more intense, convoluted, and difficult.

Take this post, for example. I’ve wanted to tell you about the great fun I had last month cooking collard greens for the first time. Did you hear that—I cooked them last month! Twice! But first I decided to write about that farro soup I made sometime in October. And then I didn’t have any time to blog last week or over the weekend. So before I knew it, even more time had passed, the collard greens were a faint memory, and I dreaded trying to write about them. But while blogging about them was hard, it doesn’t mean I enjoyed the collards any less. Here, I’ll try to remember everything that happened:

When I received my first bunch of this floppy, wide-leafed vegetable from my CSA, I had no idea what to do with it. I knew collard greens were often used in Southern cooking, and a little research confirmed that they are traditionally cooked for a couple of hours, perhaps with some ham hocks, and served as a side. Not that this is necessary—further reading confirmed that a 30 to 45 minute simmer is usually enough to adequately soften the leaves. As with many greens, collards are high in several vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C, and potassium. With all this good news about collards, I started to wonder why I hadn’t worked with them before.

For my first attempt at cooking them, I tried this spicy white bean and sweet potato soup. (Another reason why I need to blog about these meals right away: Weeks later, I can’t find any of my photos of this soup. And it was truly gorgeous, a beautiful mix of vibrant colors. Sigh.) The thick greens held their own against the other hearty elements in this sweet yet spicy soup, and I strutted through my apartment afterwards, proud of myself for creating a successful meal with this foreign vegetable.

But then I received another bunch just two weeks later in my CSA shipment. While I briefly contemplated another soup, I really wanted to try something different. I guess great minds think alike, because that week both Mark Bittman and I decided to use these leaves as wrappers. Mr. Bittman encased Middle Eastern-inspired meatballs in his collard greens, while I adapted Claudia Roden’s recipe for hot dolma, using collards instead of grape leaves.

The process of making hot dolma is not much different from making cold ones, and using fresh collard greens instead of jarred grape leaves makes the process much simpler. (Jarred leaves require soaking, which fresh ones do not.) After blanching the leaves for a few minutes, I simply stuffed them with a mix of rice, ground lamb, spices, and tomato paste. Then, after an additional hour on the stovetop, they were ready.

Jim and I ate them for dinner, eagerly biting into the compact little bundles of spiced rice and meat. The lemony collards yielded easily to the tomato-spiked rice mixture inside, and I just couldn’t get enough of this sturdy, versatile, and healthy green. Although it was a struggle to write about these collard greens, there’s no way I could forget about them.

Recipe for Hot Dolma with Collard Greens (adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

  • 1 bunch of large collard greens

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup long-grain rice
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1 small tomato, peeled and chopped (We actually just chopped up a bunch of cherry tomatoes, and they worked fine.)
  • 1/2 white onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • salt and pepper

For the pans/cooking time:

  • 1/2 tomato, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Prepare your collard greens. Wash them thoroughly under running water, and remove the stem from the bottom of each leaf. Simmer the leaves in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Blot the leaves dry and let them cool completely. Then cut the leaf into 3 equal pieces: Slice once across the top of the leaf, and set the top aside. Then cut the remaining part of the leaf in half, discarding the thick center stem. Continue with the rest of the leaves.

Wash the rice in boiling water, then rinse under cold water and drain. In a large bowl, mix the rice with the ground meat, chopped tomato, onion, parsley, cinnamon, tomato paste, salt, and pepper.

Now stuff your collard leaves with the mixture. Take one slice of the collard leaves, and place it on a flat surface, vein side up. Place about 1 1/2 small spoonfuls of the rice mixture in the center of the leaf. Fold the end over the filling. Fold the sides of the leaf in towards the middle, and the roll the leaf upwards. Make sure the sides of the leaf continue to fold inward as you roll the leaf upwards. Repeat with the rest of the leaves. Set aside.

Line the bottom of a large, high-sided sauté pan or one Dutch oven with the sliced tomatoes. Tightly pack the grape leaves into one layer, on top of the tomatoes. Slip the garlic cloves in between the rolls if desired. Sprinkle the bundles with lemon juice, and add about 2/3 cup water to the pan.

Place a small plate on top of the leaves to prevent them from possibly unwinding. Cover the pan with a lid, set the heat to low, and simmer gently for about an hour. Roden’s book suggests adding small cups of water if the pans run out of liquid, but I did not have this problem. Serve hot. We made about 20 dolma with this recipe. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Artisanal Junk Food: Roberta’s and Bark

Last weekend was all about the junk food: pizza and hot dogs, I am sorry to say. Now, before you get all upset about my unhealthy gluttony, can I explain that said junk food was made from primarily local and seasonal ingredients? That the purveyors were true artisans who cared deeply about their high-quality hot dogs and pizza? After all, transforming once lowbrow food items into more gourmet fare—such as the fried chicken craze currently storming the city—is certainly the trend right now. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at what we sampled last weekend:

robertas

Roberta’s
Jim and I began our weekend on Friday night at Roberta’s in still-gentrifying (yet very hip) Bushwick, Brooklyn. Open only since January 2008, Roberta’s immediately garnered attention for its pizza topped with high-quality, seasonal ingredients in unique flavor combinations. Its young owners Carlo Mirarchi, Chris Parachini, and Brandon Hoy even shipped a wood-burning oven back from Italy in their quest to make a great pie; it occupies the front of the long, warehouse-like space. Although the menu has gradually expanded to offer more refined items such as hen of the woods mushrooms and orecchiette with duck ragu (Roberta’s now offers a fried chicken platter as well), Jim and I were there for the pizza. But in a concession to slightly healthier eating, we started with the kale salad. The deep-green, curly leaves were adorned with thick chunks of guanciale, sweet pickled onions, and pecorino cheese that packed a flavorful punch with each bite ($9). For our pies we decided to stick with the house-suggested flavors instead of creating our own combination of toppings. I selected the RPS, which came with creamy mozzarella, tomato, roasted red peppers, and soppressata, while Jim ordered the Crispy Glover, a pie covered with tomato, taleggio cheese, guanciale, onion, breadcrumbs, and pepperoncini oil (both $14). We both found the flavor combinations a little too strong overall—in particular, the red peppers on my pie overwhelmed all other flavors, and Jim’s guanciale was burned—but we agreed that the crust was practically perfect. Light and crispy, with just the right amount of char at the edges, it was the best part of our pies (gourmet toppings included). 261 Moore Street at Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. T: 718-417-1118

bark

Bark Hot Dogs
The next day we finally tried the artisanal hot dogs at Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope. Made from a combination of pork and beef by Hartmann’s Old World Sausages in the Finger Lakes, and basted with smoked lard and butter, these were some serious wieners. Owners Jeff Sharkey (formerly of Cafe Grey) and Brandon Gillis (formerly of Franny’s) have put their personal touch on every aspect of the place, from the house-made toppings to the recycled wood tables. As at Roberta’s, instead of choosing my own toppings I let Bark guide me: I started my lunch with the Pickle Dog, which was covered with house pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise ($5.50). The tart toppings didn’t obscure the light, almost sweet flavors inside these snappily cased sausages. Jim and I also split the NYC Classic Dog with mustard and sweet and sour onions, while Jim’s Bark Dog came with sweet pepper relish, mustard, and onion (both $4.75). Each delicately flavored hot dog paired wonderfully with the Bark-suggested toppings, and I was grateful that I didn’t strike out on my own. The onion rings, on the other hand, were a bit of a disappointment. Coated with too much batter, I was left searching for the onions within ($3 for a small order). As a quick side note, I did find the list of food and beverage sources on each table a bit precious. I am all for organic, locally farmed produce and free-range meat, but putting this extensive list on repeated display seemed like overkill to me. But damn, those dogs were good. 474 Bergen Street at Flatbush Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. T: 718-789-1939

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So Many Greens, So Little Time

Every two weeks, I grab a handful of plastic bags from the cupboard and stroll a few blocks over to my CSA pick-up spot. Immediately upon arrival I survey the bounty of vegetables I’m about to receive. The best weeks offer a large variety: perhaps a few zucchini, a head of lettuce, maybe some tomatoes, corn, string beans, or peppers. Usually I can barely contain my excitement as I start to fill my bags with produce, eagerly looking forward to the dishes I will cook that week.

But this year’s unpredictable weather has lead to an abundance of greens from my CSA. Arugula, spinach, bok choy, lettuce, kale, chard, you name it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against leafy vegetables. But receiving multiple bags of greens at once, all of which need to be eaten quickly before they wilt, presents a daunting challenge, especially when you hate wasting food like I do.

Last Saturday’s pick-up was one of those oh-my-goodness-how-will-I-finish-these-greens moments. When I arrived home and examined my haul on the kitchen table, I was faced with overflowing bags of bok choy, arugula, and chard, not to mention a huge head of romaine lettuce. How on earth were Jim and I going to eat all of these greens before they spoiled in a few days?

shrimp

1. Bok Choy, Brussels Sprouts, and Shrimp Stir-Fry
We didn’t waste any time. On Saturday night we whipped up a quick stir-fry using the bok choy, some week-old brussels sprouts leaves from the farmers’ market, and shrimp. Jim created a light sauce using sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce, and we also seasoned the dish with fresh garlic and ginger. The slightly sweet sauce perfectly complemented both the meaty shrimp and the crisp, healthy greens. For a very off-the-cuff sort of meal, we were pleasantly surprised by its success.

spanikopita_process_01spanikopita_prefold_02soanikopita_folding_2.5span_oven_04

2. Arugula Spanakopita
When I took my massive bunch of arugula out of the fridge on Sunday, it was already starting to wilt. Fortunately we had already planned to use these peppery greens in some spanakopita appetizers for the Sunday football games. In our version of this Greek snack, we replaced its traditional spinach-based filling with arugula. After some slicing and folding of filo dough, these bite-size, flaky triangles of ricotta, feta, and chopped arugula were quickly assembled on Sunday morning, and devoured just as quickly a few hours later.

chard

3. Italian-Style Swiss Chard
As a finale to our weekend of greens, on Sunday night after the football games I blanched and sautéed the swiss chard as a side dish to some lovely braised short ribs my sister and her husband prepared for us. Lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, the chard was a fresh, simple side dish to accompany the rich beef ribs.

So that was our weekend marathon of greens. I think we did a pretty admirable job with them, don’t you? We’re still working our way through that head of romaine lettuce, eating salads as quickly as we can. I’m optimistic that we’ll make it to the finish line without wasting any food, just in time for our next CSA challenge.

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A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

I know, I know. Every time I get on a roll updating the blog, I suddenly disappear again. Believe me, I’m as tired of the excuses as you are. But this month I endured a series of seemingly endless travels for work (Florence and Singapore, again) and family reasons (Pittsburgh), and I am only now starting to catch my breath. (In fact, I am currently home ailing with a sore throat. I think all this jet setting has finally caught up to me. Cough, cough.)

haybales

But in the midst of all these crazy journeys, at the beginning of the month Jim and I escaped to New York’s Finger Lakes for a weekend. The sparkling lakes and waterfalls, gorgeous green hills, and quiet country roads—along with the local wine, farmers’ markets, and amazing restaurants—were just what we needed before summer said its farewell and autumn appeared at our door.

winery

Let’s start with the wine. There are more than 100 wineries clustered around the region’s eleven lakes. Winemaking has been a tradition here for over 150 years, with most of the well-known wineries situated around the three largest, oblong lakes: Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka. With a climate that has often been compared to Germany’s Rhine region, the Finger Lakes are primarily known for cool-weather whites such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer; however, we found that the reds were surprisingly deep and sophisticated. As Jim and I visited the wineries around Seneca Lake, we picked up bottles of Riesling and Cabernet from Standing Stone vineyards, as well as Viridescens and Cabernet Franc from Red Newt Cellars.  The Celsius iced wine from Atwater Estate vineyards was too sweet to resist, and we ended our tour with a few bottles added to the backseat of the car.

danos

We revived our weary palettes with some delicious dinners around Seneca Lake. Our favorite meal by far was at Dano’s Heuriger, a modern, glass-encased, Viennese-style restaurant right on the lake. We started with some of the unique spreads, all of which were visible in the glass counter near the entrance. The liptauer, a tangy Austrian cheese-based specialty, and the hotel sacher, made from capers, mustard seed, and anchovy paste, were incredibly intense, while the pumkinseed oil spread from my German-themed bento box blew me away with its smooth texture and flavors. As you can tell from the photograph below, the bento box gave me a small taste of everything the heuriger had to offer: fresh, vinegar-laced salads and potatoes, as well as various forms of juicy pork. Jim declared the wiener schnitzel the best he had ever tasted, and we immediately started to wonder if we could justify coming back for lunch the next day.

danos2

Another food-related highlight of the weekend was the Ithaca Farmers’ Market on Cayuga Lake. Here I need to thank Amy Maltzan of the wonderful blog Eggs on Sunday, first for her posts inspiring us to visit her local market, and also for the personal dining suggestions she provided for our getaway weekend. Amy, your farmers’ market didn’t disappoint. I was amazed by the sheer number of small local farmers selling their fruits and vegetables in the wood-beamed hallways of the market.

market

From one end to the other, down the side halls and in between, I browsed through piles of garlic, berries, cherry tomatoes, greens, and beans. Jim enjoyed a local cider tasting, and we bought some ham from a cute little butcher called the Piggery, as well as bread and cheese for snacking between wine tastings. I was a little surprised by the absence of fish mongers, and the relatively small number of cheese and meat vendors, but I loved how local crafts such as pottery and wood furniture were included in the market.

shopping

In addition to all this eating, drinking, and shopping, we visited some beautiful natural sights around the Finger Lakes. If you plan to head up there anytime soon, must-sees include the waterfall at Taughannock State Park, and the incredible rock formations in Watkins Glen State Park. The Corning Museum of Glass also deserves a lengthy stop. As you can tell from this post, you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty during your travels.

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