Posts tagged spring vegetables

Rampless Risotto

risotto

What are the most obvious signs of spring? Some might say the flowering trees and plants; others celebrate the arrival of warmer temperatures and lighter jackets. But in the world of food blogs, spring means one thing: ramps.

Food bloggers love these mild spring onions. Once they are sighted at farmers’ markets, new posts about ramps fill my RSS reader, almost to the exclusion of anything else. Ramps in pasta, ramps on pizza, ramps, ramps, ramps. I’m sure there are many good reasons for this unabashed ramp love, but I don’t understand it—I’ve never tried a single ramp. I don’t know how I’ve survived in this rampless state until now, but I sure hope I don’t get banned from food blogging because of it. 

In fact, starting last weekend I did everything I could to cure my ramp-related ignorance. Jim had picked up a local flyer advertising that last week’s farmers’ market would be “all about ramps.” On Sunday morning, with my shopping bag slung over my shoulder, I bounded down my apartment steps and made my way to the Carroll Gardens market. I went straight to the W. Rogowski farm stand and searched earnestly between the piles of lettuce, spinach, and green onions.

“Excuse me, do you have ramps today?” I asked, a hint of worry creeping into my voice.

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to go down to the swamp to look for them this week,” responded a harried-looking Cheryl Rogowski. “But we do have watercress.”

Boo. Boo on watercress. I sighed and bought some asparagus, swiss chard, and green garlic instead.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on my ramps. On Monday morning I headed to the Union Square Farmers’ Market. At 8 am. Before work. In the rain. 

I walked around and around the market. I saw more asparagus, and I saw more watercress. I spied bread, greens, and flowers.

But no ramps. 

And then, my friends, I gave up. 

That evening at home, I took the spring risotto recipe that I had planned to make with ramps and shifted the ingredients around a bit. The original recipe called for a ramp and swiss chard pesto to be stirred into a risotto of asparagus, fava beans, and peas. Instead of using ramps in the pesto, I chopped some leeks with the swiss chard. I didn’t have any fava beans, and I hate peas, so I concentrated on the asparagus and green garlic that I had purchased the day before. And in the end, even without ramps, I created two beautiful and creamy plates of risotto. Each lemony forkful was full of fresh, green specks of seasonal goodness. I’m not giving up on ramps for good, but with them or without them, spring has definitely arrived. 

Recipe for Spring Risotto with Asparagus, Green Garlic, Swiss Chard, and Leeks (Adapted from the New York Times, April 23, 2008)

For the pesto:

  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 3/4 cups packed swiss chard leaves
  • dash of salt
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

For the risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots
  • 3 sprigs of green garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • About 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 6 to 10 rods of asparagus, sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • Parmesan cheese

For the pesto: Place the chopped leeks, swiss chard leaves, and salt in a small food processor or hand blender. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil. Season to taste. Set aside.

For the risotto: In a medium saucepan, bring your chicken or vegetable stock to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot. Once the butter has melted, add the green garlic and the shallots. Cook garlic and shallots together until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice. Stir the rice for a minute or two, until the edges become translucent.

Add the white wine to the pot, and stir the rice until it has absorbed most of the wine. You know the liquid has been absorbed when you can scrape your spoon through the rice and it sticks to the sides of the pan a bit, showing the bottom of the pan. 

Add a few spoonfuls of stock to the rice. I usually work with a ladle, and add 1 full ladle of stock at a time. Stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed, and then add some more stock. Stir the rice continuously. (Taking a few small breaks is fine.) Continue to add stock and stir the rice in this manner until the rice is al dente and quite creamy, about 18 to 20 minutes.

When the rice is about halfway done (at the 10-12 minute mark) add the asparagus to the pot. Continue to stir.

When the rice is done, remove it from the heat. Stir in the pesto. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon of butter and about 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, topped with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 2. Enjoy!

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Mom’s Stuffed Artichokes

Stuffed artichokes grace my parents’ dining room table on almost every major holiday, as well as special dinners and parties in between. My parents even have a specific platter for them, a delicately-painted ceramic plate with indentations for eight of these green globes, inherited from my Sicilian grandmother. Thanks to my Southern Italian mother and her formidable artichoke-related skills, my family has eaten more of these spindly vegetables than I can count. We are addicted to artichokes.

chokes_pre

Despite my love for my mother’s stuffed artichokes, I had never attempted to make them until a few weeks ago, when artichokes were actually in season. Jim and I were having two friends over for dinner, and it was time to put Mom’s recipe to the test. I picked up my cell phone, scrolled down to my parents’ number, and pressed the call button.

“Um, hi, Mom? Do you have a sec? How do you make your stuffed artichokes? Are they difficult?” I asked. “And will they be ready by 8 o’clock?”

And so began a half hour or so of phone calls. We talked about her ingredients for the stuffing (breadcrumbs, parsley, and Parmesan cheese are the main components); measurements (“I don’t know, I always just eyeball it”); and cooking time (“Not less than 40 minutes”). I also learned that her stuffed artichokes are steamed, not baked, and that they are best served at room temperature. Too much parsley is never a problem, and if I felt like mixing things up I could add a bit of prosciutto to the basic stuffing. I hung up the phone after our third call, started trimming the chokes, and hoped that some of Mom’s artichoke skills had been transmitted to me in the womb.

chokes_after

For my first attempt, the chokes were a simple and luxurious hit, especially since I had guessed most of the measurements for the ingredients. The moist, flavored breadcrumbs complemented the silky leaves with every bite. As I scraped each leaf with my teeth and made my way down to the choke at the center, I wondered how they compared to my mother’s. Maybe I did inherit some of her artichoke-related gifts after all. 

Recipe for Mom’s Stuffed Artichokes

  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 3/4 – 1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs (store-bought are fine for this recipe)
  • 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons fresh, finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • salt 
  • pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the stuffing: Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic powder, and a bit of salt and pepper together in a bowl. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix together. Set aside.

Lay each artichoke on its side and cut off the pointy tops with a sharp knife. Cut off the artichoke stems and peel them. Set aside. After cutting off the stems, your artichokes should be able to sit on their flat bottoms. Tear off the tough outer leaves at the base of each choke. With a pair of scissors, cut off the pointy tops of the remaining outer leaves. (If you work quickly, you don’t need to set each artichoke aside in lemon-infused water.)

Working from the center of each artichoke towards the outer leaves, start stretching the leaves out a bit, to create more space between them. Stuff the breadcrumb mixture in between as many leaves as possible. Fill the openings with as much stuffing as possible. 

Sit the 4 artichokes and their stems in a high-sided sauté pan or large pot. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the artichokes. Add about 1/4 cup water—enough to cover the bottom of the pan and a bit more—to the pot, add the lemons, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes, adding water as necessary if the pot dries out. The artichokes are done when their color has changed to a less vibrant green and you can easily pull their leaves out.

You can keep these artichokes and their stems on a platter on the stovetop until you are ready to serve them that day. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Falling for Favas

Spaghetti with Fresh Fava Bean Pesto

I’m finally back from Singapore, and I have to be honest: Although I enjoyed my two previous trips there, I just wasn’t feeling the love this time around. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for the travel experience, but as I strolled through the glittering, air-conditioned shops of Orchard Road I just kept thinking about how much I wanted to come home.

Of course one of the reasons for my homesickness had to do with food. There’s nothing wrong with Singapore’s cuisine; in fact, a few months ago I told you all about its fantastic hawker stands and amazing ethnic eats. But I was craving my local spring vegetables. Fresh greens, asparagus, peas…I couldn’t wait to get back to New York and stir up some seasonal treats of my own.

So as soon as I returned to Brooklyn I drove straight to Fairway and stocked up on piles of vegetables, including a bag full of fresh fava beans.

It’s funny that I was so fixated on favas last week, because I don’t like beans. It’s true. As a child my stomach sank at the sight of my mother’s pasta fagioli, and it still does. (Sorry, Mom!) A few weeks ago, in an attempt to cure my aversion to them, I cooked a big batch of cannellini beans with fresh herbs and dressed them with olive oil. Nope, didn’t work.

But for some reason I had greater hopes for these favas. I wanted to utilize them in a pasta-related way, and after a bit of thought I decided to purée them into a pesto. It was remarkably easy. I simply threw the shelled beans into my food processor with a bit of mint and garlic, a squeeze of lemon, an ample amount of olive oil, and some salt and pepper. 

When combined with the cooked spaghetti, the pesto released all the potential lurking in those little beans. Now I realize that my problems with beans might be more related to texture than anything else. The silky, smooth sauce gave off hints of light, nutty flavor as it clung to the spaghetti strands. As I twirled bite after bite onto my fork, it felt great to be home.

Recipe for Spaghetti with Fava Bean Pesto

  • 1 pound of dried spaghetti
  • 1 cup of shelled fava beans (see prep method below)
  • slightly less than 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 of a fresh lemon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Shell the fava beans from their long pods. Add fava beans to the boiling water. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fava beans from the boiling water. Reserve the cooking water, as you can use it again for the pasta. Remove the thin outer shell from the fava beans; it should slip off very easily. You will be left with small, bright green, little pods.

Bring the cooking water back to a boil and add the spaghetti to the pot. While the pasta cooks, turn your attention to the pesto. Using a food processor, purée the fava beans, mint, garlic, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice together. Slowly add the olive oil while pulsing the ingredients together, until you reach your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Taste the pesto, and season it to your liking. I always spend a lot of time tinkering with my pestos. In this recipe, I have used very little garlic because I didn’t want it to overwhelm the dish. Feel free to increase it if you like.

When the pasta is ready, drain it but reserve at least 1 cup of cooking water. Add the pesto sauce to the drained spaghetti and stir together. If the pesto sauce clumps together, slowly add the cooking water and stir until the pesto is evenly distributed.

Spoon the pasta into individual bowls. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper. Add a small drizzle of olive oil to each serving. Serves 4 as a main dish. Enjoy!

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