Posts tagged vegetarian

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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From Leaf to Stem

Every few weeks I find myself in the same position: Hunkered down in front of my open refrigerator with a plastic bag in hand, tossing withered produce and uneaten leftovers into the trash. Limp, yellowed parsley; saggy celery; dried-out chunks of onion; I’m always surprised at—and disappointed by—the amount of food that Jim and I waste each week.

In contrast to my guilt-inducing produce situation, Cathy Erway (of the popular blog Not Eating Out in New York) talks about her success with limiting food waste in her lovely new book, The Art of Eating In. As part of her desire to cook more and spend less, Erway employs often-discarded vegetable accessories such as beet greens and fennel fronds in her dishes, so that no part of the vegetable goes unused. While reading these pages, all I could think was I bet celery never goes bad in Cathy’s fridge. I hung my head in shame and once again vowed to change my ways. Surprisingly, I actually had some luck doing so.

It started with a big, floppy bunch of Swiss chard. I removed the stems and combined the pink-rimmed leaves with some leftover baby spinach, onions, feta cheese, and phyllo dough for a gorgeous Greek-inspired vegetarian pie. This light, flaky pie lasted us through one dinner and several lunches; not a single bite was left behind. And as I emptied the crisper drawers of plastic spinach containers and leftover cheese wrappers, I placed the Swiss chard stems in their place, instead of throwing them in the trash like I often do.

For the next few days, those stems stared at me every time I reached past them for tomatoes or salad greens. Finally, when they were about to turn, I pulled out a recipe for baked Swiss chard stems that I’d been saving for years. Similar to a casserole, the stems are layered with tomato sauce, garlic, and parmesan cheese, and baked in the oven until golden brown. Classic Italian flavors combine with an overlooked yet ruby-red vegetable for a satisfying side dish. And the best part was, not a single part of that Swiss chard went to waste. Not only was I proud of myself—and happy that I evaded another round of chard-induced guilt—but I discovered a delicious new side as well. I hope the trend continues; maybe I should try beet greens next. Thanks for the inspiration, Cathy!

Recipe for Baked Swiss Chard Stems with Tomatoes, Garlic, and Parmesan (adapted from Jack Bishop’s recipe as published in the New York Times on April 5, 2000)

  • 1/2 lb chard stems, bruised parts trimmed, halved crosswise
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for baking dish
  • 2 small garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1-14 1/2 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a few quarts of salted water to boil in a large pot. Add the chard stems and cook until they are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium in a medium skillet. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer until sauce is almost dry, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the bottom of a lightly greased baking dish with a single layer of chard, cutting stems if necessary to fit them in the dish. Spoon a bit of tomato sauce over the stems, and sprinkle with a little cheese. Repeat with the next layer of chard, alternating the direction of the stems. Finish tomato sauce and cheese. Sprinkle the parsley across the top.

Bake until chard is very tender and top layer is browned, about 25 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and let settle for 5 minutes. Cut into squares and serve. Serves 4 as a side dish. Enjoy!

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Eggs in Purgatory

Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we? I don’t have an easy explanation for where I’ve been the past few months. All I can say is that I dropped off the grid for a while, and now I’m doing my best to resurface. I’ve missed my little blog. It’s a bigger part of me than I realized, and I’ve deeply felt its absence. For the past three years, Artichoke Heart has been my primary creative outlet, and this too-long pause made me wonder what I enjoyed most about blogging: thinking about food, writing about food, or being excited about food. Because honestly, I wasn’t feeling any of it, and wasn’t sure when or if I would again.

But I have been cooking. I experimented with this recipe for Drunken Noodles, and another one for stuffed cabbage. I made spaghetti and meatballs and an ice cream icebox cake that caused my dear friend’s children to squeal with delight. And after each successful (or not successful) meal, I wondered if it would lead me back to the blog. I came close a few times, sitting at the computer, fingers on the keys and staring at the blank screen, but the words wouldn’t come. Finally, on Friday night, I made a dish that reflected my self-inflicted, in-between state: Eggs in Purgatory.

It’s a dramatic name for a simple Southern Italian dish, a classic example of cucina povera where a robust, healthy meal is made from a few basic ingredients. Eggs in Purgatory are just poached eggs in tomato sauce. Yup, that’s it. You crack a few eggs over a simmering onion- or garlic-based tomato sauce, and let them slowly cook, the golden centers and creamy whites quivering in a bubbling, crimson sea of tomatoes. Gently pour the gleaming eggs and sauce over a piece of toast, and dinner is served.

Something about the flavors of this dish hit Jim and me right away. Our forks returned time and time again, the soft egg yolks bleeding gently into the sweet tomatoes. I overcooked the eggs a little bit (they were closer to soft-boiled than poached) but no matter. The crunchy bread beneath was the perfect base for the liquid mass of protein and tomatoes above.

Perhaps the allusion to Purgatory is derived from the image of eggs momentarily suspended in the tomato sauce, a symbolic transitory state between Heaven and Hell. Whatever the connotation of this dish may be, I hope my extended blogging lapse is over, and that I’ve found my way back to the Choke.

Recipe for Eggs In Purgatory (with garlic-based tomato sauce), adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 14-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 slices of toasted peasant bread
  • Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Warm the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic has browned, stirring frequently, for about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and season with sugar, a pinch of salt, and black pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 10 to 20 minutes.

Gently crack the eggs into the tomato sauce, allowing the interiors to spread throughout the sauce. Cover the pan and let the eggs cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover, and let the pan stand for 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer 2 eggs to each piece of toast and cover with sauce. Garnish with cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Serves 2 as a main dish. Enjoy!

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Peach Buttermilk Soup

Once I get on a roll with something, I can’t stop. You may remember that over the winter I was obsessed with soup, trying out several different recipes in response to the never-ending, freezing weather outside. This summer, in comparison, has turned into my season of the peach.

A stone fruit tea cake packed with peaches was so delicious it inspired me to return to the blog after a long absence. Soon after came my successful attempt at Terra Luna’s imaginative peach carpaccio. And over this past weekend, I was inspired by Martha Rose Shulman of the New York Times to puree my favorite stone fruit into a tangy, Indian-inspired soup. (On second thought, perhaps my winter soup fixation isn’t resolved after all.)

makingpeachsoup

I soon realized that fruit soups are the perfect summer food. With most of them, there’s barely any cooking involved, whether you’re using peaches for this recipe, melons for that one, or even tomatoes for gazpacho. No hot oven is needed, no long-simmering pots on the stove. The peaches for my Sunday soup required only a brief swim in boiling water and then a quick dip in ice water, so that their skins slipped off easily. After peeling them, I quickly chopped the fruit into small pieces, and pureed most of them with some buttermilk, honey, and lemon juice. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla extract were added right before I put the soup in the refrigerator to chill. It was really that easy.

peachdrink01

Shulman compares this soup to a lassi, which is an Indian milkshake drink. Jim and I sipped it slowly for dessert, after an appropriate home-cooked meal of tandoori chicken and basmati rice. The thick mixture slowly slid down our throats, the slightly sour buttermilk tamed by the sweet peaches and rich, almost warmth-inducing spices. Toasted almonds, added at the last minute as a garnish, provided a crunchy contrast to the smooth liquid. It was just as good for breakfast the next morning, while I sat at my desk and reviewed my work for the rest of the day.

I cut all of the measurements for this recipe exactly in half, so that I only had enough soup for three people instead of six. In retrospect that may have been a mistake, as I was left craving more by the time I emptied the bowl. Obviously I’m not ready for my summer of peaches to end.

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Summer Peach Carpaccio

Just so you know, I didn’t spend all of July lazing around Brooklyn while the blog went unwritten. No, one of those unproductive weeks was spent in Cape Cod, my favorite—and now annual—vacation destination. When Jim and I weren’t lounging on the beach, we were either grilling at our rental cottage or dining out at one of the Cape’s local establishments. We didn’t have much else on our agenda, to be honest. But about midway through our low-key vacation week, I discovered a dish that I couldn’t stop thinking about.

peachcarpaccio

Look at the photograph above, taken at an adorable restaurant called Terra Luna in Truro. This dish, called a peach carpaccio, was composed of thin slices of raw peaches adorned with arugula, shallots, goat cheese, candied walnuts, and just a bit of white wine vinegar (as far as I could tell). Each bite was light and sweet, a simple seasonal delight. As a playful and summery take on traditional Italian meat carpaccio, the idea of this peach-based version impressed me almost more than its actual flavors. Even as I lifted every morsel to my lips, I knew I had to steal this idea and make it my own.

Well, there’s no better time than the present, right? We’re in the midst of stone fruit season, and as you saw with my recent rustic fruit cake, peaches and plums are at their best right now. I went to the farmers’ market, picked up some fresh peaches and arugula, and returned home with a mission. I studied the photo above and cobbled together my own version of this fruity dish. The steps were simple: I sliced some peaches and a shallot, washed the arugula, and unwrapped some goat cheese. I had no idea how to make candied walnuts, so I winged it by roasting the nuts and then mixing them with some honey. A bit of food styling, a dash of balsamic vinegar (I was out of white wine vinegar), and my version of Terra Luna’s peach carpaccio was ready.

peachcarpaccio2

It was just as lovely as I remembered. The subtle taste of sweet peaches spiced with peppery arugula evoked my wonderful week at the beach with every bite. Bits of soft goat cheese, crunchy walnuts, and shallots, united by balsamic vinegar, completed my Cape Cod memory. I may not be on vacation anymore, but at least I brought the best parts back to Brooklyn with me.

Recipe for Summer Peach Carpaccio (inspired by the dish at Terra Luna restaurant in Truro, Massachusetts)

  • 2 large peaches
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, broken into small pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 large handfuls of arugula, washed
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons of soft goat cheese
  • balsamic or white wine vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper

Slice the peaches into very thin slices. (I used a regular chef’s knife, but a mandolin would probably work well, if not better.)

Heat your oven to 300 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet, and roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When ready, remove them from the oven and cool slightly. Mix them with the honey in a small bowl. Set aside.

Arrange your peach slices on a small plate so that they overlap slightly, in a circular fashion. Sprinkle the shallots, goat cheese, and walnuts on top on the peach slices. Top with the arugula. Dress lightly with vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Serves 2. Enjoy!

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