Posts tagged vegetarian

More Chard

lasagna08_adjusted

I may have to change the name of this blog from Artichoke Heart to Swiss Chard of My Heart (or something along those lines.) Lately I can’t get enough of this leafy green. That Swiss chard, cannellini bean, and barley soup should have kept me satisfied for at least a few weeks, but last weekend Jim and I returned for more, making a meatless lasagna layered with tomatoes, ricotta cheese, and yes, more chard.

The more I cook with Swiss chard, the more I realize how versatile it is. I first discovered it last summer when I made chard leaves stuffed with lemon rice, and since then I’ve tried to cook with it whenever possible. With its mild flavor—it’s not one of those bitter greens like escarole or broccoli rabe—and its sturdy, almost elastic texture, it holds its own in a variety of recipes. And as stated here and here by the New York Times, chard is one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat, full of calcium, potassium, and vitamins C and A.

I should confess that I had never actually made lasagna before this past weekend. But with the help of this recipe, I got the hang of things quickly. I infused the tomato sauce with onions instead of garlic—I just happen to prefer my tomato sauces this way—and Jim and I used no-boil lasagna noodles. The result was wonderful: a light, healthy pasta dish where the sweet tomato sauce and ricotta cheese were perfectly complemented by the gentle chard. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss the meat at all. I’m just trying to figure out what to make with the next batch of Swiss chard.

Recipe for Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Tomato Sauce, and Ricotta (Adapted from the New York Times’s Recipes for Health section. Tips on preparing no-boil lasagna noodles adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.)

  • 1 large batch of Swiss chard, washed thoroughly
  • salt
  • 1/2 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 5-6 leaves of basil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Put a large pot of generously salted water over high heat. While you wait for the water to boil, make your tomato sauce. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped onion to the pot and cook, stirring, until soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove the onions from the oil and discard. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil, and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Stir often, until the sauce thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes. When finished, remove the basil leaves and discard. Set the pot to the side and turn to the Swiss chard.

Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut the Swiss chard leaves away from the stems. Discard the stems or save them for another use. When the water in the large pot is boiling, add the Swiss chard. Boil for 1 minute (from the time the water comes back to a boil). You want the leaves to be tender but still bright green; do not overcook. Remove the leaves from the water with a slotted spoon and add them to the ice water; this stops them from cooking further. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop the leaves coarsely. Put the tomato sauce back over low heat, stir in the Swiss chard, and set the pot aside again.

Prepare the lasagna noodles. Fill an oblong baking dish with hot tap water. Add the noodles and soak for 10 minutes, shaking the dish often to keep the noodles from sticking together. Remove the noodles to clean dishcloths and dab excess water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce to the bottom of a rectangular baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half the ricotta over the noodles and half the tomato-chard sauce over the ricotta. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the tomato-chard sauce. Add another layer of noodles and top them with the rest of the ricotta, sauce, and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the lasagna. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. If you like, finish the lasagna under the broiler for 3 minutes, uncovered, until top is browned. Let the lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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One More Soup, In Case We Need It

soup

I’m afraid to say that spring is in the air because I don’t want to jinx it. But I’m starting to make some adjustments: I’ve put the puffy winter jacket away in favor of my lighter wool coat. I don’t know where my hat is. And I’m thinking about dishes with ingredients like asparagus and peas. I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but I can’t help it.

So before I get carried away by the warm air and chirping birds outside, I’m going to tell you about another soup, this time a lovely, rustic combination of Swiss chard, barley, and cannellini beans. It’s hearty, healthy, and totally appropriate for fall or winter. Let’s think of it as the final chapter in my cold weather soup series, and perhaps it will be useful when that last gasp of winter rolls around in a week or two. (Come on, you know it will. I’m sure it’s getting ready to pounce.) 

There’s another interesting aspect to this soup, besides its ability to keep the cold weather at arm’s length: It marks the first time I cooked with pearl barley. I’m always looking for ways to increase the amount of grains in my diet, and I have often read that barley works well in soups and stews. Pearl barley is not the most nutritious grain out there—it is polished so that both the outer hull and the nutritious layer of bran are removed. But many people like working with it because it cooks faster and is said to be less chewy than other unprocessed forms of barley.

Mixed with the mild Swiss chard and hearty beans, the pearl barley added a light, spongy element to the soup to create a gentle, satisfying meal from start to finish. The next time I make this soup, I think I will shift some of the steps around and add the Swiss chard at the end instead of cooking it for 40 minutes as suggested in the recipe. Not only would this reduce the cooking time a bit, but I think the greens would retain more nutrients if they were cooked for a shorter period of time. So that’s my only advice for you regarding this soup. But you know what? I hope that spring sticks around and you don’t need it anytime soon.

Recipe for Swiss Chard, Barley, and Cannellini Bean Soup (Adapted from a recipe by Marcella Hazan that appeared in Food & Wine magazine many years ago. It has been in my collection for a long time, but I cannot find it online.)

  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard, washed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup chopped canned tomatoes in their juice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Cut the leaves of the Swiss chard away from the stalks. Slice the stalks crosswise into small pieces. Slice the leaves into strips about 1/4 inch wide.

Heat the olive oil and onion in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until onion is slightly softer, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the Swiss chard and season with a bit of salt. Cover and cook over very low heat for about 40 minutes. Stir once or twice.

At the same time you start cooking the onion in the large soup pot, bring 5 cups of water to boil in a medium pot. Add the barley and simmer over low heat, partly covered, until tender. This will take about 35 minutes. Drain the barley but reserve the cooking water.

Add the beans and barley to the chard, stir, and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in 2 1/2 cups of the barley water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat. Serve in bowls with freshly grated Parmesan. You can thin any leftovers with water if it seems too thick. Serves 4 to 6. Enjoy!

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On My Own for Dinner

lentil-salad

This past week was insane, with Jim out of town for business and me working like crazy. My dear husband finally staggered back home yesterday on the red-eye, just in time for me to leave for Italy today. I’m bleary-eyed, run-down, and can’t remember anything beyond what I ate for dinner during the past few days, so this will be a quick post before the blog goes on hiatus for a week. 

When Jim’s away I usually indulge in some of my favorite quick comfort foods for dinner. Spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, hot pepper flakes, and copious amounts of grated parmesan is a must. So is steamed broccoli, drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sprinkled lightly with salt. I try to cook dishes that involve a minimum of effort, using ingredients that Jim wouldn’t normally eat (unless I force him to, of course). 

During this past week on my own I focused on two of his least favorite foods: lentils and brussels sprouts. While lentils have been a staple in my pantry for years, I’m a recent convert to the wonders of brussels sprouts. I finally bought into the hype about a year ago, when my friends were eating them all the time and certain restaurants were earning raves for their treatments of this vegetable.

On Tuesday I cooked some green lentils with carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Then I threw in some sautéed brussels sprouts leaves and raw cherry tomatoes for a warm winter salad. Lentils are so versatile; I love tossing them with a jumble of cooked and raw vegetables, just to see if the contrast of textures and flavors will work. This one wasn’t perfect—next time I’ll forgo cooking the lentils with vegetables and use plain water as I usually do—but I thoroughly enjoyed it on two nights this week. A few days later I halved the remaining brussels sprouts and roasted them in the oven, pairing them with some brown rice for a simple and comforting dinner for one. 

While I always prefer to eat dinner with Jim, I bet he’s happy he missed my week of lentils and brussels sprouts. I wonder what foods he’ll enjoy while I’m gone this week. (Actually, maybe I’m better off not knowing.) What are some of your favorite comfort foods, things you cook only when you’re on your own? 

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Valentine’s Day Hits and Misses

Poor Jim. February deals him a double whammy each year: First comes my birthday on the 9th, then Valentine’s Day less than a week later. To take some pressure off this celebratory one-two punch, instead of going out we cook dinner at home on Valentine’s Day. Some meals turn out wonderfully, like last year’s rack of lamb and chocolate pots-de-crème. This year was, well…okay. Let’s start with not-so-great and save the best for last:

lambshanks

The Miss: Greek-Style Braised Lambs Shanks
I knew I wanted to make some sort of braised meat for the main course. Doesn’t a slow-cooked, rich piece of red meat sound like the perfect foundation for a romantic meal? (Sorry, vegetarians.) I stubbornly thought so. Lamb shank, a tough cut that responds well to braising, had been on my to-cook list for a long time. I sent Jim off to the butcher with a wave and a smile while I looked for a recipe.

To my surprise, my cookbooks were no help, providing not a single recipe for my desired meal. I turned to the trusty Internet and came across these Greek-style braised lamb shanks. (I still don’t really understand what is so Greek about this recipe; there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly Greek about the dish apart from the lamb. Whatever, I’m not here to argue with Epicurious.)

I’ll cut to the chase: I halved the recipe from 6 shanks to 3, and in a dumb move I decided to reduce the braising liquid without reducing the cooking time. So, after 2 hours in the oven, my extravagant, Merlot-based sauce reduced down to almost nothing, resulting more in a roasted lamb shank dinner instead of the braised-meat-falling-off-the-bone-and-swimming-in-a-deep-romantic-sauce type meal I was hoping for.

Now I am also wondering if there was a mistake in the recipe, which instructed me to cook the shanks in the oven uncovered. Aren’t most braised dishes cooked with the cover firmly in place in order to prevent evaporation of the cooking liquid? The shanks tasted fine, but I have learned my braising lesson. Oh, we also made some lemon orzo and a spinach salad on the side. sorbet2Meh.

The Hit: Blood Orange Sorbet
Jim gave me a copy of Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook for my birthday, and we decided to break it in with the recipe for blood orange sorbet. Making this frosty treat gave me the opportunity to try yet another birthday gift I received, this time from my sister: the ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.

As always, simple recipes yield the best results. After squeezing the juice from several crimson blood oranges, we mixed it with some (a lot of) sugar and threw the entire mixture in the fridge to cool. About half an hour later we put the ice cream attachment to work on the mixer. We didn’t have to lift a finger. The KitchenAid simply twirled away for about 20 minutes, and suddenly our fresh, sparkling dessert was ready. We placed it in the freezer for the end of our meal. 

And as I mentioned above, we truly saved the best for last. Cool, sweet, and simply pretty to look at, this refreshing sorbet cheered me up after my braising adventure gone bad. I can’t wait to see what other kind of sorbets and ice creams we come up with. Maybe I should start planning for next year. Jim, are you ready yet?

Recipe for Blood Orange Sorbet (adapted from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 6 medium blood oranges
  • 1 regular medium orange
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • fresh mint, for garnish

Wash 1 or 2 of the blood oranges and grate 2 tablespoons of zest from them. Halve and juice all of the oranges, discarding any seeds that fall in along the way. This will leave you with about 1 cup of juice. Put the orange juice and the zest in medium bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Refrigerate the mixture until it is very cold, around 40 degrees. Add the mixture to the ice-cream churner or machine. Churn the mixture until it starts crystallizing, about 15 to 30 minutes. You can stop churning it once it has reached your desired consistency. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place it in the freezer until firm. When ready, scoop the sorbet into 2 bowls and garnish with fresh mint. (The sorbet can be stored in the freezer for 2 days.) Serves 2. Enjoy!

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More Snow, More Soup

soup

How much snow can we get in one winter? Lately it seems like hardly a day has gone by without some sort of snowfall, whether as light flurries or fat, drippy flakes. And of course we can’t forget about the freezing winds and equally low temperatures. At night I struggle home from the subway in my puffy coat, arms hugging my sides as I try to reach my apartment as quickly as possible. All I want to do is to get warm. And recently, to my surprise, warming up after a long, cold day has meant soup.

I’m surprised by my need for soup because I’ve never considered myself a soup person. But since this never-ending cold arrived I’ve rarely thought of any other type of meal. I started with my soul-satisfying lentil soup and moved on to this sweet potato and butternut squash soup from the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section one week later.

I was attracted to this soup because of its ingredients: sunny sweet potatoes and butternut squash. With these two orange vegetables, Jim and I would receive a double dose of vitamin C, always welcome during flu and cold season. I was also curious when I noticed that the recipe didn’t require cream or butter. And then I saw that the recipe was for a pureed soup and I knew I had to make it. Pureed soups are simply my favorite.

This one is especially easy to prepare after a long day at work. The most time-consuming aspect of the recipe is just peeling the potatoes and butternut squash. After that’s done you just toss the vegetables in a pot with some onion, fresh ginger, and some stock or water, and cook it for a while, maybe 30 to 40 minutes. I used up some homemade vegetable stock from the freezer mixed with a bit of water. A quick whir with the immersion blender, and dinner was served.

Pureed into a rich, soothing soup as orange as a sunset, the sweet, buttery vegetables slid easily down my throat and warmed me from head to toe. Spicy ginger added a tingly accent to the meal, and I honestly didn’t notice the lack of cream. The soup didn’t melt the snow outside, but at least I was warm inside. That’s what counts.

Recipe for Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (I used 4 cups of vegetable stock and 2 cups of water)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot or large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the squash, potatoes, and whatever liquid you have chosen. Bring to a simmer. Stir. Add a bit of salt to taste, lower the heat, and cover. Simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and can be broken apart with a spoon.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Stir with a whisk to even out the texture. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread. Soup should serve 4 to 6 people. Enjoy!

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My Lentil Soup

soup

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (or, if this is your first visit, welcome!), you may have noticed that I don’t always publish a recipe when I cook a new dish and report the results. When I follow the instructions of someone else’s recipe, I’m more comfortable providing a link or a reference to the original. I just don’t feel like it’s my recipe to post unless I’ve significantly changed at least one of the steps or ingredients.

But of course I often cook from my personal recipe collection. I have a few old standards, dishes that I’ve made so often and tailored to my tastes that I fully claim them as my own. One of these is my lentil soup.

I adapted my recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, which also happens to be the first cookbook I ever bought for myself: A Fresh Taste of Italy by Michele Scicolone. Almost all of the pages are curled and dog-eared, splattered with various sauces and dusted with flour or cornmeal. During my first years out of college I basically learned how to cook from this book, and I still turn to it for advice when roasting a chicken or making pizza dough.

My lentil soup is a basic recipe, really, using brown or green lentils simmered with carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and tomatoes. Over the years I’ve added more tomatoes than called for in Scicolone’s original recipe. And instead of finishing the soup with escarole I add spinach, cooking it for a few minutes until it is just wilted. When I lived alone I made this soup at least twice a month during the winter, tinkering with it and memorizing the steps until it truly became my own. It comforts me in a way that no other dish does, perhaps because it’s attached to those early years of independence and culinary experimentation.

I made it recently after a long hiatus, during one of those freezing nights we experienced last week. As I spooned the soup into my bowl, I inhaled the familiar aroma of meaty lentils and sweet tomatoes. Hearty and rustic, with bright spots of orange carrots and green spinach swimming in a sea of steaming legumes, it was as satisfying as I remembered. And it was all mine.

Christina’s Lentil Soup (adapted from Michele Scicolone’s recipe for Lentil and Escarole Soup in A Fresh Taste of Italy)

  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped canned Italian tomatoes
  • 1 cup of brown or green lentils
  • 1 head of fresh spinach, washed and chopped
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Rinse the lentils and set them aside, picking out any small stones. Set them aside.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat a few glugs of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften. This will take about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the lentils to the pot. Add 4 1/2 cups cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 25 to 30 minutes, covered, until the lentils are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

When the lentils are cooked, stir in the spinach. It will look like too much, but spinach cooks down quite a bit. Cook until the spinach is just wilted. If the soup seems a little too thick for your taste, stir in a bit more water. You may want to do this when heating up any leftovers as well.

Serve hot, with grated cheese. Serves 4 hungry people. Enjoy!

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Squash(ed) Resolutions

squash

New Year’s Resolution #1: Eat less meat and more vegetables.

New Year’s Resolution #2: Take better photographs.

Looking at the photo of last week’s winter squash gratin (above), I’m wondering if I should reverse the priority of these resolutions. That is one terrible photograph up there. And I wonder why I have such a small readership.

OK, so we’ve established that I will work harder on my food photography in 2009. But now let’s address resolution #1. I came back from the December holidays feeling meated-out. Beef Wellington, pasta and meatballs, pork three ways: You name it, I ate it. And I’m still feeling it. My focus for the new year is to get back on track with a balanced diet, eating as many different vegetables and healthy, home-cooked meals as I can.

Aiding me in this quest is the Fitness and Nutrition section of the New York Times, which I stumbled upon online a few months ago. Whenever I clicked around the Times’s site something from that section caught my eye, whether it was a delicious-sounding recipe or an intriguing article like that list of healthy foods all of us should be eating but aren’t. (There’s another resolution in there somewhere, but I just can’t deal with it right now.)

I decided that the section’s winter squash gratin would be my first vegetarian dish of the new year. Following the recipe closely, I roasted the squash, chopped the parsley and sage, beat the eggs and mixed them with the cooked squash, milk, and Gruyère cheese before topping the mixture with Parmesan and baking it for 30 minutes.

It emerged from the oven fluffy, bright, and steaming, and practically floated onto our plates. The two cheeses added a sharp, almost tangy edge to the sweet squash, but I have to admit, I didn’t fall in love with this gratin. It was missing something, and in retrospect I’m guessing it was the carbs. Perhaps next time I will sprinkle more Parmesan across the top to achieve a more intense brown crust. I’m also tempted to top the gratin with panko and see if it satisfies my yearning for bread.

Although my gratin was a rather lackluster attempt at vegetarian goodness, I haven’t lost faith in the Times’s Fitness & Nutrition column. I have a whole host of recipes to try in the new year, and I’m sure I will find a way to make this gratin work as well. I’m considering a stewed lentils and cabbage dish for next week. With recipes like this, I shouldn’t have any problems sticking with my resolution. To be honest, I’m a little more worried about the photography…

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