Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pesto Pasta Genovese

Ivy Manning’s Farm to Table Cookbook is due back to the library soon. I love this book! I am frantically looking through the recipes trying to decide what to make before I return it (I already renewed it twice). Last night I needed a quick dish to feed my family, and found the perfect thing: Pesto Pasta Genovese.

I know, pesto is probably coming out of you ears, along with the zucchini, but I can’t get enough. What I love about Ivy Manning’s take is that she recommends making it in a mortar. It seems like I have been hearing that a lot lately: Grind your pesto by hand. I learned that the word “pesto” comes from the Italian word for “pound,” so that makes sense. And cooks swear that it tastes better. I pulled out a stone mortar that until now has served as a decorative piece and went to work.

It is, without a doubt, the best pesto I have ever made. It took longer than in a processor, and left me with a stiff forearm, but was worth it. There is nothing like working for your food to really appreciate it! The pesto was a bit “chunkier” than normal, and the flavor just burst forth. The addition of green beans and potatoes (both of which are in season now) was the perfect touch.
I served this with Insalata Caprese with fresh garden tomatoes. Even my meat-loving husband loved this vegetarian meal (hence his inclusion of a photo of the well-cleaned plates.)

Here’s her recipe, my additions in parenthesis.

Pesto Pasta Genovese

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 pinch sea salt
½ tsp fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, peeled
(1/4 cup toasted pine nuts)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano
Salt and pepper
1 pound Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
8 ounces dried fusilli or trofie pasta
½ pound thin green beans, stem ends snapped off.

1. Remove basil leaves from stems, do not wash.

2. Place small handfuls of leaves in stone mortar with salt and lemon juice. Smash and grind the leaves against the bottom of the mortar, gradually adding more leaves.

3. When all the leaves are smashed, slice the garlic in half and remove green shoot tip. Add to mortar and smash. When the mixture is smooth, add the pine nuts (if you are using them).

4. Add oil gradually. Then stir in cheeses salt and pepper. Set aside.

5. Put potatoes, 2 pinches of slat and enough cold water to cover potatoes by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender. Drain and set aside.

6. Bring another pot of water to a boil. Stir in pasta and cook until it’s almost done, about 7.5 minutes. Add the green beans and cook another minute. Drain. Gently toss pasta, potatoes, and beans with pesto. Serve hot or room temperature.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tomatillo-Aji-Avocado Salsa Fresca

I moved to Madison, WI from Tucson, AZ over 10 years ago with just a few possessions. A cupboard (that functioned as a dresser), some clothes and two bikes, which I considered moderately important, I shoved in a small trailer and towed behind my car. My most prized possessions I packed carefully, protected from the baking sun and placed in the front seat next to me. I’m not talking about my pet cat, though he was up there, too. I am referring to two other items that I grew to love while living in Arizona - chile powder and beans.

I was leaving the beautiful Sonoran Desert and my job at Native Seeds/SEARCH in pursuit of higher education. I had worked at the small non-profit for a number of years, helping to clean and store seeds from the myriad heirloom crops that they grew and collected. I also worked in the storefront, which sold all sorts of native foods and collectibles. Some of the products I used often were the multi-colored beans, the sweet corn chicos, dried cholla buds and mesquite meal. But my two favorite items were the Aji Amarillo chile powder and the white tepary beans.

Tepary beans are native to the Desert Southwest and grow under extreme drought – the bean matures on one single irrigation or thunderstorm! The indigenous people near Tucson, the Tohono O’odham, have cultivated and eaten tepary beans for centuries. Aji Amarillo peppers are native to Peru, imparting a hot but delicately fruity flavor. The saffron gold color of the powder reflects its robust flavor.

Pairing beans with chiles is like partnering wine with cheese (or beer and cheese in Wisconsin). The combination is always a winner. As a matter of fact, a friend and I won first place at an informal chili cook-off my first year in grad school in Wisconsin. We combined the teparies and the Aji powder, with many other top-secret ingredients (winter squash and cocoa powder were two of them) and the result was unbelievable, but that’s another story.

I forgot about Aji Amarillo powder after I had used most of it up and given the rest away. It became a heart-warming memory of my former life in the Southwest. I settled for regular, red chile powder for a while, moping about that these northerners knew nothing about chiles. Going to the store I could choose from about three different types, varying from medium to hot. It worked fine, but I always longed for the full flavor of the Aji chile.

Recently at the Saturday farmer’s market I came across a pile of fresh Aji chiles. I was so excited that I bought a bunch. They were not Aji Amarillo peppers, but an Aji with a delicate green-yellow color. The medium hot peppers impart the same citrus-y flavor as I remembered the Aji Amarillo having. With no teparies in sight, I wondered what to do. With a tip of my hat to my desert past, I embraced my Upper-Midwestern life and all that it has to offer. I chopped a bunch of the tomatillos that are growing rampant in my garden, and some of the chiles. Adding a smooth bite of avocado to balance the crispness of the tomatillos and peppers, and some herbs and spices, I made a Tomatillo-Aji-Avocado Salsa Fresca. Perfect to conjure sweet memories, and create spicy new ones.

Tomatillo-Aji-Avocado Salsa Fresca

Please use quantities that taste good to you! This is an approximation.

2 cups of fresh tomatillos, de-skinned, rinsed and chopped (1-1.5 cup chopped)

1 avocado, pitted and chopped

½ -1 Aji pepper, seeded, chopped (use gloves!)

1 tsp salt

1.5 tsp sugar

juice of 1 lime

½ cup cilantro chopped

Mix it all and adjust ingredients until it tastes delicious!Eat.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Festive Food

I mark the progression of summer in two ways: the state of my garden and Madison’s series of summer festivals. Currently, my garden is overrun with weeds, fairly dry and bearing cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and beans. The larger tomatoes and peppers are not ripe yet, and seeds for fall greens are waiting to be planted (that’s partly because I keep forgetting, I admit).

Last weekend I went to one of my favorite Madison festivals, Africa Fest. It is undoubtedly one of the highlights of my summer because, as many of you know, I love African music and dance. And once again WADOMA (the dance group I founded with my husband) performed in the heat of the evening, making the festivities that much more enjoyable. Not that it is hard to enjoy an African party. The music was live and loud. Talented performers showcased the diversity of dance and music styles from all over Africa and the Caribbean.

The food was incredible, too. Many of Madison’s acclaimed African and Caribbean restaurants were represented, such as Jamerica, and Buraka. Food choices ranged from the ever-popular peanut sauce (mafe) with chicken, to seasoned rice and vegetables, to jerk tofu. I ordered both mafe and grilled chicken with a pepper sauce from Africana restaurant, which served food from its brand new food cart. Fatu cheerfully handed me two heaping plates of delicious food from behind the cart’s glass window as my husband and children descended hungrily upon me. Tasting the savory food and listening to the drum rhythms made for an effortless afternoon tour through West and East Africa to the Caribbean.

Africa Fest, which takes place at Warner Park every August, also signifies that summer is waning, and fall is around the corner. There are a few more festivals to go, providing much needed celebratory send-offs into the cold months ahead.

Be sure to check out Orton Park Festival, August 28-30; Taste of Madison, September 5 & 6; Willy Street Fair, September 19 & 20; and Food for Thought Festival with Keynote Speaker Michael Pollan, September 26. Enjoy sampling music and food from numerous talented artists and notable Madison restaurants. I’ll see you there – unless I’m buried in weeds and ripe tomatoes!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grilled Veggie (including zucchini) Galette

When my neighbor told me that two zucchini plants are one too many, I thought for sure she was exaggerating. She wasn’t.

As the sun’s rays began to heat the ground last spring, I ambitiously pressed a cluster of squash seeds into freshly mounded dirt. Repeating this process three times in about 5 minutes flat, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. After what seemed like forever, the leathery cotyledons emerged, bold and green. I tended them as a mother tends her new baby, checking on them often, covering them with mulch and watering them daily. I felt the stagnant, beige days of spring slip away as signs of new growth
and life burst forth.

Soon the main leaves rose up, with the confidence of a Broadway star, reaching for the sky. With mixed sadness and resolve I thinned those young plants. It’s for their own good, I reminded myself. One plant per hill, plus one plant just in case. Those four plants thrived in their newly acquired space, stretching their long limbs across the black dirt. In my newfound state of plant parenthood I set tomato, pepper and basil seedlings in the ground, ensuring constant summer companionship for the zucchini plants.

That vegetable bed has grown up; there is a fierce sense of competition out there now as the mature plants vie for space and sun. The zucchini, though down to two plants, are racing neck-to-neck with the Sungold tomato plant for first place. The zucchini plants’ broad, lobed leaves shade the basil and peppers, and hide the tender young fruit as they emerge from among the basal stems. Under the safety of the leaves the slender yellow beacons are almost undetectable at first, but in a matter of days, sometimes even hours it seems, those delicate squash become behemoth, growing to the size of small baseball bats in frighteningly quick succession.

At first I just chopped them raw into salads, or sautéed them with tomatoes to add to our morning egg scramble. But soon I realized that their glory, though prolific, would seem short-lived come fall. The golden fruit deserve a stage on which to shine their youthful exuberance. In my new favorite cookbook, The Farm to Table Cookbook by Ivy Manning, her recipe for Grilled Vegetable Galette serves that purpose well. The rustic crust, with a slight crunch of cornmeal, underscores the relaxed feeling of an August night. Combining delicate squash with mushrooms and roasted red peppers (I omitted the eggplant), all on a bed of creamy cheese, brings out the vegetables’ flavor in the simplest and most beautiful way. Her book has become my constant summer cooking companion – and a source of great recipes to tuck into the basket of summer squash that I am taking to my neighbor.

Grilled Vegetable Galette

For the Crust:
1 cup all purpose flour (I used pastry flour)
¼ cup fine ground cornmeal
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
7 tbsp cold unsalted butter (I used half butter, half vegetarians shortening)
3 tbsp full fat plain yogurt
¼ cup cold water

For the Filling:
1 medium eggplant, sliced into ½ inch thick rounds (I did not use)
1 cup olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
6 ounces zucchini, sliced at an angle ½ inch thick
1 medium Portobello mushroom
4 oz soft cheese such as Havarti or Fontina
1 cup roasted bell peppers
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water

Directions: (paraphrased)

1. Put flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt and butter into a food processor or mixing bowl. Pulse or work in butter with pastry blender until the butter is the size of course gravel, or small peas. In a small bowl, mix the yogurt and ice water, then add to flour mixture. Pulse 4 or 5 times until just mixed. Squeeze dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.

2. Preheat the grill. Scrape black quills from underside of mushroom. Brush vegetables liberally with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill at about 400 degrees until they are translucent and/or soften. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 375. Remove dough from fridge and let rest about 5 minutes. On a lightly floured parchment, roll out dough to about a 12-inch round. It doesn’t have to be perfect and shouldn’t be overworked! Transfer parchment and dough to baking sheet.

4. Cut cheese into thin slices and place in center of dough, leaving a 2-inch border around edges. Top with peppers, squash, mushroom slices and eggplant. Bring edges of dough up, folding and pressing to overlap. The galette should not look perfect; think rustic! Do not overwork dough.

5. Whisk egg yolk with water and a pinch of salt. Brush evenly on dough and bake until golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Beer, Beer and More Beer

The heat of August is upon us (well, sort of) and one of Madison’s favorite warm-weather festivals is here. This weekend Olin Park becomes the scenic site of beer-drinking decadence as over 100 brewers set up for sell-out crowds at the 23rd annual Great Taste of the Midwest. Oh, we love our beer!

The festival is all about taking beer drinking and brewing to a new level. Sample beer straight from the “firkin,” unfiltered and twice fermented beer served from the cask, then head over to the educational tent to learn about pairing beer with chocolate and cheese. The beer selection is unprecedented, and creative, leaving me wondering how all of the educational information will be retained later: Mississippi Mocha Coffee Stout, Sting Like a Bee or Collaborative Evil, anyone?

The only caveat? Tickets sold out in May. If you are among the lucky ones who won a lottery to purchase tickets, or among the dedicated that lined up early at the sales outlets, then enjoy! The rest of us can still sample great Midwest microbrew beer at various venues around Madison. One of my favorites is The Malt House, which just reopened and features outdoor seating. Unless an X-rated novelty shop is your thing, the 'scenery' at the corner of E. Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street is not quite as nice as Olin Park. On the other hand, when you’re outside enjoying a beer with friends, who cares?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Watch Your Cookprint!

All right, I’ve heard of “going green.” Who hasn’t? And reducing my carbon footprint –I’m all over it. Seriously. I consider myself way “greener” than the average Joe Six-pack -- I buy local, shop at thrift stores, bike often, collect water in a rain barrel, etc. But when Kate Heyhoe, author of Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen, suggested that I reduce my “cookprint,” I have to admit I was stumped.

In a recent podcast of The Splendid Table, Hostess Lynne Rossetto Kaspar and Kate Heyhoe discussed greening up your cooking. What is a "cookprint?" In a nutshell, it is reducing your actual energy expenditure in the kitchen. No, not by sitting down while watching butter melt. Instead, when you boil pasta, Kate suggests you turn the flame off after 2 minutes and let the pasta cook the rest of the way in the hot, but not boiling, water. She also recommends storing your meat in a bin in the fridge with freezer packs, so that the meat stays slightly cooler than the rest of the food in the fridge without you having to adjust the overall temperature.

I have to say, each of episode of The Splendid Table has opened my eyes and inspired me. I even turned off the grill today before my burger was cooked, and let it finish cooking from the residual heat. Then I topped it with (local) Hook’s 3- year cheddar, Sungold tomatoes from my garden and chowed down. Yum!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Beet Gnocchi with Roasted Fingerlings, Spigariello with Bacon, and Sage Butter Sauce

Spigariello. The name caught my attention immediately. I said it in my head, spigariello, then whispered it, and finally said it aloud, trying to conjure up my Italian roots. “Spigariello?” I have never heard of it before. But there it was, the curled edges of the blue-green leaves resting tantalizingly juxtaposed against a beautiful, pastel-orange head of cauliflower. The neighboring onions, carrots and peppers, though gleaming and well endowed, never stood a chance.

I had been walking around the Dane County Farmer’s Market, quite leisurely, surveying pastries for a future blog post. It was only 7 a.m. (the latest you want to arrive at this market if you are seriously shopping. By 9 a.m. it is packed with people, strollers and wagons plodding slowly in a counter-clockwise direction, making it nearly impossible to browse the selections), and the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and flaky pain au chocolate was hard to pass up. I was very focused on the job at hand – hey, someone has to do the hard work! To be honest, the vegetables just weren’t catching my attention - until I caught sight of the spigariello, that is. I just couldn’t walk away. It was as if someone had whispered the most romantic word in my ear. There it was, bold ruffles, draped seductively across a robust cauliflower. How could I leave it there, untended?

I imagined myself at home, drizzling a little olive oil in a hot, cast iron skillet, ready to sauté the spigariello leaves. My husband asks, “What’s for dinner?” and I say, “Spigariello, honey.” My thoughts leap to Sophia Loren, who supposedly attributed her great figure to pasta. I’m sure she has spigariello in her day, too. Pasta and spigariello? If it worked for her, it could work for me, too!

The farm-stand guy is holding out a plastic bag for me, and seems less enamored with the leafy vegetable and its potential for romantic enlivenment than I am. In fact, he seems impatient to move on to the other customers. “Sauté it with a little salt and garlic,” he says, as he practically shoves the bag in my hand. I snap out of my cooking-à-la-Sophia Loren fantasy, and join the morning shoppers again. I love greens with garlic, but think these are deserving of something more. I embrace the bunch of greens with my hand, and then load them in my shopping bag. In my smitten state of mind, I impulsively grab a chiogga beet, pay up and move on.

Although I am admittedly mystified and sidetracked by my new find, I am somehow able to refocus on my search for great pastries. I’m sure Sophia Loren ate those, too. A woman’s goodness cannot come from pasta alone! As I continue to walk around the market stalls, I am planning and plotting about how to cook this heirloom Italian vegetable. Pastries are easy. Bite, dunk in coffee, another bite, sip coffee, brush crumbs off shirt. But what is worthy of being cooked with seductive spigariello? Baby fingerlings call out to me, their asymmetrical orientation an odd compliment to the audacious bunch of greens. Farm-fresh bacon? I buy a package and head home wondering how I will piece this together. A cup of coffee and pumpkin scone later, I have the answer. Rosebud pink gnocchi, and a simple herb butter sauce will amply, yet demurely, support greens cooked with garlic, bacon and pepper. I think even Sophia Loren would approve.

Beet Gnocchi with Roasted Fingerlings, Spigariello, Bacon and Sage Butter Sauce
(feel free to enjoy any portion of this meal on its own!)

Beet Gnocchi
These are simply beautiful and easy to make. They are just time consuming to roll and cut. Well worth it!

(from Bon Appetit October 2006)

3 small beets, trimmed
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1 large egg
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided

1. Preheat oven to 450˚. Wrap beets in foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour. (Cook potatoes at same time! See below)
2. Cool 15 minutes and slip skins off
3. Grate coarsely. Place 3/4 cup of beets in large bowl
4. Stir in ricotta, egg, 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste
5. Add 1 cup flour
6. You can make it ahead up to this point and refrigerate
7. Lightly dust baking sheet with flour. Place remaining 1/2 cup flour in small bowl
8. Measure out tbsp-sized scoops of dough and coat with flour
9. Roll with a gnocchi board or a fork to get the traditional indentations, or roll into a 1 1/2 inch log and gently press the center with your fingertip to make slight indentations
10. Transfer gnocchi to prepared baking sheet
11. Can be prepared to this point up to 6 hours ahead. Cover and chill
12. Put a large, well-salted pot of water on to boil. Cook gnocchi until they float to the surface, about 2 minutes
13. Cook about another minute, then remove with a slotted spoon.
14. Transfer to skillet with Sage Butter Sauce.
15.Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese.

Sage Butter Sauce

Slightly less than 1/4 cup each unsalted and salted butter
1 tsp dried sage, or 2 tsp fresh chopped sage, or to taste
11/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Brown butter over very low heat. Keep an eye on it as it browns quickly!
2. Add in sage leaves, and walnuts and turn off heat. Keep warm if it cools quickly.

Roasted Fingerlings
6-10 Fingerling potatoes
coarse sea salt
olive oil

1. Toss fingerlings in olive oil and salt.
2. Wrap in foil.
3. Roast at same time as beets, turning once as they cook.

Spigariello with Bacon and Pepper

4 strips bacon (I prefer uncured)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch spigariello leaves, or other slightly bitter greens, like kale or brocolli rabe, washed and thick stems removed. Chop greens if you like.
2 cloves garlic
hot pepper flakes or crushed to taste (I used just a pinch)
salt to taste

1. Heat skillet medium high and cook bacon until brown and crispy.
2. Remove bacon and drain on paper towel.
3. Remove most of bacon fat, leaving a tsp or decent coating in bottom of skillet.
4. Add a touch of olive oil to pan and turn down heat to medium.
5. Add washed greens and salt, covering to let steam cook them.
6. After they have wilted add in garlic and sauté another 2 minutes or so. Add in chile pepper to taste.
7. Serve with crumbled bacon.

Heap plate full of greens, gnocchi and potatoes. Enjoy!