Root Vegetables

21 Jan
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carrots, red beets, white potatoes and parsley

When winter sets in, the best of the local farms, even those with extended growing seasons, will have a predominance of root vegetables to offer. No late tomatoes from the hoop house, no summer squash. In California, all of those crops have gone south to Mexico for the winter. Now we see these earthy, winter jewels in the farmer’s markets and CSA boxes: mature carrots and potatoes, beets of every color, sweet potatoes, parsnips, celery root.  Late winter can be monotonous, after you’ve received box after box of root vegetables, and options for cooking them seem to run out, but truthfully, there is one tried-and-true way to prepare the earth’s tubers: roast them.

Once you get started, the options become endless. The easy part is paring the skin with a vegetable peeler (though that combined with chopping them can be not-so-easy on wrists, power through, they are worth it), then cutting them into chunks of equal size. Douse them in sufficient olive oil and enough salt and pepper to appeal to the eye, then tuck them into a 350 degree oven, turning every 10 minutes or so. For the most part, they will tell you when they are done, with a slight brown edge and a pucker of flesh, but you can also pierce them with a fork or paring knife, or better yet, eat a chunk. Most vegetables take 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the cut.

Then come the options: Chopped herbs? Thick sliced shallots and garlic? A finish of vinaigrette at the end of cooking? A pesto rub before roasting? How about a honey or sugar glaze?

Use your imagination, go without a recipe, take some time to experiment with roasting, and enjoy the cozy comfort of these earthy winter gifts.

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chioggia beets, turnips and carrots with thyme

Cauliflower and Potatoes

14 Jan

Cauliflower Mashed PotatoesSubbing mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes is a novel trend, and for all of the right reasons: it has fewer carbohydrates, more fiber and is rich with vitamins C and K. But have you tried the swap on your kids? Not so popular at my dinner table, where I heard a hilarious conversation between my daughter and friend: “These mashed potatoes taste terrible!” “I think they’re that thing that parents do with the cauliflower instead of potatoes to make us eat cauliflower.” I was called out, a little ashamed that I was trying to pull one over, but the truth was, I liked it. In an attempt to meet in the middle, I made a half and half compromise, which won the whole family over. This mash is very light, using olive oil and chicken stock, but if you prefer a richer flavor, you can substitute butter and milk.

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4

1 head cauliflower, stem removed, broken into florets

2 bay leaves

1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into equally-sized chunks

1/2 cup of homemade chicken stock, or a good quality, low sodium boxed broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Fill a large stock pot with water and a generous pinch of salt. Add the cauliflower and bay leaves, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the cauliflower until slightly tender, then add the potatoes in with the cauliflower, and cook until the potatoes are tender to the probe of a fork. Drain the cauliflower and potatoes in a colander, shaking off the excess water.

Pass the cauliflower potato mixture through a ricer or food mill, squeezing the mixture back into the hot stock pot to help steam away any excess moisture. Discard the bay leaves. Add the chicken stock and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper, tasting to adjust the seasoning.

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes 2

Spinach & Carrots

11 Jan

DSC00961This is what you need to eat right now.

Green Lentil and Spinach Soup

Serves 4

Olive oil

2 cups sliced carrots

1 cup sliced celery

1 cup diced onion

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 whole fresh thyme stems with leaves

1 bay leaf

1 15-ounce can diced organic tomatoes with juices

6 cups homemade chicken stock or good quality boxed stock

1 1/2 cup dried green lentils

1 bunch fresh spinach, stems removed, triple washed

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Heat a large stock pot, then add olive oil, carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Cook until vegetables soften, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes. Add the thyme stems, bay leaf and tomatoes, then cook another 5 minutes, until the herbs and tomatoes are very fragrant. Add the chicken stock and lentils, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Taste the broth for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed. Simmer the lentils for about 20 minutes until they are tender, then stir in spinach leaves until wilted. Pull out the thyme leaves and bay leaves, season with additional salt and pepper if needed, then serve.

Rainbow Chard

10 Jan

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I’m amazed when I open up the farm box and see a bunch of rainbow chard. The vivid jewel tones provoke an exclamation of nature-awe, “How did that happen?!?” Like a stain glass window, the stems range from turmeric yellow to scarlet, tangerine, smokey plum and emerald. Not only did Mother Nature make it beautiful, she packed it with nutrients like vitamins A and K, iron, dietary fiber and phytochemicals.

I wanted to treat my rainbow chard with the same deft elegance, and use it as a gift wrap for rustic Italian flavors. With a “root-to-stem” approach, I sautéed the chopped stems, which are similar in texture to celery, then I added in onion, garlic, pine nuts, capers and basil. The blanched leaves were to both cloak to keep the tilapia filet tender and add earthy flavor, in a deceptively simple way to get dinner on the table. Serve with steamed farro for a complete meal.

Rainbow Chard Roasted Tilapia with Pine Nuts

Serves 4

1 bunch Rainbow chard, leaves torn from stems, stems chopped

Olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/4 cup toasted pinenuts

4 large fresh basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

pinch of red chile flakes

4 tilapia filets

Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

Heat an oven to 350 degrees. Bring a stock pot filled with water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and the rainbow chard leaves, blanching them for 1 minute, until slightly wilted. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Heat a large skillet, then add the rainbow chard stems and onion. Cook until the vegetables soften, then add the garlic, and continue to cook until vegetables just begin to brown. Turn off the heat, stir in the pine nuts, basil and chile flakes, then season with salt.

Season the tilapia with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place a filet on top of a rainbow chard leaf, then a quarter of the vegetable filling. Fold the sides of the chard leaf over the filet into a tight envelope. If the chard leaf does not cover the fish, then roll in a second leaf to cover. Continue with the remaining tilapia filets.

Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a 9×13 glass baking dish, then place the chard-wrapped tilapia in the baking dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until the the tip of a paring knife can easily pierce the tilapia, meeting no resistance. Serve immediately.

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Romanesco Cauliflower

22 Feb

DSC00499Mardi Gras approaches, and I’ve turned my farm box into a veggie-centric dish worthy of a bead toss. Oh, and it’s good for you, quick and easy to make. You’re welcome.

Cauliflower Jambalaya
Serves 4
Olive oil
1/2 cup spicy sausage, such as Andouille or chorizo
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 cups blanched cauliflower
1 cup chopped kale
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
1 22-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 cup quick cook brown basmati rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Heat oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven and add the sausage. Cook the sausage until it is browned, then remove from the pan and add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Stir and cook until vegetables are soft, then add the cauliflower, kale, thyme, paprika, cayenne, salt and black pepper, and stir until spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, Worchestershire sauce, the rice and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper, stir, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 10 minutes and turn off heat, then steam for 5 minutes. Stir in the sausage and parsley, taste the rice for seasoning and serve.

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Acorn Squash, Fuji Apples & Spinach

22 Feb

acorn squash 1

Cooking whole, organic, local ingredients from the farm has so many benefits, especially when I hear hear about how fresh, organic and irresistably prepared produce changes a family’s eating: “I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence and my 3.5 yr old is out growing his picky eater stage, but he has eaten everything you’ve made! Even my husband who usually doesn’t like squash had seconds of the acorn squash the other day! I try to cook with as much organic produce as I can get. He used to scoff at the additional cost, but now thinks he didn’t enjoy veggies as a kid because they weren’t as fresh and organic as what he’s eating now. It was also fun to go to the pumpkin patch at Tanaka Farms and see where our veggies come from.”

Acorn Squash 2

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Spinach, Fuji Apples and Pomegranates
Serves 4
4 acorn squash, cut into quarters, seeds removed
Olive oil, salt & pepper
2 shallots, diced
2 large Fuji apples, cores removed, diced
1 bunch spinach (about 4 cups packed), thoroughly washed
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Heat oven to 375. Place acorn squash on a baking sheet and season generously with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender to the probing of a fork. Remove from oven.

While squash is roasting, heat a large skillet and drizzle with olive oil. Cook shallots, stirring occasionally, until translucent, then add apples and cook until browned and juicey. Add spinach to the pan and cook until wilted. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Distribute the spinach mixture on top of the squash and return to oven until the squash and spinach are heated through. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top and serve.

Green Beans, Zucchini and Maui Onions

15 Aug

DSC00934After years of happy vegetable eating, my darling daughter has gone into a full blown white hunger strike. If it isn’t noodles, butter, Parmesan cheese or a chicken nugget, I am up against negotiations that include ipads, playdates and the silent treatment. I’m making a stand instead of making two meals, and like any revolution, the going is getting tough.

I have a two pronged approach to getting Bella on the same plate at the family table: making a dinner composed of a protein (grilled, sauteed or baked), a starch and a vegetable. This approach is embraced by our entire family, as we love a good grilled flank steak or roasted chicken served with a some perfectly grilled vegetables or roasted potatoes. To combat my need to be “cheffy”, I’ll make a fruit chutney or chimichurri to serve alongside, which, of course, will be completely snubbed by the Princess of Refined Starches.

The second approach is to make a braise that can be deconstructed by Miss Picky. For example, with this Braised Chicken with Summer Vegetables and Herbs de Provence, she can pick out green beans, zucchini and chicken, which I’ll serve along with a side of her favorite pasta, as long as it is whole grain, and the dinner table becomes less battleground, more family friendly, for everyone.

DSC00937Braised Chicken with Summer Vegetables, Lemon and Herbs de Provence
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound zucchini, cut in half length-wise, then into half moons
Olive oil, salt & pepper
1 pound chicken thighs
2 tablespoons flour
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups good quality chicken stock
2 sprigs each, rosemary & thyme, and 1 bay leaf
1/4 cup fresh herbs finely chopped: parsley, tarragon, and basil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3 tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and cut into wedges

Method: Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add a bit of olive oil to the bottom. Sear the green beans until browned, season with salt and pepper, and remove from the pan. Heat a bit more olive oil, sear the zucchini until browned, season with salt and pepper and remove from the pan.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper, lightly toss with flour, and heat more olive oil in the Dutch oven. Put half of the chicken in the pan and brown, then turn to brown the opposite side. Remove from the pan, then brown the remaining chicken. Remove from the pan.

Add the onion and garlic to the pan, and brown, stirring occasionally. Add wine to the pan, then stir to bring the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine until slightly syrupy, then add the chicken stock. Put the chicken back in the pan, add the rosemary and thyme, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, then place the lid on the pot and cook for 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and fork tender.
Pull the thyme and rosemary sprigs from the braising liquid. Add the chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest and juice, the tomatoes and the browned vegetables back to the pot, stir together and taste for seasoning.

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