Sunday, September 30, 2012

Southwestern Spiced Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I'm usually sick of butternut squash by the time my winter CSA share is over, but I'm nevertheless excited each year when it first shows up at the farmers' market. Although pumpkin is the king of squashes in my book, butternut and acorn aren't that far behind in the rank, making for marvelous companions for sweet and savory accents alike. In this soup, butternut squash combines its sweetness with both more from the Golden Delicious and savory onions and garlic, all cut with a bright punch of acidity. Even with no fat involved, butternut squash makes a supremely silky soup, but the extra richness from a modest amount of olive oil, butter, and Greek yogurt pushes this soup from just good to slightly decadent. The sophisticated blend of spices sing against this lush backdrop, a beautiful melange of smoky, sweet, and spicy with a positively  intoxicating aroma. Recipes like this highlight the quintessential flavors of fall, light enough for the not-yet-freezing temperatures, but hearty enough to satisfy the stomach and soul as the cold winter temperatures begin their slow creep in.

Southwestern Spiced Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt
1/4 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups medium-diced onion from about 2 medium onions
1 1/2 pounds peeled butternut squash from about 1 medium squash, but into medium (3/4-inch) piecces
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 Golden Delicious apple (about 7 ounces), peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups), or other apple of choice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup full-fat Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted pecans or pepitas for garnish (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine the coriander, cumin, ground ancho chile, cocoa, sugar, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside. In a small liquid measure, combine the apple cider and soy sauce. Set aside.

2. In a large Dutch oven, heat he olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir well. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and beginning to turn brown, about 8 minutes. Add the butternut squash and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook until the squash and softened (it won't be completely tender) and has taken on some browning and the onions are lightly browned (the bottom of the pan will be brown), stirring occasionally at first, as the squash steams, and more frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan, as it begins to brown, 12 to 4 minutes more.

3. Uncover the pot, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spice mixture and stir well. Add the cider-soy sauce mixture and stir well, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.  Add the apple and 5 cups water, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring and scraping the sides occasionally, for 15 minutes to blend the flavors and finish cooking the apple. Let the soup cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. In a blender, puree the soup in three batches, filling the jar only about halfway or just a little more and partially covering the lid with a folded dish towel (leaving a vent uncovered to let out steam) to prevent hot soup from splashing you. In a large mixing bowl, combine the three batches. (Alternatively, blend the soup with an immersion blender). Whisk in the yogurt, cilantro, lime zest, and 1/2 teaspoon of the lime juice. Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Return the soup to the (rinsed) pot and gently reheat. Taste again and season with more salt or more lime juice (if desired).

5. Serve hot, garnished with toasted pecans (if using).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Warm Barley with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries

Even though temps made it into the mid-70s yesterday, it is most definitely fall here in Wisconsin. The leaves are changing, orchards are bursting with apples to pick, and the threat of a hard freeze has made it necessary to cover my herbs and vegetables at night. I'm going to be sad when the icy hand of Jack Frost kills my modest garden, but I can take solace in the staple crops of fall, like Brussels sprouts. These bitty cabbages turn into delicious cruciferous candy when roasted, expertly paired with sweet-tart cranberries and rich walnuts in the main course grain salad. A perfectly balanced sauce of butter, balsamic, maple syrup, and citrus blends everything together, highlighting the nuances of each ingredient without overwhelming the dish. In my mind barley is fall and winter grain, but this could also be made with wheat berries (Middleton's original pick), quinoa, or even brown rice. Whole grains will work best here (i.e. no white rice), the nuttiness and chewiness a wonderful contrast for all the other components. The grain mostly serves as a canvas for other flavors, but each choice brings it's own subtle flavor, so pick whatever flavor and texture pleases you most. A warm and hearty bowl of fall, this vegetarian main is an exceptional way to celebrate the season.

Warm Barley with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1 cup pearled barley
Kosher salt
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrups
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Prepare barley according to package directions, set aside, and keep warm.

2. While the barley is cooking, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Arrange the sprouts in a single layer in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish (they will be snug). Roast until brown and tender, stirring once, if you like, 18 to 22 minutes. If the sprouts finish ahead of the wheat berries, keep them in the pan, loosely covered with aluminum foil.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, vinegar, maple syrups, and lemon zest and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, just for about 15 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, whisking after each addition until the butter is melted and creamy. (Don't reheat the mixture, or the butter will break and the sauce will not be creamy.) In a large mixing bowl, combine the wheat berries, Brussels sprouts, and cranberries; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt; and pour the sauce over them. Stir gently but thoroughly. Add half the walnuts and half the parsley and stir well again.

4. Serve warm, garnished with the remaining walnuts and parsley.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creamy Double-Mushroom Soup

It is now really, truly, unequivocally fall. My mental switch came with the conclusion of Labor Day weekend, but crossing the autumnal equinox gives me full license to dive into all things fall. Since Labor Day I've enjoyed a pumpkin cream cheese muffin, pumpkin scone, pumpkin custard, went to a sampling of Oktoberfest beers, and made and bottled Apple Crisp Ale, so I'm clearly ready to embrace all the wonderful flavors fall has to offer. Aside from pumpkin and apple-related products, I love spending fall and winter diving into big bowls of warm soups and stews, so I thought I'd share my first new soup of the fall season, Creamy Double-Mushroom. I'll readily admit this soup isn't much to look at, but it's imbued with tremendous savoriness and earthy flavor that makes it less-than-stunning appearance just an afterthought. It's thick and rich enough to be a light meal with a side salad and piece of crusty bread, but makes for a hearty fall supper when accompanied by a grilled cheese or panini. Part of my motivation to make soups is the allowance it gives me to make fancy grilled cheese to accompany them and. This soup was no exception, a perfect earthy complement to the sweet apples, sharp Dijon mustard, and nutty Swiss that composed my grilled cheese. If you're ready to jump in an embrace fall, try starting with this comforting soup - it'll make you only too happy to start to snuggle up for the fall and winter to come.

Creamy Double-Mushroom Soup
adpated from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1/2 ounce dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 teaspoon
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds cremini or baby bella mushrooms (not stemmed), 4 small mushrooms reserved for garnish and the remainder cut into thick slices
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus an extra pinch
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
Fresh parsley or chive leaves (optional)
Crostini for serving (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the porcini mushrooms, remove the pan from heat, and let soak for 30 minutes. Line a mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and put it over a bowl. Strain the porcini, squeezing the porcini in the cheesecloth to wring out as much liquid as possible; reserve the liquid. Discard the cheesecloth and finely chopped the porcini. Measure the liquid in the bowl and add as much water as necessary to make 2 cups. Add 4 cups water for a total of 6 cups liquid.

2. In a large Dutch oven or other wide 6-quart soup pot, heat the 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the thickly sliced cremini mushrooms and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cremini have released some liquid and the liquid is simmering, 6 to 8 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook (more liquid will be released), stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated and the pan is dry, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the tablespoon of the olive oil to the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until most of the mushrooms have darkened and shrunk and many of them are turning an orangey brown on one side, another 7 to 9 minutes. (Don't allow the bottom of the pan to blacken).

3. Add the garlic, 2 teaspoons rosemary, 1/2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of pepper and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the dry sherry and cook until it is almost completely reduced (this will happen quickly). Add the finely chopped porcini and the mushroom-soaking liquid, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the soup cook for 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cut the reserved cremini mushrooms into thin sliced. In a small (8-inch) nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon butter with the remaining 1 teaspoons olive over over medium heat. Add the sliced mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and the pinch of rosemary and cook, turning with tongs when necessary, until the slices are nicely browned on both sides (they will have shrunk), 4 to 5 minutes.

5. In a blender, puree the soup in three batches, filling the jar only about halfway and taking care to distribute the solids and liquids evenly. Partially cover the lid with a folded dish towel (leaving a vent uncovered to let out steam) to prevent hot soup from splashing you. In a large mixing bowl, combine the three batches and then return the soup to the (rinsed) pot. Add the sherry vinegar and cream and whisk until well blended. Taste the soup and season with more salt and pepper (if desired). (It's best to taste the soup for seasoning when it's hot, as the flavors will more pronounced. So if you're serving it right away, go ahead and reheat it gently on the stove before doing a final seasoning. If you're not serving right away, microwave a small portion for just a few seconds to test the seasoning).

6. Divide the soup evenly amount four shallow bowls. Garnish each with a few sauteed cremini slices and a fresh parsley or chive leave or two for color (if using) and serve with crostini on the side (if desired).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Grilled Zucchini, Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Salad

Although summer has come to an end, salads remain a mainstay in my diet. The farmers' market is still bursting with summer squash and an abundance of peppers, so I thought it time to share this recipe before that bounty fades away. My usual main-course salad is a combination of fresh or dried fruit, cheese, and nuts, but when I'm already firing up the grill and it takes but the tiniest effort to have a plethora of delicious grilled vegetables, they always end up in salads or sandwiches. It feels appropriate to match the hearty cuts of meat that inspired me to start the grill with a generous helping of vegetables, a beautiful balance tied together with a patina of smoky flavor. When I'm in the mood for grilled vegetables but won't be firing up the grill, I roast them on my gas range, which could also be done under the broiler if you only have an electric stove. This salad would be good with simply sauteed vegetables, but the smoky char that comes from grilling is a superior foil for the rich walnuts and tangy goat cheese. This last bite of summer is a fitting tribute the last of the season's bounty, an appropriate farewell to the to season of abundance.

Grilled Zucchini, Roasted Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Salad
serves 1

2 oz. mixed greens or lettuce
1 small or 1/2 medium zucchini, grilled
2 ounces roasted red peppers, jarred or freshly roasted
1/4 cup roasted corn (stripped from one ear roasted corn on the cob), or frozen corn, thawed
1 oz. crumbled goat or feta cheese
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts or pine nuts
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Wash and dry greens, if necessary, and spread evenly over a plate or place in a large bowl. Top with grilled zucchini, roasted peppers, corn, goat cheese, and walnuts. Drizzle with salad dressing, toss well, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spicy, Garlicky Corkscrew Pasta

Pasta + veggie + cheese is a versatile formula that can hardly go wrong. This recipe is one such example of a magical alchemical combinations of those elements that results in wild success. Crisp, caramelized broccoli blends seamlessly with pungent sweet and chewy sundried tomatoes and creamy, pungent goat cheese. Red pepper flakes add a punch of spice (which I would happily increase if serving only myself) and (high-quality) Parmesan cheese dusts everything with enough umami to make the absence of meat only a passing thought. Although this is a winning combination, I could see easily substituting cauliflower for the broccoli and olives and/or capers for the sundried tomatoes, with that only being one of many stunning possible combinations. It's a great weeknight dinner, full of whole grains, vegetables, and most importantly, flavor, that can be whipped up in the time that it takes for moo shu pork to arrive on your doorstep. A classic formula that can become a tribute to the season, this recipe, whether used verbatim or merely as a template, is something every home chef should have in their back pocket.

Spicy, Garlicky Corkscrew Pasta with Broccoli, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1/2 pound dried whole wheat cavatappi, fusili, or other corkscrew-shaped pasta
5 tablespoons extra-virgin live oil, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound small broccoli florets, cut into pieces about 1 to 1 1/4-inch long and 1/2 to 3/4-inch wide
1/2 cup thinly sliced drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled while still cold
1/3 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put a colander in the sink and place a glass liquid measure next to it. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 9 to 10 minutes, or according to the package instructions. Take the pot off the heat and, before draining the pasta, ladle or pour about 2/3 cup of the pasta water into the glass measure. Drain the pasta in the colander and let it sit, loosely covered with foil or a pot lid.

2. Have ready a small heatproof bowl near the stove. In a large nonstick stir-fry pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to simmer in the oil. Cook for just about 30 seconds more to infuse the oil. (Do not let the garlic brown.) Pour and scrape all the seasoned oil into the heatproof bowl and reserve. Wipe the pan out with a paper towel.

3. Return the pan to heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and raise the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot (it will loosen up), add the broccoli and 1 teaspoon salt and stir well. (I like a silicone spatula for this). The pan will seem crowded and the broccoli may look dry, but don't worry; the broccoli will shrink and give off moisture as it cooks. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli has shrimp (it will mostly fit in a single layer in the pan), all the florets have turned bright green, and most have a little browning on them, about 10 minutes.

4. Measure out 1/3 cup of the pasta water (save the rest) and pour it into the stir-fry pan. Quickly add the sun-dried tomatoes. Then cover the pan briefly (if you don't have a id, improvise with a sheet pan) and continue cooking until the water as simmer down to almost nothing (this will happen in just 15 to 20 seconds). Uncover and remove the pan from the heat.

5. Add the drained pasta to the pan, season it with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and drizzle it with the reserved garlic-red pepper oil. (Be sure to scrape all the seasoned oil out of the bowl. Stir briefly. Add all of the goat cheese and most of the Parmigiano and stir until everything is well distributed. Add another 1 to 2 tablespoons pasta water and stir again until the goat cheese loosens up a bit and gets creamier. Add another 1 to 2 tablespoons pasta water, if necessary.

6. Serve right away, garnished with the remaining Parmigiano.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Classic Poutine

Football season is here! And in my house, Packer games means Packer snacks (and now that I'm old enough, appropriate Wisconsin craft beer pairings). Packer games became a Sunday tradition with my dad when I was just a little girl, and although I've graduated from crying when the Packers lose, I still honor the football and snacking ritual I learned in my formative years. I wanted to start off this year with a bang (although apparently the Packers did not), so I decided to try my hand at poutine, one of my favorite indulgences. Although it is a French-Canadian dish in origin, poutine has Wisconsin written all over it. How a dish that features fresh cheese curds took so long to make its way to at least moderate renown in Wisconsin is beyond me, but I'm very glad it has. (The Coopers Tavern is my favorite place for poutine. I had to really resist the urge to dress it up right out the gate (my mind is filled a thousand ideas), but I thought it best to start with a basic recipe. In its easiest form, this could be made with store-bought gravy, curds, and fries, or in its most culinary permutation with homemade versions of all those things, but I struck a happy medium with high-quality frozen fries, fresh cheese curds from the farmers' market, and a homemade gravy based on a recipe from (a Canadian chef on) the Food Network. Springy and squeaky fresh curds are miles ahead of shredded cheese as a fry topping, the perfect contrast to crisp fries, all united under a blanket of silky gravy. This plate of pure savoriness wasn't quite enough to make up for the poor Packer performance, but sure did bring a smile to my face as I took my first bite the instant the kicker's foot hit the ball at kickoff (another tradition of mine). Though its roots lie in French-Canadian cuisine, this dish is more than at home in Wisconsin and the perfect snack for your next Packer party.

Classic Poutine
adapted from The Food Network
serves 2

1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
12 ounces frozen french fries
4 ounces fresh cheese curds, at room temperature

1. Make the gravy: Heat canola oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and beef stock, ketchup, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and make a roux, stirring until slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk the stock mixture into the roux and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Season the gravy with salt and pepper and keep warm.

3. Meanwhile, bake the fries according to package directions. Shortly before the fries are ready to come out of the oven, strain the gravy.

4. Divide the fries evenly between two shallow dishes; top with the cheese curds and gravy. Serve warm.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Brussels Sprouts and Carrot Ragout

Brussels sprouts get a bad rap, and undeservedly so. Because my parents had only been forced to eat them in the tasteless, overdone way of the 1950s, I was never subjected to them as a child. As an adult, I discovered Brussels sprouts through a winter CSA, and I've since come to really look forward to beginning of their season each year. I typically roast them, with a different Susie Middleton recipe being my absolute favorite way to prepare them. Susie Middleton undoubtedly knows her way around veggies, so when these popped up for the first time this year, I wasted no time trying out this Brussels sprouts recipe from her new cookbook. Sweet carrots and beautifully caramelized onions turn out to be the perfect companion these slightly bitter mini-cabbages, punctuated by a hint of pungent Dijon and a suite of acidic accents. I had this as a main dish over brown rice with a sprinkling of hazelnuts over the top, but it would be splendid as a side dish without. The butter and olive oil make this much more luxurious that you'd typically expect a vegetable dish to be and substantial enough to be satisfying. This recipe is a fitting transition from summer to fall eating, and a great way to introduce (or re-introduce) yourself to an unjustifiably maligned vegetable.

Brussels Sprouts and Carrot Ragout
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 2 or 3, or 4 with rice

3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (with 1 1/2 tablespoons cut into 6 pieces and kept chilled in the refrigerator)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
12 ounces Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and quartered
Kosher salt
3/4 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch-long and 3/8- to 1/2-inch wide sticks
1/2 pound cipollini onions, peeled and cut through the stem end into 3/4-inch wide wedges (imagine slicing a pizza)
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
Sliced fresh chives for garnish (optional)
Short-grain brown rice for serving (optional)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts for garnish (optional)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, mustard, lemon zest, and vinegar. In a large Dutch oven or other deep, wide pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the Brussels sprouts and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the sprouts are all browned and tender but still somewhat firm, 10 to 14 minutes. (They will continue to cook a bit off the heat). If they are browning too fast, reduce the heat a bit. Be sure to replace the lid after stirring; it retains moisture for steaming the veggies. Transfer the sprouts to a plate and take the pan off the heat for a moment.

2. Return the pan to medium-low heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring frequently but gently, until the carrots are tender but not mushy (you can test with a paring knife) and nicely browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer the carrots to the plate with the Brussels sprouts. You will have some browning on the bottom of the pan.

3. Reduce the heat to low and add 1 tablespoons of the oil, the onions, and a big pinch of salt to the pan. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are browned and tender, 6 to 8 minutes. (They will have lost their stiffness and opacity and a few will be falling apart). Uncover, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the carrots and Brussels sprouts to the pan and add the peas and orange juice mixture. Stir well, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and continue to cook just until the vegetables have absorbed almost all the liquid. (This will happen quickly.) Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cold butter, a few pieces at a time, just until melted and creamy. Stir in the chopped tarragon.

4. Serve immediately, garnished with the chives (if using) or serve it over the brown rice, garnished with hazelnuts (if you like).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Baked Pasta with Spinach and Mushrooms

I don't many people who will turn down a plate of ooey-gooey, cheesy pasta. (Needless to say, I'm not friends with a lot of vegans). Being a Wisconsin girl, I can hardly to say no to something bursting with cheese, but I still love my whole grains and veggies. With a few tweaks to Susie Middleton's recipe, I turned this dish into the perfect compromise of both of those food aspirations. Spinach is my favorite green in pasta, and mushrooms a natural companion, but kale or broccoli could also be wonderful in this recipe. This can be as homemade as you'd like, with homemade sauce and fresh-from-the-garden veggies (and even homemade pasta and cheese if you're so inclined), or can be thrown together quickly with store-bought sauce and frozen vegetables, making it a recipe suitable from everyone from the harried working mom to the hardcore foodie. It can also run the gamut from economical to truly luxurious, from family weekday dinner to special date night. Packed with nutrition and flavor, but adaptable to nearly any time frame, taste, or budget, this is a recipe that every (non-vegan) needs to keep in their back pocket.

Baked Pasta with Spinach and Mushrooms
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table
serves 4

Extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups homemade or purchased tomato sauce
Kosher salt
8 ounces dried (whole wheat) pasta of your choice (e.g. fusili, penne, cavatappi, rotini etc.)
8 ounces diced or shredded fresh mozzarella
3/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Parmesan) cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or thyme (or a combination)
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in olive oil until shrunken and golden brown
4 to 5 ounces fresh spinach, blanched and thoroughly drained or sauteed in olive oil until wilted

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush a 3-quart shallow gratin or other baking dish with olive oil. Put the tomato sauce in a medium mixing bowl.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, or according to the package instructions. Before draining add 6 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to the tomato sauce and whisk to thin the sauce slightly. Drain the pasta in a colander and transfer it to the bowl of sauce. Sprinkle it with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the mozzarella, 6 tablespoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the herbs, mushrooms, and spinach to the pasta and stir well.

3. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish, spreading it in an even layer. Top with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake until brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a minute or two and serve hot.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shorty's Brown Rice

Last week I spiced up my rice with green beans and toasted pecans and now I present another option on that same theme from Susie Middleton's amazing new cookbook. Both recipes follow the same basic format (rice + vegetable + toasted nuts) and are equally delicious in very diverse ways. Whereas Chile Rice is reminiscent of Latin American and Mexican cuisine, this recipe rice calls up the flavors of Asia. The well-browned carrots and onions feel homey and hearty, but the ginger, garlic, and mint keep the dish fresh and bright. The toasted nuts make this hearty enough to be a light vegetarian main dish, but I served it with grilled chicken to make dinner feel complete for the carnivore that was my dining companion. (I had it sans meat for lunch the next two days.) I'm sometimes guilty of sometimes focusing more on the sides than the main event, so I especially love dishes like this that only leave me with cooking up a protein to complete a meal. After a few of Middleton's dishes in this vein, my imagination is running wild with ideas for my own grain + veggie + toasted nut side dishes (and hopefully yours is too).

Shorty's Brown Rice with Stir-Fried Carrots, Ginger, Mint, and Toasted Almonds
from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1 cup short-grain brown rice
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch long and 3/8- to 1/2-inch-wide sticks
1 small onion (about 5 ounces), halved and cut lengthwise into 3/8-inch-thick slices
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and kept chilled
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, cilantro, or a combination of the two
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped or slivered

1. Fill a pasta pot two-thirds full with water (at least 10 cups) and bring the water to a boil. Rinse the rich in a fine-mesh colander or strainer and add it to the boiling water. Stir once and boil for 30 minutes. Drain the rice in a colander, shaking it to remove excess water, and return the rice to the pot (off the heat). Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. (The rice will absorb the remaining moisture).

2. In a large nonstick stir-fry pan, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (it will loosen up), add the carrots, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt and stir well with tongs.

3. Cook, stirring only occasionally at first, and more frequently as the veggies begin to brown and the carrots are tender, 15 to 17 minutes. They will be somewhat firm but will have shrunk and become more pliable. (Don't be tempted to raise the heat; the carrots need to steam a bit before browning).

4. Lower the heat to low, add the ginger and garlic, and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from heat, add the butter, and toss gently until they melt and become creamy. Stir in the lime juice and immediately transfer the contents of the pan to the pot of rice and stir well. Season the rice with 1/2 teaspoon salt, add most of the fresh herbs and toasted almonds, and stir well. Serve garnished with the remaining herbs and almonds.