April 28, 2011

Tomato Braised Lentils

Lentils, a type of pulse or legume, have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years and were one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. They are an excellent and inexpensive source of protein and so an important part of the diet in parts of the world with large vegetarian populations. Lentils are easy to cook and a versatile ingredient, which lend them well to an array of dishes aside from lentil soup. I like braised lentils along side feta roasted potatoes and fried sweet potatoes.

Any type of lentil will work for this dish, though water amounts and cooking times might require adjustments.

1 c lentils

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced

1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely diced

1 medium yellow onion, trimmed and finely diced

1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped

½ c white wine

3 c water plus more as necessary

1 c tomato purée

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

½ tsp oregano, finely chopped

½ tsp basil finely chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Heat olive oil in a medium Dutch oven or similar style heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and lentils, stir to combine, add wine and bring to a simmer. Add water, cover pot, reduce heat to medium or medium-low and simmer lentils until tender, about 30-45 minutes.

2. Once lentils are tender, stir in tomato purée, bring to a simmer, cover and braise until liquid has been reduced.

3. Add freshly chopped herbs, remove lentils from heat and set aside for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temperature

Serves 3-4

April 24, 2011

Ploye : Buckwheat Flatbread

Ployes, buckwheat flatbread, date back to 18th century Acadian communities, of French heritage, on the Maine-New Brunswick border. The buckwheat flatbread originally served as inexpensive bread source for settlers as buckwheat, first cultivated in Southeast Asia, is a hardy plant with a short growing season and grows well in most soils, making it popular in both northern France and North America. Ployes are similar in style to galettes de sarrasin, buckwheat flatbread from the Brittany region of France, likely inspiration for French settlers. I like to eat ployes with toppings similar to pancakes including butter, maple syrup, brown sugar or peanut butter. They are also delicious with savory foods and are often served with stewed meats such as bacon braised chicken and beer stewed pork.

1 c buckwheat flour

½ c flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 c cold water

1 ½ c boiling water

1. Thoroughly combine dry ingredients and cold water in a medium mixing bowl. Let rest for 5 minutes.

2. Vigorously whisk boiling water into buckwheat batter and continue whisking until batter is smooth. Let rest for 30 minutes.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Once skillet is hot, whisk batter and pour ¼ c batter onto skillet. Cook ploye until air bubbles are cleared of liquid and bottom is golden brown, 1-2 minutes and do not flip. Remove ploye from skillet by carefully lifting all edges before fully removing ploye. Repeat process with remaining batter, whisking batter before making each ploye.

4. Serve ployes warm or room temperature with desired toppings.

Makes 8-10 ployes

April 21, 2011

Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon and Pine Nuts

Brussel sprouts, cultivated wild cabbage, are cruciferous vegetables being part of Brassica family. Though similar wild cabbage have been cultivated for many years, brussel sprouts as we know them today were likely grown in 13th century Belgium, first written about during the 16th century and introduced to the States during the 19th century. Like many vegetables, brussel sprouts seem to be underrated and often only served overcooked, which releases their sulphurous odor and thus brings about their general dislike. I have always loved brussel sprouts and have learned they taste just as delicious with little or no cooking. Shredded brussel sprouts are a great side dish for spring and summer, accompanying a variety of dishes including beet salad, smashed new potatoes and butternut squash.

For this salad I prefer the brussel sprouts to be lightly cooked to bring out their color and slightly mellow their flavor and pairs nicely with the lemon, which is eaten along with the sprouts.

½ lb brussel sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise

½ lemon, thinly sliced and cut into quarters

1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

1 tbsp parmesan, shredded

½ tsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Place brussel sprouts in a steamer basket over boiling water. Cover and steam brussel sprouts until brilliant green, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and wrap in a towel to remove excess water. Place in a medium-mixing bowl.

2. Add lemon, pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil to brussel sprouts. Gently toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow ingredients to marinate at least 1 hour before serving.

3. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Serves 2-3

April 18, 2011

Butternut Squash Purée with Nutmeg

Butternut squash is still one of my favorite squashes because it maintains its rich orange color after cooking and has a sweet creamy flavor. Nutmeg pairs well with squash, especially creamy squash such as butternut, due to the mild background squash provides for the strong flavor of nutmeg. Nutmeg comes from the Myristica fragrans, an evergreen nutmeg tree from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, which provides both nutmeg, the seed and mace, the seed's aril or covering. Though I think of fall and winter too, butternut squash purée reminds me of spring because it is bright in color and light in taste. I like to pair this purée with orange pecan kale, wheat berry salad or blue potatoes and use it as a pizza topping with goat cheese and caramelized onions.

Milk may be used in place of cream. A larger or smaller squash may be used with slight quantity adjustments to the other ingredients.

1 1.5-2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½" cubes

2 tbsp butter

¼ c cream

¼ tsp nutmeg, grated

salt and pepper

1. Place cubed squash in a steamer basket over a pot with water up to the basket. Cover and steam until squash is very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove squash from heat and place steamed squash in food processor.

2. Add cream, butter and nutmeg to squash and purée until smooth, adding more cream as necessary to reach desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Serve squash purée warm or room temperature.

Serves 3-4

April 15, 2011

Matar Saag Paneer : Indian Cheese with Spinach and Peas

Saag and matar are two of my favorite Indian dishes, spinach and peas respectively cooked in a fragrant tomato sauce. I especially like them combined and served with fried paneer, which is a form of Indian cheese. For recipes and ideas, such as this curry, I generally turn to Julie Sahni's book Classic Indian Cooking. A few weeks ago, I decided to make homemade paneer, which was surprisingly easy and satisfying and became the inspiration for and main ingredient in this dish, based on recipes in Classic Indian Cooking.

Paneer may be found at specialty grocery stores or paneer from scratch. Meat such as chicken or lamb may be used instead of paneer.

2 c paneer, cut into ½ inch cubes

1 c cooked spinach

1 c peas, fresh or frozen

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped

1 c tomatoes, fresh or canned, finely chopped

1 ½ c hot water

6 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp turmeric

¼ tsp black pepper

½ tsp paprika

1 tsp flour

1 tsp garam masala

2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped


1. Spread paneer on a clean dish towel and allow cubes to dry slightly, about 30 minutes. Dust paneer in flour. Heat 3 tbsp ghee or oil in a medium over medium heat. Working in small batches, add paneer to skillet and fry, turning evenly until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. In a large heavy pan or Dutch oven, heat ghee or oil used for frying and remaining ghee or oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until slightly brown, stirring constantly. Add garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add coriander, turmeric, paprika, black pepper, sauté for about 10 seconds and add tomatoes. Cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

3. Add 1 ¼ c water and spinach and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and cool slightly before puréeing sauce with an immersion blender or other food processor.

4. Return sauce to the large pan over medium heat and add peas, fried paneer and ¼ c water. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until peas are cooked. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt, cover and allow dish to rest at least 1 hour before serving.

5. Reheat, adding garam masala and cilantro and gently combine before serving. Serve over basmati rice or with Indian bread.

Serves 3-4

April 11, 2011

Creamy Polenta

Polenta is an Italian version of cooked grain, commonly made with white or yellow cornmeal, and often referred to as a peasant food due to the use of an inexpensive and accessible ingredient. Cooked grains have been a staple of Italian cuisine for many years, though earlier forms of polenta utilized a variety of ingredients such as farro and chestnut because corn had yet to be introduced to Europe from the Americas. Polenta is served in different ways depending on the region including soft, dense, firm, shaped or fried. I like to serve polenta with stuffed summer squash or stuffed acorn squash.

Any grind of cornmeal will work, but cooking time may have to be adjusted. More water may be added as necessary. Any fresh herb will work.

1 c cornmeal, finely ground

4 c water

¼ c parmesan, grated

1 tbsp butter

1 large clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped

1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped

salt and pepper

1. In a large heavy pot, combine cornmeal and water and place over medium-high heat. Bring contents to a boil, stirring continually to prevent cornmeal from clumping or sticking to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low, so that contents are at a simmer. Continue stirring frequently until water content has been reduced and mixture is creamy, 30-40 minutes. Once desired consistency has been reached, remove polenta from heat.

2. Add Parmesan, butter, garlic and rosemary to polenta, stirring to thoroughly combine, cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Serves 3-4

April 7, 2011

Arugula Salad with Oranges and Almonds

Arugula, also known as eruca or rocket (roquette), is a member of the Brassicaceae family and native to the Mediterranean. For some reason, I spent many years disliking arugula. I recall removing it from sandwiches in Italy and always requesting it to be either omitted or exchanged when ordering. A few years ago something shifted and suddenly arugula became one of my favorite greens and my preferred choice for salads. I make this salad often, as it is quick, fresh and delicious and quite often it accompanies pizza or gnocchi or stuffed vegetables.

For Susan, who requested I post the recipe for this salad.

4 c fresh arugula

¼ c sliced almonds, toasted

1 large orange, segmented

1-2 tbsp parmesan, grated

1 tbsp fresh orange juice

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. In a small bowl, combine orange juice and olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. In a medium mixing bowl or salad bowl, combine arugula, almonds, Parmesan and oranges. Whisk dressing, slowly drizzle on arugula mixture and gently toss to combine. Serve immediately.

To segment oranges: using a serrated knife, slice the ends off of the orange. Placing the orange on one end, carefully remove the peel working from end to end and rotating orange. After peel is removed, segment the orange by cutting along the edge of each dividing skin.

Serves 3-4

April 3, 2011

Summer Squash Stuffed with Ricotta

Squash originated in the Americas and the genus Curcurbita has been cultivated for thousands of years. Summer squash, like zucchini, are fruits from the species C. pepo. Summer squash are harvested when still immature so that their rind is still tender and therefore edible. Due to their tenderness, summer squash have a shorter storage life than their winter counterparts. Summer squash are versatile vegetables, being so tender and mild, and I like cooking with them often. The ricotta filling accompanies the squash well with a subtle but rich flavor. I have served stuffed squash with gnocchi and arugula pesto or creamy polenta.

Zucchini may be used instead of summer squash.

2 medium summer squash, halved

1 medium carrot, trimmed and finely diced

1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely diced

1 small yellow onion, trimmed and finely diced

1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped

¼ c parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp olive oil plus more for drizzling

1 c ricotta

¼ c breadcrumbs

1 small tomato, sliced into thin rounds

salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven 375 degrees. Using a spoon, scoop seeds and pulp from squash halves until the shells are roughly ¼ inch thick. Brush with olive oil and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes, add garlic and remove from heat.

3. Combine ricotta, parsley, breadcrumbs and sautéed ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Fill each squash half with ricotta mixture until level with rim. Place halves in a baking dish with filling sides up, lay tomato rounds on top of filled squash and drizzle with olive oil.

5. Bake squash halves until lightly browned and tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, 5-10 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

Makes 4 stuffed squash