Search This Blog

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sweet & Spicy Ginger Cookies

If you're a regular reader of my blog you know that I don't have much of a sweet tooth. You also probably know that I absolutely love ginger. So it doesn't come as a big surprise that for this years cookie swap party with my friends, my contribution were sweet and spicy ginger cookies. They are certainly sweet, like any good cookie must be, but have a definite savory spiciness that comes from the three (yes, three) forms of ginger used in this cookie.

In addition to adding a savory element to most desserts I make, I also like to challenge myself to give them some kind of redemptive nutritious quality. Now I would not go so far as to call these cookies healthy, but they are certainly not as bad for you as most. Almost half of the flour used in this recipe is whole wheat flour. Whole wheat
flour (not to be confused with white wheat flour) has not had the wheat bran and wheat germ removed, which is results in higher levels of iron, fiber, calcium and other minerals like selenium. Ginger, the dominant flavor in the cookie, is commonly used to promote digestive health and is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent (not to mention that it adds a wonderfully pungent and spicy flavor).

So maybe I'm pushing it a little, but I like to think that because of all t
hat ginger, having one of these cookies after a big meal (which tends to happen a little too often this time of year, right?) is not over doing it, but part of a strategy to help digest all of the food I just ate.

Ok, that argument does not hold much merit, but I'll keep making, and eating, them anyway.

Sweet & Spicy Ginger Cookies

Makes about 40 cookies

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour

1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. crystallized ginger, minced
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. (scant) dark brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 c. unsulfured molasses

2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/3 c. turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl stir together the all purpose and whole wheat flour, crystallized ginger, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add in the brown sugar and beat another 3 minutes. Add egg, molasses, fresh ginger, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Beat until just combined. Over low speed, gradually beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Put turbinado sugar into a bowl. Scoop out approximately 1 Tbsp. dough and roll into ball using palms of hand and then roll in the turbinado sugar to coat. Place on cookie sheet, spacing cookies at least 1 1/2" apart.

Bake 14 minutes, or until slightly crispy around the outside but soft inside and cracked on top. Transfer to cooling rack.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Reduction & Bacon

It's been a crazy couple of weeks around here. Ever since Thanksgiving I feel like I've been running around from work to various catering events to social commitments without a few moments to put my feet up or do a downward dog, let alone cook a complex meal. When we have been home for dinner, I've generally been throwing together quick meals based on whatever ingredients we have in the refrigerator. While my throw-together meals usually turn out pretty tasty and satisfying (or so my hubby tell me), I haven't felt that I've come up or perfected any recipes lately that would deserve their own blog post - until this Brussels sprouts dish.

Late last week Andrew returned from a
business trip out to Minneapolis. During his one night stay there, one of his colleagues brought him to her favorite restaurant in town, 112 Eatery. The star, Andrew said, were Brussels sprouts served in balsamic vinegar. They were charred, he said, and lightly coated in a sweetly acidic balsamic syrup. Being a huge Brussels sprouts fan, this sounded wonderful to me, so I started experimenting. I tried the dish a few different ways and, after several tweaks (and probably three too many meals in row that were served with a side of Brussels sprouts), I eventually came up with a solid recipe for a Brussels sprouts in balsamic reduction. The addition of bacon and Parmesan cheese in my recipe deviates from the dish Andrew had in Minneapolis, but they are wonderful additions to this addictive and healthy (thank goodness, being that we had it four times this week!) side dish.

Two technical notes I want to mention: 1. Most recipes say to parboil Brussels sprouts five to six minutes before pan searing them, but I find cooking two or three minutes is totally adequate if you are searing them after. This way, you don't end up with a mushy and not so pleasant smelling Brussels sprout. 2. When you trim the Brussels sprouts in preparation for this dish, save any leaves that fall off. Add them into the pan when you are caramelizing them and you will end with delicious little Brussels sprouts chips- which are our favorite part.

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Reduction & Bacon

1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed (but save those stray leaves!)
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

pinch raw sugar
2 strips bacon, diced
1 TBSP canola oil, if needed
2 TBSP grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Parboil Brussels sprouts about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to stop cooking. Once cool, halve lengthwise and let dry on paper towels.

While Brussels sprouts are drying, bring vinegar to a boil and stir in a pinch of sug
ar. Whisk constantly until reduced by half. Transfer to large mixing bowl.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook bacon until crisp and fat has rendered. Remove (and reserve) bacon using a slotted spoon. Increase heat to high and add halved Brussels sprouts into the pan with the bacon fat, cut side down (adding more canola oil if pan looks dry). Let cook until brown and caramelized (now is a good time to throw in those stray Brussels sprouts leaves). Flip and continue cooking a few more minutes.

Transfer to bowl with balsamic reduction and toss. Using tongs, pull sprouts from bowl, discarding excess balsamic. Top with bacon and grated Parmesan cheese.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Braised Kale with Cranberries & Oranges

This flavorful and nutrient-rich side dish was inspired by one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes, homemade cranberry sauce with oranges. With Thanksgiving being just a few days away, I figured I would get myself in the spirit and use this flavor combination in a different application. It is kind of unusual to pair fruit with a braised dark leafy green such as kale, but they played just beautifully together. The sweet and tangy cranberries and oranges complimented and balanced the savoriness of the earthy kale and sauteed shallots.

I had picked up two gorgeous bunches
of kale at last weekends farmers market, one was Red Russian kale and the other Lacinato kale (a.k.a. Tuscan, Black or Dinosaur kale). Both were so vibrant and beautiful that I couldn't choose which I would rather cook with this week, so I got one of each and ended up using both bunches in this dish. Both Russian kale and Lacinato kale are tender varieties of kale and take about the same amount of time to braise so I did not run into any issues with cooking them together. If you choose a curly kale, you will probably need to up the braising time a little as that variety tends to be a little hardier.

Served with seared North Atlantic sea scallops and whole wheat couscous, we had ourselves quite a delicious and healthy fall weeknight meal. Now if only I stopped at one square of dark chocolate for dessert, but that's neither here nor there...

Braised Kale with Cranberries & Oranges

1/3 c. dried cranberries
1 1/2 c. water, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, sliced thinly
2 bunches Red Russian or Lacinato kale, coarse stems removed & roughly chopped
2 Navel oranges
salt & pepper

Bring 1 c. water to a simmer and pour over dried cranberries. Let sit while
you prepare the rest of the dish.
Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until tender. Addin kale, stirring occasionally until it has wilted down a bit.

While the kale is wilting, supreme the oranges by using a paring knife. (To "supreme" is just
a fancy French term for slicing out the segments of a citrus fruit from the pith- see photo on right.) Reserve the segments and squeeze the juice from the de-segmented orange into the pot with kale. Add 1/2 c. water to the pot as well, stir and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let braise for 30 minutes or until very tender.

Remove lid and allow any excess liquid to evaporate. Drain the recons
tituted cranberries and stir in the cranberries and orange segments. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Hazelnut & Pecorino Salad

I used to think of Brussels sprouts as funny-smelling little cabbages that in their usual preparation managed texturally to be both hard and mushy and flavor-wise to be both bland and somewhat skunky.

I had much to learn about the Brussels sprout. Firstly, I learned how they actually grew. I had only seen them either en mass in bins in the supermarket or pre-portioned out in Styrofoam and plastic wrap packages. Then I started seeing them during the fall months at the farmers market on stalks. Aha! I quickly found that buying Brussels sprouts on the stems invariably results in a fresher and tastier Brussels sprout (plus, I have to admit that it is kind of fun to walk home with a giant stalk
of Brussels sprouts sticking awkwardly out of your green market tote).

Secondly, I learned how to prepare them. My husband's favorite way to enjoy Brussels sprouts are par-boiled in salted water, drained and dried, and then caramelized (to the point of looking scorched) in a hot pan with butter and oil. While I am a huge fan of Brussels sprouts prepared in this way (especially when they are served next to a gooey, rich mac & cheese), lately I have been really into raw Brussels sprouts.

Yes, I did say raw. In this salad, I shave the Brussels sprouts using the blade slicer on my food processor and toss them in a simple fresh dressing with toasted hazelnuts and Pecorino Romano cheese. When sliced thinly, fresh Brussels sprouts are very digestible and actually quite delicate.

Brussels spouts are quite healthy when they are cooked, but when raw they have even more going for them. They contain sulforaphane, a chemical believed to have anti-cancer properties, as well as high levels of vitamin C, Folate, iron and dietary fiber. While it is beneficial to eat Brussels sprouts in any preparation, they hands-down contain the highest levels of sulforaphane and these nutrients when consumed in their raw state.

And, best of all, this salad can be prepared up to 2 hours before serving it, making it an ideal salad to serve with your Thanksgiving dinner, or any other festive meal.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Hazelnut & Pecorino Salad

I grate half of the cheese and dice the other half to create a texturally more interesting salad. Also, the hazelnut oil is really lovely in this salad as it subtly mirrors the flavor of the toasted nuts; however if you aren't able to find it, substitute it for an extra tablespoon of olive oil.

1 1/2 lbs Brussels Spouts
1 c. toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 lb. Pecorino Romano, half grated, half diced
juice from 1 1/2 lemons

1 tbsp. hazelnut oil
3 tbsp. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Trim Brussels sprouts and remove any discolored or tough outer leaves. Shred by using the slicing blade in your food processor, or slice carefully using a sharp knife or mandolin.

In a large bowl whisk together the lemon juice, hazelnut oil, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Taste and adjust ratios if needed. Toss the shaved Brussels sprouts, hazelnuts and Pecorino Romano cheese in the dressing. Adjust seasoning and serve or keep at room temperature for up to 2 hours.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Battle Pumpkin: Spiced Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This past Sunday our friend Susannah's brother, Michael Ceraldi, competed as Edward Lee's sous chef on Iron Chef America. To cheer him on, Tim and Angelique hosted a party at their Brooklyn apartment and, in the spirit of the show, we participated in our own mini-version of the show: Battle Pumpkin.

Seasonal, rich, savory and sweet, pumpkin makes a wonderful
fall "secret ingredient". Real pumpkin (sadly the canned pumpkin pie filling doesn't count) touts a lot of nutritional benefits. They contain high levels of beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, and alpa-carotene, which is widely believed to promote eye health and help prevent the formation of cataracts. While most of us are accustomed to seeing pumpkin in pies and other sugary desserts, this ingredient is easy to incorporate into savory dishes as well; just use pumpkin in place of where you normally use any other squash.

To give you some ideas, here are a few of the contending pumpkin dish
es from Sunday's party:
  • Roasted Pumpkin, Lentil, Goat Cheese & Arugula Salad
  • Creamy Pumpkin & Parmesan Risotto
  • Acorn Squash & Pumpkin Risotto
  • Spiced Pumpkin Coconut Soup
  • Pumpkin Empinadas
  • Potato & Pumpkin Pancakes (think Latkes) with Chive Sour Cream
  • Pumpkin Walnut Bread
  • Pumpkin Chocoate Chip Muffins
Our entry was the Spiced Pumpkin Coconut Soup. The idea for this recipe evolved as I was making it (there was A LOT of tasting and rifling through my spice cabinet involved) but the outcome was very interesting and tasty. The fish sauce was a nice salty contrast to the the creamy coconut milk and the ginger and coriander added complexity and dimension. Adding the fresh lime juice at the end brightens the soup and enhances all of those wonderful flavors.

Look for pumpkins at the farmers' market through the end of November; they are plentiful and not too costly. Buy smaller pumpkins that are heavy for their size and don't have a lot of blemishes or bruising. For this recipe, and any other pumpkin dishes, most pumpkin varieties will work except for the standard jack-o-lantern pumpkins which are watery and tend not to be very sweet (but their seeds are still great for roasting!). I used sugar pumpkins which tend to be very sweet and easy to work with because they are smaller in size (hacking into a large pumpkin is not only very difficult but also dangerous-- and I do not trust my cleaver skills enough to feel comfortable butchering anything larger than a canteloupe).

Instead of peeling the pumpkin, cubing and roasting it, I just cut it in half and roast it halved in the oven. It takes a little longer but it saves you all of the difficult butchering involved with dealing with a raw pu
mpkin. Once the pumpkin flesh has softened, just scoop it out and add it to the soup.

Spiced Pumpkin Coconut Soup

3 small pumpkins (about 4 pounds)
a few tbsp. olive oil for drizzling

2 tbsp. coconut or canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cans coconut milk
3 c. chicken broth
6 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. ground ginger

3 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. chili powder
juice from 2 limes
cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Carefully halve pumpkins and place cut side up on rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Roast until flesh is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let cool.

Heat coconut oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Scoop pumpkin flesh out from the shells and add in the pot with the onion. Add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in fish sauce, ginger, coriander, ginger and chili powder. Let simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, puree soup in a blender (adding more stock if necessary) and return to pot. Adjust seasoning and stir in lime juice to taste. Serve topped with fresh cilantro.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ribollita Soup

I have lots of fond memories from our Tuscan honeymoon. One of the most memorable though is from our first night in Siena. Once we arrived at our B&B, we asked our hosts for a recommendation for a good restaurant. We told them we were looking for a place where the locals like to eat; the less touristy, the better. They hesitantly told us of one of their favorite places, warning us that they most likely did not speak English and there was no printed menu.

An hour later we walked into a restaurant which was roughly the size of
our Brooklyn apartment living room. We sat at one of the 5 tables and the owner/chef/waiter walked up to us and recited that days menu in Italian. We understood just enough to order our meal. Andrew was to start with a platter of prosciutto and melon and then have their pasta bolognese and I was going to start with the ribolitta soup and then the fresh tagliatelle with mushrooms. At this point we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves for understanding their offerings and effectively ordering in Italian (neither of us speak Italian outside of basic food items and key phrases). But apparently we were not as good as we thought. A few minutes later the owner brought over the prosciutto e melon. Two plates of it. Big plates. And these were not delicate, thin slices of meat. These were thick, hearty slices. Rustic, if you will. I was already scared. Andrew and I were under the understanding that just HE was starting with the prosciutto. But, it was clearly our fault; we were the ones trying to order in badly broken Italian, so we both dug in. I got two thirds through and couldn't go any further. I was already full. Yikes. The owner came over and disappointingly looked at my plate so I tried explaining that I wanted to save room for the rest of the meal. He grunted and put my unfinished plate in front of Andrew. Oh boy. We realized that we were basically in this guys living room and not finishing our food would be seen as disrespectful. Andrew put down the rest of my prosciutto e melon in a hurry.

Next came the ribollita. We must have ordered this more clearly because the owner just brought one bowl over, placed it in front of me and topped it off with a drizzle of local olive oil. Ribollita, a traditional Tuscan soup, was one of my favorite soups to make at home, so naturally I was very exci
ted to have it in Tuscany at an authentic restaurant. And, boy, this did not disappoint. At first I was taken aback by the density of the soup. There was no broth to speak of; it was more like a bowl of glop, but an absolutely wonderful glop. It was so different from what I had been making at home, and so much better. I was able to eat half of it and then passed the remainder over to Andrew. "Molto Buona", we enthusiastically told the owner when he cleared the empty bowl. He looked pleased, and we felt somewhat relieved.

But next came the pastas. I'm sure they were delicious, but at that point we were so full we could barely taste anything. I had two bites, could absolutely go no further and then (poor Andrew) passed the rest over to my new husband. He couldn't get through both of them, but did get close. After our pastas were cleared the owner approached our table again. We both told him how much we enjoyed the meal. He thanked us and then promptly started telling us about beef and wild boar dishes they were serving that night (I kid you not).

Needless to say, we did not have any "carne" that night. And, although we both ate more than we would have thought physically possible, we did have a delicious meal and I left with a new understanding of ribolitta.

When we got back to the states, I started modifying my recipe, or rather the technique, to make it taste more like what I had that night in Siena. Traditionally, ribolitta consists of leftover vegetables (usually Tuscan kale, chard, cabbage, carrots and onions), canellini beans and day old Tuscan bread. But keep in mind that this soup's purpose is to use up any leftover ingredients, so don't go out to buy chard if yo
u have spinach in the fridge. The last time I made this I literally threw in all of that weeks leftover vegetables that otherwise may have been thrown out. No matter the variation, it's good every time.

And it's a meal, on its own.

Ribollita Soup
When you're finished with a chunk of Parmesan cheese, put the rind in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer. Use the rinds in recipes like this to add flavor and depth. If you don't have any leftover rinds on hand, grate extra cheese into the soup once it has finished simmering.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 onion, diced

6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

3 carrots, diced
1 zucchini, diced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
2 fresh bay leaves
1 bunch kale, coarse stems removed & roughly chopped

1 bunch chard or spinach, coarse stems removed & roughly chopped
1 can canellini or Great Northern beans, drained & rinsed
1 can whole tomatoes
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
2 or 3 leftover Parmesan cheese rinds
a few slices of day-old white bread, sliced very thinly
fresh grated Parmesan, for garnishing

Heat the olive oil in a large pot heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until translucent then add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook another minute or until garlic is fragrant. Add the carrots, zucchini and fresh herbs and continue cooking until vegetables are tender. Wilt in the kale and chard. Once the greens have cooked down a little, stir in the canned tomatoes (with their juices) and the beans.

Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the Parmesan cheese rinds and the bread to the soup and continue to simmer for at least an hour (you can let it cook for a couple of hours if you have the time, it just gets better), adding more stock or water if necessary. The bread should completely dissolve into the soup and help it get really thick.

Remove the Parmesan cheese rinds and bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When serving, top with a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of good olive oil.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Cream

I used to not enjoy pork (outside of pork belly) very much. I always found the loins dry and a little "blah". But back when I was going to culinary school and becoming very serious about beginning a new food-related career, I decided that I should be comfortable cooking anything, even those cuts of meat that I was personally not crazy about. Thus began my foray into the world of pork loin. Not before long I began to develop a better understanding and big appreciation for the pigs leaner parts.

The key to succulent pork loin is in keeping it moist and juicy. One way to do so is to brine the pork for a day or two. This works very well, IF you plan and shop for your meals several days in advance. But, if you're like me, you're planning the majority of your meals day-of. So, it then becomes extremely important to not overcook the pork. We have been conditioned to be very afraid of underdone pork, and while we definitely don't want rare pork (underdone pork has an unpleasant texture and increases the risk of food born illness), we also definitely don't want very well done pork either (which results in piece of meat that has the texture of shoe leather). I cook the tenderloin until it reaches an internal temperature of just above 140 degrees; much above that and it starts dryin
g out. Another key to keeping the pork tender is to let the loin rest before slicing (at least 10 minutes). The resting period allows the juices to redistribute and be absorbed by the meat, rather than losing them all on the cutting board.

I served this pork tenderloin along side the apple fennel salad from my previous post. It was a great pairing because 1. pork and apples are a natural flavor combination and 2. the richness of the pork with Gorgonzola cream is cut by the freshness and crispness of the raw apple fennel salad.

When shopping for your pork, look for meat from animals that have not been treated with with hormones or antibiotics. I look for Berkshire (or Heritage) pork which not only is much more flavorful and better marbled, but also came from pigs that were not treated with growth hormones, had room to move around, and were treated more humanely than commercially raised pigs.

One last note, it is quite important to use real cream is this dish (Mom, I'm talking to you). I rarely use cream, but in this particular dish, using cream (versus milk) results in a much silkier, richer sauce. Let's indulge, together.

Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 servings

For the pork:
1 pork tenderloin (about 3/4 pound)
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
splash (about 2 tablespoons) dry white wine

1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Pat the tenderloin dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. Heat canola oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add pork and sear, turning occasionally, until seared on all sides (about 10 minutes). While the pork is searing, whisk together the mustard, olive oil and thyme. Transfer pork to a baking sheet and spread the mustard mixture over all sides of the pork. Transfer to preheated oven and bake until the inside of pork registers at between 140-150 degrees (about 15 to 20 minutes). Transfer pork to clean cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes.

While the pork is in the oven, prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for another minute (to cook off the raw flour taste). Whisk in the white wine and stir until absorbed. Gradually add in the cream while whisking. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened (about 2 minutes). Add in the crumbled Gorgonzola and stir another few minutes until sauce is smooth and has reached your desired consistency.

Slice pork against the grain and transfer to serving plate. Ladle sauce over the pork and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fennel, Apple & Tarragon Salad

I am tempted to call this The Perfect Fall Salad, but that may be a little too bold. So I'll just say its really, really good. And, best of all, it's so simple (only 5 ingredients, not including salt and pepper). Fresh fennel and apples are so good right now, they don't need to be dressed up much to make an impressive and delicious salad.

This side dish is crunchy, sweet and tangy and really showcases some of the
season's best produce. Because it highlights the wonderfully fresh flavors and crisp textures of the apples and fennel, it is a great compliment to richer entrees (I served it alongside a sliced pork tenderloin smothered in a Gorgonzola cream sauce... I'll post that recipe in a future entry!).

Fennel, Apple & Tarragon Salad

Be sure to prepare the dressing before slicing the apples so that you can immediately transfer the slices to the dressing (the lemon juice in the dressing will prevent the apples from turning brown).

4 side dish servings

2 granny smith apples
2 fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced

juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the dressing in a large bowl by whisking together the lemon juice, o
live oil, tarragon and a pinch of salt & pepper.

Thinly slice the fennel and apples and immediately place in the bowl with dressing. Toss well and season to taste with salt & pepper.

To serve, pull the salad out of the bowl using tongs or your hands and transfer to another bowl or platter (there may be a little leftover dressing).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Eating Green An Unrealistic Goal?

I was on the subway back to Brooklyn at 7p.m. this past Saturday night trying to come up with an idea for dinner. We were meeting friends out for drinks later that night so I had a narrow window of an hour and a half to plan, shop for, and prepare a meal. I ended up deciding I would pick up a few groceries on my way home and make a simple vegetarian meal.

But time was of the essence. The farmers at the downtown Brooklyn greenmarket had packed up several hours earlier and I didn't have time to shop around. I decided that my neighborhood produce market would my one-stop-shop. I snagged a big head of cauliflower, a few purple potatoes and some assorted mushrooms. In addition to the oyster and crimini mushrooms that I purchase frequently and am familiar with, I also opted to buy a little bag of white beech mushrooms. I had not seen them in the market before, and although they were grown in China under unknown conditions, I made the decision, in the name of convenience, to turn a blind eye and buy them anyway.

I was still thinking I had made the best decision based on my time constraints, until I was cleaning and prepping the produce in my kitchen a few minutes later. I opened up my little plastic baggie of beech mushrooms and was immediately hit by a distinctly toxic smell. Could this be? I took another sniff. They didn't smell woodsy and earthy; they smelled like chemicals.

Needless to say, those suspicious little beech mushrooms did not make an appearance in Saturday night's dinner, but the whole thing got me thinking. How did those toxic-smelling shrooms end up in my kitchen? I mean, I write this food blog on local, seasonal eating for crying out loud!? Now, in this particular instance it was quite obvious that there was something very wrong with these mushrooms (I'm not exaggerating when I say they smelled like a household cleaner), but in many cases it may not be so clear. If they didn't give off such a toxic smell I most certainly would have eaten them. Am I (being a person that emphasizes the importance of knowing and understanding where our food comes from) a hypocrite or am I just totally unrealistic and idealistic in my mission?

I hope the answer to that question is: neither. The green lifestyle mission is in itself not unrealistic, however thinking that I will make the best decision, or take the best action, 100% of the time is unrealistic. The reality is, I have deviated from this ideal, and have come to terms with the fact that I will again. The next time I am at someone's house and they have prepared a commercially-raised grocery store chicken for dinner, I will probably eat the chicken instead of offending the hostess. There could quite possibly be a time when I will buy a piece of fish that I think is sustainable and come home to the internet to find out that it is on the brink of endangerment. And, can I promise that I will never again order Thai food delivery that arrives steaming inside of plastic to-go containers? Realistically, I can't.

In times like these I have to remind myself that I will never be a perfect green cook and consumer. I'm learning as I go and, last nights mushroom episode being an example, I sometimes make a less-than-ideal choice. And that will continue to happen from time to time. I admit, and expect, that.

But I have come to the conclusion that that is certainly not a reason not to make my best effort. I will continue to read and learn. I will continue to do my part in supporting local farmers, artisans and businesses. I will continue to make adjustments to my lifestyle based on what I feel is best for my husband and I, my community and our planet. And, very importantly, I will continue to remind myself that my efforts will, in fact, make a difference.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ginger Apple Oatmeal (Welcome, Fall!)

This past weekend Andrew and I visited our two very good friends, Virginia and Rob, in beautiful Saratoga Springs. We love catching up with them over long, lingering meals. Like Andrew and I, Virginia and Rob are very much into eating well (from a taste, nutritional and environmental standpoint). During our day and a half stay with them we visited an apple orchard, picnicked in their local park and enjoyed a couple of wonderful meals in their home.

Our first morning there, we woke up to a bright and sunny, but downright chilly, morning. Fall has arrived! And it arrived in a hurry! The high for the day was only 60 degrees - a stark contrast from the near 80 degree temps we had experienced just a few days earlier. That morning we ate a delicious, hearty and seasonal breakfast that V
irginia prepared. She mixed old-fashioned oats with sweetly tart apples, golden raisins, candied ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. It was so tasty and satisfying that half way through breakfast I jumped up and grabbed the camera and snapped a couple of pictures, citing that I wanted to post her recipe idea on the blog, hence the picture of the half-eaten bowl of oatmeal...

Virginia's Apple & Ginger Oatmeal
Virginia used buckwheat honey in this recipe, which is a dark-colored honey that has a spicy-malt flavor and is packed with antioxidants, but you could substitute regular honey or pure maple syrup if you can't find it.

4 servings

1 TBSP butter
2 apples, small dice
4 c. water
pinch of salt
2 c. old-fashioned oats

1/2 c. golden raisins

1 TBSP crystallized (or candied) ginger, small dice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
fresh nutmeg
1/2 c. milk
3 TBSP buckwheat honey

Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced apple and cook until softened, about 7 minutes.

While the apples are cooking, bring the water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a separate sauce pan. Add the oats and cook for 5 minutes, or until oats are tender. Stir in the apples, raisins, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, a few grates of fresh nutmeg and the milk. Simmer for another minute. Stir in the buckwheat honey and season to taste.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes- Buy 'Em Now!

I catered a lovely bridal shower this weekend and one of the dishes I prepared was an heirloom tomato salad with basil and a shallot vinaigrette. I got up early the morning of the shower and walked to my local farmers market in search of perfectly ripe tomatoes. The vendors were still carrying crates of produce out of their trucks when I got there. As soon as the tomatoes came out I started eying all of the beautiful varieties. There were red, yellow, orange, green and even purple tomatoes that ranged in size from a golf ball to a softball.

Even just speaking to their physical characteristics, these heirlooms look quite different from the tomatoes we find in the supermarket. The bins in the supermarket are chock full of tomatoes that are almost exactly the same size, shape and color. That's because commercial growers have chosen to grow just a couple varieties. They have chosen which to focus on based on several factors which include:

*Consistency: every tomato should be the same size and shape, be bright red and have no creases, bumps or blemishes.
*Productivity: the more a particular seed variety yields, the better.
*Hardiness: a primo variety should be able to withstand mechanical picking and long distance traveling. Additionally, they should be able to tolerate pesticide use.

So if a tomato variety meets all of the above criteria it is deemed a suitable variety for commercial growing and distribution. But isn't there something missing here? What about what the tomato tastes like?
But since a tomatoes hardiness and beauty is often deemed preferential to taste, so many times the commercialized versions barely resemble their incredibly sweet and juicy heirloom counterpart.

Heirloom varietals are native non-hybrid fruits and vegetables and are not used in modern large-scale agriculture; however are gaining popularity with home gardeners and small farmers. Since the fall weather is quickly moving in, try to get to the farmers market to take advantage of this last week or two of tomato season. Plus, since it is getting towards the end of the season, the prices seem to lower than what they were when they first started cropping up a couple months ago.

Here are two very different heirloom tomato recipes. One (the salad I prepared for the the bridal shower) is exceedingly simple and fresh. The second is warm and comforting. Both ar
e wonderful ways to highlight this fantastic fruit.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil and Shallot Vinegarette
My apologies for not having a picture of the finished salad. I was in such a hurry to get everything packed and over to the shower I completely neglected to snap a quick pic-- but with all those beautiful, multi-colored tomatoes and fresh basil, you can just imagine how beautiful this dish looks.

serves 6 as a side dish

3 lbs. heirloom tomatoes
1/2 c. fresh basil, shredded
1 large shallot, minced
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar
salt & pepper

Chop the tomatoes into generous bite-size pieces. Place in a colander, sprinkle lightly with salt and let sit for about 15 mi
nutes to allow the salt to extract the excess moisture.

In the meantime, place the minced shallot in a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar and let marinate for a few minutes (letting the shallot sit in the vinegar will slightly "cook" the shallot and take out some of its harshness). Whisk in the olive oil (you should have 3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar) and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble the salad, place half of the tomatoes in a serving bowl, top with 1/2 of the basil and some of the dressing. Top with the remaining tomatoes, basil and a little more of the dressing. You may not need all of the dressing.

Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes, Feta & Sausage

Serves 3-4

1/2 lb short-cut whole wheat pasta, such as fuscilli

1 TBSN olive oil
1/2 lb spicy sausage, removed from casing

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. chicken stock
1 lb. heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
handful kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 c. basil, shredded
1/2 lb. feta cheese, cubed

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and break up with a spoon. When no longer pink, remove the browned sausage from pan.

Lower heat to medium-low and saute garlic and crushed red pepper until fragrant. Add the wine and reduce by half while scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add in the tomatoes and olives and continue cooking another few minutes.

Toss the cooked pasta in with the sauce and fold in the half of the basil and feta. Adjust seasoning. Top with the remaining basil and serve with a juicy pinot noir.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Farro Risotto with Arugula & Pan Seared Salmon

The last week has been an exciting and event-filled week for us. We welcomed in the Jewish New Year with Andrew's family in Cincinnati, broke fast with my family in New Jersey and relished in the beginning of a much anticipated football season.

Since these wonderful and celebratory last couple of weeks have been busy ones for us, we have not been eating at home as much as usual. And between working and traveling I have slipped a little bit with my meal planning. Instead of carefully planning out and shopping for meals in advance, I lately have found myself throwing something together for dinner at the very last minute (the previous entry for Curried Chickpeas with Spinach is a good example).

This past Sunday, after we had flown back into LaGuardia from Cincinnati, Andrew rushed off to catch the Bengals game at Phebe's, a bar in the East Village that has become the unofficial "Bengals Bar" (think 300 Cincinnatians wearing orange and black, eating Cincinnati-style chili and chanting "Who Dey!"). I rushed home to watch the 1 p.m. Giants season-opener. Around 4 p.m., after my beloved G-men wrapped up a win against the Carolina Panthers, I found myself gazing into an almost empty fridge thinking, "Ok, now what am I going to make for dinner?".

Seemingly reading my mind, I then received a call from a slightly downtrodden Andrew (the Bengals unfortunately didn't fare as well as the Giants), asking if he could pick anything up at Whole Foods on his way home (I know, he's good). "Yes!" I said. "Pick up a protein, please! A
nything we can serve over risotto." I had a plan. I had a bag of farro in the cabinet that I could make into a risotto and I would serve the protein on top.

Andrew returned home an hour later with a beautiful piece of wild Coho salmon, a bag of Satur Farms baby arugula and a bunch of, my favorite, maitake mushrooms (did I mention how wonderful he is?!).

I wilted in the peppery baby arugula with the farro risotto and topped it with seared maitake mushrooms and the Coho salmon fillet (alternatively, you could toss the seared mushrooms in with the risotto). Nutritionally, this meal knocks it out of the park. As we all know already, wild salmon, arugula and maitake mushrooms have a lot going for them, but I would like to spend a moment talking about farro.

Farro is an ancient grain that is very closely related to spelt. It has long been a popular grain in Italy and is now gaining attention, and increased distribution, in the US. Look for it in specialty and health food stores (I found it at Sahadis in Brooklyn). This hearty
grain has not had the husk removed, which means it contains significantly higher amounts of dietary fiber and vitamin E than other processed grains. And, it is one of those magical foods that is wonderfully good for us and extremely delicious. It has a chewy, toothy texture and a pleasantly nutty flavor.

For those of us who are skeptical that a fibrous, unprocessed grain like this could actually taste good, I urge you not to shy away from trying this. The first time I prepared farro for us, Andrew c
ame into the kitchen, looked suspiciously at the grain and asked "Is this one of those cardboard-y tasting health grains?". Even though he was skeptical at first, we both agree that it is a wonderful, and I may even venture to say preferred, alternative to white aborio rice risotto.

Farro Risotto with Wilted Arugula

extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. farro
1/4 c. dry white wine
2 c. stock (chicken or vegetable)
2 big handfuls baby arugula
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 TBSP butter
salt & pepper to taste

Heat enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot. Add the onion and cook, over medium-low heat, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook another minute or so until fragrant. Add in the farro and stir to coat the farro with oil, about 1 minute. Add in the white wine and stir until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Add in 1/2 c. of the stock, stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 c. at a time, until the farro is softened but still has a nice bite to it (you may not need all of the stock). The total cooking time should take around 25 minutes.

Stir in the parmesan cheese and butter and simmer for a couple more minutes until the risotto has thickened. Add in the arugula and gently stir to wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare the salmon:
This hardly deserves its own designated recipe, however the technique for pan searing salmon is important. It is particularly important to get the oil in the pan very hot in order to get a good sear and prevent the fish from sticking. When the oil develops a sheen and starts to ripple, you are ready to add the salmon. To be sure the pan is hot enough, place a corner of the fish down and make sure it doesn't stick. If it does, give the pan another minute to heat up.

2/3 lb. wild salmon

salt & pepper
canola or grapeseed oil

Pat salmon dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat a stainless steel pan over high heat and add in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan (for this application you do not want to use olive oil, as it has a lower smoke point and will burn). Heat the oil until is starts to ripple, then carefully add the salmon fillets, presentation side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown.
Flip the fish, cover the pan, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until they have reached your desired level of doneness.

To prepare the Maitakes:
Be sure not to salt the mushrooms until they have browned. Salting early in the cooking process will draw out their moisture, which prevents them from browning properly. If you can't find Maitakes, any other kind of wild mushroom (crimimi, shitake, oyster, etc) would be great at well.

1/4 lb. fresh Maitake mushrooms
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP butter
salt & pepper to taste

Use a damp paper towel to brush off any dirt from mushrooms. Break up into bite-size "florets". Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Cook for several minutes, until they have browned up nicely. Add in the butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Curried Chickpeas & Spinach

Even though I now write a food blog, I admittedly don't follow all that many. But one blog that I check on a daily basis is The Delicious Truth. It is written by Chef Rob Endelman who, in addition to running a company that provides in-home culinary instruction, is also committed to raising awareness about the dangers associated with our modern industrial food supply. He shares articles and commentary on how to look for, and avoid, potential toxins as well as various cooking tips and techniques. The other week he posted an idea for a quick and nutritious version of curried chickpeas and spinach which inspired me to make a similar dish.

It was a great idea for a quick weeknight meal. It came together in about 20 minutes
and was super tasty. Chef Rob used kale in this dish (which is probably what he had on hand), I used spinach (which is what I had on hand), or chard would be terrific as well. I played around with the spices based on my preferences and what I had in my spice cabinet, and encourage you to do the same.

I prefer to soak and cook dried beans rather than using canned, but when you're in a situation where you haven't planned out your meal 24 hours ahead of time, the canned variety work just fine. Just be sure to purchase organic beans that are packaged in BPA (Bisphenol A) free cans. BPA, which is used in the linings of many cans, is a toxin that, according to multiple scientific studies, can have numerous adverse health effects on humans. Eden Organic (pictured above) sells a good variety of canned beans and they never use BPA in the linings.

I served this over steamed amaranth grain, which is an extremely nutritious ancient grain (see July 24, 2010 post), or brown rice (as Chef Rob used) would be terrific as well.

Curried Chickpeas & Spinach

2 (generous) servings

1 TBSP canola or olive oil

1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
2 TBSP curry powder
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder (if you like zippy)
1 tsp salt
1 big bunch spinach leaves, roughly chopped

juice from 1/2 lemon
1 cup Greek yogurt

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and saute onion and garlic for about 5 minutes until tender. Add in chickpeas, curry powder, coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder and salt and stir until combined. Add in the spinach and stir until wilted. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and yogurt. Season to taste with more salt, pepper and lemon juice if needed/desired.

Because the flavors in this dish continue to meld together as they sit, this dish would make great leftovers. To reheat, simmer, covered, over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Will Travel for Lobster

Andrew and I returned last night from a ten day "road trip" up the northeast coast, with stops in Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We obviously did a lot of driving (about 2,500 miles all in). Before we left, I brooded over our driving itinerary, searching for shortcuts, stops we could possibly take out, anything to cut back on all that driving. But, as it turns out, the driving ended up being one of my most favorite parts of the trip. Once we got past Portland, Maine, we never once hit traffic and we mainly traveled on beautiful coastal roads.

Another highlight and focus of the trip was, of course, the food. We did have some killer fish n' chips, but for the most part we dined on fresh shellfish. Oysters, clams, mussels and of course, lobster. We did run into a few overcooked lobsters and a few "meh" oysters, but for the most part, we were not disappointed. And it was always fresh. Sometimes extraordinarily fresh. One of our favorite meals was at Carr's Oyster Bar in the tiny little fishing town of Stanley Bridge, Prince Edward Island. We sat outside on the deck overlooking the harbor and indulged in a lunch consisting of PEI mussels steamed in white wine and garlic (Andrew proclaimed them the best mussels he's ever had) and local oysters on the half shell (I proclaimed them the best raw oysters I've ever had). And when I say local, I mean the oysters were picked that morning from a spot in the harbor 200 yards from where we were sitting. Not bad, huh?

Another culinary highlight of the trip was in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Upon discovering that our room at the lovely Harris Hatch Inn had a kitchenette and a private patio overlooking a garden, we made the quick decision to cook dinner and enjoy it al fresco. We took a walk into town and found a fish market on the water where we picked up a couple of local lobsters and steamers. On the way back we stopped by the town grocery store and picked up a few other things to make the meal complete. Since we didn't want to buy much more than we were going to use that night (we couldn't take anything with us), we took a minimalist approach. The meal was extremely simple and straightforward but wonderful none the less. And I can take almost no credit for its deliciousness, the outcome was almost solely dependent of the quality of the ingredients.

Our St. Andrews Simple Supper


2 lbs soft shelled steamer clams
pat of butter or splash of olive oil
a couple of garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 bottle of beer or 1/2 cup white white

bay leaf if you have 'em (we didn't)
1/2 stick melted butter
lemon wedges

Heat the butter or olive oil in a pot and saute the garlic until fragrant. Add in the optional bay leaf, beer or white wine, and a few cups of water (no need to measure or be precise-- we're on vacation!) and bring to a boil. Add the clams, cover and steam until the clams have opened (it should take about 5-10 minutes). Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

Steamed Lobster
2 1 1/2 lb lobsters
a few tablespoons salt
1/2 stick butter
a few lemon wedges

Bring a large pot of water and salt to a boil. Add the lobsters and cook for about 14 minutes (you want to figure 10 minutes for a 1 lb lobster and 2 minutes extra for every additional 1/4 lb). Serve with melted butter and the lemon wedges.

Garlicky String Beans
The grocery store we visited was carrying local New Brunswick string beans, which we thought would be a nice veggie component to the meal.

1/3 lb string beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons butter
a few garlic cloves, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the string beans for 2-3 minutes (they should still be crisp). Drain the beans and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Heat the butter in a skillet and saute the garlic until just fragrant. Add the sting beans and cook for another minute or so until they are heated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Quick & Easy Orzo Salad
1/2 c. orzo
2 tablespoons butter
a couple of garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c. white wine
fresh herbs, chopped (we used basil)
salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente (reserving 1 cup of the starchy cooking liquid before draining). In the meantime, heat the butter in a large skillet and saute the garlic until fragrant. Add the white wine and reduce by 3/4. Add the cooked orzo, fresh herbs and some of the reserved pasta water if it looks a little dry (just be sure to add only a splash at a time). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

As you've probably already guessed, grated parmesan cheese would be fantastic on this pasta dish. We didn't use it because the store only had big chunks of parm (and we di
dn't even have a grater for that matter), but if you've got it, use it!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stewed Spicy Eggplant

The other day I began reading "Forever" by Pete Hamill. The fictional book begins by telling the story of a young boy growing up in Ireland in the 1700's. Each night, the boy and his parents would gather together around the hearth in the center of their home and share a stewed meal that was lovingly prepared by the boy's mother.

Reading this story reminded me of the importance and meaning associated with sharing a homemade meal with loved ones and thus was inspired to create a comforting and homey meal that Andrew and I could enjoy together. I had a gorgeous, huge eggplant in my refrigerator (that, due to my excitement to start making this dish, I forgot to photograph before I diced it up!) that I thought would be perfect to use in a vegetarian stew.

Besides being an approachable and comforting meal, stews are also appealing because they usually are fine to simmer away relatively unattended, allowing the cook time to relax and spend time with their family or guests before the meal is served.

I usually associate stews with a winter food, but for this dish I used light and fresh ingredients that taste rich only because of the low and slow cooking process. The
eggplant and Great Northern beans created a rich and meaty-tasting stew, that in fact is completely vegetarian. And, to make this a vegan dish, simply leave out the anchovy paste.

Stewed Spicy Eggplant

1 1/2 lbs eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste
squeeze of anchovy paste (leave out to make vegan)
1 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 15 oz. can Great Northern or Cannellini beans, rinsed
1/2 cup olives, pitted & chopped

1/4 cup parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Dice the eggplant into 1" cubes, sprinkle with salt and place in a colander. Let sit for about an hour and then rinse (this process, which reduces the eggplant's bitterness is called "degorging").

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until tender (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for another minute, or until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add in the tomato paste and anchovy paste and stir to combine.

Add in the cubed eggplant and tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pan using the red wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the eggplant is tender.

During the last 10 minutes, stir in the beans, olives and half of the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon into bowls, top with the remaining parsley and serve with crusty, fresh bread.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fusilli with Green Beans, Ricotta & Caramelized Onions

Here is another straightforward, easy to make summer pasta dish. The only component that requires a somewhat lengthy preparation are the caramelized onions. But once you get the onions caramelizing, the rest of the dish comes together in a flash, making it a popular week night dinner for us.

A little earlier in the growing season I used fresh peas in this dish, but when I made it this week I used fresh, sweet green beans. Green beans, which are in season/widely available/delicious right now, are an excellent source of
vitamin C, vitamin K and magnesium and a good source of vitamin A and dietary fiber. I used fresh green beans in here not only to up the nutritional content, but also provide a crisp, crunchy textural element.

Caramelized onions add such a wonderful component to so many different dishes (I also served them this week over a seared strip steak from a small farm in upstate NY), and this pasta dish is no exception. They may at first seem lik
e an unusual ingredient for a pasta dish, but, trust me, they really elevate this dish from somewhat simple to beautifully complex. The richly sweet onions are a wonderful compliment to the other subtle, fresh flavors.

Just make sure to give the onions plenty of time to gradually soften and caramelize (no cutting corners by raising the heat to shorten the cooking time, it just doesn't have the same effect!). Whenever I'm caramelizing onions, I get them chopped and on the heat right when I get back from work. They just need a few minutes of monitoring to make sure they aren't browning or cooking too quickly, and then they can pretty much be left alone (save for the very occasional stir). Turn off the heat when they are done and they're be all ready for you when you're assembling the rest of the dish.

Whole Wheat Fusilli with Green Beans, Ricotta & Caramelized O

1/2 pound whole wheat fusilli, or other short-cut pasta

1 large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces ricotta cheese

pinch of salt
zest from 1/2 lemon
1/4 lb green beans
1/4 cup fresh basil, shredded
salt & pepper to taste

Caramelize Onions:
Halve onions through the root end and slice crosswise into thin half-moo
n slices. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the onions and stir to coat them with oil. Let the onions cook, stirring frequently, until they become transparent and are starting to soften (about 10 minutes). Next, lower the heat to medium-low and cook the onions for about 30-60 minutes longer, until they are golden brown and sweet. You'll want to stir them every so often to ensure they are not burning, but at the same time letting them stick a little bit to the bottom of the pan (this will help the browning process). If at any point they look like they are on the verge of burning, lower the heat and add a little more oil.

Once the onions are sufficiently caramelized, add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for a few more minutes until the garlic is softened and fragrant. Turn off heat.

Prepare the rest of the dish:
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and add pasta. While pasta is cooking, combine the ricotta and lemon zest in a bowl and add salt to taste. Drop the green beans into the water with the pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy, salty pasta water.

Add pasta and beans into the pot with the caramelized onions, and toss with the ricotta lemon zest mixture. Add in some of the reserved pasta water, one splash at a time, if it looks a little thick. Fold in the basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.