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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Roasted Artichokes

One of the many things I love about living in NYC is the abundance of wonderful Italian food import stores, such as Caputo's and DiPaulo's. I just love tasting and perusing the different cured meats, cheeses and olives. One of my favorite things to pick up are the grilled artichokes. But they don't come cheap. They usually cost at least triple the price of whole, fresh artichokes. So, why not grill up these little guys ourselves, save some dough and cut way back on fossil fuel expenditures it takes to ship them overseas? It is actually not difficult to make them ourselves and they come out just as wonderfully delicious.

Since I live in an apartment in Brooklyn, and am not fortunate enough to have outdoor space and grill, I opted to broil the artichokes instead of grilling them. They still come out charred and crisp in spots. If you have an outdoor grill, feel free to throw your quartered artichokes on the grill instead of under the broiler. Either way, you can't loose.

For tips on buying and cleaning artichokes, please see yesterdays post on Caper Stuffed Steamed Artichokes.

Roasted Artichokes

2 globe artichokes

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper

Cut off top third of artichoke. Trim the stem to about 1 1/2" and peel the outer layer of the stem with a vegetable peeler. Using kitchen shears, snip off the prickly top part of the leaves and discard. Bring a large pot of salted water to
a boil. Immerse artichokes in the boiling water and place another heavy bottomed pot on top of the artichokes to keep them completely covered in water. Boil about 20 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the artichoke heart with a sharp knife. Remove artichokes and drain upside down in a colander until cool enough to handle. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Remove any outer leaves that are too fiberous to eat. Quarter artichokes and gently scoop out the fuzz and the small purple leaves. Brush quarters with olive oil lemon juice mixture. Place artichoke quarters under the broiler and cook, flipping once, until slightly charred. To serve, drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garlic Caper Steamed Artichokes with Herbed Mayonnaise

Artichokes are a flowering thistle plant that is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. I took the picture to the right in Tuscany of an artichoke in full bloom. Beautiful, right? But now artichokes are grown in the US as well. At this time of year, these lovely little vegetables can be found in virtually every produce market in NYC for a terrific price.

Now, I must admit, artichokes are not local to the Northeast (
mostly all artichokes grown in the US are grown in California), but they are in season and certainly are delicious. Plus, they stay quite fresh for up to two weeks after being harvested. When picking out artichokes, look for artichokes that feel heavy for their size, have tight leaves and have very little or no brown spots on them. If they are turning brown and the leaves are opening up, they are getting old.

Artichokes can be prepared in a variety of ways, but one of the most classic and simple preparations is steamed. Steamed artichokes with mayo was a staple spring side dish in my house growing up. My sister and I loved scraping off the yummy meat from the leaves and whittling it down to that scrumptious heart. This slightly more "grown-up" version of the recipe packs a little more flavor and pizazz with the addition of capers and fresh herbs.

To note, artichokes oxidize and turn brown almost immediately after being trimmed or cut, so if you don't begin cooking the artichokes right after preparing them, squeeze some lemon juice on them or place them in a bowl of water with lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice will help prevent the artichokes from turning brown.

Garlic Caper Steamed Artichokes with Herbed Mayonnaise

4 artichokes
1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons capers, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil

For Herbed Mayonnaise:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/4 cup minced herbs (parsley and/or dill)
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Cut off top third of artichokes and trim the stem to about 1 1/2 inches. Peel the outer layer of the stem with a vegetable peeler and remove the small leaves at the base of the artichoke. Gently pull apart the layers of the leaves and stuff with capers and garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Place a steaming rack in a large pot, add enough water to come just to the bottom of the rack, and bring water to a boil. Place the artichokes on the steaming rack, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the base is tender when pierced with a sharp knife (about 45 minutes). Transfer to a plate.

Combine the mayonnaise with the shallot, herbs and lemon zest.

To serve and eat, dip leaves of artichoke in herbed mayonnaise and scrape off "meat" with your teeth. The artichoke heart and stem are completely edible and delicious, just make sure to remove the fuzzy part from the heart and discard that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Asparagus Leek Soup

Fresh, spring asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. Asparagus in the winter that is shipped from somewhere south of the equator may be one of my least favorite vegetables. While the comparison may sound dramatic, the difference in taste between local, fresh asparagus and off-season, imported asparagus really is tremendous. Plus, asparagus is much less expensive when purchased during its growing season. I spend less AND I get the GOOD stuff? Not too much of a sacrifice, huh?

Not only does asparagus have a wonderful grassy, mildly herbaceous flavor, but it is a great source of folate (six stalks contains almost half of the adult recommended daily intake) and potassium and is high in antioxidants. And it can be super easy to prepare. One of my most favorite, and simple, ways of cooking asparagus i
s roasting it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper in a 450 degree oven until it just starts to brown and the tips start to become crunchy. But last night I decided to turn it into soup using some gorgeous leeks that I also found yesterday at my Brooklyn farmers market. And, unless you are highly averse to cumin, don't skip adding that spice. It adds a fantastic and unusual dimension to the soup. Bon appetit!

Asparagus Leek Soup

2 sliced leeks (use white and pale green parts only)
3 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bunches of asparagus (about 2 pounds), sliced into 1" pieces
3 cups nettle stock* or vegetable stock
1/3 cup half-and-half

salt & pepper to taste

Wash sliced leeks by soaking in a large bowl of cold water for several minutes. Pull leeks from water and dispose of gritty water. Repeat this process to make sure leeks have been rid of all dirt and grit. Heat olive oil and butter in a large pot . Add leeks and garlic and saut
e over med-low heat until leeks are soft, about 8 min. Add cumin, asparagus and nettle or vegetable stock. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until asparagus is soft, about 15 mins. Transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree. (If using a blender, puree the soup in batches. Be sure to never fill the blender over half full with hot liquid and hold a kitchen towel over the blender top.) Transfer puree back to pot. Stir in half-and-half (taking care not to bring the soup to a boil... Boiling will break, or separate, the soup). Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve topped with fresh chives.

*The nettle stock was left over from yesterday's post on Stinging Nettle Pesto. If you don't have nettles on hand, not to fret, a vegetable stock will work very nicely in this soup as well.

I served this with some crusty sourdough bread and the following salad:

Spinach Salad with Pancetta and Fried Egg

3 cups spinach

1/4 cup pancetta, diced
1 minced garlic clove
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
2 farm fresh eggs

1/2 tablespoon butter

Saute diced pancetta over med heat until pancetta is crispy and fat has rendered (about 8 mins). Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towel to drain. For dressing, place minced garlic in large bowl and pour drippings from the pancetta pan over garlic. Add red wine vinegar and dijon mustard. Whisk in olive oil
and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat butter in a non-stick skillet over med heat. When foam subsides, crack eggs into small bowls (to check for quality) and them pour into pan. Lower heat and cook for about 5 mins until white is set and yolk is still runny. Season the top of eggs with salt and pepper. Place spinach in bowl with dressing and toss with fingers, making sure all leaves are coated. Pull spinach from bowl, leaving excess dressing at the bottom of bowl and plate spinach. Top each plate with a fried egg and crispy pancetta.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stinging Nettle Pesto

Stinging Nettles are one of those weeds that sprout up in gardens and the country side across the US during the spring. They look innocent enough, but they are not called Stinging Nettles without good reason. When touched with bare skin, they can sting you with the tiny needles that cover their leaves and stems. But, despite this seemingly major character flaw, they are completely safe to eat once cooked. And, they happen to be quite delicious!

I found my Stinging Nettles at my local farmers market this week and, if you see them at yours, don't pass up the opportunity to pick some up and try cooking with them! Once cooked, they have a similar taste and texture to spinach, so they can be used in countles
s ways. And they provide numerous health benefits. They have been used to help treat arthritis, kidney problems, hay fever and pain. They are also used to treat anemia, since it contains 40% protein, which is extremely high for a leafy green vegetable.

Please note, when handling the nettles before they are cooked, be sure to wear thick dishwashing or gardening gloves. Regular latex gloves won't cut it for these bad boys. But, the nettles lose their sting completely after they are cooked, so you can lose the gloves as soon as they have been dunked into the boiling water.

Plus, I find it kind of fun to take an otherwise scary plant and turn it into a delicious meal. Stinging nettle pesto, anyone?

Stinging Nettle Pecan Pesto

1 bunch stinging nettles
2 minced garlic cloves
3/4 cup toasted pecans
Juice from 1 lemon

3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan reggiano
salt & pepper

To prepare the nettles, fill your kitchen sink, or another large vessel, with water and soak the nettles for 5 minutes to remove dirt. With your gloves on, pull nettles from
water and transfer to a baking sheet. Strip the leaves from the stems and dispose of stems. Place nettle leaves in large pot of salted boiling water (salting the water helps to flavor the nettles and helps them retain their bright green color). It is now safe to take off your gloves. Blanch the nettles for one minute and drain (but reserve cooking liquid!*). Transfer to a sheet pan to cool.

Once the nettles have cooled enough to handle, squeeze excess water from them and transfer to a food processor. Add in the garlic, toasted pecans, lemon juice and par
mesan cheese. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served this with a short-cut pasta and topped it with seared wild Gulf shrimp and sea scallops.

*So, why reserve the nettle cooking liquid? Well, that greenish liquid has picked up a ton of nutrients and flavor from the nettles and can be used as a vegetable stock or as base to make soups with. Stay tuned for an Asparagus Soup that uses my nettle cooking liquid from this dish!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Maitake Mushroom Red Wine Risotto

Maitake Mushrooms (a.k.a Hen of the Woods) are an inspiring wild mushroom to cook with. They range in color from white to dark brown (depending on their exposure to sun light) and look like something you find at the bottom of the ocean, not in the produce aisle. And their appearance is not the only fun thing about them! They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and have long been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to enhance the immune system, so you can feel good about indulging in these funny-looking fungi. Their earthy, woodsy flavor and almost crunchy texture also adds greatly to their appeal. They are fantastic either roasted or sauteed, just do not eat them raw. Use them alone, or in combination with any other mushrooms to add a different dimension to your favorite salad, pasta or fish dish.

When I picked up this beautiful coral-l
ike bunch of Maitake mushrooms at the Union Square Farmers Market the other day, I knew I wanted to make an earthy, sumptuous and comforting meal to go with them. Thus, this creamy risotto made with red wine, pancetta and peas was born. If you are not able to find Maiktakes, any other wild mushroom (e.g. Oyster, Porcini, Portabella, Enoke) will be a more than adequate substitute. Please try this out on one of these chilly upcoming April nights...

Red Wine Risotto with Maitakes & Peas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 lb diced pancetta

3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 lb chopped Maitake mushrooms (brushed with a damp towel to remove dirt- do not soak)

1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 c. aborio or carnaroli rice
3/4 c. dry red wine
3 1/4 c. chicken stock

1/2 c. grated parmesan reggiano
1/2 c. fresh shelled peas (or defrosted pre-cooked peas)

If using fresh peas, blanch them in salted boiling water for 5 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath and set aside. Heat stock in a sauce pan over low heat and keep warm. Heat olive oil in a high sided pan over medium heat and saute pancetta until it is crispy and most of the fat has cooked off. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to pan and saute Maitakes until browned, then season with salt and pepper and remove from pan with a slotted spoon. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook just until garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and toast until the sides of the grains become translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes. Nest, add the red wine and stir constantly until absorbed. Add one ladle (about 1/2 cup) of the warm stock and stir until absorbed. Continue adding the stock, one ladle full at a time, until the rice has absorbed all of liquid and the rice is "al dente". Melt in the final tablespoon of butter and parmesan cheese and stir in the mushrooms, pancetta and peas. Serve with a hunk of paremesan cheese and a big, earthy red wine.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tuscan Kale

Tuscan Kale, also known as Dinosaur Kale, Lacinato Kale and Black Cabbage, has become an obsession of mine over the past few months. The farmers markets in Brooklyn are chock full of all kinds of kale right now and each bunch never costs more than a few dollars. Kale is unquestionably one of the hardiest and most resilient of leafy green vegetables, as it has no trouble withstanding frost and cold weather. And, from a nutritional standpoint, kale is a superstar. It contains powerful antioxidant properties and is widely considered to be an anti-inflammatory. It is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K and vitamin C and even contains a respectable amount of calcium (yes, that is without the addition of cream or cheese!).

While I have yet to come
across a variety of kale that I don't love, Tuscan Kale happens to be my hands-down favorite. Not only is it the easiest to use, but it also the most versatile and has a wonderfully mild flavor. It is fairly easy to spot at the market with it's long, deep green, lumpy looking leaves.

Tuscan Kale can be used in
a variety of ways, including raw, but the two ways I am going to highlight today are roasted and braised. Enjoy!

Tuscan Kale Chips

1 bunch of Tuscan kale
olive oil

salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Rinse the kale leaves, dry well by patting with paper towels and half the leaves lengthwise (discarding the stem running up the center of the leaf). Coat leaves lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the leaves for about 20-25 minutes until crispy.

Fettuccine With Braised Kale, Ricotta Salata & Pine Nuts

1 lb fresh or dried fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bunch Tuscan kale
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 small or 1 large minced shallot
4 minced garlic cloves

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 c. chicken stock
1/4 c. grated parmesan reggiano
1/2 c. crumbled ricotta salata

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water (it should taste like seawater) to a boil. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until lightly browned and remove from heat. Remove course stems from kale and discard. Slice leaves into 1" thick strips. Wash but do not dry. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over med-low heat. Add shallots and cook about 2 minutes until beginning to soften. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and saute until garlic just starts to become fragrant. Add the kale with water clinging to it and stir to wilt. Add the chicken stock, cover and braise kale for about 10 minutes until very tender. Remove cover and stir in butter.

While kale is braising, cook fettuccine. When fettuccine is done, using tongs, carefully pull the pasta out of the cooking water and slosh into the pot of kale. Add in grated parmesan and pine nuts. Add some of the starchy pasta water if sauce is dry. Adjust seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with crumbled ricotta salata.