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Monday, May 31, 2010

Sauteed Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are young, unrolled ferns that would grow into leafy, tall ferns should they not be harvested for human consumption. But, when picked when they are young and just beginning to sprout out of the ground, the closely spiraled plants are tremendously delicious. When cooked correctly, they have a wonderfully tender yet crisp texture and a flavor that I find pleasantly rich and nutty. I just love them and pick them up whenever I can find them.

Fiddleheads are not cultivated, but are harvested in rural areas. In the northeast US, they are harvested in the spring only. They are available at green markets and occasionally at grocery stores. If you are able to find them, choose fiddleheads that are small in size (less than 1 1/2" in dia
meter) and have closely spiraled stems. There is often a brownish skin covering parts of the fiddleheads, which is fine, as that can easily be removed when washing.

As an additional incentive to cook with these tasty little ferns, Agriculture Canada has reported that fiddleheads contain twice as many antioxidant properties as blueberries, which are often touted as the antioxidant kings. They also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber.

When preparing fiddleheads, be sure to take care and be thorough when cleaning them. Because they are wound so tightly and have so many crevices and grooves, a fair amount of dirt and grit can get caught between the layers. I always soak and rinse the them in cold water twice and then trim off any brown ends and pull off any of the leftover brown coating.

Sauteed Garlicky Fiddleheads

2 side dish servings

1/2 lb cleaned fiddlehead ferns
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 minced garlic clove
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
salt & black pepper to taste

Drain and pat cleaned fiddleheads on a paper towel or kitchen towel until dry. Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet over med/high heat and add fiddleheads. Saute about 3-4 mins until starting to brown. Add minced garlic and crushed red pepper and saute another minute or so until the garlic is starting to become fragrant and the fiddleheads are cooked through but are still bright green and have a bite to them. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fiddleheads and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Whole Wheat Penne with Asparagus & Goat Cheese

My Aunt Robin lives on a tiny island off the coast of South Carolina that has a year-round population of just 350 people, and approximately zero grocery stores. She has to take a 45 minute long ferry ride to the mainland to do her grocery shopping. Because she can't simply run out to the store to pick up a few ingredients for dinner, my aunt has become a pro at putting together stellar meals by using whatever she has on hand. This pasta dish, one of her delicious creations, utilizes several kitchen staple ingredients as well as delicious fresh spring asparagus.

Aunt Robin's Whole Wheat Penne with Asparagus & Goat Ch

2-3 servings

1/2 lb whole wheat penne

1 big bunch asparagus (about 1 lb), course ends removed
5 oz soft goat cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest from 1 lemon, grated

juice from 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, shredded

Whisk together goat cheese, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, pepper and half of basil in a large bowl. Cook penne in salted boiling water. Slice asparagus into 1" pieces and add to the pot with pasta during the last minute of cooking. Drain pasta and asparagus, reserving 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid. Toss pasta and asparagus in the bowl with goat cheese mixture, adding some of the reserved pasta liquid if dry. Plate and top with remaining basil.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Green Smoothies

I'm always looking for ways to get extra veggies into my diet, and making a green smoothie is a great way to do that. Green smoothies are so simple to make and are really difficult to mess up. Basically you just blend a bunch of veggies that you like with fruit or fruit juice and, voila, you have yourself a smoothie!

Smoothies are also very easy to digest. The blender works as a set of super-efficient teeth and gets the raw nutrients broken down and ready for your body to easily absorb. Also, blending is nutritionally better than you for than juicing. The juicer strains out a lot of the stuff that contains the highest amounts of nutrients and fiber. And that fiber slows down your bodies process of absorbing the fruit sugars, which (a) makes you feel more satisfied and full and (b) helps prevent a "sugar rush" that you may get from a juice.

If you haven't tried making green smoothies yet, please try one out. I can almost guarantee that you will find them delicious, satisfying and wonderfully refreshing. Our bodies just love nutrient-rich food.

Below is the recipe for one of my favorite green smoothies. But don't think you have to follow this to a tee. Feel free to adjust the ingredients and ratios based on your personal preferences and what you have on hand. And don't be afraid to experiment. It's easy to "fix" a smoothie that you don't think tastes quite right. If it tastes too bitter, add a little more fruit. If it is too thick, add a little ice or liquid.

My Favorite Green Smoothie

2 c. fresh spinach
1 c. parsley
1 cucumber
2 apples, cored
1/2" long piece of peeled & grated ginger root
1/2 c. organic carrot juice
juice from 1/2 lemon

Blend all ingredients together and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Whole Roasted Red Snapper

I just love cooking (and eating) whole, fresh fish. Firstly, cooking with the bones in the fish produces a much more delicious result. It is a little more work, but, trust me, it really makes a huge difference flavor-wise. Secondly, I like how easy it is to tell whether or not a fish is fresh, whereas being able to tell if a fish fillet is fresh can be a little trickier.

When purchasing whole fish, first look at the eyes. If the eyes are clear (not cloudy), it passed the first test. Secondly, ask the fish monger to show you the underside of the gills. If the gills are bright red, it is fresh. If they are brownish, it means the fish has been sitting for a little while. There are a few other ways to tell if a fish is fresh, but they consist of a little poking and prodding, and since most of us are not comfortable handling raw fish while out g
rocery shopping, I suggest sticking with the two aforementioned methods-- they have never let me down.

Whole Roasted Red Snapper

1 2-3 lb whole red snapper, scaled but not deboned
1/4 c. arugula
2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons capers
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lemon, sliced into 1/8" thick rounds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Chop the arugula, garlic, capers, crushed red pepper and salt together until everything is m
inced. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Pat fish dry and season inside with salt and pepper. Slice 3 diagonal cuts into each side of the flesh of the fish, slicing all the way to the bone. Lightly season the outside of the fish with salt and pepper and rub it with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stuff the slits with the mixture. Line the lemon slices on the bottom of a baking dish and place the fish upright on top of the lemon slices. Place a ball of foil under the tail to help the fish stand up. Bake the fish for 25 minutes or until flesh flakes easily. Transfer to a serving platter and gently lift the fillets from the bones.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Carrot Green & Hazelnut Pesto

When I picked up the carrots I used for my Carrot Parsnip Puree (see May 13 post), the nice man at the green market asked me if I wanted to cut the tops off. Without hesitation I replied, "No, thanks. I'd like to keep the tops". After paying I walked away and thought, "Huh? I want the tops? What am I going to do with them?". So, I did a little research, which consisted mainly of confirming that they were not somehow toxic to humans. And it turns out that they are edible and totally safe to eat. Hmm. The next step was to taste them. I washed a few and took a nibble. I was pleasantly surprised. They actually tasted pretty good. They had a fresh, grassy flavor that was slightly bitter and carroty (I know, small wonder). After I decided that I was going to eat them, I had to determine how exactly I was going to transform this HUGE bunch of carrot greens into a delicious meal. I decided to puree them with hazelnuts and make a pesto (and throw in a little sausage for good measure). The outcome was nutty, earthy and delicious and the slight bitterness of the greens was balanced by the richness of the hazelnuts and parmesan cheese.

So, the next time you pick up a bunch of carrots with vibrant, fresh-looking greens attached, don't throw them away! Eating the greens is not only a good way to get more nutritious, leafy vegetables into our diets, but it also reduces our wastefulness (and spending!).

Orcchiette with Carrot Green & Hazelnut Pesto

2 servings

1 large bunch of carrot greens, large stems removed

1/4 c. parsley
3/4 c. toasted hazelnuts
1/2 c. grated parmesan reggiano
1 large or 2 small minced garlic cloves
juice from 1/2 lemon

1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 lb orcchiette (or any other short-cut pasta)
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
salt to taste
1 link sausage (about 1/3 lb)
1 tsp olive oil

Combine first 6 ingredients in food processor. With motor running, stream in olive oil and blend. Season to taste with salt and crushed red pepper. Meanwhile, remove sausage from casing and saute in remaining teaspoon of olive oil over med-high heat until sausage is cooked through and slightly browned. Cook pasta in heavily salted boiling water. Reserve some of the starchy pasta cooking liquid before draining the pasta. Combine pasta, sausage and pesto, adding some of the reserved pasta liquid if it looks a little dry. Serve with extra parmesan cheese grated on top.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Seared Wild Halibut with Carrot Parsnip Puree & Sauteed Ramps

Ok, this dinner is fabulous and fancy and looks incredibly difficult to prepare. But, in actuality, I made it on a week night and it took me about 45 minutes from start to finish. Which, in my humble opinion, is not all that bad, since the finished product can be a show-stopper dish for entertaining.

The meal idea generation started with the carrots that I picked up at my farmer's market the other day. The carrots were gorgeous and dirty (yes, I like dirty vegetables, they remind me of where they came from-- the earth) and had fresh, vibrant stems attached. Carrots are high in dietary fiber, antioxidants and minerals and contain high levels of beta-carotene which metabolizes into vitamin A in the body. I snatched those up, along with a few parsnips, which are even richer in vitamins and minerals that carrots, unsure of what would become of them.

When I saw some gorgeous, and reasonably priced, wild Alaskan halibut fillets in my fish market today, the meal started take shape. I thought the fillets would be lovely over a puree of the carrots and parnsips. But I needed something to balance out the sweetness that the carrot parsnip puree would bring to the table, so I opted for some super-season wild ramps to top off the dish. Ramps, which are a scallion-like perennial, can be found at farmer's market during the spring. They taste like a cross between an onion and garlic, the bulb containing the strongest concentration of flavor.

I decided to sear the halibut fillets over high heat to carmelize the outside and get a crispy exterior, which will
texturally add a nice contrast to the smooth puree and wilted ramp leaves.

For this particular dish, I just used the leaves and stems of the ramps. I've saved the bulbs and am planning on using them in another dish in place of, or in addition to, onions or garlic.

Seared Wild Halibut with Carrot Parsnip Puree & Sauteed Ramps

For the Puree:
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter
1 Bunch Carrots, diced
3 Parsnips, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 c. chicken stock, plus extra as needed
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

squeeze of lemon juice

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 4-6 oz. halibut fillets
salt & pepper

8 ramp leaves & stems
1 tablespoon butter

Puree: Warm the olive oil and butter in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and saute the carrots, parsnips and onion until just starting to become tender. Add the chicken stock, lower the heat, cover and simmer until everything is very soft, about 25 minutes. Transfer mixture to blender or food processor and add the coriander, lemon juice and salt to taste. Puree until smooth, adding more chicken stock if necessary to smooth out the texture. Transfer back to pot and keep warm.

Halibut: Heat canola oil in a stainless steel pan over high heat for a couple of minutes until oil looks glossy and is just starting to ripple. Carefully add halibut fillets into pan, making sure they are not sticking to the pan (if the pan is not hot enough, the fish will stick). Cook for 4-5 minutes until fish is carmelized, then carefully flip the fish, lower heat to medium, and continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes until fish is just cooked through.

Ramps: While the fish is cooking, remove the bulb of the ramp and reserve for another use. Melt the butter in a pan and saute the ramp stems and leaves until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

To Plate: Spoon the puree on the plate, top with the seared halibut and garnish with the wilted ramp leaves.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sweet Pea & Prosciutto Crostini

Peas are one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of spring vegetables, although they are botanically a fruit (I know, who knew!?). And they happen to be one of those foods that I have mixed feelings on. I can't help but think of those mealy little things that are in almost every casserole dish. Even the color name "pea green" is usually used to describe a greenish yellow color that is no more appealing for food than it is for wall color. But then I think about the times that I have had good peas, fresh, in-season sweet peas, and my faith in them is renewed.

I decided to use the peas I picked up to make a puree for a crostini. My excitement for this was not matched by my husband. When I told him what I was making his reaction was, "Peas? Why don't you use fava beans? They're so much better!". I decided to stick to my original plan and make the pea puree, and, guess what? He loved it. He (and I) loved the sweet mellowness of the peas with the contrast of the salty prosciutto on top.

Sweet Pea & Prosciutto Crostini

Pea Puree:
1/2 lb shelled fresh peas
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 thin slices prosciutto, broken into pieces

1/2 baguette, sliced into 1/2" thick slices
olive oil for drizzling

1 garlic clove

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and cook the peas about 2 minutes. Drain peas and immediately transfer to an ice bath or run under cold water to stop the cooking process and preserve that beautiful bright green color. Transfer peas to a food processor or blender and add the parsley, mint and lemon juice. Blend until smooth and add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and, while still hot, rub the tops with the garlic clove to infuse some garlic flavor into the crostini.

Top the crostini with a tablespoon or so of the puree and top the puree with a piece of prosciutto.