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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.