Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spring Risotto with Leeks, Peas and Pancetta

After last week's delicious foray into veggie tops from the market, I was thinking about the spring farmer's market and Berkeley Bowl bounty all week. English peas and leeks are in season here, so they inspired this recipe along with the bag of Arborio rice in my cabinet and the small piece of Asiago cheese in my fridge. If you're still stuck in the snow, most of these ingredients are available at supermarkets, and you can always use frozen peas. Fresh asparagus would be a nice addition or substitute for the peas as well, but definitely not frozen asparagus! 

Shelling peas might sound like a pain in the neck, but it's actually not that bad. It'd be a fun way to get kids involved in the kitchen, kind of like shucking corn in summer. The amount of peas indicated below is meant to be post-shelling. 


1 cup Arborio rice
4 cups veggie or chicken broth, (Oops! Not pictured.) homemade or low-sodium boxed), warmed. You probably will only need about 3 to 3 1/2 cups. 
1/2 cup white wine (also AWOL from pic.)
2 small leeks, white and light green parts
1 cup shelled peas
2/3 c grated Asiago, Parmesan or Romano cheese, plus a little more for serving
olive oil
3 oz finely diced pancetta or 1 Tbsp butter
chopped fresh parsley leaves (about 2 Tbsp)
salt and pepper to taste

If you're using canned or boxed broth, throw a couple of veggies into the pot you warm it in to add a little more fresh flavor. I was planning to make chicken broth, but left the bones out too long and had to pitch them. Wah!

Wash the leeks well, rinsing between layers in case there's any sand in there (also a good kid task). Chop into slices and set aside for a minute. 

Put the pot of broth on the back burner and keep warm. Put a straight-sided skillet or saucepan on the front burner. 

Put the olive oil in the front pan, heat to medium-high and add the pancetta. When the pancetta is getting almost crisp and slightly brown, take it out and set it aside. If there is more than 2 Tbsp of fat in the pan at this point, pour off the extra. 

If you're keeping it veggie, just add the butter to the olive oil. Go right to the next step when the butter melts. 

Add the leeks to the pan. Let them get nice and soft like this, making sure not to brown them. 

Add a teensy pinch of salt to the leeks while you saute them. 

Add the Arborio rice to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. 

Add the white wine to the pan, cook and stir for one to two minutes until the alcohol burns off. 

Add a couple ladle-fuls of broth to the rice. Stir very frequently, not necessarily constantly. 

If you haven't yet, grate the cheese and set aside. 

Ladle more and stir more. 

Keep ladling and stirring for about 15 minutes. Then start tasting the risotto for doneness and seasoning. You want it just a little underseasoned since you're going to add the salty cheese. 

When it's almost but not quite done, stir in the peas and the cooked pancetta. Continue cooking, ladling and stirring until the rice is done, maybe a touch al dente and not mushy yet. 

The risotto should be a little bit loose, not too soupy but not too dry. You may or may not end up using all the broth. 

When it's done, remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Serve in a pretty bowl topped with more grated cheese and chopped parsley leaves. You know, unless you hate parsley, in which case, skip that part. Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Terresa's Herb Pesto Bruschetta

This month I was lucky enough to be invited to a cooking class with Terresa of La Cucina di Terresa, She is a Californian who has been living in Europe, soaking up the wisdom of French and Italian cooks and farmers and giving cooking classes and tours.

While we were waiting for the things we were working on to come out of the oven, she shared the most amazing herb and carrot-top pesto with us. Here is my attempt at it (the recipe makes enough for 20-25 bruschetta). You could use all herbs: parsley, basil, cilantro, whatever you love. 

The best reminder I got out of the class was the reminder of how important it is to get the freshest ingredients grown with the most care, and the best new information was how delicious carrot tops, radish tops and beet tops can be! Alas, beet tops usually come attached to beets, but I'll definitely be using more carrot and radish tops. She also took the mystery and scariness out of cooking by weight rather than by measuring cup. This pesto is actually made by a ratio by weight, one part herbs, one part seeds or nuts, one part cheese, one and a half parts oil. I'll provide approximate cup measures, too. 

Here are the greens I used: parsley and the tops of carrots and radishes grown nearby with care. Radishes are in season here in Northern CA right now, so there are several varieties available at the good markets and farmers' markets. The rest will go into soups and salads in the next day or two.

I weighed out 50 grams of greens (this came out to a little over 4 cups packed loosely). 

Wash the greens well. These lovelies weren't power washed at the mega farm, so they had quite a bit of dirt on them! 

Spin them dry if you have a spinner, or pat them with a towel. 

Spread them out on a dish towel to dry more while you grate the cheese and prepare the other ingredients. Remove the thicker parts of the stems. The small parts are fine to add with the leaves. 

Grate 50 grams Parmigiano Reggiano (about 1.5 cups). If you don't want to splurge on Reggiano, you can use a cheaper cheese, but don't buy it pre-grated, please. Pretty please?! It'll already have lost half the flavor. 

Weigh out 50 grams of pumpkin seeds (maybe 1/3 to 1/2 a cup). You could also use pine nuts, but today at the market they were $21.99 a pound vs. $4.99 for the pumpkin seeds. Walnuts, almonds, whatever you like could work. Don't toast them for the pesto. But do toast the leftover pumpkin seeds for snacks and sprinkle them with a little salt. Delicious. 

Here's another tip from Terresa: peel a garlic clove, then slice it in half and remove the greenish root from the middle. If the garlic is super new it might not have one, but usually it will. 

Mash 1/2 of the garlic clove with a pinch of salt (with a mortar and pestle if you have them, a fork and a bowl if you don't), Set the other half aside for the bruschetta. 

Put the seeds in a food processor and pulse a little bit to chop them up. 

Add the mashed garlic and herbs. Pulse a little more, stop and scrape down the sides, and then add 75 grams of really good olive oil (about 1/3 cup). Turn on food processor and blend just a minute or so. 

When it looks nice and evenly chopped, turn out the pesto into a bowl and stir in the cheese with a spatula or a spoon. If it seems thicker than you like, you can stir in a little more olive oil. Let the flavors come together for an hour or so before serving if you can wait. I couldn't today!

Now, for the bruschetta: you need some good hearty bread for this, a nice crusty loaf or a sturdy
baguette. Terresa brought bread from The Mill, the fabulous new bakery in SF where people stand in line for-e-ver for a slice of $4 toast. I have to say, it was really good. That wasn't in my schedule this week, though, so I got the Berkeley classic: Acme Pain au Levain. 

Slice the bread into nice size pieces to balance with a hearty spoonful of the pesto. Pre-heat the oven to 350 and get some olive oil and a pastry brush ready for when they come out. This is Bariani olive oil, available at farmers' markets, good supermarkets and health food stores.

Toast the bread in the oven for a couple of minutes, turning over halfway through. 

When the bread is nicely toasted (somehow the toasty color doesn't show here, but you know what toasted is, right?), rub the second half of the garlic clove on one side and liberally brush with olive oil. 

Spoon on enough pesto to have a nice balance between the bread and the topping. Serve on something pretty and enjoy! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Chocolate Shoo-Fly Pie for Pi Day 3.14.15

This Saturday is Pi Day! 3/14! And this year it's even more digits: 3/14/15. While there will be throngs of people waiting in line for Pie Shakes at Chili Pies in SF, I thought I'd make something here at home. And it has to be Pie, not a tart or galette!

Shoo-Fly Pie is a Pennsylvania German dish and a must-have at our Thanksgiving dinners when I was growing up. My mom's family is from Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pennsylvania, and we grew up eating many of the local dishes. Lebanon bologna, scrapple...yum. But I digress...

This pie is a mix of the classic pie and Marcel Desaulniers' Chocolate Shoo-fly Bites from Celebrate with Chocolate. With or without the chocolate, it's a "sliver pie" - just a sliver will be very satisfying. And maybe another sliver before bed. And maybe another for breakfast...we knew the classic version was a hit with my college roommate's Basque mother when she asked for some more the morning after Thanksgiving. 

1. The Crust: you can use a pre-made crust if you like, but don't get the folded kind. It'll crack and the filling might leak through and burn. I learned lots of cuss words when I was young and my mom tried this. A chocolate cookie crust won't work either. Get a nice all-butter one in a foil pan. 

To make a chocolate crust, you'll need: 

1 c plus 2 Tbsp All-Purpose flour
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
2-4 Tbsp cold water

Put the dry ingredients in a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix. 

You can mix in a bowl with a whisk if you don't have a food processor. 

Cut the butter into tiny cubes and add to the dry ingredients. Pulse a few times and then hit "on" to blend until it looks like cocoa-y sand like the picture below. 

Use a pastry blender or your fingers if you don't have a food processor. 

Then, add the first two Tbsp of cold water and pulse a few times. Add the third Tablespoon of water, blend a little more, and stop there if the dough comes together into a ball. If it hasn't come together yet, add the last Tbsp a little at a time until it comes together. 

Pat the dough into a round disc, wrap with a towel or some plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes (or overnight). 

My dough was a little wet, so I gently kneaded a little flour into it when I did this step, but it could have turned out tough and overworked. I got lucky. It's probably safer to roll in a little more flour when you roll it out if that happens, but sometimes I throw caution to the wind. Like I tell my ESL students, you learn by making mistakes. 

Bust out the rolling pin, sprinkle a surface with flour, and roll out the dough. Start from the middle of the disc and lift and turn the dough after each couple of rolls. Roll it out to about a 12-14 inch circle. Roll the dough around the pin and unroll it into the pan. Trim the excess, leaving about a 1 inch overhang.
Pinch the excess under to strengthen the edges of the dough and make it an even thickness. You can crimp it in a variety of ways, but the easiest is to use a fork (see the empanada pastry post). I'll post some how-tos for various crimps soon :-) Refrigerate the dough for 30-45 minutes.
2. Make the streusel topping. Put: 

1 c all purpose flour
3/4 cup (tightly packed in the measuring cup) light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut in itty bitty cubes

into the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend one minute on the lowest setting and one minute on the next lowest. It's OK if there are still some visible pieces in the otherwise sandy mix. A hand mixer, a pastry blender or some clean fingers are also fine for this. Set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 350. 

3. Make the filling. 

Melt 5 oz semisweet chocolate: I used chocolate chips and the microwave method, but you can use any semi-sweet chocolate and the double-boiler method. Both melting methods are well outlined here at Fine Cooking


When the chocolate gets really smooth, set it aside for a minute (not in the fridge). I got sleepy and dropped the ball on photos for this section, sorry! I'll find an excuse to make another pie soon :-)
  • Pour 1/3 cup unsulfured molasses into a 1/2 cup measure.
  • Add enough corn syrup (Karo) to fill the 1/2 cup measure (a couple of Tbsps). 
  • Crack 2 eggs.
  • Add the molasses, syrup and eggs to a bowl and mix well until a little frothy.
  • Stir in the melted chocolate and 1/3 cup warm milk or hot water mixed with 1 tsp baking soda. I didn't quite mix it well enough this time, but that meant alternating bites of molasses-y goodness and chocolatey yum. 
Filling the pie:

Take the pie shell from the fridge. 

Now, I come from a wet-bottom shoo-fly family, which means that we put the molasses filling on the bottom and the streusel on top. Dry-bottom people put the streusel on the bottom and the molasses on top, which makes for a cakier pie. However, we recently learned that if we sprinkle some of the streusel on the bottom, it helps prevent the crust from leaking as it bakes, and no blind-baking is necessary. 

So, sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the streusel over the pie crust. 

Next, pour in the molasses-chocolate mixture. 

Finally, top with the rest of the streusel. You'll have to sprinkle it around to get it even rather than dumping it all on at once. 

Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, until it doesn't jiggle when you take it out. The toothpick test does NOT apply here! Let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Rosemary-Sage White Bean Hummus

Last weekend I cooked up a pound of white beans as a healthy way to start off the week. I made a soup with half the cooked beans (about 3 cups) and used the rest for this lovely White Bean Hummus, one of my snacking (and potluck party) staple recipes. Since it's vegan, gluten-free, grain-free, and truffle-free, it meets most of my local friends' dietary restrictions in addition to being DEE-LISH. The trick is to pre-flavor the olive oil, so if you're very short on time you may want to buy some oil that's already flavored with herbs and/or garlic.

I used about 3 cups of white navy beans, but I'll provide the amounts as if I had used one can of beans (cannellini are pretty easy to find). I keep those in the cabinet for when I want to make something quickly, be it soup, hummus, or an Italian style tuna and beans salad. The recipe is easily doubled for a party.

1. Flavor the olive oil 1 to 24 hours in advance: put 1/4 cup olive oil, a sprig or two of rosemary, one or two sage leaves, and two peeled crushed garlic cloves into a small pan. If you only like one of these herbs or only want to splurge on one at the market, either one is fine by itself. Rosemary is one of the few plants I can keep alive and healthy, so I had it in the garden at my old place. It was already planted at this apartment building. 

2. Turn the heat on to medium and heat just until the oil starts to sizzle the tiniest bit. If the garlic starts to brown, pull it out and put in a fresh piece. Turn off the heat and let the good flavors seep into the oil. If you're going to let it sit overnight, cover it with some plastic wrap.

3. When you're ready to make the hummus, put two cups (about one can drained) beans and a couple of tablespoons of water into a food processor. A blender or stick blender is fine for this, too, or probably a potato masher if that's what you've got!

Kindly ignore the spilled olive oil on the stove. 

4. Strain the herbs and garlic from the oil. Add the oil to the food processor.

5. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black or white pepper.

6. Add the juice of 1/2 a juicy lemon to start. You may need the whole thing or even 2, depending on the lemons or your taste, but you won't know until you've pureed and tasted. I squeeze the juice through the same strainer as the herbs to catch the seeds.

7. Puree until smooth, stopping to taste and adjust amounts of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oil (add a little plain olive oil if it needs more).

8. Put in a pretty bowl, even if it's just for you, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with pita chips and fresh veggies (sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, broccoli, whatever you like). I think I've even served it with salt and pepper potato chips for a grain-free friend! Edit 12/29/16: Skip the pita or potatoes, of course, if you're following AH phases 1 or 2. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

White Bean and Veggie Soup

White Bean and Veggie Soup
(with optional ham)
You may be thinking by now that I don't make much healthy food...while the last couple of weeks have been filled with treats and stress eating, this is the kind of cooking I do more regularly.  I keep cans of white beans on hand for times when I need to make something fast, but today I cooked up a pot of white beans that will serve for at least two recipes. This makes about 4 quarts of soup, enough for a big group or to have lunches or dinners most of the week for just lil' ol' me. It freezes well, so I'll probably pop some in the freezer for next week. 

For this recipe, you'll need:

  1. 3 cups cooked white beans (canned is OK if you rinse them). 
  2. (Optional) 6 oz diced smoked ham - you could add a piece of Parmesan rind if you want to keep it veggie, or smoked tofu to keep it vegan
  3. 1 medium onion (or 1/2 onion and one small leek - the leeks at the market today were beautiful, so that's what I used), diced
  4. about 4 medium carrots and 2-4 stalks of celery (I tend to go easy on celery so it doesn't overpower the other stuff)
  5. 1/2 cup white wine or 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  6. 1/2-1 tsp dried thyme or a sprig of rosemary, to taste
  7. 1 14-16 oz can diced tomatoes in juice, low-salt or no-salt preferred
  8. 4 cups veggie or chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
  9. 2 cups chopped greens (chard, kale, or grownup spinach - baby spinach is too soft)
  10. optional: parsley leaves and/or grated Parmesan, Asiago or Romano cheese for serving
First, prep your veggies. Wash them well, rinsing out any sand in the leek if you're using one, and finely chop the onion and the white and light green part of the leek. Save the dark green part for making broth. 

Dice the carrots and celery into pieces about the same size as your beans. You can peel the carrots if that's how you roll, but I stopped doing that long ago.

Put 1 Tbsp olive oil and the leeks and onion in a 5 qt or larger pot. Saute a couple of minutes until they start to soften, then add the carrots, celery and a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute another couple of minutes. Don't let them brown.

If using the ham, push the veggies aside and add 1/3 of the ham and 1 tsp oil to the side of the pot. If using smoked tofu or Parmesan rind, just toss them in. 

Saute the 2 oz of ham for a minute before stirring into the veggies. Set aside the rest of the ham to add toward the end - that way you'll have some of the flavor in the soup, but you'll still have flavorful pieces of ham in the finished product. It's such a bummer when you add it all at the beginning and the flavor all gets cooked out! 

Now add the white wine or vinegar - in a rare turn of events I didn't want to open a bottle tonight, so I put in the vinegar. Dry Vermouth would also be OK, but not that ghastly "cooking wine". Stir in and let evaporate for a minute or two. Add the thyme or rosemary and the tomatoes. 

Fill the tomato can with water and add that water to the pot, too. 

Add the beans to the pot (some of the pot liquid is OK to add if you cooked them, but not the liquid from a can) and bring to a low boil. Cook for 3-5 minutes.

Add the broth, bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and let cook for 20-30 minutes.

Taste for seasoning (salt, pepper, thyme). It should be a little undersalted if you're adding the rest of the ham.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

Add the greens (I had some leftover cooked kale, so that's what I put today) and the rest of the ham. Simmer until the greens are cooked, 5-10 minutes.

That's it! If AH phase 1 or 2, serve with whatever you need to balance your meal. If AH phase 3, serve with whole meal bread or crackers. I'm going with whole grain crackers today, but I might whip up some biscuits later in the week. I busted out some of my nanna's pretty china for this photo, so I hope you like it!