Lifefactory Glass Bottle Giveaway // Watermelon Agua Fresca

waterbottles1

Remember last week when I brattily exclaimed, “I want one!” after seeing my auntie Marcy’s Lifefactory glass bottle? Well, guess what? I got one. And guess what else? I have one for one of you, too, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Upon returning from Albany, I started researching Lifefactory, and it came as no surprise that one of the company’s co-founders, Daren Joy, is an award-winning designer and architect. In a video on the site, Daren briefly discusses his design process and observes that “there is a connection that gets formed almost immediately,” noting that people “know they love [the bottle] right when they first touch it.” Perhaps my reaction wasn’t so bratty after all: the instant desire to have one was simply the sign of successful design.

As I suspected, I am loving my Lifefactory glass bottle. After a week of heavy use, I have yet to open my shoulder bag to find my phone lying in a pool of water — success! — and I have yet to find myself at the sink trying to scrub away a fungal smell from the opening — success! The glass delivers such a clean, pure taste. Moreover, thanks to the silicone sleeve, the bottle has survived several crash tests — the kids are as drawn to the bottle as I am — down our asphalt driveway.

[Read more…]

Getting the Most From Your CSA + Two Favorite Potato Recipes

CSA, 9-20-2012

There was a time in my life when subscribing to a CSA had little appeal. I wanted to buy what I wanted to buy when I wanted to buy it. Today, I am happy to have somebody else make the decision for me.

In the past six years, subscriptions to CSAs in eastern Pennsylvania, southern California and northern Virginia have forever transformed how I eat and cook. I have learned to plan meals based on the vegetables I have at hand not the protein. I have learned to appreciate vegetables in their freshest state seasoned with little more than olive oil, salt and pepper. I have eaten more dark leafy greens than I ever imagined.

During this time, too, I have allowed more than one bunch of radishes to shrivel up and rot, a kohlrabi bulb or two to desiccate, and a few bags of okra to mold over. It is painful — shameful — to see these foods spoil. Today, not a morsel of my CSA goes to waste.

Below, I have compiled some things I have learned these past six years that help me utilize my CSA to its fullest potential. [Read more…]

Summer Squash Spaghetti

zucchini spaghetti

Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.

I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.

While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.

While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.

The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.

I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

benriner turning slicer

sliced zucchini

zucchini & summer squash

Love my Benriner mandoline:
benriner mandoline

ingredients

adding the parsley & basil

Zucchini Spaghetti
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s The Tra Vigne Cookbook
Serves 2 to 3

Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.

1/2 lb. spaghetti
kosher salt
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).

2. Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)

3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.

Have a nice weekend.
graham & ella

Orecchiette Carbonara with Asparagus — 2nd Easiest Weeknight Dinner

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

Hello there. Just a quick midweek post here. Thought I’d share with you all how I’ve made my favorite easy weeknight dinner both more and less involved.

Let me explain. Adding asparagus to pasta carbonara adds about a minute more to your prep time but precludes the need to make any other sort of vegetable side dish — 3/4 of a pound of asparagus, for me at least, is enough roughage for one evening.

So there you have it. Fry some bacon. Sauté some onions. Cook some pasta. Blanch some asparagus. Whisk some eggs. Zest a lemon. Toss it all together, and watch how a no-cream light-on-the-cheese sauce transforms a simple pasta into a creamy-tasting, vegetable-loaded, one-dish dinner. Yum.

orecchiette and eggs

drained asparagus and orecchiette

carbonara in bowl

carbonara in pan

Pasta Carbonara
Source: Everyday Food

Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 leeks* (white and light-green parts only) or spring onions*, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound short pasta, such as campanelle or orecchiette
3/4 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed
2 large eggs
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (optional — I didn’t use them this time around)

*If you don’t have leeks or onions, any onion will do — finely chop about a half cup or more of whatever onion you have on hand.

1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. (I did not pour off any fat… it looked too good to discard.) Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until leeks are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 1.5- to 2-inch long pieces. In the last three minutes of the pasta cooking time, drop the asparagus into the pot of water. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and lemon zest and juice. Whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.

4. Drain pasta and asparagus and immediately add to egg mixture, along with bacon, leeks, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired and serve immediately. Note: If you’re nervous about the egg not cooking, just throw the whole mixture back into a large skillet over medium heat for a minute or two.

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

Tartine-Style Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur

Yesterday morning, a little self-intervention led to a most-delicious discovery.

This is what happened. After finding myself once again scouring the internet for Tartine’s croque monsieur recipe, clicking on fruitless links I had clicked on before, and seeing myself heading down an equally defeating path — toward my bookshelf ready to thumb through my Tartine cookbooks to ensure once again I hadn’t made a glaring oversight — I paused. What’s wrong with you? I asked myself. This isn’t rocket science. This is croque monsieur.

And right then and there I stopped wasting time and marched straight into the kitchen, making bechamel the order of the hour. And then I preheated the oven to roast some asparagus and spring onions. And then I cut two thick slices of olive bread, grated some Comté cheese and picked a few thyme leaves. And before I knew it, a bubbling, bechamel-and-roasted vegetable-tartine had emerged from my broiler. And in an instant Tartine didn’t feel 2,847 miles away, and Tartine-style croque monsieur at home, such an impossibility.

While I didn’t even miss the meat on my spring vegetable croque monsieur, I suspect that a few slices of ham would bring my favorite breakfast sandwich even closer to home. Just know that if you can make a bechamel, and if you can get your hands on some good bread, some sort of Gruyère-like cheese, and some fresh thyme, you have the foundation for a daydream-worthy croque monsieur.

Of course, the only possible way this sandwich could be made any more delicious is if it were topped with a poached egg. Yum.

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur
Asparagus and spring onions from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
asparagus & spring onions

asparagus & spring onions, ready to be baked

roasted asparagus & spring onions

Nancy Silverton's bechamel

olive bread, thyme, comte

asparagus & spring onion croque monsieur, ready for the broiler

Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur
Serves: However many you like

Note: I’ve included a recipe for a bechamel sauce that I really like (it’s from Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book), but by all means, if you have a go-to bechamel recipe, use it. After the bechamel is made, there really isn’t a need for a recipe here. Just pick your favorite spring vegetables and cook them however you like, or if you have access to some good ham or bacon, go the more traditional route and substitute the vegetables with the meat. If you use a bakery-style loaf of bread and come Gruyère or Comté cheese, you’re good to go.

asparagus and/or spring onions, ends trimmed
olive oil
kosher salt

good bread, cut into thick slices
bechamel sauce (recipe below)
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
fresh thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the asparagus and spring onions with olive oil and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Test with a knife for doneness.

2. Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a sheet pan and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about a tablespoon of bechamel over each slice of bread. Top with the roasted vegetables. Top with grated cheese to taste.

3. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve immediately.

Bechamel:
Source: Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever–from Thursday Nights at Campanile

Note: This recipe is adapted from Silverton’s recipe for Mornay sauce in her croque monsieur recipe in her Sandwich Book. To make it a Mornay sauce, as far as I can tell, stir in 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end.

Also Note: This makes enough bechamel for about 30 croque monsieurs. I haven’t tried having the recipe, but it likely would work just fine. I don’t use bechamel that often, so I’m short on ideas for using up the remaining bechamel. Thoughts? I just plan on eating croque monsieur every day until I’m out of bechamel.

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium white or yellow onion (about 4 tablespoons finely chopped)
kosher salt
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 bayleaf

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, salt, and cracked peppercorns (if using), and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Remove from the heat and add the flour in two batches, whisking to combine it with the onion and butter. Return the pan to the stove and over low heat, cook a few minutes, until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.

2. Return the pan to the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the taste of raw flour is gone and the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk.

3. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the sauce. (I didn’t strain the sauce — I don’t mind those onion bits, and the bay leaf was easy enough to pull out. Now, if you did the peppercorn thing, you probably want to strain the sauce.)

Farro Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts, Currants & Mustard Greens

farro salad

Toasted pine nuts, Zante currants, a handful of mustard greens — smells awfully familiar, doesn’t it? That’s likely because it’s the exact makeup of the Zuni Cafe bread salad minus the bread. If it doesn’t ring a bell, I recommend familiarizing yourself with this most adored salad first, then making your way back here where a springy variation awaits, a farro-for-bread substitution making it a touch lighter but no less delicious.

I can hear your grumbles. Without the bread (literally) and butter of the Zuni salad, flavor, you suspect, must be compromised? You’ll just have to take a leap of faith and trust that farro, surrounded by all the elements of the Zuni salad — sweet onions, crunchy nuts, spicy greens, a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing — soaks up the goodness nearly as well as bread all the while maintaining its chewy texture and nutty flavor.

And if you can get your hands on some semi-pearled farro, which cooks in 15 minutes, you’ll find yourself eating more grains than you ever imagined. At least that’s what happened to me. Since discovering semi-pearled farro just over a week ago, I’ve made this salad or some sort of variation of it four times and have consumed (with the help of my husband) nearly 2 pounds of farro.

While semi-pearled farro is not quite as nutritious as whole farro — pearling strips off part of the germ and bran — it’s still a healthy starch (high in fiber and protein) and a welcome addition to my kitchen pantry. I don’t know why the lengthy cooking time of many whole grains deters me from making them, but it does, and as a result, I don’t eat them as much as I would like. I love the idea of making grains in their whole state a staple in my diet. I hope the semi-pearled varieties are paving the way for that transition.

After several days in a row of the Zuni-inspired farro salad, I changed it up a bit and roasted some carrots alongside the onion and substituted chopped toasted hazelnuts for the pine nuts, which made for a nice variation. Just know that this salad is infinitely adaptable — currants are nice but other dried fruits will offer the same texture and flavors; nothing is tastier (to me) than pine nuts but any nut will provide that crunch; and greens provide color, a little roughage and a wonderful spiciness but are not critical.

Mix it up. I hope you find it as addictive as I do.

We received an incredible “Asian mix” of greens in our CSA this week. Mustard greens were included and the whole combo was incredibly tasty.
Asian mix

This is really nice farro. It’s semi-pearled, which means a portion of the outer bran has been removed, which cuts the cooking time way down — it cooks in about 15 minutes. You might be able to find some at your local supermarket, but if not, you can order it here.
Roland farro

Farro Salad with Roasted Onion, Toasted Pine Nuts, Currants & Greens
Serves 2

1 red onion, diced
olive oil
kosher salt
1 cup of semi-pearled farro*
2 tablespoons dried currants — I use Zante currants
white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons (or more) pine nuts or any nut you like
a handful or more of mustard greens (about 2 loosely packed cups) — If you can’t find mustard greens, arugula or spinach or any green that can stand up to some heat without completely wilting will do. Add as many greens as you want as well — I tend to go overboard on the greens

*Roland semi-pearled farro is particularly nice but any type of farro or grain — wheat berry, barley, etc. — will work nicely. You might be able to find semi-pearled farro at your local supermarket, but if not, you can order it here Of course, whole farro will work just as well.

1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Place a pot of water on to boil. Toss diced onion with olive oil (about a tablespoon) on a sheet pan and season with salt. Place in the oven. Roast for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the onion is just beginning to char — you don’t want the pieces to get too charred (or maybe you do… I kind of love them a little charred.)

2. Meanwhile, add farro to pot of boiling water. Add a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook for about 15 minutes — taste a few kernels after 15 minutes. For me it takes just a minute more than 15.

3. Place currants in a small bowl. Moisten with 1 tablespoon boiling water and 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar. Set aside. Toast pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown — watch them carefully! Set aside.

4. Place the greens in a large mixing bowl. When the onions are finished cooking, scrape them off of the pan into the bowl over the greens. Drain the farro, and add to bowl. Season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Drizzle olive oil over the farro while it’s still warm. I haven’t been measuring, but if you’re looking for some guidance, start with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Splash white balsamic over top — again, you don’t have to measure, but if you like to, start with about 1 tablespoon and adjust after everything has all been mixed together.

5. Drain the currants and add to the bowl. Add the pine nuts to the bowl and toss to coat. Taste. If it’s a little dry, add more oil and white balsamic. If it needs a little more seasoning, add a pinch more salt. I didn’t add pepper, but by all means, add some.

Farro salad, Zuni Cafe inspired

Turnip & Apple Purée, Venison Backstrap, A Jean-Georges Chocolate Tart & A Valentine’s Day Recap

Venison Backstrap with Apple & Turnip Purée and wilted Watercress

Am I becoming too predictable? Are you sick of seeing vegetables puréed with apples? Do you think I should perhaps explore a cookbook other than this one and this one?

I hope not, because I’m really loving this latest variation on the vegetable-and-apple-cooked-in-milk-with-a-small-amount-of-starch technique. Similar to the cauliflower purée, the inclusion of an apple in this purée enhances the sweetness of the main vegetable — here turnips — and a small amount of starch — this time white rice — ensures a silky smooth purée, tasting as if it has lots of cream and butter, when it in fact has neither. Sally Schneider credits the technique to chef Michel Guerard and notes that celery root, carrots, rutabaga or beets — any watery or fibrous root vegetable really — could replace the turnips. I love the idea of a beet purée.

While it’s delicious on its own — I ate nearly all of it at lunch — this purée becomes exceptionally tasty aside any sort of meat, where it can sop up all of the juices pooling around its base. A drizzling of port wine reduction doesn’t hurt either, and together, the meat drippings, mash and sauce just beg to be mopped up by a slice of warm, crusty bread.

So, a Valentine’s Day dinner did in fact materialize at our house on Tuesday evening. Dessert happened, too, after a craving for something chocolaty and Valentinesy, something like the beautiful cocoa-powdered topped tart I watched Jean-Georges Vongerichten bake on tv that morning, sent me straight into the kitchen. In this tart, whipped egg whites lighten a fudgy base of dark chocolate, melted butter and egg yolks. Almond flour provides nearly all of the structure as well as a wonderful flavor, and confectioners’ sugar sweetens it ever so slightly. It’s simple to whip up, bakes for 17 minutes, and tastes just as lovely as it looks. Light and rich at the same time, it demands a dollop of homemade whipped cream. It’s not Valentine’s Day without some sort of chocolate indulgence, and this tart couldn’t be more perfect for the occasion… something to keep in mind for next year I suppose.

Beautiful turnips from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:

On Black Friday, Ben and I bought a free-standing freezer. Shortly thereafter, Ben started hunting. And before too long, our freezer was filled to the gills with duck and deer. He cleaned one deer himself, but for the rest of the season, let a butcher in Fredericksburg handle the cleaning and portioning. I never imagined eating deer burger on a regular basis, but oh my it is delicious.
Ben, carving up a deer

free standing freezer

This is a deer backstrap (an enormous one) marinating in olive oil, garlic, thyme and sliced onions. Backstrap is a very tender cut — perhaps the most tender after the tenderloin — and extremely flavorful. It tastes best (to us at least) on the rare side. We’ve been cutting the backstrap into medallions and searing them for just one to two minutes a side. When we haven’t made our favorite sauce, we simply deglaze the pan with a little tawny port and let it reduce till it’s slightly thickened.
venison backstrap, marinating

On Tuesday morning’s Martha Stewart Show, Jean-Georges Vongerichten whipped up a beautiful, nearly flourless, chocolate cake, a recipe from his latest book Home Cooking with Jean-Georges. Watch the video here.

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Turnip and Apple Purée
Source: Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook
Serves 4

1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 cups low-fat (1 or 2%) milk* (2 cups will be left over for another use)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons white rice
1 apple, peeled, cored, and quartered
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional — I tasted it at the end and thought adding butter seemed unnecessary, so I didn’t.)

* I used only 2 cups of milk because I was feeling guilty about using 3. It worked just fine.

1. Place the turnips in a medium saucepan, add the milk, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and a grinding or two of pepper, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Stir in the rice, lower the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apples and simmer for 10 minutes longer, or until the turnips are very tender. (The milk will curdle, but the curds will be incorporated when the turnips are pureed.) Drain the mixture in a colander set over a bowl; save the cooking liquid.

2. In a food processor, puree the turnip mixture for 1 to 2 minutes, until perfectly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of cooking liquid if necessary. (Save the remaining flavorful liquid for soup; it can be frozen.) Process for several minutes more, scraping down the sides several times, until you have a fine puree. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Taste and add the butter if you wish — I didn’t think it needed any.

3. You can make the puree several hours ahead and reheat it (or keep it warm), stirring frequently, in a covered double boiler.

Chocolate Tart
Source: Jean-Georges Vongerichten via Martha Stewart
Serves 6

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, preferably cultured, plus more for pan
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (66% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup almond flour
Dutch-process cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)

homemade whipped cream for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan, tapping out excess.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together egg whites and sugar until medium-stiff peaks form.

3. Meanwhile, melt chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat.

4. Add 1 yolk to chocolate mixture and beat to combine. Add remaining yolks and mix to combine. Add confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, and all-purpose flour; mix until combined. Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture and mix to loosen chocolate mixture. Gently fold in remaining egg white mixture.

5. Transfer to prepared cake pan and evenly spread. Transfer cake pan to oven and bake until puffed and knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack. Carefully re-invert and let cool completely. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired.

WARNING: Ridiculously cheesy Valentine’s Day snapshots lie ahead.
card front

I used this template for the birds. I know, I know. Totally ridiculous.
card inside

Some snapshots from the evening:
Valentine's Day

Chez Panisse Eggplant, Caramelized Onion and Tomato Pasta

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to my eyeballs in eggplants here. My CSA delivery last week could have fed a small village, and I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in a good way though. I mean, I’ve been eating my way though a very delicious eggplant chapter in Chez Panisse Vegetables, so far delighting in eggplant gratin with tomato and onion, and roasted eggplant and tomato pizza. I know, it’s been rough.

But this pasta. Oooooh, this pasta. This pasta recipe unexpectedly has eclipsed its chapter companions, its deliciousness attributed to perfectly ripe eggplant, the freshest tomato sauce, sweet basil, caramelized onions, and above all to a most unsuspecting ingredient: sherry vinegar. I don’t know how just a splash of anything could so transform a dish, giving it a depth of flavor that subtly persists through layers of tomatoes and eggplant and onions, but somehow the sherry vinegar has.

There’s something, too, about the way the roasted eggplant melds with the caramelized onions and the tomato sauce that makes cheese totally unnecessary. No cheese on pasta, you ask? Hogwash, you shout!  I mean it. This roasted eggplant tomato sauce spiced with crushed red pepper flakes and freshened with basil was enough for me. I even had some homemade ricotta in the fridge. I even had a bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano sitting inches from my plate throughout dinner. I had no trouble refraining.

While I know a bowl of hot pasta perhaps isn’t crossing your mind very often in late summer, eggplants are reaching their peak right about now, and they are oh so good. Give this recipe a go. It’s a keeper for sure.

Finally, if you like  summer pastas, you might like this dish, too.

Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook

Eggplant from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
eggplant from our CSA

eggplant, uncooked and cooked

Making the Sauce

Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onion Sauce

Gemelli with Eggpplant and Tomato

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6 (or 2 generously…see my notes for a smaller yield)

2 large globe eggplants (I used 1 eggplant, which yielded about 3 cups of diced eggplant weighing about 9.5oz)
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful parsley leaves (I used only basil)
kosher salt
1 lb. penne (I used 1 cup of Gemelli pasta but use whatever you like)
sherry vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (I used 1 cup of this sauce)
red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. ricotta salata cheese (I used no cheese, but served grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the eggplants into cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly with olive oil and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. (Note: I’ve made this twice now, and my instinct the first time was to toss the eggplant with some kosher salt before roasting. The instructions don’t call for this, and second time around, I used no salt, and I think the eggplant came out better.) Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

2. Put a large (or small) pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook the pasta al dente.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and onions over medium heat. Sauté the onions until just caramelized. (Note: I started the onions when I put the eggplant in the oven — I find that caramelizing onions slowly over medium heat works best. I also added a pinch of kosher salt while sautéeing. The onions probably sautéed for 25 minutes to 30 minutes total.) Add the garlic and cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Heat the sauce to simmering. Drain the pasta, add it to the tomato sauce pan, and toss gently. Chiffonade the basil and add it the pan.

4. Serve the pasta with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley (I omitted) and ricotta crumbled over the top (I also omitted, but served Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

Corn Fritters

corn fritters

Oh, where to begin, where to begin. I saw this recipe in last weekend’s WSJ’s food section and began foaming at the mouth. Look at this picture. Do those corn cakes not look perfect to you? Golden brown, loaded with corn — I just want to reach my hand through the computer and snatch one.

The recipe, credited to London’s Yotam Ottolenghi, sounded fantastic, too. So, I set to work scraping kernels from the cob of our delectable CSA corn and finely dicing the most beautiful hot peppers I have every seen and mixing a batter of polenta and Greek yogurt and olive oil and cilantro. The mixture looked divine — colorful, fragrant and perfect in consistency. This is exactly where I should have paused.

But I didn’t. I continued on with the recipe and delicately folded in 3 whipped egg whites. And then I proceeded to fry up corn pancakes, delicious in every which way, but not what I was looking for. I wanted fritters, not pancakes, and I won’t belabor this point any further since I just went through my fritter-vs-pancake preferences with you all with these guys.

But all was not lost. In an attempt to rectify the remaining batter (I had cooked 8 pancakes at this point), I added an additional ear of corn kernels to the batter and then violently stirred, attempting to deflate the effect of the whipped egg whites.

Success. Total succcess. I mean, I definitely have a thing for fritters these days, but these corn-laden crispy cakes are simply irresistible. I served them aside broiled fish but I love the idea of making them the star of the meal, serving them with a simple salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, which is how Ottolenghi suggests. I should note, too, that the batter — the egg white-deflated fritter batter, that is — can be made ahead. Once I achieved the consistency I was looking for, I set my batter bowl in the fridge until dinner time. Yum yum yum.

If you think this recipe sounds yummy, check out this one, too:Watercress with Egg, Goat Cheese & Seeds. Sounds divine. These two Ottolenghi recipes are part of a four “easy-enough” recipe series. The final one will be printed this weekend. Looking forward to it!

Peppers from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
peppers from our CSA

The first batch of fritters I made came out looking like pancakes. You can see in this picture below how those whipped egg whites produced a puffy pancake versus a fritter. After cooking 8 pancakes, I added another whole ear of corn kernels to the batter. At this point, the batter was considerably more corny, and the effect of the whipped egg whites, minimal. Next time around, whipped egg whites will be omitted — they seem unnecessary.

corn pancakes

Corn Fritters
Adapted from: The Wall Street Journal
Note: Yotam Ottolenghi, the creater of these corn cakes, serves them with a light salad of arugula and cilantro. Find the original recipe here.

SERVES: 4

½ cup quick-cooking polenta, or fine-ground cornmeal
1¼ cups corn kernels, cut from 1-2 ears of corn*
1 small shallot, diced fine (about 3 tablespoons)
1 small jalapeño, seeds and membrane removed, diced fine (about 2 tablespoons)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, roughly smashed (optional — I omitted)
¾ teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
¾ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 to 4 eggs (depending on whether you want to make a fritter or a pancake… see notes in post above and in recipe)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (or more or less to taste)

¼ cup sour cream or crème fraîche

*I ended up using 3 ears of corn to make the batter the consistency I was looking for. See notes in recipe.

NOTE: Batter can be made ahead and chilled. (After I achieved the batter consistency I was looking for, which was in the middle of the day, I stopped making fritters and put the batter in the fridge. When it was time for dinner, I took out my bowl and started making fresh fritters. Yum yum yum.)

WHAT TO DO:

1. In a large bowl mix polenta with corn, shallots, jalapeño, cumin (if using), salt and pepper. Add yogurt, 1½ tablespoons olive oil, 1 egg and chopped cilantro. Mix well with fork.

2. Here is where the “recipe” gets messy: If you like the texture of a pancake, separate the remaining 3 eggs. Place the whites in a bowl and beat to soft peaks; reserve the yolks for another purpose. Carefully fold whites into corn batter in two stages. Let rest 5 minutes. (Note: This is what I did initially. See photo directly above the recipe.) If you prefer the texture of a fritter (my preference), omit adding the whipped whites**.

3. Set large nonstick frying pan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Pour in 1 teaspoon olive oil (or enough to just coat the bottom of the pan). Once hot, spoon 2 tablespoons of batter per cake into pan. Spread with the back your spoon to even out the batter. Make 3 to 4 fritters at a time. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook cakes 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Flip and cook 1 minute, or until golden. Season second side of fritters with a pinch of salt. Transfer to paper-lined tray. At this point, it would be wise to taste one. If you like the texture and seasoning, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter. If you think the batter could use more corn, add more corn. If the batter needs to be bound together better, add another egg. Once you’ve achieved the right consistency, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter or chill batter until you’re ready to start cooking.

4. Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche on the side.

Yield: about 16 cakes.

** I should note that I have not made this recipe without omitting the egg whites altogether — I simply have minimized their effect by adding an additional ear of corn to the batter and stirring aggressively to deflate their whipped texture.

This is what the batter looked like before I folded in any egg whites. I so wish I had tried making one fritter at this step.
corn fritter batter

This is what the batter looked like after I cooked 8 pancakes and then added another whole ear of corn kernels to achieve the fritter consistency I was looking for.
fritter batter

corn fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

zucchini fritters

I think I’m the last person on the planet to make zucchini fritters. Why it has taken me so long to give them a go I do not know. Maybe it’s that I have a general pancake-making phobia? Or that the amount of zucchini-fritter recipes I have collected over the years in addition to the blog posts I have bookmarked and the cookbook pages I have dog-eared is a wee overwhelming?

In any case, I got over it earlier this week, spurred by a revelation that helped me breeze through my zucchini-fritter recipe collection and locate a few promising recipes. My revelation, you ask? I realized I wasn’t interested in making a pancake — I wasn’t looking to make a floury, bread-crumb bound, cheese-laden pancake. I wanted something resembling a latke but composed of zucchini, which would be crisped quickly in a pan and served with something cool like sour cream or tzatziki.

The recipe here fits that description. A combination of grated zucchini and potato with a little diced onion bound by a single egg gives these fritters that lovely latke texture. But the addition of lemon zest and lots of herbs give them a freshness and lightness that’s irresistible. I served this batch with tzatziki, which accompanied them well, but which truthfully is unnecessary — they’re so good on their own. Give them a whirl! I know you’ll like them.

Batter made with zucchini from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
Fritter Batter

fritters in pan

cooked zucchini fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

Serves 2, Yield=6

2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup coarsely grated potato
kosher salt
pinch of flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped chives (or whatever herb you like)
1 tablespoon chopped mint (or whatever herb you like)
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup diced white onion
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Tzatziki:
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 T. finely diced red onion
1 T. chopped mint
kosher salt
squeeze of lemon juice

1. Place the grated zucchini and potato in a colander. Spread the veggies out to allow for maximum surface area exposure and sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to drain.

2. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki, if desired: Stir together yogurt, onion, mint, salt and lemon juice. Taste. Add more salt if necessary. Chill until ready to use.

3. After the 30 minutes, squeeze veggies out and wrap in paper towels. Squeeze again. [Note: The veggies will not drain out enough liquid on their own in the collander, so squeezing them with a paper towel is a critical step to mopping up that moisture.] Open up the paper towel and spread out your veggies. Sprinkle with a pinch of flour to soak up leftover moisture.

4. In a bowl, whisk together egg, herbs and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add onion and grated zucchini-potato mixture. Stir well.

5. Preheat over to 200˚F. Place a foil-lined cookie sheet in the oven. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. When foam subsides, drop a spoonful of your fritter batter in. Gently pat with a spatula to flatten out the fritters, which will help make them crispy.

6. Cook about 3 fritters at a time until golden brown on each side. Place fritters in the oven while you make additional pancakes. Serve as soon as possible with tzatziki on the side.

fritters with tzatziki