Saturday, April 18, 2009

Red Romaine, Asparagus,and Radish Salad with Sweet and Creamy MeyerLemon-Tahini Dressing

Where do I start! I love salad (I think I have mentioned this before), and spring time is when I really get to enjoy salads almost on a daily basis.
Salads,in my mind, have to have certain components to be really good. For starters, all ingredients must be fresh, seasonal, and of the highest quality. Two; there needs to be a variety of colors, textures, and flavors, but of course,they need to compliment each other. And three; the dressing or vinaigrette needs to be good. I am sorry (not really), but no ranch dressing in my book. This salad meets all my required components. The red romaine (Clark Valley Farms), is beautiful; crunchy, juicy, red on the tips and outside leaves,and light green the closer you get towards the heart. This week is the first week that I have seen such beautiful radishes (again, Clark Valley), I couldn't resist. Their gorgeous red color just pulled me in. Sliced thin, they offer a little crunch, a little mouth feel, and a little spice. I also added steamed asparagus pieces, thinly sliced refreshing fennel, and good raw and fatty walnuts (radishes need a little fat to compliment their crunch and spice). The dressing is a mixture of local honey, local Meyer lemons, shallots, tahini (sesame seed paste), and excellent extra virgin olive oil.
Meyer lemons are my favorite acid to use in vinaigrettes and dressings during the spring. According to Food Lover's Companion (Herbst, S.T. 3rd edition. Barron's Educational Series, 2001), a Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and an orange. Compared to a regular lemon, Meyer lemons have very smooth skin; sweeter, less acidic juice; are quite fragrant; and are rounder in shape. This dressing can be used in any salad, and is especially good with wild rice and asparagus. If you don't have tahini, or you just don't like it, pureed avocado would be just as good. Once you make your own dressings and vinaigrette, you will never buy an already made one again!
I like to garnish this salad with raw walnuts (not toasted to preserve their precious omega-3s), and the fronds from the bulb of fennel. Tarragon leaves would also be a nice garnish here as well. I always add herbs to my salads; they add such a nice surprise in between bites!
Red Romaine, Asparagus, and Radish Salad with
Sweet and Creamy Meyer Lemon-Tahini Dressing
Serves 2-4 as a first course or last course
-1 tablespoon minced shallot
-1 tablespoon honey
-juice of 2 Meyer Lemons
-1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
-1 tablespoon tahini
-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
In a pint sized glass mason jar, combine all ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil. Close the lid tight and shake well. Add the olive oil and shake well again. Set aside.
-1 head red romaine, cut into fork size pieces, washed and spun dry
-1/2 bulb fennel, core removed,sliced thin on a mandolin (a Benrinner mandolin is my favorite)
-3-4 Cherry Belle radishes, washed and sliced thin
-10 asparagus spears, cut into 1/2 inch lengths, steamed and quickly cooled
-Handful of chopped, raw walnuts
-Fennel fronds for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or on a plate. Serve with the dressing on the side.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Whole Wheat Penne and Cauliflower alla Puttanesca

This is my kind of pasta dish. Contrary to the Penne Pasta with Multicolored Cauliflower and Gorgonzola recipe I posted a while back, this pasta contains no cream or cheese, and uses whole wheat pasta instead of semolina. About once a year I will make a pasta containing cream and cheese, usually for my husbands satisfaction, otherwise, I prefer tomato or vegetable based sauces and whole wheat pasta.

Alla Puttanesca is one of my favorite tomato based sauces. This sauce is an aromatic, intense mixture of plum tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, kalamata olives, capers, and oregano. Both whole wheat pasta and cauliflower stand up well to this pungent sauce. Anyone reading know the orgins of the name Alla Puttanesca? I will tell you, but please, no one be offended, this is food and cultural history. The word puttanesca derives from the Italian word puttana, which means "whore". It is believed that Italian ladies of the night used this pungent and fragrant sauce to entice customers. Interesting food history isn't it?

Whether you like the meaning or not, this sauce is delicious, and it can be made any time of the year. The original version contains anchovies,but of course, I left this out. You can use any kind of salty black olive, and if you like a little heat, add a pinch of red chili flakes right at the end.

Whole Wheat Pasta and Cauliflower Alla Puttanesca
Serves 4 as an entrée
Autumn, Winter in some areas, Spring

-12 ounces dry whole wheat Penne
-2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, diced
-1 medium carrot, diced small
-2 large shallot lobes, minced
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-2 cups small cauliflower florets
-2 1/2 cups diced canned plum tomatoes with juice
-1 cup reserved pasta water
-1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
-1/2 cup kalamata olives, halved
-3 tablespoons capers
-Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Set the pasta aside.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a very large sauté pan over medium high heat. When hot, add in the diced onion and carrot. Cook, stirring often, until the onions and carrot begin to soften around the edges, about 4 minutes. Add in the shallots, garlic, and cauliflower. Sauté until the cauliflower begins to slightly brown and soften, 4-5 minutes more.

Add the diced tomatoes with their juice, the 1 cup of reserved pasta water, and the oregano. Cook at a simmer until the sauce becomes thick, and the cauliflower is tender. Add in the pasta, olives, capers, and season to taste with salt and fresh ground white pepper. Heat through and serve hot.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Re-Visiting Old Favorites

I thought I would re-visit some of my favorite recipes from last spring. I have been blogging for about a year now, though, I did sort of neglect Seasonal Cuisine for about the first 6 months of my daughter's life (if you remember, I had a baby back in September). Even though I like all of my recipes, I do like some more than others.

I have to say my favorite recipe, and most versatile, is Savory Roasted Spring Vegetables. This recipe can be adapted to any season, and has been my quick fix meal 3-4 times a week since my little girl was born. For those occasionally cold and rainy days we have in early April, think about Hearty Spring Minestrone. This soup is filled with great spring vegetables, whole wheat pasta, and energizing beans; a perfect soup to revitalize you on a cold day. Since strawberries are coming back in full force, with blueberries soon to follow, I've been making Berries and Cream Steel Cut Oatmeal, my favorite pregnancy breakfast. With all the beautiful golden beets showing up at the farmers market, Golden Sunshine Slaw would be a nice change from a green salad. And last but not least, my favorite grain salad, Asparagus and Wild Rice Salad. This salad is my favorite for spring get togethers and caterings. It is a glorious combination of asparagus, wild rice, fennel, hazelnuts, and a Myer lemon-Shallot vinaigrette. Yum Yum!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Vegetable Pad Thai

What could be better than a big bowl of vegetable packed Pad Thai. Pad Thai is a classic Thai rice noodle dish tossed with a sweet and sour sauce, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, scallions, and served with lime wedges. Usually, it is made with some kind of meat, such as pork or shrimp. Being a vegetarian, I omitted these two items, and instead used an array of fresh, gorgeous spring vegetables. Of course, tofu cubes could be used as well.

My husband and I love Thai food, and especially Pad Thai, but are to frequently disappointed when we are served rice noodles swimming in that hideous, fluorescent pink sweet and sour sauce that you find in cheap Chinese food places. That is not Pad Thai. Pad Thai sauce is sweet and sour in flavor, but is brown in color, and the final dish is usually quite dry. The sour component comes from tamarind, a tropical pod like fruit that is processed into a paste. Tamarind paste can be found at any Asian grocery store. There is a great Asian grocery on the corner of Monterey and Johnson streets in San Luis Obispo. Tamarind can be bought as a paste, or as a big block of dried fruit with the seeds. If you buy the big block, just cut off pieces, soak in a couple tablespoons of hot water, and then press through a small sieve to get all the pulp but no seeds. The seeds are large, you won’t miss them. The sweet component of the sauce typically comes from palm sugar, but I just used brown sugar in mine. Fish sauce is the salty element of the sauce, but again, being vegetarian I omitted this part and replaced it with an equal mixture of lime juice and soy sauce.

I packed this Pad Thai full of beautiful spring veggies I picked up on Saturday. The asparagus still looks and tastes great, but is getting thicker by the week. The snap peas are wonderful and I had to use them here. Red scallions are showing up at the market, as well as green garlic. I also used carrots to add some color. I used the best eggs you could ever buy; Farmer Jim’s eggs from Park Organics. His hens are laying generous amounts of eggs right now, so buy them while you can. They have the orangest yolks you will ever see (yolk color is a reflection of nutrient content and of what the hens are eating; greens, bugs, and all that good stuff hens are suppose to eat), and the cleanest egg flavor you will ever taste. These are the kind of eggs I feel are worth eating. Anyways, enough with my ranting, on to the recipe! Once everything is prepped, this dish goes quite quickly, so don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients.
Spring Vegetable Pad Thai
Serves 2-4 as an entree
-2 tablespoons tamarind pulp
-2 tablespoons brown sugar
-2 tablespoons lime juice
-2 tablespoons shoyu or low sodium soy sauce
Chili-Vinegar Sauce
-1/4 cup brown rice or rice wine vinegar
-1/2-1 teaspoons sambal olek or chili flakes
-1/2-1 teaspoon sugar, or other sweetener like agave nectar

Pad Thai
-10 ounces dry Thai rice noodles
-2 tablespoons peanut oil or other high heat oil
-1 bunch thin asparagus, trimmed and
cut into ½ inch pieces
-15 snap peas cut into ½ inch pieces
-2 thin carrots, cut in half and thinly sliced
-2 eggs, whisked
-5 red scallions, sliced
-1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. Set aside.

Whisk sauce ingredients together and set aside. Whisk chili-vinegar sauce ingredients together and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, or other chosen oil, in a large wok set over high heat. When a whisper of smoke shows, add in the asparagus and snap peas. Toss constantly with a large spatula for 1-2 minutes. Add in the carrots and toss 1 minute more. Push the vegetables up the side of the wok and pour the whisked egg into the bottom. Stir the egg constantly for 1 minute, or until scrambled. Toss the cooked vegetables back in with the egg. Add in the mung bean sprouts, scallions, ginger, and garlic. Toss constantly for 1 minute more. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.

Immediately re-heat the wok with the remaining tablespoon of oil. When hot, add in the rice noodles and toss constantly, pressing the noodles to the side of the wok to slightly brown and sear. Toss for about 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables back in along with the sauce, and toss 1 minute more to combine. Serve hot with lime wedges and the chili-vinegar sauce.

Phad Thai on Foodista

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Penne Pasta with Multi-Colored Cauliflower and Gorgonzola

One of my favorite produce items to show up at the Spring market is multi-colored cauliflower. Purple, orange, light green, and white, these cauliflowers are stunning to look at, leaving you baffled by Mother Nature's ability to make food naturally beautiful.

Cauliflower in general is considered royalty in my cooking repertoire. When truly farmers market fresh (I have never met a large chain grocery store cauliflower I liked), this sweet and slightly nutty vegetable can be served raw in a crudites spread, with pasta, gratin style, sauteed, and anything else you can imagine. The trick is to not over cook it! I think boiling is bad for almost any vegetable, but especially cruciferous ones that tend to let off that unpleasant, old cabbage smell. So steam or blanch quickly.

Cauliflower loves the company of strong, salty flavors such as black olives, gorgonzola, capers, curry, and red chili flakes. I decided to go with rich and creamy gorgonzola cheese, which, when mix with a little cream, makes a terrific sauce, filling each little penne tube and perfectly covering each cauliflower floret. Make sure to cut the cauliflower about the same size as the pasta. I taught this pasta at my Mediterranean Harvest cooking class at Edna Valley Vineyards. Someone suggested a little tarragon as a garnish to this pasta. I tried it tonight, along with parsley and chives, and it was fantastic!

Penne Pasta with Multi-Colored Cauliflower and Gorgonzola
Serves 4

-8oz dry, short style pasta such as Pipe Rigate, Fusilli, or even orzo
-2-3 cups chopped multi-colored cauliflower
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, diced
-1 large clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup heavy cream
-3 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste
-Chopped flat leaf parsley, chives, and a little tarragon to garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente. Remove the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon (save the boiling water), toss with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside. Bring the pot of water back up to a boil and blanch the cauliflower until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the diced onion. Sauté the onion until it begins to soften around the edges, about 3-4 minutes. Add in the garlic and sauté one minute more. Pour in the cream and bring to a simmer. Let simmer about 1-2 minutes to slightly reduce. Whisk in the gorgonzola to create a smooth sauce. Add in the cooked pasta, and cauliflower. Heat through and season to taste with salt and fresh ground white pepper. Garnish with minced fresh Italian parsley, chives, and a small amount of fresh minced tarragon.

First Question!!

I've been asked my first question! Thanks Carolyn, so great to here from you, I am really glad you like the blog. Carloyn asked where to find golden beets and fresh garbanzo beans.

I buy my golden beets at the Saturday morning farmers market in San Luis Obispo. This market is located in the Bed Bath and Beyond parking lot, and is from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. This is the market I do almost all of my shopping at, though I am known to roam the other markets just for fun. Golden beets are not as readily available at the farmers markets as red beets are. Most vendors that sell red beets will also sell golden beets, but not as frequently. Because of this, it is a little hard to assume you will find golden beets any given week. Generally though, they are more frequently available in the spring, with a more steady supply. Golden beets are very sweet, just like red beets, but with much less of that "dirt" (I say this with affection), taste. They can be used just like red beets in salads, roasted as a spring vegetable, or sliced thinly for a slaw (see Golden Sunshine Slaw, May 15 2008 post).

Fresh garbanzo beans have an extremely short season, about 3 weeks. La Familia farm from Los Osos (they have that great pumpkin patch during autumn located out on Los Osos Valley Road), sells fresh garbanzos in the the autumn at the Saturday morning SLO market. We probably won't see them until September (if I remember correctly). Fresh garbanzos are really fun, I am already thinking of recipes for them. They look like fat little green pods of edamame. La Familia farm also sells the best ever dried pinto beans, as well as other dried beans. Now you have no reason to buy dried beans from the store! Their dried beans are so fresh that they need no soaking and cook fairly quickly.

On another note, I just want to give a quick thanks to everyone who attended my cooking class at Edna Valley Vineyards last night. I had a great time, and thanks for your positive feedback and support.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Features!

I have added two new features on the left side bar; Cory's Top 5 Produce Picks, and What's In Season. There is so much great produce showing up at the farmers market that I thought my top picks for the week (or month, depends on produce turn over) would be a nice Seasonal Cuisine feature. Now, these are not my only picks, just the five produce items I probably couldn't live without for the week. This list will also help to showcase those produce items that only seem to hang around for a couple of weeks, like fresh garbanzo beans. I have also decided to add a list of what is in season, which will be located underneath the blog archives. This will be a general list that changes 4-8 times a year. I actually think there are 8 seasons, produce wise that is! I have some other great ideas in the works, so keep reading!