Friday, May 29, 2009

Sauteed Zucchini and Fava Beans with Mint and Tarragon

Lots of summer vegetables are showing up at the market such as green beans, tomatoes, peaches, and zucchini. Lots of zucchini actually, and here is my first recipe of the season. I had to add in fava beans, they will not be around for very long!My nine month old daughter has discovered she loves steamed zucchini chunks, it is her new favorite snack!

Sauteed Zucchini and Fava Beans with Mint and Tarragon
Serves 4 as a side dish
Early Summer

-1 1/2 pounds fresh fava beans
-1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-2 shallot lobes, sliced thin
-8 small zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
-2 tablespoons chopped mint
-1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
-1 tablespoon butter
-salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste

Peel the fava bean pods and remove the beans. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Blanch the fava beans until tender, about 2-4 minutes for smaller, very fresh beans, longer for larger, older beans. Drain and shock under cold running water. Slip the beans out of their skins. Discard the skins and set the beans aside.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat. When hot, add in the sliced shallots. Cook 2 minutes or until slighty soft and beginning to brown. Add in the zucchini and a little salt and white pepper. Saute, stirring frequently, until the zucchini are just tender and slightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add in the fava beans, mint, tarragon, and butter. Heat through and allow the butter to melt. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground white pepper.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Making a Difference!

I am someone who firmly believes that every person has the power in them to make a difference in this world, and it is our duty to make this world a safer, cleaner, more peaceful place for our children. As busy adults, we tend to forget that even our smallest daily decisions can make a difference, and we sometimes feel discouraged as others around us seem to completely neglect this simple concept.

I receive an email newsletter once a month from a terrific food policy organization called Food First. In the latest issue, issue #128, the very first story immediately caught my attention. The story is about a group of fourth graders in Madison WI who are doing what us adults should be doing; making a difference. These fourth graders formed a group, the Boycott School Lunch (BCSL), after conducting some cafeteria experiments with their school lunches, like measuring how much grease they could squeeze out of their hamburgers. Their goal is to bring awareness and change to their school lunch options. They decided to hold a protest by staying back from their cafeteria lunch and holding their own homemade, healthy hot lunch on tablecloth covered picnic tables. Their protest, however, was cancelled by administrators due to technical and legitimate reasons, but the story is still quite inspiring. Please read the the full story by Mary Ellen Gabriel fromt the Capital Times

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bulgur Wheat and Fava Bean Salad with Feta Cheese, Lemon Basil, and Mint

You know warm weather is coming when fresh fava beans show up at the farmers market. I feel that fresh fava beans our one of our last truly seasonal vegetables. By this I mean that you will almost never find them available in a grocery store or super market out of season (like we do tomatoes, asparagus, and artichokes).

The first of the season fava beans are the best. Even the large beans are tender, requiring only 3-4 minutes of blanching. If you have ever worked with fava beans, you know that they require affection and patience to work with. Only people who love favas actually cook with them. Fresh favas come in large, thick, hairy green pods. These pods must first be split open to reveal the beans inside. These beans then need to be dunked in boiling hot water for a few minutes (depends on their size and age) to make them tender, and to soften their leathery outer skin. This skin then needs to be peeled off (its easy, just pop the beans right out) before the bean can be used. All in all, fava beans have about an 80% loss when all is finished. 1 1/2 pounds of beans in pods will yeild roughly a cup of peeled beans. Fava beans are like artichokes; a bit of a hassle to work with, but sooooo worth the effort!

Fava beans go wonderfully with wheat, salty cheeses, fresh spring herbs, potatoes, artichokes, peas, and even early tomatoes. My favorite herbs to go with fava beans are tarragon, chives, parsley, basil, mint, chervil, and thyme. I have a mini basil garden going, and my lemon basil is flaunting a few beautful,leafy sprigs, which I decided to use in my first fava bean recipe of the year; Bulgur Wheat and Fava Bean Salad with Feta Cheese, Lemon Basil, and Mint. If lemon basil is not available, then any early basil will do. I really love the mint in this recipe as well. The salty and creamy feta cheese really ties the chewy bulgur wheat and tender favas together, while chopped walnuts add a nice toasty crunch. This is a really nice side dish. I used a full 3 tablespoons of exceptional extra virgin olive oil and the juice of two juicy lemons. If you feel the salad is too dry, add more oil or lemon juice if need be.

Bulgur Wheat with Fava Beans, Feta Cheese, Lemon Basil, and MintServes 4-6 as a side dish
Spring, Early Summer

-1 cup bulgur wheat
-1 ½ pounds fresh fava beans
-1 small shallot lobe, minced
-1 tablespoon minced fresh lemon basil
-1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
-2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
-1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese*
-Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste
-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
-Handful toasted and chopped walnuts
-salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste

Place the bulgur wheat in a 2 quart pot and cover with 1 ½ cups water and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook the bulgur wheat until it has absorbed all the water. Let rest ten minutes, off heat. Uncover, and fluff with a fork. Refrigerate the bulgur if not using with in the hour.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Remove the fava beans from their thick green pods. Add the fava beans to the boiling water. Blanch until the beans are tender and their skins slip right off, about 3-4 minutes for young, first of the season beans, a little longer for later season beans. Drain and immediately run under cold water until cool. Peel the fava beans. They are now ready to use.

Combine the bulgur wheat with the fava beans, minced shallot, lemon basil, mint, parsley, and a little salt and fresh ground white pepper. Stir to combine. Add in the feta cheese, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and chopped walnuts. Stir well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary with salt, fresh ground white pepper, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil.

*Note: If your feta cheese is very moist and creamy instead of dry and crumbly, add it at the end of mixing, after you have adjusted to taste, otherwise, this dish will get soggy and the feta will disappear into the bulgur wheat.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Two Great Appetizers

Artichokes and cauliflower are two of my favorite spring vegetables. In the two following recipes, they both are prepared into terrific appetizers, or would be great in a tapas spread. For the first, artichokes are combined with smooth and creamy pine nuts to make a wonderful pesto, which is then stuffed into cremini mushrooms. This pesto, if you have any left over, keeps well in a glass jar with a little olive oil on top. Left overs can be used as a sandwich spread, as a crostini topping, or even on pasta.

The second is a pungent and intriguing plate of large cauliflower florets roasted with yellow curry powder. Great served warm, or even at room temperature.

Artichoke-Pine Nut Pesto Stuffed Mushrooms

For the Pesto
-1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot lobe, minced -
-2 medium artichokes, trimmed and quartered
-1 strip lemon peel
- ½ cup pine nuts
-1 teaspoons minced fresh chives
-1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
-1 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the minced shallot lobe. Sauté, stirring often, until the shallots are soft, about 3 minutes. Add in the artichokes and strips of lemon peel. Just cover with water or vegetable stock, season with a pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and simmer the artichokes until tender and only a tablespoon or so of liquid remains. Remove the lemon peel.

Place the warm artichokes into the bowl of a food processor fitted with an S blade. Add in the fresh herbs and a little salt and white pepper. Pulse the processor to grind the artichokes into a coarse puree. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

For the Mushrooms
-15-20 cremini or white button mushrooms, stems removed
-1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 375̊F.

Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel or wash cloth. Toss the mushrooms with 1-2 tablespoon extra virgin olive. Use just enough oil to coast the mushrooms. Season with a little salt and fresh ground white pepper.

Place the mushrooms in a large baking dish in one single layer, stem end facing up. Cover with foil and bake in the oven until the mushrooms are tender, about 15minutes. Remove the foil, and pour out the juice that has collected in each mushroom. I save this juice to add to stock, or to make vinaigrettes, or even to thin the artichoke pesto if it is too thick.

Fill each mushroom with a good spoonful of the pesto. Cover the dish back up with foil, place in the oven, and warm the mushrooms through, 5-10 minutes more. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Curry Roasted Cauliflower Florets
-1 head of white cauliflower
-1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1 ½ - 2 tablespoons curry powder
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400̊F.

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower. Divide the cauliflower into large florets. Toss the florets with the extra virgin olive oil, curry powder, salt, and fresh ground white pepper.

Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Place the cauliflower in a single layer on the baking sheets.Place the cauliflower in the oven and roast, stiring from time to time, until slightly brown and the cauliflower is tender. Serve hot or at room temperature.