Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One Sexy Vegetable: Broccoli Rabe

Maybe “sexy” is too strong to describe any vegetable, but I loved the way Aida Mollenkamp described broccoli rabe: “ . . . think of it as a sexier alternative to broccoli – darker and a little bitter.” Really, though, all that broccoli and broccoli rabe have in common is the name.

Broccoli is a crucifer and broccoli rabe is one of those leafy greens that we get so many healthy brownie points for eating. And the rabe has a lot of different names; the most common nom de plum is rapini. Call it what you like, it’s great. It does take a bit of minor effort to prepare well: It is bitter, like most greens, and a quick blanching is all it needs to take that pungency away.

I was introduced to broccoli rabe by my sister who cooked it for my daughter and me one girls’ night in at my daughter’s home in Florida. Lynn also taught me how to make ravioli using won- ton wrappers. I love ravioli but don’t have a pasta maker (hint-hint) and this shortcut worked just fine. Our filling was butternut squash. A quick sauté in herbed browned butter and we were done.

I have to admit, though, that when she picked up the last of what looked like a pretty wilted bunch of rabe at the supermarket, I was suspicious. But after a dunk in ice water, it was brought back to life.

So when the same thing happened to me, I didn’t panic and grabbed the all-too-rare appearance of rabe at my local market. I made a quick apology to my usual broccoli, said I’d be back next week, and took my prize home. (It was on sale, too!)

I tossed my blanched and sautéed broccoli rabe with feta cheese, chickpeas and a little bit of leftover angel hair pasta, but the adornments are endless. Next time, I think I’ll use crushed red pepper and fontina.

Simple Broccoli Rabe

1 pound broccoli rabe
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Place broccoli rabe in large pot of boiling water 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to over cook; it should be slightly hard. Drain the broccoli rabe then place it in a bowl with ice and water. Let it stand in the ice water while you heat the oil.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and garlic for 1 minute. Drain broccoli rabe really well and add to pan. Sauté for approximately about five minutes or until it’s as soft as you’d like it.

Then dress it up as you’d like, too: red pepper flakes, Parmesan cheese, chickpeas, feta, cooked pasta.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Winter Vegetables and Bulgur: The Last Soup of Winter (I hope, I hope, I hope!)

Punxsutawney Phil has come and gone, March 21st has been crossed off the calendar, my daffodils are desperately trying to poke through, the geese have come to the pond. Spring is teasing us all over the place. But we woke up to snow-covered ground this morning! What’s wrong with this picture? Even the robins look confused. Calls for another day of soup!

I want spring to come as badly as anyone. It’s been a long, gray, cold winter. Again. And the only thing I’ll miss about winter is that I won’t feel like making wonderful soups like this. I’m itching to get outside, wash the windows (!), clean up the perennial flower bed, getting the vegetable garden ready. (Although, I have to be admit, if there’s a kinda cool, little rainy, pretty gray summer day, I can be found making soup.)

In the meantime, I’m enjoying this hearty, warming and filling soup. My sister recommended this soup after another guest brought it to her new condo group’s monthly potluck. She loved it and I was anxious to try it, too. I had more than enough bulgur in the pantry and plenty of vegetables on hand. I even had the herbs de Provence the recipe called for; didn’t have to substitute my own mixture.

But I decided to make it the day I also decided it was high time I saw my three-week old new nephew. I called his mother and announced I was bringing lunch, too. She told me her husband had the day off and would be extra delighted that Mr. Rosemary might be along, too. Hmmm, I got to thinking, two big men just might not think this vegetarian soup would be hearty enough. So, without making a trip to the store, what could I do?

Since this isn’t my first rodeo, I have gotten in the habit of stashing a few freezer packets for just such moments. I decide to add about ¼ cup of chopped bacon and abut ½ cup of cooked chicken. That was all the soup needed to make it “manly.” Pretty quick to make and easy to tote.

In the end, Mr. Rosemary couldn’t make it, but the proud new daddy did – and I’m pretty sure the little bit of bacon did it.

Winter Vegetables and Bulgur
adapted from Bon Appetit 2006

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups ¾ inch pieces of root vegetables, peeled and chopped  (like carrots, turnips, celery root, parsnips – I  used carrots, parsnips, and turnips; wish I could have found golden beets)
2 cups chopped onions
4 cups vegetable broth
1 rounded teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 ½ cup bulgur (about 8 ounces)
1 6-ounce package baby spinach leaves
¼ cup cooked bacon pieces
½ cup cooked and chopped chicken pieces

Heat oil in a heavy large pot over high heat. Add root vegetables and onions. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add vegetable broth and herbes de Provence’ bring to boil. Add bulgur, bacon and chicken pieces; cover pot and reduce heat to low. Simmer until bulgur is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add spinach; stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Taste and add salt and/or pepper if you want.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Let's Hear It for St. Joseph! And Zeppole!

Poor St. Joseph! His feast day gets totally eclipsed by St. Patrick. Two days after green beer and corned beef and people still must need to recover!

St. Joseph’s feast day is March 19 and I have such fond childhood memories of commemorating the day that this year I was inspired to make the traditionally symbolic treat that marks the Italian Feast of San Guiseppe – zeppole, the St. Joseph Day doughnut. The way my family made them they’re not really doughnuts, more like doughnut holes. They look like deep fried fritters -- pretty much dough balls! -- coated with confectioner’s sugar and served warm.

What are called zeppoles seems to differ depending on what part of Italy your version originates. In certain parts of Italy, more southern regions, the doughnuts are pretty fancy pastries, piped circles of dough, deep fried filled with cream and decorated with candied fruits and jimmies. Some are more like what I remember but they’re rolled in cinnamon sugar or take a quick dip in honey. It seems the only common denominator in the recipes I explored was deep frying!

I just remember the way my father made them.

But try as I might, I couldn’t find the original recipe and my internet search provided too many options. Some recipes called for ricotta, some included lemon or orange zest, and none of my sisters remembered those ingredients. We all do remember the final step of zeppole-making: shaking the warm little dough balls in paper bags of confectioner’s sugar. And we all remember how my mother would wince when my father announced he was going to make something in the kitchen. She would mildly complain that he knew how to dirty every *%^($# dish and utensil in the kitchen when he wanted to cook! It was quite the event!

The first recipe I tried was cooked on the stove for a little bit and had ricotta in the zeppole. The dough was like thick pancake batter. They tasted pretty good, but they weren’t too pretty. Picture gnarled ginger root rolled in powdered sugar.

The second recipe didn’t have ricotta but had lemon zest and juice. Its pastry was more like pie dough and I needed to use my hands to form balls of dough to fry. They looked good, but instead of being light and fluffy as I imagined – and recalled – they should be, they were pretty dense and too lemony.

And Goldilocks pronounced the third batch just right. The last recipe I tried came from Giada De Laurnetiis. And they were pretty good. The dough was batter-like, like my first batch. but I smartened up (actually, it was Mr. Rosemary’s suggestion) and this time used my small ice-cream scoop I use for cookies to form the dough balls and drop them into the hot oil. These zeppole were just right, although one of my sisters said that she remembered they were bigger.

I first found this recipe from Giada but then I found a blogger who also used it and described great success, so I followed Spoonful’s as well, but included the confectioner's sugar dusting after frying instead of cinnamon sugar.
There was one more reason I liked St. Joseph Day when I was a child: Since we had St. Joseph nuns as teachers, we had the day off from school!

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and Spoonful
(yield: 4-6 servings)

1 stick butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
Optional: 3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2+ teaspoon grated lemon zest
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Olive oil, for frying
In a medium saucepan combine the butter, salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and water over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Take pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Return pan to the heat and stir continuously until mixture forms a ball, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the flour mixture to a medium bowl. Add vanilla extract and / or lemon zest if using. Using an electric hand mixer on low speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Beat until smooth. If not frying immediately, cover with plastic wrap and reserve in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of two inches. (I used my cast iron Dutch oven.) Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (Watch the temperature as you fry and adjust heat accordingly to maintain 375 degrees Fahrenheit).

Using a small ice-cream scooper or 2 small spoons, carefully drop about a tablespoon of the dough into the hot olive oil, frying in batches.  Be careful not to make the zepploe too big or the insides will be doughy. The zeppole will immediately float to the top and puff up. Turn the zeppole once or twice with the side of a slotted spoon, cooking until golden and puffed up, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully as cooking time might also be quite a bit shorter). Drain on paper towels or paper bags. Then transfer a few at a time while still warm to paper bags with about ½ confectioner’s sugar. Replenish the sugar once in a while.  Eat them while they’re warm – and they don’t keep well!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is It Real Irish Soda Bread?

Here’s a myth buster for you: The Irish didn’t invent Irish soda bread. They pretty much own it now, but it was more than likely created by native Americans and made its way across the Atlantic. It appealed to the Irish because it was inexpensive to make and didn’t require a stove; it could be cooked in a kettle over a fire. Hence the usually round shape.

I learned all this from a website devoted to the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. (Can you believe it?) The site includes information that authentic Irish soda bread uses wheat flour, not white, and never has anything like raisins, currants or caraway seeds added. Me? I didn’t know that Irish soda bread didn’t have raisins in it! If the bread has raisins in it, it's a treat, and called "spotted dog."

I did wonder, though, about the typical cross. interviewed Rory O’Connell, an Irish chef and cooking school teacher and asked him about the cross. He said that the cross has a scientific basis, because it allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread, aiding even cooking.

And since the cross resembles a crucifix, in a Catholic country, it has a symbolic meaning of crossing the breads and giving thanks. There was also the expression "to let the devil out of the bread," so it was slightly superstitious. Another benefit is that the cross shape makes the bread easy to break when it comes out of the oven. So there’s the blessing of the bread by putting the cross on it and then the symbolic breaking of the bread.

I just love that kind of food lore. Whatever the origin and whatever the “traditional” way to make it is, it’s a hearty, tasty bread.

My sister Lynn made soda bread over the weekend and gave me a loaf. Although she made this batch with white bread, she prefers the brown bread, using whole wheat flour. “And it’s just great toasted,” she added. “And spread with orange marmalade.” And lucky me, I just happen to have some in the pantry.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish Soda Bread
From Taste of Home, submitted by Gloria Warczak

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup raisins

In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg and buttermilk. Stir in flour mixture just until moistened. Fold in raisins.

Knead on a floured surface for one minute. Shape into a round loaf; place on a greased baking sheet. Cut a ¼ inch cross in the top of the loaf. Beat remaining egg and brush over loaf.

Bake at 375 degrees or until golden brown. Yield: 6-8 servings

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Red or White? Depends on the Chili

I get along well with all kinds of chili. Beans, no beans, four kinds of beans. Ground meat, chunks of beef. Mild peppers, hot peppers. Spicy hot, little sweet. Onions or not. Bright red or musky maroon. All variations on a theme, a familiar theme, as comforting as your mom’s meatloaf. I thought I was less than persnickety about chili – until I met up with this white chili. And now I’m a convert.

A couple years ago, we went to a chili contest, a fund raiser for a local charity. Our friend Susie was competing, and her chili was, as usual, great. (She won the People’s Choice Award.) But there were a hundred pots of chili there, and they were all good. I know because I sampled them all.

Some were a little weirder than others. One guy’s secret ingredient was orange juice. Another’s was balsamic vinegar. Some were pretty sweet. Many were fire-breathers. But there wasn’t one white chili among them and I was anxious to taste one before I tried to make some at home.

Even though the occasion never presented itself, I was determined to try white chili. It became a minor challenge. So I assigned myself the mission of finding a recipe that might match my fantasy. Instead of going straight to the internet, I went to my ample cookbook library. You’d think there would have been one recipe that would have struck the right chord. But, no!

So I resorted to Googling and after several disappointing finds, I landed on The Pioneer Woman’s recipe and I was hooked. (I’ve decided Ree Drummond is the Oprah of the food blogging world.) Her recipe sounded just right: took some effort but was not overly time-consuming. If I was going to do this, it wasn’t going to be a mere unzipping of cans!

While I didn’t have everything on hand she’d specified, I had most of it and made a few changes.  I didn’t roast a chicken; I bought one at the supermarket. I used cornmeal, not masa. And I added salsa verde and canned pickled jalapenos – because they were in the pantry. And sweet peppers, mostly because I wanted the extra bit of color.

Because I'm a fan of white pizza and linguine without a red clam sauce, I was sure I would like it but I was surprised at how much. It was sublime.

This is no wimpy chili. It’s full of chunky chicken and beans and peppers. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s creamy and hot at the same time. It gets its fire from the jalapenos and the chilies. No chili powder. Just a lot of cumin and some cayenne

It smelled heavenly while it was cooking and I wasn’t sure I could wait a whole hour to taste it. Well worth the wait, though.

I first made this version of the white chili a few weeks ago when the grandsons (oh, their parents came along, too) visited. We spared the little boys the heat (they loved their applesauce) but the biggie people thoroughly enjoyed the chili, a first for all of us veteran eaters.

We had the chili with a new cornbread cracker I found at Aldi’s, a perfect accompaniment.

The next time I made it, it was a smaller batch, for a girls’ night in. (We watched the movie “Red,” a pure delight for the 50+ set.) I was also in a bit of hurry and used canned cannellini, and – because I can’t seem to make something exactly the same way twice in a row – I added a can of creamed corn. It did add a different dimension. Mr. Rosemary (see, Mary?) pronounced his leftover helping better than the first batch. Arguable.

White Chili
(slightly)adapted from The Pioneer Woman

1 pound dried Great Northern beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped sweet peppers, red, yellow and/or green
8 cups chicken broth
1 4.5 ounce can chopped chilies, undrained
1 4.5 ounce can salsa verde
1 4.5 ounce can whole pickled jalapenos, chopped with juices
1 whole fresh jalapeno, sliced, ribs, seeds and all
1 ½ tablespoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups cooked chicken
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons corn meal

Soak the beans in 6-8 cups cold water the night before cooking, or use the quick soak method described on the bag of beans. When ready to cook, heat olive oil in Dutch oven on medium high heat and cook onions, sweet peppers and garlic for about two minutes. Add the chilies, salsa, and chopped pickled jalapenos. Add the rinsed beans. Pour chicken broth into pan. Add the fresh sliced jalapeno, seeds, ribs and all. Reduce heat to low and place lid on pot.

Cook for one hour before adding the cooked chicken. Then cook another hour or so more, until beans are tender. When they’re tender, mix the cornmeal and milk and add to the chili. Cook an additional 10 minutes, until thickened Check the seasoning and adjust to you preferences of heat, adding more cayenne if you like.

Garnishing? Up to you. Monterey Jack cheese, green onion, cilantro, sour cream, all great options.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Broccoli Grape Salad -- A New Waldorf

Broccoli has to be the chameleon of vegetables. It can change as much as Anne Hathaway’s dresses did at the Oscars this week! It can be raw or cooked, chopped or whole, sweet or spicy, in everything from soups to salads to casseroles and main dishes. I really can’t think of a bona fide dessert with broccoli in it, but this sweet Broccoli Grape salad, a riff on the traditional Waldorf Salad, just might make the cut.

It’s a lighter version of the classic Waldorf Salad, the traditional mix of apples, celery and walnuts in a mayonnaise dressing, with broccoli standing in for the apple. Waldorf Salad was mandatory on my mother’s Thanksgiving Day menu. My job was to make the salad dressing. No mixer, no food processor, not even a whisk. Just me stirring and stirring and stirring with a fork, getting the sugar well blended into the mayonnaise.

“Is this good, Mom?” I’d ask.

“Stir a little longer, honey.”

And after a little while, I’d ask again, and she might send me back sighing to my task again. But sooner or later I got it. And I got how much lemon juice to add. If it was too soupy, I’d have to add more mayo. It was a cooking lesson I really didn’t want just then; I wanted to eat the hors d’oeuvres in the living room with the grown-ups and slurp on my Shirley Temple!

Maybe that memory is why I decided to use honey in this dressing instead of the sugar it called for. The original recipe also added sunflower seeds for crunch. But I used dry roasted peanuts instead. I also cooked the broccoli just a little to take some of the raw crispness out of them. Just the right crispness. A nice twist on the Waldorf. I think Mom would approve.

Broccoli Grape Salad
Slightly adapted from Light & Tasty, September 2006

4 cups fresh broccoli florets, cut in small pieces
1-1/2 cups seedless red or green grapes, sliced
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
¼ cup fat-free plain yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts

Cook the cut up broccoli in a covered dish with ¼ cup water for 3 minutes on high in the microwave. Drain in a colander and run cold water over the broccoli.  Toss the broccoil with the grapes and raisins.  Mix the mayonnaise, yogurt and honey for the dressing.  Pour over the broccoli mixture and toss till everything is evenly covered.   Add the peanuts just before serving.  Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Makes about 8 3/4 cup servings, about 150 calories each.