Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Round-Up: Weekend Herb Blogging #213

Weekend Herb Blogging celebrates the flavors and textures of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Each week a different blogger takes responsibility for summarizing the delicious and nutritious recipes posted to Weekend Herb Blogging in the preceding week. This week it’s my turn.

Italian-inspired Fig Carpaccio from Australia, Middle Eastern-style Grilled Eggplant with Yogurt-Mint Sauce from Canada, and Swedish Ginger Cookies from Italy are a few of last week’s tasty dishes.  Their names alone, even without reading the fascinating posts accompanying the recipes, illustrate the multi-cultural, multi-national nature of Weekend Herb Blogging.

Without further ado, here’s this week’s round-up:

Saveur of The Taste Space
Toronto, Canada
Graziana of Erbe in Cucina (Cooking with Herbs)
Columbus, Ohio, United States

Elizabeth of Blog from OUR Kitchen
Toronto, Canada

New Paltz, New York, United States

Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

Yeoh Cheng Huann of Eat.Read.Live
California, United States
Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once
Melbourne, Australia

New York, United States
Mangocheeks of Allotment 2 Kitchen
Cinzia of Cindystar
Lake Garda, Italy
Brii of Brii’s Blog
Lake Garda, Italy

(Swedish Ginger Cookies)

Next week Weekend Herb Blogging will be hosted by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once. Haalo is the coordinator of WHB, having generously taken over the responsibility from Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen who created WHB. If you want to participate, please send your entries to whb AT cookalmostanything DOT com by 3pm Utah time, Sunday, December 20, 2009.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Recipe for Kale Puttanesca (Μακαρονάδα Πουτανέσκα με Κατσαρό Λάχανο)

Kale added to spicy puttanesca sauce makes a surprisingly delicious topping for chewy pasta. We recently enjoyed Kale Puttanesca for dinner and spent the whole meal alternating sounds of satisfaction with “this is really good” and “mmmmm -- I want this again.”

My recipe calls for more capers, garlic, and anchovies than are often used in puttanesca recipes; kale and chewy pasta balance the strong flavors.  Even so, Kale Puttanesca is best served to those, like us, who like assertively seasoned food.

To complement Kale Puttanesca sauce, I used Maccheroni al Ferratto, rustic artisanal pasta, originally from Calabria, that was traditionally shaped around iron umbrella spokes.

Lately, I’ve been comparing regular dried pasta from the supermarket with more expensive “artisanal” pastas found in specialty stores and upscale markets.  All dried pasta is made using extrusion dies, metal patterns that create unique pasta shapes.  However, the dies used to make regular and artisanal pastas differ: regular pasta is made using dies with a Teflon insert and artisanal pasta is made with bronze dies.

Regular pasta has a hard, slick finish, while artisan pasta is rough and uneven: “Traditional dies made entirely of bronze make the pasta surface rough [and more porous], which helps to capture the sauce, whereas the Teflon insert gives the product an even surface and a smoother texture,” according to food scientists. On the other hand, makers of Teflon-die pasta claimthe rougher surface [of bronze-die pasta] allows cooking water to penetrate too quickly, making for less-than-ideal quality.”

The two types of pasta also differ in how they’re dried. Regular pasta is dried in ovens “the size of a football field” for 2-4 hours over high heat.  Artisanal pasta is dried for 24 to 50-plus hours “in very warm (but never hot), humid environments in which moisture can be reduced slowly, without damaging the texture of the finished product.”

I prefer artisanal pasta with very simple pasta sauces, such as oil and garlic, where the texture of the pasta makes a significant difference. I also prefer artisanal pasta in dishes, like Kale Puttanesca, that call for thicker, chewier pastas.  For all other purposes (and when I don’t want to spend the money on artisanal pasta) I happily use regular dried pasta from the supermarket.

No matter what type of pasta you use, be sure to cook it al dente; soft, overdone pasta is the bane of even the best pasta sauce.

Kale Puttanesca  (Μακαρονάδα Πουτανέσκα με Κατσαρό Λάχανο)
Serves 4
Any sturdy green, wild or domesticated, can be substituted for kale. The amount of crushed red pepper depends on how spicy you like your food.

1 bunch kale
3 Tbsp. capers, preferably salt-cured
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
10 anchovy fillets, minced
1/2-1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup oil-cured black olives or throumbes, pitted and roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

12-16 ounces Machheroni al Ferratto or other chewy-style pasta

Wash the kale to remove any dirt.  Strip the greens from the tough center kale stems. Shred the kale greens and discard the stems (or save them for another use).

Rinse the capers well. If using salt-cured capers, soak them in a bowl of cold water for at least 10 minutes.

Fill a large pot with enough water to cook the pasta, salt it well, and put on a burner over high heat.

Heat the olive oil until it's just warmed though, using a pan large enough to hold all the ingredients. (If oil is too hot, garlic will burn; it’s best to warm the oil over medium heat.) Stir in the garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, olives, freshly ground black pepper, shredded kale, and drained capers. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the kale is tender.

While the sauce is cooking, and when the salted water reaches a full boil, cook the pasta until it’s al dente (exact cooking time depends on the type of pasta).  Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta.

When the kale is tender, stir in the cooked pasta, making sure all of it is coated with sauce. Taste and add freshly ground black pepper, as needed. If the sauce is too thick for your taste, thin it with a little pasta cooking water. 

Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread and a crisp green salad.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, sponsored by Haalo and hosted this week by Winnie from Healthy Green Kitchen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Salty Cake (Easy Cheese Bread) (Kέικ Αλμυρό)

Greeks are famously hospitable.  Visitors to Greek homes are warmly welcomed and showered with treats of all kinds.  Coffee with sweet pastries, ouzo with savory delicacies, water with preserved fruits; no matter your beverage, a Greek hostess quickly puts together a tasty accompaniment.

For some of us, enjoying Greek hospitality comes with a cost: overeating.  Before I spoke Greek, this was more of a problem. Because we couldn’t converse, people communicated love and affection by giving me double portions. Since everything was delicious, and I didn’t know how to decline, I ate it all.  Unfortunately, I was gaining 5-10 pounds for every month we spent in Greece, and dieting for 2 months afterwards so my clothes would fit again.

I finally learned how to say no. This is more difficult than it sounds.  It’s nearly impossible for a Greek hostess to accept “no” for an answer. The more you decline, the more you’re offered.  It’s also slightly rude on my part; if I were a more polite guest, I’d graciously accept some of the tasty tidbits.

After ten years of declining all snacks (and apologizing for being such a difficult guest), our friends and family have grudgingly accepted this peculiarity of mine – at least when it comes to sweets. Diabetes is rampant in the village and, in the last few years, turning down sweets has become a medical necessity for many.  Since so many can’t eat sweets, village hostesses now keep a supply of “salty” (almyro-αλμυρό) snacks on hand.

In the village, salty snacks aren’t things like potato chips, pretzels, and peanuts. Salty, in this context, just means not sweet.  Salty cookies (koulourakia) look identical to sweet cookies but, without the sugar, taste like thick crackers. Salty cakes include ingredients like cheese, olives, or ham; in the US, they’re called quick breads.

Lately, when I decline something sweet, a hostess may triumphantly declare that she has something salty instead.  Surely, I can try a few bites of a salty treat, something with absolutely no sugar? No, I sadly say, I can’t manage anything salty either, even though I’m sure it’s absolutely delicious.

Although I’m a difficult guest, I happily fulfill my duties as a hostess. In our village house, where visitors constantly stop by, the refrigerator is stocked with beverages, pastries are in the cupboard, and there’s even a salty little something for those who don’t eat sweets.

Treasured Recipes: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Women Members of the Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum and Their Friends (Khartoum 1983), the Sudanese-Greek cookbook I recently wrote about, has an interesting recipe for Salty Cake.  This recipe is quite simple, but produces a rich, cheesy quick bread with wonderful flavor and a hint of mint. It’s tasty served to visitors as a snack or for brunch, but it also makes a nice accompaniment to soup or chili.

Salty Cake (Easy Cheese Bread) (Kέικ Αλμυρό)
Makes 1 9”x9” square bread or 1 9”x5” loaf
Adapted from Lefko Tsanakas and Lucy Vassiliou’s recipe for “Cake Almiro” in Treasured Recipes: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Women Members of the Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum and Their Friends (Khartoum 1983)
Lefko and Lucy call for either feta or a combination of various cheeses, but emphasize using some “feta cheese is essential.” The recipe may be doubled and baked in a Bundt pan for an attractive brunch offering (when doubling the recipe, use 7 whole eggs and no egg yolks). This bread is best served warm. If you bake it ahead, wrap it in foil and refrigerate; to serve, warm in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes.

3/4 cup softened butter
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
2 cups crumbled feta or 1 cup crumbled feta and 1 cup grated graviera, asiago, or other cheese
2 Tbsp. dried mint, crushed
1 3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Butter a 9” square pan or 9”x5” loaf pan, dust bottom and sides with flour, tap out and discard any excess flour.

Beat the butter until creamy. Beat in the eggs and yolk, one at a time.  Add the cheese and mint and mix to combine.  Stir together the flour and baking powder.  Add flour to the cheese mixture one third at a time, alternating with additions of milk (one third at a time), until all is combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Smooth out the top to evenly distribute the batter.

Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the bread has a nice brown crust on top.  Let cool for 30 minutes and remove from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Greek Cookbooks: Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum with Recipe for Spiced Gazelle Pilaf (Πικάντικο Πιλάφι με Κρέας)

Modern Greeks have been in Sudan since the early 20th century.  In 1910, a Greek Orthodox church opened in Khartoum.  By 1956, there were 6000 Greeks and 1000 Cypriots in the country.  The Greek presence was particularly strong in the capital, Khartoum, where all the restaurants, cafes, hotels, cinemas, and most shops were Greek-owned.” 

In 1983, the Sudanese president imposed Islamic Sharia law, which fanned the flames of civil war between the Muslim north and Christian-Animist south.  From then to now, civil war and famine have killed millions of Sudanese. Many Europeans fled to their homelands. By 1992, only 500 Greeks remained in Sudan.  Today, there are only about 300.

Dancers at the Greek School in Khartoum, Sudan
Photograph courtesy of Apouro

Although the way of life for Sudanese Greeks has changed since 1983, there is still a Greek Orthodox church and Greek school in Khartoum.  The Hellenic Athletic Club is a hangout for Khartoum expats.  The Greek school’s students celebrate Greek Independence Day, Greek Easter, Oxi Day (when Greece stood up to Mussolini), and the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the then-ruling Fascist junta.

Greek readers should check out this compelling description of a scalding hot Greek Easter in Khartoum, written by the Greek Ambassador to Sudan. For English speakers, the poetry of the original Greek is so powerful, it seeps through the vagaries of Google translator. Anyone interested in more about Khartoum can read this fascinating blog written by a Greek teacher who lives there (in Greek, but with fun pictures).

In 1983, the year the Sudanese civil war reignited, Greeks in Khartoum published a cookbook: Treasured Recipes: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Women Members of the Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum and Their Friends (148 pages, 191 recipes, 6.5” x 9”). The editors explain the recipes “reflect the nature of our community here in the Sudan, and the influences upon our cooking, resulting from our way of life, from travel, and through marriage to other nationalities.”

Just as I’ve learned to cook Mediterranean food in Alaska, Greeks in Sudan adapted traditional recipes to their new country.  Fish recipes call for Nile perch, a giant freshwater fish that grows over 6 feet long and over 500 pounds.  Sudanese limes are recommended in lieu of lemons. Egyptian Roumi (Romy) cheese stands in for traditional Greek varieties. Spicy shatta is used for seasoning.

The recipe for Stifado (Greek stew) calls for gazelle meat. Its creator says when the stew is done, “The only thing left is to sit before the camp fire with some friends and polish the whole thing off!”  Gazelle also makes an appearance in George Limnios’ recipe for “Rice and Gazelle Pilaf.”  (An internet site counsels Khartoum visitors who “fancy” a camping safari to call “Greek guide George Limnios [who] happily provides safari advice and organizes trips.”)

Other interesting recipes in Treasured Recipes include: Tomato-Bacon Soup, Eggplants with Eggs, Spaghetti with Bacon-Olive Sauce, Sheftalia, Purslane Stew, Stuffed Mortadella Rolls, Baked Eggplant Packets, Grape Leaves with Onion, Zucchini, and Carrot Stuffing, Salty Cake, and four different recipes for Olive Bread (no explanation for the abundance of Olive Bread recipes).

The idea of “gazelle pilaf” stuck in my mind; I had to make it. (I also had to buy my home when I saw it had a gazebo and have a strong attraction to gazetteers.)  Luckily, there were moose steaks in the freezer to stand in for gazelle, though deer, lamb, or beef would also work. 

The tantalizing, cinnamon aroma of tomato-meat sauce soon filled the house.  Even before adding rice, the rich and spicy sauce was amazing on its own; neither of us could keep our tasting spoons away from its deliciousness. (The sauce, thinned with a little stock, would make terrific soup.)  The tastes of the individual spices had blended into an entirely new and wonderful flavor; no single spice dominated.  The rice soaked up the sauce, ensuring we enjoyed every last bite of the pilaf.

Spiced Gazelle Pilaf (Πικάντικο Πιλάφι με Κρέας)
Serves 4-6
Adapted from George Limnios’ recipe for “Rice and Gazelle Pilaf” in Treasured Recipes: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Women Members of the Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum and Their Friends (Khartoum 1983)
The cinnamon sticks and whole cloves must be removed before serving. To make this easier, wrap the spices with cheesecloth or muslin and tie the packet up with string, instead of cooking them loose in the liquid.

1 lb. boned and trimmed gazelle (or moose, deer, lamb, or beef) meat
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups diced yellow onion, 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. coriander seed, ground
1 tsp. cumin seed, ground
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 cups water
3 cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves
1 cup long-grain rice

Wash the meat, dry it well, and cut it into 1” cubes. Season the cubes on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a large pot (that has a lid) and thoroughly brown the meat.  Stir in the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until they soften and begin to turn golden. Mix in the garlic, coriander, cumin, and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until it reduces by half. Stir in the tomato paste until it’s evenly distributed.

Stir in the water and packet of cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 75-90 minutes or until the meat is tender and the liquid reduced to about 2 1/2 cups.  Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Stir in the rice, cover the pot, turn down the heat as low as possible, and cook for 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Recipe: Chickpea Stew with Mint and Feta (Ρεβύθια με Φέτα και Δυόσμος)

I’m just back from Seattle, where my sister lives and my mom has resettled. After her crazy awful 2009 (husband of 65 years died, sold her home of 50 years, moved to a small apartment in a new city), my mom is positively engaged in her new life. Her motto: “Choose Happiness.” My mom, always quirky but never boring, is an inspiration.

Regular readers know nothing makes me happier than cooking with my sister. A couple days into the visit, we dished up a delicious dinner of salmon and lentils with red wine sauce. The food was beautiful; my sister suggested I take a picture and blog the meal (another day, I promise). I was too hungry for photography.

Over dinner, my sister claimed it was traditional for me to blog about one meal cooked in her kitchen each visit. Who knew? It’s funny how traditions sneak into your life without warning. And ignoring tradition, even one newly adopted, is bad juju. So that night, I found myself lying in bed dreaming up recipes.

At the store, we’d just bought chickpeas and gorgeous lamb steaks. My sister was out of coriander, so we'd bought some of that too. I decided to pair the chickpeas and coriander in a stew with plenty of fresh mint. The next day we went to Big John’s PFI, a Seattle store with a great cheese selection, and bought Greek sheep feta (and, of course, much more), the perfect finishing ingredient for chickpea stew.

Sadly, the Seattle stew pictures didn’t turn out (bad lighting, no tripod), so I “forced” myself to remake the stew when I returned to Alaska. Since I’d been craving leftover chickpeas during the foodless flight home, I was quite happy to make them again, especially because the stew goes together so quickly. It was as tasty the second time as it was in Seattle. This time, I ate the leftovers, and the flavor, already great, was even better the next day.

With generous quantities of mint, my chickpea stew goes particularly well with lamb. It also makes a deliciously filling meal on its own. The recipe has definitely been added to my permanent rotating repertoire.

Chickpea Stew with Mint and Feta (Ρεβύθια με Φέτα και Δυόσμος)
Serves 4

Serve as a side dish with grilled lamb or chicken, or as a main course with steamed rice or couscous. A crisp green salad nicely completes the meal.

3 cups diced yellow onions, 1/4” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup diced carrots, 1/4” dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/4” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-oz. cans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup minced fresh mint
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta

Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the carrots and celery and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ground coriander, and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and the flavors meld. Stir in the parsley and mint and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the feta and serve immediately.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week Katie from Eat This.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eggplant Recipes: Melitzanosalata & Hünkar Beğendi with Tomato-Lamb Stew (Μελιτζανοσαλάτα με Πιπεριές & Χιουνκιάρ Μπεγiεντί με Αρνί Κατσαρόλας)

Two simple and delicious ways to use eggplant are Eggplant-Red Pepper Dip (Melitzanosalata) and Hünkar Beğendi, a smoky eggplant purée that pairs perfectly with Tomato-Lamb Stew.

Even though we recently returned from Greece, I’m still craving Greek food. Luckily, when I went to Costco to restock our supplies, they had fresh eggplant and figs. Combined with the lamb, crusty bread, and cheese Costco always has on hand (and a quick trip to the farmers’ market for a pile of vegetables), we had everything necessary for a Greek feast. Or two. Or ten.

I was particularly happy about the eggplant. They were in perfect condition: firm flesh and shiny, unmarred skin. Unlike many eggplant sold in Anchorage, these were picked small, and hadn’t developed a large mass of seeds inside.

The Costco eggplant came 4 to the 1.75-pound bag. To be efficient and save energy, I oven-roasted them all at one time. (If you want to store eggplant raw,
here’s how.) Half the roasted eggplant went immediately into Melitzanosalata; the other two I refrigerated to save for Hünkar Beğendi.

Fire-grilled eggplant tastes better in recipes than oven-roasted but, the day I cooked eggplant, we were too damn tired from the trip home to start a fire. To add smokiness to my Melitzanosalata, I added a grilled-over-a-gas-burner red pepper. It’s lucky there were only two of us; the pepper-laden Melitzanosalata disappeared quickly.

I used a different technique to add smokiness to Hünkar Beğendi. I had roasted 2 eggplants whole, and stored them without breaking the skins (if you break the skins, the eggplant juices leak out). I took the eggplant directly out of the refrigerator and charred their skins over a gas burner. Because the eggplants were cold when I started charring them, they didn’t leak juices over the stove, as I 'd feared they might. This “smoking” technique was quick, easy, worked well, and added lots of flavor. I’ll do it again.

Hünkar Beğendi is a famous Turkish eggplant dish that’s also made in Greece, particularly in areas where
many people have roots in Constantinople (Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), or other parts of Anatolia (Asia Minor). Translations for “Hünkar Beğendi” abound: Sultan’s Delight, Sultan’s Pleasure, The Sultan Liked It, Her Majesty’s Delight, Her Majesty’s Favorite, and The Sultan Approved.

The origins of Hünkar Beğendi are murky.
Some say the dish was created in the early-17th century for Sultan Murad IV (who was half-Greek). Others say it was created for a French empress in the late 19th century. My favorite version of this story is in The Art of Turkish Cooking by Neset Eren (New York 1969):

When the Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, was in Istanbul as the guest of Sultan Abdulaziz, the Ottoman emperor, she fell in love with eggplant purée, at that time a specialty of the Topkapi Palace. She asked her host if he would allow his chef to teach her cook how to prepare it. The sultan obliged. The next day the French chef requested an audience with the empress and begged to be excused from this impossible task. “I took my book and my scales to the Turkish chef,” he said, “and he threw them out. ‘An imperial chef,’ he told me, ‘cooks with his feelings, his eyes, his nose.’” The empress returned to France without the recipe for her favorite dish.
Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire (London 1998), historian Jason Goodwin repeats the Empress Eugénie story. However, in Η Οθωμανική Μαγειρική: 99 Παλατιανές Συνταγές (Ottoman Cooking: 99 Recipes from the Palace) (Athens 2004), an extremely interesting and well-researched book, author Marianna Gerasimos says:

I searched hard to find how and when the famous eggplant puree, called Hünkar Beğendi, entered Ottoman cuisine. … There are many rumors and allegations about [it being made for Empress Eugénie] but, for now, there is no written historical evidence of this.
Although Empress Eugénie may not have feasted on Hünkar Beğendi, I certainly have. In the same way that mashed potatoes are exactly right with turkey and gravy, Hünkar Beğendi and Lamb Stew are wonderful together.

Eggplant-Red Pepper Dip (Melitzanosalata) (Μελιτζανοσαλάτα με Πιπεριές)
Makes 1 cup
The smoky flavor of eggplant grilled over an open fire makes the best Melitzanosalata, although it’s not absolutely necessary to success. When I don’t want to start a fire, I oven-roast the eggplant and add a grilled red pepper for smokiness. Although you can make Melitzanosalata in a food processor, I far prefer the more rustic texture that results from knife-chopping the eggplant. Serve with crusty bread and olives for a tasty appetizer, or as a flavorful accompaniment to grilled meat.

1 1-pound eggplant, or 2 1/2-pound eggplants
Olive oil
1 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4-6 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Rub the whole, uncut eggplant with olive oil, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 – 70 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant, or until the eggplant collapses and is cooked all the way through. (Better yet, grill the eggplant over fire until it’s cooked through.) Peel the eggplant, cut it into large chunks, and place the chunks in a colander for 15 minutes to let some of the juices drain off. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as you can.

Roast and clean the pepper (see Note below).

Place the eggplant flesh on a cutting board, finely chop, and put in a bowl. Finely chop the roasted red pepper and add to the bowl. Purée the garlic by mashing it into the salt, and add to the bowl. Add freshly ground black pepper, 4 tsp. vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil, and mix well. Taste and add vinegar or salt, as needed.

To serve, spread the Melitzanosalata evenly over a plate and drizzle with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil.

Note on Roasting and Cleaning Peppers: The traditional method of roasting peppers is over a hot wood fire, but you can also roast them on a gas grill, directly on a gas burner (without a pan), under the broiler, or by baking in a 450° oven for 30 minutes. Unless you are baking them in the oven, turn the peppers frequently as they roast to ensure the skins char evenly and the flesh doesn’t overcook. When the skin is completely blackened, place the peppers in a paper bag and close it up for 5 minutes. Hot pepper flesh releases steam in the closed bag, loosening the charred skin and making it easier to peel.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the burned skin from the softened flesh with your fingers or a paper towel, gently scraping away any stuck bits with a knife. Resist the temptation to rinse the peppers in water, as doing so washes away too much flavor. If necessary, dip your fingers in a bowl of water to release clinging charred pepper skins. Remove the seeds and any white pulp from the inside of the pepper.

Smoky Eggplant Purée with Tomato-Lamb Stew (Hünkar Beğendi) (Χιουνκιάρ Μπεγiεντί με Αρνί Κατσαρόλας)
Serves 4
Beef can be substituted for lamb in the stew; meatballs and grilled meats also go well with Hünkar Beğendi. In Anchorage, the best price for lamb is often on boneless leg roasts at Costco. I cut out and grill a couple “steaks” from the center of the roast, and then make stew out of each end. If you use lamb with bones, cook them in the stew for extra flavor. Unlike Melitzanosalata, smokiness is an essential flavor in Hünkar Beğendi. If you don’t have access to a grill, oven-roast the eggplant as described in the Melitzanosalata recipe, refrigerate them without puncturing the skin, and thoroughly char the skins directly over a gas burner.

Tomato-Lamb Stew:
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 lb. boneless lamb, excess fat removed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced yellow onion, 1/4” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 14.5 ounce can (or 2 cups fresh) diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. dried oregano, crushed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water

Smoky Eggplant Purée:
1 1-pound eggplant, or 2 1/2-pound eggplants
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated kasseri or Romano cheese
Pinch of nutmeg

Make the Tomato-Lamb Stew: Wash and dry the meat, cut it into 1” cubes, and season on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. In a large pot, cook the lamb in olive oil until it is browned all over. Stir in the onions, lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions begin to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, tomato paste, and water, bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat as low as possible, and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the cover and simmer for 30-60 minutes, or until the lamb is very tender and the sauce the thickness you prefer. Stir the sauce from time to time and, if it starts sticking, add a little bit more water. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. (The stew can be made ahead, refrigerated, and reheated just before serving.)

Make the Smoky Eggplant Purée: Grill the eggplant whole until it softens, collapses, and is slightly charred on all sides (or oven-roast and char as described in note above). Peel the eggplant, cut it into large chunks, and place the chunks in a colander for 15 minutes to let some of the juices drain off. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Place the eggplant flesh on a cutting board, finely chop, and sprinkle with the lemon juice.

Warm the milk over low heat or in the microwave. Melt the butter in a saucepan, mix in the flour and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly; be careful not to brown this mixture. Slowly stir in the warm milk and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Add the eggplant, cheese, and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Taste and add salt, as needed.

To serve, spoon some Smoky Eggplant Purée onto a plate and top with the Tomato-Lamb Stew.
This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Cinzia from Cindystar.

Bob, in a rabbit stupor

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Recipe: Clams and Giant White Beans with Buttery Wine Broth (Κυδώνια με Γίγαντες)

Last fall we took a quick trip to San Francisco where, unsurprisingly, the weather was cloudy and the food delicious. One Saturday we went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, ogled vegetables and local cheeses, and ate at Hog Island Oyster Company. Though our table was outside on the chilly plaza, we warmed ourselves with champagne and garlicky Clams with Gigantes and Buttery Wine Broth. We walked away happy.

Gigantes, also known as
giant Greek beans or Phaseolus coccineus (multiflorus), have a starchy texture that is a perfect foil for sauces of all kinds. They're a PGI product of Greece, and always a treat to eat. (In the European Union, a PGI designation identifies foods grown in unique regions that have special qualities and characteristics.)

When I was working, I made steamed clams because they were quick. Now I just make them because they taste good. 

Clams with Giant White Beans and Buttery Wine Broth (Κυδώνια με Γίγαντες)
Serves 4
Inspired by Hog Island Oyster Company, San Francisco, California
If you prefer not to eat butter, this dish is delicious when made with extra-virgin olive oil. Gigantes may be cooked several days ahead (or canned beans may be used), in which case this makes a deliciously quick mid-week meal. 

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Recipe: Romanesco Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Caper Butter

Assuming the weather holds, there are two more Saturday Farmers’ Markets this year in Anchorage: October 10 and October 17. Last week the tables were well-stocked with a wide array of vegetables; our purchases included lime-green Romanesco broccoli, yellow cauliflower, and a fresh-cut stalk of Brussels sprouts.

These vegetables, combined with a simple Mustard-Caper Butter, are absolutely delicious on their own, or served with grilled meat, poultry, or sausages. I rarely cook with butter, but do so here because it just tastes so damn good. Quick - head to your nearest farmers’ market for the ingredients!

Romanesco Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Caper Butter
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Local Flavors, Deborah Madison (New York 2002)
Roasting the vegetables concentrates and sweetens their flavor. However, you can simplify the dish even further by steaming the vegetables instead. Whether you steam or roast, make sure not to overcook the vegetables; they are best when they retain a little crunch. If you don't have access to beautiful Romanesco broccoli, regular broccoli can be substituted.

Mustard Caper Butter:
2 garlic cloves
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. chopped thyme
1/4 cup drained small capers, rinsed
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 stalk (or 1 pound) Brussels sprouts
1 small head Romanesco or regular broccoli
1 small head white cauliflower
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Make the Mustard-Caper Butter: Pound the garlic with 1/4 tsp. salt in a mortar until smooth. Pound the thyme, capers, lemon peel, and freshly ground black pepper into the garlic. Pound in the butter and mustard, making sure the other ingredients are evenly distributed in the butter. You can also mix the butter in a food processor. If you do, add the capers only after the other ingredients are thoroughly combined and pulse in the capers so they stay a little chunky. (The butter can be made ahead, refrigerated, and brought to room temperature before serving.)

Cook the Vegetables: Snap the Brussels sprouts off the stalk, trim off their tough base, and slice them in half. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with very cold water. Cut the cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli into florets. Put the vegetables, including the drained Brussels sprouts, on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 10 minutes.

Finish the Dish: Put the roasted vegetables in a bowl and toss with the Mustard-Caper Butter until it melts and coats the vegetables. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by lovely Susan from The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Recipes: Home-Cured Flat Pancetta & Edamame and Mushroom Risotto with Pancetta

Bacon’s smell wafting through the air is so enticing that even committed vegetarians are sometimes tempted to stray from their virtuous path. These days I mainly use bacon and pancetta as flavor-boosting ingredients; it’s been years since I ate it on its own.

Since I use bacon to boost flavor, I buy the best available. So I was intrigued to read on
Kits Chow, that Christine’s Home-Cured Bacon was so good, her husband asked her not to buy bacon from the store anymore. I had to try it.

Although I’ve visited
Kits Chow more than once over the past year, I was there recently because I was paired with Christine for March’s Taste and Create. Invented by Nicole of For the Love of Food, Taste and Create is one of my favorite food writing events. Every month Nicole pairs participating food writers; each is responsible for trying one recipe from the other’s blog and writing about it.

Some months it can be a challenge to find something I want to write about on my partner’s blog (although I’ve always found something delicious to make). Other months there’s an abundance of recipes I can’t wait to try; this was an abundant month. I haven’t made it yet, but Christine’s simple
Ginger Custard will appear on our table shortly after I next go shopping.

Christine writes from an Asian perspective, while I focus on Mediterranean foods, but there are many similarities in our cooking styles. We both emphasize foods made with fresh, locally available products, and enjoy making ingredients from scratch.

Christine shares my passion for creating variations on a theme. For example, she recently wrote about and photographed a
series of grilled cheese sandwiches; every time I look at this post, I crave an immediate grilled cheese fix. I also appreciate Christine’s creative Asian-Hellenic fusion cooking.

But back to the bacon.

Christine used a
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe from the Guardian to make her bacon. The recipe is simple: pork belly is liberally coated with a dry-rub of salt, sugar, and spices, and then cured in the refrigerator for several days.

The result was delicious: meaty, juicy, and mouth-watering. I’m calling it flat pancetta rather than bacon because it isn’t smoked (a hallmark of American bacon). And since I renamed it pancetta, I used the meat to flavor a wonderful risotto made with edamame beans and garlicky sautéed mushrooms. I’m only sorry there isn’t any leftover risotto; writing the recipe has left me wanting more.

Homemade PancettaHome-made Flat Pancetta
Adapted from
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall via Kits Chow
The original recipe recommended curing the meat at least 4 days, or as long as 10, draining the juices and applying more cure every 24 hours. I stopped the process on the fourth day because the pancetta was getting too salty for my taste. Since I cured it for shorter than called for in the original recipe, and because the recipe doesn’t include nitrites or nitrates, I froze all the pancetta I didn’t use right away rather than worrying about spoilage. The best place to buy meaty pork belly is in Asian markets (in Anchorage, Sagaya is the best source). Be sure to look the pork over carefully and buy the meatiest piece you can find. Once, in desperation, I bought a frozen piece of pork belly wrapped in freezer paper. The butcher repeatedly assured me the meat was skin-on; it wasn’t, plus the “meat” was 90% fat. The fault was my own for buying meat sight unseen.

Curing mix:
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. juniper berries
5 bay leaves
1 1/3 cup kosher salt (3/4 pound)
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar (1/4 pound)

2 pieces meaty pork belly, with skin, 1 1/2 – 2 pounds each

Make the Curing Mix: Grind the peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries, and bay leaves in a spice grinder, or pound them in a mortar and pestle until they are finely crushed. Mix the ground spices with the salt and brown sugar.

Curing Pancetta - Day 1Day 1: Rub each piece of pork belly with the curing mix until the meat is well coated and every nook and cranny is covered with the mix. Put the meat in a glass or other non-metallic container. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Curing Pancetta - Day 2Day 2: After 24 hours, pour off all the liquid that has leached out of the pork and rub the meat with more curing mix until it is once again well coated.

Day 3: Repeat Day 2.

Day 4: Rinse off all the cure under cold running water. Dry the meat very thoroughly. Wrap in wax paper, parchment paper, or cheesecloth and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use (before choosing storage method, read the above headnote).

Edamame and Mushroom Risotto with PancettaEdamame and Mushroom Risotto with Pancetta
Serves 4
The mushrooms need to be sautéed in batches to ensure they brown properly; if you try to brown all the mushrooms at one time, they’ll steam rather than brown. Because home-cured pancetta can be salty, be sure to lightly salt the mushrooms or the finished dish may be too salty (the mushrooms need some salt to ensure they cook properly). Pancetta is often sold in packages of very thinly cut pre-sliced meat. Although I use pre-sliced pancetta in a pinch, I mostly buy pancetta direct from the deli counter (if I’m not making my own at home). I ask for either a chunk of pancetta, which I hand slice and dice at home, or have the deli staff cut the pancetta into slices the thickness of thick bacon. With thicker slices, eaters enjoy bursts of pancetta flavor when devouring the risotto; thinner slices tend to melt into the other flavors.

1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, cut in 1/4” slices (about 2 cups sliced)
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut in 1/4” slices (about 2 cups sliced)
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic, divided

3/4 cup diced home-cured or store-bought pancetta (rind removed), 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onions, 1/4” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
10 ounces shelled edamame beans, blanched if fresh or thawed if frozen
6 Tbsp. minced fresh mint, divided
6 – 7 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup freshly (and finely) grated parmesan cheese

Cook the Mushrooms: Sauté the cremini mushrooms, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil, until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Stir in half the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove the browned mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with the shiitake mushrooms, using the remaining olive oil, butter, and garlic.

Make the Risotto: In a sauté pan large enough to hold the finished risotto, sauté the pancetta until the fat renders and the pancetta begins to brown. Stir in the onions, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the rice to completely coat it with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, bring to a medium boil, and cook, stirring, until the wine is almost all absorbed.

Add 1/2 cup of stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock is almost all absorbed. Keep adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until each addition of stock is almost absorbed. When the rice is half done, stir in the edamame beans and 5 Tbsp. mint. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point, and finished right before serving. If you make it ahead, after you take the rice off the burner, stir it until it cools down before adding the edamame and mint.)

Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until the rice is tender, but still firm in the center (this takes 18 – 22 minutes total). There may be stock left over. Stir in the reserved mushrooms, remaining 1 Tbsp. mint, and 1/2 cup grated parmesan. If necessary, add stock until the risotto is the consistency you desire; it should be moist and creamy, not thick and dry. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

Serve immediately with the remaining grated parmesan on the side for sprinkling on top.
This is an entry for My Legume Love Affair – 9th Helping (MLLA9), created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook, which I hosted in March 2009. My Legume Love Affair - 10th Helping for April 2009 is being hosted by Courtney of Coco Cooks.