Vegetables – Zester Daily http://zesterdaily.com Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 Making Cabbage Cool Again With Two Hot Recipes /cooking/making-cabbage-cool-two-hot-recipes/ /cooking/making-cabbage-cool-two-hot-recipes/#comments Thu, 04 Jan 2018 10:00:05 +0000 /?p=60091 Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables: It doesn’t get any respect. It gets a bad rap. Cabbage never gets mentioned as one of the hip vegetables like kale. It’s not a super-vegetable like broccoli rabe. It’s not an adorable vegetable like baby Brussels sprouts. It’s not a “cool” vegetable. It’s stodgy and old-fashioned. I mean, they make sauerkraut from it.

All those cooler vegetables just mentioned, though, owe their existence to cabbage. The big green head we associate with cabbage today was not always what cabbage was. Today there are hundreds of varieties of cabbage that have developed from the progenitor cabbage, called the wild cabbage, including the many forms of cabbage and further horticultural developments such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoliflower, broccoli rabe and kohlrabi.

Botanists divide the cabbage into five groups. It is the head cabbage, green, red, crinkly-leafed or Savoy cabbage, that I’m speaking of. But there are some 400 varieties of head cabbage.

The cabbage is probably native to the Mediterranean, but in Roman times the head cabbage we think of as cabbage today did not exist. The Romans had only leafy cabbage, probably kale. There are some obscure references by Roman naturalists Pliny and Columella to what has been taken by some to be head cabbage. These descriptions refer to heads of the plant being a foot in diameter, but it is not at all clear whether this refers to a compact headed cabbage that we know today or is simply an expression referring to the above ground portion of the plant.

The wealthy citizens of Rome, in the period after Cato the Elder (mid-second century BC), thought of cabbage as poor people’s food as we know from the description in Juvenal’s satire when he described the difference between the food that the patron ate, namely olives to garnish an excellent fish, and the food of the client, who finds cabbage in his “nauseous dish.”

It seems that the head cabbage we know today was developed in Germany in the 12th century. Soon it would be the single most common plant in the medieval garden.

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Copyright 2018 Clifford A. Wright

It’s not a popular vegetable today, but it is a vegetable that does draw the curious cook. The most obviously intriguing thing to do with cabbage is to separate the leaves and then stuff them by rolling them up. There are many great preparations for cabbage from sauerkraut, to kimchi, to coleslaw, and every culture has a recipe for stuffed cabbage. Here are two recipes for cabbage lovers from cabbage-loving Slovenia and Croatia, next door to Italy.

Braised Cabbage

Cabbage is a very popular vegetable in the Balkans, served raw, in the form of sauerkraut and cooked in a variety of ways. In the northern part of the former Yugoslavia, today’s Slovenia and parts of Croatia, cabbage may be cooked with sour cream or tossed with noodles and smoked bacon. In Bosnia or Montenegro, it might be cooked with tomatoes. This recipe from Slovenia is typically served as a bed for a roast duckling.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 55 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water

1 cup dry white wine

One 2-pound green cabbage, cored and sliced as thin as vermicelli

15 peppercorns

8 juniper berries, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the bay leaves and cook until they begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and very carefully add the tomato paste and wine, which will spurt and splatter rather dramatically.

2. Continue cooking for a minute then add the cabbage, peppercorns, juniper berries and thyme. Mix so the cabbage is covered with sauce.

3. Add the lemon juice and continue to braise over medium heat until the cabbage softens, 6 to 8 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the cabbage is completely soft, about 45 minutes. Correct the seasoning and serve hot.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

These cabbage rolls are a winter specialty known as arambašici in their home of Sinj, a town near the Dinaric Alps on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Traditionally, this casserole of stuffed cabbage leaves is made from a whole head of cabbage that has been prepared as sauerkraut. Each sauerkraut leaf, or as in this recipe cabbage leaf, is stuffed with beef, pork and bacon, and flavored with lemon zest, onion, garlic, cloves and cinnamon. Each roll-up is separated from the other with pieces of pršut (Croatian prosciutto) and smoked tongue.

Arambašici can be made with fresh cabbage leaves or grape leaves, too. My recipe uses fresh cabbage, which is the easiest to find and is what a cook from Sinj would use in the summer. Many cooks also like to make the casserole in the evening and then reheat it the next day, and you should consider doing that as it is delicious.

The casserole cooks a long time so the meats are very tender and the cabbage leaves become silky. The smoked bacon, smoked pork, smoked tongue and prosciutto can all be picked up at the deli counter of most supermarkets.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Yield: 20 to 26 rolls, or about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 large green cabbage (about 2 3/4 pounds), central core removed

1 1/4 pounds boneless beef neck meat or beef chuck, finely chopped

5 ounces smoked bacon (preferably) or lean slab bacon, finely chopped

2 ounces beef fat (suet), finely chopped

6 ounces boneless pork shoulder or neck meat, finely chopped

2 large onions, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Grated zest from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or beef fat for greasing

One 4-inch-long beef marrow bone (optional)

1 ounce smoked pork (any cut), finely chopped

2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced into strips

2 ounces smoked tongue (optional), thinly sliced into strips

1 cup water and more as needed

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 300 F.

2. Remove and discard any of the outermost leaves of the cabbage that are blemished. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt and plunge the whole cabbage in and cook until the leaves can be peeled away without ripping, about 10 minutes. Drain well and, when cool enough to handle, separate the leaves carefully, setting them aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the beef, bacon, suet and pork. Add the onions, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands.

4. Arrange a cabbage leaf in front of you with the stem end closest to you. Place 2, 3 or 4 tablespoons (depending on the size of the leaf) of filling on the end closest to you, then roll away once, fold in the sides and continue rolling away until you get a nice, neat package.

5. Continue with the remaining cabbage leaves. Arrange the cabbage rolls side by side, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch casserole (you may need to use two casseroles), making sure you leave some room for the beef marrow bone. Sprinkle the chopped smoked pork over the cabbage rolls.

6. Place the prosciutto and smoked tongue slices (if using) between the cabbage rolls. Pour the water over the cabbage rolls and cover with aluminum foil. (The casserole can be refrigerated at this point to bake later.)

7. Bake until the cabbage rolls are very soft, slightly blackened on top and bubbling vigorously, about 4 hours.

8. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer the next day.

Main photo: Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Copyright 2018 Clifford A. Wright

]]>
/cooking/making-cabbage-cool-two-hot-recipes/feed/ 1
Mashed Butternut Squash Keeps Thanksgiving Sides Simple, Elegant /cooking/75977/ /cooking/75977/#respond Fri, 10 Nov 2017 10:00:45 +0000 /?p=75977 Butternut squash and pumpkins make a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wynne Everett

Thanksgiving side dishes can be a challenge for the host who wants to serve an impressive meal. It’s tempting to get carried away and choose something too complicated when a simple dish, such as a straightforward mashed butternut squash, can make a Thanksgiving dinner elegant.

Sometimes the too-complicated culprits are regional specialties such as the western favorite, frog eye salad, or the Midwestern Snicker salad. New Englanders turn each year, though, to mashed butternut squash to make a Thanksgiving dinner complete.

Frog eye salad, popular in Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, is a kind of pudding-based sweet pasta fruit salad made with the small soup pasta known as acini di pepe, pineapple chunks, orange pieces, sugar, mini marshmallows, milk and cornstarch. A Snicker salad is, you guessed it, a mix of Snickers bars, Granny Smith apples, whipped cream and often pudding or whipped topping served in a bowl as a potluck and party staple in Iowa. If these two dishes are an indication of anything, it seems that these Midwesterners retain a fondness for 1950s-style sweet sides.

A mashed butternut squash dish seems like a less-sugary and simple side perfect for Thanksgiving. It also is so easy you can have a 5-year-old child make it or at least do the mashing part.

For a little extra I suppose you could sprinkle some walnuts and maple syrup on top, but even that isn’t necessary. There’s a great temptation for even moderately experienced cooks to want to try something fancier on Thanksgiving, something more involved and appealing sounding. Trust me, simple is the way to go, and this is as simple as it gets.

Mashed pumpkin side dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Mashed pumpkin side dish. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

Massachusetts-style Mashed Butternut Squash

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Place the squash cubes in a 12 x 9 x 2-inch or similarly sized baking casserole. Season with salt and pepper. Pour water in to a depth of about 1 inch. Dot the surface with butter and cover the casserole tightly with foil.

3. Bake until tender, about 1 hour. Crush the squash to a chunky consistency with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Stir and taste to check seasoning.

Main photo: Butternut squash and pumpkins make a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wynne Everett

]]>
/cooking/75977/feed/ 0
5 Easy Broccoli Salads To Celebrate Summer’s End /cooking/five-easy-broccoli-salads-last-days-summer/ /cooking/five-easy-broccoli-salads-last-days-summer/#respond Fri, 08 Sep 2017 09:00:20 +0000 /?p=68807 Broccoli with oil-cured olives and lemon zest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli is a vegetable that makes for a wonderful salad. Its bright green color and crisp-tender texture can be appealing if cooked properly.

Cooking broccoli properly might seem like a no-brainer, but many people do not do so. Broccoli, and all cruciferous vegetables, must not be overcooked, otherwise chemicals in the plant break down and release sulfurous compounds, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, and interact with the chlorophyll in the plant, which cause the broccoli to turn an unappetizing brownish-grey color and have a very unpleasant smell.

This chemical reaction is probably why some people don’t like broccoli. I imagine that at a young age they ate improperly cooked broccoli.

Broccoli should always be cooked in small amounts of water until it is crisp-tender and retains its bright green color; it should never be cooked until limp. That means broccoli should not be cooked more than five minutes.

Here are five broccoli recipes, all Mediterranean-style dishes that make wonderful accompaniments to your Labor Day grill party.

Broccoli With Golden Bread Crumbs, Oil-cured Olives and Orange Zest

Broccoli with golden bread crumbs, oil-cured olives and orange zest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli with golden bread crumbs, oil-cured olives and orange zest. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

This is an appealing Sicilian-style salad with a great taste thanks to the orange zest and black olives. It’s important not to overcook the broccoli even by a minute because you want the taste and the beautiful color contrast of bright  green to come through. Oil-cured olives are crinkly skinned, but you can use any good-quality black olive if you can’t find them.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 pound broccoli

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

15 oil-cured black olives, pitted

1 teaspoon orange zest

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

Directions

1. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and blanch the broccoli for 3 minutes. Drain, cool and break into florets.

2. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat with the anchovies and garlic until sizzling. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring until the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

3. Arrange the broccoli on a serving platter and sprinkle on the olives. Sprinkle the bread crumb and anchovy sauce around and then add the orange zest. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired, and serve at room temperature.

Broccoli and White Onion Salad

Broccoli and white onion salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli and white onion salad. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

White onion rather than yellow onion is critical in this broccoli salad not only because of taste but for the color contrast with the green, white and orange. This salad also makes for a nice antipasto or accompaniment, with grilled or roast meat.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

3 pounds broccoli

1 medium white onion, coarsely chopped

Zest from 1 orange

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Orange wedges for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and plunge the broccoli in to blanch it for 2 minutes. Drain and cool quickly. Return the broccoli to a steamer or strainer and steam until tender with a slight crunch, 6 to 7 minutes. Let the broccoli drain and cool in the strainer.

2. Break the broccoli into florets and toss with the white onion and orange zest in a large bowl.

3. In another bowl, dissolve the sugar in the white wine vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil, oregano, anchovies and garlic. Pour over the broccoli and toss again seasoned with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large serving platter and garnish with orange wedges, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Green and Yellow Salad

Green and yellow salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Green and yellow salad. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

The colors are startling in this zippy salad. It’s great with something off the grill, and the leftovers can be tossed with pasta and olive oil.

Prep time: 3 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Total time: 11 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1 pound broccoli, broken into small florets

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Extra virgin olive oil to taste

Coarse salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the broccoli 5 minutes. Drain well, cool, then toss with the yellow pepper and add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Broccoli With Oil-cured Olives and Lemon Zest

Broccoli with oil-cured olives and lemon zest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli with oil-cured olives and lemon zest. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

What a beautiful dish! The brilliant green of broccoli, the pitch black of the olives and the sunny flecks of lemon zest make for an appetizing presentation. In this recipe, you blanch the broccoli first to keep its brilliant green color.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds broccoli

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted or unpitted

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a rapid boil, then blanch the broccoli for 2 minutes. Drain and dunk into ice-cold water immediately to stop it cooking. Set aside.

2. In a bowl, mix the garlic with the olive oil.

3. Remove and drain broccoli from ice-water bath.

4. Slice the broccoli and after it has cooled, mix it in a large bowl with olives, chile, lemon zest, garlic mixture, salt and pepper.

5. Serve at room temperature.

Broccoli and Roasted Red Bell Pepper

Broccoli and roasted red bell pepper. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli and roasted red bell pepper. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

Good and good for you. That was a phrase I often heard from my mom when I was growing up. She never quite made it this way, but this Italian-American family-style side dish of bright green broccoli and brilliant red bell pepper is a delight to look at, a delight to eat and it’s good for you.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds broccoli, sliced and broken into florets

1 roasted red bell pepper, sliced into strips

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the broccoli 5 minutes. Drain a bit and transfer to a mixing bowl. Toss with the remaining ingredients and arrange on a serving platter.

 

]]>
/cooking/five-easy-broccoli-salads-last-days-summer/feed/ 0
Cherry Tomato Sauce, A Late-Summer Blast Of Sweetness /cooking-wrecipe/an-italian-gift-of-summer-exploded-cherry-tomato-sauce/ /cooking-wrecipe/an-italian-gift-of-summer-exploded-cherry-tomato-sauce/#comments Fri, 18 Aug 2017 09:00:46 +0000 /?p=74849 Fresh tagliatelle with pomodori scoppiati at Le Comari di Farfa, Castelnuovo di Farfa, Rieti. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

At long last, cherry tomatoes are here, pay dirt for every ghastly love apple we’ve had to eat out of season. Whether Italian heirlooms or American hybrids, Ciliegini or Principe Borghese, Sun Golds or Black Pearls, Sugar Snacks or Honeydrops, these babies are tomato candy. What the best of them have that the Beefsteaks and other big boys of backyard gardens and farmers markets often fail to deliver is the sharp acid sweetness that nature intended for their breed.

I like to eat them out of hand immediately after plucking from their umbilical vine, still warm and with the faint taste of dirt clinging to their skin. But as any gardener knows, they grow fast and furiously. When August rolls around and they are ripening on their trusses at the rate of Romans taking to the autostrada for their summer holiday, it’s time for one of Italy’s most endearing, and speediest, little sauces: pomodori scoppiati (pummidori scattarisciati in the vernacular of southern Puglia) or “exploded tomatoes.”

Not Your Classic Sauce Tomato

Pomodori scoppiati used as a condiment for roasted fish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Pomodori scoppiati used as a condiment for roasted fish. Credit: Copyright 2017 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

The beauty of this homey sauce is that you can cook the tomatoes whole without bothering to peel or cut them first, a custom that originated with poor agricultural workers in the Salento who had little time for preparing food after a long day toiling in the fields. What they did have were their own patches of land where they planted tiny, intensely sweet pomodorini, typically the type called pachino or the dwarf pomodorini appesi al filo (“tomatoes hanging in row”) that grow in compact clusters like grapes. No other cherry tomatoes I know of come close to the startling sweetness of those two Italian varieties, but in season, our North American varieties can be awfully good. My favorite is the Sun Gold, which is rapidly becoming the most popular cherry tomato of all time, according to the Burpee seed people, and has become ubiquitous at local farmstands.

Restaurant chefs will love the following recipe for its sexy name, and home cooks will appreciate that there is barely anything to do save toss the little tomatoes in a pan with onion and good olive oil and an herb or two. The sauce, which the Italians would call a condimento, is made for multiple purposes: to accompany friselle, the hardtack biscuit that the Pugliesi eat dampened and rehydrated; for topping pasta or serving alongside meat or fish; or as a foundation for other dishes. Like the Italians, you ought not worry about the skins and seeds. When I asked the locals if they sieved the sauce to remove them, they laughed. “Only Americans think tomatoes grow without seeds,” a vegetable seller told me. “In Puglia they leave the skins on because the tomatoes are cooked when they’re very ripe and the skin is thin,” said a friend. “And besides, the skins contains the color and the goodness of the ripe tomato and give lovely body to the sauce.” Here is the recipe, adapted for the American kitchen.

Pomodori Scoppiati (‘Exploded’ Cherry Tomato Sauce)

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes on their trusses and ripening fast. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes on their trusses and ripening fast. Credit: Copyright 2017 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Prep time: 1 minute

Cooking time: Approximately 15 minutes

Total time: About 16 minutes

Yield: About 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds good and ripe cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup genuine extra virgin olive oil

1 fresh onion, 1 small red onion or 2 large shallots, finely sliced and chopped

1 handful whole fresh basil leaves

Large pinch of dried oregano

Fresh hot pepper to taste (optional)

Sea salt to taste

Directions

1. Remove stems from the tomatoes and wash and dry them.

2. Select an ample, heavy-bottomed skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Warm the olive oil in the pan over medium-low heat (do not overheat so as to preserve the flavor and nutrients). Stir in the onion or shallot and sauté until transparent, 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, basil and oregano, as well as the hot pepper if you are using it. Increase the heat to medium. Simmer until all the tomatoes have burst, about 10 minutes. Remove the cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the tomatoes are completely collapsed, pressing down on them with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to release their juices. Continue to cook to evaporate the juices and thicken the sauce, about 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Note: The tomatoes should be a suitable fresh cherry variety of the season (I have yet to taste a grape tomato than can compare), whether red, orange or yellow, and they should be good and ripe. Two and a half cups is enough to sauce 1 pound of fresh or dried pasta that has been timed to cook just after the sauce is done. As important for good results as using the right tomato is starting out with genuine extra virgin olive oil. Keep in mind that true extra virgin is not a mere cooking oil but a flavor-packed and nutrient-filled fruit juice.

Main photo: Fresh tagliatelle with pomodori scoppiati at Le Comari di Farfa, Castelnuovo di Farfa, Rieti. Credit: Copyright 2017 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

]]>
/cooking-wrecipe/an-italian-gift-of-summer-exploded-cherry-tomato-sauce/feed/ 1
Yucca Flowers: A Wilder Artichoke Flavor /cooking/yucca-flowers-a-wilder-artichoke-flavor/ /cooking/yucca-flowers-a-wilder-artichoke-flavor/#comments Sat, 29 Jul 2017 09:00:52 +0000 /?p=74409 Yucca flower gratin. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

With its widely recognizable dagger-sharp leaves, the yucca plant (Yucca spp.), offers up a particularly tasty food in its flower petals. Yucca, not to be confused with yuca (Manihot esculenta), is native to arid regions of the Americas, and is popular as a water-wise ornamental plant elsewhere.

In traditional dishes, yucca flowers often appear paired with eggs. The flavor of yucca flowers is akin to artichoke, which makes them an interesting springboard for cooking. In an attempt to re-create the flavors of stuffed artichoke, I’ve found it worthwhile to serve yucca flowers as a gratin topped with a crunchy layer of seasoned bread crumbs.

When harvesting yucca flowers, select ones that are newly opened and appear unblemished. Pass over any flowers that are wilted or appear to have been taken over by insects. Foraging wild foods is not unlike selecting produce at the market in that you look for foods that are in good condition. You can pick more than one yucca flower per plant, as it won’t cause significant damage. Yucca is a sturdy plant with a large taproot. Keep in mind, however, that certain animals feed on yucca flowers, and they are a habitat for yucca moths. I like to shake each flower after I’ve plucked it to free any moths that might be inside.

Yucca flowers can cause throat irritation in some people if eaten raw, so it’s likely best to use them in cooked preparations, particularly if you are new to the plant as a food. Traditionally, yucca petals are removed from their reproductive parts. To prepare yucca flowers for cooking, simply strip the petals from the pistil and stamen.

For a girl growing up in a hot stretch of the prairie in the Western United States, yucca plants were always a part of the tableau. As a kid, I learned early on to play carefully when there were yucca and cacti around, so as not to get hurt. It wasn’t until I was an adult and began foraging in earnest that I discovered those plants that were as familiar to me as the backs of my hands were also edible.

Yucca flowers. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

Yucca flowers. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wendy Petty

I’ve been working with my own local yucca, Yucca glauca, also known as Great Plains yucca, for many years, especially enjoying the flowers. Unlike some species of yucca, Great Plains yucca develops nonfragrant flowers, the petals of which are quite waxy in texture when raw. I’ve enjoyed the flowers of yucca in more traditional preparations with eggs, as well as in soups and stir-fries. Until recently, my favorite way to prepare yucca flowers has been to steam the petals, and then preserve them as one would an oil pickle like artichoke hearts.

This year, while reading an older cookbook about Mexican herbs, I caught sight of one short sentence that instructed to add a spoonful of flour to steamed yucca flowers, and pan-cook the mixture as patties. I tried this method and was slightly off-put by the glueyness created by the flour. However, the flavor of the yucca in flour, particularly where it had browned, was undeniably good.

The next day, I took the recipe in a slightly different direction. I seasoned steamed yucca petals well with salt, pepper and onion powder. Then, instead of adding flour and attempting to make cakes, I added dried bread crumbs, and put the crumble into a hot pan coated with some oil. Once browned, the yucca and bread crumb mixture was easily the best yucca preparation I’d tasted. The flowers were still succulent and sweet, and their slight bitterness was enhanced by extra savory flavors added through the golden bread crumbs. This preparation of yucca flowers can be used in a number of ways. It’s good enough to stand alone as a side dish, and it makes an excellent pasta topping. My favorite way to use yucca flowers sautéed with bread crumbs is to make quesadillas with queso Oaxaca.

I’ve also used the crunchy bread crumb and yucca combo successfully in a dish that comes as close as I can to turning yucca into stuffed artichoke — yucca flower gratin. You can always tell I’ve been binge-watching Jacques Pepin when I have the urge to stuff all of my wild edible plants into a gratin. Nobody at my table complains, however, because gratins are both classic and a tastebud-friendly way to serve foraged produce.

Yucca Flower Gratin

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

6 cups yucca petals

1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

3 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs such thyme, parsley and chives

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

1. Begin by steaming the yucca petals just until they turn translucent and pale green, 1 to 2 minutes. Let them cool to room temperature.

2. In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, herbs, garlic powder, salt and a little freshly ground black pepper using a fork. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and continue stirring the mixture until the all of the bread crumbs appear to have been coated with the oil.

3. Heat a skillet over medium. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sauté the minced shallot for 1 minute, then add the steamed yucca petals and a sprinkling of salt.

4. Add a large handful of the seasoned bread crumbs to the yucca petals, about 3/4 cup, and continue cooking the yucca, stirring frequently and scraping up stuck bits as needed, until they take on a deep medium brown color. Because the yucca is already cooked, you are simply looking to add a layer of flavor through the browning achieved by the Maillard reaction.

5. Remove the yucca from the heat. Evenly divide the browned yucca between four lightly greased 8-ounce ramekins.  Top each ramekin full of yucca with what remains of the seasoned bread crumbs.

6. Place the ramekins under the broiler of an oven just until the bread crumbs turn an irresistible shade of brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Main photo: Yucca flower gratin. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wendy Petty

]]>
/cooking/yucca-flowers-a-wilder-artichoke-flavor/feed/ 2
4 Quick Tricks Banish Boring Summer Salads /cooking/4-quick-tricks-banish-boring-summer-salads/ /cooking/4-quick-tricks-banish-boring-summer-salads/#respond Wed, 12 Jul 2017 09:00:13 +0000 /?p=68073 Carrot and radicchio salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

The grill is blasting away, people are licking their chops, and you’re asking yourself, “what sides?” A great approach is a salad, of course. But why stop at merely one salad? And too often that salad is one of the heavy mayonnaise-based standbys, macaroni salad or potato salad.

An approach I love is four salads, all of which should be easy to make and easy to make ahead of time. The first is a refreshing and simple salad of julienned carrots and a slightly bitter red radicchio that you can put together while the meat cooks. Young carrots are cut into matchsticks with radicchio sliced into strips and tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and that’s it.

Make the most of ripe tomatoes

Tomato, egg and olive salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright Photo credit: Clifford A. Wright

Tomato, egg and olive salad. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

A second nice salad is a tomato, egg and olive salad. You would assemble this beautiful dish as you would a work of art. It’s stunning to look at and eat. Choose vine-ripened juicy tomatoes, preferably from your own tomato plant, and the best olives, not too bitter, not too salty.

Hard-boil the eggs and slice them interspersed with sliced tomatoes and black olives, all arranged in a spiral, and garnish with parsley, extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Do not refrigerate this dish.

Take bean salad inspiration from Greece

Mavromakita fasolia (black-eyed pea salad). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Mavromakita fasolia (black-eyed pea salad). Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

Many people must have a bean salad in summer, and a wonderful Greek version is made with canned black-eyed peas. Canned beans will work fine, as long as they are packed only in water. If you can’t find beans canned in water, you can boil some dried black-eyed peas instead.

After this step, the salad takes just five minutes to put together. For six servings, open two 15-ounce cans of black-eyed peas and rinse them. Toss with two trimmed and finely chopped scallions, a little salt, one small finely chopped clove of garlic, three tablespoons chopped fresh dill, five tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Show off seafood in a rice salad from Sicily

Riso al mare (seafood rice salad). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Riso al mare (seafood rice salad). Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

The last of our summer salads is a bit more involved, but not hard, and I provide you a recipe below. Years ago, in Sicily, I had a riso al mare, a seafood rice salad, that was probably the best I’ve ever had.

We were skin diving off the tiny port of San Gregorio and were exhausted and ravenous when we exited the water, which may have helped in the enjoyment of this salad.

Riso al mare (Seafood Rice Salad)

Rice for riso al mare (seafood rice salad). Credit: Copyright 2015 Michelle van Vliet

Rice for riso al mare (seafood rice salad). Credit: Copyright 2017 Michelle van Vliet

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

6 mussels, scrubbed and bearded just before cooking

6 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1/2 carrot, peeled

1 squid, skin pinched off, viscera removed, tentacles cut off below the eyes, washed clean

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 1/2 cups medium-grain rice (Spanish rice)

2 1/2 cups water

Salt to taste

6 cooked medium shrimp, shelled and very finely chopped

One 3-ounce can tuna packed in oil, very finely chopped with its oil

3 ounces Norwegian or Scottish smoked salmon, finely chopped

2 canned hearts of palm, drained and finely chopped

2 teaspoons beluga or salmon caviar (or 1/2 teaspoon black or red lumpfish caviar)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Place the mussels and clams into a pot with a few tablespoons of water and turn the heat to high. Cover and cook until they open, 4 to 8 minutes. Discard any that do not open and remain firmly shut. Let the mussels and clams cool, remove from their shells, and chop very finely. Set aside in a mixing bowl.

2. Place the carrot in a small saucepan, covered with water, and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil and cook until crisp-tender (or whatever you prefer), about 10 minutes. Drain and chop finely.

3. Put the squid body and tentacles into the pot you cooked the mollusks. Add 3 tablespoons water and cook on a high heat until firm, about 4 minutes. Let cool, and chop the body finely. Cut the tentacles in half and set aside. Add the rest of the chopped squid to the mixing bowl with the clams and mussels.

4. In a heavy 4-quart enameled cast-iron pot or flame-proof casserole with a heavy lid, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Add the water and 2 teaspoons salt, reduce the heat to very low, cover and cook undisturbed for 12 minutes. Do not lift the lid until then. Check to see if the rice is cooked and all the water has been absorbed. If it hasn’t, add a little boiling water and cook until tender. Transfer the cooked rice to a second large mixing bowl, spreading it out so it will cool faster.

5. Once the rice is completely cooled, use a fork to toss it well with the mussels, clams, carrot, squid, shrimp, tuna, smoked salmon, hearts of palm, caviar, olive oil and parsley. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

6. Arrange attractively on an oval platter and garnish each end with the squid tentacles and parsley sprigs.

Main photo: Carrot and radicchio salad. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

]]>
/cooking/4-quick-tricks-banish-boring-summer-salads/feed/ 0
Blast The Heat For A Charred Vegan Salad /cooking/blast-the-heat-for-a-charred-vegan-salad/ /cooking/blast-the-heat-for-a-charred-vegan-salad/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 09:00:24 +0000 /?p=73944 Charred garbanzo beans, shiitake mushrooms and onions in a carbon steel pan. Credit: Copyright2016 David Latt

Going vegan tastes so good when you turn up the heat on garbanzo beans and create a beautifully charred vegetable salad.

Carbon steel pans and their close cousins, cast iron pans, love heat. Turn a burner on high, place the carbon steel pan on the fire, and you’ve pushed the pedal to the metal. Used by chefs to create crispy skin fish filets and perfectly seared steaks, carbon steel pans can also be used to give vegetables a beautiful, carbonized crust that deepens their flavor.

Hot, fast and easy

Everything is faster with a carbon steel pan. Cooking is quick. And so is cleanup.

Unlike stainless steel pans that must be scrubbed clean after each use, once cured, a carbon steel pan needs only a gentle washing to remove leftover oils. After that, it can be dried on a high flame.

If you have not used a carbon steel pan, think of it as a wok cut down to frying pan size. What carbon steel pans bring to the party is the ability to create rich caramelization quickly. In a matter of minutes, the high heat chars the garbanzo beans and vegetables with a small amount of oil.

Because the temperature of a carbon steel pan can reach as high as 700 F, a blend of oils works best. Eighty percent canola manages the heat with less smoke, and 20% olive oil adds flavor.

Flash cooking adds flavor and seals in the healthy qualities of fiber-rich garbanzo beans, a good source of protein and essential minerals such as manganese and folate or B-9. Also called chickpeas, the legumes provide a starchy contrast to the vegetables.

To make a delicious salad, toss the charred garbanzo beans and vegetables with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar together with finely chopped Italian parsley or fresh leafy greens like arugula, green leaf lettuce, romaine or frisee.

Mise en place, tongs and a good over-stove exhaust fan

One new, two tempered de Buyer Carbon Steel pans. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

One new, two tempered de Buyer Carbon Steel pans. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

What restaurant chefs call mise en place is all-important when cooking with high heat. Because the dish will cook in a matter of minutes, all the ingredients must be prepped ahead of time. Peel, chop and arrange all the ingredients on the cutting board before you fire up the carbon steel pan.

Remember, the pan can get as hot as 700 F, so have a good pair of 12-inch tongs at the ready. Turn on the exhaust fan so any smoke from the pan will be pulled out of the kitchen.

Charred Vegetable Salad With Garbanzo Beans

Charred garbanzo bean salad with Italian parsley, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and onions. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Charred garbanzo bean salad with Italian parsley, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and onions. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

Use any fresh vegetables you enjoy. Besides broccoli, carrots and onions, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, Chinese bok choy and celery are also delicious when charred.

All the vegetables must be cut into small pieces so they will cook evenly. Leafy greens can be shredded. Calculate the order in which you add the vegetables based on how long they take to cook. For example, broccoli, carrots and turnips take more time to cook than does spinach.

Because carbon steel pans are relatively nonstick, less oil is required when cooking. The recipe calls for a minimum amount of blended oil. Use more depending on taste.

Reducing balsamic vinegar creates a thicker sauce and adds sweetness, offsetting the acid.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup blended oil, 80% canola oil, 20% extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, washed; skin, root and top removed; thin sliced

1 15-ounce can cooked garbanzo beans, organic if available, drained

2 cups shiitake, portabello or other brown mushrooms, dirt cleaned off, stems trimmed on the end, thin sliced

2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, each floret cut in half lengthwise

1 large carrot, washed, stem and root ends trimmed, peeled, finely diced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 large bunches Italian parsley, washed, stems removed, leaves finely chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. In a small saucepan over a low flame, reduce the balsamic vinegar to one quarter the original volume. Set aside to cool.

2. Arrange all the prepped vegetables on a cutting board or in bowls for easy use.

3. Place a 10-, 12- or 14-inch carbon steel pan or cast iron pan on a high flame. When the pan begins to smoke, turn on the over-the-stove exhaust fan.

4. Drizzle a teaspoon of blended oil on the hot pan and immediately add the thin-sliced onions. Using tongs, toss the onions in the hot oil, turning frequently to avoid burning. When the onions are lightly browned, add drained garbanzo beans. Mix together. Add another drizzle of blended oil. Using tongs, toss frequently to avoid burning.

5. Add mushrooms. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

6. Add broccoli crowns. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

7. Add finely diced carrots. Mix well and drizzle with blended oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

8. Taste a broccoli crown and carrot dice. When they are al dente, with a little crispness, remove from the flame.

9. Transfer to a bowl or large plate to cool.

10. Place the finely chopped Italian parsley into a large salad bowl. Add the room-temperature charred garbanzo beans and vegetables. Toss well. Season the salad with extra virgin olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Main photo: Charred garbanzo beans, shiitake mushrooms and onions in a carbon steel pan. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

 

]]>
/cooking/blast-the-heat-for-a-charred-vegan-salad/feed/ 0
Sicilian Frittedda: A Riot Of Tender Spring Flavors /cooking/sicilian-frittedda-a-riot-of-tender-spring-flavors/ /cooking/sicilian-frittedda-a-riot-of-tender-spring-flavors/#respond Thu, 01 Jun 2017 09:00:14 +0000 /?p=73768 Fritedda with spring vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In the springtime in Sicily a simply named dish reveals an explosion of flavor that belies its satisfying complexity. It is a dish special with spring vegetables — fava, peas, scallions and artichokes — and called frittedda (or fritedda).

In western Sicily, where frittedda was born, it is served as a grape ‘u pitittu, a Sicilian expression that means “a mouth-opener,” a culinary concept much closer to a Middle Eastern meze than an Italian antipasto. Pino Correnti, a leading Sicilian gastronome, believes that the name of this preparation comes from the Latin frigere, because it is prepared in a large frying pan.

The young artichokes needed for this dish can be hard to find. They are very tender and have not yet developed chokes. Because this dish is affected by the age and size of the vegetables, you will have to judge for yourself the right cooking time and how much salt, pepper and nutmeg you want to use, so keep tasting. This is a good time to use a very good quality estate-bottled extra virgin olive oil from Sicily.

This is most definitely a labor-intensive preparation. However, it tastes so good and can last so long to be served successively as antipasti and side dishes that a Sicilian cook never shies away from the work. It is a time to grab a glass of wine and with a friend or lover shuck the pods of fava and peas.

Frittedda. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Frittedda. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Spring Vegetable Frittedda

Prep time: About 1 hour

Cook time: Between 1 hour and 1 hour, 40 minutes

Total time: About 2 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound fresh peas, shelled (from about 2 1/2 pounds of pods)

2 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled (from about 5 pounds of pods)

10 young artichokes, each not more than 3 inches long (if you use older artichokes, with fully developed bracts and chokes, cook them longer in Step 2)

Juice from 1 lemon

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound scallions, white part only, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg

4 large fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

4 teaspoons sugar

Directions

1. Rinse the peas and the fava beans and set aside. Trim the artichokes, quarter or halve, and leave them in cold water acidulated with the lemon juice until they are all prepared. In a large sauté pan (preferably a 14-inch sauté pan), heat the olive over medium-low heat, then cook, stirring, the scallions until soft, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the artichokes and cook for 5 minutes longer (15 minutes if they are fully developed globe artichokes), then add 2/3 cup hot water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peas and fava beans. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

3. Moisten the vegetables with more hot water if they look like they are drying out. Cook another 20 to 40 minutes or until tender; keep checking. Stir the mint, vinegar and sugar together and then pour over the vegetables while still hot. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and let it reach room temperature before serving.

Fritedda with spring vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

]]>
/cooking/sicilian-frittedda-a-riot-of-tender-spring-flavors/feed/ 0
Kale, Dandelion And Mustard Greens: 3 Star Attractions /cooking/kale-dandelion-and-mustard-greens-3-star-attractions/ /cooking/kale-dandelion-and-mustard-greens-3-star-attractions/#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 09:00:55 +0000 /?p=73397 Black kale with vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Although vegetables — especially dark leafy greens — are often treated as a side dish, they also can be served as an appetizer; as a bed for other foods; a dish on their own if made in quantity; or just cold as a kind of tapas.

The attribute I like most about dark leafy greens, perhaps excepting spinach, is that they are rugged vegetables that can handle a variety of cooking methods including long cooking times.

These three simple recipes each result in a surprisingly delicious dish, but also in three quite appropriate appetizers for a follow-up dish the next day should you have leftovers. The recipes for the kale and the dandelion are Italian-style, sweet-and-sour preparations, which I find work particularly well (as the Italians discovered long ago) with bitter greens.

Black kale and vinegar

Kale is a bitter cruciferous plant and the so-called black kale, also known as Russian or Tuscan kale, is a particular cultivar that has very dark green, oak-like and crinkly leaves. The following is an Italian method of cooking, and it also makes the preparation very nice served at room temperature.

Prep and cooking time: 45 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 side dish servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

One 1/8-inch-thick slice pancetta, cut into strips

10 ounces Russian or black kale, rinsed

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic and pancetta over medium-high heat, stirring, and once the pancetta is slightly crispy in about 4 minutes, add the kale.

2. Cover and cook on low until the kale is somewhat tender, about 30 minutes. Add the vinegar with the sugar dissolved in it to the pan, cover, and continue cooking 10 minutes.

3. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

Sweet and sour dandelion

Sweet and sour dandelion. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Sweet and sour dandelion. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In Italian they would call this kind of dish agrodolce or sweet and sour. The sweetness added to the bitter taste of dandelion is a contrast that many gourmets swoon over.

Prep and cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 side dish servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 ounce pancetta, diced small or cut into thin strips

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Four 1/4-inch thick slices onion

1 bunch dandelion (about 3/4 pound), bottom quarter of stems removed, washed

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Directions

1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat with the pancetta, garlic and onion and cook until softened, stirring, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the dandelion and mint and cook until they wilt, tossing frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar then pour over the dandelion and cook until evaporated, about 3 minutes.

3. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Drowned mustard greens

Drowned mustard greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Drowned mustard greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

This Sicilian-inspired recipe is derived from a recipe originally for broccoli, but it works spectacularly with mustard greens. The Sicilians call this kind of dish affucati, ”drowned,” because it’s smothered in wine. It’s terrific as a room-temperature appetizer the next day too. If serving the next day as a room temperature antipasto, let the Parmigiano-Reggiano melt and then drizzle some olive oil to serve.

Prep and cooking time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 side dish servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed

1 pound mustard greens, heavier stems removed and discarded, leaves washed and shredded

3/4 cup dry red wine

8 imported black olives, pitted and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

1. In a flameproof casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onion and garlic until soft, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the anchovies and once they have melted add the shredded mustard greens, cover, and cook until they wilt, about 5 minutes.

2. Pour the red wine into the sauce with the olives, salt and pepper. Cover again, reduce the heat to medium and cook 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter with a slotted spoon and sprinkle on the Parmigiano.

Main photo: Black kale with vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

]]>
/cooking/kale-dandelion-and-mustard-greens-3-star-attractions/feed/ 0
Broccoli Rabe Gets Rave Reviews: 9 New Ways /cooking/9-fresh-uses-for-broccoli-rabe-an-italian-superstar/ /cooking/9-fresh-uses-for-broccoli-rabe-an-italian-superstar/#comments Sat, 29 Apr 2017 09:00:14 +0000 /?p=66328 Brassica rapa at the Palo del Colle market in Puglia, Italy. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Summer has yet to deliver its full range of vegetables, but one stalwart crop that keeps on giving is Brassica rapa (from rapum, Latin for “turnip”). Brimming with flavor, this vegetable is known variously in its native Italy as cime di rapa (“turnip tops”), broccoletti di rape or just rape (pronounced räp’-eh), rapi, rappini, friarielli, vrucculi and a gaggle of other aliases, depending on local dialects.

And as “if this is not confusing enough,” says Daniel Nagengast — who imports 700 different heritage seeds to the United States for his company Seeds from Italy — “there are perhaps 15 different cime varieties in southern Italy, and I keep on finding more.” Each has its own physical characteristics, growing patterns and flavor nuances. But what they all have in common is a bold, seductive bitterness in their raw state, not to mention a powerful nutritional profile.

Cime di rapa varieties in the greenhouse at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Cime di rapa varieties in the greenhouse at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Old varieties are new again

Although most Americans are familiar only with the tidy, commercially grown bunches sold in supermarkets under the name of “broccoli rabe” (a debased form of Italian native speakers prickle at), small-scale farmers around the country are creating a new awareness of Brassica rapa’s formidable culinary powers. A wide range of varieties are  popping up in local farmers markets and CSAs, and chefs are demanding heirloom types whose flavors recall the earth they are grown in. “San Francisco and New York high-end restaurants start the trends,” says Nagengast, explaining why he is crisscrossing southern Italy in search of variants unknown outside their native environment. “Then it takes off.” The idea is that savvy home cooks, like chefs, will seek them out for the same reasons they do certain wines and cheeses: distinctive terroir. Several of Nagengast’s transplanted seeds have been sown by Jack Algiere, farm director at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, who grows them to be served at James Beard award-winning chef Dan Barber’s groundbreaking restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Boiled rapini are flavored with the delicious drippings of porchetta at Mozzarella e Vino in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Boiled rapini are flavored with the delicious drippings of porchetta at Mozzarella e Vino in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

The old familiar ways with rapini

As much as the vegetable intrigues people, the extent of most Americans’ experience with Brassica rapa is as a side dish cooked with olive oil and garlic. Properly, this basic preparation involves parboiling the greens before sautéing them. First, peel the stems as you would asparagus legs to ensure that they cook at the same rate as the tops. Next, parboil them for two minutes — just long enough to bring out their sweet overtones. Then drain them, saving some of the cooking water. From here, you’ll sauté them with good olive oil, garlic and (optionally) chili flakes, moistening them with a little of the water you have set aside. (You could also change up the recipe by substituting onion and bacon for the garlic and hot pepper, the way Southern cooks make collards, kale and other field greens.) Now you can eat them as is or use them as directed in the recipes that follow.

Chef Viola Buitioni’s garlicky Umbrian "rapi e patate." Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Chef Viola Buitioni’s garlicky Umbrian “rapi e patate.” Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Rapini and potatoes

For a more complex side dish, combine your garlicky sautéed greens with other vegetables: sautéed cime di rapa alongside a puree of fava beans, or ‘ncapriata, is food of legend in Puglia, brought together with the magic of high-quality olive oil. Chickpeas or white beans also make delicious and nutritious purees for the greens. Probably one of the happiest vegetarian marriages is between rapini and richly flavored potatoes such as Yellow Finns, Yukon Golds or fingerlings. I like chef Viola Buitoni’s way of tossing her sautéed greens with crisply fried tubers, an Umbrian-style dish she calls rapi e patate. If the greens are the feisty part of the couple, the potatoes are the sweet-tempered half.

Whole-wheat gemelli with rapini, bacon and chickpeas, which are creamier if you peel the skins off first. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Whole-wheat gemelli with rapini, bacon and chickpeas, which are creamier if you peel the skins off first. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Not just a side dish

In Puglia, it is common to cook the greens simultaneously with pasta in the same pot and, after draining, tossing them quickly together in olive oil flavored with garlic. Per the Italian tradition whereby meat is a second course, sausages might follow; but for a one-dish variation, I sometimes add warmed, crushed anise seeds and crumbled sausage to the pasta and greens. And there are so many other ways to dish out rapini and pasta. For instance, you can toss your garlicky sautéed greens together with diced bacon, chickpeas and just-cooked short pasta in a wide skillet; I like to use whole-wheat gemelli (“twins”) or penne imported from Italy. Be sure to save some of the hot pasta cooking water; combined with the olive oil and juices from the prepared rapini, it forms a sauce. Pass a cruet of your best olive oil at the table for finishing.

Imported Italian linguine with shrimp, Brassica rapa and hot pepper, inspired by a Venetian dish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Imported Italian linguine with shrimp, Brassica rapa and hot pepper, inspired by a Venetian dish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Rapini and seafood

Or consider seafood. The Venetians have a particular fondness for the charms of bitter ingredients, including cime di rapa (to use their term); surrounded by water as they are, they often combine the vegetables they cultivate on the lagoon islands with their Adriatic catch. Here is a heavenly dish I ate in a trattoria some years ago on the little island of Burano. It was originally made with fresh tagiolini and a local species of prawn called cannocchie, but it is just as good with linguine and shrimp (or other types of fresh seafood, such as clams or scallops). Start by parboiling your rapini (save the cooking water) and sautéeing the shrimp in fragrant olive oil with garlic and red pepper in a skillet wide enough to accommodate the pasta later. As soon as the shellfish is lightly colored, add dry white wine and let simmer gently for a minute or two, until the alcohol evaporates. Finally, toss in the rapini, cover the pan and turn off the heat. In the meantime, cook the linguine in the reserved cooking water. Drain, again reserving a little of the water, and add the pasta to the skillet. Toss the ingredients together gently, moistening them with a little pasta water if necessary.

Rosa Ross’s stir-fried beef and rapini in place of the traditional "gai lan," Chinese flowering broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Rosa Ross’s stir-fried beef and rapini in place of the traditional “gai lan,” Chinese flowering broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

When bitter is sweet: An Asian spin

Author Jennifer McLagan has devoted an entire book to explaining why a taste for bitterness is the hallmark of discerning cooks and educated eaters. “Food without bitterness lacks depth and complexity,” she writes in “Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes.” I rather like the gentle Chinese way of describing the yin-yang perfection achieved when balancing bitter, salty or sour flavors (yin) with sweet and spicy ones (yang).

“We love bitter melon and flowering mustard greens and things like that,” says Hong Kong-born American chef Rosa Ross, author of “Beyond Bok Choy: A Cook’s Guide to Asian Vegetables” and other Chinese cookbooks. So, for example, in the original Chinese version of the dish Americans known as beef with broccoli, the bitter green called gai lan must be used — but “when I can’t find it here, I substitute Italian bitter broccoli,” Ross says.

Pizza topped with sweet fennel pork sausage, sautéed rapini, cacio Romano (soft Roman sheep’s cheese) and serrano pepper. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Pizza topped with sweet fennel pork sausage, sautéed rapini, cacio Romano (soft Roman sheep’s cheese) and serrano pepper. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Pizzas and pockets

Many pizzerias offer pies spread with vegetables — but they can be more alluring to the eye than they are tasty. A pizza topped with rapini, sausage and tangy cheese is a different, flavor-packed story. To make it, start by preparing your own dough; while it rises, parboil and sauté the greens per our basic recipe and, separately, sauté some crumbled sausage. Spread them both over the dough before baking; scatter cheese on top only in the last few minutes of baking to prevent it from burning. (Mozzarella is too bland in this case, so best to use a young, melting sheep’s cheese or soft Asiago fresco.) You can use the same ingredients as filling for calzones.

Rapini pie with an American-style crust makes for a twist on Italian tradition. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Rapini pie with an American-style crust makes for a twist on Italian tradition. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Rapini pie

On a similar theme, last spring I created a new interpretation of the traditional torta pasqualina (“Easter pie”), a savory pastry made of strudel-like dough filled with spring greens such as chard or spinach. Once again, I used an American-style pie crust because I love its structure and crumb — and I also substituted rapini in the filling, mixing them with egg and freshly grated Parmigiano to yield astonishingly good results. They have so much flavor that no additional ingredients are needed, save salt and pepper. Along with a side dish or two, this pie is substantial enough for a dinner; it can also be cut into smaller servings for an appetizer. I’ve been known to improvise with good frozen puff pastry as well, using the same filling to make small hand pies.

Imported fusilli with rapini pesto, almond shards and pecorino Toscano. Fusilli are exceptionally suitable because the coils trap the pesto. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Imported fusilli with rapini pesto, almond shards and pecorino Toscano. Fusilli are exceptionally suitable because the coils trap the pesto. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Purees and pesto

We are nearly there, dear reader, but how can we overlook transforming these mighty greens into a purée for eating as is or making into a sauce? If you will first peel the skin from the stalks, you will prevent its fibrous texture from getting in the way of a silky creamed side dish or a velvety pesto. Then cut the stalks into several pieces to make them easier to work with and boil them, along with the leaves and buds, for at least seven minutes. Be sure to drain the greens well before pureeing them in a food processor with a little softened butter or good olive oil. You can eat them just as they are, creamy and hot, seasoned with another dab of butter or dribble of olive oil, plus a touch of coarse sea salt — they’re as good as creamed spinach, even without the roux.

Or, for a gorgeous and delicious alternative to the ubiquitous basil pesto, blend the purée with a touch of garlic; grated, aged sheep’s cheese or Parmigiano; and a little olive oil — because the cooked stems are full-bodied and naturally creamy, you’ll find it unnecessary to use as much oil as many pestos call for. You can also include pine nuts or almonds if you’d like. Like its basil counterpart, rapini pesto should accompany pasta cuts sturdy enough to carry it — linguine, bucatini, medium macaroni, potato gnocchi — or you can stir it into minestrone.

Rapini butter stirred into alphabet pasta makes ideal baby food. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Rapini butter stirred into alphabet pasta makes ideal baby food. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Back to the beginning

It’s only too well-known that a preponderance of American children and adults alike hate vegetables — a fact that people in other parts of the temperate world find puzzling, especially as plants are the very stuff that humans most need for proper nourishment. I could write a book exploring the reasons for this, but consider just one for a moment. Although the theory that children need bland foods until they are old enough to handle more intense flavors is bandied about in credulous circles, experts tell us that the taste for particular foods is developed in infancy. The fare we are fed as children — whether it is good or not — is what we crave as adults. Pastina (“miniature pasta”) with butter is an Italian baby’s first solid food, revisited in adulthood whenever comfort food is in order. When my children were babies, I stirred rapini puree and butter into pastina for them, and they loved it. (Like any pasta, pastina tastes best served piping hot immediately after cooking — but naturally, it should be cooled down to warm for babies.) This is an ideal way to develop an infant’s taste for these miraculously healthful greens.

Main photo: Brassica rapa at the Palo del Colle market in Puglia, Italy. Credit: Copyright 2014 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

]]>
/cooking/9-fresh-uses-for-broccoli-rabe-an-italian-superstar/feed/ 6