Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Heirloom Carrots

                            “She’s like a rainbow, coming, colors in the air, Oh, everywhere.”*

Consider the carrot. It’s a workhorse of a vegetable. As one of the three vegetables in a mirepoix, the French trinity, it forms the base of all stocks, countless soups and braises. But when they’re stuffed into plastic and piled high in the store, no one thinks of the carrot in the same way as they do of our “new best friends” kale or cauliflower.
It’s not that easy being orange.
Carrot in the Juliana Anicia Codex
In the history of carrots, the orange carrot is a relative newcomer, crossbred and cultivated in Netherlands in the 17th century**. Before then carrots were white (perhaps confused with parsnips), yellow, red, and purple. (You need to have yellow and purple carrots to crossbreed into an orange carrot). There are even black carrots, bred and grown in India for their high nutritional content.
I have a book on heirloom vegetables published back in 1998. In it carrots only get a few pages and only four heirloom varieties are listed. All of them are orange. But that has changed. Seed catalogs now mention varieties as diverse as the yellow Amarillo, Atomic Red, Cosmic Purple, the lemon-yellow Jaune Obtuse du Doubs, Lunar White, Snow White, Old World Spanish Black, as well as many different orange varieties.
Bundles of these rainbow colored carrots begin to appear at our local farmers market as summer dwindles.
I like roasting carrots but it does alter their color; with heirlooms, it can mask their color altogether if roasted too long. You might ask why bother to roast these carrots if you end up losing their distinctive colors? These carrots are so sweet to begin with that roasting only intensifies that sweetness.
Here are two recipes using heirloom carrots. If you don’t have heirlooms, you can use any carrot that you have on hand, farmers market or otherwise.
In the first recipe, the carrots are spiced with curry powder before roasting and served with pan-seared salmon with a coconut/carrot sauce. The second is a salad.

Salmon with Curry Spiced Roasted Carrots and Coconut/Carrot Sauce
For two servings
Two 4 to 6 ounce portions salmon filet
½ cup carrot juice
½ cup coconut milk
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon minced chives, optional
4 Heirloom-variety carrots, in different colors
2 to 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Wash and scrub carrots under cold water; do not peel. Cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut the carrots in half again; to assure even roasting the pieces should be about the same thickness.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the olive oil, curry powder, salt and black pepper. Add the carrots and coat them with the seasonings. Line a baking tray with a sheet of aluminum foil.  Lay the carrots in an even layer onto the baking pan. Place the carrots into the oven and roast for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the carrots so they roast evenly. Return the carrots and continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the point of a knife easily pierces the carrots. Remove from oven. Use the foil to tent the carrots as they cool and set them aside.
2. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Heat a large non-stick sauté pan over high heat (alternately you could grill the salmon). When the pan is hot, swirl in a tablespoon olive oil. Place the salmon skin side up into the pan. Cook the salmon for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon. Turn the salmon over and continue cooking for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, to your preferred degree of doneness. Adjust heat under the pan as necessary. Remove the salmon from the pan and place onto a paper towel lined plate. Cover with a piece of foil to keep warm.
3. To prepare the sauce, place the carrot juice and the coconut milk into a small saucepan. Season with sugar and some salt and ground black pepper; mix together. Bring the sauce up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook to reduce the sauce by 1/3. Stir in the chives, if using.
4. Spoon the sauce onto two plates. Top with the salmon and place the roasted carrots onto the salmon and serve. Leftover carrot juice and coconut milk can be stored in the freezer for future use.

Roasted Carrot Salad with Frisee, Almonds, and Pecorino Cheese
For two servings
3 or 4 Heirloom-variety carrots
olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
2 to 3 handfuls frisee lettuce
2 Tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
2 Tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Wash and scrub carrots under cold water; do not peel. Cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut the carrots in half again. To assure even roasting, the pieces should be about the same thickness. Line a baking pan with a piece of aluminum foil. Place the carrots into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, and season with some salt and ground black pepper. Mix to distribute the oil and seasonings. Lay the carrots in a single layer onto the baking tray. Roast the carrots for 12 minutes; remove from oven and turn the carrots so they roast evenly. Return the carrots to the oven and continue roasting for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the point of a knife easily pierces the carrots. Remove from oven. Use the foil to tent the carrots as they cool and set them aside.
2. While the carrots are roasting, toast the almonds. Place a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. After the pan is hot, add the almonds to toast, stirring and tossing the nuts so they brown evenly. When the almonds are nicely browned, remove from heat, set aside, and let cool.
3. Prepare the lemon vinaigrette:
Juice of ½ lemon (about 1½ teaspoons)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoons  salt and ground black pepper
1. Place the lemon juice into a bowl. Add the garlic and let stand for about a minute. Add the salt and black pepper and mix in the olive oil. Cover and set aside until needed.

4. To assemble the salad, place the frisee into a medium-sized bowl. Add the carrots and almonds. Mix the lemon vinaigrette together and spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette onto the salad and mix into the salad. Divide the salad between two plates. Garnish each salad with the cheese and serve.

 *She’s a Rainbow,” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but you knew that already, right?

**There is a drawing of what clearly appears to be an orange carrot in the Juliana Anicia Codex dating from 512 A.D. but not too much documentation of orange carrots exists until the 17th century. And yes, there is a World Carrot Museum that contains more information and research into the humble carrot than you can imagine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kale with Red Pepper and Onion Sofrito:Three Ways

                           “A mistle thrush is singing on my spade in the kale patch”*

I doubt that many of us were told when we were growing up to “Eat your kale, it’s good for you.”  Not anymore. Walk through any farmers market and every farmer has some variety of kale for sale.
While it has been available for years, to many it was only familiar as an ornamental plant for the fall garden. But the Portuguese knew all along; consider their kale and sausage soup, for example.
I will admit that I saw this idea on a television program but they apparently considered it unworthy of including in their recipes.
It’s not.
On the program made it was made for an appetizer, a bruschetta with ricotta topped with the cooked kale mixture. Which is one way you could use it.
By itself, it makes a delicious way to cook and serve kale or any green that takes some time to cook. I’ve made it with collard greens for oldest daughter’s southern beau. You can also use spinach, but the spinach will cook much faster.
So what is it that makes it so good? The base is a slow cooked sofrito, or flavor base, of red bell pepper, onion, and garlic. As the peppers and onions cook, they begin to brown. Some of that browning also collects on the bottom of the pan and when the kale is added it cooks in all of that caramelized sweetness.
You could also toss some pasta into it along with a little ricotta and Parmesan which is what we often do.
When you make this, don’t use a non-stick pan. The “brown bits” (the fond) that occur when cooking the vegetables won’t collect on the bottom as of a non-stick pan well as they will in an aluminum or stainless sauté pan.
You can use any variety of kale. There’s curly kale and “the kale with four names”: Tuscan (or lascinato, or black, or dinosaur) kale.

Kale with Red Pepper and Onion Sofrito  For two servings
One bunch (about 9 ounces) kale
2 cups sliced onion
1 ½ cups red bell pepper, sliced
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper
hot pepper flakes, optional
juice of ½ lemon
olive oil, for cooking
water, for the kale
1. Remove the leaves from the stems of the kale. Discard the stems. Chop the leaves into small pieces. Place the kale into a colander and rinse with cold water and set aside.
2. Place a large pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions and peppers; stir and sauté the mixture for a few minutes. Season with salt and black pepper and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes until the peppers and onions begin to take on some color; they do not need to be completely caramelized. Adjust the heat as necessary to prevent them from burning. Stir occasionally throughout.
Getting the correct color on the sofrito
3. When the onion/pepper mixture is soft and golden, add the kale to the pan. Season the kale with salt and ground black pepper. Add about ½ cup water to the pan, stir and cover. Lower the heat and let the kale cook. Check as the kale cooks, adding more water as needed. After about 8 minutes, taste the kale to see how tender it is. It will probably need about 15 minutes total cooking time, depending on the size of the pieces. Add more water, cover and gently simmer until the kale is tender.
4. Push the vegetables to the edge of the pan. Add a little olive oil then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds, and stir the garlic into the kale mixture. At this point the kale is done. It can be held in the pan until needed. Before serving, heat the kale mixture and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and adjust; Gloss the kale with a little more olive oil if desired.

Rigatoni with Kale and Red Pepper/Onion Sofrito

Follow the recipe above for the kale and red pepper/onion sofrito and have it ready. You can use the hot pasta water for cooking the kale.
For two servings
the kale/onion/red bell pepper mixture
8 ounces rigatoni
3 to 4 Tablespoons ricotta cheese
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until al dente according to the directions. Drain the pasta, then place it into the pan with the kale mixture. Stir together. Add the ricotta cheese and mix together so the ricotta begins to melt. Remove from the heat, divide between two bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

*from “The Bone Clocks," by David Mitchell.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Crostata Redux:Peach/Plum Crostata with Vanilla Cream and Almonds

                                               “Fifth grade peaches, six grade plums….”

(Listening: Cold Blue Two*)

If you saw the recent recipe for peach crostata, this is an upgrade. If you have the crostata technique under your belt, this revisit includes a layer of pastry cream and some sliced almonds. It's a good way to say goodbye to peaches and plums whose season is drawing to a close.
The recipe calls for an equal combination of peaches and plums, but you can alter it and use just peaches or plums alone.
The pastry cream is a straightforward preparation. I used whole eggs for this small batch of pastry cream; for larger batches of pastry cream I use an equal combination of whole eggs and egg yolks. Either flour or cornstarch is used as a thickener for pastry cream; I use cornstarch. I prefer the texture and taste of a pastry cream made with cornstarch. This pastry cream recipe uses half the amount of cornstarch normally used for this quantity; since the pastry cream is going to be baked, I kept the finished consistency of the pastry cream looser than it would be with more cornstarch. The pastry cream can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator until needed.
As before, you will need one batch of pie crust dough for a 9” pie.

Peach/Plum Crostata with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Almonds

Pastry Cream (recipe below)
3 plums, pitted and sliced (2 cups)
3 peaches, pitted and sliced (2 cups)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
3 to 4 Tablespoons sliced almonds
1 Tablespoon sugar

1. Begin by making the pastry cream and allowing it to cool. Recipe below
2. Place the peaches and plums into a bowl. Add the sugars and mix together; let stand for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. When you are ready to assemble the crostata, heat oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the crust into a circular shape, about 14” around. Place the dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking tray.
3. Spoon the pastry cream in an even layer onto the dough, leaving a 2” border around the edge. Add
the cornstarch to the fruit and stir until dissolved. Using a slotted spoon, place the fruit atop the pastry cream Fold the edges of the dough up and onto the fruit. Brush the underside of the folded edges with beaten egg to seal them, then brush the sides of the crust with the beaten egg. Sprinkle the outside of the crostata with the sliced almonds, making sure they adhere to the dough. Sprinkle the sugar around the outside edge of the crostata. Spoon a few tablespoons of the juices remaining in the bowl over the fruit; don’t over fill the crostata. Place the crostata into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 to 40 minutes, until the filling is
bubbling and has thickened. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Pastry Cream
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Grade A large eggs
¼ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

1. Place the milk and butter into a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat. While the milk is heating, place the eggs into a bowl; add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Blend in the cornstarch, vanilla, and salt until combined. Set aside.
2. When the milk has come to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and whisk a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the pastry cream (This is referred to as tempering the egg mixture). Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and whisk together. Place the saucepan back over the heat and cook until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, whisking throughout. Remove pastry cream from heat and transfer it to a plate or bowl. Cover the pastry cream with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface of the pastry cream. Let stand to cool, then refrigerate if using later.

*Cold Blue Two is a music sampler from Cold Blue Music in Venice, California. Started in the 1980’s, the label specialized in West Coast new music, specifically compositions in the style of minimalism and post-minimalism. (They originally released the music on vinyl, long before the recent hipster-driven resurgence of vinyl). Cold Blue Music disappeared but resurfaced 15 years later, around 2001, and continues to release only a few select recordings a year. Cold Blue Music was an early champion of the music of John Luther Adams who won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for 2014. Their recordings have consistently received the highest critical accolades. This sampler was given to me by one of my best friends who now lives in Los Angeles and was recently home to visit. He plays bass on two of the compositions. He is also busy playing in a symphonic orchestra, opera orchestra, teaching, and working in small ensembles such as the ones found on this recording.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Caesar Mushroom Salad

                   …not a mushroom Caesar salad.

Each weekly visit to the farmers market brings something new. This week “my” mushroom man Chris Darrah (Mainly Mushrooms) had Caesar mushrooms (Amanta caesarea), something I had never seen before. This mushroom is believed to be a favorite of the Roman emperors, but there’s no way to know for certain. There is the story of Agrippina, the fourth wife of the Emperor Claudius. She had a son Nero from a previous marriage. Having plans for her son in only a way a mother could, she persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero so he would be in line to ascend the throne. No patient woman our Agrippina, she hastened Claudius’s quick demise by preparing a meal of his favorite mushrooms, Amanta caesarea, tossing in some Amanta phalloides, the death cap mushroom, for good measure. There’s your quick lesson in Roman history. (Somewhere there are mycologists laughing, “Amanata phalloides…that’s a good one!”)
Normally I wouldn’t think of using wild mushrooms in a raw preparation. Some, such as morels, are poisonous raw. Chanterelles can produce a reaction in some people and are said to taste unpleasantly peppery when eaten raw. But raw is the preferred method for Caesar mushrooms. The simpler the better appears to be the rule. I have based this recipe on those that appear to be typical of Italian-style Caesar mushroom recipes.
If you don’t have Caesar mushrooms, you could use either white button or crimini mushrooms. It would also be good using warm sautéed mushrooms, either wild -chanterelles or Porcini, for example, or domestic, such as shiitake, oyster- you get the idea. Don’t let the lack of Caesar mushrooms prevent you from making a salad like this one. Unless you don’t like mushrooms, but I don’t think you would have read this far. Feel free to improvise. After all, I did.

Caesar Mushroom Salad                                        
For two servings
¼ pound Caesar Mushrooms
two handfuls baby arugula
3 Tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
shaved Parmesan cheese
1.Prepare the vinaigrette for the salad (recipe below)
2. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a paper towel. Trim off the bottoms of the mushrooms and thinly slice them lengthwise.
3. Place the arugula into a bowl and add the sliced mushrooms. Dress with a few tablespoons of the lemon vinaigrette and mix together. Add the hazelnuts and mix to distribute. Divide the salad between two plates. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some Parmesan cheese over each salad and serve. Hail Caesar.

Lemon Vinaigrette
Juice from ½ lemon, about 1 ½ Tablespoons
1 or 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Set aside until needed.