Let me tell you about this salad that chef Casey Schanen of Nell Thorn made at the cooking school the other night. Not that everything else he made wasn’t amazing, but the salad was the real eye-opener for me. Here’s what was in it: fresh arugula, roasted squash, arugula pesto, and warm ricotta cheese. Yeah.
I’ve been hearing a lot about making ricotta at home, but for whatever reason I’ve never tried it. It really is astoundingly easy, and as much as I love cold ricotta, it turns out I love fresh, warm ricotta even more. In this salad it fills the same role as fried goat cheese – the warm creaminess adds to the dressing and enriches the greens – but without the crunch (and oil). And ricotta has a fantastic springy texture in the mouth that I find addictive.
So Casey heated milk, stirred in salt and fresh lemon juice, and scooped out the curds into cheesecloth. I tossed the arugula with good olive oil and salt, and we portioned it onto plates with a sprinkle of roasted orange squash. A scoop of ricotta went on top of that, then a drizzle of garlicky arugula pesto with pumpkin seeds. That was it. I would eat salad more often if it was like this.
I often make soup on Mondays, a holdover from when I worked late shift and we needed a quick re-heat sort of dinner. I like the tradition, though – if I make the soup in the morning it gives me a chance to putter around the house doing laundry and paying bills and the like, occasionally wandering through the kitchen to give things a stir. And most soups, especially bean soups, are better if they’re made ahead and given a chance to sit and meld in the fridge.
This soup, a variation of my favorite pasta fazool, was intended to celebrate the very last of the season’s fresh cannellini beans from Dunbar Gardens. I love fresh shelling beans with a passion, and never get to eat quite as many as I’d like before the season is past, so I was glad to get one final bag. And while we were at the farmstand I also picked up a bunch of curly endive – I thought it was escarole but I was wrong – to toss into the soup.
For our end-of-summer party this year, we let ourselves be inspired by the latest issue of Saveur and made food with a Greek or Mediterranean slant: dolmades, tzatziki, tabouli, grilled flank steak, lemon chicken, grilled eggplant dip, hummus, and so on. For a while we were considering pastitsio (sort of a Greek lasagna), but decided on a greens-filled phyllo pie instead. I thought this would be spanakopita, the classic buttery spinach-feta pie, but then I discovered hortopita.
Hortopita is like spanakopita, but better. It uses any sort of greens mixture (horta in Greek) plus scallions and fragrant herbs, and instead of butter you brush the phyllo with olive oil, making it much less rich. I ended up making this twice this week – the one I made for the party disappeared almost instantly, and since there was phyllo left over I figured I’d just make us another one.
Ever since I brought home a tub of leaf lard from Art of the Pie I’ve been itching to use some of it in a savory pie. My chance came this week, as we had a bunch of spinach from Frog’s Song Farm, a bag of mustard and kale greens from Blue Heron, and a wedge of fresh goat feta from Gothberg Farms. If that doesn’t say “savory tart” I don’t know what does.
I began by completely screwing up my pie dough. I usually stick with a part-whole wheat, all-butter crust for my quiches, but I wanted this crust to taste distinctly of lard. Unfortunately I added too much lard, especially given the warmth of the kitchen, and the dough became unwieldy. I ended up patting it into a tart pan with my fingers instead of rolling it out all the way. Then I prebaked it for a few minutes to make sure it would set and not just melt in the pan. It actually worked OK, so I got started on my filling.
I wanted this to really be about the greens and feta rather than the binder, so instead of following my usual quiche formula I made up something a little different. I blanched the greens in salted boiling water, then squeezed the liquid out and chopped them. I mixed up two eggs, then added the cooled greens, some sauteed shallot, the crumbled feta, a dollop of cream, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. I piled all this into my tart crust and baked it for a while at 375° – sorry, I wasn’t really paying attention, but I think it was about half an hour. Basically, when the egg had set and was beginning to puff up, I called it done.
We let it cool briefly, then carefully (as the crust was very tender) cut wedges and ate them with glasses of chilled rosé. Despite the haphazardness of the preparation, it was really, really good. How about that?
We eat a lot of greens around here, especially this time of year. Usually, just sauteed with olive oil and some slivered garlic, but occasionally done more elaborately with bean broth. I may once have tried simmering some kale with chicken broth, but it didn’t seem to add much. However, I recently obtained a copy of Paula Wolfert’s cookbook, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the first recipe I really looked at was the intriguing meat-braised greens. It called for beef bones, and -hello!- I have a lot of beef bones in my freezer. Definitely worth trying.
The technique here is to sear beef or lamb bones in butter (with the pan covered), then add a cup of water, salt and pepper and simmer until the resulting broth is reduced down to just a few tablespoons. The bones removed, you cook mixed greens in the rich broth. You could certainly obtain a similar result by starting with pre-made beef broth and simmering it down, but I have a feeling that starting with bones gives a particularly tasty result.
This one could be a candidate for Confessions of a Locavore. Local it ain’t, and neither is it particularly healthy. It is, however, highly seasonal, in that I only eat it on or around Thanksgiving. And it’s really, really good. I don’t know where the recipe originated, but it’s a staple of my husband’s family’s Thanksgivings, hosted by his Aunt Mary. No matter what else I have on my plate, I always make sure there’s plenty of room for creamed spinach.
It’s one of those dishes where I might be happier not knowing what was in it. But as Mary writes in the family cookbook, “Don’t worry about the ingredients, just enjoy.” That said, here’s what the ingredients look like before the spinach goes in:
After a trip to the farmer’s market our first morning home, we found ourselves in possession of some fine beet greens and a bag of shiitake mushrooms. I thought of one of our regular “light” meals, buckwheat soba stirfried with beet greens, and reinvented it as a cold noodle salad with baked tofu. It worked so well, I might even like it better than the hot version. And it’s a perfect dish for this ridiculously hot weather we’re having right now, especially if you do all the cooking early in the day.
In the morning, I boiled the soba and tossed it with some soy sauce and plenty of rice vinegar, then put the noodles in the fridge to chill. Jon sliced up a block of firm tofu and got it marinating in a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil. Later in the day he spread the tofu out on a sheet and baked it at 300° for about an hour and a half, turning the pieces once, until it gained a leathery texture with a slightly crisp edge (one of the easiest and best ways to cook tofu, in my opinion). He also stirfried the mushrooms and greens with some ginger, then let everything chill.
Shortly before dinnertime, we combined the noodles and vegetables, added a bunch of chopped scallion, sprinkled the tofu on top, and dripped a little sambal oelek over it all. It was earthy and spicy, but still deeply refreshing, and just what we wanted. Leftovers kept well for several days.
If you ever hop off of Interstate 5 north of Mount Vernon and take Chuckanut Drive north as a scenic route to Bellingham (a side trip well worth taking, except when the road is closed by rockslides), you’ll pass by a number of great opportunities for local food buying. Without going very far out of your way, you can hit Slough Food for cheese, wine and salumi, Breadfarm for wonderful bread, cookies and crackers, Taylor Shellfish for oysters, Samish Bay Cheese (for cheese, obviously), and the Edison Inn for shuffleboard and a burger. Just to mention a few.
Just recently, we started noticing a bison farm out on Chuckanut, advertising meat for sale. We’d never cooked with bison, that I could think of, and weren’t really sure what it might be like. So a few weeks ago Jon was out getting us some oysters and he made an executive decision to stop at Rockin R Bison. He bought a pound of chuck steak and a pound of “bacon.”
The chuck steak was easy, we cut it thinly and seared it to make a Thai-style stirfry with bamboo shoots. It was delicious, with a strong beefy flavor but marbled enough to be tender. But what to do with bison bacon?
The first few strips I tried cooking in a skillet like pork bacon. It didn’t work particularly well – the meat was done well before the fat rendered, and the taste was very much like beef jerky – not what I really want with my breakfast. Then Jon had a brainwave – use it in a Sichuan-style stirfry, based on the dry-fried beef recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book!
It worked really, really well. Continue reading
This was, in fact, an incredibly simple dinner based on an inexplicable, but very precise, craving I had for whole wheat noodles with cheese and greens. It ended up consisting of an entire head of curly kale, a quantity of ricotta cheese, and a package of loose hot Italian sausage.
I cooked the sausage and the kale together until the greens were very soft, then added the cheese, mooshed it all up together with some pasta cooking water and tossed it with Barilla whole grain rotini. It was quite excellent, very earthy and comforting. Also very filling.
I would definitely make this again, but I’d also like to try it more like my original idea, which was going to have bits of stinky cheese instead of the ricotta, no meat, and possibly a sprinkle of pine nuts.
What would you add to whole wheat pasta with greens?
Although the snow has melted here, the weather continues to be cold and clammy. In Sichuan province in China, the answer to this is plenty of bold spicy food, such as Kung Pao chicken. It’s hot, a little sour, and has the tingle of Sichuan pepper. It helps pep up a wet gray day.
We hadn’t bought chicken breast meat for a really long time until we made this dish. We usually use chicken thighs for everything, being cheaper and less prone to become tough, but it was actually kind of fun to use white meat for a change. The marinade and the quick stirfry keep the meat tender.