Wednesday, September 12, 2012

With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner I was thinking it might be interesting for me to tie a traditional dish to my post this week. Let me first say that I am not Jewish, but have attended a fair amount of seders in my lifetime thanks in part to some wonderful friends and family members. After a quick call to my friend Peter Green I almost immediately settled on the idea of re-imagining the dish Tzimmes. The main ingredient of this dish is carrot, and right now the Farmers Markets are teeming with them. Bright big and beautiful white, red and orange taproots.

Carrots have made an appearances in a few of my previous posts: as part of my CSA box and also a supporting character for my Fabulous Fava recipe.

As I noodled around the internet  this week reading about carrots I found a few interesting tidbits I thought would be fun to pass along. I was fascinated to read that unlike most vegetables carrots are so much better for you if you cook them. Eating them raw is still nutritous, but cooking added more nutrients nearly 10 fold!

Carrots were first cultivated for medicinal purposes and then for eating. It seems from some accounts this glorious food originated in the Middle East and traveled off to the Mediterranean. Carrots are high in Beta-Carotene and Vitamins A (for vision), C & K. They are low in sodium and carbohydrates, high in fiber and have zero fat or cholesterol.

One trivia website I read said that eating 3 carrots can give you enough energy to walk 3 miles. (Really? Perhaps I need to try that!) Another bit of information I found said that the high level of Potassium found in carrots can help keep muscle cramps to a minimum while working out. Definitely something I need to keep in mind when doing Pilates!

Let's get back to the topic at hand: cooking up this magnificent SUPER food! Boiling is definitely an option. These little "Thumbalina's" above took no time at all. After a quick peel I blanched them for about 4-5 minutes in boiling salted water. These little gems are so delicious and sweet. Perfect on their own, or tossed with a little olive oil and white wine vinegar.

A quick pan roast is always an easy way to cook them too. Simply peel and toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, depending on the size. Just before serving sprinkle with a little more olive oil and lemon to brighten them up, plus a pinch or two of salt and pepper.

The tops are completely edible as well. You want to look for healthy bright leaves. Remove them from the taproot and give them a really good wash in cool running water and then place the ends in a glass of water to perk up the stems and leaves. I made a quick pesto out of these leaves and mixed  it to pasta with some cooked carrots. (Recipe is below.) A really nice alternative to the typical basil pesto.

This week my creativity was out of control, thanks in part to a trip to the Chappaqua Farmers Market. I knew that I needed honey and carrots for my dish, so maybe I would find a few other things. I picked up my carrots at the Madura Farm table and right next to them I got my jar of honey from Honey Locust Farm House. I love the Chappaqua market, it sits on an open lawn in front of St. Mary's Church, on South Greeley Street. You can basically stand anywhere in that space and survey the vendors. Directly across from from Honey Locust I saw my favorite nut vendor Tierra Farm and zipped over to that table. They have the most delicious nuts and nut butters. As soon as I saw the Agave Ginger Cashews it started to come together in my mind: I would do a glaze of honey and ginger on the carrots and then top them with the crushed nuts. As I started to walk back to the car I passed the Newgate Farm table and spotted some early parsnips. I could not resist!

While I was driving home I remembered that Tzimmes is traditionally made with carrots and dried fruit, so I needed to figure out the fruit part. hmm ... what could I do instead? As luck would have it the Rye Brook Farmers Market was in full swing, so I made a quick stop before getting home. Madura Farm also has a table there and they had some early apples. Specifically Asian pear-apples. Perfect!

Basically my creative cooking ritual is this: after a good wash I lay all my ingredients on the cutting board, step back and think. Next I open my crazy spice cabinet and start pulling things out. Initially I went for the star anise, an idea from Peter, but the coriander seeds were in front of them. Hmm ... maybe even better? Last, I needed an acid and lemon it was.

My recipe is below, but basically I made a marinade of fresh ginger, lemon zest and juice, honey and oil. After a good toss I topped the carrots and parsnips with the crushed coriander seeds and roasted them for 15 minutes in the oven.

For the last 5 minutes I added the sliced pear-apples.

After letting them cool a little I gave them a gentle toss to make sure everything was mixed and topped with the crushed nuts. Bellissimo!

I was riding the wave of creativity and thought "why not try this as a soup?" I'm crazy for soups, as you probably have already figured out. How could I go wrong with all these great ingredients? My recipe is below, but basically all I added to what I was using was an onion and vegetable stock. Once everything was soft I simply pureed it with my immersion (stick) blender and added a little fat free half and half to give it a little more body. (That of course is completely optional!)

I hope you enjoy this new take on a traditional dish and to all my friends and family who celebrate the holiday L'shanah tovah!

Just a quick reminder before heading down to the recipes .... stop by the Chappaqua Farmers Market on Saturday September 15 for a taste of my take on Tzimmes. I will be there from 10:00 until Noon. I also have some new classes coming up at Tarry Market. Check this link for September cooking classes.

Buon Appetitio!

Carrot Pesto Pasta
Serves 6-8

1 lb bag of baby carrots, quartered length-wise
1 lb box of your favorite pasta
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
4 cups of carrot tops, cleaned and roughly chopped
2 scallions, about 1/4 cup, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the carrots for 2 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon to an ice bath.

Add the pasta to the pot and cook following the package instructions to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking place the carrot tops, scallion, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper to a food processor and puree for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and add the cheese. With the processor running slowly drizzle in the oil until the pesto comes together and is creamy. Taste for seasoning.

Drain the carrots and set aside. Once the pasta is done drain that, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. In a large bowl mix the pasta, pesto and carrots. Use the pasta water, a little at a time, to loosen up the pesto. Serve with additional cheese.

Chef Maria's version of Tzimmes
Serves 6-8

1 lb of carrots
10 oz of parsnip, about 2 medium
Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
2 teaspoons of fresh ginger, grated on a micr0plane
1 heaping tablespoon of honey
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 lb Asian pear-apples, sliced 1/4"
Tierra Nuts Agave Ginger Cashews
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Peel and slice the carrots and parsnips. the shape is entirely up to you, but I did mine about 1/2" thick and 3" long. The goal is to have them the same size so they cook at the same rate. Place on a rimmed cookie sheet.

In a small bowl mix the lemon, ginger, honey, 1/4 cup of olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Whisk to combine thoroughly. Toss the carrots and parsnips with the marinade. Place the coriander seeds in a small plastic bag and roughly crush them with the back of a skillet. Take car to not pulverize them, you want them to be a little chunky.

Sprinkle the crushed seeds over the veggies and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile cut the apple in slices 
slightly thinner than the veggies. After 15 minutes add the apples to the pan and toss with the back of a spatula. 
Roast another 5 minutes to soften the apples.

Remove from oven an allow to cool slightly on  the pan. Place the carrot, parsnip and  apples in a serving bowl and top with 1/4-1/2 cup of roughly chopped cashews and serve.

Gingered Carrot-Parnsip Soup
Makes 1 1/2 quarts

1 small onion, about 1 cup, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 2" pieces
6 oz parsnip, 1 medium, peeled and cut into 2" pieces
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 lemon, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed, crushed
1 heaping tablespoon honey
32 oz carton vegetable stock
1 medium Asian pear-apple peeled and cut into 1/4 " cubes
1 cup fat free Half and Half, optional
Tierra Nuts Agave Ginger Cashews

In a small stock pot, over medium heat, saute the onion with 1 tablespoon of oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the ginger, lemon, coriander, honey and stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and falling apart.

Remove from the heat and uncover, allowing it to cool for about 15 minutes. Puree with with a blender until smooth. Add the Half and Half if desired and blend well. Add the apples.

To serve place the warmed soup in a bowl and top with roughly chopped ginger cashews.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Stuff it Baby!

Growing up I was not a big fan of peppers. Back in the day the only variety were green bells and generally my mother was stuffing them for my Dad - who was (and still is) a big fan. They seemed too strong and acidic for my taste. Because of that I pretty much stayed away from peppers for most of my adult life. It really wasn't until I met Larry, also a stuffed bell pepper fan, that I decided to give them another try. Silly me for not rethinking all of this much sooner! I'm still not crazy about the green ones, but now a huge fan of most all other peppers: fresh, roasted, dried and ground. So many shapes, sizes, colors and flavors ... it's mind boggling.

Since there are just so many options with this lovely ingredient I'm going to devote today's post to stuffing - I'll save the spicy siblings for another time.

This past weekend I zipped down to the Larchmont Farmers Market to pick up my CSA box from the Gaia's Breath Farm table. In addition to beets, squash and kale I also got a bunch of Spring Raab. (The less pungent version of broccoli raab.) I wasn't quite sure what I would do with it this week, but happy because I just love it's mild flavor.

Hopping over to the Lani Farm table I found piles and piles of peppers ... I could barely contain myself! I picked up a few from each bunch and decided to play over the weekend.

Let's talk a little about peppers: they range in flavor from mild and sweet to "melt your face" hot. On a scale of 1 -100 (100 being the melt your face variety) I can tolerate up to about 80. After that I'm pretty much not tasting anything and looking for relief! For today I'm going to focus on sweet to mildly spicy.

Peppers are loaded with lots of vitamins and nutrients. Cooking can shift the levels of Vitamins - but never to the point of loosing them. For instance: cooking them shows a slight reduction of potassium, iron and fiber, BUT increases their levels of Vitamins C and A. This week I have three stuffed pepper versions to show you in varying levels of heat.

First just a quick look at the Japanese peppers. I picked up two kinds at the market: Fushimi, on the left; and Shishito  on the right. Both are sweet to mildly spicy. I simply pan seared them with a little olive oil and tossed with some Kosher salt. I used them on an appetizer tray this weekend with great success.  

Back in the early days of Tarry Lodge I remember Andy using them in the pickled pepper appetizer. We roasted them on trays in the pizza oven ... so yummy! If you've never tried them now is the time. Just get a couple and sauté for a few minutes.

Let's start with the bell peppers. After cleaning them out I decided to give them a quick turn in the microwave, just to soften them up. I basically never use the microwave except to maybe melt butter or heat water.  One of the peppers had a nice variegated color and I was afraid if I blanched it the whole thing would turn green - which does happen with the purple ones. So microwave was my way to go in this case.

I took the tops of the peppers and sauteed them with a little garlic and red onion. To that I added some rice and a little chopped tomato. This dish came  together really quickly. It's also a dish you can make your own. A perfect vehicle for using leftover things in the 'fridge, like rice or small pasta.

After I stuffed the peppers I pureed a small can of fire roasted tomatoes and put that in the bottom of the pan. The tomato sauce not only will cook into the peppers, but give you a little sauce in the end to drizzle over the dish.

These are great to make ahead for the week - or even to freeze for later.

My second stuffed pepper is a riff on the popular pasta dish: Oriecchette with Sausage and Broccoli Raab. I took the Italian peppers, which were quite large and roasted them in the oven. (There are poblanos on the tray too ... I'll get to them in a minute.)

After a quick look in the freezer I found a pack of sausage from Stone Barns and knew I had a plan! I sautéed that along my spring raab and some pretty yellow tomatoes for color.

After peeling the skin from the peppers I added a little Parmesan cheese, basil and lemon zest to the filling and rolled them up.

While they were warming in the oven I made a little spaghetti and tossed with garlic infused oil. A super tasty dinner! I should mention that you could easily add a marinara sauce to this and have great success - but as I mentioned earlier, I was channeling the oriecchette dish, which typically only uses garlic infused olive oil as the "sauce".

My last idea came together in less than 15 minutes. While the poblanos were roasting in the oven I pulled together a couple of simple ingredients: black beans, prepared salsa, Monterey Jack cheese and some spices. After a quick toss in the bowl I topped the peppers with the mix and broiled them for a few minutes.

These are great on their own ... but with the addition of tortilla chips, sour cream and guacamole I had a perfect little snack!

I hope the recipes below encourage you to be creative with your peppers and change things up ... there is nothing easier that making a stuffed pepper - and the more flavor you add the better!

My September cooking classes are on-line right now at Tarry Market. Check them out when you have a chance.

Buon Appetito!

Stuffed Italian Peppers
Makes 4 cups of filling

4-6 long Italian peppers
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper
1 small onion, 1/4" dice, about 1 cup
2 garlic cloves. minced
1 lb sausage meat
1/2 -1 teaspoon red chili flakes
4-5 cups thinly sliced greens, spring raab, spinach or chard
1 1/2 cups fresh tomato, chopped
Parmesan Cheese
Lemon Zest
Fresh Basil, sliced

Carefully slice an opening, long-way, on the pepper. (see photo above) Carefully remove the rib and seeds. Season the peppers with oil, salt and pepper and place under a low broiler. Turn every 5 minutes until they are soft and slightly charred.

Saute the onion and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Once the onions begin to take on a little color, add the sausage meat and chili flakes. Once the meat is cooked through remove with a slotted spoon and set in a large mixing bowl.

Drain all but 2 tablespoons of fat and add the greens, along with a pinch of salt and pepper and saute until wilted. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a cutting board.

Add the tomatoes to the pan with a tablespoon of oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. If necessary add a little water to help the tomatoes break down. (That will also help pull up some of the nice crusty bits from the sausage.) Cook for about 3-4 minutes breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon. While they are cooking roughly chop the greens and add to the meat. Add the tomatoes and mix the filling.

Once the peppers are done remove from the oven and cool slightly. (This will happen while you are making the filling.) Gently peel off the blistered skin and turn the pepper over. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and 1/4 - 1/3 cup of filling. Top with another sprinkle of cheese, a few grates of lemon zest and fresh basil. Roll and set on tray seam-side down.

Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Poblano Nachos
Makes about 3 cups of filling

4-6 small poblano peppers
1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup prepared salsa
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, plus more for top
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and black pepper
Juice and zest of 1/2 lime

Carefully slice poblanos in half, long-way, removing the seeds. Season the peppers with oil and salt and place under a low broiler. Turn every 5 minutes until they are soft and slightly charred.

Meanwhile in a large bowl crush the beans slightly with a potato masher. Add the rest of the ingredients,1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.

After the peppers are finished cooking and have cooled slightly, fill each pepper half with a generous amount of filling and top with additional cheese. Broil on high for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips, guacamole and sour cream.