Summer Beans and Corn with Basil

Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

Is it terrible to confess that even more than the first tomatoes of summer, I look forward to the first shelling beans and the trifecta of tender romano, yellow wax and slender french beans?

Don’t get me wrong. I will still slurp down a ripe tomato, mayonnaise and white bread sandwich at some point this summer over the sink, if not several times. But it’s these colorful, tender beans that I miss most when the summer ends and it’s back to the stringy old substitutes that languish in the produce department the rest of the year.

Growing up in the South, the ritual of shelling fresh beans and peas in the summer was a given. You settled yourself in on the porch or maybe in the kitchen near a fan and started in on the small mountain of pods before you. Those beans and peas were precious, so much so that when a rambunctious one bounced out of the colander and rolled under the refrigerator, you got down on your belly and fetched it.

I grew up with the taste of these beans cooked low and slow with salty fat back and sweet onion. I still love summer beans cooked that way, but living in California for so long now has opened up more possibilities. I never tasted fresh basil as a kid and instead of fresh lemons, my mother always had one of those plastic yellow lemons full of pre-squeezed, chemically-fiddled-with lemon juice in the fridge. A sad substitute for what has become my kitchen workhorse.

This recipe combines a generous mix of fresh and shelling beans with butter, basil and lemon and the addition of corn for sweetness and bite. You could just as easily cook the mix with bacon fat instead of butter or leave the corn out entirely. I eat this with grilled salmon or chicken, alongside steak or roast pork. And, many times, right out of the pan all by myself.

Summer Beans and Corn with Basil
(serves 4-6)

¾ lb. fresh cranberry beans (or other fresh shelling bean), shelled
2 shallots, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Kosher salt, plus more to salt the bean cooking water
¼ lb. romano beans, stem ends trimmed, cut in half on the diagonal
¼ lb. yellow wax beans, stem ends trimmed, cut in half on the diagonal
¼ lb. haricots verts, stem ends trimmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large ear of white or yellow corn, shucked, silk removed, kernels cut off the cob
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4-5 large leaves of basil, washed and dried
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Place the shelled cranberry beans in a medium saucepan and fill with enough cold water to cover the beans by at least 3 inches. Place one whole shallot and the bay leaf into the pan with the beans. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Then turn down to low and cook, simmering, until the beans are tender, about 40 – 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove, stir in 2 teaspoons of salt and let the beans cool in the cooking liquid. Discard the shallot and bay leaf and drain the beans when cooled.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby.

Boil the romano beans until just tender, about 4 minutes. Remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon or strainer and immediately place them in the ice water. Repeat with the yellow wax beans and the haricots verts. (Test for tenderness with each variety of bean, but they each should take 4-5 minutes. ) Strain the beans through a colander and shake to remove excess liquid.

Finely mince the remaining shallot. Place the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When it has melted, add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot is translucent and starting to brown just a little, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the corn kernels and mix well with the shallots and butter. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the corn is tender and sweet. Add all the cooked beans and toss together to combine. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until completely heated through, stirring occasionally. If the beans are slightly undercooked, cook a little longer until they are tender. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice. Finely sliver the basil leaves and stir them in at the last minute, then top with the lemon zest.


Braised Baby Artichokes

Posted by on Apr 28, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 2 comments

Artichokes have long been considered an arch enemy of wine.

The chemical contained in the leaves and stem, cynarin, causes whatever you eat or drink afterward to taste sweet, metallic or bitter. Not only does wine taste horrible with most artichoke dishes, even water can taste weird. Worse, the effect lingers and it takes eating something like bread or crackers to get the taste off your palate.

But, I love artichokes. And I am challenged by the notion that they should be avoided with wine. I know from much experience and practice that you can turn a wine-challenged dish into a wine-friendly dish by adding enough salt and acidity, usually in the form of lemon juice, to create a harmonious pairing. Why should artichokes be any different?

They are often served with butter and lemon juice or a tangy mayonnaise or a warm hollandaise sauce, all of which contain some form of acidity. It’s a classic combination and that acidity provides a bright balance to the rich, sweet flavor of the artichoke.

With baby artichokes showing up in the market and farm stands, I decided to do a dish of braised artichokes similar to one I had in Provence a few years ago called Artichokes Barigoule. Borrowing from this dish, I braised the young hearts with bacon, shallots, garlic, carrots, white wine and chicken stock. I added lemon juice along the way, knowing I needed to layer the acidity into the dish to help it harmonize with the wine.

I decided to put the artichokes to the test. I poured a glass of Verdejo, and a glass of Pinot Noir. Following my wine-and-food-tasting strategy, I first tasted the wines so I had a good sense of their flavor, unadulterated by food. I then took a bite of the artichoke dish. I took another sip of the Verdejo. Ugh. It wasn’t good. I took another bite of the artichoke, then tasted the Pinot Noir. Same thing. The wines were awful.

I squeezed more lemon juice on the dish and tried again. Better the second time, but still not great. I added more lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt the third time. This time it worked. Both wines tasted great with the artichokes. And the dish didn’t suffer from the liberal addition of the lemon juice. It was bright and fresh tasting.

Some foods take more acidity and salt than others to find this sweet spot with the wine, but you can always find it. Try it the next time your wine and food are clashing, and let me know what happens.

Braised Baby Artichokes
(serves 4)

3 lemons
12 baby artichokes, about 1 ½ pounds
4 slices bacon, about 3 ounces, sliced crosswise into ¼” slices
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 carrot, peeled, cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups chicken broth (homemade preferably)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf

Fill a large bowl of water with cold water, leaving enough room for the artichokes.

Cut one lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the water. Drop the squeezed lemon halves into the water and give it a swirl to distribute the juice.

Clean the artichokes:
Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichoke, down to the tender pale green heart inside. Trim off the top, if the tips are spiky and tough. Using a small knife, trim off the tough outer skin from the stem, then split the artichoke in half lengthwise and drop immediately into the lemony water, as you finish cleaning them all.

Place the bacon into a deep, wide braising pan on the stove. Turn the heat to medium and cook the bacon until it is golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the bacon, using a slotted spoon, and set aside, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Turn the heat to low. Remove the artichokes from the water and pat them dry. Turn the heat back to medium and place the artichokes, cut side down, in a single layer in the pan. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook them until browned, about 3-5 minutes, then turn them over and cook another 1-2 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Place the olive oil in the pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook over medium heat until they are tender and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the carrots, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper and cook another 2 minutes. Return the artichokes to the pan, then add the white wine. Turn the heat up to medium high and reduce the wine until it is almost gone. Add the chicken broth, thyme and bay leaf. Cut the second lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the artichokes. Bring the mixture a boil, cover and turn down to low. Cook for 18-20 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.

Just before serving, cut the third lemon in half and squeeze over the dish.


Leek, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart

Posted by on Apr 11, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 7 comments

As much as I love meat, fish and fowl, I sometimes want something savory and light for dinner. Dare I say, vegetarian?

That’s when I think about making a savory tart. And, this time of year gives plenty of options for filling a tart. One of my favorite combinations is leeks, asparagus and goat cheese. The leeks are young and tender at this time of year and, cooked until meltingly sweet, they contrast deliciously with the tangy goat cheese and crisp asparagus.

I like to use a cream cheese pastry for this kind of tart. It is easy to make and virtually impossible to screw up, making anyone feel like a pastry pro. Besides, it is rich and flaky and holds the filling solidly in place. Other doughs have been known to break open, leaking the precious custard all over the baking sheet. Not a pretty sight.

So many variations can be made on this tart, from season to season. In autumn, I sauté chanterelles with garlic and parsley and use them for the base, using gruyere as the cheese. In summer, I slice tomatoes place them over a layer of grated parmesan cheese, topping them with goat cheese or mozzarella, finishing with slivered basil when it comes out of the oven. Lightly sautéed zucchini and shallots with aged cheddar is another great summer variation.

And, while this tart is delicious right out of the oven, warm and fragrant, it is also perfect at room temperature, when you happen to find yourself walking by, once again, cutting just one more little sliver.

Leek, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart
(serves 8-10)

For the dough:
1 cup unbleached flour
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 16 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
3 ounces cream cheese, chilled, cut into 6 pieces
1 tablespoon ice water

Place the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the butter and flour come together loosely, but there are still visible small chunks of butter, about 5-6 times. Add the cream cheese and ice water and continue pulsing the dough until it is moist and crumbly and, when pinched, comes together, another 5-6 times.

Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured board and lightly knead together into a disc, about 6” in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Remove 20 minutes before rolling out.

For the filling:
4 large leeks (about 2 lbs.), greens and root end trimmed off
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ pound asparagus, washed, tough ends removed, cut into ½” slices
2 eggs
½ cup half and half
4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°.
Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice into ¼” slices. Wash thoroughly in a large bowl of water and drain.
Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the leeks, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Saute for 5-6 minutes, or until the leeks are starting to get tender. Add the white wine, stirring to combine. Cover the pan and cook until the wine has evaporated and the leeks are very tender, another 5-6 minutes. The mixture should be dry. If not, uncover and cook until all the moisture has evaporated. Stir in the lemon juice and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Remove the asparagus, using a slotted spoon or skimmer, and spread out onto a small baking sheet. Cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg, the half and half and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.

To Assemble:
Place the dough on a lightly floured board. Roll out to a circle approximately 14” in diameter. Transfer to a parchment-paper lined baking sheet.

Distribute the leeks evenly over the center of the dough, leaving a 2” margin around the edges. Sprinkle the asparagus over the leeks. Crumble the goat cheese evenly over the vegetables. Fold the edges of the dough over the filling, crimping slightly as you go. Slowly pour the egg and half and half mixture over the filling, being careful to keep it inside the dough. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top. Beat the remaining egg and brush the edges of the dough.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the crust is a rich golden brown.


Butter-Braised Radishes with Peas

Posted by on Mar 24, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

I have a few foods that fall into the No-Cook Zone. Among these are cucumbers, lettuce and, until recently, radishes. It’s the cold, crunchy, crisp quality of these veggies that I love in salads or as vehicles for dips.

When I run across a recipe for sautéed cucumbers or braised lettuce, the thought of it has always made me shudder. And the one time I tasted warm cucumbers, I knew they weren’t for me. No amount of dill or tarragon or butter could boost those insipid slices.

I was intrigued, though, with the idea of braised radishes. With more body and peppery oomph than a cucumber, they seemed like they might be a good candidate for cooking.

I first consulted my well-worn copy of the Larousse Gastronomique. It advised blanching the radishes before sautéing them in plenty of butter. I tried that and the radishes ended up tasteless and mushy. My worst fear. Sorry, Larousse, this time you missed the mark.

For the next go-around, I decided to sauté them first with shallots and butter, then add some stock – a more traditional way of braising. The result was delicious. The butter and stock reduce to a glaze and the finishing touch of lemon juice and some tender herbs like chives or chervil was perfect with the delicate flavor of the radishes. They tasted like the most mild little turnips and cooked in half the time.

With fresh English peas, another favorite, showing up in the market these days, I decided to add these to the dish as well. They give a pleasant, contrasting pop to the tender radishes and the rosy pink and emerald green colors couldn’t be more Spring like. This is a cheerful, tasty side dish to Spring lamb, roast chicken or salmon.

Butter-Braised Radishes with Peas
(serves 4)

½ pound English peas, shelled (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large shallots, finely minced
1 bunch radishes, cleaned, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup chicken stock or broth
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely minced chives or chervil

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water nearby. Drop in the peas and cook until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Drain the peas and plunge immediately into the bowl of ice water. When cool, remove the peas with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Place the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, add the shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes, or until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the radishes and cook another 3-4 minutes, stirring, or until the radishes begin to turn color.

Add the chicken stock and the salt and pepper. Give the mix a stir, then cover and turn the heat down to simmer.

Cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the chicken stock and butter have reduced to a glaze. Stir in the peas and cook another minute to heat them through. Add the lemon juice and the chives or chervil. Taste for seasoning, adjusting with more salt and/or lemon juice.


Tuscan Kale Pesto

Posted by on Mar 1, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

Last week, when I was making the kale salad, it occurred to me that this kale would make a great pesto. Using the same flavors – garlic, parmesan, lemon – I could just taste it on a batch of spaghetti, showered with more parmesan and a drizzle of great olive oil. My mouth began to water at the thought of it.

Later that week, when I was going through my archive of recipes I came across a version of a black kale pesto from Nancy Oakes when she had L’Avenue in the mid-80s. Short of thinking “great minds think alike”, I was thrilled to find it and it only confirmed my hunch that this would be a delicious way to use this kale.

Hers had all the traditional ingredients of a pesto, just as I would have imagined. For my version, I added toasted pine nuts, another traditional ingredient, to give it even more richness and complexity. Blanching the kale preserves its color, making for a dark, emerald green mixture. Lightly cooking the garlic mellows and sweetens its flavor and it blends seamlessly with the earthy flavors of the kale. I like to balance the salt, lemon and parmesan to the point where the taste is intense and bright, almost more than you think, because the flavors will start to mellow almost immediately.

This recipe made enough for a pound of spaghetti, tossed together with a little of the pasta cooking water, some extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan. I could also imagine it swirled into some hearty bean soup, smeared onto grilled bread or layered onto a pizza with some thinly sliced prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. And, this is not to mention served alongside a perfect roast chicken, mingled with the rich, meaty pan juices. My mouth is watering again.

Tuscan Kale Pesto
(makes a generous 1 cup)

1 bunch Tuscan kale
1/3 – ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Clean the kale and remove the spine.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. Have a bowl of ice water nearby.

Cook the kale in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and plunge immediately into the ice water. This will stop the cooking and make for a brilliant green pesto. Remove the kale from the ice water and pat dry.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until it is just softened. Cool the garlic in the oil to room temperature.

Place the kale, the garlic with its cooking oil and the pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, initially, to chop the ingredients. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides, then process until the ingredients are finely chopped. Scrape down the sides again, then, with the machine running, slowly add the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. The mixture should be thick and creamy. Add the parmesan cheese and salt. Taste for seasoning, adjusting with more salt, lemon juice and/or parmesan cheese as desired. The flavors should be bright and intense, as they will mellow with time.

Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Lacinato Kale Salad

Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 7 comments

My friend Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana in Portland, Oregon, served me this Lacinato Kale Salad last Spring when she was generously hosting a dinner and book-signing for The Wild Table at the restaurant.

After a morning of prepping, we sat down to grab a quick bite before getting back to work for the night’s events. This salad showed up, deceptively simple looking. I took one bite and was blown away. The thinly slivered, dark green kale leaves had been dressed with excellent extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, little bits of preserved lemon and a snowstorm of shaved parmeggiano reggiano. That, and some salt and pepper, were the only seasonings, but together they were a revelation. It was instantly addictive. She had to order another round after I scarfed that one down, just so she could have a bite.

I asked Cathy for the recipe, but she gave me a list of ingredients instead. I came home and made it right away, and I have made it now many, many times for friends and clients. With kale almost a year-round item in the produce departments, this is a great salad for every season.

Make sure you buy the best extra virgin olive oil you can find and get real parmeggiano reggiano, preferably a chunk, so you can grate it just before serving. If you don’t have preserved lemons, use finely chopped lemon zest. Also, this kale has many aliases, among them: Lacinato Kale, Dino Kale, Black Kale, Cavolo Nero and Tuscan Kale. All will work. Better yet, plant a few in your garden and you can harvest them for months on end. It’s the simplicity of the ingredients that make this salad, so don’t scrimp on quality. And, while I have given some approximate amounts for the seasonings, this is one case where “season to taste” is the better way to proceed. Find you own sweet spot where it all comes together for your palate.

And, if by some remote chance you happen to have leftovers, this salad is even good the next day, after being refrigerated. The leaves and croutons soften a bit, kind of like a panzanella, but the flavors are still bright and delicious.

Lacinato Kale Salad
(serves 2-4)

1 bunch lacinato kale
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing the salad
¼ of a baguette, trimmed of crust, cut into ¼” cubes (about ½ cup)
1 small preserved lemon
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ – 1/3 cup freshly grated parmeggiano reggiano

Remove the rib from each leaf of kale by cutting along the sides of the rib with a sharp knife. Wash the leaves and spin or pat them dry. Gather 3 or 4 leaves and lay them on top of each other, lengthwise. Roll them up loosely, then slice across the roll to make thin, ¼” slivers of the kale. As you cut them, put them into a large serving bowl.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the bread cubes, stirring or tossing to coat evenly with the oil. Cook, tossing or stirring frequently, until the croutons are golden brown, 4-5 minutes. Remove them from the sauté pan to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.

Remove the peel from the preserved lemon and discard the insides. Scrape off any remaining white pith. Cut the peel into a small dice, 1/8” inch. Set aside.

To serve, season the kale with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, to taste. Repeat with the olive oil. Toss lightly together to combine. Mix in the diced preserved lemon peel. Taste again for salt, lemon juice and olive oil. Adjust to taste. Mix in a few tablespoons of the grated cheese, then scatter the rest over the top of the salad. Top with the croutons.


Happy Valentine’s Day

Posted by on Feb 14, 2012 in Musings | 0 comments


Johnny Mazetti

Posted by on Feb 4, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 5 comments

I loved Johnny Mazetti when I was growing up in the 60s in Atlanta, Georgia. It was my favorite dinner and I always prayed there would be leftovers. Because even better than eating it for dinner, was sneaking into the kitchen the next day, spoon in hand, eating the cold spaghetti casserole right out the fridge when no one was around. It was delicious and the threat of getting caught only made each bite more savory and precious.

My father was a preacher during those years at the Druid Hills Presbyterian Church. One of the cooks from the church, Bobbie Lee Jackson, came to our house once a week to make dinner for our family. And, just as on Sundays, when I found myself in the church kitchen instead of the sanctuary, listening to my father’s moral directives, when she came to our house I made a bee-line to the kitchen and took my place next to her, much more eager to learn about baked ham and biscuits than biblical verses.

The Johnny Mazetti recipe came from her. My mother’s copy, written on an index card and folded accordian-style to fit into her army-green recipe box, has Bobbie Lee’s name on it. It is a simple list of ingredients with brief cooking instructions. True to its era, the recipe calls for a can of tomato soup and mushrooms that would have also come from a can.

I made my first Johnny Mazetti when I was 10 years old. It was my first time cooking on my own with no help and I was making it for dinner for the family. Nothing could have thrilled me more than their declaration that it was “as good as Bobbie Lee’s”. Hers was the gold standard. I’ve ever forgotten that feeling.

I wouldn’t know for many years just how much I learned from Bobbie Lee. Those times at her side, watching, tasting and listening were my first inkling of the power and pleasure that food holds, both for the cook and those they are feeding. She passed away before I found my way to cooking as a profession, but I like to think it would have made her happy. I imagine she guides me today, nudging me to add a pinch of this or a splash of that. And I don’t think she would mind the changes I have made to her recipe, switching out the tomato soup for tomato sauce and adding a splash of wine. It’s still delicious, hot or cold.

Johnny Mazetti
(serves 6-8)

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the spaghetti
½ pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 large stalk celery, diced
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, with liquid
15 oz. can tomato sauce
6 oz. can tomato paste
¼ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 pound spaghetti
1 cup sliced green olives (about 4 oz.)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 325°.
Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are cooked dry and starting to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and place back over medium high heat. Add the ground beef, breaking it up, and cook until is just browned, stirring occasionally, breaking it into smaller pieces. Add the onions, celery, garlic, 1½ teaspoons of salt and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of pepper to the pan and stir together. Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the diced tomatoes with their liquid, the tomato sauce and the tomato paste. Pour the white wine into the tomato paste can, then add water to the top. Stir to gather any remaining paste left in the can, then pour this mixture into the pan. Add the dried basil and the cooked mushrooms to the sauce. Stir together as the mixture comes to a boil, then turn it down and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the spaghetti according to the directions on the box or bag until just al dente. Drain through a colander placed in the sink and rinse with cool water. Put the spaghetti in a large bowl and toss with enough olive oil to keep it from sticking together. Set aside.

To assemble:
Stir the green olives and lemon juice into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the spaghetti in the large bowl and mix together well. Turn this mixture into an oiled 9”x13” baking dish and top with the grated cheddar cheese.

Bake for one hour or up to an hour and 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.


Post-Cleanse Green Lentil Salad

Posted by on Jan 27, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

Just after the New Year, I found myself on a 14-day Total Body Cleanse. I hadn’t set out to do this, but was persuaded by a friend who was feeling the need after a particularly indulgent holiday season. The cleanse consisted of downing herbal capsules several times a day, followed by drinking copious amounts of water. They didn’t say you had to change your diet during the cleanse, but “suggested” that you might consume mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and herbal tea. It promised to be gentle.

While I was willing to do the cleanse, I wasn’t willing to give up the staples of my diet: coffee, cheese, red meat or wine. Of course, I eat fruits and vegetables and sometimes fish and grains, but I am of the opinion that depriving yourself of the foods you love is more stressful on the body and mind than any cup of green tea can remedy. I was thankful the cleanse literature didn’t push the point of what to eat or not, but left it up to your own discretion and needs.

The 14 days flew by. When it was over, I felt renewed and refurbished from the inside out. Gently, as promised.

These days, post-cleanse, I am still eating the foods I love, but adding more salads, leafy greens and meatless dishes to the mix. Go figure. While perusing the bean and grain aisle at the grocery the other day, a sexy little mesh bag caught my eye. It was a bag of French green lentils. I love these and hadn’t cooked them in ages. An idea for a salad came to mind with lots of shaved, crisp vegetables, herbs and tangy red wine vinegar. The feta, while optional, satisfies that cheese thing for me and adds a protein boost for those meatless occasions.

Green Lentil Salad with Shaved Fennel, Radishes and Carrots
(makes 1 quart)

1 cup French green lentils
1 bay leaf
½ cup thinly sliced shallots (4 medium shallots)
¼ cup good quality red wine vinegar (I use Volpaia)
2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest
1 small carrot, peeled
4 large radishes, trimmed
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and quartered lengthwise.
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, minced
2 teaspoons finely slivered mint leaves
¼ cup crumbled feta (optional)

Place the lentils and the bay leaf in a large saucepan with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer until the lentils are just tender, about 18-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of salt. Let the lentils sit in the salted water for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside on a baking sheet to cool.

Place the shallots and vinegar in a small bowl, pushing down on the shallots to submerge them in the vinegar. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to allow the shallots to marinate in the vinegar and soften.

Place the lentils in a large bowl. Add the shallots and vinegar and the chopped lemon zest. Using a mandoline or benriner or very sharp knife, thinly slice the carrots, radishes and quartered fennel bulbs, adding them to the lentils. Stir together gently.
Add the remaining teaspoon of salt, the olive oil, pepper, lemon juice, parsley and mint. Stir again, tasting for seasoning, remembering that the flavors will mellow over time. Add the crumbled feta to the mix or sprinkle over the top just before serving.


A Kinder, Gentler Cheese Course

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

I have to admit that my enjoyment of wine and cheese has increased exponentially over the last few years. That is due to a couple of changes I have made in both choosing the cheeses and what I serve with them.

I have always loved wine and cheese together, whether they were “pairing” well or not. That is still a perfect meal to me – a plate of a few excellent cheeses, maybe with a little toss of salad, some great bread and a glass, or two, of wine. I could sit, sip and slice little slivers of cheese for hours, making for an endless, satisfying dinner.

But, after too many years of haphazardly picking cheeses to go with wine, especially red wine, I have honed in on a growing list of cheeses that tend to work well over and over again. I no longer go for the blue cheeses and save those unctuous, creamy triple creams for sparkling or white wine. Both the wine and I are happier with the results.

Cheeses like aged gouda, aged white cheddars and pecorinos are more often delicious with red wines. In a multi-course meal, it is sometimes an older red wine that is served with the cheese course. This can mean that the tannins are softer and the fruit more balanced. That works well with these kinds of cheeses, which are often saltier and umami-rich from aging. But any age wine is fine, and the pleasure is in tasting and discovering what works for your palate.

Some favorites on my growing list include:

Flagship Reserve (cheddar) – Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Seattle

Txiki (Basque-style sheep’s milk) – Barinaga Ranch, Marin County

Prima Donna (gouda) – Netherlands

Goat Gouda – Central Coast Creamery, Paso Robles, CA

Mezzo Secco – (aged cow’s mik) – Vella Cheese Company, Sonoma, CA

San Andreas – (sheep) – Bellwether Farms, Petaluma, CA

Northern Gold (cow) – Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Co., Orland, CA

Cave-Aged Marisa (sheep) – Carr Valley Cheese Company, WI

Latteria Santa Andrea – (cow) – Italy

The other change I have made is to stop serving sweet accompaniments on a cheese plate. Things like fresh fruit, dried fruit, sweet jams and chutneys, honey and fruit breads, which are delicious with cheese alone, can make wine, especially red wine, taste harsh and bitter. To avoid this, I often serve cheeses with thin walnuts toasts or warm, lightly salted almonds. Or maybe a savory, less-sweet compote like this Roasted Grape Compote with Pomegranate and Thyme that is balanced with red wine, verjus and lemon juice. Not only is it delicious with cheese, but it can work double duty alongside roast pork, duck or quail.

Roasted Grape Compote with Pomegranate and Thyme
(makes 1 ½ cups)

4 cups red or black seedless grapes (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup dry red wine
¼ cup red verjus
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°.
Place a rack in the center of the oven.

Wash and dry the grapes. Place them in a bowl with the olive oil and ¼ teaspoon of salt and stir together. Spread the grapes onto a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until they are shriveled and starting to caramelize. Gently spoon the grapes and any juices and pan scrapings into a strainer set over a large bowl. Place the grapes in a smaller bowl and set aside.

Combine the grape cooking juices with the red wine and verjus in a small saucepan and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture is reduced to 2 tablespoons, approximately 3-5 minutes. It will be syrupy and thickened. Stir in the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and chopped thyme. Pour this mixture over the grapes and stir together, being careful not to break up the grapes.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.