Fire and Succotash

 

succotash 1

 

So here I am again!  And with a recipe as promised earlier.  I was holding onto this post until Bryan’s post on the Fires of Change blog went up, so that all of you not in Flagstaff could get an idea of what heck was absorbing all the energy around here in August/September … the post explains his thoughts and motivations for the new work, and even includes a making-of video with some footage shot by yours truly—ha!

And, how about some succotash?  I admit that we’re about done with fresh beans and corn here, but who knows what’s fresh where you all are … we actually snagged what’s probably the last fresh corn and black eyed peas of the season at the farmers’ market yesterday, so we may have one more variation on this in the coming week.  I snuck in these photos here and there over the past month or so.  It also includes my favorite tips for prepping fava beans—how I love them (I love the black eyes too, what is it about peas?).  Here’s to a last taste of summer for those of us in the northern half!
 

Shelling Fava beans:

Favas do take a little extra work, since you need to shell them twice, but I think the flavor is well worth it. Especially in the second shelling, this is one of those times when being efficient with your hand motions makes a big difference—the difference between a task that feels tedious and one that’s very doable.

Start some water to boil in a medium-size pot on the stove. Split the thick outer pods and pop out the beans. When the water is boiling, drop in the beans. Boil just until they all float, about a minute or two. Pour them into a colander, and either pour a little cold water over them, or just wait until they’re cool enough to handle.

Boiling softens the inner shells covering the beans—they’ll be opaque whitish-green and leathery. They’re not very tasty as you can imagine, which is why we’re taking them off. My favorite way to do this is to use one hand to grab a bean, and hold it over a bowl to collect the shelled ones. Pinch a tear in the shell with the other hand, and use the first hand to squeeze the bean so it pops out of the shell and into the bowl. Reach for a new bean with the first hand at the same time the other hand drops the shell into a compost/discard pile. Repeat.

 

succotash 2

 

A quick note on cutting corn off the cob (as long as we’re talking about prepping veggies): any time I try standing the corn up and cutting off the kernels on a flat surface, it makes a humongous mess, which only makes me like this task less. Lately I’ve been holding the corn cob over a big bowl (with fingers as far towards the bottom of the cob as possible) and slicing off the kernels with a knife across the top. I know it looks like I’m about to cut my finger off, but I haven’t come close to that so far …

 

succotash 3

 

Fava Bean or Fresh Pea Succotash

Fittingly, this is mainly Bryan’s recipe. He made various iterations of it last summer, after we ate something similar at Riffs (highly recommended when in Boulder, CO). This makes a generous portion for two, or a side for more.

Prep 2 lbs unshelled fava beans (see note above). You can also use fresh shelling peas, starting with about 1 lb unshelled. Shell them and then steam briefly, until just bright green, before adding.  I would treat fresh black eyed peas the same way as green shelling peas, except they won’t turn green when you steam them, so taste to see when they’re just barely tender.  Lima beans, or any other favorite kind, would also be delicious here. You want to end up with between 1 and 1 ½ cups of beans/peas, depending on the balance you like. I like more beans.

Cut kernels off 3-4 ears of corn, to yield about 2 cups.

Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. It seems like a lot, but the buttery, slightly salty flavor here is key to offset the sweetness of the corn and make a really lovely contrast.

Sauté ½ of a yellow onion, diced, in the butter until it’s translucent and starting to brown.

Add 2 cloves of minced garlic.

Then add 2 chopped roasted red peppers, either sweet or slightly spicy.

Sauté for a couple of minutes, then push all this to the sides of the skillet, and add the beans or peas to the middle. Cook until they’re barely tender. Stir everything together, and then push to sides again.

Turn up the heat to high, and add the corn to the middle of the skillet. Leave it alone there for a couple of minutes while you sprinkle 2 teaspooons of fresh herbs on top—we like mainly thyme, but you can use a little sage or oregano as well.

Ideally the corn will get slightly browned, but in any case taste it and when it’s barely done, turn off the heat, stir everything together. Sprinkle with salt (we use unsalted butter and about ¼ teaspoon salt) pepper, and smoked paprika if you have it for a little smoky/spicy flavor. Taste for seasoning.

Top with shredded fresh basil, and enjoy while still warm!

 

succotash 4
Succotash in the wild with another summer favorite, any variation on the (water)melon and feta salad from Plenty.

 

Peachy

 

peachy pie 2

 

It’s been a crazy few weeks around here.  Bryan has been finishing up a HUGE project for an art exhibition opening shortly—huge in physical scale, and in time invested, etc.  It took over his life, and then started to encroach on mine too.  Many things I’d been planning to work on got put to the back burner, until finally near the install date I was doing nothing besides helping get ready, unless the other thing had an already-agreed-upon-in-writing due date, and even then not too much was happening.

I’ve been cooking a lot though.  It’s the kind of situation where logically it would make sense to just make a big pot of soup and eat it for the whole week.  But, it’s my absolute favorite time of year for eating.  All the ingredients for ratatouille are sitting there, fresh and glowing, at the growers’ market, and it would be make me feel much more deprived not to cook them and eat them.  And it turns out, not surprisingly, when I’m not spending my creative energy on other projects, I end up experimenting more with food and making up recipes.  And, when Bryan is burning lots of extra calories working on huge sculptures all day, he’s more excited about having dessert, and any time I’m stressed I definitely want dessert.  Any two weeks in which we ate two of these pies can’t be that bad.

Although things evolve and change, and I’ve been excited to have so much fiber stuff to share lately, I wouldn’t want recipes to disappear entirely from this space, so here you go.  I’ll be back soon with a little more about the sculpture project & the exhibition (which is really pretty cool) and maybe even one more recipe.  But for now:

 

Weekday Peach Pie with Nut Crust

(adapted from various bits of the Joy of Cooking)

This isn’t a humongous Southern-Sunday-dinner peach pie, but instead one you can make if you just grab a few extra peaches at the market.  Pecans are my favorite for this crust, which is the same one I use for pumpkin pie in the fall, and just happens to be gluten free.  You can use other nuts that grow near you and/or you like, and it should work fine.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Peach filling—put all this in a bowl:

1 1/2 lbs peaches (weighed whole), cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  (Freestone peaches are much easier to slice.)

1/4 cup sugar if your peaches are ripe and juicy, maybe a tablespoon or two more if they are firm and tart.

1 1/2 Tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch for thickening.  I ground the tapioca in a spice grinder to get finer grains, which I think I read about in an Alice Waters cookbook.

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice.

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional but I like it).

A small pinch of salt.

Stir up the filling and let it sit while you make the crust:

You can either put all these ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse together, or grind the nuts first and then mix everything by hand.  Either way, don’t chop the nuts super fine, or the crust won’t have a lot of structure, a texture like coarse crumbs is good.

2 cups pecans (or walnuts, almonds etc.) chopped, see note above.

4 Tablespoons butter (especially if you’re making it in the food processor, it’s important to soften the butter first, otherwise you’ll end up with chunks of unmixed butter).

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Butter a pie pan well, and pour in the mixed crust in it.  Use your fingers to press the crust over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, getting it reasonably even if you can.

Prebake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until it starts to brown.  The edges of this crust are apt to burn, so cover them with a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil first.  If the sides of the crust start to sag or the bottom gets too puffy, you can push them back in place with the back of a spoon.

While the crust bakes, beat 1 egg (the smallest egg you can find) with just a tiny bit of water, until well beaten.

When the crust is warm and starting to brown, take it out of the oven and glaze it with the beaten egg. This is the key to putting a moist filling in the nut crust without getting a soggy crust!  Use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of egg wash all over the inside surface of the crust, up over the sides, etc.  The egg will want to slide down, but just keep brushing it up, until the warm crust starts to absorb it and hold it in place.

 

peachy pie 3

 

Put the egg-washed crust back in the oven for just a couple of minutes, until the egg is cooked and shiny.

Then pour in the peach filling.  Cover the edges of the crust again, and put the whole pie back into the oven until the juices of the filling are thick and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  No matter what you do, the edges of the crust will probably get a “bold” baked color (as the bread makers say). If it goes all the way to burnt, just scrape off the very top.  This crust is really simple and delicious, so it’s totally worth it.

Here’s to a weekday-peach-pie kind of week …

 

peachy pie 1

 

Celery Root and Apple Soup

 

celery root soup

 

Celery root is one of those vegetables that just looks intimidating.  Covered in dirt, all-over-knobbly, seems like it’s been underground for about a hundred years … but underneath all that, it’s surprisingly easy to slice and really delicious, with a subtle nutty flavor.  I discovered it last winter, when I started making this soup, and a lentil and celery root dish from Plenty * that’s really good (also how I discovered that “celeriac” is British English for “celery root” and therefore I could get what Ottolenghi describes as “probably my favorite root” in my own home town!)

This is originally a Deborah Madison recipe, and I love how thoughtful she is about both using up all the veggies, and using your time wisely.  The root trimmings go into a stock, which cooks as you get everything else ready.  This time of year, I’m waiting for spring, and ready to eat something new (or at least new-to-me).  Want to come on a new vegetable adventure?

 

Celery Root and Apple Soup

Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

Get out your vegetable brush, and go to town on:

1 1/2 pounds celery root

Thickly peel it, with a knife.  You’ll be able to see the boundary between the outer and inner layers.  Throw any pieces that are too deeply rutted or full of tiny roots to be clean into the compost.  Put the clean peelings into a stock pot (use a smaller pot here if you can, you’ll need a bigger one to start the soup in) along with:

1 cup chopped leek greens OR a few slices of onion

1 chopped carrot

1 chopped celery stalk

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of fresh parsley (if you have it)

Pinch of fresh thyme

Pinch of salt

Cover all this with 6 cups of water, bring it to a boil, and then let simmer for 25 minutes.

 

celery root chopping

 

Meanwhile,chop:

The peeled celery root

1 onion OR 2 fat leeks

1 cup celery

1 apple, thinly sliced.  I like to use a Pink Lady, either a small one or half a large.  I really like the flavor, but too much can make the soup a little too sweet.  Or you can follow the original directions and use a more tart apple.

1/2 cup potato

Melt in the big soup pot:

2 Tablespoons butter

Add all the soup vegetables, plus another pinch of salt.  Cook over medium for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add:

1/2 cup water

Cook on low until the stock is done.  Pour the stock through a strainer into the soup, and simmer for about 20 more minutes, until the vegetables are soft.  Let cool and then puree the soup to the texture you like.

A splash of cream is good in the soup when it’s done.

Reheat gently, taste for seasoning, and serve with:

Very thinly sliced celery heart

Very thinly sliced apple, and

A little crumbled blue cheese on top.

Don’t skip the toppings, they really make this soup special.

* You can also read this recipe on his website.  The main variation I like is to saute the chopped celery root in some butter/olive oil instead of boiling it.  It comes out golden and tender and super yummy.

What about you, tried any new vegetables lately? Have any favorite late-winter recipes? (If you’re reading from the Southern Hemisphere right now, I’m jealous …)

 

Asparagus Tarts for Spring and Early Summer

 

asparagus tart

 

Posting this recipe feels kind of, sort of, almost like cheating. It’s a variation on the savory tart/quiche recipe I’ve been using all the time since this past fall. With the late spring in the Midwest this year, there’s still a lot of asparagus around, and I’d have a hard time thinking of anything easier and more satisfying to do with it than this. I made the tart shown here with about a pound of asparagus, and some fresh thyme. A week or so later, I made another one for a new friend who’s eating gluten free, without the crust, with slightly less asparagus, and adding some leftover potatoes and onions. This really is one of those recipes (my favorite kind) that encourage experimentation and new flavor combinations.

 

Asparagus Tart Variations

 

Refer to the original recipe for the cornmeal crust, if making a crust, and more filling ideas.

For the asparagus, either broil it lightly first for more smoky flavor, or simply wash, and chop it into approximately equal diagonal segments, discarding any tough or dried out ends.

Optional: prepare potatoes as for the potato and green chile tart, or use any other leftover cooked potatoes you happen to have around.

 

For the Filling:

4 eggs

A generous splash heavy cream or milk

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (I like a hard cheese such as Parmesan)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on your taste, and saltiness of cheese)

Fresh thyme or other fresh herbs to taste (Tip: if the stems are sturdy enough, you can get most of the thyme leaves off by grabbing the stem near the top and running the fingers of the other hand down the stem from top to bottom.)

Feel free to add an extra egg, and a little more of the other ingredients, if it seems like there’s not enough filling for the veggies you have.

If not using a crust, make sure to grease your pan thoroughly.

Mix the cut asparagus (and potatoes) in with the filling, and pour into the pan/crust. For the second variation, I sprinkled the top with minced garlic and more Parmesan, which puffed and browned as the tart cooked for a tasty crispy top.

Bake at 375° F for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

Northern Arizona Corn Bread

 

NAZ cornbread

 

One of the few recent food happenings I have actually gotten a photo of is this cornbread.  It’s my adaptation of a recipe that my Mom has made since I was little.  It came from one of my elementary school teachers, Ms. Bené.  We made it during our creative retreat this year, actually twice, it was a hit!  It’s a sweeter-style cornbread, what in the US we call “Northern” style.  I’ve given it a Southwestern twist as well.  It’s great with blue cornmeal, if you can find it, and pretty awesome with some chiles inside as well.

 

Northern Arizona Cornbread

In a large bowl, mix well:

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

 

Stir in:

1 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

-or- plain milk and no soda

The buttermilk gives a nice flavor, but it’s not necessary.  Either way, you can add a dash more milk for a very moist cornbread.

 

Pile on top of the liquids in the bowl:

1 cup blue cornmeal (or yellow if you can’t find blue.)

1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use white or a mix if you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder (at sea level, at 7000′ I use 1  1/4 tsp)

Stir just until blended.

 

Optional: remove the stems, centers, and seeds from 3 roasted green chiles.  Cut into thin strips, and stir in just before baking.  This adds a delicious bit of spiciness, but leave out if you are serving the cornbread along with other hot foods, which it goes really well with! Chile time is coming again soon!

 

Scrape into a heavy baking pan.  Any size 9 x 9″ or bigger will work, the cornbread will just be a little thicker or thinner.  Bake at 350˚ F for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  It should be a little bit brown around the edges and golden on top, although with the blue corn it can be harder to see.   Enjoy!

Broiled Asparagus – Simple Spring Vegetables

 

broiled asparagus 1

 

I’ve been working super hard on my soon-to-be-released project lately, as you may have noticed since no post has appeared yet this week!  Luckily, some spring produce has also arrived lately, heralding the long season of practically effortless vegetables.  Perfect timing!  I could use some easy dinners right now.

If you’ve never tried asparagus broiled, it’s great.  It’s just a little caramelized and crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious inside.

If your asparagus varies widely in thickness, like this bunch did, either separate it into two batches or take the tiny ones out when they’re cooked, sooner than the thicker spears.   Cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus spears, put them in a broiler-safe pan and smear a little olive oil on them.  Start your broiler on low heat.  Put asparagus pan close to the broiler and check it every couple of minutes.  The spears will turn bright green first.  When they have caramel-colored patches and the ends are barely crispy, they’re done.

 

broiled asparagus 2

 

Broiled asparagus is delicious as a side to just about anything I can think of.  On the day I took these photos we ate it on lemon pepper pasta from Decio (a Christmas gift) with a little cheese, accompanied by a salad and then artichokes.

Enjoy!  And feel free to share your favorite spring vegetables/recipes . . .

 

In the Desert, We Wait for Spring, and Eat Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices

 

grand falls 1

 

Bryan and I drove out to Grand Falls the other day, down a long dirt road, to see the spring runoff flooding down the Little Colorado river and over the cliffs (as high as Niagara, or so they say around here).  I kept thinking about how our Ponderosa pine forest seems so complete when I’m in it (which is most of the time), but really, just on the other side of town is a transition zone between our high-elevation forest and the lower-elevation piñon pine and juniper, and the scrub-covered desert.

It’s getting warmer all over our varied section of the landscape, including the valley further south where most our local produce comes from.  We are not, however, California, and we are still waiting for asparagus and strawberries.

 

grand falls 3

 

In fact, as we drove, it seemed like the desert was waiting too, the little bushes looking soft and sun-bleached, flocking the hills.  Maybe the roar of muddy water will bring some green, a few desert flowers . . . but not yet.

 

grand falls 4

 

Fortunately, in the meantime, we still have squash.  Butternut squash was the first winter vegetable I fell in love with, since what’s not to love; the round, slightly sweet flavors, the vibrant orange color, and in this case, brightened up further for the coming spring with some new and unexpected spices and a tangy sauce.

I mentioned that we’ve cooked a LOT of recipes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi this winter, this is latest one; which I adapted to my tastes and what was in my pantry that day.  It was just perfect to make ahead and leave in a friend’s refrigerator while we gallivanted around the desert, ready and waiting for all of us to be hungry when we got back.

 

roasted butternut with sweet spices

 

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices and Tangy Chile Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 5 as an appetizer

 

Preheat the oven to 400° F

Take two very small, or one medium-large butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for later.  Slice the squash 3/8 inch or 1 cm thick.  Lay out the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Take 1 Tablespoon of dried cardamom pods; break the green pods open, either with your fingers or by crushing them a bit in a mortar and pestle.  Discard the pods but keep all the seeds which are inside.  Crush the seeds until they are roughly ground, either with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

Add the ground cardamom to a small bowl with: 1 teaspoon ground allspice and 3 Tablespoons olive oil.  Stir this up and brush it all over the squash slices.

Sprinkle a little salt over the squash, and roast in the oven until the slices are tender but not mushy when stabbed with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate the squash seeds from the stringy stuff they grow in, and put the seeds into the bowl with the leftover oil and spices, mix them around to coat.

For the sauce: stir together the juice of 1/2 lime, several heaping Tablespoons of crème fraîche (once you have it, you put it on everything) and some chopped fresh chile  – I used 1/2 of one large defrosted frozen roasted one from last fall (you can put those on everything too).  If dairy is not your thing, these would also be great with just a little chile or hot sauce, or maybe even a sweet and hot sauce . . .

 

roasted butternut sauce and seeds

 

When the squash is done, transfer it to a cutting board, or platter or bowl to serve, and put the seeds on the same baking sheet and roast them for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden and crunchy.  You can serve them with the squash, or eat them as a road-trip snack.  The leftover spices are more subtle, but delicious with the toasted seed flavor.

To serve the squash, slide a small sharp knife around the outside of the slices, taking off just the peel.  If you run out of time, you can also serve them as they are and let the eaters peel their own.  This is good cold or room temp, with a little sauce drizzled over the top.

 

So, what are you eating?  Is it spring yet where you are?

 

grand falls 2