Monday, March 30, 2009

Spicy Chickpea & Spinach Curry

What's with all the chickpea recipes lately?

Honestly, I don't know. I'm just drawn to garbanzos right now. They taste good (or rather, they taste good when you add yummy stuff to them) and they're high in protein and fiber.

And they're easy to deal with, as in this recipe. Throw them in with some spinach, tomatoes and spices, let cook for 20 minutes and voila! Dinner (and maybe lunch the next day).

It doesn't get much easier than that.

Spicy Chickpea & Spinach Curry (adapted)

2 (15 oz) cans of chickpeas, drained
10 oz. fresh spinach leaves
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, combine all ingredients and stir to combine; cover pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lasagne Verdi al Forno: A Daring Baker Challenge

I really enjoy participating in the Daring Bakers because A) I get to try out recipes that I might not normally be drawn to and B) my skills as a home cook are challenged.

Some challenges are easy for me, and others make me want to run and hide.

I must admit that this month's challenge -- which asked DBers to make pasta from scratch, and create a lasagna using bechamel -- was a run-and-hide challenge.

Why? One: I'm picky about lasagna. Two: I don't have a pasta machine, so rolling out the lasagna would have to be done by hand. Three: I'm not a bechamel fan.

Let me say right here (in case anyone was experiencing recipe related suspense!) that I am so glad to have participated this month. The resulting lasagna was fabulous.

Yes, crafting pasta from scratch without a pasta machine was intimidating. But the dough was beautiful, and surprisingly easy to work with! (And, um, using the dough hook on my stand mixer made bringing the dough together a breeze...) It rolled out nicely and, as long as I kept it lightly floured, did not stick to the board.

Did I get it as thin as I could have? Probably not. Still, the lasagna was lovely, tender, and so much better than dried pasta. And a beautiful vivid green -- perfect for the dawn of Spring!

As for the bechamel, it provided a wonderful rich creaminess to the lasagna. But the most prominent flavor (aside from the oodles of freshly grated Parmesean) was the meaty ragu -- so much depth, so much flavor. (The ragu is slightly adapted from the original recipe.)

After assembling the lasagna, I had about 8 noodles left over, so I spread them with part-skim ricotta (16 oz. total) mixed with chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper, and rolled the noodles up. I topped all this with an impromptu sauce: I sauteed 6 oz of ground sweet sausage, about two chopped onions and 3-4 cloves of chopped garlic. Then, I added the leftover canned tomatoes from the ragu, and let simmer for 5 -10 minutes to let the flavors meld. In a small casserole dish, I spread a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom, topped it with the lasagna rolls, and smothered them with the remaining sauce. Then, I baked them in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes, topped the rolls with some shredded mozzarella, and baked for another 5 minutes before serving. Delicious!

All around, this was a great challenge and a delicious recipe. Many thanks to this month's hosts: Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande.

Check out all the other DB versions of the recipe at the DBers' new home, The Daring Kitchen.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:


A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
2 medium onion, diced
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat

4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.
Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Balsamic and Thyme Chickpea with Chorizo

Stephanie's blog made me hungry. I made myself nuts by not having an precise recipe. A couple of divers made a website that helped me out.

The result is lip-smackingly delicious -- sweet, tart, acidic, smoky and all-around fabulous. Sop up all the extra balsamic and chorizo oil that finds its way to the bottom of the plate with a slice of good, crusty bread.

Balsamic and Thyme Chickpea with Chorizo
1 Tbsp. thyme leaves, minced
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas, drained
8 oz. Chorizo sauasages, sliced

In a small bowl, toss thyme, balsamic, oil, garlic, salt and pepper with the drained chickpeas; set aside. Heat a frying pan over medium heat, add the chorizo and cook for 2-3 mins. Add the chickpea mixture and cook for a further 2-3 mins until chickpeas are warmed through. Enjoy!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chickpea Ratatouille

From Dreena Burton's Vive le Vegan! is a hearty, filling, economical and, most importantly, delicious chickpea ratatouille.

If I were Cathy at Not Eating Out In New York I could even figure out the cost of the meal but I'm not, and I'm bad at math to boot.

I adapted it slightly, using honey versus vegan-friendly honey substitute, and served it with Pan de Sal.

Chickpea Ratatouille (adapted)
3½ - 4 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 ¼ - ½ cups red onion, finely chopped
3 - 4 medium-large cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1⁄2 cup red or orange bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 tsp honey (or honey substitute)
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1⁄2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp sea salt
1⁄8 tsp allspice
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 dried bay leaves

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. In a large, deep casserole dish, combine all the ingredients except the bay leaves. Stir through until well combined, then embed the bay leaves in the mixture. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Stir through, cover, and bake for another 35-45 minutes, until the onions are tender and translucent (stir through again once or twice through baking). Remove bay leaves and serve. Makes 4-5 servings or more, depending on accompaniments.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So close, Michelle. And yet...

There's an article in today's New York Times about Michelle Obama's vocal support of eating fresh, organic foods .

“You know, we want to make sure our guests here [at Miriam’s Kitchen] and across the nation are eating nutritious items,” said Mrs. Obama, who served lunch to several homeless men and women and delivered eight cases of fresh fruit to the soup kitchen, all donated by White House employees.


In a speech at the Department of Agriculture last month, Mrs. Obama described herself as “a big believer” in community gardens that provide “fresh fruits and vegetables for so many communities across this nation and world.”

Some of those who had called on President Obama to use the White House as a bully pulpit to help improve Americans’ eating habits are cheering Mrs. Obama on.

They were thrilled to learn that the White House gets fresh fruits and vegetables from farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And they delighted in the news that the Obamas had served organic wine at their first big White House dinner, a gathering of the nation’s governors last month.

It's great that eating fresh, organic and local (though NJ and Pennsylvania isn't exactly local to D.C.) is getting such attention and promotion from the White House. If you care about food, and food issues, the Obama administration has given you a lot to be happy about.

But then, Mrs. Obama goes and ruins it for me:

In the November issue of Parents magazine, she and her husband described their decision to ditch juice boxes and processed foods.

“A couple of years ago — you’d never know it by looking at her now — Malia was getting a little chubby,” Mr. Obama told the magazine.

They took action, Mrs. Obama said, when “her doctor — he really monitors this type of thing — suggested we look at her diet. So we cut out juice boxes, sweets and processed foods.”

"Malia was getting a little chubby." (If you're being interviewed about eating nutritious food, does the journalist force you -- at gunpoint -- to invoke the obesity ooga-booga-booga?)

Malia is 10 (her birthday is, I kid you not, July 4, 1998). So when she was getting "a little chubby" she was 8. Did anyone think that, maybe, she was gaining weight so that her body could use the stored energy to grow a few inches? Like lots of healthy kids do all the time? (Even if they eat all organic, non-processed food grown within a 25-mile radius of their homes, kids will do this.)

And thank god you'd never know -- now -- that Malia used to be chubby. Because, a chubby in the White House? Quelle horror!

But, let's play Devil's advocate. Why would Malia's doctor tell the Obamas to toss out the processed foods if he didn't think there was a causal relationship between these foods and Malia's increase in weight?

Maybe because doctors, like the rest of us, are inundated with the message that the foods we eat directly lead to obesity, despite research that says our weight is largely genetic and being "overweight" might not be a bad idea for long term health . (Also, many studies discussing the obesity epidemic are sponsored by diet and fitness clubs, weight loss magazines and companies with prescription drugs to sell.)

But back to my main point. I would love to read an article -- that's *not* in a foodie magazine -- where local, fresh, organic food is celebrated for its DELICIOUSNESS and/or its GOODNESS FOR YOUR BODY AND MIND, without referencing, either directly or indirectly, that eating well will help you get ready for swimsuit season. Or, get you into the skinny jeans. Or, whatever B.S. happiness becoming thin is supposed to achieve.

So my plea to Michelle Obama: please promote good food because it tastes good and is good for you. And leave the weight gain/loss out of it.

A few thoughts from other people:
And it begins… Obama girls’ diets, weight make national news
Public Health, Nutrition, and the Obama family
The Obama Girls Are Not The Olsen Twins
Is This "Healthful?"

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Pan de Sal

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Dorothy, a blog reader, asking me to test out a recipe for Pan de Sal.

Pan de Sal is a traditional Filipino roll, usually eaten for breakfast and, despite its name, is on the sweet side.

I've never made these before, so I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into. But, the recipe is rather straightforward and, if using a stand mixer (as I did), was fairly simple to pull together. (You don't have to, of course: follow these directions to make them by hand.)

The rolls bake up nicely, are best eaten hot from the oven, and highly addictive -- pillowy soft and lightly sweet. (According to some, they should be sweeter and can be made so by increasing the sugar to 2/3 cup.)

Two other points to note:
I did not roll the dough in breadcrumbs from previous pan de sal as is traditional. The recipe below doesn't address this but if I were to try it, I'd probably roll the dough in the crumbs just before the second rise.

The original recipe calls for the dough to be divided into 4 equal pieces, rolled into logs 1/2 inch in diameter and then cut into 1/2 inch pieces. I thought this was too small (those are the smaller rolls in the picture above) so instead, I rolled the logs out into 1-inch diameter, and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Pan de Sal

2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 cups all-purpose flour

Put the warm water in a small mixing bowl and add the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine the remaining sugar and the oil and mix until smooth using the paddle attachment. Add the salt, 1 cup of flour and the yeast mixture; stir well. Switch to the dough hook, and add the remaining 5 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Using the dough hook, continuing kneading the dough until smooth, supple and elastic; about 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add a tablespoon or two of flour.

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough in it and turn to coat the dough with oil. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume; about 1 hour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and roll out into a log about 1 inch in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut each 'log' into 1 inch pieces. Place the pieces, flat side down, onto two lightly greased baking sheets. Gently press each roll down to flatten. Cover the rolls with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake rolls until golden brown, about 20 minutes.