Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fava Bean & Greens Soup with Ciabatta Croutons

In the summertime, I tend to flit about like the ants in the proverb of the ants and the grasshopper, making sure that I have enough "put up" for winter. These past few weeks I've been canning jam (strawberry, triple berry, banana-rum, and today, sour cherry.) Tomorrow, I'll be making mulberry jelly, which is a new recipe, since I came across a glut of mulberries yesterday at the cherry picking farm.

This soup is easily created from a few pantry items, some spring greens, and some mushrooms. The ciabatta croutons add a nice crunch to the soup, should you feel you need a bit more substance. Dried fava beans can be found in larger grocery stores with the dry beans, or by mail order. Feel free to substitute cannellini beans or white kidney beans, just don't worry about peeling them first.

Fava Bean & Greens Soup

1 lb dry fava beans, picked through and rinsed, soaked overnight, and peeled
1/2 cup finely minced onion
1/4 cup finely minced carrot
1/4 cup finely minced celery
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary, divided
2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage, divided
1 tsp. each salt and ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup diced shiitake mushroom
32 oz vegetable or chicken stock
32 oz water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cups chopped swiss chard, collard greens, beet greens,or turnip greens, main stem removed
Garnish: Ciabatta croutons, recipe follows

In a 6-qt stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until onion is translucent; about 5 minutes. Add garlic and 1 Tbsp each of the rosemary and sage, and 1 tsp each of the salt and pepper. Saute until the garlic is fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add shiitake mushrooms and turn heat to medium-high. Saute the mixture until the mushrooms start to brown; about 5 minutes. Add stock, water, and beans to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are tender and begin to fall apart. Turn off heat and allow soup to cool to room temperature.

Using a blender, puree the soup until a smooth consistency is achieved. Return soup to pot and bring to just boiing. Add greens, remaining rosemary and sage, and stir to combine. Cook until greens are tender; about 5 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: About four 2 1/2 cup servings

Ciabatta Croutons

Ciabatta bread, about three slices, each one-inch thick
2 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced in half

Preheat oven to 400*F. Rub the slices of bread with the garlic. Slice the bread into one inch cubes to yield 2 cups or so. Drizzle the bread with olive oil and cheese, tossing to coat. Bake cubes for 15 minutes, or until well toasted. Yield: Four 1/2 cup servings

Agave Glazed Shrimp

This is my go-to recipe when I have about 10 minutes to whip something together. It is the ultimate quick & dirty dinner. If you cannot find agave nectar (which hides around the sugar section natural food department around these parts), you can substitute Lyle's Golden Syrup. This is really great on top of some buttery cheddar grits mixed in with some fresh corn scraped off of the cob.

1 lb. raw jumbo (21-26) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp. canola oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. sliced green onion/scallion, light green parts only

Sprinkle the shrimp with cayenne, salt, and pepper. In a heavy-bottomed saute pan, heat the oil on high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add shrimp and cook about 1 minute on each side, until shrimp are opaque. Drizzle the agave nectar over the shrimp and toss the shrimp until it is evenly coated. Remove from heat and sprinkle with scallion. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quick & Dirty Dinners: Taco Casserole

Last night was a Quick & Dirty night. Easy to throw together and filling, this will pretty much cancel any plans for take-out mexican food. It's a big hit with the kids too. A simple salad with ranch dressing rounds this out if you don't feel like throwing some chopped lettuce and ranch dressing on top and acting like a heathen.

Taco Casserole

1 lb lean ground beef, cooked and drained.
1 10 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained (such as Muir Glen) or 1 can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chiles (if you want it spicy)
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 10 oz can Campbell's Cheddar Cheese condensed soup
1 envelope reduced-sodium taco seasoning (such as Old El Paso)
1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 8-ounce bag shredded sharp cheddar cheese
12 corn tortillas, cut into quarters

Serving suggestion:
shredded lettuce, black olives, sliced spring (green) onion, ranch salad dressing

Preheat oven to 350*F. Mix the ground beef, tomatoes, sauce, soup, sour cream and seasoning together until well-blended. Simmer for 5 minutes. Spray a 11 x 7 casserole dish with cooking spray (or a 2-qt oval casserole dish) and place about 1/3 of the tortillas in a single layer. Top with 1/2 of the meat mixture, and 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat tortilla layer, top with 1/2 meat, 1/3 cheese, top with tortillas and remaining cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until heated through and bubbling, and top layer of cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Top with lettuce, olives, onion, and dressing.

Samosa Pot Pie

The filling for this is best made the day before, only because the flavors really have time to meld and intensify. The pastry throws you for a loop at first, as it is the most impossible stuff to work with, but trust me... it will be smooth and lovely when you let it stand for a bit. This is my quintessential potluck recipe. If you're pressed for time, you can always use a refrigerated pie crust (such as Pillsbury) but this one really is easier than it sounds.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. canola oil
6 Tbsp. water


6 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled in their skins and cooled.
3 Tbsp. canola oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 bag of frozen peas (about 2 cups)
1 minced hot chili pepper (I use a red jalapeno), ribs and seeds removed, optional
1/2 tsp ground ginger, or 1 tsp fresh minced ginger
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp garam masala
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice

For serving:
1-2 cups of chutney, preferably tamarind (Naturally India makes a great jarred chutney) or McQuade's Fig & Ginger Chutney

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch dice. Heat the oil in a large, oven-proof saute pan over med-high heat (or a large saute pan, but plan on transferring the mixture to a 13x9 inch pan to bake in the oven.) When hot, but not smoking, add the onion and saute until onion is translucent and browning at edges. Add the peas, ginger, cilantro, and water. Cover, lower heat, and simmer until peas are cooked. Stir every minute or so and add more water if it seems to dry out. Add the potatoes, salt, coriander, garam masala, cumin, cayenne, and lemon/lime juice. Stir to mix. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring gently. Taste, and adjust salt and lemon/lime juice. Remove from heat and let cool before putting it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

For the pastry: Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the oil, and rub the flour mixture between your fingers (like you're rubbing cold hands together) until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the water and mix with your hands until you can form a very stiff ball. It doesn't hold toether at first, so do not add more water to it, just keep at it. Empty the ball onto a clean work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until it is nearly smooth (well, smooth for a very stiff ball. It is still not going to hold together very well.) Form a ball and place it in a zip-top bag with a few drops of oil (about 1/2 tsp) making sure to coat the ball with the oil. Let stand for 30 minutes or longer at room temperature. The dough will soften as it rests. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness to cover whichever sized pan you're using.

Preheat oven to 400*F. Cover filling mixture with dough, cutting a vent in the middle. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until pastry is dark golden brown and filling is hot. Serve hot, or at room temperature with chutney.

Not Quite

So, no, we're not quite over the pox on our house (I'm seriously considering taking out stock in Kleenex.) I didn't even make Samosa Pot Pie, but I will post the recipe today, come hell or high water.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


After what seemed like a nonstop cycle of everyone in our family being horrendously ill (you name it, we had it).

I'm going to make Samosa Pot Pie tomorrow, as I received a jar of Fig & Ginger Chutney from McQuade's Celtic Chutneys. It is chock full of good stuff, with nice juicy chunks of fruit and it smells heavenly. I made Turkish Lamb Burgers last night (from the latest issue of Eating Well Magazine) and I put a dollop of chutney on one of my burgers, as I was out of the yogurt topping. Well, it was better than any commerical chutney I've had. It really was a homemade experience with crisp chunks of apple, chewy raisins, spicy ginger, and lovely chunks and strips of fig. Half of the jar is now gone, but I did make sure to reserve enough for Samosa Pot Pie. If it's too hot for SPP, I'm going to wrap the potatoes and peas in tortillas instead of baking it in the oven. Either way, recipe tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I think it is fair to say that most people don't "put up" summer produce anymore. My great-grandmother used to walk for miles in a rural part of southern Italy to forage for wild foods like truffles and other mushrooms, sometimes walking over 15 miles, roundtrip. She had a dry, cool space in her house where she kept these culinary treasures, and would preserve them carefully so that all winter long she would be able to make delicious foods that no one else in the neighborhood had during that season.

Now, it is a great production to venture to a pick-your-own or to get to the farmer's market (to think, there's lately been a "status" about going to the farmer's market which I will blame solely on Martha Stewart and those photographers of hers.) That said, my yard this year and next will be in complete upheaval as we prepare to remove the old garage base and put in a fence. This year, most of the gardening will be done in containers, and at my mother's house (who very generously asked if we would like one of her three garden plots which we jumped at the chance to get.) We will drive 30 minutes to plant, sow, weed, and eventually reap the harvest.

Last summer, I had the good fortune to come upon a glut of gorgeous, perfect peaches; some of which I made into Vanilla Peach Preserves, and the small remainder, into frozen peach pie filling. I like to thicken my pies with tapioca starch, as it allows the clear, bright flavor of the peaches to really come through. I pour it into cling-film-lined pans until frozen solid, then take them out and vacuum seal the frozen brick. Every now and again, I pull one out and cover it with either a crumble topping, biscuit topping, or a roughly-made pie crust, usually torn into pieces for peach pandowdy.

Tonight was a pandowdy night. I like to drizzle it with a tiny bit of cream when it is still warm from the oven. The taste alone screams summer. Loudly. In your ear via your tastebuds.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I have a slight obsession with making sure there is dessert after dinner at least once a week. Growing up, dessert after dinner was pretty much a birthday thing. If it wasn't someone's birthday, there was no dessert. That is just not how Italian households *do* dinner. I envied my friends for having American moms who would, after having the table cleared, pull out a pie, cake, or cookies. They had moms that baked. On the other hand, my friends' moms didn't know the first thing about homemade soprassata with a good loaf of crackling bread and some fresh figs, so there was the tradeoff.

Because nearly every meal in this house is made by me, dessert is usually something that can quickly be thrown together. Sometimes it is a bowl of freshly sliced peaches with a dollop of whipped cream and a crumbled gingersnap on top. Sometimes it is something gloriously rich, like chocolate mocha syrup cake, which makes its own sauce by some small chemical miracle. I have seen recipes that call something like this "pudding" cake, but the resulting product isn't pudding by any means (meaning custard. It is pudding in all sense of the British meaning, though.) The basic premise of the recipe is that you make a thick batter, pour a hot liquid on the top, bake it, and it magically becomes something altogether sinful. I will warn you that a tiny bit goes a very long way. You will also need something to cut the richness of this dessert, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream or very, very lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Chocolate Mocha Syrup Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (I like the acidic bite of the regular reddish cocoa)
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter (half of a stick)
1 oz square unsweetened chocolate, chopped finely
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups strong coffee (I just use whatever is left over from that morning's pot of coffee.)

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375*F
In a small saucepan, or in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate. Set aside.
In a bowl, sift flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt, cocoa, and baking powder together. Add milk, vanilla, and butter/chocolate mixture, stirring until smooth. Set aside.
Combine remaining sugar and coffee in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.

Spray a 10-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and spread the batter into the pan evenly. Slowly pour the coffee mixture over the batter - DO NOT STIR - and carefully place the pan into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Spoon servings making sure to get a bit of the syrup with every serving. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream (below) or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Whipped cream:
Using a mixer, beat the cream with the powdered sugar until firm peaks form.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cold Comfort Farm... Redux

I am much too anxious for the arrival of spring. I want to turn my heat off, open the windows, and banish the stale winter air out of my home. I want to scrub everything and paint other things, wash windows, prep the flower beds, and just *do* things outside.

Alas, it is not to happen, as the forcast for tonight is snow. I saw a robin and a mourning dove today, so spring cannot be to terribly far away. I'm tired of being chilled to the bone.

Marie, a glorious woman in England, created a dish that looks to be quite delicious, with a lovely salmon cream sauce and cheesy biscuits baked on top. Find it Here.

(after dinner) Well, I can certainly tell you that while this was cooking, we couldn't wait to sit down to eat. I used buttermilk in the biscuits rather than regular milk, because I like the tender crumb that the resulting biscuit has. The olives had me a bit skeptical, but I'm so glad I put them in there. I chopped them extremely fine and it provided a lovely salty depth of flavor that didn't scream "OLIVE!". The salmon cream mixture reduced a bit too much, mostly because I had children climbing up my leg while I was cooking. I think the next go-round I'll increase the amount of milk by a cup and use a third cup of flour. This was lovely and delicious, and my husband, who doesn't really care for fish or peppers ate it all. Thanks Marie!

Friday, March 14, 2008


I cannot wait for spring to arrive. Each year in this area, spring is hailed with the arrival of wild leeks, also known as ramps. They grow in the woods, and I make the trek onto state forest grounds to search for the bright kelly green oval leaves peeking through the leaf litter. They're not like the thick, round leeks at the store; they are much more delicately structured than that. These require digging and careful separation of dirt from plant. The roots are usually in a tangle, and if you're not careful, you'll snap the tender bulb, leaving it in the dirt (which is okay, since another leek will just grow there next year.) The bulb is pungent, and the leaves have a delicate onion/chive flavor that are fantastic strewn upon potatoes O'Brien.

In these parts, one can usually find a ham & leek dinner, where the leeks are usually steamed whole and eaten as "greens", sometimes with butter and a splash of malt vinegar. I much prefer to clean them, separate the greens from the whites, and use the greens in cream sauces or as one would use chives. The sharp bulbs, in my opinion, are best when roasted, which allows their sweetness to shine through the strong flavor. The caramelization also gives them great depth of flavor, and are wonderful pureed and added to a simple carbonara sauce, or anywhere you'd use roasted garlic.

I suppose leeks wouldn't be as prized as they are if they were easy to gather. The next few weeks, we'll drive into the woods and look for signs of leek growth. We'll wait until the signs start going up at local churches, advertising leek dinners, and we'll hike onto our "secret" hillside, enjoy the sounds of the creek as the water meanders through the rocks, and we'll forage for our green gold.

That's our sign that winter is officially over.

Hot & Wild Leek Dip

1/2 cup wild leeks (ramps) cleaned and chopped roughly (if you cannot get wild leeks, use scallions/green onions, but use 3/4 cup)

16 oz cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into cubes

3 tsp cayenne pepper sauce, we like Frank's Red Hot

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 Tbsp crumbled bacon, cooked crisp

Preheat oven to 375*F. In a food processor, process the ramps until they are well-chopped. Add the cream cheese, cheddar, and cayenne until well-blended. Transfer mixture to an 8" baking pan sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkle with bacon pieces. Bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbling and heated through. Serve with crackers.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The dregs of February

I'm not a big fan of being cold. While I do enjoy a Fall day when the air is crisp and I need to wear something under a sweater, the bone-chilling, bitter cold of a western Pennsylvania February has me craving something hot and steamy.

A blog-favorite of mine posted her recipe for Sweet Potato and Molasses Beef Stew on her website, but, of course, I changed it to suit my fancy. The recipe directions she includes are excellent. I leave out the celery, the carrots, and the white potato and double (or triple) the amount of sweet potatoes. I also doubled the amount of molasses, because although I did not want a pronounced molasses flavor, I did want to be able to taste a hint of it. The last thing I did was make a small amount of butter and flour roux, which I cooked to a deep brown (about 10-12 min; 3 Tbsp butter, 1/4 cup flour.) It added another depth of flavor and thickened this up in a most fantastic way. Due to the wee littles, I like stews to be rather thick; less dribbling down shirts is a good thing.

This is hearty and delicious and something that makes the bleak and icy landscape a bit more tolerable. I highly recommend that you make it.

Oh, as an aside, do be sure to try her Salmon Noodle Casserole. It has become a family favorite 'round these parts.