As it appeared in CB Gazette 8-2-12
Today I am reminded why I love the business I am in so much. I have chosen to be a cook for my life’s work and that never sounds as good to me as it does in the summer. Suddenly I think of my craft as “the art of cooking” and my medium dramatically rich with colorful, full flavored abundant varieties of plant based foods. Markets are now so full of the best examples of the plant world that it is almost frustrating that I must limit my urge to make everything in sight. The good news is there will be another market next week.
So this time I am writing about some of the tastiest recipes I make with vegetables, grains, nuts, and fruits. Lenore and I have dedicated the last eight years to teaching the craft of cooking, and we have developed guidelines for the recipes we make in our dinner shows. First our recipes must be attainable to every cook. We limit our use of exotic and hard to find ingredients. We pretty much stick to the belief that simply prepared ingredients that are chosen close to home and seasonally are going to propel the end result without trying very hard. And when we combine ingredients our mantra guide is “what grows together goes together.” That alone gives us so many successful combinations.
The summer seems to start at our place with cherry tomato season. They are the first tomatoes to hit the scene and we incorporate them into our menus early. After all, we have waited a long time for fresh tomatoes as we stick to our promise to eat them in our local season. One recipe we have served this month gives us lots to talk about in our classes. It is what we call SUMMER RATATOUILLE.
To the French I suppose it is just ratatouille, a vegetable stew, but adding the word summer changes it for me. We don’t stew it at all. When we roast the vegetables and we use only fresh tomatoes, it is a new experience. In addition I like to use Japanese eggplant instead of the Italian globe eggplant because its prep is so much easier and the results, creamy and sweet. There’s no need to peel salt or drain out the bitterness. Just wash, cut, and cook Japanese eggplant. Keeping it simple, we also add roasted zucchini and red peppers. Then when the tomato skins have just blistered and started to brown, we blend the roasted veggies all together, juice and all. Before we even get the mixture on the plate, the natural pectin seems to go to work and thicken the juice into a sauce that lightly coats a spoon. This recipe makes a great topping for pasta, gnocchi and polenta. We have also used it to top zucchini “spaghetti” made by stripping zucchini into long spaghetti like pieces and just giving them a quick dunk into very salty water before draining and plating for the base of this ratatouille sauce.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The recipe isn’t finished. Let’s talk about the garlic. It’s no secret I use a lot of garlic. I am Italian, after all. But I think in the beginning of my relationship with my wife I almost blew it by over using the garlic. You see my family used garlic by the head not the clove. When I would make a salad for Lenore and me in those days, I would use 3-5 cloves (very modest, I thought) in the dressing for the two of us. She was polite at first, but soon she volunteered to make the salads, and now she tells me she did so in self-defense. A half clove was her limit in those days, she said. Today she might be up to two cloves in a salad for two people, she explained. Anyway I digress. We both think of garlic as a good addition to our recipes. Not only is it healthful; like Lenore says it has every “anti” reason in the nutrition book to include it in our meals; (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, etc.).
Garlic at EVOO is both a vegetable and a seasoning. For example we add a whole head of sliced garlic per bunch of broccoli for a great combo, (see full recipe below) and by the time it is on the plate it is very mellow and no sting is left in the cloves. In contrast, when we want the sharp taste and heat of the garlic, we use it minced or pasted and typically add it at the end of the cooking. You might say then, the smaller the chop the more pungent garlic is. And, of course, the longer the cook, the less strong it is.
One more tip, maybe an idiosyncrasy of mine, is to remove the sprout of the garlic clove. If when split open we can see the sprout, green or white, we remove it. It is because the sprout may be the bitterness that some people find offensive; and it may be the source of the sensitivity to garlic that people say they have. You know, when it repeats on you long after the meal? We don’t know for a fact that is true but we practice the removal of sprouts in garlic and it seems to work for us.
This of course means that oven roasting whole heads of garlic is “out” in our kitchen. Our version of roasted garlic is done on the stove top. Just peel and split the cloves of about 3 heads garlic, remove the sprouts, place in a small pot; cover with EVOO, then slowly tenderized and slightly caramelize over low heat about 20-30 minutes, yielding the same tenderness and sweet flavor of the traditional roasted whole heads of garlic. We add roasted garlic and its oil made this way to the summer ratatouille and we finish with a little fresh minced garlic, too.
So to sum up I really enjoy cooking with plant ingredients! I enjoy eating plant based, too, but I don’t want to sound like I don’t like animal foods. I do. How dull would cooking be without eggs, for example? It is just that meat in general can be one dimensional; vegetables fruits and grains make a big difference when they hold a strong position on the plate alongside animal foods. Here are a few vegetable recipes that have been popular for us.
Preparing the vegetables:
EVOO as needed
2 large Japanese eggplant, (no need to peel or salt) 1 inch diced
1 red or green pepper, 1 inch dice
1 zucchini, 1 inch diced
5-8 cloves garlic, sliced, roasted with the tomatoes
4 cups cherry tomatoes, left whole
½ to 1 clove garlic, minced or pasted
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
4 – 5 sprigs fresh Greek oregano, stems removed
1/2 cup basil, fresh, chiffonade
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Add sea salt, pepper and coriander to taste
more EVOO to taste if needed
Prepare vegetables by coating with EVOO and seasoning with salt, pepper, coriander and place onto separate shallow baking pans. Place into 400 °F oven using convection if you have it. Roast uncovered for 10-15 minutes, depending on vegetable. Remove from oven. Place vegetables together in a bowl and lightly toss to mix. Add minced garlic, parsley, and oregano. Adjust seasoning. Add basil chiffonade on top for garnish. Serve hot over fried polenta, gnocchi, or top pizza or pasta.
Broccoli Garlic Sauté
1 bunch broccoli
1 head garlic
EVOO, as needed
1/4-1/2 cup roasted chicken stock (or water)
1/3 cup dry aged parmesan reggiano, fine
Season to taste with salt and coriander
Prepare broccoli by removing florets from stems. Boil a pot of water and drop in the whole unpeeled stems for about 3-4 minutes to blanch. Remove and shock in a bowl of ice water until easy to handle. Carefully peel off their tough outer layer; this should be easier than peeling the raw stem. Slice into smaller pieces on a bias. Set aside.
Continue blanching the broccoli florets 1-2 minutes and shock /cool in bowl of ice water. Remove and set aside.
Prepare whole head of garlic. Split each clove, peel and remove sprout; slice each into 2-3 pieces. At service, place wide bottom pan on high heat. Add EVOO and immediately add garlic; keep moving it to prevent browning. Add broccoli stems and roasted chicken stock; cook till garlic is tender and stems are heated through. Lastly add florets and cook to just to heat. Pour onto heated platter and coat with good aged parmesan reggiano cheese. Serve immediately.
Bulgur, Beet & Bleu Salad with walnuts and preserved lemon
To prepare the bulgur:
1 cup toasted cracked wheat (we use Bob’s Red Mill)
2 cups water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Bob’s Flavors of Middle East spice blend (purchase or see recipe)
Salt to taste
To finish the salad:
1 cup fresh raw beets, julienne slice
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chives, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
1-2 tablespoon preserved lemon, rinsed and minced (optional)
2-4 tablespoons EVOO, as desired
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 ounces crumbled bleu cheese for garnish
Toast bulgur /cracked wheat in dry hot pan until you smell its nuttiness. Add the water, a little salt and spice and bring up to boil over high heat. When it boils, cover and shut off heat. Let pot stand for15-25 minutes. Before making this salad cool bulgur completely by spreading out onto cookie sheet and placing into refrigerator, uncovered, until it drops to 40°F or less. To finish, toss bulgur with beets, preserved lemon, mint, parsley and chive. Garnish with crumbled bleu cheese.