recipe: a variation on vignarola

The last few months have brought many changes, not least among them my return to Brooklyn. Setting up shop in my old apartment means many things: a gas stove (thank god), extra space to entertain and proximity to my beloved Park Slope Food Coop. While I managed to maintain my membership throughout my two year residency in Manhattan, it was less than pleasurable to be so far removed from what has become one of my favorite parts of living in NYC.

The timing could not be more perfect, because spring at the Coop is a spectacular parade of delights. From fava beans to fiddleheads, gourmet chicories to garlic scapes, all of my favorite green ingredients literally burst forth from the shelves. There is also the chance to discover new friends, including the ugly-but-intriguing celtuce.

celtuce.jpg

For those who are unfamiliar, celtuce is most often spotted on asian menus, perhaps in some form of stir fry. Even in New York, I had only crossed it once, but given my affection for celeriac, I couldn't resist grabbing a couple of these knobby-roots-having-a-bad-hair-day. 

Trim off the rough exterior, and the texture is akin to a crisp, tender broccoli stem. The flavor is subtle, a mix of lettuce, celery and a touch of hazelnut. Sauteed or braised, it holds its crispness nicely, gaining a translucence that actually looks rather elegant.

Of course, as is the case with most odd veg, there aren't many celtuce recipes on the internet. But the few article that do exist suggest either raw or stir-fry preparations, and I thought I would attempt something akin to pan-fried. As it so happened, I had also spent the previous evening shelling fava beans, and the limited recipe searches on that end yielded an intriguing option: vignarola.

Traditionally, a braise of artichokes, peas and fava beans with crispy bits of pancetta, vignarola is quintessential Roman spring at its finest. The problem being, of course, that the mise en place for both fresh artichokes and favas is a massive labor of love, and all the moreso when a recipe requires both. Since I'm less patient than the average nonna, I decided celtuce would make a solid understudy for finicky artichokes.

vignarola with celtuce fava and pea.jpg

Flavor wise, it was certainly a gamble, but the structural integrity of the celtuce held up beautifully against the favas and peas. With no pancetta at hand, I started the recipe with a frozen puck of schmaltz (or improvised schmaltz really - just the drippings from a recently roasted chicken). After sauteeing down the celtuce therein, I deglazed the pan with white wine, added in the favas, peas and some white pepper, and braised them, slowly, over low heat for about an hour. The wine I chose was not particularly acidic, so I added a bit of sherry vinegar to round things out. Then I added some umami by grating in a block of mystery cheese somewhere on the manchego-to-parmesan spectrum, because why not. And what do you know...it was really fantastic. It was beautifully green—pale olive, in fact—and captured all the things I love about Italian home cooking. With a little salt, a little fat and some intuition, whatever mishmash is in your pantry can truly turn into a masterpiece.

celtuce, fava and pea vignarola

Note: As with all my cooking, this recipe was largely improvised. I truly believe that's the best way to cook, so my instructions will rely more on sensory guidelines than on definitive measurements.

Ingredients:

  • two heads of celtuce
  • 3 tbsp of schmaltz / chicken drippings
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1.5 cups of whatever white wine you have on hand
  • two cups of shelled fresh favas
  • one cup of frozen peas
  • 2 inches, square, of a salty / umami-forward cheese
  • sherry vinegar, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • white pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Trim the rough outer skin of the celtuce stem, much as you would for celeriac or broccoli. The interior is rather tender, so be careful not to remove too much of the flesh. Slice the remaining stem into thin, 1-inch long rectangles.
  2. Heat up the chicken drippings in a pan and add the celtuce slices. Season with salt and sauté for 5-7 minutes on medium heat, until the slices become more translucent. About halfway through, add thinly sliced garlic.
  3. Reduce the heat and add white wine to the pan. Add your shelled favas and peas as well, with a bit more salt and freshly cracked white pepper. Add just enough water to make the mixture the consistency of a rustic stew (rather than a soup). Cover and stir periodically, simmering over low heat for at least 40 minutes.
  4. As the flavors start to come together, taste and adjust the seasoning with sherry vinegar. Once the acidity is to your liking, grate in your cheese and stir. Continue to simmer the dish for another ten minutes, then taste again to assess the adjustment of flavors. 
  5. At this point, if you're satisfied with the dish, toast some crusty bread. Ladle the vignarola into bowls and enjoy, possibly with a glass of the remaining white wine leftover from your cooking.

 

recipe: surprisingly vegan cauliflower soup

Among the many health-based food experiments I've embarked on, going vegan never really appealed to me. Quite simply, I've teetered on the edge of anemia my whole life, no matter how much meat I eat, so a strictly vegan diet always seemed like a recipe for disaster. That said, I have a great respect for vegetable-focused, clean eating, so I enjoy experimenting with vegan recipes from time to time.

In any case, this recipe didn't begin with any dietary ambitions. As with most things in my kitchen, it came from a desire to use the ingredients in my pantry in the most intelligent, no-waste way possible. So when I realized I had both a fresh head of cauliflower and 2 cups of frozen leeks (whenever I find leeks that are particularly long, white and lean I buy, chop and freeze them for future use), I suspected I might find a recipe to use both.

Cue Love & Lemons, whose roasted cauliflower and leek soup was already happily hanging out on my "soups + stews" Pinterest board. Chop, season, roast and blend—it was clearly my kind of no-fuss, one-pan/one-pot cooking. Based on the ingredients in my own pantry, I swapped in walnuts for the cashews and homemade preserved lemon for the fresh lemon. And, of course, I did my own thing as far as measurements because that's the joy of savory cooking. 

And when it was all over...I was less than impressed. The robust flavor I had been expecting just didn't seem to have shown up at the party. But, of course, I was going to eat the soup for lunch all week, because that's what responsible cooks do. Then...the next day when I heated the soup up for lunch, something magical happened. There was bold cheesy flavor in my soup. Overnight, in the fridge, the complexity of this concoction had mysteriously turned up the funk about ten notches. At that moment, I finally understood how some people could get addicted to nut-based, vegan cheese—though I suspect the paprika is also a key player in the funkification of the recipe below. (Please note: This changes nothing in my dairy life. I am a loyal, near-daily consumer of yogurt and unpasteurized cheeses.)

Anyway, here's my take on the recipe:

surprisingly Vegan Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 cups leeks, chopped
  • one head cauliflower, broken into florets (I also included the stalk + leaves)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp grapedseed (or other high heat) oil
  • pinch aleppo pepper
  • 2 pinches dried thyme
  • pinch salt
  • roughly 4 cups water
  • 1-1.5 cups walnuts, pre-soaked (I soaked them for about 1.5 hours)
  • 1 quarter of a preserved lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika

Instructions

  1. Toss chopped leeks, garlic and cauliflower in a small amount of grape seed or other high-heat appropriate oil. Sprinkle with thyme, aleppo pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Roast at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes (until golden). **If you haven't soaked your walnuts yet, do it now in hot water.
  2. Remove roasted vegetables from oven and add to a large pot with about 3 cups of water, soaked walnuts, preserved lemon, smoked paprika and olive oil. Use an immersion blender to break down until creamy. Add more water, as necessary, to achieve a thinner, soup-like consistency. 
  3. Once soup is pureed, gently heat through and puree again to achieve an even smoother consistency. 
  4. Refrigerate overnight and reheat when ready to serve.

Note: You will need either a very powerful immersion blender or a Vitamix for this soup to be successful

recipe: spiralized zucchini pasta

If you know me as a cook, then you know that I don't often cook pasta. Leafy greens, always. Spice-centric meat or fish dishes, occasionally. Rice or alternative grains, all the time. But pasta? It's a rare, maybe monthly indulgence. So let me start by saying that I find it very amusing that I'm posting two back-to-back pasta recipes on the blog.

That said, this second recipe isn't actually pasta as you know and love it. I'm jumping on the already well documented spiralizer trend with a recipe that you can eat like pasta, but, you know, sans the grains.

Being that I'm a pretty healthy cook, you're probably thinking, "Oh, she avoids gluten." Well, that was more or less true once upon a time, but these days the only thing I avoid is processed, industrial foods. Find me a crusty loaf fermented with old-school starter and I will always dig in.

Then why the spiralizing? It's simple: I despise using more pots and pans than absolutely necessary. Regular pasta involves boiling water, cooking the pasta, simultaneously making a sauce, etc. Doing it well isn't actually as instantaneous as mainstream food culture makes it out to be.

Which is why spiralized zucchini pasta is genius, because you can literally just throw it right in the pan on top of some oil, slivered garlic and spices. No boiling water, no need for two burners. Not to mention that the "noodle" texture didn't turn to mush the way I expected.

I'll stop rambling now and share the recipe—but seriously, just imagine what else you can do with a spiralizer. And if you proud omnivores need to assure yourself that you're not following the trends set by "those crazy paleo people," well, you can just sop up the remaining juices with some good ol' crusty bread.

Spiralized Zucchini Pasta

Ingredients (serves two as an appetizer, one as a entree)

  • 1-2 tbsp grapeseed oil or butter (I used a mix of both)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • tsp rosemary
  • tsp herbes de provence
  • 1/2 tsp red flake pepper
  • 2 large zucchini (or other oblong summer squash), spiralized 
  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan (or grana padano, nutritional yeast, etc.)
  • salt, to taste

Instructions

Heat large sauté pan (I prefer cast iron or other non-stick for this recipe) and add your oil or butter. Slice garlic thinly and add to pan along with spices. As garlic just starts to brown, add spiralized zucchini noodles. Add a pinch of salt and occasionally toss noodles in pan, using a pair of cooking tongs. Once they're heated through, add your yogurt and parmesan and toss to create a sauce. Once noodles and sauce are heated through, remove from heat and serve immediately. (The sauce is delicious, so I advise toasting yourself some sopping up bread.)