Purple Balloons and Pickled Onions

And then in a blink of an eye, my baby turned two! For Beatrix Louise’s second birthday party we filled the playroom with two dozen purple balloons to match the purple balloons on the invitation, and set up tables topped with play dough and oodles of stickers. I served the kids pizza and a massive pot of boxed macaroni and cheese.

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My father came in from Jerusalem to see his grandchildren. So, in addition to Bea’s friends and family, we also had over some of our older relatives, including Aunt Sydney, who I’ve mentioned is basically our grande doyenne when it comes to food. Although my cousins assured me I could definitely serve her pizza, I took this as an opportunity to make a spread worthy of a small bat mitzvah. We had:

It was from his weekly column in The Guardian; this one focused on quick pickled onions. I actually didn’t use his pickled onion recipe – I love my own too much to cheat on it – but followed the rest of his recipe, coated with allspice and sugar, roasted, and topped with cilantro lime salsa and goat cheese. I kept the almonds on the side, as per Aleza and Sylvie’s suggestion. Nut allergies are no joke.

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The amount of cilantro salsa is small, and he recommends doing it in a spice grinder. My own grinder – a coffee grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot years ago – is used so much for cumin that it reeks of the spice. To clean it, I used a trick I just read about (but can’t for the life of me remember where): grind up a piece of bread. And it worked!

For dessert we made a Princess Leia cake, per the birthday girl’s request, plus the frozen banana peanut butter pie, and Needhams, a chocolate-coconut treat from Maine that’s a little bit like a Mounds Bar. But that’s another recipe for another day. Definitely before the third birthday!

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Roast sweet potatoes with pickled onions, coriander and goat’s cheese

Ingredients

Pickled Onions
2 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
5-6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 5cm x 3cm chunks
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¾ cup soft mild rindless goat’s cheese, broken into rough 2cm pieces
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with three tablespoons of oil, the allspice, the two teaspoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Transfer to a large oven tray lined with parchment paper, and make sure the sweet potato chunks are spaced apart. Roast for 20 minutes, until crisp and golden-brown, then toss in any oil left on the tray and leave to cool.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, blitz the coriander [cilantro], grated lime zest, the remaining three tablespoons of oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt to a smooth, bright green salsa. Use a spice grinder to do this (don’t use a food processor – the quantities involved are too small); if you don’t have one, very finely chop the coriander and mix the salsa by hand.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, arrange them on a platter and dot evenly with the pieces of cheese. Drain the pickled onions, and scatter on top. Finish with a drizzle of salsa and a sprinkle of almonds.

 

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I’ve Had My Eye On This One

Elijah the Prophet visits us on Passover, but Yotam Ottolenghi was at our table on Rosh Hashana. I already told you about the fish we had on first night from his cookbook Jerusalem. But I cracked open both Plenty and Plenty More for our vegetarian guests the second night.

first day of daycare

I know I should be talking about the fresh corn polenta and eggplant because it’s September and both of those foods are pretty much perfect right now. But my guests and I both agree that it’s the roasted red onions with walnut salsa that needs to be talked about.

I’ve had my eye on this salad for as long as I’ve had this cookbook in my collection. Roasting the red onions until they’re golden on top and near translucent in the rings takes the bite out of them and renders them almost sweet. The arugula provides a nice contrast, and the goat cheese connects the two with its tang. And the walnut salsa. Oh, the walnut salsa.

The third thing is a slice of mushroom tart that I whipped together.

Because I know a lot of you are wondering — it’s a mushroom tart.

Ottolenghi recipes are often pretty labor- and time-intensive, but not this one. Yes, the roasting of the onions will take about 40 minutes, give or take, but everything else comes together very quickly – you put the walnut salsa together while the onions roast to give them some time to get to know each other. I set the half cup of parsley in two rounds of cold water to clean it. As per usual, I only used about half a hot pepper, but how much you use is entirely up to you. Where it says to brush the onions with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, I just tossed everything in a large bowl and then lay them out on a baking pan covered in parchment paper.

hula hoop

I have a five pound bag of red onions, a 10 lb. bag of walnuts from Costco, a second log of goat cheese, two bunches of parsley, leftover arugula and the remaining half of hot red pepper. So, basically, I’m making this again for dinner tonight. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t.

Red Onions with Walnut Salsa from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

4 medium red onions (1 1/3 lb/600 g)

1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup/20 g arugula

½ cup/15 g small flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 oz/60 g soft goat cheese broken into 3/4-inch/2-cm chunks

Salt and black pepper

Salsa

2/3 cup/65 g walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped (use your discretion)

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

Peel the onions and remove the tops and tails. Cut each crosswise into 3 slices, about 3/4-inch/2-cm thick, and place on a baking sheet. Brush the slices with the olive oil, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and some black pepper, and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the onions are cooked and golden brown on top. If they haven’t taken on much color, place under a hot broiler for a few minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

While the onions are cooking, put all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl, add ¼ teaspoon salt, stir and set aside.

To serve, put the arugula and parsley in a large bowl. Add the warm onions, the cheese and half the salsa and toss carefully so the onions don’t fall apart. Divide among shallow plates, spoon the remaining salsa over the top, and serve.

Jitterbug Risotto

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” — Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

I’ll admit it, the first thing that attracted me to Rich was his library. And soon enough, his Nabakov, David Foster Wallace, and Thomas Pynchon were mixed in with my Tom Robbins, Philip Roth and cookbooks. And there our books sat, pretty much untouched by the other, for years. Every so often I would pick up a Foster Wallace tome, but so many words, so many footnotes. And every so often, Rich would stand in front of the bookshelf, and ask for a recommendation. And every time, whether he wanted something funny, clever, or serious, I would suggest the Tom Robbins’ epic Jitterbug Perfume. It took about six years, but a few weeks ago, Rich picked up Jitterbug, and he couldn’t put it down. Last Friday night, I turned to him and said “babe, it’s 1:30AM, it’s time for bed.” He had been captured by the best kind of hostage taker: a great book.

I had been gearing up for a beet-tinged Valentine’s Day post. Well, we don’t exactly celebrate Valentine’s Day. As it happens, we met on February 11, so we celebrate that day instead. It also makes it  easier to get a table for our romantic date. This year we went to a French restaurant which will remain nameless. It was a decent meal, but the chocolate souffle was so bad that they comped both it and Rich’s Chimay. That, plus our coupon, made for a very reasonable meal.

As I was saying, for my Valentine’s Day post, I had been thinking about the beet, with its juice that stains everything the color of love. And when I said to Rich, I’m thinking of doing a beet post this year for Valentine’s Day, he looked up from his book and said, “If you’re talking about beets, make sure to mention Jitterbug Perfume.” And he specifically mentioned this dish, which comes out a very Valentine’s Day color. He couldn’t have been more romantic if he tried.

Beet Risotto

1 large beet, or 2 small ones

Goat cheese

Arborio rice

Onion

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Helpful tool: Food processor

This recipe is incredibly easy because it employs my favorite kitchen tool, the pressure cooker. Simply peel the beet and cut off its roots. Shred it in the food processor. Cook the risotto according to your pressure cooker’s instructions. After you add the rice, but before you add the stock, add the shredded beets, and continue with the recipe. When your risotto has cooked under pressure (mine takes about 7 minutes) replace the called for parmesan cheese with the same amount of goat cheese. It’s just that easy.