Easy Peasy

that's my girl!

It’s CSA season again, and while I love getting my produce straight from the farmer, this year I have come to appreciate the best feature of getting my week’s veggies in one box: I don’t have to schlep baby to go grocery shopping. No car seat, no stroller, no grocery bags hanging from the stroller handle by a Mommy Hook, no figuring out how to fit baby and produce into our tiny car. Easy peasy.

Convenience and time saving also led me to bite the bullet and buy a new food processor this week. I use my food processors a lot in tandem with the CSA. I used my mini one to whirl up the caper and anchovy dressing for my radish and white bean salad. I used my 12-year-old Black & Decker to whip up a romesco sauce to go with grilled spring onions, a Catalonian classic I got from Garum Factory.

make this. right now.

Unfortunately, the Black & Decker is still missing the spindle for the slicing and grating blades. I’ve made do for a while, but this week, when I found myself standing at my counter, grating the potatoes and zucchini for these latke waffles my friend Cara invented, I’d had enough. And so, using an Amazon gift card JewishBoston gave me a gift card for a job well done, I bought an 11-cup Cuisinart food processor. It even has a dough setting! It’s shiny and pretty and now lives on my counter.

And so, armed with my new toy, I took on this Ottolenghi recipe, which is the best thing I’ve ever done with fresh peas. (I’m sure it will be excellent with frozen peas in the winter, as well.) He explains this recipe was inspired by the Palestinian classic shishbarak – ravioli-like dumplings stuff with meat, topped with a hot yogurt sauce.

Unfortunately, fancy as it is, my new device doesn’t have a “shell peas” setting, so took a looong time to shell two pounds of fresh peas. At least I was able to do that at the table with Lilli. It will be awhile before Lilli can shell anything; for now she’s working on petting the cat.

Lilli and Rooster

Minus the pea shelling, this recipe came together in less than 20 minutes, including waiting for the pasta water to boil. Mark this another one for working parents, and people who are short on time in general.

Even though his recipes are generally perfection, I did change a few things. I substituted pistachios for the pine nuts, only because I couldn’t find any pine nuts in the house. It worked out great. To save time, I cooked the peas in the same water I used for the pasta. Ottolenghi calls for conchiglie, which are shells, but I had fusilli in the house, so that was that. And, just to be clear, use Aleppo pepper when he calls for a Syrian pepper. The two pounds of peas became 14 ounces post-shelling, which I decided that was close enough to the one pound this recipe calls for.

Fusilli (or shells, or bow ties) with yogurt, peas and chile from Yottam Ottohlenghi’s Jerusalem

Ingredients

2 ½ cups/ 500 grams Greek yogurt

2/3 cup/ 150 ml olive oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 lb/500 g fresh or thawed frozen peas

Scant ½ cup/ 60 g shelled pistachios (or pine nuts in the original recipe)

1 lb/500 g pasta shells, bowties or fusilli

2 tsp. Aleppo pepper

1 2/3 cups/40 g basil leaves, coarsely torn

8 oz/240 g feta cheese, broken into chunks

Salt and white pepper

Directions

Put a large pot of water, salted heavily, on to boil.

Put the yogurt, 6 tablespoons/90 ml of the olive oil, the garlic, and 2/3 cup/100 g of the peas in a food processor. Blitz to a uniform pale green sauce and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Cook the pasta until al dente. As the pasta cooks, heat the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the nuts and Aleppo pepper and fry for 4 minutes, until the oil is deep red. (If you are using pine nuts, the nuts will be golden.) When your pasta has 5 minutes left of cooking, add the rest of the peas to the water.

Drain the cooked pasta and peas into a colander, shake well to get rid of the water, and add the pasta and cooked peas gradually to the yogurt sauce; add it all at once may cause the yogurt to split. Add the basil, feta, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon white pepper. Toss gently, transfer to individual bowls, and spoon the nuts and their oil.

Serves 6.

The Fourth Quarter

My father, who is originally from London and who now lives in Jerusalem, was once given advice on how to act more American: start drinking coffee instead of tea and watch the Celtics. Granted, this was 30 years ago, when I was little and the Big Three were Bird, McHale and Parish. Even though the coffee suggestion was a bit ludicrous, watching the Celtics seemed like sound advice, and I’ve been a Celtics fan my whole life.

Sure, I’m sad the season is over, but if you told me in January that it would have lasted until the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, well, I wouldn’t have believed it. I don’t think anyone believed in the Celtics more than Doc Rivers, and I’m so happy he knew we were all wrong.

We hosted nearly every game in this post-season, and I always had something out for our guests to enjoy. Man cannot live on nachos alone, and truthfully, I’m much more likely to slap together a Mediterranean mezzes platter than to order a pizza. And so this eggplant dip found its way onto a platter last week.

I wonder what Ottolenghi, an Israeli now living in London, would have to say about his eggplant dip being eaten with gusto in front of such a uniquely American sporting event, but I won’t wonder too long. There’s dip to eat, people!

This might have been the easiest thing I’ve ever done to an eggplant. The day before, I placed it, whole, on a foil-coated pan, coated it with oil and roasted it for 3 hours, or until it turned mushy and caved in on itself. Once the foil had cooled off enough to handle, I folded it around the eggplant, dropped it in a bowl, and put that in the fridge overnight. The next day, I scraped the meat from the blackened, blistered skin, and made this dip in less than seven minutes.

Sure, our basketball season is over for now, but with about 17 hours of Euro 2012 on the DVR and the Olympics coming next month, I have no doubt this dip will be made again and again.

Burnt Eggplant with Tahini from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Ingredients

1 large eggplant

1/3 cup tahini paste

¼ cup water

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

A little olive oil to finish

Directions

First, burn the eggplant. (I was very lazy with mine and simply roasted the eggplant in a 400 degree oven for about 3 hours, keeping a close eye on it after the second hour.) Ottolenghi suggests (and I fully support) lining the area around the stove burners with foil to protect them, and starting the eggplants on the stovetop by putting the eggplant directly on two moderate flames and roasting for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them the whole time so they don’t catch fire. For an electric stove, pierce the eggplant with a sharp knife in a few places. Put them foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 hour, turning them a few times. The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.

When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding blackened skin. Leave to drain for at least 30 minutes.

Chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the tahini, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper; mix well with a whisk. Taste and adjust the season, adding more garlic, lemon juice or molasses if needed. You want the salad to have a robust sour/slightly sweet flavor.

I served the eggplant with lots of cut up crunchy vegetables and triangles of whole wheat pita. Ottolenghi suggests sprinkling fresh pomegranate seeds on it and tossing it with sliced mini cucumbers and cherry tomatoes and making it more of a salad. It’s up to you, really.

Piece of Cake

I turned 34 last week. Once upon a time, that meant that I’d be ripe for a mid-life in just a year or two, but the way things are going these days, barring any terrible illness, it’s only a third of my life at this point. Heaven knows what sort of crazy discoveries they’ll make in science 50 years from now. There are flecks of grey in my hair, and the one true marker of age that my face reveals are the laugh lines that form around my mouth when I smile. Although it’s a little scary, I tell myself that laugh lines are much more becoming than wrinkles and worry lines.

We didn’t have a big party this year. A friend of mine from college baked me the same carrot cake he baked me when I turned 19; I guess we’re on a 15-year schedule, so mark your calendar for 2027. There are not one, not two, but three birthday cards depicting cats doing cute things on my mantel. One friend brought me a small piece of fancy goat cheese aged in a grape leaf. Another friend brought me gray and smoked salt caramels. And another friend brought me a large bag of farro. My mother-in-law made me a gorgeous quilt in blues and greens. My in-laws also gave me a gift card to Barnes & Noble with a note suggesting that I might want to use it to buy a new cookbook. One of my brothers-in-law gave me a gift card from Williams-Sonoma. The same brother-in-law gave me a gift card for Sur La Table for Christmas. Am I that predictable? The stores actually face each other in the mall so part of me thinks he just flips a coin to decide which shop to pick me up a gift card from. I’m not complaining.

With the last gift card he bought me, I was able to replace the mortar and pestle that Rich had lost (along with his kitchen privileges) last year. Because I now once again have a mortar and pestle, for this past Shabbat dinner, I was able to make this cucumber with smashed garlic and ginger salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian masterpiece Plenty (which I received for Christmas from another brother-in-law; the third gave me a gift card to Crate and Barrel). As I wrote a few months ago, I was a bit aggravated to discover I had ordered the wrong Ottolenghi at the library, but was thrilled with the recipes. Well, now that I have this cookbook, I understand what all the fuss was about.

This cucumber salad takes a little bit of time. The red onions sit in the dressing of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and sugar for about an hour which mellows them and removes any sort of bite. The recipe also calls for Maldon salt flakes. If you can’t find it readily available in your area, Amazon has it, although it’s actually much cheaper at Whole Foods. It doesn’t have to be Maldon; any flakey salt will do.

Finally, this salad comes with a warning: Be very careful when tasting it to make sure everything is seasoned right. I almost ate the entire dish on the counter with my fingers. It’s that kind of salad. You’ll notice that I didn’t manage to stage a shot. Getting too near this salad meant I would eat it. We ate this alongside the cabbage and baked tofu dish. It was perfect.

Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger

Serves 4 – 6 as a condiment or a side salad

Ingredients

Dressing

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tsp sugar

2 tbsp sunflower oil (I use olive with no unfortunate results)

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Salad Ingredients

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced

1 ½ inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

1 tsp Maldon sea salt

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

4 small (or 8 mini) cucumbers (1 ¼ lbs.) peeled

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

3 tbsp chopped cilantro

Directions

To make the dressing. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the sliced red onion, mix well and leave aside to marinate for about an hour.

Place the ginger and salt in a mortar and pound well with a pestle. Add the garlic and continue pounding until it is also well crushed and broken into pieces (stop pounding before it disintegrates into a paste). Use a spatula to scrape the contents of the mortar into the bowl with the onion and dressing. Stir together.

Cut the cucumbers lengthwise in half, then cut each half on an angle into ¼ -inch-thick slices. Add the cucumber to the bowl, followed by the sesame seeds and cilantro. Stir well and leave to sit for 10 minutes.

Before serving, stir the salad again, tip out some of the liquid that has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl, and adjust the seasoning.

Twists of Fate

It feels like I moved to Boston a million years ago, but it was actually the fall of 2004. Gas was $2 a gallon, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since before women had the right to vote, and not many people knew what a levee was.

I had moved to town to write for a small Jewish newspaper. Which one makes no difference, really, but like so many things in life, I credit fate, some sort of divine plan that brought me here: My mom’s best friend sat next to a distant cousin at a family bar mitzvah. The long-last relative, Richard, was the editor of said Jewish newspaper, and he was on the search for a new writer. Less than two months later, Richard had hired me. I signed a lease, bought a T-pass and was on my way.

We were a small staff, but managed to create a 40-page paper every week. I averaged nine stories an issue. Richard quickly recognized our strengths and weaknesses, and knowing passion always creates a better product, I was lucky enough to interview such famous Jews as Joan Nathan, Susie Fishbein and… Joe Lieberman. (One of these things is not like the others…)

My fellow writers had their own passions: Shira focused on religion and politics, and Penny focused on education and parenting. We were a team. Richard was our coach, creating the roster and calling plays. “Frame a story,” he would tell me as he created a box with his arms at 90 degree angles.

A million years later – or, this past weekend – Richard gathered his team for a reunion potluck. We drove down to Rhode Island listening to the end of another lackluster Patriots’ game. The Pats failed to blow out their opponent, our car managed to blow out a tire on Route 95. Undeterred, we finally made it to our destination, albeit an hour late.

Richard had made big pot of winter borscht, with large chunks of root vegetables and cabbage that floated in a ruby broth. There was a salad full of fruits – pomegranate, kiwi, apple and citrus – thick bread and a bean salad. I brought this sweet potato gratin as a side and a cranberry molasses pudding (think Charles Dickens-type pudding) with a hard sauce for dessert.

going...

My gratin was a mere twist of fate – our friends Will and Gabi bequeathed their CSA last week to us, and I dug the recipe from that accidental Ottolenghi cookbook that’s turned into a tidy box full of tricks. Even trickier math was involved than last time, as I had one third less sweet potatoes the recipe, written in grams, called for. I had the heavy cream in the house because it was on sale a few weeks ago and thought that the need for heavy cream would reveal itself soon, what with all the holiday parties we were scheduled to attend.

The recipe calls for a medium-sized pan for the gratin, and I found that my medium-sized lasagna pan was perfect for the tightly-packed orange coins. I used both sage and thyme because I had both on hand; I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you only have one of the herbs. I would strongly advocate using a mandolin for this project.

going...

The pudding was even more unexpected: I was trying to come up with something for the remaining two cups of cranberries that hadn’t been strung on our tree, and I’d dug up a jar of molasses in the pantry during my clean-up a few weeks prior. I’d never steamed a cake before, and I did have to ask myself several times if I was doing it correctly. It turns out I did, although my bundt pan was a little tilted and the cake looked like it had a club foot. Don’t skip the cholesterol-laden hard sauce. It really makes the dish. I had hoped to use some more of the on-sale heavy cream for the sauce, but I opened Richard’s fridge and he magically had the half-and-half the recipe called for. Richard took out his family china for our fancy dessert. Couldn’t have planned that one better if I’d tried.

gone.

Danielle Postma’s Sweet Potato Gratin from Ottolenghi The Cookbook

This dish is simple but effective, due to the way the potatoes are arranged in the baking dish. You can prepare everything a day in advance and have it ready in the fridge to just pop in the oven. The sage can be replaced with thyme, or you could use both. Make sure you choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (as opposed to the paler variety).

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

6 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5kg in total, about 3 lbs.)

5 Tablespoons roughly chopped sage, plus extra to garnish

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp. coarse sea salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

250 ml whipping cream (About 8 oz. or 1 cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6 (400 F). Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into discs 5mm thick. A mandolin is best for this job but you could use a sharp knife.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium-sized ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to each other. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should have thickened by now. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.
  3. Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish, after scraping the outside clean, will make a strong impact.

Cranberry-Molasses Pudding with Vanilla Hard Sauce from “CottageGourmet” on Food52

Ingredients

1egg, lightly beaten

1 Tablespoon sugar (a heaping Tablespoon)

1/2 cup molasses

1/3 cup hot water

1 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over, washed and drained

1 cup half and half

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Gently fold together all of the ingredients through the cranberries in the order listed. Pour into a greased mold (I used a Bundt pan), and tightly wrap with several layers of foil so no water sneaks into the pudding.
  2. Put a steamer basket in a large pot and fill the pot with an inch or so of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the water is barely simmering. Rest the pudding on top of the steamer basket and cover the pot snugly with a lid. Steam without uncovering the pot for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the pudding is cooked through but not totally dry. (A cake tester should come out sticky, but not wet.)
  3. To make the sauce: combine the half-and-half, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and butter are melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve the sauce warm over the warm pudding.

The Silver Lining

This past June, on the way to my cousin’s baby shower, I got lost. Really, really lost. Like, call my parents on a Sunday morning slightly hysterical lost. Like, call Rich the morning after a bachelor party while he’s eating at IHOP lost. The worst part was I had a GPS, but the road I would have normally taken was being worked on, and every time I turned on the GPS to lead me north, it directed me back to the closed-off highway. By some miracle, I made it to the shower on-time, although I now know that GPS and cellphone reception between Lowell, MA, and southern New Hampshire is a bit spotty in places.

The silver lining to the story is that while I was in the car, NPR’s Weekend Edition introduced me to Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born chef now working in London, whose new vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, has become a smash hit this year. Vegetarian and Israeli — basically, a cookbook written for me. My friend Sara tells me that when she lived in London in 2005 she went to his restaurant all the time, but was always surprised that he had so little name recognition in the States.

As soon as I made it back from the shower, I put my name on the waiting list at the library. There were about two dozen people ahead of me, and as his recipes started popping up on blogs I read, I needed to remind myself that patience is a virtue. Last week, I received the notice that the book was waiting for me at my local branch around the corner. I was so excited. It was my turn, finally. Mine, mine, mine.

Except, not unlike the GPS debacle, the book the librarian handed me wasn’t Plenty, but his first cookbook, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, written in 2008. Well, I told myself, a top chef still has top recipes, even if they aren’t the ones I was counting on. So I decided to make lemonade out of lemons — or, in Ottolenghi’s case, preserved lemons — and dove in.

It’s always interesting reading a cookbook from another country because it’s a reminder that there’s a whole lot of world outside of my home. I knew that courgettes were zucchini and aubergines were eggplants, but I had no idea that snow peas were called mangetout, or that I actually had a swede — aka a yellow turnip, aka a rutabaga — in my crisper. I also had celeriac, (celery root) in the house as well, a cast-off from my officemate’s CSA.

The recipe I have for you today, a celery root and rutabaga slaw, is just perfect for these late autumn/almost winter months, and makes me wish these veggies were year-round produce. I’d never considered eating rutabaga raw, as I usually roast or braise them. And boy, have I been missing out! Seriously, the dish is extraordinary. Rich said it was one of the better things I’ve made lately. Not that I’ve been serving him swill; it’s just a really amazing salad.

Here’s what Ottolenghi has to say about this dish:

It is a bit like a rémoulade in its tang, but also has multilayered sweet (dried cherries) and savoury (capers) flavours to create a magnificently intense accompaniment to fish or lamb. It will also make a great addition to a vegetarian mezze.

Variations on this dish are endless. Try using kohlrabi, beetroot, turnip, carrot or cabbage, or a combination of them for this salad. Most soft herbs would suit, and don’t forget the acidity from citrus juice or vinegar to lighten it up.

I always have capers in the house, and I keep dried cherries from Ocean State Job Lot on hand in the pantry at all times, making this a great pantry recipe. I’ve made this dish twice in a five day period, and that’s without my large food processor. If you do have a food processor, this whips up in a jiff; if you don’t, I promise you it’s worth the extra effort. I didn’t have any sunflower oil on hand, so I used olive oil exclusively for the salad. I also used regular sugar in lieu of caster sugar. The slaw was still wonderful.

Don’t be scared of the ugly celery root. Give it a rinse to get some of the dirt off, and stand it up on the cutting board and cut the skin off by slicing down the sides of the bulb with a large sharp knife. You can cut the waxy skin off the rutabaga in the same manner.

The recipe is in grams, so my digital scale got quite the workout this week. I’ve converted it into ounces and cups for a more Continental-friendly audience, but the grams are the original measure and most accurate.

Sweet and sour celeriac and swede (aka Sweet and sour celery root and rutabaga) from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Serves 4-6

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) celeriac, peeled and thinly shredded

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) swede, peeled and thinly shredded

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped dill

50g (2 oz., 1/3 cup) capers, drained and roughly chopped

4 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

4 Tablespoons olive oil

4 Tablespoons sunflower oil

3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons caster sugar

100g (3.5 oz., 1/2 cup) dried sour cherries

Salt and black pepper

  1. Place the shredded celeriac and swede in a mixing bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients and use your hands to mix everything together thoroughly. ‘Massaging’ the vegetables a little will help them absorb the flavors. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking You might also want to add some extra sugar and vinegar.
  2. Allow the salad to sit for an hour so the flavors can evolve. It will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge. Add more herbs just before serving, for a fresher look.