May 7, 2014

Springtime Socca

Socca, farinita, torta di ceci, cecina.  I've never been to Nice and I didn't run across this treat in the few days I was in Liguria this past summer, but let me tell you; my recent discovery of these savory chickpea crepes is the perfect base for whipping up a simple spring dinner. A quick search tells me there are a million different variations on socca - paper thin and lacy, pancake-like, chopped soft herbs mixed into the batter, baked or broiled - and there are probably strong opinions from all sides on the proper way to make socca, but I'll take them in any form.  With a slight nutty and bean-y flavor, the savory possibilities for enjoyment are practically endless. [Note: I tried them topped with a bit of nut butter and honey one morning and wasn't totally sold on them in their sweet iteration.]

I've been terrible these past few weeks in shopping the farmer's market with a clear dinner plan for the upcoming days.  Instead I've been scooping all the new spring produce into my arms and cobbling together meal plans on the fly.  Even though it's just San Francisco and the winter "season" isn't all that much to write about, months still pass where all you see are dark leafy greens, piles of citrus and the earth tones of root vegetables, it's hard not to get giddy about spring's new crop of offerings. Pea tendrils! Strawberries! Fava beans! Snap and shelling peas! Radishes! Baby carrots!

Armed with a fridge newly full of vegetables and a bag of Bob's Red Mill chickpea flour, I figured I'd give socca for dinner a go.  The pea shoots were roughly torn, the favas slipped out of their pods, quickly blanched and then popped out of their jackets, avocado was sliced and a handful of pine nuts was toasted.  I made a quick dressing of some very nice balsamic vinegar and walnut oil and the salad was done.  I went with a thicker, more pancake-like version of socca so I could slice it into triangles and put the salad over the top and not need to worry about the sog factor, but stuffing the salad into a thinner crepe would be just as nice.  The only advance planning needed here is to let the socca batter sit for about an hour to let the bean flour absorb the water and make it a nice pourable consistency.  Do this before you shell the favas, toast the pine nuts, and assemble the salad and the timing should work out to where there isn't too much waiting around.

Springtime Socca
There is so much you could do with this recipe - add in a handful of chopped herbs like basil, mint, tarragon or parsley to the socca batter, thinly sliced radishes would be a pretty addition to the salad portion, use shelling peas instead of favas, arugula instead of pea tendrils, and I think some fresh goat cheese dolloped over the top or crumbled feta would really take this to the next level.  Play around.  Try the socca as thicker, sliced pancakes or tuck the salad into a folded over thin crepe

4 servings (either 2 thick socca divided or 4 thinner crepes)

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking

8 oz pea tendrils, roughly torn
1 pound fava beans, shelled, blanched and slipped out of their skins
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup pinenuts, toasted
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon walnut oil
salt & pepper
2 soft boiled eggs (optional)

In a bowl, mix the chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil with a whisk until smooth. Set aside for about an hour. If you are adding a handful of chopped herbs, add that in too before whisking.

Wash, dry and gently tear the pea tendrils into manageable salad pieces and put into a bowl.  Remove the favas from their pod and set a small pot of salted water to boil on the stove. [To make the shelling easier, run a Y-shaped vegetable peeler down one of the seam sides of the pod, they should now open easily as you run your finger down and pop the beans out.] Once the water is boiling, blanch the favas for about 2 minutes, or until they all rise to the surface of the water and you can hear a slight hissing sound.  Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, then pop the beans out of their jackets and into your bowl of pea tendrils.  Toast your pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat until  golden and slice your avocado.

Heat a small skillet (mine is 8" across) over medium high heat and coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.  If making a thicker socca, pour half the batter into the pan and cook until the bottom begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Carefully flip it over and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes until the edges are crispy and both sides are a deep golden in spots.  Remove from pan onto a cutting board and repeat for second half of batter.  Use the same technique for the thinner crepes, using just 1/4 of the batter each time and reduce the cooking time by about a minute per side.  Cut thicker socca into 4 pieces each (2 triangles per plate) or place one of the thinner crepes flat on each plate.

Dress the pea tendrils and fava beans with the balsamic vinegar and walnut oil and season with salt and pepper.  Divide between the 4 plates and top each with some sliced avocado, toasted pine nuts and sliced soft boiled egg if using.  For the thinner crepes, place the salad on one half of socca and fold the other half over after topping the salad.

April 3, 2014

Mung Bean Dal

I am a compulsive cabinet opener and refrigerator rummager.  When I'm at home and think that I might be getting hungry, or even if I'm not hungry but instead just bored, I will open and close all the food storage places in my kitchen and promptly declare that there is "no food in this house". This is an activity I'll partake in countless times each day.  D does the same, though not quite as frequently. And, embarrassed as I may be to admit this, I'll poke around in pretty much anyone's kitchen if we know each other well enough, except I won't announce there is no food to be had.  I'll instead be delighted at all the new options before me.  It's a bad habit and a waste of energy, but that hasn't stopped me yet.

Now picture this: it's Monday and the weather outside is doing it's very best at being discouraging with rain and hail and thunderstorms. I had played the rummaging game at least five times, and five times convinced myself there was no food in the house, yet there was still dinner to be made.  I could run to the store and get dinner provisions, but that would mean braving the weather and possibly losing my parking spot right out front.  Not into it.  Take out?  Just couldn't get excited about that either. I can be so cheap sometimes. And then - I don't know the exact sequence of events that took place - I must have stumbled across an idea online while moping that made me remember the (huge) stash of Indian pantry items in the often overlooked corner of cabinets which then turned into a brainstorming session and voila!  A mung bean dal with homemade roti was slapped onto the evening's menu.

I won't try and vouch for authenticity here (I mean really, I put kale in the damn thing), and it's not much of a looker, but it makes up for all of that in tasty. Yes, I cut corners; used green onions instead of diced yellow onion, ground ginger and cayenne instead of their fresh counterparts.  Like I said, I really didn't want to leave the house.  I also wasn't following any kind of recipe here.  After a quick search confirmed that mung bean dal was indeed a thing, I just kind of improvised from there.  Except the roti, I used a recipe/tutorial for that.

The dal was earthy from the turmeric and sizzled cumin seeds, and I love the way the mung beans start breaking down after cooking just past the point of doneness and thicken it all up.  A few big handfuls of thinly sliced kale into the mix for virtue and you could hardly ask for more on a rainy evening.

Mung Bean Dal

I'm writing the recipe here not quite as I made it, but with fewer shortcuts than I took, though I don't imagine it'll make a huge difference in the final product.  I tried spooning a dollop of yogurt into the last half of my bowl, but I found it muted the flavors more than I'd like.  However, if you've got it around, a good sprinkle of cilantro right at the end would probably be nice.

4 (smallish) servings

1 cup dried mung beans
4 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely minced or pasted ginger root
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
2 cups finely sliced dino kale
juice of half a lemon

Sort through the beans to make sure there aren't any stones, then rinse under cold water and drain. In a medium sized pot, add the rinsed mung beans and cover with 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and cover, cooking for about 30 minutes, or until they begin to soften and just fall apart.  You may have to check the water level a few times and give it all a stir to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pan, but just add in enough water to get things moving again and you should be fine.

Once the mung beans are done cooking, in another medium sauté pan (I just transferred the beans to bowl, washed the pot and reused it), melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add in the cumin seeds and as soon as they start to sizzle add the diced onion and give it a good stir.  Cook until the onion is translucent then add in the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute more.  Add turmeric and cayenne and give the whole thing a few good stirs until everything becomes real fragrant then add the mung beans, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the good bits off.  Add about a 1/2 teaspoon salt and taste to see if it needs more.  At this point, you may want to evaluate the thickness of your dal.  If you want it looser, add a bit more water 1/4 cup at a time, if you want it thicker, simmer it for a few minutes more.  Once you've reached a consistency you like, toss in your kale and squeeze half a lemon's worth of juice into the whole thing and stir to combine.

Serve with roti or naan and maybe a sprinkle of chopped cilantro too.

March 11, 2014

Over and Over

I am a creature of habit through and through; spontaneity is not my strong suit. I like knowing what my day will be like tomorrow before I go to bed, I make lists, plan and make alternate plans just in case. And when I find a recipe I like, it takes over all the other food ideas I had in my head and I start obsessing about making it over and over and over. It wasn't always this way - it seems to be getting worse as I get older.  Sigh.

My kitchen routine has been a steady repertoire of Ottolenghi and Heidi Swanson recipes as of late and I refuse to apologize for that. Except maybe to the other cookbooks that sit neglected on my shelf and the countless recipe ideas I've pinned with the best of intentions. I'll be back for you.

In the mean time, let's all contemplate this dish from Ottolenghi and Tamimi's Jerusalem. This pasta is absolutely the stuff dreams are made of. I can't decide what I'm more enamored with - using greek yogurt as a base for the sauce or the deeply toasted pine nuts in chile oil or just the name of the pasta shape. Conchiglie. Kohn-KEE-lyeh. I know you just said that out loud a few times. Isn't it a fun word to say?

The seashells are the perfect shape for grabbing onto and enveloping the sweet peas, small chunks of feta and a spicy pine nut or two. A last minute and slow folding in of the yogurt sauce ensures that it doesn't break or curdle and the torn basil adds a perfect and herbaceous aromatic element. By the time this pasta is on your plate it's just this side of warm, which is perfect for a spring evening or an al fresco dinner.  Now I forget what it was that I had decided to make for dinner tonight.

Pasta with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile
Adapted slightly from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

4 servings

I've scaled down this recipe by half and made a few tinkering adjustments here and there and still found that it was plenty for 4 people. You could use another pasta shape like orecchiette or rigatoni, but really, the seashells are more fun.

6 ounces Greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium clove of garlic, crushed or pressed
1/2 pound frozen peas
Kosher salt
1/2 pound conchiglie
Scant 1/4 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoons Aleppo chile, or red pepper flakes
3/4 cup basil leaves, coarsely torn
4 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, and 1/3 cup of the peas. Process to a uniform pale green sauce, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it. Add the pasta, and cook until it is al dente. While the pasta cooks, warm the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and chile, and cook for 4 minutes, or until the pine nuts are golden and the oil is deep red.

Put the frozen peas into a colander and pour the hot pasta and water over to drain Shake it well to get rid of excess water that may have settled into the pasta’s crevices. Add the pasta and peas gradually to the yogurt sauce; adding it all at once may cause the yogurt to separate. Add the the basil, feta, and a pinch of kosher salt. Toss gently. Serve immediately, with pine nuts and chile oil spooned over each serving.

February 18, 2014

It's Been a Journey

It's daunting to sit down again and type.  To think of everything that has happened since my last post, all the excuses I have for abandoning this space, all the food that's been cooked, everything that has changed and all that hasn't.  I think about that, and then I try to figure out how best to re-enter this little world.  I'm drawing a blank.  A big fat blank.

But I check the stats every so often and it seems, however incomprehensibly, there are still those of you who still stumble upon these pages of my past.  I get the occasional nudges from friends or family who'd like to see this blog resurrected - how is it that you haven't given up entirely?  I didn't mean to leave you hanging.

So, let's give this one more go, yeah?

I thought about dredging up some older recipes and just playing a bit of catch up, but that idea poses a few problems.  1) I pretty much stopped taking pictures of what I was making except for a few random Instagram snaps.  I'm not trying to recreate past social media feeds in this space.  2) There's a very high chance that the recipes I really want to tell you about would be seasonally inappropriate at this juncture.  Zucchini noodles in the dead of February?   I wish.  You'll just have to wait.  In the meantime I offer you a compromise.  A new-to-me recipe with an iPhone photo!  (Baby steps, okay.)

Radicchio, and chicories in general, are fast becoming one of my favorite winter ingredients.  They bring a refreshing pop of color when we're buried in a sea of earth tones and deep green at the market.  Their bitterness balances out the hearty, fatty dishes we crave as the temperatures drop.  And if you've never grilled radicchio or escarole before you're truly missing out.  Their sharp bite of bitter softens and new flavors of smoke and caramelized sweetness come out to play.

Here, however, there is just raw and vibrant radicchio.  We want it's natural bite, it's bitterness tamed by creamy cannellini beans, rotisserie chicken and the bright snap of a parsley-lemon vinaigrette.  A few stalks of thinly sliced celery and some scallions for good measure and dinner is served.  It's preparation is simple, but the flavors are not.  It's earthy, but lively.  This is the kind of salad you keep diving your fork into, bite after bite, until there's nothing left on the plate.  This will get you out of your winter rut.

White Bean and Radicchio Salad with Parsley Vinaigrette
adapted from Bon Apetit, April 2012

I used rotisserie chicken because I had some that needed using up but the original recipe calls for a high quality tuna packed in olive oil, either would be great, really.  Whatever you do, don't leave one or the other out, it'll mess up the perfect balance this salad has going on.  Also switched up the vinaigrette to make it a little more acidic and less heavy on the olive oil.

serves 4

1 cup (packed) flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt & pepper

1 medium head of radicchio, cored, leaves coarsely torn
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
2 celery stalks, sliced thinly on an extreme diagonal
1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Pulse parsley, oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and garlic in a blender until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place radicchio and celery in a large bowl; drizzle with a few tablespoons parsley vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season radicchio to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving platter, spreading out in an even layer. Arrange cannellini beans and shredded chicken and sliced scallions on top of the radicchio. Drizzle with a little more vinaigrette if desired.

August 23, 2012

Devine Eats

I cannot believe that in over two years of posting on this blog I have never posted about this chicken club salad. I'm embarrassed.  Even more so because it's now showing  up in this hastily photographed state.  I had to snap this with my phone before I even finished mixing it all together because I knew the second that it was ready, it would disappear in the blink of an eye.  My apologies for a messy bowl and unevenly distributed dressing.

Chicken club salad is the food of gods. This is not an exaggeration. Right up there with the perfection of a summertime BLT or this lovely dish of Vietnamese noodles, stir fried beef and veggies, this salad has been a favorite from first bite. I've made it for friends and roommates who have in turn made it for their friends or special someones and every last one of those people has proclaimed this "salad" as devine perfection. I can give you references if you don't believe me, or you can just go and make it yourself. Like, right now.

You might think, after taking a quick glance at the ingredient list, that this is merely a salad or panzanella form of a BLT, but in fact it's a whole different beast.  Sure, it has brightly acidic tomatoes, and bacon, and mayonaise and toasted bread but then that mayonaise gets transformed when it's blended with basil and yogurt and lemon juice.  And there are cubes of gently poached chicken and thin rings or green onion dotted throughout.  This is nothing like that classic sandwich.  I'll repeat: this is the food of the gods.

A recent search for the original recipe lead me to a Food Network page saying the contents I was searching for could no longer be found.  Which would really be a shame, except I have here my version, one I've tweaked over the years and I think is even better.  There are more croutons for more crunch!  I use half mayonaise (Best Foods only, please!) and half plain yogurt for the basil dressing and then slather the whole thing over the salad instead of a measly 1/2 cup.  And the bread, use whatever your heart desires as long as it has some structure to it.  One time I used an Italian loaf with lemon zest in it and it was heavenly.

You're welcome.  I single handedly just saved the internet.

Chicken Club Salad
adapted from Sara Moulton

There are several elements to assemble here: poach the chicken, make the croutons, blend up the dressing, fry the bacon and cut up the veggies, but all of this can be done in advance if need be. Store the croutons in an air tight container, the veggies, dressing and chicken separately in the fridge but the bacon is probably best freshly crisped up. About 10 minutes before serving toss everything together in a big bowl and you're good to go.

6 to 8 servings

6 cups of 3/4-inch cubes day old country loaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices bacon, chopped
3 pounds whole chicken breasts OR 1½ pounds boneless/skinless breast, poached and the meat cut into bite-size pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 scallions including the green part, sliced thinly
Quick Basil Mayonnaise, recipe follows
Salt and pepper

Quick Basil Mayonnaise:
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup plain yogurt 
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

In a food processor or blender blend together the basil, mayonnaise, yogurt and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl drizzle the bread cubes with the olive oil, tossing them to coat evenly, and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the bread cubes in a jelly-roll pan (or cookie sheet) and toast them in the middle of the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are golden.  Let them cool. 

In a skillet cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp and transfer it with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. 

In a large bowl combine the chicken, tomatoes, scallions, bacon, quick basil mayonnaise, and salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, mix in croutons and let sit 5-10 minutes.