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How To Make (And Eat) A Perfect Steamed Artichoke

by | Apr 10, 2013
Perfect Steamed Artichoke

Perfect Steamed Artichoke

A perfect artichoke can be elusive. If it’s undercooked, it’ll be tough and stringy. If it’s overcooked, slimy and mushy. When it’s perfect it will be silky, creamy and hold together well.

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How To Cook Perfect Rice Without A Rice Cooker (and store it for months)

by | Nov 26, 2012

Rice Balls

I have been getting a lot of questions about rice lately, and I am not surprised. Though some people swear by rice cookers I have found them to be inconsistent and generally unreliable, especially when it comes to brown rice.

My solution? Stove top.

A few years ago I read about this method of cooking rice that supposedly worked “every time” for every kind of rice. I had trouble believing it because I’ve found that different styles of rice have hugely different requirements in both the amount of water and time needed. However, I have had great success with the method and am extremely happy with it (sorry, I do not remember where I found it).

The reason this trick works so consistently is that it does not rely on a specific amount of time or water. Rather you need to test the grains occasionally for tenderness and decide for yourself when it is done. I have found for brown rice the entire process takes about 30 minutes, which is 10 minutes shorter than it took in my rice cooker.

Because rice does take so long to prepare, I like to make large batches and freeze individual servings so that I do not have to wait half an hour for dinner every single night.

For short grain brown rice, I use about 2 cups of dry grain and a large 2 quart sauce pan. Put the rice in the pot and add cold water until it is almost full. Use your hand to swirl the rice around and loosen any dirt and dust. When the rice settles back to the bottom, dump the water off the top and repeat. Continue to rinse rice until the water is almost perfectly clear, about 4-5 times.

After the last rinse add cold water to your rice until you have at least 3 times the volume of water to rice. Do not worry too much about the amount, and err on the side of excess. This is especially important with brown rice which absorbs much more water than white rice. Place the rice and water on the stove and turn the heat on high.

When the rice begins to boil, reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer, uncovered. This is a good time to start the rest of your dinner.

Check on the rice grains occasionally by grabbing a few out with a fork and testing them for tenderness (squish between your fingernails or taste it). Rice becomes opaque when it cooks, so there is no point in checking it while it is still somewhat translucent. Once the rice does start to turn opaque, check tenderness every 2-5 minutes. If too much water evaporates and the rice starts to look soupy, you need to add more water. You should add enough water at the beginning to avoid this.

Boil rice until it is almost tender enough to eat. In other words, imagine you are an impatient person who wants the rice to be finished as quickly as possible so you decide the rice is done and serve it, but later regret that decision because the rice is ever so slightly al dente. It is at this point you want to stop the boiling and begin the steaming.

Next drain off the remaining water. A mesh strainer or splatter guard works nicely for this (hold it over the pot and simply dump the water into the sink), but you can also carefully pour the water off and use a fork to keep loose kernels from falling out (but seriously be careful!).

Place the pot with rice back on the burner and reduce the heat to as low as it will go. Cover the rice and set a kitchen timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes turn off the burner and set the timer for another 5 minutes. Do not lift the lid during this process unless you are concerned that you messed up the boiling time and want to check on the doneness. After the rice has sat for 5 minutes, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and serve. Put the lid back on if you are going to let the rice cool in the pot.

If for some reason you think you overcooked the rice when you were boiling it, you can skip the steaming step and just let the drained rice sit covered with the burner off for 5 minutes. If you undershoot, you can always extend the length of the steaming process, but it will take much longer.

I usually wait until the rice has cooled down substantially before wrapping it in plastic. It is the last thing I do in my after-dinner clean up. To store rice, break off squares of plastic wrap and scoop individual rice servings (1/4-1/2 cup) into the middle. Fold over the plastic, twist the ends and tie them in a half knot so that the rice is in a ball, as shown. Put rice balls in a freezer bag and into the freezer.

To thaw, remove a rice ball from the freezer and allow to sit on counter for a few minutes until you can untie the knot without leaving little pieces of plastic stuck in the folds of rice. If you forgot to do this (I always forget!) you can run the knotted plastic under warm (not hot, heat releases toxins in the plastic that can get into your food) until you can untie it. Place unwrapped frozen rice ball in a small bowl and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. I like to use our microwave cover for this, but you have to figure out for yourself what works best in your own microwave.

Having individual rice servings is very, very handy. Brown rice is a fabulous option to make light vegetable dishes, soups and salads more substantial.

I just dug this recipe out of the archives because it is so darn useful. Use it wisely.

Originally published October 12, 2008.

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Healthy Dessert Recipe: Sautéed Bosc Pears With Toasted Walnuts & Balsamic Reduction

by | Oct 31, 2012
Bosc Pear With Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Reduction

Bosc Pear With Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Reduction

“Darya, my biggest problem is…I have a sweet tooth. Are there any recipes or desserts you suggest?”

One of the hardest things about transitioning to a healthy diet is cutting down on sugar. I definitely remember this from my own experience.

Luckily this difficulty is temporary.

The longer you go without sugar, the less you want it. In fact it has taken me awhile to reply to this question because I have not been motivated to make dessert in such a long time.

I eat sweets on occasion, but almost always these situations are circumstantial: a friend’s birthday, a favorite restaurant or other special occasion. And I am only excited about the experience if the dessert in question is profoundly exquisite. (In San Francisco, this is way more common than it is in most places.)

What this all means is I rarely find reason to seek out and/or make dessert.

But after creating this recipe, I may reconsider. This dessert is incredibly delicious, and not unhealthy at all. I thinly sliced some bosc pears and briefly sautéed them in butter with cinnamon. I reduced some balsamic vinegar for a semi-sweet topping, but otherwise did not add any sugar. I garnished the pears with toasted walnuts and shredded basil.

This recipe also works with other firm fruits such as apples, peaches and strawberries, all of which are available this time of year at the farmers market.

Sauteed Bosc Pears With Toasted Walnuts, Balsamic Reduction and Basil

Ingredients:

Bosc Pear

Bosc Pear

  • One bosc pear, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tsp butter
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 1/4 c. walnuts
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 5 basil leaves, chiffonade into strips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, core and cut bosc pear into 1/4 inch slices.

Place balsamic vinegar in small sauce pan and gently heat until simmering. Allow to reduce, swirling occasionally until reduced to 25-30% volume, about 10 minutes. Reduction should be dark and thickened. Test by seeing if it coats the back of a spoon (and tastes good). Do not over reduce.

While vinegar is reducing, place walnuts on a cookie sheet and put in oven. Toast walnuts, turning once or twice for 6-7 minutes. Do yourself a favor and set a timer. It is very easy to burn toasting nuts. I set the time for 3 minutes, toss the nuts, then reset for another 3 minutes. Remove nuts from oven, allow to cool, then coarsely chop.

Heat butter in a pan on medium heat until it begins to foam. Add pear slices and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cook gently until slightly tender, about 3 minutes on each side. Turn with a thin spatula.

Place pears on a plate and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Sprinkle on chopped walnuts and basil. I didn’t try it, but I bet this would be awesome with gorgonzola and port (or other dessert wine).

Try it and let me know what you think!

Do you ever cook fruits for dessert?

Originally published October 12, 2009.

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Perfect Summer Tomato Bruschetta Recipe

by | Aug 15, 2011
Bruschetta

Bruschetta

Bruschetta was the first sophisticated dish I could really make. That’s probably because it doesn’t require any cooking and is entirely dependent on the quality of your ingredients. Find some good ripe tomatoes, a decent baguette and you’re in business.

For this recipe I used the abundance of spectacular tomatoes I found this weekend at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I chose one big striped heirloom tomato, several dry-farmed early girls and half a basket of mixed cherry (red) and sungold (orange) baby tomatoes. It doesn’t matter much what varieties you choose, just make sure they are ripe and have good flavor.

Bruschetta Ingredients

Bruschetta Ingredients

The next essential ingredient is a good baguette. I bought sour and Italian baguettes from Acme Bread Co. To turn your bruschetta from good to amazing, be sure to brush your bread slices with olive oil and lightly toast them in the oven.

For this recipe I added a diced roasted pepper, but feel free to get creative with your ingredients. Chunks of fresh mozzarella are a great addition, especially if you are having a hard time choosing between bruschetta and caprese salad.

This recipe is the perfect summer snack and can be served as a starter, side dish or brought to a potluck (keep bread and topping separate until you arrive).

Summer Tomato Bruschetta

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. diced summer tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, worked through garlic press
  • 1/4 c. good quality extra-virgin olive oil

    Roasting Pepper

    Roasting Pepper

  • juice of half lemon
  • 8-10 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
  • paprika, to taste (optional)
  • good sea salt, to taste
  • red bell pepper, fire roasted (optional)
  • splash of balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • sour baguette, sliced into 1/2 in. discs at an angle

If you are roasting a pepper, start by turning on a burner and placing the pepper on top. Blacken the skin evenly by using tongs to turn periodically. When the pepper is completely blackened, remove from flame and allow to cool. Scrape off blackened skin with a dull knife or fork, remove seeds, dice and set aside.

Bruschetta Mix

Bruschetta Mix

In the meantime preheat oven to 325 F and slice bread.

Combine first 9 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Some people add sugar, but I prefer to add a splash of balsamic vinegar if I want a little more sweetness. Paprika is also optional, but I find it adds a nice, subtle complexity. Don’t be shy with your sea salt in this recipe. Allow mixture to marinate briefly, stirring occasionally.

Olive Oil on Baguette

Olive Oil on Baguette

Next brush your baguette slices on one side with olive oil and place in warm oven. Toast for 6-10 minutes. Monitor carefully and do not allow to burn.

Place baguette slices on your serving plate and heap marinated tomatoes on top. Add extra small spoonfuls of juice on top of the mixture to add flavor and soften bread.

Serve immediately and crack the champagne.

What do you add to your bruschetta?

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Summer Salad With Poached Egg

by | Jun 16, 2010
Poached Egg Salad

Poached Egg Salad

Several weeks ago I wrote about how to make your salads more satisfying by adding extra protein, fat and whole grains. In this recipe I experiment with poaching eggs, which turned out to be easier than I expected.

To me poached eggs have always seemed like an impossible delicacy best left to San Francisco’s finest brunching establishments. The few times I tried poaching eggs before turned out to be a disaster, so I erroneously assumed the skills required were beyond my grasp.

Turns out I just wasn’t doing it right and it is actually pretty easy.

As you might guess, my fear of cooking poached eggs was conquered by the wisdom of Mark Bittman in his book How To Cook Everything. For me the problem was in the temperature of the water. To keep the eggs from being torn apart by boiling bubbles, the temperature must be kept just below the boiling point.

Problem solved.

Summer Salad With Poached Egg

Ingredients:

  • Gem lettuces
  • Treviso (or radicchio)
  • Summer tomato
  • Yellow crooked neck squash
  • Mediterranean cucumber
  • Avocado
  • French green lentils (cooked)
  • Green onion
  • Basil
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • Farm fresh eggs
  • White vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

For the eggs, start heating a deep skillet or shallow pot with 1 inch deep water. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp white vinegar. Heat the water until it barely bubbles, around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

For salads I recommend using your best farmers market greens, but anything colorful you can find will work (this salad is wonderful with frisée). The list above is what I used, but obviously whatever you have around is fine.

I’m a big fan of adding raw summer squash to salads, but the quality of the squash is very important if you are eating it raw. The fresher the better.

Chop your greens and vegetables while your water is heating and prepare your salad dressing. With eggs I love to use a red wine Dijon vinaigrette. Something about the mustard and egg combination is divine.

My vinaigrette recipe is as simple as it gets:

Add 1/4 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil and just under 1/4 cup red wine vinegar. Add 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard to taste, salt and pepper to taste and whisk with a fork for a few seconds. Taste and adjust the condiments until you like it.

Personally I do not think it is necessary to add sugar to salad dressing, but some people do. You can also add 1 tsp of finely diced shallots or some minced garlic if you want extra flavor.

In a large bowl, toss your vegetables with your dressing. After this add your lentils (or brown rice or nuts), and toss again. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Use tongs to plate your salad and get ready to prep your eggs.

Rinse your eggs and crack them one at a time into a small bowl or large serving spoon. Gently lower each egg into the warm water and release it into the pan (use a larger pan for batches greater than 2). Allow the egg to cook until the yolk has filmed over and the white is set, about 3-5 minutes.

Remove egg with a slotted spoon, drain off water and carefully place the egg on top of your salad. Garnish with pepper and serve immediately. Poached eggs go particularly nicely with sour toast.

Do you have any tips for poaching eggs?

Originally published June 24, 2009.

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Grilled Fennel With Lemon Oil

by | May 24, 2010
Grilled Fennel

Grilled Fennel

This grilled fennel turned out absolutely amazing and was very simple to make. I got the idea from a dish I tried recently at a local restaurant, Pizzeria Delfina, but honestly did not believe my version would be anywhere near as awesome. To my surprise, it was pretty darn close. Needless to say I am super proud of myself for this one and I hope I can convince you to try it.

Fennel is a unique vegetable that looks like a cross between celery and an onion, but tastes like neither. The flavor resembles anise or black liquorish when raw (a taste I still really struggle with), but takes on a sweeter, more herbal flavor when cooked. I have always been a fan of cooked fennel, despite my aversion to raw preparations. But I had no idea how far this misunderstood vegetable could be elevated by throwing it on the grill.

Don’t have a grill, you say? Awesome, neither do I. Backyards aren’t exactly standard in city apartments. For this recipe I used an apartment-friendly alternative to an outdoor grill, the humble grill pan.

A grill pan is special because it features raised ridges that can leave those wonderful, coveted grill marks on your food. Grill marks not only give your food a lovely appearance, they also add a unique flavor because sugars and fats caramelize where they come in contact with the hot pan. This effect cannot be achieved in a standard fry pan and the grill pan is a delicious alternative for cooking meats, fish and most vegetables.

My favorite grill pan (also the favorite of Cook’s Illustrated) is only about $40, far cheaper than a traditional outdoor grill or indoor electric grill. You can buy it at Amazon.

Feel free to use which ever grilling method is easiest for you.

When picking out your fennel, I recommend using several baby fennel bulbs rather than one large one (they’re in season now). Baby fennel is more tender because it does not have a large, hard inner core like full-sized fennel. A tender center allows you to leave the bulb mostly intact on the grill, making it easier to turn and cook evenly.

I purchased Lisbon lemon olive oil from Stonehouse Olive Oil at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. You can find lemon oil at specialty grocery stores, and it is a wonderful ingredient for spring vegetable dishes. But if you prefer, you can make due with extra virgin olive oil and a meyer (or regular) lemon.

This is a side dish. I paired mine with asparagus ravioli and sorrel.

Grilled Fennel with Lemon Oil

Ingredients:

  • Fennel (~1 lb)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Lemon olive oil (or 1/2 Meyer lemon juice and zest)
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh Italian parsley, chopped

If you are using baby fennel, cut off the green stems and the very bottom of the root (but not so much that the layers have nothing to attach to). Then cut the fennel in half lengthwise, and then again into 4-6 bite-sized wedges.

The goal is to get your fennel into manageable chunks, which means (ideally) all the layers would still be attached at the bottom. This is much more difficult if you have removed the core. In my experiment (I made the mistake of buying large fennel) I removed the core on one half before cooking and left the other half with the core in while cooking. It was easier to get the fennel to cook evenly on the half where the core was still attached. You can remove the core after cooking if it is still tough.

If you are using a large fennel bulb simply trim off the stems, slice off the bottom and cut the bulb in half lengthwise. Cut each half into even-sized wedges, about 0.5 inch thick.

For an outdoor grill, simply brush your fennel wedges with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and grill until soft and tender, turning occasionally.

For a grill pan, heat the pan on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes. Lightly coat fennel in olive oil and sea salt (use a bowl and stir). When the pan is hot, add 1-2 tbsp olive oil and gently swirl it in the pan so it coats the surface. Place fennel in a single layer on the hot grill, lower the heat to medium and cook until translucent, tender and slightly browned, turning occasionally. For me this took about 10 minutes. I recommend using tongs with nylon headsto turn your fennel in the pan.

Your fennel should have grill marks and be caramelized in places. I suggest exercising patience and allowing fennel to become extremely tender, but you can choose your desired crunchiness. Remove the fastest cooking fennel pieces from the grill when they are done and place them in a bowl.

When all the fennel is finished cooking, drizzle it lightly with lemon oil (or juice and zest) and sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley. Adjust salt and zest if necessary.

Have you tried grilling fennel?

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Simple Eggs Recipe: Spanish Tortilla With Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette

by | Sep 30, 2009
spanish-tortilla1

Spanish Tortilla

I’m super excited to announce that Danny Jauregui is sharing one of his recipes today at Summer Tomato.

Danny is a Los Angeles based food blogger. You can read his recipes on Over The Hill And On A Roll, and his food photography and blogging tips on Food Bloggers Unite!

Definitely visit Danny’s blogs and check out his incredible food photography, you’ll be blown away.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to make a Spanish tortilla and had no idea it was this easy. But now I seriously want to get that cast-iron skillet I’ve had my eye on….

Spanish Tortilla With Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette

by Danny Jauregui

Spanish tortillas are my go-to dinner when I’ve had a rough workday. I love that you can take two healthy ingredients and easily create a mouth-watering dish. A Spanish tortilla is a bit like an omelette, only much easier to make. Thinly sliced potatoes are sautéed with onions at which point eggs are added and cooked until done.

Sliced like a pie, the Spanish eat a tortilla at room temperature with a light salad, which is my preferred way of enjoying it. I also like to serve it for brunch parties, just for a touch of variety.

In this version, I add Mexican flavors by including chopped cilantro and a Chipotle-Lime vinaigrette. Filled with nutrients and bursting with familiar flavors, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

Simple Potato and Egg Spanish Tortilla

spanish-tortilla2Ingredients:

6 Eggs

1 Large Potato, thinly sliced

½ Large Yellow Onion, thinly sliced into rings

1 ½ Tablespoons Olive Oil

½ Teaspoon Salt

¼ Teaspoon Pepper

¼ Cup Chopped Cilantro

Directions

Slice potato and onions into thin slices. The exact size is not important. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom pan or preferably a cast-iron skillet. Wait for olive oil to almost begin smoking and add the onions and potatoes. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. With a wooden spoon stir potatoes and onions to coat in oil, lower the heat to medium and cook until they are soft, stirring occasionally, for a total cooking time of 5 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking combine the eggs and cilantro in a bowl and lightly whisk together. When potatoes are done, make sure they are lying as flat as possible in the pan and add the egg mixture. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until most of the egg on the bottom is thoroughly cooked. The top of the tortilla will not be cooked and should look runny.

Turn the broiler of your oven on, remove pan from burner and carefully place under broiler for 2 minutes, or until the top is slightly golden brown. Eggs cook fast, so keep your eye on the broiler. (If you don’t have a broiler simply place a cover on the pan and continue cooking on medium heat until top is solid and not runny).

Once top is brown, remove from broiler and let cool for 10 minutes. At this point you can slice it straight out of the pan, or flip it like I did. To flip, run a knife around the edge of the tortilla to loosen, place a plate upside down on top of the pan and flip the whole thing over. The tortilla should release easily.

Add some sliced avocado and your favorite salsa to really spruce this meal up, or make this Chipotle-Lime vinaigrette like I did.

The Chipotle Lime Vinaigrette adds a nice smoky and acidic note to the boldness of the potato and egg. Delish!

Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette

4 Tablespoons Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Adobo Sauce from a Chipotle Pepper Can

2 1/2 Tablespoons Lime Juice

¼ Teaspoon Salt

Adobo sauce is the smoky sauce that is included in Chipotle peppers. If you want a bit of spice, take half a Chipotle pepper and chop it super fine and add to vinaigrette.

Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Drizzle vinaigrette onto sliced tortilla.

What flavors do you pair with a Spanish tortilla?

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Simple Gourmet: Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chèvre

by | May 27, 2009
Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chevre

Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chèvre

I am very proud to share this recipe with you since it came by special request from my dad–a self-professed beet hater. I won him over with these beets several years ago and he is still talking about them! The same recipe stole my heart back when I thought I hated beets too.

Are you convinced?

Roasted Beets with fresh mint and chèvre is an elegant, impressive dish that hardly requires any cooking skills. If you are still worried you will not like the flavor of beets, you can look for the milder and less messy golden or candy-striped beets. Whenever possible I like to use a few different beet varieties to mix up the colors and flavors, but today I’m sticking with the common red garden beet.

Mint Leaves

Mint Leaves

To begin you must eliminate all thoughts of substituting canned beets for the fresh ones in this recipe. Fresh roasted beets have a rich, sweet and earthy flavor that is completely unlike the flaccid purple slivers that come in a can.

You will also need fresh mint leaves. Most grocery stores and farmers markets will have fresh mint this time of year. Dried leaves really don’t cut it in this recipe.

Chèvre is a soft goat cheese that a close friend of mine describes as “like cream cheese only better.” A little bit goes a very long way, so I always buy the smallest amount possible (this time it cost me $2.89).

Chevre

Chèvre

Be careful not to add the cheese directly to hot beets or it will melt and form an unattractive pink slime. It still tastes good, but it’s better to avoid this problem by cooling the beets beforehand. An hour in the refrigerator works well, but if you are in a hurry you can get away with 10-15 minutes in the freezer.

This dish is very easy to scale for large batches, making it ideal for parties and potlucks.

Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chèvre

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of beets (3 large), any garden variety
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
  • 1/4 oz. chèvre, crumbled
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt or kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375.

If the leaves are still on your beets, twist them off leaving enough stem to use as a handle for peeling. If your beet greens are still fresh and springy I recommend cleaning them and cooking them up with some onions and garlic (cook them like spinach). Beet greens are so full of potassium that they are salty to the taste, so be careful with your seasonings because they are easy to over-salt. Both beets and beet greens are extremely good for people with high blood pressure.

Peel your beets using a vegetable peeler (I recommend this one) and chop evenly into bite-sized cubes. Discard stems. Cubes should be approximately 3/4 to 1 inch on each side. Keep in mind that the larger your pieces the longer they will take to cook.

Add 1-2 tbsp olive oil to beets and toss to coat. Sprinkle beets with salt and place in a single layer in a large Pyrex baking pan. Place in oven on middle rack and roast until beets are tender and have a glazed-like appearance, stirring every 8-10 minutes. Roasting takes approximately 35 minutes.

When beets are finished roasting, transfer them to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Chill for at least 30 min, but 45 min to 1 hr is preferable.

5 minutes before the beets are done chilling, stack mint leaves on top of each other and chiffonade them by rolling lengthwise like a cigarette and slicing into thin ribbons. I like to cut the ribbons in half once by making a single cut through the middle of the pile along the vein of the leaves. Discard the stems.

Using a fork, crumble a small amount of chèvre into a small bowl or plate and set aside.

Sprinkle mint onto the beets and stir, leaving a few ribbons for garnish. Adjust salt to taste. Transfer beets and mint to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chèvre and remaining mint. Serve immediately.

Do you love beets? Hate beets? Interested in having pink urine?

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What To Do With A Tasteless Tomato? Pasta Primavera!

by | Feb 11, 2009

It is no secret that I love summer tomatoes. A big, sweet brandywine in August with some olive oil and basil comes pretty close to my idea of perfect. So on Saturday I fell victim to one of the siren songs of late winter: the perfect looking, tasteless tomato.

I knew there was almost no chance of these tomatoes being good, but I told myself it was my duty to my readers to try all the produce at the market. So I bought one. But the truth is they looked beautiful and it had been months since I had a good market tomato–I wanted it so bad I couldn’t resist.

In my anticipation I sliced it open and took a bite first thing when I got home. Sure enough, it was flavorless. There was no way that I could eat this thing solo like I would have preferred, but I didn’t want to throw it away. Tasteless tomatoes aren’t any cheaper than good ones!

One great way to salvage a bad tomato is by cooking it up with a bunch of fresh vegetables, tossing it with olive oil and garlic and putting it on pasta. Voilà! Perfect late winter (early spring?) pasta primavera.

Late Winter Pasta Primavera

Ingredients:

  • Small head romanesco broccoli or cauliflower, rinsed and cut into bite-sized florets
  • 0.5 cup chickpeas
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 medium beefsteak tomato, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 0.25 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 0.75 cup rigatoni or 0.5 cup penne pasta
  • Zest and juice of 0.5 Meyer lemon
  • 0.25 cup room temperature water
  • Excellent cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

Boil 2 qts of water in a pot with 0.5 tsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (about 12 minutes for rigatoni).

Sprinkle diced tomato with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, set aside.

While the water is heating up, add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a pan on medium heat until it swirls easily. Add shallot and cook until it becomes translucent, about 2 minutes. Add romanesco and stir. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and cover, 2 minutes. Remove lid, stir and add 0.25 cup water and cover again. Allow to steam 4-5 minutes, stirring once or twice.

When romanesco is brightly colored and becoming tender, add 1 more tbsp of olive oil and stir. Add chickpeas. After 2-3 minutes, clear a spot in the center of the pan and add garlic. When garlic becomes fragrant (about 30 seconds), mix it with the rest of the vegetables. Be careful not to damage the chickpeas.

Add raw tomatoes, chopped parsley and lemon zest (all) and juice (to taste). Mix. Turn off heat and let stand at least one minute. Tomatoes should subtly wilt.

Add strained pasta to the vegetables in your pan. Toss mixture and adjust salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Have you ever bought a horrible tomato because it looked so beautiful?

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Green Up Your Pasta Puttanesca With Kale

by | Jan 11, 2009

I was never sure if I liked pasta puttanesca. In fact I am not even sure how many times I had eaten it before last week. That’s why I was so surprised when I found myself suddenly craving this distinctly Mediterranean medley of flavors.

Who knew?

I admit that anchovies, capers and olives scare me a little (okay, a lot) with their pungency. For that reason–once I decided I had to make it–I was careful to get high-quality ingredients (the antidote to every scary food you think you don’t like). The last thing I wanted was overly fishy pasta for dinner.

I got my anchovies from Whole Foods, and the kalamata olives and capers from Trader Joe’s. I got my canned tomatoes from TJ’s as well.

The only other ingredients required were olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and parsley.

The recipe I used was a super easy one from Cook’s Illustrated (you have to pay for a subscription to see their recipes) that claimed you could make the entire sauce while your pasta is boiling. I have the utmost faith in Cook’s to guide me through a flawless meal, so I made very few changes to their original recipe.

My main concern was that as a single, busy person in the city I wanted a more balanced meal than just pasta and sauce, and I would rather not go to the trouble of making a side dish. I solved this problem by adding some steamed dinosaur kale to the puttanesca, which turned out to be a perfect, crispy complement to the robust sauce and chewy pasta. The dish ended up truly fabulous.

You can use whatever kind of pasta you like, but this time I went with rigatoni.

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Pasta Puttanesca With Kale

(modified from Cook’s Illustrated)

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 8 anchovy fillets, minced
  • 0.5 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • 0.5 bunch dinosaur kale, cut into 1 inch squares
  • 0.25 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • rigatoni or pasta of choice

Place a steam basket into pot of shallow water and boil. Add kale and cover. Steam 10 minutes.

Bring several quarts of water to a rolling boil (prepare sauce in the meantime). When water is boiling add 1 tsp salt and pasta. I prefer to make only enough pasta for one meal (~0.5 cup dry), since it does not keep particularly well once cooked. The sauce makes 4 servings and stores up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Press or finely mince garlic and soak it in 1 tbsp of water in a small cup or bowl. Open your can of tomatoes and drain them, reserving 0.5 cup of liquid. Prepare all other ingredients before adding pasta to the water.

Immediately after starting your pasta boiling, heat a pan on medium heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. When the olive oil swirls easily in the pan add anchovies, garlic mixture and chili flakes. Stir continuously until garlic just begins to brown, about 2 minutes, then add tomatoes and simmer.

When pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot. Moisten pasta with some reserved tomato liquid and toss.

After sauce has simmered about 8 minutes toss in capers, olives, kale and parsley. Mix to combine. I tossed in some excellent Stonehouse olive oil at this point to brighten it up. (Don’t bother with this if you only have cheap olive oil.)

Add an appropriate volume of sauce to your pasta, toss and serve immediately.

If you enjoy this recipe, please come back and tell us what you think!

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