Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Ciambotta

Basilicata

I’m now entering the second region of Italy in my Regions of Italy project. I’m going to come back to Abruzzo for my fourth recipe from that region when one of the ingredients I need is in season.

The second area is called Basilicata, and it’s familiar territory because it’s where my family is from.

As I looked through the myriad recipes from Basilicata, I realized that I knew many of them, and since the goal of my project is to explore the cuisines of Italy, I skipped over the family favorites to dishes that sounded new to me.

So, one of the recipes I chose was Ciambotta, or Vegetable Stew. I sounded really good. It’s a stew of peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. Similar to ratatouille, it differs from the French version in that the eggplant is sliced and sautéed until browned first before going into the stew, and tomato puree is added. And really not much else.

After it was cooked, I sat down to eat it…and immediately my memory banks flew open. This tasted so familiar, I figured I had to have had it before. But I couldn’t remember my mother making a dish that had those three specific ingredients together. I called my mother and asked her if she’d ever made such a stew, and she said, “Yes, of course. We called it ciambotta in our dialect.” And then she proceeded to tell me how to make it, even though I’d told her that I’d already made it, and what else I can add to it.

Yep, I knew those flavors very well. Even though I hadn’t remembered them initially, the taste and aroma brought it all right back. How can you forget the things you ate while growing up in a house with an Italian mother who put her entire self-worth in the foods she prepared for her family?

You can’t. It comforted me. It warmed me in a way that the heat of summer outside couldn’t. I gobbled it up.

So, here’s the recipe for Ciambotta from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy, with my adjustments, because, as usual, the instructions (and some of the ingredients) are vague.

Have this thick, hearty, delicious stew with crusty Italian or French bread. Enjoy!

Ciambotta

Vegetable Stew

Recipe adapted from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). Published by Rizzoli Publications.

Makes 4 servings.

½ pound Italian eggplant, sliced into ¼-inch-thick half-moons*
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ pound red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
½ pound potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1¼ cups tomato puree
1 large garlic clove, minced

Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon salt. Toss to coat all the eggplant. Let this sit for ½ hour. Quickly rinse them under running water and dry them thoroughly.

Heat half the oil in a wide pan. Add the eggplant and a pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat until browned.Meanwhile, in another large pan or Dutch oven, heat the remaining oil. Add the peppers, potatoes, and a pinch of salt and sauté until the potatoes start to take on color. (This could take anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and how spread out the potatoes are. In my case, it took longer because I chose to make the stew in my 2-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, which is my new favorite pot and I look for any reason to use it. One of these days, when my ship comes in, I will splurge on that 5-quart Le Creuset.) Stir frequently, as potatoes want to stick to pots and pans. Add the puree and stir to combine.Mix in the eggplant. Add the garlic and continue sautéing another minute. If the bottom of the pot looks like it’s burning, add a little liquid (water, broth, wine) and scrape the browned bits up. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook until a thick stew forms, about 40 to 50 minutes. Stir often and scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the pot as it forms. Taste for salt and add more, if needed.Serve this stew with fresh, crusty Italian or French bread.

*Cut the eggplant lengthwise in half, then each half in half. Then slice each piece in half-moons.

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Zucchini-Mozzarella Frittata

I love making frittatas. They are soversatile, and you can make them with just about anything.

Frittatas can be made with 2 methods. The first is the flip–you cook the frittata on one side, invert it onto a plate, and slide it back into the pan to cook on the other side. That’s the method that I’m going to venture to say is most common with most home cooks.

I think the other method is more common in restaurants, and that is where the frittata is cooked on the stove top, then placed in the broiler to cook the top. The frittata I offer today must be done using this method because the top layer is mozzarella, and if you flip that over…well, you’re just going to end up with a pan full of mozzarella.

This dish is loaded with Italian flavors. Enjoy!

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Red Bean-Vegetable Chili

There are so many ways to make a vegetarian chili. Some people, of course, will argue and say that unless there’s meat in it, it can’t be chili, that it’s just a vegetable stew. Whatever. If it tastes like chili, then it’s chili. Or call it vegetable stew. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it tastes good. And this dish does.

It’s also another example of what can be done when you have a little of this and a little of that left over in your fridge and pantry. But trust me, this is worth going out and buying the ingredients for.

Enjoy! Continue reading


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Lentil, Barley, and Vegetable Soup

Creating beautiful dishes with leftovers is something I love to do. There’s something very satisfying about taking bits and pieces from previous meals and turning them into something new and delicious. Maybe I get it from my mother, who, always trying to substantially feed her family of four, never let anything go to waste.

Sometimes a mish-mash of leftovers can be delicious, but not necessarily nutritious and filling in the long term. What’s often missing is protein. And protein is what you need to keep you satisfied for the long stretch, so you don’t go diving into a bag of nachos like you haven’t eaten in a week.

This recipe is an example of what you can do with a bunch of leftovers that can also be protein-rich, healthy, and filling. If you’re cooking lentils for another dish, make some extra and put it in the freezer so that you have it on hand when needed. Then, when you find yourself with a bunch of leftover odds and ends, bring it all together with some broth, and add those lentils for sustaining protein.

You can substitute whatever vegetables you have on hand, and can add whatever herbs or spices you want to create the kind of flavor profile that you like.

Enjoy!

Lentil, Barley, and Vegetable Soup

Makes 6 servings.

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon paprika
½ cup chopped carrot
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
½ pound green beans, cut into ¼-inch pieces

2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 packed cups chopped spinach or other greens

2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup cooked barley
¼ chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a 2-quart Dutch oven or saucepan. Add the garlic and sauté over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the paprika. Add the carrot and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.Stir in the tomato paste. Work it in until it’s blended with the carrot and garlic. Stir frequently. When the bottom of the pot starts to brown, pour in about ¼ cup of the broth. Stir it in and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the remaining broth, green beans, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until green beans are tender but still firm, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the spinach and stir it in thoroughly. (If you’re using other greens, let them cook a few minutes until tender. Spinach doesn’t need much time at all.) Add the lentils and barley. Continue simmering about 6 to 8 minutes longer to ensure everything is hot and to give the ingredients a chance to blend. Stir in the parsley. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

 

Makes 4 main course servings.


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Pear-Pignoli Salad with Cranberry Sauce Vinaigrette

Do you still have cranberry sauce left over after the holidays? I know some of you do. Admit it.  You’ll see lots of sites and professional chefs telling you that everything should be thrown out three days after the holiday. I have news for you—if you’ve stored it properly, that cranberry sauce is probably still good. The thing is, because of the sugar content, cranberry sauce has a long shelf life. It’s just like a jar of jam or preserves in your refrigerator. (Of course, if it smells or tastes funny, or if it has mold on it, throw it out.) For those of you who prefer the stuff that comes in cans (you can admit that, too, don’t be ashamed), you can use those up as well, so that they don’t sit in your pantry for another year.

There are many things you can do with leftover cranberry sauce. One way to use it up is to make a dressing with it, and I’ve done just that. I paired homemade cranberry sauce here with baby greens and Anjou pears. So that the cranberry doesn’t overwhelm the delicate ingredients, I strained the dressing.

So, why not start out with plain cranberry sauce (such as what comes in a can) instead of whole berry sauce, you ask. Because I think that whole berry sauce has so much more depth of flavor than flat cranberry sauce. Plus, chances are that if you have a significant amount left over, it’s probably the homemade kind, which is most likely going to be chunky.

You can adjust the recipe to any flavor profile you like. Enjoy!

Cranberry Sauce Vinaigrette

Makes ¾ cup dressing.

1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon stone-ground mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine the cranberry sauce, balsamic vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and ¼ cup water. Drizzle in the oil and whisk together well. Using a rubber spatula, strain the dressing through a mesh strainer into another bowl. Taste for seasoning and adjust if you like.

Pear-Pignoli Salad with Cranberry Sauce Vinaigrette

Makes 4 servings.

2 Anjou pears (ripe but still firm)
6 oz. mixed baby greens
¼ cup pignoli (pine nuts), toasted
¼ cup Cranberry Sauce Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

Slice the pears about ¼ inch thick. You want them somewhat thin, but not so thin that they fall apart in the salad. Place them in a large bowl. Add the greens and pignoli and toss gently. Add the dressing and again toss gently. Transfer the salad to a serving platter and arrange neatly. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top.

Serve immediately.


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Red Lentil Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms

Having grown up in a traditional Italian family, pasta was part of my natural landscape. But today, pasta comes in many varieties. I don’t mean just shapes—those have always been. I mean ingredients. And because so many people are carb conscious, and/or avoid wheat, pasta manufacturers have come out with pasta made from wheat flour alternatives. It is now made of quinoa, farro, corn, kamut, black bean flour, and other ingredients.

For this recipe, I found a beautiful red lentil pasta. It’s made with 100% red lentil flour in place of regular flour, so it’s completely gluten free. Its flavor is earthy and nutty, and it pairs very well with sautéed mushrooms. Unfortunately, like any brightly colored foods, they lose their pretty pinkish hue once cooked. I found this particular bag at Eataly in Manhattan, but you can find “alternative” flour pastas in large supermarkets, Italian markets, gourmet shops, and, of course, online.

Enjoy!

Red Lentil Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. baby bella or cremini mushrooms
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 oz. red lentil pasta
½ tablespoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a wide skillet, preferably cast iron. Add the mushrooms and 2 teaspoons kosher salt and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have browned. This will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.Fill a medium saucepan three-quarters with water and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and ½ tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until it’s al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl.If the mushrooms have cooled off, reheat them briefly. Add them to the pasta and season with pepper. Mix in the parmesan. Serve hot.


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Hoppin’ John

Hello, everyone! As we approach the end of another year, many cultures around the world begin their preparations for carrying out traditions that will ensure good luck, good health, and prosperity in the new year (at the very least, they can’t hurt). Food always—pretty much without exception—plays a part in these rituals.

Soba Noodles

In Japan, for example, it is customary to eat soba noodles during the New Year’s celebration to ensure a long life, symbolized by the long noodles. In Spain, 12 grapes are eaten at midnight on New Year’s Eve—one for each month of the year—and it is hoped that the grapes are sweet, which is considered a harbinger of a sweet year ahead. In Austria and Germany, they eat little marzipan pigs, which are considered good luck. In the Philippines, they make a lot of noise on New Year’s Eve, banging pots and pans, to ward off evil spirits. In Greece, they smash a pomegranate at the front door to spill the seeds, symbolically spreading wealth.

In many countries, legumes are popular for New Year’s because they swell when cooked, symbolizing increased financial prosperity. Lentils are used in Italy and Brazil because they are round like coins. In the United States, black-eyed peas are popular (the musical group and the legume) and Hoppin’ John, which features that particular legume, is a staple New Year’s dish in the South.

Recipes for Hoppin’ John first began appearing in cookbooks in the 1840s, but the origins are a little murky, and possibly a little unfortunate. Black-eyed peas are native to West Africa, and it’s believed that they were brought over by slave traders as part of their cargo. Naturally, the crops were planted in the South, and became an important commodity. Some believe that eating black-eyed peas for New Year’s is actually a carryover of a 1500-year-old tradition of consuming them by Sephardic Jews on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The beans themselves represent coins, and there’s one version of this tradition that calls for hiding an actual coin in the Hoppin’ John—bringing the finder good luck—as well as filling a bowl with beans and coins and leaving it on the table for some benevolent spirit in exchange for granting good fortune.

But why is it called Hoppin’ John? There are several stories. One says that there was an old man who hobbled around and sold peas on the streets of Charleston, and the dish was named after him. Another says that children would hop around the dinner table, eagerly anticipating the serving of this dish. A more likely story is that it comes from a French term, pois pigeons, meaning pigeon peas, which are a big part of Caribbean culture.

Hoppin’ John is traditionally made with pork and served with rice. In many countries, pork, for some reason, is considered lucky to eat on New Year’s (marzipan is not the only kind of pig that Austrians and Germans eat for New Year’s). Rice flourished in the hot, steamy South (it was dubbed at one point Carolina Gold). Bring all three of these elements together, you’ve got one lucky dish. Also, Hoppin’ John is often served together with collard greens, because it represents money. Cornbread, too, is considered lucky because of its “golden” color (you get the idea).

I’ve made different versions of Hoppin’ John, with and without greens, with and without meat, with rice and with other grains… This is probably the simplest version I’ve cooked. The nice thing about it is that you can make it ahead of time and freeze it, then defrost it in time for New Year’s Day. By the way, unlike other dried beans, black-eyed peas do not need to be pre-soaked. You can, if you want to cut down cooking time, do a quick-soak method by bringing the peas to a boil in a pot of water, letting them boil for 2 minutes, then letting them sit in the water for an hour off heat. But, frankly, if you’re going to do all of that, you’re not really saving any time, unless you want to do this the day before. In my opinion, not worth it. Just let the Hoppin’ John cook for an hour, and it’s a done deal.  

Whatever traditions you have for New Year’s—or whether you have any at all—I’m wishing you all a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year. I wish for peace and tranquility, honor and compassion, and above all, respect for all living beings.

Hoppin’ John

Makes 6 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste

6 cups vegetable broth
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
2 large celery ribs, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes, liquid reserved
3 cups dried black-eyed peas
1 or 2 dried bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme or rosemary (or both), optional

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and sauté over medium-high heat until soft and translucent.Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Drop in the tomato paste and stir it in until it’s well blended, then let it cook for a minute or two, until the bottom of the pot starts to brown.Pour in a little bit of the broth to deglaze the pot and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Let this cook until the liquid has evaporated.Add the bell pepper, carrot, celery, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and sauté until all the vegetables have softened but are still firm.Pour the liquid from the tomatoes into a measuring cup and add enough water to make 1 cup. Add this to the pot. Pour in the broth, and add the beans, bay leaves, remaining salt, and black pepper. Mix well.Bring this to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until the beans are tender but not mushy. If the pot dries out before the beans are cooked, add more water or broth and stir it in. Stir in the parsley and other herbs and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and/or pepper, if you like.

Remove the bay leaves and serve with rice or cornbread, or on its own.