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Favette e Cicoria

Welcome back to my continuing journey through the Regions of Italy, using the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy as my guide. This week, I’m still in Basilicata, the homeland of my family. Today’s recipe is Favette e Cicoria (pronounced chee-KOHR-ee-ah), or Fava Beans and Chicory. It’s a delicious combination of seasoned fava bean puree and cooked chicory on toasted bread.

There’s some confusion about the term “chicory.” When Americans hear the word “chicory,” their minds often go to the root with blue flowers that is sometimes added to coffee (as in the classic New Orleans-style chicory coffee) or used as a coffee substitute. But for Europeans, chicory is a completely different thing. For Italians, it generally means what Americans refer to as dandelion. Yes, those weeds that grow wildly all over everyone’s lawns and gardens are not only edible, but widely consumed. (If you choose to pick your own, don’t use the poofy pompom part at the top. Do with those what Mother Nature intended us to use them for—make a wish and blow it away. Just use the leaves.) And because chicory root (the one that’s used in coffee) is related to dandelion, it’s sometimes called blue dandelion because of its blue flowers.

Americans also label curly endive as chicory or frisée, both of which are incorrect. To confuse matters further, other vegetables are categorized as “chicory.” What Americans know as Belgian endive also goes by the name witloof chicory, Belgium chicory, blanching chicory, Dutch chicory, and chicon.

In the end, I wasn’t really sure if the authors and translators of the book meant dandelion or curly endive, I finally settled on dandelion. However, I’m positive that this dish would work just as well (maybe better) with curly endive.

What’s unusual about this recipe is that most of the Italian dishes I’ve encountered that contain favas call for fresh fava beans. This is actually the first one I’ve seen that calls for dried fava beans.

However, the recipe doesn’t say whether or not to soak the beans first, as is usually required when using dried legumes. So, I decided to do a quick soak with them by boiling them for 2 minutes, then letting them sit for 1 hour.  Cook covered or uncovered? After draining them, should they be peeled, as favas often are? Their outer skin can be tough, and since they were going to be pureed, would the skin hinder the consistency? Speaking of pureeing, was I supposed to puree the favas with the water in the next step, or drain then puree?

And what about the chicory? How long do I cook it? Am I looking for it to get wilted? Soft? Or just blanched? Do I chop it before cooking? I cooked it until fully tender, and I realized late that it would have been easier to eat had I chopped it.

The original recipe calls for mixing the fava bean puree with the cooked greens. I found that this recipe makes quite a bit of puree, perhaps too much for the chicory. So, instead, I kept them separate. Leftover fava bean spread can be used as a dip or spread, slathered in a sandwich, or as a sauce for pasta.

I hope you give this Basilicata specialty a try as well. Enjoy!

Favette e Cicoria

Fava Beans and Chicory

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 8 servings.

1 pound dried fava beans
1 celery rib, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
2 pounds chicory (dandelion or curly endive), cleaned and chopped
8 slices of bread (rustic, Tuscan, Italian, baguette, etc.)

Soak the fava beans overnight in a large bowl with water to cover by 3 inches. OR place the beans in a pot with water to cover by 3 inches, bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 1 hour. Drain and pop the beans out of their skins.Place the beans, celery, onion, and a pinch of salt in a medium pot. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and cook until beans are fully tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer everything to a blender or food processor; add the red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Add a little olive oil and puree until smooth, adding more oil as needed to make it smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper, if desired.Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chicory and a teaspoon salt. Cook until it’s tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well and place in a bowl. Mix in about 2 tablespoons olive oil.Toast the bread. Spread some of the fava puree on the toast and top with some of the chicory. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.

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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.

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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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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.


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Green Tea Noodle Soup

I found green tea noodles the other day and wanted to immediately try them. Green and slender, they not only looked pretty in the package, but I imagined that they would look very appetizing cooked. And I was right. The pale green of the cooked noodles makes for a striking and unique-looking dish. Unlike many noodles made with products other than flour, you can actually taste the green tea in these. It’s sutble, but eaten without other ingredients to mask it, it’s definitely there. While it’s not the best way to cosume green tea, it is another way to benefit, even if just a little, from green tea’s antitoxin properties.Another ingredient in this dish is ume vinegar is a Japanese vinegar made from umeboshi plums. Umeboshi are pickled and are considered an amazing preventative and curative for various ailments, including fatigue and digestive issues, and eliminates toxins from the body. Ume vinegar gives the soup a sweet-sour fruity note. If you can’t find ume vinegar, simply omit it—you don’t have to substitute anything.

Enjoy!

Green Tea Noodle Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 bunches scallions, sliced (white and light green; dark set aside)
2 teaspoons oil
1 cup finely diced carrot 10 oz. green tea noodles
2 cups shredded cabbage
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 cups vegetable broth
8 oz. green beans, chopped
1 ½ cups shelled edamame
10 oz. green tea noodles
1 teaspoon ume vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari, shoyu, or soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Slice the white and light green parts of the scallions and set aside in a small bowl. Slice the dark part of the scallions and set aside in another small bowl.

In a medium-large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the white/light green scallions and sauté until softened, 1 to 2 minutes.Add the carrot, cabbage, and salt, and sauté until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the string beans and edamame. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes.Add the noodles and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the shoyu and sesame oil.Divide the soup among serving bowls and sprinkle green scallion over the top. Serve hot. If you like your soup with more liquid, add more broth or less noodles.


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Leftover-Thanksgiving-Stuff Chili

This is my first post in a while. I took a hiatus for few weeks because I found myself hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in many years.

I used to host Thanksgiving at my house years ago because my family and my then-partner’s family both were very unyielding in allowing us to divide our time. So, our solution was to do Thanksgiving dinner at our house and have both families. We did this for several years, and I don’t think that either family was thrilled about it. The reasons for that are both simple and complex, but what it came down to was that it made the holiday stressful for both of us.

After my partner and I broke up, the Thanksgiving meal shifted to my parents’ house, and it’s been there for the past decade.

But early this year, my father passed away, and my mother, understandably, no longer wanted to do any holidays. It fell on me to do it.

It was a bit more difficult for me to deal with it this time around because a) I’m a decade older than the last time I did it, and b) my job situation is different, and I wasn’t able to take off the same amount of time that I used to years ago.

Having said that, I was able to take off the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day, and my current partner flew in to help me. This was tremendously helpful to me, because I truly wouldn’t have been able to get anything done otherwise.

I actually starting prepping my house about a month before. No, really. That’s how long it took me to put things away, organize, and move things around to optimize the space.

The one good thing about all this was that I was so busy prepping, cooking, and serving/cleaning that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to dwell on the fact that it was the first Thanksgiving without my father. I know my mother was depressed, and I felt bad that I couldn’t spend any time comforting her. But I know others did, and I’m glad. It was early on in my preparations, that the emotions hit me, and now, after it’s all over, it’s hitting me again. It’s been strange and surreal not seeing him sitting there at the table with us.

Anyway, my recipe this week is one that comes from the utilitarian in me, and my desire to not waste food and not take for granted the bounty that we’re fortunate to have in this country.

I call this dish Leftover-Thanksgiving-Stuff Chili. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of stuff I had leftover from Thanksgiving dinner, plus a couple of other things. The nice things is, you can make your own leftover chili with whatever you have in the fridge, or you can follow this recipe, because you know what? It came out great. It’s full of flavor, and because some of the individual elements were made as separate recipes with their own ingredients, the flavors of the chili are layered and complex.

I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again—use leftover cranberry sauce in chili. Its sweet and tart taste adds a great dimension to the dish.

(By the way, the reason you see olives in the photos is because the marinated peppers that I used had olives thrown in there. It was part of the antipasto that I served at dinner. When I say I use everything, I mean it!)

A couple of tips: If you have any beer or wine leftover, use that to deglaze the pot after the tomato paste cooks in, or add it later for a more pronounced flavor. Also, although I’ve listed salt as one of the last items, add the salt a little at a time as you add ingredients, starting with the onions. This ensures that you coax out the maximum flavor from each individual ingredient. Chefs do this regularly, but you will rarely see it written in a recipe because it makes the recipe cumbersome to instruct adding a quantity of salt at each step. But you should do it. 🙂

So, here’s my utilitarian chili. Enjoy!

Leftover-Thanksgiving-Stuff Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/3 cup chopped red onion
2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
1½ cups chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder

2 cups broth (you can make part of this beer or wine)
1½ cups chopped tomatoes
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 cup cranberry sauce
½ cup chopped roasted peppers (optional)
3 cups cooked beans (pinto, Roman, Navy, any kind you like)
3 teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium-large sauce pot. Add the onions and sauté over medium-high heat until they’re soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the green pepper and sauté until it softens, about 3 or 4 minutes.Add the tomato paste and stir it in well. Mix in the chili powder. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pot with broth (and or beer/wine). Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to get up any browned bits. Bring it to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients, except the parsley. Mix well. Bring it back to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, as desired. Stir in the parsley and serve.

 

 


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Giant Pear Squash with Cannellini

The squash family has many variations. There are the well-known types, such as butternuts, sweet dumplings, kabocha, spaghetti, zucchini, pattypan, and numerous others. But there are so many lesser know varieties, some you would never see except when they appear in neighbors’ gardens.

Giant pear squash

If you visit farmers’ markets, you can find some other squash varieties, but you won’t generally find them in most stores. However, every once in a while, an unusual type will show up in my local produce market. And that’s exactly what happened with the giant pear squash.

Giant pear squash is so called because…well, take a look at it. It’s aptly named. (Yes, it really is as big as it looks in the photo. The photo is not distorted in any way.) It has a very mild flesh, somewhat similar to yellow summer squash. It can easily be used in any dish that requires a mild squash, or as a substitute for zucchini.

You want to cut out the spongy core of the giant pear squash. Not because it’s inedible, but because it contains seeds that are too hard to eat. They kind of look like chulpe, a Peruvian dried corn (see photos below).

Squash seeds, fresh

Squash seeds, dried

Chulpe corn

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