Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Favette e Cicoria

Basilicata

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. Continue reading

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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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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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Cannellini Ragout

Italian cuisine is known as rustic, hearty fare, but even its finer dishes tend to be comforting and satisfying. This recipe is a perfect example. It’s got the filling protein of creamy cannellini beans and the fresh tartness of tomatoes, but just a bit of wine gives it complexity and elevates it to an elegant dinner option. But it’s also perfect for everyday meals. A piece of toast made with rustic bread makes it a filling, flavor-filled lunch or dinner.

Enjoy!

Cannellini Ragout

Makes 4 servings.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
¼ cup white wine or vegetable broth
4 cups cooked cannellini (fresh cooked or canned, rinsed and drained)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup chopped plum tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 slices rustic bread, toasted
¼ grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a medium Dutch oven or saucepot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-high heat until they’ve softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the bell peppers and continue sautéing until the peppers are soft, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste. Stir until it’s well blended. Pour in the wine or broth and stir it in, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the beans, salt, pepper, and the broth. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and let it simmer until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook another 3 to 4 minutes to soften them. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Place a piece of toast in the bottom of each serving bowl. Place equal amounts of the beans on top of the toast. Sprinkle the Parmigiano, then drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over each.

Serve hot.


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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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Roasted Squash and Purple Potatoes with Baby Bok Choy

Roasting is my favorite way to cook almost any vegetable, but it’s definitely the way to go with root vegetables and squashes. Because it’s so easy, this is the perfect dish to serve at any weeknight meal. But because it’s easily doubled or tripled, it’s ideal for the Thanksgiving table, or for any special autumn or winter meal. Enjoy.

Roasted Squash and Purple Potatoes with Baby Bok Choy

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

6-7 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups cubed butternut or other winter squash
2 cups cubed purple potatoes (about 1½ pounds)
1 small onion, sliced
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 teaspoons kosher salt
½ pound baby bok choy
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice 1 garlic clove and set aside. Smash the rest with the flat side of a knife blade (hit your palm CAREFULLY down on the blade).Combine the squash, potatoes, onions, and smashed garlic in a medium bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and 2 teaspoons of the salt and mix well. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are tender and golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. Stir halfway through.Meanwhile, make the bok choy. Slice off the root end and separate the leaves. Soak the leaves in a bowl of cool water for about 10 minutes. Remove the bok choy and rinse them.Heat the remaining oil in a medium skillet. Add the sliced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the bok choy and remaining salt and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue cooking over medium heat until tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.Place the bok choy neatly on a platter. Spoon the squash and potatoes over the bok choy. Serve hot.


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Vegetable-Bean Stew with Spaghetti Squash

Very often, my stews and chilis are built on whatever produce is in season and available at the farmers’ markets. I’ll be honest—I don’t get everything at farmers’ markets. I’d be constantly broke. But I’ll find one or two or three items that are in season, sometimes only briefly, and that look particularly good. In this case, I had some gorgeous greens from a couple of bunches of beets, beautiful red onions, and bright, fresh out-of-the-ground carrots. I gathered a few more vegetables and assembled this stew.

But the beautiful thing about vegetable stew is that it’s wide open to ingredients. You can use whatever vegetables you like, whatever beans you like, and whatever herbs and spices you like. Or omit any of those things.

I had the good fortune of having several cloves of garlic in the refrigerator that I had pan roasted. I chopped those up and added them. If you want to add an extra depth of flavor, you can pan roast a few cloves before you begin the stew.

Vegetable-Bean Stew with Spaghetti Squash

1 small spaghetti squash
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
3 to 5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup red wine, broth, or water
2 cups chopped green pepper
2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes
1 ½ cups chopped carrots
4 cups vegetable broth or water
3 cups beans of your choice (such as Great Northern, pinto, cannellini, etc.)
4 cups (cleaned) chopped greens (such as beet greens, kale, chard, etc.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt*
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup freshly chopped herbs of your choice (basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Split the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings from the center. Place the halves face down on a baking sheet. Roast until the tip of a knife goes through the flesh easily, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven. When they’re cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out the flesh. Place it in a bowl and set it aside.Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 o 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.Add the tomato paste and stir it in until it’s well blended. Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes. When the bottom of the pot starts to get dark streaks, pour in the wine and stir it in. Scrape up the dark bits from the bottom of the pot.Add the green pepper, tomatoes, and carrots. Stir and cook 5 minutes. Pour in the broth and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender but still firm, about 10 to 13 minutes. Add the beans, greens, salt, and black pepper. Stir and cook another 5 minutes, or until the greens are tender. Stir in the herbs. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.*Salting is best done in stages. Add a little bit of salt whenever you add a new ingredient. This gives each item a chance to absorb the salt, and it builds layers of flavor. This kind of instruction is difficult to impart in a recipe, but I have faith in you, my dearest readers.