Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rosemary Spinach Pesto

A delicious winter pesto with fresh greens! Keep some potted rosemary around to have fresh rosemary whenever you want it

1/2 lb spinach, washed and large stems removed
2 Tbsp rosemary leaves (removed from stems)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 - 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until very smooth. You may wish to add the oil a little at a time until you reach a desirable consistency.

Makes enough to serve with one pound of cooked pasta.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crispy Roasted Sweet Potato and Parsnip Sticks

The first 'spring'-dug parsnips are showing up in the markets now, with this crazy warm weather we've had for the last month or so. Their time in the cold ground has turned their starch to sugar, making them a delicious treat at this time of year.

My four-year-old very earnestly asked me if I would please make these again sometime.

2-3 lbs parsnips and sweet potatoes, peeled
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp canola oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (if desired).

For large spring-dug parsnips, cut out woody cores. Then cut both parsnips and sweet potatoes into thin julienne strips. Place them in a large bowl.

Combine the cornstarch, cinnamon, chili powder, and salt in a small bowl and mix well. Toss with the parsnips and sweet potatoes until they are all well coated. Drizzle the oil over the vegetables and toss well again.

Spread the vegetables in a thin layer on the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip them over as best you can. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, until pleasantly crispy. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6.

Variation: Skip the cinnamon and add a bit of cayenne to go with the chili powder. Serve sprinkled with lime juice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pasta with Creamy Spinach Sauce, Chickpeas, and Blue Cheese

I loved aged blue cheese, and there are several nice local ones to choose from around here. Local spinach has also become fairly easy to come by through the winter, thanks to savvy farmers with unheated greenhouses.

1 lb dry pasta
3 Tbsp olive oil (1 + 2)
1 large shallot or small onion, minced
1/2 lb spinach, stemmed and rinsed
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk (whole is good, but use what you like)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
2-3 oz. crumbled blue cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water. Prepare the sauce while you bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shallot or onion and saute for about 3 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and saute, stirring frequently, until it is wilted but not mushy. Remove from heat. Puree the spinach mixture until very smooth, then set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low-medium and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking until smooth. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly to get rid of the lumps. Continue to whisk as it thickens to a creamy consistency. Turn off the heat, then whisk in the spinach mixture until thoroughly combined. Add chickpeas, blue cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with a little olive oil, then add the sauce and stir to coat.

Serve hot.

Serves 4-6.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Braised Beef Shanks with Marsala and Mushrooms

This is delightfully earthy and satisfying. Excellent with mashed potatoes. I used dried porcini mushrooms, which are intensely flavorful. Feel free to use another type; if it's something less pungent you might want to increase the quantity.

You could easily substitute short ribs or a pot roast cut for the shanks in this recipe.

3-4 lbs beef shanks
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
2 shallots, chopped (or 1 small onion)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup dried porcini or other mushrooms
1 1/2 cups marsala
Beef broth

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Pat the meat dry with paper towels, then season liberally all over with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan and brown in the oven for 10 minutes on each side.

While the meat browns, heat a little olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add the shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat. When the meat is browned, add it to the pot along with the garlic, dried mushrooms, marsala, and enough beef broth to cover the meat about three quarters of the way. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low and simmer for 3-4 hours, until the meat is falling-apart tender.

To serve, place the meat on a platter and cut away the bones and remaining connective tissue, then cut meat into chunks. Strain the solids out of the cooking liquid and return it to the pot. Reduce a bit if you like.

Serve the meat with mashed potatoes and a spoonful of the cooking liquid.

Serves about 4.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Savory Southwestern Cornbread Pudding

This was inspired by a large batch of leftover cornbread that accidentally got left out overnight uncovered. Too stale to eat on its own, but it seemed a shame to waste it. This bread pudding was the happy result. The format is quite flexible - I considered several ingredient and flavoring options before deciding on this one, but I plan to try others next time I have leftover cornbread. You could even take it in a sweet direction, using berries, cinnamon and sugar and topping with whipped cream.

This takes some time to prepare and bake, though mostly unattended, so save it for a night (or brunch) when you have time.

4 eggs, beaten
2 1/2 cups milk
Approximately 8 cups cubed stale cornbread
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (thawed if frozen)
1 1/2 cups diced red pepper (thawed if frozen)
1 1/2 - 2 cups cooked black beans
1/4 cup chopped pickled hot peppers (or to taste)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar

Combine the eggs and milk in a large bowl. Add the cornbread and soak for about 30 minutes, carefully stirring once or twice.

Once the cornbread has soaked up a lot of the egg and milk mixture, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add salt and pepper, corn, red pepper, black beans, and pickled hot peppers, along with half the shredded cheddar, to the cornbread mixture. Carefully mix, taking care not to turn the cornbread to mush.

Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Pour the cornbread mixture into the pan and spread it out. Top with the remaining cheddar.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until cooked through. The pudding will remain soft in the middle but the egg should all be cooked.

Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

Variations: Substitute 2-3 minced chipotles in adobo for the pickled hot peppers, or add chopped fresh cilantro and/or scallions with the vegetables.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Classic Rack of Lamb with Garlic, Parsley, and Bread Crumbs

Readers, if you've noticed a drop-off in posting frequency over the last couple months, there's a good reason: we're expecting our second child in July and I've found I just don't have quite my usual level of energy, especially at the end of the day when it's time to make dinner. But I'm still managing to try a few new things here and there.

Here's one of them. This is a classic preparation, which I've adapted from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. Parsley potatoes make an excellent accompaniment, and a glass of red wine would definitely not go amiss. And yes, fresh parsley is available from local growers at this time of year, as it is very cold hardy and takes beautifully to the unheated greenhouse or cold frame.

2 racks of lamb (about 1 1/2 - 2 lbs total)
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 - 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Rinse the lamb and pat dry. Starting at the bony end, make slices about halfway down between the ribs toward the meaty end. Place the racks in a 9x13-inch baking pan, meaty side up. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and garlic in a bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil and stir well. Spread this mixture generously over the meaty side of the racks.

Place the pan in the oven and roast for 20 minutes. If your racks are on the smaller side (under 1 lb each) this is likely to be enough to cook them to a nice medium rare. You can check the temperature by sliding a meat thermometer in one end, straight toward the middle. You want the racks done to at least 125 degrees (but not much more). If they are not quite to 125, you can pop them back in the oven for no more than another couple minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 3-4.