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Monday, November 14, 2011

macaroni and cheese with cauliflower

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the end of the produce box business

Three years ago, with my farmer friend Arthur, I started up a year-round local produce box business—otherwise known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Our aim was to fill the local demand for boxes of produce, but to use as many Alaskan vegetables as possible. We were competing with a company who flew their boxes up from Washington, and their produce came from all over the world.

Our business was a success in some ways, but a struggle in others. We had wonderful, supportive customers, and it was great to work with Arthur. My husband Dan pitched in, and we had a great crew of packing and delivery guys. But the challenges of getting produce from Outside when our supply of local Alaskan vegetables dwindled were often maddening—not to mention expensive.  And there were so many variables beyond our control.

If you want to read a more complete explanation of why we decided to call it quits at the end of the summer, you can visit our Glacier Valley Farm CSA website. Suffice it to say that although we were sad to have to stop the service, it has also been quite a relief to all of us. Arthur’s Glacier Valley Farm is thriving, and he is selling local produce out of a renovated barn next to the highway to Palmer. Dan and I are back to just owning one business, Rise & Shine Bakery, and we are happy that our lives are simpler now. We have more time for ourselves, and to spend with our daughter Meredith. And I have time to try new recipes and write a post now and then!

As the end of the summer approached, I knew that I wouldn’t be getting my usual two boxes of produce each week from our CSA business. I had to get busy stocking up for the winter! I prepped, blanched and froze gigantic amounts of broccoli and collards, and put up a fair amount of peas and cauliflower, too. Then, after I had brought home six more gigantic heads of cauliflower from the farmers market, I realized that I was starting to run out of freezer space. And I had the perfect recipe to make with my cauliflower: a macaroni & cheese recipe by Mark Bittman that used pureed cauliflower instead of the usual béchamel-based cheese sauce to bind everything together.  I didn’t have the recommended Gruyere cheese (just cheddar), and as usual, I changed up the recipe here and there to make it a bit healthier.

I launched into the project with gusto—I think I ended up making a sextuple batch (I did have six giant cauliflowers, after all), which filled up every baking dish and bread pan in the house. I put them all in the ‘fridge overnight. At the time of making the mac & cheese, I had already bought way too many other vegetables at the farmers market, and I was trying to get them all cooked and eaten. I didn’t have room in my menu plan to even try the cauliflower mac & cheese. So into the freezer they all went. Tasting them would have to wait for another day, after the farmers market was closed.

You might have already read my precepts for cooking for and eating out of your freezer: NEVER freeze anything you don’t love. You won’t be tempted to thaw it out and eat it later, and it will just languish in your freezer, taking up space and making you feel guilty every time you see the label. Better to feed it to your neighbors, or your dog, than put it in the deep freeze. So I admit to feeling a little trepidation when I froze all that mac & cheese, using a recipe I wasn’t familiar with, and then not even tasting it first. But after all, I had all that cauliflower! And how could I go wrong with mac & cheese? Still, I was nervous to try it.

For the last several weeks, we have been living out of the freezer, slowly making our way through the frozen bounty. And I have good news: the macaroni & cheese tastes great! What a relief. It’s lovely, rich and creamy, but healthy and full of vegetables at the same time. It’s great comfort food!

macaroni and cheese with cauliflower

Adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe in Runner’s World.  Make a double batch of this and freeze it in bread pans. After it has had time to mellow in the fridge, the flavors are even better.

1-1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 large cauliflower, cored and cut into 1-inch florets
8 ounces whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or spirals
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar—or maybe a bit more
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 or 4 cloves (or more, to your taste) of roasted garlic (optional—see recipe below)
sea salt or kosher salt and black pepper
————————————————
¼ to ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 1-1/2 cups freshly ground whole-grain bread crumbs

1. Heat oven to 375° F. Boil a pot of salted water.
2. Cook cauliflower in boiling water until quite tender—probably 15 to 25 minutes.
3. While the cauliflower cooks, grind your bread slices in your food processor. Combine the crumbs in a small bowl with the Parmesan cheese and set aside.
4. Scoop the cauliflower out of the boiling water and put it in the food processor.
5. Cook pasta in the boiling water until tender. Drain it, then put pasta in a large bowl. Grease a nine-inch square baking dish, or a couple of bread pans. 
6. Process cauliflower with stock, mustard, nutmeg, optional roasted garlic, salt and pepper, working in batches if necessary. Taste the puree and make sure there is enough salt and pepper and mustard. It should be quite well-seasoned, since it will be flavoring the pasta, as well.
7. Pour sauce over the pasta, sprinkle the cheese in, stir to combine, and spread evenly in the prepared dish(es).
8. If you’re going to freeze some of it, make it to this point, then cover and freeze.  If you’re making the dish from frozen, make sure to give the mac & cheese plenty of time to thaw—it takes a long time.
9. Cover the pan with foil and heat for 30 minutes or so, testing with a knife or an instant read thermometer in the middle of the dish to make sure the casserole is hot all the way in the center. When the dish is piping hot, spike the heat to 450 degrees, cover the noodles with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan, and put the dish back into the oven, uncovered, until the bread crumbs are browned—5 to 10 minutes.

roasted garlic and garlic oil

This is actually how I make my olive oil infused with roasted garlic—and the by-product is the “roasted” garlic—which is actually poached in olive oil, but even sweeter and more tender than roasted. If you’d rather roast your garlic in the oven, wrapped in foil, I’m sure you have a recipe in a book already, but this method is much easier, and yields garlic that is sweet and soft and luscious, plus garlic oil has a wonderful, mellow flavor that is intensely garlicky at the same time.

several heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled (I just buy a bag of peeled garlic cloves from Costco, but 3 pounds of garlic might be more than you want to handle.)
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy, lidded pot. Cover the garlic cloves with olive oil.
2. Bring the oil and garlic to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish one against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil.
4. The garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take the cloves out as needed.
5. The oil can be used to roast any vegetable—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, turnips…  you name it! Or just dunk your toast in it. Keep it refrigerated. It’ll solidify in the refrigerator, but just scoop out a spoonful and let it come to room temperature.

 


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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

heatlhy macaroni and cheese (with secret vegetable)

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using it up

What’s the opposite of “putting food up” for the winter? Now that we’re into springtime, we’re into “using it up.” I’m so happy for all this lovely daylight and sunshine! But in addition to doing a little spring cleaning (That bright sunlight raking across the surfaces really spotlights the dust, doesn’t it?) it’s time to look critically at what’s in the freezer. I need to really make an effort to eat what I stored in there in the fall. Even though I try never to freeze food that I didn’t love to begin with, sometimes it happens. Something I only sort of liked when I carefully labeled and froze it (probably because I was sick of eating it at the time) can languish in the freezer for months, sometimes years. Does this sound familiar? These things don’t exactly call my name when I open the lid and peer in, looking for something for dinner. It’s easy to shove them aside in favor of something that sounds more delicious. Like home-made pizza, or refried beans to make tostadas, or minestrone soup.
For the last two weeks, I’ve approached this freezer-cleaning project with real grit and determination. Here’s my strategy.

1. No new veggies. I’m still getting my weekly CSA produce boxes, so fresh food IS still coming into the house, but other than that, NO other vegetables are coming in. Mainly, this means no impulse buys of interesting and fun vegetables at Costco (including asparagus and green beans!).

2. Just give it a try! The funny thing is, even if it doesn’t actually sound that good sitting in the freezer, if I thaw it out and heat it up and come up with something to serve with it, it usually turns out to be pretty good.

3. Feed it to your friends. Are you wondering why I’m not telling you the names of the frozen foods I’ve been avoiding? It’s because if you come over for dinner sometime soon, I’m likely to feed them to you. It helps to have a little help to polish off that giant tub of braised celery.

4. Get creative with combinations. I’ve been thawing out sort of random combinations of things, and it’s kind of fun have a little of this, a little of that…  kind of a tapas-inspired meal.

5. Try new ways to use old ingredients. My recipe this week is an example of a new idea for old stuff in my freezer! I had baked a turban squash during the winter, planning to eat it later as a squash puree or a soup. But last week I remembered a recipe I’d seen for macaroni and cheese that used squash puree instead of béchamel sauce (you know, butter, flour, milk) to make it creamy…  a really healthy alternative to the usual mac & cheese! So I dug up the recipe and tried it—really fun!

healthy macaroni & cheese

This recipe is based on one that Fine Cooking emailed out after the New Year (you know, healthy resolutions and all that). The original recipe is from a book by Ellie Krieger, called The Food You Crave: Luscious recipes for a healthy life, which I don’t own, but maybe I should! Anyway, I’ve changed the recipe around a lot, (less cheese, added onions) but the basic idea was hers, and I think it works great. Try this if you’re feeling adventuresome but want something sort of comfort-foody, and especially make it if you have squash in your freezer!

1 16-oz. box elbow macaroni (I like to use whole-wheat)
1 large onion, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
30 oz. frozen puréed winter squash, thawed
3 cups skim milk
6 oz. grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)
1 ½ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 9 x 13-in. baking dish with cooking spray. Cook the macaroni according the package directions. Drain and return to the pasta pot.
2. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and salt in the olive oil in large pan until soft. Add the milk and squash and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture is almost simmering.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar, mustard, and cayenne. Add more salt to taste—you will probably want to add more salt to make up for the cheese that isn’t in there. It’s OK if it gets grainy—the pasta will absorb the sauce and it’ll turn out just fine. Pour this mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. Pour into baking dish.
3. Combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan in small grinder and grind until combined. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake until piping hot in the center, 30 to 40 minutes (on the longer side if you made the dish earlier in the day, before baking it). If the topping isn’t nicely browned, broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.

 


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

spicy peanut noodles with bean sprouts &  stir-fried baby bok choy

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back to school

This week Meredith started preschool again, and we’re ALL thrilled! It’s her third year, so it’s familiar but still exciting, and she’s so happy to see her teachers and friends again. Of course, she’s missing the older cohort that left for kindergarten, so that’s a little sad, but she’s learning to fill in for them and play the “big kid” role, helping the new little ones. We were so grateful for the nurturing and sweet care of her friend Karli last year; I hope Meredith can be as kind a friend to some of the younger ones this year.

To celebrate, Dan and I went for a tandem bike ride today after dropping Meredith off! What a treat to have the weather and the time to escape for a little mid-day adventure. Don’t get me wrong—I love family outings, too—but riding the bike without hauling our 40-pound five-year-old in the bike trailer is pretty wonderful. And this way, we all get our fresh air and exercise, and then can spend quiet time together when she gets home.

I love having the time during the day to do my work, and to prepare for the evening so that I can feel focused and calm about spending special time with Meredith. It doesn’t always happen, but this week, she definitely needs the extra tender loving care—she is worn to a thread when she gets home!

Since I had a little extra time yesterday, I could try a new recipe. See what you think!

spicy peanut noodles with bean sprouts & sautéed baby bok choy

Because I had a little more time today, I had a chance to explore an old cookbook (Noodle, by Terry Durack) for a recipe to accompany the baby bok choy we’d traded Mr. Stockwell for our kalamata olive bread at the Saturday Farmers Market. I ended up deciding on a spicy peanut noodle recipe. Of course, I made a complete mockery of his recipe, adding way more veggies than was called for, and substituting pantry ingredients for unknown Asian ones.

Even though you probably already have your favorite peanut noodle recipe, consider trying this one. It’s different because I’ve used at least equal parts (if not more) mung mean sprouts to cooked noodles. But you can’t really tell because the sprouts are noodle-shaped, and coated with the yummy sauce! Lightly blanched, they add a great crunch to the softer bite of the noodles, and they make the dish lighter and healthier! This dish is fantastic at room temperature, too—so you can make this for a potluck or eat it cold for leftovers.

When I made this, I made a double batch of the sauce to make sure I had enough for all those bean sprouts. I think you’ll be fine with a single batch, but since it makes such great leftovers, why not make a double batch anyway?

1 teaspoon peanut oil (I like to use Loriva toasted peanut oil)
2 to 3 tablespoons grated or finely chopped fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons sugar
4 to 6 cups mung bean sprouts
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
½ teaspoon chili oil (or substitute a pinch of cayenne, to your taste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons peanut butter (I love Maranatha organic—it’s SO creamy and yummy, even the crunchy variety, which is my preference)
2 tablespoons water
1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce (I like to use Nama Shoyu, which you can get at Natural Pantry)
1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
½ pound spaghetti (I like to use whole wheat, but use what you prefer)
4 scallions, finely sliced

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a couple of tablespoons of salt.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the peanut oil with grated ginger and sugar.
3. Blanch bean sprouts in the boiling water, and scoop them out after a minute, letting them drain and cool.
4. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan just until they start to brown. Crush them lightly in a mortar and pestle.
5. Add the chili oil (or cayenne), sesame oil, peanut butter, water and toasted sesame seeds to the ginger and oil mixture and whisk to combine. Add the soy sauce, vinegar and pepper, whisking again. Taste and add more soy sauce if you like.
6. Cook the noodles in the boiling water until they are done to your liking. Drain them, put them in a big bowl, add the bean sprouts, and toss them immediately with enough sauce to coat everything nicely. Add more sauce to your taste.
7. Plate each serving alongside a vegetable (like the baby bok choy) and top with a generous sprinkling of scallions.

sauteed baby bok choy

4 to 6 baby bok choy
4 to 6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon peanut oil or canola oil
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Trim the bottom ends off each boy choy, take them apart and slice the leaves lengthwise into halves.
2. Heat the oil over very high heat and sauté the garlic until it becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the baby bok choy leaves and ½ teaspoon of salt and sauté until the leaves are wilted, stirring to get the garlic up off the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn.
4. If the leaves are all wilted and the pan is dry, but the stems are still very crunchy, add ¼ cup water, cover the pan, and let the leaves steam until the stems are tender. Add more salt to taste, and serve.


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Sunday, February 08, 2009

cabbage & carrots on pasta with toasted walnuts

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vegetable prep

The other day I was selling our bread and handing out our vegetable CSA boxes, and a woman mentioned that she had made this recipe from the previous week’s Glacier Grist. She told me she wasn’t at all sure about the recipe as she was making it—it took a long time to chop all those veggies… “this had better be worth it!” she said to herself. “And how good can it be, anyway, cabbage and carrots?” I admit, not the most tempting sounding recipe. But she persevered (after all, she had the ingredients in her box), she made it, and LOVED IT! She was so happy that she’d tried it! Seriously, this is a fantastic recipe—it’s better than you could ever imagine with these humble ingredients…  in part because of all that chopping!

So this is a good time for a little veggie-prep encouragement. If you’d read my blog much, and/or have cooked my recipes, you’ll already know that most of my recipes are easy, but they do take a fair amount of vegetable preparation: chopping, dicing, slicing, and mincing. Recipes that use lots of vegetables and taste really great usually taste that way because of time spent preparing the raw ingredients. One thing that’s going to help you here is to have a good-quality SHARP KNIFE. I’ll admit, I’m lousy at sharpening a knife. But I refuse to cook with a dull knife. So I have one of those little hand-held knife sharpeners with 2 little blades set in a V-shape. Every time I start to cook (I’m not kidding—every time I set out to cut an onion), I pull that little sharpener out of the drawer, drag my knife over the V a few times, and Voila! a sharp knife. It makes all the difference. Using a dull knife is dangerous (the knife is more likely to slip and cut you), and it is NOT FUN to slice and dice with a dull knife. So, if you don’t already have a couple of decent knives, I’d encourage you to get yourself a decent 9” or 10” chef’s knife and a 4” paring knife, and keep them SHARP by using a sharpener obsessively. I promise, you’ll have way more fun in the kitchen.

cabbage & carrots on pasta with toasted walnuts

I love this recipe! Here’s another of my pasta recipes that has loads of vegetables and not so much pasta. Healthy, healthy, healthy! You can make this recipe with regular green cabbage or Savoy cabbage. The combination of sweet, browned onions, sweet Alaskan carrot slices, and the salty, toasted walnuts… it’s fantastically flavorful Fall food! It’s inspired by a recipe in rebar modern food.

One nice thing about this recipe is that you don’t need to put any cheese on it, because of the salty, roasty-toasty walnuts. Try it with just the nuts before you heap Parmesan on it!

½ pound whole wheat pasta, or buckwheat soba
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion (or 2 medium onions), diced
sea salt or kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
1 tablespoon dried sage (or ¼ cup fresh sage, minced)
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves)
1 medium head green or Savoy cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into ¼-inch thick ribbons
½ to 1 cup vegetable stock, bean broth, or water
3 medium carrots, cut into thin half-moon slices
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
freshly ground pepper
½ cup walnuts, toasted for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven
1-2 tablespoons toasted walnut oil (optional—but I love to use Loriva oil)
½ bunch parsley, leaves chopped finely

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the pasta.
2. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onions with ½ teaspoon salt until golden. Add carrots and sauté for another couple of minutes, then add the garlic, chiles, and herbs for several more minutes.
3. Stir in the cabbage with another ½ teaspoon salt and the stock or water, and add enough stock to keep the cabbage from sticking in the pan. Continue to sauté the vegetables until the cabbage is tender.
4. Meanwhile, add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until tender.
5. Chop the walnuts coarsely and toss them in a small bowl with the toasted walnut oil (if using) and a generous pinch of salt.
6. Just before serving, taste the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar to taste, but don’t overdo it—you want to be able to taste the flavors of the vegetables and the toasted walnuts.
7. To serve, put a small mound of pasta on each plate, and mound a big pile of vegetables on top. Sprinkle with toasted, salted walnuts and chopped parsley.

 


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Thursday, October 16, 2008

barley risotto with golden beets & greens

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new season, new schedule

We’ve had a little break from baking our whole-grain sourdough bread after we ended our farmers’ market sales. Now we’re re-tooling to our wintertime bakery routine, and will begin baking again early next week. Our customers pre-order their bread every week (now through our brand-new website, riseandshinebread.com!), then pick up their loaves from me at a couple of locations around Anchorage.

The neat thing about selling at the farmers’ market during the summer, then switching to a different wintertime routine, is that our year truly feels seasonal. We never get tired of one venue or the other! By the time the Saturday farmers’ market is over, I’m ready to stop standing around in the cold and I’m looking forward to my slower-paced sales in warm coffee shops on Wednesdays. And conversely, as June approaches, I am itching for the farmers’ market to begin!

The other nice thing about the seasonal switches is that each changeover gives us a chance to make a fresh start. It’s become an important time for us to reassess our weekly schedule and the daily rhythms (or lack thereof) that we’ve set up with Meredith, our four-year-old. With fresh eyes, we look at the habits we’ve gotten into (bad or good) in terms of exercise, sharing household chores, cooking, socializing with friends, and most of all, spending quality time with each other. It’s easier to make a change when our whole schedule is shaking up, anyway!

So this week has been a good one for catching up on things, deciding what we’d like to change, and strategizing about how to do it. One of our new tactics is for Dan to make dinner on Wednesdays, since I will get home late after selling the bread all day. Last night was our first Wednesday together since we ended our farmers’ market bread sales, and even though we didn’t bake this week, Dan started his new routine, and it was wonderful. Perched at the bar facing the stove while he prepared a lovely meal, I typed desultorily on our bakery newsletter. I’ll admit, I was mainly just soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of someone else cooking my dinner! Listening to him chop onions, rosemary, and ginger… Watching him slice beets and excavate kale from our snow-covered vegetable patch…  Smelling the rich, savory aromas emanating from his cooking pots… What a treat, and a wonderful break for me. Yes, I love cooking our meals every day, lunch AND dinner, but Dan’s a good cook, too, and just hasn’t taken the opportunity to cook much, lately. Now I’ll be looking forward to Wednesdays every week!

barley risotto with golden beets & greens

This recipe is such a warming, wonderful one for the fall and winter. It’s gorgeous with golden beets, but I’ve made it with red beets, too—it’s VERY pink, but that’s also fun! The combination of ginger and rosemary is a surprising one, but the flavor is just amazing. This recipe is based on one in Peter Berley’s fantastic book, Fresh Food Fast.

For the beets, you can either cook them with the barley, as directed below, or you can use beets that you’ve already roasted and peeled, just adding them at the end, after the barley is completely cooked. (See my beet salad recipe for instructions on roasting beets.)

I like to make the recipe a little bit ahead of time, so there’s about an hour before eating it for the barley to soak up even more of the cooking liquid, and the flavors to meld. As long as you salt this dish to your taste, I think there is plenty of flavor without adding cheese, but you can sprinkle Parmesan cheese on at the table if you like! The cabbage & fennel salad with apples & raisins is a great match with this risotto.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
3 medium golden beets, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1 to 2 bunches chard, beet greens, or kale
black pepper

1. In a large, heavy pot over high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt and sauté until the onion is starting to brown lightly—5 minutes or so. Add the barley, ginger, and rosemary and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the beets (unless they are already roasted—see note, above) and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.
2. Cover the pot and simmer the barley over low heat, stirring fairly often (but you don’t need to be stirring it obsessively). You’ll need to add more water periodically to keep the barley from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the barley is tender and the beets are completely cooked. This will take something like 40 minutes, but just keep tasting to see how it’s coming along. The barley releases starches as it cooks, so at the end, you’ll have a beautiful creamy porridge-like risotto.
3. While the barley cooks, prepare the greens. Remove their stems and chop the leaves into ½-inch slices. If you’re using kale (I recommend it!), you’ll need to blanch it, first. Boil it in a pot of salted water until tender (5-8 minutes—just keep tasting it).
4. When the barley is tender and creamy, add the greens to the pot, and if they were raw when you added them, cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the greens are tender (3 to 5 minutes). If the beets were already roasted, add them now. Taste for salt. Make sure to add enough to really bring the flavors up. Season with pepper to taste.
5. If you have time to cover it and let it rest for a 30 minutes to an hour before serving, do so. Reheat just before serving. 

 


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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

fresh tomato sauce

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Arthur’s lunch

Every week I bring lunch to Arthur at the Wednesday South Anchorage Farmers’ Market. Arthur is the farmers’ market manager, and I’m his market reporter. He’s also a farmer, and brings all kinds of fantastic produce to sell on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Dan and I only bake our Rise & Shine Bakery bread for the Saturday market, so on Wednesdays I can visit the farmers’ market in a leisurely fashion, usually accompanied by Meredith (my four-year-old). We have time to browse the selections at each stand, shoot some photographs, banter with the farmers, and browbeat my fellow customers into buying vegetables they haven’t tried before. (Today I crusaded for Savoy cabbage.)

Arthur loves my cooking, and I’m always telling him about some delicious dish I’ve made with his great produce. I used to bring Arthur little samples of dishes I’d made, but one day he suggested that I bring him lunch on Wednesdays and he’d trade me for vegetables! Such a deal for both of us! He’s so thrilled with a home-cooked lunch on a long busy day that he’s happy to pile my tote bags high with broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, peas, zucchini, cucumbers, and other bounty.

And sometimes, I get REALLY lucky. Like a couple of weeks ago. I went to the market with all the makings for a big, beautiful Caesar salad for Arthur and Mary Jane (she helps Arthur sell the produce). And Arthur said “Hey! Do you like to make tomato sauce?” He had a bunch of tomatoes that didn’t sell at the last market, so they were just a little too ripe to sell. “What, are you crazy?” I leaped at the question. “Of course I’d make tomato sauce!” Every Alaska-grown tomato is a tomato raised in a greenhouse, so having enough extra to make sauce is a rare event. In fact, I’ve never done it. I usually just eat them raw. Big tomatoes in salads, the little ones straight out of the bag on the way home from the market. Mmmm.

So, this afternoon, Dan helped me make tomato sauce to freeze! And boy is it yummy. Just in case you happen to get a windfall of tomatoes, here’s a fun sauce to make.

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fresh tomato sauce

I admit, if I didn’t have a friend with a really big greenhouse, I’d never make tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes. If you are lucky enough to have lots of tomatoes, you can increase the amount of sauce accordingly, to freeze. It’s a variation on one of Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s tomato sauce recipes in The Italian Country Table. Most tomato sauce recipes (including hers) tell you to use a food mill to get rid of the skins at the end of the process, but 1) I don’t have a food mill, and 2) I like my sauce chunky. So I just peeled the tomatoes at the beginning to avoid the little tough bits of skin in the sauce, and blendered it up a little at the end.

sauce

2 pounds ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced fine
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced fine (the easiest way I’ve found is to use a coffee grinder)
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon sugar

pasta & toppings

½ pound pasta, such as spaghetti. (I prefer whole-wheat.)
kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
chopped parsley

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. You can use this water to prepare the tomatoes, and then to boil the pasta, so wash your tomatoes first. Mark an “X” in the bottom of each tomato with a serrated knife. Put 3 or 4 tomatoes in the water at a time for 30 seconds to a minute, until the skin starts to peel away from the “X.” Remove tomatoes with a slotted spoon, and cool in a bowl as you dip the other tomatoes. Peel the skin off the tomatoes and remove the core with a paring knife. Cut the peeled tomatoes into wedges.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté the onions to golden-brown, stirring often with a wooden spatula.
3. Stir in the rosemary, garlic, tomatoes, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often and scraping down the sides of the pot. Cook about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have thickened and the tomato flesh is softened.
4. At this point, you’ll probably still have lots of chunks of tomato flesh in the pot. If you like it chunky, leave it this way. I wanted it a little smoother, though, so I used an immersion blender to puree some of the tomato pieces into the sauce. It still left the sauce quite chunky. If you don’t have an immersion blender, put some of the sauce into a blender and puree.
5. Now, stir it all around and taste it. Add more salt until you have the right balance of flavors. If you want the sauce to be thicker, boil it down some more.
6. Salt the tomato-dipping water and bring it back to a boil. Cook your pasta in that fiercely boiling water until done to your liking.
7. Serve the pasta with generous amounts of sauce, and top with a sprinkling of olives and parsley. 


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