Friday, May 27, 2011

Barley Risotto with Grilled Vegetables

A weekend stroll through Hendricks Park was filled with colorful blossoms, from demur 

to flamboyant. All this flora inspired some outdoor cooking. My husband picked up a tri-tip steak to grill, 

and we had some peppers, onions, and cherry tomatoes that I used for vegetable skewers. As an accompanying starch, I decided to prepare a barley risotto.

Barley is an underappreciated grain, often relegated to dowdy soups, but with its nutty taste and firm texture, it makes an outstanding risotto. I prepared a simple broth by soaking dried porcini mushrooms in hot water.

To start the risotto, I sauteed some chopped onion in butter and olive oil until glassy and then cooked the barley grains until they gave off a nice toasted fragrance.

Then I added the broth a little at a time, stirring frequently and simmered the grain with the chopped rehydrated mushrooms and some fresh marjoram and rosemary. After about 45 minutes the kernels had softened, but still maintained a firm bite. At this point, you could finish the dish off like a classic mushroom risotto, stirring in some sauteed mushrooms and plenty of grated parmesan cheese. Instead I used the mushroom-flavored barley as a bed for the grilled vegetable, which released their charred, caramelized sweetness into the grain. Enjoy with a glass of sangria.

Barley Risotto with Grilled Vegetables
serves 4 as a side dish

for the risotto
1 handful (~1/2 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/4 cup barley
~4 1/2 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
4 sprigs marjoram
2 sprigs rosemary

for the grilled vegetable skewers
1 1/2 small red onions
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
~24 cherry tomatoes
olive oil
4 sprigs rosemary
salt and pepper

1. Rehydrate the porcini mushrooms in 4 cups of boiling water and let soak for at least 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid and chop the mushroom. Dice the onion. Remove the marjoram and rosemary leaves from the stems and mince.

2. Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan and saute the onion until glassy. Add the barley and saute until it gives off a distinctive toasted smell. Add a cup of the porcini broth, a generous sprinkling of salt, and the chopped mushrooms and stir. Adjust the heat so that the barley is at a slow simmer and stir in the fresh herbs. Let the barley cook for about 40 minutes, stirring often, and gradually adding all of the broth. If the barley is still too firm for your taste once the broth has been absorbed, keep adding small amounts of hot water until it is just soft enough, but do not overcook. Add salt to taste. 

3. While the barley is cooking, wash the vegetables for the skewers. Cut the onions into wedges and chop the peppers into chunks. Assemble the skewers, using onion wedges to anchor the ends and alternating between pepper slices and cherry tomatoes in the middle. Drizzle the skewers with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. Grill the skewers over low to medium heat, flipping halfway through. Grill until the vegetables are cooked and somewhat charred. 

4. Serve a mound of barley risotto topped with a skewer's worth of grilled vegetables. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Springtime Pasta with Fava Beans and Ham

Here's a springtime recipe in anticipation of the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market starting up on June 19. I'd never cooked fava beans before, but when my son grabbed one from a stall at the Saturday Farmers Market and tried to chomp it, I was intrigued, so we bought a bag. 

One reason I've shied away from this springtime delicacy is the labor involved: the beans need to be shelled and then each bean needs to be blanched and peeled. I realized though that for a three year old, shelling beans is fun, not labor (as is foraging for mint in our back alleyway, a perfect partner for these beans). I was also emboldened by Jamie Oliver's claim that favas (Brits call them broad beans) don't required peeling if they are small. It was worth a try.

We had some leftover Easter ham frozen away, which I diced up, along with the mint.

In keeping with the child labor theme of the meal, I recruited my seven year old daughter to make us fresh pasta,

while I prepared an easy sauce to go along with it. I sauteed the ham with the mint, some baby spinach, and a splash of white vermouth,

cooked the fava beans along with the pasta, and tossed the pasta in the sauce. 

The final dish was delicious and the mint-flavored ham went perfectly with the fresh fava beans. But I must admit that the beans would have been even tastier if peeled. Another task to start training the kids to do.

Fresh Pasta with Fava Beans and Ham

For the pasta
4 eggs
3 cups flour
pinch of salt

1. Combine the ingredients in a food processor and mix. The final dough should be moist enough that it just starts to come together in a ball. Use a little more flour or a dribble of water to achieve the right consistency. 

2. Pat the dough together into a log, cut into about 12 pieces, and pat flat. Set a large pot of salted water boiling on the stove.

3. Use a hand crank pasta machine to roll out the dough, starting with the widest setting and narrowing it by increments of 2, ending on the second to last thinnest setting. Then cut the dough into fettucini.

4. When the sauce is ready, cook the pasta in rapidly boiling water until the fettucini are just cooked but still have some bite, about 2 minutes. You can cook the fava beans with the pasta if you are not planning to peel the individual beans. 

For the sauce
1 lb of fava bean pods, or as many as you are willing to shell
5-6 springs of mint
3/4 cup cubed ham
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
~6 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup white vermouth
salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove the fava beans from the pods. If you are willing to do the extra work, blanch them for 1 minute in boiling water and then remove the inner green parts of the beans from the paler casing. Or just reserve the unpeeled beans and cook them with the pasta.

2. In a large pan that can hold all of the pasta, melt the butter and warm the olive oil. Add the cubed ham and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped mint and continue to cook for another minute. Add the baby spinach and the fava beans, if you bothered to peel them, and cook until the spinach just starts to wilt. Add the vermouth, cook one more minute, and then turn off the heat. 

3. Toss the cooked pasta into the sauce to coat. Serve immediately with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Farmers Market Start Date and a Quick Lentil Salad

The start date for the 2011 Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market is set: Sunday June 19th. Mark your calendars and get out your shopping sacks because SLO Farm will be there with their freshest spring produce, along with several other venders. The market will be held from 10 AM until 2:30 PM on the Sun Automotive lot on the corner of Agate Street and 19th Ave. 

If your week has been as hectic as ours, here's a delicious and easy dinner salad you could whip up. It is prepared with French green or puy lentils that have a wonderful rich flavor and firm bite (if you don't overcook them); I think of them as lentil caviar. I prepared them with some rendered bacon fat, minced shallot and carrot, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Then I layered the lentils over some baby spinach leaves tossed in a lemony vinaigrette. And finally I topped the lentils with a poached egg, which provided a creamy dressing for the salad when pierced, and a sprinkle of bacon bits for a final crunch. Did I mention not to overcook the lentils?

Lentil Caviar Salad with Poached Eggs
serves two

  • 1 cup French green (puy) lentils
  • shallot
  • carrot
  • bacon slices
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 4 handfuls baby spinach or salad greens
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • eggs
    1. Prepare the lentils. Dice the bacon (I use kitchen scissors to do this) and saute in a sauce pan until the fat is rendered and the pieces are crisp. Meanwhile, peel and finely dice the shallot and carrot. Remove the bacon bits from the pan and over medium low heat saute the shallot and carrot in the rendered bacon fat. Add the lentils and toss to coat. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and cook down. Add the water and simmer until the lentils just start to become tender, about 20 minutes. Be sure not to overcook the lentils. Turn off the heat and stir in the last tablespoon of vinegar. Taste and add salt if necessary.
    2. Prepare the salad greens. Mix together the lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Toss the spinach or salad greens in the vinaigrette and divide between two plates.
    3. Poach two eggs for about 5 minutes, so that the yokes are still quite runny.
    4. Assemble the salad. On top of the greens, layer on a generous serving of lentils. Top with a poached egg, and sprinkle with bacon bits. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leek and Cherry Tomato Clafouti

This Mother's Day, I wanted to make something along the lines of a quiche for brunch, but didn't want the hassle of making a crust. Then it occurred to me that when I feel this way about a fruit tart, I make a clafouti. I had some lovely tender leeks from the Saturday Farmers Market, so I decided to try making a savory clafouti. And because I had cherries on my mind from the classical cherry clafouti, I decided to pair these with some roasted cherry tomatoes.

I tossed the cherry tomatoes in olive oil and the leaves of four marjoram sprigs and let them cook in the oven for about half an hour until they had collapsed from the heat and gave off a fragrant, roasted smell. Next I prepared the clafouti batter, which is really just a crepe batter that can be made in a blender and is best left to sit for a few minutes. Because I happened to have some in the house, I used a mixture of cream and milk for a special Mother's Day treat, but straight milk would work fine.

Then I cleaned and chopped the leeks. Getting out the dirt that accumulates between a leek's layers can be tricky, not unlike excavating the sand that accumulate in a toddler's clothing after a romp in the playground, but in this case is best approaches by cutting a slit down the side and splaying apart the layers under running water. I sauteed the leek rounds in butter until they were soft, and then, remembering how a splash of fruit liquor enhances a dessert clafouti, I finished them off with a jigger of dry white vermouth.

Now it was time to assemble the clafouit. Julia Child's dessert recipe has you cook a layer of batter on the bottom of the pan, like a crepe.

Then I layered on the leeks, crumbled on some goat cheese, topped these with the roasted cherry tomatoes and their accumulated pan juices, and poured on the batter.
I baked the clafouit at 350 degrees for almost an hour, until it was golden on top and a fork came out clean. The final dish was deliciously light and satisfying. The leeks and tomatoes were naturally quite sweet, so the dish wasn't too far off from its dessert cousin, but still decidedly in the savory camp. Because it was for Mother's Day, I garnished the final dish with fresh chopped chives: little baby leeks.

Savory Leek and Cherry Tomato Clafouti

for the clafouti batter:
for the leek filling:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In an oven dish or skillet, toss together the cherry tomatoes and marjoram leaves from 4 sprigs with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place in the oven and roast, jiggling the pan occasionally to turn the tomatoes, for about 30 minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed and are very fragrant.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the clafouti batter. In a blender, mix the milk, eggs, and flour and a pinch of salt. Drizzle in the melted butter. Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes before using.
  3. Remove the roots and most of the green parts of the leeks. Cut a slit down the length of each leek so that you can fan apart the layers, and wash them thoroughly to remove accumulated dirt. Cut them into 1/4 inch rings. Heat a large ovenproof skillet or paella pan and add 1 tablespoon of butter. When the butter froths, add the leeks, salt, and pepper, and cook over medium heat until they are soft, about 8 minutes. Add the white vermouth and cook this down. Remove the leeks to a dish and return the skillet to the stovetop.
  4. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the skillet and swirl to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour a thin film of batter into the bottom of the pan and swirl to spread, as if you were making a crepe. Let the batter cook until it turns from pale white to a more yellowish color. Turn off the heat and assemble the clafouti. Spread on the leeks, and then crumble over the goat cheese. Distribute the roasted tomatoes and pour over any accumulated pan juices. Finally pour over the rest of the clafouti batter and transfer the pan to the oven.
  5. Bake the clafouti for 50-60 minutes until it is nicely browned on top and a fork poked into the center comes out clean. Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Coffee Braised Lamb Shanks and Arikara Beans

With spring finally here, I had been toying with the idea of creating a recipe for one of my Lonesome Whistle Farm CSA heirloom bean varieties paired with spring lamb. White beans and lamb shanks is a classic combination and I thought that the Arikara variety, which is similar to white beans but with a slightly heftier, earthier flavor and hue, would complement lamb well. A contest theme from the food52 website sparked the inspiration for the flavors for this dish: coffee. Once I started thinking about cooking lamb with coffee, a whole palette of flavors came to mind: cumin, cinnamon, star anise, and to offset the bitterness of the coffee, dates and sun dried tomatoes.

I prepared a spice rub for the lamb shanks with ground coffee, toasted cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, garlic, fresh rosemary, and coarse sea salt to help grind together the ingredients.

I coated the lamb shanks with the rub and let them sit for a bit, while I prepared the other ingredients.

For aromatics with the beans, I used celery and onions,

and to flavor the braising liquid I used ground cumin, ground coriander, smoked paprika, star anise and a cinnamon stick,

and a generous portion of diced dried dates and sun dried tomatoes.

After browning the lamb shanks, I sauteed the aromatics and the spices, and assembled the broth, beans, and lamb in a large Dutch oven. Then I left the pot to cook in a low oven for several hours, filling the house with fragrant scents, until the beans were tender and the lamb was falling off the bone. The final dish was quite rich and benefitted from degreasing, which I was able to do easily after it had cooled in the refrigerator overnight, since I cooked it the evening before I served it.

I accompanied it with a salad with chopped radishes and pears,

and garnished the lamb with fresh chopped parsley and orange zest. The final result was one of the most delicious dishes I've cooked this year. The flavor of the beans was intense and complex, and paired perfectly with the lamb, with no single ingredient dominating the dish. I was pleased that the editors at food52 agreed and awarded this recipe an editors' pick.

Coffee Infused Braised Lamb Shanks and Arikara Beans

  1. Prepare the coffee spice rub for the lamb. Heat a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds for a minute or so until fragrant, and transfer to a mortar. Put the garlic cloves in the skillet and toast for several minutes, turning, until they develop some brown spots and start to soften. Remove the rosemary leaves from the stems, chop, and add to the mortar. Add the ground coffee, red pepper flakes, coarse sea salt, and peeled garlic cloves and smash well until the cumin seeds are crushed and you’ve created a smooth paste. You could also use a spice grinder or small food processor to prepare the rub. Coat the lamb shanks with the paste and let sit for a few minutes to infuse the flavors, while you prep the other ingredients.
  2. Soak the sun dried tomatoes in 2 cups boiling water for 15 minutes. Dice the onions and celery. Dice the dates and the sundried tomatoes, reserving the tomato-flavored water. Preheat the oven to 325.
  3. Heat a large Dutch oven or other ovenproof pan and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Over medium low heat, brown the lamb shanks on all sides, taking your time so that they have a chance to brown. Remove to a plate.
  4. Add another splash of olive oil if necessary, and put the onions and celery into the pot. Cook, stirring, until they are glassy. Add the ground cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add the diced dates and sundried tomatoes and cook another minute. Add the red wine and cook another minute. Add the rinsed beans, the reserved tomato-flavored water and three additional cups of boiling water. Nestle the lamb shanks into the beans, pouring in any juices that accumulated and add the star anise and cinnamon stick. Salt and add more boiling water if necessary to ensure that the beans are covered by 1 inch of liquid.
  5. Heat the beans and lamb shanks on the stovetop until the liquid is simmering and then cover the pot and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for about three hours, turning the lamb shanks occasionally and adding a little water if necessary, until the beans are tender and the lamb meat is falling off the bones. Toward the end of the cooking period, you could remove the pot lid to allow more of the liquid to cook off. The dish will be quite rich from the lamb fat and benefits from degreasing. You may want to cook this a day ahead, refrigerate it overnight, and then remove the hardened fat from the surface, and the reheat. Alternatively, remove pools of liquid fat from the surface with a spoon.
  6. Serve a generous portion of beans topped with a whole or half lamb shank. To prepare the garnish, chop together orange zest and parsley leaves and sprinkle over the lamb before serving.
Other recipes for heirloom beans