Friday, March 28, 2014

Kinpira Gobo (Stir Fried Burdock)

The burdock root in our Good Food Easy CSA share was the first example of this vegetable that I had encountered. Luckily Elin England's treasure trove of seasonal recipes, Eating Close to Home: A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance in the Pacific Northwest, provided a suggestion: the Japanese dish of kinpira gobo. Although the hey day for burdock root in European cuisine was the Middle Ages, it is still widely consumed in Japan, where "gobo" is often prepared in a style called "kinpira" which refers to stir frying followed by simmering. Carrots can be included or substituted. The main work of the dish is the chopping, after which the julienned vegetables cook up quickly, with the simmered liquids producing a delicious glaze. Burdock has a distinctive flavor that contrasts pleasantly with the sweet and salty glaze and was a big hit at our dinner table. Now I'll be scouring our farmers markets for burdock roots to make this again.

Kinpira Gobo
3 medium burdock roots
1 large carrot
2 Tbsp canola oil
Tbsp sake
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds

1. Scrub the burdock root with a brush and trim the ends. You can also use the edge of a knife to scrape off a bit of the skin, but don't remove too much, because this part of the root contains many of the nutrients. Cut the burdock into 2 inch julienned matchsticks, submerging the pieces into a bowl of cold water as you work, to prevent discoloration. Scrub, trim, and cut the carrot into similar julienned matchsticks.

2. Mix together the sake, soy sauce, and sugar. Heat a pan or wok over medium heat and add the oil. When it is hot, add the drained burdock. Stir fry for about a minute. Add the carrots and continue to stir fry for another couple of minutes, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the sake mixture and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced. Remove from heat, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds and red pepper flakes if you like. Serve at room temperature. Keeps about a week when refrigerated in a sealed container.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Meat Sauce

The arrival of spring break, after the neighborhood's buffeting with last month's ice storms and recent scary events, offers a welcome chance to decompress. For myself this took the form of slowly simmering a pot of Marcella Hazan's incomparable ragu alla bolognese.

Ragu recipes can elicit strong feelings and even commentary for beyond the grave, but for me this is unquestionably the quintessential version. Over the years, I've tweaked Hazan's recipe to accommodate a pound of ground beef and scaled up slightly the proportion of tomatoes (a convenient two large cans) and vegetables. This produces a plentiful pot of sauce with ample supplies to freeze for later, well worth doing after all of the hours of simmering down first the beef's milky bath and then its winey digestif. For this batch I used ground beef from Fair Valley Farm and a couple of quarts of frozen Sweetwater Farm tomatoes. With ingredients this good, the resulting ragu was particularly delicious, and the process of preparing it imbued the house with comforting smells and a sense of balance.

Marcella Hazan's Bolagnese Meat Sauce
(adapted slightly; makes about 5 pints of sauce, which can be frozen)

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 lb ground beef chuck
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine (I use 1/2 cup dry vermouth)
2 28 ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes with their juices (or 2-3 quarts frozen peeled tomatoes)

1. Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a large heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven, and turn the heat on medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

3. Add the milk, and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. At this point Hazan adds a tiny grating of nutmeg, but I omit this step because of my nutmeg aversion.

4.  Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. Add 1/2 cup water at a time if it begins to dry out (I've never had this problem). At the end, however, no water at all must be left and rye fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

5. Toss with cooked drained pasta and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I baked a loaf of this Irish soda bread. It is not a sweet treat, but rather a slightly buttery, savory quick bread with the tart flavor of buttermilk and nutty notes of whole wheat flour, toasted wheat germ, and oats.

This bread would be delicious with a hardy Irish stew, but we enjoyed it with lighter fare befitting our beautiful springtime day: as the backdrop for an egg and cheese sandwich for lunch, and slathered with butter and peach raspberry preserves for high tea. Happy spring.

Irish Soda Bread

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading and baking
1 cup whole wheat flour, such as Lonesome Whistle Farm red fife
1/2 cup Scottish oats or old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 to 1 1/3 cup buttermilk

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle a baking sheet lightly with flour. In a dry skillet, toast the wheat germ for a couple of minutes until  fragrant.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the butter and toss to coat in the flour. Use your fingers or two forks to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (You can also do this in the food processor if you'd like.) Gradually add the buttermilk and stir or pulse just until the dough comes together (you may not need all the buttermilk). (Note: I made the dough in a food processor and used just a cup of buttermilk).

3.  On a floured surface, knead the dough gently for about a minute until smooth. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to the baking sheet. Pat gently into a 7-inch round and sprinkle the top evenly with about a tablespoon of flour; with your fingertips, gently spread the flour evenly over the top of the round. Using a very sharp knife, cut a shallow "X" in the top of the loaf. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaf is brown, and the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it. Cool on a rack for at least 2 hours before slicing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Chipotle Tofu Tacos

With day lights savings depriving us of our morning sunlight, and the drizzly days lingering, this is the time of year when you need some easy weeknight dinners in your back pocket. These tofu tacos fit the bill, especially if you cook up some grains and a pot of beans (like Rio zapes in mole sauce) ahead of time. The sauce for these tacos comes from a shrimp recipe from Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday and is dead easy: blend together a 15 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes with a couple of chipotle chiles in adobe sauce. A tip for storing a can's worth of these chiles: dot them on a piece of saran wrap draped across a cookie sheet, freeze, and then store in a freezer bag for future meals. If you've taken to stashing tofu in your freezer for banh mi, the same strategy would work here for creating extra firm tofu chunks. For toppings, fresh avocado is nice, but shredded cabbage and root vegetables or even refrigerator pickles will do the trick. And while you eat these, imagine yourself on a sunny tropical beach. 

Chipotle Tofu Tacos
tofu filling
1 14 ounce package of tofu (if possible, slice and freeze, then thaw, for extra firm pieces)
3 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 15 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
2 to 3 chipotle chiles in adobe sauce
salt to taste

taco fixings
cooked grain, such as farro, or rice
cubed avocado
spinach leaves or chopped lettuce or cabbage
shredded cheddar cheese or sour cream
lime wedges

1. Cut the tofu into 1 inch slabs. If you can prepare this ahead of time, freeze the tofu slabs and then thaw them to release extra liquid. 

2. In a blender, combine the fire roasted tomatoes and chipotle chiles.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add 2 Tbsp oil. Now add the tofu slabs in a single layer. Allow them to sear undisturbed for about 3 minutes, then gently flip and sear on the second side. Sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, mince the garlic. When the tofu is nicely golden on both sides, remove to a plate.

4. Add remaining 1 Tbsp oil to the pan and when warm, add the garlic. Stir for a minute until fragrant but not brown, and then pour in the tomato chipotle sauce from the blender jar and a generous pinch of salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook for about five minutes or so, taste and add more salt if needed. Meanwhile, cut the tofu slabs into 1 inch cubes. Add the tofu cubes to the sauce, stir to coat, and continue to simmer while you prepare the tacos toppings and warm the tortillas.

5. Allow everyone to assemble their tacos to their personal taste following the general formula of starting with a warm tortilla, adding a scoop of grains, a generous helping of tofu, topping with avocado, greens, cilantro, and cheese or sour cream, a squeeze of lime, and serving with beans on the side. Enjoy.