Saturday, October 29, 2016

Sheet Pan Spaghetti Carbonara

Plan to pick up your favorite fall vegetables at the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market this Sunday. Last week, Camas Swale Farm had these magnificent brussels sprout stalks teaming with delectable sprouts and useful for reenacting Star Wars scenes on the walk home.

We've had a busy few weeks and I've been looking for inspiration for quick dinners. In my childhood, a common such meal in rotation was spaghetti carbonara. The sauce for this is just eggs beaten in a bowl with parmesan cheese and plenty of black pepper, and then cooked by being tossed with hot spaghetti as soon as it is drained, and then topped with bacon pieces. This was the one of the first dishes my mother learned to make from her French roommate when she was a starving student in Paris, and then she passed on the recipe to her subsequent roommate and my future aunt. A generation later, it was one of the first recipes my sister, my cousins, and I all mastered as teenagers. The recipe morphed in our household to include onions, peppers, and carrots, sauteed along with the bacon. 

Now a generation later, spaghetti carbonara seems to have receded from restaurant menus and cooking magazines. Perhaps it has been vilified by fears of Salmonella or lost favor with changing cultural paletes. When I've made it a few times for my children, who've been raised on roasted kale chips, they found the vegetables sautéed in bacon fat too greasy for their taste. Last week I reengineered the dish by roasting the ingredients on sheet pans in the oven rather than sautéing on the stove. And I incorporated brussels sprouts into the dish, which are a natural partner of bacon. It all came together in the time it took to boil water and cook spaghetti and the kids deemed it a good alternative to breakfast for dinner.

Sheet Pan Spaghetti Carbonara
serves 4
2 dozen brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved or quartered if big
2 carrots, sliced on an angle into ovals
1 small onion, chopped into 1/2 sized pieces
olive oil for drizzling on vegetable
salt to taste
6 slices of bacon
2 eggs
1/2 cup graded parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
plenty of black pepper
1 lb spaghetti

1. Start preheating the oven to 425 degrees. It works well to use one large sheet pans and two smaller sheet pans or baking dishes that can fit side by side. If you are using sheet pans, place them in the preheating oven. Set a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove. Chop the vegetables. Remove 2 eggs from the refrigerator to warm up to room temperature.

2. On one small sheet pan or baking dish, spread out the bacon slices and place in the oven. Toss the chopped onions in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and spread these on another small sheet pan and place in the oven next to the bacon. In the same bowl, toss the halved brussels sprouts in a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and spread them on the large preheated sheet pan and place on a second rack in the oven. In the same bowl, toss the sliced carrots in a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Keep an eye on the items in the oven. In about 10 minutes, you should flip over the bacon and vegetables. In another 10 minutes, the bacon should be crispy and the onions should be soft and slightly charred. Remove the bacon to a paper towel to drain and scrape the onions into a bowl. Put the carrots on the onion sheet pan and return to the oven. The brussels sprouts should be done shortly after, and the carrots should cook in about 10 minutes, with one flip halfway through. Add the cooked vegetables to the bowl. Taste and add a little more salt if needed.

3. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti and cook according to the package directions. In a large serving bowl, crack the eggs and beat. Add in 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and black pepper. Position the bowl close to the sink with good pair of tongs handy. When the spaghetti is ready, drain it and immediately dump it in the egg bowl and toss to coat the spaghetti strands with cooked cheesy egg. Add the roasted vegetables to the serving bowl and crumble over the bacon and toss again (or keep the vegetables and bacon separate and allow everyone to serve themselves). Serve immediately with graded parmesan cheese.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Leek and Potato Soup

We have a respite from the rain, so be sure to come to the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market tomorrow and pick up some fall produce from Camas Swale Farm.

We are well into soup season now, and I wanted to share the recipe for my children's favorite soup, leek and potato, which I suspect they like because it's the closet one can come to eating mashed potatoes in liquid form. 

Leek and potato soup was also a favorite in my household growing up, and the soup my mother usually served on Christmas Eve along with smoked fish, a tradition my sister and I have continued. Along the way, we've tinkered with the recipe, and settled on two key steps to bring out the most flavor in this soup. The first (my sister's insight) is to create a soup base of leeks stewed for an extended period of time in butter and olive oil until they are a soft puddle of mush. This will take a good half hour and feel interminable, but it imparts a rich, sweet, leek flavor on the soup. The second (my addition) is to make a leek stock with the leek and potato trimmings (and if you had the foresight, a chicken backbone that you've stashed in your freezer), thus eking out every last bit of leek flavor from your ingredients. And of course, it doesn't hurt to finish the soup off with a generous glug of heavy cream.

Leek and Potato Soup
serves 4-6
6 large potatoes
2 large or 3 small leeks
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste
chives for garnish (optional)

1. Start the stock. Start heating about 8 cups of water in a stockpot with 1 Tbsp kosher salt. Cut off the green parts of the leeks. Rinse well, and chop coarsely, and add to the stockpot.  Rinse the potatoes, peel them, and submerge them in bowl with water to prevent them from discoloring. Add the peels to the stockpot. If you happen to have some other stock fixings (root vegetables, chicken backbone, an onion) add them to the stockpot as well. Bring to a simmer and cook for at least half an hour but longer is better. When to are ready to use the stock, pour to stockpot contents through a strainer into a large bowl or second pot and discard the solids. Taste for salt and add more as needed.

2. Prepare the soup base. Halve the white leek stocks lengthwise, rinse well and shake dry, and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Heat a large soup pot over medium low heat. Add the butter and olive oil, and once the butter is melted, add the leek slices and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to medium low and cook the leek pieces, stirring often and avoiding letting them brown, until they are cooked through to a softened mound. This will take about 30 minutes, but is the secret to making the final soup very flavorful. 

3. Meanwhile, cut the peeled potatoes into 6 to 8 pieces. When the leeks are cooked through, add 6 cups of stock and the potato pieces. Bring the stock to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes until the potato pieces are very soft. Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Add the cream. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste. If the soup seems too thick, thin it with a little more stock. Return to the heat to warm to just below a simmer. Serve hot with chopped chives for garnish.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Roasted Cauliflower, Lamb Koftas, and Parsnip Fries

With the deluges descending, the Fairmount Neighborhood Market will not be open this Sunday October 16, but expect them back on October 23. This weather reminds us to turn our attention the colorful diversity of winter vegetables available from Camas Swale Farm.

Last week I picked up these pillowy heads of cauliflower, leeks, parsnips, and chard, along with some lamb chorizo meat from Fair Valley Farm. They all came together in a feast of lamb kofta, roasted cauliflower and leeks, parsnip fries, sautéed chard, and Israeli couscous. 

Roasted Cauliflower
1 large or two small heads of cauliflower
1 leek
drizzle of olive oil
generous sprinkle of salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the cauliflower head in quarters and remove the green leaves. Slice the quartered cauliflower head into bite sized florets and transfer to a rimmed sheet pan.  Remove the outer leaves of the leek, cut off the root and green tips, slice lengthwise and rinse out any dirt by fanning the leaves under running water. Slice the leek halves into 1 inch lengths and add to the sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and spices, toss well, and put in the oven. Roast for about 30 minutes, turning occasionally, until the cauliflower are soft and well charred.

Parsnip Fries
4 parsnips
drizzle of olive oil
generous sprinkle of salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place in a rimmed sheet pan. Peel the parsnips and cut them into thin matchsticks about 1 1/2 inches long. In a bowl, toss the matchsticks with olive oil and salt to coat. Remove the heated sheet pan from the oven and quickly spread out the parsnips in a single layer (if you are making a lot, do this in a couple of batches rather than crowd them). Roast for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are nicely browned and crisp.

Lamb Kofta
1 lb lamb chorizo meat
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place in a oven safe skillet such as cast iron. Combine the meat, bread crumbs, and egg and shape into 2 inch long ovals. Remove the heated skillet from the oven and drizzle a little olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the kofta into the pan and return it to the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotate the kofta once, until almost cooked through. Turn on the broiler and place the pan under for a minute to sear the kofta. Serve warm.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fennel, White Bean, and Tuna Gratin

Sunday should be sunny and a perfect day for a stroll to the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market to pick up some colorful produce from Camas Swale Farm and recapture the fleeting flavors of summer.

Last week I picked up a fennel bulb, which I love to cook in a fennel and sardine pasta with lemony breadcrumbs. But then this recipe for a white bean and tuna gratin caught my fancy, because it reminded me both of a favorite white bean and tuna salad and Julia Child's salmon gratin from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1, which my mother used to cook as a regular weeknight meal. Certain of my childhood dishes don't translate well to my children's taste, who prefer bright, fresh flavors to cream sauces. I've already reengineered Julia's dish of a creamy gratin, laced with white vermouth and sprinkling of gruyere cheese, as salmon and barely cakes, but truth be told, frying patties is more work than sticking a casserole in the oven. I liked the idea of including legumes in a gratin and lightening it up with fennel and lemon. 

This is the resulting dish, packed with fragrant fennel and topped with a crunchy lemony bread crumb and gruyere crust. It was delicious eaten with kamut and roasted broccoli and red peppers, fresh from the farm.

Fennel, White Bean, and Tuna Gratin
served four
1 fennel bulb
1 small onion or 2 shallots
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 tin tuna in olive oil
1 cup milk, heated to just below scalding
1/4 cup white vermouth
juice from 1 small lemon
3 cups cooked white beans (from 1 cup dried, or 2 15 ounce cans)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 handful fennel fronds
zest from 1 small lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Dice the fennel bulb and the onion and reserve a few fennel fronds for the bread crumb topping. Zest and juice 1 small lemon. Combine the bread crumbs, lemon zest, chopped fennel fronds, and gruyere and reserve.

2. Heat a large skillet and melt the butter. Add the diced fennel and sauté until glassy. Add the diced onion and sauté until both are very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the olive oil from the tuna tin, then add the flour and whisk into the fat. Continue whisking as you slowly add the hot milk to make a light roux. Add the white vermouth and lemon juice. Generously salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and gently fold in the white beans and tuna. 

3. Pour the white bean and tuna mixture into a 9 inch square oven proof dish. Top with the bread crumb mixture.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and the bread crumb topping is nicely browned. Serve with whole grains such as wheat berries, barley, or kamut.