Thursday, March 07, 2013

in the kitchen with sillymortalmama: PASTA!

THIS is no ordinary pasta. it's technically called Strangozzi con Salsa di Mandorle e Bietole but *i* like to call it 'how to get your family to eat TWO POUNDS OF GREENS WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT.' now, i'm not one to *sneak* things into food and trick people into eating them, but when starting to cook with more greens some years ago i had to find clever ways to serve those greens. and by clever i mean in a way THEY WOULD ACTUALLY GET EATEN.

this recipe does just that. this is a wonderful platter of pasta. i make it a LOT. it is so delicious and healthy and completely restaurant worthy. even my most dedicated NON lover of greens will eat it up. it makes quite a bit (the beauty of pasta, no?) looks great on the table and tastes just as good the next day. so it's great for family and leftovers or company with candles and wine. though who says you have to wait for company to enjoy candles and wine?

i will say that the dish takes some time and a few steps. it's not a difficult recipe, but you don't just whip it up. but keep reading and check it out before you click away. you WILL NOT be disappointed. i promise.

this recipe comes directly (with a few adaptions for clarity from me) from the book Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich. this is a GREAT cookbook. i've always enjoyed watching her somewhat homespun and down to earth cooking show (PBS), but i was initially put off by her books because she uses SO MANY ingredients and the recipes seemed so fussy. after i really started reading the recipes i began to appreciate the style in which they were written. she really wants you to be familiar and choosy with your ingredients. appreciate them. she doesn't want you to grab two cloves of garlic, she wants you to grab two cloves of PLUMP garlic. she wants you to mentally picture and place those ingredients in your brain and feel them in your hand and really know what you're going for when you put them in your dish. now i love reading her recipes because it feels familiar, like a beloved auntie or grandma leaning over your shoulder, their voice in your ear talking you through. teaching you the secret of the recipe. those special touches we may forget to think are important. 'The garlic must be plump, the mint leaves fresh.'

and i promise, once you get used to her style, assemble your ingredients, and take the time to follow the steps it's not that daunting AND they are such flavorful and fresh recipes it's well worth it! i've seen all her books available at the library. if you're interested in healthy and flavorful and authentic italian food you should definitely check them out!

Strangozzi with Chard & Almond Sauce
Strangozzi con Salsa di Mandorle e Bietole

serves 6

This is a fresh and extremely flavorful preparation for strangozzi. The dressing has two components, tender cooked Swiss chard and an uncooked pesto of fresh basil and mint leaves and toasted almonds. (Other leafy greens, such as spinach, chicory, and arugula, could be used, and walnuts could replace the almonds, but the recipe here is true to the Umbrian region.) It is best to prepare the greens and pesto shortly before you cook and serve the pasta, but if you follow the recipe steps, the dish is actually quite quick-cooking and simple. It is only the multitude of tastes and textures that are complex and tantalizing!

For the chard and pesto
2 pounds Swiss chard
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
4 plump garlic cloves- 2 crushed and peeled, and 2 peeled and thinly sliced
10 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
⅓ cup sliced almonds, toasted
½ tsp. peperoncino flakes, or to taste *(HA! these are just red pepper flakes. ask me sometime about the odyssey of figuring that out)

For Cooking and Finishing the Pasta
12 ounces to 1 pound Strangozzi (or any other wide pasta, fettuccine, etc.)
1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing
Extra-virgin olive oil, best-quality for finishing

For the chard and pesto: Bring a large pot of well-salted water (at least 6 quarts with 1 TBS salt) to the boil. As it heats, rinse and drain the chard leaves, and cut off the stems; if the central rib of the leaf is thick and tough, cut it out. (Save the trimmings for stock.) Pile up the leaves, and slice them crosswise into strips about 1 inch wide.

When the water's boiling, heap all the chard into the pot and stir, submerging the strips. Return the water to the boil, and cook the chard until tender to the bite, about 10 minutes. With a spider or other strainer, lift out the chard strips, and drop them into a colander. Turn off the heat, but SAVE the potful of hot water for cooking the strangozzi/pasta.

When the chard has drained and cooled a bit, squeeze the strips by handfuls, pressing out the liquid. Loosen the clumps, and pile the strips in the colander.

To make the herb-and- almond pesto: Put into the food-processor bowl the basil and mint leaves, the CRUSHED garlic cloves, 3 TBS of the olive oil, and 1 tsp. salt. Process to a chunky paste, about 10 seconds, then drop in the toasted almonds and process again for 10 seconds, or until you have a smooth bright-green paste.

Pour the remaining 7 TBS of olive oil into the big skillet, and set it over medium-high heat. Scatter in the SLICED garlic, and cook for a minute or so, until it's sizzling. Drop in the chard strips, season with peperoncino and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, and stir the chard around the pan. Ladle in 1/2 cup of hot water from the pot where the chard was blanched, add to the chard, and bring it to a boil. Cook rapidly for a couple of minutes, until the water has reduced by half, then lower the heat so the greens are barely simmering.

For cooking and finishing the pasta: Meanwhile, bring the chard cooking water back to a rolling boil. Drop all the pasta into the pot, stirring and separating the strands. Cook the strangozzi/pasta to package specifications for al dente (but just barely), stirring occasionally.

With a spider and tongs, quickly lift out the strangozzi/pasta, drain for a moment, and drop them into the skillet with the simmering chard. Toss them together quickly, and spread all of the herb-almond pesto on top. Rinse out the food-processor bowl with 1/2 cup or so of hot water from the big pot, and pour that in with the pasta. LOWER THE HEAT, toss the pasta, the chard, and the pesto together for a minute or two, until the strangozzi/pasta is all coated with the dressing and perfectly al dente. If the dressing is soupy, reduce it quickly over high heat; if it's too dense, thin it with more pasta water.

Turn off the heat, sprinkle a cup or so of grated cheese over the strangozzi/pasta, and toss well. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, toss again, and heap the pasta in warm bowls. Serve immediately, with more cheese at the table.


 *she has a separate recipe for homemade strangozzi that she includes with this recipe. i'm not set up for fresh pasta making so i buy mine. if you are interested, check out her book.

*depending on the pasta i use it's between 12 and 16 ounces. both amounts work with the amount of sauce. i like fresh pasta for this recipe, but i have used dried in both regular or whole grain. i find it hard to find good whole grain pasta in a wider noodle (A MUST for even sauce distribution) so i often just use regular because there are many more size options. whatever you choose, just be sure to cook the pasta according to the package for al dente but JUST SHY OF THAT. after it boils the pasta will be tossed over heat and will continue to cook so you don't want it too done before that.

*along those lines, don't overcook your chard. really the 10 minutes is a guideline. 'tender to the bite' means it needs to retain its integrity a bit. don't cook it until it's all mushy. if you're at all worried, taking it off heat and out of the pot TOO EARLY is better than too late.

*DO NOT FORGET to NOT pour out the cooking water for the chard. like don't just drain the chard into a colander and the cooking water into the sink. the cooking water is an important part of the continued recipe and becomes a flavor component to the dish.

*if you think you are tossing a lot to get the sauce all distributed you ARE. but don't worry, just keep tossing. you'll get there. i do a 'toss and spread, toss and spread' kinda groove and it seems to work. and this is where NOT overcooking your greens earlier comes in handy. overcooking you make them clumpy and mushy and hard to toss and distribute.

*i know this seems like a LOT but it really isn't. and is worth it. i promise.



Wednesday, March 06, 2013

in the kitchen with sillymortalmama: PAD THAI SALAD!

this is so good and so healthy PLUS it's got ALL the flavors of pad thai so you can totally indulge! this is one of the duke's (not a vegan by the way) favorite dishes and i make it A LOT. always good. never fails.

i generally make this as a complete meal (there's a lot on the plate) when everyone's in the mood for a lighter, healthier dinner (@280 calories and 13 grams protein per serving). but i've also been known to throw oven roasted shrimp or tofu on top if we need/want something more substantial. the book has a few tofu recipes that are DELICIOUS and would accompany this dish quite nicely. if you are at all interested in interesting vegan recipes you should check it out.

the book in question is a great vegan cookbook called Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. some of you may know her from The Post Punk Kitchen online, or the books Vegan with a Vengeance, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, Vegan Cookies Take Over Your Cookie Jar, and Veganomicon. coming or going she has your vegan needs COVERED.

before we start i want to say that the dressing is THIN (she mentions it in the recipe but it bears repeating). like you're making it and thinking damn! this dressing is *thin.* shh shhh just go with it. it does seems too thin but it's not. trust me. it's like that for the tossing and the overall lightness of the dish. so while it SEEMS LIKE IT WILL NEVER WORK OH MY GOD TURN BACK! TURN BACK! it will. work. trust. me.

Pad Thai Salad
from Appetite for Reduction
serves 4

8 cups chopped romaine lettuce
4 cups bean sprouts
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 medium-size carrot, peeled and grated
1 recipe Peanut-Lime Dragon Dressing (recipe follows)
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro (stem and leaves)
lime wedges for serving
In a large mixing bowl, toss together the lettuce, sprouts, red onion, and carrot.  Add the dressing and toss to coat.  Distribute the salad among four bowls.  There will be dressing left over because it is fairly thin; distribute the dressing among the bowls.  Garnish with roasted peanuts and cilantro, and serve with the lime wedges.

Peanut-Lime Dragon Dressing

1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2 TBS chopped shallot
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup water
2 TBS agave nectar
2 TBS soy sauce
1 tsp Sriracha, or more if you like it hot

Pulse 2 tablespoons of the peanuts and all of the shallot in the food processor, just to chop everything up.  Add the lime juice, water, agave, soy sauce, and Sriracha, and blend until very smooth.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides a few times.  Now add the remaining 2 tablespoons of peanuts and pulse for a bit.  These shouldn’t be blended smooth, just chopped up small.  The dressing will be fairly thin.  Adjust the seasonings to your liking.  Keep refrigerated in a tightly sealed container until ready to use, up to 5 days.


*you don't need a food processor for the dressing, i use the blender and it works just fine. just scrape the sides and stir up the bottom to make sure everything gets blended well.

*you can use salted, low salt, no salt, dry roasted, raw WHATEVER peanuts you want, but they have to be roasted. either by the roasting fairies before you get them or by you. someone has to roast the doggone peanuts or they just don't blend or taste the same.

*this can make more than 4 servings if it's more of a side dish. (if you're using all the salad USE ALL THE CILANTRO AND PEANUTS TOO). you can also store leftovers (if you have them) if you don't dress ALL the salad at once. dress and toss each serving individually so if there are leftovers you can store them separately and make a fresh, non-soggy salad the next time. whether or not i know i'll have leftovers i dress and toss each salad individually anyway as it helps distribute the dressing more evenly.

*do not chop the cilantro!!! use it whole to add on top. and i know she uses the word garnish, but it is NOT a garnish in the it's just there to look pretty kinda way. it is very integral to the overall flavor of the salad so don't be shy! and don't forget the lime wedges. do not. really.



Tuesday, March 05, 2013

in the kitchen with sillymortalmama: TOFU & PEPPERS!

okay i LOVE this dish. my family LOVES it. anyone who has ever had it LOVES IT. even people who do not love tofu LOVE it.

i know what you're thinking: tofu. hooray. well knock that off and prepare to be DELIGHTED. because in just a minute i will tell you HOW to do that tofu so it's not so 'tofu-y.'  this is a great dish for a regular weekday dinner or entertaining. you can serve it as is or over rice or soba noodles or whatever you prefer. it tastes great the next day (though there are rarely leftovers) and can be cut in half or doubled or...

and when you see all the jalapenos DO NOT FEAR. not all jalapenos are spicy. or hot. i swear. some jalapenos have about as much spice as a post surgery liquid diet. regarless of heat they still have flavor, though. what you need to do is get a mess of jalapenos for the recipe and taste them. are they too spicy for you? then dial back and sub in some poblano/pasilla peppers (sub in half as many though as they are bigger than jalapenos). or use less of the jalapenos and more of the red bell pepper. or, are your peppers not spicy enough? then do the full order of jalapenos and add in a serrano.

regardless of heat i generally sub in some poblanos/pasillas because i like the two different shades of green in the dish AND i like the differing pepper flavors. just do a little pepper recon before and you'll be fine. trust me.

whatever you do PLEASE use at least SOME jalapenos. they really are terrific and make the dish.

okay. the tofu. after you cut your tofu put it in a bowl. pour boiling salted water over it and let sit 15 minutes. drain and pat dry. proceed with recipe. TRUST ME. this will render you tofu that is ready to be devoured. 

whatever you do PLEASE use extra-firm tofu. if you do not have extra-firm tofu GET SOME. if you think to yourself, ah well it's all the same and try some other kind of tofu THEN DO ME A FAVOR AND DON'T TELL ANYONE YOU GOT THE RECIPE FROM ME.

this recipe comes from the website herbivoracious and the book of the same name by Michael Natkin. i've adapted it here. adjust to your own servings and tastes accordingly.

Tofu and Peppers
by Michael Natkin (adapted by x.)
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and kosher
Serves 4
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup tamari (gluten-free if needed) or other soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 8 jalapeno peppers (or 4 jalapenos and 2 poblanos/pasillas or 2 and 4 or...)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 8 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1″ lengths
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

*Cut the tofu and put it into a heat proof bowl. Pour boiling salted water over to cover and let soak for 15 minutes.

*Put the cornstarch in a small bowl.  Drizzle in the tamari (I use soy sauce) while whisking until all lumps are gone. Whisk in the sugar, garlic and sesame oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the sauce.

*Lay the tofu out in a single layer on a clean, absorbent towel and pat dry. 

*Preferably wearing disposable gloves, cut the top off of each jalapeno pepper and cut in half lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to remove the seeds and ribs. Cut each half pepper crosswise. (If using other peppers cut into the same size as the jalapenos.) Remove the stem, seeds and rib from the bell pepper and cut into pieces about the same size as the quartered jalapeno.

*Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet or wok over high heat. Pat the tofu dry one more time and fry in a single layer, tossing occasionally until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove the tofu to a plate and leave the skillet on. (I usually need to do the tofu in batches so I don't crowd the pan and the sides cook evenly.)

*Add the jalapeno/peppers, bell pepper and scallion and stir fry over high heat until the colors brighten, about 1 minute. Add the tofu back in, then add the sauce. Quickly stir and fry just long enough to reheat the tofu and cook the cornstarch sauce, about 30 seconds. 

*Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and serve immediately.

Serve with rice or soba noodles or as is.



Monday, March 04, 2013

in the kitchen with sillymortalmama: CHILI!

okay, so i'm starting off this week of plant based cooking and recipes SUPER DUPER easy. i know i know you're all like CHILI? snooze. i will admit it seems like kind of a 'cheat' to me to include it, but this is a wonderfully delicious and hearty vegan chili and you should have it in your arsenal of recipes! if you're a meat eater don't start rolling your eyes and clicking away!!! i promise you the finished dish belies the simplicity of the recipe. and it is so good with more complex layers of flavor than you might be used to with *just* a bean chili that it will have ALL the eaters you know asking for seconds. it's easy enough for younger and new cooks, plus it tastes even better the next day and it makes a TON. so that means it's good for a crowd, pre-cooking for a party, for the week, leftovers for another recipe (tacos, enchiladas, topped with a fried egg for breakfast), or for freezing.

i do need to mention that it can be a *bit* spicy depending on the intensity of your chili powder, how much cayenne you're used to using, and the size of your jalapeno (that's what she said.). i will say that the spice is a key component of the finished dish, especially as the flavors meld over a day or so. we do full spice, but feel free to adjust accordingly. you're not going to ruin it by going less spicy.

also, this recipe uses TVP which is textured vegetable protein. it's totally old school that way and i'm not, as a rule, a fan of analog meats. BUT it really works in this recipe and can be the tie that binds your reluctant meat eaters to it! i've never eliminated it but if you want to eliminate it go ahead. just skip the TVP and water step and move forward. though i will say you might want to dial back the spices a bit for the substitution. the TVP adds volume to the dish and eliminating it means you'll be tweaking the amount of spices to compensate for the loss of volume.

this recipe comes from 150 Vegan Favorites by Jay Solomon and we have been making it for well over a decade. my mother in law has the book and i copied the recipe from her after she made it for us. so FYI this is a typed out copy of a handwritten copy of the original. and, it's the only dish in the book i've made so i can't vouch for any of the rest of the recipes he has.

Vegan Chili

1 TBS canola oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded & minced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded & minced
1 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein)
1 cup water
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 14 oz can stewed tomatoes
1 1/2 TBS chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat the oil in a medium-large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and the jalapeno/serrano, cooking and stirring about 5 minutes.

Add the TVP and water, turn heat to medium-low, and cook 5 minutes more stirring occasionally.

Add in both cans of tomatoes, the beans, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat back to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with tortillas or cornbread and top with (though it's delicious enough without); chopped onions, grated cheese, avocado, cilantro, sour cream, etc.

Cook's notes:

*canned beans and tomatoes make this a super easy and convenient recipe to make and taste delicious! i do want to note that in the interest of overall sodium intake and the worry of the safety of canned tomatoes (google it) i will say we use beans cooked from dried when we have them left over and tomatoes packaged in glass jars or a tetra pak box. they work just as well and i just adjust for the stewed tomatoes (not easy to find unless canned) by adding in a pinch of sugar. the salt in the recipe factors in the sodium content of the canned products so if you use fresh cooked beans and don't add the can of stewed tomatoes you might want to add in just a bit more salt at the end of cooking to adjust for the substitutions. taste and see.

*i'm finding it harder to find TVP much any more. when we can't find it we buy a bag of frozen 'ground' Quorn at whole foods. just add it in frozen when you're supposed to add in the TVP and ELIMINATE THE CUP OF WATER then continue the recipe as written.