Superspark

a year in food and life

Pear parmesan cashew salad October 6, 2009

Filed under: salads,Uncategorized,veggies — superspark @ 8:50 am

One of the perks of pursuing a PhD is that the summers are just a step away from the carefree summers of youth.  Yes, technically we were all still pursuing our research, but the summers always had a very different vibe.   In an anthropology department, all of the professors scatter to their field sites (or sometimes, their summer homes), while the grad students tag along on legendarily debaucherous archaeological digs or other such “work”.  Those of us who were left behind (mostly the more lab-work oriented in the bunch) would come in to find deserted halls and lots of time and freedom to pursue our other interests, such as sunbathing alongside the Charles River with a Diet Coke big gulp in hand (ah, those were the days!)  There was even one grad student in our department (no, not me) who decided to take a summer job at the Gap to supplement her meager income rather than working on her research.

So as I started my post-graduate career, it came as something of a rude shock to find that not all of academia shuts down as soon as classes end in May.  Those of us on the more clinical side may not even notice that it’s summer aside from it being a little warmer as we walk to our cars.  I haven’t had sunbathed with a Big Gulp in quite a while and its been years since I got into a bathing suit.  (Which says as much about my preferred pastimes as my work schedule, I suppose.)  This year it was particularly bad; what with our move from Los Angeles to upstate NY, summer came and went with the blink of an eye, punctuated only by lots of rain and cries of, “Is it already time to mow the lawn AGAIN?”

We were in no mood to eat salad this past summer, not even my favorite salads of the fruit-nut-cheese variety.   Now fall is another story.  Fall is when the Northeast is at its best, with leaf peeping, apple picking, and lots and lots of pie.  As you pull out your slow-cooker and turn to soups and comfort food, may I remind you that salads can be decidedly autumnal, too? I’m thinking of this particular combination with crisp pears, salty parmesan, and crunchy cashews from Jamie Oliver, via Serious Eats. I won’t lie- it’s not going to make you forget about the luscious berries and stone fruits that you enjoyed just a few weeks ago, but it might just remind you that fall has its little joys, too.

Pear, Parmesan, and Cashew Salad (serves 4)
Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients:
2 Bosc pears, sliced thinly
5 ounces greens, a mixture of arugula and mesclun
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, or to coat
Shaved Parmesan or Piave cheese
Handful unsalted cashews, crushed roughly

1. In a large salad bowl, add the greens. Pour a gentle stream of olive oil 3-4 times around the bowl, just enough to coat the sides well. Do the same with the lemon juice. Add a good pinch of salt for each person.

2. Add the pear slices, then toss the greens gently until evenly coated with the oil and the acid. Taste and adjust the oil/acid/salt ratio. Top with the cashews and shaved cheese. Finish with fresh black pepper.

 

Warm butternut squash and chickpea salad with tahini April 10, 2009

Filed under: food,salads,veggies — superspark @ 1:12 pm

chick-pea-and-butternut-squash-salad1

When last I wrote, of drama and mashed potatoes, we were about to put an offer on a house among other momentous events. Well, dear readers, we now have a new home. Or to be more precise, we are under contract, as they say in home-buying lingo. We are waiting for the inspection, shopping mortgages, and dreaming about painting Maddie’s new room something other than the bizarre acid green that it currently is. Our tentative moving date is the first or second week of June, which leaves us just about two months to wrap up our Southern California lives, pack up our teensy-tiny apartment, and haul everything cross-county. (Speaking of which, has anyone ever driven cross-county with an infant? Is it as bad of an idea as I think it is?)

So here on Superspark, you may see some unusual, pantry-emptying recipes in the weeks to come. For instance, what will come of those canned oysters that have been sitting on the shelf for years? (If it’s up to me, they’ll quickly find a home in the trash, but I’ll let Dylan reserve the right to eat them if he so chooses. Canned molluscs, not my thing.) And what of the huge jar of preserved lemons I made last year? (Also the trash, in all likelihood- they didn’t turn out so hot.) How about the approximately 25 lbs of whole grains that we’ve stashed away or the giant, half-used vat of black bean paste? Oh, the possibilities!

Tahini is another one of those ingredients that often goes unnoticed and untouched for a long time in our house. There’s a great spinach salad with tahini dressing recipe that I’ve written about and love, but aside from that, I don’t have any “go-to” recipes with tahini. So I was hoping that this might turn out to be a classic, something that I’d want to make again and again to use up the remainder of the tahini in the house.

Weirdly, I had bookmarked the recipe multiple times in various spots, never remembering I’d seen it before: once from Smitten Kitchen, once from A Veggie Venture, once from Everybody Loves Sandwiches, and finally from Orangette, where it seems to have originally entered the blogosphere. With such a pedigree, it seemed like a no-brainer, sort of like the uber-popular roasted shrimp with broccoli recipe that the whole blogging world seems to have embraced.  But for all of the hype and hubbub, this recipe didn’t do that much for me. I mean, it was good enough- I like chick peas, I like butternut squash, and tahini is nice, but the build-up had been a bit much.  I might make it another time, but I wouldn’t particularly miss it if it never crossed my lips again.  For me this was an instance in which the sum of the ingredients was no greater than their parts, unfortunately.

If you were to recreate anything from this meal, incidentally, let it be the simple velveted chicken we had alongside the salad.  Learn how to “velvet” here (read on until the bottom) and even those who eschew the lowly boring chicken breast will become converts.

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing (serves 4)

Ingredients:

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice (I skipped this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

For tahini dressing:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice (if using), olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

2. Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning.  You may need to add more water to thin it out.

3. To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro or parsley in a mixing bowl. Either add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully, or you could serve the salad with the dressing on the side. Serve immediately.

 

Salad greens with sweet potato croutons and feta December 30, 2008

Filed under: food,salads,veggies — superspark @ 10:17 am

greens-with-sweet-potato-croutons

For the past few years, Dylan and I have been in the somewhat unusual position of supervising an apartment building full of undergraduates. Supervising is perhaps too strong a word (we’re technically resident associates and apartment managers) because year after year, our residents prove to be remarkably self-sufficient, requiring little more than assistance with a lock-out or a dessert night now and then. Living with them occasionally poses the challenge of dealing with late night loud noise or messes in the courtyard, but there are also the unexpected benefits. The small university where we live happens to offer an intensive recreational cooking course and students in this class take home not only the products of their labors, but oftentimes large quantities of extra ingredients that have gone unused. Cha-ching!

Such is how we recently inherited more sweet potatoes and pears than two people (plus one non-food eating baby) could possibly hope to eat. The pears quickly went into a lucious pear sorbet (yeah, it’s winter, but we’re in Southern California!) and a dreamy pear-cardamom upside down cake (soon to be posted). As for the sweet potatoes, luckily they have a longer shelf life because we’re still working on them. The first dish I made with them was this very nice little salad found here on the New York Times website.

It doesn’t look like much, but with a very tangy dressing, yummy sweet potato “croutons” and a helping of feta cheese, it was a surprisingly bright and punchy start to dinner one night. I could imagine putting the “croutons” on all sorts of things- in fact a healthy number of them went straight from the roasting pan into my mouth as I prepared the rest of dinner. If you’ve still got a post-holiday hankering for sweet potatoes but want to avoid heavier, fattier dishes, this light, but flavorful salad may be right up your alley. As for me, I’m still searching out more new and interesting ways to use the remainder of our sweet potato jackpot.

Salad greens with sweet potato croutons and feta (serves 4)

Ingredients:

For the salad:
1 large sweet potato (10 to 12 ounces), peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 6-ounce bag baby salad greens (I used baby spinach)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as tarragon, parsley, chervil, chives
2 ounces feta, stilton or blue cheese, crumbled or cut into small pieces (about 1/2 cup)

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (I subbed lemon)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup buttermilk (I used this trick)

1. Steam the sweet potatoes for 5 minutes, until just tender. Remove from the heat and drain on paper towels.

2. In a medium, nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potatoes and cook, shaking the pan and moving the pieces around often, until evenly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain on paper towels.

3. Whisk together the lime juice, vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt pepper, olive oil and buttermilk.

4. Place the salad greens in a salad bowl and top with the cheese. Toss with the dressing. Sprinkle on the sweet potato croutons and serve.

 

Spring panzanella August 20, 2008

Filed under: salads — superspark @ 7:28 am

It turns out that just keeping our little Maddie clean, fed, and well rested is a full-time job. Our friends with toddlers laugh when we tell them how tired and busy we feel and say just wait. But for a couple of new parents, suddenly having a little someone who operates on her own schedule but is entirely dependent on us takes up more time than we could have imagined. So it was with a somewhat resigned spirit that we went to Trader Joe’s today and did something new- loaded up on prepared and frozen meals. Sigh.

There won’t be much cooking, chez Superspark, in the next couple of weeks after which we head off to NY for the month of September to visit various grandparents. In the meantime, however, there are a handful of recipes that are on backlog here at Superspark, just waiting to be written up. As I master one-handed hunting and pecking during nighttime feedings, I’ll be clearing out this stash and with any luck, will be back to cooking soon.

Spring panzanella

I literally can’t resist any recipe with “panzanella” in the title- the classic Italian bread salad is one of my favorite warm weather meals. If you have fresh, home-grown tomatoes on hand, you can’t beat the classic tomato-based panzanella. Unfortunately, our tomato plants were ravaged by some sort of insect this year and so I’ve had to move in other directions to get my panzanella fix.

Deb of Smitten Kitchen seems to share my love of all panzanellas and posted this recipe for a springtime version back in April. With white beans, asparagus, and leeks, it’s a nice alternative to the more traditional varieties. This version is a refreshing, beat-the-heat meal that is perfect for summer, even if it’s named after spring. If you can’t get terrific tomatoes, but can still find asparagus and leeks at your local supermarket, this spring panzanella is worth a shot. For a more decadent variation that prominently features heavy cream, check out another springtime panzanella I found on Well Fed last year.

Springtime panzanella (serves 6)

Ingredients:

Croutons:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 cups day-old bread, cubed (we used homemade bread from Jim Lahey’s famous recipe)
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vinaigrette:
Half a red onion, finely diced
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salad:
4 large leeks
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound asparagus
1 19-ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the bread cubes with the garlic, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss to coat well. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

2. Mix the red onion with the vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes before whisking in the remaining vinaigrette ingredients: olive oil and dijon. Set aside.

3. Cut off dark green tops of leeks and trim root ends. Halve each leek lengthwise to within 2 inches of root end. Rinse well under cold running water to wash away sand. Cover leeks with cold water in a 12-inch heavy skillet. Add salt and simmer leeks, uncovered, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Without draining the cooking water (you will reuse it for the asparagus), transfer leeks to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then pat the leeks dry with paper towels. Break off tough ends of asparagus and cook it in the boiling water until crisp-tender, no more than 3 minutes if they’re pencil-thin, more if your asparagus is thicker. Transfer it to another bowl of ice water, drain and pat it dry.

5. Cut the leeks and the asparagus each into 1-inch segments–the leeks will be especially slippery and prone to separating; hold firm and use a sharp knife! Place pieces in a large bowl and mix in beans and cooled parmesan croutons. Pour vinaigrette over and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.

 

French potato salad June 26, 2008

Filed under: food,salads,veggies — superspark @ 5:52 am

I first wrote about the gussied up version of this potato salad, french potato salad with baby greens, blue cheese, and walnuts late last spring. The nearly-vegetarian in me loves the idea of hearty summer salads, but I’ve always hated the usual mayo-drenched potato and pasta salads that often populate potluck picnics. So when Dylan and I discovered in The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes that apparently the French share this sentiment and prefer a light mustard-based dressing on their potato salad, it was something of a revelation. This summer I’ve already experimented with a couple of different potato salad variations for assorted potluck events, but this classic, basic recipe is the one I like best and the only one I’d want to make again. It’s lighter, fresher, and more well-balanced than the typical potato salad and at the last event I brought it to, I was asked for the recipe twice and overheard others discussing what subtle flavors they thought they detected.

Should you be cooking for a slightly more refined crowd with a taste for walnuts and blue cheese, by all means try the variation I made here last summer, which I like even better. Alas, there’s no blue cheese in the cards for me at the moment as chez Superspark we are expecting the arrival of a L’il Spark at the end of the summer and moldy cheeses are a no-no during pregnancy. Needless to say, the anticipation of our very first baby (a girl!) in only 6 weeks more than makes up for a few months without the wonders of gorgonzola. I can only hope that I don’t dissolve into writing about pureed baby food in the upcoming year…

French potato salad (serves 6)

Ingredients:

2 lbs red potatoes (about 6 medium or 18 small), scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tbsp salt
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and threaded on a skewer
1 1/2 tbsp champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh chervil
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp minced chives
1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves

1. Place the potatoes, 6 cups cold water, and the salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. Lower the skewered garlic into the simmering water and partially blanch, about 45 seconds. Immediately run the garlic under cold tap water to stop the cooking; remove the garlic from the skewer and set aside. Simmer the potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm (a thin-bladed paring knife can be slipped into and out of the center of a potato slice with no resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup of cooking water. Arrange the hot potatoes close together in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Press the garlic through a garlic press or mince by hand. Whisk the garlic, reserved potato cooking water, vinegar, mustard, oil, and pepper together in a small bowl until combined. Drizzle the dressing evenly over the warm potato slices; let stand 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, toss the shallot and herbs gently together in a small bowl. Transfer the potatoes to a large serving bowl. Add the shallot herb mixture and mix lightly to combine. Serve immediately.

[NB: if you can’t get fresh chervil, substitute an additional 1/2 tbsp minced parsley and an additional 1/2 tsp minced tarragon. For best flavor, serve the salad warm, but to make ahead, follow the recipe through step 2, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Before serving, bring it to room temperature, then add the shallot and herbs.]

 

Fresh favas with eggs and croutons June 12, 2008

Filed under: food,salads,veggies — superspark @ 5:51 am

So I’m not sure I understand the whole mania over fava beans. Every spring, food bloggers and columnists wax poetic about favas, inevitably noting how short their season is and how laborious they are to process. Although I’m sure I must have eaten favas at some point in my life, I had certainly never bought anything or made them. But in the spirit of adventure and finding out what I had been missing out on all these years, I finally decided it was high time to try them. I had noticed that the favas had seemed scarcer and scarcer at the farmer’s market over the past few weekends and realizing it was now or never, bought three pounds of them at the last purveyor to offer them this season.

Turns out, the double-shelling process is every bit as tedious as everyone describes, but I didn’t particularly mind it. Sitting in front of a mindless episode of What Not to Wear with a bowl of beans and a garbage bag, it actually seemed a fairly pleasant chore. A shelling, a blanching, and another shelling later, my three pounds of favas fit in a small bowl and were ready to be incorporated into what is essentially a variation on a panzanella (or bread salad) from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

I LOVE a bread salad in the summer (or really anytime, if I’m being totally honest) and with tomatoes not yet in season, this was a good alternative to the classic panzanella recipe. With little more than favas, cubed rustic bread, and chopped hard boiled eggs, it was simple and light, but filling. I was more than happy to have it for lunch the next day, as well. Here’s the thing, though. As Bittman notes in the recipe, you could easily substitute edamame for the favas and that’s what I’ll probably do the next time around. I mean, the favas were good- fresh, meaty, and slightly sweet- but they didn’t seem so exciting or exceptional that they merited all of the extra work. Fava purists, don’t be alarmed, but I’m not so sure simply using frozen edamame would have made this dish all that different. In any case, I’ll give it a try and who knows, perhaps I’ll have to eat my words and wait for fava bean season to roll around again next year before I make this simple and delicious dish again.

Fresh favas with eggs and croutons (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz bread, preferably day-old, cubed
3 cups fresh fava beans (about 3 lbs in pods), blanched and peeled, or thawed frozen
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
chopped parsley for garnish

1. Put half the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the remaining oil and the favas and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and eggs, stir, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

 

Spinach, peach, and walnut salad May 16, 2008

Filed under: salads,Uncategorized — superspark @ 10:12 am

Would you be upset if I told you that we now have fresh peaches at our local farmer’s market? I know, it seems unfair, but here in Southern California, not only is there a veritable deluge of strawberries, but in the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plumcots start to trickle in, not to mention cherries and blueberries. Yes, my favorite season at the farmer’s market is here.

But being a native Northeasterner, I am all too aware that many of the rest of you are unlikely to see a freshly picked peach for several months to come. Tragic, it’s true, but fear not, as this simple little salad recipe uses dried peaches (available at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere) to great effect, rehydrating them in red wine and orange juice until they’re sweet and succulent. Not quite the same as a fresh peach, I’ll admit, but the juicy little slivers were pretty delicious. The rest of the salad, a variation on my beloved
fruit-nut-cheese
combo, was good, if not entirely memorable, but I’ll certainly hold on to the dried peach trick and use it again once the summer bounty is over.

This recipe, below, was found here at The Kitchn.

Spinach, Peach and Walnut Salad (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup red wine
4 dried peaches, cut into bite-sized slivers
About 6 cups washed baby spinach or arugula
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 ounce soft, mild goat cheese

1. Bring the orange juice and red wine to a boil and simmer the peach slivers until soft and plump – at least 15 minutes. The red wine mixture should also reduce considerably.

2. Toss the spinach with the toasted walnuts and scallions.

3. Remove the peaches from the wine mixture, drain, and toss with the salad. Make sure the wine has reduced at least by half – if not, let it simmer a little while longer. Whisk with the olive oil and vinegar and taste. Pour over the salad and toss with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Divide among four bowls, crumble a little cheese over top, and serve.

 

 
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