Fast & Furious Weeknight Cooking: Simran’s Chimichurri Black Beans

chimichurri-beans

These brothy, flavorful chimichurri beans are so versatile — a tasty base for soups and stews; a hearty sidedish; or, of course, a filling for tacos, quesadillas, tortas and yes… nachos! Simran developed this recipe after enjoying a similar dish when she was in Belize and it’s our latest article for our “Fast & Furious Weeknight Cooking” series for the San Jose Mercury News. Read the article and get the recipe right here. Continue reading

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mejadra (Rice and Lentils)

Mejadra - A Little Yumminess

A Little Yumminess_Mejadra

Where do cravings come from? Sometimes it seems they follow you for a lifetime, other times they come and go quite mysteriously. My little one is in the midst of a massive pickle phase at the moment which came on all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere. He’ll eat dill pickles any time of day (even breakfast) and steals the pickles off our plates when we’re not looking. My favorite junior foodie Ria made her grandparents keep a food diary on their last trip to Singapore, and paging through it reveals a very high frequency of Hainanese Chicken Rice. My older son has always craved the sweet stuff (the particulars change but never the framework), my husband the spicy stuff (or BBQ or chocolate covered bananas). Lately my cravings seem to lead directly to these spiced lentils and rice which are addictively sweet-savory and even more perfect with the tang of yogurt alongside. I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it!

The ease of making this dish is another reason to love it, especially if you plan ahead a bit and cook the lentils the night before. Then it’s really only a matter of a couple of minutes of toasting spices and then plunking everything else to season the rice while it cooks. Admittedly, frying the onions is a huge pain (you’ve got to do it in batches and you have to pay attention so they don’t burn), but it’s definitely worth the effort because they really make the dish. Luckily, like the lentils, you can make them ahead of time.

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Succotash Polenta

If the word succotash makes you think of a limp and lifeless lump of cooked to death vegetables, this could not be farther from that notion. Think instead…. a big bowl of bright, fresh, sweet summer vegetables tumbled onto creamy, creamy polenta. Are you with me? I don’t always think of making polenta this time of year, but it turns out that it’s the perfect canvas for a basket of gorgeous summer vegetables. I think this is absolutely fantastic as is, but you can easily turn this into a more substantial meal for brunch, lunch or dinner by adding a poached egg, a piece of grilled chicken or fish or even a broiled sausage. The soft and creamy polenta is ideal for little teethers and older kids can help you pick out the vegetables, snap green beans and shell fresh peas if you’re using them.

For the succotash, use any combo of vegetables you like but definitely include shallots, corn, tomatoes and green beans. We like to add fresh english peas and fava beans when we can find them. Favas take a little extra work (shelling the beans, then blanching them in salted water for 30 seconds and removing their tough skins) but are definitely worth the extra trouble. You could certainly add sliced zucchini and finely chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme) would be lovely too.

For the polenta, I like to use Marcella Hazan’s no stir polenta method. Be sure to stir in a little butter and a whole lot of grated parmesan cheese. Your polenta will stay creamy as long as you keep it warm, but the leftovers are worth spending a few minutes on. Turn leftovers into a baking dish or cookie sheet. When it cools it will set and you can cut it into squares which you can grill or fry or simply reheat. The squares wont be creamy like just made polenta but are still delicious and great with any saucy Italian recipe. You can wrap the squares in parchment paper and freeze them to enjoy later.

Succotash Polenta

  • Cook your polenta using Marcella Hazan’s “no stir” method. It will take about 45 minutes in all, but only a minute of stirring every 10 minutes. When the polenta is cooked, stir in butter and grated parmesan cheese to taste and keep warm.
  • Prep all your vegetables: finely mince shallots, trim green beans (I like 1″ pieces sliced on the diagonal), halve cherry tomatoes, cut corn off the cob. I like to cut my corn on top of a cookie sheet to catch all the juices and stray kernels that try to get away. When all the corn has been cut off, run the back of your knife along the cob to release the “corn milk” which you can cook along with your kernels.
  • Sprinkle the shallots with a few pinches of salt and saute in oilve oil until softened. Add the green beans and cook until tender crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Add the corn kernels and their juices and cook 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute just to heat through. Add a tiny splash of red wine vinegar and stir. Taste and correct seasoning, adding a little more salt or vinegar if needed.
  • Spoon the succotash over polenta and sprinkle with fresh herbs of your choice.

You might also like these summery faves: summer corn and lobster ravioli in a light corn broth; Easy Summer Fruit Cobbler; Tomato Water Pasta; Summer Obsession: Roasted Sweet Peppers; Summer Ratatouille

Spring is for Artichokes

Spring has sprung and with it we are diving into our favorite vegetable of the moment, the noble and delicious artichoke. When I eat artichokes, I often find myself daydreaming about vacations in Rome, foggy drives through coastal artichoke fields in Monterey, and the incredible crispy “Carciofi Alla Judea” at Locanda Osteria in the mission — the stuff foodie dreams are made of. My family’s very favorite simple preparation, “Ali’s Artichokes”, is pretty dreamy in its own right. I think my boys mostly love artichokes because they are fun to eat and I suppose that’s just fine too. Happy Spring!

The noble and delicious artichoke.

"Ali's artichokes" our favorite way to eat them.

"Artichoke Friend" (with his pal the carrot), by Luca

We're waiting for Sherm, mascot of our garden, to start producing!

Ali’s Artichokes

My cousin Ali, a master of the grill, taught me to make artichokes this way. That little bit of crispness and char make them especially delicious.

  1. Start your steamer and have it hot and ready to go because artichokes start to discolor the moment you cut them.
  2. While your steamer is getting hot, trim your artichokes. Here’s a great video by Chef Ian Knauer (below).  If you’re planning to trim them ahead, toss them in a bowl of water to which you have added a generous squeeze of lemon to keep them from discoloring.   ** For this preparation, we like our artichokes trimmed and cut in half. We don’t bother removing the chokes, because they’re easier  to scoop out after steaming. **
  3. Steam until just tender. I steam them for 20 minutes and then start checking them every 5-10 minutes. Once tender, I let them cool a bit until they’re cool enough to handle. I scoop out the choke with a spoon and then “marinate” them in olive oil and sea salt. You can grill them right away or leave them covered in the refrigerator overnight.
  4. Before serving, give them 5 minutes on a grill or under the broiler to crisp them and give them a bit of char.

Emily’s Eggplant Parmesan

Everywhere people are turning off their ovens in favor of cool summery dishes. You might want to consider turning your oven back on for this yummerific eggplant parmesan. My cousin Emily was nice enough to share her recipe which she got from a friend who got it from an aunt who got it from….. This always disappears in nanoseconds at our family gatherings making it a perfect pot luck dish. It’s also a great make-ahead cooking project for the weekend that will get dinner on the table in a jiffy on a busy weeknight.

Since four hands are better than two, I invited my friend Rachel to come over and cook this with me. We made a double batch while catching up and letting the kids exhaust themselves by running circuits of my house. Tired kids and dinner checked off the list is a lovely thing indeed, but not as lovely as the eggplant parm sandwich I had the next morning for breakfast. The sandwich was so dang delicious that I will make sure to bulk up my recipe in the future just to make sure there are sufficient leftovers.

If it happens to be a nice day set up your eggplant breading station outside and enlist the help of your young chefs to dip and shake the eggplant and then layering it all up in the baking dish. It’s a good and messy cooking project which means they’ll love it!

Emily’s Eggplant Parmigiano (makes enough to fill one 8″x8″ baking dish)

Emily says: It’s ALL in the sauce! She’s tried all the fancy and organic tomato products for this recipe, but prefers Hunt’s.

  • 28 oz can Hunt’s Whole Tomatoes
  • 28 ounces of Hunt’s Tomato Sauce
  • 2 Large Cloves of Garlic
  • Dried Basil, Oregano, Crushed Red Pepper to Taste
  • 2 Large Italian Eggplant
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 cups Breadcrumbs (Emily prefers her own made from herbed focaccia bread but the stuff from the store works too. I approximated herb focaccia breadcrumbs by blitzing some dried rosemary, olive oil and sea salt in the blender and drizzling the herbed oil over plain homemade breadcrumbs)
  • Vegetable Oil (for baking the eggplant)
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Fresh Mozzarella, Diced
  • Fresh Basil (or basil oil)

Gluten Free Tip: If you want to make this gluten-free, the Gluten-Free Goddess suggests using frozen gluten-free waffles in place of traditional breadcrumbs. Toast them, crunch them up into crumbs and drizzle them with rosemary infused olive oil. You’re good to go GF peeps!

The Sauce (you can make this ahead):

Start with some olive oil and crushed garlic saute until golden. Add the sauce and then the whole tomatoes, which you can crush by hand as you add them into the pot.  Add salt and pepper to taste, a pinch of crushed red chili flake and plenty of dried basil and oregano, sometimes a splash of red wine too. Cook for a few hours, adjust the seasoning and enjoy.

Purge, Bread and Bake the Eggplant (you can do this ahead too):

  • Slice the eggplant about 1/2″ thick. Salt it and stand the slices up in a colander for a few hours to let the juices drain out. Discard the juices and pat the slices dry.
  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place an oiled cookie sheet in the oven to heat up while you do your breading.
  • Set up your breading station: Season the flour with salt, pepper and a few pinches of dried oregano and basil and set it aside in a shallow bowl. Beat the eggs and place in a separate bowl. Place the breadcrumbs in a third bowl. Place a cooling rack on a cookie sheet as the last stop on your breading assembly line.
  • Dip both sides of each slice of eggplant in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Shake off the excess between each dip and place on the cooking rack until ready to bake.
  • Place your breaded eggplant slices on the hot cookie sheet and drizzle the tops with a little more olive oil. Turn the oven down to 375 and bake 15 minutes. Flip and bake 15 minutes on the other side.

Assemble and Bake

  • Spread a half cup of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer the baked eggplant slices, then sauce, then grated parmigiano reggiano. Repeat the layers.
  • Bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through and bubbly. If baking from the freezer you will need to defrost it completely and add another 15-20 minutes to your bake time.
  • Top with diced fresh mozzarella and torn fresh basil (or basil oil)  just as it comes out of the oven.

Summer Obsession: Roasted Peppers

My summer obsession: roasted peppers. I wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about them: sweet, tangy, colorful, juicy. Luckily they are incredibly easy to make and impossible to screw up. They’re delicious cold, room temp and warm and they’re even better a few days after you make them, which is the best kind of recipe. These are fabulous on an antipasto platter alongside cheese, Italian cold cuts and pepperoncini; and delicious on crostini with alongside ricotta or mascarpone and a sprinkling of parsley. Saute Italian sausage and onions, then add some of these peppers and diced tomatoes and you’ve got a quick and super yummy pasta sauce. Or simply add a few to a sandwich or a pizza. Like a lot of kids out there, Luca is suspicious of their “vegetable-y and slimey” texture, but he’ll put up with them if I cut them in small and don’t draw too much attention to them. Maybe your little eaters will too.

Ingredients: Sweet Peppers any color but green (choose flat sided ones); Olive Oil; Sea Salt or Kosher Salt; Garlic Powder

  1. Wash your peppers and just leave them whole, stems and all. Choose flat sided peppers if you can because they get more surface contact with the grill and char more evenly.
  2. Throw them on a dry grill plan or cast iron skillet on the stove. You can also do them on your outdoor grill or under the broiler. Using high heat char them on all sides. Let them get really black. It takes a while, so just keep turning them from time to time.
  3. Set the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and let them come to room temperature.
  4. Uncover the bowl. The skins should slip off easily. Remove the stems and open up the peppers with your hands, keeping them as in tact as possible, and remove the seeds. It’s tempting to want to rinse them with water, but try not to because you’ll lose a lot of flavor. My friend Christian’s trick is to “wash” the peppers by swishing them around in their own collected juice.
  5. Once you have them cleaned up, tear them by hand (way, way better than cutting them with a knife). Drizzle generously with good quality olive oil, then sprinkle with sea salt or kosher salt. I usually give them a few good shakes of garlic powder for good measure. Toss them well. They should be nice and juicy.

You could eat them right away, but the flavor is even better if you cover them and let them sit overnight in the refrigerator. They’ll keep for a week for sure, but they never last that long with me around. Buon Appetito!

Eggplant-Sourdough Polpette

I first got inspired to make these after enjoying the excellent eggplant polpette at Bar Bambino in San Francisco’s Mission District. I wasn’t able to find a recipe, so I just made up my own. This is one of my very favorite “go-to” recipes for parties and potlucks.


Because I often don’t have a lot of time to cook in one sitting, I purge/ roast the eggplant one day and assemble and bake the polpette on another day. These freeze well, so I always make a big batch so that I have some to stash away in the freezer for a quick meal or snack at the ready. I’ve found that kids (well mine at least) will generally eat anything in the shape of a meatball.

Ingredients (makes about 3 dozen small polpette)

  • 3 Medium Italian Eggplant
  • 1/2 Loaf of Good Sourdough Bread (or your favorite rustic loaf)
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Carrot, 1 Zucchini — grated finely and squeezed dry
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmegiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Cup Bread Crumbs*
  • Olive Oil, Kosher Salt, Pepper

Click on the picture above for more detailed instructions, but here is the method in a nutshell.

  1. Slice and purge the eggplant by sprinkling the cut sides with kosher salt and letting the juices drain out.
  2. Pat dry and roast the eggplant slices on a lightly oiled cookie sheet until tender. Chop and set aside.
  3. Trim the crust from the bread, slice and soak in milk. Squeeze out & discard the liquid and crumble into a bowl. Add the chopped eggplant, egg, carrot, zucchini, parmegiano reggiano, parsley, and a dash of salt and peper. Mix well.
  4. Form into balls. Roll each ball in breadcrumbs. Bake on a lightly oiled cookie sheet at 375 until crispy and golden.

Serve as is, simmered in tomato sauce, on a sandwich — or any other way you like to eat meatballs!

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* Homemade Bread Crumbs *

It’s easy to make your own bread crumbs and they are soooooooo much better than store bought. Just toss your stale bread, crusts in a freezer-safe container. When you have saved up a bunch, lay your bread trimmings on an ungreased cookie sheet. Toast at 350 until dry and crisped (15-20 minutes). You can flavor them up if you like with herb and spices of your choice. I often add a handful of sesame seeds or golden flax seed. Process everything in a food processor until you have the texture of coarse sand. If you find your bread crumbs are not dry and sandy, return them to the baking sheet and toast them a bit more. Store in an airtight container in the freezer.