23 April 2010

Cilantro Pesto

Pesto ranks up there as one of my favorite foods--always has been. Come summertime, there's nothing I like more than a bowlful of pasta rich with pesto's spicy blend of basil, pinenuts, olive oil, and parmesan cheese (particularly--sigh--if I happen to be eating it beach-side in Moneglia in the true pesto motherland). The only trouble is, it's not always summer. Sure, basil and even high-quality ready-made pesto are available year-round in grocery stores but I'm a pretty firm believer that food tastes best when it's seasonal. Although it's starting to get plenty hot here, and light, summer foods are beginning to seem like just what the doctor ordered, basil season has yet to arrive at my house.

As a kind of interim measure, I decided to try making cilantro pesto instead. For some completely illogical reason, in my mind cilantro doesn't fall under the same seasonality limitations as basil. It's ripe for the picking off the grocery shelf all year long! A quick googling turned up a lot of different cilantro pesto recipes but I ended up settling on one from a back issue of Gourmet to use as a guide. Unlike a lot of the other recipes, this one doesn't call for parmesan which, although it's apparently good, sounds strange in combination with cilantro. It also includes some Asian flavors which is what I was craving although a more Mexican-flavored cilantro pesto (without fish sauce and sesame oil--plus a little cumin and serrano or jalapeno pepper) would also be really good on lots of things.

As you can see from the photos, I tossed some udon noodles with the pesto and made a cold noodle salad (delish) but there are so many other things that could be done with this tasty green stuff. Some other ideas:
-toss with cooked rice and serve warm as a side to grilled meat or let cool and combine with veggies, pieces of cooked tofu or chicken and serve as a salad
-marinade for or dip/drizzle for grilled or baked tofu, fish, or shrimp
-rub under the skin of a roast chicken

This summer I think my basil pesto is in for some stiff competition!

Cilantro Pesto
adapted from Gourmet

2 cups packed cilantro leaves (about 2 medium bunches)
2 tablespoons pine nuts (blanched almonds would also be good)
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce (veggie substitute soy sauce)--may want more to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (I omitted)
1/4 cup mild olive oil

-a few sprigs of mint--recommended!
-fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper to taste or some dried red chili flakes

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth--just a few minutes. You may have to stop a few times to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings.

15 April 2010

Pea Shoots

Is there anything more evocative of spring than delicate, baby pea shoots? Maybe pencil-thin asparagus. Or fluffy yellow chicks. Oh and newborn lambs! Ok, so there are lots of springy things out there but I'm going to try to focus on pea shoots for a bit since they're my most exciting recent food discovery.

If you haven't ever tried pea shoots I suggest you hightail it to your local farmer's market stat, before the season's over. If you can't find them there, you might also check Asian groceries--it seems pea shoots are common in Chinese cuisine. If you love sugar snap peas like I do you'll be happy to discover that the shoots taste, well, pretty much exactly like sugar snap peas! Their leafy texture, though, suggests different types of preparation.

Just picked and very young, delicate shoots can be eaten raw as a salad or mixed in with other salad greens (try an Asian-inspired dressing with rice vinegar, ginger, and sesame oil). More mature shoots are great chopped or torn into smaller pieces and quickly sauteed or stir-fried in a little oil and garlic, just enough to wilt and tenderize (word of caution--these little guys shrink to almost nothing when cooked so start out with a lot more than you think). You can tell a mature shoot by the presence of a spring-like coiled tendril at its tip which you should take the time to pinch off, otherwise your shoots will stick together in a big, tangled clump no matter how you prepare them. Trust me. Mix cooked shoots in with some soba noodles, small chunks of smoked tofu, and a similar Asian dressing and you have a delicious, easy lunch or dinner in a bowl!

Or, for a Frenchy twist, you can do what I did and make an omelet. Paired with a salad of mixed greens and baby beets and a glass of wine, it made for a taste of spring that made me wish, again, that this season would last forever. Or at least longer than it usually does in Texas!

PS: Now that I'm turned on to these delicious little guys, I'm eager to learn more ways to cook with them. If you're familiar with pea shoots, what's your favorite way to cook and eat them? Please do share.

Springtime Omelet with Pea Shoots
1 serving
1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced
two generous handfulls (maybe two cups) of pea shoots, trimmed, chopped into 2 inch pieces
2 fresh farm eggs, lightly beaten with a splash of milk or cream
1 tablespoon butter

Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste

salt and pepper to taste

optional: a slice or two of prosciutto if you're feeling decadent (I was)

Add half the butter to a small hot pan and when foaming, toss in the garlic and pea shoots, stirring for a minute or two until the leaves wilt. Remove from pan. Add the rest of the butter (and more or oil if you need it) to the pan and when it foams add the eggs. Let cook until the egg begins to harden around the edges of the pan. Spoon the pea shoots over the middle of the omelet, grate cheese over the whole thing, and sprinkle salt and pepper over the top (also add the prosciutto if using). With a rubber spatula, gently fold the omelet in half or in thirds (taco style--my preferred method) and cook a bit longer until the eggs are no longer runny. Turn out of the pan onto a plate and dig in!

12 April 2010

Rhubarb Citrus Tart

I've been intrigued by rhubarb for a while now. Usually disguised as a fruit and featured in springtime desserts, it is technically a vegetable! Despite its unassuming appearance (the stalks look a lot like pink celery), for me rhubarb conjures up romantic notions of times-gone-by. Classic rhubarb desserts seem to either represent good old fashioned Americana (strawberry rhubarb pie) or prim Victorian England (rhubarb fool)--either way they appeal to my imaginary sensibilities.

Curious to know if rhubarb appealed to my real sensibilities as well, last summer while in New York City I bought some from the farmer's market and cooked it up. I stewed it gently for about 20 minutes on the stove with a hefty amount of sugar (rhubarb is very tart and recipes usually temper this by combining it with sweet berries like strawberries and an ungodly amount of sugar, surely canceling out any positive benefits of eating vegetables for dessert!). The resulting compote (is there any less-sexy name for a dessert?) was good, especially spooned over greek yogurt or ice cream, but I knew I could do better.

Although rhubarb doesn't seem to be a popular Texas crop and isn't available in our local Austin farmer's markets, I couldn't resist when I saw some good looking stalks at the grocery store this week. A quick epicurious.com search landed me with this tart recipe and I'm happy to report, it was way better than my first experiment! And much prettier. Admittedly, it is a bit of a cheater recipe, as it calls for a frozen puff pastry crust (which I used despite being a bit appalled by the scary list of ingredients), but I bet you could be a purist and make something equally good if not better if you can pull off a delicate tart crust. As it is, though, this tart makes an impressive and delicious finish for a springtime barbecue, especially when accompanied by some homemade vanilla ice cream. It's deceptively quick and simple to make too, even if you take the time to lay out each thin piece of rhubarb in a precise (ahem) manner. Try it and you, too, will enjoy eating vegetables for dessert, I promise!
P.S.: There have been many other culinary shenanigans around these parts lately including experiments with pea shoots, quick pickling, a glorious roasted chicken, breaking in my birthday BBQ pit, and a very entertaining evening spent attempting to fish a lost dishtowel out from behind my stove with a hanger (PSA: the bottom drawer of your oven is removable people!!!). I'm hoping to write some posts here about all of these noteworthy items and more, so stay tuned...meanwhile, here's a little visual preview:

Rhubarb Citrus Tart
based on a recipe from Gourmet, 2009
serves 8

1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal (about 1/8" thick)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 400 with rack in middle. In a medium bowl stir together juices and sugar, add rhubarb and let stand, stirring some, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut puff pastry in half lengthwise and roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin until each measures about 7 x 11 inches (making two smallish tarts instead of one large one increases the crust factor and decreases center soggy pieces). Transfer to a large baking sheet and make a border around each one by scoring (not cutting through) a line parallel to and about 1/2" from each edge. Prick all over the center with a fork.

Strain rhubarb in a colander over a bowl, reserving juices. Top center of each pastry with half of the rhubarb, overlapping the pieces slightly. Bake about 30 minutes or until crust is puffed and golden. Meanwhile, reduce juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until you have about 1/4 cup of thick glaze. Brush or drizzle glaze (I didn't use all of it) over the baked tarts and scatter orange zest over the top. Enjoy!

04 April 2010

le radish

Did you know the radish plant is edible in its entirety? I've always tossed the prickly leaves, assuming they aren't good to eat but lately I've heard some rumors about them that make me want to change my wasteful ways. That and the fact that I just harvested my first spring radishes from my little garden and its seems doubly wrong to throw away something I've grown myself. These little guys were supposed to be long, elegant, bi-color french breakfast radishes but some of them turned out kinda short and stout (appropriate given who grew them!). I ate them in a salad today, setting the tops aside for some future use (perhaps chopped and mixed into another salad?). When I harvest the next round I think I'll try the recipe below (I think it would be a great side for fish or something off the grill).

Sautéed Radishes in the French Style

adapted from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
serves 6
2 Tblsp unsalted butter

2 bunches small radishes
Salt and fresh ground pepper

1/3 C white wine- she uses Vermouth

Pinch of sugar

2 Tblsp chopped fresh tarragon

Directions: Heat butter in a 12” skillet over medium high heat. Clean and halve radishes lengthwise, discarding only the leaves that were slimy or yellow. Leave tails intact as well. Throw them into the pan and give a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the wine or Vermouth and sugar continuing to cook until the liquid has disappeared. Toss the radishes with the tarragon and a bit more butter if desired.