Why so good?

August 17, 2009

Before

Before

After

After

There are million fruits and vegetables in season right now. Including the wallflower that is cauliflower. It’s hardly an eye-catching vegetable, dressed in homely drab-green leaves that modestly cover pale, thick florets. Some others might catch your eye as you whirl through the market – sweet berries, snaky purple beans, tart cherries, demure and blushing peaches, and lush lettuces – but do put cauliflower on your dance card shopping list. Something amazing happens when you turn up the heat and give this little white flower a drink of extra-virgin olive oil and a generous shot of salt.

Makes: enough for 4 for a side dish. Or use it as a garnish if you eat almost all of it before your guests arrive. I’m just saying. It could happen.

1 head of cauliflower

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

Pre-heat your oven to 500º – somewhat shockingly high heat, isn’t it? As I said, you want to really heat things up. Cut up your snowy cauliflower into little florets. Toss with the olive oil and salt and spread out into a single layer on a parchment-lined pan. Slide this into your hot hot oven on the middle rack. As it’s roasting/frying/baking you will hear it snap, crackle and pop. This is good. About ten minutes in, pull out your tray and move the cauliflower about. Return to oven and repeat two more times. I roasted my cauliflower for about 40 minutes, total. You could roast yours a little less, or be bold and push it a little longer for a more sizzled, roastier and nuttier cauliflower, but don’t go anywhere – it’s a fine line between crisp deliciousness and charred too-late-you-can’t-eat-that-now. So let’s say your cauliflower is done. Taste it. Why so good? What happens in that oven? Some kind of crazy chemical romance goes on and suddenly this cauliflower is the most delicious vegetable you’ve ever had in your whole life. It’s kind of like an extreme makeover. It pays to have a hot, salty tango with a wallflower.

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Berry & Cherry Salad

August 14, 2009

Berries and Cherries

Berries and Cherries

The berries in this salad are whole kernels of spelt and kamut, and they both contain gluten. Both are ancient relatives of wheat, and are highly nutritious – packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. This salad has a satisfying crunch from the raw veggies, and a pleasant chewiness from the berries. Originally I thought I would put dried sour cherries or apricots into this salad but I couldn’t bring myself to use dried fruit at this time of year so I added pitted and quartered fresh cherries.

Makes a lot, but not too much

1 cup spelt berries

1 cup kamut berries

3 ears of corn, kernels stripped

1 red pepper, diced

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and quartered, or 1/3 cup dried fruit such as cherries, diced apricots, or currants

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup sundried olives, chopped, I used salty-spicy Hot Tunisian olives from Dundarave Olive Company

3 green onions, minced

1 orange, juiced and zested

Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons apple cider vineger

1 tablespoon agave

1 small shallot, minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt – this is a generous amount of salt for a vinaigrette, but there’s a lot of salad to season

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Rinse the spelt and kamut berries, put them into a large pot and cover with five cups of cold water. Top with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, for about 45 minutes. The water will completely absorb. Meanwhile, whisk together the vinaigrette: dollop Dijon into a small bowl with the agave and add shallots, vinegar and salt. Whisk in olive oil. Set aside. In a large bowl toss in all remaining ingredients, including the partly-cooled spelt and kamut berries. Pour vinaigrette over and toss well. Serve and eat.

* A shout-out to Diane – thanks for the idea of a spelt and kamut salad, I hope you enjoy.

Gnocchi

August 10, 2009

Out of the Pan

Out of the Pan

Wow, gluten-free gnocchi is better than the original. That never happens. These simple potato dumplings are the lightest I’ve ever had. And, if you choose to finish them in a close-to smoking pan of olive oil as I did, they puff up into the most golden, crisp little pillows imaginable. Actually, they puffed and lightened so much that they lost their smart textural lines. No matter. Have you made gnocchi before? I had my friends Suzanne, Courtney and Richard for dinner, they wanted to learn. Richard was by far the best at rolling the gnocchi dough into narrow, even ropes. And Courtney was a natural at pressing the gnocchi across the lined wooden paddle – it’s called a cavatelli. Suzanne made sure they both knew what they were doing, she is an excellent project manager and enjoys eating more than cooking. Try this recipe. I swear, you won’t be disappointed.

Serves 4

1 pound russet potatoes, about 2 medium, baked and cooled

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 large egg yolk (save the white to add to your morning frittata)

a few swirls of extra-virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

* some variations

Set a large, covered pot of water on the stove to boil. Prepare a sheet pan with a small puddle of olive oil and set near the stove for when the gnocchi is done. Peel your cooled potatoes and grate, mash or rice into a large bowl. Add the brown rice flour, cornstarch and salt and mix together with a fork. Add the egg yolk and briskly stir together. A shaggy or rough dough will begin to form. Turn this shaggy dough out onto a lightly cornstarched surface. Knead gently several times to form an uneven ball. Divide ball into four pieces. Knead each piece of dough into a somewhat tidy ball and then roll and form into a long, narrow rope. Repeat with the rest of the gnocchi dough. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the ropes into bite-size, 1/2″, dumplings. Now create texture. You can do this by pinching each dumpling in its centre, creating a chunky bow-tie-like shape, or by running each dumpling quickly down either a fork’s tines or an inexpensive ($3) lined paddle, a cavatelli. In four separate batches, gently boil the gnocchi. They pop up to surface like miniature bouys when they’re done, and cook very quickly so don’t leave the stove. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and turn them onto your waiting olive-oiled pan. They are ready to use now, you can serve them in pesto or tomato sauce or garlicky olive oil. Or you can take them one step further and turn them into crisp, golden pillows. Set a large frying pan over high heat and swirl in some olive oil, get it really hot, just this side of smoking. Add the fresh, still-warm gnocchi, let it sear and crust, toss the pan after a couple of minutes. Keep cooking and tossing until the gnocchi have crisped all over, throw in a little sea salt. Tip out onto a platter and finish with some freshly ground black pepper. Be careful not to blister the roof of your mouth with your fresh, ultra-hot potato dumpling .

Fresh Gluten-Free Gnocchi

Fresh Gluten-Free Gnocchi

* There are endless variations for gnocchi. Try the plain potato gnocchi first, and then you can tweak it as you get more practiced. Some suggestions: a couple of cloves of minced garlic; fresh chopped herbs; use one yam or sweet potato in lieu of one russet; or add a handful of parmesan. I’ve added a little cooked, grated beet to create a bright magenta gnocchi. You can experiment.

Neon Posy

July 28, 2009

Sunshine and Salt-Flecked

Sunshine and Salt-Flecked

These beans are so bright and fresh and colourful that they deserve to be called a posy. Beans, like most vegetables, become crisper and sunnier with a quick dunk into lightly salted boiling water, followed by an icy water rinse. I doused them generously with Maldon salt once they emerged from their baths. These blanched beans make a great snack for your lunch or, even better, a picnic in the sun.

Ratatouille

July 27, 2009

Provençal Stew

Provençal Stew

This Provençal vegetable stew is so delicious and very easy. Everything you need to make ratatouille is in season, and you’ll find that eggplants are shapely and delicate-skinned, peppers are sweet, and zucchini are abundant. Tomatoes are just coming in to season now. When layered with onions and an entire head of garlic, these ingredients simmer down into a silky-sweet, fresh-tasting summer vegetable stew.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, chopped

2 small to medium-sized eggplants, chopped

1 head of garlic, peeled and sliced

2 or 3 small zucchini, chopped

2 sweet peppers, chopped

3 ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 or 3 sprigs of thyme

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, possibly more – season to taste after cooking

a few twists of fresh black pepper

Place a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Pour in the two tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions. Sweat onions, stirring now and again. Add the eggplant and cook for several minutes, long enough to soften. I let mine cook down until they were unrecognizable* and creamy. Now add everything else, turn down your heat to medium-low, stir well and cover. Cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. The vegetables will melt together. You and your ratatouille are done. Taste and tweak seasoning, if necessary. Serve on its own as a main course, or to accompany almost anything.

Ratatouille Family Portrait - missing: Tomatoes

Ratatouille Family Portrait - absent: Tomatoes

* Michael positively loathes eggplant. Or so he thinks.

As Good As It Gets

July 24, 2009

Best Ever

Best Ever

This is as good as fruit salad gets, this time of year. I can’t get enough. It won’t last. Before we know it, a bright fruit salad of this calibre will be a dim memory. Thoughts like this induce a slight panicky feeling, so I overload my fridge. I freeze what I can’t eat, consoling myself with the knowledge that I can blend these fleeting fruits into smoothies and whip up a quick compote in the darker months. Go load up now – take advantage of the berries and fruits that are exploding throughout our city. Actually, this fruit salad could be slightly improved with the addition of wild blackberries, but they’re not ready quite yet. I’m waiting.

There is no recipe for fresh fruit salad. Put in what is ripe and what you love. There are a lot of berries these days, go heavy on those. And cherries. Have you seen how sexy apricots are right this second? I’m sure you have a citrus of some sort. Maybe it’s a grapefruit, rolling around in your crisper drawer. Add that. I unearthed a sugary, slightly wrinkled mango from my fridge. I am particularly fond of a little finely grated lime zest. Somehow it manages to make a fresh fruit salad taste even fresher. I think that’s as good as it gets. Happy Friday!

Fruit Explosion

Fruit Explosion

Pickled Sea Asparagus

July 23, 2009

Quick Pickles

Quick Pickles

Sea asparagus is not actually an asparagus, it’s a salt-loving succulent seaweed that grows in shallow water or along beaches. If you find some at the market, or on the beach, give it a soak in fresh water before using as it’s awfully salty. This is a quick pickle, meaning it’s not processed or canned and should be stored in the fridge. I really want to call it a quickle. You can make all sorts of pickles this way, approximating this recipe with different vegetables and varying it up with a change in pickling spices.

Makes 1 – 16 oz jar

1/4 pound fresh sea asparagus, soaked in fresh water for about 20 minutes

5 cloves of garlic

1 small chili, optional

2 wafer-thin slices of fresh ginger

3/4 cup pickling vinegar

3/4 cup water

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/8 teaspoon mustard seeds

dash of turmeric

Pack a small, sterilized jar with soaked sea asparagus, garlic, chili and ginger. In a small pot bring vinegar, water, agave, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and turmeric to a boil. Let simmer for several minutes, then pour hot liquid into your jar of prepared vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, put a lid on it and store it in the fridge. Wait 24 hours before enjoying the salty-sour crispness of your pickles.

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

July 9, 2009

Pesto!

Pesto!

Basil is everywhere at the markets, and it smells so good. The thing to do is buy a large bunch and make a batch of pesto. Of course, the most classic way to use this sauce is to toss it with a lovely, ribbon-wide pasta – not part of our clean-eating, gluten-free plan. However, it is fantastic on many foods and it makes everything taste like mid-summer at the market. This recipe is blasphemous because I’ve left out the parmesan. While I’m a little sheepish about that, I’m also pretty sure that you won’t miss it. Much. I upped the flavour by using roasted pecans instead of the traditional pine nuts, and I also threw in raw pumpkin seeds, which are healthful and rich in iron.

Makes 1 cup

2 packed cups fresh basil leaves

2 cloves of fresh garlic

1/3 cup roasted pecans, or use pine nuts if you’re the classic sort

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, optional*

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

several twists of fresh black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup pumpkin seed oil, or use all olive oil, so that would be 1/2 cup olive oil, total

Haul out your food processor and stuff everything but the oil into the bowl. Pulse and process into a rough paste. Scrape down the bowl as necessary, and take a deep inhale while the lid is off – what a great smell – kind of floral, almost spicy, garlicky, mouth-watering. While the machine is running, stream in the olive oil and then the pumpkin seed oil. A thick, delicious paste will result. If you would like to add cheese, and I can’t say that I blame you, leave out the nutritional yeast and stir in 1/2 a cup of grated parmesan. Pesto will keep in a container in the fridge for about a week.

I realize you might be wondering what, exactly, are all the foods you can use pesto on? Here are a few suggestions. Last night we had it on fresh salmon, a good dollop on each filet, then grilled. Sauté some fresh green beans with pesto. Try it on almost any vegetable, use it as a dip. Throw spoonfuls on wilted greens. On chicken. Pasta, as mentioned. Try brown rice pasta if you’re wheat-free, it’s really good. See? Many foods, and many more.

* I thought the parmesan would be less-missed if I added nutritional yeast, it’s a bit nutty and cheesy tasting

PS – pesto freezes really well, so make a bigger batch and freeze in cute little containers. Then you’ll be able to pull some mid-summer market taste out of your freezer in November.

Black Bean Salad

June 16, 2009

Black Bean Salad

Quick and Crunchy

This is a crunchy and flavourful salad that’s pretty quick to assemble, especially if you start with canned black beans. Serve it cold or at room temperature. It’s a one-dish dinner that’s happy to be packed up and taken for a bike ride around the seawall.

Serves 4

2 tins black beans, or 1 1/4 cups dried black beans

2 – 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 yellow onions, diced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes, optional

1 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups braising greens such as baby kale, chard, and friseé

1 red pepper, diced

2 ears of corn, kernels stripped off

1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped

1 lime, zest and juice

1 perfectly ripe avocado, in four wedges

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, to garnish

a drizzle of organic pumpkin seed oil, to finish, or extra-virgin olive oil

Maldon salt flakes

If you’re using canned black beans, simply open your tins and drain, and throw into a large bowl. Set aside. If you have the time to use dried, bring four cups of salted water to a boil and add the dried beans. Simmer over low heat for about an hour, or until the beans have reached desired tenderness. I like mine ever so slightly al denté, so one hour works for me, but cook it longer if you prefer your beans somewhat softer. Drain beans, turn into large bowl, and set aside. Place a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, swirl in the olive oil, and add chopped onions. Cook for several minutes, or until onions are lightly browned and tinged with crispiness. Lower heat a bit, add garlic, chili flakes if you’re using, cumin, and sea salt. Stir and toss for a couple minutes, taking care that the garlic doesn’t brown. Now add the braising greens, a pinch of sea salt, stir, and remove from heat. Let sit in the pot for about three minutes, stirring once or twice – this will wilt the greens while still retaining a little crunch, and then turn out over top of waiting beans. Toss in the diced red pepper, corn kernels, cilantro, lime zest, and juice. Give it a good mix, taste, and adjusting seasoning – add some more salt or lime juice, if you wish – and then divide amongst four large dinner plates. Take your perfectly ripe avocado wedges (fact: large pieces of avocado make people happy) and put one on each salad, sprinkle pumpkin seeds over, drizzle a restrained amount of – quite costly! but very healthy! – dark and sexy pumpkin seed oil, and finish with a few flakes of crispy Maldon salt. Or, pack into containers, hop on your bike, and have your dinner on the beach in English Bay.

Red Quinoa Salad

June 10, 2009

Flavourful Colourful Healthful

Flavourful Colourful Healthful

I made this for dinner the other night. It’s mouth-puckeringly tart from the juice of two and a half limes, and a little fiery from dried chili flakes. There’s a long list of ingredients, but it comes together quite quickly. One of the ingredients is fish sauce, which lists sugar as one of its four ingredients, so be cautioned if you are completely avoiding refined sugar. There is only 1 tablespoon of fish sauce in this whole salad, so I played fast and loose with the concept of clean eating and used it. If you would like to leave out the fish sauce for any reason — vegetarianism, true clean eating — then replace it with a couple of pinches of sea salt. And, finally, this is a salad, so go ahead and toss in some substitutions.

Serves 6

1 cup red quinoa

1/2 small head of red cabbage, finely shredded, and left to drain in a colander

3 tablespoons, plus an extra drizzle, extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 of a red onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2″ piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes, use less if you don’t like it too hot, or leave it out altogether

4 shitake mushrooms, or button, if that’s what’s in your fridge, chopped

1 orange pepper, diced

2 red radishes, thinly sliced

1 juicy, ripe mango, peeled and diced

half a bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

3 limes — zest and juice of two and a half, the last half in wedges for garnish

1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste, or two pinches of salt to substitute

a few handfuls of fresh salad greens, I used mixed mustard greens

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Bring two cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the red quinoa and a pinch of salt. Lower your heat and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is absorbed, about 12 – 15 minutes. Turn quinoa out into a large bowl, and spread up and around the sides of the bowl so that it cools quickly. Set aside. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over your red cabbage in the colander and set aside on top of a plate, this will catch the purple juices as they drain off from the cabbage. In a medium-sized frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped red onion and sauté for a couple minutes, until it becomes translucent. Now add the chopped garlic and coriander. This is the stage where the air in your kitchen fills with a great and pungent smell, so inhale. Throw in the ginger, chili flakes, and mushrooms, and cook for a little longer, the mushrooms will shrink down some. Remove from heat, and scoop all of this flavour, and whatever oil is remaining, over top of your waiting and somewhat cooled red quinoa. Add, in no particular order, orange pepper, red radishes, juicy mango bits, cilantro, lime zest and most of the lime juice – save a squeeze for your greens – and the fish sauce. Toss. Taste. If you like, add more lime juice and/or fish sauce. Toss your greens with the reserved olive oil and lime juice, and sesame seeds. To plate: pile the greens onto the centre of your plates, top with the red cabbage, and then top all of that with your colourful quinoa and a small, bright wedge of lime.