Friday, May 25, 2012

Sweet Pea and Ricotta Tortellini Won-ton Style

It's spring here in Northern Virginia and we enjoy that our Meatless Monday dinners reflect the changing of the seasons. Later this summer we'll start using freshly picked vegetables from our garden and local farm stands more and more. One of the rites of passage each spring is the arrival of fresh peas and when we saw them in the store, Cyn decided to feature them in our dinner. That lead to her making Sweet Pea Tortellini -- Wonton Style.

But before we go there, I need to give you the background on our first course -- parsley root soup. Yes, there is background, bear with me a bit.

Six or seven years ago we had the pleasure of eating an amazing meal in Philadelphia at Studio Kitchen. At the time, Chef Shola Olunloyo was offering a private dining experience for 10 people 4 nights per week in a converted townhouse in the Powelton Village section of Philly, not far from the historic Philadelphia Zoo. The first course that evening was a parsley root soup and, after talking about it on and off since then, Cyn decided to try to recreate it. Here is her version....

Ingredients (the soup) - enough for 2 first course portions
  • 2 tbsp shallots
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1 bunch parsley root - about a pound or so, tops removed and root peeled and cut into rounds (you could alternately scrub the roots well and forgo the peeling -- adds more flavor)

Preparation (the soup)
  • Melt butter in 2 qt saucepan and saute shallots until translucent.  (You could, as I inadvertently did, allow them to brown while you clean up the mess that was made when the cornstarch tried to commit suicide by diving from the third shelf in the pantry.)
  • Add parsley root and enough water to cover.  Bring to simmer and cook until a fork inserted into root comes out easily - very tender.
  • Add cooked root to VitaMix/blender/food processor/tamis-- your choice of pulverizer --- and blitz until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish (the soup)
Shola's garnish and presentation was pretty awe inspiring to a cook -- the underbowl had a touch of lemon oil in it and hot water was poured in to release the lemon 'air' as you enjoyed the soup.  I don't have that kind of time or patience, or dishwashing staff, so I settled on a 'home' presentation.  I also didn't want to get too lemony and pull a Pledge moment.  Shola got it just right.  I could go right to a cleaning moment.
  • Melted scallions (pan on low heat, scallions, little water, some butter, cook low and slow), a lemon oil (Shola used Sicilian Lemon Oil, I used lemon zest steeped in EVOO with a little Boyajian backup), and chopped roasted and salted pistachios, the last a deviation from the pecans in the original.
  • Soup first, scallions, lemon oil drizzle and then pistachios.  Truly wonderful.  Eat more parsley root.

Onto to the tortellini.

  • 1 tbsp butter, unsalted, preferably the best you can afford, je t'aime Plugra
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped (couple tbsp)
  • 1/2 c white wine
  • 1 1/2 cup baby peas
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups ricotta
  • 1/4 c each romano and parmigiano
  • 2 tsp chopped tarragon
  • couple of grates of nutmeg
  • s/p to taste
  • package of pre-made Wonton Wrappers
  • egg wash (yolk with a couple tsps water)


  • Melt butter in small saute pan, cook shallots until translucent.  Add wine and reduce to about 2 tbsp.  Add peas and cook for 2 minutes, tops.  Peas should be bright green and just warmed through.  If you're going to cheat and use frozen peas (not that there's anything wrong with that), defrost first.  Remove from heat, dump on plate and allow to cool completely.
  • While you wait, in mixing bowl combine ricotta, romano, parm, tarragon, nutmeg and s/p.  Taste it.  Adjust seasoning.  Gently mix in peas.  Taste again.  Adjust seasoning.
  • Put a big pot of water on to boil.  Salt as you would for pasta.
  • Now for the fun, making tortellinis from wonton wrappers.  On a clean dish towel, layout four wrappers, leaving the rest in the package (they dry out easily).  
  • Brush entire wonton lightly with egg wash, making sure edges are covered well (I'm too busy to play with just the edges, it goes faster when you just brush the entire wrapper). 
  • Place a teaspoon of the pea filling in the center of each.  Fold over into a triangle, pressing out air from the center out as you close it up.  Be sure edges meet well and seal tight.  An extra pinch won't hurt here.
  • Place a little dab of egg wash on the two 'wings' of your triangle, one on the top side, the other on the opposite bottom side.
  • On the long side of your triangle, push it in a little. Then take your wings and press them together.  We realized this would be difficult to describe, no Pulitzer in the family,  So we made a little video of this which you can find here:

    • Once the first four are done, transfer to a clean dish towel on a sheet tray and continue until all filling is gone or you've reached your fussy work limit.  (You'll note I served a soup first so the number of tortellini I had to painstakingly fold was limited.  Although it does go fast once you've got the hang of it.)  
    • Keep completed tortellini covered with another dish towel until you're ready to cook.  (You could freeze them at this point as well)  Couple of minutes in boiling water does the trick -- be sure to stir these as they do have a tendency to stick.

    Preparation (the sauce)

    You could go for a straight dip in the butter pool, a beurre blanc would be lovely, or pump up the pea and use a puree of that as a sauce.  Carrot puree would be divine as well and the parsley root soup would be an ab-fab sauce.  I wanted to boost the tarragon flavor so I created a Pernod Cream Sauce.
    • One medium shallot, finely minced and sauteed in a tbsp or so of butter (are you getting the shallot love yet?). 
    •  Add 1/4 cup Pernod and reduce by half. 
    • Add 1 cup vegetable stock or water, reduce by half again.  
    • Over low heat, whisk in 1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy cream and a fat tbsp of chopped chives.  
    • Season to taste.  Easy peasy!

    On a warm plate, place a small amount of sauce.  Typically I would finish the tortellini in the sauce, allowing the pasta to soak up a little more flavor.  These are delicate and must go right to the plate.  Top with a little more of the sauce, a quick saute of snow peas cut on the bias, a sprinkle of parm or romano, and a little chive or green onion is a nice touch.  Chive blossoms top this dish.  Bon appetit ya'll!

      Thursday, May 24, 2012

      The Tale of India Pale Ale

      OK, if you thought I was going to write this post in iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets or any other form of poetry, you clearly haven't been reading my blog up to this point. I have a basic and utilitarian command of the English language (sort of) and am happy when my co-workers don't point out any misspellings, grammatical errors, misplaced commas or stylistic crimes.

      On to the beer...

      As I've said here several times before, I love craft beer. I feel fortunate to be living at a time when brewing quality, small batch, beer is back in vogue. I realize that it never was out of vogue in most of the rest of the world, but here in the US, the period from 1960 to 1990 was dominated by large corporate breweries  making what was, to my taste, soulless beer.To put things in perspective, in 1992, the top 6 brewing companies controlled 92% of the US beer market. In the 1990's micro brewing started to pick up steam (no pun intended since Anchor Brewing in California,with it's Anchor Steam beer was one of the pioneers of US micro brewing). By 2011 there were more than 1,900 micro breweries operating in the US. For the first time, the total out put of the micro brewery class exceeded 5% of the annual US consumption by volume.

      There are now an almost dizzying array of manufacturers, styles and alcohol contents available to consumers. I say, bring them on, the more the merrier! For almost two years now, my beer consumption has been heavily weighted toward a particular style - India Pale Ale. This particular style of beer is steeped in history and in come cases, myth. In researching for this post, I stumbled onto a wonderful article called Mythbusting the IPA, written by Pete Brown for All About Beer Magazine back in 2009. In it, Mr. Brown addresses "ten of the biggest myths around this fascinating legend―some wholly inaccurate―others merely misunderstood." If you have even a passing interest in the history of this beer, I highly recommend you take a few minutes to read his article.

      The Oxford Companion to Beer says that IPA is characterized by high levels of alcohol and hops. The floral nose and slightly bitter/dry taste are perfect for my palette. These beers pair wonderfully with a large variety of foods -- from pizza to steak -- and do quite nicely all alone. Again from the Oxford Companion: "Of all the styles, IPA is the most romanticized, mythologized and misunderstood. It inspires the fiercest debate, the greatest reverence and the wildest conjecture in the world of beer."

      Every brewer in the business these days makes an IPA, more often than not, more than one. There are singles, doubles and triples, usually delineated by alcohol content. Some of the triples have ABV (alcohol by volume) contents in the double digit range, quite high for beer. However, the appeal of these beers is not the alcohol content, it's the taste and versatility in food pairing that makes them special to me. Over the past two years I have tried a great number of IPAs. Almost all have been good, some have been very good and a few have risen to the top (for me). They include:

      Bell's Two Hearted Ale

      Green Flash West Coast IPA

      Stone Runination
      I'm sure I'm doing a grave injustice to several others that I have truly enjoyed by not listing them here but in the spirit of brevity I'll close by saying that if you haven't tried the newer generation of these beers, you should. I know that I will keep seeking out the new ones as fast as they can make them.

      Tuesday, May 22, 2012

      Black Rice Salad with Mango and Peanuts

      About three months ago, we made a wonderful Meatless Monday dinner with Forbidden Black Rice as the main ingredient. We enjoyed it so much that we wanted to find another way to use this unusual ingredient (and we still had the remains of the original package in the pantry - waste not, want not).  Searching for some inspiration over the weekend, Cyn found a recipe in this month's Bon Appetit magazine that featured the Forbidden Rice! Although she certainly was inspired by and used components of the recipe, she made significant enough modifications that I feel confident in calling the following her own.

      We are well into Spring here in Northern Virginia and the weather has turned warm, making salad very appealing as a main course. But this week, Monday was raw and rainy, prompting Cyn to want to serve something warm and comforting as a first course. She settled on a simple miso soup. Miso, if you are unfamiliar, is a traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting rice and soybeans with salt and the fungus koji-kin. The result is a thick paste used in a myriad of ways in Japanese cooking. It's available in many grocery stores, particularly if you have a significant Asian community in your area. There is a wide variety of miso available, often differing from one another in the fermentation time. We like to blend two varieties to reach a flavor profile that suits our taste. This blend yields a very savory, slightly salty and satisfying broth.

      Ingredients (miso soup)
      • 4 cups water
      • 3/8 cup white miso paste
      • 1/8 cup red miso paste
      • 2 sliced shitake mushrooms
      • 1 sliced green onion (green part only)

      Preparation (miso soup)
      • Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan
      • Stir in miso pastes until fully dissolved
      • Reduce heat to simmer
      • Add mushrooms and green onions
      • Simmer 2-3 minutes additionally
      • Serve hot

      Doesn't get any easier than that, huh?

      We love salads - all kinds. It's easy to get caught up in the "traditional" lettuce, cucumber, pepper, carrot, (you get the picture), salad. We try to find ingredients that make our salads more interesting, flavorful and fun. So this one, with the black rice as a major component, was right up out alley. The inclusion of fruit is always appealing to us and the addition of the peanuts, for texture, was also. Cynthia wanted to add a little more protein to hers -- thus the fried egg. As you know if you're a regular reader, eggs are not my thing, although I'll admit it made a nice presentation.

      Ingredients (salad)
      • One juice orange
      • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
      • 2 3/4 cups water
      • 2 cups black rice (preferably Lotus Foods Forbidden Black Rice)
      • Kosher salt
      • 1 just ripe mango, peeled pitted and cut into 1/4 inch dice
      • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
      • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
      • 1/2 cup unsalted, dry roasted peanuts
      • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
      • 2 jalapenos, seeded, minced
      • 1 egg, fried

      Preparation (salad)
      With fried egg
      • Bring water with rice added to boil in a sauce pan
      • Lightly season with salt
      • Cover and reduce heat to simmer
      • cook until all liquid is absorbed (approx 25 mins)
      • Remove from heat and let stand (covered) for 10-15 minutes
      • Spread cooked rice on a baking pan, lightly salt and allow to cool

      • Remove orange sections, working over a bowl to catch the juices
      • Squeeze orange membranes to collect remaining juices
      • Remove pith from orange sections and reserve them
      • Combine orange juices and lime juice
      • Reserve
      Without egg

      • Place mango, cooled rice, parsley, red onion, peanuts and jalapenos in a large bowl
      • Add citrus dressing
      • Toss lightly
      • Season to taste with salt and more lime juice if desired
      • Plate, garnish with orange sections and add fried egg on top (optional)
      • Serve at room temperature.

      The salad was hearty without being heavy and the oranges and mangoes were perfected offset and complimented by the peanuts. The parsley can be traded out for cilantro if that is your preferred flavor. Chalk up another successful use for the "Emperor's Rice".

      Wednesday, May 16, 2012

      Refrigerator Orphans

      If you're like us, you tend to accumulate little bits and pieces of leftover foods in the refrigerator as the week goes on. We're a household of just two people so we often have the typical leftovers but we are also savers of the little things -- sauces, components of other meals and vegetable pieces and parts. We try hard not to waste food, although sometimes something gets mysteriously hidden in the fridge, only to be discovered after it has developed a wonderful rainbow of colors (but that's why we compost).

      Once a week we usually try to put together a meal from these pieces/parts before they reach the end of their usefulness. The other night, Cynthia managed to cobble together a particularly delicious one that I felt deserved to be memorialized here. I'm not going to try to write this as a recipe - it's more of an inspired invention.

      Earlier in the week she had purchased some ground turkey. When we eat burgers these days, they are much more likely to be made from turkey than from beef. We appreciate the lower fat and cholesterol content, higher protein and fewer calories,  and have learned some tricks to make them juicy and delicious. As the week progressed, we realized the turkey needed to either be cooked or frozen after sitting in the fridge for a few days. Cyn saw it as a perfect opportunity to do one of our fridge clean-outs. Here's how.

      On the previous Monday she had made won-ton wrap ravioli stuffed with a ricotta and fresh pea filling. You'll read more about this when I get around to writing this Meatless Monday gem up (yes, yes, I know, I'm behind). There was leftover ricotta and spring pea filling stored in a little baggie in the fridge just begging to be used up. Since she typically mixes ricotta into our turkey burgers to keep them moist, using the leftover ravioli filling blended in to the ground turkey was a no-brainer. (1/2 c whole milk ricotta to a pound of 6% fat ground turkey) A couple of teaspoons of the fabulous Pickapeppa sauce (you can substitute any sort of steak sauce), a tablespoon of Worcestershire, a little ground coriander, black and white pepper and voila!  Juiciest turkey burgers ever.

      The second component of the dish, a slaw, came together from a variety of pieces and parts of veggies. She tossed together the remains of a yellow pepper, an orange pepper, a red pepper, a grated carrot, some snow pea pods, a couple of radish and a red onion, all julienned, mixed with the last ounces of a bottled Greek salad dressing and a little mayonnaise.

      Finally, there were the cherry tomatoes sitting on the counter looking a little past their prime. Now what? Well, how about a quick homemade ketchup for on top of the finished burger? Shallots, part of an old onion (concentrated flavor in old fruit and veg) and a couple of cloves of garlic got a quick saute until golden and beginning to brown. Cherry tomatoes were added along with some salt.  After 5 minutes or so,  a little brown sugar and apple cider vinegar hit the pan.  Once the tomatoes 'pop' and release their juice, you're ready to whoosh.  Into the Vitamix it went for pulverizing and then back into the pan where it was allowed to thicken as the water content cooked out. We pan seared the 1/4 pound burger for 6-7 minutes on each side (internal temp = 160) and viola! a dinner made from foods that were almost ready to go over the edge.

      Honestly, these types of meals are some of my favorites. They alleviate the guilt of throwing away food and they are really pretty quick and easy to assemble.  Not fancy but really delicious.

      Thursday, May 10, 2012

      Versatile Blogger Awards - Pass it on

      Recently, I was nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award by my twitter friend, Leila, @PersianLiving who writes a wonderful blog of the same name. Check it out here. If you like Persian food and culture with a hint of British humor, you'll like Leila.

      I have to admit I didn't know what the Versatile Blogger Awards were all about so I immediately went out and bought a tuxedo and started preparing an acceptance speech. It was all about thanking my beautiful and talented wife for cooking the food I write about. I was working on a witty closing joke when it occurred to me that I might be overreaching just a bit. So I goggled  Versatile Blogger Awards and found this. Seems I might have gotten a little carried away. What? No awards ceremony? No red carpet? No Joan Rivers asking me who I'm wearing?

      Anyone need a tuxedo?

      The basis of this clever award is that those of us in the blogging community should support each other in a "pay it forward" kind of way. Hmmm, seems I've heard this (written about it) before.

      The rules of the Versatile Blogger Award are:

      • Mention and thank the person who has nominated you.
      • Write 5 random facts about yourself.
      • Nominate 5 other bloggers for the award.
      • Let those bloggers know.

      My 5 random facts

      1. I have two American Cocker Spaniels - Cooper and Jack.Cooper is kind and gentle. Jack is a madman.
      2. I am a fair to middling golfer with a handicap that fluctuates between 8-10.
      3. I don't eat eggs - things with eggs in them, OK - eggs, nope.
      4. I believe that poker is 2/3 skill and only 1/3 luck.
      5. I'm a big supporter of Meatless Mondays but I am not a vegetarian.

      Trying to identify 5 bloggers to nominate wasn't easy because there are so many good ones out there. Since Leila was nominated by someone else, I can't nominate her, but I would if I could.

      So, here goes.....

      Val's Food and/or Art - Val is an active blogger who writes about good solid home cooking. Her posts are fun and always make me hungry.

      Studio Kitchen - This one is a bit of a wild card. It's written by an amazing chef named Shola who is doing some very interesting things with food. Don't try these things at home (you don't have the equipment he has anyway). I've had the pleasure of eating his creations one time and hope to do so again sometime soon.

      Tastefully Julie - Well written, good pictures and she does a blog hop. Don't know what that is? Check her out.

      delicieux - Written by Anneli Faiers. She's a private chef making lots of very interesting things - in France - yes, France. Must be good, right?

      Foodwriting - AWaiting Table - Silvestro runs a cooking school in Salento, Italy. His blog entries make us want to go there and eat his food and Calabria is where my grandparents came from (is that fact #6?)

      Pass it on.

      Tuesday, May 8, 2012

      What's going on in Lovetsville, VA?

      Lovettsville is a bucolic little town in extreme Northern Virginia, near the Potomac river and close to both the Maryland and West Virginia state lines. The 2000 US Census listed the population at 853 and the 2005-2009 American Community Survey listed it at 1187. It was originally settled by German immigrants in 1722 and was then called The German Settlement. It's a little less than an hour north of where we live and, for the second month in a row, we went there for what turned out to be a really good meal.

      Last month we had a truly extraordinary meal at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm and we filed this report. This past Saturday night we went back to Lovettsville and the Market Table Bistro. After another much better than average meal, it's clear that something good is happening in Lovettsville.

      The restaurant is an unimposing building on the main street in Lovettsville. We were warmly greeted and seated immediately. The main room is comfortable and bright. The staff, from the hostess who seated us, the young lady who served us water, and the waitress who not only served us but treated us as long lost friends finally come over to see the place, were all clearly well trained and couldn't have been more pleasant.

      Now, on to the food............

      The menu focuses on local ingredients and Chef Jason Lage is a staunch supporter of the farm to table concept. We started by sharing one of the "small bites" offered on the menu for $5.00 each. The warm Mediterranean olives with garlic, rosemary and peppadew peppers were served in an extra virgin olive oil sort of dressing.  It was perfect for dipping the made on premises farmhouse white bread. This may seem like an exaggeration but it may be the best $5.00 food item I've ever had. Sometimes it's the little things in life.

      First Course, Al
      Lots of good choices but I knew what I was going to have as soon as I saw it on the menu.The Market Table Bistro Mac and Cheese had my name all over it. I'll admit I was tempted by the Pinto Beans and Pork Chilli, but the blend of Gruyere, cheddar and asiago cheeses with Kites country ham, Riscossa pasta and fresh herbs was too hard for me to pass up. It was served, directly from the broiler, in a cast iron dish with the cheeses still bubbling. It was rich without being heavy. I could taste and identify each of the cheeses and the herbs were noticeable without being overwhelming. I really liked this as a starter and did everything but lick the last little bit of cheese from the bottom of the dish.

      First Course, Cyn
      For the record, once we started on the olives, I kinda sorta wanted to change my appy order to another bowl of those bad boys.  They were a perfect mix of at least 6 different olives, all with their own unique flavors, sizes and colors,  marinated in slivers of garlic, spicy red peppers and rosemary - pretty sure a bottle of red wine, a loaf of their gorgeous house bread and a hunk o'cheese would be a perfect picnic meal at WolfTrap concert this summer....but I digress.

      The Velvety Black Bean and Chipotle Soup was indeed velvety and chipotle-y, the earthiness of the black beans playing nice with the rich spiciness of the chipotle.  Chopped chives and creme fraiche were perfect garnish, the dollop of cream providing a respite from the not unwelcome heat of the chipotle.  Although not an inspired combination, it was perfectly executed.  I love soup as a first course, and this one was terrific for waking up those taste buds and honing the edge of hunger.  Add one of the two choices of salads on the menu and it'd be a great lunch, add a dessert to that, a great dinner.

      Entree, Al
      Again, there were several things I wanted to try so making a decision was not easy. There was their version of shrimp and grits called Laughing Bird Shrimp, and a Spring Mushroom Pasta with, among other things, truffle oil, each of which got some consideration.

      In the end, I went with the Crispy Wild Chesapeake Blue Catfish served with Plumfield Plantation rice, black eyed peas and a lemon caper butter sauce. I was unfamiliar with the term blue catfish and wanted to try it to see if I could discern any difference from my days of living in Alabama where I learned to love catfish. Apparently it is one of the larger species of catfish and can grow up to 65" and 150 pounds!  Good catfish done well, is a wonderfully light and flavorful fish. It can, however, sometimes have a "muddy" flavor. They are, after all bottom dwelling opportunistic eaters.

      This catfish was everything one could want. Prepared perfectly, crispy of the outside but super tender on the inside the rice and black eyed peas took up the flavor of the lemon butter and the capers added a slight bit of brininess that was welcome. Oh, and did I mention it looked nice too?

      Entree, Cyn 
      There were 7 or 8 entree choices on the menu.  I would have happily eaten all but one - the salmon - my old Enemy.  I don't have a problem with salmon my brother has caught, or anything smoked or raw, but farm raised salmon doesn't taste like salmon should.  Perhaps I am a salmon snob?  I don't even ask whether the salmon is wild or farmed anymore, I just don't order it.  Except for this one place in King of Prussia, PA, where they made a fabulous BBQ salmon.  I ate it for lunch at least once a week in my previous life as a Financial Analyst.  But again....I digress.

      There are some dishes that if done well, elevate a humble ingredient to rock star status.  Risotto is one of those for me.  A simple fat grain of rice is transformed into a creamy unctuous amalgam of flavor, studded in this case, with crunchy, chewy, slippery spring vegetables.  With a mirepoix base, peas, ramps, spinach and asparagus rounded out the generous portion, and it was garnished with edible flower petals and sprouts of some kind - most likely radish.

      The rice was perfectly cooked, a little tooth left to the grains, and the veg were tender and crisp.  A quick  microplane grating of parmigiano on top and the proper seasoning - a filling yet light dish.  Yes, I said light!  Risotto is not supposed to be slathered in cream or butter - that's lazy man's risotto.  Someone who didn't care enough to stir to coax the starch from the grains, but cooked the rice and added fat to simulate the starch.  This restaurant clearly has a team in the kitchen who cares, their risotto is delicious.  And light.

      Bottom Line, Al
      All in all this was a very good experience. The service was above average, the setting was pleasant and welcoming and the food was very good and a good value. The attention to detail and devotion to fresh, local ingredients was obvious and appreciated. I guess there IS something going on in Lovettsville and that something is good food. The Market Table Bistro is a strong part of that.

      Bottom Line, Cyn
      Dessert offerings were many, and I thought a little boring for the caliber of food to this point.  A creme brulee, a cheesecake, some chocolate thingy - typical desserts.  There was a salted caramel pudding that sounded delicious and a skillet chocolate chip cookie and milk combo.  But nothing intriguing enough to get me to pull the trigger.  Where have all the pies and tarts gone?  I could write a manifesto on the dearth of interesting desserts, they've all been dumbed down for the masses.  Sorry for the rant MTB, you don't deserve the brunt of my dessert desertion!  But a little almond crusted tart filled with a basil pastry cream and the season's first strawberries would have been lovely.  Just sayin'.

      I wish the Market Table Bistro were closer to home.  The superb wait staff, very reasonable prices and care the kitchen takes in preparing beautiful and tasty dishes would ensure I was a regular.  As in at least once a week.  How about a satellite location???

      Market Table Bistro on Urbanspoon

      Tuesday, May 1, 2012

      What do you do when your spinach bolts?

      A while back Cynthia posted this about our cold frame. Well, the weather is changing here in Northern Virginia and the cold weather greens are very near the end of their cycle. In fact, the Red Cardinal spinach was on its way to bolting and we needed to do something with it before it sent all its energy to seed production. The spindly red stalks still had plenty of tender green leaves on them -- we just needed to come up with the a good way to use them.  (Many thanks to the mighty Margaret Roach of the uber garden blog A Way to Garden for suggesting Red Cardinal spinach.  It's easy to grow, beautiful, and doesn't turn bitter when bolting.)   

      So, where does a creative cook go for Meatless Monday inspiration, when the cook actually has a little time to ponder such on a Monday? In Cyn's case it is often to one of her favorite cookbooks devoted to vegetables, the aptly titled Vegetables, by Charlie Trotter. What she found was a recipe that included, polenta, greens, and portobello mushrooms as the main components. It also contained pomegranate seeds and a pomegranate vinaigrette made from the fruit's juice. Since pomegranates are not in season here, it got Cynthia thinking about how she might modify the recipe both to our tastes and to use what was seasonably available to us. In the end, the recipe she created was certainly inspired by Chef Trotter but is, in fact, her own.

      Ingredients (the polenta) 
      • 2 cups water
      • 12 oz can of 2% evaporated milk
      • 1 bay leaf
      • 2 tso Better than Bouillion No Chicken base (can sub water)
      • 1 cup polenta
      • 1/2 cup whole kernel corn, frozen works better than canned
      • handful (to your taste) of cheese, grated (we used sharp cheddar)
      • chopped chives to taste (optional)
      Preparation (the polenta)
      • Add water, evaporated milk and bay leaf to a sauce pan and bring to a boil
      • Whisk in polenta, cook for 10 minutes stirring regularly
      • Add corn, cook until polenta is done (taste it!)
      • Add cheese and chives
      • Turn out mixture onto a plastic wrap lined 1/4 sheet pan and shake to level, smooth with spatula if necessary
      • Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour  
      • When fully chilled, cut circles from the polenta sheet
      • Fry on each side in a light coat of butter until golden brown, med high heat

      Ingredients (the vinaigrette)

      • 1/2 cup POM Wonderful juice
      • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
      • ~1/4 c Extra virgin olive oil
      • salt
      • pepper
      Preparation (the vinaigrette)

      • Combine POM juice and vinegar in a sauce pan and reduce on high heat to 1/3 original volume
      • Whisk in about 1/4 c olive oil a little at a time to emulsify, salt and pepper to taste
      Ingredients (the greens)

      • 4 good handfuls of spinach leaves (you can certainly use other greens if you like), Chef Trotter uses mizuna and tatsoi
      • 1 tbsp water
      • 1 tbsp butter
      • salt

      Preparation (the greens)

      • Add water to a saute pan and bring to a boil
      • Add butter and spinach
      • Reduce heat to medium high
      • Stir constantly for 1-2 minutes (this will depend on how wilted you like the greens)
      • Salt to taste

      Ingredients (the portobellos)

      • 2 large portobello mushrooms, gills removed and washed clean
      • 1 ttbsp butter
      • salt
      • pepper
      • 1/4 cup-ish port wine (sub any tasty wine or omit this step)
      Preparation (the portobellos)

      • Cut potobellos into 1/4 - 1/3 inch strips
      • Season with salt and pepper
      • Butter grill pan and heat with medium high heat
      • Grill about 1 minute on each side
      • Deglaze pan with port wine

      Ingredients (something a little extra)

      • 3 shallots quarterd
      • salt/pepper
      • EVOO
      Preparation (the shallots)

      • Toss ingredients together in shallow roasting pan
      • Roast at 350 degrees until wilted, tender and slightly golden, about 15 minutes

      Assembly (the final dish)

      • Plate greens first
      • Layer on polenta cakes
      • Top with portobellos 
      • Drizzle vinaigrette around greens
      • Add shallots as garnish (Cyn also hit the dish with chive and thyme blossoms)
      • Serve hot

      Just as a frame of reference, here is the picture from Charlie Trotter's cookbook.  Clearly we were much hungrier!

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