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- LEMONY BROCOLI & CAULIFLOWER WITH PASTA THAT STRANGLED A PRIEST
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It began with a left-over half-head of cauliflower. After teasing us with a couple of weeks of sun and temperatures that flirted with 60, our weather has turned cold and snowy. Again.
But I’ve had my fill of being cooped up this winter, so got myself and the dogs out for a long hike today anyway. I came home craving something steamingly warm.
But not winter food. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not soup, not stew. Chili, not a chance. Done with all that. I needed something bright in flavor and color to finish off a grey third day of spring. Because if I behave as though winter is over, maybe it will finally go the fuck away.
So I had the cauliflower. Rummaging among the pastas, I discovered a package of my favorite Eden Organic buckwheat soba (8 grams of protein per 2-ounce serving). A couple of weeks ago I impulsively grabbed an entire bag of limes at Costco; it was so bitterly cold and snowy that a whole bag of bright green tartness was irresistible. I knew I could find something to do with them. (It might have been worse, like a bale of kale. I beg you: please don’t sing its glories to me. In theory, I’m with you; in point of fact, I’m just not that into kale.)
I digress. My thoughts took an Asian turn. Just a couple days ago I picked up a little head of savoy cabbage for no reason other than its intrinsic beauty, along with a perfect, palm-sized red bell pepper.
I also had some celery remaining from a recent batch of vegetable stock; I always have carrots and green beans on hand for the bunnies, along with snow peas for salads (mine). Garlic, check; onions, likewise; ginger, of course. And dried shitake mushrooms, well, duh.
I realize that this looks like a daunting list of ingredients. If you don’t have some of them, leave them out. If you have others that seem interesting, add them in. This is much more a pantry dinner than a recipe cast in stone.
I cooked the entire 8-ounce package of soba noodles because I plan on plenty of leftovers. I’ll freeze them flat in ziplock bags and have some heavenly lunches.
This is all about flavors, colors, and textures, so the layering in during the braising process is important to preserving them all.
1 ounce dried shitake mushrooms
4 ounces hot tap water
2 ounces sesame oil
2 cloves garlic smashed, peeled, minced
1 inch knob of fresh ginger peeled, sliced, minced
2 ounces fish sauce
2 ounces mirin (sweet rice cooking wine)
1 ounce soy sauce
4 ounces vegetable stock
Mushrooms and their soaking water
3 stalks celery
1/2 head cauliflower
Handful of green beans
1 red bell pepper
1/2 head savoy cabbage
Handful of snow peas
Juice of 1 lime juice
Sambal olek to taste
1. First, prep the vegetables.
Snap off the stem ends of the green beans and cut them in half across the middle. Divide the pepper in half, remove the core and seeds, and cut it into spears about 1/4″ thick.
Savoy cabbage doesn’t have the huge core that regular cabbage has, so simply cut it in half, then cut one half in half and slice it into 1/4-inch-thick ribbons.
There. You’re ready to go.
2. Place the dried shitake mushrooms in a bowl and add the hot tap water. Cover the bowl with a plate to retain the heat. Steep for 10 minutes.
3. Set a pot of salted water (it should taste like the ocean) over medium heat so that it’s ready to cook the soba noodles at the right moment.
4. I used a broad, shallow braising pan to cook the vegetables; a deep skillet will work, too. Warm it over medium heat along with the sesame oil. When it shimmers, add the garlic and ginger. Sauté them until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce, mirin, soy sauce, vegetable stock, and mushrooms along with their liquid. Bring everything to a simmer. If you taste it at this point, know that it may taste excessively strong to you. That’s fine, because water cooking out of all the vegetables will bring it to the perfect dilution.
5. The carrots and cauliflower are the most dense of all the vegetables, so add them first. Cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the green beans and celery; simmer for 5 minutes more. Raise the heat under the noodle water to a boil. The noodles will take about 8 minutes to cook; they should be a bit al dente when you take them off the heat. Add the bell pepper and cabbage to the braise and use tongs to toss everything together. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then add the snow peas, lime juice, and sambal olek. Simmer for about 2 minutes, then turn off the heat.
6. When the noodles are done, strain them through a colander, then return them to the cooking pot and add an ounce of sesame oil. Use tongs to toss them, then transfer some to a serving bowl. Use a large spoon to top the noodles with vegetables and some of their luscious sauce. Garnish with scallions and serve with a wedge of lime.
And that remaining half head of savoy cabbage? I don’t yet know where it will reappear. But I started on the road to this dinner with but a half head of cauliflower for company, so I imagine it will be another interesting journey.
Sorry; I couldn’t resist just one very important word!
Just this morning a friend on the other side of the country and I had an anger-management confession-fest via phone. Their winter has been the mirror-image of ours, and both would drive a saint into a lather.
I spent last Sunday, a week ago, beneath a pile of blankets on the couch reading furiously to finish a book in whose last throes I was inextricably caught*, waiting for the temperature to rise above zero so I could dash outside and shovel only the amount of snow absolutely necessary to let me get down my sidewalk and into my vehicle. Five below was as high as it got. I bundled up, got the shoveling done, and returned to my couch, which I normally find comfortable to the point of heavenliness, especially when a couple of cats pile on, too. But I’ve spent more time on it this winter than at any previous point in its history with me, and frankly, by now I’m sick of it.
In fact, the list of what I’m sick of about winter is the longest ever. My down coat and snow boots and gloves and hats and wooly scarves: I’d love to burn them in a bonfire in the back yard. As if I could. It’s such a bog out there that it’d be like trying to set fire to sponges.
I never want to see a turtleneck shirt ever again. Enough already of dark colors. Heavy sweaters. Socks. I hate socks. Especially wool ones. My fish-belly-white feet long for flip-flops. My electric blanket. Ordinarily, I love the night it’s finally cold enough to surrender to winter and put it on the bed; the first thing I do when I get home from work is turn it on so it’s like climbing into a warm cocoon later on. This year, though, winter arrived early and has stayed late; the party’s over and right now, I’d throw that sucker on the bonfire. Along with my couch.
What a difference 70 degrees make; yesterday it got up to 65, and a week of warmer temperatures and sun has ricocheted us from one extreme to another. Suddenly it’s a challenge to find a place to run the dogs where we don’t bring home a shitload of mud. As opposed to the shitload of mud we track in right from our own yard. Low-lying areas are flooding left and right. You know it’s bad when your area makes Weather.com headlines.
And my fuse is about a half inch long; everything and everyone pisses me off. I’ve mentioned that I’d rather eat cat food than one more pot of stew, largely because going to the grocery store simply feeds the bile. What are all those people doing there? Why is the only parking place in the south forty? And while we’re at it, I’m sick of Dr. Oz and his sharp little teeth grinning at me from Every. Single. Maga. Zine. Rack. Bonfire material.
Today is bringing rain, which I never thought I’d be so happy to see. Tonight it is supposed to turn to snow, but on the bright side, the three to six inches predicted will be heavy, wet stuff that will melt quickly once the sun returns. Which may not be the best possible news for flooded areas. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that it’s not all about me. I may not set things on fire after all.
But I draw the line at Dr. Oz. He stays on my list.
LEMONY BROCCOLI & CAULIFLOWER WITH STROZZAPRETI
Yield: enough for 2 generous dinners, or one dinner and a couple of lunches
Strozzapreti. I grabbed a bag of it at the store partly because I just like it, but also because my decision-making attention span is as short as my fuse. It was the first one my eyes landed on. In searching for how it came by its name, it turns out to be somewhat alarmingly in step with my winter’s mood.
The name translates as “priest-strangler. There are a few variations on how the long-ish, curled pasta came by its name. Not surprisingly, more than a few of them revolve around rage. Whether on the part of a housewife discontented with her life or that of a husband who may have used the product of his wife’s labor to pay rent for land to a priest whose church owned it, the end result appears to have been a wish that the gluttonous priest choke on it.
Irony aside, tonight I need something that (a) is neither soup nor stew, and (b) has some color and good texture and bright flavors to it. This is all that, with the tender creaminess of goat cheese to boot. Sweet Meyer lemons are still in season here; if you can’t find them, use the juice from half of a regular lemon and that from half of a tangerine or orange.
3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, minced
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 medium bunch of broccoli
1/2 head of cauliflower
Juice of 1 meyer lemon
4 ounces vegetable stock
4 ounces goat cheese
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/2 bag Strozzapreti**, cooked
Wedges of Meyer lemon
**Because of the chunkiness of the sauce, a shaped pasta will do much better here than a long one. Farfalle, fusili, penne will all be lovely as well.
1. Fill a pot with water to cook the pasta. Cover it, and begin heating it. Once it boils, add enough salt that the water tastes like the ocean, a good tablespoon. The sauce comes together very quickly, and if you wait to cook the pasta, the vegetables in the sauce will surely be overcooked. At my elevation, strozzapreti takes about 7 minutes to reach a firm al dente.
2. Trim off the broccoli florets and cut them into spoon- or fork-size pieces.
Once you’ve divided the cauliflower in half, cut one half into two quarters and trim the core out of each one.
Again, trim off the florets and cut them into the same size pieces as the broccoli.
3. Select a skillet large enough to accommodate both the sauce and the pasta at the end. Film it with enough olive oil – 2 or 3 tablespoons – to cover the bottom and warm it over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, or forms ribbons, it is hot enough to add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Let them cook just until the garlic is fragrant. Add the broccoli, cauliflower, lemon juice, and vegetable stock. Bring everything to a simmer and cover the skillet (if yours doesn’t have a lid – lots don’t – borrow one from large pot, or use a baking sheet). Let the vegetables simmer only until they can be somewhat easily pierced with a knife. NOT until soft or even al dente, in other words, as they will cook additionally once the pasta is added.
4. If the pasta is not ready yet, remove the skillet from the heat and take the lid off. When the pasta is not quite done, a little more al dente than you’d like it in other words, use a skimmer or a slotted spoon to lift it straight from the pot into the skillet. Add about 4 ounces of the pasta water, along with the goat cheese (break it into chunks with your fingers – then lick your fingers; it’s your kitchen, and besides, no one’s looking). Cook for a couple of minutes more; the pasta and vegetables should be ready for Goldilocks (juuuuuust right) at the very same time.
5. Just before serving, season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowl and serve with a wedge of Meyer lemon.
*The book was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I recommend it highly. It is lusciously long, and the story is un-put-down-ably absorptive – perfect for a long winter’s siege, a lengthy road trip, a week at the beach. I read it on my Kindle, so I could pull it out for stolen moments here and there during the day, then settle in at night under my electric blanket with a pot of tea and some cats and read myself off to sleep. It was such a constant companion that I feel the void it has left; I’m in search of something to fill it.
Just watch, my blanket will hear that I said bad things about it and quit working before I’m quite done with it for the season. I know cause and effect when I see it.
I am so over comfort foods. They’ve been working hard to try to keep me happy since early November. Which was all very well and good in the early months. But five months in, I’m weary of soups and stews. I’d sooner consume cat food than boeuf bourguignon. I’m sick of sweaters. I’ve developed a deep dislike of heavy coats and bulky boots. Ordinarily, I love the thought of, and even long for, a Sunday spent beneath blankets on the couch with a book, a pot of tea, and a cat. But these are no ordinary times, and I’ve even had my fill of all that. I’m ready for some discomfort.
I want to hike with the dogs very early in the morning before the rattlesnakes wake up. I want to sit in the Sunday morning shade of my front porch in my pajamas and inhale deeply over that first cup of coffee as the street slowly wakes up. I want to stretch out under my ash trees and lap at a coffee-laden popsicle while reading a book. I want to ride a bike. I want to sweat.
Today, though, I worked up a sweat shoveling the latest foot of snow. Again. I probably should have done it yesterday, but the wind was so fierce that trying to move snow anywhere would have been fruitless. An open patch would have drifted over within minutes. I’ve been feeding the dogs out of mixing bowls in the kitchen for a couple of days because their own were buried beneath a two-foot-deep drift on the back deck. I dug those out today, too. Being fed inside out of strange vessels confuses the dogs terribly. They’re border collies, and changes to their routine cause them to pause, furrowing their brows over an apparent shift of the world’s axis.
It might have been nice to get shoveling out of the way first thing this morning, but I decided to let the temperature move a bit closer to zero. Call me a wimp, but just stepping outside at minus 15 is like being slapped.
So I talked myself into starting yet another pot of soup while waiting. First, I needed some vegetable stock, a wonderful thing to make because it can be such a movable feast. We always have onions on hand, right? And those little cloves at the center of a head of garlic? Save them up and toss them into the pot. Carrots (peeled), celery, mushroom stems – or even the whole mushroom if it’s looking a little tired. Put it all in a pot and fill it to cover everything by about three inches with cold water. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Remove the lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let it bubble gently until reduced by about half. Set a large bowl in the sink and set a colander in it. Pour the stock into the colander and discard the vegetables.
VEGETABLE STOCK Yields about 1 quart
2 onions, stem ends removed, cut into eighths
Small cloves of garlic – 3 or so
5 carrots peeled, ends removed, cut into 1″ chunks
5 stalks of celery, ends removed, cut into 1″ chunks
2 quarts cold water
This soup’s greatest comfort comes from the fact that it pretty much presented itself straight out of the pantry. Every trip out is a white-knuckled one these days. Streets are so glassy they veritably gleam. It’s like driving on a skating rink. I don’t drive unless I absolutely have to, and today I didn’t.
TORTELLINI SOUP – Makes enough for two dinners
Clearly, I’m taking some liberties with the rule that tortellini be served in a broth. Strictly speaking, there is broth at play here; but given our never-ending winter, I needed something more substantial. Too, the whole combination just sounded so good.
2 cloves garlic smashed, peeled, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced (tell me, please, that you keep a plant on your windowsill)
15-ounce can garbanzo beans
15-ounce can tomatoes (I like Muir Glen’s Fire-Roasted)
16 ounces vegetable stock
2 tablespoons dry white rice
1 cup dry tortellini
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
1. Add enough olive oil to a soup pot to cover the bottom. Warm it over medium heat.
2. Open the cans of garbanzo beans and tomatoes. When hot, add the garlic and rosemary to the pot. Stir it around for a few seconds until nicely fragrant. Add the garbanzo beans and tomatoes along with all their juices, then add the vegetable stock. Cover the pot and bring it to a simmer.
3. You’re going to grind the dry rice into a powder which is going to lend a subtle, silky body to your soup. First, clean your coffee grinder by filling it with oatmeal and grinding it until very fine. Dump the oatmeal and brush out its dust. Add the rice and grind it to a fine powder. Brush out the coffee grinder again. Once the soup has reached a simmer, stir in the rice powder. Continue cooking the soup for 15 minutes, giving it a stir now and then.
4. I always have dry tortellini in the pantry. I love them in salads (after they’ve been cooked, of course); they make a good, fast, late dinner at the end of a long, long day; and obviously, they are wonderful in soups. Cook them separately; if you try to cook them in the soup, there is a chance they will absorb too much liquid and leave the soup too dense. Barilla is my favorite brand; they cook up to a silken softness that other brands seem to lack. At my elevation, they take about 12 minutes in boiling, salted water; when done, drain them through a colander and add them to your soup. Serve immediately, with some grated Parmesan if you wish. Or not, as you wish.
I set the stock to simmer while I shoveled, and once it was done, the soup itself came together in about 20 minutes. As I was excavating for the dog’s bowls, I heard a familiar chirrup. A beautiful little hairy woodpecker has been frequenting the suet feeder in my back yard this winter, and there he was on this cold, cold day, a bright and cheerful flash of color in a too-white world.
Surely the world will realign to its proper tilt one day soon and a new season will bring new comforts.
Winter has loosened its grip on us. Finally. It’s been a near constant assault of snow and bitterly cold temperatures for longer than any season really needs to last. Suddenly, within the space of literally a handful of days, we went from a low one morning of 22 degrees below zero to 48 this afternoon, a stunning difference of 66 degrees. My backyard, which resembled a polar ice cap, has melted and thawed so quickly that it’s become a bog. I could grow cranberries in it.
It was a relief to finally get myself and the dogs out for a good, long hike this afternoon. I love Monday holidays. It’s like getting a second Sunday, as though life hits the Pause button for a day. We went to our favorite spot down on the river. I knew it would be muddy; my boots were nearly pulled from my feet a few times. And I didn’t care one bit. It was wonderful to be outside under blue skies, and to breathe air warmed by the sun, not a furnace.
The dogs ran longer and farther and faster than I’ve seen them do in a while. They were wet, smiling, doggy-smelling messes by the time we headed back, and again, I absolutely didn’t care. They badly needed to get out and just be dogs.
With warmer weather and longer days, I feel the culinary currents beginning to flow once more. January is a bugger for me. December is such a race to the finish line that by its end I feel like the Tailor of Gloucester: “Alak, I am worn to a raveling.” The shortest day of the year has come and gone, yet still, come January, daylight hours are too few. The bottom falls out of the thermometer. My mojo goes into hibernation. Thank heaven for frozen ziplock bags of thises and thats. Many nights, I tiptoed the truck home on glassy streets, fed the animals, warmed up something for dinner – honestly, it almost didn’t matter what – after drawing curtains against the frigid dark. Before I sat down to eat, I’d set my electric blanket to Roast in anticipation of the day’s high point when I climbed into bed with a book and a pot of tea and a couple of cats right after dinner. One day was pretty much like another and they appeared endless. Today was a much-needed tonic. I am restored.
This morning I saw a photo that a friend from work had posted on her Facebook page with the caption, “Is it a Pasta?!?! Is it a soup?!?!? Or is is just AWESOME?!?!” Well, the only description that came to mind was that it looked like a bowl full of a soup-ish version of lasagna. And after a day outside in a somewhat bracing wind, it seemed the perfect way to return to cooking. I took some liberties with the dish in the photo and added some grilled baguette slices topped with melted Mozzarella, because why not gild the lily?
Thank you deeply, Shawn. I needed this.
4 to 6 servings, depending how generous you are
1 yellow onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, minced
1 pound ground beef or ground bison (I used bison *)
8 ounces red wine (I used a cabernet sauvignon)
1 28-ounce can tomatoes **
16 ounces beef stock
8 sheets of lasagna noodles, broken up and cooked separately
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
Slices of baguette
Slices of fresh Mozzarella
* Bison is significantly more lean and higher in protein than beef. Even better, it isn’t loaded with water when processing, so it will actually brown rather than poach. And best of all, it doesn’t give off that wet dog smell when cooking, as ground beef does. The wet dog smell in my house? From wet dogs.
** I keep cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry. Once you’ve opened them, use scissors to cut them up right in the can.
1. Warm a stainless steel soup pot over medium heat. Film the bottom with olive oil. When it’s hot (watch it; it will shimmer or “ribbon”), add the onions and sauté them along with a pinch of salt until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and sauté it until is is fragrant. Break up the ground meat with your hands, dropping it into the pot in chunks. Stir it around, breaking the chunks up with a spoon. Cook it, stirring it now and then, until it browns nicely, about 7 minutes.
2. Stir in the wine, tomatoes, and stock, scraping up browned bits of meat from the bottom of the pot.
Bring everything to a simmer, cover the pot but leave the lid a bit ajar, and reduce heat to just maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer until flavors are well blended and concentrated, about 30 minutes.
3. Just before serving, bring a separate pot of well salted water (it should taste like the ocean) to a boil. Break the lasagna noodles into pieces of about an inch square and add them to the boiling water.
Cook them for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. They won’t be completely done at that point. Drain them through a colander, then stir them into the stew and let them finish cooking in the stew for about 3 minutes, effectively thickening it. Taste it, and season it to taste with salt, freshly ground pepper, and pinches of red pepper flakes.
4. While the pasta is cooking, cut two slices of baguette per person, and brush each side with olive oil. Set them on a baking sheet. Preheat your broiler, and place the baking sheet beneath it. When both sides are well browned, remove the pan from the oven and set a slice of mozzarella on each piece of bread. Return the bread to the broiler, and allow the cheese to melt and brown on top.
5. To serve, ladle some stew into each bowl. Set two cheesy baguette slices on top of each.
For a dinner like this, I could almost be glad that it’s technically still winter.