Cobbled Together

In an effort to avoid the grocery store this weekend, I raided the heck out of our pantry to see what we could eat to get through the week. You see, I already have an issue with letting good food go to waste, and this is only intensified when I’m forced to let things go to waste as a result of being away for a few days. These are the times when I might cobble together a recipe with a ton of random ingredients (panzanella salads are great when there’s lots of produce involved, and this Moroccan shepherd’s pie was a great way to use up mashed ‘taters) or conversely, I might make something uber simple using some standby grains or pasta.

In general, they aren’t meals that really make one salivate, but they get the job done, more or less.

Of course, there are always the exceptions – the dishes you toss together, pulling stray carrots and a forgotten bunch of scallions from the crisper to add up to enough stuff to make a meal come together – that somehow end up tasting like you’d planned it that way all along. It helps when you have a few fresh ingredients hanging around (thanks, Joanne, for the tomatoes!), because those are the ones that provide the inspiration, the kick-start to power you through to the end of the recipe, if you even have a recipe in the first place.

(The fresh ingredients are also the ones that make me feel a little less guilty about tossing leftover bagged shredded cheese into a perfect biscuit dough, knowing full-well that a freshly-grated cup of cheddar would have been tons better, not only in terms of taste, but also quality and texture.)

So, here we are, at the moment where I did something like that and actually get to tell you about it, because I truly feel that this new-found recipe is something you just might want to make yourself. I take that back – it’s something you should make yourself. Rarely is there a time in the year where the produce is this perfect, this satisfying, and this accessible than now – when you get to eat fresh corn and! fresh tomatoes ’til your heart’s content. And I’m telling you this: if you do have access to both ingredients, straight from the market or the store, please do purchase them. I think I already mentioned my stubborn desire to avoid those places this week, and as a result my trusty freezer bag o’ corn came in handy here. And while it was fine, mighty fine indeed, I know it could be that. much. better. with just-shucked morsels of yellow goodness.

If the mixture of tomatoes and corn isn’t enough to get you in a tizzy, have you noticed the biscuits on top? Need I say more?! Even though I’ve moved away, I still read the blogs of many Chicagoans, and I tell ya – Midwesterners get some kinda excited about summer produce. Tim over at Lottie + Doof posted a tomato cobbler recipe from Martha Stewart a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded like the kind of food they’d have in Paradise. I figured I could make it work, or something like it, even if I didn’t have but approximately half as many tomatoes, no regular onions, heavy cream, or Gruyere on hand, not to mention a penchant for never adhering to the regular ol’ all-purpose flour suggested in most recipes.

So yeah, you could say this recipe is a pretty far leap from the original, but that’s what happens from time to time. You may not have scallions on hand, and maybe you have a different cheese, or no cheese at all, and maybe you have neither pancetta nor bacon for the smoky twist I was craving. Maybe the carrots aren’t doing it for you, and understandably so, maybe you don’t have 10 types of flour in your pantry (15-20 if you count the ones used almost solely for gluten-free cooking). You might even be one of those people who are afraid of a little shortening in your life, for reasons I just can’t figure out. I promise you – it’s okay, and ultimately, it might even be better to use this as your inspiration, and run with it (after, or course, you put down your knife…).

I’m sure Martha would understand.

Tomato & Corn Cobbler
Inspired by Lottie + Doof; serves 4-6 as a meal

time commitment: 2 hours (~40 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
filling
2 T evoo
2 oz finely chopped pancetta or bacon (optional)
6 scallions, chopped
2 carrots, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c fresh or frozen corn (2-3 ears if fresh; thawed and drained if frozen)
~1 lb cherry tomatoes
~1 lb heirloom tomatoes, medium dice
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 T white spelt flour (or all-purpose)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

biscuit topping
1 c white spelt flour
1 c whole wheat flour (or use 2 cups all-purpose flour to replace both)
2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T shortening, cut into small pieces
1 c grated cheddar cheese, plus 1 T, for sprinkling atop biscuits
1 1/2 c buttermilk, plus ~2 T more for brushing

instructions
Make the filling. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, if using, and cook for 2 minutes, then add onions and carrots, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Toss in corn and remove from heat; let cool.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toss onion/corn mixture, tomatoes, red-pepper flakes and flour with 1 1/2 t salt and some pepper.

Make the biscuit topping. Whisk together flours, baking powder, and 1 t salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small clumps form. Stir in cheese, then add buttermilk, stirring with a fork to combine until dough forms.

Transfer tomato mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Spoon large clumps of biscuit dough (about 1/3 c each) over top in a circle, leaving center open. Bake 30 minutes. Remove, and brush dough with buttermilk, and sprinkle with remaining T cheese. Bake until tomatoes are bubbling in the center and biscuits are golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool for 20 minutes.

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A Total Moot Point

One of the things that I absolutely do not enjoy is replacing items I’ve already purchased. Especially items that aren’t exciting to purchase in the first place.

For instance, we are taking our first trip together since living in San Francisco (Chris has jet-set plenty on his own), and we remembered that we tossed out my old, bright orange suitcase. The one with the handle that got stuck nearly every time. The one that required frantic pushing on said handle in the aisle of the plane to get the dang thing to fit in the overhead bin. Yeah, that one. I haven’t missed it one bit – until we realized we needed 2 carry-ons for our trip down to Sedona next weekend. I suppose we could have paid a fee to check our bags, but after you pay that for a round-trip, you’ve almost bought yourself a new suitcase (in my case, you have bought yourself a new suitcase, because I was an Amazon.com rockstar and found the good ones on clearance – score!).

Also, an air mattress would fit into this category. We bought one of those a long time ago, probably 7 years ago when we moved to Chicago and lived in a 650 square foot high rise. I’m surprised we even had space on the floor for it… At some point, it managed to get punctured, and since then it’s had a slow, steady leak – meaning, the folks using it are sleeping on the ground when they wake up. Yeah, sucks for them. In addition, the battery-operated thing that blows up the mattresses was all sorts of corroded too, so the whole shebang got thrown out. No big deal, since we had an extra bedroom and pull-out couch at our last place. But now, we’re down to a pull-out couch, and have three guests coming in a couple of weeks. Needless to say, we get the pleasure of purchasing yet another air mattress. Fun times. Of course, it will come in handy plenty, especially with the Thanksgiving crew making their way out here in November (SO EXCITED!).

Of course, the routine replacement items qualify too – who likes buying toilet paper, sponges, and dish detergent?! The other day, we had to buy a batch of replacement brushes for our electric toothbrush – now that seems like a huge waste of 40 bucks. But, I guess we have clean teeth, and fresh breath, so there is that…

Last, but certainly not least, is my immersion blender. I’m not sure how, but the damn thing broke a month or so before I moved west. You’d think it could handle pureeing some soup every now and then, eh? But truthfully, who knows what I tried to puree – I could easily assume it was something best left to a blender. But blenders are so annoying when it comes to soup. You have to dirty up a blender, for one, and in addition, you have to dirty up an extra pot/bowl for the already-pureed soup, if you have to puree in batches, so as not to toss the pureed soup into the non-pureed soup. It’s annoying, at best. But as you can see, I’ve been a little stubborn on this one. It seems there are more fun things to buy than replacing something I’ve already paid for once (yea, cookbooks, hiking boots, new camera lenses, a juicer – you get the point, right?).

I am, however, willing to admit that some things are worth the trouble, even if I do grit my teeth the whole way through it, and even if I do miss my immersion blender to pieces. Sometimes, washing a few extra dishes is a total moot point altogether.

This soup is one of those things that’s worth the trouble. I mentioned it a few posts back, remember? It’s loaded with roasted tomatoes, a couple of fresh heirlooms for good measure, and a roasted red pepper, too. The red pepper adds that warm richness to the soup, and to top it all off, some roasted ham and chickpeas are used as garnish. You could easily make this a vegetarian soup if you wanted (although the roasted diced ham is sorta perfect) or you could sub in some bacon if that’s what you have on hand. The chickpeas add a nice little crunch to each bite, so do make sure they are roasted until they reach that slightly crunchy, but still chewy, point.

I promise you, if you don’t have an immersion blender, or if you did and can’t seem to bring yourself to buying another one, you’ll forget all about it in no time. Well, at least until it’s time to clean up.

Tomato Soup with Roasted Chickpeas
Adapted from Cooking Light, August 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 red bell pepper
2 T sliced almonds
3 T olive oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, divided
1/4 c heavy whipping cream
1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 fresh heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t salt, divided
1/2 t red pepper flakes
2 oz thick-sliced deli style ham, finely chopped
1 (15.5-ounce) can organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley

instructions
Turn stovetop gas burner onto high heat and place bell pepper directly onto burner. Cook until black on all sides (2-3 minutes/side), place in a plastic bag, seal it, and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. (If you have electric burners, you can instead roast a pepper under a broiler in the oven until blackened, but cut it first and remove the membranes, then lay it flat in the baking sheet.) Remove from bag and peel, discarding seeds and membranes.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place almonds in a saucepan over medium-high heat until toasted. Remove from saucepan, chop roughly, and set aside.

Heat 1 T oil in same saucepan over medium heat. Add 3 garlic cloves; cook 1 minute. Add cream and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Add paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes; simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince remaining 3 garlic cloves and combine garlic, ham, and chickpeas in a roasting pan; drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss. Roast at 450 for 15 minutes, stirring once.

Combine tomato mixture and bell pepper in a blender; puree. (If you have an immersion blender, this would work nicely; just chop the bell pepper roughly and toss it into the soup.)

Ladle the soup into each of 4 bowls; top evenly with chickpea mixture, parsley, and almonds.

Finally, I Bathed in Buttermilk

There was a moment in time, not too long ago actually, that I could not for the life of me get the thought of a juicy, gnarly-shapen heirloom tomato out of my head. I imagined them, bursting with seeds and almost tie-dyed in their outward appearance, in a number of iterations, but at the time the markets were instead selling peaches and strawberries and maybe some squash by the bushels. A couple of tomatoes sat sadly on the corner of one table, and all the while I thought I’d be none the wiser if I just nudged them onto the ground and walked away, because I was damn tired of being taunted.

I don’t like being taunted.

Let there be no doubt – peaches, strawberries, and squash are lovely in their own right, but a tomato is what I craved. And then I missed a couple of Sundays at the market, probably the same weekends the troves of ‘maters made their awaited debut. All the while, I resorted to the canned version and made a tomato-semolina soup (okay, but not earth-shattering) and a roasted tomato and red pepper soup (totally earth-shattering, so stay tuned for this post). Then, I got some decent fresh tomatoes and made a panzanella salad with quinoa, but the quinoa was undercooked, which I’ve never done before (overcooking quinoa is my strong suit), so this merits a re-make.

To make a long story that shouldn’t be long short, I finally got what I’d really been craving and I scored those tomatoes. Then I had my way with them.

Now, some of you may say something like this when you realize I slathered them in buttermilk dressing: “wow. that’s a lot of dressing there, girlfriend. you know, you really don’t neeeeeed to put anything on a perfect heirloom tomato. it takes away from the flavor of the tomato, which should be left as is.”. This is just being way too judgmental. You should get with the program :). Others may say something like this: “damn. that’s a good lookin’ salad. not the first thing that came to mind for fresh tomatoes, but it’s worth a try.”. I’d say you’re on to something, and I like that you’re open-minded. And then there’s the rest of you, who’d say: “by golly I love me some buttermilk dressing, and I’m ’bout to tear this salad DOWN! then!, I’m going to drink the rest of the dressing and rub it all over my body.”. That’s what I’m talking about. Full of enthusiasm! I heart you.

Okay, so maybe you won’t bathe in it, but you’ll sure as hell want to. Of course, only if your thoughts are in line with the last group, and maybe the second. I’m totally in the last group, but generally I don’t like a lot of stuff on my ‘maters either, so I sorta blend into the second. And to be truthful, I normally don’t bathe in my food, but I made an exception.

What can I say? In-season, heirloom tomatoes have that effect on me.

Heirloom Tomato Salad w/ Buttermilk Dressing
Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2010; serves 4 

okay. one thing I will say about this salad, aside from the fact that I adored it, is that the blue cheese can come or go. if you’re big in to blue cheese, you may like it. if you’re not, you may think it’s waaaaay too much. I like blue cheese, but I preferred the salad with just the dressing, and no cheese…

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
dressing
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/3 c buttermilk
2 T finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 T minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, minced
kosher salt and pepper

salad
3 slices of white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (optional)
2 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes (various shapes and colors), cored, & cut into 3/4-inch-thick wedges (I used a pineapple corer but you could also just cut the core out with a knife)
1/2 c thinly sliced shallots
2 T evoo
1 T fresh lemon juice
kosher salt
1/2 c crumbled blue cheese (optional)
2 green onions, thinly sliced diagonally
2 T fresh Italian parsley leaves

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Season dressing with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.

Toss bread cubes onto a baking sheet and bake for ~10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Place tomatoes and shallots in large bowl. Add oil and lemon juice; sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper and toss. Divide among 4 plates. Drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with blue cheese, if using, as well as green onions, and parsley. If you want a crunch to your salad, divide the croutons among the 4 plates (for leftovers, keep the croutons separate from the salad until eating.).

Foodbuzz 24×24: The Last Supper

This is the post where I bash vegetarianism. But only after a night full of meatless, fishless fare, loads of wine, and 6.5 people to consume it all.

I have a horrible habit of blurting out my opinions with reckless abandon. Not thinking before I speak. I’ve been accused of having no ‘mental filter’, whatever the hell that nonsense is. And this ‘no meat’ business, it happened in much that same way: a quality i generally admire in myself (although others may not) backfired. I was the victim of my uncensored words, this time.

You see, for those of you who’ve not been reading along this month, it’s been a long month of vegetarian-occasional-pescaterian-ism in these parts, and it’s all my fault. I thought it sounded like a good “project”, and I blurted it out, and so it was. I’d made an assertion, and I’ve stuck to it.

In that respect, I’m what you might call a “sure thing”: if I tell you I’m doing something, I will do it. If I RSVP “yes”, I will be there. And by golly (I’m lame too, you see) if I say I’m going vege(pesca)tarian for a month, I’m damn well going to make sure it happens, even if the Hubs sticks his pulled pork, brisket, AND his crisp pork belly from People right underneath my nose. Come to think of it, that guy is lucky to be alive, isn’t he?!


{adventures in semi-molecular gastronomy: the making of tomato gelee}

So – longish story a wee bit shorter, but still long, that’s what this post is about. The Last Supper as a wannebee (or not) vegetarian. And yeah, I ate a little fish, I even ate a little shrimp, and I may or may not have licked the juice from the stranger’s burger last week, but this meal you see here is 100% vegetarian. I even used agar agar instead of gelatin for my fancy gelee; I’m hardcore like that. And fancy, too.

Quite honestly, I don’t see how these ‘high-end’ restaurants do these tasting menus. Well, maybe I do: they have a brigade system, for one. And Foodbuzz may offer cash incentives for their monthly hoorahs, but they don’t staff these parties… So, friends, I was chef de cuisine for the night, but I was also my own sous chef, and for the most part, my own plongeur and certainly my own pâtissier. Prep started on Wednesday when I got the urge to make caramel powder. I almost ate it all that night, but I decided to share. And Thursday involved a quick trip to Crate and Barrel for a couple of missing pieces, a Whole Foods excursion (which, why don’t I always go on weeknights? it is so very quiet there after 7), and more prep – making the base for the ice cream, cubing some bread I made a month ago and froze (not for this party, I should say, but why buy brioche when you have frozen cardamom-spiced bread that you made from scratch?!), and getting my plan of attack put together for the rest of my time before Saturday, which included a lot of research about spherification, gelees, and preparing risotto restaurant-style.

With much of the work behind me, Saturday was actually manageable. Thanks to the 3-day weekend, I skirted outta work early on Friday and prepped a bit more, and then celebrated (yeah, I really made this month a big deal, didn’t I?) with a penultimate dinner at Green Zebra (go there, even if you love meat – read about our experience here). After a trip to Green City Market for my local ingredients (‘shrooms, rhubarb, asparagus, un baguette, etc), it was prep ’til service, but in a totally unchaotic way, which is far different than I’d imagined.

Before long, I’d managed to squeeze in some quality book-reading, and then it was “go-time” once everyone arrived. Fortunately, Katherine & Brook (newlyweds – say congrats everyone!) brought apps and wine, Ryan & Caroline (along with Hudson, who I promise didn’t drink any, or not much…) brought more apps and a drink I thought only my sister drank, and I, since I volunteered, got the short end of the stick, and finished it up with 4 courses of veggie fare.

Here’s the dishes:

First Course, Savory: Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella ‘Salad’. This was my insane attempt at molecular gastronomy, and I gotta give mad props to Grant Achatz, because this shit is a lot of work, and he has 10 components on his dishes – this was supposed to be two and a half: mozzarella spheres powder, tomato gelee, and basil oil. Lesson: don’t start molecular gastronomy spherification with mozzarella; start slowly with easy liquids, and not during a dinner party :).

Second Course, Savory: Carrot-Ginger Soup with Chili Butter, Roasted Peanuts, & Crostini. This is what we’d call the ‘easy course’. I think soup is best made in advance so the flavors develop, and making it Friday, rewarming Saturday, was perfect. Plus, who doesn’t like butter in the shape of a star? I knew those ice cube trays would be used one day!

Third Course, Savory: Truffled Mushroom & Spring Vegetable Risotto with Fried Egg. Hmm… I think this was the trickiest. Risotto is best served immediately, but clearly restaurants have to have another way, or they’d have a 30-minute wait just for risotto, which would be stupid. So, you cook it 2/3’s, chill it quickly, and finish it off before service. Add a fried egg on top and you certainly don’t miss the meat. You do, however, miss the full effect of the finished product, because I was intent on getting the hot egg to the table ASAP, and sacrificed the pic to do so. So just imagine that over-easy fried egg atop.

Fourth Course, Sweet: Rhubarb-Ginger Cardamom Bread Pudding, Cardamom-Vanilla Ice Cream, and Caramel Powder. You’re gonna have to hold your horses for this one, friends, because it’s very special and in need of the spotlight. Full post (with recipe) coming soon.

—————————————————————————-

I gotta be honest here: I am so freakin’ glad this month is almost over, at which point I’ll stop whining and thinking of all the food I’ve missed out on because of my silly ideas.

But….

I have eaten (and cooked) some really good vegetarian food these last 30 days. From Korean tacos to ramp pesto pizza to Green Zebra and now this big ol’ dinner. When you’re actually eating a vegetarian meal, you don’t know what you’re missing, quite honestly. But for me, only choosing to eat vegetarian to “see if I could”, I couldn’t help thinking about what I really was missing, because many times I would have rather eaten meat.

Is it healthier to eat vegetarian? It shouldn’t even be a question. But the answer is no, and if you’re surprised, I’ll tell you why it’s not. For a typical person eating vegetarian food (and when I say typical, I’m comparing that to a vegetarian who eats salads all the time – your stereotypical vegetarian), you are drawn to the heartier recipes – which are cheese-laden and overflowing with carbohydrate – both in a meagar effort to make up for the lacking protein. On the other hand, you do eat more fruits and vegetables, which is without a doubt healthier. And certainly, a balance is probably best, at the end of the day: some meats during the week, a bunch of whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Maybe flexitarian is where it’s at.

And maybe one day I’ll consider it. But for the next few weeks, you best believe I’m loading up on pork, beef, lamb, and even chicken. Come to mama.

 The First Course:

Tomato, Basil, & Mozzarella Salad
Inspired by Alinea; makes at least 6 with extra tomatoes and oil

printable recipe

ingredients
tomato gelee (recipe below)
6 small mozzarella balls, sliced in half
basil oil (recipe below)
balsamic vinegar
Maldon sea salt

instructions
assemble each component on small plate. basil oil and balsamic vinegar first, then tomato, then mozzarella. sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt.

Tomato Gelee

ingredients
1 lb heirloom tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
drizzle of black truffle oil (optional)
agar agar (quantities below)

instructions
Blanch tomatoes (score bottom of tomatoes, boil for about 2-3 minutes, shock in ice water bath) and peel. Chop roughly and dump in food processor;  add salt, pepper, olive oil. Puree until smooth and strain. Measure liquid content, and dump in saucepan. For every 1 cup of juice, add 1 T agar agar to mixture and bring to boil; simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour into desired container (such as rubber ice cube trays). Cool until firm. Can be made 1-2 days in advance.

Basil Oil

ingredients
1 ½ c fresh basil
¾ c evoo

instructions
blanch basil for 20 seconds. rinse with cold water and pat dry. puree fresh basil and olive oil until smooth; strain. Can be made three days ahead.

The Second Course:

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Chile Butter, Roasted Peanuts, and Crostini
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2010 ; serves 6-8

printable version

ingredients
chile butter
1/4 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T finely chopped green onions or ramps
1/2 t dried crushed red pepper

soup
2 T butter
¼ t curry powder
¼ t hot smoked paprika
¼ t cumin
1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 1/4 c chopped onion
5 oz taro root (~2 small, or white-skinned potato), peeled, chopped
3 1/2 T minced peeled fresh ginger
4 c vegetable broth
1 c water + more for thinning soup, if needed
2 T heavy cream
splash of balsamic vinegar
6 T unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh baguette, sliced and toasted

instructions
For chile butter
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Cover and chill (or pour into shaped molds and chill). Bring to room temperature before using.  

for soup
Melt 2 T butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, taro root, and ginger; sprinkle with salt and sauté until vegetables are slightly softened but not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add 4 cups broth and 1 cup of water; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in batches in blender until smooth or all at once using an immersion blender, without leaving the pot. Return soup to same pot; if desired, add more water by 1/4 cupfuls to thin soup (I added at least 1 cup). Bring to simmer. Season with salt and black pepper and add heavy cream and a splash of balsamic vinegar at end to freshen.

The Third Course:                                                                                  

Truffled Mushroom & Veggie Risotto with Fried Eggs
serves 6-8

printable version

ingredients
5 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1 lb chopped shitake mushrooms
1 T black truffle oil
salt and pepper
1/2 lb diced trimmed asparagus
1/2 lb fennelhead ferns, cleaned well (if unavailable, use asparagus)
3/4 c chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 c carneroli (or arborio) rice
3/4 c dry white wine
4 c vegetable broth
3 c water
3/4 c 1/3-inch cubes carrots
1 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus additional for serving
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
1 T evoo
6 large eggs (one for each person)

instructions
melt 3 T butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add truffle oil, simmer for about 1 minute. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Set aside.

meanwhile, blanch asparagus and fennelhead ferns (separately). boil asaparagus for about 2 minutes then shock in cold water; boil fennelhead for about 3. set aside.

In a saucepan, heat veggie broth and water. keep heat on low while making risotto.

melt 2 T butter in large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add rice and stir for about 5 minutes. Add wine. Stir until liquid is absorbed, 1 minute. Add 1 cup broth. Simmer until broth is absorbed, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add carrots. Continue to add remaining broth/water, 1 cup at a time, until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, stirring often and letting almost all liquid be absorbed after each addition, about 25 minutes total.

Stir 1 cup cheese, parsley, mushrooms, and blanched veggies into risotto. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggs, without turning, until whites are cooked through and yolks are cooked to desired doneness.

Mound 1 cup risotto on each plate. Top each with egg. Serve, passing additional cheese.

The real bacon-lover:

Be Still, My Tart

To think that I used to hate, no – loathe, even dispise tomatoes is a true testament to the ever-evolving tastebuds, and/or my own personal shortcomings. My face used to shrivel up, and my hair would stand on end like a defensive feline any time someone mentioned adding tomatoes to a dish.

Ever so slowly, I came around. First, it was non-chunky tomato sauce, which was a great accomplishment. Then, diced tomatoes in that tomato sauce, which was so much more than a baby step, in my opinion, since I was eating visible pieces of tomato. I must say though, my tomato-liking progression was stagnant at the diced tomatoes in sauce for many a year.

Until I was introduced to heirloom tomatoes, which actually wasn’t until last year. Late last summer I was wandering through Green City Market, excited to finally see those Flamin’ Fury peaches piled high atop the tables at the entryway, welcoming visitors, enticing those leaving with bags void of their juiciness. As usual, I was drawn to the free samples, and in one short moment I detached myself from the taste of those juicy peaches to catch a glimpse of what looked like a sight for sore eyes: a wonky, lumpy, bumpy, and strangely-colored ‘blob’ on the neighbor’s table.

Some were green, some purple even, and others traditional red-orange, but with stripes. After a bit of staring, as we humans often do when things look different, I finally realized the stubbly mounds before me were tomatoes, but special tomatoes. I grabbed a few, stashed them in my reusable bag, and made a bee-line for the exit without even stopping for my fourth or fifth free taste of the Flamin’ peaches.

I don’t even remember what happened to all of those tomatoes. I know a couple made it on to burgers for July 4th and I know some homemade pizza was also in attendance that day, smothered with heirlooms and basil. A later purchase of green zebras ended their journey in my belly battered and fried. The others? I could have eaten them whole, for all I know. A true sign that I was a different person, a complete 180 of my former, tomato-hating self.

I like this version of myself much better, new and improved with tomatoes and ready to face the world.

It’s because of those heirlooms that I have now fully embraced all things tomato, minus eating beefsteak tomatoes raw as my mom used to do (and probably still does). So when I saw this tomato tart recipe in Food and Wine my jaw dropped and I immediately found myself salivating. Unfortunately, I was thousands of miles in the air on the way to Seattle, then New Mexico, and thus at least a week away from any remote opportunity to cook this jewel.

Eventually the stars aligned – I was back home and in need of a first course to pair with bouillabaise for a French-inspired dinner party and although there are many things far Frenchier than this, I was in no position to deny myself this recipe any longer and so I forged ahead. Simple, delicate, and bursting with juicy slow-roasted tomatoes, this tart is a perfect welcoming to a slowly-approaching spring. Worth the wait? You bet, but if I were you I wouldn’t.

What about you – what are you just dying to make for spring?

Whole-Wheat Cherry Tomato Tart
Adapted loosely from Food & Wine, April 2010; serves 8 as appetizer or first course

printable recipe

ingredients
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
pinch of salt
1 t dried Italian seasoning
5 T unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
2 T shortening, cold and cut into cubes
1/2 c 2% milk
2 1/2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes
2 T fresh basil, cut into chiffonade (thin strips)
1 T evoo

instructions
Spray or butter a 9-inch tart pan. In a food processor, pulse the two flours with a pinch of salt and the Italian seasoning until combined. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and pulse until the dough nearly comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times. Shape into a disc, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until ready for use.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Roll out the dough to a 14-inch round. Press the round into the tart pan; trim off any excess. With the tines of a fork, pierce the dough softly multiple times, making small holes in the dough. Mound the tomatoes in the shell (they should sort of pile up on one another and be squeezed in together). Brush with olive oil. Bake for about 1 hour and 40 minutes, until the dough is evenly browned. Let cool. Season with salt, garnish with the basil and serve.