DREAMING of BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Could it be the one we harvested from our garden?   Was it one from the farmer’s market, so perfectly shaped, with a shiny skin that gave me pause before putting a knife into it?   No.   The butternut squash of my dreams – and I hope you can stand the truth – was sold in plastic bags,  uniformly cut, in a grocery store.  Confession heals the soul, so now I feel good! 😉  I must explain,  that since 1995 I’ve lived  in a  place devoid of  food  stores such  as “Trader Joe’s” and “Whole Foods.” Although our “Native Roots Market” and “Forward Foods” are local delights, whenever our travels took us to a city blessed with TJs, we’d make a point to stop by and collect enough goodies to tide us over for a few months.  However,  fresh produce and planes don’t mix,  so I had to “walk on by” all the  tempting veggies and just look.   Look, look and dream  about how nice it would be to buy that cute bag of perfectly diced butternut squash, and enjoy its succulence without risking my fingertips.  Here in LA  we have 5 Trader Joe’s and 2 Whole Foods within driving distance, so when I spotted that little yellow bag I grabbed it  and drove smiling all the way home …. beside the butternut squash of my dreams!

PASTA WITH ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH, ARUGULA AND RICOTTA
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Donna Hay)

pasta of your choice
butternut squash, cut in chunks
drizzle of olive oil
a few sage leaves
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (full fat, please)
fresh arugula, preferably baby leaves
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Turn your oven to 400F, open the bag of butternut squash, admire how nice each piece looks, and spread them all in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil, season with salt and pepper, scatter a few fresh sage leaves over it, mix it all to coat all pieces with some oil, and roast for 20 minutes, until soft and starting to get brown at the edges.

Meanwhile, boil salted water to cook the pasta.   In a large bowl, place the arugula and ricotta cheese, breaking it up with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper.  When the pasta is cooked, reserve some of the water, then place the pasta over the arugula/ricotta mixture, mixing it all very well. Add the butternut squash, lemon zest, and a little of the pasta water in case the mixture seems too dry.   Adjust the seasoning, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Due to the constraints of our nano-kitchen, I search for all sorts of shortcuts when preparing dinner.  Pasta sauces that don’t need much cooking are now  my best friends.   I got the inspiration from a cookbook that recently arrived in the  mail:  Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf. She only used ricotta and arugula, but butternut squash and sage sounded like a nice way to round out the pasta.   As far as cheese goes, ricotta is light, so I recommend the full fat version.

A juicy grilled chicken breast was all we needed for a simple, satisfying dinner on a Tuesday evening after a busy day at work… Life is good!

ONE YEAR AGO: Levain Bread with Caramelized Onions

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CREAMY BROCCOLI SOUP

Fall is almost here, bringing soup to my mind.  But the temperatures are far from dropping, in fact we are cruising along a nice indian summer, with the thermometers showing high 80’s and even mid 90’s.   In tune with the weather, this broccoli soup can be enjoyed hot or cold, is quick to prepare,  and very good for you:  low fat, low carb, but won’t make you go into starvation-response 30 minutes later…  😉

CREAMY BROCCOLI SOUP
(reprinted with permission from Mark Bittman‘s Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times)

2 cups broccoli florets
3 cups chicken stock (I substituted water)
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
1 cup yogurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper
slivered almonds (optional)

Combine the broccoli and stock in a saucepan and simmer until tender (about 10 minutes).  During the final minute of cooking, drop the garlic in the pan.

Puree the contents of the pan in a blender until very smooth, working in batches if needed (and be careful blending hot liquids, don’t fill your blender’s cup too much).  Once the soup is fully pureed, add yogurt and reheat very gently, adjusting seasoning with salt and pepper.

If desired, top the soup with slivered almonds, or croutons.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Mr. Bittman says you can use leftover broccoli cooked by any method as a starting point for this soup.  Remove excessive dressing or sauce, boil some stock, add the garlic and the cooked broccoli together for a couple of minutes, then proceed with the recipe.   Instead of yogurt, you can finish it with  milk or cream, but of course those will increase the fat content. I  made this soup to take to work for lunch,  so I kept it as light as possible, just added some slivered almonds for extra crunch.

ONE YEAR AGO: Marbled Rye

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BUTTERSCOTCH BROWNIES

When I began the Bewitching Kitchen I hoped it would reflect our day to day cooking,  from meat to fish, from pastas to grains, with frequent bread baking and infrequent sweets popping up on its pages.    I also hoped that the move to Los Angeles and the nano-kitchen wouldn’t dramatically change anything, but I recently realized that something’s been bothering me:  I haven’t made any “sweets”  in over a month!!!

To return a sense of normalcy to the nano-kitchen, this week I baked a batch of butterscotch brownies and surprised our new labmates with it.   I followed a recipe I’ve been remembering ever since I saw it in one of my favorite blogs, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

BUTTERSCOTCH BROWNIES
(from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, originally from  Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook)
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75g   all purpose flour (1/2 cup)
1 tsp baking powder
65 g  unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
215 g   brown sugar (1 cup, well packed)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2  cup chopped walnuts (OR omit the walnuts, and double the choc chips amount)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat  the oven to 350F  (175 C), and line a   8″ square pan (20 cm)  with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave, and add the brown sugar, stirring well until dissolved and smooth.  Remove from the heat, and allow it to cool for 5 minutes (do not skip this step or you might end with scrambled eggs later).

Add the egg  and vanilla extract, mix until incorporated.  Add the flour and  baking powder mix,  stir vigorously to combine.   Gently mix in the walnuts and chocolate.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and  bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top feels firm to the touch.   You can insert a toothpick to test if it’s fully baked, but try not to over bake it.

Remove from the oven, let it cool in the pan for half an hour, transfer  to a cooling rack.  When cool, cut in small squares with a very sharp knife.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: According to Celia you can omit the walnuts, and double the amount of chocolate instead.  They’ll be a bit more gooey that way.  I advise you to use the best tasting chocolate you can find and afford, because it’s the prominent flavor in this sweet.   Celia warned that they would be “flat and ugly, cracking all over as you slice them.”   Well, what they may lack in looks they deliver in flavor: my new colleagues inhaled them, leaving only a few crumbs at the end of the (successful!) meeting.   😉

Note to self:  This recipe makes a very small batch, if  serving at a party, make a double batch because they will disappear quickly.

ONE YEAR AGO: Autumn Vegetable Soup

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POPEYE-PLEASIN’ SALAD

Watching Popeye wolf down can after can of spinach wasn’t enough to tickle my taste buds for it.  Picky eater that I was when I first tried it, only in my early twenties,  it required a few encounters to  appreciate it.   I suppose that one might say that spinach is an acquired taste:  we now consume a couple of bags of baby spinach per week, and maybe more.   In this salad it’s the leading man, with just two supporting actors: slivered almonds and shaved parmiggiano cheese. I adapted the recipe from one I found in Everyday Food, that lovely Martha Stewart publication that’s always peeking at me in grocery stores, next to the cashier.    😉

SPINACH SALAD WITH ALMONDS AND PARMIGGIANO
(adapted from Everyday Food,  June 2010)
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1/3 cup slivered almonds
3 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch baby spinach
1/3 cup shaved parmiggiano-reggiano cheese

Toast the almonds in a 350 F oven or on a dry, non-stick skillet, until fragrant and light brown. Do not let them burn.  In a large bowl, combine almonds, oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar; season with salt and pepper.

Add the spinach  and half the cheese, toss well to coat them with the dressing. Add the remaining of the cheese on top, and serve immediately.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Spinach is the basis of this salad, but the almonds take the flavor to another level, from good to great.  It’s all about how you toast them:   if they’re just dark enough  you’ll get an intense, popcorny flavor, without  bitterness.   This time I hit the jackpot, and I hope that you do too!

We enjoyed it with salmon but it will complement many other dishes:  roasted chicken, grilled pork, a juicy T-bone steak, or even a panini.  The original recipe used arugula instead of spinach, so keep that in mind as an alternative.

ONE YEAR AGO: Watermelon Granita

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POLENTA-CRUST TOMATO LOAF

Another recipe designed by Dan Lepard, courtesy of the Guardian website. In terms of time and overall process, it is very similar to the semolina barbecue buns I blogged about last week, but it results in a bread with  a much more assertive flavor – thanks to the tomato and rosemary – and gorgeous crumb color. Even if you are new to bread baking, this recipe will not cause you any grievance – I promise… 😉


POLENTA-CRUST TOMATO LOAF

(Dan Lepard)
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100 g yogurt  (3.5 ounces)
25 g tomato paste (1 ounce)
25 ml olive oil (1 + 1/2 Tbs)
125 ml warm water (3.7 oz)
150 g sundried tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped (5 oz)
1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked
400 g bread flour (14 oz)
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp instant dry yeast
Polenta or coarse cornmeal, for shaping

Mix together the yogurt, tomato paste and oil, add the warm water and stir in the tomatoes and rosemary. Put the flour, salt and yeast in a mixing bowl, pour in the tomato mixture and work to a soft dough. Leave resting for 10 minutes, lightly knead on an oiled surface for 10 seconds, and return to the bowl. Repeat this minimal, quick kneading cycle twice more at 10-minute intervals, then leave the dough covered at room temperature for one hour.

Pat the dough into an oval, roll it tightly like a scroll, then roll it back and forth on the worktop, pressing down the ends so they taper slightly. Brush with water and roll in polenta or coarse cornmeal. Place seam-side down on a tray lined with nonstick paper, cover with a cloth and leave for an hour. Slash down the center and bake at 425 F (220 C) for 45 minutes. Allow it to completely cool before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: My favorite type of bread is a sourdough, made with a mixture of white and rye flours, sometimes a little whole wheat flour added in the formula.  Open crumb, hearty crust, a great match for any type of meal.  Having said that, I agree with Dan Lepard: this loaf has its place in the world, bread snobs should not be twisting their noses at it.  It smells terrific while it’s baking, almost as if you are making pizza.   Enjoy it with smoked ham or prosciutto, and for a more mellow alternative try a ricotta-based spread (ricotta, lemon zest, salt and pepper: simple, understated, but delicious).

I am submitting this red-tinted loaf to Susan’s Yeastspotting

ONE YEAR AGO: Light Whole Wheat Bread

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PROTOCOL FOR A FIFTEEN-MINUTE DINNER

Materials
1 pork tenderloin
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbs  soy sauce
2 tsp ground chili pepper
fettucini (I used whole wheat)
big bunch of baby spinach
lemon zest
red pepper flakes
1 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

Method
1. Put a large pot of salted water to boil and turn your grill on.

2. In a small bowl, make a little paste with maple syrup, soy sauce, and chili pepper.

3. In a large bowl where you’ll serve the pasta, mix the olive oil with red pepper flakes and lemon zest.

4. Cut the pork tenderloin in 1/4 inch slices, pound each very lightly with a mallet, and brush each side with the maple/chili glaze. Season with a little salt.

5. Place the pasta in the boiling water and start the timer.

6.  Grill each slice of pork tenderloin for a couple of minutes, turn, and grill for 2 minutes more on the second side.   Remove to a platter and keep warm.

7.  Two minutes before the pasta is done cooking, add the baby spinach, and finish them cooking together.

8.Reserve a little of the cooking water, drain the pasta/spinach, add them to  the serving bowl, mix well to combine, add some of the cooking water if necessary.   Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

9. Serve some pasta with the pork tenderloin.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The basic inspiration from this recipe came from Mark Bittman’s Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times.  Adding the spinach to the same pan the pasta is cooking works quite well, but you need to be careful about the timing – overcooking the spinach could ruin the dish.

The pork tenderloin is a recipe I jotted down by hand from some online source years ago, I wish I could give proper credit, but I was unable to find it now.  If you’ve never mixed maple syrup with pepper, keep this combo in mind, it’s a winner.  Another great example is a recipe by the Surreal Gourmet that marinates salmon steaks with maple syrup and coarsely ground pepper for a few days before grilling.   I need to make it soon in the Nano-Bewitching Kitchen because it’s an old favorite of mine.

ONE YEAR AGO: Cauliflower au Gratin

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