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Why Not? Add a Spoonful . . .

Brothy Pinto Beans with Harissa and Parsley

Brothy Pinto Beans with Harissa and Parsley

of Harissa to my plain bowl of brothy beans for lunch? Why not do the same a few days later with chickpeas and top them with garlicky sautéed mustard greens and feta? This was such a success that I taught it in a recent class and I’ve noted the recipe below. I use this wonderful smoky, spicy paste in this greens and bulgur dish and have been reaching for it this winter to enliven eggs, bowls of rice and now beans. There are lots of recipes online to make your own Harissa and my favorite store-bought brand is Mustapha’s.

Why not? has become my new teaching refrain as well.  It of course goes hand in hand with the cook-with-what-you-have approach of substituting and adapting on the fly and is a catchy enough reminder to not be bound word for word to recipes and thus make cooking more fun, less stressful and more satisfying.

A spice paste often from Morocco of chilies, cumin, garlic and oil.

A spice paste often from Morocco of chilies, garlic, lemon and oil.

I’ve had a couple of successes with the why not? approach lately. I added lots of sliced, raw leeks instead of a little onion to a gratin of root vegetables. Not sure why I’d never done that but it gave the gratin a lush, silky sweetness. I filled burritos with pinto beans and sautéed chard and roasted tomatoes. I made the Cauliflower Pasta Risotto that I wrote about here with Brussels Sprouts and bacon. And last night I thinned down heavy whipping cream with milk since the cream was so thick I thought it might not whip into a nice light topping for my son’s birthday chocolate pie. It worked beautifully! Sometimes the why not? approach is less successful as in the time I added some homemade vanilla extract (vodka plus vanilla beans) from a very fresh batch of extract to heavy cream that I whipped for some dessert and the cream tasted sour from the vodka that had not yet really been infused by the vanilla beans.

Have you had moments like these? Successful or less so? I’d love to hear about them.

Chickpea Soup with Sautéed Mustard Greens and Harissa

This is something I’ve been eating this winter for lunch with a variety of toppings or additions. It came about one day when all I had ready to eat was cooked chickpeas in their broth, a jar of Harissa in the fridge (and a few other things but they were not suitable for lunch). I heated up the chickpeas, added a little Harissa and a good drizzle of olive oil and lunch was had, with a piece of bread, I think. It was warm and nourishing and lovely. I like the addition of quickly sautéed mustard greens (or any leafy greens) and a little feta. This is just a basic template and another quick, cheap, delicious way to use those glorious chickpeas or any kind of bean you have around already cooked.

Serves 2

3 cups cooked chickpeas (or other beans of your choice)
2 – 2 ½ cups chickpea cooking liquid
½ – 1 teaspoon Harissa (depending on what spice level you like and your brand of Harissa)
About 4 cups washed mustard greens, cut into ribbons
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
Olive oil
Crumbled feta for serving
Salt and Pepper

Heat the chickpeas and their liquid in a saucepan. Sauté the mustard greens with the garlic in a bit of olive oil until just wilted and lightly salt. This should only take about 3-5 minutes.

When ready to serve, stir the Harissa into the chickpeas and portion the soup into bowls. Top with the mustard greens and a bit of feta. Drizzle on a little more good olive oil and grind of pepper and enjoy!

Chickpeas and Harissa topped with mustard greens and feta

Chickpeas and Harissa topped with mustard greens and feta (photo courtesy of Mark Timby)

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Potatoes and Kale Baked with Tomatoes and Bacon

Kale and potatoes baked with roasted tomatoes and bacon and a little cream.

Kale and potatoes baked with roasted tomatoes and bacon and a little cream.

One-dish meals that take oven-time but not much else are a godsend. When these one-dish  meals use the produce in the Winter CSA share for which I write recipes and are gobbled up by the husband and kid and snacked on at room temperature at 10pm by the husband walking by the stove. . . Well, that’s an extra good thing. And if you have roasted frozen tomatoes on hand from last fall’s harvest this is a great way to employ them. If you don’t you can use drained diced canned (preferably fire-roasted) tomatoes. I keep nice, smoky bacon (Nueske’s available at Pastaworks) in the freezer as well for dishes just like these so there is no need for last-minute runs to the store. And to make it vegetarian I would substitute a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika, Pimenton, for the bacon.

This dish was loosely inspired by friend and  local author Diane Morgan’s delicious new book Roots though I employ a whole bunch of kale instead of 2 tablespoons parsley and a variety of other changes in this adaptation. And as with last week’s post in which I imagined the many possible variations of the Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto” (several of which I’ve tried with great success), this dish begs for adaptations. Any hearty green, leafy vegetable would be good. Sweet potatoes or parsnips or celery root or rutabaga could take the place of the spuds. You could use chicken stock or vegetable broth instead of the cream, and so and so forth in cook-with-what-you-have fashion.

The ingredients all simply get tossed together in a bowl. Then you drizzle over the cream and then bake for an hour.

The ingredients all simply get tossed together in a bowl. Then drizzle over the cream and bake for an hour.

Potatoes and Kale Baked with Tomatoes and Bacon

It is inspired by a recipe from Roots (by Diane Morgan) but is substantially different. It’s definitely a new favorite dish in our household. It takes a while to bake but otherwise it’s very quick to pull together. And please see my suggested variations above if you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand.

This makes quite a bit but it makes a great main dish and is excellent the next day so it’s seems worth making the whole amount but by all means reduce the quantities if you like.

Serves 4-6

About 5-6 medium to large waxy potatoes (yukon gold, red, fingerlings –use more if you’re using fingerlings), scrubbed and cut into bit-sized chunks
1 bunch kale, well washed and stems trimmed if they seem tough and then all of it chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices bacon, diced
1 ½ – 2 cups chopped, drained canned tomatoes or chopped roasted tomatoes you may have frozen (what I used)
1 ½  – 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients except the cream. Toss everything together well and transfer to a 8 x 13 or other large-ish baking dish. Pour the cream over everything. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stir everything well—this is important to get the kale mixed in well and re-coated with liquid since it may still be a bit chewy. Return to oven, covered and bake another 20 – 30 minutes. If there is quite a bit of liquid in the pan you can remove the foil and bake uncovered to reduce it a bit.

When everything is tender remove from the oven and add the pepper and taste for salt. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”

The cauliflower at the Portland Farmers Market this winter has been so sweet and beautiful.

The cauliflower at the Portland Farmers Market and Hillsdale Farmers Market this winter have been so sweet and beautiful.

My father always told me not to over promise or over sell or just not be so darn hyperbolic, but I just can’t help myself. My son and husband and I all ate two plates of this last night with such glee that I must write about it today and post poorly lit photos because that’s all I have and I don’t have time to remake the dish in day-light. And there are NO leftovers.

The technique/recipe is inspired by a dish called Dressy Pasta Risotto from Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful book Around My French Table. My addition of a head of cauliflower and liberal grating of fresh nutmeg and the omission of much of the butter and all of the mascarpone has got me thinking about all sorts of other versions. I’m going to try Brussels sprouts and bacon maybe or kale and garlic or winter squash and sage. . .  The possibilities are vast and exciting.

I used tubetti pasta, a favorite shape I use in this chickpea dish and generally have on hand to add to soup–a surefire way to get my son to eat anything even if they’re just a few of them on the plate.

Serve this dish with a salad of arugula and/or chicories or other winter salad green to add some color and contrasting flavors to the plate. My idea of a perfect winter meal.

The ingredients for this dish are shockingly pale compared to my usual rainbow of colors but don't let that put you off.

The ingredients for this dish are shockingly pale compared to my usual rainbow of colors but don’t let that put you off.

Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”
–adapted from Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Serves 3-4

As Dorie notes, “this is risotto” the way that finely sliced apples are carpaccio, which means not at all. . .” but the technique is just enough reminiscent of risotto that I appreciate the reference and continue to use it.

1 small head cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into very small pieces (see photo)
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil or 1 tbs butter and 1 tbs olive oil
1 1/3 cup tubetti (or ditalini or other small pasta)
4 cups flavorful vegetable broth (homemade veggie bouillon) or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other hard, grating cheese (Asiago Stella is a good, cheaper alternative)
Salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Generous grating (about 1/4 teaspoon) fresh nutmeg

The fastest way to prepare the cauliflower is to slice the head into 1/2- 3/4-inch slabs, top to bottom, and then proceed to cube those. Some pieces will crumble off but that’s just fine. Use as much of the heart/stem as you can if it doesn’t seem to0 tough.

Heat the olive oil, or oil and butter, in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a few pinches of salt and cook for  7 to 8 minutes until soft and turning golden, stirring often. You  may need to reduce the heat a bit. Now add the broth or stock and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, stirring well and then simmer for about 10 minutes uncovered. Now add the cauliflower, stir well to incorporate and then cover and cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. At this point add the cream and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Cook uncovered for about 3 minutes until it thickens slightly.

Stir in the parmesan and the nutmeg and adjust salt and pepper to taste. The cauliflower should be soft but not falling apart. It should not be al dente for this dish. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower Pasta "Risotto"

Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”

Tomato-Braised Collards and Beans

This makes a lot which is a good thing since it's even better the next day.

Tomato-Braised Collards with Beans

All the talk of bean and lentil-eating traditions around the New Year suits me perfectly. They are thought to bring prosperity and health. I’ll happily discuss and cook those darlings any day so all the recent posts and meals cooked by friends that contained black-eyed or yellow-eyed peas and lentils have been a treat. A New Year’s day party at Cathy Whims’s of the fabulous Nostrana featured said yellow-eyed peas (from Rancho Gordo) and were a creamy, tender revelation served with garlicky collards and rice stewed in a rich tomato sauce, all inspired by my friend Bryant Terry’s wonderful book The Inspired Vegan. So last week I made my own variation of his Butter Bean and Tomato-Drenched Collards with Parsley.

Any dish where I can toss in previously cooked (and often frozen) beans to make a meal that tastes like it’s been simmered for hours that very day, in little time makes me happy and a bit smug, I’ll admit. I used Ayers Creek Zolfino beans that I had previously cooked and let those stew with the collards and tomato sauce. I think most any bean would be good in this preparation so don’t sweat the details and use what you have.

We ate this for several days and it just kept getting better. On the third day I had it for lunch over buttery Mashed Potatoes and Rutabagas inspired by another favorite new cookbook, Roots by Diane Morgan. That combination might have to be repeated.

This is not only delicious but very economical, rounded out with good bread or a favorite grain or a couple of fried eggs, and can keep you sated for days.

Finally, I have one spot left in my upcoming cooking class Winter Vegetables & Pantry Staples so sign up right away if you’re interested.

Happy New Year and Happy Cooking!

Tomato-Braised Collards with Beans

This makes a lot which is a good thing since it’s even better the next day.

Tomato-Braised Collards with Beans
–adapted from The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry

Bryant uses sun-dried tomatoes that he rehydrates and blends with the soaking liquid, vinegar, lemon juice and tomato paste. I’ve had good results cooking down regular canned tomatoes with the vinegar and lemon juice so, use what you have to create a nice rich tomato sauce in which you cook the collards. And if you by chance oven-roasted frozen tomatoes from last fall, they are perfect for this dish.

Bryant adds home-cooked butter (lima) beans and broth to the tomato-y greens for the last half hour of cooking. You can do the same, use different beans or omit the broth and serve the greens over rice or quinoa or another grain of your choosing or mashed potatoes and rutabagas! I used Zolfino beans from Ayers Creek Farm.

2 bunches collards, leaves and stems, well washed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, sliced thinly (optional) use ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you don’t have a chile
Salt
1 generous cup dried tomatoes (see headnote)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3-4 cups cooked white beans (see headnote) (lima/butter, cannellini, navy, or even pinto would all be good)
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
¼ cup chopped, fresh parsley (optional but very good)

Put the dried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid.

Thinly slice the collard stems and set aside. Cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the collard stems and cook for 2 minutes. Add the leaves and cook for 2 more minutes. Drain well.

Put the soaked tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon juice vinegar and 1 cup of soaking liquid in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.

In a large pot heat the olive oil and add the onion and sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic and Serrano and sauté for another 3-5 minutes until just beginning to brown. Add the tomato mixture and cook for 20 minutes until it begins to thicken, stirring frequently.

Add the reserved collard leaves and stems, the broth and the beans and simmer on low heat, partially covered for 30 minutes. Stir in the parsley, adjust seasoning and serve.

This is even better the next day!

Zwetschgendatschi

Italian Prunes make this simple tart so delicious and there is a short season for these so take advantage if you can find some.

There are many versions of this Bavarian dessert and many of them use a yeasted cake as the base. I grew up with a butter heavy, short crust version and am thus devoted to it. You want Italian Prunes since they have the acidity and complexity that makes this simplest of all desserts so incredibly good. Italian Prunes are sometimes called Prune Plums or just Italian Plums. I know over the years growers and marketers alike began avoiding the word prune and conflating it with a dried prune but I cling to what I think of as the real name!

My home state of Oregon used to be a very large producer of this wonderful fruit, delicious both fresh and dried. Many of the orchards have been taken out over the years, often to make room for vineyards which admittedly produce a sexier crop. These prunes are the epitome of late summer to me and my mother brought me a big bag of them and I couldn’t resist pulling out her recipe and making this childhood favorite. And while there are  many variations of this cake, they are ALL (in Germany at least) served with lightly sweetened whipped cream so please don’t skip that, unless you’re having it for breakfast, and even so it wouldn’t be a bad  idea.

When cooked, the prunes take on a lovely pink hue and the dusting of cinnamon and sugar just barely caramelizes the fruit.

Zwetschgendatschi (Prune Tart)

Makes one 10-inch tart

For the crust:

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature if you remember–cold butter will just make you a work a bit harder:)
scant 1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (you may need a bit more to bring the dough together depending on if you use one whole egg or just the yolk)
1 small egg (or the yolk of a large egg)
Pinch of salt

For the topping:

About 2 lbs of prunes (you may only need about 1 1/2 lbs but it depends upon how tightly you want to pack them onto the crust)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the butter with the sugar until just mixed. I know it seems silly to try to split one egg in half but it’s possible so do that or just use the yolk of a large egg. Or if you  happen to have a very small egg use the whole thing. It doesn’t really matter so much how you do this. You can always add a bit more flour if the dough is too sticky. The original recipe is double the above quantities with one whole large egg. It makes a lot of dough which is why I halved it since it fits perfectly into a 10-inch tart pan. Feel free to double it and make a larger version of the tart or save half the dough for something else. When the egg has been incorporated mix in the flour and salt. Use either a wooden spoon or your hands. Work the dough until it’s nice and cohesive. It may be a bit sticky so just add a bit of flour.

Pat the dough evenly into a 10-inch tart pan with the palm of your hand. You want to bring the dough up the sides just by 1/3 -inch or so. If you don’t have such a pan you can also press it into an 8″ x 13″ pan. If you are using a 10-inch tart pan you may have a little excess dough with which to make a little mini tart as happened to me on my second batch recently.

Now cut the prunes into quarters and arrange them tightly in circles, starting from the outside and moving inward. If you’re using a rectangular pan arrange them in rows instead. The fruit will shrink so pack them in well, pressing down just a little. When you’ve covered the dough mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle evenly over the fruit.

Bake in the lower half of the oven for about 35 – 45 minutes until the fruit has released some juice and is bubbling a bit and the edge of the crust is golden brown. Let cool to room temperature and enjoy with lots of whipped cream.

I like this tart both on the first day and on the second, when the crust softens a bit and absorbs the juice.

Ready to go in the oven.

Enjoy these heartbreakingly beautiful days with so much bounty to cook and preserve and eat!

Summer Lentils and Beans

French green lentils with summer squash, bacon and parsley and plenty of vinegar and good olive oil.

It’s hot in Portland and getting hotter. We’re not so used to this here. I have been feeling a deep pang of empathy for the millions of people who have been living through the heat wave/drought this summer in much of the United States.

And it’s definitely that time of year when those seeds and plants we’ve been nourishing for months repay one’s devotion. There’s produce everywhere and the odd tension for me of the joy of the abundance and the pressure to manage it all is in full swing right now. If you, like me are a bit overwhelmed, there are many ways in which to share our bounty. Locally in Portland this is a great resource. Or read this piece from Culinate which landed in my inbox just at the right time yesterday.

So, how to cook/prepare food in a very hot house when there is so much beautiful fresh produce? It’s really the prefect time for the cook-with-what-you-have approach. Who has time for recipes or many steps or much stove time at all? And if you by chance have home-cooked beans in the freezer, now is the time to gloat! I have done this, the gloating (to myself alone albeit) the last few days. I added a bunch of chickpeas to a coleslaw with lots of fresh jalapenos, cilantro and mint. The chickpeas added heft and texture and it was a lovely way to spend NO time at the stove. And if you don’t have cooked beans, canned beans are a good shortcut here.

Previously cooked and then frozen navy beans with tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeno, sweet onions, feta, and a dressing of red wine vinegar, s & p and good olive oil.

Just now for lunch I employed some just-thawed white beans in my attempt to eat as much produce as possible in one meal. With the company of yet more jalapeno, cilantro, Walla Walla Sweets, and tomatoes (and some feta) it made the perfect hot day lunch. Oh and I added some basil too. Yesterday I added copious amounts of both dill and cilantro to a similar salad–both herbs needed using and the two got along just fine. You may never recreate some of this tossed-together summer dishes but the joy of uninhibited combinations is not to be missed!

The lentil salad with zucchini and bacon pictured above is my new favorite hearty summer salad. It was inspired by the ever creative Nigel Slater and my adaptation of this dish has found its way into most of my CSA recipe packets in the last week or two. It does require you to cook the lentils (they cook so quickly 15 – 20 min) that I don’t cook these ahead of time and freeze. And the bacon, onion and zucchini see some stove time but it’s minimal so consider doing these things while you’re making breakfast, while it’s still cool and then have dinner ready for you in the evening.

Stay cool and happy eating!

P.S. There are two spots left in my Herbs in the Kitchen Class next Thursday and there are some seats left at the Slow Food Portland dinner in celebration (and support!) of our Terra Madre delegates on Saturday, August 25th. Would love to see you there.

Summer Squash with Lentils, Parsley and Bacon
–inspired by Tender by Nigel Slater

Lentils get overlooked a bit in the summer but I especially love salads with small green lentils in the summer. You can make them ahead of time and then have a robust, room temperature dish for whenever you need it. You want to cook the zucchini until it’s nice and browned but still holding it’s shape so use high heat.

1 1/4 cups small French green lentils or other small lentils that keep their shape when cooked
Splash of olive oil
1 Walla Walla Sweet, diced
4 cups summer squash, cut into small chunks –for zucchini I quarter them lengthwise and then cut them into 1/3-inch chunks
4 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or more to taste)
1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or more red wine vinegar if you don’t have sherry vinegar)
2 small-ish garlic cloves, crushed and then minced
3 (or more) tablespoons good olive oil
Sea salt and pepper (to taste)
¼ cup (or more) chopped parsley

Cook the lentils until tender, about 15-20 minutes (this will vary depending on the kind of lentil you have). You want them to be tender but keep their shape so check frequently.

Drain them and immediately toss them with the vinegars, garlic and olive oil. Set aside.

In the largest skillet you have, heat a splash of olive oil over high heat and add the bacon and onion and sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently. You want the onion softened and bacon rendered but not crisp. Remove the onions and bacon from skillet and add to lentils.

Add another splash of olive oil and the summer squash and a few generous pinches of salt. Cook the squash over high heat for about 7-8 minutes until browned and beginning to soften.

Add the warm squash to the lentils along with the chopped parsley and the additional olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and/or vinegar.

Summer Simplicity and Frenzy

Faux deviled eggs (plain boiled eggs topped with aioli), boiled new potatoes and beet and avocado salad.

Herbs, hardboiled eggs, salads, fresh fruit, bread, cheese. . . .zucchini and green beans starting to come out of my ears. . . .It’s a good time of year for cooking (or assembling) with what you have. And as much as I love to cook I don’t really want to be at the stove much (other than making jam and baking pies and tarts) these days. We’ve been having a lot of  dinners of late that I loosely refer to as Abendbrot–the German word for a light evening meal, meaning literally evening bread.

I use the term to refer to any meal that is cobbled together with a variety of cold or room temperature items. Last night it was cooked green beans with aioli, the last jar of tomato jam from last fall, some bread, a few hard-boiled eggs and a bunch of blueberries. It might be steamed artichokes, a green salad and bread, or roasted beets, some canned tuna (delicious Oregon Albacore) and a white bean salad.

We’ve been digging our first couple of hills of potatoes and they need nothing more than salt or a bit of aioli or some fresh parsley to be perfect. And speaking of  parsley I made a pesto with parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds last week that may well find itself into my Herbs in the Kitchen class in August. If you grow a few of your own herbs, they are really the cheapest and tastiest way to shape a meal.

Toasted bread topped with parsley and pumpkin seed pesto and a fried egg.

When I’m really pressed for time dessert has been fresh fruit, as is, and thus my five-year-old has become an expert cherry eater and cherry pit spitter. But I have also been staying up late or baking in the afternoon and then working late at night to make this fantastic cherry slab pie from Smittenkitchen, David Lebovitz’s blackberry sorbet , the Tutti Frutti Crumble from Super Natural Everyday and jam after jam after jam.

Cherry slab pie from smittenkitchen.com–you get a bit more crust per cherry, it feeds an army and is most of all perfectly delicious.

This time of year is a conundrum for me. I get greedy. I want to pack that freezer with berries, make all my favorite jams and keep up with the green beans and parsley and squash in my garden. I have this slightly frenzied feeling in my body that is hard to control that makes me pit cherries and apricots faster and carry more canning jars up from the basement at once than is wise. I’m racing with myself and some deep-seeded need to preserve and not waste and take advantage of our ridiculous bounty right now. I feel so blessed to have all this amazing produce and fruit at my finger tips. So it’s one part greed and one part responsibility to use it and make the most of it and be frugal, frankly, so that for several months out of the year I wont buy much fruit at all. It’s a privileged position to be in–to have a flexible enough schedule to do this kind of thing–and a choice I’ve made deliberately. And I’m very grateful for that. And at the same time I want to let myself relax a bit and enjoy these fleeting weeks of warmth, neighbors on the porch sharing in that cherry pie, the sticky jam jars and even the fruit flies.

Happy eating, cooking and preserving!

 

 

Labor of Love . . . in the Form of Currant Cake

Currant Cake (Johannisbeerkuchen) fresh from the oven.

My father was German and as might be considered typical, had strong opinions about many things, including food. He had an excellent palate. He died sixteen years ago when I was 23,  long before I devoted my professional and volunteer life to food. I would love to talk to him about my current adventures and I’m sure he’d endorse some and be critical of others. He did, however, shape my palate and likes (mostly) in many ways. Like him I love apricots, currants, raspberries, whipped cream, dark rye bread, orange marmalade, wine, and many other things. He also really enjoyed food and was therefore usually fun to cook for. My American mother was/is the cook in the family but our many years living in Germany shaped the way she and now I, cook.

My father loved red currants (Johannisbeeren) and they ripen right around his birthday, July 17. This Johannisbeerkuchen, currant cake, was his preferred birthday cake and my mother has made it every year since his death. I’m a few days early, but my neighbors’ currants were ripe, so I made it today. It’s the first time I’ve ever made this cake in fact. It’s a classic German cake in a several ways–not terribly sweet, employs lots of ground nuts, and is encased in a buttery short crust. It is a bit more labor intensive than some but if you like currants or think you might and have been looking for a way to use some, give it a try.

The shortcrust recipe makes more than you’ll need for the 10-inch spring form. You can make a few mini tarts with the remainder or freeze or refrigerate for later use.

You gently fold the ground nuts (hazelnuts or almonds) and grated lemon zest into the meringue before folding in the currants.

Currants have now been folded into the meringue. A bonus of making this cake is she sheer beauty of the process.

Currant Cake (aka Johannisbeerkuchen)

We’ve only ever made this with red currants. If you have pink or white ones I think you can substitute them. I love black currants but they are muskier and just have quite a different flavor. It may well be delicious but it will be a bit different. I’m sure it would be beautiful with a mixture too.

This recipe calls for a lot of ground hazelnuts (or almonds). I grind my own in a little Zyliss grater, see photo below. This creates a very, fluffy light nut flour/meal. You will not get the same consistency if you grind them in a food processor. You’ll get a coarser texture which then easily turns into nut butter. So I would recommend hand grinding them if you have such a grater (many people have them for Parmesan) or buying the nut meal. Bob’s Red Mill carries almond meal that would be fine. It is a bit of work to grind by hand, but as I said, this cake is a labor of love!

You’re going to have six egg yolks left over. I will be making ice cream with mine. . . .

Crust:

2 stick (230 grams) butter, softened at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream the butter with the sugar until well mixed. Add the egg and incorporate well and then add the flour and salt. The dough should come together quite easily. I use my hands to do so. It  may be a bit too sticky to handle so flour your hands a bit and gather it into a ball. You won’t need all of the dough (see photo above) so break off a piece to save. Then press the dough evenly into a 10″ springform pan (or deep dish 12″ pie pan) bringing the dough up the sides about 2 inches. Blind bake the crust for about 15 minutes until it’s partially baked and just turning golden around the edge. I just press a round, buttered piece of aluminum foil onto the bottom of the crust before pre-baking to help hold its shape.

Filling:
Four generous cups of stemmed red currants
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
175 grams, finely ground hazelnuts or almonds (see head note) (about 2 cups of whole, raw almonds turned into 175 grams of ground nuts for me)
6 large egg whites
zest of 1 small lemon

Mix the currants with 3/4 cup sugar in a bowl and let sit while you prepare the meringue. Beet the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and then gradually beat in the sugar.  Then gently fold in the lemon zest and ground nuts until fairly well incorporated. Finally pour in the currants and fold those in as well. Don’t over mix as the currants do not need to be uniformly mixed in.

Fill the pre-baked shell with the meringue. It will be quite full but should hold it just barely.

Turn the oven down to 350 and bake the cake for 45 – 60 minutes until golden brown and pretty much set. You’ll still get a tiny bit of jiggle when you tap the side but it will firm up just a bit as it cools. Let cool completely and then cut into thin slices and enjoy!

 

Ready to go in the oven.

So many German desserts call for ground nuts. I use my little Zyliss grater for this purpose which results in a fluffy, light nut meal. The food processor does not produce the same results so either buy almond meal or grind your own–it’s a bit labor intensive but completely worth it.

Gratitude & Salads

A salad of mustardy roasted vegetables tossed with parsley and arugula with a lemony vinaigrette.

It’s one of those mornings in Portland (Oregon) that is unspeakably beautiful–one of those days that makes the cold, clammy, gloomy days of June seem both irrelevant and from some distant past hardly to be remembered (even though it was a mere four or five days ago when I sat shivering in my kitchen with a wool scarf around my neck).

I have two pots of beans cooking. This post isn’t even about beans but as I put them on this morning I sighed a big sigh of relief. I’ve been sick for more than a week and I’ve been working too hard and the combination has once again, this spring, derailed my simple routines and pleasures. So to have sunshine and a pleasant breeze and my favorite sustenance is just too good not to note.

On to salads. It’s always salad time of year for me but it’s extra good salad time of year right now. And some of my favorite bloggers seem to think so as well. I made this one yesterday for a potluck (with a toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds instead of almonds) and I can’t wait to make this one when green beans start showing up in a few weeks and this one, which is explicitly made for the cook-with-what-you-have approach, though they all are really adaptable.

The salad pictured above was a bit of a fluke. I was developing recipes for my CSA farms and was roasting vegetables (carrots, broccoli, Japanese turnips and onions) with a mix of whole grain mustard, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. I’m also thinking about herbs even more than usual since I’m teaching an herb class in two weeks (spots available!) and have been using them abundantly. So  I added lots of parsley and arugula which turned out to be a great foil for the richer, sweeter vegetables. So they got tossed together (at room temperature) with the greens and plenty of lemon juice and a little more olive oil. And I will be making this again soon!

Carrots, broccoli and onions roasted with whole grain mustard, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. Lovely as is but perfect tossed with lots of parsley and arugula and lemon juice and olive oil.

Mustardy Roasted Vegetables with Parsley and Arugula

This is a nice variation to plain roasted vegetables. One of my favorite things to do with these, once roasted and a bit cooled is to toss them with lots of parsley and/or arugula or just lettuce. You could add feta or ricotta salata or another cheese of choice. You could roast different vegetables (peppers, potatoes, zucchini even). Then add a bit more lemon juice and olive oil and make a big salad out of it. Or you can toss it with quickly cooked kale and some more lemon juice. Quantities are approximations. Use however many vegetables you want in whatever ratio you want.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1 large onion, cut in half and sliced in ½-inch thick half-rounds
5 Japanese salad turnips, scrubbed but not peeled and cut into wedges (optional)
6-7 carrots, scrubbed and cut into ½ – ¾-inch slices on the bias
2-3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put all the vegetables in a big bowl. Mix the other ingredients in a small bowl and then toss the mustard mixture with the vegetables mixing very well. I use my hands to get it thoroughly mixed—messy but fun and effective.

Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet with sides—try not to crowd and use two sheets if you have too much for one. Roast for 20 minutes then stir and keep roasting until all vegetables are tender and beginning to brown around the edges.

As noted above, these are delicious tossed with greens or kale for an unusual salad or just eaten as is, hot or at room temp.

Happy Cooking!

New Favorite One-pot Meal (+ an Egg)

Lots of chopped greens, onions, garlic, harissa and a bit of bulgur turn into a heavenly pot of goodness after an hour of gentle steaming. 

A friend of mine raved about this dish at a dinner party the other night. It took me a week to finally make it and then I made it twice in a row–the second time to take to another dinner party where it was happily devoured. It’s a humble, somewhat subtle dish that is perfectly suited to any climate that has an abundance of hearty greens (chard, kale, mustards, etc. ). And I can’t wait to play around with other spices and toppings. But for now here is more or less the way it was conveyed to me and I believe it originated with Paula Wolfert, so no wonder it’s a keeper. Please report back and tell me how it works for you and if you adapt it.

After its hour-long steam it’s ready for lemon, a fried (or poached) egg, more harissa and Greek yogurt.

Moroccan Bulgur with Greens
–inspired by Paula Wolfert 

This takes time to cook but putting it together is quick and just involves a bunch of chopping. It is delicious with a fried or poached egg and extra harissa and some Greek yogurt. And if you like lamb, it’s a perfect accompaniment to lamb in any form. Harissa is a Tunisia hot chili sauce whose main ingredients are piri piri (type of chili pepper), Serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers and garlic, coriander, red chili powder, and caraway as well as some vegetable or olive oil. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya and Algeria but recently also making inroads into Morocco according to Moroccan food expert Paula Wolfert. I particularly like the brand Mustafa’s Moroccan Harissa which is very flavorful and not too crazy spicy.

1 large onion, finely diced
1 leek, carefully washes, sliced in half lengthwise and then finely chopped (or more onion if you don’t have any leeks)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch de-stemmed and chopped chard
1 cup bulgur
3 tablespoons. olive oil
2-3 teaspoons (or more to taste) harissa (see headnote) I used 4-5 teaspoons but with other brands that might be too much.
Black pepper, freshly ground
Sea or kosher salt (at least 1 teaspoon)
Lemon juice
More harissa and Greek yogurt for serving

Add everything but the lemon juice to a deep heavy, lidded pot. (Le Creuset is great). Mix it all together with a spoon or your hands. Add 1/2 cup water and mix thoroughly again.

Take several paper towels and lay them over the bulgur mixture, tucking them gently into the sides. Cover the pot and cook over very low heat for about an hour or so. Resist the urge to remove the lid since the steam generated is a critical factor. I typically start with high heat to get things going, then, when I sense the presence of steam and can start to smell the dish, reduce it significantly.

When it is finished, remove the paper towels, taste and, if necessary, continue to cook with the paper towels intact again.

Squeeze a lemon over the finished bulgur and top with more harissa and Greek yogurt or a poached or fried egg.

It makes me hungry just writing this caption. The lemon juice is important to brighten everything up a bit but if you don’t have a lemon extra harissa will probably do.