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Posts from the ‘Summer’ Category

Green Curry Summer Squash Soup

A lovely summery soup of squash, new potatoes, coconut milk and basil over rice.

I’ve had a good summer squash recipe repertoire for quite a while. But this year I’m expanding it even more. This season I am  creating customized recipe packets for a local CSA farm here in the Portland area every week. The farmer tells me what will be in the share on Saturday and by Sunday night I submit a comprehensive packet of recipes and tips for that week’s produce. Zucchini and all manner of summer squash are a mainstay in the share this time of year and I’ve enjoyed trying some new recipes for these tender, sweet, prolific veggies.

New potatoes and summer squash.

This dish was inspired by the ever clever and creative Heidi Swanson from her new book Super Natural Every Day. I’ve changed a bunch of things: I omitted the tofu croutons since I rarely have tofu on  hand. I served it on rice to give it heft and make it a one-dish meal. I used green instead of red curry paste, onions instead of shallots and added lots of basil.

This recipe uses a good number of summer squash so it’s a great way to work through the stash many of us find ourselves with right now. It’s great warmed up the next day for lunch either eaten as soup or over rice. I can imagine this being delicious with other veggies as well as the season changes so experiment as you see fit. It would also be delicious with some chicken or prawns if you want to dress it up a bit and make it heartier.

And please let me know if you have any favorite summer squash/zucchini recipes. I know they’re going to keep showing up for a few more weeks and I always need more ideas.

Summer squash, potatoes, onions and garlic sweating in green curry paste and some coconut milk.

Green Curry Summer Squash Soup

–adapted from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson

4-5 medium zucchini or other summer squash like yellow crookneck or patty pan, sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1/2 a medium onions (sweet or regular yellow onion), thinly sliced

4-5 small potatoes (new potatoes if possible), scrubbed and cut into small dice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 – 2 heaping teaspoons green curry paste (I use the Mae Ploy brand)

1 can full fat coconut milk

2 cups veggie bouillon broth (or other veggie or chicken stock)

1/4 cup Thai basil or regular basil leaves, packed and roughly chopped (saving a bit for garnish)

salt

squeeze of lime juice to taste (optional)

Cooked white or brown, long grain rice

Put a large soup pot on medium high heat. Add about 3-4 tablespoons of the solid part of the coconut milk that makes up about the top fourth of the can, to the hot pan. Add the 1-2 teaspoons (depending on how much heat you want) of green curry paste and mash it up with the back of a spoon and blend it into the coconut milk. Fry this mixture for a couple of minutes until it becomes fragrant.

Add the sliced onion and fry for a few minutes until it softens. Add the squash and potatoes, several generous pinches of salt and cook, stirring often for 3-4 minutes. Then add the garlic, the remainder of the coconut milk and the broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add most of the basil (reserving some for a garnish) and cook for another minute or two. Adjust seasoning and add a squeeze of lime juice, if using.

Serve hot over rice and garnished with more basil.

P.S. Check out my guest post on Culinate.com about Slow Food’s $5 Challenge and join in the fun and conversation and cooking.

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Perfect Green Beans

Green beans (Kentucky Blue) from my garden.

I have a small garden with only a few places with really good, sunny exposure. I sow green pole beans every spring in one of those sunny places and every year I’m taken aback by how delicious they are. Once they start producing I pick them twice a day–first thing in the morning and just before it’s too dark to see. I only have about seven plants that have wound their way up their strings along my fence but I managed to pick about a pound over a four-day period.

Aioli with green beans.

My favorite thing to do with these tender things is to make aioli (garlicky mayonnaise) and dip the perfectly cooked beans (by which I mean four minutes in salty, rapidly bowling water) into the aioli. I ate three-quarters of a pound of the  beans pictured above in a single sitting Sunday noon. My boys got a few but they don’t rhapsodize about them quite like I do so everyone was happy.

I know I’ve written about aioli here before but here are some photos to go with it.

2 beautiful yolks, 2 cloves of garlic (much less than is traditional but I like a slightly milder aioli), and fresh lemon juice--the foundation for aioli.

You can use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic with some coarse salt (gives it the texture you need to mash it well) or just do it on a cutting board with the side of a chef's knife as I've done here. Just chop the garlic cloves first, sprinkle generously with coarse salt and then lay the side of the knife on top of the garlic, push down and pull the knife (dull side) toward you. Repeat until you have a nice paste. It takes a little practice but once you have it down it's a quick way to get a good, homogenous paste.

The finished product. I added about 1/2 cup of good olive oil (drip by drip at first and then in a thin stream) and then about 1/3 of a cup of sunflower oil.

Sunday's lunch: beans and aioli, leftover rice with leftover salsa verde.

Aioli 

2 egg yolks (preferably organic)

2 medium/large cloves  garlic (or more if you like it stronger)

lemon juice (1/2 to a whole lemon’s worth depending on your taste)

coarse fleur de sel (or any good sea salt)

freshly ground pepper

1/2 – 3/4 cup good-tasting olive oil

1/3 cup neutral oil like sunflower

Mash garlic to a paste with salt (either in mortar and pestle or with a knife –see note above). Put garlic in a medium-sized bowl. Add the egg yolks and 2-3 teaspoons of lemon juice and some black pepper. Whisk well. Then start adding the olive oil drip by drip or in a very thin stream at first. You’ll need to incorporate about 1/4 cup of oil like this before you can safely speed things up. This is the most important step in ensuring that it properly emulsifies and doesn’t break. Incorporate the rest of the olive oil and neutral tasting oil (it can get too bitter if you use just olive oil, though this is a non-traditional approach but one I like) and adjust seasoning with more lemon and/or salt.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. I’ve posted fall classes. . . .Late Summer Bounty, Beans, Pies, Soups, Eat Better Series. . . .a little something for everyone I hope!

Mid-Summer Pizza

Thinly sliced zucchini rounds cook really quickly on a pizza and make for a surprisingly delicious topping.

I love pizza. I teach pizza classes, I go out for pizza but I actually don’t make pizza often enough at home. I make a good pizza dough (Jim Lahey’s recipe from My Bread, my slightly adapted version included below) and sometimes I’m even organized enough to make several batches and freeze the dough so it’s available when I have little time to cook. . . .but not very often.  So when I heard that the local Grand Central Bakery pizza dough was reportedly better than anything I might make myself, I had to give it a try. I bought both the whole wheat and white versions and have yet to try to the white one but the whole wheat lived up to the hype. For the many of you who do not live close to a Grand Central Bakery outpost, the below recipe is really very good and you might check your local bakeries for pre-made doughs. (I have no vested interest in Grand Central but worked there 14 years ago as my first job out of college and have a great fondness for them and their products.)

And if you have good pizza dough, the topping is practically an afterthought. Almost anything tastes good on a yeasted dough that’s baked on a stone in a hot, hot oven. I set my very basic, non-commercial gas oven to 500 (as high as it goes) and preheat it with the pizza stone in it for 30 minutes or so and then slide the dough with whatever topping I’ve thrown together onto the stone. 15- 20 minutes later dinner is done.

Last night  I found a few zucchini in the fridge, half a Walla Walla Sweet, and a bit of bacon. I thinly sliced the squash and sprinkled salt on them and let them sit on a dish towel for 10 minutes to soften up while I prepped the rest of the ingredients.

Sliced sweet onions, diced bacon and zucchini coins

Since my husband is not fond of raw onions and I wasn’t sure just how soft the onions would get in the 15 minutes in the oven I decided to saute half the onions and bacon for just a few minutes to take the edge off.

Pizza about to go in the oven; half with raw onions and bacon and half with briefly sauteed onions and bacon.

I squeezed some liquid out of the zucchini slices and then brushed the dough (that was incredibly easy to stretch and shape) with olive oil, sprinkled it with salt and then scattered on the squash, onions, bacon and just a little grated parmesan. I had generously floured the pizza peel (don’t forget this step) and slid the whole thing with a quick jerk of the wrist onto the hot stone.

Done!

I loved both sides of the pizza as did my husband and son (though he insisted on scraping the topping off and eating it separately). The sauteed side was a bit sweeter but the Walla Walla’s are so tender and mild and kept their shape a bit better lending more texture to that side. So, a toss up, really!

Chances are whatever you have in your garden or from the market will make a good pizza topping. And if you don’t want to use meat here I would add a generous sprinkling of fresh basil and/or oregano and a bit more cheese (maybe feta too).  Generally my pizza advice is go light on the topping (with or without sauce), be generous with herbs and spices and most importantly, make pizza often this summer.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. New summer and fall Cook-with-what-I-have Improv Classes posted.

Basic Pizza Dough

–adapted from Jim Lahey

Pizza dough freezes beautifully. So if you’re only going to use half of it or want to make a double batch and save some for future use, just lightly oil a 1 qt freezer bag and put ½ a recipe worth of pizza dough in. Thaw it thoroughly and bring it to room temperature before using. Then handle exactly the same as fresh dough.

In Jim Lahey’s original recipe he has you bake the pizzas on a sheet pan. I do that sometimes, especially for his potato pizza because there’s so much topping, but usually I bake them right on a pizza stone which makes them wonderfully crisp. If you’re using a pizza stone you don’t need any oil and just place the stretched out piece of dough onto a well-floured pizza peel (or the back of a cookie sheet if you don’t have a peel) and after you’ve added the toppings you slide it right onto the hot stone.

I have tried this recipe with half whole wheat flour and half white. It turns out fine but is a bit of a different animal—not as crisp a bit nuttier and chewier—as you might expect.

500 grams bread flour (3 3/4 cups)

2 1/2 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast (10 grams)

3/4 teaspoons table salt (5 grams)

3/4 teaspoon sugar, plus a pinch (about 3 grams)

1 1/3 – 1 1/2 cups room temperature water

extra-virgin olive oil for pans

In a medium bowl, stir together the bread flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough should be able to contain all of the flour, if it seems dry or if there is excess flour at the bottom of the bowl, add water a tablespoon at a time.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let sit at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, about 2-3 hours.

Summer Improv Cooking and Pasta Carbonara with Peas

Dull knives, wobbly pans, no pantry to speak of. . . .none of it mattered at the beach last week where I was for the annual family summer outing. My mother, sisters-in-law and I all brought fruit and produce and we feasted, simply (or not so simply on the night we grilled Alaskan Sockeye salmon) and with relatively little time spent in the kitchen. Being able to cook-with-what-you-have is even more useful when you’re on the road and don’t have all your familiar kitchen items so you can pull together something quickly with hungry, sandy children underfoot with minimal stress. With that I should note that I traveled with a mini pantry which included lots of fresh herbs from my garden, ginger, garlic, good olive oil, lemons, dry chickpeas, pinto beans and some cheese. All of this packs easily into a little bag/cooler and makes life in foreign kitchens much more delicious and fun.

My mother shelling the peas she'd brought from her garden.

One night I made Pasta Carbonara with the above peas. This is an inauthentic addition to the classic Carbonara which just includes eggs, cheese, pancetta (or bacon), lots of black pepper and pasta but it’s a mighty good one (recipe below).

I used some of the last of the season’s sugar snap peas, fava and garbanzo beans to make this impromptu three-bean/pea salad. I employed the fava bean cooking technique I’ve discussed here before and it was a winner. Since the peas were getting a little tough, sautéed them for a few minutes and then tossed them with the other beans, some crumbled feta, basil, lemon juice, s & p, and olive oil.

Fava bean, snap pea and chickpea salad with basil, feta, lemon, garlic and olive oil

My mother has one pie cherry tree and she brought enough cherries for a pie. There was an old copy of the Joy of Cooking at the house but oddly it didn’t have one, what I think of as straightforward pie dough recipe. They were either for flour paste pie dough or pie dough with oil or with baking powder. I know the ratio of my favorite pie dough in my head more or less and since we only had  very spotty internet connection I went with my spotty memory. It basically worked well, though I realized I used an extra 1/2 cup of flour so the dough was a little heavier than usual.

Cherry pie

Now life is settling back into routine at home. I’m weeding the garden, getting ready to teach a cooking class tomorrow, working on the fall schedule of classes (some of it already posted) and which will be complete soon. And I’m raiding my kind neighbors’ gardens too. You’ve heard about the enormous bay tree down the street and it got another good pruning from me this morning. Another neighbor’s summer squash is more prolific than mine so I benefitted there too and I’m always shy in the flower department, so thanks to yet another for these beautiful ones.

Neighborhood treasures

Happy summer and happy cooking!

Pasta Carbonara with Peas

Serves 6 as an entrée.

This is fast dinner to make and a very child-friendly to boot. This is a rich dish and needs nothing but a simple green salad on the side. The peas are an inauthentic addition but a very good one. If you want to make this vegetarian, omit the bacon (or pancetta) and add 4-5 cloves of finely grated or minced garlic to the egg/cheese mixture.

3 egg yolks and 1 egg (or 4 whole eggs but it’s richer with more yolks)

1 cup peas (or 1 pint snow or snap peas, trimmed and each pea cut into thirds)

1/3 – ½ cup grated parmesan (or other hard cheese like Asiago Stella)

3 tablespoons of cream (optional)

2 oz of pancetta or bacon, diced

salt/pepper (lots of pepper!)

1 lb spaghetti (or other shape of pasta)

You can cook the peas one of two ways. You can either toss them in with the bacon as it cooks or you can add them to the cooking pasta about 3 minutes before it’s done. Either way is delicious. Fry the bacon (and peas) in a skillet until the bacon has rendered its fat and the peas are just tender. I keep the bacon fat (makes it extra delicious) but you can pour it off or save it for something else if you’d like.

Beat the egg yolks and eggs in a bowl and add the grated cheese, cream, (if using), salt (remember that both the bacon and cheese are salty), and freshly ground black pepper. Boil pasta in generous amount of salted water. Scoop out and save ½-3/4 cup of cooking water and then drain when pasta is al dente. Return pasta to the pan, add peas and bacon, egg mixture and reserved cooking water and mix well. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg and create a lovely sauce. Serve hot with extra cheese if you’d like.  Carbonara is traditionally very peppery so don’t be shy with the black pepper.

Summer (Cherries, Green Couscous, Garlic Scapes)

Dessert in a tree.

My four-year-old son Ellis and I spent a night at my mother’s place last week.  She lives in the middle of nowhere and has neighbors with cherry trees and fruit picking ladders. Ellis climbed right to the top of this rather tall ladder and ate his fill of Royal Ann cherries, gleefully spitting the pits down onto our heads. Actually he mostly missed our heads but cackled with each dropping pit. The setting sun and a sticky, happy kid . . .. Summer, finally here (though absent again today) is so wonderful. And if you have lots of cherries and need a new idea for them, try this wonderful recipe by David Lebovitz for Cherries in Red Wine Syrup.

My cooking has been somewhat sporadic and a bit frenetic of late. We’ve been out-of-town, had visitors, had lots of picnics and barbeques, even a meal or two out. I want to be outside all the time and am spending more time processing berries than making dinner. This means we’ve had a lot of frittatas, salads and artichokes for dinner lately or anything else I can throw together in minutes so I can get back outside.

Green Couscous from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

I have made two dishes worth noting in the last few days. The first comes from one of my favorite cookbooks Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi that you’ve  heard me rave about here before. It’s called Green Couscous and is a herb-heavy, full flavored dish. If you, or you in combination with your neighbors grow mint, cilantro, tarragon, dill, parsley, and arugula, you might be able to make this salad on a moments notice. The recipe calls for toasted pistachios but I didn’t have any and substituted toasted almonds which worked beautifully. This recipe is not super quick. It has a few more steps than most of my dishes but it’s well worth it.

I know our spring here in the Pacific Northwest was cooler and wetter than others so if you no longer have garlic scapes (tops, whistles) in your neck of the woods just file this away for next year. Garlic scapes are the long, elegant stalks that grow up out of a garlic plant. So while the head of garlic is finishing up its growth underground the plant gives us a fragrant, sweet, tender shoot to work with as well. These scapes make a wonderful pesto so if you have some in your garden or see a bunch at the farmers market or in your CSA box, this is one thing to do with it.

Garlic Scape Pesto. Next to the bowl of pesto you see the very tops of the garlic scapes which hold the flower of the plant. You want to use the scape right up to this part but I typically don't include the immature flower in the pesto but come to think of it I'm not sure why. . . .

Garlic Scape Pesto

1 bunch (about 7-8) garlic scapes

generous handful of toasted (or raw) walnuts

1-2 ounces parmesan or Asiago stella

3/4 cup (or more) basil leaves

1/3 cups of good-tasting extra virgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Roughly chop the garlic scapes, with our without the very top, flower part (See note in caption above). Process the nuts and cheese in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve on toasted bread, with pasta, potatoes, eggs dishes other grains. . . .

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. Two spots left in my August Eat Better Series. Save money, eat well, fewer trips to the store and more fun in the kitchen . . .

Strawberries, Roasted, Baked, . . .

Strawberries: ready to be transformed into popsicles, ice cream, jam and a roasted compote.

It’s been a tough season for strawberries here in the Northwest. The cold and rainy spring has delayed the season and the berries tend to be smaller and less sweet than usual. However, they still are a treat, a long-awaited treat. They are my husband’s favorite berry and they’re really quite versatile. Once you’ve had your fill of them plain, right out of the green cardboard pint basket there are so many options. And if you’re like me and u-pick them or buy them by the flat you’ll quickly realize there really are only so many berries one can eat in the moment before they spoil.

So, this is what my kitchen counter looked like last week after my first real haul of the season. And I’m going back for more later this week since I don’t yet have my quota for plain, frozen berries, jam, etc.

Sliced strawberries waiting to be turned into jam, strawberry yogurt popsicles, roasted strawberries and strawberry ice cream.

I make popsicles all summer and usually add a bit of yogurt and honey to any fruit that’s suitable for popsicles (berries, peaches, etc.). The strawberries I picked last week were not very sweet or particularly flavorful so I decided to roast a bunch of them which is what is in the container on the far right of the photo above. Roasting brings out the sweetness in most any fruit or vegetable and strawberries are well-suited to this technique. I spread about 2-3 pints worth out on a sheet pan (cut in half), drizzle them with about one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and about 1/2 cup of sugar (more if you like them sweeter or the berries are particularly tart), toss well and roast at 375 until they are greatly reduced and the juice becomes syrupy. This can take anywhere from 40 – 70 minutes. They are wonderful over ice cream, stirred into yogurt, mixed with other, fresh fruit in a crisp or cobbler, etc. . . .they are quite intense in this preparation so can go along way.

Baking with strawberries is a bit trickier than other berries. They don’t hold up so well and tend to lose their punch. As you might recall from my wedding cake adventures last summer, creating a concentrated, stable strawberry filling was quite the task. So I was delighted to find this simple strawberry cake recipe on smittenkitchen this spring and have been enjoying it immensely. It’s quick, beautiful and delicious. I have adapted it only in two small ways. I reduce the amount of sugar in the batter to 3/4 cup  and I add 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom and 1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper to the batter–Makes for a slightly more mysterious cake. And if you’re feeling really adventurous add a little Kirsch to your whipped cream.

Strawberry Summer Cake

And if you really find yourself in a time crunch and need to process berries just freeze them whole in containers or bags. In mid-winter those berries are perfect in a bowl of steaming steel cut oats.

Happy Summer!

Artichokes

What was left of five artichokes the three of us had for dinner last night.

There were two things I remember eating in great quantity as a child (actually I’m sure there were many more than two) artichokes and corn on the cob. I think my artichoke record was four in one sitting and eight ears of corn. The corn was always homegrown and the ears weren’t usually quite as large as store-bought ones but still, I loved these two things. I have a feeling my four-year-old is going to give me a run for my money on the artichoke front soon. I certainly can’t put away four in one sitting anymore. And he ate one and a half artichokes last night and they were big.

For inexplicable reasons we haven’t eaten many artichokes for a few years but somehow this year the bug is back and I’m buying them at every turn. The ones pictured above are from a local farm (DeNoble Farm in Tillamook, OR) and are available at the Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Growing up my mother boiled them and we dipped the leaves and much-anticipated heart in regular store-bought mayo and I loved them that way. Then I spent a lot of time in Italy and learned of the dozens of other ways of preparing them, all of which I loved as well. Most of those preparations–stuffed, grilled, roasted, in a ragout, in a frittata, etc.–are a bit more time-consuming so this spring I’ve mostly been doing it the good old American way.  I made them for my in-laws in Colorado 10 days ago and it turned out to be the first artichoke my father-in-law had ever had and he loved it.

For last night’s I used a bit of leftover aioli (with chives and thyme) and stretched that with the store-bought stuff and it was perfect.

I was much too excited to start eating to remember to take any photos of the original, beautiful bowl of five whole artichokes so all you get is the dregs that I promised I'd save for Ellis for dinner tonight.

So, if you want a low fuss summer meal, pick up a bunch of artichokes; get out big bowls for the leaves and thistle parts and a bowl of mayo, homemade or not and go to town.

P.S. I know it’s more common to steam artichokes but I’ve always just boiled them, water coming about half way up the artichokes (stem end down) for about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on size they might take longer). You want the stem and heart to be very tender when pierced with the tip of a knife or fork. When tender I hold them upside down by their stems to drain them well and then they are ready to eat. I’ve always assumed boiling was faster than steaming and I always seem to be in a hurry but by all means steam them if you prefer.

Wild Flowers and Summer Lentils

Nuttal Evening Primrose

We spent last week high up in the mountains in Colorado with my in-laws. Late June at 8500 feet in and around Rocky Mountain National Park is one heck of a beautiful place to be. I’ve always loved wildflowers but have rarely gotten out of the city in spring/early summer for many years. I became a certified wildflower geek, camera in tow, making everyone stop so I could take pictures and falling asleep with the wildflower book in hand. So this week you’re going to get a tiny sampling of those photos.

Colorado Tansy Aster Flower

Boulder Raspberry Flower

Wild Iris and Shooting Stars

When we returned home to a more or less empty fridge but thriving garden and well-stocked pantry/freezer I made a quick, hearty salad. I found a container of previously cooked French green lentils (Puy lentils) in the freezer.  I tend to cook lentils (regular brown, red, little green, etc. ) in the cooler months but I’m finding more and more uses for them this time of year and my four-year-old really likes them, so there they were waiting for me in the freezer.

I picked arugula, parsley, and chives in the garden, made a garlicky dressing with Greek Yogurt and that was it. I’ve given more detail in the recipe below but it’s really just a guide as to how one can use those heartier pulses (or grains) in summery ways. So experiment away with what you have in your garden, freezer, pantry and of course there’s that yogurt. One of my favorite cookbook authors Yotam Ottlenghi has a disclaimer in the headnote of one of his recipes (that I can’t seem to put my finger on at that moment) that goes something like this: “I know not all of you want to dollop rich Greek yogurt on everything you eat but in this case, it’s really worthwhile. . .”  I feel that way more often than not and in this recipe the yogurt turns into a silky dressing.

We had just barely unpacked when I made this dish and I neglected to take any photos. And I’m venturing to guess that the wildflowers were much more photogenic than this salad (or that my  very limited photography skills could represent).

Summer Lentil Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a light entrée

2 1/2 cups cooked and cooled small French green lentils (see note above)

3 -4 cups arugula (or other strongly flavored salad green) cut into 1-inch ribbons

1/4 cups of parsley roughly chopped

3 tablespoons chives, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced or mashed with some salt with the side of a chef’s knife

1/4 cup Greek or regular full fat plain yogurt

2 tablespoons good-quality extra virgin olive oil

zest of half a lemon

juice of half a lemon

2 teaspoons red wine or sherry vinegar (to taste) or just more lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together. Taste for salt and acidity and adjust as you like. Serve with good bread and cheese for a light supper.

Ponderosa Pollen Cone -- I was completely fascinated by these cones. In another week's time they will "explode" and cover the whole landscape with yellowish-green pollen. They were so decorative and almost stylized looking and ranged in color from pale yellow to this deep rose.

Spring Meals

We’ve had some sun and warmth, albeit fleeting, here lately in the Pacific Northwest. And while it isn’t really warm enough yet to ditch the socks and shoes I’ve been cooking differently. Against all the weather odds the farmers markets have beautiful produce and we’re eating asparagus and radishes several times a week. Below is a quick review of some of my favorites from the last 10 days.

Salad of avocado (not from the farmers market!), radishes, lots of cilantro, scallions and lime juice.

Asparagus Quinoa "Risotto"

I blogged about this dish last spring and had to make another mention of it. It’s not like risotto in that you don’t slowly add stock and stir as it cooks. In all other ways (excepting the grain itself) it is like risotto. It takes about 18 minute start to finish and is one of the most satisfying one-dish  meals I’ve had in a while. The quinoa is added to sautéed onions and a bit of diced bacon, then hot broth is added–cover the whole thing and cook for 10 minutes then spread the asparagus on top and cover again for a few minutes until tender. Then mix some grated parmesan and butter into the whole thing and voila!

Roasted cauliflower and asparagus, canned Oregon albacore, fried potatoes and salsa verde.

I make so many variations of this sort of meal. Roast or blanch or boil whatever veggies you have. Add some  good canned tuna and drizzle the lot with salsa verde.

Greens, beans, eggs, tuna, and cilantro yogurt sauce.

I guess this is the protein heavy version with home-cooked pinto beans, my favorite Oregon Albacore (from Stonewall Banks Seafood), hard-boiled eggs, greens and cilantro yogurt sauce.

All of these meals were fairly quick, last-minute kind of  meals and if you already have cooked beans and/or eggs all you have to do is make your sauce, dressing of choice or cook the quinoa and you’re set.

As much as I love to cook, this time of year I’d rather spend more time in the garden or have a beer at the neighbors watching all the kids in the neighborhood chase each other down the slide in the early evening sun!

Salads and Beans

My Lunch Salad

The lettuces and other greens that overwintered in my garden don’t seem to mind the cold wet spring. The longer days and occasional rays of sun are enough for them to grow a few inches a day it seems. And as noted in last week’s post, my neighbor’s greens are even more prolific.

Not only are the cultivated greens thriving these days but so are the wild ones. I have never known much about what edibles one can forage but last week I had the pleasure of hosting a local TV news station and Edible Portland in my kitchen. They filmed a segment on wild edibles that had been picked earlier that morning in an urban neighborhood here in Portland by John Kallas, one of the authorities on wild foods. John wrote a comprehensive book on wild edibles including lots of recipes and photos to identify these delicious and nutritious foods. So if you don’t have any lettuces in your garden you  might want to check out the book and then take a walk in your neighborhood and see what you find. The salads and frittatas we sampled during the filming were delicious.

Cooked Pinto Beans, previously frozen

And beans! I love beans and to my great delight I caught a bit of Splendid Table (the NPR weekly food show) on Sunday about some of the healthiest people on earth who live in Turkey and eat lots of beans, olive oil and red wine.

But back to yesterday’s lunch salad–the salad I make in some fashion several times a week for lunch and for dinner has two main components: greens and beans. I always have home-cooked beans in the freezer and usually a quart in the fridge (canned beans work fine for this kind of thing too). And in the winter I almost always have kale around (which works beautifully in this hearty salad in its raw state) and the above mentioned greens. You really can use most any kind of green leafy item from spinach to kale to watercress and arugula to endive to romaine. Same with the beans. . .. red, black, pinto, white, garbanzo are all delicious.

Nice additions to this salad foundation are some of kind of cheese, hard-boiled egg,  some herbs or nuts, thinly sliced onion or minced garlic. . .. You can also play with the ratio of beans to greens. If you want a bean-heavy salad, just chop the greens and herbs a little finer and have the focal point be the beans, eggs, nuts, etc. And finally you need a zippy dressing. My standard is good olive oil (I like Unio by Siurana available locally at Pastaworks), lemon juice or red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and my secret ingredient: reduced apple cider. I take a half-gallon of organic apple cider and bring it to a boil in a big pot and reduce it at a rolling boil until it gets a little syrupy and viscous. I usually get about 1 1/2 cups from half a gallon. I store the syrup in a jar in the fridge and add a couple of teaspoons to my salad dressing.

Lunch Salad with Pinto beans, lettuces, hard-boiled egg, sharp cheddar and onion

With or without a slice of good bread (or maybe a batch of cornbread at dinner time) this is a light but satisfying meal.

And finally, since I promised you two recipes this week, here is a link to a recipe from my current favorite cookbook: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi from the eponymous restaurant in London. I  made these leek fritters last night and reluctantly sent my husband off to work with the leftovers.

P.S. There are a few spots left in my May classes, including next week’s Spring Market Class.

Greens & Bean Salad

See notes above about how to adapt this kind of salad to your liking and to what you have on hand, and hence the vague quantities below. This is really more of an idea than a formal recipe.

2-4 cups of packed greens of your choice

1-3 cups cooked (or canned) beans of your choice (pinto, black, white, garbanzo. . .)

2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped

1/2 shallot or small chunk of red or yellow onion, slivered or diced

1-2 ounces of cheese of your choice (feta, sharp cheddar, fresh goat’s cheese. . . )

handful or two of raw or toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts. . .)

1/4 cup roughly chopped herbs (parsley, basil, chervil, tarragon, cilantro. . .)

Dressing

1/4 cup of good olive oil

2-3 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons reduced apple cider (see note above) (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 clove of garlic, minced

Place all salad ingredients in a large boil. Mix dressing and drizzle over salad and toss well.