Radicchio Panzanella from “Eat This Poem”

DSC_1421

“Because when we eat and when we read, we honor what was made for us to consume. We savor every last bite.” -Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem

One of the great gifts of poetry is attention. Have you ever tried to read poetry like prose? It doesn’t work. You scan the lines and end up losing the thread halfway through. No, to read poetry you must slow down. Let the rhythm wash over you. Luxuriate with the feel of the words in your mouth. To understand poetry you have to fall in a little in love with it.

Cooking is the same. There’s a world of difference between cooking pasta and setting a pot of water to boil, adding a steady stream of salt, running your fingers through the pasta before adding it to the roiling water, and testing it until it embodies the perfect marriage of yielding and firm. When it’s done with attention and care,cooking ceases to be a chore and becomes a meditation.

If you care about both food and poetry you’re likely already following Nicole Gulotta’s brilliant site Eat This Poem. And if you’re following Nicole online- and even if you’re not- you need to check out her new book of the same name.

I say this as someone who was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of her  book. When I was taking notes for what to make I filled three pages of a legal pad. I started using symbols to keep everything straight- , a circle for make at work, a star for must-dos, a heart for date night. Her book is filled with simple, good food made with attention.

Nicole’s book is organized not around meals or seasons but by theme. These themes- On Splendor, On Moments in Time, among others- speak to the rhythms of our life. These themes are filled with poems and accompanying recipes. And what poems. I found myself lingering over old favorites from Theodore Roethke, Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, and Mary Oliver. And I fell for new to me poets like Jehanne Dubrow and Richard Levine (whose enclosed poem, “Believe This”, I emailed to two separate people in with the title OMG OMG. Look it up. Fall in Love.). There is splendor here.

It’s a brilliant idea. And what transforms a brilliant idea into a treasured work is that it works beautifully. The recipes are elegant creations, delicious and creative but written with life in mind. This is a working cookbook that exists in a space that’s been sorely neglected. Nicole is not preaching the gospel of a 30 minute meal. She’s not a chef whose sub-recipes have sub-recipes. Instead she’s an evangelist of the calming, attentive power cooking brings- choosing a peach, chopping parsley, gently cooking garlic until it’s just fragrant. These actions nourish us just as much as what we place in our mouth does, and Nicole appreciates these acts without fetishizing them.

In response to “Tree” by Jane Hirshfield, where Hirshfield speaks of “That great calm being/ This clutter of soup pots and books-” Nicole offers a segment of simple, comforting meals that feed the calm being in us. For this lovely radicchio panzanella found with Hirshfield’s poem radicchio is quickly seared then chopped. It’s then tossed with whole grain croutons, Parmesan cheese, white beans, and a punchy dressing and topped with chives. I was curious but cautious when I saw the recipe- radicchio is famously bitter and can be overwhelming. But I trusted Nicole and recommend you do the same. The heat tames radicchio’s bite enough that it will play nice with the other ingredients. It’s a dish unique enough to stop you in your tracks, but no harder than boiling and tossing pasta. And by the act of making something both commonplace and special you are are practicing the poetry of cooking.

Eat this Poem is released on March 21st and you can find it here. I already have a list of people I’ll be buying it for as gifts. Congratulations Nicole! You’ve created something truly exceptional.

DSC_1447

Radicchio Panzanella

Adapted from Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry by Nicole Gulotta, © 2017 by Nicole Gulotta. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.roostbooks.com
Nicole recommends drizzling the radicchio with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper, then searing it in a dry pan. I seared my radicchio in a healthy drizzle of olive oil because I was distracted and not paying close attention. (I am fully aware of this irony.) This meant that the radicchio was a bit more cooked, but was still excellent.

Serves 2-4

4 cups whole grain bread cubes (cut from about 4 slices each an inch thick)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 pound radicchio (about 2 medium), wilted outer leaves removed and quartered
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans such as cannellini, or one 14.5 ounce can
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
minced chives

For dressing:

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread cubes onto a sheet tray and toast until golden and crisp, about 12-15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

In the meantime, warm a healthy drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the quarters of radicchio in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear until the leaves are soft and just going brown in spots, then turn. Repeat until all sides of the radicchio have been kissed by oil. Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop the radicchio. Place in a large bowl and top with the beans, bread, and Parmesan cheese.

To make the dressing, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, and honey. Add in the olive oil and whisk while it’s combining. Season to taste with a healthy pinch of both salt and pepper, then pour over the salad and toss well. Top with a flurry both of Parmesan and chives.

 

 

 

Standard

Mediterranean Farro Salad with Pesto Dressing

Farro

A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about Memorial Day food, and how I didn’t really think you needed a recipe for such food. Two days later Aaron and I were invited to a vegan Formula 1 party/Memorial Day get together. I threw together this salad in the small pocket of time in between my post brunch nap and leaving for the party. And this salad was such a hit that I immediately had to reconsider what I had just put out into the internet. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, too, that it took me this long to get this recipe up here. My first attempt at this recipe made an enormous amount of food. It made easily triple what’s here, and I like to think of this salad as already being party/leftover food. I inadvertently cooked about 8 cups of farro, and made enough pesto dressing that I was putting it on everything- pizza, pasta, other types of salads- in hopes of using it up before it went bad. I’ve heard that the ability to cook a small amount of food is a casualty of working in a restaurant kitchen, but this was the first time that it had happened to me. At least I got lots of easy, on the go lunches out of it.

Like I said earlier, the whole dish came about because we were invited to a vegan party. I had thought about making vegan cookies, but I haven’t experimented much with vegan baked goods and didn’t want to bring first attempt cookies to a party. And it was one of the first truly warm days of the summer season, which means I never want to turn on the oven. I don’t cook vegan food terribly often and bar some shining examples, I don’t often crave vegan food. There are some brilliant people making truly fantastic vegan food out there. But there’s also a lot of vegan food that’s simply trying to mimic non-vegan food, and as a non-vegan I’m just not interested in eating cheese made out of almonds or butter that tastes like coconut.

There are some rules that I’ve learned for making things taste good while working in kitchens, and many of them are applicable to vegan cooking. (Some, like always add more butter,  obviously don’t apply.) Layering subtle flavors makes them more prominent, which is why spinach and basil are both blended and chopped. Think about a balance of flavors, which is why we have the sweetness of sundried tomatoes, the saltiness of olives, and the acidity of champagne vinegar. Texture matters, such as a blend of silky dressing that’s soaked into tender farro, firm chickpeas, and crunchy walnuts. And everything should taste good on its own, so it tastes optimal together.

I’d like to urge you to make this for your next picnic/get-together/potluck/dinner where it’s too hot to turn on the oven. It’s truly quick and easy- boil farro, blend a dressing, chop some spinach, toss. The whole thing comes together in fifteen minutes, and it manages to feel both healthy and indulgent. The whole thing taste like you’re eating it under a fig tree with a glass of rosé on the side, which is what I aim for all my food to taste like, vegan or not.

(And if you have recommendations for vegan dishes/blogs/cookbooks that I should be checking out, I’d love to hear them.)

Farro 1

Mediterranean Farro Salad with Pesto Dressing

This dressing is remarkably easy to make in a blender. I used my Vitamix, but any blender with a reasonably good motor should work. I imagine this could also be made in a food processor, but you may have to play around with the amount of liquid added.

Makes 6-8 servings

2 cups farro
1 cup basil, thinly sliced
1 cup spinach, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes
1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas
2 handfuls chopped black olives
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Pesto Dressing

2 cups spinach
1 cup basil
1/2 cup walnuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup water

Place the farro in a medium saucepan. Cover with water by at least two inches. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Boil the farro until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, and place in a large bowl.

In the meantime make the pesto dressing. In the bowl of a blender combine the spinach, basil, walnuts, garlic, and salt. Blend on low speed until it’s all roughly combined. With the motor running, slowly add in the olive oil, champagne vinegar, and water. Blend until the dressing is smooth and loose. Taste, and add salt or vinegar as needed.

Add the dressing to the still warm farro. Toss well to coat. Stir in the sliced spinach and basil, sundried tomatoes, chickpeas, black olives, and walnuts. Serve warm or room temperature. This will keep well for a week in the refrigerator.

 

Standard

Spelt Blueberry Scones

Scones

I know. It’s the last work day for many before Memorial Day. What I should be posting is something grilled, something smokey, something messy. Memorial Day is for drinking cans of beer around the grill. It’s for the first picnic and the first mosquito bites of the year. It’s for paper plates and for smelling like campfire. And instead I’m posting some very staid, very proper, very British scones.

To be fair, I’ve never really felt the need for Memorial Day recipes. I leave the grilling to someone else, and generally bring a salad and/or dessert. Maybe you’re the same. But I am always here for scones.

The summer before we left for England Aaron came over to my parent’s house and we made scones together. I’ve since lost the recipe, but it was in metric measurement and I had badly translated it to imperial measurements. It was hot in the kitchen and the butter was not cold. We (mostly me) made a terrific mess. The scones turned out crumbly and lumpy but somehow still tasty.

In England we ate scones mostly in tea rooms. Most of them were cramped, old-fashioned places where we would duck into for a pick me up while traveling. They were uniformly good- a pot of milky tea and a cream scone is an excellent fortifier for the broke and slightly lost traveler. The china inevitably was flowered and the tables tended to be draped in pink and there would be a clatter of accents filling the air. They were relaxing places where despite our massive backpacks we would not feel like tourists for a little bit.

When I miss England I sometimes bake scones. These scones wouldn’t be found in tea rooms. They’re a bit more modern than that, a bit brighter. They have spelt flour for a bit of heft, crystalized ginger for a treat, lemon zest for brightness, and blueberries for a summery celebration of my homeland. You could happily drink them with a pot of milky tea, but they also paired fantastically with my green tea this morning. It’s been wet and rainy here recently, which is surely why England’s on my mind. I’d advise you to make these soon, before it becomes too hot to turn on the oven, and thoughts of England have turned to Pim’s cups.

Spelt- Blueberry Scones

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

If you wanted a more traditional blueberry scone it would be easy to use 2 cups of all-purpose flour and omit the crystalized ginger. If you do go that route, I would start checking the scones at 12 minutes.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup diced crystalized ginger.
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
5 tablespoons butter, frozen
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a large bowl whisk together the flours, crystalized ginger, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Use your fingers to break make sure the ginger and lemon zest are well-distributed and not sticking together. Using a cheese grater, grate the frozen butter directly into the flour mixture. Mix well. Pour over the cream and add in the blueberries. Using a rubber spatula stir until the cream is evenly distributed.

Turn out onto a clean surface. Pat the dough into an even circle. Slice the circle half, then quarters, and then into eight even pieces. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake the scones until they are firm to the touch and the edges are starting to get a bit of color, 15-17 minutes. Cool and serve.

 

Standard

Black Bean Tacos with Mango Salsa

Tacos 3

I love beans. I throw them into salads, eat them in burrito bowls, and add them to soups. I’ve paired beans close relative, lentils, with pasta, twice. I’ve been known to eat a bowl of beans as a snack. We stockpile cans of beans in our pantry and keep a handful of 4 quart mason jars filled with dried beans at all times. And there’s almost always a carton of almost finished hummus lurking in our refrigerator.

There’s a lot to love about beans. They’re intensely good for you. Beans have been linked in cross-cultural studies with longevity. They’re nutrient dense. They have a fair bit of both protein and fiber, which is good for feeling satisfied and energy. But for me, these are bonuses. I love the immense variety of beans, the colors that vary from eggshell white to inky black, to burnt red to playful speckles. I love the ritual of cooking beans, of soaking beans overnight and then simmering in aromatics the next day, checking every so often to see how luscious the beans are. I love the creamy, soothing quality they have, and the way that beans are always happy to be a supporting player to a dish. I love that they come off as unassuming, but with the right companions can be coaxed into greatness. And I love how quick they are.

I know. I was just talking about soaking and slowly simmering beans. And to be fair, that’s not an instantaneous task. But beans can still be quick. I cook beans once a week so I can throw them into anything whenever I don’t have time to make a full meal. But if you haven’t cooked beans, or have and already used them up, canned beans are an excellent substitute.

I am very interested in living well, and not so interested in living in purity. Dried beans are my favorite, for taste and customization. But canned beans are still delicious and cheap and quick. And if they are less delicious and cheap than dried beans, that’s fine. If my compromise is canned beans I still come out the winner.

To whit, these tacos I made one warm night last week. I was my day off and Aaron had just finished work. We took a brisk walk to a bar that used to be our place when we were 23 and broke and confused. We befriended the bartenders there and would  routinely stay out too late and spend too much money and get free shots. Now our place has changed, and we only occasionally stay out too late and spend too much money and get free shots. Times have changed. But our old place has an excellent patio so we made the trek to sit outside and drink gin cocktails in the sunlight. On our way back we stopped to grab limes, cilantro, mangos, and cotija at our co-op. Twenty minutes of simmering and assembly later we had these drippy, bright, beautiful tacos on our plates. They’re sweet with the mango salsa and tart with lime juice and have a hint of spice from the fresnos. Aaron inhaled them. I closed my eyes while chewing. Canned beans saved the day, or at least the dinner, once again.

Tacos

Black-Bean Tacos with Mango Salsa

If you wanted to make these with dried beans, then I’d use about a cup and a half of beans with some of their cooking broth. If you were making these said dried beans from scratch I’d definitely throw in some cilantro while the beans are cooking.

Serves 4

1 fifteen-ounce can black beans
1 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 cup lime juice (about 3 limes)
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt

2 mangos, diced
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 chopped red onion (about 1/4 large)
2 fresno peppers, diced
3 tablespoons of lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/2 teaspoon salt

corn tortillas
lettuce, sliced into ribbons
cotija, crumbled

In a medium saucepan combine the black beans with their liquid, 1 cup cilantro, 1/2 cup lime juice, cumin, and teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and stir well. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to a saucy consistency. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

In a medium bowl combine the mangos, cilantro, red onion, fresnos, lime juice, and salt. Stir well. Set aside.

To serve tacos, warm the tortillas in a low oven, in a skillet, or in a microwave. Dollop on the beans, top with lettuce and cotija, and finish with the salsa.

Standard

Sparkling Lavender Lemondade

Lemonade

I didn’t mean to make an on topic recipe. I just wanted a sparkling, floral, slightly sweet, slightly tart drink that I could enjoy as spring finally unfolds. Innocent intentions. And then Beyoncé dropped an opus, and the internet hasn’t stopped talking since. I’d recommend reading this article about Warsan Shire, whose poetry appears throughout the visual album. I definitely know I’ll be ordering her collection when it’s released.

The other big music story of late was Prince’s death. I always liked Prince. He was never the soundtrack to my life, but I grew up after his commercial heyday and I still knew every word to Kiss and 1999. He lived most of his life in Minnesota, and it was surreal and incredible to see how the state reacted to his death. Buildings across Minneapolis were bathed in purple light and there were all night dance parties at First Avenue, the club he made famous. Our local radio station played all Prince for 26 hours. Both restaurants I worked at put their playlists on hold to tune in. It was astonishing to hear the depth of music he had put out, and how good it all was. A lot of articles have been written about him, but this one gave such a good insight into what he was like, and how he ate.

Outside of music news, I’ve just taken a deep dive into What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s an astonishing book, twisting and turning between stories. It’s written by someone in complete confidence of her ability and it’s so.good. Check it out if you like good books, but especially if you like gothic fairy tales.

If you need a drink while reading, or just want something bright and refreshing, may I suggest this sparkling lavender lemonade? It may be a bit early for lemonade, which is generally thought of as a summer drink. But the temperature has been lingering in the 40s and above for the past few weeks, and in Minneapolis if it’s not snowing it’s patio weather. This lemonade is slightly sweet and slightly tart, and is best drunk in some proximity to fresh air.

Happy May, and Happy Tuesday.

Sparkling Lavender Lemonade

I find lavender flowers in the bulk spice section at my local grocery store, but I imagine they could also be found in jarred spices or by teas. If you can’t find lavender flowers, you could easily follow this template of infused syrup, lemon, and sparkling water to make your own type of lemonade. I imagine that a thyme lemonade, in particular, would be fantastic.

Serves 2

6 tablespoons lavender syrup (see recipe below)
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) lemon juice (about 2 small lemons)
2 cups sparkling water

Stir together the syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water. Pour over ice into two glasses. Enjoy near an open window, or even better, outside.

Lavender Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lavender flowers

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Stir in the lavender flowers, and steep for about 2 hours. Strain and cool in the refrigerator.

 

Standard