Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomatoes

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If there’s one thing I hate it’s living up to stereotypes. In college I never told people (read: a specific breed of men) that I liked to cook. It was the best way to avoid the inevitable women in kitchen “jokes”, not that it stopped them. As someone who now makes her living in the kitchen I have fantasies about telling such ignorant louts. (These fantasies are essentially channeling Colette from Ratatouille.) There’s something icky about matching up with these stereotypes, like you’re failing to be a fully complex human being.

But to my shame some stereotypes are accurate. Specifically, I’m terrible with technology. I like to say that I’m as good at computers as the average 50 year old, but my Mom is in her 50s and is more proficient than I am. And let’s clarify that this is a me thing, not a gender thing. The other week Aaron and I went over to our friends Anne and Brian. Aaron quickly fell into conversation about tech with Anne, while Brian and I skipped off into their basement to check out their foundation with a marble. As we hurried away Anne quipped that it was computer skills verses actual skills. Our two groups each trouble shot in our own ways- Anne figured out the computer problem at hand, and Brian and I expertly decided their foundation was sound.

All this is to say that this post almost didn’t go out today, because I couldn’t get my camera and computer to synch. I still haven’t solved the problem, and my own personal IT guy (Aaron, who in addition to bar tending used to work for an actual big tech company) has yet to troubleshoot it for me. But today I did discover, after owning my computer for almost a year, that my laptop has an SD port. Problem solved? Absolutely not. Workaround found? Yes. Good enough for me? You know it.

My reticence towards technology spreads to the kitchen sometimes. I know how to sous vide and use liquid nitrogen, but I forget about them both for long stretches of the time. That kid of cooking is deeply impractical for daily life. I have a high speed blender, and I love it, but not nearly as much as I love my chef’s knife and bench scraper. I’m much more interested in fermentation than spherification. At work it’s fun to play with ideas and techniques, but at home I love the simple and the rustic.

Rustic is the adjective I’d chose for this tart. It’s made with an olive oil tart dough, which comes together with less fuss than a butter crust. There’s no cutting in the butter, and no worries about temperature. The crust is sturdy, well suited to the type of thing to make and then leave in the fridge for a week’s lunches.

I’ve paired this tart dough with a sort of faux-quiche. Ricotta and eggs make a lovely, sturdy custard, creamy and substantial. The  custard is filled with leeks, which bring sweetness, and topped with cherry tomatoes, provide brightness in both taste and color. It’s delightfully old-fashioned,  the sort of thing people might bring on classy picnics, with champaign and designated picnic baskets. I initially made this in hope for a classy picnic of our own, but the weather has not cooperated. Instead we have been steadily chipping away at this tart for lunches (me) and dinners (Aaron) in the safety of our apartment, tasting sunshine in its absence. 

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Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomato

I would highly recommend making this ahead of time, as it keeps so lovely. 

Serves 6

1 parbaked olive oil tart shell, recipe below
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced and well washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup (8 ounces, 226 grams) ricotta
3 eggs
sea salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a sauce pan over medium heat warm the olive oil. Add the cleaned leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, with a pinch of salt until the leeks have softened, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, thyme, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the softened leeks. Pour out into the prepared olive oil tart shell.

Gently spoon the filling around the shell so that it’s level. Place the cherry tomato halves into the filling, cut side up. Press down gently so that the cut side is level with with the filling.

Bake for 40 minutes, until filling is set and the tomatoes have shrunk and concentrated a bit. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve room temperature or cold.

Olive Oil Tart Dough

Makes 1 tart shell

3/4 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cold water

Whisk together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in olive oil until the dough begins to clump together, then stir in the water. Using your hands, form the dough into ball, kneading it together if necessary. Wrap in plastic then refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and roll out onto a well-floured surface until it’s an even circle a few inches longer than your pie dish. Transfer the dough to the pie dish, patching up any holes as they occur. Crimp the edges of the tart dough down and trim as necessary, then prick the bottom of the tart a few times with a fork.

Bake the tart dough, uncovered, for 20 minutes. The tart shell should be firm to touch. Set aside until you’re ready to make the tart.

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Shakshuka

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This week I’ve been hanging with my dear friend Sara. We met in junior high when we attended different schools but the same youth group. She wasn’t yet my friend when our youth director showed us The Sixth Sense as a treat and I called my parents to take me home (still haven’t seen it). But we became friends in spite of my scaredy-cat tendencies. And we’ve stayed friends for over half our lives. She’s spent the week staying on a nest of sleeping bags in my living room, where we’ve occupied our time taking Buzzfeed quizzes, arguing about movies, and taking long walks around the lakes. And cooking.

Sara, my oldest friend, my penpal for almost 10 years, and owner of a key to my parent’s house, has Celiac’s disease. And so we’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen together cooking and eating together. We went out for arepas one night and Italian another. There have been occasional impromptu dances to Earth, Wind, and Fire. She organized all the magnetic poetry on the fridge by type of speech. We made these beans and tomato sauce, threw together a lentil soup, and tried out some earl grey macaroons (verdict- delicious, but not very earl grey-y…). And there was shakshuka. Because what better way to celebrate a close friend’s visit than with tomatoes and peppers and onions and eggs?

Shakshuka is a North African dish that’s essentially eggs poached in a sauce of tomato and peppers. As with all straightforward sounding dishes, there’s a world of variations available. I found my recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s brilliant (and classic) book Plenty, which may be the first cookbook I ever obsessed over. I know I’m not alone in this. I used to carry Plenty around with me in my purse JUST IN CASE someone hadn’t seen it yet. I was insufferable. I still am.

I’ve heard the mark of friendship isn’t liking each other but understanding each other. I think there’s some truth to that. But when you’re lucky you have people who like and understand you. I’m lucky. I have friends like Sara, who doesn’t laugh or roll her eyes when I decide that the perfect writing outfit is leather leggings and Aaron’s sweater. She drags me bra shopping and makes sure to bring backup sizes. We debate what makes Pride and Prejudice a great novel, the love story or the social commentary, and still swoon together when Elizabeth and Darcy touch hands. We annoy each other with our music choices, and then both belt out Backstreet Boys in the car. There are many gifts of friendship, but one of the best is that it can make you more open to your shared joys and sorrows.

And that makes sharing a meal, breaking the (metaphorical) bread together, that much more sweet.

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Shakshuka

The spice and herbs here are flexible- you could up the cayenne pepper, add hot peppers, and change out the herbs. Cilantro, thyme, and chives would all be excellent. The saffron here is optional- the shakshuka will still be fantastic even if saffron runs a bit too dear.

adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

serves 4

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
pinch saffron (optional)
scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper
juice of 1/2 a lemon
8 eggs

In a large pan over medium high heat add the cumin seeds. Toast them, stirring often, until they start to smell fragrant and get dark, about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.  Add both the peppers, the oregano, and the parsley and stir well. Continue to sauté for 10 minutes, until the peppers are soft.

Add the canned tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the sauce has reached the same consistency as pasta sauce. If you need to cook it a bit further to get it there, or add water to get that result, do what you need to do. Add the lemon juice and taste, then adjust seasonings as necessary. It should taste bold.

This can all be done ahead of time. To serve the shakshuka, place a portion into a skillet and warm it. Make as many nests in the tangle of peppers as you want eggs, then crack an egg into each nest. I find it easiest to crack an egg into a small bowl, then slip it into the nest. Season each egg with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, and cover the skillet. Cook the eggs until they are set to your liking, starting to check at about the 6 minute mark and then for every 2 minutes after. Serve with a generous sprinkle of parsley.

 

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Chana Masala

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It’s Inauguration day as I write this. A man who lost the popular vote and embodies so much contention and cruelty is taking the sacred oath of office. It almost seems trite to post food here. Almost. There are so many other things that demand our attention. But no matter what, we have to keep feeding ourselves. We may as well do ourselves the kindness of doing it well.

I was telling Aaron the other day that there is a silver lining in all of this muck. We’ve seen people come and fight together in these two months more than any time in my memory. It may seem like faint consolation. But the ACLU‘s website crashed after the election due to the influx of donations. The Woman’s March on Washington, in all its messiness, is expected to be the largest protest in history. Services are popping up to help keep you in contact with your congressperson (I use this one). To keep fighting, you have to hold on tight to the good you find.

There’s no easy transition from resistance to chickpeas. But this chana masala is quite good. It’s saucy and tender and bright and complex tasting, the spices turning and twisting as you eat. And it’s simple. You sweat an onion, add in a mixture of garlic, ginger, chilis, and cilantro, then stir in spices. The whole thing then gets cooked with tomatoes and chickpeas, then finished with lemon juice and garam masala. It’s an easy meal, satisfying and inexpensive. And once you’ve made it yourself you can customize as you like. It’s an excellent back pocket meal- you probably already have the produce you need (because I assume that you, like me, keep cilantro on hand at all time) and the spices are easy to find. It’s both comforting and fortifying- the sort of food we need right now.

Stay safe. Stay strong. We’re in this together.

Chana Masala

adapted from Felicity Cloake’s recipe for The Guardian

Garam masala is a popular spice blend from India. Like most spice blends, there’s no definitive recipe. It’s become fairly easy to find, but if you can’t find it, you could make it yourself. I like the look of this recipe, but imagine that a quick, equal parts mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and a pinch of cloves would stand in admirably. You can easily adjust this to your preferred spice level- use more chilis and chili powder for spicier, fewer for less.

serves 4

1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 one-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1-4 chilis (I used serrano), stems removed
small bunch of cilantro, stems included
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 fourteen ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon garam masala

cilantro leaves, to serve
yogurt, to serve

In a small pot combine the chickpeas with 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it chill out.

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot over medium heat melt the coconut oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is taking on a golden color, about 8-12 minutes.

While the onion cooks and the chickpeas boil combine the garlic, ginger, chili, and cilantro to make a paste. You could do this one of three ways. You could use a food processor to quickly blitz them up, you could smash and pound using a mortar and pestle, or you could manually chop everything together, over and over, until everything is well combined and very small. Whatever method you choose, you want all the pieces to be a cohesive whole- no enormous garlic chunks and ground cilantro leaves.

Once the onion is golden add the garlic-ginger mixture to the onion. Stir well and cook for a few minutes, until it’s starting to take on some color and is fragrant. Add the coriander, chili powder, cumin, and turmeric. If everything is a bit stiff, you could add a splash more coconut oil. Cook, stirring often, for just a minute or two- until the spices are fragrant.

Add in the chickpeas with their water, the diced tomatoes, and the salt. Bring to a simmer, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until the juices are saucy but not thin. Add the lemon juice and garam masala, then taste. Adjust for seasonings as necessary.

Serve hot, topped with cilantro and yogurt.

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White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato from “A Modern Way to Cook”

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A week ago I was having a relaxing morning before work. You know the routine. Make yourself breakfast. Eat breakfast while sipping caffeine of choice. Do both while checking on blogs. Accidentally spill caffeine of choice on your computer.

Oops.

That was painful. I hadn’t planned for a new computer, and there were a lot of files on that old computer that weren’t saved anywhere else. And without wanting to inflate my own importance, I would argue that it’s painful for you. Because I had a recipe for you that I only get to share just now. And it’s filled with all sorts of good stuff. Specifically, beans, fennel, lemon, and tomato.

These beans come from Anna Jones‘ new book A Modern Way to Cook. I’m slightly obsessed with Anna Jones’ work. Her first book, A Modern Way to Eat is one of my most used cookbooks, and for good reason. She writes smart recipes that are clever without being precious. It’s hard to flip through the pages of her books without being inspired. She brings a cook’s eye to presentation and plays with form and texture. But she doesn’t forget that food should be delicious and nourishing and it needs to be approachable. That’s a message I appreciate in any cookbook, but especially in a vegetarian cookbook that promotes healthy eating.

Her new book is divided not by meals or seasons, but by time commitment. I found these beans labeled as a 25 minute dinner, and immediately had to make them. I love the sweetness that comes from the fennel and honey, the tang from the lemons and vinegar, and the savory notes from the garlic and spices. It truly comes together in 25 minutes (maybe even faster), which means it’s great for spur of the moment dinner decisions (aka, the only kind I have). And I love that you get something hearty and earthy and rich without any esoteric ingredients, or convoluted technique.

It’s a fantastic dinner. And I can’t wait to cook obsessively through this book.

White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato

adapted from A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones

Serves 4

Anna calls for canned lima beans in her original recipe. I have never seen canned lima beans, and so I made mine with Great Northern beans, which were delicious. Anna suggests accompanying this with a green salad or some flatbread, but Aaron and I devoured it with some runny cheese and crusty sourdough.

1 large fennel bulb
2 tablespoons of olive oil
bunch of green onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lemon, quartered and seeds removed
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 fourteen ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
fennel fronds, for serving
olive oil, for serving

Cut off the fronds of the fennel and set aside. Cut the bulb in half and trim it. Peel off any tough or bruised outer layers, then slice the fennel into half inch slices.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil it hot, add the fennel, making sure to spread it out so all the fennel makes contact with the oil. Sautée until it’s browning on one side (between 2-4 minutes) then flip, either with tongs or a spatula to the other side. Sautée again until browning, then add the green onions and garlic. Let cook until fragrant, a couple more minutes.

Add the tomatoes and lemon, then add the honey, vinegar, oregano, fennel seed, chilis, and salt. Stir well and let it all heat together for a minute, then add the beans and 1/2 cup of water. Stir again, and then let the whole thing simmer away until the beans are warmed through, about five minutes.

Serve warm, topped with the leafy bits of the fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas and Paprika

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What do you make for dinner when you pair a vegetarian, a Celiac, and a few girls who would be perfectly happy with chili dogs and a side of cheetos?

The first time I made this eggplant stew was two years ago. A month after Aaron and I got married I decided to have some high school friends over for dinner. Just before the wedding we had moved to Illinois and into a new apartment, and during the most chaotic month of my life we entertained exactly zero times. I was eager to show off our new place with all its gleaming hardwood floors and large windows. There were new pots and pans and knives to use, and it had been some time since I had lived in the same state as these friends. It was an occasion for celebration. And like any celebration there was a carefully chosen menu.

Nothing too strange, nothing too foreign, but something ultimately delicious and satisfying. For our main I made a smokey eggplant stew, deciding that there was nothing too terrifying about eggplant. There was a kale salad of baby kale and baby grapes, an adorable combination that quashed any qualms about eating kale, an attempt at an acceptable cake that did not work out, and some maple grilled peaches that did. Aaron had been at work, but arrived in time for dessert and mixed cocktails for those of us who drank. I made popcorn after dinner. There were games. We ended up with surprise overnight guests sleeping on our old leather couches. The next morning I convinced the kale-phobic to drink a kale smoothie for breakfast and we lingered over caffeine and kale for hours. The only leftovers were the disappointment of the cake.

It’s a night, exceptional in its ordinary joy, that I remember often. It’s the sort of nights I like to celebrate with friends as often as possible, even though I again live in a different state of these friends. It’s a night that serves as a talesman for the power of food to connect us, and the ways that sharing a meal can be like sharing ourselves.

I’ve made this stew as a souvenir a few times. This stew was a godsend. It’s the type of thing I like to eat late summer, getting to use the last of summer’s produce without pretending like it doesn’t cool down at night. It’s smokey and meaty from the paprika and eggplants and slightly sweet, slightly tart from the tomatoes and pepper. It’s not quite ratatouille, but could be kissing cousins. And the taste is so much more complex than it should from the cooking time. It’s a beautiful sort of meal to share with the people you love.

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Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas and Paprika

I find this stew makes a filling meal, but if you’d like a bit more heft (or to stretch it further) it’s delicious over a bed of brown rice.

adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium eggplants (about a pound and a half), chopped into small cubes
1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 roma tomatoes, quartered, deseeded, and chopped
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
chopped parsley, to serve

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the eggplant, stirring every few minutes until golden in color, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile warm a dutch oven or other good-sized pot over medium heat. Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the onion, pepper, and paprika, and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and pepper are starting to soften. Add in the garlic. Cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add in the tomato paste and stir well. Cook for another minute or so, then add a tablespoon or two of water. Stir well, being careful to scrape up any dark bits on the bottom of the pot.

Add in the tomatoes, chickpeas, cooked eggplant, 2 cups of water, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a rolling simmer and cover. Cook, uncovering and stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have collapsed and are stew-y in texture, about 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust for seasoning, and serve hot topped with a lot of chopped parsley.

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