spring risotto

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This is such a gret time of year– things are blooming and turning green outdoors and after a winter of nothing but root vegetables at the farmer’s market you start to see fresh green things.   This risotto uses some of those fresh farmer’s market ingredients and truly tastes like spring.

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Peas, leeks, chives, (okay, not exactly from the farmer’s market, but still fresh!) and crimini mushrooms are where it’s at.  The recipe calls for fennel as well, though I am not a huge fan so omitted it but you should totally add it if that’s your thing.

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All of the vegetables get blended with arborio rice which turns creamy and luxurious upon cooking in a combination of chicken broth (you could make it vegetarian and use vegetable broth) and a little bit of dry white wine.  I think many shy away from making risotto because they get intimidated by the amount of stirring that’s involved, but it’s really not that bad!  And the end result is totally worth any amount of stirring anyway.

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This particular recipe calls for a poached egg to be served on top and it’s a great idea.  When you break the egg the yolk is still soft and melds in with the rest of the risotto so nicely.  I think the egg also takes it from being a side dish to the main feature.  And what a nice main feature it is!

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Spring Vegetable Risotto with Poached Eggs (from www.epicurious.com)

  • 2 cups shelled fresh (or frozen, thawed) fava beans or peas (from about 2 pounds pods)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/4 pound chanterelles or crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, whites and pale greens only, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf spinach, trimmed, leaves torn
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan (about 3 ounces) plus more for shaving
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh fava beans, cook in a large saucepan of boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain; transfer to a bowl of ice water and let cool. Peel favas and transfer to a small bowl.

Bring a large skillet of salted water to a bare simmer over medium-low heat. Add vinegar. Crack 1 egg into a small bowl, then slide into simmering water. Repeat with 2 more eggs. Cook until whites are cooked but yolks are runny, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water. Repeat with remaining 3 eggs.

Bring broth to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large, wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to bowl with favas.

Heat oil and remaining 1 tablespoon butter in same pot over medium heat. Add leeks, fennel, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes.

Add rice and stir to coat, about 2 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup broth. Cook, stirring often (no need to stir constantly), until broth is almost absorbed. Add remaining broth by cupfuls, allowing broth to be absorbed before adding more, stirring often, until rice is tender but still firm to the bite and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total.

Add spinach, crème fraîche, 1 1/2 cups grated Pecorino, 1/4 cup chives, and reserved fava beans and mushrooms to risotto. Cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted and cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Season risotto with salt.

A few minutes before risotto is done, reheat poached eggs in a large skillet of simmering water, about 1 minute. Divide risotto among bowls and top with eggs, shaved Pecorino, chives, and pepper.

roasted spaghetti squash with parmesan and herbs

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I love squash and cook with it frequently though had never ventured into spaghetti squash territory until a week or so ago.  I was more comfortable with butternut and acorn but will for sure be testing other varieties in the future.  It’s all so delicious!

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First you roast the spaghetti squash for about an hour and a half and then let it cool before cutting it through the middle length-wise.

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Then you scoop out the seeds and discard or roast if you are feeling so ambitious.

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Next you take a fork to pull the squash out of the shell.  It comes out very easily in stringy spaghetti-like strands, in case you were confused about how it got its name.

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This type of squash doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor on its own so it makes a great base for sauces and is a great pasta substitute for those who are gluten-free or trying to avoid wheat in general.  This particular recipe calls for very simple ingredients like shallots, garlic, rosemary, thyme, parsley and parmesan cheese.  It results in a very comforting and filling-in-a-satisfying-not-stuffed-way dish.

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Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Herbs (from Everyday Foods magazine)

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, diced small
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 6 cups Roasted Spaghetti Squash
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  •  Coarse salt and ground pepper

To roast squash: preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a small sharp knife, prick squash all over. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. When cool enough to handle, halve lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Scrape squash with a fork to remove flesh in long strands.

In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium. Add shallots and garlic and cook until softened, 7 minutes. Stir in thyme and rosemary and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add squash and toss to combine. Cook until warmed through. Stir in parsley and Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

sweet potato and sage butter casserole

“No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”  Laurie Colwin from “Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen.”

This came from the foreword of a book my mom gave me for my birthday last year and even though I haven’t read further than the foreword yet I know I am going to love the book already based on this line alone.

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Today I share with you this simple and quick (and delicious) recipe for a sweet potato casserole featuring one of two herbs I’ve managed to keep alive in my apartment: sage (the other being rosemary.)  It comes from a cook who is often with me when I am alone in my kitchen: Martha Stewart.

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Sweet Potato and Sage Butter Casserole (recipe found at www.marthstewart.com)

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus 1 ounce (2 tablespoons), melted
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from 3 slices white bread, crusts removed)

Place sweet potatoes and potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with water, and season with salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 9 minutes. Drain; pass through a ricer into a bowl.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 1 stick butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat; add 2 tablespoons sage. Stir butter mixture and milk into potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a 2-quart casserole dish. (Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Combine breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons melted butter and remaining 1/2 tablespoon sage. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.

Top potato mixture with breadcrumbs. Bake, uncovered, until bubbling around edges and breadcrumbs are golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. (If browning too quickly, tent with foil.) Let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

potato and rutabaga gratin

Awhile back I bought myself a mandoline so that I could slice vegetables razor thin and do cool stuff with them but the kitchen tool had gone unused until I busted it out at Thanksgiving to make a gratin.

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In addition to using to using the mandoline for the first time this was also the first time I’d ever done anything with rutabaga.  I love working with foods that are new to me!  Rutabagas are in the turnip family and paired beautifully with potatoes in this gratin.  In addition to the two root vegetables there was also garlic, red onion, fresh thyme, and of course the gratin staples of heavy cream, milk, and cheese– in this case Gruyère.  Several people remarked that it was their favorite dish of the day and one of those people may have been me.

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This weekend I plan to do a little Christmas cookie baking so stay tuned next week for ideas for your own holiday baking!

Potato and Rutabaga Gratin (recipe found at www.saveur.com)

  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. rutabagas, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. minced thyme leaves
  • 2 cups (about 4 oz.) grated Gruyére cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 425°. Heat butter and oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 6 minutes. Stir in flour, and cook until smooth, about 1 minute. Add milk and cream, and stir until smooth. Add potatoes, rutabagas, and 2 tsp. thyme, and bring mixture to a boil; cook, stirring often, until vegetables are slightly tender and broken apart, about 5 minutes. Stir in half the cheese and salt and pepper, and then transfer to a 9″ × 13″ baking dish; top with remaining cheese and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining thyme before serving.

roasted maple Brussels sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts

I hope everyone had a lovely and restful Thanksgiving!  Mine was very nice, though went by far too quickly as it always does.  The good news is I will be reliving the holiday in my posts in the coming weeks as I share the recipes and pictures from my meal, starting with this dish.

I knew I wanted to incorporate chestnuts into the meal somehow, partially because I’ve always been intrigued by them and partially because I wanted to right the wrong I made several years ago when I cooked them with acorn squash but neglected to peel them before serving…  No one knew quite what to do with them but gamely attempted to crack them with their teeth and get to the meat in the center.  Oops.  This year I roasted them and then peeled them before taking any further steps.

Scoring the chestnuts with an x on the flat part and then roasting dry on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes did the trick.  The shells started to peel back making it easy to get the meaty centers out.  Lesson learned.

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without Brussels sprouts, at least not at my house.  There have been a few years that I haven’t made them in favor of something other green-vegetable sidedish and there were complaints, so this year I brought a new iteration of them back to the table.

In this version, pancetta is pan-fried with a little olive oil and then tossed with the Brussels sprouts and pre-shelled chestnuts.  I added a little extra olive oil to the ordeal so that they didn’t dry out and then generously salted and peppered them and roasted them for about 20 minutes in the oven.  After they’re done roasting you toss them with a little maple syrup and serve.  They were a big hit, even with the children at the table and who ever heard of kids eating their Brussels sprouts?!

Roasted Maple Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Chestnuts (recipe by Laura Pensiero, found in House Beautiful magazine)

  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh roasted chestnuts, approximately ¾ pound in shell (substitute peeled, frozen chestnuts if desired)
  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved (quartered, if large)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roasting removes the shell and richens the flavor of chestnuts. Using the tip of a knife, cut a small X in the flat side of their outer shell, then spread them out on a baking pan. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes; you will see the skin curling away and the chestnut taking on a golden color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. The shells can easily be removed. Set aside the chestnuts.

Heat the olive oil in a large (approximately three- to four-quart) sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until it renders its fat and is lightly browned. Add the chestnuts, toss or stir to combine, then cook for about one minute. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, tossing or stirring, for about two minutes.

Transfer vegetables to a rimmed baking pan or roasting pan; they should spread out into one slightly overlapping layer. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the upper third of the oven, stirring once halfway through until the vegetables are golden and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to test the doneness at the base of a Brussels sprout; it should insert easily.

In a small bowl or cup, stir together the water, maple syrup, and cayenne. Pour the mixture into the hot baking pan, using a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits. Return pan to oven and cook another five minutes. Serve hot or warm, family-style, in a festive bowl.

ten suggestions for your Thanksgiving menu

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and while I’m sure you all have had your menus planned for a month like I have, I thought I would offer up some suggestions in case you need a little last-minute inspiration.

For starters, how about Butternut Squash Soup with Sage and Parmesan Croutons?  It brings a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving flavors together (sage + butternut squash) in a velvety soup that would make a great prelude to the big meal.

Rather than rolls, why not serve slices of Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned Butter Quick Bread?  As its’ name suggests, it doesn’t take long to make which will be very handy if you’ve got lots of other cooking/baking to do.  Better yet, these could be made this weekend and frozen until Thanksgiving day.

Brussels sprouts have become a staple with my family on Thanksgiving.  I’ve made them a variety of ways and one of my favorites is Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts Gratin.  I first had a version of this at a restaurant in NYC and couldn’t stop thinking about them so sought out a recipe so that I could recreate them at home.

Macaroni-and-cheese was a staple of my childhood (mostly of the Kraft boxed variety) but it never made an appearance on T-day.  A friend I used to work with in Detroit whose family was from the south told me they always had it as part of their meal so I  have since incorporated it on occasion, when I felt we could stand a few more carbs.  DuMac and Cheese is the best mac and cheese ever.  And if you wanted to add some bacon/pancetta/salt pork to it I would whole-heartedly support that decision.  And if you also wanted to stick it under the broiler for a few seconds to get a nice browned top on it I would say you and I should be friends.

In case we haven’t used enough cheese yet I would also like to recommend Gratineed Acorn Squash.  It’s simple to make which will free up your time to work on more high-maintenance side dishes.  Also, its delicious.

Another great side dish is Sauteed Parsnips and Carrots with Honey and Rosemary.  Parsnips and carrots go together like peas and, well, carrots.  Actually they go together better than that, especially when partnered with honey and rosemary.  Mmm.  Starting to regret not including this one in my meal this year…

And now for everyone’s favorite side dish… Chestnut, Prune, and Pancetta Stuffing.  This stuffing has something for everyone: a little sweet with the prunes, salty pancetta, tart sourdough bread, hearty chestnuts, and then all of the usual stuffing ingredients that add lots of flavor– celery, onion, sage, chicken stock.

Moving on to desserts, one that will be part of my meal this year is Cranberry Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Streusel Topping.  I love this crisp because it is on the light side which is welcome after a heavy meal and also it is not overly sweet.  This is going to be great with the mascarpone gelato I’m making tomorrow.

This Chess Tart will blow your guests’ minds.  Chess pies are another southern gem and are full of butter and sugary goodness and the vanilla wafer crust on this one is out-of-this-world.  A real charmer.

Finally, what would Thanksgiving be without apple pie?  In Wisconsin they put a slice of cheddar cheese on top of slices of apple pie which I’m not super into, however, Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust is something I can totally get behind because it is crazy delicious.  Trust.

Whatever you decide to make for the big day (aka my most favorite holiday since I stopped receiving toys for Christmas) I hope it is a great one filled with lots of friends and family and tasty food.

butternut squash and chickpea stew

If you are entertaining guests this holiday season who have food allergies or other dietary restrictions this stew could be a great thing to whip up to accommodate them but is also good enough for all to enjoy.  There is no wheat, dairy, or meat which seem to be the main three things that people are allergic to or just avoid altogether.  (While I respect the vegetarian diet and often choose/prepare meatless options for myself I like bacon way too much to ever give up meat.  But I digress.)

This stew starts with toasting some fragrant spices on your stove.  After they are properly toasted you grind them up in a spice mill/coffee grinder or go old-school with a mortar and pestle and smoosh them to a fine pulp using a little elbow grease.  Then you mix those spices with a little olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and crushed garlic.  This is called Harissa and it will bring a whole lot of flavor to whatever you’ve got going on in your kitchen.

Butternut squash gets peeled and chopped into small pieces and roasted in the oven.  There are onions, more garlic, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, carrots and parsley.  They all combine together to make a great fall stew that is hearty and comforting and filling and a bit spicy.

This is total guilt-free food, as a friend of mine would say.  You can eat as much as you like and know that you are putting good stuff (mostly vegetables!) into your body.  And better yet, your gluten-free sister and your vegan cousin along your meat-loving uncle can all enjoy it.  Together.

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1 ½-inch irregularly shaped pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley stems
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¾-inch cubes or irregular shapes
  • 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (either from dry beans or from two 15-ounce cans)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 4 teaspoons Harissa (see recipe below), or more to taste
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss well and roast until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

In a large skillet or pot, warm remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in parsley stems, cumin, and paprika, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and 1 cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water, if using canned chickpeas) to onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add tomatoes and chickpeas. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in harissa paste, chopped parsley leaves, roasted squash, and remaining ½ cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water). Simmer, uncovered, until flavors meld, another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Harissa (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Warm a skillet over a medium flame. Add cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds. Toast, shaking pan, until seeds are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder until fine.

Place ground spices in a bowl, and add cayenne, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Stir in olive oil until smooth.

Cook’s Note: Harissa can be refrigerated in a sealed glass jar for 1 month.