Orecchiette with Greens and Beans

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about motherhood so far is introducing our daughter to new foods. It’s been so much fun watching her take a tentative bite, have an initial look of shock or horror, suck on her thumb for comfort while she pieces it out whether she likes the taste or not, then signalling that she’s willing to give it another try by popping her little mouth open. We soon know whether it’s met her approval when she smiles broadly and leans forward, eager for another bite. So far, the only thing that she has flat-out, consistently refused is cauliflower, and being a recent but still wary cauliflower convert myself, I can’t blame her.

Being foodies ourselves, I hope that we can continue to cultivate her palate, but I know that in all likelihood, this openness to eating green, leafy vegetables and trying new things is sadly unlikely to last. In the meantime though, I’ve had fun experimenting with some of the techniques and suggestions from What Chefs Feed Their Kids, a cookbook with ideas for meals that both parents and kids at all stages can enjoy together. This dish is inspired by that book’s Wild Greens Puree, a delicious mess of wilted kale, collard greens, spinach, basil and parsley. Our daughter runs hot and cold for that puree, although lately, she eats it more consistently when blended with a white bean dip. On the days when she refuses it, John and I don’t mind, scooping it up with tortilla chips while sipping some pre-dinner martinis as we complete her bedtime routine. Yeah, it’s just that good.

Recently, I found myself with a bunch of leftover greens and an extra can of white beans in our cupboard after we made some purees for her meals. The cookbook suggests thinning the greens puree into a soup for the adults, but I liked the idea of making a heartier meal and using the greens and beans in a pasta dish with some crumbled sausage. The one issue was that I felt like just mixing sautéed greens into the pasta would mean stringy, difficult to eat pieces of vegetables, so I decided to cook down my mix of green vegetables, then puree them into a slick sauce to coat the pasta. I browned some crumbled, spicy Italian sausage then sautéed some shallots and garlic in the rendered fat. I then piled on the green vegetables– kale, mustard greens, and spinach. Once wilted, I added the mix to a blender with a splash of chicken stock and pureed it until I had a bright green sauce. This went back into the pan with the sausage, some cannellini beans, and the pasta, then mixed to coat. A sprinkle of fresh basil added some brightness. This was delicious, and I love the fact that we were eating a combination that our daughter loves to eat too. Next attempt on this front: pureed, roasted eggplant for her; baba ganoush for us!

  • 1 lb dried orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
  • 2 large shallots, halved and sliced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch each: kale, spinach, and mustard greens, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 15oz can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves

Cook pasta about 2 minutes shy of package directions in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water when ready to drain.

While water for pasta comes to a boil, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned and caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Remove sausage from pan, leaving rendered fat behind. Add the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute until shallots are softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped mixed greens in 1/3 batches, wilting down one batch before adding another. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. When the leaves have all cooked down, add all the contents of the pan to a blender with the chicken stock and puree until greens are finely chopped and you have a smooth sauce. You might add some of the pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add the pasta, the cooked sausage, drained beans, and the puree to the pasta cooking pot and mix until combined. Add more reserved pasta cooking water if mixture gets too dry. Spoon onto plates and garnish with torn basil. Serve with grated cheese if you wish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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Muffin Tin Frittatas

I think that so far, I’ve been lucky that having a baby around the house hasn’t affected my finding time to cook too much. Sure some things have changed: we don’t eat dinner until 8:30 at night so I can still make food from scratch but start after she goes to bed; I certainly don’t blog about my efforts as often; and dinner plans with friends have now become brunches, squeezed in between her morning and mid-day naps.

I also fully anticipate that this will likely change once she’s more mobile and I can’t just plop her down in a Bumbo chair or exersaucer and entertain her by explaining what I’m doing as I cook. I’ll have to find fast but tasty ways to still cook from scratch if I can. These mini frittatas should fit the bill. Quick assembly, hands off co0king in the oven, lovely colors, easily portable to friends’ houses, and delicious warm or at room temperature. Plus it has a frou frou sounding name to keep the foodie in me happy if I have to eat on the run, chasing down the little tornado of destruction that my backwards crawling daughter is on the verge of becoming.

I also like how versatile these are– you can load them up with whatever ingredients you want. When I made these for a potluck brunch with friends, I made one batch with cheddar, bacon, and chives and another batch with smoked salmon, cream cheese, fresh dill, and diced red onion. These cooked beautifully. They puffed up, got crispy on the outside and yet were tender on the inside. Perfect for brunch with or without little kiddos running around, and although lately our brunches have been with little babies and toddlers, that doesn’t stop us from pairing these with mimosas and dousing them with Sriracha. Parenthood doesn’t have to change everything, you know.

  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • cooking spray
  • filling ingredients of your choice. Examples: 4 ounces cooked, crumbled bacon, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives. Also pictured here, 4 ounces crumbled smoked salmon, 3 ounces cream cheese, 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill, and 1/4 cup finely diced red onion.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Take a muffin tin and lightly coat with cooking spray. Beat together eggs, milk, salt and pepper until well combined. Add filling ingredients* then pour into muffin tin, filling about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the eggs have just set and are a little quivery when you gently shake the muffin tin. Remove from oven and let cook for about 5 minutes. Using an offset spatula, gently loosen the frittatas from the muffin tins and set on a serving platter. Sprinkle with any additional chives or other fresh herbs, depending on what ingredients you used (cilantro for a southwestern theme would be good, parsley for an Italian theme, you get it.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 9 frittatas.

*If doing bacon, cheddar and chives, add 3/4 cup of cheese to the eggs and reserve the last 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top of the frittatas in the last few minutes of baking so that there’s a gooey cheese layer on top.

Three Easy Squash Soup Variations on Second City Soiree

It’s winter and therefore, perfect weather for cozying up to a piping hot bowl of creamy, sweet and spicy, winter squash soup. Below is a recipe for the soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, then visit Second City Soiree for three easy ideas for garnishes that transform this one soup into three different but equally delicious variations.

  • 1 medium winter squash of your choice, be it butternut, sugar pumpkin, or kuri (pictured above), peeled, seeded, and chopped, yielding about 4 cups of 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large leek, trimmed of dark green and root ends, quartered length wise and thinly sliced. Place slices in a bowl full of water and stir around to release dirt. Use a strainer to remove leek pieces to drain.
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons of a mix of spices of your choice– I’m a fan of ground cinnamon, curry powder, cayenne, and ground ginger
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Spray a large glass or microwave safe bowl with cooking spray. Add the squash. Microwave on high for 7 minutes. Take bowl out and stir. If squash pieces are fork tender, you’re done. If not, microwave for another 3-7 minutes. Place a colander over a medium bowl and drain squash, reserving any liquid. Set aside squash and squash juice.

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium high heat. When butter’s foam has subsided, add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes. Add the squash and squash juice along with the spices and thyme. Cook for 10 minutes or until juices have evaporated and a fond has formed on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with 1 cup of stock. Add another 3 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Puree using an immersion blender (or in batches of no more than 2 cups at a time in a regular blender, holding the lid down with a towel.) Add more stock to reach your preferred consistency then season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Rainbow Chard & Pea Carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara has been eluding me. In the past, things would go wrong: not enough egg to create a silky sauce; too high heat so the pancetta burned; wrong kind of cheese so that the whole dish tasted funky.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis should know that when I find something to be culinarily challenging, I’ll keep returning to it until I’m satisfied. Plus, who wouldn’t want to master spaghetti carbonara– eggs, cheese, bacon, so delicious not to mention that it’s a super fast meal to throw together when pressed for time.

The other challenge to spaghetti carbonara for me? Trying to find a way to make myself feel a little better about eating it. In this case, I had rainbow chard and shell peas from the CSA. I thought that the bright burst of green vegetables would not only make this a dish as pretty to look at as it is to eat, but that it’d be a great way to punch up the nutritional value of this meal. It turned this pasta dish into a one pot meal since the fresh vegetables mixed in meant that I could skip out on making a side salad… or at least so I convinced myself.

With three eggs, 4 slices of bacon, some garlic that sizzled in the bacon fat, and 6 oz of ground up Parmesan cheese, I achieved the right balance for a silky sauce and the chard and peas brightened up the flavors. Fast, seemingly healthy, filling, yet light– perfecto!

  • 3/4 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
  • olive oil
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 6 oz Parmesan cheese, ground in a food processor
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch rainbow chard, chopped
  • 1/2 pound shell peas
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Boil water, salt it, and cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp then remove to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. While bacon cooks, beat eggs in a large mixing bowl and grind cheese in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add cheese to the eggs along with 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix until combined. Add garlic to the bacon fat and cook for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the rainbow chard and peas and cook until chard is wilted and peas are bright green. When spaghetti is cooked to al dente, drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Quickly toss spaghetti in egg and cheese mixture, tossing to coat each noodle in the sauce. Add pasta water as needed to achieve sauce consistency. Mix in cooked vegetables. Plate and serve immediately, topping with parsley and more cheese as desired.

CSA Count: 4

Rainbow chard, shell peas, garlic, parsley

Five Spice Turnips

Turnips! (Just trying to psyche myself up here.) Er… Yum! Turnips! (Uh yeah, no. Let’s try again.) Woo-hoo!!! Turnips!

Really, does anyone get excited about turnips? When I saw these on the CSA packing list, fear struck– as much as I may love the CSA for introducing me to new produce and chances to experiment with cooking them, turnips just sound so unappealing. I searched around for ideas on how to cook turnips and came up with the usual ideas, that is, roast them or mash them. Meh. Then I went back to our CSA’s website to see what they might have to offer as far as recipe ideas and found a suggestion from Nigel Slater: saute the turnips in butter, add sherry, and fresh dill. Well, okay then. I could buy it that anything cooked in butter and booze has got to taste pretty darn good.

So I used that as a jumping off point. Why not add a third delicious “B”: bacon. I diced some bacon, cooked it in the pan until crisp, then removed most of the rendered fat from the pan. I then added some butter, and to add yet another “B” to this recipe, I browned the butter first. That way those peppery, earthy turnips would be coated in toasty, nutty, and sweet butter. Instead of sherry, I added a splash of Marsala wine along with a sprinkle of Chinese five spice powder. Sauteing alongside the turnips were some thin slices of sweet onion, chopped garlic scapes, the turnip greens and some rapini. I let the whole mix simmer until the turnip slices were firm yet translucent, before sprinkling back on the crispy bacon. John and I hesitantly took a bite– holy crap! These turnips were delicious! The five spice added a whiff of something exotic, pulling out the sweet yet spicy flavors of the Italian wine. The mustardy turnip greens and bitter rapini counter-balanced that sweetness and the bacon gave an underlying note of smoke not to mention a much needed contrast in texture to the softened vegetables. So let’s try that turnip psyche-up again, this time knowing that browned butter, bacon, and booze is involved: HURRAY!!!!! TURNIPS!!!!

  • 3 strips hickory smoked bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 bunch Tokyo Cross turnips, tops removed and chopped, turnips halved lengthwise, then sliced into 1/4 inch thick half moons
  • 3 garlic scapes, chopped
  • 1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced into half moons
  • 2 tablespoons dry Marsala wine
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 bunch rapini, chopped

Add diced bacon to a medium-sized skillet and cook over medium heat until crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Remove bacon pieces to paper towel lined plate and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat. Add the butter and cook until browned, stirring often (foam will subside, and butter will turn nutty brown color and smell heavenly), about 5-6 minutes. Add the turnips, garlic scapes, and sweet onion. Cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes then add the wine, brown sugar, five spice powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Continue cooking until turnips are shiny yet still firm and slightly brown around the edgest, about 18-20 minutes. Add the reserved, chopped turnip greens and chopped rapini, continuing to cook until greens have wilted, about another 5-7 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle on bacon and serve immediately.

CSA Count: 4

Tokyo Cross turnips (greens included), garlic scapes, sweet onion, rapini

Peach Prosciutto Arugula Sandwiches

Growing up, peaches were my favorite fruit. Not fresh peaches, mind you. The canned ones. Yeah, I was such a processed foods fan. Green beans? The fresh ones made me gag, but I loved the mushy, waxy flavor of the canned ones. Thank goodness taste buds evolve as you grow up.

Among the many reasons to love summer is the abundance of fresh peaches. I love their bright yellow-orange flesh, the sweet juice that you have to act quickly to slurp up with each bite, the combination of sweet and tart. So when I saw peaches at the produce stand, I jumped on buying some even though I knew it was a little early in the season. I was just so eager for peaches.

I wanted a creative way to use them though. I thought about melon and prosciutto salads, but I’m not a melon fan (yeah, those taste buds never evolved) so peaches seemed like a good swap. And since we were having soup that night, I thought why do salad when you can have a sandwich? Grilled, buttery sourdough, a layer of gooey mozzarella cheese, some crisp and peppery arugula, tender slices of salty prosciutto, and last but not least– those sweet and juicy peaches. Summer in a sandwich. Try it or you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

For 4 sandwiches:

  • Half a loaf of your favorite sourdough bread, cut on a bias into eight 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 3 oz prosciutto slices
  • 1 cup baby arugula leaves, rinsed and spun dry
  • 2 medium-sized, ripe peaches, pitted and sliced 1/4 inch thick

Preheat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Spread 1/2 tablespoon of butter on each slice of bread. Reduce heat to medium low, then place 4 slices of bread, butter side down on the griddle. Top each slice with 2 pieces of cheese, a small handful of the arugula leaves, 1 to 2 pieces of prosciutto, and 4 slices of peach. Top with another piece of cheese and another slice of bread. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until cheese is melted and bread is golden brown. Carefully flip sandwiches over and grill on the other side until golden, another 5-6 minutes. Slice sandwiches in half and serve immediately.

Roasted Mushroom & Artichoke Sourdough Pizza

For my birthday this year, my sister-in-law Sharon gave me the gift of bacteria: sourdough starter that is. As someone who dabbles in bread baking every now and then, I found sourdough to be daunting. I feared accidentally killing someone if I made my own starter with bacteria that had gone lethally awry. So some sourdough starter was a great gift for me, breaking down the one irrational obstacle that kept me from baking some of the tastiest kinds of bread.

I’ve since used the starter to make a white sourdough loaf (which I probably messed up as the dough was super wet, over inflated, and not very sour in flavor), sourdough pancakes (super success!), and my favorite of the sourdough recipes so far: sourdough pizza crust. Taking a mere 4 hours from mix to final proof, with an almost focaccia like crispness, and that wonderful sourdough flavor… I may never go back to regular pizza crust again.

Instead, I find myself playing around with pizza toppings worthy of this delicious crust. Here, I roasted a variety of mushrooms with some garlic, rosemary, and olive oil until crisply caramelized at the edges. These were then spread out over my crust which was topped with tomato sauce and a mix of mozzarella and provolone cheese. For a bit of acidic taste, I added quartered artichoke hearts and for a hint of smoke– bacon. Luckily, my sourdough hasn’t been lethal, but I could definitely die a happy camper with this pizza.

Note: No sourdough starter? You could still make this on regular pizza crust, whether you make it from scratch, pop it out from a tube, or get it from an Italian bakery or your favorite pizzeria. Use a damp paper towel to wipe off mushrooms rather than rinsing them in water which will just make them soggy. Want to keep this vegetarian? Skip the bacon as the roasted mushrooms and artichokes are a pretty tasty combo on their own.

  • One recipe sourdough pizza crust
  • 3 slices thick cut bacon, diced
  • 4 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into halves or thirds, depending on how big the caps are
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms, stemmed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted
  • 4-6 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 rosemary sprigs, leaves removed and chopped
  • olive oil
  • 14 oz can artichoke heart halves, drained, rinsed, and cut in half so you have quarters
  • 2 cups pizza sauce
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella and provolone cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat then add bacon. Cook until crisp then remove from skillet with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. On a foil lined baking sheet, combine the shiitake, crimini, and porcini mushrooms with the garlic, rosemary, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper. Roast on the top shelf of your oven for 15-20 minutes or until mushrooms are crispy and brown around the edges. Remove from oven and set aside.

Prebake crust, brushed with olive oil for 8-10 minutes. Spread pizza sauce evenly over crust then top with cheese. Sprinkle mushrooms, artichoke heart quarters, and bacon pieces evenly over the cheese then return to oven and bake for another 10-12 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned slightly. Top with basil before slicing and serving.

Makes 1 full size baking sheet pizza or two 12-inch round pizzas.