This summer, Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook announced he was going on tour to support his new book Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast . Much like the tours organized by many of my friends in fledgling bands over the years, this was a DIY, couch-surfing, cross-country jaunt, with Hank scheduling the events himself sans (at least to my knowledge) the aid of his publisher. Curious to see if there was anything in the works for Detroit, I emailed him and offered to help out. We went back and forth a bit as far as what type of event it should be, and Hank suggested a potluck. Marvin generously offered up his studio in the Russell Industrial building as a gathering place. I had hoped Hank might be able to spend the afternoon prior to the event foraging around the area to bring in examples of things people could find locally,
but it didn’t pan out that way- the weather was already getting a bit too cold to find many wild plants, and Hank had other plans for hunting woodcock up north.
I put the word out about the event, and was pretty pleased with the response, given that I’ve worked many, many book signings where only a small handful of people show up and even less actually purchase the book. We had about 20 in attendance and probably would’ve had more if not for the really nasty freezing rain that night. But despite the inclement weather, we had quite a spread: home-cured prosciutto, lardo and lonzino, a few kinds of homemade pickles, jams, and home-brewed spruce beer were some of the contributions, in keeping with the spirit of the evening (Hank covers many curing and preservation methods on his blog in addition to hunting and foraging). Not to mention this beautiful pie that my friend Abigail (one of les culinettes) brought!
I decided to make a recipe I’d recently seen on Hank’s blog- a Spanish stew called chilindron, which I could make ahead and warm in the slow cooker. For side dishes, I put together a garlicky raw kale salad with pecorino, and a plateful of the nuptial ham. Last but not least, I was able to make paw paw ice cream thanks to a gift of some foraged paw paws courtesy of my friend Ian. I was super excited about this since I had never tried paw paw before. I wanted to do a full post just about the ice cream, but I didn’t use a recipe and it turned out a little too icy and hard, although the flavor was good. If you ever get a chance to eat a paw paw, they’re wonderful- the texture is sort of like mango but with none of the stringiness, and the flavor is delicately tropical and custardy. Some people compare it to banana but I didn’t particularly get that. Paw paws do have large seeds that are somewhat obnoxious to work around to get all the fruit off, but the effort is well-rewarded. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life in Michigan without trying one until now, and I’m definitely going to seek them out next year.
As folks filtered in for the event, the table grew heavy with food; I think I sampled everything at least twice (you know, not wanting anyone to feel slighted!). We decided to eat first, and then Hank talked for a while about what hunting means to him, sharing some stories of hyper-local meals and other hunting-related experiences. Afterward, he stayed signing books and chatting with guests before heading off to Slows for a beer. I’m not sure how he felt about the event- it was a much more modest affair than many of the fine-dining events he’s been a part of- but the attendees were all thanking me profusely for putting it together, so I’m calling it a success. It was cool to be able to share something I’ve been a fan of for a while with a bunch of people who had never heard of it (I think maybe one or two people had been aware of Hank’s blog prior to that night), and have them react so positively. Continue reading
All of my food friends have been all atwitter the last couple weeks about pumpkins, apples and other fruits of fall, but I’ve been having a harder time letting go of summer flavors. It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that the whole summer had gone by and I hadn’t made any ratatouille- how did that happen?! Luckily the folks at the farmers’ market still had tomatoes, peppers and eggplant [NB: this was 2 weeks ago, on Oct. 3]- I just had to go to the store for squash, but happily it was locally grown too.
I realize this recipe isn’t very timely*, but it takes me a while to get a blog post up these days. I bought the vegetables and didn’t get to make the ratatouille until the following weekend. (That’s one of the perks of the farmers’ market though- it’s so fresh that even if it sits around for a week, it’s still probably fresher than what’s at the store.) Tack another week on there to edit photos and write up a post and before you know it, it’s already mid-October! I’m trying to be Zenlike about the fact that I have almost no free time these days, and just make sure to fully take advantage of any little scrap that I do have, but it’s hard not to be a little bummed out. For example, I really wanted to make the pho recipe for this month’s Daring Cooks, and the date rushed up on me before I could plan it out. (Sadly, all of my cooking has to be planned with near-military precision these days, or it just can’t fit in…)
But on to our ratatouille! I’ve made ratatouille lots of times and had pretty good results, but this time I was after something specific: I wanted the vegetables to have that melting quality, but to keep their shape and flavor rather than be cooked down into an indistinguishable mush. The solution? Roasting. Not only does roasting help them retain their “integrity”, but you get the additional element of caramelization that you wouldn’t get from cooking them all together on the stove. Plus, you remove moisture and concentrate the flavor. My guinea pigs, aka Marvin & Amanda, said they could definitely taste the difference. I think this one’s a keeper! I served it with creamy polenta with Parmigiano and some kale that I’d sautéed with olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes. Along with a green salad, some bread and cheeses, and a couple bottles of red, it was the perfect goodbye-to-summer vegetarian feast.
*I know this is borderline heretical, but if you’re in need of a summer food fix in the middle of winter, all of the ingredients for this can be found year-round at the grocery store, and I am hard-pressed to tell the difference between squash & eggplant from a greenhouse or from a garden once they’re cooked. The tomatoes won’t be quite as good, but Romas are fairly dependable, and roasting definitely goes a long way towards improving them. Or you could always substitute a can of good-quality San Marzanos.
Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille
This is a very loose ”recipe” because ultimately I think this is a dish that has a lot of flexibility, and however you prepare it, it’s unlikely to be bad as long as you have good ingredients. But here’s what I used and how I went about it; use it as a guideline and go for it!
2 pints Roma tomatoes
3 bell peppers- red, yellow or orange
2 yellow summer squash
3-4 cloves garlic
fresh herbs- I grabbed some marjoram, thyme, and a little rosemary from my garden, although basil is good too
Wash and pat dry the peppers, and place them in the broiler, turning occasionally and checking on them often, until they’re blackened on all sides. Place in a paper grocery bag and roll the top shut; set aside. Reduce oven to 300°.
While the peppers are roasting, cut the squash and eggplant into large-ish chunks (see photos; they’ll shrink a bit as they roast). Generously salt the eggplant and place in a strainer while you prep everything else. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the little stemmy bit; put cut side up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little salt and brush or drizzle with olive oil. Cut the onions- I like to do wedge-shaped slices rather than rings. Mince any herbs you’ll be using.
Place the squash & zucchini in a large bowl, salt lightly, and drizzle with olive oil. Shake the bowl around so the oil gets distributed all over, then dump it onto a baking sheet. Put the eggplant on some paper towel and press lightly to remove excess moisture and salt, then toss with olive oil, putting it on a separate baking sheet. Place all three baking sheets in the oven.
When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins, stems and seeds, and cut into approx 1″ squares; set aside in a bowl.
In a dutch oven or other large heavy pot, heat a generous amount of olive oil (a few Tbs) over medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until the onions begin to soften. Add any minced herbs you’re using (except basil- add that at the end) and hold, covered, over low heat.
Check on the vegetables in the oven periodically- they’ll be ready at slightly different times. I kept the tomatoes in about 10 minutes longer than the squash. Ultimately your cooking time will depend on how big you cut everything. As the eggplant and squash are ready, add them to the pot with the onions and keep warm over low heat. Add the peppers and any juices that have collected. When the tomatoes are ready, let them cool enough to handle, and cut each half into quarters, adding to the pot. Make sure to scrape any of the juice that collects on the cutting board into the pot as well!
Raise the heat slightly (to medium low) and cook the vegetables just until the flavors combine- remember, we’re going for distinguishable pieces rather than stew. Taste for salt (although you shouldn’t need any, since the vegetables were already salted). If you’re using basil, cut it into a chiffonade and stir it in at the end. Serve with polenta or couscous for a vegetarian meal, or as a side dish to roasted chicken or lamb. Leftovers can be used as filling for an omelette or put it in a baguette with some goat cheese… lots of possibilities with this one!
The other day I was catching up a little on my blog reading, and came across something on a very well-known food blog that kind of blew me away. It was a recipe for a pepper salad, and was basically just red & yellow peppers, red onion, feta and cucumber. The kind of thing that I throw together without thinking twice; not the kind of dish I would deem “blog-worthy”. There was no cute story with it; just the recipe and a bit about how the author had stopped eating salads with lettuce. But there, underneath the post, were close to 150 comments saying how great it was, and how people were dropping everything to rush to the store to make this salad. I have to say, I was flabbergasted. Really?!?
Reading this person’s post, it jolted me back to the reality that many people (possibly even the majority?) who regularly read food blogs and watch the Food Network rarely cook! All those commenters that said stuff like “Wow, that looks so delicious”…? I would bet money that less than 5% of them go on to actually prepare the recipe. (I guess this isn’t so strange if you think about, for example, all the people who read fashion magazines but don’t dress fashionably.)
So what does this have to do with balela? (Huh? Remember that… the title of this post? Oh yeah…) Well, I made some a few weeks ago (or rather, my interpretation of it), and even took a couple photos, but never posted it because I didn’t think it was “fancy” enough or something. Clearly, I am out of touch with what the blog-reading public wants! I guess the moral of the story is that instead of trying to second-guess what people may want to read about, I should just post whatever I feel like?
Trader Joe’s sells balela in little plastic tubs, but the portion they sell amounts to about one whole serving, and it’s easy and much cheaper to make yourself. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of making big batches of grain or legume-based salads to take in my lunch. They’re also good potluck fare- this one was for the Memorial Day BBQ I went to (the one with the grilled pizza). My version isn’t “authentic” balela in any way, as I added some extra veggies (peppers, cucumbers), but I like the extra crunch they add. The dressing is inspired by the dressing for fattoush and can be used in any salad where you want Middle Eastern flavors.
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad (aka Balela, my way) (printer-friendly version)
1 can chickpeas & 1 can black beans (or two cans chickpeas), drained & rinsed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 an English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and diced
1/2 a small red onion, diced, or 3-5 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 good handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
Notes: I use grape tomatoes because they’re more reliable year-round, but if you have good-quality regular tomatoes, go ahead and use them. This salad is excellent with a bit of feta crumbled into it- I don’t believe it’s traditional, but it makes it a little more substantial and adds a welcome texture and richness to the austerity of raw vegetables. If you can’t be bothered with the za’atar and sumac, the salad will still be good without them- I threw them in because I happened to have some handy. And if you’re inclined to use a whole lemon, just sick with a 1:2 ratio of lemon to oil and up the seasonings a bit; if you have leftover dressing it’ll keep indefinitely in the fridge, and is great on green salad too.
Directions: Combine all of the vegetables in a large bowl. Smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Place in a small screw-top jar with the other dressing ingredients and shake well. Let the garlic clove marinate in the dressing for 5-10 minutes and then fish it out and discard. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir well to combine. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, or for more oil or lemon juice according to your taste. (It will almost definitely need more salt, but I’d rather err on the side of you having to add some.) Let the salad sit for at least 15-20 minutes to let the vegetables marinate and release some of their juices. Taste again and add more salt or dressing if needed. If not serving immediately, wait until serving to add the parsley. For best flavor, serve at room temp or only slightly chilled.
There’s a soup I’ve made several times out of the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook that consists of sautéed onions, thinly sliced potatoes, and tomatoes on a garlicky broth. (This cookbook is a great resouce for vegetarian soups and hearty grain-based salads, although I have to cop to using chicken stock instead of vegetable in many of the soup recipes…)* The Moosewood recipe is good, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted a heartier soup and needed to use up some leftover ham I had from Christmas dinner. The Basque region of France & Spain is known for using ham, peppers and onions in a variety of dishes, so I was inspired by those flavors. I decided to cut the potatoes in chunks rather than slices to make the soup more rustic, and added the peppers for a bit more color and sweetness. The addition of smoked Spanish paprika, aka Pimenton de la Vera, was the final element. (There is another type of dried, powdered red pepper specific to the Basque region called Piment d’Espelette that would probably be great in this as well, but I didn’t have any on hand.) As long as we’re on the subject of spices, Penzey’s is a great resource. You can order online, or if you’re in the Detroit area they have a store at 13 mile & Southfield. The last time I was there, I picked up Szichuan peppercorns, kalonji, mustard seed, garam masala and more… But back to the soup! Here it is: hearty, simple, with warm Spanish flavors to ward of the chill of winter.
*Notes for vegetarians: To make this a vegetarian soup, simply omit the ham and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. The Moosewood book actually has a great garlic stock that is used in the original recipe. Also, smoked paprika is a great way to add a little “meatiness” without actually using meat (the smokiness emulates a bacony flavor).
Basque-inspired Peasant Soup/ Soupe Paysanne à la Basquaise printer-friendly version
3 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla-Walla
6-8 small redskin potatoes, or the equivalent amount of larger potatoes (see notes)
1 head roasted garlic (see notes)
2 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 16-oz jar roasted red peppers, not marinated (I’d say two large peppers if you’re roasting them yourself)
2 cups diced ham
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
smoked Spanish paprika
Notes: For the potatoes, I used redskins, but feel free to substitute a starchier potato if you’d like a thicker soup. I would guess that two large potatoes would suffice if you’re using Russets or Yukons. If using either of these, I’d probably peel them. For the roasted garlic, if you don’t want to turn on the oven, you can “roast” the garlic in the microwave. It’s not quite the same, but it’ll do if you need to speed things along. Just peel away most of the outer skin, slice off the top, put in a small dish, pour olive oil to coat, and microwave on 30% power for 10 minutes, flipping it halfway through.
Directions: Slice the onions as thinly as possible, and cut the potatoes into bite-sized cubes. Remove all the skins from the garlic and cut all but the smallest cloves in half. Heat a few tbs. olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven, add the onions and lightly salt them. Sauté over medium heat until they begin to soften, and then add the potatoes and garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes or so while you slice up your peppers and dice the ham, stirring occasionally. When the onions are fully softened and translucent, add the 2 cups chicken stock and a large sprig (or 2 smaller sprigs) thyme, and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the potatoes are tender. Add the can of tomatoes (juice and all), peppers, and ham and keep at a very low simmer for about 10 more minutes to warm through and allow the flavors to blend. When serving, garnish with a sprinkle of the smoked paprika and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves. To continue the Spanish theme, serve with crusty bread and slices of Manchego cheese, and a nice bottle of Rioja.
Before I get into the “meat” of this post (har har), I just wanted to mention that I have noticed a number of you have arrived at the site by googling “noelle blog”, or “simmer down blog”, etc. May I suggest an email subscription? (Look to the right side of the page…) You’ll get a notification in your inbox whenever there’s a new post. Or, if you prefer, just bookmark me!
Ok, on to the recipe…
As I mentioned in my chorizo chili post, I bought a rather large amount of sausage on sale a couple months ago which is now hanging out in my freezer. The other morning I was rummaging around trying to figure out something easy for dinner. Being low on groceries and not wanting to spend much time at the store after work, I decided to make a quick pasta sauce with some of the sweet italian sausage I had bought. I already had canned tomatoes and onions at home, so I just grabbed a green pepper, some salad and bread (and wine of course), and I was good to go. Normally I don’t love green pepper in pasta sauce, but here I was thinking of the sausages you get at a street fair, with the sautéed peppers and onions heaped on top, and wanted to echo those flavors. I ended up with a robust sauce that took under an hour to make, including prep time.
Italian Sausage & Pepper Pasta Sauce
about 1/2 pound (2 links) sweet (mild) italian sausage, preferably from the meat counter
a couple tbs olive oil
1 small green bell pepper (or about half of a large one)
1 small red onion (or half, if you have a big one)
1 small yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/3 to 1/2 cup red wine
1 28-oz can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes (see note)
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, bruised or crushed in a mortar & pestle
crushed red pepper, optional
First, prep the veggies: Cut off the ends off the onions, then cut them in half vertically (i.e. from end to end). Put the halves flat side down and cut into medium-thin vertical slices (again, from end to end). I like cutting them this way because they hold their shape better and don’t get the “wormy” appearance that they do when you cut them horizontally. If your onions are larger, you may want to halve some of the longer pieces. Smash and mince the garlic; cut the green pepper into thin vertical strips (again, cut them in half if they seem too long). Pour yourself a glass of the wine, if you haven’t already done so. If you want to save a couple minutes, you can slice the onions & garlic as the meat is cooking, and the peppers as the onion is cooking.
Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat (I use cast-iron). When the pan is hot, squeeze the sausage out of its casing and fry it, breaking it apart with a spatula into small pieces. When it looks mostly cooked but still a little pink, add the onions and increase the heat to medium high. Stir-fry the meat and onions until the onions begin to brown. Keep the wine handy and if anything starts to stick or become too browned, add a small splash of wine to deglaze the pan. About 7 minutes after adding the onion, add the garlic and peppers. Continue stir-frying until the peppers are just starting to become tender. Your meat and onions should be getting deeply browned at this point. Keep adding splashes of wine as the meat and onions caramelize, and make sure to scrape all the browned bits at the bottom of the pan as you do so. This technique allows the development of deep flavors without having to simmer your sauce for hours!
After you add your peppers, put some well-salted water on to boil for your pasta ( I like to use penne or linguine). When your peppers start to soften, add the can of tomatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer. Crush the fennel seeds and add them to the sauce. (If you don’t have a mortar & pestle, you can put them on a cutting board and “mince” them with a big chopping knife.) If you like a little heat, add a small amount of crushed red pepper. The sauce will be ready to eat by the time your pasta is cooked. Makes enough to sauce 1 lb pasta.
Note: If your tomatoes aren’t pre-seasoned, add a little oregano and basil, as well as salt to tast. I did not need any additional salt in my sauce because the meat and tomatoes were already salted enough.
Variation: Tomato-less Italian Sausage & Peppers “Sauce”
Instead of adding tomatoes, pile your sausage and pepper mixture on top of spaghetti or linguine noodles and add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Top with red pepper flakes and grated parmesan.