Socca and Panisse


Chick-pea fries, aka Panisse

To me the title of this post sounds like the name of a children’s puppet duo.  In fact, it’s the name of two French dishes made with chickpea flour.

I’ve always been a fan of chickpeas, primarily for the hummus I regularly make, though they’ve been known to make appearances in stews and even roasted on their own.  When a friend gave me a copy of David Leibovitz’s book, The Sweet Life in Paris, I was immediately intrigued by his recipe for socca, a chickpea crepe found in the South of France.  Since I work next door to a health food store, I was able to locate some chickpea flour easily (which isn’t always the case with unusual ingredients and Tahoe, but I’ll save that rant for another time).  Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour was what I purchased, but there seem to be a number of options in (coff) larger cities.

I should have remembered past experiences with crepes, which tend to start badly.  I know that the first one is supposed to be a throwaway, but the first four?  The rest of them did come out intact and crepe-like, and when sprinkled with sea salt and served hot, were very tasty.

But I wasn’t seeing a way to readily integrate savory crepes into my cooking repertoire, as they weren’t sturdy enough to actually fill (my fault no doubt), and didn’t seem to be a versatile side dish.  So I went to my trusty reference, Google, to see what else could be done with the pound plus of chickpea flour I had remaining.  Lo and behold, David’s website popped up, this time for panisse, or what I’ve come to call ‘polenta fries with chickpea flour’.    Yes, panisse is more romantic, and decidedly shorter, but nobody here knows what the hell I’m referring to when I break out the French.

N liked the socca, but he loves the panisse.  I do too – cut thin and pan-fried, they’re almost like French fries, but with more umami and less starchiness.  Topped with some sea salt and pepper, they’re perfect with grilled chicken and a tossed salad.  I’ve made them a number of times this summer, and can confirm that they are equally good cold.

No matter what you call them, they have become a nice addition to my summer rotation of easy recipes that don’t suck.

Shaved fennel, carrot and quinoa salad

quinoa fennel saladThe past few days we’ve had a heat wave of sorts, with above 80 degree temps that, when combined with the stronger sun we get up here at 6,200 feet, sucks the life out of you.  Or rather me, since I have a five degree comfort zone that does not include temperatures above 73 degrees.

So.  It’s warm.  And we went for the first long mountain bike ride of the season Sunday.  Star Lake Connector to Armstrong via Freel Pass. Twenty nine miles plus 3500 odd feet of climbing coupled with the heat and the fact that it is still sort of early season here meant that we were pretty tired yesterday.  That I managed to make the fatal mistake of assuming that just because a bike shirt has long sleeves it has SPF protection (note: unless it clearly states an SPF number, don’t assume otherwise) only added to the fatigue.

The idea of actually cooking last night was intensely distasteful.  All I wanted to do was to sit outside in a lounge chair in the shade with a cold cocktail.   My laziness inspired dinner.  A salad with quinoa avoids the effort that actually cooking requires.  So I busted out the mandolin – and hand guard, since I can’t seem to even look at this without cutting a finger – and sliced a fennel bulb and a few carrots, added some mixed greens, a handful of pumpkin seeds and some diced mozzarella I had on hand to the quinoa, and tossed the whole thing in lemon vinaigrette.

Both it and the gin martini were a refreshing end to an otherwise un-refreshing day.

Pressure Cooker Farro ‘Risotto’ with Golden Beets and Feta

Faux Farro Risotto

Last summer, both N and I realized that not all beets are the same.  While we’re not fans of red beets (too sweet), their golden cousins are milder and just perfect for our fussy palates.

I recently discovered that the local supermarket sells organic golden beets for under $2 a bunch.  I’m not one to wax poetic about vegetables, but these are gorgeous specimens.  So much so that when they first caught my eye I bought them simply because they were so pretty.

I then had to figure out what to do with them.

So I broke out the pressure cooker, and came up with this super easy, super tasty faux risotto (Fisotto? Farro-sotto?).  Farro is my new favorite grain in the pressure cooker, as it comes out so much softer and creamier than on the stove top.  Throw in some of your aunt’s – OK, my aunt’s – homemade feta, and you’ve got a gourmet level dinner that takes very little effort.

Note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker (poor you), the beets and farro can be cooked on the stove top.

Farro-sotto with Golden Beets and Feta
Serves 4-6

One bunch organic golden beets, beet greens removed and set aside and beets washed and trimmed
1 cup dry farro
4 ½ cups water or broth
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
½ – ¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled
Salt & pepper, to taste

Beets: If cooking in pressure cooker, place beets in pressure cooker with a minimum of ½ cup water, and set the time and pressure according to manufacturer’s instructions.   If roasting, preheat oven to 350.  Wrap beets in foil. Bake for 45 minutes.  Once cooked, wait until cool and remove skin.  Grate beets and set aside (Can be done ahead of time).

Farro: If cooking in pressure cooker, place farro, water and 1 tbsp of olive oil in cooker, and set time and pressure according to manufacturer’s instructions.  (Note: I set farro at high pressure for 22 minutes and let the pressure release naturally for a softer consistency.  Your mileage may vary).

Wash, trim and chop the beet greens.  In a large pan over medium heat, add remaining olive oil.  Once heated through, add beet greens and sauté until wilted, 3-5 minutes.  Add grated beets, stir to coat a minute or two.  Add cooked farro and feta cheese; stir until cheese is melted through.  Season to taste and serve.

Glory Bowl Dressing

Spinach salad with glory bowl dressingThe one tangible souvenir that I brought back from Canada during our recent backcountry ski vacation was a cookbook.  The Whitewater Café Cookbook, to be precise.  Whitewater is a ski area just outside Nelson, and we were strongly encouraged by our Calgarian comrades to stop there for lunch on our way back to the U.S.  I should note that these Canadians are die-hard skiers, yet they were recommending that we stop by a ski resort not to ski, but to eat.  That is a telling sign.

The Whitewater Café is not your run of the mill ski resort restaurant.  It offers an incredibly varied and large menu for its size, featuring dishes that go beyond the greasy burgers and fries that are commonplace. Think bison burgers,  homemade soups and a ton of tempting baked goods. The cookbook includes signature recipes like samosas (which someone made while we were at Powder Creek and I’m still dreaming about), granola bars, and the Glory Bowl, a rice and tofu bowl with the most addictive dressing.

I’ve become a fan of nutritional yeast of late, so the dressing for the latter was particularly interesting.  But instead of going to the effort of cooking rice and tofu, I decided to riff on it with a salad.  We’ve been home a little less than a month, and I’ve made this salad in some variation at least once a week.  The dressing is that good!

In parsing the ingredients, it appears to be a version of the peanut sauce I use on noodles, albeit with less peanut butter and more nutritional yeast.  The original recipe does call for tahini, but as that’s not something I keep on hand, I subbed out peanut butter and added a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, and it works just fine.

Glory Bowl Salad (Adapted from the Whitewater Café Cookbook)

5 oz spinach leaves, washed
½ cup grated carrots
½ cup grated cooked beet
Optional– ½ cup each diced cucumber, diced red pepper, blanched and chopped broccoli
¼ cup toasted and crumbled pistachios or pumpkin seeds (optional)
¼ cup feta, crumbled (optional)
Glory Bowl dressing to taste

Glory Bowl Dressing
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Braggs or soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
½ cup nutritional yeast
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 cup vegetable or canola oil

Blend all ingredients except oil in food processor.  Add oil in a fine stream through the top of the food processor until emulsified.

Cooking under pressure

Electric pressure cooker lidA pressure cooker is one of those kitchen appliances I thought could be useful, but it was never an item on my wish list. To me it seemed complicated and vaguely dangerous.  Weren’t the older pressure cookers noisy and prone to explosions?  Didn’t they require you to monitor them closely to prevent too much pressure from building?

So when I received an electric pressure cooker for Christmas this year, I was both intrigued and a bit worried.  Sure, these new fangled ones are pretty much idiot proof, but I’ve been known to test that theory.

In actual fact, it is idiot proof, and very easy to use.  And extremely wide ranging in its uses.  Not only does it pressure cook, but it is also a slow-cooker.  Seeing how I got rid of my inherited-from-a-roommate ‘70’s era Crock-Pot a few years ago, that versatility certainly justifies its size.

Navy beans were my first experiment, and not only did they cook in a mere 22 minutes (with no pre-soaking!), but they turned out far tastier (and softer) than any stovetop attempt.  Next up was half a bone-in turkey breast off a 20 pound bird, which took 15 minutes, followed by a turkey broth made from the other turkey parts.

The manual came with a few recipes, including rather ambitious projects like cheesecake.  I’m not sure I’ll go there just yet, but I think I’m ready to try wheat berries or something like risotto that typically takes more time than I have during the week.

Next up is finding a few good recipe books.  I hear the ones by Lorna Sass are good, but if there are other recommendations, let me know!

African Groundnut Stew

African groundnut stew

This time of year is all about comfort food.  Even more so this December, when overnight temps have hit the single digits, and it never quite feels as warm as the forecast says.  Stews, soups and hot breakfasts are what we’re eating right now.

I discovered this stew through a friend years ago, but rediscovered the recipe when my brother got me a peanut butter cookbook for my birthday.  There’s something about peanut butter, squash and tomatoes, a seemingly incongruous combination that works well in this recipe.  Whatever it is, N asks for this regularly, and as it’s easy, tasty and healthy, who am I to say no?

Plus, it happens to be vegan and gluten-free, another bonus considering I have family visiting this week, with two vegans and one on a gluten-free diet.

African Groundnut Stew
Adapted from The Ultimate Peanut Butter cookbook
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large red or yellow pepper diced (or 1 small)
1½ tbsp curry powder or 1½ tsp garam masala
1 large delicata or butternut squash, seeded & diced (peeled if it’s butternut squash.  I prefer delicata because I can be lazy and not bother peeling it)
2½-3 cups of water or broth – or a combination of the two
one 28 ounce can (or carton) diced tomatoes (don’t drain)
½ -3/4 cup natural peanut butter, creamy or crunchy (if crunchy, use more)
1 bunch kale (any kind), stems removed and leaves torn into small pieces
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Optional add ons:
Sauteed tofu, cooked chicken, potatoes or sweet potatoes (dice and add with the squash)

Replace peanut butter with almond butter or tahini (the former worked well, though I have not tried the latter)

Heat canola oil on medium in a heavy bottomed large pot.  Add onions and pepper and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.  Add curry powder or garam masala, stirring for 30 seconds.  Add squash, broth, tomatoes and peanut butter, stirring the peanut butter in until it’s blended with the other ingredients.  Cover, lower to a simmer and cook 20 minutes until squash is soft.  Add kale, cover and cook another 5 minutes.  If using add-ons, add with kale to heat through.  Add additional broth as needed to create a thinner stew.

Serve with chopped peanuts.

And bread to sop up the remaining sauce.

CSA challenges (aka when life gives you watermelons)

watermelon feta salad

Palatable watermelon salad

We’re typically not picky eaters, but there are a few fruits and vegetables that we do not seek out voluntarily.  No surprise that those particular items seem to find their way into our CSA half share more often than not.

We got through the first challenge, the beet phase earlier this summer by oven roasting them and eating them with (a lot of) blue cheese.  They weren’t too bad that way, though I’ll still take a golden beet over one of the deep red ones any day.  And far prefer kale to either.

While many aren’t fans of fennel, I actually like it roasted, and even made some pesto with the generous fronds that we’ll use on some fish or lobster ravioli down the line.  The fennel was hardly a challenge, though the tofu ricotta that became part of the faux-talian pasta dish was an experiment, albeit one that turned out far better than expected.

Our latest challenge is watermelon (I blame my issues with this fruit on one too many watermelon eating contests as a kid).  Even though it was the only fruit we received this week, and even though I diligently sliced it up for easier eating, the two large zip-lock bags were essentially untouched by week’s end.  Since we had nothing else left, I realized it was time to go to the Internet for some inspiration, in order to find a way to use it such that it didn’t taste, well, like watermelon.  Who knew that it went so well with feta cheese? Turns out it also pairs beautifully with arugula, but if you, like me, don’t have ready access to that elitist green, spinach works well too.  Make sure to remove the seeds from the watermelon, add some sliced red onion, crumbled feta, balsamic vinaigrette, and if you’re feeling extra sassy, a handful of toasted pistachio nuts, et voila – dinner is served.

The best part? It didn’t taste watermelon-y at all.  Just summery.

So bring it on CSA.  It’s clear I can handle anything you throw my way.

What summer tastes like

Blue cheese, tomato & pesto pizza

Because I was tired, and actually thought ahead  and had pizza crust on hand, I made CSA pizza tonight topped with pesto I made from an earlier batch of basil, cherry tomatoes (which admittedly were not part of this week’s box, but it’s AUGUST already, and these were the first tomatoes I’ve had) and blue cheese.  Coupled with the last of the tri-color beans tossed in vinaigrette, it tasted like summer, but yet felt slightly bittersweet.  After all, school starts soon, Labor Day is around the corner and yet here, the snow only just melted out at the highest elevations.

I love winter, so I’m already looking forward to the possibilities, but for many locals who are less winter-philes than I am, there’s probably a lot more significance to every summer tomato they eat.

But for me, it just meant that I’ve got a lot of tomato eating to do before the snow starts falling.

The CSA Project: Year 2

CSA bounty

The South Lake Tahoe CSA  started 3 weeks ago.  Color me excited.  Why, you ask?

  • I like supporting a local farm
  • It forces me to try vegetables I wouldn’t otherwise
  • I don’t have to think about produce shopping for 20 weeks.

That last reason has become more of a benefit than I realized.   It’s nice to not schedule shopping into my week, instead relying on what is in the box.  Call it MacGyver cooking (not to be confused with MacGruber cooking).

Stephanie, the lovely owner at Sacred Paths Farm, has provided us with some recipe suggestions, but I’m definitely a ‘see what the search engines pull up’ type of improviser, especially for radishes.  This is not a vegetable that I am naturally attracted to.  But I am gradually learning to appreciate its mustardy flavor, and how it holds its shape when thinly sliced into a salad.  I learned that it’s not bad sautéed in butter and linguine.  I have yet to eat it with butter and salt, but that might be the next iteration with this week’s bounty.

Orzo with kale, zucchini & peasNow that summer is finally here, I’m less interested in turning on the stove.  So last week I opted for a kitchen sink pasta dish, otherwise known as the “it’s way too hot to turn on more than one burner” dish.  I tossed thinly sliced kale, fresh peas that were simply too sweet to cook, julienned zucchini (a non CSA item admittedly), and orzo in a lemon-shallot vinaigrette.  We topped it with parmesan, because I had no feta in the house.

Simple? Yes, but with such great produce it seems a shame to overcook.  Plus, fewer dishes to clean up is never a bad thing.

This week’s CSA challenge is beets.  Again, not a favorite, but I have a secret recipe to try. One developed for the non-beet lovers of the world.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

Sautéed Zucchini with Almonds, Parmesan and Bulgur

Zucchini Bulgur Saute

With this year’s CSA Project starting in a few days, I figured this year it was worth preparing a bit more than I did last summer.  Zucchini tends to be prolific by August, and I have something like two standard recipes that I go to (whoopie pies being one of them).   I wanted to have a few more in my arsenal so that I wouldn’t become overwhelmed later this summer by a crisper full of summer squash.

In perusing Saveur for some inspiration, I came across a quick sauté with almonds and pecorino that apparently was the signature dish of one Red Cat Café.  I had no clue what this New York restaurant was about, but the recipe sounded interesting.  Quick, relatively easy, and tasty = win.

The first time I tried it, I made it in the small batch suggested, and it was good, but I’m a bit lazy (I never actually bothered julienning as the recipe suggested.  That’s why I own a food processor), and wanted to turn this into more of a one-pot dish.

So, I quadrupled the zucchini and almonds (I think – the tablespoon to ounce conversion has always stumped me), used parmesan instead of pecorino (as if that’s something readily available in South Lake Tahoe!) and added 2 cups of cooked bulgur wheat.

Not bad, though next time I’ll make a lemon vinaigrette, which I think will finish it off nicely.

Sautéed Zucchini with Almonds, Parmesan and Bulgur
(Adapted from the Red Cat Café Cookbook)
Serves 2-4

1 cup bulgur
1-2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup blanched, sliced almonds
1 pound young zucchini or summer squash, either shredded, run through a food processor with a grater fitting or julienned
Salt & pepper
½ -3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated using the largest hole in a box grater
Zest of one lemon

Place bulgur in a heatproof bowl.  Add 2 ½ cups of boiling water, cover and let sit for 30 minutes.  Drain excess water and fluff.

Heat oil in large pan, when hot add almonds and toast until just barely golden, around a minute.  Add half the zucchini, cook for 30 seconds, season and cook for another 30 seconds (until just barely cooked).  Remove almond zucchini mixture and add remaining zucchini. Cook for thirty seconds, season and cook for another thirty seconds.

Toss zucchini and almonds with bulgur, top with Parmesan and lemon zest.