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.

Kitchen Sink Risotto

With a bunch of seemingly random things in the fridge – mascarpone cheese, crimini mushrooms, spinach & cherry tomatoes, I figured a hearty risotto would find a way to bind them all together.  Thankfully I have ridiculous quantities of arborio rice in the cupboard (who, me, a hoarder?).

It’s been awhile since I made a proper risotto – the one where you add broth in half-cup quantities and stir it in until the liquid evaporates.  It’s hard on the wrists, especially after said wrists have had a 20 some odd mile mountain bike ride (including falling off said bike).  My initial inclination was to call it ‘carpal tunnel risotto’, but I figured that wouldn’t be very enticing.  Not that kitchen sink is any better, but at least this moniker allows for a lot of creativity.
And this particular version was creamy and flavorful – just the kind of ‘nearly autumn’ dinner that I crave this time of year.

Moroccan Rattatouille

With the colder temperatures of Autumn now here, I’m craving heartier fare than the summer salads I’ve been subsisting on (alliteration anyone?).  So I decided to take my latest farmers market plunder and experiment with some harissa paste I’ve been hoarding.  The result is what I like to call Moroccan Rattatouille, and when served with steel-cut oat risotto, makes for a comforting and tasty meal.

Moroccan Rattatouille

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, sliced thinly
1 medium eggplant, cubed
1 medium red pepper, diced thickly
1 basket sweet orange cherry tomatoes
1 jar artichoke hearts, drained & quartered
2 tsp harissa paste (or you can make your own)

Heat olive oil on medium heat in large thick bottomed skillet.  Add onions, stir until golden.  Add eggplant (you may need to add another tsp of oil if you want the eggplant crispy) and cook uncovered 5 minutes.  Add peppers, cook another 8 minutes until soft.  Lower heat to low, add cherry tomatoes & artichokes.  Stir in harissa paste and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Serve with either sauteed tofu (for the hard core vegetarians), crumbled feta or goat cheese.

Jazzing Up the Veggie Burger

Lately I’ve been on a tofu ‘burger’ kick, grilling thick slabs of firm tofu that when placed on a gorgeous ciabatta roll and topped with an heirloom tomato from the farmers market and artisanal mustard, make for a pretty hearty, pretty easy and pretty tasty dinner.

Last night I decided to take inspiration from my lastest issue of Cooking Light, and went Moroccan, adding a dash of harissa paste and a dollop of goat cheese in place of the mustard.   The mildness of the cheese was a nice balance to the kick of the harissa, and together made for a new twist on an old standby.