Top Brassica

DSC_6230It’s cruciferous vegetable season. Who is excited? This is good stuff. Well, at least some of it. I don’t think all brassica (turnips, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc.) are created equal in terms of flavor. But apparently some portion of the population can use genetics as an excuse for disliking the taste of these foods. Brassica plants contain something similar to the bitter compound phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), and scientists found that humans have dramatic variations in PTC sensitivity, with some people being “taste blind.”

I won’t let you use your genetics as an excuse! We humans can overcome nature when we want to.

Somewhere along the way in reading my cooking magazines, email newsletters, and online media, I came across a recipe for using cauliflower as pesto. For some reason (genetics?), I liked the idea of obliterating the cauliflower and transforming it into something mostly unrecognizable.

Part 1:
Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto
From The Washington Post

Kosher salt
6 to 8 ounces dried linguine
or other thin pasta
plus reserved pasta water
1 small (13-ounce) head cauliflower
1/2 Cup unsalted almonds
(or pine nuts)
2 or 3 dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I used oven-dried tomatoes from my garden that had been frozen)
1-ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or other similar hard Italian grating cheese, chopped
1 medium clove garlic
1 Tablespoon capers
, drained and rinsed
Small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves
Crushed red pepper flakes
, to taste
3-5 Tablespoons olive oil, to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons sherry vinegar, to taste

Cook linguine according to the package directions in a large pot of salted boiling water. When draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Keep pasta warm while preparing the pesto.

Cut the cauliflower into chunks, placing them in the food processor as you work.
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Stop when the bowl is about halfway full to allow space for processing (it is much easier to do this in two batches rather than forcing all the cauliflower in and having to pulse and stir repeatedly-trust me).
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Pulse until crumbs appear couscous-like. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
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DSC_6252Toast the almonds in the oven or in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until lightly browned, paying close attention and stirring to avoid burning. Cool, then put in the food processor. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, the cheese, garlic, capers and parsley. Process to a chunky bread-crumb consistency, then add the mixture to the mixing bowl with the cauliflower in the bowl.
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Stir in the oil, 2 teaspoons of the vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and crushed red pepper flakes to form a pesto-like mixture. The yield is several cups, likely more than you need for 4 servings of pasta.

Add the pasta and toss to coat. Add as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar as needed. I found that the recipe needed extra oil (which could be added in an earlier step also). It may be more accurate to gauge the flavor and texture once everything is stirred in with the pasta.

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit!

Part 2:
I had all this leftover cauliflower pesto, and I didn’t want to keep eating it with pasta. Fortunately, I remembered hearing that you can use a cauliflower mixture as a pizza crust.

Cauliflower Pizza
Adapted from Quick, Cheap Kitchen

Pizza crust:
Approx. 2 Cups of my leftover cauliflower pesto mix, or just raw cauliflower ground in a food processor
1 egg
1/4 Cup shredded mozzarella
3 Tablespoons of flour

dried Italian seasonings to taste, around 1 teaspoon. I used a bread dipping seasoning mix (basil, parmesan, onion powder, garlic powder) plus oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Toppings: Whatever you want! My example:
2-3 Tablespoons prepared basil pesto
2/3 Cup swiss chard stems
Olive oil

3/4 Cup cherry or grape tomatoes
A sprinkling parmesan cheeses

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Microwave cauliflower in a glass bowl for about 8 minutes. Let it cool some, and then transfer to a cheese cloth or clean dish towel to squeeze out any excess water.

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..


DSC_6287Mix together cauliflower, egg, mozzarella, herbs and spices in a large bowl. Spread the cauliflower crust out into a big pan using a rubber spatula. You can use a Silpat, parchment paper, or grease the pan and scatter with cornmeal or semolina. Bake the crust about 10-15 minutes. You will see the crust star to get very dark on the sides.
Mmm browned cheese bits.

Mmm browned cheese bits.


While the crust is browning, prepare toppings.
I sautéed my swiss chard stems in olive oil.
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And halved the tomatoes from my garden (this is the last of the ripe ones!)
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Add the pesto, swiss chard, halved tomatoes, and cheese. Lower the oven temperature to about 375 degrees and return the pizza to the oven to bake for about 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted.
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Got it just in time.

Got it just in time.

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The result was wonderfully indulgent. There must be a significant amount of “good fats” in each serving. It’s basically eating pesto on pesto after all! I had no trouble finishing the whole pizza myself in two days. That’s pretty impressive for cauliflower.

Hearty and Heart Healthy

You knew the anchovies were going to make another appearance.
It came time to use up the rest of those anchovies, and at least some of my parsley, in a somewhat traditional pasta dish. I also wanted to use up tomato sauce I had made due to the bunches of cherry tomatoes I keep harvesting from my garden–in late October no less!

I transplanted one of my outdoor parsley plants to an indoor pot in the hopes it could produce for me in the winter.  It hasn't been looking great!

I transplanted one of my outdoor parsley plants to an indoor pot in the hopes it could produce for me in the winter. It hasn’t been looking great!


It is nice when something comes together I wasn’t expecting. This salty, toothsome dish packed a flavor punch. I ended up using one of the tiny dried out chilis I had on hand, something I also grew in a planter and don’t use very much, because I thought this recipe could benefit from some extra spice. Red pepper flakes add a nice touch in tomato sauce. Since I had fewer anchovy filets available than one of the original recipes suggested, I threw in capers to fill it out.

Pasta Oreganata With Garlic, Anchovies and Tomatoes
Adapted from a combination of Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipe in Bon Appetit and a New York Times recipe

1-2 Cups of chunky tomato sauce, previously made, such as Smitten Kitchen’s fresh tomato sauce
6 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
4 Tablespoons of olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 dried chili, finely chopped (optional)
1 Tablespoon capers
1/4 Cup plain dry breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley
, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
Large pinch dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces of linguine or spaghetti
, I use whole wheat
additional chopped parsley leaves
small fresh basil leaves
(optional)

Set the oven temperature to 400°. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place breadcrumbs and herbs in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. oil over; stir until mixture resembles damp sand.
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Bake until golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Set aside.
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Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Put about 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat; a minute later, add garlic. Cook garlic so it bubbles gently. When it is lightly browned all over, add anchovies.
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Cook, stirring occasionally, for about a minute, until anchovies begin to fall apart. Add capers, if using.
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Add tomato sauce and chili. Adjust heat so the sauce bubbles nicely, and cook until mixture cooks down and comes together a little, about 5 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.
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Add drained pasta to skillet; toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water by 1/4-cupfuls if dry. Remove from heat; stir in basil. Drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil. Divide among bowls. Top each with oreganata and extra parsley.
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Appetizing Appetizers

You know how it is when you go out to a restaurant, you read over the menu, and you wish you could order a dinner made up of entirely of appetizers? Appetizers can be the most interesting and appealing options. It happens to be the same case sometimes with the food I cook at home! That is my excuse for providing two disparate appetizer recipes in this week’s blog entry.

The truth is, I did a good job cooking last week, including main dishes, but I did a poor job managing my time overall. After spending the days in front of a computer at work, I avoided the computer at home, even when there were important things to do there, including this blog! And I still managed to get an insufficient amount of sleep.

Anyway…I was excited to get eggplant in the farm share, because I had this article filed away for reference. I selected the below recipe, and used up the rest of my homemade garam masala!

A continuation on my garam masala notes: some grocery stores, like my beloved Wegman’s, have a bulk spice section, where you have total control over how much you commit to getting at once. I found great spices at a natural food store, also in Ithaca, called Greenstar. I’m not sure if Whole Foods has this option–it may depend on your area. You can also buy a small portion online through Penzeys (they give recipe suggestions too) or Amazon.com (woo hoo “Add-On Item”) or even eBay.

Baingan Bharta
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s New York Times recipe

1 pound eggplant
1 tablespoon lime juice
1+ tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion
, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small fresh chile like a jalapeño, or more to taste, seeds removed as desired and thinly sliced
1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, plum, grape or whatever type you have, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
or to taste
2-4 tablespoons cup chopped cilantro, including stems, or to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala

I like this method of cooking the eggplant, which I never have tried before. In fact, after reading this article, I realized that, as far as I can remember, I may have only cooked eggplant in the form of “parmesan,” or something closely related. I certainly enjoy it other ways, including the eggplant fries at Ithaca Ale House and baba ghanoush. It was good to branch out at home. And it certainly wasn’t hard!

As you can see, I was really stretching it with the last of some cilantro which had been wilting in my fridge.

As you can see, I was really stretching it with the last of some cilantro which had been wilting in my fridge.


Prick the eggplant with a thin knife or grill skewer.

Broil or roast on a heated cast-iron pan in the hottest possible oven, checking every few minutes to turn as necessary so that the skin turns black and the eggplant collapses. Don’t forget (if you’re me) that every time you open the oven you are in danger of setting off the smoke detector. It should be done in about 20 minutes. You can also do this over a grill set to high heat.
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When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, it is extremely easy to peel! Cut away the hard stem.
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Chop or mash in a bowl, with lime juice.

I put another kitchen tool to use! This actually probably mashed the eggplant more than I would have wanted.

I put another kitchen tool to use! This actually probably mashed the eggplant more than I would have wanted.

Add oil to a skillet set to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until it is golden brown, 5-10 minutes depending on your temperature control.
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Add the garlic and chiles and cook for another minute.
Add the tomato, turmeric and salt. Cook until the tomato is soft, 5 minutes or so.
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Stir in the eggplant purée and cook, stirring, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and garam masala and turn off the heat.
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Serve hot with warmed pita bread, naan or another type of Indian flatbread.
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Next up: I followed another blogger’s recreation of one of the many tempting recipes from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook: Scallion Biscuits with Whipped Goat cheese and Tomato Salad. I’ll let you read it here because she already includes helpful substitution suggestions (like for me, I used variations of milk and half and half in place of the whole milk and whipped cream in parts of the recipe). Also, because I have decided I mostly hate the process of working with cold butter to make pastry, I employed the cheating method: cutting the butter up into small pieces, putting them in the freezer to get super cold, and using a food processor to combine the butter and flour and then make the dough.

I served this as a first course for guests on Friday. And then I had leftovers for lunch on Saturday!
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Note that both of these recipes used tomatoes…from my garden…more on that soon!

Here I am with the entrée I served.
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Love Affair with Zucchini

I could barely contain my excitement when I came across coveted squash blossoms while visiting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market last weekend.

These lovely, edible, light orange flowers of the zucchini plant are a delicacy, for sure, because as far as I know, they are only available for a short time in the summer. There is something special about eating a flower, especially when it has the potential for preparation as a feature in a meal, rather than a garnish.
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I had to wait a day to cook them, so they did wilt a little bit. But I already had ricotta in my fridge, planning ahead for this very time when I would get to stuff the flowers.

Rather appropriately, I also had zucchini itself in my fridge. I added it to a Smitten Kitchen recipe I saw a few weeks ago, “One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes.” I had been dying to make this recipe, mostly because I stinkin’ LOVE farro. (So chewy and yummy…shaped kind of like orzo pasta but with a denser texture, as a grain. Barley is somewhat similar). But also because Deb gave a very useful guide for one-pan cooking, based on her reliable testing. You see, most people (including myself) expect that the grain gets cooked in its own pot, and then the vegetables sauteed separately in second pan. Not her!

Full disclosure: I did use a second pan to saute my zucchini, since I thought it might benefit from a little sear and pre-softening, in case it became soggy when dropped directly into the main pan. I had looked over one of Smitten Kitchen’s other recipes with zucchini first for inspiration. That recipe has the squash ending up in a tart, and it does call for using a saute pan. At least I used that same saute pan for frying the blossom, which made me fairly efficient at minimizing the dishes pile in my sink!

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Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta

adapted from Gourmet on epicurus
Can be served with your favorite tomato sauce for dipping.

1 Cup ricotta, freshly made is best, and whole-milk is better, but part-skim (I used) is fine
1 large egg yolk
1/4 Cup fresh mint or basil or a combination, finely chopped
2/3 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
12 to 16 large zucchini squash blossoms
1/2 Cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup chilled seltzer, club soda, or beer
Vegetable oil for frying

Equipment recommended: frying/candy thermometer.

For the filling, stir together ricotta, yolk, herbs, 1/3 cup parmesan, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

You may end up with extra filling, so feel free to scale it down to match the approximate number of blossoms you have. Yes, I realize that involves using part of an egg yolk–you could cook and eat the rest (why not?). Otherwise, I think that eggs are inexpensive and biodegradable enough that you aren’t being too wasteful if you discard a portion.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.


Carefully open each blossom and fill with ricotta filling, gently twisting end of blossom to enclose filling. I wouldn’t recommend using a spoon. The process will be so much easier if you can get your hands on something with a tapered tip which you can insert into the flower. Some reviewers did use the Ziplock bag-with-a-corner-snipped-off method.
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Whisk together flour, remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and carbonated liquid in a small bowl.
I didn't want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.

I didn’t want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.


Heat 1/2 inch oil to 375°F in a heavy skillet sized to fit half your blossoms. Meanwhile, dip blossoms in batter to thinly coat.
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Fry coated blossoms in batches, gently turning once, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes total.
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Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. (Check the temperature of the oil so it comes back up to 375°F between batches.) Season with salt. Serve alone or with tomato sauce.
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Farro with Summer Garden Vegetables
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1.5 Cups water
3/4 Cup semi-pearled/whole farro
1/2 medium onion
(I used about 3 ounces)
2 cloves garlic
4 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
4 ounces zucchini
, diced
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Basil leaves, cut in chiffonade, for serving
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add a little olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add diced zucchini and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
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Add to saucepan with farro.

Cut halved onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons. Add to pot with farro. Thinly slice garlic cloves and add to pot.

Halve tomatoes and add.

Fresh from my front-yard garden!

Fresh from my front-yard garden!


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Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan.
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Turn on heat to medium-high and set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring UNcovered pan up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Check the farro’s texture after 30 minutes–it should be tender, but will be still chewy, and most of the water should be absorbed. If you let your heat get too high and the water boils off, you may have to add extra liquid.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with additional olive oil, basil and parmesan.
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It’s a zucchini + pasta/grain craze! Melissa Clark of the New York Times also used zucchini and tomatoes this week in her recipe.

Having the plant and the flower together!

Having the plant and the flower together!

Bumper Crop – Part 2

One way I used up a ton of tomatoes (and a ton of time) was making ketchup. I used the recipe in my New York Times Cookbook — and found the result nearly inedible.  I don’t feel the need to track the recipe down now, but let me be clear about the problem: any time a ketchup recipe instructs you to add cloves, add no more than 1/4 what it says, and by no means add a full tablespoon!

I was in serious danger of committing serious waste.  How did I use it up?  Added lots of tomato paste, and used it in meatloaf.

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There was a New York Times recipe that served me well: Tomato Eclairs.  This was probably one of the most unique ways I used tomatoes, and boy was it fun! They didn’t come out terribly beautiful, which may be why I can’t track down any photos. But what a great brunch item! I even had leftover ricotta that I made fresh earlier in the week.

One thing I want to note that may seem obvious is that these are really only good fresh.  Like many pastries, the eclair loses texture and flavor with the refrigeration required to keep these safely for any length of time. I planned poorly and was the only one there to eat the fresh eclairs. Next summer, I will make them again for witnesses!

Bumper Crop – Part 1

This post will focus on one particular ingredient: fresh tomatoes. Last spring I planted several tomato plants, both the plum variety and juicy round ones.  I don’t know if I have especially fertile soil in my yard, if these plants are a particularly hardy breed, or if I do have a special touch, but I had a stellar crop for the second year in a row.  My life became a mission to keep these from going to waste. For some weeks, I measured at least a pound of tomatoes becoming ripe on a daily basis. I was seeding, dicing, blanching, stewing, and freezing as fast as I could. Here  are some of the ways I put tomatoes to good use.

photoOven-dried “sun-dried” tomatoes. I referenced allrecipes but all that says is bake for 200 degrees until you think the texture is right.  Mine probably took 10-11 hours. I wasted too much time reading the debate over how to store these, ultimately deciding to freeze them in a baggie. They did just fine.

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Cucumber and Avocado Soup with Tomato and Basil Salad – I thank my farm share for this inspiration.  I generally avoid cold soups, but after this refreshing version perhaps I’ll give them more of a chance.  Basil is another plant that thrives in my garden in the summer.  And though I didn’t grow cucumber myself this year, my neighbor bestowed me with an enormous one from his garden. (This was after I had pushed some of my tomatoes on him previously.) Neighbors sharing what they have in abundance — I love it!

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No recipe needed!