Green Cake

St. Patrick’s Day was last Monday. I enjoy the holiday, but it’s not because I am one-eighth Irish (in fact, I have very little personal connection to my European roots). It’s because I love the color green! Green holds a very close second place position to my favorite color, cornelian red (Let’s Go Red!). Green and brown were my main wedding colors (see below). And we all can agree that green has a positive connotation, especially this time of year.
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When I came across a recipe for a naturally green cake, on a new site I’ve been following, I couldn’t resist. It used up parsley I had been working through, and made a dent in a leftover package of mint. These herbs are frequently called for in the Mediterranean dishes I’ve been craving. Specifically, the first part of the mint was used in mint and pistachio tabbouleh I served alongside Red Pepper and Lamb Pita sandwiches.
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I was very intrigued by the recipe. The cake has an added benefit of freshening one’s breath. You can’t say that about just any dessert or breakfast item, can you?
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I didn’t have enough of the herbs for a full-sized cake, so I scaled it down to 1/4 of the original recipe. It is fairly easy to do if you have a kitchen scale and you can figure out divisions in your head, or, like me, you have a nerdy husband (or calculator) nearby.

For those of you without a kitchen scale, I tried to closely translate the ratios into measuring cups and spoons.

If I needed another reason to try it out, I saw that this recipe was adapted from a recipe in the cookbook from Roberta’s, a well-known restaurant in Brooklyn. I’ve only visited the restaurant once so far, and I can report only positive things about the food.

Roberta’s Parsley Cake
Adapted from Food 52’s Adaptation and scaled down by 75% to fit one 8″ cake pan (a smaller pan would work too)

1 Cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
1/4 Cup mint leaves, tightly packed
41 grams (3/16 Cup, or a little more than 1/8 Cup) olive oil, plus oil for the pan
72.5 grams (a little over 1/2 Cup) all-purpose flour
3.75 grams (1 1/4 teaspoons) cornstarch
1.75 grams
(a little over 1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
2 grams
(about 1/3 teaspoon) baking powder
1 large egg
, at room temperature
82 grams (a little less than 1/2 Cup) sugar

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First, make the herb-oil mixture. Add parsley and mint to a blender or food processor, and process at low speed. You may need to stop from time to time to stir the herbs into the blade.
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Increase the speed to medium and add the olive oil, a little at a time, until mixture is fully combined. The recipe says to keep the mixture a little stringy rather than obliterating it. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the parsley mixture out of the processor/blender and into a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.
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In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg for about 30 seconds.
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Add the sugar and turn up speed to high, running until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale yellow color, a few minutes.

Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the herb-oil mixture.
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With the machine on low, carefully add the dry mixture and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. This apparently develops the color. I transferred the mixture right away to my cake pan, which is lined with parchment paper and oiled, but you can also use a different container for the cake-batter-resting stage.
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How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!

How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!


Time to bake! Preheat the oven to 340°F. Bake time will vary significantly 12-20 minutes, so be sure to use a toothpick or cake tester to check for doneness. Rotate the cake at about 8 minutes. The top should only brown slightly; turn the heat down if it becomes too brown.
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Let cake cool in the pan. To serve, make serving-size squares or wedges of cake. The cake may be delicious with vanilla ice cream and lemon zest. Mine was enjoyed warm with butter.
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The cake was excellent, particularly the texture. I must have enjoyed olive oil cakes in restaurants before, but I don’t think I ever made it at home. This cake also had a wonderful herbal aroma–honestly, the best way to describe it is a mojito smell! I was skeptical about the cake’s appeal, and wondered if the color would be “too much” for some people. One of my favorite ways to keep food from being wasted is to share it with others, so I brought several plain pieces to test on–I mean, offer to– my church bells choir-mates at rehearsal.

As it turned out, no one even hesitated to try the cake. Everyone liked it. I would like to believe it was not only because they were in a festive St. Patty’s Day mood.
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New Ideas

Many people may be ramping up their cooking as part of the new year, whether the reason is to be healthier, to reign in food spending, or, like me, to enjoy new cookbooks that were acquired as part of the holiday season.

Matt’s cousin, an impressive cook and founder of Cooking with Kyler, along with his wife, gifted us with the Ottelenghi: The Cookbook. I had been meaning for a long time to borrow the much-talked-about Jerusalem cookbook from my library, so this was a nice treat to experience Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s style of cooking.
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It seems to me that many of these restaurant-chef authored books incorporate more of those hard-to-find or very recipe-specific ingredients, a lot of homemade components, and frequent scratch-based instructions in their recipes (i.e. home pickling, stocks, and doughs). I have yet to fully commit myself to such an approach. I don’t strive for perfect authenticity. Especially when becoming introduced to a new cookbook, I gravitate toward the recipes that require minimal advance preparation.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi start the book by listing some of their favorite ingredients, many of which I’m on board with but some that I won’t rush to acquire (rose water) or to which am not ready to commit (sumac). I love their #8 item, pomegranate. The first recipe I prepared from the book was a fennel salad with beautiful pomegranate seeds and lemon dressing (I left out the sumac that was listed) as part of a New Year’s Eve meal for two. I had a fennel bulb left over, so that drove my decision to make the below recipe.
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Fennel, Cherry Tomato, and Crumble Gratin
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
Scaled down to about 2 servings from the original 6-8

Crumble ingredients:
Makes about 10 ounces

150 grams (a little over 1.5 Cups) all-purpose flour
50 grams/1/4 Cup “superfine” sugar (I used regular sugar and whizzed it in the food processor)
100 grams/6.5 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

If starting from a stick of butter, I recommend cutting it into the small cubes and then returning those cubes to the refrigerator or freezer to ensure they are very cold when added to your mixer or food processor.

Put the flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl to mix with your hands, or in an electric stand mixer, or, like me, in a food processor to work into uniform read crumb consistency. Transfer to a container. You’ll use about 2/3 of it if making a smaller portion of the vegetables like below. The rest can be kept in the freezer for a later date.
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Gratin:
9 ounce fennel bulb
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp thyme leaves
, plus a few whole sprigs
1 clove garlic
, crushed
1 tsp course salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 Cup milk or cream
(I used 2%)
2/3 recipe of Crumble from above
a little over 1 ounce/33 grams Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Approximately 1/2 Cup/150 grams (but this is really to taste) cherry tomatoes, preferably on the vine
a sprinkling of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim along the top and the base of the fennel stalks. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise, and slice each half into pieces about 2/3 inch thick.
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Add to a large bowl with olive oil, thyme leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss.
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Pour into an ovenproof dish and pour milk/cream over the mixture. Mix the Crumble and the Parmesan and sprinkle on top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes.

I forgot to add the milk until partway through the cooking time. Fortunately, it turned out OK!

I forgot to add the milk until partway through the cooking time. Fortunately, it turned out OK!


Remove the dish from the oven and remove the aluminum. Add the tomatoes on top, and scatter some thyme springs on top of that.
How about an extra sprinkling of cheese for good measure?

How about an extra sprinkling of cheese for good measure?


Here’s another reason this recipe caught my attention, and how I was resourceful–these off-season tomatoes actually came from my garden. I think they were one of the the last batches picked from my plants back in November, and they didn’t look especially appealing to eat raw so I roasted them. Then I froze them because I wasn’t feeling the urge to eat them at the time. Since this recipe called for roasting as well, I was happy to use them.

Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, approximately. You want to be able to poke through the fennel easily and ideally achieve a golden color. Allow the dish to rest out of the oven for a few minutes before sprinkling with parsley.

I was able to pull a few last acceptable-looking leaves from this plant before I laid it to rest for good.

I was able to pull the last acceptable-looking leaves from this plant before I laid it to rest for good.


As usual, I forgot to add the parsley until after the photos.

As usual, I forgot to add the parsley until after the photos.


Now I want to eat these tomatoes! The sugar and butter in the Crumble make the dish fairly indulgent. I will have to see what the rest of that Crumble can do for other roasted vegetables, perhaps ones I don’t especially like.
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Here’s to trying even more new things in the new year!

Italian-American Wedding Soup

This recipe is brought to you by the letter E…for escarole. Escarole, that vegetable that makes me groan, because it tastes so bitter raw. Which means I have to make an E for effort to cook it, and when I do, I always feel the need to do something complicated instead of simply sautéing it. Yes, I know this is MY problem.

I was surprised to discover that escarole is a fairly normal ingredient to add to Italian Wedding Soup. The Italian-Style Wedding Soup flavor of Campbell’s used to be one of my favorites as a kid. Yet I’m not sure I have had soup by the same name since then, and I had never made it at home. Of course, it is just a name, and there’s a good chance I have had a chicken-broth-based-vegetable-soup-with-meat-and-sometimes-pasta. Did you know that “wedding soup” was a mistranslation, and the original Italian phrase actually meant “married soup,” because of how well meats and green vegetables marry together? Now you know.

I really enjoyed how this came out using the slow cooker. The meatballs were so tender. Each vegetable added something interesting to the overall flavor. And with the chicken broth base, it definitely came out tasting like comfort food.

Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

DSC_6095Because I only had 1 pound of ground beef instead of 1.5, I scaled most of the entire recipe down by 25%–including using 3/4 of my 2 beaten eggs. I’ll spare you that silly instruction on the ingredient list (I probably could have gotten by with just 1 egg).

Besides keeping close to recommended ratios for keeping meatballs together, the recipe is, of course, flexible. If you increase the greens, like I did, be sure to compensate with added broth.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko run through the food processor, but it would have probably worked in its original form)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
(I used 1 pound, as mentioned earlier)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
(I used 6)
3 large carrots, chopped (I used 3/4 Cup)
2 pieces of celery, chopped (I used 1/2 Cup)
1/2 onion, chopped (I used 1/4 Cup)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed (I used 1 tsp dried)
3/4 teaspoon dried basil (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
2 bay leaves (I used 2 small Long Island bay leaves collected during a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill)
1 small head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used 6 ounces sliced escarole and 3.5 ounces of a mysterious green from my CSA I believe was mustard greens)
1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo because I had it – 3/4 Cup)
Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

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Escarole

Escarole

Mustard greens?

Mustard greens?


In a large bowl, combine eggs, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
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Add ground beef; mix well.
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Shape mixture into about forty 1-1/4-inch meatballs.
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Now it is time to choose your method for browning the meatballs. One possibility is to use a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil, and brown meatballs, half at a time, draining on paper towels. I tried this for the first half, and turning the meatballs was a challenge. It was much easier to bake them in oven at 350, turning once, for 10-15 min total.

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine broth, carrots, dried herbs and spices, if using (oregano, basil, garlic powder etc.) the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently add meatballs.
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Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 hours, stirring in fresh oregano (if using), pasta, and greens during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
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Ladle into bowls. Garnish if desired. Sit back and enjoy.
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The Urge to Preserve

I started to feel the impending change of season press upon me.

The weather certainly wasn’t providing any hints, as I was enveloped by hot, wet, soupy air all last weekend. I did notice brown and orange leaves start to accumulate around the edges of the streets in my neighborhood. It was the obvious things: all of a sudden, Labor Day passed, beaches closed, schools started back in session, and I was reminded that, being September, we are only one month away from October, the month it first SNOWED last year.

Fortunately, it is possible to capture the lushness of summer in a tupperware container! I long to keep the excitement of my garden treasures alive. Call it the urge to preserve.

Cue the whir of the food processor.

Bunches of my healthy basil plant and flourishing parsley plants in hand, it was time to make some sauces and condiments.
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Basil Pesto
Parsley Pesto
Fromage Fort

Pesto is one of the very few “recipes” I pretty much have memorized, and/or feel comfortable adjusting by taste and feel. It all started with a recipe Matt and I received from a cooking class put on at a now-closed local Viking Cooking School location.

Basil Pesto
From Viking Cooking School’s recipe packet for a Breads and Pizzas class
Makes about 1 Cup

1 large clove garlic, or to taste, peeled
1/4 Cup pine nuts
2 ounces/approx 1/4 Cup packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
2 Cups (packed) fresh basil
1/4-1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
should be plenty

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Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes, watching closely and shaking the pan after the first minute or two. This can also be done in a dry cast iron or saute pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pine nuts will continue to brown if they sit in a hot pan.
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Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to make a paste.
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Add basil and pulse.
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Drizzle in olive oil gradually, ideally with the motor running, until pesto reaches desired smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
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Basil doesn’t retain its green color in pesto, when exposed to the air, so the best plan is to drizzle extra olive oil on top and put plastic wrap directly on the surface before refrigerating or freezing (it still tastes fine when it darkens). Pesto is both flavor and calorie rich, so I usually only use a little at time, which I can snag from the frozen container.
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While I was at it with the processing, I needed to deal with the variety of cheese cubes I bought on a whim at Fairway. (I swear, I have gotten much better about resisting the urge to impulse buy.) Cheese is one of those things that lasts a long time, making it easy for you to forget to use before it is too late. Fortunately, you can make something called Fromage Fort, a cheese spread, to transform the old cheese into something desirable for another week or so, and even use it for entertaining.
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Fromage Fort
From Alton Brown via Food Network online

1 pound left-over cheese, (cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, provolone, fontina, mozzarella, stinky blue cheeses all work*) at room temperature
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, softened
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic

Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Store in the refrigerator; consume within a week (no problem!).
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*I used 5 ounces of ricotta, 7 ounces of the miscellaneous cubes that were probably in the gouda and ricotta salata families, and 6 ounce of Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It was beyond delicious, especially broiled on some sourdough toast.

Parsley Almond Pesto
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
with thick stems removed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/3 Cup unsalted almonds

Puree garlic and parsley with the salt in food processor. Drizzle olive oil in gradually, ideally with the machine running. Add the almonds and pulse to chop.
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This can be saved in the same way as the basil pesto. However, it keeps its bright green flavor much better in the refrigerator.

I served this with gnocchi I made from the King Arthur Flour website.
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and a recipe that served gnocchi with zucchini and tomatoes but substituted in the parsley pesto:

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

Recognize those tomatoes yet?


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I can still taste summer!