Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vegetable Pedophilia

This is a public service announcement to inform you that someone in your neighborhood may be a vegetable pedophile. It is quite possible that this person lives in San Francisco's Mission district and goes to the Ferry Building on Saturdays and looks for the tiniest, cutest, babiest vegetables she or he can find--at whatever cost. I know two such people. One lives with me, sometimes blogs with me, and the other is her cartoon Pixar manguy. I came home from my own Noe Valley farmers' market excursion this morning with a bag full of mature, hearty dark leafy greens and large Tokyo turnips to find these teeny-tiny baby baby radishes wedged together in a ziplock bag sitting on our kitchen island. Note the binder clip for relative scale.

I went, "EEP!" and immediately grilled Erin on where she got these infants and how much they cost. Marin Roots Farm stand at 20 cents per tiny radish, for a bag of 50 (who counted them?!). Marin Roots does have amazing produce but I'm always too cheap to get it and afraid of my own tendencies toward fetishizing cute things, especially food. Unable to resist their miniature charm, I swooped this ten-sack of tiny radishes away to my room for playtime with my set of Russian bubushka dolls. I also ran back to the kitchen to scoop up these cute baby baby shallots that Erin got from Diry Girl Produce to complete my obsessive compulsive laying out of cute things in little rows on top of my dainty handkerchief collection (see the tiniest tiniest babushka? that's smaller than the very tip of my fingernail).

I finally ate one of the little radishes and it was very crisp and deliciously earthy, but I devoured it so quickly and my belly was still hungry afterward. I felt like a violent ogre. After this frenzy passed, and I packed the tiny baby radishes back into their ziplock veggie outfacing babybjorn, I was left wondering whether the veggie pedophiles of this world get more pleasure from the overwhelming cuteness of these tiny, tender things or whether they thrive off the vertiginous feeling of being a powerful giant themselves in comparison to these wee helpless forms. I look into my own soul and continue to seek an answer in the abyss.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Crafty, Home-Foraged Meal: Brussel sprouts, pomegranates, and parsely-pecan-date pesto

There are moments in a life when all a person wants is to be alone, when the sonic and emotional weight of all those intrusions into the dreamworld of solitude crush upon the weeping soul, and the mere thought of leaving the house threatens to burst the delicate membrane of sanity. But then there is the body, with all of its demands. I am hungry. The call must be answered. And, tragically, there is nothing in the house to eat for dinner.

That is when the immigrant-raised, hoarder mind (and longtime fan of MacGyver) springs into action, digging through the forgotten annals of the crisper and cupboard to work its alchemy upon the sundry wilted, yellowed, dehydrated and jarred bodies of potential that had heretofore given up all hope, resigned to their appointment with the compost bin of time.

Here is how I managed to stay inside on this cold, winter night and feed myself with the sorry remnants scattered around my kitchen. (A snowless, California night, albeit, but one spent in a drafty shelter poorly equipped to keep out out the elements.)

What I unearthed around my kitchen:

- Wilted, fading brussels sprouts

- Yellowed parsley belonging to my roommate (and sometime blogmate) Erin. I justified requisitioning it on the grounds that she had already used it for the purpose she bought it for and who ever knows what to do with all that extra parsley and besides she had just gone through all my farmers' market honey last week when she had a cold, so owed me some provisions.

- Half a pomegranate languishing in the bottom of a tupperware

Seemed a little sketchy but the pomegranate smelled okay. I sliced off the end just to be safe.

- Assorted bits & bobs, odds 'n' ends (Piave cheese, garlic cloves, dried shitake mushrooms)

- Penne pasta cooked who knows how long ago

It turned out to smell a little rancid, so I bit my lip and threw it out. Luckily there was still some dry pasta left in the pantry, so I set some water to boil with salt and olive oil.

I stood thinking for awhile about how I was going to make this all taste good and not be depressing. Then the parsley gave me an idea. Tacked to our kitchen corkboard was a page from the Wall Street Journal I had come across at Stable Cafe back in October featuring fall pestos that, well, kind of blew my mind. An unlikely source, yes, but enterprising captains of industry hold dear to their weekend hobbies. The article "Goodbye Basil, Hello Pumpkin Seeds," gives ideas for 11 different pestos that go beyond the basic basil + pine nuts + olive oil equation.

I had never gotten into pesto before but this article was full of creative possibilities. Among them were:

pistachios + breadcrumbs + mint

lardo + rosemary

rapini + parmesan + porcini

walnuts + grapeseed oil

pumpkin seeds + spinach

Basically, just throw a complementary combination of some herb, plus nuts, and oil into a food processor (or grind it with a mortar and pestle if you're into Old World suffering) and the result is alchemical. With very few ingredients and relatively little effort, you could impress many many mouths and add a tasty topper to many many things (pasta, toasts, dead animal, other vegetables).

One of the parsley medleys reminded me that I had pecans and dates in the cupboard from a recent trip to the country store in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco, and I proceeded to make the most magic magic magic pesto ever:

Pecans, Parsley, and Date Pesto
Recipe adapted from Alon Shaya, of Domenica restaurant in New Orleans

In a food processor pulse together a 1/2 cup pecans, 1/2 cup parsley leaves (just chop the stems short but you barely have to chop the leaves), 1/4 cup Parmesan (or a salty, hard Italian cheese), 1/2 cup pecan oil (I used hazelnut oil), and a teaspoon of kosher salt until combined but not totally pureed. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in four chopped dates and two teaspoons balsamic vinegar.

The recipe recommends spooning the pesto over duck, pork, or ricotta spread on grilled bread, and I could see how the sweet bits of the dates would go well with one of these meats, but it was pretty exciting over penne pasta.

Before mixing the pasta and pesto, I cut the ends off the brussels sprouts and picked off the sadder yellow petals and sliced them in half lengthwise. Then I sauteed the three cloves of minced garlic until just brown, added the brussels sprouts, sprinkled them with salt, and sauteed for about 8 minutes, covering the pan for part of the time so they would steam through. About halfway through, I also threw in these shitake bits that I had rehydrated in the boiling pasta water and fished out with a mesh strainer spoon. As a last minute inspiration, I also spooned in a big dollop of some crazy delicious duck fat concoction my friend Jesse had left over here when he made us cassoulet the other day (a life-changing meal).

While I waited for the brussels edges to get crispy, I rescued the still-good seeds from that old pomegranate.

After everything was cooked, I tossed together the penne, the pesto, and the brussels-garlic-mushroom mix, then sprinkled the whole thing with my precious pomegranate seeds and grated Piave cheese.

Like the article's simple yet brilliant ideas for pesto, the meal felt like it was conjured out of next to nothing. Each bite was a miracle, the pomegranates bursting tartly over the nutty pesto, an occasional creamy sweet bit of date, and the salty garlic crunch of the brussels sprouts. I kept whispering, "I am a magician. I am a magician. I am a magician." A lack of humility that Angus MacGyver would surely disapprove of, but we should all be entitled to our private moments of megalomania, as long as they dissipate once another witness enters the room.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Delicata Ring in the New Year

It is the year 2011. The champagne has been drained, the confetti cast, and the eek-y half of this blog has sprung back to life like one of those dormant fern balls soaked in water. It's been a long, solo march to the far poles of the vegetable kingdom this year, but I look forward to moving this blog beyond the kale towards an adventurous eggplant kohlrabi camaraderie (see here if you are confused).

Speaking of going beyond the kale, here is my new obsession--delicata squash rings. Aren't they divine? I should have worn these with some basil earrings and a cranberry bead necklace to my friend's New Year's party. (Instead, I wore striped overalls with a paper tiara and someone told me I looked like I'd just come from jail. Oh well.)

 I got the idea of baking whole delicata rings from undergound food network celebrity chef Leif Hedendal while feasting on leftovers from a spectacular dinner he helped cater with sometime co-conspirator and intrepid culinary mover & shaker Nicole LoBue.

Despite being a winter squash, the delicata has a rind that's soft enough to eat and makes for a crisp prelude to its soft, sweetish inside. With some advice from Leif, here is how I made them.


ingredients: delicata squash, olive oil, salt

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Yes, that's very hot.

Wash the squash very well since you and yours will be eating the rind. Slice off the ends and throw them in the compost (yes, it is necessary to have a compost bin to complete this recipe properly). Then slice the squash into 1/2-inch thick rings. I took a paring knife and sliced out the seedy centers from all the rings, but perhaps a more clever way to get the seeds out would be to slice the squash in half crosswise first and dig the entrails out with a long spoon (or chopstick?). This part I did not ask for advice about...

Toss the rings in a bowl with enough olive oil to coat generously and salt to taste. Spread the rings out on a baking pan/cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Roast in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or however long it takes to get the rings to desired crispy-softness without blackening them beyond edibility (salty-crispy outside, soft inside, so good). About halfway through (say 10-12 minutes, you should flip the rings over, if you can be bothered. It's not necessary, but they'll roast more evenly that way.

Your guests will be delighted with this tasty new food for their fingers. I served them alongside a lentil and vegetable soup, a leek tart from the Chez Panisse Vegetables recipe, and raw radish slices with butter for a cozy wintry meal with old friends. The next day, I had some fun stacking the leftovers, as you can see: