Friday, October 28, 2011

Artichoke-Olive Pesto

When we were in the French countryside near Cognac recently, we loved the vine-covered stone houses and crusty baguettes. The produce was incredibly fresh, and it was easy to see why: all along the road to town, there were small intensively-planted gardens, with dozens of varieties of vegetables and fruit in every plot. Close rows of cabbages, garlic, artichokes and squash occupied one single bed. It was striking to understand that this small town can feed itself fresh, local produce and take good care of the land, the farmers and the townfolk.

This pesto goes great on bread, but then you can probably call it artichoke tapenade. This is two recipes in one, because it so much more delicious to marinate your own artichoke hearts, insted of buying the overpriced packaged ones. The pesto is nutty and rich, but also bright and fresh-tasting. Miso is a great replacement for salt, because it adds a savory pungent flavor, and the white variety is mild enough to melt into the background.

Marinated Artichoke Hearts
1 cup sliced artichoke hearts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt, red chile flakes (to taste)
fresh herbs, minced: I used thyme and rosemary
garlic, minced (optional)

Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl and gently stir in artichoke hearts to saturate. Allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour or in refrigerator up to 3 days.

Artichoke-Olive Pesto
1/2 cup packed marinated artichoke hearts (recipe above)
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup kalamata olives
1 sprig rosemary leaves
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbs. white miso
1 small clove garlic (optional)

Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until desired texture. I like when specks of olives and pine nuts remain. Serve with pasta or as a spread for bread or polenta.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tarte aux Mirabelles

Bonjour! We have just returned from a luxurious vacation in France where we were lucky enough to be part of a fairy-tale perfect wedding in a château near Bordeaux. It was over the top in the way that only a château wedding in France could be, and we were thrilled to live the high life for our visit.
Of course, for us every trip is about food: so how was it? Well, day one was heavenly. Impossibly perfect baguettes and jam for breakfast, simple green salads with classic vinaigrettes, grated carrots, everything we missed from our days living in Paris.
And then... more bread! more plain green salads! grated carrots? again? We were quickly reminded that France is not on the forefront of the vegan scene, and mainstream French chefs hardly seem interested in toning down their use of animal products.

We did, however, have some exceptional meals in France, mostly what we cooked ourselves and shared with friends and family. There is a lot to be learned from the French (particularly in the countryside) and their way of eating, that is to say their way of life, for France understands that food is life. In the countryside, we were surrounded by fresh farms overflowing with a bounty of fresh produce, from raspberries and figs to leeks and cabbages.

We certainly had our fill of sweets on the trip, and have not lost our dessert momentum since returning! Sugar is tasting really goood these days. So it brought us back to our long summer days in Sonoma, when this fairy-tale trip to France was still in the future, and we transformed the summer fruit harvest (So much fruit that we shook the trees over a tarp!) into a sweet treat worthy of the best French pâtisseries.

When I first saw this beautiful tart at a potluck in Paris, looking like a yellow cherry pie, I asked what it was and the response, "tarte aux mirabelles" made me laugh. It sounded like a tart made out of a girl named Mary-Belle! In fact, it is a delicious tart, and quite a looker, made from small yellow mirabelle plums.
Bon appétit!

Tarte aux Mirabelles
This recipe was adapted from a French encyclopedia of food. The pâte alsacien called for hazelnut meal and 1 egg; I have substituted a flax egg and a blend of ground almonds and hazelnuts. The original recipe also called for apricot jam poured over the top, but I made a mirabelle jam to keep the gentle flavor of the mirabelles intact.

Pâte alsacien:
1 1/2 cups pastry flour
2/3 cup ground nuts
1/3 cup sugar
dash cinnamon
pinch salt
1/3 cup vegan butter
1 flax egg:
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon oil
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
juice of 1 lemon
3-4 tablespoons almond milk
cinnamon sugar, to sprinkle in unbaked shell

Pitted whole mirabelles (about 60 or enough to fill pie dish in a single layer)

Mirabelle Jam:
2/3 cup mirabelles, whole
2 tablespoons cointreau or liqueur of your choice (optional)
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons water

Before anything else, I would recommend pitting the mirabelles. This is time consuming, but beautiful work. Using a small paring knife, cut along the natural seam of the fruit, so the pit stands up vertically. Gently run the knife along either side of the pit and it will come out. Even those that fall apart a little can be salvaged by reshaping them as they are placed in the tart; the seriously pulpy ones can be used for the jam. Don't waste any!
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the flax egg by whisking flax, water, oil and baking powder, then set aside (It will thicken within a few minutes). Sift the flour, sugar and ground nuts into a large mixing bowl. Stir in a dash of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Begin gradually adding vegan butter, a tablespoon at a time, and combining with your hands or a fork. When all the butter is incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, add the flax egg and lemon juice. Stir to incorporate. Then, add the almond milk, little by little, until the dough forms a ball that holds together well but is not wet or sticky.

You can roll the dough out immediately or let it chill, covered in plastic wrap in the fridge. For this single-layer tart, roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Crimp the edges to your liking, then sprinkle the empty shell with cinnamon sugar to your taste.
Next, fill the tart with mirabelles. Starting on the outside, place the round fruits in circles until the tart is full. They will puff up slightly while baking, but look pretty much the same. Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes on the bottom rack until the crust is golden brown and fruit is cooked.

Meanwhile, make the jam. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer until thickened to the consistency of jelly or jam, about 30 minutes. Strain to remove pits. Plums are high in natural pectin, so no other thickener is necessary.

After removing tart from the oven, pour jam over the top while it is still warm. Allow to cool completely and serve at room temperature.

NOTE: I know mirabelles are a fruit that most people do not have access to. Any stone fruit can be used for this recipe. In fact, in the original encyclopedia recipe, this was listed as tarte aux abricots (apricot tart) and mirabelles were a possible substitute. Have fun!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Roasted Potato Salad

Sweet, sweet summer. Lying lazily in the shade, looking up at the sparkling glimpses of sunlight in the trees. Drinking iced coffee, swimming, playing and laughing the days away. It's hard to believe we are at the end of August and summer 2011 will be history. But this potato salad is not only delicious on a hot summer's evening, but can be made with readily-available ingredients all year round.
Roasted Potato Salad
This is a hearty, comforting potato salad that looks and tastes much more elegant than its cousin Mayonaissa Potata.

about 6 red potatoes, sliced into bite-sized cubes
1 large onion, sliced thickly lengthwise
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
about 5 ribs celery, diced
finely chopped dill, to taste
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
Mustard Vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons mustard
1 teaspoon brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375. Toss cubed potatoes and sliced onions with olive oil. Spread in a single layer on baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until potatoes are golden brown. Set potatoes aside. Make the vinaigrette: Whisk all ingredients except olive oil until well combined. While whisking constantly, stream in olive oil gently until dressing emulsifies into a thick, glossy texture. Put roasted potatoes and onions in large bowl, and toss in diced celery and dill. Gently toss salad with vinaigrette.To toast pumpkin seeds, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast about 5- 10 minutes in the 375-degree oven. They should be lightly browned and puffed up. Garnish potato salad with toasted pumpkin seeds.

This salad can be served with still-warm potatoes from the oven, or marinated for hours, or even a few days, ahead of time. Either way it is delicious! If you don't like dill, use parsley or any herb of your choice. The dressing really relies on the flavor of the oil, so use the best-tasting extra virgin olive oil you have.

Bio-Intensive Life

We are so blissed-out in Sonoma County, learning the ins and outs of the bio-intensive system of gardening. Spending our days surrounded by overflowing beds teeming with organic produce, we come home dirty, sweaty and smiling. The bio-intensive system encourages double-digging(preparing the soil by digging twice as deeply as other gardening systems), close plant spacings and placing complementary plants side-by-side. The result is impressive yields of organic produce, even using limited space, water resources or poor quality soil. And best of all, following the Bio-Intensive system correctly will actually improve the health of your soil after each season of planting, by returning the nutrients through compost.

We are certainly still in the beginning stages of our knowledge about Bio-Intensive gardening, but we love what we are learning. Gardening is not just work, it's a way of life, and we are letting go of the last shreds of New York City-paced living and succumbing to the slow-jam rhythm of life in the garden. If you're interested in learning more about gardening, the Bio-Intensive system is fantastic for beginners and with a little care and love, you can reap the benefits of your organic garden.

To learn more about the Bio-Intensive method of farming and growing vegetables like these:

Up next: Roasted Potato Salad! Say yes to summer, look up at the shimmering leaves of trees, and try this truly special potato salad. Get blissed out; it's August!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Journey to India

We have been around the world and back! This past March we left behind our Brooklyn home (including our garden!) and jetted off to South India to explore the beaches, wildlife and cuisine of this glorious land. We recently returned renewed and inspired to our native California to start a new life.

We are currently working as apprentices on a farm in Sonoma County, so our lives have never been so centered around gardens. We have been having a blast getting things cooking in our new home, inspired by the amazing bounty of beautiful, fresh seasonal produce that we are harvesting daily.

Here, a night of feasting was inspired by the rich aromas, textures and flavors of our journey to India as well as the fresh California ingredients we are now seeing on a daily basis, including fresh California bay leaves and tender immature onions. As they say in India,

Basmati Rice with Bay Leaves
The flavors of this basic rice depend on the earthy, invigorating aroma of fresh bay leaves.
Serves 2-3

1 cup white basmati rice
2 tbs. coconut oil
6 fresh bay leaves, bruised in mortar
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 stick cinnamon
1 3/4 cups water

Rinse rice well in hot water, then drain. Heat coconut oil over medium heat, then add cinnamon stick and cumin seeds. Toast about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add rice and bay leaves, stir to coat with oil. Stirring occasionally, toast rice for a few minutes until a few grains are gently browned. Add water, turn up heat to high until boiling, then cover and reduce heat as low as it goes. Cook about 20 minutes, then turn off heat. Do not remove lid, and allow the rice to finish cooking in its own steam, about 10-15 minutes.

Masala-Crusted Roasted Vegetables
The warming, spicy flavors of the masala can compliment any fresh vegetables of your choice.
Serves 2-3

1 tbs. coriander seeds
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 dry bay leaf
1 small cinnamon stick
1 tsp. allspice berries
1-2 dry red chiles
1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 sweet potatoes, diced
1 small head cauliflower,separated into medium-sized florets
1 small head broccoli, separated into medium-sized florets
3 tbs. coconut oil, melted
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. smoked sea salt (or plain salt)
2-3 tbs. water

Preheat oven to 375
First, coarsely grind all whole spices with mortar and pestle. (Any combination of your favorite spices can be ground: total volume should be about 3 tbs.) Combine vegetables with hand-ground spices and powdered garam masala and turmeric. Add coconut oil, lime juice, salt and stir to combine. Add enough water to coat the vegetables in a thick paste of spices. Lightly grease a baking sheet with coconut oil, then spread vegetables in a single layer. Roast for about 30 minutes, until vegetables are fully cooked and browned.

Pattypan Squash in Tomato-Ginger Gravy
This sweet and bright curry is a perfect vehicle for the fresh produce of summer.
Serves 2-3

2 tbs. coconut oil
1 tbs. cumin seeds
1 tbs. black mustard seeds
1 tbs. ground coriander
1 tsp. fennel seeds (coarsely ground)
1/2 large onion, pureed with 3 tbs. water
5-6 tomatoes
2 inches fresh ginger root
1-2 tbs crushed jaggery (raw sugar) or to taste
6-8 pattypan squash, sliced into bite-sized pieces
salt, to taste

Heat oven to 375. Lightly grease a baking sheet with coconut oil, then spread pattypan in a single layer, sprinkled with salt. Roast about 20 minutes, until cooked and lightly browned. Meanwhile, start the gravy. Heat coconut oil over medium heat, then add spices. Stir to toast, and when fragrant, add onion paste and a pinch of salt. Stir to cook until onion begins to separate from oil. Make puree of tomatoes and ginger. Stir into onion-spice mixture. Reduce heat and allow to simmer until thickened. Add jaggery and salt to taste. Stir in cooked pattypan about 5 minutes before serving and stir into heated gravy, simmering for a few minutes to combine flavors. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.

Spring Onion Chutney
This cooling chutney has the mild sweetness of roasted young onions.

about 30 small spring onions or scallions
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. red chile powder
1 tsp. garam masala
3 tbs. coconut cream

Preheat oven to 375. Wash and trim spring onions, then sprinkle with salt, chile powder and garam masala. Roast about 20 minutes, until all onions are soft and a few have become crispy. Allow to cool, then puree with coconut oil. Texture should be very smooth. Chill, then serve as condiment with any Indian dish.