Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cook the Books: Garden Spells and Bachelors Buttons

With the fruits of our garden labors taking up an increasing amount of real estate on my kitchen counters, it is the perfect time to let you know about an evocative novel, Garden Spells, the debut offering by bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen (NY: Bantam Books, 2007). This is the current book selection for the bimonthly foodie book club, Cook the Books.

Cook the Books features books from all kinds of genres, from chef memoirs to fiction featuring cooking or foodcentric themes, and participants offer up posts that discuss our current selection and their culinary creations inspired by their reading. I will be coordinating the roundup of submissions at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and then our guest judge, Jenna of the wonderfully entertaining blog, Literature and a Lens, will pick a winner.

Garden Spells
is a lyrical blend of Southern Gothic and magical realism set in a small North Carolina town, where the Waverley clan has always had a certain reputation for odd powers. Elderly cousin Evanelle is driven to give people gifts which they later find out that they need and want, from Strawberry Pop-Tarts to bed linens, condoms and mango cutters. Caterer and night gardener Claire cooks up magical foods that have various properties, like the snapdragon casserole used to ward off the unwanted admiration of her hunky new neighbor. It would be a plot spoiler to let y'all know about the power that her wayward sister Sydney discovers that she possesses late in the book, but suffice it to say that all of the Waverley women have unusual talents. Even the family apple tree in the backyard has an ominous power: the ability to fling apples around, which, if eaten, will give the bearer a vision of the biggest event in his or her life. And bigger is not always better.

There were so many delicate and intriguing things that Claire cooks up in this book: lavender bread, crystallized pansies, violet white cake, lemon-verbena sorbet, and honeysuckle wine. Herbs and garden vegetables feature prominently in her sensual descriptions and it was a treat to read the excerpts from the Waverley kitchen journal at the rear of this book. Chive Blossoms will ensure you will win an argument and are an antidote for hurt feelings, and Nasturtiums are noted as promoting appetite in men (for sex or food, or both?) and for making women secretive. Very entertaining.

With a swath of long-blooming Bachelors Buttons in my vegetable patch, grown just for attracting pollinating insects (and because they're so easy to grow and are self-sowing), I was delighted to learn from this book that the petals are edible and, according to this book,
"Bachelor's buttons make people see sharper, helpful for finding thing like misplaced keys and hidden agendas"

Well, sez I, I could certainly use help in both these departments, so I plucked a handful of petals, and used them to garnish a salad gleaned right out of the Crispy summer garden: mixed lettuces, radishes soaked in rice vinegar and some sliced asparagus stalks. They really looked lovely as a garnish and I am making a note to remind myself to use them on top of my next Fourth of July dessert. They are so deeply blue.

I'll be posting the roundup of all the Garden Spells submissions over at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and encourage you to drop by and see all the different, creative interpretations of this dreamy novel that we've all cooked up.

Our August/September Cook the Books selection is A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg, a collection of essays and recipes, compiled from her popular blog Orangette. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun for this and all future rounds of CTB by reading the selected book, and then blogging up your book commentary and a dish inspired from its pages.

Off to deliver some garden produce to my friends. Now, where'd I put those keys?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic for Weekend Herb Blogging #292

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet, by William Shakespeare)

And so it seems the Bard's words ring true with each trip I take to the ethnic markets in Albany.

Finding a new vegetable to cook up is so much fun. While at the vast arboretum that is the produce section at Albany's Asian Supermarket, I found a bag of bright green pea shoots to play with. They looked just like the tips of my own garden peas with their curly tendrils and fleshy stems and leaves, but since clipping the tips of peas would mean diminishing the precious harvest of fresh peas from the pod, I have never wanted to harvest my own.

I washed through this bag and picked out a few yellowed pea shoots and then rinsed them off. My cookbook collection advised me to simply prepare this tender vegetable with some garlic, oil and a splash of soy sauce, so that is what I did. I threw 5 cloves of finely chopped garlic in some heated peanut oil; stirred them around for a minute or so, then threw in my pea shoots. They wilted down, though not as much as spinach or other fresh greens would, and after 3-4 minutes of stir-frying, I splashed in a tablespoon of soy sauce and hied them over to the table.

Curiously, these pea shoots did not so much taste of peas as spinach. They have a springy texture from the stems and a soft, melting greens taste in their leaves. They are full of all kinds of wonderful nutrients and they will be sproinging their way onto my table again soon. I may even have to consider harvesting my own, much as I love my sweet little petit pois; that's how tasty they are.

I found a great list of pea shoot recipes on this website and will be sure to try out some of these methods soon.

This sojourn into the possibilities of pea shoots is my contribution to the 292nd edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which I am hosting here at The Crispy Cook. Weekend Herb Blogging, now in its fifth year, is headquartered Down Under by Haalo at Cook Almost Anything, and if you are new to WHB you can find out all the details about this popular and longstanding food blog event here.

In a nutshell, (or pea pod), Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly celebration of posts from great cooks all around the globe which spotlight an edible member of the Vegetable Kingdom, be it herb, fruit, flower, veggie or some other plant part. Posts for WHB must be written exclusively for this event and not cross-posted elsewhere. They may contain information about growing, harvesting or cooking a plant ingredient. The deadline for submitting a WHB #292 submission is Sunday, July 17, 5 pm, Eastern Standard Time.

To participate, send your posts to me at oldsaratogabooks AT gmail DOT com
with WHB #292 in the subject line and the following details:
  • Your name
  • Your Blog/URL
  • Your Post URL
  • Your Location
  • Attach a Photo: 250px wide
Looking forward to your tasty posts!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Smoked Paprika Noodles with Butter, Cheese and Garlic Scape and Herb Drizzle

A wonderful bunch of gluten-free bloggers posted a collection of recipes and posts for making fresh pasta a couple of days ago. I was unable to get my own post up in time for the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, a monthly food blog challenge that encourages experimentation in the kitchen with gluten-free flours. Last month, we all played with pate a choux (I made cream puffs filled with coffee cream) and next month we will be trying out cake recipes.

I did make an awesomely good set of gluten-free noodles, gently flavored and colored with smoked paprika, and wanted to share my experiment with you. I started with the Fresh Gluten-Free Pasta recipe from the showcase cookbook, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef by Shauna and Daniel Ahern. I had made their recipe for fresh pasta once before and wanted to switch up some of the flours. Shauna and Daniel's recipe in their cookbook called for corn flour and quinoa flour, which added a nice nubby texture to the fresh pasta, but I was out of quinoa flour, so I subbed in brown rice flour and added in 3 generous tablespoons of smoked paprika. The Aherns have since done some other experimenting with fresh pasta, so you can check out their recipe at the link above and try it for yourself to find out how adding in a boost of extra egg yolks makes the dough more easy to work with.

My dough came out beautifully; just needed a touch more water to make it more pliable. I covered it and let it rest for a while, giving me time to head out to the herb patch to pick some Italian parsley, basil, oregano and garlic scapes. I whizzed them up with some olive oil and kosher salt in my blender to make a garlicky herb drizzle that I scattered over the noodles later on.

I then rolled out my pasta dough between sheets of parchment paper and was able to get it to about 1/4 inch thickness. I would have liked it to be thinner, but I just couldn't seem to get it to stretch as much as I wanted, so my noodles came out on the hearty and thick side. I therefore cut them into short fettuccine lengths.

After a short bath in some salted boiling water, I tossed my noodles with some butter and grated Parmesan, seasoned with salt and pepper and then drizzled on my garlic scape and herb puree. What a toothsome dish! It was a satisfying, yet light supper and we all licked our plates.

I'm sending a batch of these gluten free noodles over to Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly celebration of the world of pasta started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week's guest host is Lavender and Lime, who will be posting her roundup of carbs next Friday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Scapes and Anchovies

It's taken years, but I finally made an anchovy aficionado out of the old husband. Oh, I've tried before, with stealthy insertions of the salty fish into Caesar Salads, minced onto pizza pies and tucked into pastas, but I was always discovered. Not until I melted a tin of anchovies into a luscious and decidedly unsalty base for a supper pasta with Broccoli Rabe and some of our bountiful supply of homegrown garlic scapes did I succeed in winning over my Dan to the anchovy side.

When anchovies are cooked down over a low flame, they lose their super salinity and gain a mellow, earthy flavor that was the perfect foil to the bitter Broccoli Rabe greens. This dish was so successful, I've made it twice since, and Dan has even cleaned out the cupboard of my tinned anchovy stash, so I believe I have an anchovy convert on my hands now.

It's a quick and simple pasta dish and one that I will pass on to you should you covet a hearty pasta dish with once-sharp flavors that are delightfully mellowed after cooking.

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Scapes and Anchovies

1/2 bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 lb. fettuccine

1 tin anchovies

10 garlic scapes, chopped

Olive oil

Pinch of hot pepper flakes

Grated Romano cheese

Salt and Pepper to taste (taste first; you made not need to add any salt with the saltiness of the anchovies)

Cook fettuccine until al dente. Drain and rinse with warm water. Set aside.

Heat a teaspoon or so of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add chopped garlic scapes and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add anchovies and their oil and break up with a wooden spoon, stirring until they melt and coat the scapes. Add chopped broccoli rabe and stir all around. Cook until leaves are wilted and broccoli rabe is crisp-tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add a little water and cover pan to steam for another minute or two.

Add hot pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with your cooked pasta and toss to coat. Garnish with grated cheese.

Serve hot to 6-8 persons.

I am sending a plate of this toothsome pasta over to Helen of Fuss Free Flavours, who is this week's host for Presto Pasta Nights. This weekly event was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and is a great showcase for noodly dishes. Helen will have the roundup for Presto Pasta Nights #221 posted after the July 7 deadline.