Friday, March 14, 2014

Cassandra Linguine and the Chaotic Romanesco. . . (explained by Francesco)

I think this my favorite dish of the Winter!  And I have my dear friend Cassandra Linguine -- who is every bit as Bohemian as her name suggests -- to thank for it.  You see, Cassandra loves vegetables like I do, and we often swap recipes.  She also subscribes to one of those services that delivers a basket of farm fresh seasonal organic produce to her door once a week.  This leaves me in a constant state of intrigue as I wait for Cassandra to disclose the contents of her basket each week, with many items making their way into her lunch, and consequently into my lunch by proximity.  

This week's basket included Romanesco, which Cassandra and I both concluded was THE MOST GORGEOUS vegetable on God's green Earth.  It looks like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, but it's not.  Indeed, as explained by our dear friend and Friday lunch buddy Francesco, not only is Romanesco an Italian heirloom dating back to ancient Rome (hence the name), but it is also an edible fractal with each spiral bud being composed of a series of smaller spiral buds, arranged in a series of more logarithmic spirals, all of which is important in the study of chaos theory.  Whoa!

Thus, this perfect, albeit chaotic mathematical arrangement of vibrant, chartreuse-colored spiral buds, is precisely what makes Romanesco so captivating.  So, after confirming Francesco's vegetable math on Wikipedia (he was, of course, correct!), I set about finding my own Romanescos so that I could disassemble each perfect and beautiful fractal, one spiral branch at a time.  

After removing the branches, I decided to steam my Romanesco.  I considered roasting it, because I love roasted cauliflower, but I wanted to totally preserve the bright chartreuse color, so instead I opted for steaming until fork tender.

In the meantime I gathered 1 large fresh scallion, a sturdy organic Japanese cucumber, an handful of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, and an few sprigs of fresh mint.  I sliced the onion and cucumber very thin, and gave the herbs a good chop.

After steaming the Romanesco, I let is cool down a bit before tossing in the onion, cucumber and herbs.

Then I prepared my favorite dressing -- 1/4 cup of really good extra virgin olive oil (from Turkey, of course), the juice of half a lemon, 1 clove of pressed or finely grated garlic,1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and a few good grinds of fresh ground black pepper, all whisked together until smooth.


Fresh Romanesco (2 medium heads or 1 large one)
1 large fresh onion (scallion) sliced very thin, including the green part
1 firm, medium-sized cucumber (skin on if organic) sliced in half longways, and then into very thin slices
1 handful for Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
10-15 fresh mint leaves, chopped

Dressing (all whisked together):
1/4 cup of very good olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 large clove of garlic, pressed or finely grated
1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

Steam the Romanesco until fork tender (20-30 minutes), and allow it to cool.  Then combine with the remaining ingredients, toss in the dressing, and serve.  I like it best at room temperature.

The best and most beautiful salad ever!  Delizioso, molto buono! Cassandra and Francesco, thanks for inspiring me to make my favorite salad this winter!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Whole Black Beans - Frijoles Negros

One of the best things to arise out of my little food blog is that my dad has starting taking pictures of the food he makes and sending the photos to me!  It totally cracks me up -- a little gesture with a bit of culinary competition thrown in that completely makes my day!  The pictures almost always feature eggs and meat -- so clearly we have different tastes -- and more often than not they are upside down.  But that's ok.  I enjoy them immensely!  Daddy, while you enjoy your breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and bacon, which I'm sure is absolutely delicious, I'm having beans!

Canned beans are convenient and pretty darn good, but when time permits, there is nothing like the real deal. This delicious and easy-to-make whole black bean or Frijoles Negros side dish is a great accompaniment to any Mexican meal.  I love these beans folded into a taco or burrito with rice and salsa, piled onto a yummy tostada, served as a side dish alongside tacos, tamales, or enchiladas, or served simply as a dip with good chips, salsa, and guacamole.  An essential part of any healthy vegan diet, black beans are nutritious, delicious and versatile! 

I start off with 1 cup of black beans, which I sort, rinse, and "quick soak" (as opposed to "overnight soak"). The quick soak method is ideal when you you do not have time for an overnight ordeal.  I simply sort and rinse the beans, cover them with hot water (4 cups of water per every 1 cup of beans), bring the water to a rapid boil and boil for 2 minutes, and then remove them from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour.

In the meantime, I assemble the other ingredients.  For 1 cup of beans, which makes about four servings, I prepare a diced juicy tomato,1/3 white onion sliced thin, 2 cloves of fresh garlic sliced thin, 1 Poblano pepper, seeded and sliced down the middle, a teaspoon of olive oil, and Kosher salt to taste.

Once the quick soak is complete, I rinse and drain the beans, combine them with the remaining ingredients, along with 3 cups of hot water, and cover the pot and set it over a high heat until it comes to a boil.  Then I reduce the heat and simmer the beans until they are tender, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours. As the beans cook (largely unattended) I stir them every so often and add a bit more hot water if needed.

Once the beans reach the desired tenderness, I season them with a bit more salt (if needed), a few grinds of black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin.  Then I take a wooden spoon and break up any large chunks of tomato pepper pepper.  Finally, with the back of the spoon, I press down on the beans, mashing them until they reach a consistency that is somewhere in between whole beans and refried beans (which is just how I like them). 

One of my favorite breakfast treats is a fresh tortilla cooked on the stove top until it puffs up and chars a bit, topped with homemade Frijoles Negros, and garnished with fresh cilantro.  Delicioso!

1 cup black beans, sorted, rinsed, and either soaked overnight or prepared using the "quick soak" method described above.

1 tomato, diced
1/3 white onion, sliced thin
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1 Poblano pepper, seeded and sliced in half longways
1 teaspoon olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
3 cups hot water

After preparing the beans by soaking overnight or using the "quick soak" method, strain rinse, and place in a heavy pot. Add tomato, onion, garlic, Poblano pepper, olive oil, and salt.  Cover with 3 cups of hot water, bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer on a low heat until the beans are tender (anywhere from 2-3 hours).

Once the beans reach the desired tenderness, season them with a bit more salt (if needed), a few grinds of black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin.

With a wooden spoon, break up any large chunks of tomato or pepper, and using the back of the spoon, press down on the beans mash until  the consistency is right in between whole beans and refried beans.