Monday, July 29, 2013

One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes: Defying logic

I'm not really a one-pan recipe kind of girl.

It's not that I'm opposed to the principle of a dish that can be made by only dirtying a single skillet, but rather that, at one point in time, I subconsciously subscribed to the logic that the more pots and pans required to make a recipe the better it must be. It makes absolute sense, of course. And not even in my mind, which is programmed to overcomplicate even the most uncomplicated of things.

Text messages. Oatmeal. A mission to find the perfect brown skinny belt.

You know, basically everything in life.

That all said and revealed, not even a normal person would believe that Nancy Silverton would deign to make her butterscotch budino in a single saucepan. And you can bet your bottom dollar that Thomas Keller isn't brining his chicken in the same pot he's going to fry it in.

So clearly, it would follow that this "one-pan" business is for amateurs. For those who surely don't care about the taste of the final product, as long as that final product is on the plate in 30 minutes or less with a glass of something that is absolutely not the perfect pairing.

And even though I've been known to burn my kitchen floor attempting to broil salmon, I am not an amateur. I wouldn't dare cook dinner in 30 minutes or less. Even my grilled cheese takes longer than 30 minutes. And at any given moment I'm firing up all four burners on my gas stove, plus the oven, as if I'm on some sort of masochistic mission to make as much work for myself as possible.

Or, at the very least, turn my shoebox kitchen into a steam room.

So when I see a recipe exclaiming to me with all capital letters that I can do it all on one burner with one pan and nothing else, I don't leap up from my chair and propel myself toward the store to immediately procure the ingredients necessary to make it that instant.

I shudder.

I scoff.

I probably snort a bit too for good measure.

Except of course when that recipe is endorsed by someone who never takes short-cuts. Someone who makes a hot fudge sundae cake at home with not one, but two homemade ice creams, plus homemade Oreo cookie crumbs, and homemade fudge, and freshly whipped cream that is most certainly not from a can.

Then, I sit up and take notice.

Then, I run to the farmers market to purchase grape heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, a white onion, and garlic. Then, I fire up one-pan, on one burner, with one hand. And I follow the instructions, not pausing to wonder whether I'm cheating or taking the easy way out for the purpose of retaining sanity or simply a lower gas bill.

Because I know if Deb from Smitten Kitchen declares that this is it, a "rare dream of a dish," then it must be the exception to the rule. That it must defy all logic.

And that it must be the recipe I'll be making for the rest of the summer.

With a side dish that requires at least three pans to make.

One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 3-4

Notes: It goes without saying that this recipe is perfect just as Deb dictates on Smitten Kitchen, but I've made a few slight adaptations over the course of the multiple times I've eaten it in the past two weeks (five to be exact). I added chickpeas, because I'm on a bit of a chick-spree (fo' life), used an extra garlic clove, and opted to cook the farro in chicken broth rather than water. Finally, I finished it with a splash of balsamic vinegar a la a caprese salad. Made this way I've had plenty to last me three solid meals, though I can see this stretching further if served as a side. Or to, you know, people with more modest appetites. 

2 cups chicken broth
1 cup semi-pearled farro
1/2 large yellow or white onion
3 clove of garlic
9 ounces grape tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes)
Pinch of salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste - I used a little more than 1/8 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 16-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
A hearty handful of basil leaves, stacked and sliced into thin ribbons
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (around 1/4 cup)

Rinse farro in a colander. Pour chicken broth into a medium saucepan and add the farro, submerging completely in the liquid. Let soak for 10 minutes while you prep the other ingredients - slicing the onion and peeled garlic cloves into paper thin slices, and halving or quartering the tomatoes. After each ingredient is ready, go ahead and toss it into the pan with the farro. Accomplishment feels great, don't it?  Finish with the olive oil, a pinch of salt, and your desired amount of red pepper flakes.

Bring the uncovered pan to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook, stirring every so often to make sure everything is melding together and the farro is cooking evenly, for approximately 30-35 minutes. Just before the farro is done (to the point where it is tender, but still has that satisfying chew), add the can of chickpeas. Heat through for the last couple minutes. Turn off the heat, and stir in the balsamic vinegar.

Serve immediately, topped with the grated parmesan and basil.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yogurt: Grand ambitions

The first item on my birthday wish list last year was Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. When I first opened the now iconic vegetarian cookbook (at an Anthropologie, if you must know), I was arrested by the colorful photos and eclectic mix of recipes that all seemed to be written with my palate in mind. I stood in the store gawking over the quinoa and fava bean salad and crusted pumpkin wedges for a good twenty minutes, likely drawing the ire of the sales associates wondering whether my fingers were sullying the pristine pages.

I had grand ambitions for the cookbook when I finally received it last September. I was going to make dill-scented, crepe-like omelets stuffed with saffron yogurt, broil eggplant until it burned and collapsed into itself, and do things to fennel and goat cheese the likes of which had never before been seen.

At least by my kitchen that is.

Yet for some reason or another, the cookbook remained largely untouched on my bookshelf for the better part of this year. It wasn't that I was uninspired by the recipes, nor disinterested in the 11 different ways I could prepare eggplant, and I really did want to make the black pepper tofu.

I just wasn't sure I wanted to buy three different kinds of soy sauce to do it.

Because what is a single girl living alone supposed to do with three different kinds of soy sauce? Or an entire bottle of hazelnut oil? Or a jar of "nigella seeds" for that matter? Surely not even Queen Nigella Lawson has need for those seeds.

So when I finally re-cracked open the book two weekends ago, determined to make something, anything, from the one gift I absolutely had to have for my birthday nine months ago, I selected one of the simplest recipes I could find, a humble chickpea sauté with Greek yogurt. Mostly because I was already in possession of all the core ingredients required except for the caraway seeds, which I quickly justified as not too out of the ordinary to be a completely impractical purchase.

I didn't expect much from these chickpeas, likely because, at face value, chickpeas aren't particularly revolutionary, and the other principles of the dish, carrots and kale, certainly don't inspire a standing ovation either. Yet the way the ingredients are studiously seasoned and brought together, melded by the cool bite of tangy yogurt and sharp acidity of lemon, creates something far more exciting than a simple chickpea sauté recipe has any business being. I know this because I've eaten it no less than seven times in the past 15 days.

I've also made a serious dent in the caraway seeds that now seem completely necessary for a single girl to have in constant supply. Perhaps next to an entire bottle of hazelnut oil, three types of soy sauce, and a jar of nigella seeds.

Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yogurt
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
Serves 4

Notes: I took quite a few liberties with this recipe, so bear with me. Liberty 1: I used kale instead of the requested Swiss chard, and steamed it in a steamer as opposed to blanching it in a pot of boiling water. Liberty 2: I reduced the amount of olive oil, because, what else is new? Liberty 3: I used more garlic, because, I'm afraid of vampires. (Or maybe just Kristen Stewart.) Liberty 4: I doubled the amount of fresh herbs. Liberty 5: I added a little extra lemon juice to the yogurt. Liberty 6: I sprinkled some Dukkah I picked up at Trader Joe's over the top. Liberty 7: I served this over quinoa, toasted, and cooked in vegetable broth.

One last note before I launch into the main affair - I've made this with lime juice instead of lemon juice without a noticeable taste differential, and have also come to enjoy it with a fried egg strewn over the top when I'm out of Greek yogurt. Now, go out into the world and procure some caraway seeds. And when you return, make this recipe immediately.

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 bunch dino kale, rinsed well
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/8 inch dice
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed well
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
6 ounces Greek yogurt
Dukkah seasoning, for serving

Heat large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the rinsed quinoa and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until kernels are lightly browned, but not burned, and start to pop up from the pan.

Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a medium-sized pot, add the quinoa and simmer 15-20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the white outer shell has separated from the individual kernels. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Meanwhile, remove kale leaves from stems. Lightly steam stems in a vegetable steamer for 6 minutes before adding the the leaves. Continue steaming for another 4 minutes, then rinse both with a blast of cold running water. Squeeze both dry and then chop roughly. (If blanching in a pot of water, reduce cooking time to 3 minutes and 2 minutes respectively.)

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the same large, heavy saucepan you used to toast the quinoa. Add the carrots, caraway seeds, a good pinch of salt, and sauté 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the chickpeas, garlic, and kale, another good pinch of salt, and continue sautéing for another 6 minutes or so. Turn off the heat, and stir in the lemon juice (reserving 1 teaspoon for the yogurt), fresh herbs and season with pepper to taste.

While the sauté cools slightly, mix together the yogurt, remaining olive oil and lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, divide the quinoa between four bowls and top with the chickpea mixture. Dollop the yogurt over the top and sprinkle with Dukkah seasoning.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Zucchini and Corn Veggie Tacos: Open-faced independence

I ate tacos on the 4th of July this year.

I realize this is basically sacrilegious. Because the phrase is not "As American as tacos," even though one could make a case that they are representative of the grand ole melting pot (which, in my opinion, is obviously filled with cheese).

Cheese is very American.

But tacos, at (open-)face value, are not. Particularly on a holiday dedicated to the fruits of the grill - sticky ribs laced with honey-sweetened barbecue sauce, burgers topped with square hats of American cheese, hot dogs smothered in relish and squiggles of ketchup and mustard. And pie. Lots of pie. All of which I had none of - not even a sliver, not even a forkful apprehended from the tin whilst the rest of the party was watching the fireworks.

Because I spent the 4th of July alone this year.

It's weird to come right out and say that. Not because I'm embarrassed or ashamed, but because I can guess the reaction. The in-unison, "Awws," the post-mortem invitations declaring, "You could have spent the 4th with us!", and the raised eye brows wondering if I'm a novel away from becoming J.D. Salinger.

The truth is far less interesting, of course. My parents had vacated their house in Newport Beach for a week with friends, and I, blessed with a four day weekend, was in desperate need of a retreat away from LA and the demands of a workload and schedule that has become increasingly robust as of late.

After the past few weeks of long hours, post-work events, wine-fueled dinners, and 6 a.m. workouts jammed in before starting it all over again, I was craving the stillness and quiet of a few days of solitude in the place, and home, where I grew up. I didn't want to drink myself silly with friends at a BBQ, I didn't want to run around the yard waving a sparkler, and I didn't even want to eat pie a la mode. I wanted to lay out on my parents' ancient patio furniture in front of their nonexistent pool, I wanted to watch Ross and Rachel fight in the "Friends" reruns playing on "Nick at Nite", and I wanted to eat tacos.

In short, I wanted to celebrate my independence to do absolutely nothing of significance for the 4th of July.

Driving back up to LA yesterday afternoon, feeling more relaxed than I have in months, it struck me just how necessary that nothingness was, particularly in that setting. Home. Where I was and who I was before all the restaurants, before the tasting menus, before the obligations, before the life and career I've created for myself in LA. The girl who wore Guess overalls and braided her hair for cross-country meets and had separate color-coded notebooks for every class. Because she was going to be the only reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle to ever make the cover of Time Magazine.


Or maybe move a few miles beyond the Orange Curtain and make a career out of writing and talking about food. Until one day realizing that it takes just as much independent thought to come back, to remember, to recalibrate, than it does to leave.

Even on a holiday that is meant to to be spent eating burgers and pie with friends, family and the neighbors with the unobstructed view of the fireworks.

Zucchini and Corn Veggie Tacos with Avocado Yogurt Dressing
Makes 6-8 small tacos

Notes: Full disclosure - these tacos were not the tacos I ate on the 4th of July, but rather a version I cobbled together the day after the 4th with the leftover produce lingering in the fridge. They aren't very traditional, but something about the combination of flavors and textures sang to me. The sweetness of the corn, the kick from the salsa and chili powder, the coolness of the avocado-yogurt dressing, and crunch from the pepitas - it's the kind of taco that screams summer and demands to be eaten outside on your parents' ancient patio furniture in front of a nonexistent pool. You could very rightly pair these with a Corona with lime, or completely throw caution to the wind and sip a French Rosé. Because it's America, and it's all a big melting pot anyway. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-lb zucchini, cut into 1/3 inch cubes
1 ear of corn, husks removed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Juice of half a lime
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
Salt, pepper
6-8 small flour or corn tortillas
2 tablespoons pepitas, toasted
Salsa Verde (I'm a fan of Trader Joe's for $1.99!)
Avocado Yogurt Dressing

For Avocado Yogurt Dressing
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/4 cup water

Prepare the avocado dressing by blending the avocado, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, yogurt, water, and salt in a blender (or us a hand blender). Set aside.

For Tacos:

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the corn, cover, and boil for 3 minutes. Drain immediately and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Using a chef's knife, carefully shuck the kernels from the cob. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion, reduce heat to medium, and cook for a couple minutes before adding the chickpeas. Continue to sauté over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the zucchini, garlic and sauté another two minutes before adding the corn to heat through. Lower the heat, add the cumin, chili powder, coriander, a good shake of salt and pepper, and cook for 30 seconds to lightly toast the spices. Turn off the heat and stir in the lime juice, cilantro and pepitas.

Meanwhile, warm the tortillas, one at a time, in a large, non-stick pan over medium heat until soft. Wrap in a clean dish cloth or towel to keep warm.

Top each tortilla with spoonful of the veggie filling, topped with salsa verde and avocado yogurt dressing to taste.