Over the next several posts, I’m going to be sharing some of my favorite recipes. These are recipes that I don’t make that often but that I want to remember for special occasions. Sometimes when a favorite recipe is buried in a cookbook, it can be forgotten. So my reasons for sharing them on the blog are purely selfish — I just don’t want them to get lost or forgotten over time. But I hope you will enjoy them too.
This first recipe comes from Patricia Wells’ excellent cookbook Bistro Cooking. It combines two ingredients I don’t cook with very often: celery and celery root. This unexpected combination make an absolutely delicious soup that can make an appearance at a dinner party or perk up someone who’s feeling under the weather.
This soup is most appropriate for winter or early spring, so apologies for posting out of season. As a light meal, serve it with crisp crackers and a green salad. It makes 6-8 servings, and leftovers can be frozen.
Double Celery Soup
- 1 med. celery root (about 1 pound), peeled and diced
- 10 celery ribs, cubed
- 3 leeks, trimmed, rinsed and cut into thin rounds
- 1 large sprig of thyme, 3 bay leaves and several sprigs of parsley, tied with a string
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
- Handful of fresh chopped herbs for garnish
In a large saucepan, combine the celery root, celery, leeks and whole herbs. Add the stock and season gently. Bring to a simmer over medium-high. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs to serve.
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We are in the midst of that brief season when we must gorge ourselves on asparagus, for all too soon, it will be gone. Overindulgence is the key so that we don’t miss asparagus too much once its season is over, but rather let our longing build up slowly until the next spring.
Asparagus and eggs are a classic combination, and I celebrated Mother’s Day by eating a variation of this dish twice. Of course, the classic asparagus-and-eggs dish is crisp-tender spears topped by a fried egg and Parmesan shavings, which is always satisfying, but I encourage you to try something new.
For brunch, mix chopped, crisply cooked asparagus with fluffy, cheesy scrambled eggs. For dinner, try blanched, chilled asparagus spears drizzled with red wine vinaigrette and chopped hard-boiled egg.
I’m sure there are many other ways to combine these two great ingredients. How many can we try?
Spring is here! I can tell because I have so many good, fresh things to eat in my refrigerator. Oh yeah, and all the flowers blooming and stuff.
Here’s a simple spring dish: pasta with peas, bacon and mint. While the pasta is cooking, mince and fry a few slices of bacon until crisp. Turn the heat down, add a cup or so of peas and some chopped mint. Season with salt and pepper. Warm the peas gently and mix with the cooked pasta. Garnish with grated Parmesan or similar cheese. This sauce works very well with a filled pasta like cheese ravioli.
Having a surplus of berries, I made the fruit crisp recipe in Mark Bittman’s Food Matters for dessert. I thought this was a very nice recipe, particularly good mixed with vanilla yogurt (I’m sure ice cream would work just as well). My two-year-old turned up his nose at it, though, even though it contained three different berries. I just can’t get that kid to eat his dessert.
My goal this year is to get better at cooking without recipes, and I think I am making progress. I have been practicing looking at what I have on hand and imagining what dishes I could make from those ingredients. Yesterday, what I had were three different types of greens that probably needed to be eaten. So I decided to slowly stew them and see what happened.
I heated some olive oil over medium in a very large pot, then added diced onion, sliced carrot and sliced celery. I sprinkled everything with salt. I let the vegetables soften while I washed and chopped the greens: spinach, escarole, bok choy (with the stems) and some celery leaves for good measure. I filled the pot with the greens and poured over a small amount of chicken broth. (Add a lot more broth and you’d have a pretty good soup.) I turned the greens with tongs a few times to mix them with the oil and cooked vegetables. Then I reduced the heat to low and covered the pot. I let the greens slowly stew for a good long while, turning them every now and then, until they had wilted nicely. There was just a little liquor left in the pot. I seasoned to taste with more salt and some pepper.
This was a really nice dish that would work with any combination of greens, I’d bet. And the season for greens is almost upon us! I served this with spaghetti with red sauce and a crusty bread.
Usually, when I make frittata, it’s a last-minute dinner designed to minimize cooking while using up the odds and ends in the vegetable crisper. But last night, I decided to make a frittata that celebrates the bounty of fresh herbs returning to my garden, and it was so good, I wanted to share the recipe. This frittata is light, flavorful and definitely spring-like. It would make a nice light supper or brunch dish, or it could even serve as finger food at a party or picnic. Enjoy.
Light Green Frittata
Serves: 2 as an entree
Time to make: ~20 minutes
- handful of fresh herbs, minced (I used mint, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley)
- several scallions, minced
- 5 eggs
- sea salt, olive oil and grated Parmesan to taste
Preheat the broiler. Lightly beat the eggs with a little salt. Mix in the herbs and scallions.
Heat a thin film of olive oil in a 10-inch nonstick pan with an oven-safe handle over medium. Add the eggs, stir once or twice, then leave it alone while the bottom cooks. When the bottom is set but the top is still runny, scatter the grated Parmesan over the top. Move the skillet to the oven and broil a few minutes, until the top is set and puffy. Cut into wedges to serve.
This frittata can be eaten immediately or served later at room temperature. Recipe adapted from Italian Farmhouse Cookbook.
The problem with going to the farmers market is that it is all too easy to yield to temptation and grab up way too many fresh vegetables than you can possibly eat in a week. What better way to take advantage of all that bounty than to make a huge pot of soup? You can eat some of it for dinner and freeze the rest for when you need a quick meal. Since the produce comes from the farmers market, each batch of soup will reflect the seasonal goodness of that particular visit.
This is not a recipe. This is just a blueprint for how to make a hearty vegetable soup with all that good stuff you might bring home from the farmers market. You should feel free to vary this any way you see fit to produce the soup you want to eat. I made my version in the slow cooker, so I am providing instructions for both slow cooking and stovetop cooking below.
Farmers Market Vegetable Soup
- Go to the farmers market and pick out an assortment of fresh vegetables. For instance, this time of year, you might choose sweet or spring onions, cabbage, tender greens, baby potatoes and carrots.
- At home, chop the vegetables into roughly equal pieces and toss into the slow cooker or pot.
- Salt to taste.
- Pour in just enough chicken stock to cover. (You may want to use more liquid if cooking on the stovetop, because some will boil away; use at least 4 cups.)
- If you have it on hand, for extra flavor stir in a tablespoon or two of pesto, a couple of rashers of cooked bacon or a Parmesan cheese rind (I keep them in the freezer for making soup).
- In the slow cooker, cook 4-6 hours on low, until the vegetables are tender. Add fresh herbs, pepper and other desired seasoning during the last hour of cooking.
- In the pot, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 30-60 minutes.
- To serve, garnish with croutons and/or shredded cheese. Remove the Parmesan rind before serving.
This past week we have been eating a lot of asparagus. I love asparagus, not only because it tastes good, because asparagus means spring is here.
We’ve been having a strange spring, weather-wise. By this time, I’m looking forward to beautiful days of blue skies, temperatures in the mid 70s and colorful flowers busting out all over the place. Instead, the temperature has been fluctuating wildly from day to day, from the 80s one day to the 50s the next — but never that perfect 72 degrees I’ve been longing for. It’s been rainy, gray and windy, more like mid-March than mid-April. I’m missing our normal glorious spring, but maybe it will appear in another couple of weeks or so.
Regardless, the asparagus is here. My favorite way to eat asparagus is roasted, either in the oven or, even easier, pan-roasted. Roasting changes the flavor of asparagus dramatically, deepens it and brings out the earthiness of the vegetable. Roasted asparagus doesn’t need a lot of seasoning, just some olive oil, salt and pepper, maybe a little lemon juice or a dash of balsamic vinegar, if you’re so inclined.
I learned this method for pan-roasting asparagus from Cook’s lllustrated, and it always turns out delicious:
- Snap off the woody ends of about 1 lb. of asparagus spears (thicker stems work better for this recipe).
- In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter over medium-high until the oil is shimmering.
- Add the asparagus spears to the pan in a single layer with half the tips pointing in one direction and half the tips pointing in the other.
- Cover and let cook about 5 minutes, until the spears turn bright green.
- Uncover and continue to roast until the spears are browned to your liking, shaking occasionally, another 5-6 minutes.
- Season and serve.
This method serves 2-4 people, depending on how much you like asparagus.
If you have leftover pan-roasted asparagus, slice the spears and toss them cold with mixed baby salad greens and a little oil and vinegar. Shave some Parmesan on top for a delicious quick salad.
A tremendous feeling of freedom came with the simple realization that I did not have to follow a recipe to the letter. I suppose I had done enough cooking to feel confident enough in my knowledge of the fundamentals to expand outside the boundaries that seemed imposed by the recipe. I suddenly felt comfortable with the recipe as a set of guidelines rather than instructions, using it to inspire and get ideas, rather than feeling like I had to follow each step exactly.
With this change in attitude, recipes actually became much more powerful tools for me. They were sources of ideas, new techniques I could try or flavor combinations I hadn’t considered. If I was trying to get dinner on the table quickly, I could radically simplify the recipe I was trying. If I didn’t like the proposed ingredients, I could substitute my own preferences. In the kitchen, I felt like I was actually cooking, rather than following instructions by rote. And my cooking got better as a result (but don’t take my word for it — just ask my husband!).
As an example, recently I was considering a recipe for Green Rice, a Mexican dish. I liked the idea of blending chopped spinach with the rice to create a starch and vegetable side dish all in one. However, the recipe seemed too complicated for my energy level that evening — too many steps and ingredients. I had no fresh cilantro, and besides, I didn’t really want to take the time to make rice. Inspiration struck, and I greatly simplified the recipe to create a decidedly non-Mexican-style Orzo Pilaf with Spinach. Even though the finished product in no way resembled its original inspiration, the two were connected; reading that recipe had led me to create a side dish that I know will become a regular in my rotation, given how easy and delicious it was.
Here is the result. Feel free to riff on this recipe as much as you like.
Orzo Pilaf with Spinach
Time to make: ~25 minutes
Yields: 4 servings
What you need:
- 2 tbsp. butter
- ½ onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup orzo
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 bunch baby spinach, washed, stemmed and chopped
- Melt the butter over medium in a saucepan.
- Saute the onion and garlic in the butter until the onion is translucent.
- Add the orzo and stir around a bit until coated with the butter.
- Add the stock and salt to taste.
- Bring the stock to a boil, stirring once or twice.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes, until the orzo is tender and creamy, and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the spinach, cover and let sit for 5 minutes, until the spinach is wilted.
- Season with salt and pepper and serve.
I made this salad as part of my contribution to our Easter dinner last Sunday. It was inspired by this recipe from Epicurious, as well as by the fact that I had bought carrots and avocado at the grocery store and needed to do something with them. It turned out to be a great spring salad, with a creamy texture redolent with lemon and offset by the tender greens. I would recommend using small, slender carrots for this recipe (but not baby carrots). Despite the presence of avocado, the salad actually tasted better after the flavors had melded for a few hours, but I doubt it would keep longer than one day.
Carrot & Avocado Salad
Time to make: ~15 minutes
What you need:
- 1 bunch carrots, preferably small, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 avocado, cubed
- 2 cups mixed salad greens
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Blanch the carrots in well-salted, boiling water for 5 minutes
- Drain and rinse with cold water
- Combine the carrots with the avocado and salad greens
- Toss gently with the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper
On the Blogs…
Chocolate & Zucchini offers a recipe for Grated Carrot Salad with Avocado.
If you have leftover carrot and avocado, you might try this Nuevo Laredo Tlapeno Soup from rachel’s bite.
Or you can make a carrot-avocado mask for your face — apparently, it reduces signs of aging.