A Perfect Week for Butchering Vegetables

 cheese bread

Monday:                     The Homestead’s sundried tomato, goat cheese dip
Cauliflower and Caramelized Fennel Soup w Cheese Bread

Notre Dame interior

Notre Dame, Paris – photo  courtesy of Billy Stewart, peripatetic photo-journalist and sportsman

Tuesday:                      Bill in Philadelphia – Barbara in Chicago

Kale scumble

Wednesday:                Herbed omelets with Kale, Tomato and Feta Scumble and
Home-made Merguez sausage with Greg and Mike

Thursday:                    Tuscan Kale and Beet Chips with Orecchietti and Feta

snap peas with salmon

Friday:                         Snap Pea, Asparagus and Avocado Salad with Crispy Salmon

Camambert with baguette

Saturday:                     Homemade Baguette with Camembert, pistachios and cranberries

sunday dinner

Sunday:                        Cheese, pickles and Baguette / Skirt Steak with Roasted Tomato Salsa, Baked Eggplant Fries, Salad

Mother:  “It’s broccoli, Dear.”  Son:  “Well I say its spinach, and I say the hell with it”

In a vein similar to this classic cartoon from The New Yorker, my son Andrew, when he was very young, referred to lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and like-minded foods as ‘vengetables.’  He was attending Sunday School at the time and may have believed that they were a penance visited upon man for original sin.  I thought then and think now, that this is a brilliant name for a picky eater to christen off-putting foods with.  But then, I think Andrew is brilliant in so many ways.

I don’t know where to begin with last week’s cooking. Ah, you are thinking, he has finally – praise the Lord –  run out of things to say.  But that’s not it – it’s that all of the food was so good, if I say so myself – and I do – that it’s hard to pick a winner.  There was not a sour note struck all week (except for the sweet sourness of the cooked-down cherry tomatoes in Wednesday’s scumble with kale, red onions and feta).

So … I’ll begin not with the food, but with a new cookbook that has grabbed our fancy in this summer of withering heat and resolutions for healthy eating.  The Vegetable Butcher (Cara Mangini) is a cookbook/manual on selecting, storing, preparing and cooking things that the most devout Hindu would not mind eating.

I grew up in an age when we had steak for dinner two or three times a week.  But we were not averse to vegetables.  And I’m not just talking about baked Idahos to accompany the strip steaks.  Mom would steam an artichoke and give it to us with a bowl of herbed, melted butter for an appetizer.  Dad taught us to put a slice of raw onion on a slab of Braunschweiger – one of the glories of creation.  And left-over steak or roast got chopped up and cooked in a savory mélange of onions, potatoes and peppers that was perfect with a top-dressing of Heinz Ketchup.

But in these latter days vegetables have attained the status of size 2 dresses, Ivy League degrees and Teslas.  So it’s nice to learn ways to cook these ‘vengetables’ that will please cowboys as well as metro-sexuals.  Consider Cara’s book – it’s got a ton of good recipes and even more good advice.

In this case, you can judge the book by its cover.    There is a fetching, but oddly framed cover photo of Ms Mangini from the naso-labial furrow down to the hips.  In her right hand she is holding a sizeable cleaver.  She is standing over a counter groaning with leeks, radishes, celery root, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, garlic, asparagus and greens.  There are beautiful photographs, clear illustrations on slicing, dicing, etc. (including perfect directions for handling that “oyster” of vegetables – the artichoke), and strikingly good recipes – all the better for being simple and easy to cook.  [Would I recommend getting this book?  For me, after you have one or two or three basic cooking texts, a cookbook is worth buying only if you want to cook your way through at least, say, half the recipes.  With Jacques Pépin, Lynn Rosetto Kasper, Francis Mallman and Joe Carroll, which I’ve purchased over the last 7 or so years, I have cooked my way through entire books and we find ourselves coming back to certain of the recipes time and again.  We already have 3 “keepers” from Cara, including last week’s keeper of grilled and smothered artichokes, so we’ve gotten our money’s worth.]

For the keeper of this week, I have to share the pasta we cooked on Thursday.  And for an extra, I’m going to revert to carnivorous food, albeit the holy lamb and not the sacred cow.  Home-made Merguez sausage is easy, intensely delicious and guaranteed to bring favorite guests (my brother Greg and my nephew Mike) back to dinner at your house time and time again.

orecchietti

Broccoli Rabe and Sunchoke Chips with Orecchiette and Garlic Breadcrumbs

 (Note:  Giant Eagle, in its relentless quest to disappoint its customers, had no broccoli rabe on Thursday, so we substituted some kale which we had in the refrigerator – it worked well.  And, of course, Giant Eagle had no sunchokes, so we substituted beet chips – I’d go with the sunchokes or whatever you like for more crunch.  This dish will work with just the breadcrumbs, pasta and vegetables)

Supplies

Fine Sea Salt
½ pound sunchokes, scrubbed, sliced in 1/8” rounds – use a mandolin, unless you have the nerves of a neurosurgeon.
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
1 pound broccoli rabe, thick stems removed, remainder cut in 1.5 to 2” lengths.
12 ounces (approx.) orecchiette
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Fresh, ground black pepper
Flake or coarse sea salt, for finishing
¾ cup grated parmesan or ricotta salata
God extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing

Prep

Preheat oven to 450 F.    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Line a plate with paper towels.

Cook

Sunchoke chips  (you can substitute beet chips, usually available pre-made at grocery stores)  Toss the sunchokes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil – keep separating slices to make sure all are coated.  Spread the sunchoke slices in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets – leaving room between the slices.  Sprinkle with salt.  Roast – rotating pans hallway through, until golden and crispy – about 13 minutes.  Careful – they can burn quickly.  Set aside to cool.

*Breadcrumbs

Put about one cup of good bread, crusts removed, in a food process and process until you have some small and some fluffy, larger crumbs.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low.  Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring fairly continuously, for about 3 minutes.  Stir in a pinch of minced c\garlic and cook until the breadcrumbs are golden and toasted – another minute or two.  Season with salt and pour onto paper-line plate to cool.
Broccoli Rabe (or Kale)

Prepare an ice-water bath.  Drop the broccoli rabe or the kale into the boiling water and cook, stirring a few times, for about 2 minutes (it should be just tender, not limp).  Remove to the ice bath to stop cooking.  When cool, drain in a colander and gently press out any excess water.  (Keep that water you used for the broccoli rabe boiling.)

Pasta

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente (usually 10 minutes or so – directions should be on the box)

Finishing

While the pasta cooks, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of water and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan or heavy pot over medium.  Add remaining minced garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds (you don’t want the garlic to burn).  Add the broccoli rabe (or kale) and stir with tongs to coat pieces evenly.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add ½ cup of the pasta water and simmer for about 2 minutes, to combine ingredients and make sure broccoli rabe is tender.

Now use a spider or slotted spoon and add the orecchiette to the broccoli rabe mixture.  ‘

Add another cup of pasta water and stir, then add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and cook, stirring to coat, about another 2 minutes until pasta water is reduced by about ½ and the sauce thickens..

Turn off the heat, add half of the sunchokes, half the breadcrumbs and half the parmigiano

Transfer to a serving dish or separate bowls, top with remaining breadcrumbs, a pinch of flaked sea salt and the remaining parmigiana.  Add a drizzle of olive oil if you like (I do – She Who Must Be Obeyed does not)

 

EXTRA                      Homemade Merguez Sausage

 Supplies

½ teaspoon each cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped, more for serving and garnish
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used ½ of a large one)
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne (add more for more heat)
Olive oil, for cooking

Make the Sausage
Toast seeds in a small skillet over medium-low until fragrant (about 2 minutes).  Transfer to a spice grinder and grind well – or use a mortar and pestle.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well

Form mixture in shapes (1x5inch cigars is what we do – but patties work)

Use immediately or chill for up to 5 days.

Cook
Brush sausages with oil and grill or broil until browned and cooked through (it took me about 10 minutes on a hot charcoal grill)

We served this with herbed omelets and a side of kale scumble with feta, halved cherry tomatoes and red onion.  It is addictive.  (The recipe for ‘scumble’ can be found among the keepers for the blog of May 31st.