Category Archives: Vegetarian Meals

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

If you don’t like mushrooms and think that truffles smell like feet, you’ll probably want to click away from this post right now.  This dish of Porcini-Truffle Risotto is not for you.  Instead, it is for those who love the earthy, funky aromas and flavors of the funghi that live in the rich soil only to be revealed at that perfect moment of creation.  I’m also posting this now, as another round of wintry weather is threatening to bring a chart-topping snowstorm our way, and this risotto is one of the most comforting ways I can think of to ride out the blizzard that is to come.

Dried porcinisDried porcinis

Fresh porcini mushrooms are even more rare to locate, at least I haven’t seen them for sale very often.  I would see them during the Fall, briefly, very briefly, when I lived in Bologna in the main food market.  A few places also served them with the local pasta during the season.  Mostly, even in Italy, I used them in dried form, like I do here.  The fresh ones had a much milder flavor and were super fragile to handle.  Porcinis are one of the few food items that I think are even better in dried form than in fresh.

IngredientsIngredients

After living in Italy, I found truffle oil, which some chefs like and some think is a culinary scourge.  While I admit that this condiment does get over-used and can completely kill a dish, I also think that it does have its time and place, sometimes.  I’ve waited for the sales that O & Co. has to pick up truffle oil as well as jarred truffles, which I then make into a compound butter.  The rice is Vialone Nano, one of several kinds that can be used for making risotto.  That, I bought at the Mercato Notturno that the Greenmarket had a few months back.  With these few ingredients, plus some homemade vegetable stock that I had in the freezer, I was set to go.

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Prep Time: about 45 minutes to 1 hour (includes soaking time)

Serving Size: 4 main course or 6 primi piatti

Ingredients:

1 packet Dried Porcini Mushrooms (about 20 grams)

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1 tsp. Truffle Oil

1 medium Shallot, minced

1 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 c. Risotto Rice

2 1/2 c. Vegetable Stock

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1/4 c. Grana Padano, freshly grated

Truffle Oil for garnish

1 tsp. Chives, chopped

Assembly:

Re-hydrating porcinisRe-hydrating porcinis

Place dried porcini mushrooms in a shallow bowl.  Pour just enough boiling water over the mushrooms to cover them.  Set aside and let the mushrooms re-hydrate while preparing the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the vegetable stock into a small saucepan and let it come to a low boil.

Shallots cookingShallots cooking

In medium saucepan, melt the butter along with the truffle oil.  Add the minced shallots and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the shallots are soft and almost translucent.  Season with a pinch of salt.

Adding risotto riceAdding rice

Stir in the rice.  Make sure that each grain is thoroughly coated in the fat from the butter and oil.  Let it cook for about a minute, but do not let it get browned.

Beginning to add stockAdding stock

Pour a ladleful of stock over the rice and stir to make sure that the liquid is incorporated throughout the risotto.  Let the risotto cook over low heat, absorbing the stock.  Once it looks like all the liquid is gone, add another ladleful of stock, taking care not to let the risotto lose so much liquid that it starts to stick to the pan.

Chopped rehydrated porcinisChopped re-hydrated porcinis

While the risotto is cooking, remove the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid.  Do not discard the liquid.  Chop the porcinis until they are about the same size as the shallots.  These to do not have to be even pieces, just not really giant-sized ones.

Incorporating porcinisAdding porcinis

When the rice has just about doubled in size, and when, in tasting it, there’s a bit of give but still a chalky element to the risotto, add the porcini mushrooms along with any accumulated liquid from them.  Do not add the soaking liquid.  Stir to incorporate.  Add the black pepper and 1/4 tsp. salt at this point as well.  Continue stirring the risotto and adding more stock until the risotto is on the verge of al dente.

Adding truffle butter and grana padanoAdding truffle butter and cheese

Just as the pasta gets to the al dente state, turn off the heat.  The risotto will continue to cook a bit more even after the heat its off.  Add the remaining butter plus the Grana Padano and stir them into the risotto.  Taste for seasoning.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Plated Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

Immediately transfer the risotto to warmed plates.  If desired, drizzle each portion with an extra bit of truffle oil.  Sprinkle the chopped chives on top of the risotto.  Serve right away.

Buon appetito!

International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2015

Eggplants on the counterEggplant – a key component of this year’s dish

Today, January 17th, marks the 9th International Day of Italian Cuisines.  This year, Eggplant Parmesan (parmigiana di melanzane) is the highlighted national dish.  As in past years, this is a celebration of Italian heritage and food culture as well as a way of emphasizing that what makes the cuisine of this country held in such high esteem is the attention to detail and quality of ingredients.  For this year’s feature, this is no less true than in past years.  The freshest, meaty eggplant combined with sweet-tart tomato sauce, peppery basil, and creamy mozzarella cheese come together on one plate in this recipe.

Eggplant ParmEggplant Parmesan – from a recipe from Food & Wine

I didn’t really grow up loving eggplant.  My mother actually tried to sneak it into quite a few meals that she fed to our clan, which was quite unsuccessfully received.  I think a few of my siblings still have nightmares about the time she tried to incorporate it into tacos.  Thankfully, I wasn’t around for that one.  Somewhere along the line, however, I tried this marriage of fried vegetables and gooey cheese with rich tomato sauce and fell in love with it.

Tray of Eggplant ParmesanEggplant Parmesan – from Mamma Agata Cooking School

When I lived in Italy, I discovered that this is considered a secondo, or second course, served after the pasta course.  I’m not sure why I would have thought it was a regular first course, but maybe that’s just because I grew up with just eating one course for Italian-style meals.  When I assisted Gennaro of Mamma Agata’s Cooking School a couple of years ago, he gave me several tips on how he prepares his version of parmigiana di melanzane, which I shared in my post about their cooking class.

Eggplant ParmesanServing of Eggplant Parmesan

As with any classic recipe, there are many regional variations.  I have seen recipes that call for dredging the slices in flour and then egg and then breadcrumbs and then fry them.  Some folks just dip them in flour and fry them.  There’s been recipes that call for roasting the eggplant instead of frying it.  Then, there’s the cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala or any combination thereof.  Even on the IDIC website, the post about “The Authentic Parmigiana: A Glorious Italian Dish” has several adaptations.

Eggplant Parm sandwichFor the leftovers – an Eggplant Parm Sandwich

The organizers have included a recipe on their website, which recognizes some of these variations but still keeps to a pretty straightforward interpretation of its preparation.  Whatever way you decide to make it, the use of the best and freshest ingredients possible is still the most important way to prepare this dish.  That is in keeping with the letter and the spirit of what the International Day of Italian Cuisines represents.

Buon appetito!

IDIC 2012

IDIC 2014

Gluten-free Potluck – Italian Cannellini Bean-Quinoa Salad

Shauna Ahern introducing the dinnerShauna James Ahern greeting everyone

When the invitation to attend a potluck dinner for NYC food bloggers that Shauna James Ahern (aka Gluten-free Girl) and her husband were having last week during their #AmericanPotluckTrip tour, checking out various cities around the country and meeting food folks as research for their next cookbook about classic American recipes, I knew I was on board to join in.  This was a great chance to connect with fellow NYC food bloggers and writers and to enjoy eating a variety of delicious dishes.  Besides, I’d been thinking about the gluten-free items that we’d tried at Big Summer Potluck and had the idea for an Italian Cannellini Bean-Quinoa Salad to contribute to the feast – a dish both gluten-free and vegan.

Gluten-free table dishesThe Gluten-Free Dishes Table Display

The gluten-free section of the room at our host location the GE Monogram Design Center in Midtown filled up a long table, while the non-gf dishes could be counted on the fingers of one hand and were segregated on the other side of the room.  The Diva That Ate New York (Jackie Gordon) brought her incredible version of gluten-free spinach knishes – fried in schmaltz – which were gobbled up quite quickly.  There was a pecan-covered Pineapple Cheese Ball created by Michelle Buffardi that was also a huge hit.  For those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth, Jackie Ourman made a stack of the NYC deli classic Black & White Cookies that got a lot of attention.  My favorite, however, had to be the Flourless Brownie Cheesecake brought by Susan Palmer of The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen.

Italian Cannellini Bean SaladItalian Cannellini Bean-Quinoa Salad

I’ve always admired Shauna for all of her hard work to help those who suffer from gluten-related intolerances and allergies.  She puts her whole heart into helping out those who have been diagnosed and who are trying to figure out how to feed themselves without getting sick and suffering other ill affects on their health and well-being.  I’ve often referred folks to her site when they mention to me that they need to follow a gluten-free diet so that they can find guidance and can get their hands on some terrific recipes.  It was so nice to be a part of this evening and to get to try all the great gluten-free dishes.

Mise en placeMise en Place – really

I’d love to be able to be all neat and tidy in typing up the recipe that goes along with the dish that I brought, but the truth is that I walked into the door of my apartment at 5:45 p.m., having just started my first day as a production chef at a catering company, with shopping bags in hand from Whole Foods and a rough outline of what I was going to make in my head.  The event started at 6:30 p.m., and I live at least 30 minutes away in travel time.  I knew I was going to go in the vegan and gluten-free direction.  I was also going to draw on Italian taste profiles to add lots of flavor to the dish as well as to highlight one NYC cultural culinary influence, as the event invitation had asked us to do.  From there, I just decided to wing it, eyeballing the proportions and relying on gut instinct to make it all come together.  Here’s a guess at what I did, but, really, this is a free-form dish that you can alter to fix yours and your family’s preferences.

Buon appetito!

Italian Cannellini Bean-Quinoa Salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Potluck-sized

Italian Cannellini Bean-Quinoa Salad

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. Parsley, chopped

1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced

2 tsp. Oregano, chopped

2 tsp. Basil, chopped

1 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar

1 tsp. White Wine Vinegar

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper

1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 c. Quinoa, cooked (about 1 1/2 cups uncooked)

2 cans Cannellini Beans, rinsed

1/2 c. Artichoke Hearts, chopped (reserve some for decoration)

1/3 c. Roasted Red Peppers, chopped (reserve some for decoration)

1/4 c. Black Olives, chopped (reserve some for decoration)

1/4 c. Pine Nuts, toasted (reserve some for decoration)

Assembly

Did I mention that I was kind of pressed for time in making this dish? I'd had some herbs from Gourmet Garden from our goodie bag at Big Summer Potluck, so I decided to use those (yes, they are also gluten-free). I guesstimated how much I would need to make the dressing, tossed in a few dashes of red wine vinegar and thought I'd add some lemon juice for extra acidity.

When I found that the lemon I had was a bit moldy, I threw in some white wine vinegar, and that seemed to do the trick. Then, I whisked in enough olive oil to balance out everything and make the dressing come together. Taste everything to make sure that the seasoning is balanced.

Mix together the cooked quinoa and the beans. Add the dressing and toss it all together to coat the quinoa and the beans with the dressing.

Mix the chopped artichokes, red peppers, and black olives together separately. Then, add them to the quinoa-bean mixture. Once that is done, add the toasted pine nuts.

Pour salad into serving container. Decorate the top of the dish with the reserved artichoke hearts, red pepper pieces, chopped black olives, and toasted pine nuts. This dish can be made several hours in advance and should be served room temperature.

Notes

Gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan

http://www.theexperimentalgourmand.com/2013/09/21/gluten-free-potluck-italian-cannellini-bean-quinoa-salad/

April Bloomfield’s Carrot, Avocado, and Orange Salad

Carrot-Avocado-and-Orange-SaladCarrot, Avocado, and Orange Salad

At the New York Culinary Experience a few months ago, I had the pleasure of assisting Chef April Bloomfield in the class that she was giving.  During her lessons, she walked students through how to make a few recipes from her book “A Girl and Her Pig.”  One of these was this colorful Carrot, Avocado, and Orange Salad, which I made a note to try at home.

Colorful carrotsColorful Carrots

I feel as though I’ve been stalking the vendors at the Greenmarket at Union Square, just lurking impatiently for the summer’s multi-hued carrots to appear.  Finally, today, I found them and grabbed up a couple of bunches so that I could make this dish.  One of the gorgeous visual aspects of this dish is the balance of color with the ruby, ivory, and orange vegetable on the plate with the greens of the cilantro and avocado and the bright-toned orange segments.  The spice and oil mixture combined with the roasting technique give this dish additional depth and make the carrots almost seem meaty, with a tangy brightness from the citrus dressing and a cool creaminess from the avocado.

Recipe set upRecipe ingredients

This is a perfect summertime vegetarian side dish for a barbecue or for an evening eating al fresco.  Seeing the colorful array of produce on the plate just makes you want to dig in and to eat your way through salad, getting a bit of everything on the fork.  If you would like to add a carnivorous component to it, I would suggest a simply grilled piece of protein.  This salad is really the star of the meal and should be allowed to take center stage.

Carrots and spices cookingCarrots and spice mixture cooking

I made a few adjustments to the recipe based upon a. my laziness and b. what I had observed during the cooking lesson.  I didn’t toast and grind the spices prior to adding them to the carrots (a).  Instead, I used already-ground spices and mixed them with garlic I had crushed, the red pepper flakes, the salt, and the oil.  Then, as the students had done in the class, I added the mixture to the carrots and used a large pan to roast the carrots on the stovetop until they were soft and had a nice color to them (b).

Cooked carrotsCooked carrots

When cooking the carrots, it is important to remember that the thinner ones will cook much faster than the thicker ones, so you might want to have a plate or tray set to the side to pull out the ones that are thinner so that they don’t burn while you are waiting for the thicker ones still to cook through.  The total cooking time on the stovetop is about 15 or so minutes, but it is best to keep a close eye on the pan.  You can definitely segment the oranges and make the dressing for the salad in the time that the carrots take to cook.

Orange segmentsOrange segments

Orange segments, it’s one of those things that I did several times in culinary school and had to do recently while at a catering gig.  One trick I’ve discovered is to use seedless oranges, as the seeds make it more difficult to make clean segments.  This is also one of those tasks where you’ll want to sharpen your paring knife before getting started as the sharper it is, the easier it will be to cut around the membrane.  I also peeled the orange with a knife, which allowed me to cut away the pith and the peel a little more cleanly.

Mixing salad togetherMixing salad together

The recipe calls for being careful when mixing the salad together because the orange segments and avocado have a tendency to break apart as they are delicate.  I discovered that the best way to combine everything was to toss it gently all together by using my hands.  Then, I used my fingers to plate the dish, arranging it so that there was a bit of each ingredient on the plate.  To finish it, I spooned up some of the dressing and drizzled it on top of everything.

Carrot-Avocado-Orange SaladCarrot, Avocado, Orange Salad ready to eat

Be prepared for you and your guests to want seconds. This salad is so delicious and has such a surprising harmony of flavors that you’ll want to add it to your recipe keeper file.  The recipe is available on line at Epicurious.com (click for link).

Buon appetito!

Warm Farro and Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Fried Shallots and Balsamic Dressing

Warm Farro & Roasted Root Vegetable SaladWarm Farro and Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Fried Shallots and Balsamic Dressing

Farro is one of those things I fell in love with when I lived in Italy.  It was many years before I ever found it available in the United States, which I was happy to discover, as it is a tasty and flexible grain, useful in creating all sorts of interesting dishes.  I developed this recipe using farro supplied by Tuscan Fields to have a chance to win a scholarship to this year’s Eat, Write, Retreat conference in Philadelphia in May.  Having been to the two past years’ conferences, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this creation will be good enough to land me a place at the table with my fellow food bloggers.

Farro by Tuscan Fields

Starting with Tuscan Fields Farro ai Funghi (farro with mushrooms), I mulled over what I could come up with that would showcase the beauty of this grain and highlight the flavors of the season.  At the moment, we’re at that awkward in-between stage in the markets.  All of us are craving green things: peas, asparagus, ramps.  We’re also anticipating the start of strawberry-picking season and the arrival of new vegetables – all the things that signal that springtime is here and that summer will soon be on its way.

Farro ai funghi (farro with mushrooms)

In the farmers market last week, however, I still found lots of root vegetables and not much else.  I decide to roast the vegetables as a time-saver to make this an easy, weeknight supper, and also as I think it brings out so much depth and intensity of flavor, especially with these being end-of-season produce.  The herbs and the vinaigrette perk up the dish with their brightness and acidity.  Fried shallots are one of those quick garnishes that adds a delightful crunch to any plate.  This dish would be a great vegetarian or vegan meal but could also be served alongside some roasted chicken or grilled lamb.  I hope that you enjoy this recipe, and that it helps me to go to Eat, Write, Retreat this year.

Recipe ingredients

Warm Farro and Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Fried Shallots and Balsamic Dressing

Prep time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Serving size: 6 portions as a side dish; 4 portions as a main course

Ingredients:

6 large Radishes, cut into cubes

2-3 small Turnips, cut into cubes

3 new Carrots, cut into chunks

2 Parsnips, cut into chunks

2 cloves Garlic, skin left on

2-3 sprigs Thyme

1 tsp. Olive Oil

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

One package Tuscan Fields Farro ai Funghi

3 Shallots, cut into rounds

1 tsp. Canola oil

1/4 c. Balsamic Vinegar

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp. fresh Thyme, chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh Parsley, chopped

Assembly:

Vegetables ready to roast

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a baking pan, place the chopped vegetables, garlic cloves, and thyme.  Toss together with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place in the oven to roast for about 25 minutes.

Adding farro to the pan

Place a saucepan on the stovetop to boil water and cook the entire package of farro according to the instructions listed on the back.  It should take about twenty minutes to cook the farro to a nicely chewy but still toothsome texture.

Frying shallots

While the farro is cooking and the vegetables are roasting, fry the shallots and prepare the vinaigrette.  Place a sauté pan on the stove and add the canola oil.  Add the sliced shallots and let them cook until golden brown, stirring them to keep them from burning.  Remove from the heat, drain, and place on paper towels until ready to serve.

Reducing balsamic vinegar

To prepare the vinaigrette, pour the balsamic vinegar in a shallow pan or saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until the vinegar is reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2.  Place the vinegar in a bowl along with the chopped thyme, salt, and pepper.  Whisk in enough extra virgin olive oil until it is a thick sauce-like consistency, about 2-3 times the amount of vinegar.

Roasted root vegetables

Check the vegetables to see if they have finished cooking by inserting a paring knife into the largest ones to see that they have been cooked through.  Remove the thyme sprigs and pour the vegetables into a bowl along with any olive oil that might still be in the pan. Set aside the garlic cloves.

Cooked farro

Taste the farro.  It should be cooked through with very little resistance.  Add it to the bowl with the root vegetables.

Roasted root vegetables with farro and parsley

Take the skins off of the garlic cloves and put them through a press or smoosh them into a sieve until they are very fine.  Toss farro, garlic, and vegetables together with the chopped parsley.

Warm Farro and Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Fried Shallots and Balsamic Dressing

Put a mound of the vegetable mixture in the center of a plate.  Top with the fried shallots and drizzle some of the vinaigrette on the plate.  Eat while still warm.

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

Seasonings and herbs should be added to a vinaigrette with the vinegar to get the most out of their flavor.  Then, add the olive oil.

Lent 2013 Kick-off – Meat-free Meals

Fab-u-lous Dahlin!Easter Bonnet – 5th Avenue NYC 2012

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Lent starts today, so scenes like this one from last year’s annual Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City are still a few weeks away.  As I mentioned last year, it’s also the start of “Oops!  What am I going to fix on Fridays now that I can’t have meat” and the annual menu re-programming phase.  Hopefully, you haven’t already blown it, like I did, by eating meat this morning at breakfast.  In looking through my recipes over the past year, I realized that I’ve added a few new ideas to my files which I’m sharing with you to round out your Lenten menu planning.

 

 

Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce – a family favorite and so easy to whip together

 

 

 

 

Now that you’ve got a batch of homemade tomato sauce on hand, why not use it to make Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce – add steamed vegetables or salad to make a complete dinner

 

 

 

 

You could also really spice up a Friday night dinner with these Beer-batter Fried Fish Tacos with Kimchi and Guacamole

 

 

 

 

 

Or warm up the evening with some comforting Wild Mushroom Risotto (just be sure to use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock)

 

 

 

 

Pizza will make it on the menu at some point, so why not try Make-it-yourself pizzas using Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough recipe

 

 

 

You can also see my post “Ack, it’s Lent – Recipes for Meat-free Fridays” for additional ideas on how to get dinner on the table while observing the season.  Hopefully, these recipes will help you and your family to break up the tune casserole / macaroni and cheese / take-out pizza / fish sticks ‘n tater tots rotation for Lenten Fridays.

Buon appetito!