Roasted Eggplant Soup with Garbanzo Beans and Couscous

September 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Roasted Eggplant Soup with Garbanzo Beans and Couscous
Oh, did this summer pass me by. And I am not just talking about here on the blog, which I have been absent from for 2 months. I always feel like summer will go on and on. Maybe because, growing up, it is the one season you really get to appreciate while you’re out of school, the others sort of blur. No matter, as each of my favorite stone fruit fell in and out of season – first cherries, then peaches and now plums – I am accepting the end. It is officially fall and not much of the summer bounty is left. Eggplant, however, seems to still be going strong – at least where I am. Baskets of eggplants sit right next to the winter squash, and from what I hear they will be here for a few more weeks.

Roasted Eggplant Soup
Along with plums and grapes, eggplants help us transition into the flavors of fall without any shock or denial. And whether this soup should be considered late summer or early fall, when I tasted it, I knew it needed to be recorded here so that I would be able to have it again next year. No lazily taking a few pictures with the best intentions and then forgetting about the blog until it is too late. This recipe needs to be made again. It is very well seasoned with a bit of a North African feel, enhanced by the use of couscous which works as a thickener and fills out the meal. Feta and cilantro might not be the most appropriate toppings, but they go quite nice with the late-season, crazy flavorful eggplant.

Roasted Eggplant Soup with Garbanzo Beans and Couscous
Grab some eggplant while you still can – if you still can. And let’s not let autumn pass us by.

1 year ago, today: Baked Yams with Spicy Tomato Sauced Pinto Beans and Caramelized Red Onions

Roasted Eggplant Soup with Garbanzo Beans and Couscous:

- 1 cup (7.5 oz) garbanzo beans, soaked and cooked
– 2 3/4 lb eggplant (2 very large end of season eggplants)
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
– 1 onion, minced
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/2 tsp ground coriander
– 1 tbsp + 1 tsp ground cumin
– 1 tsp dried oregano
– 2 tsp ground ginger
– 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
– 1 tbsp smoked paprika
– 4-6 cups stock
– salt & pepper
– 1 cup (6.5 oz) couscous
– feta and cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut eggplants in half from stem to tip, or in quarters if they are very large. Place on a greased/paper-lined baked sheet and drizzle with half of the oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes, or until pieces are quite brown and crisped on top but very soft inside. Once cool enough to handle, pull off the stem and leaves and puree the eggplant with the crushed tomatoes – do this in two batches (half the eggplant and half the tomatoes in each batch) if using a standard 8 quart blender. Alternatively, you could add both the eggplant and tomatoes without pureeing and use an immersion blender for a coarser texture.

Heat the remaining oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook the onions over a medium-low heat fairly slowly, stirring occasionally. This should take about 10 minutes, the onion should soften without browning. Add garlic, coriander, cumin, oregano, ginger, cardamom and paprika. Turn up the heat and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds to 1 minute longer. Add eggplant/tomato mixture and allow to cook down for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups of stock with the cooked garbanzo beans and couscous. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer and cook covered for 10 minutes longer. Taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper to taste. Add more stock for desired consistency if needed. Ladle into bowl and serve with feta and cilantro

Fresh Tomato Pizza

July 24, 2012 § 3 Comments

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This beautifully imperfect heirloom tomato? I bought it from a grocery store. Tomatoes have hit the farmers’ markets in the last few weeks and I could not be more excited about that, but for the purposes of this post, I purchased this particular tomato from a grocery store.

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I recently wrote about the fact that I feel spoiled to live in a city where choices are available and therefore easy. With farmers’ markets, grocery stores and restaurants filled with passionate, knowledgeable people, I can be confident that I have made a choice that lines up with my values. I want to make the local choice, the organic choice, the seasonal choice and the ethical choice. For my health, my enjoyment and for the world around me. And most often, these choices can be made with ease. What I want to address here, though, is that not everyone – everywhere – has this luxury. And what this means is, we need to advocate for these choices everyday.

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Wherever you are and whatever choices you have available to you, one thing you can do is advocate for those choices – even in small ways. Specifically, I want to talk more about tomatoes though. Today I am writing this post to raise awareness for the fight against slave-free tomatoes. The Giving Table, a philanthropy/food focused blog that aims to create “food philanthropists” out of everyone, is hosting an event today with which many other food bloggers are participating. Food Bloggers for Slave Free Tomatoes is a simple event which aims to increase awareness of the slavery and human rights abuse happening right in this country. While many of us are aware of modern slavery, it can be difficult to recognize or admit that this problem exists in a country that prides itself on freedom. In the US, though, it is happening. As consumers advocating for choice, we need to make sure the money we spend does not support these practices. We need to ask questions and demand more from our grocers, vendors, supplier, producers, etc. We need to not settle for whatever costs the least to a few privileged folks and do whatever it takes to stand up for human rights. Really, we need to understand the choices we make and and feel good about how they affect the world. More information about what can done about this injustice is available with the International Justice Mission’s campaign for this cause.

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So, the tomato you’re seeing here came from a grocery store. Before that, it came from a local farm, harvested by a member of my local community. While I love getting nearly all of my fresh produce from the farmers’ market, occasionally I pick up a thing or two from my local grocer. I can feel good about it though, because I know what questions to ask and I know that this grocery store shares many of my values. To address this, send a message to some of nation’s largest supermarket chains asking that they only carry slave-free tomatoes endorsed by the Fair Food Program.

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To see how other bloggers are using tomatoes to spread awareness and affect change, check out The Giving Table on Twitter, on Facebook and on Pinterest. I am using a single Cherokee heirloom tomato to top a pizza. With an olive oil base, slices of fresh mozzarella, a dusting of fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, this is barely a recipe. But today’s post is about the tomato more than the pizza. So there you go.

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Fresh Tomato Pizza:

I wrote about pizza almost a year ago so I don’t have much new information here. I have updated the recipe a bit for the dough and added weights for ease and accuracy. Tomatoes are a treat for me, not an everyday (year-round) sandwich topper, so using them in this simple way showcases the simple flavor of the season. Seriously, nothing extraordinary is going on here. I almost feel a bit presumptuous in posting a recipe like this. However, the simple ingredients resulted in the most satisfying pizza I have ever made myself.

One more note: in the photo immediately above, you see a salami/provolone topped tomato-sauced pizza next to the topic of discussion. I made a 1x recipe of the pizza dough, but used .5x the ingredients for the toppings for half of the dough that resulted so that Matt could have his own pizza. I talk about portioning the dough for multiple pizza below.

serves 4

dough:
- 2/3 cup lukewarm water
– 2 g. active dry yeast (3/4 tsp)
– 6 g. honey (1 tsp)
– 4 g. salt (1 tsp)
– 75 g. whole wheat flour (1/2 cup)
– 150 g. bread flour (1 cup)
– 16 g. olive oil (2 tbsp) – plus more for the bowl
– cornmeal (or semolina flour)

topping:
- 1 large or 2 small slave-free, preferably local and heirloom tomatoes, slice approximately 1/4″ thick
– 8-16 oz fresh mozzarella (more if you like a super cheesy pizza), sliced very thin for maximum pizza coverage
– olive oil
– a handful of fresh basil leaves – approximately 1 sprig
– balsamic vinegar

Combine lukewarm water with yeast and honey using a whisk or fork in a small container. Set aside for 5-10 minutes so the yeast can bloom. In a larger mixing bowl, combine salt, whole wheat flour and bread flour. Once the yeast has bloomed (see the picture above), add the olive oil to the flour along with the yeast/water. Using a spatula or bowl scraper, combine all the ingredients and then dump the shaggy mess onto a flour-dusted work surface. Before you get your hands dirty, add a drizzle of olive oil to the bowl for when you’re done kneading. Knead the dough into a cohesive mass until it is very supple and forms a ball without much assistance – approximately 10 minutes. Place the ball into the oiled bowl and turn it over so that it is oiled on all sides. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature for about an hour.

Once the dough has almost finished rising, prepare the ingredients. Slice the tomatoes – 1/4″, not thinner or they will lose all integrity in the oven. Slice the mozzarella as thinly as possible – you want to be able to cover every inch of the pizza so that the tomatoes won’t leak juice onto the dough. Pull the leaves off of the basil sprigs, but wait to slice the basil until the pizza goes into the oven to avoid oxidization.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Pull dough from the bowl and knead it for just a minute. If you are making multiple pizzas, portion the dough now by cutting it to pieces with a bench scraper or sharp knife and weighing the portions on a scale, then knead the portions into balls. Place ball(s) on the work surface and top with the kitchen towel. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes. Using the backsides of your hands, stretch the dough out to fit your pizza stone (or baking sheet, cast iron skillet, etc). Dust the pizza stone with a bit of cornmeal and place the dough onto the pizza stone. Drizzle a bit of olive oil onto the dough and spread it around with your fingers. Place the sliced mozzarella onto the dough, avoiding in cheese-free gaps. Haphazardly place the sliced tomato on top of the mozzarella. Drizzle a bit more olive on top and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Place in preheated oven and bake 15-20 minutes or until the dough is stiff when lifted with a spatula. Slice basil leaves thinly or leave them whole if you like. Remove from oven and top with basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Allow to rest a few minutes before cutting into it.

Green Bean Salad with Currants, Cannellinis and Pancetta-Balsamic Vinaigrette

July 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

Green Bean Salad with Currants, Cannellinis and Pancetta-Balsamic Vinaigrette

When plump, at-peak green beans finally hit the markets, it is an exciting thing. These in-season beauties have a much more desirable texture and flavor than the year-round imports, but it is their appearance that really gets me excited. The smooth, tightly supple skins give way to generous looking beans; you can see the season so clearly.

Green Bean Salad with Currants, Cannellinis and Pancetta-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Interestingly, this recipe was meant to showcase a different seasonal items that I am loving right now. New Potatoes. Like many things, we often don’t think of potatoes as having a season. But they do, and the tiny baby potatoes with exceedingly creamy flesh being harvested now are so much tastier than what you will find in the winter. Those potatoes that aren’t harvested now can feed us through the winter, sure. But if you look, so many varieties of heirloom baby potatoes are available right now and they offer a variety of flavors and texture. Personally, I would rather just eat these now and save many of the root veggies for winter (letting them sweeten underground).

Green Bean Salad with Currants, Cannellinis and Pancetta-Balsamic Vinaigrette

However, there are no potatoes in this recipe, because I keep using them in a much simpler way before I can get to this recipe. After work one day, I roasted all that I had with just a bit oil, red pepper flakes, thyme, salt & pepper and served fried eggs over them. It was meant to be an effortless dinner after a hard day, but it ended up being more satisfying than you can imagine. The next day, after picking up more potatoes, all I wanted was yolky roasted potatoes again, so that was what I had.

Green Bean Salad with Currants, Cannellinis and Pancetta-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Here, I replaced the potatoes with cannellini beans in what was meant to be a vinegar dressed potato salad, and actually ended up with another very satisfying dinner. It is quite simple too: the dried beans are soaked and then cooked a big pot of water. Once the beans are tender, you add the green beans with a big pinch of salt and cook for just a couple additional minutes. The pancetta is completely unnecessary if you’re meatless, but I absolutely love it. The currants were kind of an after-thought but I thought they were a wonderful contrast to the crispy, salty pancetta.

Green Bean Salad with Currants, Cannellinis and Pancetta-Balsamic Vinaigrette:
serves  2 (as a meal)

- 6 oz dried cannellini beans, soaked 5-8 hours
– 2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, cut into lardons
– 1 lb green beans, stems removed (you may also want to cut them into smaller piece for ease when eating)
– 1/3 cup dried currants
– 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1 tbsp honey
– 1 tbsp dijon mustard
– salt & pepper

After soaking the beans, generously cover them with water in a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, approximately 45 minutes.

When the beans are close, cook the pancetta. Heat a lightly greased pan and add the pieces of pancetta. Cook over a medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Once crispy all over, use a slotted spoon to move the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess grease. Measure out 2 tbsp of the grease leftover in the skillet and whisk it into the vinegar, honey, dijon, salt & pepper (if you are going without pancetta, simply use olive oil to make the vinaigrette).

Once the beans are tender, toss the green beans into the cooking liquid with a big pinch of salt and blanche until tender – 2-3 minutes. Place the currants at the bottom of a strainer, and strain the beans/green beans over the currants (this allow the currants to slightly re-hydrate to avoid absorbing too much of the vinaigrette). Return the strained ingredients to the pot they cooked in and add cooked pancetta. Toss all ingredients with the vinaigrette and serve.

Arugula and Roasted Eggplant with Almond-Basil Sauce

July 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

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I pull the basil leaves from stems en masse at least once a week at work, year-round. Co-workers passing by often comment on the aroma: “I just love basil.” But I feel that I have become numb to it. I understand how difficult it is to cook by the seasons in commercial kitchens, as customers want what they want and often cannot understand the added cost of using only what can be found locally, but I still find it pretty shameful with the bounty this climate offers. Instead, we offer the illusion of seasonality, changing the menu just about four times a year. An effort is made, but I would like to see more.

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At the market this morning, I walked by a basket full of fresh, bright Genovese basil and actually experienced the real aroma of basil. It is just so much more satisfying when you wait for it. Not only is the quality incredible, but the act of enjoying basil is more special when you limit yourself to the months it is available. Erin, of Naturally Ella, brought up this point in this  morning’s post:

Asparagus? I ate my weight in it and now I don’t care if I see it again until next spring.  Tomatoes? I’m about to do the same.  There is always plenty and when the season ends I let it go quietly while stuffing my face with the next.

When you realize that the quality has diminished with the passing season, it is easy to move on to whatever is available now.

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So, while I usually stick to my list and planned meals while at the market (to avoid bringing home more food than I can eat), I grabbed a big bunch of basil and a few eggplants, then some arugula from the next vendor. I forged a new plan and came up with this fantastic lunch. The pesto-like Almond-Basil sauce is fantastic; it lacks parmesan or pecorino but remains rich from a generous amount of oil, it lacks garlic but red wine vinegar supplies a punch of acidity, and it lacks pine nuts but almonds are much more local and perfectly serviceable. The recipe makes about 4x more than what is needed for the eggplant and arugula, but I find it is easier to use a whole bunch of basil all at once. Scale it down as needed, or save the leftovers for any number of uses. I am planning on using it on our pizza tonight to replace the tomato sauce.

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1 year ago, today: Tomato Dressed Panzanella with Grilled Chicken

Arugula and Roasted Eggplant with Almond-Basil Sauce:
serves 2

- 4 young eggplants, about 1 lb
– 1 bunch arugula, about 1/2 lb
– 1 bunch basil, about 6 oz
– 1 cup almonds, toasted
– pinch red pepper flakes
– 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
– 3/4 – 1 cup olive oil, good quality
– 1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each eggplant in half, from stem to tip and place on a greased baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle olive oil over each eggplant half, adding a bit of salt and pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size.

Roughly chop the bunch of arugula, place it in a bowl and set aside.

Place almonds, basil, red pepper flakes, vinegar and a good pinch of salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse or blend until all ingredients are emulsified, scraping down the sides with a spatula and pushing down the basil as needed. Slowly add the olive oil as the processor is running, or 1/4 cup at a time, until emulsified. Add the water last to achieve desired thickness. Season to taste.

Remove eggplant from oven when it is browned on top and the flesh is very soft. Let it cool just until you can handle it, and transfer the egplant to a cutting board. Discard the stems and slice each half into 1/2″ pieces or longer if desired. Pile the warm eggplant on top of the arugula and add a few scoops of the sauce, folding everything together. Serve warm and enjoy.

Herbed Lentil and Early Carrot Soup

July 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Herbed Lentil and Early Carrot Soup

So, it’s July and the local produce is getting bonkers, but here I am presenting soup. Let me explain. The weather in the Northwest is nothing like the weather in the rest of the country right now. All I am hearing about is heatwaves, droughts and wildfires. Up here, though, we have had just a handful of 80+ degree days, none of which have been in July. Many days are cloudy and rainy, and more often it is pleasantly breezy, in the upper fifties. Sweater weather. The weather you look forward to at the end of August. Soup weather.

Herbed Lentil and Early Carrot Soup

So while this might be a cooler weather recipe, I am taking advantage of the produce of the moment. Early carrots, also known as real baby carrots, are beautiful. Crisp tender. Sweet and full of flavor. And we use these a little bit differently than the storage carrots we find in the winter, cooking lightly at the end rather than sweating with the onion at the beginning. The carrots used here happen to be an heirloom variety which are purple, yellow, golden and orange. While I am also loving green beans, raspberries, new potatoes, zucchini, radishes and other items that are truly only available around this time, these particular carrots will not be the same in a few months and must (also) be enjoyed now.

Herbed Lentil and Early Carrot Soup

I also used some of the herbs thriving in my garden to flavor this soup and they led to something magical happening. The aroma triggered sensory memories of my great-grandmother’s pasta and bean soup. She passed away over five years ago and her recipes went with her, but occasionally particular combinations of flavors bring me back to the food she shared with me. This is particularly overwhelming when I have prepared the food which leads to the trigger. A personal connection to this soup is not necessary for enjoyment though; Matt, a lentil and tarragon skeptic, has enjoyed it as much as I have. The aroma is put together in such a way that you cannot quite discern any particular flavor, but the combined effort is just incredible. I have showered leftovers with parmesan on one occasion and pecorino on another, but I enjoy and appreciate the soup more when it is left vegan.

Herbed Lentil and Early Carrot Soup

Two notes: If you cannot find savory try substituting a combination of thyme and oregano or marjoram. The amount of oil used may seem like a lot but once it has emulsified through the simmering process, it creates an amazing mouth-feel. It is important that you don’t cook the aromatics at too high of a heat before adding the liquid and lentils due to the lower smoke point of good-quality olive oil.

1 year ago, today: Summer Squash and Fenugreek Curry

Herbed Lentil and Early Carrot Soup:
adapted from The First Mess
serves 8

- 1/4 cup olive oil
– 1 onion, diced
– 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 tsp smoked paprika
– 1 tsp dried thyme
– pinch red pepper flakes
– 2 cups prepared tomato sauce, recipe below
– 2 cups french green lentils
– 6 cups stock
– 1 lb (without greens) early carrots, thinly sliced
– 4-5 sprigs savory (substitute with thyme, oregano or marjoram or ideally a combination of these if you cannot find savory)
– 4-5 sprigs tarragon
– salt & pepper

Heat oil over a medium-low heat in a large pot and slowly cook the onion until soft. Raise the heat to medium-high and add garlic, paprika, thyme and red pepper flakes, saute a minute or so longer or until aromatic. Add tomato sauce and lentils and stir to incorporate. Add stock and bring to a boil and then simmer covered for about 15 minutes. Add carrots and fresh herbs and simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes longer or until lentils are tender but still firm.

Tomato Sauce:
this makes a larger batch than needed for the recipe, but I always keep tomato sauce in the refrigerator for pizzas and recipes that call for a prepared tomato sauce. This simple sauce can be substituted with your own preferred prepared tomato sauce

- 1 onion, diced
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– pinch red pepper flakes
– 1 tbsp dried oregano
– 2 tbsp tomato paste
– 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
– 14 oz can diced tomatoes
– salt and pepper

Saute onion over a medium heat in a bit of oil until softened. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and dried oregano and saute until aromatic. Add tomato paste, stirring to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, down to a simmer. Stir occasionally, simmering for as long as time permits up to two hours. Transfer to a blender in batches to puree and season to taste.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce over Asparagus and Rice

June 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce over Asparagus and Rice

After a relatively brief hiatus, I am back. And despite the incredibly mild weather (breezy, drizzly and just a bit cloudy – my fave!) out here, it seems that spring has almost given way to summer. The lack of posting over the last month has not been due to a lack of good eats. We have taken to bringing home bunches of radishes and asparagus, pints of strawberries and snap peas and big beautiful heads of greens just to enjoy them in the simplest way possible with little hesitation. Buttered, roasted, raw, raw, vinegar dressed – in that order. While these spring goodies make for delicious and easy meals, they don’t make for great blog posts.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce over Asparagus and Rice

Now, though, we have hit that awkward time of year, “late spring” we call it, when the asparagus is getting chubby and less desirable (to me) and I have just about had my fill of strawberries. There is quite the bounty available so I feel guilty saying so, but I want summer! I want heirloom tomatoes and local peaches. I want a berry that does not begin with the letter “s”. I want bell peppers and eggplants with real flavor. Alas, we are a few weeks away from most of these (many weeks away from others), and I must make do with what’s available.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce over Asparagus and Rice

Despite this rant, I actually do have a few more spring-produce based recipes I am hoping to share before summer hits. Oregon has the best strawberries in the world* so I don’t want to neglect them here. And I still want to talk about radishes and zuchinni before those above items distract me. For now, though, yet another asparagus application. I prepare late asparagus slightly differently from the thin spears I prefer. Rather than a quick roast or saute, I prefer to briefly braise it or steam it for a fully tender product. Here, the asparagus is steamed, but I have made a very similar dish recently where the asparagus is added to the sauce and braised for just a few minutes. Fat spears prepared this way will be fully-cooked, but they will not have the texture you probably enjoyed a month or so ago. Adding varying textures to the asparagus – crunchy peanuts, fluffy rice and a velvety sauce – and preparing it with big flavor will help you enjoy the last weeks of asparagus season while you continue to wait for the tomatoes.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce over Asparagus and Rice

The sauce is obviously what makes this dish. I love peanut butter, but I am super picky about peanut sauces. I don’t like them to taste too peanut buttery or be too sweet, and I find many have both of these characteristics. I also want heat and complexity but I don’t want a huge list of ingredients. Simply by holding back a bit of the sugar and adding fish sauce , I fell in love with this sauce. A quality red curry paste is important; if your local produce lends itself to making it from scratch then it is worth it and I am sure you have access to a great recipe. If you live in a different climate, simply by a jar from the grocery store. I love this local brand. No shame.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce over Asparagus and Rice

*this opinion, which is shared by many, is based on personal bias and the sampling of berries from both coasts. I also believe that if it can grow here, it is best here.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce over Asparagus and Rice:
sauce comes from She Simmers, with a couple changes mentioned above
serves 6-8

- 2 cups short-grain brown rice, soaked for 1-8 hours if time permits
– 2 lb asparagus, woody ends removed and sliced into small pieces on a moderate bias
– 13.5 oz coconut milk (full fat)
– 1/4 cup red curry paste
– 3/4 cup natural peanut butter, or 12 oz ground shelled peanuts
– 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp fish sauce
– 1/4 – 3/4 cup unrefined sugar (evaporated cane juice)
– 1/2 lb shelled peanuts
– salt

Strain soaked rice and cover with 4 cups of water in a small pot. Add about a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil, down to a simmer and cover with a tight fitting lid. Allow rice to steam for 40-55 minutes (soaking will shorten the cooking time). In the last 2-5 minutes of cooking time (the size of the asparagus will dictate how long it should be steamed), set asparagus in a fine meshed strainer over the rice to steam. Place coconut milk, red curry paste, peanut butter, vinegar and fish sauce in a pot and bring to a boil stirring constantly. Once all ingredients are well-incorporated, taste to season and add sugar 1-2 tablespoons at a time. I used 1/4 cup, but you may prefer more or less. Serve sauce over rice and asparagus and peanuts.

Asparagus Risotto with Caramelized Leeks and Ricotta Salada

May 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Asparagus Risotto with Caramelized Leeks and Ricotta Salada
Disclaimer: This risotto was made for Marx Foods’ Integrale Gauntlet. I was tasked with making one savory risotto dish (and two more dishes if I move on to the next challenges) with a box of Integrale Rice, courtesy of Marx Foods. This challenge will include a public poll which I will notify my readers of when it is up (5/29). Opinions here are my own.

I only have a couple of recipes on here involving rice because I just didn’t eat much of it until recently. I have always loved fluffy white rice, sticky sushi rice, aromatic basmati rice, but I avoid these processed varieties. And I simply wasn’t interested in brown rice. I enjoy so many other whole grains, so I didn’t worry about this aversion until earlier this year.

Asparagus Risotto with Caramelized Leeks and Ricotta Salada
When our pantry gets too cluttered, we try to avoid buying any more bulk items until we have cleared a bit of space. When this needed to be done a couple of months ago, I started making a meatless gumbo that was packed with a variety of beans (my Louisana-born-and-raised mother did not approve but it was tasty). I needed to serve it over something so I steamed some long-grain brown rice that somehow made its way into our pantry – I may have received it for free at work. After pulling the lid off of the perfectly steamed rice and taking in the nutty aroma, I fluffed it and enjoyed a bowl of rice that was simply dressed with a bit of the gumbo gravy. It was so perfect that I was suddenly a convert. Since then I have been stocking my pantry with a variety of rices, serving them with black bean soup, beside curried lentils and under roasted vegetables and poached eggs.

I mentioned this transition briefly in this post where I used sweet brown rice for the first time. That rice was a brown variety of sushi rice, so it made excellent rice balls because of their starch release. While sushi rice and risotto rice are not quite the same thing, they both need that quality. I haven’t ever seen a brown arborio rice – one of the more popular varieties of risotto rice – so I was really excited when I saw a brown risotto rice available from Marx Foods called Integrale Rice. It behaves just like any other risotto rice, but it is still whole. It also has the nutty flavor common in other whole grains. As someone who didn’t think risotto was possible without white rice, this is an awesome find. I honestly think this rice makes a tastier risotto than others because of the added complexity of flavor.

Asparagus Risotto with Caramelized Leeks and Ricotta Salada
For this risotto, I knew I wanted to simply showcase the availability of the season. I had some brightly flavored leeks that I decided to caramelize for a sweet, mellowed flavor. Asparagus was an obvious choice because it is simply everywhere right now. I prefer the crazy thin spears of asparagus for their delicate texture and bold flavor. It seems that these can only be found at the farmer’s market because grocery stores prefer the perfectly uniform, pinky-sized spears that you can find all year (but obviously not locally). The raw asparagus was pureed and stirred into the hot risotto. I decided to substitute the traditional parmesan with a ricotta salada as parmesan typically contributes a nutty flavor, but the already nutty brown rice needed a firm cheese that could stand up to the rice – something that could be grated – but with a creamy contrast.

The strongest flavor coming through is the distinct, grassy asparagus. The deeply sweet caramelized leeks melt away and come through in the background, alongside the squeaky, tangy ricotta salada. This is a completely satisfying risotto that doesn’t sacrifice anything in flavor. Serve it with a light protein and a green salad.

Asparagus Risotto with Caramelized Leeks and Ricotta Salada

Asparagus Risotto with Caramelized Leeks and Ricotta Salada:
serves 8

- 3/4 lb leeks, ends and tough dark portions discarded
– 2-3 tbsp butter
– 2 cups Integrale Rice or other Risotto Rice
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 4-5 cups hot stock (I used beef stock)
– 1 small bunch asparagus – 8 oz, roughly chopped and pureed in a food processor (alternatively, slice it very thinly)
– 1/4-1/2 lb ricotta salada, grated (or crumbled)

Slice leeks in half lenthwise and thinly slice each half. Place 1-2 tbsp butter in a heavy bottomed pot over low heat. Add leek, stir well and cover. Continue stirring every 5-10 minutes, more often as it continues to cook, for 30-45 minutes. Remove lid, raise heat to medium-high and add remaining butter. Add rice and stir well to coat every piece of rice in fat and deglaze the pot with white wine. Add stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and adding more liquid as the rice dries out. Begin tasting once you have used almost 4 cups of the stock and continues stirring, cooking, adding liquid and tasting until the rice is cooked through. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the pureed asparagus and ricotta salada. Serve immediately, garnish with extra cheese.

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