sweet pea bruschetta, ricotta and mint

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

I’ve been wanting to eat at the restaurant A16 for a few years now, and I finally had a chance to go there while I was San Francisco earlier this month.

I dove into the absolutely amazing wine list,  carefully curated by wine director Shelley Lindgren, which contains literally hundreds of Italian labels, so many I’ve never tasted (yet).  If I were lucky to live anywhere near A16, I’d consider drinking wine there as much as possible. It would be an educational journey through Italy by way of wine, and I wouldn’t need a passport.

I sipped a Negroni while studying the list, tasting my starter, a sweet pea bruschetta that could have been a meal all by itself.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Firebrand, a brick oven bakery in Oakland, makes the bread served at A16. It’s the kind of bread that I crave every day. The crust is thick, dark and chewy, with a smoky hint of char. The interior crumb is dense, moist and full of flavor. Cooks at A16 toast the bread in their wood-fired oven before assembling the bruschetta, so it’s like a double-down of deliciousness.

The toppings on the bruschetta the night I was there were house-made ricotta, mashed sweet peas and preserved lemon-mint pesto. Every course I had after that was great, but it was that bruschetta I keep thinking about.

fresh mint

I did my best in this recipe recreation, but – poor me! – lacking a wood-fired oven, fantastic handmade bread and ricotta, it really does earn the label “inspiration”.

Despite the relative poverty of ingredients and firewood, my version took the edge off an urge to book another flight west. It’s fresh pea season somewhere, but not where I live, so I used frozen peas. I think they are a very fine substitute – and I have to say maybe even better than fresh ones. Sometimes after all the work of shucking peas, I find them starchy, hard and not very sweet.

The one element that came from “home” was mint, which has been stubbornly, happily green and thriving in my garden all winter.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  1. 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  2. 1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen
  3. Salt
  4. Extra virgin olive oil
  5. Fresh ground black pepper
  6. 4 ¾-inch thick slices crusty bread
  7. 1 garlic clove
  8. Handful fresh mint leaves, sliced thin
  9. 2 ounce chunk Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. Drain the ricotta for an hour in a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl.
  2. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil; add a teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook 1 or 2 minutes; drain and transfer to a bowl. Mash the peas to a coarse consistency using a potato masher or wooden spoon along with 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Heat a griddle or grill to medium high heat. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and toast until dark golden brown on both sides. Remove the toasted bread from the griddle and scrape the garlic clove over the tops.
  4. Spread some ricotta over the bread, sprinkle with mint and spoon some peas over. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Pecorino cheese over each bruschetta. Drizzle with olive oil before serving warm or at room temperature
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/sweet-pea-bruschetta-ricotta-and-mint/

carrot soup and almond-parsley pesto

carrot soup and almond parsley pesto

Did your mother – or someone else who presumably cared about your well being  – ever tell you that peeling a carrot takes away all its vitamins?

It’s one of those admonitions that gets stuck in your head for the rest of your life, probably because you first heard it when soft brain material was still forming (up till the age of 26, I read somewhere). Those whose job it was to see that you grew up with all parts intact did their best to point out every which way you could inflict damage, wreaking havoc on not only yourself, but others, too. You know:

Don’t run across the room with that sharp pencil – you’ll put someone’s eye out!

You’re going to fall off that tree/roof/high-up-dangerous place on top of the swingset and crack your head open!

If you sit so close to the TV in this dark room; YOU”LL GO BLIND!

I can’t think of such warnings having to do with food equally as menacing as the visions of heads cracked open like watermelons dropped from a tall building and eyeballs plucked whole out of their sockets by an innocent writing tool. Oh, there was something about Vitamin C – not enough and you’d become riddled with scurvy and toothlessness. Other than that my takeaway nutritional wisdom remains; All the Vitamins are in the Skin.

I only just learned (like, yesterday) that in fact, peeling carrots has absolutely little effect on the nutrients contained therein. Other forms of produce, such as apples, pears and potatoes, yes – keep the skins on. But carrots? Turns out that some of the best stuff in carrots, like the beta carotene, is in there all the way through. Lots of vitamins, antioxidants and magical cells live in the colorful parts of fruits and vegetables, and if the food is the same color inside without its skin, no harm done.

I admit I do peel carrots when they have an abundance of stiff, old root hairs and tiny clods of dirt. Who wants to eat that?? Plus they look brighter and prettier without the skin. Fresh little carrot bunches with their green tops on don’t usually have that problem.

Having gone on and said all that (are you still reading this?), it won’t make much difference if the skin is on or off the carrots in this soup recipe since they get pureed in the end. It’s your call.

carrot soup with almond parsley pesto

I’ve just started browsing through Deborah Madison’s tremendously wonderful new book, Vegetable Literacy.  The book is organized by families of vegetables, how they’re related and play together – I LOVE that.

The first chapter covers The Carrot Family, which includes celery, parsley, fennel and coriander. Carrots remind me of spring, and parsley reminds me of carrots, so there’s the starting point for my soup.

carrot soup and almond-parsley pesto

Yield: serves 4 - 6

This soup couldn't be simpler and tastes like the essence of carrot. Use any leftover pesto within a day or two, tossed with roasted vegetables or spread on a warm crostini.

Ingredients

  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  4. 1 onion, chopped
  5. 2 stalks celery, chopped
  6. 2 teaspoons salt
  7. 1 teaspoon sugar
  8. 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  9. 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  10. 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur (optional)
  11. Pesto:
  12. 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
  13. ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  14. 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
  15. ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  16. Salt
  17. ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan until butter melts; add the carrots, onion, celery, salt sugar and coriander. Stir the vegetables around and cook until they begin to release liquid and become softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Pour in 6 cups water and bring to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat and cool for a bit, then puree the soup in a blender until completely smooth. Stir in lemon juice and amaretto, if using, and taste for salt.
  3. To make the pesto, reserve a few parsley leaves and chop the rest in a small food processor until finely chopped. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the almonds and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped and the mixture forms a paste; add the fennel seeds, olive oil, salt to taste and the cheese and pulse to combine.
  4. Serve the soup with a spoonful of pesto and sprinkle with remaining parsley leaves and almonds.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/carrot-soup-and-almond-parsley-pesto/

buckwheat crepes, strawberries, chocolate

buckwheat crepes with olive oil marinated strawberries and chocolate sauce

I was planning to experiment with more Marcella Hazan recipes this week – she’s become like my fairy godmother for cooking inspiration lately.

At some point I will continue with my original thought, which was to make Marcella’s crespelle, the Italian version of crepes. They’re usually served as a savory meal, layered and stacked into cakes along with cheese, vegetables, meat and other delicious things.

But…I was temporarily distracted after seeing the chocolate pound cake that Laura recently posted on her lovely dessert blog Tutti Dolci. I decided to join the April Chocolate Party hosted by Roxana instead.

strawberries in olive oil

So here’s what happened to those crespelle – they turned into buttermilk buckwheat crepes with warm chocolate sauce (this month’s Party theme is chocolate and buttermilk).

Now that strawberries are popping up, I had to include them in what I hope is a long, sweet and “fruitful” season.

Does it seem strange to marinate berries in olive oil? I was inspired while in San Francisco recently, where I had a strawberry brushetta drizzled with it.  I think really good oil tastes just right drizzled on ripe fruit, and now look forward to trying all kinds of combinations.

buckwheat crepes, olive oil marinated strawberries, chocolate sauce

buckwheat crepes with strawberries and chocolate sauce

Yield: makes about 8 crepes

Ingredients

    Chocolate Sauce:
  1. 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  2. 3/4 cup water
  3. 1/2 cup sifted cocoa powder
  4. ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  5. 2 ounces chopped dark or semisweet chocolate
  6. Crepes
  7. 1 cup buttermilk
  8. ½ cup water
  9. ½ cup buckwheat flour
  10. ½ cup all purpose flour
  11. 3 eggs
  12. 2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for pan
  13. 1 teaspoon sugar
  14. ¾ teaspoon salt
  15. 1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  16. 2 tablespoons raw, turbinado or granulated sugar
  17. 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil – from your best bottle

Instructions

  1. To make the chocolate sauce, whisk sugar and water together in a small saucepan until dissolved. Bring to a simmer; add the cocoa and salt, whisking to blend. Remove from the heat; add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature until thickened slightly, or refrigerate until cold (reheat before serving).
  2. Combine the buttermilk, water, flours, eggs, butter, sugar and salt in a blender until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the container to incorporate any flour sticking to the side and blend for a few more seconds to mix. Cover the container (or transfer to a bowl) and chill at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. Combine the strawberries, sugar and olive oil and let stand 10 minutes or so while making the crepes.
  4. Heat an 8-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles instantly on the surface.
  5. Brush the pan with some butter and add enough batter to thinly coat the bottom of the pan - 2 or 3 tablespoons; I use a small ladle - immediately tilting and swirling pan to make an even circle of batter.
  6. Cook the crepe until the bottom is set and light golden – you can shake the pan a little to see if it slides; if it does, it’s about ready to flip. Turn the crepe over gently with your fingers or small spatula and cook the other side for another minute or two.
  7. The first crepe is usually a practice one, but congratulations if yours comes out perfectly! Repeat the process with the rest of the batter, stacking crepes and layering with wax or parchment paper as you go.
  8. Serve crepes topped with strawberries and warm chocolate sauce.

Notes

Crepe recipe adapted from 1997 Joy of Cooking

http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/buckwheat-crepes-strawberries-chocolate/