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

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur (optional)

Pesto:

1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

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/

smoky chickpea tacos

smoky chickpea tacos

I was at 35,000 feet and hungry. Why didn’t I have this taco wrapped, packed and ready to eat during my long day of traveling?

Well, you know how it goes. I had a morning flight to San Francisco (where I’m attending the annual IACP conference), and somehow my priority tasks before heading out the door didn’t include packing myself a lunch. I made do for a few hours with a bag of almonds and my favorite peanut butter-chocolate chip Lara bar.

I finally caved during my layover. I bought a 10-dollar sandwich that promised tomato, basil and mozzarella, but was really just doughy bread, a fat slab of rubbery cheese and half a slice of mealy tomato. It kind of reminded me of Seinfeld’s airport skit and the 14-dollar tuna sandwich.

On a normal day at home, I eat vegetable-based things for lunch. My ideal combo is a pile of salad leaves, some protein (usually in the form of beans or legumes) maybe some leftover roasted vegetables, if I have them, and some kind of grain.

I’ve been cooking up a batch of chickpeas once a week, which are perfect for throwing into my lunch assemblages. The smashed chickpeas topping this taco are a favorite alternative to hummus. They’re somewhat chunky in texture and have an appetizing brick red color – and flavor – that comes from smoked paprika.

smoky chickpea tacos

smoky chickpea tacos

Yield: makes 4 tacos

I won't tell if you embellish these tacos with a squirt of your favorite hot sauce...

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup finely chopped white onion

½ of a jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

Salt

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 – 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained

4 whole wheat tortillas, warmed

1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced

1 ripe tomato, sliced

Arugula greens; a few handfuls

4 ounces soft goat cheese

2 limes

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, jalapeno and a pinch of salt until softened and fragrant. Stir in the paprika and heat in the oil 30 seconds; add the chickpeas and ¼ cup water and simmer 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and mash the chickpeas coarsely with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Add a little more water if the mixture is too thick. Taste the chickpeas and season with more salt if needed.
  3. To make a taco, spread some of the chickpeas over a tortilla. Layer with some avocado, tomato, arugula and goat cheese. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Squeeze half a lime over each taco and serve.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/smoky-chickpea-tacos/

asparagus risotto verde

asparagus risotto verde

Mother Nature dropped more snow last weekend than we’ve had in something like thirty years, but that’s no reason to believe that the vernal equinox hasn’t in fact occurred, right on schedule.

Besides, the snow has almost completely melted already and there’s been a pair of busy cardinals right outside my window, getting their nest ready for…new carpeting?

Melissa Clark’s latest recipe feature in the New York Times is all about the comforts of pale (read:white) food. Maybe that’s what inspired my green risotto; all I know is that I imagined eating a bowl of something that looked and tasted of springtime.

asparagus risotto verde

I had hopes of laying hands on some asparagus. Lucky me! – my local grocery store has gorgeous, fat bunches from California on sale for $1.99 a pound (heads up, Saint Louis readers).

I’ve been getting comfortably reacquainted with one of my favorite cookbook authors, Marcella Hazan. Her basic risotto recipe is a standard in my cooking, but once I’d envisioned a particular very, very verde shade of green, I had to stray a bit from her method; stirring and cooking the risotto with the asparagus in it.

Nothing wrong with that, but by the time the risotto is done the asparagus has taken on a dull gray-green color; not exactly the intense, chlorophyll color of my springtime dreams.

I employed a color-saving culinary trick instead: blanch the asparagus, then puree the stalks immediately with a bit of parsley or spinach. This not only preserves the greenness, but really intensifies the flavor of the finished dish. I add the beautiful, tender tips to the risotto at the end.

verde asparagus puree blanched asparagus

Here are a few things to take away from Marcella regarding the techniques of a classic risotto:

  • Use a mild-flavored brodo, or light broth, as the cooking liquid; it will reduce and become more concentrated as it cooks down and becomes absorbed by the rice. A rich meat or even vegetable stock will overwhelm the delicacy of the risotto and become “distracting” to the balance of flavors.
  • The type of rice used to make risotto is important. Special varieties familiar to cooks as Arborio, as well as Carnaroli and Vialone Nano, are all defined by short grains and the amount of starch surrounding the kernels. You can use any kind of rice (or grain, for that matter) in the method of risotto-making, but there’s probably some Italian law ready to decree that what you have is a pot of boiled rice, not the true, creamy amalgamation of rice, broth, butter and Parmigiano known as risotto. Don’t blame me! Italians can get testy on this subject.
  • Finally, use the right pot to cook risotto. I almost always use an enameled cast iron Le Creuset casserole. Marcella advises that lightweight pans “are not suitable” because they will not retain heat at a moderate level. Moderation is key. A heavy 18/10 stainless-steel clad type of pan will work just fine.

asparagus risotto verde

asparagus risotto verde

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For brodo (optional – use 2 cups light chicken or vegetable broth diluted with 2 cups water if you’d rather):

1 peeled carrot

1 small onion, peeled and halved

1 small fennel bulb or 2 celery stalks; roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

1 very small ( less than 2-inches diameter) waxy potato, peeled and chopped

For risotto:

1 pound asparagus

Handful parsley tops or spinach leaves

Salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

½ cup finely chopped shallot or onion

½ cup pinot grigio (or other dry, white wine)

1 cup Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

4 cups brodo or light broth, as noted above

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana cheese

Fresh lemon juice from half a lemon

Thinly sliced red radish, watercress and fennel fronds (optional) for garnish

Instructions

  1. Make the brodo: put all ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with 5 cups water. Bring to a simmer; lower heat and cook 30 minutes. Strain the brodo into another pan and keep warm.
  2. To make the risotto: Bring a small pan of salted water to a boil. Trim off the bottom inch of the asparagus and discard. Cut off the first 3 inches of the tips; slice the remaining stalks into 1-inch lengths. Drop the tips into the water and cook 1 minute; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl filled with ice water. Drop the chopped stalks into the boiling water and cook exactly 3 minutes. Immediately remove the stalks with a slotted spoon and put in a blender along with the parsley or spinach. Add a pinch of salt and ½ cup of the cooking water and puree until very smooth.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until the butter melts and sizzles (but doesn’t turn brown); add the shallot and 1 teaspoon salt and cook it softened, 1 minute or so. Add the rice and stir to coat with the fat, cook until the rice begins to crackle, 1 minute.
  4. Pour in the wine, stir it around and boil until it’s evaporated. Pour in 2 cups of the brodo; bring to a steady bubble (not a violent boil) and cook until absorbed, stirring frequently for 7 – 10 minutes.
  5. Add another cup of brodo, another ½ teaspoon salt and continue cooking until almost absorbed. Watch carefully at this point – the rice will be nearly ready when the grains have swelled in volume and the liquid becomes thickened. Taste the rice – it should be tender all around, and very slightly al dente at the core. Add more liquid if needed, ¼ cup at a time until you feel it’s done. There should be some thick, starchy liquid still left in the pot. You might not use all the brodo.
  6. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the reserved asparagus puree, remaining butter and half the cheese. Stir in the lemon juice and taste the risotto for seasoning, adding more salt to taste if needed. Gently stir in the asparagus tips.
  7. Serve in bowls, topping each one with some radish, watercress and fennel fronds with additional cheese on the side.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/asparagus-risotto-verde/