Fennel & Chickpea Salad

I’ve been really busy lately, thus the lack of posts. I’ve been sticking to established recipes in large quantities most of the past two weeks, as work has been spilling over into the weekend. Once I get this one down, I’m off to do more of it.

The temperature is supposed to reach 94 today, and it’s forecasted to be 96 by Tuesday. I believe this is the beginning of what we refer to as the “F-ing Hot” part of the year in central California. It apparently lasts until October. Is this worse than six months of snow? I’m not sure. I’ll let you know in October.

I’ll get a break from the Fresnowhere heat at the end of this week – I’ll be in Chicago for some training, a sales meeting and the massive co-located food shows at McCormick Place. I hope to run into some Whole Foods and/or Western Michigan buddies. We’ll see. Additionally, I have the weekend off while I’m there, and my mom is coming up to meet me. Shopping will ensue.

I have a feeling the hot weather that’s about to start hitting us will cause me to cook and post a great variety of vegetable and bean salad recipes over the next few months. Here is one. I cut the vegetables into julienne, basically because I like the way it looks, but cutting them into dice would make this salad easier to eat. Either way, it’ll taste good.

1 1/2 c. dried chickpeas, soaked for 24 hours (or 2 cans)
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cores removed, then cut into slivers
1/2 a large red onion, cut into slivers
1 small red bell pepper, cut into similar slivers
4 c. arugula (about half of an Earthbound Farms box)
1 clove garlic, minced
6 T. olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the chickpeas under pressure with plenty of water for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the pressure drop on its own. Drain, leaving a little cooking liquid. Place all the vegetables and the garlic in a large bowl. Mix the oil and lemon juice together and drizzle over the vegetables. Add the chickpeas, salt and pepper to taste, and toss gently, so as not to mash the chickpeas. Serve warm or cold.

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Mexican Gazpacho

I typically make this on the first hot day of the spring. Having never really reached the “cold” stage this past winter in Fresno, I figured I’d throw tradition to the wind and make it just because I felt like it, and I figured it had already been up into the mid-80s recently, so it wasn’t as if it hadn’t been hot already and I couldn’t justify making it.

This is a nontraditional gazpacho – really, it’s thinned down pico de gallo with cucumber and corn added. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. The traditional Andalusian kind is great, but this is a nice change of pace. The corn stands in for the bread that acts as a thickener in the traditional version. It requires a modicum of cooking – but it’s only one ingredient, corn, and you can do that in the microwave if you would like to. Fresh corn is better than frozen when the season is right, but right now the season is not right.

If you are So Inclined, you can add a shot of vodka to make this Gazpacho Borrado.

Ingredients:

1 bottle Looza tomato juice
1 large cucumber, peeled
2 medium tomatoes
1 medium yellow pepper
½ medium red onion
1 ½ c. frozen corn (or about 2 cobs worth)
2 T. olive oil
juice of ½ a lime
1/3 c. chopped cilantro, minced
hot sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the corn briefly – just enough to heat through.

Chop half of the cucumber, tomatoes, yellow pepper, and onion into small dice and set aside. Cut the other half of those vegetables roughly enough that the blender can handle them. Place the roughly chopped vegetables in the blender, along with half the cooked corn, the olive oil, the lime juice, and about ½ of the bottle of tomato juice. Puree. Pour the mixture out into a large bowl and add the chopped vegetables and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste. (Remember, the tomato juice is salty to begin with.) Serve cold.

Totally Decadent Cheese Bread

I have previously mentioned my love of Cook’s Illustrated. This recipe is from this month’s issue. I was expecting a nice little loaf with a toasty cheese flavor – but this is totally over the top. This thing, seriously, is cheese bound together with other full-fat dairy products and a tiny bit of flour. I would suggest that this remain a special-occasion recipe, because as soon as I tasted it, I could tell that it would have an instruction tag on it for my stomach that would read “Send straight to thighs.”

This recipe originally called for “Parmesan” cheese, a falling-down-on-the-job not usually characteristic of Cook’s. Domestic Parm can have a bitter, acrid flavor, only amplified by baking, and genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano would be too strong in this application, in my opinion. I’m going to counsel that Parrano (from Holland, a sharp Gouda type) be used where Parmesan is called for, as it’s fairly widely available now and it bakes wonderfully.

I don’t keep nonstick cooking spray on hand, and this calls for it – I greased the pan heavily with butter instead, but had release problems with the bottom of the loaf.

NB from Cook’s: If, when testing the bread for doneness, the toothpick comes out with what looks like uncooked batter clinging to it, try again in a different (but still central) spot; if the toothpick hits a pocket of cheese, it may give a false indication. The texture of the bread improves as it cools, so resist the urge to slice the loaf while it is piping hot. Leftover cheese bread is excellent toasted; toast slices in a toaster oven or on a baking sheet in a 425-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, not in a conventional toaster, where bits of cheese may melt, burn, and make a mess.

Ingredients:
3 oz. Parrano cheese, shredded on large holes of box grater (about 1 cup)
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder (yes, 1 tablespoon is correct)
1/4 t. cayenne
1 t. salt
1/8 t. ground black pepper
4 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 in. cubes, or mild Asiago, crumbled into 1/4 to 1/2 in. pieces (about 1 cup) (I used McAdam NY Sharp – I would have used Grafton Village Classic Reserve Cheddar or McAdam NY Extra Sharp if I had access to it around here.)
1 1/4 c. whole milk
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten lightly
3/4 c. sour cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 5 by 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, then sprinkle 1/2 c. Parrano evenly in bottom of pan.

2. In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper to combine. Using rubber spatula, mix in cheddar or Asiago, breaking up clumps, until cheese is coated with flour. In medium bowl, whisk together milk, melted butter, egg, and sour cream. Using rubber spatula, gently fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined (batter will be heavy and thick). Do not overmix. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; spread to sides of pan and level surface with rubber spatula. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 c. Parrano evenly over surface.

3. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 – 50 minues. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes; invert loaf from pan and continue to cool until warm, about 45 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

Braised Fennel Gratin

I found this recipe online. I went looking for a fennel recipe and found this one authored by chef Brandon Chase Miller of the restaurant Stokes Adobe in Monterey. It was on the Earthbound Farms website, but here’s the restaurant website:

http://www.stokesrestaurant.com

Having been to this restaurant while on business travel during the winter – I had a fried green tomato sandwich that was out of this world, among other well-treated vegetable things – I figured his recipe would be worth a try. I was correct. It is very good, if you don’t mind the multi-step process it requires. I’ve changed one thing for ease of operations – I trimmed the v-notch out of the root after boiling to prevent any coming-apart problems.

This recipe requires you to make seasoned flour – that just means to add a liberal seasoning of salt and pepper to a small pile of flour. It’s the same thing you’d do if you were making fried chicken.

Ingredients:

4 fennel bulbs
1 T. lemon juice
salt and pepper
flour
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 t. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°

Add lemon juice to 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Salt generously. Cut off fennel stalks and discard. Cut fennel bulbs lengthwise through the root, leaving flat sides. Cook fennel halves until tender (about 6 minutes). Drain. Cut a v-notch out of the root, leaving enough to hold it together. Then season between the layers of the bulbs with salt and pepper. While the fennel is still hot and slightly wet, roll them in seasoned flour. Heat vegetable oil in shallow fry pan over medium to medium-high heat and fry fennel until brown on both sides. Arrange fennel in gratin dish. Pour cream over and sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for 25 minutes covered, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes. Serve at once.

Asparagus with Romesco Sauce

This romesco sauce recipe comes from Vegetarian Times, and it is better than one I had used previously out of a Williams-Sonoma cookbook. They suggested a blanch-and-grill procedure for the asparagus, to which I said, “On a weeknight? Yeah, right.”

If you have the tomatoes, peppers, and onions prepared in advance, which you could do the evening before or, if you have a husband on spring break, that afternoon – everything else goes together pretty quickly. This dish makes a wonderful light meal all on its own.

The fresh chiles are supposed to be peeled in this recipe – I know that sounds nuts, but it worked better than I thought it would. I cut the stems flush with the top of the pepper, stood them on their heads, and peeled from the tip down using my Oxo peeler. I didn’t get every bit of peel off, but I didn’t sweat it.

Ingredients:

4 plum tomatoes, roasted in oil
2 red bell peppers, roasted in oil
½ onion, roasted in oil
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. almonds
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 ancho chiles (I used pasilla because I couldn’t find any ancho.)
2 T. sherry vinegar (I had to pay out the nose for this, but it tastes great.)
1 T. paprika
1 oz. slice toasted bread
salt to taste

2 lbs. asparagus, peeled if thick
1 T. olive oil
¼ c. water
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Roast tomatoes, peppers, and onions in 1 T. olive oil to coat until soft, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and, when cool enough to handle, peel vegetables and set aside. Move oven rack to top position and set oven to broil.

Heat 2 T. oil in a skillet over medium heat. Brown almonds and garlic and remove from skillet. Place in blender. Fry chilies for 2 minutes. Peel and seed chiles. Add remaining ingredients to blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

Place asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet with a rim. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and add the water to the sheet. Place the sheet on the top rack of the oven and broil for 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness. If your asparagus seems too thick to cook via this treatment, pop it in a nonstick pan with the same additions, cover tightly, and steam over medium-high heat until the water is gone.

Serve asparagus with a generous drape of romesco sauce.

Cream of Roasted Red Pepper & Carrot Soup

This is a failure that turned into a moderate success. I had the idea of saucing cauliflower with a nice vegetable puree, and it turned out a lot more boring than I thought it would. It was fine, but it needed something else besides just the straight-ahead flavors of red peppers and carrots to move it along. So into a plastic container it went, until a couple days later, when I was nosing around for something for lunch and I spotted it. It had come out too thick, and I wondered how it would thin out as a soup. Pretty well, as it turns out, and if, in the initial cooking, you’re trying to produce a soup, and you’re not trying to massively reduce the amount of water in it (as you do if you’re trying to produce an intense vegetable puree) you don’t have to mess around with cooking it quite so long. It makes things drastically easier.

Since I didn’t make this recipe exactly in the form I am giving it, this is a rough approximation. The only thing I’m really unsure on is how much water to tell you to add to the puree.

If I made this again as a soup I’d probably add a little mint, basil, or dill for interest before I pureed.

1 – 13 oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed briefly
4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
¼ c. heavy cream
2 drops lemon oil (optional – a little bit of organic lemon zest on the finished soup would be a fine replacement if you don’t have lemon oil)
small amount of salt (remember, RRP are salty) and pepper

Boil the carrots in a small amount of lightly salted water until tender. Drain the carrots, reserving the liquid in a bowl. Place the carrots in a blender or food processor. Add the roasted red peppers and puree thoroughly. Return the puree to the carrot pan, and add the cream and lemon oil, if using. Thin the soup slightly, using the carrot water, to the consistency desired. Salt and pepper to taste, taking into account the saltiness of the roasted red peppers.

White Beans with a Spicy Tomato Seasoning

I will admit that this recipe is a little odd – this tomato seasoning was originally intended to go over mung beans, and it had ginger and garam masala in it. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to put either of those things on white beans in conjunction with all these other seasonings – so it’s lost a little of its Indian heritage. I had leftovers spread on a piece of whole-wheat naan for lunch today and thought it was great.

2 c. cooked white beans

2 T. oil
2 T. butter
1 ½ T. cumin seeds
1 c. finely chopped onion
1 ½ t. minced garlic
¼ t. red pepper flakes
3 T. cilantro
1 dry pint cherry tomatoes, washed, stemmed, and quartered
salt and pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the cumin seeds. When they turn dark brown, add the onion. Fry the onion, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and cilantro and fry for an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue frying until the tomatoes are cooked and the contents of the pan look thick and pulpy. Pour the entire mixture over the white beans, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss gently to combine.