Something Simple with Zucchini

This white bean and zucchini stew is an old standby; over polenta or pasta or with a slice or seven of garlic bread, it is a comfortable balance of familiar flavors that makes me feel calmed and taken care of.

For six summers, starting twenty years ago next month, I went to St. George’s Camp, which is ostensibly run by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, but was effectively run by a batch of insanely smart, funny and musically-talented college students. (If you want a sense of it, page through these pictures and count how many people you see with their arms around each other or holding guitars.)

I should not get started on telling camp stories, as I will never stop, beginning with the counselor I had a crush on (James Brown) and going on to the friend for life I netted. It would be hard to overstate how much influence the place had on me. It would not be going too far to say that it is a real part of why I’m working in produce – though that might seem like a stretch, believe me, I could explain exactly how it links up in less than a thousand words.

Among the activities at St. G’s were camping trips: two cabins went each night through the middle part of the session. One of these trips is the source of one of my favorite outdoor truisms, learned from then-counselor Stuart Gunter, through this exchange:

Camper: (bored) Stu, what time is it?
Stu: (kindly) Dude, you’re in the woods. It’s daytime. It doesn’t matter what time it is.

Dinner on these trips, prepared by the counselors, was what was referred to as salmagundi, with macaroni and cheese. Salmagundi, as interpreted there, was a tomato and vegetable stew, with too many dried herbs applied to it by an overzealous counselor from one of those divided plastic shakers with a different herb in each compartment. It always tasted great out in the woods, though, as everything does – steaming-hot vegetables cooked over a wood fire piled on top of pasta.

This isn’t exactly it, of course. There were no white beans, not to mention no arugula, in what I ate out in the woods when it didn’t matter what time it was, but whatever time it might have been, this reminds me of it, and for a little while when I make it, I imagine we are all singing with our arms around each other while James plays banjo, Kat plays guitar, Stu plays bongos, and everything is right with the world.

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Sorites Paradox Pesto

I had to ask my husband the professional philosopher tonight, “What’s the name of the idea about how much of something you have to take away before it ceases to be that thing?”

“The Sorites Paradox.”

“May I call this Sorites Paradox Pesto?”

“It’ll be clear that you’re married to a philosopher. It’s also called the Paradox of the Heap.”

“That’s okay. ‘Sorites Paradox Pesto’ sounds better than ‘Paradox of the Heap Pesto’ anway. ‘Heap’ isn’t really a good word for a recipe title.”

Classic pesto: Basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt. This shares only the last two ingredients and the method, and is by dint of that vegan and still interpretable as pesto. The method is what’s really important.

We put big dollops of this on top of an otherwise very plain-Jane white bean soup, a place I sometimes put gremolata. It would be good applied to just about anything that would hold still long enough – broiled on bread, tossed with pasta, incorporated into an oil-and-vinegar dressing, heated and mixed with wilted greens.

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Spaghetti Squash

If it’s wintertime, it must be another squash recipe.

This is another one to bake the squash ahead for.  It’s so much easier to do that.  Then you don’t have to manhandle a searing steamy squash and inevitably burn yourself.  So bake that thing ahead of time and pop it in the fridge.

Michael has never been hot on plain spaghetti squash, though I love it, but I think this started to change his mind a little.  The addition of cheese to just about anything is helpful.  We had this with a quick tomato sauce made by Michael with Muir Glen tomatoes and onion, garlic, oregano, hot pepper, and parsley, and white beans with olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley.

A smallish spaghetti squash will make about three servings; a big one four to six.

1 spaghetti squash
olive oil
1 1/2 c. grated Dry Jack cheese
1/2 c. minced parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Bake that squash whole in a baking pan or on a baking sheet for about an hour at 375 degrees, or until tender, turning once.  This might take up to an hour and a half.  Place in the fridge and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Cut the baked squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with your hands.  Trust me, it works better than a spoon on a spaghetti squash.  Set them aside.  Hold a squash half over a large oven-safe bowl and, using a fork, gently scrape the strands out of the squash and into the bowl.  Repeat with the other half. 

Drizzle the squash generously with olive oil (a few tablespoons), sprinkle with the cheese and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.  Using two forks, gently toss the added ingredients with the squash until combined.  Place in the oven and bake about 40 minutes, until browned around the edges and hot through.

Mushroom Caps with Basil-Pecan Stuffing

Sigh. When *I* say something has a lot of wheat germ in it, you can be sure that There Is A Great Deal Of Wheat Germ In It. I promise to put up my wheat-germ containing granola recipe soon, so that anyone who happens to make this will have another outlet for their wheat germ. Why does it come in such big jars, anyhow?

Michael was happy with this, but I didn’t really like it. As you know if you read this page, mushrooms are a tough sell for me. I could have improved it by cooking the mushrooms with more oil and soy sauce at a higher temperature, and by replacing some of the wheat germ with Panko.

This is another one from Vegetarian Appetizers by Paulette Mitchell.

6 large white or cremini mushrooms (about 2 1/2 in. in diameter)
olive oil for brushing

1 T. unsalted butter
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. toasted wheat germ
2 T. finely chopped pecans
2 T. freshly grated parmesan (eh, I had Dry Jack and used that.)
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. minced fresh parsley
1 T. minced fresh basil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375. Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Finely chop enough stems to yield 1/2 c. and set aside (use the rest for another purpose). Brush the mushroom caps with oil. Place the caps, rounded-side down, on a baking sheet ligned with parchment paper (it sticks to the sheet better if you rub a little oil on the sheet too.) Place in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

To make the stuffing, melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Add the mushroom stems and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms and onion are tender and the mushrooms are significantly reduced in volume. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in all the remaining stuffing ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Fill the mushroom caps with the stuffing – it is best to press it in with your hands. It may need a little water – a couple tablespoons – to stick together enough. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the stuffing is heated through and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Parsley Pesto

I found out years ago (through my work at WFM) that the pestos I liked best weren’t the super-authentic all-basil garlic pine nut Parmigiano Reggiano ones. Mostly, I found that using all those ingredients didn’t result in a balanced pesto, but one that had a harsh edge and an overwhelming flavor. It’s expensive to make, too. I fell in love with a Texas-born WFM spinach pesto – I still have the recipe for it, but it’s in foodservice quantities. Hard to translate a pesto recipe that makes a gallon down to a usable amount.

But this one is in that one’s spirit. This is an improvised one I made this evening – it is quite good, has a pleasant light herbaceous taste, and doesn’t knock you out of your chair. No, the garlic is not missing, I just didn’t use any. You certainly could add some minced garlic – I just think it’s nice to have it without it once in a while.

A food processor is indispensable for this.

1 1/4 c. curly parsley, finely chopped (do this part with a knife – works better)
1/3 c. walnut halves (trust me)
some basil – tonight I had about 10 leaves left, some big, some small
about 2 oz. hard cheese – I used Dry Jack, but Reggiano or Romano would work fine
olive oil to process (Put some in. If it’s not moving in the processor, add more)
salt and to taste

Using the knife blade of the processor, process the parsley, nuts, and basil with some olive oil. Change to the shredding disk and shred in the cheese. Switch back to the knife blade and combine the mixture, adding more olive oil if necessary. Turn out into a bowl and season with salt to taste. If it’s too pastelike and looks like it won’t toss over pasta well, add more oil. If you’re spreading it on bread, you might want it pastelike.

Veggie Bolognese

If you like mushrooms, you should make this. Even if you don’t like mushrooms, you should make this. It made a mushroom-tolerator out of me.

I did not like mushrooms growing up. The whole idea of eating fungus – I just couldn’t get past it. Even now, when I look at the frozen Quorn products, they freak me out a little bit.

I do better with mushrooms now, though they’re certainly not on my list of most favorite foods. What got me started on eating them at all was a sauce that was one of the products in our fresh pasta lineup at Fresh Fields/WFM. It was a Veggie Bolognese, made at our commissary in Rockville, and it was just wonderful. It was not a great seller, but if you sampled it to customers with fresh bread – even cold – you could count on it walking out the door.

They don’t sell it any more, but it’s not hard to make. I remember the ingredients very well from puzzling over enjoying something that contained so many mushrooms. The worst part of it is cleaning them, and even that’s not too bad.

The original was more mushroomy and less tomatoey, but I have a certain level of mushroominess that I still cannot get past. If you have no such issues, you could double the amount of mushrooms in this recipe and get a product closer to the original.

olive oil (plenty)
1 1/2 large onions, chopped
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, washed, stemmed and cut into about 3/8 in. sq. pieces
1 can Muir Glen (there I go again – you’d think I worked for Muir Glen, wouldn’t you?) Whole Fire Roasted Tomatoes, chopped coarsely (knife or food processor, whatever you feel.)
2/3 c. minced curly parsley
1 tsp. dried rosemary
3 T. tamari
1/2 c. dry red wine
generous amount of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450. Place the chopped mushrooms on a baking sheet with a rim and dose with a generous drizzle of olive oil and season with salt. Toss together. Place in the preheated oven, and roast, stirring once or twice, for about 15 minutes, or until substantially shrunken in appearance. While the mushrooms are roasting, sauté the onions in olive oil until they are beginning to brown slightly. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes, parsley, and rosemary. When the mushrooms are finished roasting, add them into the sauce, along with the tamari, the wine, and the pepper. Simmer for as long as you can stand it – a couple hours is best – and serve over any good-quality chunky pasta. Farfalle or medium shells are good choices. Don’t insult it by showing up with angel hair. Make a big green salad and as M.F.K. Fisher says, (thanks Debbie) You Have Dined.

Roasted Mushrooms & Cardoons Update

Michael’s mom was laid up with the flu when we got to Baltimore. She had commented (on my very website) that she had acquired some Italian cornmeal for polenta before our arrival. So, on our arrival, I went through the kitchen to see what we had, (a lot – she had managed to complete the food shopping right before being knocked flat by the flu) and then took a quick trip to the supermarket to fill in a few things. Having had so much fun with the roasted mushrooms & cardoons over polenta, I decided to make a variation on that theme. It was roasted mushrooms, fennel, & artichoke bottoms with cannellini beans over polenta.

I used the same roasting technique as I had in the roasted mushroom & cardoon recipe, but used 2 8 oz. containers of regular white mushrooms, along with a single fennel bulb and a can of artichoke bottoms, chopped to about the same size as the cannelini beans. One can of canellini beans, rinsed, though an easy way to stretch this dish would be to add another can. The white mushrooms seemed to have more moisture than the smallish cremini I used last time, so they took longer to get roasted, and even when finished, didn’t get quite the roasted look that the brown-to-begin-with cremini had. After that, I reserved the liquid left from the mushroom pan and roasted the fennel and artichoke bottoms the same way as the mushrooms, though I did add a little bit of fresh rosemary. I wanted to do the mushrooms and fennel at the same time, but found it was probably better that I didn’t, once I saw how much moisture the white mushrooms threw off – the fennel would simply have steamed rather than roasting. I opened a can of cannellini beans and placed them in a bowl along with the roasted mushrooms and fennel, then made a dressing from:

Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
The reserved mushroom liquid
Some of the reserved liquid from the can of artichoke bottoms
1 large clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Once again, sorry for the total lack of proportions. Michael’s dad asked me about the dressing after dinner, and I hadn’t measured it at all.