Goodbye Busy Summer

AriCooks, Dairy Free, pasta, Vegan, vegetarian

This summer was very full. I cleaned and cooked for a lady from Boston, waitressed and baked at the cafe, taught cooking classes at a local culinary school and for religious teens outside the city, worked the Jerusalem Wine Festival as a wine steward for the Golan Winery, guided for Israel Food Tours, and taught a women’s ballet class during the month of July. Quite a ride.

Yossi, Orit and me (center), pouring tastings of the winery's Gamla wines in the Israel Museum's beautiful art garden.

Now that Autumn is arriving, I am trying to simplify life while still keeping things interesting. My full-time job involves baking, waitressing, and setting up the website at Cafe Belinda in Rehavia (stop by and say ‘hello’!), and I am remaining on staff at Israel Food Tours and the Winery.

Deep Chocolate, Caramel Walnut, and Apple Crumble tarts for sale at Cafe Belinda.

Working on the cafe’s site has inspired me to come up with some new ideas for my own blog. My favorite Tel Aviv vegetarian blogger, Liz, has been brainstorming with me on ways to make our blogs more utilitarian for people trying to get to know Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from a food-perspective, and her recent post on shuk shopping versus supermarket shopping was quite an inspiration.

Liz, gathering a few light-skinned cucumbers from Chayim the Vegetable Seller, In Machane Yehuda

Although I am keen to take advantage of living so close to one of the country’s most exciting and vibrant shuks, I felt like I should pay a little homage to the city in which I became the food-nut that I am today. At the top of my blog’s home page you can now find my list of favorite restaurants, cafes and markets in and around Boston. Please feel free to chime in and share your own, and keep an eye out for my list of Jerusalem’s culinary treasures!

Sampling cheeses from around the world, at Basher in Machane Yehuda

The tough (and ironic) thing about life being so full of these great food-centric jobs, is that I have less time to cook for us at home. Luckily, years of collecting cookbooks and food-magazine clippings left me am armed with an arsenal of quick recipes, such as this creamy vodka pasta. You can expect more like this in the months to come, enjoy!

Pasta with Vodka Sauce, adapted from Amanda Hesser’s, Essential New York Times Cookbook

serves 6 

1 1/2 lbs. penne or ziti (I used whole wheat)

7 Tbs unsalted butter/margarine

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

3/4 cup, plus 2 Tbs polish or Russian vodka

1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes

1 cup heavy cream/soy creamer

1 cup freshly grated parmesan (I always substitute pecorino for parmesanbecause I prefer sheep’s cheese)

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a casserole or saucepan large enough to hold the cooked pasta. Add the red pepper flakes and vodka and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and cream and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add to the hot sauce. With the heat on low, add the cheese and mix thoroughly.

Note: When you are making a thick sauce for pasta, it’s always a good idea to reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining the noodles, you can add that starchy, salted water to the sauce if it needs a little more liquid. 

Summer Noodles

AriCooks, pasta, Summer, Vegan, vegetarian

There are a lot of descriptives for the shape life takes during the early phases of relocation; interesting, stressful, exciting, dizzying, scary, refreshing, and unexpected are some that come to mind, and the one that it is so clearly not: boring. Every single day we meet new people, reconnect with old friends, look for more job opportunities, go on interviews, encounter another bureaucratic process we were not previously aware of. There is little routine just yet, and we awake needing to refer to written reminders of what the day will bring.

It is a bit of rush at times (and leaves me quite nauseous at others), and while I have the feeling that we will one day reflect on our first year back in Israel with amusement and relief at it being the past, I also love that the future awaits its unwrapping, and that this enormous decision that Jeff and I made is shaping our destiny in new and unpredictable ways.

At least that’s how I feel on a good day.

As Jeff keeps reminding me, the key to keeping our sanity (however tenuously) until things settle down, is to take each day as it comes, and to focus on the small victories and joys.

Here’s to another (hot) adventure-filled week.

Summer Noodles with Mango, Cucumber and Ginger, adapted from Gourmet Today

We are experiencing the beginning of one of Israel’s famous summer heat waves. Even here on the edge of Jerusalem’s Valley of the Cross, where a breeze can mercifully be felt throughout the season’s heat, the air is still. Heavy, hot food was out of the question this weekend, and a cold, sightly spicy, noodle salad was calling my name. 

For vinaigrette

  • 6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeño chile, including seeds, or to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped

For noodles

  • 8 ounces bean thread (cellophane) noodles (I would have loved to have used soba noodles, myself, but all I could gat my hands on at the last minute were thin spaghetti. Use whatever you/is available)
  • 1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced diagonally
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced diagonally (1 cup)
  • 1 firm-ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced (the mangoes I found were small, so I used two- it depends on the size of the fruit and how much you like mango- either way you can’t go wrong)
  • 2 thin carrots, very thinly sliced diagonally (I just chopped mine)
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
Make vinaigrette:
Blend all vinaigrette ingredients in a blender until smooth– I did not have a blender, so I just whisked.
Make noodles:
Soak noodles in cold water in a bowl until pliable, about 15 minutes, then drain in a colander. Cut noodles in half with scissors.
Cook noodles in a 4-quart pot of boiling salted water , stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 2 minutes (or follow the package’s directions). Drain noodles in colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain noodles again well, then spread out on paper towels and blot excess liquid.
Toss noodles with dressing in a bowl. Add cucumber, scallions, mango, and carrots and gently toss until just combined. Serve topped with cilantro sprigs.

mango noodles and fizzy lemonade

The most beautiful girl in the world

AriCooks, pasta, Quick Meals, Tips and Tricks, Vegan, vegetarian

Sometimes I look at Auralee and I just cannot believe how gorgeous she is. I mean, did she really come from me? Well, yes. I remember it well actually. Ugh. Anyway, I’d much rather stare at her little face than think about the time before I knew what it would look like, although I have often had the peculiar feeling that I always knew exactly what she would look like, and there are few surprises when it comes to her personality as well. In many ways, Auralee is me, only smaller, cuter and, I would venture to say, even more sure of herself. She is pretty wonderful… when she’s not throwing a tantrum, of course.

There are a lot of things you wish for your child, as you trek further down the road of parenthood — far too many to list. But some of the important and recurring wishes I have for Auralee are that she live life without shame and never lose the joyfulness with which she now approaches the things she loves. By the time many of us reach adulthood, we have learned to habitually second-guess ourselves and to feel a certain amount of embarrassment and self-consciousness when it comes to expressing and admitting what makes us truly happy. Let’s hope Jeff and I are up to the task of helping her grow into the kind of adults we want to be, ourselves.

Simple Sauce with fresh herbs

Though I am pretty sure that most of you are not cooking every recipe along with me, if you were to have recently made the corn soup and veggie pancakes, I bet you would STILL have fairly large bunches of thyme and rosemary left over. I am really trying here, people…. how many ways can I use these tasty guys before they go rotten?? Well here’s another answer: a  very simple marinara sauces where the herbs are stars of the show. (I added some fresh basil, which leaves with the new task of finding a purpose for the remainder…)

olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

12 (or so) medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped (no need to peel)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 Tbs each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme

salt and pepper

fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute gently until the turn soft and are getting some color (if they are browning too quickly, turn the heat down a bit). Add the chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down. Add the thyme and rosemary and stir in the tomato paste. Cook the mixture over medium until it is bubbling, then turn down the heat and simmer until it looks saucy. This will take about 25 minutes or so (I cooked mine a little longer– it’s really up to you, just don’t let too much liquid cook out, or you will have a dense, pasty sauce). Add the fresh basil and cook for another minute or two. Serve over whole wheat pasta of your choice.

great Israeli brand of whole wheat pasta, 'Adama'

Throwing it together

AriCooks, pasta, Salad, Vegan, vegetarian

Whew. Like many things worth doing in this world, that was not easy.

Now that we have arrived I am sure there are many more challenges to come, but I have to say that building a life up (even if it is from near-scratch) has got to be more fun than taking one down. Let’s hope so anyway.

As you may have guessed, it was not much more than 24 hours after touching down in Tel Aviv, that I was on my way to the shuk (open-air produce market), little shopping cart in tow (I am a girl who knows what she loves). Most of my shuk-shopping has happened in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, which is near and dear to my heart, but I am happy to report that Shuk HaCarmel, here in Tel Aviv, will suit me just fine. I am looking forward to finding my favorite cheese, olive, spice and fruit guys. Oh the romance of a new market… this will keep me happy for a while.

photo from tripadvisor.com

photo from Nosh and Tell

I wasn’t sure it would be possible to pack this many veggies into a pasta sauce. In fact I almost considered calling this ‘ratatouille’ instead of ‘sauce’, and I’m certain any Italian or French cook would balk at the use of either term applied to what I threw together this evening. It doesn’t much matter however, because when you are cooking with vegetables fresh this fresh, and have even a small amount of culinary know-how, it is tough to go wrong.

Shuk Pasta Sauce and a Cabbage Salad

The kitchen in our temporary apartment is a little …. rudimentary. But I will persevere with many fresh salads and dishes that can be made on a 2 burner electric stovetop!

for the pasta sauce:

one large onion, chopped

3 medium carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

red bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

salt and pepper

medium eggplant, diced

4-5 ripe tomatoes, chopped (you could peel and seed them, but I don’t particularly believe in that sort of thing)

1/3 cup tomato paste

fresh basil

pasta of your choice- we used shells

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and pepper and saute (slowly) until everything has softened and the onion is translucent, add the garlic, salt and pepper and saute a bit longer. Add the eggplant and chopped tomatoes, and cover until eggplant has cooked through and tomatoes are breaking down. Add the tomato paste (you can pour in a little red wine if you have a bottle open), mix and partially, cover, stirring occasionally, until everything begins to meld and you have something that resembles a sauce. Mix in a handful of chopped, fresh basil and season with more salt and pepper to taste.

for the cabbage salad:

1 medium red cabbage, halved, cored and thinly sliced (good thing I packed my favorite kitchen knife…)

juice of one lemon

1/4-1/3 cup tahini paste

water

olive oil

salt and pepper

Put the finely sliced cabbage in a large salad bowl. Mix the lemon juice with the tahini paste and thin with water until you have a pourable dressing, vigorously whisk in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and a bit of pepper. Pour over cabbage and toss to coat well. Let sit at room temp, for a bit, while you cook the pasta- the dressing softens the cabbage nicely.

Simple Sweet Potato Ravioli

AriCooks, Autumn, Dairy Free, pasta, Tips and Tricks, vegetarian, Winter

Last week the Brookline Patch asked me to contribute a recipe that utitlizes Thanksgiving leftovers, and I came up with these mashed sweet potato ravioli. The truth is however, that these starchy little pillows of pan-fried goodness, are too tasty to be made solely as an afterthought. And although the recipe is already posted at The Patch, here I am including some photos for those of you who like a visual with your recipes (who doesn’t?). Enjoy!

Ari’s Sweet Potato Ravioli

This recipe may sound complicated at first, but look more closely and you will see that by using wanton wrappers as a stand-in for pasta dough, you save time and labor (they are even pre-cut to the perfect size), and by adding just a couple ingredients to your sweet potatoes, you have a gourmet dish that is simple to prepare. The recipe makes enough filling for 2 packages of wanton wrappers, you can freeze extra uncooked ravioli for up to a month.

2-3 cups mashed sweet potatoes 1 vidalia onion, thinly sliced 2 cups sliced cremini mushrroms 2-3 Tbs dry white wine, or verouth salt and pepper to taste

olive oil

2 packages of wanton wrappers (the brand I buy contains 48 sqaure wrappers per package) fresh sage, chopped butter for pan frying, or a margarine/olive oil combo (I use Earth Balance brand) grated manchego or other hard sheep’s milk cheese

3/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide shallow sautee pan over moderate heat. Add the sliced onion and cook until onions until soft, 5 + minutes. Add mushroom and cover for a few minutes. Allowing mushrooms to release their juices. Uncover, cook juices off and sautee until onions and

mushrooms are very dark but not burnt. Deglaze pan with a couple tablespoons of vermoutth or dry white wine. Take off the heat ad cool slightly. In a food processor, combine sweet potatoes, onion mixture, salt and pepper, until fairly smooth (alternately you can mash everything together by hand).

Set up your ravioli-making station with your filling, a small spoon, the wanton wrappers, small bowl of water, a cookie sheet and some wax paper for layering between the raviolis. Put one square wrapper flat in front of you and place a tablespoon (scant- do not over stuff!) of filling in the center. Dip a finger into the water bowl and dampen the edges of the wapper. Place a second wrapper over the top and press edges together using your fingers or the tines of a fork (using a fork is easier and makes a pretty patterned edge). Do not attempt to fold the edges of the wrappers over one another.

Place prepared ravioli on a baking sheet or in a wide tupperware and a continue assembling, placing wax or parchment paper between layers of completed ravioli. When you are ready to cook ravioli, heat a few tablespoons of butter or margarine/olive oil combo in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add chopped sage and as many ravioli as can fit without overlapping. Lightly fry on one side, then flip and fry the other side (2-3 minutes on each side). The ravioli should have a golden brown, mottled appearance.

not quite done

Serve with grated manchego and chopped pecans.

Fedelini with Tuna and Chickpeas

Dairy Free, pasta, Quick Meals

As I’ve mentioned, my dad has never been very adept in the kitchen. I believe the man has three specialties: french toast, macaroni and cheese, and scrambled eggs. He also does a pretty good job of making cheese toast, though his tuna salad tends to be a bit on the mayonaisey side. Once I bit into a peanut butter sandwich my dad made, and it took 5 minutes to unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth. Another time, he put my favorite Alvin and the Chipminks straw into a mug of hot chocolate and I got a nice sip of melted plastic along with my cocoa. Luckily he is exccellent at other things, like woodworking, crafts, reading stories and encasing books with protective plastic coverings — he is also a very good eater.

This recipe reminds me a little of my dad because it contains things he likes, such as noodles and tuna, and things I like: chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley and sauteed onions. Also, it’s relatively easy and quick to prepare, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that even my dad could do it.

Fedelini with Tuna and Chickpeas, from Food and Wine Magazine’s Quick Pastas from Scratch cookbook

I love this cookbook. Last week my friend Sharon Kitchens asked me to contribute a list of my favorite cookbooks to a piece she was doing on her blog, Delicious Musings. She wanted contributers to narrow down their list to 5 choices. I had a little trouble with that, and in retropect, this awesome little pasta cookbook should have been up there somewhere. Unassuming at first glance, this cookbook IS the solution to the hurried dinner prep. I suggest you purchase a copy NOW while (if?) it is still in print.

As a side note, I just want to say that I have no idea what fedelini is and how it is really that different from cappelini (though I assume it’s slightly thicker, but not quite as thick as spaghetti), which is what I used. I am sure that any skinny pasta will work just fine here.

serves 4

2 Tbs cooking oil

1 small onion, cut into thin slices (I used 2 onions, ’cause I love them)

3/4 tsp fennel seeds

grated zest from half and orange

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp fresh-ground pepper

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (I used an entire 28 oz can)

1  6-0z can tuna, packed in oil (I used two for extra protein)

15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3/4 lb fedelini (or other skinny noodles)

1/4 cup chopped parsley

In a large frying pan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent – about 5 minutes (I cooked mine longer, over low heat and covered the pan for a few minutes, until they began to caramelize). Add the fennel seeds and orange zest, and the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for one minute longer. Add the tomatoes and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the tuna and its oil and the chickpeas, cover, and remove the pan from the heat.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until just done (follow package instructions). Reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce, 1/4 cup of the reserved water and the parsley. If the sauce seems too thick, add the other 1/4 cup of water.


Simple

pasta, Quick Meals, Salad, Vegan, vegetarian

Gaaaargh.

My head is very full this week. I am brainstorming recipes for the juice/pulp gig, while also mentally composing some tamales that I have been putting off forever. Things at the dance school are busy, busy and my girls need to stop chit chatting at the barre and remember their combinations. I am also a little injured at the moment, which means that I have been trying some non-ballet dance classes in order to give my hips and knees and break from the somewhat torturous concept known as ‘turnout‘. Whenever I try new styles (this week was flamenco and hip hop) I always have the music and steps whirling through my head and body at every quiet moment — try sleeping with Lady Gaga and Eminem ringing in your ears while an aging Flamenco instructor pounds out a rhythm in your brain: rat tata rat tat tat, stop calling, rat tata rat tat tat.

Oh blarg, I’m over-stimulated.

So I made a simple, easy supper for Friday night’s meal with my family, and all was well and calm (until we began discussing the Lost premiere….).

Look at those beauties. How could you not want to put them in your pasta dinner?

Simple Supper:

Asparagus Walnut Pasta with Balsamic Butter and Apple-Celery Root Salad

This pasta dish is consistently what springs to mind when I come across some nice looking asparagus. Roasting the chopped stalks with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, brings out their best qualities (just make sure not to overdo it, or you will have shriveled, sad little specimens). The balsamic reduction will make your house smell like vinegar for 24 hours, however, so I suggest opening a window.

The Apple-Celery Root Salad is straight out of Molly Wizenberg’s Column for Bon Appetit this month, and is a perfect example of her usual understated and easy but nonetheless delicious approach to food-preparation. If you have never had celery root before, don’t be scared away by its gnarled, tuberous appearance. Under its knotty exterior is a very mild, earthy, crisp vegetable that is wonderful paired with tart apples and some tangy vinaigrette.

For the Pasta, serves four

1 lb. asparagus

1 Tbs olive oil

2 tsp salt

1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp brown sugar

1 lb whole wheat penne or fusili

1/4 lb butter or vegan margarine, cut into pieces

1/2 cup lightly toasted, chopped walnuts

1/3 cup parmesean or manchego cheese (optional)

Heat the oven to 400 F. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into ~ 1 inch pieces. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until 3 Tbs remain. Stir in the brown sugar and remaining 1/4 tsp pepper. Remove from heat and stir in the butter/margarine pieces until dissolved.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just done (see package for cooking time). Drain the pasta and toss with the balsamic butter and roasted asparagus. Sprinkle walnuts and/or cheese evenly over the top.

For the Salad

Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 small garlic clove, pressed

1/4 cup hazelnut oil (it’s fine to use olive oil, if that’s what you have) plus additional for drizzling (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil
Salad

1 medium celery root, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips

1 medium fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced

1 unpeeled Gala apple, cut into strips

Parmesan/Manchego cheese shavings

Make vinaigrette:
Whisk first 5 ingredients in small bowl. Whisk in 1/4 cup hazelnut oil and olive oil.

Make salad:
Combine celery root, fennel, and apple in large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette. Top with Parmesan. Drizzle with additional hazelnut oil, if desired.

I put a little chopped parsley on mine, for a little color contrast.

How Dinner Happens

pasta, vegetarian

Sometime back-a-ways, about 47 cups of flour ago, I said something about this blog being a little heavy on the baked goods of late. What I’ve realized is that this is not because I don’t cook as much as I bake, but rather because the way I cook is often kinda spontaneous and recipe-less and the results mostly very tasty, but not always picture worthy. Plus I am terrible at remembering my own exact measurements and ingredients when I am cooking off-the-cuff. The truth is, when it comes to dinner, I only follow a recipe about once a week; the rest of the time I am just improvising, and who wants to hear about that, right? Well, unless I want to rename this blog, ‘Ari Bakes,’ someone is going to have to hear about the way savory meals happen around here, so off we go.

I usually start by taking stock of what’s in the fridge and pantry. Maybe I recently picked up something fun at the market that I want to use, like today’s purchase of fresh spinach fettuccini (yay!). Then I think about how I want to cook tonight. If I’m running short on time, roasting veggies slowly in the oven is not going to work and a stovetop method, like sauteing or steaming, will be a better choice. Also, if we’ve been eating rice or couscous all week, I probably want to think about a different carbohydrate, like potatoes, or maybe some french bread. There is always the protein issue to consider, although it’s not a huge concern since we generally eat plenty of beans, tofu and eggs around here, so if I have to skip it for the sake of time, that’s okay.

Tonight I was looking to get rid of a large head of broccoli, a bag of mixed greens and some garlic that was starting to sprout. Also there were some lovely, ripe tomatoes sitting on the counter and a container of pitted kalamata olives in the fridge.

I cut the head of broccoli into fairly small florets and halved three tomatoes. I tossed those in a 9 x 9 glass baking pan with 6 or 7 peeled cloves of garlic, poured olive oil generously over everything and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. I baked the veggies in the  a 350 degree oven covered with foil for the first 15 or 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 10 or 15 minutes.

Meanwhile I brought a large pot of salted water to a boil and chopped up about 1/3 cup kalamatas and 1/2 cup loosely packed parsley. I washed and dried some of the mixed greens, spread them into the bottom of a wide serving dish, then squeezed some fresh lemon juice over them.

When the broccoli was tender, I pulled the pan out of the oven and put the fresh spinach pasta into the boiling water for just a couple of minutes.

After draining, I spread the pasta on top of the greens and sprinkled that with a little more lemon juice and some olive oil. The roasted veggies went on top of the pasta, followed by the olives and parsley. I then grated some Manchego over everything (you could use Parmesean, but we like Manchego because it is made from sheep’s milk).

Chestnut Ravioli with Sage

Autumn, pasta, vegetarian

IMG_1011I did not grow up with chestnuts (it’s okay, I had many biscochos) and since discovering them I try to find one at least one new recipe with chestnuts each year.  Although I think they are a pretty versatile nut (are they nuts? fruits?) it is not easy to find interesting vegetarian recipes that call for them. These ravioli are an adaptation of a recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook that includes pancetta and butter. Instead I substituted some baby bella mushrooms and earth balance spread.  The Gourmet recipe also called for won ton wrappers, cut into circles as the encasement. Although I would have liked to use won ton wrappers, they were out of them when I went to the market, so instead I grabbed some no-cook fresh lasagna and was happy that it worked just fine.

I think half the pleasure of making anything with chestnuts is the amazing smell that fills your house while they are roasting. It is much easier to buy them jarred (they begin appearing jarred- peeled and boiled- on supermarket shelves around mid-October, and fresh in the produce section, in their shiny brown shells around the same time) but it is also very expensive and not as much fun! If you are going to buy them fresh make sure you buy then from somewhere that restocks frequently and look for smooth, shiny unblemished shells. Here is a helpful link for chestnut buying.

Roasted Chestnuts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place a chestnut on a soft dish towel that is lying flat on a cutting board or countertop. This will allow the chestnut to “sink” into the dish towel and keeps it from rolling while you make the cuts in the next step.

Use a sharp knife to cut an X into one side of the chestnut to allow the steam caused by roasting to escape, otherwise, the chestnut will explode (recently I tried just piercing them, without making an X and it was definitely more difficult to remove the skins after then were roasted, but not impossible).

Place each chestnut with the cuts facing up onto the cookie sheet.

Roast 20 to 30 minutes or until chestnuts are tender, easy to peel, golden brown in color, and the shells are beginning to open.

Peel nuts when they are cool enough to handle

IMG_1012

preventing explosions

IMG_1018

roasted chestnuts, extracted from their shells

Chestnut Ravioli With Sage, (heavily) adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

1 cup roasted, shelled, and skinned chestnuts (1/2 lb in shell or 7 oz bottled whole)

1 1/2 cups crimini/baby bella mushrooms, chopped

7 tablespoons unsalted butter/earth balance spread

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, smashed

1/4 cup water

1 Granny Smith apple

2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan (I found a really good, strong sheep’s milk pecorino and it worked well, but this recipe is so flavorful you could leave out the cheese all together)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

48 won ton wrappers (12-oz package) or no-boil fresh lasagna noodles

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

Special equipment: a 2 3/4-inch round cookie cutter

Coarsely chop chestnuts.

Cook onion, mushrooms and garlic in about 3 Tbs butter/earth balance over moderate heat until mushrooms have softened and onions have caramelized sightly. Add chestnuts and water and simmer, stirring, until liquid is reduced by half (you may need a little extra water- try mashing the chestnuts to see if they have softened). Discard garlic.

IMG_1025

sauteing the onion, mushrooms and garlic

IMG_1027

filling

Transfer mixture to a bowl and mash to a coarse paste with a fork. Peel half of apple and cut enough of peeled half into 1/4-inch dice to measure 3 tablespoons. Reserve remaining (unpeeled) apple. Stir diced peeled apple into chestnut mixture with cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Put 1 won ton wrapper on a work surface, keeping remaining wrappers in plastic wrap, and mound 1 scant tablespoon of filling in center. Lightly brush edges of wrapper  with water and top with a second wrapper, pressing down around filling to force out air. Trim excess dough with cutter and seal edges well, pressing them together with your fingertips. If using fresh pasta, cut out a circle (it can be any size you want, you are going to fold these, so you may want it larger than 2 3/4 inches), out a small amount of filling onto circle and dab half of the outer edge with water then fold and press to seal, as shown below. Transfer ravioli to a dry kitchen towel (I put mine on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper) then make more in same manner.

IMG_1029

cutting out the rounds

IMG_1030

resist the urge to overstuff

IMG_1033

folding and pressing to seal

Cut enough of unpeeled apple into 1/4-inch dice to measure 3 tablespoons and toss with lemon juice.

Heat remaining 4 tablespoons butter/earth balance in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides and butter begins to turn brown. Stir in sage and cook, stirring, until sage is crisp and butter is golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Add ravioli to a 6-quart pot of salted boiling water, then cook at a slow boil, stirring gently occasionally, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes (if you are using the lasagna noodles, boil for less than minute). Carefully transfer ravioli with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain (do not leave them there too long, they will stick together as they cool). Slide ravioli into sage butter and cook over moderate heat, stirring gently, 1 minute.

IMG_1050

Sprinkle ravioli with unpeeled apple and season with pepper.

IMG_1051

let me tell you: these were GOOD


The Old Standby

pasta, Quick Meals, Vegan

I have to say, I own a lot of cookbooks. Not as many as some- I am thinking of one person in particular, Heidi Swanson, whose website 101cookbooks.com is a sight to behold and an amazing resource – but enough so that I do consider shelving and location for them when setting up my space. I can’t really think of a single downside to having many cookbooks, other than finding space for them, and having to pack them when we move. But if I had to only have one (horror of horrors) then I guess it would have to be something that was not only  sizable but one that had recipes I could improvise off of easily, and that could be easily vegetarianized and veganized. So, with reservations (since I really hate to have to imagine such a scenario) if I had to have one cookbook, it would be The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl (goddess) and published in 2004.

The Gourmet Cookbook is large and yellow and has the classic Gourmet layout, in which each recipe is preceded by the cooking time (both active and resting- chilling/rising/marinating etc), and the number of servings. It also contains useful information about ingredients and has a sources section with resources for  finding some of the less common items.

I know some people may be surprised to hear that I am such a fan of this cookbook considering my vegan/vegetarian leanings, but I really cannot emphasize enough my feeling that in order to keep one’s cooking out of a rut it is important to stay in touch with all kinds of cuisine and get inspired by the classics, the exotic, the challenging and the simple.

So, this past weekend when I was trying to think of an easy and comforting Sunday night dinner that could be made mainly  out of  ingredients I had on hand, I opened up The Gourmet cookbook and was very happy to find this Arrabbiata Sauce. I have to recommend San Marzano tomatoes if you can get them- they really are superior.

Arrabbiata Sauce (spicy – or ‘angry’ in Italian, c’mon how cute is that?)

Makes 6 cups, enough for 2 pounds of pasta, active time: 20 minutes, start to finish 1 hour.

3 Tbs olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (this makes a seriously spicy sauce, if you want a little zing just add 1/4-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, you’ll taste them, trust me)

2 (28 oz. cans) whole tomatoes in juice, drained (juice reserved), and chopped (I did not do this, I just threw them in the pan, and just broke them up as they softened).

1 1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup fresh basil or parsley, chopped (I used both, and definitely more than 1/3 cup!! Why not?)

Heat oil in a 5-6 quart pot over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring until garlic is golden, about one minute. Stir in tomatoes, juice, and salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, 35 to 40 minutes. Stir in Basil.

Serve with your favorite pasta shape

How easy is that?IMG_0718