Saturday, January 26, 2019

Avocado & Grapefruit Salad—a splash of color to beat those gray days of winter

January has been exceptionally gray this year.  I think it always is.  But I think the sun usually comes out occasionally.  We went for a 9 or 10 day stretch (at least) this year when the sky was a solid, flat gray.  I think even those with the most cheerful of temperaments were probably struggling to find ways to beat the winter blues.  I am one who enjoys the peace and tranquility of gray skies.  But this was even a bit much for me. 

In the middle of this stretch I found myself testing recipes for a new upcoming class.  One of the recipes was for a grapefruit and avocado salad.  Avocado and grapefruit salad is for some reason something I associate with ladies’ luncheons from the 60’s and 70’s….so it isn’t something I would normally be attracted to.  

But I love citrus salads.  And the combination of grapefruit and avocado really is delicious…and refreshing (and probably why it has never gone out of style).  This particular salad–inspired by a recipe in The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook—attracted me because of the grapefruit reduction vinaigrette (as opposed to the slightly sweet poppy seed dressings I associate with fruit salads from the 60’s…).  Best of all, it turned out to be just the thing to brighten that long stretch of gray.

On a Saturday when we were about a week into the gray, I had planned on making this salad for lunch.  I wanted to make it one more time to make sure I had all the measurements down correctly for my class handout.  It was a market Saturday (which only happens twice a month in the winter) and I was feeling so unmotivated because of the weather (did I mention it had been cold and snowy too?) that I had decided to skip it. 

As lunch neared and I began to gather my ingredients, I ran into this feeling that had been nagging me that the salad needed something more—a spark of some kind.  Something crisp…  or crunchy, maybe.  I had already included pistachios and a few shaved shallots, but I wanted to add something lively—and I was coming up blank.  As all of these things ran around in my mind—the salad...the weather…how silly it had been of me to skip the market—I remembered that one of the purveyors still had beautiful watermelon radishes.  And suddenly I knew that that was the spark I had been looking for.  So I jumped in the car and managed to get to the market shortly before it closed.

I thought the new version of the salad—which had been delicious before—was truly outstanding.  The shaved watermelon radishes added much needed texture…and their slight heat added some nice zip.  Additionally, while I was passing through the market I had grabbed a bag of sunflower shoots/microgreens (which are very good for you…and a super way to boost your nutrient intake any time of year, but especially during the winter)—so I threw some of those into the salad too.  

They turned out to be a delicious addition.  I will probably not always have access to these when I want to make this salad.  And many of those reading might not either.  But if you do, their subtle texture—and rich sunflower taste—really add to the whole. 

I don’t know how much power can be attributed to the ability of food to brighten one’s mood, but this salad certainly seemed to have that effect on me.  It was bright, juicy, tangy and refreshing—pretty much exactly what I was craving.  I can’t promise that it will have the same effect on others…but I can say that it was delicious (and certainly worth a try if you are combating a case of the winter blues).  

Avocado & Grapefruit Salad

The Vinaigrette:
Juice of 1 ruby red grapefruit, strained (about 1/2 c.)
2 T. golden or white Balsamic vinegar
1 t. Dijon mustard
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. olive oil

Place the grapefruit juice in a small saucepan and reduce slowly over low heat until syrupy—you should have about 1 T.

Put the reduced juice, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and salt into a small bowl; whisk until smooth.  Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking steadily, to form an emulsion.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.  Makes about 3/4 cup dressing.

The Salad:
1/4 c. raw shelled pistachios
1 small shallot (1 oz.)
2 to 3 ruby red grapefruits
2 handfuls (about 2 oz.) arugula
1 small watermelon radish (about 2 1/2 oz., trimmed)
1 avocado
1 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1/4 c. (more or less) vinaigrette

Place the pistachios in a small baking dish/tray and place in a preheated 350° oven.  Toast until just fragrant (don’t let them get brown)…about 5 minutes.  Let cool.  When cool enough to handle.  Chop coarsely and return them to their pan.  Drizzle with a tiny amount of olive oil and season with salt.  Set aside.

Peel and trim the shallot.  Using a mandoline, thinly shave the shallot cross-wise.  Place the shaved shallots in a small bowl and cover with very cold water while you prepare the remaining ingredients. 

Prepare the grapefruit:  One by one, cut the stem and blossom ends from the fruit.  Place each fruit cut side down on the cutting board and following the contour of the fruit with your knife, remove the peel and cottony pith—working from top to bottom, and rotating the fruit as you go.  When the fruits are all peeled, hold them one by one over a bowl, and carefully slice between the membranes and the fruit to release the segments.  When all of the segments have been released, squeeze the membrane over a glass to release the juices.  Pour any of the accumulated juices in the work bowl into the glass.  (You will not need the juices for this salad, but they make a refreshing drink!) 

Place the salad greens in a medium sized bowl.  Using a mandoline, thinly shave the radish into the bowl with the greens.  Drain the shallots and spread on a paper towel.  Press another paper towel on top of the shallots to blot them dry.  Add the shallots to the bowl with the greens and radishes.

Halve the avocado and remove the pit.  Scoop each half from the skin with a large spoon in one swoop.  Place the avocado halved cut side down on the cutting board and slice thickly (1/2-inch or slightly more) crosswise.  Add the avocados to the bowl with the grapefruit segments.  Add the parsley.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle in enough of the vinaigrette to coat the fruits generously (about 2 T.).  Toss to combine.

Season the greens with salt and pepper.  Drizzle the vinaigrette sparingly (less than a tablespoon) over the greens and toss.  If necessary, add more vinaigrette and toss again.  You want the greens and radishes to be lightly coated, but not weighed down. 

Spread half of the greens on a platter or individual serving plates.  Arrange half of the avocado/grapefruit mix over the greens.  Scatter half of the pistachios over the fruit.  Repeat these layers once, using all but a small amount of the greens.  To finish, add the small amount of remaining greens and drizzle over any of the vinaigrette remaining in the avocado/grapefruit bowl.  Serve right away.

Serves 2 for a light lunch or 4 as a first course.

  • I have called for raw pistachios because this is what I keep on hand. If you have roasted, salted pistachios on hand, by all means use them. No need to toast, oil and salt. Simply chop them coarsely. 
  • If you can’t find watermelon radishes, just use 2 or 3 small red or pink radishes. 
  • While I was testing this salad, I had some sunflower shoots/microgreens from a local grower on hand. I substituted some of these for a fourth of the arugula. They were a perfect addition and if you can get them I would encourage you to try them. 
  • If you like, substitute a mix of citrus for the grapefruit. One grapefruit combined with one Cara cara orange and one blood orange is particularly nice. 
  • Vinaigrette from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook.
Printable Version

Friday, January 18, 2019

Bucatini with Cauliflower, Broccoli, Pancetta, Pine Nuts & Currants

While seeking out recipes for an upcoming class, a pasta with what to me was an unusual combination of broccoli, cauliflower, pancetta, pine nuts and raisins (!) caught my eye.  I am always on the lookout for pastas that incorporate seasonal vegetables—particularly those that include combinations of vegetables.  Having pastas like this in my repertoire helps me to use up the inevitable mish mosh of odds and ends of different vegetables that can accumulate in a household of one or two.

But I have quite a few pastas in my “go to” recipe file that include broccoli and cauliflower.  I was mostly intrigued by this recipe because of the inclusion of raisins—something that I often put in a salad...or grain pilaf…with cauliflower or broccoli, but not something I think I have ever put in a pasta with them. 

As it turns out, the combination of raisins (or currants) and pine nuts is a hallmark of classic Sicilian cooking.  Particularly when paired with something salty (like pancetta, anchovies, capers, etc.) they make for an interesting interplay of sweetness in all kinds of savory dishes.  (Other flavor elements that frequently appear—and add to the complexity of flavor—with these two include fennel, orange zest, hot pepper flakes, garlic, rosemary, parsley and saffron.)

Of course, it makes sense that slightly bitter vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower would be enhanced by this combination of pine nuts and raisins.  But as I discovered, they should be incorporated with a light hand—truly as an accent and not a main ingredient.  That first recipe that caught my eye was completely out of balance.  I suspected this was the case as I looked at the list of ingredients, but forged ahead anyway because I trusted the chef who wrote the book.  All I can say is that the half cup of raisins called for (in a recipe for 3/4 of a pound of pasta) was overwhelming.  I added more pancetta than the recipe called for…and it still wasn’t enough to balance the sweetness of the raisins.

But I liked the idea so much that I persisted.  I found a much more balanced recipe for this combination of ingredients in Janet Fletcher’s Four Seasons Pasta (a book worth owning if you love pasta) and used it to correct the recipe that originally caught my eye.  The final recipe is filled with lively flavors and is very satisfying…and a nice change from some of my old broccoli and cauliflower pasta standbys.   

Bucatini with Cauliflower, Broccoli, Pancetta, Pine Nuts & Currants
3/4 lb. large cauliflower florets (see notes)
1/2 lb. large broccoli florets (see notes)
3 T. currants
2 to 2 1/2 oz. pancetta, minced
2 to 3 T. Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced  (1 t.)
1 t. minced rosemary
1/4 t. hot pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 lb. bucatini (or gemelli…or orecchiette)
2 T. unsalted butter (optional)
3 T. toasted pine nuts
2 to 3 T. minced flat leaf parsley
1/2 to 2/3 c. toasted coarse breadcrumbs (see notes)

Ingredients for pasta for one (1/5 of the recipe)

Bring a large (6 to 8 qt) pot of water to the boil.  Salt well.  Add the cauliflower and cook until just tender to the tip of a knife (you want it to be soft, but not mushy)—about 5 minutes.  Lift out and spread on a towel.  While the cauliflower cooks, cut any thick stems away from the florets of the broccoli.  Drop these stems in the same water that you used to cook the cauliflower.  After three minutes add the florets.  Continue to cook until the broccoli is just tender (same texture as the cauliflower).  Lift the broccoli out of the pan and add it to the towel with the cauliflower.  When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop.  You should have a rough mixture of small and medium pieces of cauliflower and broccoli. 

While the vegetables cook, make the sauce.  Place the currants in small ramekin or custard cup and add enough boiling water so that the currants are just covered with water.  (You can just ladle in some of the vegetable cooking water if you like.)  Set aside.

Place 2 T. of olive oil and the pancetta in a large sauté pan set over medium low heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is rendered, beginning to crisp and is turning golden brown.  

Add the garlic, rosemary and hot pepper flakes and cook briefly until fragrant.  Remove from the heat and add the currants along with their soaking liquid.  Stir and scrape to release any caramelized bits of pancetta from the bottom of the pan.  Set aside in a warm spot while you cook the pasta.

Cook the past in the same water that you used to cook the vegetables.  About 3 or 4 minutes before the pasta is done cooking, return the pan with the pancetta and seasonings to moderate heat and bring to a simmer.  Add the cauliflower and broccoli and toss/stir to coat the vegetables with the flavorings.  If the pan seems dry, add a small ladle of pasta cooking water to the pan…you definitely don’t want the vegetables to be soupy or soggy, but neither do you want the pan to be so dry that the pancetta/garlic mix is burning or without the fluid means to coat the vegetables.  When the vegetables are hot through, reduce the heat to the lowest setting to keep the “sauce” warm while the pasta finishes cooking.

When the pasta is al dente, drain well, reserving some of the pasta water.  Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce.  If the sauté pan is not large enough to hold the sauce and pasta, return the pasta to the pot it was cooked in and scrape in the sauce.  (Add a splash of pasta water to the sauté pan and swirl it around to get all of the sauce and add it to the pot).  Add the butter (if using), the pine nuts and parsley and toss/stir until the butter is melted and the noodles are coated with a light fluid sauce and all the flavorful bits.  If the pasta seems dry or tight, add some of the pasta water (again, just enough to help the flavorings coat everything in a light fluid sauce—the liquid shouldn’t be pooling in the pan).   If you like, add a good drizzle of olive oil.  Toss again.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Divide the pasta among 4 to 6 plates and scatter the toasted breadcrumbs generously over each serving.   Drizzle with more olive oil and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.


  • This dish can be made with all cauliflower or all broccoli…or some of each in proportions that please you. You will need 1 1/4 lb. combined weight of the two. I prefer a slightly larger quantity of cauliflower (which is why I have called for 3/4 lb of cauliflower and only 1/2 lb. of broccoli).
  • Leave the cauliflower in very large florets (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches across) so they will cook uniformly without becoming mushy. 
  • The recipe directs you to cut the broccoli stems away from the florets because the florets will cook very quickly and the stems will take longer. Adding the florets for just a minute or two—after the stems have been cooking for a few moments—will prevent them from becoming soggy.
  • To make toasted breadcrumbs, cut the crusts off of some day old/slightly stale bread (choose a substantial loaf of some kind—like French farmhouse…or a good baguette) and process in the food processor to form coarse crumbs. Spread the crumbs in a small baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place in a 375° to 400° oven and bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown—about 5 to 10 minutes. Toasted breadcrumbs may be frozen. To use, just scoop out what you need and set in a warm place to thaw (or re-toast briefly in a hot oven).
Printable Version

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Black-eyed Peas with Kale, Kielbasa & Rice

Even though I have ancestral roots in the south, I did not grow up eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I was an adult before I heard that, according to Southern tradition, a meal of Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice), greens, ham/smoked pork and cornbread on New Year’s Day was supposed to bring good luck during the year to come.  Even after I heard about it…and even though I love Southern peas (and had cooked Hoppin’ John during my restaurant days)…I never made a move to prepare this traditional meal on the first day of the year. I guess I’m just not very superstitious. But I do like good food.  So this year, when I discovered that I just happened to have all of the components of this traditional meal on hand, I decided to participate in the tradition (I can always appreciate a tasty food tradition).    

Black-eyed peas are basically the same pea as my beloved pink-eyed, purple hull pea that I get every summer at the farmer’s market.  Since I freeze some of these every year, I have never had any reason to purchase dried black-eyed peas.  But when I was at the last farmers’ market before Christmas, I saw that one of the growers had brought dried black-eyed peas (in anticipation of New Year’s demand, no doubt), so I grabbed a bag.  I knew they would be better than anything I could get at the store.  And I’m sure it crossed my mind that maybe…just maybe…this would be the year I would eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

As I was planning my meal for the first day of the year, it occurred to me that I had everything on hand to make a pretty fine meal out of my spontaneous purchase. I always keep rice in my pantry (so I could have made a basic dish of Hoppin’ John).  But at the same market when I purchased the peas I had also picked up a lovely bunch of Tuscan kale (which, when fresh, stores for an amazingly long time, covered with a towel and sealed inside a Tupperware container).  I had also purchased Kielbasa from a local grower at this same market earlier in the month.  If I had had nothing else but onions and garlic in my kitchen, I would have had the makings of a fine meal.

But as I thought about what kind of dish I wanted to make with these items I thought a little tomato (not too much) would be nice.  I could of course have opened a can and used part of it, but last fall I decided to experiment with freezing whole/unprocessed tomatoes from the market (I just didn’t have the time to make them into sauce).  I had read that all you needed to do in preparation for the freezer was core them and put them in freezer bags or air-tight containers.  Then, when you wanted to use them, just take out the number that you need and thaw them…

the skins would slip off and the flesh, while having a distinctively unpromising look, would be usable just like fresh tomato pulp for cooking. 

I’m happy to report that this process worked beautifully!  The flesh didn’t even look as unappetizing as I had assumed it would.  The thawing tomatoes did however produce a ton of liquid, so thawing on a plate is a must.  Also, when you chop them up, make sure you scrape up and use all the liquid.  I will be freezing tomatoes like this every fall from now on.  (If you didn’t happen to freeze any tomatoes last fall, but you do have a local winter farmer’s market, one of the growers may have frozen tomatoes for sale.  I know there is a grower who does this at my market.)

My final dish was delicious…simple and satisfying (after a season of complex tastes)…and oh-so warming on what turned out to be a bone-chilling first day of the year.  I have no illusions that consuming it will bring me luck.  But having a dish like this in my repertoire for the coldest and darkest days of the year will bring sustenance and comfort…making me more able to be about the business of living (with all of its ups and downs). 

Happy New Year.

Black-eyed Peas with Kale, Kielbasa & Rice

For local (Kansas City) followers, you can find the list of where I purchased my ingredients on my Brookside Farmers' Market page.

1 1/3 c. (1/2 lb.) black-eyed peas, soaked over-night
4 T. olive oil, divided (plus more as needed)
2 or 3 well-branched sprig of thyme
8 oz. Kielbasa (or other garlic sausage), sliced cross-wise 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick—see notes if your sausage is not pre-cooked
1 large onion, finely diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/8 t. cayenne (or 1/4 t. chipotle chili powder)—add more or less to taste
1 c. chopped peeled tomatoes (use canned or 8 oz. fresh—see text for instructions)
1 bunch Tuscan kale, leaves stripped (discard the stems—you should have 3 1/2 to 4 oz. trimmed greens) and cut cross-wise into 1 1/2-inch wide ribbons and thoroughly rinsed
1 c. chicken stock/broth or water
3/4 c. Basmati (or other long grain rice), cooked as you prefer (see notes)
Minced green onions (white and green portions), for garnish
Hot sauce, optional
Cornbread, optional

Drain and rinse the peas. Place them in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and skim off the foam that has risen to the surface. Add 2 T. of olive oil and the thyme. Cook the peas at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until they are tender. Or, place the soaked, drained peas in a shallow gratin or baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and add the thyme. Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, or a piece of foil. Transfer to a 325° oven and bake until tender. Depending on your source and the freshness of the peas, they will take anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours to cook. Add salt to taste when they are half cooked.  They may be cooked ahead.  Because of the unpredictability of the cooking time, it might be best to cook them in the morning (or the day before).  Cool the beans in their cooking liquid.

Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven set over moderate heat.  Brown the sliced sausages.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate and set aside.  Add the onion and garlic along with a pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until they are tender and translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the cayenne and cook for another minute or two.  Add the tomatoes and cook until reduced and thick.  Add the greens along with a good pinch of salt and cook until they begin to collapse.  Add the chicken stock, cover the pot and simmer until the greens are tender (about 20 to 30 minutes). Taste and salt as necessary.

Remove the sprigs of thyme and add the peas, along with their liquid, to the greens.  Add the sausage (scraping the plate well to get all the fat and juices).  I think this dish is all about the beans, greens and sausages, but if you want it to be more brothy (or if the beans, greens and sausages aren’t moving freely in the pot), add hot water (or stock) to obtain the ratio of liquids to solids that you prefer.  Simmer gently for a few moments to allow the flavors to blend.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne.

Serve by placing a large spoonful of rice at the edge of each bowl, followed by some of the beans and greens.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and scatter the scallions over all.  Serve, passing warm cornbread and hot sauce if you like.  Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetites.

  • The Kielbasa I used when I made this was from a local grower.  Unlike most commercially available Kielbasa, it was fresh (not smoked or pre-cooked).  Since most people using this recipe will have access to the commercial, pre-cooked varieties, I have written the recipe for that style of sausage.  If, however, you have a fresh sausage, this is how you should proceed:  Place the sausages in a shallow pan and cover with cold water.  Bring the water, slowly (over a moderate flame), to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer gently until the sausages feel firm and springy to the touch—about 6 to 8 minutes.  Let the sausages cool in the cooking liquid.  Lift out and chill until ready to use.  Don’t throw the poaching liquid out!—use this to cook the black-eyed peas (supplementing as necessary with plain water so the peas are covered by an inch or two of liquid).  When you are ready to continue with the recipe, brown the whole sausage links in the pot in which the onions and greens will be cooked.  Lift them out and let cool before slicing into 1/4-inch thick rounds. 
  • You may cook or steam the rice however you prefer.  My preferred method is as follows:  Place the rice in a heavy bottomed sauce pan (for 3/4 cup a 2- to 3-quart size is fine).  Add a cup and a half of water along with a good pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil or pat of butter (about 2 t.).  Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Allow the rice to boil (undisturbed) rapidly until most of the water has evaporated (if you tilt the pan, you shouldn't see any water) and the surface of the rice is covered with steam holes.  Cover the pan.  If you have an electric stove, transfer the pan to a burner set at the lowest setting.  If you have a gas stove, simply reduce the heat to the lowest setting.  Allow the rice to steam for 12 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let sit (covered) for another 5 minutes.  Uncover and fluff.