Smashing Roots

smashed roots tastefoodMashed Sweet Potato, Rutabaga, Celery Root

Root vegetables are sadly underrated. The lowly unsung root is, in fact, a storehouse of nutrients, natural sugars, and starch, and a very healthy and flavorful substitute for the ubiquitous russet potato. It’s also a delicious and simple way to get your daily dose of vitamins during the cold weather season. A peel of the skin reveals a rainbow of anti-oxidant-rich colors ranging from magenta to ochre to buttery yellow, guaranteed to brighten a gray day – and your holiday table. I used sweet potato, celery root and rutabaga for this mash. You can add other roots, such as parsnip, carrot, and the handy russet potato to the mix as well. Be sure to choose a variety for a balance of  sweetness and nutty creamy flavor.

Smashed Roots

I use a combo of sour cream and Greek yogurt in this mash, which creates a little naughty richness and a little tangy lightness. So long as you use a combined amount of 1 cup, you can opt for all of one or the other.

3 pounds mixed roots (such as 1 pound each of sweet potato, celery root, and rutabaga)
Salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the root vegetables and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place the vegetables in a large pot with 2 teaspoons salt and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender. Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot; cool 5 minutes. Add the garlic, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. Smash with a potato masher until the ingredients are blended and the the mash is your desired consistency (I like mine a little chunky). Add salt to your taste and a generous amount of pepper. Spoon into a serving bowl and serve warm.

Prepare ahead:
The mash may be prepared up to 1 day in advance of serving. Cool completely and transfer to a buttered, deep gratin dish. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from them refrigerator 1 hour before serving. To reheat, heat the oven to 325°F. Dot the top of the mash with about 1 tablespoon of diced butter and cover with foil. Bake in the oven until heated through, 30 to 40 minutes.

Caramelized Onion Tart with Gruyere

onion tart tastefood

This tart is a vehicle for two of my favorite things – caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese. Caramelized onions are super sweet, thanks to the cooking process which takes the time to allow the natural juices and sugars to release and reduce, resulting in a squidgy caramelized heap of onion. Gruyere cheese is a wonderful Swiss melting cheese (and a key ingredient in fondue) which is nutty and piquant and tames the sweetness of the onions. Serve this tart as a light meal, or cut into thin slivers and pass around as an appetizer.

Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Tart
Serves 8

Dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter,  cut in 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water

Filing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Calvados
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces finely grated Gruyère cheese
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
1 egg, slightly beaten

1. Prepare the crust: Combine the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse once or twice to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the dough resembles coarse meal, with some pieces of the butter visible. Add the water and pulse once or twice – just until the dough comes together, adding another tablespoon of water if necessary. Dump the dough onto a work surface and form it into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
3. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep skillet or pot. Add the onions and salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown, soft and squidgy, about 30 minutes. Add the Calvados and black pepper and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
4. Roll out the dough to fit in the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch round tart tin. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the bottom of the tart. Spread the onions in the shell and sprinkle the thyme over the onions. Brush the exposed crust rim with the egg wash. Sprinkle the tart and crust with the remaining cheese.
5. Bake the tart until the crust is firm and golden and the onions are deeply colored. without blackening, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature garnished with additional thyme.

Smoky Chipotle Glazed Ribs

Chipotle Ribs TasteFoodThe summer season has ended but grilling season certainly has not. In fact, once autumn rolls around, rich grilled meats are a perfect complement to the cool crisp weather – especially when we’re talking about ribs slathered with a spicy smoky barbecue sauce. For deep flavor, these pork ribs are coated with a robust spice rub and left to marinate before roasting. Then they roast, low and slow, on the grill until the meat is tender and juicy, before getting a good glaze on iwht a chipotle BBQ sauce.

Smoky Chipotle Glazed Ribs
Serves 4 to 6

Rub:
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground chipotle pepper

2 racks baby back pork ribs

Sauce:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 chipotles in adobo, minced, with juices
1/2 cup heavy bodied red wine
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt

1. Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Spread the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and coat on all sides with the rub. You can either grill the ribs immediately, or – better yet – cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. The longer the ribs marinate, the better the flavor.
2. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over low heat (about 275°F). Grill the ribs until the meat is tender, about 2 1/2 hours, turning occasionally.
3. While the ribs are roasting, prepare the sauce. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about half, about 15 minutes.
4. Remove from the grill and cut into individual ribs. Adjust the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Baste the ribs with some of the sauce and grill until crispy and slightly charred, 6 to 8 minutes, turning as needed. Serve with the remaining sauce. And pass the napkins.

Roasted Figs with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese and Rosemary

Certain food combinations are not meant to be messed with – and this is a classic example: Plump seductive figs, salty supple prosciutto, and fresh creamy goat cheese are a holy triumvirate. Teamed up with rosemary (does that make it a quadrumvirate?) and roasted in the oven until crispy, bubbling, and luscious, you have a sensational appetizer – period; forget the Latin lesson.

Roasted Figs with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese (and Rosemary)

The rosemary sprigs do double duty as a toothpick and aromatic, infusing the cheese and figs with woodsy aroma while they bake in the oven. The trick is to discard the roasted sprigs and replace them with fresh leaves as a decorative garnish for serving.

Makes 16

8 ripe figs
3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise
16 (3/4-inch) rosemary sprigs with stem
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh rosemary leaves
Runny honey
Finely grated lemon zest for garnish

Heat the oven to 375°F. Cut each fig in half lengthwise and place on a work surface, skin side down. Gently make a small indentation in each center with a teaspoon. Mix the goat cheese and pepper in a small bowl until smooth. Fill the indentation with goat cheese. Wrap a prosciutto slice, cross-wise, around the fig, like a belt. Spear a rosemary sprig through the center to hold the prosciutto in place. Repeat with remaining fig halves.

Place the figs in a baking dish and lightly brush the prosciutto strips with olive oil. Bake in the oven until the prosciutto begins to crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove and transfer the figs to a platter. Gently remove and discard the baked rosemary sprigs; fill the incision with a few fresh rosemary leaves. Lightly drizzle the figs with honey and garnish with lemon zest. Serve immediately.

In Praise of Lentils and a recipe for Soup

Lentil Soup tastefood

Why do I overlook lentils? These humble legumes resembling tiny pancaked pebbles are often bypassed in my pantry, as I reach for rice, farro, couscous. When I finally do cook with lentils, I remember how good they taste, how satisfying they are to eat, and how easy they are to prepare. Imminently flexible, they can stand in for a grain, starch, even a protein. They are healthy too – rich in nutrients, high in protein, iron, and fiber, arguably placing them neck and neck with other lauded superstar foods in the nutrition department. They cook quickly and without any fuss, gamely absorbing the flavors and seasoning from their fellow ingredients and braising liquids, adding a hearty, earthy, and rich base to soups, stews, side dishes, even salads. Really, I must eat more lentils – and you should too.

Lentil Soups tastefood

Lentil Soup

This soup is simple, to the point, and deservedly all about the lentil.

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted through
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Madeira or Port wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and sauté until the carrots begin to soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, lentils, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (The soup should be somewhat thick. If desired, thin the soup to your preferred consistency by adding additional chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time.) Stir in the sugar, wine, vinegar, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning. Simmer the soup, partially covered, over low heat to thoroughly heat through and meld the flavors, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with the parsley.  Serve hot.

Gemelli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Olive Oil Breadcrumbs

Tomato Pasta Plate x

Are you looking for an easy and healthy weeknight meal? Here is a light and fresh pasta dinner that is guaranteed to please everyone. I make this recipe when I have gads of cherry tomatoes on hand. Slow roasting coaxes out their natural juices and sugars and intensifies the tomato flavor. Fresh arugula is tossed into the mix, slightly wilting from the heat of the cooked pasta. The final touch is a shower of toasted olive oil breadcrumbs, which adds comfort and a rich crunchy texture to the dish.

Gemelli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Olive Oil Breadcrumbs
Serves 4

Roasted Tomatoes:
1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 thyme sprigs

Olive Oil Breadcrumbs:
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs (or panko)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Pasta:
1 pound gemelli or fusilli pasta
2 large handfuls of arugula, about 3 cups
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Roast the tomatoes:
Heat the oven to 400°F. Scatter the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the tomatoes and transfer to the oven. Roast until the tomatoes are softened and begin to release their juices, about 25 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and discard the thyme sprigs. Peel the skin away from the garlic and finely chop the cloves. Transfer the tomatoes, garlic, and any pan juices to a large serving bowl.

Toast the breadcrumbs:
Reduce the oven heat to 350°F. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the same baking sheet. Add the oil and stir to coat. Return the baking sheet to the oven and toast the breadcrumbs until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. (They will brown quickly so watch them carefully.) Remove and immediately transfer the breadcrumbs to a small bowl to prevent further cooking. Cool 5 minutes, then stir in the cheese.

Make the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; drain. Add the pasta to the tomatoes. Add the arugula, cheese, and oil. Toss to combine and slightly wilt the arugula. Add half of the breadcrumbs and stir once or twice to blend. Divide the pasta between serving plates. Garnish with the remaining breadcrumbs and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Back to School Basics: Easy Granola

Basic Granola TasteFood

Everyone needs a good granola recipe up their sleeve. Homemade granola is a healthy pantry staple, great for quick breakfasts and wholesome snacks. It’s also very easy to make, requiring only 30 minutes. I follow a basic ratio of 2 cups oats to 1 cup coconut to 1 cup nuts to 1 cup dried fruit. To that I embellish, adding different grains and seeds such as flax, sunflower, or even wheat germ, depending on what I have on hand.  Use this recipe as a template and mix and match your favorite nuts, fruit, and seeds to your taste – and consider doubling the batch, because it’s guaranteed to be gobbled up.

Easy Granola:

Be sure to add any of the fruit after the granola has cooked to prevent the fruit from burning. Makes about 5 cups.

2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds
1/4 cup pepitas or sunflower seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins, or more to your taste

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Combine the oats, coconut, almonds, pepitas, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, sugar, oil, vanilla, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Pour over the oats and stir to thoroughly coat.

Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake until light golden, about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and add the raisins, stirring to blend. Cool completely. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week.

This recipe also appears in my Food and Drink column at Marin Magazine.

Upside Down Baking: Raspberry, Fig and Almond Cake

Fig Raspberry Cake TasteFood

Upside-down baking is  irresistable to me, whether it’s in the form of a tarte tatin or a cake. The common denominator is a gorgeous, gooey caramelized bottom, which, once inverted, becomes the top. Nestled in the sticky caramelized goodness are hunks of seasonal fruit, which release their juice and perfume the pastry, while studding the topping like jewels in a crown.

The other winning quality of upside-down desserts is that they are generously flexible with the seasons. In the fall, pears and apples are the fruit of choice. In the summer, stone fruit, figs and berries display their wonders. Mix and match to your taste. It’s impossible to go wrong.

Rasberry, Fig, and Almond Upside-Down Cake
Serves 10 to 12

1/2 cup plus 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
8 large figs, halved lengthwise
3 ounces raspberries
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment. Tightly wrap the bottom of the pan with foil.
2. Melt the 1/2 cup butter and the light brown sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, whisking to combine. Pour into the springform pan. Arrange the figs, cut side down in a circular pattern in the sugar. Fill in the gaps with the raspberries.
2. Beat the 1 cup butter and the granulated sugar in a mixer with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the buttermilk, lemon zest, vanilla, and almond extract. Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Add to the batter, mixing just to combine. Pour the batter over the fruit and smooth with a spatula. Bake in the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes then invert onto a plate. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

Pomegranate Chicken Skewers with Yogurt, Pistachios, and Mint

pomegranate chicken skewer tastefood
The secret ingredient in this recipe is pomegranate molasses, a viscous syrup made from the juice of pomegranates. Sweet, tart and sticky, it adds a unique flavor to marinades and sauces. I like to use it with chicken breast meat, because it gives a welcome flavor boost to the mild white meat, and the sugars help to caramelize the chicken while grilling. Pomegranate molasses is a popular Middle Eastern condiment, and can be purchased in the international section of your supermarket or at specialty stores.

I made these skewers for a cocktail party I catered a few weeks ago and posted a photo without a recipe on Facebook and Instagram. They were a huge hit with the guests – and my followers – and a number of you asked for the recipe. At last here it is.

Pomegranate Chicken Skewers with Pistachios and Mint
Serves 4 to 6

Marinade:
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons Sriracha
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
Bamboo skewers, pre-soaked for 30 minutes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped unsalted pistachios
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon chopped mint

Sauce:
1 cup whole milk Greek style yogurt
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Whisk the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside about 1/4 cup for basting. Place the chicken in a large bowl, pour the marinade over, and stir to thoroughly coat. Cover and refrigerate the chicken for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.
2. Whisk the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until use.
3. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Thread the chicken on the skewers. Grill the skewers over direct heat, basting once, then turn and continue to cook until the chicken is lightly charred and thoroughly cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, turning again as needed.
4. Arrange the skewers on a serving platter. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle the 1/4 cup pistachios and 1/4 cup mint over the skewers. Sprinkle the remaining 1 teaspoon pistachios and 1 teaspoon mint over the dipping sauce. Serve with the chicken.

Hot and Sweet Pepper Crostini

crostini peppers

Late summer reaps brimming bushels of peppers in a kaleidoscope of color and shapes. I shop with my eyes, because the first thing I do when I get home is pile my peppers into a bowl where they do double-duty as a decorative centerpiece. Gnarly basques, pristine cherries, sturdy pimentos, and pert jalapeños vie for my attention, and I slowly pick away at my psychedelic pile of peppers as I cook throughout the week, adding them to salads, stews, pasta, and pizzas.

This simple recipe showcases a colorful assortment peppers on crostini and makes a great starter to a meal. I like to use a mix of sweet and hot for more complex flavor. When using hot peppers, such as poblanos, serranos, and jalapeños, remember that they can vary in heat, so take a small bite to test their strength. The heat is concentrated in the ribs and seeds of the pepper, so remove as much as desired with kitchen gloves or the tip of a paring knife to protect your fingers from the oils.

Hot and Sweet Pepper Crostini with Mozzarella

Choose a variety of peppers to your taste – for this recipe I used poblanos, hungarian pimentos, and gypsy peppers. Makes 12 large crostini.

Crostini:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt
12 slices baguette, cut on the diagonal, ½-inch thick

Peppers:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound sweet summer peppers, stemmed and seeded, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for garnish

8 ounces buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced
¼ cup basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Make the crostini:
Heat the oven to 375°F. Whisk the oil, garlic, and salt in a small bowl. Arrange the bread on a baking sheet and lightly brush with the oil. Transfer to the oven and bake until the bread is lightly toasted, 12 to 15 minutes.

Saute the peppers:
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the peppers and saute until crisp tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, and black pepper and saute 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Arrange a slice of mozzarella over each crostini. Top with some of the peppers. Broil in the oven until the cheese begins to melt, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and  garnish with fresh basil.  Serve immediately.