Friday, April 29, 2016

Asparagus, Eggs, and Chorizo

On this spring day in late-April, with mixed feelings, I bid farewell to Brooklyn to embark on a new adventure. After nearly 15 years of renting, I'm very happy to write that we finally have a place to call our own. We bought a rowhouse in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood. The property includes a tiny backyard, which provides just enough room to grow some herbs and, perhaps, a tomato plant or two. I'm excited to finally have some outdoor space after a decade of apartment living.

After moving around quite a bit over the past several years -- Washington, D.C. to Chicago, back to D.C., then to Brooklyn, and now Philadelphia -- I'm ready to stay put for a while.

Anyone out there from Philly? Recommendations on favorite spots to eat, farmers' markets, grocery/food stores, or anything else off interest?

So now, YAY, asparagus! Is it just me or do you get excited about the season's first asparagus?

This is a super easy asparagus preparation that's bursting with flavor.

Sauteed asparagus topped with boiled eggs that have been mashed with extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, shallots, Spanish chorizo, and smoked paprika. Just boil the eggs and then mash them with the back of a fork, add the rest of the ingredients to the mashed eggs, and spoon over the asparagus. Use a smoky Spanish chorizo, hot smoked Spanish paprika, and a good amount of extra virgin olive oil (a staple in my kitchen, we go through EVOO like water). The red wine vinegar lends the dish a welcome punch of tanginess.

Makes for a perfect Sunday spring brunch.

I prefer thinner asparagus stalks for this dish. They're very tender and cook in no time...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Flowering Broccoli Rabe with Bagna Cauda and Burrata

Flowering broccoli rabe has been abundant at the farmers' markets as of late. It's one of the first spring vegetables, at least here in the northeast. This flowering rabe is not nearly as bitter as the broccoli rabe I'm accustomed to; although, I don't mind the bitterness (by the way, broccoli rabe is also known as rapini). Despite its name, broccoli rabe is not related to broccoli. In fact, broccoli rabe is a member of the turnip family.

Love broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil, with plenty of garlic, a squeeze of lemon, and a generous pinch of chile flakes. It's also great sautéed and then tossed in pasta (with sausage) and on top of pizza (also good with sausage).

As for today's creation, I had this idea to roast the broccoli rabe in the oven and then layer it on toasted bread slathered with creamy burrata cheese. Burrata is a combination of mozzarella and cream; it has a solid outer curd made from mozzarella and an interior filled with soft, stringy curd and fresh cream. Decadent and delicious. If you can't find burrata, a fresh mozzarella would also work, though it would lack the ultra buttery texture of a quality burrata (the word burrata means buttered in Italian).

To finish the toasted bread, I drizzled it with bagna cauda along with a sprinkle of lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon, and red pepper flakes.

What is bagna cauda? It's the brilliant infusion of garlic and anchovies in olive oil (finished with butter and, sometimes, cream depending on the region of Italy). If you think you don't like anchovies, you might want to reconsider this one. Bagna cauda is a Northern [Piedmont] Italian classic for good reason. When the garlic and anchovies simmer in the hot oil, it mellows out their flavors.

In Italy, bagna cauda is traditionally served as a warm dip (bagna cauda translates into hot bath) with assorted raw vegetables (fennel, endive, peppers, carrots, etc.) and crusty bread to catch any drips. But it's equally good on roasted vegetables (potatoes, radicchio, cauliflower) and grilled meats, not to mention sauteed broccoli rabe.

If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can use the side of a chef's knife to create a paste for the bagna cauda. First, finely mince the garlic and anchovies. Then, tilt the knife at a 30-degree angle and drag it over the garlic and anchovies, scraping it over the surface of your cutting board (a little bit of salt works well for this). Pile up the garlic and anchovy and scrape again. Repeat a few more times until you have a smooth paste.

Probably best not to handle the burrata (the below was my quick attempt to get it into view for a photo). As you can see, it's very soft and very creamy (and messy).

I had this for lunch and my belly was quite content.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Purée of Yellow Split Peas (aka Greek Fava)

In Italy, most other parts of the Mediterranean, and what we are accustomed to in the United States, fava refers to broad (green) beans (in the spring, they are tender and buttery and divine). Oh, can't wait.

However, in Greece, fava refers to a dish of creamy pureed yellow split peas. Completely different from non-Greek fava. The Greek version is easy to prepare, inexpensive, healthy, hearty, and one of my all-time favorite dishes.

First discovered this dish in Greece many years ago; fava has since become a staple in my kitchen. In fact, Greek fava frequently makes its way into my weekly cooking repertoire. It requires only a few basic ingredients...Greek fava or yellow split peas (which I always have on hand), water, salt and olive oil -- traditionally topped with diced red onions and parsley (also added a pinch of hot smoked paprika, which is not traditional, but decidedly good on many savory dishes). What elevates this humble dish is a healthy drizzle of peppery extra virgin olive oil.

Just simmer the split peas in water for about an hour until they absorb most of the water. At first it will seem as though there is way too much water, but don't worry, be patient, the fava are like sponges and will slowly soak up all the water. Fava are pretty low-maintenance. Perhaps a stir from time to time and an occasional check to make sure they have enough water. Simple.

From there, you can prepare the fava smooth (an immersion blender or a food processor works well) or leave them a bit thicker and chunky ('rustic'). Up to you.

While I find Greek fava completely satisfying as prepared above, am not opposed to embellishment in the form of a few rings (or tentacles) of grilled squid. Completely optional, but a nice addition (if you like squid). Or, omit the squid and top with some crumbled feta.

Serve with crusty bread. The bread in the photo is a sourdough I've been working on perfecting. It has several different types of flour: whole-wheat, dark rye, light rye, buckwheat, and bread flour. It has a really nice, dark crispy crust with a soft, chewy interior. Still working out a few kinks, but hope to share with you soon.

All that's missing is a view of the azure-emerald-turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea.