Monday, August 17, 2015

OMG a Recipe: Summer-Greens... Make Me Feel Fiiiine....

I must be crazy from the heat, giving all the post titles musical themes. I blame you, Blazing Orb of Fire in the Sky. I BLAME YOU.
  When I'm not completely losing my shiznit over how hot it gets, I put my braincells to work, trying to make meals that take advantage of the abundance of garden greens. And note, none of these are salads!
Carrot "bolognese" with spaghetti. And yes, kale. - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I think it's safe to say the notion of eating one's greens is becoming less and less of an issue. Or maybe I just hang around with too many food/nutrition nerds who don't find it to be a chore. And it's not! But there's plenty of people who just aren't excited about vegetables and meatless meals. In the summer, I find myself getting as creative as possible with produce, just because we're on the weekly delivery for Full Circle organic fruits/veggies, and the garden is giving forth all manner of greens.

Carrots are often in surplus. Anyone with a garden can sympathize. Sure, you can cut them into sticks and enjoy as a snack, but after a while, you start wondering if you're growing long ears and fighting the desire to say, "Ehhhhh... What's up, Doc?" Or maybe that's just me. In colder months, I love making the classic bolognese recipe, a hearty ragu of minced carrots and onion, caramelized in a big pot, and further cooked down with ground beef to build a rich, layered-with-flavor red sauce that chases the winter chill away. But it's not winter. And when it's 90 degrees with no air conditioning, you are so not chilly. But you still have a pile of carrots! What to do? Make a summer variation of the sauce that's lighter, meatless, and a good repository for random greens you may have in the crisper or your garden. I created this sauce when I needed to feel excited about/get rid of carrots, and I had a huge bag of random garden greens made up of the last bits of kale, some Chinese cabbage, and whatever bitter greens the summer sun hadn't scorched to death. A bit of mascarpone cheese for richness, garden herbs for freshness, and a lovely vegetable sauce was enjoyed with some thin spaghetti.

Herbs, herbs, and more herbs -- what to do? Dry 'em and save 'em - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Herbs are so forgiving of lazy gardeners -- I should know, I've had many lazy seasons where I just let stuff do their thing with minimal care. There's always a part of the season where your herb plants are going gangbusters, and while you snip what you can for meals, you always wind up with more than you can use. You hate to just let it die back and go to waste, so why not do a massive harvest and use the oven to quickly dry them for later use? Yes, you can totally dry and save herbs. Dehydrators work great, but if you're like me who doesn't have one of these gadgets, you can also tie the herbs in bundles, hang in a spot with no humidity, and let them air-dry.

If you're really, really like me, who's totally impatient, use the oven. Turn it on to its lowest setting and spread out your herbs, stem and all, onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Let it dry for about 15-20 minutes, basically to the texture of dry autumn leaves. You want to get rid of all the moisture so mold doesn't grow when you're storing it. When the herbs are dry, crumble the leaves away from the stems, which they'll fall off of very easily. Jar the dried herbs and save for those cold weather recipes like stews and soups. You won't keep the fresh green color of the herb when you oven-dry, but when you're mixing it into things, the freshness isn't as crucial. I do this with oregano, since it's the herb I buy/use most often in dry form, and the plant yields quite a bit.

Winter comfort on a summer day - barley risotto - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Even on a sunny, warm day, sometimes you crave a little of that winter comfort, but not the heavy feeling you get afterwards from a big meal. How about a barley risotto with summer veggies? I'm a huge fan of rice-less risotto. I want the creamy texture of a starchy porridge, but with a little less of the carby blood sugar aftermath from Arborio rice. I've done faux-risotto with quinoa to some success, but I think barley does the job best. The pearls of barley are rice-shaped, they plump up nicely while giving off a creamy starchiness, and you get a little of that toothiness of texture that you would with rice. Methods of risotto-izing barley are all over the interwebs, here's one link to Food and Wine's recipe.

Risotto-izing barley - yes, it's a thing - Photos by Wasabi Prime
What makes risotto so summery are the vegetables. Sugar snap peas add a lovely sweetness. Just a light saute before adding to the finished risotto is all you need, and it becomes a refreshing comfort meal. It's also a great repository for fresh herbs like chives, parsley and tarragon. Mushrooms give it a nice earthiness, and a lot of farmers markets sell different foraged and farmed mushrooms -- mixing them into risotto is one way to have fun with fungus.

So don't feel like eating your veggies and having green food is a chore -- you can still have dishes that feel satisfyingly rich, but with seasonal, fresh ingredients that don't leave you spiraling into a food coma. And instead of dessert, stick with something simple like fresh cherries -- Mother Nature makes the best sweets!

Celebrate the abundance of herbs and summer's bounty! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Summer Carrot "Bolognese" with Spaghetti

  • 3-4 whole carrots, ends and blemishes removed and chopped (about 2-3 cups' worth of carrots)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and rough-chopped (about a heaping cup's worth)
  • 1 container of mascarpone cheese (8 oz), room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (can be a mix of parsley, oregano, tarragon - whatever you have)
  • 2-3 cups' worth of dark greens (can be spinach, baby kale, etc)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • About 2 tablespoons dry white wine to deglaze (water or stock is fine)
  • 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
  • One pinch of red pepper flakes (optional; just adds a bit of heat)
  •  1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound of thin spaghetti noodles

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil to cook the noodles first. Once the noodles are cooked to al dente, reserve one cup of the pasta water, drain off and set the pasta aside.

Using a food processor, mince the carrots and onion chunks down to the consistency of wet, coarse sand. You just want it grainy, not pulverized to a paste.

In a large saute pan or pot, heat to medium high, add the olive oil and heat to shimmering before adding the carrot/onion mixture. Add a pinch of salt to help encourage the veggies to give off excess water. Stir for 10-15 minutes, to allow liquid to cook off and it begins to caramelize. Add in the minced garlic and incorporate for a minute, and then add the wine (or stock/water) to deglaze the pan, to help scrape up any stuck-on bits. Add in the pinch of pepper flakes, if using.

Add the dark greens and stir until just wilted and any excess water is cooked off. Scoop in the mascarpone cheese and mix until fully incorporated. If it seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen and keep sauce consistency creamy. Taste as you go, adding more salt/pepper to taste.

When the sauce consistency is creamy, but not watery, take the pot off the heat and add the grated cheese and the cooked spaghetti. The cheese will help tighten the sauce and the sauce should cling to the noodles nicely. Use a pair of tongs to help toss the pasta in the sauce to coat evenly. Serve immediately, with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and more cheese, if desired.

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