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Adventures in CSA: Kohlrabi

3 Jun

My friend Jenna and I are splitting a share this summer of what’s known in New York as “CSA.” It stands for community-supported agriculture, and I’d never heard of it before moving here so forgive me if I’m explaining something that everyone already knows. You pay up front and then get 25 weeks of surprise vegetables and 22 weeks of fruit delivered to a spot near you from farms upstate.

In Brooklyn there is no shortage of organic, farm-fresh vegetables. Or really of anything artisanal or niche (New York Magazine said with its usual snark that it’s a borough pretending it’s a 19th century English village, and that pretty much nailed it.) But the benefit of the CSA is the surprise factor. At a farmer’s market, you’re still going to step away from the strange-looking root and choose a more familiar edible. With CSA you have no choice.

Which brings me to kohlrabi

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Jenna picked up the batch this week and was so excited about this root vegetable I’d never heard of that she traded for two so we could each have a bunch. I called my mom, but shockingly, she was little help. The only thing she said was: “I like it, therefore you should, too.” Oh, and she told me to peel it.

To end the suspense, it tastes sort of like a mild broccoli with the consistency in-between a turnip and a crisp apple.

Thanks to the delivery this week I also had a giant head of napa cabbage. So here’s what I did with this mystery veg: I made a light summer slaw.

I cut off the green so it resembled an apple, peeled.

I shredded the cabbage, then I used a cheese grater (because I have a small kitchen and lack other more precious kitchen utensils, and frankly they’re expensive and not worth it) to grate three carrots, the three heads of kohlrabi, and one gala apple, peeled. I tossed them all together in a bowl with some freshly, thinly sliced scallion, and then I made a slaw dressing variation I think I already talked about here so forgive me for repetition but it was relevant in this case.

        

If you need a crash course on the dressing it is:

Approximately:

3 tablespoons thick, plain yogurt, or mayo

3 tablespoons whole-seed mustard

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper.

Whip with fork until creamy and sort of runny. I tossed it over the mix and I had the most delightful, light, crisp slaw ever. I served it with sautéed shrimp.

Oh, as an aside, we also at the leafy green tips, first steamed then sautéed with olive oil. They were hearty, sort of like an edible construction paper, maybe they’re not ideal as a leafy green, but they tasted good to me.

So here’s to strange summer vegetables and summer in general, huh?

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Chicken lasagna: A colossal pain, but worth it in the end

12 Feb

So it seems like whenever friends have a baby, I make them my mom’s chicken lasagna. I’m sorry for everyone who lives not within drop-off distance. I think the reason is two-fold. One, lasagna is easy to cook and freezes nicely and feeds you for many days so it seems like a smart thing to give to sleep-deprived new families, and two, it’s a giant pain in the ass to make so I need a good excuse.

But just because it’s a pain does not mean you shouldn’t try it when you have time. It’s delicious! It’s lighter than traditional lasagna and the bell pepper sauce is a nice difference. I’ve found if you do some things ahead of time, like make the bell pepper sauce the night before or cook the chicken, it will seem like less work.

For one pan of lasagna, you will need:

Bell pepper sauce:

2 large cans of whole, peeled tomatoes

1 regular can of crushed tomatoes

1 large onion

1 bunch flat parsley, chopped

2 large red peppers, or 4 small

2 large yellow peppers, or 4 small

4 cloves garlic

Chicken sauce:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 stick butter

4 cups chicken broth (maybe more, buy two large containers if you’re not making your own)

3 cloves garlic

2 cups or so of flour

Plus mozzarella cheese, about 1 pound, shredded

1 pound of lasagna noodles

First, put the oven on to 350 degrees and cook the chicken breast on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s boring but that’s not the point. They need about 35 minutes to cook fully. Take them out and let them cool.

Bell pepper sauce:

Julienne the peppers, chop the parsley and mince the garlic.

In a large sauce pan on medium heat, sautee the peppers and onion and garlic with olive oil and throw in some chopped parsley. The peppers will reduce down significantly, and there may be some water in the pot. If so, drain the peppers then go to the next step.

Smush the whole peeled in your hands and add them to the sauce.

Put the small can of tomato puree in there as well and let it simmer for at least a half hour.

While it’s cooking, put salted water on to cook the lasagna. When it’s cooked, douse it in cold water to stop the cooking process and coat it with olive oil to stop it from sticking together. Set aside.

The cream sauce:

It’s not really a cream sauce. Rather, it’s a rue that you thin with chicken broth and added cooked chicken breast.  So to make the rue you need butter, garlic and flour. (A traditional rue is just butter and flour but we want garlic to flavor the sauce.)

Melt the butter on low with the garlic. Then you want to add flour until the mixture is dry, like a dough almost.

Looks something like this:

Once you make the rue you can keep and use it to thicken other things, just FYI. So now check your bell pepper sauce, if it’s thickened and cohesive, turn it off but you can keep cooking it until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

Dice the chicken. The smaller the chicken the better it works.

Now you’re going to thin out the rue, which you do by adding chicken broth and whisking whisking whisking. This process is labor intensive, and requires concentration.You have to do it on low heat. Whisk and then let it bubble and then whisk some more. Keep whisking until it has the consistency of Alfredo sauce.

For example, this is too thick still:

This is about what it’s supposed to look like:

So then, add the diced chicken to this sauce.

Now you’re ready to assemble. Line the pan with lasagna noodles, then the chicken sauce, then mozarella cheese and the bell pepper sauce. Repeat as much as you can. Be sure to finish it with a layer of cheese! Stick it in the freezer, bake it for 45 minutes at 350, or give it to friends.

Easy party appetizers for that post-holiday empty space on your calendar

9 Jan

Welcome back after the holidays and happy 2012! 

Below are three really easy party appetizers that make you look good and make your guests happy:

Sauteed mushroom crostini, cannellini bean and parsley pesto crostini, and prosciutto and fig pizza.

I somehow lost the images I took while doing work for this little holiday party we had, so forgive me.

We’re talking about probably 30 crostinis total and one pizza, cut into small thin personal pieces. If you need more, double the recipe.

You’ll need:

Really good olive oil, first pressed. I’m partial to this type, which my mom sells at Dunning’s Market, if you are in the Chicago area you can buy it there, or they sell it here in Brooklyn.

2 baguettes

1 large flat bread, like this:

07-flat-bread.jpg

about a pound of crimini mushrooms

3 bunches parsley

2 cups cannellini bean (you can cheat and get canned, but don’t tell my mom you did.)

1 pound aged pecorino romano, grated

garlic, 1 bulb

shallots, probably 4

1/2 pound of prosciutto, doesn’t have to be super expensive but needs to be thinly-sliced

Fresh mozzarella cheese, probably 2 large balls

Fresh rosemary, 3 sprigs

Figs, preferably fresh but they’re not in season so get dried and I’ll teach you how my mom told me to reconstitute them. Boil water and submerge the dried figs for about an hour until they puff up slightly from where they were.

Food processor

Saute pan

good knife.

Crostinis:

You’re going to make two at the same time. Turn on your oven to 350. Slice the baguettes into small ovals and spread them out on large cookie sheets. Wash olive oil over the bread, salt and pepper it. Put it in the oven and keep watch, it takes about 15 minutes and you don’t want them too crispy. Yours won’t have grill marks, but you get the idea.

Cook the beans the night before so they’re already done, or if they are canned, don’t sweat it.

Cut the mushrooms

Mince about 4 cloves garlic

dice both bunches of  parsley. Set aside two generous handfuls.

Toss some olive oil in a saute pan (the kind I showed you a few weeks ago or something similar) and throw in the garlic, and a small handful of parsley, let it brown a few minutes and then toss in the mushrooms and let them sweat. Turn the heat down, medium to low.

While they are cooking, put the remaining parsley into a food processor with 1 clove fresh garlic, salt and pepper and a generous amount of olive oil. The pesto should be oily but not soupy. Blend until it’s a paste. Add about four large handfuls of pecorino romano.

Combine the pesto and the beans in a seperate bowl. Et voila.

Meanwhile, your mushrooms are cooking, cooking, cooking down. They start to smell really good. Add some salt and pepper. When they are 1/2 their size, or even smaller, turn it off and add a handful of cheese, and then another 1/2 handful. Let them rest. The mushrooms will turn a deeply rich color of brown. 

Remove the bread and spread the mixtures on the bread. Use your remaining handful off parsley to garnish.

Pizza: Credit for this belongs to my sister, Claudia. Genius idea. 

Rub olive oil on the flat bread and bake in 350 oven for 10 minutes, alone, remove.

Slice shallots and carmelize (which means saute slowly, with olive oil until they are translucent and soft and smell sweet) This process will take about 15 minutes or so at a medium heat.

Slice figs, probably 10

Slice mozzarella cheese

Dice rosemary

Assemble:

Olive oil, shallots, 1/2 rosemary prosciutto figs, then mozarella on the top and 1/2 rosemary.

Bake until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Let it sit and serve in slices.

I can’t believe I don’t have a photo, it was so beautiful!

Next time, I promise.