Friday, January 25, 2013

You Say Potato, I Say Leeks

Another vegetable we were lucky enough to receive through our One Straw Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) this fall was leeks. While I used the mild, onion-flavored vegetable in a variety of dishes, my favorite recipes were the Roasted Potato Leek Soup below and "Rocket Pie" (recipe to be posted at a later date).

A Leek Cultural Connection:
  • Due to my Welsh heritage, I was happy to learn the leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, traditionally worn along with the daffodil on St. David’s Day.
  • Legend has it that King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd had his soldiers identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets in battle.
  • In Shakespeare's Henry V, Henry tells Fluellen (a Welsh captain) that he is wearing a leek “for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.”
Photograph via Instagram (copyright illegibleink)
Recipe: Roasted Potato Leek Soup
adapted from Ina Garten, Back to Basics

  • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned of all sand (This means you will need approximately 4 leeks.)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups baby arugula, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, plus extra for serving (As I mentioned in a previous recipe post, when using wine in my recipes I rely on what was served or sold the prior day. For this particular recipe I used Essay's Chenin Blanc. Heck, even Robert Parker gave it a good review so make sure you plan ahead and drink a glass while you're cooking!)
  • 6 to 7 cups chicken stock (Ina Garten recommends using homemade stock but as you can see below, I cheated with Swanson chicken broth. You could also easily substitute vegetable broth. I actually prefer to mix a little vegetable in with my chicken broth.)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces crème fraîche
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Save some extra for garnish.)
  • Crispy Prosciutto (Ina Garten recommends using Crispy Shallots - a great alternative for my vegetarian friends. We had leftover prosciutto that I wanted to use up so I heated some oil on medium and crisped up the prosciutto to use as a garnish.)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Combine the potatoes and leeks on a sheet pan in a single layer. Add the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender. Add the arugula and toss to combine. Roast for 4 to 5 more minutes, until the arugula is wilted. Remove the pan from the oven and place over 2 burners. Stir in the wine and 1 cup of the chicken stock and cook over low heat, scraping up any crispy roasted bits sticking to the pan.
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3. In batches, transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor fitted with the steel blade, adding the pan liquid and about 5 cups of the chicken stock to make a puree. Pour the puree into a large pot or Dutch oven. Continue to puree the vegetables in batches until they're all done and combined in the large pot. Add enough of the remaining 1 to 2 cups of stock to make a thick soup. Add the cream, creme fraiche, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and check the seasonings

4. When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently and whisk in 2 tablespoons white wine and 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Serve hot with an extra grating of Parmesan. If using, top with crispy prosciutto.
Photograph via Instagram (copyright illegibleink)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Squashing the Soup Competition

Question: What kind of socks do you need to plant squash?
Answer: Garden hose, of course!

Recipe: Roasted Squash Soup with Maple-Glazed Bananas
adapted from and , Food & Wine contributors 

Photograph via Instagram (copyright illegibleink)
One 2-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
Kosher salt
1/2 cup pecans
1 banana, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 cup water
1/2 cup crème fraîche
Pinch of cinnamon
8 small watercress sprigs

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a medium baking dish. Season the squash with salt and set it cut side down in the baking dish. Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes (the squash should be very tender). Let cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, spread the pecans in a pie plate and toast for about 7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool, then coarsely chop and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the banana and maple syrup and stir to coat.
  3. Peel the squash. In a blender, puree the squash, water, crème fraîche and cinnamon until very smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan and warm over low heat. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the banana-nut topping and watercress and serve hot or at room temperature
A Happy Accident:
As a printmaker, I am used to happy accidents - you know, when a print you envision coming out a certain way doesn't but you end up loving it just the same or even more. Here is the story of our Roasted Squash Soup happy accident: while I planned to serve it as an appetizer, it was decided that we should use it as a base below our friend's herb-stuffed pork loin roast served with a side of bok choy. (Let's face it, the women walked out of the kitchen to check on the babies and by the time we got back, the men had started plating their own way.) It was unplanned and unbelievably delicious! Then for dessert, I served little cups of the soup with the maple-glazed bananas as well as roasted figs in caramel sauce and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fennel: A Delicious History Lesson

The best thing about joining our One Straw Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) this year was that we were introduced to fruits and vegetables we probably never would have even glanced at in the supermarket. As someone who likes to know what I am eating as well as the best ways to enjoy it, I started doing a little digging on my new find - fennel.

A Brief History of Fennel
  • Fennel is an ancient plant from coastal regions around the Mediterranean. Roman warriors are said to have consumed fennel to make them strong.
  • In Greek mythology Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind, concealed it in a stalk of fennel. Fennel's Greek name is marathon, which means "grow thin," and reflects the belief it suppresses appetite. The town of Marathon, site of the famous battle between the Athenians and the Persians, means "place of fennel." After the battle, the Athenians used woven fennel stalks as a symbol of victory.
  • Charlemagne declared in 812 AD that fennel was essential in every garden because it had healing properties.
Tasting Notes for a Fennel Newbie:
Fennel has a slight anise or licorice flavor, and the crunchy texture of a fennel bulb makes an interesting combination in recipes. It was suggested to use fennel raw in salads and try roasting or braising it to serve as a side dish. Fennel can easily be substituted for celery, onion or bean sprouts, and is a welcomed addition in soups, casseroles and even lasagna.

Photograph via Instagram (copyright illegibleink)
The Winning Recipe: Onion & Fennel Soup Gratin
adapted from Ina Garten, How Easy Is That?
  • 4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 lbs onions, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick (Ina recommends Spanish onions because they are sweeter and easier to slice; I used the onions I had received from the local CSA that week.)
  • 2 lbs fennel, tops and cores removed, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup Cognac or brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine (Ina recommends a Sauvignon Blanc; I ended up using what was left in my husband/wine salesman's bag from the day before - Honig's Sauvignon Blanc. And since one should always taste what they are cooking with I had a glass while I waited.)
  • 8 cups beef broth (Of course, you could substitute vegetable broth but if you are not a vegetarian, go for it!)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small sourdough or white French boule, crusts removed and sliced 1/2 in thick, toasted (I used a French bread loaf from Whole Foods Market.)
  • 4 to 6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated (I substituted Swiss cheese here because I liked the mild flavor of the cheese with the beefy broth and hyped-up fennel and onions.)
  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fennel, and cook over medium heat 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn golden-brown.
  2. Add the sherry and Cognac, scraping up the browned bits in the pan, and simmer uncovered about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine and simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes.
  4. Add the beef broth, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. At this point you can also taste for seasoning.
  5. Preheat the broiler with a rack 5 inches below the broiler and ladle the soup into oven-safe serving bowls. Top with the toasted bread, sprinkle generously with grated cheese, and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve hot!
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