Thursday, July 30, 2009

Garlic Spaghetti with Cannellini and Basil

Part of my score at the farmer's market over the weekend was the most plump quart of grape tomatoes you ever saw in your life! They've been sitting on my counter taunting me since Saturday, and I couldn't take it a second longer. That's the problem with buying from the farmer's market on the weekend; you know that every day off the plants is a day of wasted flavor! It's a race to cook your veggies as close to picking as possible.

I found a recipe in Cooking Light that looked like it would do just the trick, with a little vegan tweaking - Garlic Spaghetti with Greens and Beans. The original recipe called for arugula, which would have been divine, but I had a bunch of Thai basil that was calling to me from the vegetable drawer.

The recipe is simple and quick and, best of all, cooks in one pot! Hope you enjoy!

Garlic Spaghetti with Cannellini and Basil


1 lb spaghetti or your favorite pasta
1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
1 quart cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic (or more, depending on how garlicky you like your pasta!)
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 tsp - 1 tsp crushed red pepper, to taste
1 tsp kosher salt


1. Cook pasta in boiling water, per directions on box.
2. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water
3. In same pot, heat olive oil. Saute garlic and crushed red pepper for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned.
4. Add tomatoes and beans and cook for 3-4 minutes
6. Add pasta and salt, tossing and stirring in reserved pasta water, as needed
7. Add chopped basil and lemon juice and toss to coat.

The verdict:

Everyone loved this! It was uber-easy, and very tasty. The simplicity of the sauce was perfect in that it allowed the flavor of the grape tomatoes to shine through. This will definitely become a staple for my family.

Tonight for dinner: Polenta torte with puttanesca and Garlic-glazed green beans. I got the green beans at the Farmer's Market on Saturday and they're sitting in my drawer impatiently!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rescuing Eggplant alla Norma - Vegan Style

The title staring back at me from the Cooks Illustrated magazine captured me from the get-go. "Rescuing Pasta alla Norma." Well, seriously. If eggplant needs rescuing, then who am I to resist?

I fell in love with Pasta alla Norma 3 years ago at Enoteca - a Mario Batali restaurant in Las Vegas. One bite of the thick rigatoni, bathed in a spicy tomato eggplant sauce, chocked full of garlic and fresh basil , sold me that this would be one of my all time favorite dishes. I travel to Las Vegas for work once a year, and so have engaged in Eggplant Alla Norma gluttony yearly for the past 3 years. Still....a girl's gotta have a DIY attitude, so when I saw the "Rescuing Pasta alla Norma" article on the recent issue of Cooks Illustrated , I knew I had to give it a try.

As an aside, Cooks Illustrated, though a most decidedly un-vegan magazine, is a secret love of mine. I haven't found anyone who takes the nuances of cooking as seriously as they do. I remember a recipe for Potato Wedges one year. They were waxing about the role of salt in the baking of the wedges. The salt, they proclaimed, act as little ball bearings, gently supporting the potato wedge from the slick coolness of the cookie sheet. Wow. Little ball bearings. I've been a loyal reader ever since.

But I digress. Pasta alla Norma, we are informed by Cooks Illustrated (CI), was named for a 19th century opera that featured a druid priestess named Norma. A smashing success, a Silician chef decided to immortalize Norma by creating a dish in her honor. Thank God for the Druids!

Not one to be outdone by CI, I started with the freshest ingredients. If Pasta Alla Norma's rescue was to be unsuccessful, it wouldn't be under my watch. Starting with fresh eggplant picked from my garden, I dove into the recipe.

One of the reasons why the dish needs rescuing in the first place is that eggplant, notororious for soaking up irreverant amounts of oil when cooked, is tricky to work with. Often, the dish ends up a royal mess of mushy eggplant. The CI technique was to chop it into 1/2 inch chunks, salt it and layer it in a plate layered with coffee filters (I'm a little unclear about the coffee filters, but I don't argue with the CI Gods). Then you nuke the hell out of it for 10 minutes, until the eggplant is dry and shrively. After 10 minutes, my eggplant was neither dry nor shrively, so I nuked it for another 5 minutes. Eh. Still not dry, but I decided I couldn't in good conscience nuke it any more. It was starting to liquefy.

Post-nuke, I pranfried the eggplant with olive oil, and then set aside to finish the sauce. Sauteed garlic, a spoonful of miso paste to replace anchovies, hot pepper flakes, salt to taste and a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes finished it out, and I folded the eggplant back in the sauce.

The recipe called for ricotta salata; that salty firm ricotta that is uber-shreddable. There's an awesome looking recipe for vegan ricotta salata in Nonna's Italian Kitchen that I've always wanted to try, but it calls for agar, and I was fresh out of agar, go figure. No mind; the cashew ricotta from Veganomicon never fails me. It's so easy, and only calls for a handful of ingredients - cashews, tofu, lemons, garlic, salt, basil and olive oil.

With the sauce simmering gently and the cashew cream deafening the members of my family as it whirled in the food processor, I turned to the sides - asparagus and baby potatoes. No time for tom-foolery, I dressed them in olive oil and smoked sea salt and popped them in the oven for baking at 375. I figured baking them would be the most reasonable method of cooking, since it's only about 96 degrees on average here in Jacksonville. I hollered for the air to be cranked down under the auspices of "It's my birthday tomorrow; damn the electric bill!" and plunged the whole wheat rigatoni into the boiling salt water.

The verdict?

I'm not sure that I successfully rescued Eggplant alla Norma in it's entirety. It was tasty, to be sure. The scattering of basil, fresh from the garden gave it a bright crispness. The whole wheat pasta, something I typically shy away from, had a heft that stood up against the eggplant. With a dollop of cashew cream, it was a step shy of dreamy. I kept adding more cashew cream each time I took a bite.

The eggplant still turned out mushy, which was one of the main things the microwaving with coffee filters technique was supposed to solve. My guess is that I had too much eggplant with too little surface space on the plate; next time I won't be lazy and will cook it in two batches. Also, my dice was more like 1/4 inch than 1/2 inch. The 1/2 inch would definitely help the eggplant nuggets hold up their shape better.

The sauce was delicious, though! The original recipe called for anchovy fillets to give it a salty heft. A quick google told me that miso was a good substitute for anchovies. The modified recipe for the sauce from CI appears below:

Pasta alla Norma

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1tsp Kosher salt
2-3 TBS olive oil
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (more if you're fiery)
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1TBS miso paste
salt to taste

Eggplant prep: In large bowl, toss egpplant with salt. Transfer to (LARGE) plate lined with coffee filters and spread out evenly. Cook in the microwave on high for 5 minutes. Stir, cook another 5 minutes, until eggplant is dry and shriveled. Transfer back to bowl, coat with 1 TBS olive oil. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in non-stick pan, add eggplant and cook til brown, stirring minimally for about 10 minutes. Transfer back to bowl.

Sauce: Saute your garlic in the olive oil with the red pepper flakes and miso paste for a few minutes, being careful not to burn. Stir gently to break up the miso. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, add eggplant, and simmer while you cook your pasta of choice. When pasta is ready, season sauce with salt to taste (it probably won't need too much, since the miso is salty) and gently stir in chopped basil.

While sauce is cooking, cook 1 lb penne, rigatoni, etc. When done, drain, and serve with the sauce and cashew cream.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Phantom menu at Sublime

Considering I'm obsessed with food, it really should come as no surprise that one of my hobbies is making phantom menu selections. Last night it was Sublime, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Frankly, I'm a little smitten with Sublime, since it holds the distinction of being one of the only upscale vegan restaurants I haven't been to in the good ole US of A. (I'm spoiled!) I probably have won an award by the webmaster as being the IP address who has hit their website the most. "Who is this 11.234.76459 in Jacksonville, Florida anyway?" they must say to themselves. It is I, the phantom menu peruser.

Often done while laying in bed, I'll go to the website of the restaurant that pops in my mind and plan my menu. I choose one from each category, regardless of the fact that I'd have a big ole tofu belly if I ate that much (actually I do have a tofu belly and I don't eat that much) Appetizer, soup, salad, entree, pre-dinner tasty beverage, wine, dessert and post dinner tasty aperatif beverage. It's almost as good as being there, I swear. It's a whole lot cheaper, that's for sure.

Last night's selections from the Sublime menu?

Tasty Beverage: Berry Bluetini Muddled fresh blueberries, fresh lemon, Stoli Blueberi 10.00

App: Crispy Eggplant Rollatini tofu, “ricotta,” “mozzarella,” garlic “butter” 11.00

Sushi: Florasian tempura avocado, vegenaise, mango, toasted coconut 11.00

Salad: Sublime Chopped Salad romaine lettuce, garbanzo beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, onion, kalamata olives, scallions, red wine vinaigrette 9.00

Entree: Sublime Picatta gardein cutlets, grilled asparagus, olive oil whipped mashed potatoes, lemon caper sauce 19.00

Dessert: Coconut Cake yellow cake, coconut "buttercream," almond tuile 11.00

After dinner tasty beverage just because: Caipirinha Lebion Cachaca sugarcane rum, juice of whole lime, simple syrup, sour mix 9.00

Mmmm.....take me to Sublime right now and tell me which bank to rob along the way! Ft. Lauderdale's only 5 hours away; if I left now I could be there in time for dinner tonight. Then, I'd spend the night at this tres cute vegan-friendly Bed and Breakfast that I've always wanted to go to:

Check out their beach cam. It's fun to do at work when you're feeling just a little bit...uninspired.

Back to work for the time being! Trying to figure out where my next wanna be vegan meal will be...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Channeling Barbara Kingsolver

Whenever I go to Farmers Markets I feel like I'm channeling Barbara Kingsolver. Her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle made for some of the most deliciously contemplative reading I've ever done. In the book, she and her family take a one year challenge to eat only locally produced foods. And by foods, I don't just mean your standard veggies and fruit; I mean all the grains, sugar, oils, spices and goodies that you go through in order to eat well. I'll cut to the end of my Reading Rainbow book review; if you haven't read it, you must run to your local library's website and reserve it today! I give it two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Saturday was Farmers Market day in lazy Fernandina Beach; a beach town about 45 minutes away from Jacksonville. I scored some Zesty sprouts from a cheeky husband and wife team, a basket of the largest tomatoes you'll ever see in your life, 4 humongoid squash, 2 baskets of plump okra at $1 a basket, and a basket of peaches for good measure. Oh! And dare I not forget a basket of zipper creams from a farmer who had pink-eye. My choices from him were Zipper Creams and Pink Eye peas. I swear to God I'm not making this up. I chose the Zipper Creams. It just seemed...wrong to buy the pink eye peas. I also scored some hot boiled peanuts and a Cheerwine, but that's another story.

My bag o' farmers market loot stayed in the fridge (except for the tomatoes, of course) til last night. Fresh from tubing down Itchetuknee Springs, we were blissed out on nature, and hungry from spending a day in the 87 degree heat!

The master plan? Squash and tomato casserole, fried okra, white rice, field greens with vegan ranch dressing and zipper creams boiled up with some onions and a couple splashes of umeboshi vinegar (supposedly a fine substitute for hog jowl.

Verdict? The squash casserole; layers of sliced yellow squash, onion and tomatoes, and topped with bread crumbs with dots of Earth Balance scattered throughout, just really didn't do it for me. It was pretty, but the squash dried out and after I baked the hell out of it for an hour and a half, it still wasn't ready. Next time, I'll cover it with tin foil. That oughta show it.

The fried okra is always a hit, but that's a no-brainer. You can't have the word "fried" in a recipe, without it being good. Duh. That's just an oxymoron. Fried okra to me is just little green speckled nuggets of heaven. I sprinkle it with hot pepper vinegar and oh lawd, serve me up two pounds. I did all the work and sliced up all those buggers, anyway.

The zipper creams were buttery and sweet. Although I didn't do a good job of creating any pot liqueur; that glorious sauce left in the bowl when your peas are gone. Next time I'll have to bust open a traditional southern cookbook and follow the recipe to a t.

I'm off to read Barbara to get ready for work.

Happy Monday!


Friday, July 17, 2009

The Inaugural Address...I Mean Post

Who am I, and what is my intent with your time? There's this phenomenon called "media overload" that has likely caused a good 80% of our population to exhibit signs of ADD, so why would I want to add to the information overload by adding more words to the page? I've always believed if you're passionate about something, it's critical to share. How you share doesn't much matter, but being passionate helps fight apathy in my book. It makes the world a kinder, livelier, more fascinating place. I love to write, so here I am. It also doesn't hurt that I'm a Leo, and, well, I love an audience. It doesn't have to be big, and it can certainly disagree with me, but a listening ear makes me feel charmed.

What am I passionate about that I would like to share with you? Food, in all it's many forms and purvues. I love, and this is just stream of, planning to cook, devouring cookbooks, going to restaurants, checking out cookbooks from libraries or spending inordinate amounts of dollars at Barnes and Noble. I love planning menus, planning fake menus (more on this later), gazing at food, perusing farmers markets, grocery stores, and ethnic food stores that smell like a weird combination of feet and meat, reminescing about food, etc etc. If it has the "f" word, I heart it. Food is my friend; and not in an overeaters anonymous sort of way. It pretty much rocks my world. A creative heart at my core, the planning for my and my family's daily food allows me to participate in utilitarian art: artistic expression with a purpose; nourishment.

Enter in being vegan, which is a challenge that just makes things spicier and requires more creativity from me. I can't count on things being served to me on a golden plate. I have to depend on others who have paved the vegan road, constantly reinvent and call upon my creative self daily to make sure I don't end up dining off of the shrubbery outside my house. I love it. I really, really do. One of my last Facebook updates said these exact words: "Can somebody please pay me lots of money to just read cookbooks, cook and eat all day? Please?" I didn't get any takers, but I'm still trying to figure out how I can make that happen.

Thanks for reading, and here's what I hope will end up being a long, luxurious conversation in food....


PS. Why Vegan Deluxe for the title? Mostly because I love the word "deluxe". What's not to love about this word:
de⋅luxe  /dəˈlʌks, -ˈlʊks/ (adjective) special elegance, sumptuousness, or fineness; high or highest in quality, luxury, etc.

And Vegan Deluxe sounded a little less pretentious than The Sumptuous Vegan, or Fine Vegan, so....there.