Monday, March 27, 2017

Brussels Sprouts with Dates and Walnuts


Except for the ubiquitous date nut bread, I've never cooked with dates, and usually eat them only whenever I receive a gift of dried fruits at Christmastime. But all that changed after I hit the date mother lode on vacation last week in Southern California.
I had told my husband I was on the lookout for a date farm, so as we left Palm Springs, we took the local road - route 111 - rather than heading straight for the highway to start our drive through the desert to Scottsdale, Arizona. In less than 20 minutes, we were driving through Indio, in the Coachella Valley, where dates are an important crop. 
 I wasn't disappointed when we came across this sight and my husband pulled to a quick stop:
 Shields Date Garden, a date farm with a gift shop selling all kinds of dates and other dried fruits. There's a cafe too with a 50s vibe, a garden out back, and a video you can watch entitled "Romance and Sex Life of the Date." Yes, you heard that right.
By Visitor7 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26340574
The store sells many different varieties of dates, and we tasted samples of at least half a dozen types. My favorite was the large, sweet and creamy medjool, considered by some to be the "Cadillac" of dates. 
Medjool dates were first grown in the California in the 1930s, from 11 offshoots of trees imported by the USDA from Morocco. The original trees in Morocco were destroyed by disease and all the Medjool dates grown in the world today are descended from the offshoots brought to the California desert.
You can have a meal at the Shields cafe, or just try a date shake, which we did. I must admit it was a bit too sweet and too rich for my taste, and we were able to drink only a small amount.
I was glad to stock up on some medjool and deglet noor dates though, to bring home. Deglet Noor, which means "date of light," are semi-dry dates originally from Algeria. Today they're the leading commercial variety grown in the U.S. They ship well because they're semi dry and are chewier, but they're not as rich as medjools.
Before I eat them all out of hand, I do plan to make some sort of dessert with some of these dates. 
But since I'm not eating any cakes, cookies or pastries until Easter, I made a recipe for a savory dish from the Lebanese cookbook author, Maureen Aboud. 
Her recipe uses brussels sprouts, walnuts and dates, and it's a winning combination of sweet and bitter flavors.
I started by toasting some walnuts lightly in a dry saucepan, then I removed them and wiped the pan clean.
Then I added a little butter and olive oil, placed the sprouts cut side down, seasoned them, and put a lid on top.
Check them in four or five minutes. If you let them cook too long, or at too high a heat, they might brown too quickly, or even burn. So keep an eye on them.
Add the rest of the ingredients according to the recipe and you'll have a quick, easy to prepare and delicious side dish.
Just a few more "nerd notes" about dates: 
They're the oldest known cultivated tree crop and one of the most expensive to produce. 
From the time a date palm is planted, it can be 8 to 10 years before the first commercial crop is harvested. Though the date palm is a desert plant, it requires as much water as a willow.
Each female tree produces 150 to 300 pounds of dates per year, depending on the variety.
The trees at Shields Date Garden are 15 to 90 years old. To harvest the dates, workers climb permanent ladders that are attached to each tree and moved higher every few years as the trees grow. 

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Brussels Sprouts with Dates and Walnuts
from Maureenaboud.com
printable recipe here

INGREDIENTS
  • 16 oz. brussels sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup dry white wine (or substitute lemon juice)
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 6 medjool dates
  • ⅓ cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Trim and halve the brussels sprouts.
  2. In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the brussels sprouts cut-side down, and season lightly with salt and pepper. I covered with a lid at this point, but keep an eye on them because they'll burn quickly if on high heat. Mine cooked in only four or five minutes. Cook until the brussels sprouts are golden brown, adding more olive oil if the pan gets too dry. Stir the brussels sprouts and add the wine or lemon juice to deglaze the pan for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and cook at medium high heat, stirring occasionally until the brussels sprouts are tender. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. In a serving bowl, combine the brussels sprouts with the dates and walnuts. Serve immediately.
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Friday, March 17, 2017

Codfish with Chickpeas


The Lenten season is here and that means no meat on Fridays for many of us. Even if you don't observe Lent, this dish is one of my favorites for so many reasons. 
First of all, it's delicious. Second of all, it's easy to make and third of all, it's low in calories.
What more could you want, except maybe someone to shop for you and cook for you? 
One of the things that takes this over the top in flavor are the tomatoes I used in the recipe. 
They're small grape tomatoes that come in a jar and I bought them at a local gourmet store. Use canned or jarred cherry tomatoes if you can't find these grape tomatoes, or just plain old canned diced tomatoes from the supermarket. But if you can find these specialty jarred grape tomatoes, or a similar brand, they're worth the extra cost. 
They're so sweet I could have eaten them from the pan just with the chickpeas and seasonings added. A nice swipe of bread is all I needed. Actually, dropping a few eggs into this would make a wonderful lunch or dinner too, even without the fish.
But back to the cod. After you've cooked the sauce, add the chunks of codfish and put the lid on the pan.
Cook the fish for five minutes with the lid on, and you're done. Sprinkle with more basil and parsley and serve.
This dish comes together start to finish in less than a half hour. It would make a great do-ahead dish for company too if you cook the sauce and chickpeas ahead of time, then add the fish just before you're ready to eat. 
Wouldn't you like to dig into this?
This next photo has nothing at all to do with the codfish recipe, but it's a teaser to let you know we still have a couple of spots available for our writing retreat in Varenna, on Lake Como, Italy this coming September. 
Spend your mornings with an experienced writing teacher, workshopping that family, travel or food memoir you always meant to start. 
Afternoons are free to do as you please, or you could join me on a few excursions around the lake.
And take a look at this dreamy view from your accommodations at Villa Monastero.
 It could be yours each morning if you sign up for "Italy, In Other Words."
Click here for more details.

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Codfish with Chickpeas

for two people
1 lb. codfish, cut into large pieces
1/4 cup minced onion
2 large garlic cloves
2 T. olive oil
1 12.4 oz. container cherry or grape tomatoes (datterini)
1/3 cup white wine
15 oz. can chickpeas
salt, pepper
1/4 tsp. dried basil
freshly minced basil
freshly minced parsley

Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until wilted. Add the tomatoes and smash them flat with a fork or wooden spoon. Sauté briefly then add the white wine and stir. Next add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, basil and parsley, keeping some of the fresh herbs aside to use at the end. Put the lid on and simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes.

Add the codfish, season with salt and pepper, then put the lid on again, for about five minutes or until just cooked through. DON'T overcook or it will break up into small pieces.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Crostata di Marmellata alla Sorrentina


Are you ready for Pi Day? It's coming up next week and you need to be ready with a real pie - or in this case a crostata (close enough). Of course, you all know that Pi, represented by the Greek letter π, is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, and is commonly approximated as 3.14159.
Pi Day is celebrated around the world on March 14 (March=3rd month, and the 14th day, hence 3.14), which also happens to be the birthday of Albert Einstein, whose legacy is omnipresent here in Princeton, where the Nobel laureate gave lectures at Princeton University, but mainly served as a faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Studies from 1933 until his death in 1955.
Princeton honors Pi Day with all kinds of events, from an Einstein look-alike contest, to a pie-baking contest. (The first year of the contest, I actually won second place, with "Alessandra's crostata.")
I made a couple of goofs while making this crostata, but in the end, it all worked out.
It calls for a mixture of amaretti cookie crumbs to be mixed with egg, then spread on top of the jam.
But I misread the recipe and put the amaretti cookie crumbs in first, before the jam. Whoops!

Fortunately, I was able to scoop them up before I went any farther.
So after scraping out the amaretti crumbs, I put in a mixture of jams - orange and plum. You can use only one kind if you like, or mix any others - apricot and plum are delicious too.
Now is the time to spread the amaretti mixture. I didn't have quite enough, but it was just fine. Kind of looks like peanut butter and jelly at this point, but it tastes much better.
Spread the lattice strips on top, then brush with egg.
While baking, the amaretti crumbs and eggs puff up slightly and peek through the lattice strips. 
The flavor is delicious and it slices so easily you may want to eat more than just one slice. After all, you are doing research on the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, right?
Happy Pi π Day.
Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 


Crostata di Marmellata alla Sorrentina
from "The Southern Italian Table" by Arthur Schwartz
printable recipe here

your favorite pasta frolla recipe (pastry crust - I cheated this time and used one from Trader Joe's)
1 12 ounce jar marmalade (I used a combination of plum and orange)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely ground amaretti cookies (about 3 ounces, depending on the brand)

Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the dough between sheets of waxed paper or parchment. Line a 9-inch tart or cake pan with two-thirds of the pasta frolla, bringing the pastry up the sides of the pan just to the top. Save the other third of the pastry to make a lattice top.
Mix the jams (if using two different ones) and spread evenly on the pastry.
Beat one of the eggs in a small bowl until well blended, then add the amaretti crumbs and mix well. Spread this mixture evenly over the jam filling.
Roll out the remaining pastry. With a sharp knife or rolling pastry cutter, cut it into 1/2 inch wide strips. Arrange the strips on top of the tart in a diamond-shaped lattice. Turn the edge of the bottom pastry over the edge of the lattice top.
Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl, then brush the pastry with it.
Bake the tart for 30 to 35 minutes until nicely browned. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove the tart from the pan and finish cooling it on a rack.

Variation:
Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of finely chopped nuts - toasted almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts - on the bottom pastry before pouring in the marmalade or jam.
At Masseria Astapiana, Villa Giusso in Vico Equense, near Sorrento, a fifteenth century former monastery now operating as a bed and breakfast and party venue, they make a rather complex, but not difficult to accomplish, version of this tart. Instead of using 12 ounces of marmalade, use only 6 ounces. Then dip about 28 whole amaretti quickly into dry white vermouth. Arrange a layer of the cookies over the marmalade, packing them in closely and pushing them slightly into the marmalade. Now combine 2 beaten eggs with 3/4 cup toasted and finely ground almonds. Pour this over the amaretti. There should be just enough to barely cover the cookies. Arrange a lattice pastry top. Bake as above.


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Monday, March 6, 2017

Broccoli Romanesco or Cauliflower "steaks" with salsa verde


Broccoli romano, also known as broccoli romanesco, is probably my favorite vegetable (although artichokes are a close second). It's not easy to find it here in the states, but occasionally I see it at farmers' markets or even in my supermarket. When that happens, I don't hesitate to buy it, even though it's a bit pricey.
Aside from the taste, which is more like cauliflower than broccoli, it's just a beautiful vegetable that is an exquisite example of fractals (go look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls - [if it still exists] - I guess I should say look that up in Wikipedia!)
In any event, even if you can't find broccoli romano, you can make this recipe using cauliflower, which is easy to find in the markets. 
 First cut off the leaves and trim the stem, then slice into pieces about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick.
Smear with some good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place it in the oven at high heat while you chop up herbs and other goodies for the salsa verde.
Flip the "steaks" over half way through cooking. If it's getting too browned, lower the temperature.
Place on a platter then spoon the sauce over it.
Served with some quinoa and glazed carrots, it made for a colorful and delicious vegetarian dinner. For once, I didn't miss the real meat.

Broccoli Romano "steaks" with salsa verde

1 head of broccoli romano (romanesco)
1/4 cup olive oil (plus more to brush on surface of broccoli romano)
juice of 1/2 lemon (or more if your lemon is small), plus a small piece of the lemon rind
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. red onion, minced
2 T. capers
fresh parsley, minced (about 3 or 4 T.)
salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice the broccoli romano - or cauliflower if you can't find the broccoli romano - into pieces between 1/4" and 1/2 " thick. Smear them with olive oil, then sprinkle on some salt and freshly ground pepper.
Place them in the oven for about 15 minutes - flipping over once (and repeating the olive oil, salt and pepper).Take them out of the oven when they feel tender to the fork, or when you can easily pierce them with a knife. Depending on how thick you sliced them, they'll need more time (or maybe less if they're thinner than mine).
While they are cooking, make the salsa, by mincing the lemon rind, garlic, onion, capers and parsley. Add the olive oil, plus the lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper and stir everything together. Spoon the salsa verde over the broccoli romano or cauliflower steaks.


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