Friday, July 26, 2013

Pasta with Garlic Scape Pesto

This post is inspired by a recent Buzzfeed article I read called 31 Things to Do with Confusing CSA Vegetables. Thank you, Rachel Sanders, for so humorously offering a solution to the absurd CSA-induced panic that plagues us when presented with these foreign and inexplicable vegetables. “What if I’m scared of these creepy GARLIC SCAPES?” she asked, yanking the question straight from my head as I stared blankly in fear at these curling, serpentine green garlic stems.  

Rachel then proceeds to go through garlic scapes 101 in what I can only interpret as enthusiastic yelling. TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE! The above-ground central stalk of a garlic plant. TELL ME WHAT THEY TASTE LIKE! A very gentle, fresh, slightly spicy garlic…garlic scapes are mild enough that you can eat them straight up without experiencing mouth pain or hours of stinky breath. Texturally, they’re like firm, crunch scallions. TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH THEM! Rachel suggests Pasta with Garlic Scape Pesto. No longing fearing the garlic scape and excited about the prospect of a less-intense garlic, I happily oblige.
Actually, this is really Garlic Scape-Sorrel-Tat soi-Pak choy-Parsley Pesto, since sorrels and an "Asian Green" mix comprised of Tat soi and Pak choy were featured abundantly in my weekly CSA. Texturally resembling a spinach leaf but standing apart with it's tart, lemony flavor, the sorrel is a delicate leafy green that shines upon cooking (heat exposure reduces the oxalic acid content, which in turn softens the tartness.) Since Rachel recommends swapping half of the garlic scapes for another leafy green like basil or arugula, I decided this was the perfect place to utilize all my extraneous CSA greens.

The result was an extremely "green" tasting pesto. I loved it, but if the sight of a green juice makes you balk, this is probably not the recipe for you. The pungent greens are tempered with familiar zesty lemon, olive oil, Parmesan and lots of salt & pepper, yet still retain a stand-apart fresh, earthy taste from your regular pesto. The toasted nuts combined with the thick garlic scapes create the perfect crunchy texture.  I added roasted grape tomatoes and grilled chicken too.
Pasta with Garlic Scape Pesto
Makes 1 1/2 cup pesto

1/4 cup unsalted pine nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts, or almonds
5 garlic scapes
1/2 cup sorrel, arugula, basil, parsley, or other leafy green/herb
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti

1. Toast the nuts. In a dry pan over low heat, add nuts and toss occasionally until just beginning to brown, about 2-3 minutes. (Keep an eye on these, as they can go from "browned" to "burnt" very quickly!) Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
2. Prepare pasta. Cook until al dente, according to package directions.
3. Make the pesto. Puree the garlic scapes, nuts, lemon juice & zest, and generous sprinkle of salt & pepper in a blender or food processor * (If you want to soften the bite of the scapes and sorrel, boil for a few minutes before adding to blender.) With the blender motor running, slowly add olive oil. Transfer pesto to bowl and fold in grated cheese, and more salt & pepper to taste.
4. Drain pasta. Reserve 1 cup of pasta-cooking water, and combine with pesto; starting with 1/4 cup and increasing slowly until desired consistency is reached. Toss with pesto, and serve immediately.

*My blender had a difficulty time pureeing these tough stubborn greens, so I had to add some of the pasta water from step 4 for more liquid. If you have the option of using a food processor, I recommend going for that over a blender.

Monday, July 22, 2013

From garden to glass: 3 summer vegetable cocktails

End in the glass, but start in the garden: your guide to greening up the summer cocktail scene.

Thanks to the juicing craze—catapulting vegetables from the garden into the blender at lightening speed— drinking a fresh vegetable juice in the name of a healthy cleanse is just as commonplace as consuming a glass of orange juice at breakfast. These ghoulishly green juices have found their way into our everyday diet with nonchalant acceptance.
Couple that with the growing popularity of the elitist cocktail, where the bartender is out and the mixologist in to embark on a crafty, competitive race for the ultimate work of drinkable art. Oozing secrecy and surprise, its sophistication is measured by use of obscure ingredients—and audible “wow” factor.
The Wayland's Garden Variety Margarita
It was only a matter of time before these two liquid behemoths would eventually cross paths, and this trend is heating up right on pace with the summer weather. Reviving and brisk, enter the vegetable cocktail: creeping onto the mixology scene with the same sly presence as a cucumber or pea plant vining quietly around its post.

Summit Bar's Ground to Glass; photo credit Konstantino Hatzisarros
Dressed to impress in a fancy glass, salted rim, and giant ice cube; garden-grown vegetables are making their way into your hand whether you recognize it or not. No, not the commonplace cucumber slice or infused jalapeno. I’m talking about those nutrient-filled, scrunched-up-nose-as-a-kid classics—peas, peppers, kale—basking in all their dirty, leafy, rooted glory as they stride confidently onto the cocktail scene.

The temperament of the garden vegetable is really the perfect solution for all that ails a cocktail.  Too strong, and the pulpy juice absorbs the puckered punch. Too sweet, and the earthy undertone mellows it out. Citrus, bitter, or spicy; this garden-grown remedy is truly complimentary to all drink dispositions it may encounter.

Take the Wayland’s Garden Variety Margarita, a perfect harmony of a margarita and Liquiteria. Channeling all the hallmarks of a traditional margarita—tequila, limejuice, agave nectar, and a salted rim—the Garden Variety Margarita also includes fresh ginger and kale juice; creating a robust body that feels juicily nutritious with every sip.

If it’s similar flavors but smokier piquancy you’re seeking, try (from across the street) Summit Bar’s Ground to Glass, where muddled cucumber, orange bitters, tequila and hickory salt live congruously thanks to the drink’s star ingredient, red pepper puree.  Organically sweet, the red pepper tempers the bitters and smoky salt, and the novel taste—tangy and smoky in it’s own right —propels this cocktail a cut above the rest.

If your craving is sweet and simple, try Bon Appetit’s The Sweet Pea, where dulcet peas are muddled amongst fresh lemon juice and cold vodka with a touch of sugar. Complete the cool, crisp beverage by serving in a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with a seasonal pea tendril—an aesthetic salute to the pea’s garden home.

The Garden Variety Margarita; The Wayland
Makes 1 drink

1 cup ginger juice (homemade or from a juice bar)
½ cup kale juice (homemade or from a juice bar)
2 oz. blanco tequila
1 oz. lime juice
¾ oz. agave nectar
Salt, for rimming the glass
Muddle peas, lemon wedge, and sugar in a cocktail shaker until peas are completely mashed. Add  vodka; fill shaker with ice. Cover and shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a pea tendril (optional).

Rim a rocks glass with salt, set aside. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and pour in ½ oz. ginger-kale juice, tequila, lime juice and agave nectar. Shake well, and pour over ice into your salt-rimmed glass.

Ground to Glass; Summit Bar
Makes 1 drink

1 cucumber slice, muddled
2 oz. Corralejo Tequila
¾ oz. red pepper puree
1 oz. lime juice
¾ oz. agave
2 dashes orange bitters
Hicory salt, for the rim*

*Can substitute with salt & lime zest, or spicy paprika.

Rim a double old fashioned glass with hickory salt. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake, double strain and serve.

The Sweet Pea; Bon Appetit
Makes 1 drink

2 tablespoons fresh (or frozen, thawed) peas
1 lemon wedge
2 oz. vodka
1 teaspoon sugar
Pea tendril (for garnish; optional)


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Squash Couscous with Sultanas, Pistachios and Mint

Summer, meet your new favorite salad.  The cool, light nature of this Summer Squash Couscous with Sultanas, Pistachios and Mint immediately caught my eye: I loved the idea of tossing the earthy zucchini against warm-hued sultanas and pistachios in zesty citrus kissed with olive oil and honey. The overall result though was a hundred times better than I even expected—I really cannot stop raving about this dish!

I used whole wheat pearl (Israeli) couscous, my new favorite grain. The plump, juicy grains of toasted whole wheat flour create a playful texture on your tongue, and easily absorb the cooking broth and tangy dressing. Each pearl is saturated with delicious, summer flavors; and hints of garlic shine through the lemony sauce.

The pistachios play off the natural nutty flavor of pearled couscous, which are dotted harmoniously amongst sweet golden raisins, crisp zucchini squash and refreshing mint. I substituted the shallots for scallions to make a more oniony bite; which I really enjoyed against the sugary sultanas and hint of honey. Finally, fragrant vegetable (or chicken broth) hones a warm undertone to complete the truly delectable light summer salad.

A quick note: don't be daunted by the amount of ingredients! Most are pantry items, and the preparation is anything but laborious—perfect for a large-batch weeknight dinner (that you can also take to lunch or school the next day.)  Serve as a side to grilled fish or chicken, or turn the salad itself into a complete, filling meal by adding grilled shrimp or cannellini beans.

Summer Squash Couscous with Sultanas, Pistachios and Mint (from Food52)
Serves 4 side portions

1 tablespoon lemon zest
Juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon honey
Olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/4 cup veggie (or chicken) stock
1 cup couscous (preferably pearled, such as Bob's Red Mill whole grain)
1/2 cup diced yellow squash
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1 medium shallot, finely chopped (or 2 scallions, minced)
1/2 cup sultanas/golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and let them steep for about 30 minutes.
2. Next, bring the veggie or chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cook the couscous according the package directions (about 5 minutes for regular couscous; 20 minutes for pearled couscous.)  When all liquid has been absorbed, toss the couscous with a fork to prevent clumping. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
3. In a skillet over medium high heat, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then, add the chopped squash and zucchini, shallot/scallion, sultanas, pistachios and a pinch or two of salt. Only cook for about a minute or two -- you still want the squash and zucchini to be al dente.
4. When the veggies have reached room temperature, add to the bowl with the couscous and combine.
5. Remove and discard the cloves of garlic from the dressing, and toss with the couscous.  Fold in the mint, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gingery Watermelon Paletas

An outspoken proponent of my own vegetable anxiety, this week I found myself in the same emotional boat for another type of produce: fruit! Unable to resist the lush strawberries, plums, nectarines, and cherries displayed in all their warm-hued glory at the farmers market, I happily piled my grocery bag with cartons of fruit— then swung by the corner market and lugged a very heavy half-watermelon all the way home. (Arm work-out for the day. No three pound weights for me.)

So there I was, sweaty yet triumphant sitting amongst my ample summer fruit selection, and wondering how I was going to eat it all before the July 4th holiday. Freeze it? Make a pie? Cobbler? Jam? much effort in my tiny hot apartment and this solo fan is just not helping in the motivation department. I picked up my latest issue of Bon Appetit, idly flipping through, and stopped at a beautiful rose-colored display of cold, luscious treats. "Pretty in Pink," read the headline. "Two of the best things about summer: super-ripe produce and frosty dessert." Score!!
And so were these Gingery Watermelon Paletas born. I am very fond of paletas, as mentioned in my Cucumber-Lime Paletas post; the Mexican ice pops are known for their unexpected whirl of flavor from spice or flowers— a welcomed deviation from the plain old fruit & sugar combination. I was immediately intrigued by this recipe because it mixed some of my favorite Asian flavors—ginger and lime—with naturally sweet watermelon, requiring little added sugar to achieve this saccharine & spicy bite. I also added a dash of cayenne pepper to enhance that flavor juxtaposition—if you are adventurous, try chili powder too.

The Greek yogurt in this recipe creates a creamy paleta texture rather than icy; the result is a substantive pop that yields more body than just the pureed fleshy watermelon on its own. Equally fruity and frosty, this paleta is quite the summer refresher and a must for keeping cool.

Gingery Watermelon Paletas (from Bon Appetit July 2013 issue)
Yields: 10 paletas

4 cups cubed seedless watermelon (from about half a 5-lb watermelon)
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp. finely grated peeled ginger
Pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar (can adjust depending on taste; start with half and increase accordingly.)
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Special equipment: ice-pop molds or ice-cube trays

1. Puree watermelon, yogurt, ginger, salt, sugar, and lime juice in a blender until smooth. (Add more sugar if desired.)
2. Divide puree among ice-pop molds. Freeze until solid, at least 4 hours. If inserting popsicle sticks into molds, insert after 60 minutes of freezing, and use stick to stir mixture in molds to blend.