Pizza night

roasted squash and onion pizza

No matter how many onions I use from the basket in my pantry, the CSA refills them. Now begins the deluge of squash, too. Tonight, I chopped up a bunch of both, tossed them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and roasted them at 425 degrees until the whole lot was caramelized. They became a vegetable pizza.

Some dough, a thin layer of tomato sauce (I hate pizzas that are floating in tomato sauce), the roasties and some vegan cheese for the Dairy-Allergic Hub. The man had missed his pizza before I found a decent vegan cheese, poor thing. I pleased my dairy desires with a side salad of tender tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Yes, I ate cheese right in front of The Hub. Sometimes, I’ve just gotta.

Love thy neighbor

My neighbor has been raving about a cookbook for some time. However, it’s not one of mine. It’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” by Chapel Hill’s Sheri Castle (UNC Press, 2011). My neighbor has other fine qualities, so I have chosen to overlook his lack of tact.

It’s difficult to blame him, and we are into the time of year that this book is really useful, because it offers many ways with Southern vegetables. For example, I had a load of chard from my CSA box. Sauteed greens with some garlic is great, but I wanted something different. The Greens section of the book offered many tempting options. I went with Greek Shrimp with Spinach, Feta and Orzo – with some modifications, starting with the chard for the spinach. I omitted the Parmesan cheese and used only half of the feta called for, a nod to The Hub’s dairy allergy. I could not find orzo in my usual supermarket, but I did find a box of the cutest miniature bow-tie pasta, called farfarlline.

So, this is an adaptable recipe, obviously. It even tastes pretty good reheated the next day (do it gently, so as not to rubberize the shrimp). And it’s hard to argue with my neighbor.

Greek Shrimp with Spinach, Feta and Orzo

From “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” by Sheri Castle

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

12 ounces uncooked orzo

4 cups lightly packed baby spinach or stemmed and shredded chard

1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese, divided

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

2 pounds extra-large (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 teaspoons oregano

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a glass or ceramic 9×13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil. cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain well in a colander and return to the same pot. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the oil, the spinach, 1/2 cup of the feta and the Parmesan. Spread the orzo mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish an dcover with foil to keep warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook only until they start to turn opaque, about 1 minute. The shrimp will finish cooking in the oven. Arrange the shrimp over the orzo.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add the garlic and cook until you can smell the aroma, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, oregano and red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces to the consistency of pasta sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and orzo.

Bake until the shrimp are opaque, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of feta cheese and serve hot.

Makes 6-8 servings.

 

Creature from the salad bar

I’ve been eating a lot of salads lately. Maybe it’s from having April in February, or maybe it’s because i have access to lettuce with actual flavor. I get mine from a CSA. This photo shows the latest load of leafies: a ruffled type of lettuce called panisse and some romaine. I even snack on the leaves on their own, chomping like a large rabbit.

But I never knew that innocent salads were a threat. I discovered that a friend, let’s call her “Molly,” hates salads and all that go into them: carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, even lettuce. “How can you hate lettuce?” I asked. “It’s like eating green, crunchy air.” She just does. “It’s a texture thing,” she said. She also picks lettuce and tomatoes off of sandwiches.

“Molly” contends that she does like vegetables: peas, corn and potatoes. And broccoli, but only the stalks.

She also hates celery. “Celery? How can you hate celery?” said another friend sitting nearby. “Celery doesn’t have any flavor. Unless you dip it in hot sauce. Have you ever tried that?” “Molly” made what my father would have called a “cow eating briars” face (except that she doesn’t graze on green things). She held the face and shook her head as Friend 2 and I discussed whether we could get celery stalks to soak hot sauce up into their fibers, then use them in bloody marys. This I will try. But I won’t make “Molly” watch.

The greening of the kitchen

As sure as there’ll be something deep fried on a stick at the fair, I can count on sheaves of greens in my CSA box this time of year. Kale, tatsoi, Vitamin Green mizuna, chard – a St. Patrick’s Day of color, without the beer.

I like sauteed greens, but that easy fall-back can get old. Yes, you can stuff the sauteed greens in something, like ravioli or pasta shells. But, really. Instead, I tossed together a quick soup based on my memories of a kale soup.

In a large pot with olive oil, I cooked a cup or so of chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Just until soft. Then, I added chicken broth and a crisper-clearing variety of greens, shredded and with tough ribs removed. About four cups’ worth. Then, I added chicken broth and chopped chicken chorizo. I like the chicken sausage because it is less greasy and doesn’t have to be cooked first. If you use pork chorizo, brown it in a separate pan first. The chorizo is plenty spicy, so all I added in the way of seasoning was salt. I covered the pot and simmered the soup gently for about an hour, until the greens were delightfully melted into the liquid.

I’m sure I’ll be getting more greens today….

Food News Roundup

Ah, pimento cheese. I can say I knew you when, before the gourmets got their hands on you. So can Kathleen Purvis in her witty and fitting piece in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer here. She also firmly roots it as Southern, which I’ve always known in my PC-eating bones but a historian now confirms it. Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., it was our family’s peanut butter – we always had it around. My mother, who loved anything that was frozen or came from a box, actually made it from scratch occasionally, which shows its hallowed place. It’s also in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) here.

The Attack of the Squash Creatures has begun. The CSA I belong to just says “take all you want.” The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has recipes for squash pancakes and secrets to getting the very moist vegetable to hold together. It’s here. (Ignore the rather unappealing photographs.)

Cucumbers are another invader, and I’m seeing plenty of those, too. But, Cucumber Bread? The Salisbury (N.C.) Post has the story and a recipe, which the writer says she has tried out, here.

If you’re headed for Asheville, N.C. this coming weekend, you can combine tasting microbrews with an outdoor movie. To celebrate its third anniversary, Wedge Brewing will sponsor a showing of the moonshine-running classic “Thunder Road.” The details are in the Asheville Citizen-Times, here.

I’ve never been sure what’s in butterbeer, but a Kansas City woman would know. The Kansas City Star has an article on her ultimate Harry Potter parties with tips on throwing you own. It’s all here. The final Potter movie debuts Friday.

The Portland Oregonian talks about how chefs are getting into canning and preserving, making their own condiments and pickles. It’s here. (But, please, can we can the “can-do” headlines on every canning article?)

The CSA casserole

I had pointy-head cabbage and little carrots left from the weekly CSA delivery, and a hankering to try to recreate the flavors of a Middle Eastern dish I once ate. Last night, I put them into a casserole that came out pretty good, although it wasn’t quite what I’d had before.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish: Half of the cabbage, shredded coarsely with a knife (the food processor shredded it too finely); chunks of carrots, a sliced onion, some garlic. Then, about 1 1/2 cups of brown rice and four or five boneless chicken thighs, cut into chunks. I poured over it all about two cans of low-sodium chicken broth and 3/4 of a cup of apple juice. I sprinkled on top a little cinnamon and about a teaspoon of ground sumac berries. Sumac is a Turkish spice that has a fruity sweet-sour flavor. A few squirts of lemon juice and a little more cinnamon would probably make a good substitute. I covered the pan with foil and baked it at 375 degrees for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the rice was cooked and most of the liquid was gone.

In retrospect, sauteing the onion and garlic first in olive oil would have brought more flavor to the casserole, but I was in a throw-it-together mood. And the aroma while it baked – mmmm. I love food that smells good AND tastes good. Try it, and let me know what you think.

The eating of the greens and soft-shell crabs

It feels like Christmas in April – I picked up the first CSA box of veggies this week. The result: I had enough lettuce

lettuce, green onions, strawberries and more lettuce

lettuce, green onions, strawberries and more lettuce

to make salad for all in the immediate area of Moose Manor, thanks to the ample contents and the three large pots of leaf lettuce I’m growing on the patio. Planning, not my middle name.

Fortunately, I have been on a trend of salad for lunch for several months and I’ve become creative with dressings. I prefer to make my own – it’s easy and tastes so much fresher than bottled dressing (probably less expensive, too). I can also leave out things I don’t want, like a ton of salt or sugar. Herb flavored vinegar, balsamic vinegar, chunks of garlic, shakes of herbs, lemon or lime juice, Dijon mustard, mashed avocado, even a dab or two of barbecue sauce all make nice friends with olive oil.

The CSA alone would have made it a big week in the kitchen for me, but there was also the opening of the downtown Raleigh farmer’s market on Wednesday, on the end of Fayetteville Street near the convention center. Ed Mitchell of The Pit was cooking ‘cue, so the place was mobbed. But as a friend and I slogged through the crowd, I found North Carolina soft-shell crabs. I snatched them up like the pure spring gold that they are and ran home to my kitchen, where I did a little jig of delight and called my husband to share the news.

There was one little thing about these soft-shells: I had to clean them myself. In this case, “clean” means dispatching them to crab heaven, because fresh soft-shell crabs are sold live. The fishmonger had always cleaned them for me before. As oil heated in my frying pan, I pulled the package from the refrigerator and unwrapped it. The crabs twitched slowly, like slightly drunk spiders. I followed instructions: Snip off just below the eyes with a pair of kitchen shears, open the top of the shell and pull out the gills, then snip off a triangular spot on the back.

With that, I had killed my own food for the first time. Watch out, Ted Nugent.

Do you heart local food?

Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday (this Sunday, just in case you haven’t made arrangements for that special food blogger in your life). If you want to leave your evening free for other activities, and do something different, consider the “I Love U Lunch.” Slow Food Triangle, The Abundance Foundation and the economic advocacy group Loom are bringing together a list of local food producers including Celebrity Dairy, Scratch Baking, Carolina Brewery and the General Store Cafe in Pittsboro, N.C. The lunch, which will be held from 1 p.m. to -4 p.m. in the historic Chatham Mills in Pittsboro, N.C., will raise awareness of renovations at the mill and benefit the food co-op there, Chatham Marketplace. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door (children under 12 are $8), and can be purchased here.

You can warm up for Valentine’s Day and feel good about it on Wednesday, Feb. 10.  Fleming’s Steakhouse at
Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C. holds  “Wine Wednesday” each month to benefit a different charity. This month’s charity is the Lucy Daniels Center, a nonprofit which provides mental health services for children. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., five different wines will be available by the glass at the bar at $10 per glass. All of that money goes to the charity.   There’ll also be complementary appetizers.

And while we’re all in a loving mood, don’t forget that it’s CSA sign-up time – show the love to your favorite farmer. Find a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)  in your part of North Carolina in this list at the Growing Small Farms section of the Chatham County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. Thanks to Debbie Roos of the extension service for compiling this excellent resource.