Archive | May 2012

Beany Spreads and Dips


Eating with your hands is fun, and people all over the world seem to like to wrap little bits of food in soft flatbreads, or dip a crisp chip into something delicious, and pop it in their mouth. Bean dips go perfectly with flatbread eating–they blend happily with herbs and spices and fresh lemon or lime juice, and the savory mixture won’t fall off the cracker on the way to your mouth.

Dried beans cooked simply with a bay leaf or two, whole garlic cloves, and a small dried chile are full of satisfying, earthy flavor. Making dips and spreads from freshly cooked dried beans (or canned beans, for that matter) is a great place to start experimenting with fresh herbs and spices, transforming the beans into intriguing blends of contrasting tastes. Bean dip, a couple of colorful fresh salsas, some crumbled or grated cheese, and a stack of tortillas or flatbreads makes a beautiful, flavorful meal.

Using dried beans takes a little planning. I like to soak beans 4 to 12 hours before cooking them, but the “quick-soak” method works just as well. Put the beans in a large pot with water to cover by 4 inches. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and turn off the heat, and let sit for one hour. The beans should be plumped out, without wrinkled skin. Drain the soaked beans, rinse, then return them to the pot with fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the beans gently until tender, 1 to 1/2 hours. Add salt near the end of the cooking time, after the beans have softened. Keep the pot partially covered, and check occasionally to see that the water level is above the beans.

Although only 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked beans (1 cup dried beans will make about 3 cups cooked) are needed to make a batch of dip, I like to cook 2 to 4 cups of dried beans at a time and freeze the extra beans in their cooking liquid in pint or quart-size containers.

Canned beans are fine for making spread and dips, and one or two 15-oz cans will make a generous amount. Drain the liquid (no need to rinse), but be sure to taste for salt before adding any more to the recipe.



Hummus has many incarnations, but that is part of fun of making your own–there are so many ways to tweak it. Here is a basic starting point: Using a food processor, puree 1 1/2 cups (one 15 oz can) of drained, cooked chickpeas with 4 Tbs fresh lemon juice and 2 or more garlic cloves. Add chickpea liquid as needed to make a creamy puree. Add 2 or3 Tbs sesame butter (tahini) and salt to taste. Add more lemon juice to taste.

Now you can play around. Add spices like cayenne or other hot chile, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, sumac, cumin, or coriander… chopped fresh herbs like parsley, coriander leaves, mint, chervil, arugula, or chives…chopped olives, roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts, or sundried tomatoes. More unconventionally, stir in chopped cooked broccoli, spinach, chard, or garlicky mustard greens.

Put the hummus in a bowl and drizzle the top with extra virgin olive oil. Serve the hummus with flatbread or crackers or in a wrap or sandwich.


Fava Bean Dip with Chermoula

When I cooked fava beans to make the Fava e Cicorie dish we ate in Southern Italy, I used some of them to make a spicy dip. Bessara is the name of Moroccan bean puree descibed in the wonderful cookbook, Flatbreads and Flavors, written by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I used the name and the Moroccan seasoning mixture known as Chermoula to flavor the dip.

Cook 1 cup (or more) dried, peeled yellow fava beans by the method described above. Or use canned peeled fava beans. Or substitute dried or canned red kidney or small red beans, as Alford and Duguid recommend.You will need 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked beans. If you use canned beans, drain most of the liquid off and add it back in only if needed.

Make the chermoula: Dry-roast 1/2 tsp coriander seed and 1/4 tsp black pepper corns on a small iron skillet over medium-low heat one to two minutes. Shake the pan often so that the seeds do not burn. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder, cool, and grind to a powder. Roast 3/4 tsp cumin seeds 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add 2 Tbs olive oil to the pan and turn off the heat. Stir in 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and the ground coriander and black pepper. Allow to steep 10 to 15 minutes. In a mortar (or on a cutting board), mash 2 or 3 garlic cloves with 1/4 tsp coarse salt to make a paste. Mix the garlic paste with 2 Tbs. fresh lemon or lime juice in a small bowl. Add 3 Tbs finely chopped shallot or onion, 1 1/2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, and 1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro. Combine the spice- oil and the garlic-herb mixture.

Puree or mash the cooked beans (if using canned beans, drain off most of the liquid). Stir the chermoula into the beans. Adjust the seasoning…more salt, extra lime or lemon juice, cayenne. Serve with a sprinkling of fresh herb leaves on top.


Black Bean Dip

Mole is a Mexican sauce of chiles, spices, garlic, and onion, often thickened with toasted nuts or seeds…a concoction of infinite variations. This dip uses the ingredients of a simple mole to infuse black turtle beans with flavor.

Roasting SpicesPrepare the flavoring: Heat an iron skillet over medium heat. Dry roast 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1/4 tsp fennel seed, 1/4 tsp black pepper corns, and 2 whole cloves 30 to 40 seconds, shaking the pan to keep the seeds from burning. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder. Cool and grind to a powder. Dry roast two 1/4-inch slices of a medium-size white onion and 4 whole unpeeled garlic cloves on the skillet over medium-low heat until toasty-brown and softened, about 15 minutes. Chop 2 or 3 plum tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Finely chop 1 or 2 jalapenos and 2 scallions. Roughly chop 1/3 cup cilantro leaves.

Make the puree: Put 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked black beans in a blender or food processor. Add the dry-roasted onion and peeled garlic cloves, the spice mix, and 1 canned chipotle chile (optional, but very good). Process to a smooth puree. Transfer the puree to a bowl and stir in the chopped vegetables and salt to taste. Add the cilantro and 2 Tbs or more fresh lime juice. Stir and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle with a couple Tbs toasted sesame or pumpkin seeds.

Variations: Replace the jalapeno with finely chopped Anaheim or New Mexico red chiles for less heat and more color. Skip the dry roasting and add the finely chopped white onion and garlic raw for a sharper flavor. Or, go the other way and roast the chiles and tomatoes as well as the onion and garlic…it’s all good.

Quick Pickled Red Onions

Pickled Onions

The perfect condiment to serve with bean spreads! Cut in half and thinly slice two medium-sized red onions (about 2 cups). Parboil the onion slices in salted, boiling water 20 to 30 seconds. Transfer to a colander, rinse with cold water, and drain.

Dry roast 1/2 tsp cumin seed and 1/3 tsp black pepper corns on an iron skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and grind coarsely.

Put the onion in a small bowl with the crushed spices and 1/4 tsp salt. Add 1/2-cup cider or rice vinegar and stir well. Add water to barely cover the onions. Cover and let stand one or more hours. Refrigerated, the onions will keep several weeks.

Even Quicker Pickled Onions

Thinly slice 2 medium red onions (about 2 cups). Place the onions in a colander and toss well with 1 Tbs coarse kosher salt. Leave to drain 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse in cold water and dry in a salad spinner or towel. Mix together 1/2 tsp sugar and 3 Tbs cider or rice vinegar. Put the onions in a bowl and sprinkle with the vinegar. Add chopped fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, Thai basil, or lemon thyme and a sprinkle of cayenne, if you like.

Easy as Pie

Picking Raspberries

My deserts barely have recipes. I know that baking involves science, and there are rules to follow…but I’m not good at that. I like to have my desert while I’m picking raspberries, or up in the field in a blackberry thicket. Most berries that make it back to the house get eaten just as they are, the sooner the better. Berries and cream, berries and yogurt, berries and ice cream…those are good deserts. When we have lots and lots of  berries– like when the mulberry tree rains down bucketsful every day– I make pies. In a good berry year, we have enough berries in the freezer for pies all year.

I like to keep things simple, so that’s what my pies are. I make crusts in a food processor that can be pressed into a pie dish or crumbled on top. The fillings are just fruit tossed with sugar and cornstarch, or creamy custards whipped up in the blender. Actually, they taste delicious, and people ask for recipes!


Torta di Ricotta 

This is really great if you can find really fresh ricotta, but grocery-store ricotta works fine, too. Whole milk ricotta has the best flavor. I like to add a little lemon or orange zest to the crust, as well as some of the fresh juice.

The crust: In a food processor, pulse 2/3 cup rolled oats and 1/3 cup almonds to make a fine meal. Add 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, 4 Tbs softened butter, 2 Tbs brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1tsp lemon or orange zest. Pulse to blend well. Sprinkle with 1 tsp fresh lemon or orange juice and pulse briefly. Pinch the mixture to see if it will hold together. If not, add a little more juice or water. Transfer the mixture to a pie dish (preferable a generously sized one), and press the crust evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Bake the crust in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove from the oven.

*Crust option #2: Use 1/2 cup crushed Amaretti cookies (made from almonds, egg white and sugar) and 1 cup crushed breakfast cereal flakes (many gluten-free options). Mix with 2-3 Tbs butter, 1/2 tsp almond extract, and 1 Tbs water or fruit juice. No need to pre-bake this crust.

The ricotta filling: Use a blender or whisk to mix 1 cup whole milk ricotta, 2 eggs, 5 Tbs. cream or sour cream (I use the cream from “cream-top” yogurt), 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch, and a pinch of salt Blend smooth.

Assemble the torta: Pour about 1 cup berries or other sliced fruit over the crust. Pour the ricotta filling over the fruit. Add more berries if they fit! Put the torta in the oven and bake @350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. The top will be golden brown.

Cheesecake Pie 

This pie could be called the lazy woman’s cheesecake. My daughter, Naomi, says it tastes like a milkshake in a crust.

Make a crumb crust of 1 1/4-cups crushed cookies, cereal flakes, graham crackers, or granola. Mix the finely ground crumbs with 4 Tbs nut meal and 2 Tbs softened butter. Add a few tsp fresh orange juice or water to make a mixture that can be pressed into a pie dish.

The filling: In a blender, mix together 8 oz cream cheese,(or substitute Nuefchatel or  yogurt cheese), 1/2 cup vanilla or plain whole milk yogurt, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar,  1Tbs orange marmalade, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch. Blend smooth.

Assemble the pie: Press the crumb mixture into a pie dish to make a crust. Cover the bottom with 1 cup berries or other fruit or preserves. Pour the cream cheese filling over the fruit. Bake in a pre-heated, 350-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Homemade Pasta

Homemade Pasta

Making homemade pasta is more fun done with company. This week I had a cooking student named Barbara to cook with, so making the pasta was extra fun. We took breaks to dance, and she sang. Halfway through the rolling process, Barbara decided we were making “crazy lady pasta”…that was before I told her about cutting the strips in half so they wouldn’t wrap around her arms like Ace bandages. The pasta turned out wonderfully.

Roasted Winter Squash Lasagne

Homemade pasta transforms lasagne. It is delicate and light, and particularly well suited for this filling of roasted winter squash flavored with sage. If you can buy fresh pasta sheets, so much the better, but making your own pasta for this lasagne is well worth the effort.

Make the pasta dough using 2 cups all-purpose flour and 3 large, or 4 medium size eggs. Be sure the eggs are at room temperature before mixing the dough (see the “Pasta Night” blog entry for pasta making directions). You may need extra flour or a few sprinkles of water to make the dough come together for kneading. Roll out the lasagne noodles, boil 30 seconds in salted water, cool in ice water, and spread out on clean dishtowels.

Make the filling: Roast a 3-lb winter squash in a 400 degree F oven 45 minutes to one hour, until soft. Roast a head of garlic, wrapped in foil, about 30 minutes. Using a food processor or potato masher, make a puree with the cooked squash, roasted garlic, 2 cups ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, and 6 to 8 finely chopped fresh sage leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Make a béchamel sauce: Melt 1 1/2 Tbs butter in a saucepan. Add 4 or 5 fresh sage leaves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg or 1/4 tsp crushed fennel seeds and cook over low heat 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sage leaves. Whisk in 1 Tbs all-purpose flour. Cook 2 minutes, stirring. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups warm whole milk, whisking until smooth. Cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt.

Assemble the lasagne: Spread 1/2 cup of the béchamel over the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a layer of noodles. Spread 1/4 of the squash filling over the noodles. Cover with noodles. Repeat the layers for a total of 4 squash layers and 5 pasta layers. Spread the remaining béchamel over the top. Sprinkle with 1/4-cup dry breadcrumbs mixed with 1/4 cup Pecorino and 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves.

Bake the lasagne: cover the pan with foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the topping is browned, about 10 minutes.

We ate this lasagne with focaccia and bowls of Romesco sauce and salsa verde (recipes below).

Romesco Sauce

Romesco is a wonderful Spanish concoction of garlic, toasted almonds, tomato, and a mildly spicy pepper. I use re-hydrated ancho chile or my own roasted Anaheim chiles with roasted red bell peppers to make an approximation of the flavor.

Use a food processor or mortar and pestle to make a smooth puree. My Romesco was made with 2 large roasted red peppers, 2 roasted Anaheim chiles, 1 small roasted red onion, 1 head roasted garlic, 1 raw garlic clove, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 cup toasted almonds, 2 or 3 tsp red wine vinegar, and 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil.

Salsa Verde

Green Herb Sauce Italian-style herb sauce is endlessly variable and useful for perking up other foods. A little dab makes a great topping for roasted or grilled meats, fish or vegetables…a spread for bruschetta … stirred into soups, pasta, or beans, or rice dishes.

I like to use a mixture of whatever herbs are in my garden, so this time it was about a cup of parsley leaves, 1/2 cup sorrel leaves, and some chives and arugula. The herbs are chopped very fine with a sharp knife or food processor and mixed with a garlic clove mashed to a paste with 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp lemon zest, 2 Tbs chopped walnuts (toasted), freshly ground black pepper, and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Stir in 2 tsp fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar and salt to taste. One or two Tbs chopped capers are a delicious addition.

Another version: Mix one finely chopped shallot or garlic clove with 2 tsp fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar. Let it sit while your chop 1 cup flat-leaf parsley and 1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves very fine. Add 1 Tbs chopped capers. Mix the herbs and capers with the garlic or shallot and stir in 5 or 6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and salt.

Note: In a taste test, the hand-chopped salsa verde won.

Lagane e Ceci

Pasta with Chick Peas

We had enough pasta sheets left over from the lasagne to make noodles. We cut the wide sheets into short strips about 1/4 inch wide, dusted them with semolina, and dried them on pizza pans. The next day we made Lagane e Ceci, a Southern Italian peasant dish.

You can use canned chickpeas, but I like the flavor of freshly cooked chickpeas better.

Soak 1 1/2 cups chickpeas for 12 hours (or do a short soak by pouring boiling water over the chick peas and letting them sit for 2 hours). Drain the chickpeas, put them in a pot with a sprig of rosemary, 2 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves and a small hot chile with water to cover by one inch, and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, loosely covered, for 1 to 1/2 hours, or until the chickpeas are tender. Add 2 tsp salt to the pot.

When the chickpeas are done, heat 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 1 1/2 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 2 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary, and 1/2 tsp red chile flakes over low heat until the garlic begins to sizzle. Stir 30 seconds or so. Add 1 cup diced or crushed canned tomatoes and their juice and stir 1 minute. Add 2 1/2 cups cooked chick peas and about 1 1/2 cups chick pea cooking liquid; simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

While the chickpeas simmer, boil the pasta in well-salted water. Traditionally, this dish calls for flat pasta. Egg noodles, fettuccine, farfalle, or  fresh ribbon pasta would work fine. I used about 5 oz dried noodles. Add the cooked noodles to the chickpeas. Eat as a thick soup or add more broth, if you prefer.

Serve the pasta with chopped flat-leaf parsley or salsa verde. I stirred a few spoonfuls of Romesco sauce into the dish, and put a bowl of the sauce on the table for people to add at the table. Brilliant!