Turmeric Pesto and Other Ways to Brighten January

Who would have guessed? Fresh turmeric is a revelation! The boring yellow powder that mostly gives color to curry powder is actually a mouth-popping, I-can’t-stop-eating-this, delicious flavor when eaten fresh (the difference between powdered ginger and fresh ginger root, only more so…). And it can grow in North Carolina!!

hawaiian red turmeric (grown by biker dude)

hawaiian red turmeric (grown by biker dude)

I was very excited when a friend from Brasstown, NC, visited and brought a jar of her homemade turmeric pesto made with fresh turmeric grown in Clay County on Qualla Berry Farm. Turmeric (Zingiberaeae Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family and is known as “Indian saffron” because of its brilliant orange color. John Clarke and Karen Hurtubise grow both ginger and turmeric in a large hoophouse, harvest in October and November, and sell the fresh rhizomes at farmers’ markets as well as from their own farm. They advise that the rhizomes may be stored in a warm, dry, dark place for up to three weeks or sealed in zip-lock bags to store in the freezer for a year-long supply. Contact for more information.

Qualla Berry Farm Turmeric

The fresh turmeric pesto is amazing. Can something have a yellow flavor? The flavor is sharp and earthy and somehow lets you know that it is sending good energy to all the cells of your body. I have been using turmeric powder for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, but it is so much more fun to eat the vibrant fresh rhizomes. It’s like adding a burst of sunshine to your food.

My Thai cookbook by Su Mei Yu says that fresh orange turmeric is used for its color, aroma, sweet crunchy texture, and peppery taste. When fresh turmeric isn’t available, Yu suggests substituting 1 Tbs grated carrot, 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger, and 1/2 tsp turmeric powder for 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric. This gives you an idea of the taste—a rather subtle, wild carrot flavor with hints of black pepper and the woods. I didn’t want to substitute; I ordered some from Qualla Berry Farm right away.

turmeric grown at Qualla Berry Farm

turmeric grown at Qualla Berry Farm

When my order of fresh turmeric arrived , I cut some up into matchsticks and started eating. The fresh flavor is not just yellow, it is orange…like some crazy carrot. The rhizomes are easy to grate or slice and can be used raw to garnish or add to dishes for maximum color and texture impact… or pound into spice pastes or add with other aromatics like ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles to stir-fries or curry. Use minced fresh turmeric in soups, dips (try it in hummous, Romesco sauce, or mixed into yogurt or goat cheese), rice and other grain pilafs, vegetable or meat braises, lentils or beans, eggs…. or make tea.

Turmeric Infusion

This recipe for fresh turmeric tea is from Qualla Berry Farm. The addition of black pepper enhances the medicinal properties of turmeric by making its healing components more easily absorbed.

Ingredients: 2 oz fresh turmeric, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 2 quarts water

Chop or grate the fresh turmeric. Coarsely grind the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the turmeric and pepper in a glass or ceramic pitcher. Allow to steep overnight or until cool. Strain into glass jars and store in the refrigerator. Strained out turmeric may be used in cooking.

Add fresh lemon juice or honey to taste. Some people enjoy hot turmeric tea with milk.

Carla’s Spice Paste

Carla Owen of Murphy, NC, provided this recipe for the growers at Qualla Berry Farm. This is a generous amount that should keep you in turmeric heaven for a while. Carla advises to eat some every day…in any dish. You can use it as a condiment, stir it into slow-cooked stews or braises near the end of cooking, or add a bit to the oil before a quick-cooked stir-fry or sauté.

Ingredients: 1 lb fresh turmeric, 1/4 lb peeled fresh ginger (or fresh ginger in season), 1-6 oz peeled garlic cloves to suit your taste, zest and juice of 2 organic lemons, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you get the consistency you want. Add salt if you like and adjust quantities to your own taste. Store in glass jars topped with olive oil in the refrigerator.

Turmeric Pesto

Turmeric Pesto

The pesto made by our friend Linda is a simplified version of Carla’s Spice Paste. It has a beautiful pale yellow color and subtle flavor. I loved it so much I ate it by the spoonful, spread it on toast and tortillas, and put it in everything until it was gone.

Ingredients: roughly equal parts fresh turmeric rhizomes and peeled garlic cloves—let’s say 4 oz of each, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 cup olive or sunflower oil, sea salt, fresh lemon juice

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to make a rough or smooth puree, as you wish. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Turmeric Pesto II

Turmeric Pesto II

I ran out of Linda’s pesto very quickly, so I had to make my own. I didn’t have any fresh turmeric rhizomes yet, but I did have a big jar of pickled fresh turmeric from India. It is pretty much just shreds of fresh turmeric in a salty brine, so I gave it a try. It was delicious, but on the salty side, so I mellowed it out with roasted red pepper. The color is even more joyful.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup pickled fresh turmeric, 1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 or 2 roasted red peppers (canned are fine)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a rough or smooth puree. Enjoy!

Chershi Kara’a

Chershi are piquant condiments from the culinary traditions of the Jewish community of Tripoli, Libya. I learned this from Jerusalem a Cookbook, by Yotam Ottalenghi and Sami Tamimi. They made mention of a crushed pumpkin salad—chershi kara’a, which sounded like it could only be more delicious with an addition of turmeric pesto. Roasted winter squash chershi is traditional; I used wedges of roasted sweet potato.

Ingredients: 3 Tbs olive or sunflower oil, 1 large sweet potato ( 12 to 16 oz), 1 large white onion (1 1/2 cups finely chopped), 1 Tbs harissa, 2 Tbs turmeric pesto or spice paste, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground coriander seed, 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1 cup chopped parsley leaves, salt

Peel the sweet potato and cut it into 3/4-inch wedges or chunks. Toss with 1 1/2 Tbs oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until crusty brown outside and tender inside. Turn halfway through. Heat the other 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Scrape the onions into a bowl and stir in the harissa, turmeric pesto, cumin and caraway. Chop the roasted sweet potato into bite-size pieces and combine with the onion mixture. Add the parsley and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the flavors to meld 1/2 hour or more before serving.

Turmeric Turkey Meatballs in Thai Curry Broth

Ingredients: 1 lb ground turkey or chicken (dark meat), 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, 1 large free-range egg, 2 Tbs chopped mint, 2 Tbs chopped cilantro, 2 Tbs grated fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 1/2 tsp freshly ground white or black pepper, 1 tsp toasted and ground cumin, 1 tsp toasted and ground coriander, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbs sunflower or peanut oil for searing

Broth: 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2 tsp Thai curry paste, 2 thinly sliced shallots, 1 cup low-salt chicken broth, juice of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 Tbs), 2 tsp raw cane sugar, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 cup grated carrot, fresh cilantro or mint leaves for garnish

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands. Shape the mixture into about 16 balls. Heat 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add half the meatballs to the pan and sear on all sides, about 4 minutes total. Remove to a plate and sear the second batch, adding oil if needed.

Use the same pan to make the broth. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the curry paste and cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the shallots and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and reduce to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the pan, cover, and cook over low heat 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Stir in the carrots and sprinkle the top with fresh herbs before serving.

Turmeric Sambal

The perfect condiment/salad to accompany meatballs, especially if you eat them with rice or wrapped in a tortilla. This is an adaptation of a Chris Schlesinger-John Willoughby recipe, “Sambal in the style of Java.” If you have a stash of turmeric pesto or spice paste, you can jump-start the dressing. Best eaten freshly made.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups finely sliced or shredded green cabbage, 1 1/2 cups grated or matchstick-cut carrots, 1/2 cup bean sprouts, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1/4 cup toasted and chopped peanuts or cashews

Dressing: 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs minced fresh chile, 2 tsp minced garlic, 1 tsp shrimp paste or 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 1/2 Tbs toasted and cracked coriander seeds, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, 2 Tbs palm sugar or Mexican cane sugar, 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs pomegranate molasses, 1/4 cup peanut or sunflower oil

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts. Use a whisk or blender to combine all the dressing ingredients. Adjust the seasonings to balance the flavors—hot, sweet, salty, and sour. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Allow to sit 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with minced turmeric and toasted nuts before serving.

Fresh Cut Turmeric


The Nasturtium Caper: Happiness in a Jar

This is treasure money can’t buy… jars full of the essence of summer and happiness.

Making nasturtium capers involves two of my favorite activities: foraging in the garden and practicing kitchen alchemy. By the end of summer, my garden is overrun with nasturtiums. They self-seed readily, and I love their bright red, yellow, and orange flowers so much that I pretty much let them grow wherever they want. Up until now, I have limited myself to eating the spicy flowers in salads, but I was inspired by fellow gardener and cook Mary Bard to harvest the seedpods to make nasturtium capers.

Real capers are made from the flower buds of the caper bush, found growing wild all around the Mediterranean Sea. Preserved in salt or vinegar, the buds are transformed into intense bursts of flowery, sour, salty flavor used sparingly to enliven many dishes.

The green seedpods of the nasturtium plant have a fiery intensity of their own that comes close to duplicating that of the true caper when pickled. My nasturtiums started making seedpods in mid-September and continued prolifically through October. The pods are found in groups of two or three hanging from curly stems under the foliage, so you have to crawl around under the plants to search for them–that’s the foraging part. Be sure to harvest only the green pods. If they are starting to turn yellow, they will be hard and un-tasty.

Making the nasturtium capers is easy: For every cup of seedpods, make a brine with 1 cup water and 2 Tbs. salt. Bring the brine to a boil and pour it over the seedpods in a glass jar. Cover, and let the jar sit at room temperature for 3 days. Drain the seedpods in a strainer and transfer them to a sterilized 1-cup canning jar. Bring 3/4-cup white wine vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan and pour it over the seedpods. Put a sterilized lid on the jar and screw on the ring. Cool until the lids seal. The capers are ready in 3 days and will keep 6 months or more if stored in the refrigerator or other cool place.

Nasturtium capers are milder and larger than true capers. Serve them with olives and other pickled or roasted vegetables as antipasti. Add a few to pasta dishes, braised chicken, or fish. Sprinkle them into potato, cauliflower, tuna or bread salad. Or, use them to spark up roasted root vegetables.

Caper-Dill Vinaigrette 

With a mortar and pestle, make a paste of 1 garlic clove and a pinch of kosher or sea salt. Whisk the paste together with 3 Tbs white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill, 1 Tbs chopped drained capers, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, and freshly ground black pepper. Season with salt to taste.

Drizzle the vinaigrette over grilled or pan-seared salmon, or use it to dress boiled new potatoes or beets.


Tapenade is an intensely flavored spread that is a great topping for bruschetta, foccacia, or flatbreads. I like to play around with the ingredients but always include olives and capers.

Use a food processor to make a coarsely chopped paste of 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes (or oven-dried), 1/2 cup pitted olives (Nicoise, Kalamata, or oil-cured black), 3 to 4 Tbs rinsed and drained capers, 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves, 1 large clove finely chopped garlic, a pinch red chile flakes, 4 Tbs chopped parsley, and 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Add salt, black pepper, and fresh lemon juice to taste.

Great additions: caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, mint, anchovies…

Pepperonata with Capers and Olives

Use this tangy sauté of sweet peppers to top bruschetta, pasta, or polenta. Make the pepperonata with ripe red, yellow, or orange bell peppers or long Italian sweet peppers of the Corno di Toro type.

You will need 3 or 4 bell peppers or 4 to 6 Italian sweet peppers (about 1 lb.) Stem and seed the peppers and cut them into 1/4 to 1/2-inch slices. Warm 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the peppers and stir well. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt and sauté, tossing often, until the peppers are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 2 tsp minced garlic and 1 finely chopped hot red pepper (or a large pinch red chile flakes). Sauté 20 to 30 seconds. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata or Gaeta olives, 1 Tbs chopped capers, and 1 Tbs red wine vinegar. Sauté 1 minute, then remove from the heat and stir in 3 Tbs chopped parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Alternative flavorings:  Add 1/2 tsp crushed fennel seed with the garlic and chile. Replace the parsley with 2 Tbs fresh mint or basil. Add some toasted walnuts or pine nuts to the finished dish. Add 2 or 3 finely chopped anchovy fillets with the capers and olives.

Roasted Leeks with Capers and Green Olives 

Serve this as a salad, a side dish, or an appetizer. It can also be made with roasted red onion. Allow 1 medium leek or 1 medium onion per serving. Add thinly sliced raw fennel bulb for a dynamite combination.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or coat it lightly with olive oil.

Trim 6 to 8 medium size (1-inch diameter) leeks of tough outer and upper leaves. Remove the roots, keeping the base intact. If the leeks are small, leave them whole. Otherwise, cut each leek in half lengthwise and wash well to get rid of dirt trapped between the layers. Dry thoroughly. If using onions, peel and cut them in quarters, leaving enough of the base to hold them together.

Drizzle the leeks or onions with 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and toss gently to coat well. Sprinkle with a pinch or two coarse salt. Place them on the baking sheet cut side up and roast 25 to 35 minutes. Turn them over after 15 minutes. The vegetables should be tender and starting to char on the edges.

Arrange the leeks and/or onions on a platter. Distribute 1/4 cup chopped green olives and 2 Tbs chopped capers over them. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a splash or balsamic vinegar.

To make a salad, chop the leeks into 1-inch pieces. Toss with the chopped olives and capers, 1 small finely sliced fennel bulb, and 2 or 3 Tbs chopped fennel greens. Dress with fresh lemon juice or vinegar.

Pasta Puttanesca

This sauce is deeply flavorful and robust, with a lively cast of characters contributing to the complex flavor… garlic, red chile, parsley, oregano, olives, and capers. Traditionally, Puttanesca sauce includes a “secret” ingredient–anchovies. This ingredient is secret only because the strongly flavored little fish melt into the sauce, lending a trace of savory brininess… an essential undertone. Make this with garden-ripe fresh cherry or plum tomatoes in summer, or with good quality whole plum tomatoes any time of year.

Warm 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Stir in 4 Tbs finely chopped onion and sauté 5 or 6 minutes, until softened. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves and 1 minced small hot red pepper. Sauté 1 minute. Add 3 or 4 chopped anchovy fillets (well rinsed if stored in salt), stirring with a wooden spoon until they melt into the oil. Add 4 Tbs chopped parsley leaves, 1 tsp dried oregano, and one 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes or 1 qt home-canned plum tomatoes and their juice. Break the tomatoes into pieces with your hands or a wooden spoon. Add 1/4 cup dry red wine and simmer briskly 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add 4 tsp capers (chopped if large) and 8 to 10 Gaeta or Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half. Stir well and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat, or continue simmering to thicken, if you prefer. Taste the sauce for seasoning.

Serve tossed with pasta or spooned over polenta, with freshly grated Pecorino, Romano or Parmesan cheese.

The Cat, Big Boy, Enjoying the Garden

Stars of the Summer Garden


We wait all summer for this: red-ripe tomatoes, fat purple eggplant, sweet red peppers, and summer squash galore. Now is the time to capture those flavors, while they’re at their height, and what better dish than Ratatouille (the name even sounds like a celebration) to celebrate the stars of the summer garden? The dish originates in Southern France, where a medley of vegetables is sautéed in generous amounts of olive oil and layered into a casserole, or ragout. My version strayed over into Sicily or Spain. I grill my vegetables, so what I am making is really more like Ratatouille’s Catalan relative, Escalivada, meaning “baked over embers.” I like the fire-roasted flavor and the way the grilling makes it easy for each vegetable to keep its individual identity and texture intact. Oven roasting is a good alternative to grilling–the principle is the same: Cook the vegetables separately with high heat to caramelize the juices and concentrate the flavor. Marry the flavors after the vegetables are cooked and highlight with fresh herbs, garlic, and a splash of fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. 

Ratatouille  Escalivada 

Grilled Ratatouille 

EggplantVegetables: 2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/4 pounds), 2 medium red onions, 2 or 3 large red or yellow bell peppers (or Italian roasting peppers), 4 small or 2 medium zucchini, 10 plum or 5 to 6 medium round red-ripe tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds), 6 to 8 large garlic cloves, a handful torn basil leaves, and 2 Tbs chopped mixed fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano…

Additional ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, coarse sea salt or kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high while you prepare the vegetables. Thinly slice the garlic and heat it in a small pan with 1/3-cup extra virgin olive oil just until bubbles begin to rise around the garlic. Turn off the heat and set aside. Peel lengthwise strips of skin off the eggplant, leaving stripes, and cut into 1/2 inch slices (if the eggplant are small, cut them lengthwise); cut the onions into quarters or 1/2-inch thick slices and secure with toothpicks; cut the zucchini into halves or quarters lengthwise; cut the plum tomatoes in half . Leave the peppers whole. Brush the eggplant, onion, tomatoes and zucchini with the garlic oil (reserve the garlic!) to coat well. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt.

Grill the vegetables: If using a gas grill, start grilling with all burners on medium-high to high (it depends on how hot your grill gets). Arrange the vegetables on the hot grill– brown one side, then flip and brown the other. Grill with the lid down. If you grill over charcoal, build a two-zone fire to have a hot side and a medium-low side. Grill the vegetables uncovered over the hot coals to sear both sides; move to the cooler side and cover to finish cooking.

Eggplant and zucchini can be grilled at the same time–they both take 4 to 6 minutes per side and need to be checked often. Grill the onions, peppers, and plum tomatoes together for a total of about 10 to 12 minutes. Move the onions and tomatoes to low heat if they need further cooking after searing both sides. Rotate the peppers until the skin is charred on all sides and put them in a paper bag to cool before peeling.

Don’t undercook! The great flavor comes from the juices caramelizing at high heat. The vegetables should be well browned and tender inside. As they finish cooking, transfer to a large platter or baking dish.

Peel the tomatoes if you like; separate the onion into layers or rings; peel and cut the peppers into thick slices, cut the zucchini and eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Gently combine the vegetables in a large serving bowl or shallow platter– mixed or layered or arranged in an artful design, however you like. Distribute the slivers of garlic, basil leaves and chopped herbs; add a squeeze or two fresh lemon juice or a splash balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper to taste. For a Sicilian touch, add 1/2 tsp ground cumin seed, 1/2 tsp paprika, and 2 or 3 minced hot red chiles.

Oven-Roasting: Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch slices; brush each side with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and place the slices on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Quarter the zucchini and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces; slice the onions lengthwise into wedges; seed the peppers and cut into thick slices; peel the garlic cloves and leave them whole; cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze out the seeds, salt them lightly and place upside down in a colander to drain. Toss the zucchini, onion, garlic, and peppers with 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, two tsp chopped rosemary, a few sprigs thyme, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Spread the vegetables on a large roasting pan in a single layer. Put both pans in the oven. After 15 minutes, flip the eggplant over and stir the vegetables gently.  Place the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet.  Roast all the vegetables another 15 to 20 minutes, until tender and starting to char. When done, chop the eggplant into chunks. Scrape all the vegetables and their juices into a bowl; toss with fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

We ate our Ratatouille wrapped in freshly made pita bread, with yogurt sauce, cucumber salad, and a big pot of brown lentils cooked with Andouille sausage.

Here’s what to do with extra Ratatouille: Eat it on crusty toasted bread; toss it with pasta; serve it along side grilled meat or chicken kebabs…or on top of grilled fish; eat it with couscous; wrap it in a flatbread; add more chiles and make it into salsa; mix it into a salad of white beans and olives; top a pizza, fill an omelet or a calzone…

Eggplant Dinner


Roasted or grilled slices of eggplant (even zucchini!) are so good, you may want to stop right there. Follow the directions for oven roasting or grilling and make a topping for the crusty, succulent eggplant. Zucchini slices make excellent roll-ups. Any kind of bruschetta topping is good on roasted eggplant or zucchini–here are a few ideas:

*Bean Salad: Warm 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 2 tsp whole cumin seed, about 1 minute. When the cumin is fragrant, add a finely chopped onion and sauté until soft, 5 or 6 minutes. Add 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic and 1 or 2 finely chopped fresh hot red chiles (use sweet peppers if you don’t like heat). Sauté 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo or white beans and stir to combine, add salt to taste. Cook over low heat 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, and 2 or 3 tsp fresh lemon juice

Red Peppers*Roasted Red Pepper Salsa: Roast 1 or 2 red bell peppers with the eggplant. When the peppers are charred (about 15-20 minutes), take them from the oven and cover them with a kitchen towel for 10 to 20 minutes. Peel off the skin, remove the seeds, and chop the peppers into small dice. Mix with a few Tbs finely chopped red onion, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 Tbs capers, a few Tbs chopped green and black olives, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, and balsamic vinegar to taste.

Eggplant with Nasturtium*Goat Cheese and Nasturtium Flowers

*Spicy Greens with Feta Cheese: Dress some chopped arugula and spicy mesclun greens with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Toss with crumbled feta and toasted walnuts or pine nuts.

Egglpant Wraps*Herbed Ricotta with Ham and Tomato: Mix 1 cup whole milk ricotta with 1 Tbs finely chopped mint, 1 tsp finely chopped thyme, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, and 3 Tbs freshly grated parmesan or pecorino. Spread a spoonful of cheese over a thin slice of ham and top with chopped sundried or fresh tomato.

Brown Lentils with Sausage

I’m including this recipe because the lentils paired so well with the ratatouille in a flatbread meal. Besides, the dish is endorsed by Martha, who would rather paint than cook, so if she asks for a recipe I know it is good.

Rinse 2 cups lentils and put them in a saucepan with 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, a big sprig fresh rosemary, a small hot chile, 1/2 tsp salt, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer 20 minutes, or until barely tender.

While the lentils cook, warm 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil in a good-sized sauté pan or Dutch oven with 1 bay leaf and 1 tsp crushed cumin seed. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chopped onion and sauté 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup finely chopped carrot, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Allow to cook about 5 minutes, until the onion and carrot have softened. Stir in 2 minced garlic, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 2 tsp finely chopped rosemary, 2 tsp thyme leaves, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook 1 minute. Add 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes and 1 cup green beans, cut in small pieces. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

When the lentils are ready, drain off the extra liquid (save for soup broth) and add them to the vegetables, along with chunks or slices of cooked sausage (I grilled the Andouille sausage). Stir to combine and simmer 5 to 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in a few Tbs chopped parsley and cilantro leaves. Taste for seasoning and add a splash of balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice.

Note: About 1 1/2 cups Tabouli salad from lunch went into these lentils, as well. The pot made just enough for 8 people.

Yogurt Sauce

Mix 1 cup whole milk or Greek-style strained yogurt with 1/2 tsp freshly toasted and ground cumin seed and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Stir in 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, 6 to 8 chopped basil leaves, 1 minced garlic clove, a little lemon zest, and salt to taste.

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!





Traveling the Silk Road


We liked the Caspian Olives with Pomegranate (a.k.a. “Silk Road Tapenade”) so much that it was eaten before I got a photograph. So, I had to make it again. This time I had a big bunch of coriander (cilantro) and plenty of mint. I chopped the herbs, olives, and chile by hand and used the mortar and pestle to mash the garlic and salt to a paste. I left the walnuts very chunky and used dried cranberries as a stand-in for the pomegranate. I much preferred the chunkier, hand-chopped version

Salmon with TapenadeThe new tapenade made a perfect topping for pan-seared salmon–and was even better with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Najmieh Batmanglij, the author of Silk Road Cooking, suggests using the tapenade with flatbreads, or as a topping for rice or pasta. I think it would be very good stirred into tiny pasta like Greek orzo or Israeli couscous. But it also occurred to me that the de-constructed tapenade made a very good collection of ingredients for a pilaf or grain salad. So that’s what I made.

Start the pilaf by sautéing 1/2 cup chopped onion in 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes. Stir in 1 cup farro (a very pleasing grain that is sort of like a cross between kamut and barley) and toast the grain in the oil for a couple of minutes. Add 2 cups water and cook the farro like rice: let the water boil down until it almost meets the level of the grain, reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot, and steam until all the water is absorbed. Farro takes about 35 minutes to cook. Allow the grain to sit, covered, 10 minutes after you turn off the heat. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a serving dish or bowl.

PilafWhile the grain cooks, prepare the other ingredients. I used basically the same ingredients as for the tapenade, but changed the proportions. This pilaf got about 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves (or substitute parsley), 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, a couple of Tbs chopped chives, a few chopped fresh oregano leaves, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, a few grinds of black pepper, one minced jalapeno, 1/4 cup dried cranberries in lieu of pomegranate seeds, a handful of chopped green olives, and maybe 1/2 cup of toasted walnut pieces. Stir these ingredients into the rice and season with salt and fresh lemon juice to taste.

Other grains could replace the farro: Brown or white basmati rice, long or short-grained brown rice (short is best if serving at room temperature), Bhutanese red rice, kamut, wild rice, wheat berries, quinoa, barley…I often like a blend of different grains in pilaf or grain salads, but they should be cooked separately because the cooking times are not always the same.

If I were serving this as a salad, I would most likely add more chopped herbs and vegetables. Diced carrot, fennel, sweet pepper, tomato, celery, avocado…whatever is fresh and available. Save the toasted nuts for last, to keep them crunchy. Drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and a little fresh lemon juice before serving.





Silk Road Cooking

Herb Basket

I see exciting culinary travels ahead in my kitchen. Dear friends Joe and Suzy sent a cookbook for my birthday entitled Silk Road Cooking, by Najmieh Batmanglij. It is a gorgeous book, full of wonderful photographs and stories of the author’s Iranian childhood and travels along the Silk Road over the last 25 years. I love the way she weaves together the history of ingredients, people, and recipes…and that the subtitle is A Vegetarian Journey. She reminds us that cooking is sharing, and is a joyful communal activity. It seems to me perfect that her travels from Xian in China through Samarkand, Isfahan, and Istanbul ended on the shores of Southern Italy. So, I too feel connected to the cultures of the Silk Road…to people celebrating vegetables and keeping alive a legacy of “tasty, inexpensive, and cheerful food.”

Of course, I wanted to cook something from this book right away. The very first recipe in the book–“Caspian Olives with Pomegranate and Angelica”–fit perfectly into my celebration dinner menu. The only problem was that I couldn’t go to the store, so everything had to come from the garden or pantry. No problem! I had the 1 cup toasted walnuts and 5 peeled garlic cloves. Instead of a whole cup fresh mint leaves (my mint is still tiny), I used 1/2 cup mint and 1/2 cup parsley. There’s no cilantro in my garden yet, but I have wonderful sorrel, so in went a cup of tart sorrel leaves. I had the 1 Tbs fresh oregano, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, and a fresh jalapeno pepper. No angelica powder, so I used 1/4 tsp crushed fennel seed. I didn’t have the 1 lb. green olives–I only had about 1/4 lb.–so I added 2 Tbs capers to the mix. The most important lacking ingredient was one cup fresh pomegranate juice. I had fresh cranberries (which are sour but not quite as bright as pomegranate), so I used about 4 Tbs cranberries, 1 tsp honey, the juice of one small orange, and the juice of 1/2 lime.


All of this went into the food processor with about 6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. I pushed the pulse button to make a chunky paste. It was fabulous! Very herby, but not so strong that the other flavors didn’t get their chance. I felt that it could have traveled on the Silk Road. I have named it “Silk Road Tapenade”.

We ate the tapenade with bread and crackers. Najmieh suggests combining it with chunks of avocado for a salad. Maybe with watercress and sections of orange? I can’t wait to try the recipe again with cilantro, and someday sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

I made cranberry sauce from the rest of the fresh cranberries. I cooked them in fresh orange juice and added the zest and a couple of Tbs orange marmalade for sweetening. Then, in the spirit of the Silk Road, I chopped some fresh mint and sprinkled it in. That was perfect.

Cranberry Sauce

Antipasti: Welcome to the table!

Antipasti are a brilliant invitation to a meal, or a meal in itself. I love eating this way–little plates of savory tid-bits to choose from, mixing contrasting flavors, texture and color as you take each bite. It reminds you that you’re hungry, and that food is glorious. Cured meats, fresh and aged cheeses, grilled and marinated vegetables, pickles, cooked greens, salads of tomatoes and arugula, olives…a single dish or many may appear on the antipasto table. The preparations are typically simple, and the flavors vibrant and enticing.

Antipasti with Bread

For our first meal at Tenuta SantArcangelo, our host Gerardo went all out with the antipasti offerings. The table looked like a promotional display for all the products of Southern Italy…a plate of thinly sliced prosciutto and salumi, fresh mozzarella and ciocavallo cheese…an onion fritatta…a basket of bruschetta, and a bowl of fresh diced tomatoes. Then, because Gerardo knew that I am very fond of vegetables, he brought in a plate if pickled wild asparagus, a saute of sweet peppers with onion, and another dish of lambasconi (a slightly bitter bulb of wild hyacinth) with hot pepper and pancetta. Potatoes with aglio, olio, e pepperoncino (garlic, olive oil, and hot pepper) and broccoli given the same treatment followed shortly. This was not the whole meal, but you can see how it easily could be.

Bruschetta is simply grilled bread– a good place to start. You need a loaf of rustic Italian bread, a crusty baguette, or ciabatta and extra virgin olive oil. Cut the bread into slices 1/2-inch thick, brush them with oil, and toast on an outdoor or stovetop grill on both sides. Drizzle with more garlic-infused oil, or use your bruschetta to hold one of the following toppings.

Tomato Salad*Tomato salad: We had this tomato salad with bread every morning at Serra Gambetta. To make it, dice perfectly ripe tomatoes, sprinkle them with coarse salt and a bit of dried oregano, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Mix gently.

Variations: add finely chopped garlic, replace the oregano with torn fresh basil leaves, or toss the tomatoes with chopped arugula and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

*Roasted red pepper spread: mix roasted red peppers (1 cup chopped) with sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes (1/2 cup chopped), caramelized onion (1/2 cup), roasted garlic, 1/4 tsp crushed fennel seed, a little salt and some hot chile flakes. Chop coarsely in a food processor or by hand and stir in 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil.

*Pepperonata with Capers and Olives: Heat 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet with 1/2 cup chopped onion over medium heat. Cook 3 or 4 minutes until the onion softens. Raise the heat a bit and stir in 3 or 4 (about 1 lb.) diced sweet red peppers. Sauté, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes, until the peppers are tender. Stir in 2 tsp minced garlic, 1 Tbs rinsed capers, and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped olives, cook 1 minute. Stir in 2 or 3 Tbs chopped parsley. Remove from the heat and season with red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper to taste.

Antipasti Table VariationsVariations: Sauté sliced mushrooms with the peppers. Add 1 or 2 chopped anchovy fillets when you add the garlic.

*Green Olive-Artichoke Tapenade: Mix together 12 chopped green olives, 4-6 chopped marinated artichoke hearts, 3-4 chopped oven-dried (or sun-dried in oil) tomatoes, 1 Tbs. capers, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 4 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley leaves, and 1 Tbs chopped fresh mint. Stir in 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil.

*Herbed Cheese: Mix 1 cup fresh ricotta or goat cheese with 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves, 1 or 2 Tsp. chopped fresh mint, 1 tsp. lemon zest, and freshly ground black pepper.

*White Bean Puree: Heat 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 1/2 cup chopped onion. Cook over medium low heat until the onion is soft. Add 1 tbs. chopped garlic and 1/4 tsp. red chile flakes and stir 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked white beans. Stir to coat the beans well and cook over low heat 5 to 10 minutes to let the beans absorb the flavors. Season with salt to taste. Put the beans and 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley in a food processor and process to a coarse puree.

*Sauté of Greens: Steam or parboil a bunch of chicory, chard, kale, broccoli rabe, or mustard greens until tender (3 to 5 minutes). Heat chopped garlic in extra virgin olive oil 1-2 minutes. Stir in the chopped greens to coat with oil and continue to cook over low heat until tender. Beat 2 eggs with 2 Tbs grated Parmesan. Stir the egg mixture into the greens; cook just until the eggs are set. Or leave the egg out–it’s good that way, too.

*Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini, and Peppers: Heat a grill to medium-high heat, or use a stovetop grill pan or broiler. Slice the eggplant 1/2-inch thick. Slice the zucchini lengthwise 1/4-inch thick. Brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill the sliced vegetables 3-4 minutes per side, until they have dark grill marks and are tender. Grill the whole peppers (or roast them over the flame of a gas burner), rotating them so that their skin is blistered and charred all over. Put them in a bowl and cover with a dishtowel to cool, 10-15 minutes. Peel, seed and slice them into narrow strips. Arrange the vegetables on a platter. Drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and a few drops red wine vinegar. Garnish with chopped flat-leaf parsley or mint. Roast the vegetables in a hot oven if you don’t want to grill.

*Marinated Olives: Mix green and black olives with enough extra virgin olive oil to coat them well. Sprinkle with orange zest, crushed fennel seed, red chile flakes (or minced fresh hot chile), and minced garlic. Toss and marinate several hours before serving.