Arugula, Lamb’s Quarters, and Goat Cheese Salad

Yesterday offered a sobering reminder of why gluttony is a sin. Fred and I joined a friend at our beloved  Federal to watch Butler and VCU in the Final Four. I found myself drinking barley wine, a deceptively named beer that even I, normally not a beer drinker, could enjoy. We dug into a plate of fries, then moved on to a pork belly sandwich (Fred ordered, I sampled). We downed a mountain of nachos. 

After seeing a plate of nachos with guacamole at a nearby table, however, and realizing that we had at least 30 more minutes of basketball remaining, I decide that additional nachos were needed. This was a serious error. The onslaught of more cheese, beans, sour cream, and chips–now with guacamole thrown in–proved devastating to internal systems already groaning under the weight of the garlic fries and the barley wine. The rest of the evening was lost to a food coma of monumental proportions. I’m still recovering.

The moral of the story? Greens are your friend. Greens will make up for a multitude of sins. Greens are what I will eat for the rest of this week. (Guacamole does not count as a green.)

Most importantly, greens are delicious, and the Durham Farmers’ Market has some beautiful examples right now, including some I’ve never tried. Recently, for instance, I picked up lamb’s quarters, pictured below. They may look like tree leaves, but they have a mild flavor–more like lettuce than a green–with a light peach-like fuzz that disappears after they’re washed.

I bought Russian kale as well. (Note the continuation of the tree leaf theme.) This is a mild kale, and the purple adds a nice bit of color.

Most people recommend lightly sauteing these greens before serving. I’ve found, however, that both lend themselves quite well to salad. The lamb’s quarters, in particular, offered the perfect balance for some sharpish arugula we picked up on the same day. The resulting salad was, according to a friend who came over for dinner, the best he’s ever had. Truth be told, it was even better than the nachos.

Arugula, Lamb’s Quarters, and Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 4

Salad
6 cups mixed lamb’s quarters and arugula, large stems removed from lamb’s quarters, all greens rinsed and dried
4 spring onions, all but 1″ of green part removed, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, or to taste

Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large clove garlic, cut into six pieces
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. fine grain sea salt, or to taste (can substitute regular or kosher salt)
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in small bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes or so. Place greens in large bowl. Remove garlic pieces from dressing. Whisk dressing again and pour over greens. Add additional salt and pepper to taste and toss. Add onions and goat cheese. Toss one more time before serving.

Other ingredients that work in this salad: Mushrooms, cubed Granny Smith or other sour apple, chicken, Parmesan cheese instead of the goat cheese.

Going Home

I am pleased–and most importantly, my mother is pleased–to report that it looks like we are returning to Atlanta in just a couple of months. I’ve accepted a new job there and am looking forward to getting back. Fred has already laid bets with his best friend on the chances of Braves third baseman Chipper Jones suffering a season-ending injury before July 4. One of them will get a steak dinner out of this. It’s entirely possible I’ll end up cooking it either way.

In any case, posting will be sporadic over the next couple of months, much as it has been over the last few weeks as we made this decision and worked to get our house(s) ready to sell.

Today, I’d like to pay homage to the Durham Farmers Market, which I will miss when we return to Atlanta. Specifically, I’d like to honor the pea shoots that have been available there for the last three weeks, if you arrive early enough.

I sincerely hope that they will be available this Saturday. They are a miraculous little green, with the taste of tender, leafy snow peas–a little sweet, somewhat crunchy, with a delicate, almost minty flavor.

You don’t really need to know how to cook them. It’s okay to stand in the kitchen and stuff them into your mouth by the handful, like potato chips. They also infuse any salad with a gourmet air–add them to your mix of lettuces and put a little sign by the serving bowl that says, “Local lettuce and pea shoot mix with something-infused oil.”

So far, though, my favorite way to enjoy them is over pasta.

Here’s the recipe, such as it is. It is very forgiving. I never seem to make it the same way twice, and it’s always good.

Pea Shoots with Pasta

Makes 2 meal-size servings. This dish will also work with other tender young greens, like cress or creasy greens, also available now.

1/2 lb. linguini, spaghetti, or fettucini
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
6 small scallions, sliced, including some of the green part
3 – 4 cups pea shoots, rinsed and dried
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan

Following directions on package, put salted water for pasta on to boil. Meanwhile, add butter and olive oil to large skillet. Heat on medium high heat until butter melts. Add scallions and saute until tender, 3 – 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Finish preparing pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Add pea shoots to skillet. Pour pasta over top. Add generous amounts of salt and pepper and mix until pea shoots have just wilted. Pour additional olive oil over pasta, to taste. (About 1 – 2 tablespoons should be enough.) Transfer to two serving bowls. Top with Parmesan cheese and additional salt and pepper if desired.

Green Tomato Salsa

Earlier this summer, I described the avalanche of  produce that nearly overwhelmed the tiny congregation of St. John’s Presbyterian Church, where Fred serves as a parish associate for the arts and I now serve on the garden committee. God was blessing our efforts. He (or She) was returning me to my farming roots, though it would have been nice if He (or She) had not caused me to look quite so much like an ancient mountain woman in the process.

But now He (or She) has decided to bless us with weeks of bright sunny days without a rain cloud in sight. We were also blessed with an abundance of tomato plants along with a generous helping of ignorance. Thus, close planting, a failure to prune, and the lack of rain all combined to produce plants that eked out only green tomatoes, which brooded on the vines until, depressed by their own failure to ripen, they flung themselves to the ground and rotted in despair.

Next door, however, the peppers were having quite the merry fiesta. They lived in a flourishing village that basked in the sun and was clearly up to something in the evenings, judging by the abundance of baby peppers that popped up with alarming regularity. (The proximity to all this merriment probably contributed to the tomatoes’ demise.)

What were we to do? Earlier in the summer we’d dreamed of tomato sandwiches, of winter shelves lined with rows of home-canned summer tomatoes, of freezers packed with homemade tomato sauce. But our hopes were dashed along with those of the pitiful green tomatoes who could not bring themselves to turn red.

I found a solution recently in this salsa, just in time for the green tomatoes that other gardeners with happier plants will soon be harvesting. It’s roughly based on a tomatillo recipe from Rick Bayless’s Salsa That Cook. While I’m not sure about the wisdom of substituting tomatillos for green tomatoes regularly, it worked quite well here. The salsa packs quite a bit of heat, but you can adjust that by using fewer peppers.

After one day, the brightness and the heat of the salsa had mellowed and the roasted flavor came to the forefront. If you want the salsa hot, I recommend serving it the same day; if you’d prefer a more mellow version, wait 24 hours before serving.

The salsa is wonderful with fish or shrimp as well–a serving suggestion is below. I can only hope the little green tomatoes have found their purpose in life now.

Green Tomato Salsa

Makes about 4 cups

A dozen small green or partially red tomatoes
6 serrano or other hot green peppers (more or less to taste)
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
Kosher salt
Sugar (about 1 tsp., or more to taste)
Cream, sour cream, or any kind of South American cream (Mexican, Honduran, Salvadoran) (optional)

Place oven rack about four inches below the broiler flame. (For me, this is the second slot from the top–do not place too close to the heat.) Set tomatoes on baking sheet. Roast with broiler on high about six minutes on one side, then turn and roast for an additional six minutes. The tomatoes will be dark brown to black. Set aside to cool, about 20 minutes.

While tomatoes are roasting, place a sturdy skillet on a medium high flame (no oil). Remove stems from the peppers. Place peppers in skillet and roast until blackened in spots, about 10 minutes.

Cut up onion while peppers are roasting and set aside. Once tomatoes are done, remove them to a bowl. Lower oven rack to the middle level. Set oven temperature to 425. (It should already be preheated from broiling the tomatoes.) Scatter the onions over the baking sheet (no need to wash it) and bake, stirring every few minutes, until translucent and blackened or dark brown in spots, 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes.

Place whole peppers and onions in food processor and pulse, scraping down sides of bowl regularly, until ingredients are minced. Add whole tomatoes (peels, cores, and all) and pulse until finely chopped. (Add water if it is too thick.) Add plenty of salt and sugar to taste. Serve immediately with chips for a very hot salsa or wait 24 hours for a more mellow version. Add cream if desired–it will mitigate the heat.

Shrimp Tortillas with Green Tomato Salsa

Serves 2 — a good way to use the extra salsa!

16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp. olive oil
2 – 3 cups Green Tomato Salsa, above
3 – 6 tbps. half and half
Grated mild cheese to taste (we used plain old cheddar, but Mexican queso seco might be better)
Spinach
6 small corn tortillas

Heat oven to 350. Place tortillas on baking sheet and set in oven to warm. (You will need to check on them frequently to make sure they don’t crisp up–once they are warm and soft, turn off oven and let them sit.) Heat olive oil on medium high heat for a few minutes. Add salsa and cream. Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. (Add more cream if it looks like it might burn.) Add shrimp and cook just a few minutes, stirring frequently, until shrimp have just pinkened, adding more cream if necessary. Remove tortillas from oven. Spoon shrimp mix into tortillas, top with spinach and cheese, fold over, and serve.

Shrimp, Corn, and Squash Soup

Nothing makes me crabbier than fall. That cheerfully crisp weather, that can-do spirit that forces you off the porch and into some useful activity–it’s all too horrible to contemplate for very long.

This year, though, good news has buoyed me up, helping me to face fall’s dreadful enthusiasm with a sense of hope: The Louisiana shrimpers are headed out into the Gulf again.

For me, the Gulf oil spill has loomed all summer like . . . well, like the black oily cloud it is, seeping into the fragile marshes, threatening the livelihoods of shrimpers and fishermen even more than cheap seafood from China, oozing into delicate marine life and causing damage we may not fully realize for years. Still, earlier this week the shrimpers were out on the water again. They didn’t catch much. But there’s a little hope.

To celebrate, I’m offering this soup recipe that I developed at the beach, using these gorgeous shrimp from the North Carolina coast, caught the same day they were served. Fred’s little camera doesn’t begin to do them justice.

This dish is a lot less complicated than it looks. If you can boil water, you can make the shrimp stock, and it cooks while you prepare the other ingredients. Besides, there’s almost no way to mess up the combination of fresh corn, squash, and shrimp–a hearty yet delicately flavored combination that may well be the perfect summer dish, just in time for summer to end.

You can, of course, cheat by using frozen shrimp and corn and substituting water or chicken broth for the shrimp stock. But you’ll regret it. And you need to help the shrimpers get back out there.

Shrimp, Corn and Squash Soup

Serves 6

Kernels from 6 shucked ears of fresh sweet corn (do not substitute frozen)
6 small to medium yellow crookneck squash, quartered lengthwise and sliced (may substitute 1 – 2 small zucchini for 1 – 2 of the squash for added color)
2 tbsp. olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh jalapenos, minced (optional)
1 lb. large fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 3 pieces each; shrimp peels and tails set aside in bowl
Water
1 15 oz. can evaporated milk
Salt to taste

Begin by making the shrimp stock. Place shrimp peels and tails in medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain stock into bowl, discard peels and tails, and set aside.

While stock is boiling, sauté onion in olive oil in large pot on medium high heat until translucent. Add garlic and jalapenos and stir. Add squash and sauté until tender, about 5 – 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Pulse in food processor until very finely chopped. Return to pot. Add corn. Cover with shrimp stock and increase heat to high; add water just to cover if there is not enough stock. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium low. Add evaporated milk, cover, and simmer until corn is tender. Cooking times can vary significantly depending on the type of corn you use, anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes; taste periodically until the corn is tender but not starchy. When corn is cooked, reduce heat to lowest possible flame. Add shrimp and cover; cook about 3 minutes or until shrimp are cooked.

Cucumber-Avocado Soup

Several events converged in the making of cucumber-avocado soup yesterday.

 A reminder that The Newlyfeds is about the stories and food, not the photos

The first was last month’s family trip to Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where we made our annual pilgrimage to Hege’s. Hege’s is a “brasserie Francais classique” focusing primarily on seafood. (Fred, of course, ordered steak.) On this trip, they offered a cucumber-avocado soup as a special. It was so good that even my seven-year-old niece loved it. The color was the perfect green for this kind of soup but it’s hard to describe exactly what it was–the only thing that comes to mind is a very unappetizing comparison to a 1970s appliance, only about six shades lighter. Or maybe the minty color of a bedspread you’d get at Pottery Barn.

Color aside, the soup somehow managed to taste like neither cucumber nor avocado, but a summer evening, with a dash of cream and chives. (The server claims there was no cream in the dish, but I am sure he lied–see below). I was determined to try this at home.

The second event was the avalanche of produce that is coming out of the nascent community garden at our church, St. John’s Presbyterian.

You can see the cucumber plants in the fourth box from the front. There are a lot of cucumbers buried in those plants–so many that our small congregation can’t quite manage all of them. And there’s parsley, enough to supply the entire city of Durham for the remainder of 2010. 

Here, of course, was my opportunity to re-create that spectacular cucumber-avocado soup, only this time with parsley in place of the chives. I was a bit reluctant to replace those chives, since they complemented the other flavors of the soup so well. But I hated to see that parsley go to waste, and there’s only so much tabbouleh that one person can eat.

The parsley was a stroke of genius. As a garnish, it added crunchiness and a gentle undertone, with a hint of creamy pine nut balancing its natural sharpness. And like the original, this soup tasted just like summer.

Cucumber-Avocado Soup

4 servings

4 large cucumbers, seeded and roughly chopped
1 avocado
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp. Salvadoran or Honduran creme
2 tbsp. heavy cream or half and half
6 – 8 large Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves, plus generous amounts for garnish (about 1 cup)
2 mint leaves, torn (optional, but these smooth out the flavor)
Salt to taste
Water

Scoop avocado from peel and remove pit. Puree cucumber, avocado, and garlic in food processor until finely minced. Add remaining ingredients except for water and pulse in food processor a few seconds at a time until ingredients are combined. Add water until soup reaches the consistency of thin grits or whatever you prefer. Garnish with very generous amounts of parsley.

The soup is best if served immediately. The avocado will create a brownish film on top of the soup if it is kept overnight.

Note: The creams and avocado make this a rich dish, and I noticed a bit of greasiness around my mouth after each bite that some might find unpleasant. To correct this I would suggest reducing the Salvadoran creme to a teaspoon and substituting half and half or whole milk for the heavy cream, or even omitting these and adding chicken broth until the dish is the proper consistency. I did not have chicken broth on hand when I made this, and that may well be what Hege’s used to get the right flavor instead of cream. But I still think the server lied.

Roasted Persimmon Salsa

In addition to the loss of our beloved Louise, June has been a trying month for The Newlyfeds. That’s primarily because my work takes me traveling across the country to Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church. There’s generally not much to report food-wise on these trips, unless you fantasize about hotel banquet meals.

Perhaps this overabundance of salad topped with chicken breast, combined with our current explorations of Durham’s taqueria scene, has led me to explore spicier food–along with the prodding of my dear neighbor, Melissa. During one cat-sitting stint for us, she looked over my cookbook collection and upon our return declared, “Your cookbooks seem kind of outdated for someone who writes about food.”

I tried to explain that a) I liked to collect older cookbooks and b) we were too cheap to buy new ones. She raised her eyebrows, looking at me just as my mother did about 40 years ago when I tried to tell her that it was Cindy Riden’s idea to “decorate” my bedroom furniture in magic marker and crayon.

“You can buy used cookbooks on Amazon for practically nothing,” she said. “Come over to my house and look over some of mine. You can even borrow them.”

That’s how I ended up with her copies of Rick Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time and Mexican Kitchen–two thorough, engaging books that have set me off on a new journey through Mexico’s foodways. Melissa was finally able to pry the books out of my greedy, grasping fingers after several weeks, but fortunately Fred stepped in and bought me copies for my 45th birthday on June 16, along with the newer Salsas that Cook.

I’ve especially enjoyed the salsas, which have introduced me to the technique of roasting garlic and peppers in a skillet to bring out their flavors, then adding to roasted tomatoes.

Inspired by these and by the purchase of some persimmons on a trip to Atlanta, I came up with the recipe below. It’s reminiscent of peach or mango salsa, but not treacly as those can be. Instead, it offers just a hint of sweetness followed by a considerable kick.

If you’ve never tried persimmons, they’re common in the South though not always easily found in the store. The trees grew wild on our farm in Tennessee. These wild ones must be very ripe before they’re eaten; unripe, the taste resembles lemon infused with chalk. The ones you’ll find in stores are a little more forgiving, tasting a bit like a not too sweet apricot with hints of orange. For this recipe, use the ripest ones you can find, or let them ripen on your counter for a few days–the sweeter persimmons help balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

Roasted Persimmon Salsa
 
2 whole unpeeled, very ripe persimmons (available in most stores)
2 whole unpeeled tomatoes
1-2 whole jalapeno peppers
3 whole cloves unpeeled garlic
Salt to taste
Chopped onion and fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

Set oven rack about 6 inches below broiler and turn broiler on high. Place persimmons and tomatoes on baking sheet with rim. Roast in oven about 6 minutes on each side until blackened in spots. Remove and let cool on sheet.

Meanwhile, place garlic and jalapenos in ungreased skillet on medium high heat. Roast on stove top until blackened in spots, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Remove stems from jalapenos and peel garlic. Chop in food processor or blender a few seconds, until minced. Cut out tops of persimmons and tomatoes and discard; peel if desired. Add to jalapenos and garlic in food processor or blender, along with juice. Chop coarsely and salt to taste. Garnish with onion and cilantro if desired.

Red Turnips, Scallops, and Pasta

I continue to grovel for nearly killing Fred last week, and yesterday some some scallops offered a chance for redemption. (They came from Walking Fish, our community sponsored fishery, which I’ve raved about so much in this blog that they need to start paying me.)

My first thought was to serve them over pasta, with a side salad that included this bunch of red turnips, picked up at the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday and so in desperate need of eating.

The turnips are white on the inside, laced with red, and with a thick scarlet ring around the edge when sliced. They would have been beautiful in a salad, especially with their greens mixed in. Unfortunately, though, they tasted like–turnips. Really sharp turnips. So cooking was in order, and I considered serving them mixed with the scallops.

But I dispensed with this idea when I saw the scallops, just a few hours out of the ocean.  They were everything you hope for in a scallop–sweet, buttery, tender little pillows that needed only a quick visit to the skillet. They deserved star billing, not to be sullied by any association with pasta or, God forbid, turnips.

Thus the turnips, with their greens, ended up on top of the pasta. The idea was inspired in the vaguest sort of way by a visit to Liguria, Italy, in 1994, when I first had potatoes and pasta with pesto–the moment I came to understand that anything, even another starch, could be served pasta and it would be good.

My scallop technique comes from Cook’s Illustrated’s book The Best Recipe, though really the only technique you need for scallops is not to overcook them. The recipe includes a nice sauce made from the pan juices, and it occurred to me that a variation on that sauce would be good with the turnips. (“Variation” may be the wrong word here, since I left out everything in the recipe except butter, white wine, and parsley and added turnips, garlic and turnip greens.)

The meal below looks more complicated than it is. I’ve written out the recipe in some detail because the timing is critical–but the whole thing took only 30 minutes from the moment the ingredients came out of the refrigerator.

And it’s worth it. Fred declared this one of the best meals we’ve had–though he thought the addition of sausage might help. Only the fact that I put him in the emergency room last week kept me from killing him right there.

Scallops, Red Turnips, and Pasta

Serves 2

Scallops
14 medium to large scallops
1 – 2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper

Turnips and Pasta
6 small red turnips, washed, greens and ends trimmed, sliced into 1/2″ wide strips
Greens from turnips, stems trimmed, washed, dried, and cut into 3″ wide strips
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 – 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 – 1 cup white wine
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 lb penne pasta
Butter and salt for pasta

This recipe goes quickly once you begin cooking, so it is important to have everything ready.

1. Prepare vegetables and set aside.
2. Set scallops out on a plate and salt and pepper to taste. Set out additional clean plate, with foil to cover, for cooked scallops.
3. Put salted water for pasta on to boil. (Follow package directions.)
4. Heat large skillet on medium high heat for about 2 minutes. Once skillet is heated, add butter and swirl until bottom of skillet is coated. Cook until butter is lightly brown, a few minutes.
5. Add scallops quickly, one at at time. Cook for 1 minute. Turn individually and cook for an additional minute. You want to undercook the scallops a bit, as they will continue to cook a little on the plate. Turn off heat and transfer scallops to plate. Keep in warm place until ready to serve. (Covered on top of or near the stove is fine, or in a warming tray on the lowest possible heat.)
6. Watch the pasta water while you are preparing the other ingredients and add pasta to water once it comes to a boil. Cook according to package directions and keep an eye on it so it doesn’t overcook. When pasta is done, drain it, return to cooking pot, add butter and salt, and cover until ready to serve.
7. Return heat on skillet to medium. Add 1 – 2 tablespoons butter until melted. Add wine, enough to cover bottom of the pan, and scrape bottom to remove brown bits. Add turnips and salt to taste. Cover and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes.
8. Add greens. Cook an additional 2 – 3 minutes, covered, until greens have just wilted.
9. Remove lid from turnips and continue cooking just a few minutes more. Serve turnips over pasta and garnish with parsley, with scallops on the side.