Monthly Archives: April 2011

Stung

Bucatini with Garlicky Nettle Pesto 2

Stinging nettles taste green and earthy and wild, like cooked spinach would in a teen Goth stage – not surprising, considering they’re usually foraged in the wild and eaten relatively young. But as I’ve told you before, they come by their name honestly. Resist the urge to touch them or play with them as you dump them into a pot of simmering water to tame their poisonous attitude. When they’re raw, they sting.

Cooked, though. Cooked, a tangle of nettles whirls up into a beautiful pesto, more deeply flavorful than its basiled cousin and a better bed buddy for four large cloves of garlic. Last night, I made a fairly traditional pesto, only with the nettles, and smeared it on a marinated, roasted leg of lamb, so each bite had two punches of spring. Today, when I found myself standing at the stove, hands shoved deep into my back pockets while I slurped long bucatini directly out of the cooking pot I’d used to stir them with the leftover pesto, I knew I had a recipe to share.

That was yesterday. I wrote all that – what you see above there – and then I found out that dear Kim Ricketts had passed away. There will be no more writing about nettles.

Kim was the mama of Seattle’s food scene, a literary powerhouse who brought people together for the love of food and books. I can’t say I knew her well, but I knew her well enough to be touched by her energy and her kindness. And now, the morning after the news, yesterday’s recipe seems so appropriate, because what I really feel is stung. I feel scraped raw. And I don’t know how to begin mourning someone whose soul and spunk was so immortal.

So scratch the pasta. I mean, it was good, but scratch it. Make this pesto, and take it to someone you don’t see that often, someone whose light and effervescence makes the world a better place. And thank them for being alive.

Pot of pasta with nettle pesto

Garlicky Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Although most Seattleites find nettles at farmers’ markets this time of year, they’re also often available at Whole Foods Markets. Buy a bunch when you can, and double or triple this recipe, as needed, and freeze some, because my fortune-telling powers tell me you’ll want to twirl the pesto up with long pasta again long after the season has passed. If you have time to be thoughtful and a bit patient, you can add toasted breadcrumbs, for a bit of crunch, or chopped sundried tomatoes.

Time: 25 minutes active time
Makes: 1 generous cup

1/2 pound nettles
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer for the nettles. Add the nettles directly from their bag and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. (This denatures their sting.) Dump into a colander to drain. When the nettles are cool enough to handle, wrap them in a clean dishtowel and wring out as much moisture as possible, like you would for spinach. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, whirl the garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to taste until finely chopped. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whirl until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.

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Filed under farmer's market, grains, Lunch, Modern, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

Passover for procrastinators

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake 2

It’s a shame that my brother’s an environmental historian, because he’d make a damned fine food writer. He’d be one of those issues writers, verbose (in a good way) about Things That Need To Be Discussed. He’d be a good raw milk advocate, and he’d detail the best way to cure venison sausage, and he’d write about how a stranger fries trout in Tennessee, if there are really good trout in Tennessee. (I’m not one to know.) And every April, his Haggadah (PDF) – the religious guide to the Jewish Passover service that’s traditionally done the same way every year – would be anticipated like the New Yorker’s cartoon issue.

That’s how I see it. It’s not that I look forward to The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project – that’s what we’ve all come to call it, my family and the separate group of friends he shares Passover with each year in San Francisco – because I’m so into religion. On the contrary, I only really like the tradition of Passover because it instigates a familial bond we might not otherwise get every year when April rolls around. I don’t really observe, if by observe you mean cutting out everything but matzo. (I do add matzo to my diet, though, and as my sister points out, it makes fine fodder for a prosciutto and cream cheese sandwich, which is obviously Kosher.) I stink at remembering the story, and frankly, I don’t find it all that interesting, which means that reliably, on the day Passover starts, I’m frisking the internet for a dummy’s guide to the Seder plate when I get a nice long email from Josh. I know that makes me the world’s worst Jew, but seriously, doesn’t the whole schmegegge about Moses floating down the Nile in a wicker basket get more interesting when you learn that it was found on Craigslist, listed as a two-bedroom with on-site laundry?

Here, celebrating means channelling Josh’s voice, and a proper feast, and not much on the religious front.

This year, I’ll be celebrating with my husband and Graham, who might be actually old enough to find the matzo. My mom will be here, as will my sister, and whichever soul walks past the door when we open it. We’ll start with artichokes with homemade garlic aioli, then we’ll have matzo ball soup, fragrant with lemon peel and peppered with parsley. There will be brisket with carrots and parsnips, and sautéed spring greens, and roasted potatoes. And then, when we can’t possibly eat a bite more, we’ll have cake.

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake 1

Flourless cake is the Kate Moss of the pastry world. It always seems like it should be too anemic to stand up, but there it is, beautiful, even if you wish you didn’t think so. This version, structured with almond meal and eggs and flavored with bananas and cocoa, isn’t exactly congruent with the whole doing without concept that surrounds Passover. But you know what? Once you take a bite, I’m not sure you’ll be all that concerned.

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake (PDF)
Flourless cakes have been a Passover staple for ages. Although this simple, satisfying cake is made without chametz, you may find yourself making it all year long, because it carries the flavor of a chocolate-infused banana bread but only takes half the time to bake. The cream cheese ganache that tops it is like a cross between whipped cream and cream cheese frosting—serve it dolloped on top of the cake, with extra sliced bananas.

Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 8 servings

For the cake
Vegetable oil spray
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the cream cheese ganache
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup regular cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Note: If you can’t find almond meal, make your own: Toast slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Let cool completely, then grind cooled nuts in a food processor or coffee grinder.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-inch cake pan with the vegetable oil spray. Line the pan with a round of parchment paper, and spray the parchment. Set aside.

Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl with a large fork, then stir in the sugar, honey, salt, and vanilla. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs for about 1 minute on medium speed, or until foamy. Add the sweetened banana mixture, and mix again on medium-high speed until very smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond meal and cocoa powder, and mix on low speed until well blended. Add the canola oil, and pour the batter into the prepared pan. (It will be thin.)

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is slightly domed and firm in the center. Cool cake 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto cooling rack (run a small knife around the edges if necessary), then invert again onto a plate.

While the cake cools, make the cream cheese ganache: Beat the butter and cream cheese in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Add the cold cream and sugar, and whip again on high speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, for a minute or two, until light and fluffy.

Serve the cake with the cream cheese ganache, topped with extra banana slices.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, jewish

Two years

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No recipe today, just a quick hello.

For our refrigerator, the last few weeks have been awfully strange. First we were away. A few days after we got back, I got sick – only it was a beast of a thing. It wiped me out for days on end, so it’s probably more accurate to say I fell ill. It felt like falling in so many ways. I didn’t eat a proper meal for 6 days, until a lovely soul brought me homemade matzo ball soup at just the right time. I lost 11 pounds. I had trouble walking far, and thinking straight, and the part of me that’s me just wasn’t there. Then, as soon as it had come, it left.

When I was up again, it was suddenly Graham’s 2nd birthday, and the refrigerator was taken over by this cake. Yes, I made it, with cream cheese frosting and wheels made out of Thin Mints. The design wasn’t exactly my idea; it was Betty’s. (She’s so creative, that one!) I’ve never spent so much time making something so ridiculous, and I loved it. So did Graham.

I have a pot of pasta e fagioli on the stove this cloudy Sunday morning, simmering the age out of the kale and carrots and celery and leeks that have hibernated in the produce drawer through all of this, neglected but patient. And now, I have a fridge full of possibilities. Tonight there will be cari ga, a Vietnamese-style chicken curry stew with Kabocha squash and rice noodles, for the book. Tomorrow there will be an apple crisp, and possibly Thanksgiving in April, because what else is April 11th good for if not roasting a bird? There might be whole wheat cinnamon pull-apart bread, and roasted tomatoes, and the ultimate vinaigrette – not together, of course, but all there.

But this morning, there’s just the simmering.

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Filed under recipe