Over 10 years ago, my friend Karen offered to bring a spinach salad to one of our many Sunday night, 5 family dinners. Being the gracious hostess that I was, I gleefully said of course. Then I thought spinach salad, big whoop. Not so exciting, right? Wrong!
Spinach is spinach. It’s great in a baked pasta, sauteed with garlic, tossed in a big pot of lentil soup or eaten on a sandwich instead of lettuce. But spinach tossed with a dressing so out of the ordinary is addicting. The dressing is the perfect balance of savory and sweet therefore the “accessories” that are thrown in with the spinach is what makes this salad a winner.
A few years back, Karen picked up and moved her family back to Florida. But, she left her recipe and all of our great memories behind.
This is what spring looks like. Truly. So why not make a dish that takes the best of those green, grassy, sweet flavors, adds garlic, great olive oil and a hit of salt and serve it up in one dish? The subtle beauty of all these colors of green tangled together help us understand the idea of renewal inherent in the spring holiday celebrations of Easter or Passover.
In Italy it’s called cianfotta, the all purpose dish that changes with the seasons as new vegetables appear and leave the markets. This saute is one of my master recipes. Serve it as a side dish. Or to make it a bit more substantial for vegetarians add a handful of toasted pine nuts or almonds. For a one course dinner add nuts and a bit of soft or aged goat cheese.
This recipe is a template. You can add sliced and trimmed baby artichokes or fava beans. You may omit the mint or use onions instead of leeks. Some folks leave out the lettuce. It’s up to you.
Whether making a holiday meal or just a quick weeknight supper, finding a veggie side dish that packs a flavorful punch without a lot of fat or calories (and little effort or clean-up) is sometimes a mystery….so here’s one of my favorites: Oven Roasted Haricot Vert with Pistachio and Parmesan Gremolata.
Always skinny when naked–about 40 fat free calories per cup–Haricot Vert are simply very slender green beans that are loaded with nutrition.
But even in California, truly fresh haricots vert aren’t always easy to find...so, more often than not, I use the frozen ones that are available year ’round and don’t require blanching before roasting. (By the way, if you keep the frozen ones on hand, you’re likely to make them more often!)
And by sprinkling your beans with a rich but healthy Gremolata–a minced seasoning of parsley, garlic, lemon zest and a pinch of Parmesan and nuts–this quick and easy veg will have much more texture and flavor than any simple green bean dish…but with little extra work.
How can anyone resist tart and tiny kumquats, sitting so cute and bright in the produce department at the grocery store? They just look happy. I buy them every year as soon as they make their first seasonal appearance. I never have a plan for them when I set them in my basket, but it doesn’t matter. I buy the organic kumquats, rinse them well and, after I’ve cut the stem ends off, I pop them into my mouth one after the other, as if they were orange jelly beans.
Yes, these little cuties are totally edible, although they do have seeds hiding inside that seem large for such a tiny fruit. To remove seeds, slice kumquats in half and squeeze them gently and the seeds will pop out.
The skin is tender and sweet, while the flesh can be dry and very tart, compared with oranges. Kumquats that are soft will be less juicy, but they are perfectly acceptable for most uses. Store them in a plastic bag in the fruit drawer of the refrigerator for up to three weeks. One kumquat has about 12 calories and is a good source of vitamin C.
Every Friday night I like to do pasta night. I love pasta dishes because they're quick to make and so satisfying to eat. And they don't at all need to be complicated. Sometimes all you need are a few pantry staples like canned tomatoes, capers, or olives to make a delicious sauce that doesn't take hours to cook. That's the true appeal of pasta.
Oftentimes when I don't feel like eating meat I'll whip together a vegetarian-style pasta or I'll make a quick Carbonara. Other times I'll make pasta with fish, adding seared cubes of fish to finish cooking in the sauce—you'd be surprised how wonderful fish is with tomato sauce. This recipe for pasta with swordfish is one of my favorites.
The best part about this recipe is that you use one pan (not including the pasta pot). Start by making the lemon and parsley crumb topping. Then wipe out the pan and sear the fish. And finally make the sauce and cook the pasta. Once it's all done, add the fish back to the pan along with the pasta to let the flavors mingle. Serve the pasta sprinkled with the crumbs instead of grated Parmesan, since cheese on fish is frowned upon by Italians (and I happen to agree with that assessment). Enjoy this dish for dinner any night—it's also great for Lent.
There’s no place like Hollywood for star-gazing …
And to catch a star grazing, there are few places better than the venerable Ivy on West Hollywood’s trendy Robertson Boulevard.
Since this famed eatery opened its doors almost 30 years ago, one of its most consistent stars has never appeared on the guest list… but is, instead, found on the menu.
Mixed greens, topped with delicately charred peppers, zucchini, asparagus, corn and mesquite grilled chicken and/or shrimp, The Ivy’s Grilled Vegetable Salad is one of the most well known and well loved dishes in town.
But with its 28 dollar price, it’s not a salad many can order every day. Now, you can make this skinny version of that signature salad at home….saving money and calories!
Who’s the star now?
A couple of weekends ago at the Little Italy Mercato, as I was peacefully sorting through ears of sweet corn, I heard a woman scream, "Oh, my God! I can't believe it!"
Curious, I followed the voice, and noticed a woman a few tables ahead with her arms waving wildly in the air. She was talking rapidly and loudly and began jumping as if she were standing on hot coals.
"Oh, my God! I haven't seen that since I lived in Italy," she exclaimed.
What? What hadn't she seen since she lived in Italy? Gargantuan globe artichokes? We have those in San Diego. Mint green Vespas? Got 'em. A hot Italian guy? We have many of them, especially at Sogno di Vino and Bencotto in Little Italy. You're welcome, ladies.
Turns out what thrilled her was finding agretti, a springtime Mediterranean succulent, or water-retaining plant. With its verdant color and feathery texture, agretti looks like a cross between fennel fronds, rosemary, and grass.
Things we didn’t know about asparagus:
- That is has male and female flowers on separate plants, although occasionally hermaphrodite flowers bloom.
- That South Korean scientists claim it’s an excellent hangover cure.
- That it’s long been thought of as a safeguard against gout.
- That warm water from asparagus cooking may help heal blemishes on the face.
- That it’s a source of energy.
- That it may be beneficial as a laxative.
That according to The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight by Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Nafzawi published in the 15th Century in Arabic and first translated to English from the French edition by Sir Richard Francis Burton, it has aphrodisiac effects.
And giving credit where credit is due, all of these facts were learned from Wikipedia and (official disclaimer) in some instances, there’s a peg that says “citation needed”. Having said that, we love asparagus. Back in the day when it was always served with Hollandaise Sauce to it’s more modern versions – asparagus soup; served cold with a balsamic vinaigrette; served warm with butter and lemon. It’s elegant and festive and since it’s spring, it’s also in season.
Grilled Asparagus Salad with POM Vinaigrette | Shaved Asparagus Salad | Cold Poached Asparagus with Basil Mayonnaise | Roasted Asparagus & Grape Tomatoes with Crumbled Feta | Roasted Asparagus with Sage Infused Brown Butter | Sauteed Asparagus with Hazelnut Crumble
I think most people who shop at farmers’ markets are willing to pay a little more for produce because it’s fresher. There are certain items, however, that are notorious for causing people to balk, such as passionfruit, figs, and, currently, cherries.
These fruits all share common traits: they are unique in flavor and appearance, their season is maddeningly short, and they elicit awe in their viewers. Seriously. This past Sunday, I was expecting harp music to start emanating from the cherry table. It’s no surprise; who can resist gushing over fresh cherries? Both kids and adults are smitten by their cheerful color and juicy sweetness. In fact, one farmer was generously offering samples of bing cherries (pictured above) and was practically sainted by grateful market-goers. It doesn’t take much to make us happy.
Despite our love affair with this precious fruit, some people can’t help but haggle over the price, which is about $6-8 per pound. Let me tell you something: No amount of pleading or applauding will get farmers to budge on the price. Why? Because cherries are difficult to grow. They are highly susceptible to insect damage and disease and need to be carefully monitored. They are also highly dependent upon good weather. Even if the cherries make it to fruition, they are prey to birds that are attracted to their bright red color and sweet juice, and typically need to be protected with netting or cheesecloth. Finally, they must picked carefully and are highly perishable, since they do not ripen once harvested. This all adds up to a labor intensive and expensive fruit to produce, which is why the price is high.
If the name of this dish alone doesn't pull you in, then let me explain to you how wonderful it is. Okay, it's wonderful. Believe me.
I truly feel leeks are under-utilized in cuisine in general. Yes, we throw them into soups for some flavor. But when you bake them with some cream and garlic and cheese.....oh my goodness, heaven.
If you need a side dish for your steak, your chicken, your pork chop or whatever, partner it up with this dish and everyone will be happy. The flavors are savory with a bit of sweet from the caramelization that takes place. It's heaven.
A must try. Get to the store and pick up some leeks. You won't be sorry you did.