Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pasta Primavera

Back in the '80s, when carbohydrates were virtuous and fat was evil (or something) pasta was all the rage. Even the Smurfs were in on the craze, although I'll admit that "Papa Smurf's Special Sauce" sounds less than appetizing. This carb-curious atmosphere was great for vegetarians, since pretty much any restaurant menu would offer several options, especially for those not opposed to eggs and/or dairy. High on this list was the ubiquitous pasta primavera, which was apparently the brainchild of some wankster foodie back in 1975, who felt jaded from a week of eating "lobster and boar" and decided to blow everyone's minds by cooking spaghetti. (Seriously, you think I can make this stuff up?)

And lucky for me and my kind that he did, because pasta primavera - drenched in a creamy sauce and topped with a blizzard of Parmesan; so much for that whole "low fat" thing - was among my go-to eating out dishes for several years. Time went by, Cyndi Lauper faded from our collective consciousness, men stopped wearing pastel sportcoats, shoulderpads dwindled in size and (like Princess Di herself) eventually disappeared, and it had been ages since I'd even thought about this old favorite until it occurred to me that pasta might be a good use for the fresh English peas that hadn't wound up in this soup.

And so it proved! In fact, this dish turned out so well that it's going on my "dinner party menu list"; if you really want to go for that Reagan-era gusto, you could serve it with white zinfandel (do you remember that stuff? It was like mildly boozy Juicy Juice), but personally I'd opt for a nice, dry sauvignon blanc.

Pasta Primavera
~ 1 tbsp. each: olive oil, Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1.5 cups halved grape tomatoes
~ 1 generous tsp. each: salt, basil
~ ½ tsp. oregano
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric (for color)
~ A few healthy grinds black pepper
~ ½ cup vegan Parmesan (homemade or store-bought)
~ ¼ cup nutritional yeast
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soymilk
~ 1 container vegan sour cream (I used Tofutti)
~ 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
~ 2 cups broccoli florets
~ 2 cups asparagus spears, cut into 1” pieces
~ 1.5 cups fresh green peas
~ 1 lb. radiatorifusilli, or other bite-size pasta
~ Chopped, fresh basil and/or parsley

~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the olive oil and margarine together and sauté the mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, tomatoes, salt, basil, oregano, turmeric, and pepper; cook about 2 minutes more.
~ Turn the heat to medium-low, add the Parmesan and nutritional yeast, and stir to combine. Gradually add the soymilk, stirring constantly.
~ Add the sour cream and mix well; continue cooking about 5 minutes more, until the sauce is smooth and thick. Stir in the fresh lemon juice, remove from heat, and set aside.
~ Bring a large, deep pot of water to a rolling boil and add the pasta, stirring once. When the pasta has about 4 minutes left to cook, add the broccoli, asparagus, and peas to the pot.
~ Drain the pasta and vegetables into a large container, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
~ Return the drained pasta and vegetables to the pot and add the sauce, stirring well to make sure everything is coated. If necessary, add a bit of your reserved pasta water to get the consistency you want.
~ Reheat gently just until hot, taste for seasoning, and serve immediately. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and additional Parmesan and/or nooch as desired.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fresh Pea and Spinach Soup with Coconut Milk

This lovely green soup is very loosely adaptated from a recipe in Deborah Madison's Local Flavorsrecommended in response to a Facebook plea for interesting uses for the English peas my partner brought home from Trader Joe's. The prototype looked interesting but a little dull, and having already taken my friend's suggestion to substitute Thai curry paste for oh-so-pedestrian curry powder, I decided to just throw away the playbook (does this sound at all familiar?) and "fix" it. 

I didn't have any fresh cilantro on hand and decided to substitute dried basil, but a generous handful of either fresh herb (or even mint) wouldn't come amiss, especially if added late in the process, so I've included them in the ingredients list. You can either partially puree the finished product or blend it until completely smooth; I chose the latter approach, and although I served it hot,  I think it would also be nice cold or room temperature soup in the upcoming, swampy summer moths. 

Fresh Pea and Spinach Soup with Coconut Milk
~ 4 cups no chicken broth
~ 2-3 tsp. Thai red curry paste
~ 1 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 1 large red onion, diced
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
~ ¼ cup white basmati rice
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, basil, garam masala
~ 2 heaping cups fresh, shelled English peas
~ 1 lb. frozen spinach, thawed and undrained
~ 2 cups coconut milk
~ ¼ cup fresh lime juice
~ A good handful of chopped, fresh basil, cilantro, or mint (optional)

~ In a large beaker, mix the broth with the curry paste and heat nearly to boiling. Set aside.
~ In a large, deep pot, melt the coconut and toasted sesame oils over medium heat, and add the onions. 
~ Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, and then add the garlic and ginger. Continue cooking for a minute or so, until fragrant.

~ Add the rice, salt, basil, and garam masala, and stir well to coat.
~ Pour in the broth/curry paste mixture, cover the pot, and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the rice is quite soft.
~ Return the soup to a boil, add the peas and thawed spinach, and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Remove from the heat, stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, and fresh herb if using. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth (you can add a little water at this juncture if it seems too thick).
~ Gently reheat the soup until hot but not boiling, and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Grilling "Cheese"

Yes, I realize that the image above is absolutely terrifying. But now that I've seen it, I'm not not about to keep it myself. (Sorry.)

Now let's talk about grilled cheese sandwiches: sometimes you just need one. I'm not generally a big buyer of commercial vegan cheese; lots of it is fine, some of it is great (OMG blue Cheezly when I can get it), but on the whole it's more of an occasional treat around here. So when that grilled cheese craving strikes and there's no processed analogue available, the options are limited: one can go shopping, give up on the idea entirely, or allow necessity to become the happy mother of invention. One recent craving hit on a day when I was disinclined to shop, and I really wanted that sandwich, so I chose option three and headed into the kitchen to see what could be done.

Google led me to the "gooey grilled cheese" from Jo Stepaniak's by-now classic Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, which I used as my basic model with one or two tweaks. The end result was a yummy, semi-soft, just spreadable  Welsh Rabbit/Cheez-Whiz hybrid, perfect for smooshing between two slices of bread and grilling. The finished product firms up as it sits, especially once it's been refrigerated, but softens quickly when heated; some additional liquid would give you an easy sauce for vegetables or pasta.

Grilling "Cheese"
~ 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/2 tsp. each: onion powder, salt, smoked paprika
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric (for color)
~ 2/3 cup water
~ 3 tbsp. tahini
~ 1 tbsp. ketchup
~ 1 tsp. each: Marmite, prepared English mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (optional; I used Frank's)

~ In a mixing bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients and set aside.
~ In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the water, tahini, ketchup, Marmite, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce (if using). Mix well and keep stirring until the ingredients are beginning to blend together.
~ Gradually add the combined dry ingredients and keep stirring constantly, until everything is incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
~ Bring nearly to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens (this will only take a minute or two). You can add a splash of water if it gets too gloppy; we're going for a texture similar to a thick tahini.
~ Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before spreading between sliced bread of your choice and grilling until browned. Any further additions like sliced tomatoes, tempeh bacon, sliced onions, etc. are entirely at your discretion.
~ Refrigerate any remaining cheese in an airtight container for further use.