Roasted Cauliflower with Olives & Capers

by Caroline

The deeper the Giants play into the post-season, the more excited my family gets. I stuck to my promise to make caramel corn for the pennant games, and this weekend (despite the approaching candy-bonanza of Halloween) I will make It’s-Its to cheer on our World Series chances. But a family has to eat dinner, too, and we can’t eat black bean and sweet potato enchiladas every day. When I found an orange cauliflower in our CSA share last week, it seemed like a sign, so although the cauliflower loses its orange tint when you roast it, I’m posting this recipe again; it’s a great dinner, it’s black and orange(ish), and it’s easy to prep ahead of time and pull together, if you need to, between innings.

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower

1 large head of cauliflower

1/3 c pitted olives, very coarsely chopped (or more, to taste)

2-3 tbsp capers (again, more or less depending on how salty you like things)

1 pound of pasta

olive oil

freshly ground black pepper, grated Parmesan cheese, and chopped parsley to taste; toasted bread crumbs would be a nice addition, too, if you happen to have them

Preheat the oven to 400 and put up a big pot of water to boil.

Break the cauliflower up into bite-sized florets (this is the most time-consuming part of the recipe). Toss the cauliflower onto a large baking pan, with the olives and capers, and drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil over the lot. Roast, stirring once or twice, for about 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and starting to brown a bit around the edges. You can do this much ahead of time and then leave the cauliflower out until you’re ready to cook the pasta. The cooled cauliflower will warm quickly if you toss it with the drained pasta in your still-hot pasta cooking pot.

Toward the end of the cauliflower-cooking time, boil the pasta. When it’s done, drain, reserving a half cup or so of the pasta water. Toss the pasta back into the cooking pot with the roasted cauliflower, olives and capers. Add some of the pasta water if it seems too dry. Serve with lots of freshly ground black pepper, grated cheese, a sprinkling of parsley, and some bread crumbs.

Pumpkin Toast

by Lisa

Our children’s school has a great tradition of hosting a social for the parents (only!) of each grade in the early months of the year.  Some of Ella’s third grade class has been together since pre-school & it’s a terrific group of parents and children. This year, our enterprising room parents decided on a wine tasting + bring your own tapas party, and it was inspired.  We have a lot of great cooks in the class who brought things like sesame glazed chicken drumettes, bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with an almond, several varieties of stuffed mushrooms, a warm artichoke dip, etc. etc.

Staying with our theme of fall rooting for our team, I made Pumpkin Toast, a recipe I found in Food and Wine years ago and have been making every fall I remember.  The original recipe is here. Below is the version that has evolved in my house.

Pumpkin Toast with Cilantro Pesto

  • Pumpkin puree (from a can, or roasted and pureed fresh)
  • Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese, finely grated, about 1 cup, depending on pumpkin
  • Cilantro, 1 bunch
  • garlic, 1-2 cloves
  • Toasted walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Bread–whatever you like, a whole grain loaf is terrific with the pumpkin, but I use Italian all the time–sliced into rounds or thin strips.
  1. Mix equal amounts pumpkin puree and grated cheese.  One can of pumpkin + an equal amount of cheese is a good amount for one loaf of bread. Set aside
  2. In a food processor, mix one bunch cilantro leaves, garlic, a handful of walnuts, more cheese + enough olive oil to make a pesto.
  3. Spread a layer of pesto on each bread slice.
  4. Top pesto with a generous spoonful of pumpkin + cheese.
  5. Top, if you like, with toasted walnuts, or a little shredded cheese. Or nothing.
  6. Toast in a 400 degree oven until bread is slightly crisp and pumpkin is warmed through.

We ate a variation of this last night with our dinner. To make it quicker for a weeknight, we toasted just the pumpkin + cheese mix on bread. It’s not quite as good without the pesto, but it’s a great family side dish/appetizer for a cold night.

More orange appetizers for the SF Giants Game!

Puntarella. And what to do if you can’t find any.

by Lisa

The original story of Rapunzel involves a plant called rampion. This is the plant that the pregnant woman sees in her neighbor’s yard and for which she longs uncontrollably. She says things like, “I will die if I can’t eat some of that rampion.” So her husband steals some for her. Still, she is not satisfied. More theft ensues.  The neighbor, unfortunately, is a witch, who catches the vegetable thieves.  The witch promises the unhappy couple all the rampion the wife desires in return for the unborn child. Thus, the eponymous Rapunzel. Thus the tower and the hair and the unfortunate blind prince and all those years in the wilderness.  I wonder a little if the title of this tale refers to the little girl and her unfortunate fate or to the addictive plant which led to the illicit activity that led to her miserable life.  Rapunzel may be the first child in literature traded for a vegetable. Or her mother’s cravings. Or she may be evidence that the husband loved the wife more than the unborn daughter.

I am not announcing here that I am pregnant (I am not.) Nor am I writing about rampion.  Nor even about weird things that pregnant women eat. The story of Rapunzel has been obsessing me lately because it is puntarelle season here, and puntarelle makes me crazy. As in Rapunzel’s mother crazy. I would not say that puntarelle is my favorite food. In fact, I forget about it completely 10 months out of the year, and then one Sunday–bam!–there it is and I am completely unable to control myself. I cannot get enough of it. I hoard it and spend hours preparing it. I eat bowls of it all day long. I might even steal it out of a witch’s yard.

Three bunches of puntarelle, unprepared. I ate 2 by myself. The other I shared.

Puntarelle is in the chicory family. It has long, serrated leaves like dandelion, a pale white, tender interior, and alien looking spikes that are hollow inside. It is bitter. It is so bitter that my kids won’t touch it.  Kory likes it, but not as much as I do. I like this arrangement. There’s more for me.

It’s an odd, slightly time-consuming vegetable to prepare. First, I chop or strip off the dark green leaves.  These can be tossed raw into a salad if you like bitter things. Or you can chop them and sautee them in olive oil with some salt, and carmelized onion or shallot or garlic. You can squeeze a bit of lemon over it. The leaves are tender crisp and slightly bitter and the very best green I’ve ever eaten.

Puntarelle is on the top. Paired with braised beef and smashed celery root and potatoes.

The core and the spikes and the  pale white bits take more work. These you slice into the thinnest slivers you can imagine,then you set them in a bowl of ice water. Leave it over night in the refrigerator, and in the morning they will be gently curled, crisp tendrils. Think lovely little curls of tender bitter greens. Like celery with a pedigree. These you drain, dry and dress with a classic vinaigrette of:

  • garlic clove smashed with coarse salt
  • smashed anchovy (from a glass jar)
  • lemon juice or lemon juice and red wine vinegar in equal amounts
  • olive oil (twice as much as juice/vinegar)

Puntarelle salad with garlic and anchovy dressing. Paired with gazpacho and country potato salad.

But since puntarelle is really hard to find, if the idea of fresh, crisp, lovely curled salad appeals to you, you can do exactly the same thing with celery, and then you get much of the deliciousness and none of the bitterness. This celery variation is one my kids love. In fact, I made it for years before I discovered puntarelle. And the minute I learned how to prepare punterelle I knew that this Celery Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette from Food and Wine must have been adapted from a classic puntarelle preparation.   It’s not quite as addictive as the puntarelle version, but it’s pretty close.  And you won’t have to worry about witches. At least until the end of the month.

Weeknight Strategies: Salads + Spaghetti

by Lisa

Like all other families with school age kids, we’re back in full swing,which means afterschool activities most days of the week, homework for the 3rd grader, and a generally full schedule from 3-6:30, which is more or less when my kids start getting ready for bed.  We have an early lights out around here, basically because my two need it to stay tantrum free rested.  This discipline really does work to keep the peace here, day after day, but it does mean getting dinner on the table fast and early.  This can be a challenge when we don’t get home from swimming or soccer until 5:15 or 5:45 pm.  I have to plan ahead, know what I want to cook, what I need to prep at lunch or after school while Ella is doing homework, so it’s all ready to go as soon as we walk in the door.  I aim to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes most nights–which is the time it takes for them to wash off the dirt and sweat from the field in the bath.

I try to set the table (or counter in this case) after school while homework is being finished and playing ensued.

Generally speaking, I’ll have a small salad or two ready to go as an appetizer as soon as they sit down, so they have something to eat immediately post-bath, in the event that the the main course takes a little longer.  Last night it was this:

Tomatoes, Roasted peppers, pimentos di padrone, romaine leaves

This looks like a lot of work, but it’s not:  The Roasted peppers with garlic and capers I had made on Sunday and simply had to pull from the refrigerator before we went to practice); padrones take 60 seconds to fry; romaine salad had been prewashed and bagged, also on Sunday, and the mustard vinaigrette I made on Sunday for the week–equal parts country mustard and red wine vinegar, smashed garlic clove, pinch salt, olive oil; fresh cherry tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic, and torn basil took maybe 2 minutes  The early prep meant all 4 of these salads were on the table in less than 5 minutes. Even though I do this all the time, it is a huge relief and great satisfaction every single night I can get dinner on the table swiftly and easily. It never gets old.

I like serving several small salads for two reasons:

  1. It looks pretty. I say never underestimate what the good looks of you food can do for your happiness at the table and your kids enthusiasm for eating.
  2. It gives them choices.

The corollary to #2:

With choices, the kids learn to serve themselves, take a variety of foods and adjust their portions.  Exercising control and self-control is a crucial part of learning to eat, and I’m not just talking about manners. We work on that, every night (sigh), too.

All that was left to do was slice some fresh bread and cook a very simple but very flavorful pasta with oil and garlic, which can be made in the time it takes to cook spaghetti–about 12 minutes, water boiling include.

This is one of my favorite vegetarian ways to eat: a very simple pasta + lots of side salads.  Think Italian: This rubric is really just an antipasto + primo –which is all we need most weeknights. Add a glass of wine for the grown-ups and a dolce for all (we had peach sorbet and waffle cookies)–and your time is spent enjoying a fresh, home cooked meal and not stressing over how to get it all to the table.

Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil, probably a scant 1/4 cup. (About enough to coat the pasta)
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Finely chop garlic.
  3. Heat oil in a small pan & sautee garlic until it just barely turns brown. Remove from heat.
  4. Break pasta in half and cook until finished. Drain and return to pasta pot.
  5. Pour most of oil over the spaghetti, scraping to get most of the garlic out. Toss oil, spaghetti and parsley until well mixed over very low heat.
  6. Remove from heat and add the extra tablespoon of oil.
  7. Serve immediately. With cheese if you prefer–but it’s not necessary.

*Note: We had so many salads, a small serving of pasta was sufficient for us. But if you have fewer salads, go ahead and use 3 cloves of garlic,  a little more oil, and 1 lb. spaghetti.

Salad for Lunch

by Caroline

One of my favorite things, among the many small things that I love about my kids being in school until 2 PM, is that I have time now to make and eat lunch at home.

Last year, when my youngest was in preschool, I left the house at 11:30 AM to pick him up. It was too early to eat before leaving the house, and usually by the time we got home, I was too hungry to do more than warm up some leftovers or make a quesadilla or something else not particularly inspired. A snack might have been a good idea, but then I wouldn’t have been hungry for lunch until 2 PM, which doesn’t work well when you’re living with small people who need dinner at 5:30.

You see the little problem.

Now, I don’t have to leave the house until 1:30. And that gives me the necessary time to work all morning, and then rummage around inside the fridge and pantry and come up with a salad like this. I realize we’ve been posting a lot about salads lately; Lisa’s herby green salad is a staple in our house, too, and garbage salad is a regular in my lunch routine. Earlier in the summer, when I was I reminiscing about our glorious French vacation I posted three new recipes. Because salad can be a great meal for lunch. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it doesn’t need to take any longer to make than to heat up leftovers. But sometimes, the right combination of ingredients doesn’t present itself to you unless you can give it a couple moments of thought. And then maybe the combination, once you see it, seems so obvious it’s hardly worth remarking upon. But if the ingredients are fresh and you have thirty minutes to eat in peace, perhaps with a book by your side, the meal feels like a remarkable gift indeed.

So here it is, today’s fall spinach salad:

Spinach leaves
Halved red grapes
Crumbled goat cheese
Toasted walnuts
Balsamic vinaigrette

Toss and enjoy.