Recently in Market Inspirations Category
I was not going to give up pasta when I had to stop eating wheat, so I went on a search for a tasty, firm, nutritious, gluten-free product. Most gluten-free pastas are made from rice. The texture and flavor of rice-based noodles are great in Asian cooking, but they don’t work for me in Italian food—they don’t have enough body, easily overcook to a limp mess, and the flavor is wrong. In addition, it is now suggested we cut back on rice consumption, because of high arsenic levels in some rice products.
Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta
and Schar Gluten-Free Pasta
are two happy discoveries. They are both a semolina-like yellow from the corn in their formula, taste pleasantly nutty, and are resilient in texture if not overcooked. Ancient Harvest is organic and adds quinoa for rich flavor, high quality protein, iron, and B vitamins. Schar
incorporates pea protein and rice flour for a more complex taste and extra protein.
I love pasta carbonara
almost as much as the New Yorker writer and food enthusiast Calvin Trillin
does. While I don’t follow his suggestion to serve it for Thanksgiving dinner, I make it frequently, and in many guises. Inspired by the fresh asparagus and peas appearing now in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, I prepared the recipe here for lunch this past weekend. To compliment the spring vegetables, I added lemon zest and fresh basil to the egg, pancetta
, and Parmesan cheese sauce.
The wild chanterelle mushrooms and sweet blue lake green beans I found at the farmers’ market this week reminded me of an intriguing fall salad I recently enjoyed at Jar restaurant. Chef Suzanne Tracht offered special dishes at a dinner benefitting the Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, and I was a lucky guest at my friend Margaret’s table.
I had been thinking about the salad ever since I tasted it, and I wanted to create something similar. I started by whisking up an easy vinaigrette with tangy whole grain Dijon mustard and Sherry wine vinegar, anticipating that the rich flavor of the vinegar would compliment the earthiness of the mushrooms.
The vinaigrette was sumptuous and vibrant, and I realized the concoction would make a fine seasoning for both the salad and the arctic char fillets I was fixing.
Heirloom beets are showing up in spectacular colors at the farmers’ markets- golden, red, deep purple, and candy cane stripe. Beets with firm, glossy leaves offer a bonus: delicious cooking greens.
Roasting the beet roots intensifies their earthy flavors. Cut off the tops and save them in a plastic bag to cook later. Cut the root tips off too. Then wrap the beets tightly in foil and bake in a hot oven (400°F, or at whatever temperature you are cooking something else) until tender when pierced with a small sharp knife. After the beets cool slightly, the skin will pull off easily. The cooked beets can be stored in the fridge for later use.
I received this whimsical bouquet of red and green endive on Valentine’s Day, each head of endive still attached to its big root. The bouquet came from California Vegetable Specialties, the only US grower of endive. A whole case of endive followed the Valentine, and there was nothing to do but prepare endive for lunch and dinner all week.
As I became engrossed in experimenting with endive, I decided it was time to learn about how it is produced. Endive is the second growth on chicory roots. The chicory seed is sown in fields, and leafy greens follow. Once the greens are mature, they are harvested and used as high quality cattle feed. The precious roots are dug up, cleaned, and put in cold storage for a period of dormancy. Finally, the roots are moved to dark, cool, humid rooms, where they are forced to grow new leaves. The operation is very high tech, and local for those of us who live in California. Very little pesticides are used, and organically grown endive is available at Whole Foods and other specialty food stores.
I have always enjoyed endive’s sweet-peppery flavor and delicate crunch in salads, particularly when dressed with a sprightly Dijon mustard and Sherry wine vinegar vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped walnuts. But I wanted to try other preparations too. I discovered endive makes a great stand in for iceberg lettuce or cabbage in tacos. I shredded a couple of heads of endive and tossed them with fresh lime juice and a minced Serrano chile; then heaped the mixture in warmed corn tortillas filled with sliced grilled chicken and avocado.
Radicchio is at its finest in the cooler months. A member of the chicory family, radicchio is loved for its bright magenta color, crisp texture, and spicy-bitter flavor. I can’t resist buying a head when beauties like this are displayed at Maggie’s Farm and other stands at farmers’ markets throughout Los Angeles. I like to choose a firm one with intense color, and no signs of darkening.
The radicchio has been so good this winter I have been serving it frequently. Most often used as a colorful addition to salads, it mellows slightly when cooked, and develops a pleasing tender but chewy texture. When I only have a few minutes to make dinner, I cut a head into 1½-inch thick wedges, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet in a 450°F until tender, turning over after 10 minutes, for about 20 minutes total. This is a great accompaniment to fish, poultry or meat. On a recent cold night I added sliced radicchio to a white bean soup flavored with pancetta and sage, and let it simmer until it wilted- a satisfying meal that warmed up the evening.
Romanesco Cauliflower: Found at Weiser Family Farms stands at many Los Angeles farmers’ markets. From the grocery store: Choose regular cauliflower.
I have been curious about this fantastical looking vegetable ever since I first noticed it at a street market in Rome, about 5 years ago. Now it is available in Los Angeles, but so far I have only seen it at farmers’ markets. Its wondrous shape, reminding me of a bouquet of tiny cones, is described mathematically as a fractal
, but I like to think of it as a natural art form. The flavor is more delicate than regular cauliflower, with slightly nutty nuances, and it has a more tender texture.
Roasted, this highly nutritious vegetable makes a satisfying side dish, or, as in the recipe below, can be the star of a pasta creation. Simply cut off the florets, starting at the base and working up towards the tip, and then toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in a hot oven until brown in spots, crispy on the outside yet yielding in the center.
The just picked fruit, vegetables, and herbs I find at local farmers’ markets are loaded with flavor, and therefore it takes very little effort in the kitchen to create marvelous, healthy dishes when using them. They are what inspire my cooking. I intend to frequently highlight produce I bring home from the markets, and tell you about the easy preparations I make. These dishes are simple to prepare without complete recipes, they are more ideas than formulas.
German Butterball Potatoes
: Found at Weiser Family Farms
stand, at many Los Angeles farmers’ markets. From the grocery store: choose Yukon gold potatoes instead.
The season will soon be over for these buttery tasting heirloom potatoes, but they are so outstanding, I encourage you to try them before they disappear. They are round to oblong in shape, with light brown smooth skin, and yellow flesh.
Their flavor is intense; therefore little butter is needed to make divine mashed potatoes. I cut them into 1-2” pieces with the skin still attached, and cook in boiling salted water until tender. After draining, I mash them with a little olive oil and chicken broth or milk, and season with salt and pepper, occasionally adding a small pat of butter- but the butter really isn’t necessary. Topped with sautéed mushrooms, and served alongside simply roasted or sautéed chicken, fish, or meat, they make an easy meal memorable. For an even simpler preparation, cut the potatoes into wedges about 1-inch thick at the widest part, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and arrange on a baking sheet. Roast them at 450°F until crispy and brown on the outside and yielding inside, for about 35 minutes. These are addictive, and great with almost anything.
: Found at several stands at local farmers’ markets. I have been purchasing them from Mello AG, at the Santa Monica farmers’ market, and Vital Zuman Farms at the Topanga farmers’ market. From the grocery store: Gelson’s and Whole Foods Markets carry chanterelles, but they are costlier than at farmers’ markets. Button mushrooms or shiitakes can be used in the suggestions below; they will be tasty, but won’t offer the same woodsy flavor or substantial texture.