Tag Archives: roasted

Oh, Nuts: Chestnuts

19 Oct

My father was a New Jersey boy who went to elementary school in Manhattan in the 1940s. He loved the smell of chestnuts roasting over open fires on city street corners, a snack available almost year round when he was young. By the time I was a teenager, roasted chestnuts were primarily a holiday season treat, due to changing tastes and a perception that chestnuts were a poor man’s food. (Amazingly, lobster was once viewed the same way; today, the lines that form in front of the lobster roll truck by my office at lunchtime are a sight to behold). Here is a photo of chestnuts roasting in NYC, courtesy of a fellow Flickr user:

Photo credit: Adam Fagen, Flickr

Chestnuts–which are chewier and starchier than, say, walnuts–have been a staple food in southern Europe and parts of Asia for millennia. They can be boiled, candied, eaten raw, mashed, roasted, sautéed, steamed, or ground into flour–and have long been a favored ingredient in stuffing, vegetables dishes, casseroles, porridge, and desserts. They have less calories than other nuts and are the only nut to contain significant amounts of Vitamin C. So, as often happens when nutritious traditional foods are “rediscovered,” chestnuts and the naturally gluten-free chestnut flour are making a comeback, especially in upscale U.S. restaurants and specialty stores. Demand for chestnuts in the United States outstrips supply.

There are four main species of chestnuts: European, Chinese, Japanese, and American. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata)–known as the sequoia of the east because of its height–was almost completely wiped out by blight in the first half of the twentieth century, right around the time my father was enjoying the roasted (and probably Italian) versions near his school in New York City. Four billion trees died. Before tragedy struck, American chestnut trees were highly valued not just for their nuts, which fed both people and animals, but also for their wood. Nowadays, most of the chestnuts we eat in the United States are imported, but efforts are underway by organizations such as the American Chestnut Foundation and others to breed blight-resistant American chestnuts and reintroduce them into the forests of the American east.

In the meantime, the most commonly seen chestnut trees in the United States are Chinese Chestnut trees (Castanaea mollisisma), which are resistant to blight. On a recent visit to the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Nature Sanctuary, Castanea mollisima burs carpeted the ground. Here are two burs (and boy, are they prickly and sharp), one of which is beginning to open.

  
Chestnuts are harvested once the burs have fallen from the tree. Typically, there are up to three nuts inside each bur; here is a photo with one nut inside a more mature (and browner) bur. The nuts are covered by two “skins”: a dark brown, hard seed coat (or husk) and a papery under layer.

Summertime Bliss: Sun-Warmed Cherry Tomatoes

6 Jul

Few things beat the taste of a tomato that’s come straight from the garden. And cherry tomatoes offer that extra, satisfying little pop as you bite into them. The photo below shows our first harvest of the season, but the tomatoes in this bowl won’t make it into any recipe; these sun-warmed beauties are all going to be eaten just as they are–as a snack straight from Nature. However, there is a reason these tomatoes are called Sweet 100s: before long, I’ll be wondering what to do with all of them. I see lots of salads on the horizon, as well as our favorite Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil. And cherry tomatoes would also work in Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic with Basil–though I’d start cooking the onions and garlic first, adding the cherry tomatoes toward the end of the roasting time. I detect a common theme in both recipes: basil. And now that I recall, last I saw it, our basil was in danger of being overtaken by the flowering oregano that has run riot in the herb garden…. Time for some triage in the name of good eats!

 

Recipe: Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic with Basil

28 Jun

This year, I planted three tomato plants, which are beginning to completely take over the vegetable garden. If that weren’t enough, a fourth rogue plant sprung from the seeds of  last year’s tomatoes is giving them a run for their money. Which means I’m soon going to be faced with a bumper crop of tomatoes and the challenge of figuring out what to do with the ones I keep. This recipe is one of my all-time favorites for tomatoes, and I often serve it at brunches as an accompaniment to cold roasted meats. It is a very flexible recipe: it can be made ahead, served warm or at room temperature–and you can play around with the ingredients depending on what you have on hand. However you tweak it, it’s hard to go wrong with tomatoes, red onions, garlic, basil, and pine nuts.


Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic with Basil
12 servings

3 lb. roma tomatoes (other smaller types work well, too)
2 large red onions, cut in half, each half cut into eight wedges
30 cloves garlic /2 bulbs, peeled (slice large cloves in half)
2/3 c. olive oil
2 tsp. sambal oelek (or sweet chilli sauce)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. bottled pesto (or fresh, if you have it)
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. shredded fresh basil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1/2 c. pine nuts, toasted

Preparation

1. Heat oven to 400º.
2. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place tomatoes, cut side up, in large baking dish, then nestle the onions and garlic around the tomatoes.
3. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, sambal oelek, sugar, pesto, and salt. Pour over the vegetables.
4. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until tomatoes, onions, and garlic are soft.
5. Meanwhile, dry toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-high heat (watching carefully), until they start to turn golden. Remove them from the skillet and reserve.
6. Once the tomatoes come out of the oven, add the vinegar, herbs, and pine nuts, and mix gently. Serve warm or cold.

Recipe: Corned Beef with Honey-Mustard Glaze

16 Mar

St. Patrick’s Day at our house has always meant three things: 1) a visit from a  leprechaun who somehow always manages to turn all our milk green; 2) an evening meal consisting of corned beef with honey-mustard glaze, crispy roast potatoes, and cabbage sauteed in olive oil and butter ; and 3) a green dessert — usually a torte made with a zesty lime filling, courtesy of my daughter whose specialty that has become.

However, the corned beef is without doubt the pièce de résistance, despite the fact it requires only three ingredients. It is cooked twice: first simmered until fork tender, and then glazed and finished off in the oven. It is such a beloved dish that we only make it once a year, to retain its special status. But we always make sure to have plenty of leftovers to enjoy for a day or two afterward. Most recently, we made three corned beef briskets — enough for two full meals for four hungry people, with some snacking in between.

Corned Beef with Honey-Mustard Glaze
Servings: 4

1 pkg. flat-cut corned beef brisket  (3-4 lb.), with spice packet
whole grain Dijon mustard (roughly 2.5-3 oz.)
honey (roughly 1-2 tbsp., or to taste)

Preparation

1. Remove the brisket from the package; reserve the spice packet that is usually included. Note: if there is no spice packet, use 1 tbsp. pickling spice, or make your own with 1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds, 1 tsp. black peppercorns, 8 whole cloves, 8 whole juniper berries, 8 whole allspice berries, and 2 bay leaves; place the spice(s) in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Rinse the corned beef, then place in a large pot and cover completely with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a medium simmer. After the first boil, use a large cooking spoon to remove the foam that rises to the surface (I ladle the foam into a large bowl and keep the bowl by the stove until no longer needed). Keep removing the foam every 15 minutes or so until very little is being generated.
3. Add the contents of the spice packet (or your own reserved spices) to the corned beef in the pot, reduce heat to a low simmer (you want to see some gentle movement in the water, but do not want it at a full boil), partially cover the pot, and let the beef simmer for about 3 hours, or until fork tender. Top up with additional water as needed.
4. Carefully lift the brisket out of the pot and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. When cool enough to handle, use the side of a fork (the outer edge of one of the tines) to gently scrape off any fat that is on the brisket. Make sure to remove all visible fat.
5. Spray a baking dish (or another cookie sheet) with cooking spray, and place the brisket on the dish/sheet. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
6. Put the mustard in a small bowl and mix in the honey; adjust quantities of each to suit your taste. (I usually make the glaze without measuring either ingredient; I taste test until there is just enough sweetness to the mustard.)
7. Spoon the glaze over the corned beef, then bake until the corned beef is warm and the glaze is beginning to turn golden.
8. When serving, slice across the grain.

Recipe: Roasted Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar and Mint

9 Dec

This is a free-form sort of recipe because it doesn’t have specific measurements, but that shouldn’t be cause for panic. No matter how much or how little I drizzle or sprinkle or adjust the various ingredients, I’ve never gone wrong with this dish (because short of burning them, how can anyone really go wrong with roasted carrots?).

This dish is a standard part of our Thanksgiving line up, but these carrots are a nice accompaniment to any roast meal. The hot carrots absorb the balsamic vinegar, resulting in a mellow, layered flavor that is heightened by the mint. Another plus: this dish can be served at room temperature, which means you can get it ready ahead of time and move on to more urgent tasks. For Thanksgiving, I use a 5 lb. bag of carrots. If you aren’t cooking for 12+guests, use 6 large carrots and go from there.

Roasted Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar and Mint

carrots
olive oil
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar
dried mint flakes

Preparation
1. Trim and peel carrots, cut each carrot in half horizontally, and then cut each half in half lengthwise. You should now have four carrot pieces. Cut each of those pieces lengthwise into thirds (or halves or quarters depending on the thickness of the carrot) — you want to end up with carrot sticks.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
3. Put the carrot sticks in a large bowl, drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the carrots well (they should be glistening), sprinkle some salt and pepper on top, toss to mix, then spread the carrots on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake 30 minutes or so, turning once, until the carrots are soft and browned around the edges. Remove the baking sheet from the oven.
4. While the carrots are still on the baking sheet and still hot, drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the top, sprinkle with mint flakes, mix together gently, and let rest for a few minutes. Taste a carrot and adjust the seasonings as needed (you may want more salt, pepper, or a dash more vinegar.)
5. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Note: If making the day before, let carrots cool, refrigerate them, and bring to room temperature before serving.)

Adapted from Australian Gourmet magazine.

Recipe: Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers

21 Apr

Fresh from my trip to Italy and with lots to do to get ready for the work week, I decided to prepare a Mediterranean antipasti-tapas-mezze meal made up of little dishes, simple ingredients, and nice bread. These Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers are part of that meal, and they can be made ahead — they get better the longer they marinate. You can use all red peppers, or any combination of red, yellow, or orange that suits your fancy. In this case, I used one of each color.  I forgot the parsley before taking the photo, but will try to remember to sprinkle some on top before serving! With or without parsley, this is a nice addition to any Mediterranean multi-dish meal.

Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers

3 large red, yellow, or orange (or combination) bell peppers
1/4 c. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. paprika
1 spring onion, sliced
5-6 leaves fresh basil
2 tsp. coarsely chopped parsley

Preparation

1. Turn on broiler.
2. Cut peppers into quarters; remove all seeds and membrane. Place peppers on baking sheet, skin-side up.

2. Broil until skin blackens, then put peppers into container with lid, cover tightly, and let cool.

3. When cool, carefully peel the skin off the peppers, and cut peppers diagonally into thin slices.

4. Add the remaining ingredients to the peppers, stir to combine, and marinate for at least 3 hours (or overnight) before serving.

Adapted from the Australian Family Circle Tapas booklet.

Asparagus Forest

29 Jul

Come spring, and for as long as it’s available, asparagus holds a place of honor in our house. We are especially fond of very thin stalks, tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted at about 425 degrees until golden and slightly crispy at the tips. Cooked this way, asparagus never lasts more than a few minutes on our dining table and no matter how much I make, there is always at least one child looking mournfully at the empty platter. But… until this weekend, we had never seen asparagus growing, and it is as lovely to look at as it is to eat.

We made a whirlwind trip to Vermont and were lucky enough to see an old family friend, Beth, who has an asparagus forest. All it took was one look, and I decided that I absolutely have to try planting some asparagus next year, even if we will not be able to sample any of it for a while as it gets established.

Normally, the tender shoots that people eat are snapped or cut off just above ground level. But left to their own devices, the shoots grow tall and get woodier, the buds on the tips of the asparagus open and produce a wispy mass of branches and berries that turn bright red when ripe (though note that the berries should not be eaten). The little berries set against feathery foliage look ethereally festive, and when I saw the asparagus plants after a rainy afternoon, they were glistening.