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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Delicious Gluten-free Lasagne

 So... a new year has begun, and you have decided for any one of innumerable reasons, you want to try a low-carb, low-glycemic diet. Something that eschews the daily consumption of tortilla chips and foot-long subs.

You have one of the following:

Adult Onset Diabetes


An allergy to gluten


Your 20 year high school reunion and you want to show those guys who used to snap their towels at you in the locker room during gym how well geeks hold up over their beefier muscle headed counterparts.


You are one of those naturally skinny bitches, but you have finally had an epiphany and realized that Pop Tarts and Diet Coke do not extend nor enhance your health over the long-term despite a nuclear holocaust surviving shelf life due to their remarkable preservative-laden ingredients.  


None of the above 

(Look, don't judge me, okay? I'm trying to write an introduction to be whimsical and amusing, though I am failing mightily. I mean, just posting straight recipes is so Martha Stewart and I may be a bored privileged hausfrau with no life to speak of, but I have my artistic integrity. Just ask my Yoga instructor, she says I flow like the Ganges. ) 

Now, you figure you can easily sacrifice the rice, the bread, the chips and - if push came to shove - all those raw carrots and beets you were always meaning to eat for their Vitamin A content.


There is one food, you simply cannot do without...
I mean, hell, Columbus practically drowned the Spanish Armada bringing it back from China to Europe. HOW could any civilized person expect you to give up that staple food of  Italian cuisine; that delicious belly-warming, chewy, tongue tantalizing thing of sensual pleasure that even the Taccuino Sanitatis of 15th century fame devoted a chapter to?

What am I talking about?

What else?


(What do you think put the smile on the Mona Lisa?)


Well, sadly, you must give it up,
BUT here's one way to eat a classic pasta dish without using the pasta!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he is keeping the lasagne flying sans noodles but with oodles of luscious silken eggplant,  Italian sausages, and acres of CHEESE!!!

Eggplant Lasagne: Even better than the real thing

Yes, Yes, YES!!!
Eggplant slices definitely satisfy both the palate and the dietary considerations in this dish.
So... let's dig in, shall we?

Firstly, it is lasagne with an "e"; like Liza with a "z", but even more delicious.
You can, however, spell it anyway you like, some things are more important than pedantry.

It's really just an assembly line dish. 
Very simple to make and requires no real cooking skills.
Once you've cooked the eggplant, the sausages, the tomato sauce, shredded the mozzarella, and prepared the ricotta, you just slap it together in a nice baking dish.

Wikipedia spells it wrong, but says this about the dish:

"... The word lasagna comes from the Greek λάσανα (lasana) or λάσανον (lasanon) meaning "trivet or stand for a pot", "chamber pot". The Romans borrowed the word as "lasanum", meaning "cooking pot" in Latin. The Italians used the word to refer to the dish in which lasagna is made. Later the name of the food took on the name of the serving dish."

So there's part one of your history lesson for the day!

Eggplants are great this time of year.  I am using "Globe" eggplants which are large and nearly round. I slice them lengthwise into 1/3" to 1/2" thick slices, so that after I saute them, they approximate the size of a cooked lasagne noodle. When in doubt, err on the side of slicing them more thickly. Do NOT cut it into rounds.

You can use Japanese eggplant, too, obviously, but they are more expensive, quite small and have more (bitter) skin to (tender) flesh ratio, which means you would spend a fortune buying a bushel of them. Not that eggplants are sold in bushels, but you get my point. Actually, eggplants are the perfect edible medium for exploring the human story of agriculture, technology, immigration, politics, economics, linguistics and taste.

"Eggplant...the familiar dark purple, ovoid form sometimes called the 'Japanese Eggplant.' In West Africa, eggplants ...[are] called 'garden eggs.' the West Indies...a variety of names including 'gully bean,' "susumber,' and 'pea aubergine.' Known in much of the world as "aubergine" and in the Middle East as "poor man's-caviar,"...Common names and synonyms: Apple-of-love, Asiatic aubergine...brinjal...Guinea squash...Italian eggplant...melanzana, melongene...pea apple, pea aubergine...terong..."
~~Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge] 2000, Volume Two (p. 1770)

When Europeans first encountered the fruit, it had gained an intimidating reputation due to its relationship to the nightshade family.  Its cousins, the poisonous Jimson weed or Datura as well as Belladonna, are poisonous and sometimes called Deadly Nightshade. Even after the eggplant received acceptance, it was still called mala insana, meaning "bad egg, mad apple, or apple of madness."

"Mandrakes, like most nightshades, were poisonous, so at one time, people thought that eggplants made those who ate them insane. The myths and legends surrounding eggplant substantiated the fears the people had of eating them. Some scholars have identified eggplants as the Dead Sea fruit of the Bible and of John Milton's Paradise Lost, in which fallen angels wandered by the Dead Sea in hunger and found purple fruits that looked delicious, but upon eating them discovered that the pulp of the fruit turned to ashes. 

This strange legend may have had a factual basis. Eggplants indeed grew along the Dead Sea near Sodom, the biblical city of sinners that God destroyed, and while the eggplants of Sodom appeared plump and ripe on the outside, an insect invaded the inside, causing the pulp to decay and create a powdery substance inside the seemingly perfect skin. Farmers later learned what destroyed these fruits and how to combat the insect infestations; but early on, people could only speculate on the cause. They knew that God reduced the evil city of Sodom to ashes, so they easily attributed a similar evil to the ash-producing fruits they found growing there."
~~Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology, Tamra Andrews [ABC-CLIO:Santa Barbara] 2000 (p. 85)

Historians believe the eggplant may have its origins in India, but early written accounts from a 5th century Chinese record on agriculture called the Ts'i Min Yao Shu indicate its cultivation in China, but it was the conquering Moors who brought it to the continent during their invasion of Spain in the 8th century. Louis XIV, King of France during the 1600s, took great interest in impressing diners at his royal table with new plant foods and was the first in France to introduce aubergine (eggplant) into his garden. The fruit was not universally enjoyed with the following description: "fruits as large as pears, but with bad qualities." The urban legend of the time was that eating eggplant caused fever and epilepsy.

When the first eggplants were brought to Northern Europe during the 1600s, they were not the beautiful, purple, plump one-pounders we find in today's supermarket bins. John Gerard, a 16th century horticulturist, saw a different fruit altogether and provides this description:"the fruit . . . [is] great and somewhat long, of the bignesse of a Swans egge, and sometimes much greater, of a white colour, sometimes yellow, and often browne."

The late 1700's brought the French enlightenment and changed attitudes about the fruit. Devouring grilled eggplant became a fad of the rowdy incroyables and the elegant merveileuses who partied at France's Palais Royale. In America, Thomas Jefferson was said to have imported a few seeds and planted them in the famous gardens of his magnificent Monticello, but it was used mostly for ornamental purposes in America until the mid-19th century when President Andrew Johnson claimed it as one of his favorite foods, especially Stuffed Eggplant Spanish Style. Prepared for intimate gatherings at the White House, the eggplant was first halved and the flesh chopped. The stuffing was a combination of tomatoes, onions, breadcrumbs, and celery, and seasoned with basil butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of sugar. Before they were served, the eggplants were garnished with overlapping fresh tomato slices and a strip of broiled bacon.

Which brings us back to our recipe. Copious amounts of olive oil will be used in this recipe. Eggplants are thirsty, greedy little bastards  that soak up oil like Charlie Sheen once soaked up tiger blood so prepare to use almost a whole pint of olive oil. Be sure to use an olive oil of good quality, but don't use your best Arbequina cold-pressed, hand harvested by Tibetan monks while pissed on by the Dalai Lama EVOO (extra virgin olive oil for you noobs) because the cooking process will breakdown its finer more intoxicating olfactory qualities, and the sauce will mask the nuances of the finest olive oil. On the other hand, don't go using Crisco either... The eggplants will taste exactly like whatever oil you use. 

The size of the baking pan you use is important, as well. It must be at least 2" deep or else you will not be able to layer the casserole properly. You can use a regular lasagne baking dish. I used two Le Creuset baking dishes that were 12" x 9.5" x 2" with a 3-quart capacity because there are only two of us here and I wanted to store one pan uncooked in the freezer for another time. This is the kind of dish that keeps well, reheats well and can be prepared a week ahead of time.

I used both Sweet and Hot Italian sausages made from chicken instead of pork, but you can use pork Italian sausage if you like, or omit sausages altogether and replace them with sauteed spinach, portabello mushrooms (anything you like). That's the beauty of cooking, you adjust the recipe to suit your needs. If you do use the sausages, be sure to slice them lengthwise as well after cooking them and before assembling the lasagne. It's a bit unusual but it gives the dish a lovely rustic feel. If you prefer, however, you may simply cook the Italian sausages into crumbles by releasing them from their casing and sauteing them as though they were ground beef.

To those who are vegan or lactose intolerant, firstly... I offer my condolences and secondly, I say that tofu and soy cheese products serve admirably as a substitute here. I ate many a tofu lasagne as a young dancer. My choreographer insisted inflicting it on us when she made us her meals - it has a slightly chalky texture, but those of you who can't eat from things that moo are probably accustomed to it.

Be sure to preheat your oven while you are making the sauce and sauteing the eggplant.

Eggplant Lasagne

Note: No wheat products were harmed during the making of this dish. 
(I bet PETA can't make that claim!)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Make sure to place the oven rack in the middle of the oven before heating it.
This dish will serve 8-12 hungry conquistadors.
I know for a fact Christopher Columbus loved this dish! 


For The Eggplant:
  • 4 large eggplants, sliced length-wise to 1/3"-1/2" thickness, placed on paper towels.       (Be sure to season the eggplant slices to taste with salt and pepper and set them on paper towels to drain some of their moisture while you prepare the tomato sauce. The eggplant will taste sweeter that way.)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, enough for sauteing the eggplant, about 1 pint 
For The Pomodoro Sauce:

  • 4 Mild Italian Chicken Sausages
  • 4 Hot Italian Chicken Sausage
  • 1 Large Sweet Onion, sliced thinly
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, smashed & very finely minced
  • 3 750g containers of chopped "Italian" or Roma tomatoes, I use Pomi brand which has virtually no added sodium, but you may substitute any low sodium brand.
  • 2 Tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil for sauteing the onions
  • 1/3 cup of red or white wine (It really doesn't matter which you use, we just need it to deglaze the pan, but do use wine that you would drink. Do NOT use cooking wine. That stuff is horrid & suitable only as a disinfectant)
  • Fresh Basil Leaves, about a handful, julienned (Do NOT use dried basil, it tastes like rancid seaweed)
  • Fresh Oregano, four sprigs, leaves stripped & chopped fine (1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano may be substituted, it imparts a different flavor than fresh, but it is still quite pleasant)
  • Fresh Parsley, a very generous handful, both leaves & stems chopped fine
  • Salt & Freshly Cracked Pepper, to taste

For The Lasagne Filling:

  • 2 lbs. of Mozzarella, shredded
  • 1/2 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (plus more for the topping)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Fresh Grated Nutmeg, or 1/4 teaspoon powdered
  • 3 Large Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 lbs Ricotta


For the Pomodoro sauce:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit (Or 190 degrees Celsius)
  2. Heat a large Dutch Oven over medium-high heat, when hot add a splash of olive oil and then add the Italian Sausages making sure not to overcrowd the pan. 
  3. Saute the sausages about 4 minutes on each side until golden brown. When sausages are browned, remove them & place them on a cutting board to rest. If there is excessive fat in the pan, using tongs, place a paper towel in the pan to soak up excess and discard soiled paper towel. Be sure to leave some fat in the pan.
  4. Lower heat to Medium. Add one TBSP of olive oil to pan & when shimmering, but not smoking, add the sliced onions, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened (about 8-10 minutes)
  5. When onions have softened, add garlic and cook a minute longer. Then add wine, deglazing the pan by scraping up all the pan fond (the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When wine is reduced by half, add the chopped tomatoes & then the sausages back to the pan with any accumulated juices.
  6. Add all of the oregano to the pan, half of the basil and half of parsley. Stirring well...  Reserving the rest of the herbs to add later, just before assembly of the lasagne. Now TASTE your sauce and adjust for seasonings. Does it need more pepper? More garlic? More herbs? Remember, a good cook tastes everything throughout the duration of the cooking process. Be careful about adding more salt. Salt can always be added, but never subtracted. So don't go crazy. Once you've adjusted your seasoning, set the heat to low, let the sauce simmer & prepare your eggplant.
For the Eggplant:
  1.   Place a large saute pan over medium. When pan is hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Then add the eggplant slices a few at a time, cooking them in batches about 2 minutes each side, until they soften & become golden brown, adding olive oil to the pan as necessary.
  2. Be sure to have plenty of paper towels on the counter next to the saute pan, so that you set the cooked eggplant slices down on them to drain excess oil . When all the eggplant are cooked, prepare your cheeses for the filling.

For the Cheese Filling:

  1. Place ricotta, parmigiano & eggs in a large mixing bowl and combine well.
  2. Add grated nutmeg, stirring in well, then season with salt & pepper to taste. (Once again, err on the side of caution when salting. Parmigiano adds quite a bit of sodium on its own. Taste, taste, taste...adding only miniscule amounts of seasoning at a time)
  3. Grate the mozzarella and place it in a bowl
  4. Now check your tomato sauce, turn it off the heat, remove the sausages, placing them on a cutting board and slice them lengthwise into thirds (yes, cut them into 3 slices), add the remaining reserved herbs to the dish, adjust the seasoning and prepare to assemble the dish.

Assembling the Lasagne:

  1.  Place your lasagne pan (or pans) on a larger foil-lined cookie sheet (for easy clean-up later. I guarantee that the sauce will bubble over and spill on the floor of your oven, if you don't. It's Murphy's Law... he's a cunning, nasty bastard. Don't tempt him)
  2. The assembly is simple. Start with a layer of sauce, then layer the eggplant allowing them to overlap slightly, then layer the ricotta mixture evenly over the eggplant, then layer the sausage, then sprinkle it all with mozzarella and repeat the process until the pan is full... The last layer of eggplant should receive a liberal dose of sauce, mozzarella and a final dusting of parmigiano.
  3. Place the lasagne in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes until it all looks and smells done to your liking. When ready, remove it from the oven & let it rest for 15 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving... Voila
  4. Mangia!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Weather Outside is Frightful...We've Really No Place to Go... Let it Braise, Let it Braise, Let it Braise!

To quote Yukon Cornelius, a character in the Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, "It's not fit for man nor beast out..."

A huge winter storm hit the Bay Area.

The rain was pummeling the streets and lashing at the windows; rendering it nearly impossible to contemplate doing anything more adventurous than staying at home with an old movie and a cup of hot cocoa. Although, I can't seem to watch television these days without falling asleep exactly 53 seconds after my head hits el hubby's lap - my preferred mode for viewing ye olde boob tube which has become the de facto modern day hearth. It is not quite as a romantic as being mesmerized by the flame of a yule log while drinking hot toddies (or whatever it is folks used to do before electronic devices usurped the fire's throne), but  I have a comfy old red cashmere throw el hubby (being the good fatherly hubby he is) makes sure is wrapped around my body so that I am swathed like that child in the manger of lore - snuggled up cozily, ready for Morpheus to do his stuff and lead me to the land of nod.

Of course, this is not the White Christmas-ed December that Bing Crosby sang so wistfully about in his films and television specials. This is a grey-faced wolf howling in the wind, warning San Franciscans to stay indoors whilst he's on the prowl. Although outdoor excursions are rendered virtually impossible by it, this weather does lend itself to other activities of a stay-close-to-home nature -- braising.

Braising, you say? Please lower the eyebrow and hear me out. Nothing says comfort more than a bowl of something savory and steamy when the weather is raw. Remember your Brillat-Savarin: "The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all areas; it mingles with all other pleasures, and remains at last to console us for their departure." That master of the gastronomic knew of what he spoke. Nothing immediately relieves our sense of deprivation as the bite of something delectable. I mean look at what a bit of apple did for Eve, granted she and her poor clueless spouse Adam were booted from heaven for it afterward, but that first flood of pleasure tasted as the juice of that fruit spread over her tongue must have been exquisite.  Allow me to properly define braising. Too many people confuse it with stewing:

Braise - 
to cook (meat, fish, or vegetables) by sauteeing in fat and then simmering slowly in very little liquid


v. 1797, from French braiser "to stew" (17c.), from braise "live coals," fromOld French brese "embers" (12c.), ultimately from West Germanic *brasa(as is Italian bragiaSpanish brasa), from PIE *bhre- "burn, heat" Related: Braised braising.

Braising it yourself helps fill the home with wonderful aromas and gives you something to do that exerts little effort for lots of reward. It's a great way to clean out the pantry and the fridge, too; something that my small rental definitely requires on a periodic basis.

This recipe only needs one pot, which makes clean-up a cinch. The pot, however, should be a good heavy braiser or dutch oven. Le Creuset is the best, accept no substitutes (unless you have no choice, of course. I mean, people who own All-Clad need to eat, too.). Now, typically, one would take a tough cut of gelatinous meat such as beef chuck roast or short ribs and braise it until it is plush and tender. Toughness in meat works to your advantage during braising. Collagen, a key connective tissue that makes tough meat tough, converts to gelatin when cooked slowly in water, which softens the surrounding muscle.

it is the holiday season, and taking a little respite from all the rich, gooey, rib-sticking dishes that we ply ourselves with during these alcohol-fueled, diabetes-inducing celebrations is welcome relief. You will sacrifice neither health, nor flavor here - just calories. We will turn to the Japanese for our inspiration. My husband and I spent many a Christmas holiday on the Big Island of Hawaii at a resort called Hualalai on the Kona Coast, and there was where I first encountered fish "Nitsuke", or braising fish, one of the very common Japanese rustic dishes. Nitsuke is a Japanese word that means “to boil with spices and add flavor.” Hawaii has incorporated the cultural influences of many of its nearest Asian neighbors (who quite frankly are not very near, truth be told, but have managed to find their way there over miles of Pacific ocean), and the Japanese has certainly exerted a powerful influence over local cuisine.

Ahhh.... Hawaii. 

There are few places in the world like it.

The perfume of the plumeria is everywhere. The spirit of Aloha permeates everything and everyone in it. You can just feel the tension drain out of your body as soon as your foot hits the tarmac and that first waft of warm fragrant air greets you.  Alo means to share in the present moment. Oha is joy. Ha is life energy. Therefore Aloha translates to meaning “The joyful sharing of life energy in the present” or “joyfully sharing life.”  Viewed another way, Aloha means living in harmony. Remember Hawaii is known as the Aloha state, and its multi-ethnic population attests to its living up to its name.

Hawaii seems to be suspended in some time/space warp: you co-exist with the rest of the known universe but nothing in it can affect you. Senate hearings, stock plunges, ebola scares.

None of it matters.

Not here. It is heaven. Everything is beautiful, everyone is happy. Everyone who works at the resort stops no matter where they are or what they're doing to watch the sun sink into the sea every night. Hoping to catch a glimpse of that elusive 'green flash'. (Green flashes and green rays are optical refraction phenomena that sometimes occur right after sunset or right before sunrise at the horizon. When the conditions are right, a green spot is visible above the upper rim of the disk of the sun. The appearance of green usually lasts for no more than a second or two.) 

A favorite expression among the locals, the rare time you may experience a mauvais moment, is "It's all good!" Always said not as a rebuke but just as a gentle reminder of your good fortune to be experiencing such an earthly paradise... and how right they are. 
How I wish I was on the Big Island today. But Hawaii is not just a pretty place on the map; it's also a state of mind, and since the weather system we San Franciscans are braving this week comes courtesy of Hawaii - a system fueled by the "Pineapple Express" (meteorologists describe the Pineapple Express as a long, narrow plume that pipes moisture from the tropics into the western United States that delivers a steady stream of moisture directly from Hawaii to the West Coast), I offer you my adaptation of a wonderful entree so that you, too, could share a taste of paradise when the weather outside is frightful, and you've got nowhere else to go, so let it braise, let it braise, let it braise... 

Mahalo for reading, my friends. 
Mahalo – expresses gratitude and is used to say thank you. It is as important as Aloha in the Hawaiian language and conveys much sacred and spiritual meaning. The root words are Ma  which means in, ha which is breath or life energy and alo which is in the presence of. Mahalo means "In the presence of the Divine".

Just close your eyes... can you hear the song of the ocean?

 Fish "Nitsuke"with Shitake Mushroom and Fennel Broth

A quick note, the ling cod just happened to be the freshest fish in the market today. Use any firm fleshed white fish like white bass, mahimahi, red snapper, sole or halibut; even salmon would work well. For those of you opposed to eating all things piscine, thick slices of tofu is lovely. Braising imparts a silken texture to tofu that other methods of cooking do not, it also  allows it to fully absorb the flavors of the broth.  You can braise firm, fibrous fruits and vegetables, too. Vegetables and fruits that braise well include onions, parsnips, yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, fennel, carrots, beets, pears and apples. Unlike most, this is a really fast braise to make, but it is just as hearty and satisfying as the more traditional braises. I'll be including other types of braising in future articles because tis the season to be braising, tra la la la la, la la la la.

  • 1 lb. of 1-1/2 " thick ling cod fillets (about 2 large fillets, cut in half), seasoned with a small amount of salt & pepper on both sides
  • 2-3 Tablespoons cooking oil(either peanut or extra virgin olive oil).
  • 1 small fennel bulb, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 1 tsp of red chile flakes (optional)
  • 3 slices of fresh ginger root, finely minced
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 lb. fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch of broccolini or bok choy, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup high quality, low sodium chicken or vegetable broth (Wolfgang Puck's brand is great)
  • 2 Tablespoons of reduced sodium soy sauce
  • sea salt (I use Pink Himalayan) and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 small bunch scallions, chopped
  • half a handful of fresh cilantro leaves, minced
  • 1 lime, cut into quarters
  • Toasted sesame oil, to taste


  1. Heat a large braiser or dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add 1 Tbs. cooking oil, red pepper flakes and a tiny pinch of salt. Add the fennel, cook until softened slightly.
  3. Add shallots and ginger. Saute' for two minutes; then add shiitakes and the remainder of the olive oil along with another pinch of salt and some fresh black pepper.
  4. After shiitakes have softened, add the garlic, making sure the incorporate it into the stir fry.
  5. When garlic is softened, deglaze the pan with the wine; stirring well to get up all the vegetable bits at the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add the broccolini, stirring in well to coat with the aromatics. Then add 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, stirring until evenly absorbed.
  7. Add the stock, stirring it in. Lower heat to a bare simmer. Then carefully place each fillet over the vegetables just above the level of the broth.
  8. Drizzle the remaining soy sauce evenly over the fillets. Sprinkle half the cilantro and half of the lime juice over the fish.
  9. Cover tightly with lid and allow the fillets to poach for 7 minutes.  Check for doneness, fillets are done when center is almost opaque (there should still be some sign of translucency at the very center) and edges are slightly flaking. Do not over cook. Remove from heat. Season with sesame oil to taste. Remember to be sparing with the sesame oil, it's strongly flavored and could easily overwhelm the dish.
  10. Place the fillets in warm bowls. Ladle the broth and veggies over the fish, and sprinkle remaining lime and cilantro over each dish. You can also serve it over jasmine rice or buckwheat soba noodles by placing them in the bottom of the bowl then adding the fish and broth.

Serves 2 hungry people as a soup or 4 people if you ladle it atop rice or noodles.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Turkey? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Turkey! Thanksgiving Dinner for A Vegan’s Delight!!!

Ah November... with its golden daylight hours, short though they are and that Harvest Moon. I saw it last evening when I treated myself to a sidewalk cafe dinner at Luella's - a wonderful little neighborhood joint.

That moon hung heavily in the night sky, opalescent like a glimmering stone pendant dangling from the neck of a beautiful Nubian woman.

I sat under the canopy of a tree, the night lit only by one lone candle on an outdoor table at the sidewalk cafe beneath the starry sky. The air was balmy, redolent with Asian spices & the faint scent of motor oil from the passing cars. A trolley had just clanged past me ringing its bells, carrying its burden of clueless tourists aimlessly snapping their cameras at random sights and meaningless landmarks.

Yet the night was so glorious and I felt so fortunate to be alone with my thoughts,  I became filled with a yeasty benevolence toward all of mankind - even godforsaken tourists.

I raised my flute of sparkling rose' to them as they passed, clicking away.

I then realized that Thanksgiving was just around the corner and that it was time for me to post that Vegan blog I had promised my friend Mia ages ago.

Thanksgiving Dinner is a good place to start.

It's a tough time to be a turkey, though:

Unless, of course, you're a turkey with Vegan friends. Then you have no worries!
Veganism is a diet and lifestyle that eschews the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

Vegans do not eat any animal products.


Not butter, not cheese, hell... not much chocolate.
Life without ice cream???
So it makes you imagine they may not be the happiest people on the planet.
How could they be?

However, my pal Mia is the nicest sweetest most upbeat person I know.
Guess what?

She's a vegan.

When I promised myself I would make a Thanksgiving Menu for Vegans I must say I was worried... but I love a challenge! And, believe me, creating a Thanksgiving meal without butter, or cheese or cream, not to mention the main attraction: The Turkey, is challenging. I have often concocted & served side dishes for vegetarian friends during holiday celebrations making delicious stuffings, lasagnes, and other casseroles with featured chestnuts, pumpkin and squash, but they all used butter and cheese. A celebratory meal without dairy? Seemed so unreasonable!

Well... I was astounded at all the options to the dedicated homecook once you got out of the old mindset of needing dairy & meat to make food palatable. What I absolutely did not want to do was use so-called meat substitutes. They are rank, awful mealy things with little flavor, tons of chemicals , and besides, isn't the point of veganism (& vegetarianism) to get away from the killing animal cultures? Well, then? Why would you eat pretend meat? I should think the idea of any meat would be repugnant. Therefore I was determined to use fruits, nuts, vegetables & grains only. To recreate a cornucopia of autumn harvest goodness.

I turned to Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian & yes, even, Latino food for delicious dairy & meat-free options, I really had to edit myself (nearly impossible for me ) to keep this blog from turning into a Vegan cookbook.

I am offering only a few items that I think will make for an elegant, festive Thanksgiving. For those of you who are not vegan but have vegan guests over for the holiday, any of these dishes will work beautifully for them. I would offer the butternut casserole & the wild rice-stuffed acorn squash as mains dishes for them and try preparing either the salad, the green beans or the brussel sprouts for everyone, so that your vegan guest can enjoy a side, too.

Thanksgiving is about being grateful for the lives we have and the relative bounty that our country does offer us. There are many in the world who are not gifted with our freedoms or our good fortune to live in a land where you can actually contemplate & plan what you're going to make for dinner.

Let's not forget that!

So my suggested menu for A Vegan Thanksgiving Extravaganza is as follows:

Creamy Chestnut Soup with Porcini Mushrooms

Sweet Potato, Pomegranate, and Walnut Salad

Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash

Butternut Squash and Macaroni Casserole

Green Beans with Shallots and Almonds

Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ssam Bar-style

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Buen Provecho!!!

Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ssam Bar-style

Deep fried brussel sprouts are a popular dish at Ssam Bar in Manhattan. They will be roasted in a hot oven instead of fried. Too messy. It will still give them that nutty sweetness & caramelized exterior.

It's a great dish with Asian flair & I would pair it along with the rest of this Thanksgiving extravaganza with any Alsatian Riesling or Gewurtraminer you like as long as it isn't a VT (Vendage Tardive).

Those are really costly & dessert-like. Such unctuous honeyed viscous nectar is best appreciated on its own.

For the sprouts

  • 2 lbs. brussel sprouts, trimmed & halved lengthwise
  • 3 Tablespoons canola oil (Do not use olive oil. It has too low a flash point and will turn acrid & bitter in high heat)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or butter substitute

For the dressing

  • 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (preferably Tiparos brand)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 (1 1/2-inch) fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise, including seeds

For puffed rice

  • 1/2 cup crisp rice cereal such as Rice Krispies
  • 1/4 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice blend)

Garnish: cilantro sprigs; torn mint leaves; chopped scallions

  1. Roast brussels sprouts:
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.
  2. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil, then arrange, cut sides down, in a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan. Roast, without turning, until outer leaves are tender and very dark brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Add butter and toss to coat.
  3. Make dressing:
Stir together all dressing ingredients until sugar has dissolved.
  4. Make puffed rice while sprouts roast:
Cook cereal, oil, and shichimi togarashi in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet and stirring, until rice is coated and begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally.
  5. Finish dish:
Put Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl, then toss with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with puffed rice and serve remaining dressing on the side.
  6. Cooks' notes:
  7. ·Puffed rice can be made 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
·Dressing, without mint and cilantro, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature and add herbs before using.
·Brussels sprouts can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Chill, uncovered, until cool, then cover. Reheat, uncovered, in a 350°F oven until hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Creamy Chestnut Soup with Porcini Mushrooms

Creamy without the cream, this beautiful luxurious dish is what the holiday feast is all about. Garnish it with one roasted chestnut, a few slices of the mushroom & a drizzle of your best olive oil & no one can say vegans don't really enjoy food.


  • 1/3 cup dried porcinis (you can sub shitakes, if you like)
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1 small parsnip, diced
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni (1 sprig each bay leaf, thyme & parsley tied together in a bundle with cheesecloth or else just bind them together)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock (look for a high quality one like Wolfgang Puck's)
  • 1-1/4 lb. of coarsely chopped peeled roasted fresh chestnuts or 12 ounces jarred or vacuumed packed
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • a few caramelized onions or shallots (optional)

  1. Combine porcinis and 2 cups of water in a medium bowl. Let stand until porcinis soften about 15 minutes.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil and add carrots, celery, parsnips and shallots. Saute until tender & then add the bouquet garni and stock.
  3. Using slotted spoon, transfer porcinis into sauce pan. Add the porcini liquid to the pan, too, but be careful to strain it well, avoiding getting any of the sediment from the mushrooms into the pan.
  4. Add chestnuts & season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until smooth then return it to the sauce pan. If you have an immersion blender like I do you can blend the soup right in the sauce pan instead of transferring it to a blender. They are really handy tools and cost relatively little. Just be sure to get the cordless variety. Much more convenient to work with.
  7. Bring the soup back to a simmer after thoroughly blending then adjust seasonings to taste.
  8. Garnish with a drizzle of oil , a chestnut or some leftover porcinis & the caramelized onions.

Can be prepared a day in advance. Just don't garnish it until you are ready to serve.

Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 6
Consider this side dish the picture of autumn's bounty. Cranberries, apples, walnuts and sage flavor a
delicious stuffing you eat while scooping out spoonfuls of sweet, tender acorn squash.


  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
  • 2 cups cooked rice, barley or quinoa
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water and drained
  • 2/3 cup chopped sweet potato or carrot, steamed until just tender
  • 1/2 cup grated peeled apple
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 acorn squash
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  1. In a small pan, sauté onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until sof
  2. t but not browned. Place in a large
  3. bowl and add rice, cranberries, sweet potato, apple, walnuts, parsley, and sage. Season with salt and pepper
  4. and set aside.
  5. Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice acorn squashes in half, and scrape out seeds and strings. Place face down in
  6. large casserole or roasting pan and fill with 1/2 inch of vegetable stock, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.Remove, reserve any remaining stock, and place face side up in pan. Fill each cavity with about 1/2 to 2/3
  7. cup stuffing. Drizzle with olive oil and any remaining stock, and cover tightly with foil. Bake until
  8. squashes are cooked and slightly soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes
  9. of baking.

Green Beans with Shallots and Almonds

Serves 6 to 8
Serve these green beans on a large platter with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing over the top. They make a great side dish for all holiday meals

  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • 2/3 cup blanched almond slivers, toasted

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes.Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until
  3. softened and light golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add shallots to hot, drained green beans. Add parsley,oregano, salt and pepper and toss gently. Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with almonds and serve.

Butternut Squash and Macaroni Casserole

Yummy, warm, slightly sweet with the redolent aroma of coconut milk, the slight crunch
of the toasty nuts and devoid of all dairy. It makes a good harvest celebratory main course for those who will be skipping Tom the Turkey.

Serves 8
Coconut milk is the unexpected, rich and delicious ingredient in this creamy casserole main dish.
Substitute pecans for the walnuts, if desired.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage
  • ¾ pound dried elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • ½ cup bread crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9- x 13-inch casserole dish; set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 7
  3. minutes. Add squash, coconut milk, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low
  4. and simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in sage and simmer 1 minute more. (This part can be made ahead, up to 1 day in advance.)
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until tender but still firm,about 8 minutes. Rinse in cold water, drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Transfer squash mixture to
  6. bowl with macaroni. Add walnuts, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Transfer to prepared dish and top
  7. with bread crumbs. Bake until just golden brown and hot throughout, about 30 minutes.

Sweet Potato, Pomegranate, and Walnut Salad

A good starter, very elegant & colorful using the season's fruits and veggies & making your holiday table beautiful. If you don't feel like roasting the sweet potatoes , skip it and add avocado & orange supremes (slices of orange without the pith) instead,. It will keep the silky mouthfeel of the roasted sweet potatoes but be far less trouble.


  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled, seeded sweet potatoes (about 4 large ones)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons walnut oil or other nut oil
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 8 cups lightly packed arugula, spinach, or green-leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds


1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss potato, olive oil, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn squash over. Roast until edges are browned and squash is tender, about 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with coarse salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
2. Once sweet potatoes are finished baking, place walnuts on a lined cookie sheet and bake for about 5 minutes. Using a spatula, periodically stir the walnuts, so they do not burn. Remove when fragrant.
3. Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Add lettuce, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Spoon warm or room temperature sweet potatoes over salad. Toss lightly .

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

This pumpkin pie is from Karina Allrich, an excellent vegan food blogger.
I have not made it but her taste & skills are known to be impeccable.
The pic is hers, too.

gluten-free pumpkin pie- impossible

I have two more secret ingredients that make this pie work. No wait. Three. Good tasting hemp milk is a must. The reason is the thickness and richness (and the good-for-you fat- EFA's, in fact). If you can't find hemp milk, coconut milk would be the next best option. Thin non-dairy milks like rice milk aren't gonna cut it.

Next up is tapioca starch. I prefer it to cornstarch for thickening gluten-free pie filling. There's not much in here, but it works hard to keep your custard together. Which brings me to the final magic ingredient.

Xanthan gum. I know xanthan gum sounds like a weird and scary ingredient but in this recipe it's worth it's weight in gold because it lends a silky smoothness to the custard. And it helps to bind it (akin to what egg whites do).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch glass pie plate.

I made the pie in a food processor. It helps to thoroughly process the ingredients. If you don't have a food processor, a macho stand mixer will work.

In a food processor bowl add:

  • 1 14 or 15-oz can pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cups plain hemp milk
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer
  • 3/4 cup organic brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca starch/flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon or pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Cover and process until smooth and creamy. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl, if necessary to incorporate all of the dry ingredients.

Pour into the prepared pie plate and smooth evenly. Bake in the center of a preheated oven for about an hour until done. The pie should be firm- but still give a little when lightly touched. The center should not be wet. It will fall a bit as it cools.

Cool the pie on a wire rack completely. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until serving.

Makes 8 slices.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tis The Season To Be Thankful....

As a young girl growing up in the wilderness that was East Harlem in New York City, I always enjoyed the holidays.

There were certain days of the year that by virtue of their inherent meaning and collective cultural significance, by their joyful reminders that we are all one in the spirit in our desires for this life, this liberty, this pursuit of happiness, this ability to share with others the bounty of our table, gave us the ability to willingly release all or any of the angst of our yearly hardships and focus, instead, on the good & the beautiful in our world over the evil and the ugly.

Their wonderful Americana transcended the longitude and latitude of a particular place and time uniting most of us under one flag at an enormous virtual table; no matter that our feet touched hard concrete pavement or soft dewy sun-kissed grass, or whether we sat down to a tidy, orderly Norman Rockwell rendition of the typical American feast or stood up to a wildly messy but love-fueled buffet filled with the jewels of ancestral pasts that mixed & matched traditional foods from wherever our first generation of family hailed, be it Palermo or Shanghai.

Thanksgiving is one such holiday with its central theme of gratitude for being alive and surviving another year and, of course, it's wonderful gift of culinary delights.

That tiny kitchen in my grandparent's housing projects apartment (where the small government issued refrigerator stood adjacent to the front door because it was far too large to stand at its rightful place in cooking heaven) was wafting out clouds of such sheer tantalizing scents for three days before the blessed event, it took all my strength not to swoon from the pleasure & anticipation of a yummy holiday feast. Picture if you will, Bob Cratchett's children in full frenzy over that roast goose & plum pudding In Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" and you have a fair idea of how we felt.

My grandmother, a woman of quiet but steely reserve, was in sole charge of the spectacle; shooing away anyone who dared enter her domain to stick a finger in pumpkin pie batter.

The only assistance she accepted was the grating of the crateloads of green bananas for the making of the pasteles, a holiday treat that was laborious to make despite the simplicity of its presentation which at first glance might seem an odd choice to the uninitiated with it's meaty savory filling hidden buried treasure like in a green banana bed of earthy goodness that was then lovingly tied up in a banana leaf & set to boil in cauldrons of water by the dozens.

Nope, Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore... with the arroz con gandules, garlicky roasted pernil, garbanzos simmering in a pumpkin sauce studded with crispy bits of pork rind & redolent with the alchemy of the sofrito or the recaito that is the mainstay of all national Puerto Rican dishes (la comida criolla, as we of Borinquen descent called it).

Sofrito is a bunch of herbs and aromatics: garlic, cilantro, sweet Scotch bonnet peppers, onions, tocino (pig fat) with either achiote (aniseed) infused oil or tomato pastes and, I suspect, lots of love. It is either chopped to a paste consistency by hand as my grandmother painstakingly did or blended in a food processor as we do now. I still will often chop it by hand, I love feeling those aromatics succumb to me under my knife's sure blade. So sexy...

There are some things Dorothy & Toto would recognize if their Kansas tornado blew them into 421 East 102nd Street like Tom Turkey, all trussed & stuffed with a traditional "American" bread dressing, the mounds of fluffy buttery mashed potatoes, roasted candied yams in a casserole crowned with pineapple rings & of course the ubiquitous "what would Thanksgiving be without it" cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, the only processed item on the menu but a necessary element to every Thanksgiving day feast that we all seemed to love mainly because of those wonderful rings you could slice them into... such F-U-N food for a kiddie!

Dorothy would be able to readily identify the pumpkin and the coconut custard pies as well as the bowls of nuts still comfortably nestled in the safety of their shells until we cracked them open with the always in need of repair nutcracker. Although she may stare in wonder at the guava paste, the turrone (a hard almond & meringue candy) & the sugar cane that I loved sucking the sweet sap out of & then chewing on mercilessly grinding every bit of juice out of the fibrous stalks.

Still, she and Toto would surely have partied hearty with us.
With my grandfather holding court crooning tango after tango while strumming his guitar in one corner, while my beautiful Aunt Meyda was cranking up the old tunes like the "Watusi" that we would all dance wildly to & of course, the television blaring Dorothy's story, "The Wizard of Oz" or other seasonal wonders like "It's Thanksgiving Charlie Brown", the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, or maybe a Bing Crosby or Bob Hope special with even more laughter trilling in the background...

Dorothy would have noted the wildly disparate elements in the room, all relics from my grandfather's merchant mariner days: the Bali heads (carved exotic wood busts of Balinese nationals), the wild painting over the plastic-covered sofa depicting a tropical bacchanal with conga players, women dancing frenetically & men clapping to their pulsating rhythms, the giant Happy Buddha whose belly we all rubbed for good luck, the enormous stone elephant with real ivory tusks, the modest china closet filled with two entire sets of beautiful table settings that Don Pedro (my abuelito) was so proud of, that Carrera marble topped coffee table whose hard edges gave me a scar I bear to this day when as a silly child I decided I could fly from the sofa cushions and land cat-like on its marble surface (I didn't, I landed scud-like at one of it's sharp edges & bled all over the snowy white stone . One anguished grandmother, a trip to the emergency & two stitches later I was good as new and pretending to be a pirate instead...).

Yep, Dorothy & Toto would have noted the shabbiness of the walls that were only painted once every five years, the low square footage of a 3 bedroom, one bath apartment that housed three generations of family members (8 of us cohabited the place at any one time) that the windows appeared not to close fully, that my mother appeared to be in some drug-induced coma or bitter rage off on her own, never participating in our reindeer games; but she would have also seen all the plants that grew so lush & happily on those window sills, she would have heard the laughter, the singing, joined us in our revels and our dances.

Enjoyed the general silliness, the banter about politics, movies, books, art, music. The fights that would break out as everyone disagreed about agreeing with each other because they were all such looneys and enjoyed a good heated debate (even if it did end in police and ambulances being called in half the time). Dorothy would have seen an abundance of love.... and felt the gratitude we all did to be there together sharing... EVERYTHING, all of it. The good, the bad, the sad, the joyful, the exaltations and the terrible sufferings but still... alive, Alive, ALIVE!

And she would realize that every family from far and near share this commonality, this humanity, the beauty in the distress and the dysfunction that while trying also binds them to each other in an eternal alliance that nothing - not even death - can ever set asunder...

Dawn has just now broken over the San Francisco Bay & with it a realization that those taken from us really truly never are, so long as we have the honey in our memories to preserve them sweetly,  and the traditions like Thanksgiving Day feasts that seem to stir their spirits and revive them  even if only for a few hours on a dark November morning...  My family no longer exists as such, but I felt them here today as I wrote in the cool dark of this early morning.  They were such hams - particularly my grandfather, Don Pedro and my Aunt Meyda...  If this computer screen were a camera they'd be mugging for it. Looks like some things never change because they surely took over my keyboard, and kept me from my main task which was to suggest a possible Thanksgiving menu. Such being the case, I will just share with you, gentle reader, last year's menu at Casa Gomez. Every major holiday, I devise a menu, type it out, print it & present it to my spouse and guests (or just my spouse when we don't have guests). It gets my creative juices flowing and keeps me organized. I always take the menu with me when I go shopping for the meal.

The potage is a lovely creamy potato soup that can be made a day or two in advance. I used sweet potatoes & yukon golds and added roasted poblanos for an extra kick as a foil against the creamy sweetness of those tubers. I make the cranberry sauce on Monday of Thanksgiving week, and make the turkey stock on Tuesday, and usually prepare the dessert, the croutons for the stuffing, as well as season the turkey itself the night before the big day. I wake up early on Thanksgiving morning, make coffee, turn on George Winston's, Autumn, and spend the morning & early afternoon slaving away at the kitchen, sending my husband and guests into exile from it until I am ready to serve. I am a very jealous & territorial cook. I haven't an inch to spare in my tiny galley kitchen, so I make sure before I start cooking the big dinner itself, I bake something the others can eat first.

Last year it was this pumpkin bread for breakfast:


And this swiss chard and feta crostata for lunch:

Recipes for crostata (an Italian, open-faced pie or tart) date at least as far back as the 15th Century. These delicious free-form pies were traditionally made with a mix of sweet and savory ingredients and included fresh, seasonal produce. I'll keep faithful to the original concept and make it with briny olives and feta, the crunch of roasted walnuts, peppery swiss chard roasted red peppers and the rich sweetness of caramelized onions.


  • 6 Kalamata Olives
  • 1 Red pepper, sliced & coarsely chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Vidalia (or other sweet) Onion
  • ½ Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 Head of Swiss Chard
  •  Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
  • 1/3 Cup  Roasted Walnuts, chopped
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil for sauteing plus 4 TBS for crust
  • 1/4 cup of ice cold water

    Preheat the oven to 425°F. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Using the flat side of your knife, smash the olives; remove and discard the pits, then roughly chop the olives.  Peel and thinly slice the garlic and onion. Rinse swiss chard, dry thoroughly, de-stem & coarsely chop it

    Prepare veggies:

    In a medium pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes, or until completely softened. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes longer, or until thoroughly caramelized and golden brown. 

    While the onions are caramelizing, heat a large frying pan until medium hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil, wait 5 seconds then add red pepper, saute until softened (about 3 minutes) and add sliced garlic, saute garlic for 30 seconds until it releases its aroma , then reduce heat to medium, and add swiss chard. Cook until chard is wilted (about 5-7 minutes).

    Make the dough:

    Set aside veggies
    , dust a large sheet pan with a pinch of the all-purpose flour. In a medium bowl, combine the whole wheat and all-purpose flours with a pinch of salt. Stir in 4 tablespoons of olive oil and ¼ cup of cold water until a dough forms, being careful not to over-mix. Transfer the dough to the prepared sheet pan. Using a rolling pin or wine bottle, roll the dough into a ¼-inch-thick round.

    Assemble the crostata:

    In a medium bowl, combine the swiss chard and the olives. Drizzle with olive oil, if the chard seems dry, then season with salt and pepper and gently toss to coat. Place the caramelized onions in the center of the dough and spread them towards the edges, stopping about a ½-inch from the outside edge (there should be an onion-less border all the way around). Place the chard mixture on top of the onions and evenly sprinkle with the feta cheese, then the walnuts. Gently fold the outer edge of the dough over the toppings with your hands (this is the fun part, don't worry if the dough breaks off, remold it into shape) to create an open-faced pie.

    Bake the crostata:

    Bake the crostata 12 to 15 minutes, or until the dough is browned and cooked through. Let it rest for 15 minutes in a warm spot. Cut the baked crostata into wedges to serve. Enjoy!

So... I bake them, place them on the dining table with cutlery, napkins, dishware,  and shoo anyone who happens to be around away encouraging them to go for long walks on short piers. This is quite different from the chaos that I grew up with, but happily my husband understands my need to totally immerse myself in the cooking process and allows me room to breathe. Every year, we bargain about what time dinner will be served. I was raised with holiday dinners being served in the late evening. My husband's family counted the day wasted if they hadn't gobbled their gobbler by 2 in the afternoon. This causes minor rifts every year wherein I promise to have dinner ready by 5, but invariably never deliver the first course before 6.

Two years ago my inner clock went completely awry and dinner wasn't ready until 8. My husband refused to eat and went to bed. I slammed every door in the apartment before I left with two bags full of a delicious roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings (and serving wear) in the hopes of finding some hungry homeless person to feed, and wound up walking for two hours and several miles before I finally begged a homeless man sleeping in the doorway of an abandoned bank to please allow me to leave the dinner with him, promising him I was a pretty good cook. He looked at me  wearily, but accepted hearing the desperation and tears in my voice... Still, I harbor hopes of making dinner by 5 Post Meridian, Pacific Standard Time this year.

Wish me luck.

Apropos of nada, I love this Van Gogh, and will go from the ridiculousness that was my writing today to the sublime that is Van Gogh's majestic art:

Happy Thanksgiving!