Ribollita Soup

Ribollita Soup is the ultimate comfort food

Soup is comfort food. And Ribollita Soup may just be the ultimate winter comfort soup. This savory Tuscan bean porridge checks all of the right boxes. And it is easy to tailor it to your own tastes. In deciding which recipe to follow, I looked at no fewer than 8 versions before settling on this one that appeared in Food and Wine. I made a couple of tweaks. But this humble and cost-saving soup that makes use of simple ingredients and stale bread is one of the most satisfying wintery soups I have made. And I make a LOT of soup.

This version of Ribollita Soup does take some time to cook properly, but there is nothing difficult or fussy about it. And on these cold wintery days when you are snuggled up at home with a good book and some music in the background, put up a pot of Ribollita for ultimate comfort. You won’t be disappointed. Add a glass of wine, and you raise this peasant soup to fine dining.

I used canned beans here but if you like to cook your own (as I often do) the best can be found at Rancho Gordo. I was first introduced to Rancho Gordo beans at the Culinary Institute several years ago on a trip with our son and daughter-in-law. Their heirloom beans are well-worth exploring.

My ribollita was made using chicken stock and Parmesan rinds, but you can easily veganize the soup using a vegetable stock and leaving out the cheese. Do use a simple rustic bread for this soup. It doesn’t actually have to be stale. The origins of Ribollita were to make use of everything and to waste nothing.

Recipe

Yield: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 large carrots, finely chopped

1 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

28 ounce can OR 24 ounce box crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

1 1/2 cups unoaked white wine

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock (You could also use a mixture of water and the liquid from your cooked beans if you cooked your own)

3 stale Tuscan-style bread (rustic country loaf or boule) slices, crusts removed and bread torn into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 ounces)

2 large bunches of kale (preferable lacinato kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces (This may seem like a lot of kale but it cooks down)

Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

About 4 cups of peeled, diced Yukon Gold potatoes

4 cups cooked cannellini beans (or other thin-skinned white beans from 2 15-ounce cans or homemade).

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-low. When oil shimmers, add onion, carrot, and celery; stir to coat with oil. Stir in salt to help draw out liquid from onions and season the foundation of the soup. Cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pot with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, reducing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle sizzle, until mixture is very soft and translucent, about 30 minutes. Increase heat to medium; cook, stirring often, until sofrito is caramelized, about 10 minutes.

Sofrito

Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper, if using; cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Stir in crushed tomatoes and wine, and stir, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pot, until mixture is well combined. Increase heat to maintain a vigorous simmer (be careful of splattering tomato). Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to a jam-like consistency, about 20 minutes.

Add 8 cups water or stock, bread, kale, and Parmesan rind, if using; stir, scraping bottom of pan to fully incorporate sofrito into liquid. Simmer until kale is tender and bread is dissolved, about 20 minutes. Stir in potatoes, and simmer until partially tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree 1 cup beans with 1 cup tap water or bean cooking liquid (if not using canned). Add bean puree and remaining 3 cups beans, and simmer until beans and potatoes are completely tender but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Season with about 1 teaspoon more salt, or to taste, and a generous amount of black pepper.

Let soup cool to room temperature if not eating immediately; cover and refrigerate. Reheat soup gently before serving, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Divide among bowls, and top each with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve hot. (I found the soup did not need any additional olive oil)

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Lisa’s Challah Revisited

When the Good Angel Visits

I’ve decided to take another look at some of my recipes and this week it is Lisa’s Challah Revisited. It isn’t always about blogging something new, but instead, it’s reminding people just how good a recipe is. Shabbat may come every week, but it still is the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar after Yom Kippur. It is an island in time where we don’t answer the phones or watch TV. No matter how busy and hectic the week was, we always sit down as a family, to a table set with our best glasses and dishes and a lovely meal. We light the Sabbath candles, sing songs and b’rachot (blessings) and take the time to really be present for one another.

When my son was little he would help me clean up and prepare the table. Like all children, he would sometimes balk. So I told him the story about how two angels would come to our house each week – a good angel and a bad angel. If the bad angel saw us fighting and the house not ready to welcome Shabbat, he would tell the good angel that he had won control and that our family would have a bad Shabbat and following week. But if our house was in order, the table set and we were into the spirit of Shabbat, including giving tzedekah for those less fortunate then she would turn to the bad angel and say that she had won control. Our house and family would be blessed with a peaceful Shabbat and a good week. Not surprisingly, the good angel won more times than not. These are precious memories and traditions that we built and ones that our son now continues with his family.

So why am I revisiting my challah recipe if I had made it for decades? Well for a long time now I was only making my Vegan Challah. We would celebrate Shabbat with my niece’s family and since her son is deathly allergic to eggs I developed a challah recipe that everyone could enjoy. I never wanted my great-nephew and godson to miss out on anything because of his allergies. If you are vegan or have a food allergy, this is a great recipe. However, as good as that recipe is, it simply is not the same as traditional egg challah. Now that my niece has moved away and we have our first grandchild, I wanted to ensure that she would grow up with the absolute best traditional challah. Lisa’s Challah Revisited delivers. It is everything an eggy, tender, sweet challah should be.

So Why the Need for a New Recipe?

I returned to my original challah recipe that I had developed over two decades. The only problem was that it no longer worked for me. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but after several less than stellar attempts, I decided to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. Thus Lisa’s Challah Revisited. My husband and I now make this every week. We recently returned from visiting our beautiful granddaughter in San Francisco and we passed on this improved version to our son, who is the challah maker in his family.

Making Challah When You Work

Clearly it is easier to bake bread when you are at home all day. But there still are ways to enjoy homemade challah even if you work outside the home. You can start it the night before and then refrigerate the dough to slow down the rising process, completing the last rising and baking after you return home. I used to prepare my dough before I left for work and then brought a sealed plastic bucket of dough with me to the office where I could punch it down as needed until I was able to leave for the day. Bread can be pretty forgiving and an extra rising will just make for a finer crumb. Of course the first time I did this my supervisor came into my office and asked if I had been drinking beer! The yeasty smell had permeated the office. After that, though, my co-workers used to like to come into my office to check out the dough and even to punch it down on occasion. So if you don’t work from home, you can still bake your own challah. Nothing gets me in the mood for Shabbat quite like the smell and taste of fresh baked challah. If you can’t do it every week (and the bread can be frozen as well so you can make a big batch) at least make it for a special Shabbat or holiday.

I believe that welcoming and observing Shabbat is the most beautiful tradition we Jews have. And in this crazy world we live in it is actually a necessity for keeping our sanity and bringing families and loved ones together. But the truth is, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this bread.

Tradition

A word about tradition. When it comes to food, I am all about tradition. I understand that with the plethora of food blogs and bloggers out there, everyone is looking for the new “it” recipe to fill space and gain new followers. Over time, I have even tried many of these recipes and rarely do I find that they are an improvement. New is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to food. So you can take your stuffed challah and challah using all kinds of different grains and strange ingredients. For my money and my family, Lisa’s Challah is the one that will stand the test of time. The only tweaks that I will allow are whether to use raisins or not (my husband loves them; my son – not so much) and to add sesame or poppy seeds to the glaze or to leave it plain. Okay, I did once make my vegan challah using chocolate chips instead of raisins as a special treat for the children.

The Pupil Surpasses the Teacher

And while this recipe and method is mine, I will happily admit that the student has surpassed the teacher. My husband retired a few years ago and has taken an interest in doing some cooking. And after 35 years of preparing three meals a day, I’m very happy for him to occasionally cook a meal for us. He started helping me to bake bread when the arthritis in my hands got bad and now he has become the challah maker every week. Our son also is making his family’s challah and I couldn’t be prouder. And while I am always on hand to give advice and check the dough, I have to give credit where it is due. My husband is way better at braiding than I ever was and he creates a beautiful and consistent challah week after week.

Lisa’s Challah Revisited

I am including this recipe exactly as my husband has written it down. Since he was a complete novice at bread baking, he needed to have the recipe make sense for him. If he could learn to make THE best challah, you can too. We enjoy this bread every shabbat and all week long. Left-overs make great toast with butter and cinnamon or honey or french toast. You can also make next week’s dessert using left-over challah for the best bread pudding. This recipe makes one large loaf. It can be doubled or divided into two small loaves. If you do the latter, you will have to reduce your baking time by about 12 to 15 minutes,

Recipe

Yield: 1 large loaf

Ingredients

2.25 teaspoons active dried yeast

1/3 cup warm water (It should feel warm to your finger, but not burning)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

½ cup warm water

2 X-tra large eggs, at room temperature

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup canola oil

1/8 cup honey

3+ cups flour – either all-purpose, unbleached flour or bread flour (I prefer to use bread flour, but all-purpose will work too)

1/3 cup raisins, tossed with ¼ tsp. all-purpose unbleached flour (Optional)

1/3 cup of granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten for the glaze

Directions

  1. Place yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/3 cup warm (to the touch) water in a large bowl and mix well. Allow the yeast to proof for 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Once the yeast is bubbly, add the remaining 1/2 cup warm water, eggs, salt, oil, honey and 1 cup of flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture for 100 strokes.
  3. Add 1 more cup of flour and the raisins and stir through.
  4. Add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and one more cup of flour and mix using a wooden spoon or a dough scraper until there are no more visible shreds of dough. If the dough still looks wet, add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup of flour and stir or knead to incorporate. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 12 minutes. (This allows the gluten to begin to form and prevents you from adding more flour than is needed, which would make for a heavier bread.)
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, adding flour by the tablespoonful only as needed to keep the dough from sticking (usually about 1/4 cup). You want to use as little as possible to produce a supple, unsticky dough. You know you have kneaded enough when you poke two holes in the dough with your fingers and it springs back quickly.
  6. Form the dough into a tight ball and place back in the bowl which has been coated with about 1 to 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Roll the dough in the oil to coat and then cover the bowl. I use a towel, but plastic wrap also works.
  7. Place the dough in a draft-free spot like the microwave and allow it to rise for about 1.5 to 2 hours. The dough will have doubled and you know it is ready when you poke two fingers into the dough and the holes remain.
  8. Punch down the dough, removing any air bubbles. Turn out onto a clean surface and pat the dough into a rectangle. Using your dough scraper or a knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise in half again until you have 4 mostly equal strands. Try not to stretch the strands too much.
  9. Lay the strands lengthwise next to, but not touching one another. Place the top ends of the strands together.

Braiding the Challah

There are many videos and instructions out there on how to braid challah using 3, 4, 5 and 6 strands. Find one that works for you and go with it. My husband followed this video and so far it has consistently produced a beautiful 4-strand braid.

We now have four strands of dough. The left-most is in position 1, the next one is in position 2, the next is in position 3, and the right-most is in position 4. When we say “pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3” we mean that you should pick up the left-most strand (at position 1), move it to the right –  jumping over two strands – and then put it down.  The strands you jumped over are now in positions 1 and 2, your strand is now in position 3, and the right-most strand is in position 4.

  1. Without pulling (just lift) pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3. Then pick up strand 4 and move it to position 2. Finally, pick up strand 3 and move it to position 2. Keep repeating this pattern until you come to the bottom.
  2. If it starts to narrow too much, simply fold the dough underneath.
  3. Press the bottom strands together. Press the top strands together. Carefully move the braid (using the dough scraper to help) onto a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicon mat. Spray lightly with cooking spray, cover with a tented piece of waxed paper and allow to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. While the bread is rising, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg.
  5. When the dough has risen, paint it several times with the egg mixture. If you are adding sesame or poppy seeds, sprinkle them across the painted dough. Then carefully paint them one more time to be sure they adhere as much as possible. Discard any remaining egg. Place the dough in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway if your oven is uneven like mine. Bake until the bread is a beautiful brown and sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. Remove the bread to a cooling rack.

One-Pot Chicken with Beans and Fresh Herbs

Umami in a pan

One-Pot Chicken with Beans and Fresh Herbs makes a savory and satisfying dinner. It takes no time or special skills to prep, is budget-friendly and can easily be tailored to your personal tastes.

I’m always looking for meals that are full of flavor, reasonably healthy and which don’t break the bank. Chicken thighs are the perfect solution. They are versatile, almost impossible to over-cook and are always available. And best of all, they lend themselves to one-pan meals. They are inexpensive enough to serve on a weeknight but can also be dressed up for company. Unless you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can’t go wrong. And unlike chicken breasts these days which are bred to be huge, chicken thighs are proportioned for healthy eating.

We have been growing fresh herbs on our terrace, but now that winter temperatures have hit, the pots have moved indoors. So I used my ready supply of fresh herbs for this dish. If you don’t grow your own, choose whatever looks good at the market. You could use dried herbs here as well, by halving the amount. But do buy fresh for this One-Pot Chicken with Beans and Fresh Herbs if it is an option.

All you need to complete the meal is a grain or some crusty bread. And while we enjoy drinking and cooking with wine, you could use chicken broth in its place here.

For other one-pan/one-pot chicken recipes check these out:

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt

Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Olives and Kale Salad with Lemon Anchovy Dressing

Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas

Nigella Lawson’s Sheet Pan Chicken, Leeks and Peas

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings, depending on sides

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons neutral oil such as Canola or grapeseed (You could use all oil if you prefer to not mix dairy and meat)

2.5 pounds of bone-in, skin on chicken thighs

14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes in their own juices

15 ounce can of cannellini beans or Great Northern, drained and rinsed

Generous 1/4 chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary and thyme, but you could use oregano, parsley or any combination)

2 small bay leaves

1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced

1 head of garlic, with cloves peeled and lightly smashed

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

In a 12-inch deep skillet with a lid, heat the oil and butter (or all oil if using). Season your chicken thighs with salt and pepper to taste. If you are using kosher chickens, use less salt.

Place the thighs skin-side down in the pan and cook for 8 minutes without stirring. (I like to use a screen over the pan to cut down on splatter and mess.) This will turn the skin to a lovely brown. Turn off the heat and turn the chicken thighs so that the browned skin is now facing up.

Evenly scatter the remaining ingredients around the chicken and place the pan, uncovered in the heated oven. (Could this GET any easier?)

Cook for 1.25 hours. Now eat! If you want, you can garnish with a little additional fresh herbs, but it’s just for show.

Garlicky Beet Spread

This Garlicky Beet Spread has attitude! The small amount of horseradish lends a delightful piquancy without punching you in the face. Great as a dip and perfect with vegetable fritters or latkes (a crispy oniony potato pancake eaten on Hanukkah). And it’s sooooo pretty! You can whip this up in minutes, especially if you use prepared beets. And let’s face it, why make more work for yourself when there are perfectly good time-savers available?

I LOVE beets in just about any form. In fact, when I was pregnant the only craving I had in nine months was for pickled beets. So when I saw this recipe by Melissa Clark, I knew that I was going to try it. Since I happened to be cooking salmon for my Shabbat dinner, I was able to use this dip as an accompaniment. It did not disappoint. I made a few minor tweaks, both to clarify and suit it to our tastes. With Hanukkah almost here, I just might use this as an alternative to sour cream and applesauce with my latkes. Then again, why mess with tradition!

For other great beet recipes, check these out:

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Beet Caviar

And for a dessert option with beets

Fudgy Brownies with Beets and Walnuts

Recipe

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

About 8 to 9 ounces of prepared beets (roasted and peeled)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1/2 cup of lightly toasted walnuts (See note on toasting)

1 very large clove of garlic or its equivalent

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup of Greek-style yogurt (Use one that is at least 2% fat)

2 Tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (1/2 of a juicy lemon)

1 Tablespoon of fresh dill plus more for garnish

1.5 teaspoons of prepared fresh horseradish (I happened to use beet horseradish which only enhanced the color of the dip)

Directions

Using a food processor, grind the walnuts, garlic and salt until very fine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients. Pulse until mostly smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon or salt, if needed.

Note on toasting nuts

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place the nuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about 12 minutes or until you just begin to smell the nuts. You can shake the pan once during the cooking. Alternatively, you can toast nuts in a dry pan on your stove. Watch them carefully, jiggling every few minutes. Nothing will happen until it does. The second you smell the nuts, remove them from the heat. These methods work with just about any nut. I always toast more than I need and use up extras in salads or for munching.

Chocolate Stout Gingerbread Cake

Chocolate Stout Gingerbread Cake is everything that makes the fall and winter cold worthwhile. When I baked this cake my house smelled of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and molasses. And did I mention chocolate? Every time I lift the cover on my cake plate the scents of mulled spices waft up and fill me with the smells of cozy snuggles in front of the fireplace.

This incredibly moist, dark, rich – and yet simple – cake is the perfect dessert for those long, chilly evenings that will be with us for the next several months. Eat Chocolate Stout Gingerbread Cake as is or warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. And if you can’t find chocolate stout, any dark stout will work here. While this gingerbread certainly is not complicated, you can also try the James Beard Gingerbread which is so easy and quick that I used to make it for my son to enjoy after I returned home from a long day of work.

The recipe for this cake comes from Claudia Fleming via David Lebovitz and tweaked by me.

Recipe

Yield: One 10-cup bundt cake

Ingredients

1 cup stout, preferably chocolate

1 cup light molasses

1/2 Tablespoon light molasses

1/2 Tablespoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

2 Tablespoons ground ginger

3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 large or extra large eggs at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup neutral-flavored vegetable oil (I used Canola)

1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a cooking spray with flour such as Baker’s Joy, generously coat a 10-cup bundt pan. Be sure to use one that does not have a lot of grooves or the moist cake will be more likely to stick.

Heat the molasses and stout in a deep, medium saucepan until it comes to a boil. (You need a lot of headroom in the pot!) Turn off the heat and stir in the baking soda. The contents will whoosh up so be prepared. Allow the foam to subside and the mixture to cool a bit.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and all of the dry spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the granulated and brown sugars until there are no lumps. Then whisk in the oil until smooth.

Now whisk in the molasses/stout mixture and then gradually whisk in the dry ingredients just until mixed through. Stir in the fresh ginger. The batter will be rather liquidy but don’t worry – it’s the way it should be.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. This can take anywhere from one hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. Allow the cake to cool most of the way in the pan – until you can easily handle the pan with your bare hands. Gently run a thin spatula around the edges of the cake. Then turn the cake out. I had to give it a few good bangs onto my cake plate but it came out cleanly. Now enjoy! My husband especially loves eating the cake warmed up in the microwave for about 10 seconds with vanilla ice cream and old-fashioned fruit compote on the side.

Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu

Meatless Monday

Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu is a delicious meatless meal ready in 30 minutes. It’s ingredients are flexible. And with a few cheats anyone can make this in under 30 minutes. If you are looking for a meatless Monday meal or just something fresh and healthy, look no further.

The One Joy of Getting Older

My husband and I just returned from two glorious weeks with our first grandchild. I know that everyone says this, but our granddaughter REALLY is the most beautiful, wonderful baby ever – until the next one! While it was great visiting our kids and spending so much time together, I returned home tired and with a bad throat. After one expensive and awful order-in meal, I decided that I simply needed to cook something healthy for us that wouldn’t take a lot of time or energy. The Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu was the perfect solution.

Making Use of Cooking Cheats

I placed an online delivery order and had everything I needed for a week of food within a couple of hours. I normally really enjoy grocery shopping and am VERY picky about my produce, so I was a bit anxious how the order would turn out. In general, it was pretty good and a nice option when you are under-the-weather or the weather is awful.

The prep for this meal took no time which left plenty of time for watching videos of our granddaughter. While I enjoy doing things myself in the kitchen and understand that it can be more cost-effective, sometimes using some cheats is worth it. Time is an all-too-precious commodity that most of us don’t have. So if you want to make your own cauliflower “rice” and grate your own ginger, please do. But many of us are lucky enough to live within easy access to quality prepared ingredients. And, I for one, am not ashamed to admit using them from time to time.

Don’t get too bogged down in actual quantities. You can be flexible. If you want more carrot, go for it. If you don’t like or can’t get sugar snap peas, use frozen English peas etc.

Recipe

Yield: 2 to 4 servings, depending on appetite (My husband and I ate the whole thing)

Ingredients

16 oz. cauliflower “rice”

7 oz. baked tofu (Like Wildwood brand Teriyaki Baked Tofu) cut into 1-inch dice

3 Large or Xtra Large eggs, lightly beaten wit the Mirin, if using

About 2 teaspoons of Mirin or dry sherry (optional)

3 to 4 scallions, white and light green part only – thinly sliced

1 carrot, peeled and cut into smallish dice

About 1 cup of sugar snap or snow peas, trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal OR 1 cup of frozen peas

About one cup of fresh mung bean sprouts, rinsed in cold water

1 Tablespoon grated fresh peeled ginger (I used prepared fresh ginger from a jar)

1 rounded teaspoon crushed or finely minced fresh garlic

About 3 Tablespoons neutral oil like Canola

About 2 Tablespoons low sodium soy or tamari sauce or to taste

Generous pinch of kosher salt

Toasted Sesame oil for drizzling

Directions

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the scallions and toss for about 1 minute. Then add the beaten eggs and cook as you would an omelette. When the omelette is cooked through, remove it from the pan and slice it into strips.

In the same wok or pan, add the last tablespoon of oil. Add the grated ginger and garlic and saute for about a minute. Add the cauliflower “rice” and carrot and toss well to coat with the oil, garlic and ginger. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes or just until the cauliflower begins to soften. Now add soy sauce and toss through.

Add the tofu, peas and egg/scallion strips and toss through. Add the bean sprouts and quickly toss. Taste and adjust salt/ soy sauce. Serve drizzled with sesame oil. If you want to get fancier you can top with a little extra sliced scallion.

Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies

I decided to revisit this recipe after watching an episode of Valerie Bertinelli where she made lemon rosemary shortbread. I made a few changes and I think you will really like the results. These melt-in-your mouth Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies are a little taste of Provence. Give them a try; they make wonderful holiday or hostess gift cookies. For other delicious and easy-to-make cookies for an afternoon tea, try Financiers or Mandelbread.

I tend to get seduced by recipes and so I have all of these special spices and herbs around the kitchen. When a colleague baked some lavender cookies, I, of course, went on a search for the best dried edible lavender. Growing up, lavender grew like a weed in our backyard and every year my mother and I would dry it and then sew sachets for gifts and to put in our drawers. I still remember the beautiful amber colored watered silk that we used to contrast with the pretty lavender colored ribbon that we tied around the sachet. While these cookies will most definitely NOT go in my lingerie drawer, they do evoke that wonderful childhood memory. However, they do not taste like potpourri or soap. They taste like Provence, the flavoring is actually quite subtle and they simply melt in your mouth. While not vegan, they do not have any egg. They could be made with vegan buttery sticks, but since butter is the star here, personally I would not go that route. Your choice.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies by Erica Leahy, The Artist Baker – Morristown, NJ and tweaked by me

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh lavender or 1.5 teaspoons dried lavender buds
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried mint
  • Zest of one lemon

For Garnish

  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried lavender
  • 1/4 cup granulated or coarse sugar

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and salt until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes. Add in vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, sift together the all-purpose and cake flours. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between each addition. Add the lavender, lemon zest and mint and mix to just combine. The dough may appear crumbly but will come together when rolled in plastic wrap.
  2. Roll out the dough to a long roll about 2.5 inches in diameter, using the plastic wrap to form the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  3. Meanwhile mix the 1/4 cup sugar with the lemon zest and lavender in a small bowl. Cover and set aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cut the log in half and refrigerate one half while you work on the other half. Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the dough into 1/2 inch thick disks and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the cookies until just golden at the edges, about 25 to 28 minutes. Ovens vary so watch them after 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with the lemon, lavender sugar mixture. Any extra will be wonderful in tea or certain mixed drinks. Let cool completely before serving. While these will be delicious with coffee or milk, the true, delicate floral notes will come out with a nice light tea or a dessert wine.

Swiss Chard Sauté

Swiss Chard is an under-rated vegetable. There, I’ve said it. But once you have tried this easy-to-prepare Swiss Chard Sauté, you will become a convert.

So what is Swiss Chard? It’s a green, leafy vegetable that is high in vitamins A, K, C and E as well as the minerals magnesium, manganese, iron and potassium. Young plants can be eaten raw in salads and more mature plants (what you generally see in the produce section of your grocery store) is best eaten sauteed. In Turkey and Egypt is is often cooked into soup or broth. I love the slightly peppery taste and the contrast of the somewhat crunchy tender stems along with the softer leaves. It can be blanched and added to quiche instead of spinach or kale for a more flavorful accent. But this Swiss Chard Sauté is probably the simplest way to prepare it and something my son enjoyed even as a young child.

Great as part of a vegan meal or as a side to grilled fish, chicken or meat. I like left-overs with scrambled eggs for breakfast the next day. However, you enjoy it, be sure to pick a bunch with shiny, unblemished leaves and the tenderest stems. Chard comes in different varieties – green, rainbow and red – but they all taste pretty much the same and any could be used in this recipe, which can be easily be doubled. This version comes from Jane Brody’s Good Food Cookbook, a great source of delicious and nutritious recipes.

Recipe for Swiss Chard Saute

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients

Mangold or Swiss chard 'Rainbow' leaves isolated on white

2 teaspoons EVOO or good vegetable oil

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

1/2 cup sliced leeks (white part only) or 1/2 onion, halved and thinly sliced

2/3 cup thinly sliced celery

1 Tablespoon broth (vegetable or chicken) or water

1 good bunch of Swiss Chard, coarsely chopped, including thinner stems

Freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste

Directions

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok, preferably non-stick. Add the garlic, leeks or onion and celery. Sauté the vegetables, stirring them for about 3 minutes.

Add the broth or water and the Swiss Chard. Season with salt and pepper, stirring the ingredients to combine them. I find that using tongs works best here. Cover the pan and simmer/steam the mixture, stirring occasionally over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the chard is just wilted and tender.

Butternut Squash and Arugula Pizza

This simply beautiful, tasty and healthy pizza hits all of the right notes for autumn. Butternut squash and arugula pizza is colorful, smells wonderful and tastes even better. And it’s simple to make at home! This recipe is another success from Valerie Bertinelli’s kitchen.

The vibrant orange of the butternut squash and the bright, deep green of the arugula will make any cheerless, wet autumn day seem just a little bit brighter. And the tang of goat cheese along with the ooey gooeyness of mozzarella makes for the perfect mouthfeel. Additional umami comes from the fresh sage, rosemary, garlic and lemon. What’s not to love here? Did I mention that it was easy to put together? So the next time you are looking for a delicious vegetarian option – perfect for meatless Monday – or want pizza without the guilt, try this Butternut Squash and Arugula Pizza.

While most vegetables are available all year long these days, autumn really begins squash season. And not only do squashes taste great and are versatile, but they are nutrient rich foods. Butternut squash is low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals and beta carotene. For some other great recipe ideas that use butternut squash, check these out:

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Spiced Butternut Squash and Farro Salad

Red Quinoa and Butternut Squash Salad

And for a different take on Butternut Squash Pizza

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Dough

2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves 

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast 

1/2 teaspoon sugar 

Kosher salt 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl 

Cornmeal, for dusting, optional 

Topping

One 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch slices (I had a bigger squash so roasted all of it and saved the rest for another use.)

2 1/2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

2 tablespoons torn fresh sage leaves 

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary 

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 

1 large garlic clove, smashed 

2 cups shredded mozzarella

4 ounces goat cheese, coarsely crumbled 

3 cups baby arugula 

Zest of 1 lemon plus juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

For the dough: Combine the flour, rosemary, yeast, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 3/4 cup warm water and the oil and process until the dough forms a ball. Transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

For the topping: Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the squash with 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Roast until just tender, about 10 minutes.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the sage, rosemary, red pepper flakes and garlic. Heat for 1 to 2 minutes, just to infuse the oil.

Sprinkle cornmeal or flour on a 14-inch pizza pan and set aside. (I used a heavy-duty cookie sheet because I have a pizza steel but not a pan. The steel was a bit small. The cookie sheet worked just fine.)

Liberally flour a clean work surface. Place the dough on top and use your hands to stretch it out into a 14-inch circle. After patting it out with my fingers, I gently rolled the dough over my knuckles, pushing out carefully to stretch the dough. The circle doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s “rustic,” as Valerie would say! Carefully lay the dough on the pizza pan/cookie sheet. Brush the infused oil onto the dough. Top with the mozzarella and the roasted squash, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge.


Bake the pizza until the crust is golden brown, 14 to 18 minutes. Carefully sprinkle the goat cheese evenly on top.

Toss the arugula with the 2 teaspoons olive oil, lemon zest and juice and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Top the pizza with the arugula, then cut into slices to serve.

Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Tonight we’re having Greek Red Lentil Soup for dinner and I wanted some kind of bread to go with it. Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is the perfect accompaniment. Between the lentils and the chickpeas I certainly don’t need to worry about protein or flavor. This would be the perfect “meatless Monday” meal! And while I have no issues with gluten and happen to love almost all breads and pastas, this recipe is not only vegan, but it is gluten-free. The Socca was especially delicious drizzled with EVOO and with either tapenade or roasted smushed garlic spread on top. I’m just sayin’.

I will never be able to eat Socca without thinking of Julia Child. She did one of her TV episodes on the South of France and highlighted Socca. At the end of the show, in that inimitable Julia Child voice and with her joie de vivre, she looked at the audience and said “Socca to me!” [For those too young to recall the TV show Laugh-In, “Sock it to me” was a recurring phrase.]

What is Socca, really?

Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is a traditional Southern French treat. There are a dozen different ways you can make it. You’ll most often find socca cooked street-side on fiery grills, where the resulting flatbread is coarsely chopped and served in a cone with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. While every home cook in the South of France may have their own technique for preparing the batter, the ingredients are almost always the same: chickpea flour water, and olive oil. The Socca sold on the street are more crepe-like than this recipe but it still is delicious and worth making.

What is chickpea flour and is it the same as besan?

Chickpea flour is made from dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and is also commonly known as garbanzo flourgram flour, and besan. However, besan or gram flour is a flour of chana dal or split brown chickpeas. Chickpea flour or garbanzo flour is ground up white chickpeas. I happened to have besan on hand the first time I made this so that is what I used. I then bought chickpea/garbanzo flour and made it again. I also used 4.5 ounces of flour the second time instead of going with 1 cup. It turned out that one cup actually weighed out to 5.33 ounces. So which was better?

Both were good, but if I had to choose, I preferred the one made with actual chickpea flour and when I measured by weight rather than cups. The resulting socca had more flavor and was more reminiscent of what you would buy from a street vendor in Nice. I also drizzled olive oil on the top after 5 minutes in the oven and then returned it to the oven for another 3 minutes. When it came out of the broiler, I then drizzled more EVOO and sprinkled on my za’atar. The edges and bottom were brown and crispy and the middle was just barely flexible. I could get addicted to this especially since it is sooooooooooo easy to make. The second time I ate it with my delicious split pea soup. So, so satisfying.

Recipe for Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chickpea flour (4 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan and drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1+ teaspoon za’atar (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the chickpea batter. Whisk the chickpea flour, water, olive oil, rosemary and salt together in a medium bowl until smooth. Let rest for 30 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the water.
  2. Preheat the oven with the pan. Arrange an oven rack 6 inches below the broiler element and heat to 450°F with a 10-inch cast iron skillet inside. About 5 minutes before the batter is done resting, turn the oven to broil. (Don’t try this with any other kind of pan. And if you don’t have a cast iron skillet – get one. They are the best for so many things but especially when you want to really sear or brown food.)
  3. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add about 1+ teaspoon of oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan when the pan is swirled. Pour the batter into the center of the pan. Tilt the pan so the batter coats the entire surface of the pan.
  4. Broil the socca for 5 to 8 minutes. Broil the socca for 5 minutes. The top will begin to look a bit cracked. Drizzle generously with EVOO and return the pan to the oven for about 3 more minutes. The socca should be fairly flexible in the middle but crispy on the edges.
  5. Slice and serve. Use a flat spatula to work your way under the socca and ease it from the pan onto a cutting board. It should come right out leaving your pan practically clean. Drizzle with more EVOO and sprinkle with za’atar. Slice it into wedges or squares.

RECIPE NOTES

Storage: Socca is best if eaten immediately after baking while still warm, but can be refrigerated and re-toasted for up to 1 week.

Chickpea flour: You can find chickpea flour in the bulk bins at Whole Foods and other natural foods-type stores. Bob’s Red Mill also sells it in packages. Look for it under the name “garbanzo bean flour” if you’re having trouble finding it.