Eggs, Rutabaga, Sumac & Fried Sage

Rutabagas! I love that word. In the world of funny food names, I think it’s up there with kumquat and sassafras.

The rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. People often avoid this root vegetable because of its peculiarity and because, like cabbage, it becomes more flavored and odorous when cooked.

Rutabagas are available year round with a peak in the fall and winter. These roots range from tan to violet in color and are larger than turnips; choose smooth, heavy, and firm roots. Smaller rutabagas, 4″ in diameter, tend to have sweeter flavor. This root stores for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator or at room temperature for a week. Rutabagas are usually covered in wax, so it’s best to quarter the root, then peel the skin before cooking.

       

Sumac spice comes from the berries of a wild bush that grows wild in all Mediterranean areas, especially in Sicily and southern Italy, and parts of the Middle East, notably Iran. It is an essential ingredient in Arabic cooking, being preferred to lemon for sourness and astringency

As a side dish or a nice alternative to potatoes or grits, Rutabaga purée is an excellent choice. I simply peeled the rutabaga, cut it into medium-sized chunks and cooked them as I would mashed potatoes, whisking in butter and cream at the end. If it tickles your fancy, you could do as the Irish do and add turnips or potatoes to the purée…I think they call it “Pats and Nips.”

I fried some sage leaves and set them aside on paper towels, then slowly braised two eggs in butter for a few minutes. I served the eggs with the rutabaga purée and fried sage leaves, then sprinkled some sumac over it to give it that whisper of citrus.

The kitchen had that wonderful odor of a grandmother cooking cabbage. I think next time, I’ll use the rutabaga as a substitute for cabbage and see what happens. Perhaps I’ll add rutabaga to slow-braised pork!

~

© Giovanni Cucullo 2011

Advertisements

The Noble Cardoon

Cardoons or carduni, as my father calls them, are a member of the thistle family, resembling celery stalks but with a flavor reminiscent of artichokes. Cardoons are only available from November to February and even then it would take a bit of effort to find some. It’s obscurity, combined with its high-maintenance preparation has deterred many people from even approaching them, but this noble thistle – which centuries ago was called the wealthy man’s treat – surely deserves some attention.

After separating the stalks, they must be thoroughly rinsed and then trimmed of all thorns and leaves. The indigestible stringy fibers are then shaved off with a vegetable peeler. The stalks are then roughly chopped and allowed to soak in acidulated water (water with lemon or vinegar).  Lastly, they are parboiled to take away some of its bitterness.

Cardoon Gratin Recipe:

3 cups heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 lbs. cardoons, prepared as above
1 cup grated fontina

  1. Place cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Place cardoons into the cream mixture.
  2. Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cardoon are tender, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cardoon pieces to individual gratin dishes (or a 1-quart baking dish).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Reduce cream mixture to about 3/4 cup over medium heat. Discard the bay leaf and pour the sauce over the gratin dishes, sprinkle the fontina on top, and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

One of my favorite Italian restaurants is al di la in Park Slope Brooklyn, and that is the only restaurant where I have ever seen cardoons on the menu.

“Old School” Stuffed Peppers


Recipe
:

6 large bell peppers
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 cups soft bread crumbs
2 cups bread, softened in milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt & pepper to taste

 
Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stems and seeds; set the peppers aside. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the celery, onions and garlic. Add the ground beef and sauté together until the beef is completely cooked and the onions begin to soften. Add the bread crumbs, softened bread, 1/4 cup of the parmesan and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Work the eggs into the stuffing. If more moisture is needed, add a little milk or broth to the stuffing mixture. Spoon a tablespoon of tomato sauce into each pepper then fill with the stuffing. Place them in a shallow baking dish greased with olive oil and a touch of tomato sauce. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 30 minutes or until the bell peppers are tender. Spoon more tomato sauce over each stuffed pepper and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake 8 to 10 minutes longer.  Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and finish with more parmesan cheese. Serve!

Roasted Peppers

Doesn’t everyone love roasted peppers??

Simple and delicious, the secret to perfect roasted peppers is as easy as this:

  1. Coat red and yellow peppers with oil and roast in a very hot oven until black and blistered, turning as needed. You could also grill them or even sit them right on the open flame of your stove.
  2. Place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The steam of the peppers will loosen the charred skin making them easier to peel.
  3. Once cool enough to handle, peel the peppers, remove the stems, scrape out the seeds and slice the peppers as desired.
  4. Now you can season the peppers with salt, pepper, garlic, basil or whatever makes your taste buds go kerflooey.

Enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, Cashews & Honey

Here is one of the best tips I can offer:
DON’T OVER COOK BRUSSELS SPROUTS!

I briefly scanned the internet to see how other chefs were preparing brussels sprouts and I was very surprised at how many recipes called for boiling them before cooking or roasting them in the oven for 30 minutes or more.

TOTALLY UNNECESSARY!

In fact, extended cooking times for brussels sprouts is what creates that stinky & pungent cabbage-like odor. Rebecca hates cabbage but she LOVES my brussels sprouts! This recipe will produce a tender, crunchy and sweet vegetable.

Recipe:

1 pint of brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 slices of bacon, pancetta or sopressata, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon cashews or walnuts
1 tablespoon acacia honey
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
Salt & pepper

  1. Brown bacon in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Turn heat to high, add brussels sprouts and roast several minutes, tossing occasionally until evenly colored. Add more oil if needed. Season with salt, pepper and chile flakes.
  3. Return bacon to pan. Add nuts and honey and toss to coat for about one minute. Serve!

NB: Vegetarians can omit the bacon with equal success.