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

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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.

Minestrone with Pesto

Forget the diner cliché; this hearty soup deserves respect!

Minestra is Italian for thick soup and minestrone is a large or rich minestra.

There is no rule for making minestrone. The only secret…fresh vegetables.

 

Cauliflower, turnips, carrots and other fresh vegetables may be used in place of or in addition to the ingredients called for.

Recipe:
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 lb. swiss chard
1/4 lb. spinach
2 small zucchini
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and diced
2 japanese eggplants, peeled and diced
2 cups tubetti pasta
2 cups cooked white beans
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Pesto:
2 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. grated parmigianno-reggiano

  1. Soak mushrooms in 2 cups warm water until soft. Remove, rinse, chop and set aside. Pour mushroom water through a coffee filter and set aside. Wash chard and spinach. Trim and discard stalks from chard and stems from spinach. Chop leaves.
  2. Bring mushroom water and 6 cups salted water to boil in a large pot. Add mushrooms, chard, spinach, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant and olive oil. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 1 hour.
  3. For pesto, pulse pine nuts and salt in a food processor until finely ground. Add garlic and basil and drizzle in olive oil. Add parmiggiano-reggiano and process into a smooth paste.
  4. Add pasta to soup. Cook pasta for about 10 minutes; add beans and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in 2 tbsp. pesto, reserving the rest for another use, and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional grated parmiggiano-reggiano.

 

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Curried Pumpkin Gnocchi

Fall is full of culinary options and pumpkins provide endless cooking possibilities.  If I’m not experimenting with a new pumpkin soup, I’m most likely trying to find an exciting sauce to pair with my fluffy pumpkin gnocchi.

For the Gnocchi:
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 cup pumpkin, peeled, roughly chopped and cooked
2 egg
2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

Making the Gnocchi:
See Recipe Here

For the Sauce:
I made this sauce spontaneously and never recorded my ingredients or recipe. The basic idea is to toast several Indian spices (think Garam Masala) in a pan, add some curry powder and turmeric, one minced hot chile pepper and some olive oil. Let this cook together to release all the aromas. Add vegetable or chicken stock, reduce, drop in the cooked gnocchi and finish with butter and salt.

Let me know what you did and how it turned out!