You might know that I got married in New Orleans this summer, so I made several trips there this year. Besides ordering cakes and flowers, I also squeezed in a story. Did you know there are several Vietnamese-American communities along the Gulf Coast? My story on the Modern Farmer website profiles VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative, a group of urban farmers in New Orleans East community og Village de L’Est who are finding strength in numbers to make growing food more viable. Check it out!
Entries Tagged as 'Vegetables'
Magazine Street really exploded into THE STRIP after the flood. Blocks and blocks of busy shops and restaurants appeared, while just five minutes away, the formerly bustling South Claiborne Avenue looked like a ghost town. Yes, the strip had its share of blinking traffic lights. The crazy drivers of New Orleans impressively learned to treat each intersection like a four-way stop sign. But besides damaged roofs, most of the buildings in the Strip bubble were unscathed.
We strolled the Strip “30 minutes each day, no excuses!” we shouted. Not to get all Confederacy of Dunces, but the daily sightings of neighborhood characters (henceforth referred to as “stripsters”) was comforting. There was an older man with a gray beard and long dreads who dutifully hobbled the Strip with his walking stick, greeting us cheerfully “Hey ladies, how y’all doing? God bless y’all!” There was the pixieish blond girl, always clothed in a vintage sheath dress. She disdainfully sighed at the clothes I dared to sell at her second hand clothing store. And there was also a small child of about ten years old, shilling miniature pies outside the neighborhood A&P. His life’s story was mapped out in my mind, that his mother had no choice but to bake delightful miniature pies to make ends meet. More likely, he was just annoying, so she sent him out to burn off his energy. “Pies! Do y’all want pies?” He yelled, “We got pecan, lemon chess, sweet potato…”
Sweet potato! It sounded so exotic to me. That particular pie has loomed large in my imagination ever since I was a middle schooler in Rhode Island listening to Domino sing his underreated 90′s rap classic “so break me off a piece of that sweet potato pie” (the innuendo was lost on me at the time). The sweet potato pie was everything I had dreamed it would be. An electric orange, slightly warm, cloying, and dense custard– pretty much the perfect dessert in my mind. It was not heavily flavored with spices, so the tuber’s natural earthy sweetness stole the show. Of course the smooth filling was cradled in a tender, homemade butter crust.
Do you think that little boy, who is probably in high school now, is still selling pies? Am I the real stripster in his mind? Do you think he remembers me at all? Probably not. Life keeps moving, and Magazine Street isn’t just a freeze frame from that dizzying, drunken time. Which means I have to make my own sweet potato desserts.
Here’s a treasonous secret I never revealed to the pie boy: I prefer French tart crusts to regular pie. That shortbread quality gets me every single time. This particular tart crust from David Lebovitz is the best. thing. ever. It’s a bizarre, yet foolproof technique that results in a slightly salty caramelized crust.
The key is to puree all of the ingredients in the food processor. It results in an extra-smooth and fluffy filling that plays off the textural contrast of the crunchy pecans and crisp butter crust. I throw a generous pinch of dried ginger into the filling, but vanilla bean is key. Those tiny black seeds dotting the orange custard leave behind a haunting floral note.
Please don’t add cinnamon and clove. Yes, pumpkin pie has its righteous yet rubbery place at the Thanksgiving table, but it has no place here. Get over it.
Sweet Potato Tart with Pecans
1 recipe French tart dough
90 g (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used canola)
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
150 g (5oz, or 1 slightly-rounded cup) flour
Sweet potato filling
1 medium sweet potato
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 teaspoon dried ground ginger
2 tablespoons melted salted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons salted butter, softened and cubed
1. Poke holes in the sweet potato, and roast it in the oven at 410º F. In the meantime, gather your ingredients for the tart dough. You should be able to pierce it with a fork after 30 – 45 minutes. At this point, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.
2. Leave the oven on and follow the ingredients to make the tart dough. Do not bake it– just set your dough lined tart pan aside.
3. Turn the heat down to 375º F. Using a fork, scrape the orange flesh of the sweet potato into the food processor, along with the seeds of the vanilla bean. Add the dried ginger, melted butter, sugar, milk, and cracked egg. Puree the sweet potato mixture for 30 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and then puree it again until completely smooth and the filling has formed a uniform texture.
4. In a small bowl, combine the pecans, butter, and sugar. Using your fingers, incorporate the ingredients so that the pecans are evenly coated with the crumbly sugar mixture.
5. Pour the sweet potato into the prepared tart shell and use a spatula to smooth the surface. Evenly scatter the pecans over the top. Bake at 375º F for 25 – 30 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.
I didn’t bring this recipe back with me from living in Spain– it’s actually inspired by a dish from a bar in New Orleans. In my mind, Mimi’s in the Marigny is more famous for boozing hardcore at 4am instead of food. The website says “the vibe at Mimi’s in the Marigny is more house party than hotspot.” That sort of kills me, but I reluctantly admit that’s its an apt description. These delicately creamy mushrooms cradled in melted manchego cheese on crisp toasts are just as satisfying when sober. The mushrooms are best cooked in sherry, but I’ve begrudgingly cooked them in white wine a time or two. The results were still outstanding.
Mushroom Manchego Toasts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 small shallots, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1/4 cup sherry
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon cream cheese
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 baguette, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound of manchego cheese, thinly sliced into triangles
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent and just lightly browned.
2. Add the garlic to the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, for about three minutes.
3. Now add the sliced mushrooms to the skillet and season generously with salt and pepper. Turn up the heat to medium high, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Deglaze the pan with the sherry, scraping the browned bits from the bottom.
5. After most of the sherry has reduced, turn the heat back to medium and stir in the milk. Cook until it has reduced by more than half.
6. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream cheese. Now add the paprika and parsley, and stir until evenly distributed.
7. Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Arrange the cheese to cover the slices and place in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove from the oven. Spoon the mushrooms over the toasts and serve.
What are your sherry emotions? It always makes me think of: a. My grandma’s drink of choice b. When I lived in Madrid and was unknowingly in a sherry bar. I took a sip of my supposed white wine and almost spit it out. Sherry straight up tastes like chamomile-flavored urine if you’re expecting something else. Apparently that’s why one variety is called manzanilla, the same word as chamomile tea minus the urine part. Now I’ve come around to some varieties of fino sherry in my old age.
But cooking with sherry is the best! It pairs miraculously with mushrooms, trumping boring old white wine every time. One Sunday afternoon, the state of Texas foiled my mushroom cooking plans by forbidding the sale of liquor on the Sabbath. I picked up a bottle of sherry at HEB, and the clerk immediately ripped it out of my hands. Sherry’s alcohol content places it in the “liquor” category, but I’m not about to chug a bottle on a Sunday afternoon. He directed me to the offensive cooking sherry, which I wanted to immediately throw back in his face. I know, it’s not his fault the State of Texas has Orwellian blue laws.
I could rant about how to make homemade cream of mushroom soup, avoiding the wretched stuff from a can, but that seems somewhat soap-boxy. This is just a deliciously cozy soup recipe to make if you have tons of mushrooms to use up. I was going to dice all the vegetables, but Dustin hates chunky soup. But I didn’t want a dark blah soup– I like those tiny bits of mushroom. Instead I pulsed the raw mushrooms and vegetables in the food processor, and it didn’t turn to mush! It was the perfect solution.
Cream of Mushroom Soup with Sherry
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3/4 pound cremini mushrooms
- 3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
- 1 rib celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 1 cup sherry
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- chopped chives (optional)
1. Pulse the mushrooms in a food processors until chopped into small, even pieces. Remove to a bowl. Then pulse the leeks, celery, and carrot together.
2. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven. Add the pulsed vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to medium-high and. Cook for about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden and have reduced significantly in volume.
3. Add the mushrooms, and cook until browned, about 5 – 10 minutes. Finally, add the garlic, and cook for about 2 – 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Pour in the sherry and deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Now add the chicken stock and bring the entire mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the soup for at least 30 minutes.
5. Stir in the milk and sour cream. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.
As a pasta taskmaster, I’m gonna go out on a limb here. According to legendary Italian cookbook writer Marcella Hazan, All’amatriciana and bucatini are “as indivisible as Romeo and Juliet. But other couplings of the sauce…can be nearly as successful.” I utterly disagree! Those hollow rope-like bucatini tubes are the only noodles that stand-up to this extraordinary sauce.
Not that making this dish is any trouble– most of the cooking is hands-off. Rendered pork fat amplifies the bright tomatoes and red pepper flakes to create a vibrant synergy. It feels crude adding a dollop of butter to the bubbling tomatoes rich with pork fat and olive oil, but just do it. It adds creaminess and pleasantly coats your mouth.
Use home cured guanciale if you can. Pancetta is an acceptable substitute but lacks the nutty depth of dried pig jowl. For the love of god, DON’T USE BACON. The smokiness muddies the delicate harmony. The sauce is done after it has simmered for over an hour and pools of oil collect on the surface. Slather the cooked noodles in the sauce, and garnish with crispy guanciale and grated cheese.
My bucatini all’amatriciana recipe will make you swear off stodgy Prego slop on gluey spaghetti forever. Just please take care while making it.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 ounces guanciale, sliced into thin lardons
- 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 28-ounce can tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 pound bucatini
- 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Regianno
1. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the guanciale. Turn the heat up to medium high, and let the guanciale cook for 2 to 3 minutes to get it going, and then turn the heat down to low and let it cook for about 15 minutes or until crispy.
2. Turn the heat down to medium low. Using a slotted spoon, remove 2/3 of the guanciale to a paper towel.
3. Add the diced onion and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
4. Turn the heat up to medium. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 to 3 minutes.
5.Carefully add the tomatoes to the skillet. Cook on low for 15 minutes.
6. Stir the butter into the simmering tomatoes and mash them with a wooden spoon. Cook on low for another 45 minutes or until pools of oil collect on the surface of the sauce. Serve over cooked bucatini noodles garnished with the crispy guanciale and the cheese.