Need a flavorful #salad to share at your table? Toss one up with chickpeas and let this salad work like a meal.
Need a flavorful #salad to share at your table? Toss one up with chickpeas and let this salad work like a meal.
With your best extra virgin olive oil and a loaf of day-old crusty bread, add a few juicy tomatoes and toss up panzanella. Try this amazing and simple take on the Tuscan salad in my Cook On food column.
By Mary Ann Ebner
There’s something organic about bring-a-dish gatherings with few rules to pull people together for musings on more than food. We all know someone who cringes at the mention of a potluck. He or she may avoid edible uncertainty, but that’s part of the point. Bringing something you love can spark fresh perspectives for companions.
The starting point, at a minimum, should be a dish that can be served on a plate and eaten with basic utensils. Even without rules, it’s unlikely everyone will bring their signature dessert, but worse things can happen besides a table loaded with sweets. There’s usually a taste or two for everyone, with a range of gluten-free, vegan and carnivorous recipes.
Years ago, when I worked at a campus radio station, it was announced that the year-end party would be a potluck. The general manager and engineer were full-time employees, but the rest of us were students with limited cash flow. We spent little time or money on cooking, and when we dined out it was usually at the Stagger Inn over pitchers of beer and platters of potato skins. That was high-end nutrition compared to the microwavable sandwiches peddled from campus vending machines.
As potluck day rolled around, our lack of money and cooking experience didn’t stop us from covering a couple of desks with an assortment of contributions. At least three salads turned up, along with a fruit pie that was probably stocked from the freezer section, although its creator chose not to say.
The fruit pie was popular, but the most sampled dish was a bowl of blackberry Jell-O. It wasn’t spiked (or so we were told) or topped with whipped cream but represented the willingness to take part without making a fuss over ingredients and temperatures.
Shared meals not only spread the work around but bring communities together — the best payoff. Fresh spinach is a reliable crowd pleaser and does its work in simple or lavish recipes. This variation of spanakopita is essentially spinach pie made with phyllo sheets, which are easy to use but require quick work to prevent them from becoming brittle. If you find a few triangles left over, wrap them up. They’ll taste even better the next day.
Potluck Spinach Pie
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 to 4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower kernels
20 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Lightly beat eggs with fork in mixing bowl, stir in ricotta and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to ricotta mixture.
Cook trimmed spinach in remaining olive oil until leaves wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Remove spinach from pan, drain and chop. Stir into ricotta mixture along with fresh parsley.
After all other ingredients are prepped, unroll phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel during assembly. Butter large baking pan and layer two sheets of phyllo dough over bottom of pan. Brush layer with butter and sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Repeat with three more layers. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture over the top layer. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Cover with phyllo layer, brush with butter, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and repeat to use remainder of sheets. Brush top layer with butter. Using a serrated knife, cut into squares, then into triangles. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.
First published at The Highlands Current
Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm, text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner
Hamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.
Puffy golden egg rolls may top plates at all-you-can-manage buffets or come with beef and broccoli servings to go, but when we rely only on these sources, we’re missing out on a joyous do-it-yourself meal.
Takeout offers convenience on busy days, but cooking Chinese food at home can bring on even more flavor. As the Chinese New Year approaches, falling on Jan. 28 this year, make room for a meal of Chinese cuisine or at the very least a Chinese-American recipe without ready-to-eat containers.
For the last few years, it’s been my good fortune to attend festive gatherings to welcome the holiday. The menu typically includes two to three versions of stir-fry, steamed and fried rice, dumplings, tofu with sesame, wontons and those crunchy yet tender treats known to some as spring rolls and to others as egg rolls.
Though contemporary fans of Chinese food may use the terms interchangeably, my Chinese cooking inspiration refers to her family’s carefully wrapped creations as spring rolls. No Chinese New Year feast would be complete without them as a favorite side that can easily stand in as the main attraction.
Unraised sheets of dough wrap around a filling of chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms while some variations include mung bean threads and pork or shrimp.
Tradition holds that spring rolls shared among family and friends trace their origin to the Chinese New Year to signify the renewal of springtime based on the lunar calendar. The term egg roll may be accurate for thicker wrappers made with egg, popularized by restaurants beyond the Chinese mainland during the last century. Other Asian cuisines claim their own varieties, and whether you call them egg rolls or spring rolls or shape them more squarely than roundly, those who pause to argue about names or misnomers could turn to find the platter empty.
Fresh spring-roll skins prepared with flour, salt and water may taste best, but you’ll find me assembling spring rolls with wheat-based ready-made wrappers sold in packages of 20 to 25 pieces for around $2. Local markets stock super-thin wrappers that fry up lightly and crisply.
When using even the best ingredients, this easy endeavor can flop without proper technique. For her fried spring rolls, my guide in all things Chinese raises the heat and stirs swiftly when cooking the filling. She generously fills the wrappers and recommends rolling them tightly not only to keep the filling in, but to keep the frying oil out. Though she teaches the study of Chinese language professionally, spending far more time in a classroom than a kitchen, she’s very much at home sharing the joy of spring roll preparation and appreciation.
Find a little happiness in the new moon with this simple recipe. Serve with citrus sauce or plum preserves.
Yield: about 20 spring rolls
1 pound ground pork
8 to 10 stalks scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized cabbage, shredded into small strips
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups mung bean vermicelli (rinsed, uncooked and cut with kitchen scissors into small pieces)
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package 25-count spring roll wrappers (skins, shells)
canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 beaten eggs for sealing wrappers
First published by The Highlands Current
Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner
Thanksgiving, with its signature feasts, is a fitting time to thank the farmers, bakers and specialty food producers who make it possible for us to find mounds of fresh vegetables, pastured poultry and cut-to-order domestic cheeses. While families and friends usher in the high season for sharing food and drinks, your to-do list should include a plan for leftovers. Finishing off the stuffing and sweet potatoes not only saves time and money but controls food waste. Ever slathered leftover sweet potatoes on corn tortillas to grill?
Some food waste is unavoidable, but after the second or third day of overlooking leftovers in the refrigerator, options diminish. For those who eat turkey and welcome its protein value, eating the dark or white meat on Thanksgiving may be plenty, though some of us look forward to building a sandwich on toasty rye bread. To revive your leftovers, let them stand in for a breakfast change, like cranberry sauce compote, spiked with crunchy granola. Reserve potato peels for a vegetable stock and put the mashed potatoes to work in a classic dish.
With this year’s leftover turkey, I’m making a mashed potato dish that resembles shepherd’s pie and its close cousin, cottage pie. Traditionalists insist that only lamb can be used to make shepherd’s pie and beef is required for cottage pie. But whatever you want to call it, turkey works for me. In fact, this comfort dish can be made with fish or a mixture of lentils and crunchy carrots folded under the layer of potatoes.
Though this post-Thanksgiving mashup, which I call Gobbler Pie, may look like a shepherd’s pie, it takes on a character of its own with the help of blended spices and caramelized onions. If you can find a batch or grind your own, Lebanese seven-spice blend carries the pie across cultures.
To further prevent food waste and help alleviate hunger in the region, contact the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley (foodbankofhudsonvalley.org or 845-534-5344). It collects millions of pounds of food each year for distribution in Dutchess, Putnam and three other nearby counties.
Cranberry sauce compote
2 soft bananas
8 ounces plain yogurt
2 cups granola
leftover cranberry sauce (water, fresh cranberries, grated orange or lemon peel, sugar)
Blend bananas and yogurt. Layer yogurt, granola, cranberry sauce and more granola to enjoy the remains of fresh cranberry sauce.
1 large onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Lebanese seven-spice blend (a mixture of equal parts ground allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg) or your own favorite spice blend
4 cups shredded turkey
Shake shredded turkey with spice blend and 1 tablespoon olive oil in plastic bag or covered bowl until evenly coated. Set spiced turkey aside. In large pan, cook onions with salt in olive oil over high heat. Stir continuously until onions turn brown in color. Add spiced turkey and warm through.
Spoon turkey and onion mixture into greased baking dish. Cover turkey layer with leftover mashed potatoes. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 375 degrees until the top begins to turn golden brown. Sprinkle top lightly with spice blend.
Although average strands of spaghetti dressed with a homemade sauce typically fill the dinner plates at our house, there’s no argument that to appreciate the beauty of true noodles — prepared with eggs, flour and a little olive oil — you need fresh pasta.
For fine pasta selections, like the hand-rolled pasta at Manhattan restaurant Felidia, it’s hard to beat what culinary pros create with dough. It’s completely unlikely that the pasta from my own kitchen will ever measure up to the delicate egg pastas turned out at Felidia, but every now and then I attempt to roll my own dough.
Purchasing high-end dried pasta that’s perfect in flavor and texture is another option. A couple of weeks ago, my family dropped in at the newest location of Eataly, the gastronomic store, at 4 World Trade Center. Lidia Bastianich, who created Felidia, has a hand in Eataly, along with her son, Joe Bastianich, and chef Mario Batali. Besides its selection of fine pasta, Eataly includes a restaurant and gourmet marketplace stocked with spices, oils, olives, bread, cheeses, wine — anything imaginable to create an “Eatalian” dinner.
Shelf after shelf of perfectly packaged nests of noodles filled me up even before I tasted (and devoured) the agnolotti during dinner. Long pastas, short pastas, pastas for soup, little pillows of pasta and thick, ridged and hollow pastas were all within reach. It’s an inspirational place.
With so many shapes and sizes to choose from at groceries like Foodtown in Cold Spring — including selections of gluten-free rice- and corn-blended noodles — it’s convenient to buy ready-to-cook pasta. But making basic egg pasta dough isn’t all that taxing. It’s not essential, but a pasta-making machine might simplify the rolling and bring more fun to the task with its hand-cranking mechanism.
If you don’t have a machine, roll out dough by hand and slice pasta with a knife or pizza cutter. Rolling dough as paper-thin as possible results in beautiful ribbons, but appearance is not all that counts. The texture and width of a noodle determine what type of sauce pairs best with it.
For thoroughly indulgent egg pasta, use only egg yolks. Gather a couple of ingredients and a rolling pin and turn out fresh sheets of dough. My daily dining partners favor a thicker fettuccine-type noodle that holds up under a layer of stout red sauce. It tastes good any time, but especially on a dark winter’s day. This time of year, as colors change and autumn leaves fall, the pasta serves as a bed for a hearty mix of vegetables anchored by acorn squash. The real work comes with the squash, and once you’ve managed to peel its firm skin, you’ll probably find the pasta prep painless.
1 large acorn squash, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, diced
½ sweet onion, diced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 cups hominy, rinsed
⅓ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
Mix olive oil with spices over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots and squash. Cook until tender. Add hominy. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta.
Serves 4 to 6
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
Place flour in mixing bowl (if especially coordinated, pour the flour directly onto work surface) and create a well in the center. Crack eggs into the well and slowly beat eggs. Mix in olive oil and gradually work eggs into flour. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water to moisten. Knead dough until smooth. Finish kneading on flat surface. Form a ball of dough, cover and let dough rest 30 minutes. Slice the dough into sections, dust with flour and, using a pasta machine, pass the sections through flat pasta rollers. Lightly flour pasta sections after each pass. Repeat, adjusting the width for a thinner sheet. Once desired thickness is reached, pass dough sheets through cutters. If hand-rolling, roll dough to thin consistency and cut into desired types.
Bring a large pan of salted water to boil. Drop pasta into water little by little and cook uncovered until pasta rises and floats. Test a noodle to make sure it’s tender and done before removing from the cooking pot. Toss with sauce, vegetables, or top with light butter and finish with freshly grated cheese.
Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current