Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Caprese Sandwiches with Carrot Top Pesto

I've recently been trying to be more conscious of how much food I waste, so I've been reading a lot about inventive ways to use scraps, bits of produce that would normally go in the garbage or the compost bin, etc. We waste an unbelievable amount of food in the U.S., and I'm definitely guilty of contributing to that, especially when I buy an ingredient for a specific dish and don't know what to do with the rest of the jar/bottle/etc. Eventually I'd like to start a page here where I can list tips I've found for reducing food waste, but in the meantime, I'll share this carrot top pesto recipe.

Did you know you could eat carrot tops? I had always subconsciously assumed that they were either inedible or unpleasant in taste, but not too long ago, I read about using them in salads or in place of herbs, which is where I saw the idea for carrot top pesto. Last time I went grocery shopping, I made sure my carrots still had their tops so I could try this out. First, I twisted off the carrot tops near the base where they meet the carrot, and gave them a good rinse. I then dried them on paper towels and removed the leaves from the stems once they were dry (I did discard the stems, since I don't have anywhere to compost, but I plan to do some poking around to see if there's anything else to do with those). I stored the tops the same way I store herbs: I folded them into a paper towel and sealed them in a ziploc bag.


















After that, you're ready to go! The original author of this recipe blanched the carrot tops before making the pesto, but by the time I got around to making this I had forgotten about that step (it's not written explicitly in the original recipe). Mine tasted just fine, but blanching them may help to tone down the flavor of the greens. My suggestion would be to nibble on a bit of carrot top and see what you think! I did, and was surprised to find that they actually taste a lot like carrots (why this was surprising to me, I'm not sure). If you'd like a more muted flavor, go ahead and blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water, then revive under cold water and make the pesto. I swapped out the pine nuts in the original for sunflower seeds*, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the sunflower seed flavor really shone through. If that's not your thing, feel free to use another nut (e.g., the original pine nuts, or I think almonds would be great, too) or use a smaller amount of the sunflower seeds.

A final note on texture: mine turned out thick and very smooth, which I believe is because I balked at the amount of olive oil required (not because I think the flavor would be bad, but because I'm a grad student and olive oil is expensive - in my defense, I was making a double batch). I ended up using a fair bit less, and compensated by blending the absolute you-know-what out of it in my Ninja (the pesto was actually quite warm to the touch by the time I was done). If you have something a little less powerful, I'd suggest using the full amount of olive oil. You'll likely end up with something closer in texture to normal pesto.






Dramatic shot of the Sun rising on a loaf of bread
















I chose to make some bread and put this on a sandwich to use up some of the fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes I had lying around, but feel free to use this anywhere you'd normally use pesto! Just please promise me that if you're making the sandwich and you don't have any tomatoes lying around already, go get some beautiful heirlooms while they're still in season. And one more request, if I may: if you aren't making this to take to work for lunch like I was, please put it in a panini press, or at least cook it grilled cheese style. Melty cheese > non-melty cheese any time.


* In truth, I made this substitution because I didn't have pine nuts, but I had plenty of sunflower seeds lying around.

Caprese Sandwiches with Carrot Top Pesto
Yield: Approx. 1 cup of pesto and 2 sandwiches
Adapted from Diane Morgan

Ingredients
Carrot Top Pesto
1 c carrot greens (I got about 2 cups from my bunch of carrots)
6 Tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1/4 tsp kosher or other coarse salt (if using salted sunflower seeds, use less and adjust to taste)
3 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1/4 c freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano1
Caprese Sandwich
4 slices of good quality, fresh bread (I made my own, and the slices were probably a little smaller than regular sandwich bread)
4 Tbsp carrot top pesto
2-3 slices mozzarella cheese
10-12 cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced (or a few slices of heirloom or other large tomato)

  1. Pulverize the carrot greens, olive oil, garlic clove, and salt in a food processor or blender until everything is uniformly minced.
  2. Add the sunflower seeds to the mix and pulse until they are finely ground2.
  3. Dump in the parmesan and process until the cheese is ground up and everything comes together.
  4. Spread 1 Tbsp pesto on each slice of bread. On two of the slices, pile mozzarella and tomatoes, topping with the other two slices of bread.
  5. Enjoy!
Notes
  1. You can use any type of parmesan, but the nuttiness of Parmagiano Reggiano is really good here.
  2. Tailor how long you process the pesto to the texture you're looking for. For a more traditional pesto texture with small but visible chunks of nuts and cheese, pulse a few times, just until the seeds are broken up. For a smoother texture (see pictures above), blend more thoroughly.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Charred Cauliflower Bowl

Often, when I tell people I love to cook, they ask me, "What's your favorite thing to cook?" I suppose they're just making conversation, but I never really know how to answer a question like that. Are they looking for a specific dish, or maybe a general category like "chicken"? Either way, I don't have a favorite thing to cook. What I love about cooking is that there is always something new to try, so I rarely repeat recipes more than once or twice (except for a few staples).

That being said, there are some ingredients that I just can't get enough of, one of which is cauliflower. Weird, I know, but in my defense, I'm writing a blog purely devoted to food. I should be allowed a few bizarre food obsessions. On my first grocery trip to my beautiful new grocery store, I found a lovely head of purple cauliflower. I knew I wanted to do something fun with it, and I got my opportunity a few days later when I was assessing my lunch options.


Toss the cauliflower florets with a little olive oil, then dump them into a searing hot pan set over medium-high heat. It may smoke a bit, but if it becomes excessive, take the pan off the heat, lower the temperature, and stir the cauliflower while you wait for the burner to cool down. If the smoking becomes really excessive, perhaps (ahem) because you didn't read your own recipe notes from the first time you made this and used high heat instead, run frantically with your pan to open the window, only to remember that you have a balcony, for God's sake. Proceed out to the balcony and try to look casual while you stir your smoking pan of cauliflower in the dark (because of course you're making this at 10 pm for tomorrow's lunch) *. And don't forget to partially support the heavy pan with your wooden spoon, giving it some nice burn marks.




Charred spoon, charred cauliflower.

Ah, well. Luckily the dish wasn't ruined. I considered waiting to make a different post in which I didn't screw up my own recipe, but I decided that would really just be misrepresenting myself. Last night was a typical occurrence in the FFF kitchen.

If you've managed to not smoke the living daylights out of your pan, return it to medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil and fry up some scallion bits until they're crispy (I cut mine on a bias because I was feeling ~fancy~). Toss everything in a bowl with some cilantro, sunflower seeds, and lemon juice, and there's lunch!

*There are no photos of this part, for hopefully obvious reasons.

Charred Cauliflower Bowl with Crispy Fried Scallions
Yield: 1 serving
Inspired by smitten kitchen

Ingredients
Approx. 9 oz cauliflower florets (any color)
2.5 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 scallion
1-2 sprigs cilantro, anywhere from roughly chopped to finely minced 1,2
1/2-1 tbsp lemon juice (from 1/4-1/2 of a lemon), to taste 2
1/4 c sunflower seeds 2,3
Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat a (preferably heavy-bottomed) pan over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, toss cauliflower florets in a large bowl with 1.5 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Once the pan is very hot (a drop of water will sizzle in it), dump in the cauliflower florets. Let them char, stirring only occasionally, until they've got some black spots. This will probably take about 5-7 minutes, but it can vary a lot depending on the type of pan.
  3. While the cauliflower does its thing, slice the scallion on a bias, separating the white and light green parts from the dark green parts.
  4. Transfer the cooked cauliflower back to the bowl, adding the cilantro, dark green scallion parts, lemon juice, sunflower seeds,  and more salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings/lemon juice as needed.
  5. Return the pan to medium-high heat with the remaining tbsp of olive oil. Add the light scallion parts and cook, stirring constantly, for 30-60 seconds, until the scallions are brown and crispy.
  6. Drain scallions on a paper towel, then add to the bowl with the cauliflower and toss.
Notes:
  1. Chop the cilantro very roughly, or even leave whole, if you want a bold, herby bite. Mince it more finely if you'd like it more integrated with the other flavors. I went for somewhere in between, leaning toward minced.
  2. This recipe has an almost endless capacity for variation. Some ideas to get you started: use mint instead of cilantro, swap out the lemon juice for lime juice, or use pine nuts instead of sunflower seeds. You could try adding a Middle Eastern flair with some za'atar and pine nuts instead of cilantro and sunflower seeds. If you go that route, you could also throw in a handful of fresh parsley and use a basic tahini dressing instead of the lemon juice. Another option would be to turn this into a grain bowl, adding couscous or quinoa, for example.
  3. I didn't use these the first time, hence their absence in the first picture. The second time around, I used a palmful, but next time I'd definitely add a whole 1/4 cup, as written here. Feel free to use roasted or raw, salted or unsalted (just adjust the amount of salt accordingly).
  4. The first time I made this, I ate it warm. This time around, I just took it from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes so that it wasn't too cold. Both ways were delicious! If you're going to eat it at a later time, though, I'd suggest reserving some of the salt to sprinkle on shortly before eating. Otherwise it sort of gets absorbed and you may find yourself wanting more.
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