Greek Vegetables, Beans and Rice

Once in awhile I get it right.  I mean REALLY right!  Tonight was one of those occasions.

I had finished reading 25% of the written assignments I received last night in class, so I am well on the road to completing grading in record time.  Barbara was out, taking care of our grandsons to give our daughter a break, so I could play in the kitchen on my own (that is, until she returned).

Sometimes I conjure up a dish in my mind, inspired by reading cookbooks, thinking about ingredients, and savoring the smells and flavors in my imagination.  Tonight it was slow-cooked vegetables, beans, and rice as done in Greek countryside cooking.


I did have a head start.  A few days earlier I had soaked three different kinds of dried beans from the larder, then prepared them the next day in a Basque bean pot.  The varieties were Scarlett Runner, Controne, and small Black Beans.  They were happily resting in the bean stock from the cooking water on a refrigerator shelf , so they were ready to go.  I also had acquired some superb Greek ingredients in recent weeks, to enhance the flavors — Greek olive oil, Greek medium grain rice, oregano, Chili Flakes, and Caper Leaves — more about that later.

I was not working from a recipe.  Instead, it was purely by feel.  There were a number of little steps, not hard or too time-consuming, but as long I ate dinner by 8 PM, I was in no hurry.  Here are the steps:

  • cut one zucchine in quarters lengthwise, then in 1/2-inch pieces
  • place cubes in a strainer and sprinkle with Kosher salt, for 1/2 hour or more
  • cut one leek in quarters lengthwise, then in 1/2-inch pieces
  • dice about 1/2 medium onion in 1/2 inch pieces
  • chops celery hearts in a small dice
  • wash and coarsely chop baby arugula, 2-3 cups or more
  • chop 3 cloves of garlic
  • take a handful of good quality pinoli (pine nuts) and put in a small prep bowl
  • spoon 2-4 cups of cooked beans and their cooking liquid into a bowl
  • reserve 3-4 canned Italian plum tomatoes with some juice in a bowl
  • put 1/2 cup of medium grain rice in a bowl
  • put Greek or Italian oregano, dried and crushed, into prep bowl
  • do the same with chili flakes and caper leaves, in amounts to taste
  • prepare a pint of good vegetable stock, homemade if possible

Now, start cooking.  I had the good fortune of purchasing an 11″ wide, deep nonstick sauté pan from Zwilling via Food52 (a bargain at $69) recently, but any good sized skillet or sauté pan will work.

  • start with 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat
  • when oil is hot, and leek, celery, and onion, cooking until lightly colored and just tender
  • wipe zucchine dry with paper towels, and add to the sauté pan
  • cook a few minutes, then add pine nuts and garlic
  • add oregano, Kosher or sea salt, and black pepper (always freshly ground)
  • as zucchine begins to become tender, add the rice and stir
  • add all the stock and stir again
  • after cooking a few minutes, squeeze the tomatoes into the pot, along with some of the liquid
  • add the cooked beans and their liquid, then sprinkle on the Chili Flakes (smoky flavor is good here)
  • cover loosely and simmer until the rice becomes tender, adding stock, bean liquid or water, as needed
  • remove the cover, add some caper leaves if you have them, caper buds if no leaves, or just whisper “capers” into the pot if none else is available
  • add a couple more Tbs of Greek olive oil, stir and simmer a bit longer, until the rice is very nice and tender

Serve hot or at room temperature.  You could lightly dust the dish with paprika if you wish.  Serve with a full-flavored red wine.  My choice was AN/2 from Mallorca.


vegs and rice

cookbook and AN-2KoroneikiChili Flakes

Caper Leaves

Caper Leaves

Posted in Food, Greek food, Vegan, Wine | 3 Comments

Vegan Crostini and a Vintage Bardolino

It’s snowing all over the East Coast, but this time, central Massachusetts is escaping the storm.  So having taken all the garbage and recycle to the dump, it was time for my favorite meal of the week, Saturday lunch.  It was simple and delicious: Tuscan Pane pan-roasted with olive oil in a skillet, rubbed with a garlic clove, and topped with hummus that Barbara made yesterday from dried organic Italian ceci, plus leftover slices of Spanish red pepper (sautéed in olive oil and finished with a sherry vinegar) and layered with paper-thin slices of Peruvian sweet onion.

For the wine, I went into the cellar looking for a medium to light red wine, and selected a 2001 Corte Gardoni Bardolino Superiore.  Worrying that it might be past its prime, I opened another wine (2010 AN/2, from Mallorca) to save another trip to the cellar.  No need; the Bardolino had to have about 15 minutes to open up, and then it was superb.  Thank you, Violette Imports!  You chose well, Richard.

crostini and wine-2crostini closeupSuperiore

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Mediterranean Fresh

In the 1980’s one of my favorite restaurants was Joyce Goldstein’s Square One in San Francisco.  It was the essence of the wonders of Mediterranean food, with access to marvelous ingredients in the burgeoning California food scene.  Although the restaurant closed over 15 years ago, Joyce is alive and well and has written a number of excellent cookbooks.  I have several of those, and the other day in search of new inspirations, I opened one of them, Mediterranean Fresh, published in 2008.

book cover

In the mood to do some adult play in the kitchen, I chose two recipes, one of which I had made before and which offered new opportunities, now that we have found Kite Hill almond cheeses.

eggplant rolls

tapenadetapenade vinaigretteCatalan spinach and citrus salad recipeWith Barbara’s help we managed to make a fine dinner.  I made some changes in the eggplant roll recipe.  Instead of goat cheese, I made a purée of steamed broccoli leftovers, the almond ricotta and cream cheeses, and olive oil.  The other adjustment was inadvertent: Barbara forgot to add the olive oil when she made the Catalan vinaigrette.  Here is what it looked like.

Catalan salad

eggplant roll-upssliced rollup with pane and Cacio de RomaRossesesliced rollup with pane and Cacio de RomaThe wine was a Ligurian red, 2014 Rossese di Dolceaqua, from Jan D’Amore. Redolent with the smell of roses and berries.  And of course, delicious.

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I’m always finding things to put on toasty-crisp bread, especially for lunch.  As a mostly-vegan food fan, I locate the best ingredients, prepare them to show off their flavors and textures, and when I don’t know what else to do with those preparations, I put them on bread and pour a glass of wine.

Last week was a good example.  One lunch was a soup, made with our roasted vegetable stock, Cavolo Nero, Rice, and Corona Beans.  It was accompanied by toasted slices of my whole grain rye bread, spread with Kite Hill almond-based cream cheese with chives and topped with thinly-sliced smoked salmon.   It also gave me the opportunity to put caper leaves from Santorini on top of each.

soup and crostiniBut it raised an important question in my mind: what’s the difference between Crostini and Bruschetta?  While I doubt you have lost any sleep over that question, it intrigued me.  A bit of research led me to conclude that the definitions are not that precise.  It seems that Bruschetta are made with thick slices of a coarse country bread, grilled (at best over a wood fine), then rubbed with garlic clove, drizzled with olive oil, and consumed as is — or perhaps with a topping like chopped tomatoes, or bean purée with greens, etc.  The focus is mostly about the bread, whereas Crostini are more about the toppings.  Also crostini are usually made with a fine grain bread, more typically white flour, and cut thin — like a diagonal slice of a baguette.  They, too, are crisp, usually done in the oven or a toaster.

smoked salmon, almond cheese crostiniSo the photo above seems on the boundary; it is whole-grain bread, but it is sliced thinly, not grilled but toasted, and topped with three items on a large slice.  For purposes of this post, I choose to say “Crostini”.

Later in the week we had an example more typical of that name, red pepper and cheese crostini.

I roasted a very good-quality Spanish red pepper in the oven, then peeled and sliced it. Then I sautéed the peppers in olive oil for about 15 minutes, and then finished them with salt, pepper and Spanish sherry vinegar.

I cut a few pieces of Tuscan Pane and toasted them, added a slice of sheep’s milk Cacio de Roma (not vegan that day), and finished with peppers and another caper leaf.  The wine of choice was a 2009 Ca’ Lojera Lugana, a lovely match.

sweet peppers and cheese crostini

We’ll do bruschetta when it warms up a little for comfortable grilling.

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Outrageously Good, Almost-Vegan Lasagna

In the last two days I was able to gather great ingredients at some of my favorite suppliers:

  • Russo’s — for fresh-picked spinach and some nice beets
  • Whole Foods River Street — Kite Hill Ricotta made from Almond Milk, and a big, fat Portobello Mushroom, plus Organic Padron Peppers from Mexico
  • Social Wines — Pottarello, an Umbrian, mostly Sangiovese wine

and tonight we were able to enjoy many of these ingredients in the best lasagna I ever made.  It was almost vegan, the only exception being a small amount of grated mozzarella on top, for which I have yet to find a suitable vegan alternative.



Last night I had oven-roasted the diced Portobello at 475º F., after marinating it for an hour in lemon juice, olive oil, Alea salt, and cracked pepper.  I wanted to do it while the mushroom was fresh, before it started to wilt in the refrigerator.

To make the lasagna, it required a number of simple steps tonight:

  • boil the lasagna noodles (I had some very good foglie (leaves) of pasta from Gragnano, Campania, Italy)
  • make a bechamel sauce, with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 1.75 Tbs. flour, stirred continuously with a wooden spoon, then adding a little at a time 1 cup of Almond Milk, and heating slowly until somewhat thickened.
  • pull the stems off the spinach, wilt the leaves in a covered, non-stick pan with a little olive oil and salt, then chop
  • pulse the cubes of Portobello in the food processor until more finely chopped
  • process one container of Kite Hill Ricotta with olive oil and black pepper in the small Cuisinart
  • divide the finished bechamel in thirds, and combine with the spinach, ricotta, and mushrooms, respectively
  • open a jar of tomato sauce, or in my case, purée several canned Italian tomatoes, adding salt, pepper, and good quality oregano
  • assemble the whole dish in my favorite Italian terra cotta baking dish, starting with a layer of tomato sauce and olive oil, then a layer of pasta sheets, a layer of the ricotta/besciamella (bechamel in Italian), a layer of spinach/besciamella, and a layer of mushroom/besciamella.  Then repeat with another layer of each.  Top with a layer of pasta, more besciamella, a cup of tomato sauce, and some grated mozzarella (q.b.)
  • bake in a preheated 375º F. oven for 45 minutes
  • serve with a few glasses of Pottarello, a blend of Sangiovese (80%), Colorino (10%), and Malvasia Nera (10%)
  • enjoy the luscious mouth feel of the vegetables, ricotta/besciamella blend and well-cooked pasta, along with the earthiness of the Sangiovese from Umbria

IMG_3923 IMG_3919 IMG_3921 IMG_3918 IMG_3926

Ah, yes; I had the beets and the Padron Peppers for lunch, with a glass of 2012 Fausse Piste Syrah from Oregon’s Columbia River Valley.


Posted in Almost-Vegan, Food, Vegetarian, Wine | Leave a comment

Ravioli Rolling Pin + Vegan Ricotta = Great Meal

Several years ago one of my most energetic graduate students showed a strong interest in food and cooking, so we often talked about it and shared stories and ideas — along with occasionally discussing the program: engineering management.  When he honed in on pasta and homemade ravioli, we shared YouTube videos and techniques, including Laura Schenone’s work.

Fast forward a few years.  Mike designed a much-improved ravioli rolling pin, made some prototypes, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and then founded a company to make and sell these.  I received an early version as a supporter and then bought the final version at Williams-Sonoma recently.

ready for table

ready for table

Now that I’ve found a vegan ricotta cheese from almond milk (Kite Hill, at Whole Foods Markets), I’m finally able to make great ravioli again.  With Barbara as lead chef, here’s tonight’s version of a meal made with Cavolo Nero and Almond Milk Ricotta in a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce with Roasted Portobello Mushrooms.

  • strip greens away from stems of our CSA-grown Lacinato Kale (Cavolo Nero)
  • boil greens in salted water until just tender
  • drain, dry, and finely chop greens in food processor
  • add a full container of Kite Hill Ricotta to processor bowl
  • add several glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper, then purée very smooth
  • oven roast and peel 3 organic red peppers
  • while oven is on, roast a large Portobello mushroom cap, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper; cool, slice and set aside.
  • sauté shallots, 1/2 a small red onion, and olive oil until tender; add roasted red peppers, chopped; add a little white wine and cook it down; then purée in processor and set aside
  • make pasta dough with 2 cups of flour and two eggs (or not, if strictly vegan) plus just enough water to form the dough; cover and let sit at least an hour or up to two days to make at a later date.
  • roll out the dough very thin in two equal size pieces; one will be the bottom with the filling; the other will be the top, to be married together by the rolling pin
  • spread the filling on the bottom half, cover with the top sheet, roll them together to seal, and cut between the resulting pillows with a ravioli cutter to separate
  • boil in salter water until done
  • heat pepper sauce, adding a little pasta water, then drain ravioli and mix in the sauce
  • place ravili in serving dish, garnish with Portobello slices, and enjoy
  • P.S.  It’s much clearer with photos, below.
spreading filling

spreading filling

roasted red pepper sauce

roasted red pepper sauce



rolled, ready to cut

rolled, ready to cut

for pot or freezer

read for pot or freezer

ravioli cutter ravioli cutter-2 ravioli cutter-3 ready for table-2

Posted in Food, Friends, Vegan, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Barbara’s Crab cakes and Villa Creek Rhone-style White Wine

Very short and sweet: Barbara made her signature crab cakes tonight — baked instead of fried.  Outstanding!  Paired with a 2013 Villa Creek white wine: 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Rousanne — Rhône Valley by way of Paso Robles.  Perfect match and a great meal, when accompanied by steamed broccoli and carrots sautéed in olive oil and apple cider.

crab cakes-2 2013 White Villa Creek

Update – 12/14/15

By popular demand, this post has been updated to include the recipe (below).  As the consumer and critic (Barbara is the chef here), I believe the keys to success with this dish are the following:

  • superior premium jumbo lump crab meat (we used a can of Stavis Seafoods wild-caught crab from the Philippines, bought at the Quarterdeck in Maynard).
  • very fine dice for the celery (Barbara is expert at that)
  • top-notch bread for the bread crumbs (made from slices of Jessica’s Tuscan Pane, crusts trimmed off, chopped fine in the food processor, and toasted light brown)

Buon appetito!

Crab Cake Recipe Premium Crabmeat Stavis Seafoods Wild caught Philippines


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