il pranzo

Schoolwork is over for awhile, chores are mostly done for the weekend; therefore, time to cook/play in the kitchen.  As you may know, I especially enjoy lunch — il pranzo.  This is the last chance I’ll have before leaving Monday for southern Italy for almost three weeks.

three plates

The whole meal (just for me) fit nicely on three plates.  The middle one is the fresh, salted and pickled vegetables plate.  Included Armenian cucumber, radishes, julienned raw beet, last week’s home pickled ramps and beets, Swiss chard ribs I had pickled last Fall, Spanish pickled Piparras peppers, plus olives from Italy — Castelvetrano and Gaeta.

pickled & salty

Today’s cooking was dedicated to pan-roasting two sweet peppers, one red, the other, orange.  These were done in my favorite sautéuse, one at a time, in olive oil and finished with just a little red wine vinegar.  The next step was slowly pan roasting one small radicchio di Treviso (elongated version, not the round one), cut in half lengthwise and sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper.

While those were cooking, I opened a package of Kite Hill Ricotta, whose praises I have sung on these pages before.  I put the cheese in a bowl, added olive oil, salt and pepper, and some freshly cut chives which reappear each Spring in our herb bed, much to my delight.  These were beaten together with a fork until well blended.  An artful blob of the cheese rested nicely atop the peppers and radicchio while I pan-grilled the bread.

pan-roasted sweet peppers, radicchio, and almond milk ricotta pan-grilled homemade rye bread with caraway

These were among the few remaining slices from my homemade rye bread with caraway seeds, baked almost two weeks earlier.  It astonishes me how these levain breads stay fresh, cut side down on the counter, without packaging.  Often, after 7 or 8 days, I’ll take out my machine slicer and cut perfectly thin slices of the remaining loaf for toasting and grilling, protected by wrapping them in aluminum foil.  They come to life in a ridged grill pan, with a little olive oil, rubbed with a sliced garlic clove when bread has crisped.

So one slice had all three vegetables on it after spreading the bread with cheese.  Two others were consumed with just cheese and either the peppers or the radicchio, but not together.  They photograph well when accompanied by the bone handled, French steel dinner knives we bought years ago in San Francisco.

bruschetta with peppers and ricotta and chives bruschetta with radicchio, and almond milk ricotta

All that was remaining was the choice of wines.  There was a small amount of Cris Cherry’s 2014 Fiano in the refrigerator, so I started there.  The red was a little trickier.  I was sorely tempted to open a Sancerre Rouge I bought recently, but I finally decided I wanted something with a little more of an edge and acidity.  The 2011 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti was absolutely the perfect selection.

2014 Fiano - 94 cases 2011 Barbera d'Asti

If anyone tells you it’s hard to get good, richly-flavored, colorful meals as a vegan, show them this.  Here is all the food that was left over for snack tomorrow:

all that's left

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Progressive Dinner Event

Last night we participated with more than 40 other couples and fellow congregants in a Progressive Dinner event.  The invitation described  it:

Our Committee invites you to celebrate Israel: The Spice and the Spirit! with dinner at your hosts’ house with an Israeli-inspired menu replete with Israeli wine and delectable victuals. Vegan and Gluten Free options will be available.
Following Dinner…
Dessert and Entertainment at the home of Linda and Dennis.

We hosted the only vegan dinner and provided our own favorite dishes and wine selections.  Barbara did most of the work; she has great skills and energy for hosting large affairs, based on her catering experiences, and I’m happy to contribute what I can.  Here was our Menu:

MenuSarah came over to our house earlier in the day and applied her considerable flower-arranging skills for the centerpiece.

Progressive Arrgt

Many of the dishes are favorites we’ve done before, and you can find them in previous blog posts here by searching, if interested.  The biggest hit turned out to be the Burnt Eggplant Puree from Ottolenghi’s book, Jerusalem, on page 79.  I had made a similar version previously, so I made this dish, along with the Mushroom Consomme.  Barbara’s Verrine was terrific, too, the first time I had the chance to enjoy this dish.

There were no photos taken during all our cooking, so I can’t share those.  I do have one tip for the Eggplant Puree.  To cook the eggplants properly so the flesh is exceedingly tender and full of smoky flavor, your best bet is to place them in the coals of a wood fire — which I had done in the pizza oven previously.  Since that was not an option for this dinner, I used my gas grill — with an adjustment.  I removed the grill plates from their normal position, and I placed one of them lengthwise inside the grill box, sitting right on top of the ceramic “lava” blocks.  I started the grill, turned it up high, and put the eggplants right on the grill plate, turning occasionally, until the skin was black and crispy and the eggplants were a bit deflated from the steam inside escaping as they cooked.  It worked really well.

Here are some photos of the mushrooms used for the consomme, our home and dining area, our guests, and the string quintet from the local high school, playing at the home where we all gathered after dinner for dessert and finale.

Le Chef before guests-2Living Room-2Living Roomtable for 10


chef after dinner

quintet plays to audiencequintet playsroasted mushrooms for consomme_-2


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Almost-Vegan Mac and Cheese

Today was a little weird.  Last night we created and hosted a dinner for 10 of us, so with cooking and cleanup, neither of us were interested in cooking much today.  Around 3 PM I was getting hungry for pasta, so I decided to do vegan mac and cheese.

At Formaggio I had found some superb California-made organic pastas, brand name Baia.  The little Sardinian-like gnocchetti shape appealed to me, so I chose that for my base and cooked them until al dente.  I had one more container of Kite Hill Vegan Ricotta, so I whipped it up in a small food processor, adding Ligurian olive oil, a little leftover cooked spinach, and salt and pepper.

I was in a cheesy mood, so I took the few bits of good remaining Pecorino I had saved (I told you it’s almost-vegan), and grated it into a bowl.  I added the cooked pasta, the vegan cheese-spinach mixture, the Pecorino, olive oil, salt and pepper — and mixed them all together.  That mixture was spread into a small gratin pan, sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs and a little more oil, and baked in a 425º F. oven until toasty brown on top.  I restrained myself to only 3 helpings (each smaller than its predecessor), accompanied by a couple of glasses of Calabrian wine — Savuto from Odoardi.

Baia Pastain gratin dishin gratin dish-3on the plateSavuto-2

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The Most Unusual Ingredients Combo

We had been clearing out the refrigerator for a week, and I was ready to make a simple dinner for myself the other night.  What I ended up with takes the prize for the most unusual combination of ingredients I will have all year….and a delicious meal.

In the freezer were the remnants of a pasta I created last Spring, Stinging Nettle Gnudi.  These, in fact, were gnocchi, which had been made with cooked and chopped nettles, flour, and Kite Hill vegan ricotta cheese.  The few pieces of dumplings not used last June were still in the freezer, so I poached them in simmering, salted water, and put aside.

For flavor I sliced several fresh Shiitake mushrooms and sautéed them in a small amount of olive oil.  Removing the mushrooms to a bowl, I then added the gnocchi to the pan, adding a small amount of olive oil [or butter] and simmered at the lowest possible setting.

This gave me time to peel, slice, and sauté one Chayote squash in olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper.  When the squash was tender (less than 10 minutes), I added the gnocchi/gnudi and the Shiitakes, and warmed them together to blend the flavors.  It was remarkably good.

With such an unusual combo, I needed an exotic wine.  No problem.  I had recently purchased my first Moldovan wine, 2013 Valaria din Vale Feteasca, a white wine from this small country between Romania and the Ukraine.  It was quite pleasant and a good match with this trio of strange plate-fellows.

sautéed Shiitakesgnocchi with chayote and mushrooms-2Vinaria din Vale

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Snack and Wine-Tasting, followed by Crab Cakes for Dinner

Our friends are leaving this Friday for Hawaii until April 1.  Can’t say that we blame them for that — the worst of this New England weather is yet to come.  In any case, it was a good excuse to invite them over on Presidents’ Day for an afternoon snack and to taste some wines with us.

The snack menu was straight from jars and odds and ends in the refrigerator.  In keeping with the needs for low-glycemic dishes, I selected a group of savory items we all like:

  • black and green olives
  • Spanish Piperras Peppers
  • Greek Pepperoncini
  • Chris’ homemade pickled peppers and onions
  • Chris’ hot-smoked salmon (done over apple wood)
  • daikon and watermelon radishes, thinly-sliced, with tapenade and microgreens
  • Greek Kefalotyri cheese, fried and served with tomato sauce

IMG_4098 IMG_4099 IMG_4103 IMG_4104

We served three different wines in sequence:

  • Sans Liege Rhone blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Rousanne
  • a French sparkling Pear Cider (only 4% alcohol)
  • 2003 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir

The whites did well with all the pickles, and the Pinot Noir complemented the fried cheese.  Bon Voyage, my friends!

That night Barbara made a late supper with her trademark Jumbo Lump Meat Crabcakes, with Cole Slaw (finally using that cabbage!), and hand cut homemade french fries.

crab cakes, french fries and cole slaw

The next morning we awoke to a surprise two-inch layer of snow and ice in our driveway.  No matter; the tractor with my snowplow made short work of it all.

tractor and pizza oven tractor and driveway

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Four Whole Grain Loaves



2 rye breads

2 rye breads

multigrain football

multigrain loaf shape

eggplant parm

eggplant parmingiano

lunch plate

toasted bread and eggplant parmigiano, with microgreens

seeded rye

seeded rye

This past weekend I went back to bread baking.  I was eager to enjoy my own whole grain breads with the magnificent Kite Hill Almond-based vegan cheeses.  So I made two full recipes of bread — four loaves, two each of Rye with Caraway Seeds, and Whole Wheat and Einkorn.  My rye bread recipe is tried and true, so that was easy.  The other pair was a new effort, and I think I managed a good combination of whole wheat and einkorn, plus a small amount of rye (all milled myself from sprouted grains), and organic KAF (King Arthur Flour) white bread flour. rye Lolo

One of my target dishes was the almond ricotta with a little olive oil, spread thickly on pan-roasted slices of rye, and dotted with delicious oil-cured black olives — scrumptious.  The other thrill was Barbara’s version of a Calabrian eggplant parmigiano (mostly almond ricotta plus a little bit of parmesan cheese).  We had it as a main course for dinner, and I added some of the eggplant dish at room temperature to toast for lunch the next day.

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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

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