The charisma of Brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts_1

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

Brussels sprouts are among the handful of vegetables that get better after the leaves have fallen and the first frost, or even snowfall, hits the ground. This, plus the fact that they’re so deliciously versatile, make them a perfect fit for the holiday table. If you didn’t have them on your Thanksgiving menu, make room in your Christmas or New Year’s Eve feast.

While Brussels sprouts, as advertised, have been widely enjoyed in Belgium, perhaps as early as the 1200s, I’ll always take the opportunity to credit Italians for things gustatory—and this vegetable was widely cultivated during Roman times.

These mini cabbages can be enjoyed raw, shaved into other salad greens, made into a winter coleslaw, or cooked: boiled steamed, or roasted. The latter cooking method is my favorite. Like many other people, for too many years the plain boiled Brussels sprout was my point of reference. But I came to adore this vegetable the first time I enjoyed the caramelized natural sugars straight from the roasting pan.

Speaking of sugars, the late harvest vegetables that prefer growing conditions between 45 and 75 F, really come to life after a frost or two. Local growers tell me that the freezing and thawing of Brussels sprouts cause complex carbohydrates to break down into simple sugars. The result is a sweeter less starchy vegetable. Roasting these beauties with a little oil or butter in the oven will do the rest of the work oxidizing the sugar and conferring nutty flavor and brown color. While vegetables do not contain enormous amounts of protein, they do have some, about a gram per ounce. This further contributes to coloration and depth of flavor.

So how do you get them oven ready and cooked to delectable perfection? The first step is to peel away any loose leaves not snug to the vegetables–these will cook too fast, over brown and give a burnt taste to the entire batch. Next trim off the bottom end taking care not to go too high up the stem; leaving the stem intact keeps the vegetable unified during cooking, tossing, and/or stirring. Cutting the Brussels sprout is where people go in different directions. The cabbage-like ball can be left whole, but a young sweet one will be dense and hard–you run the risk of overbrowning the outside as you wait for the inside to tenderize. Depending on size, I find them best halved or quartered. Again, the cut should be lengthwise up the stem, allowing the sprout to hold together.

Now the fun part, roasting. Surface area is important for caramelization. Use the correct size roasting pan. Too small, the crowded vegetables will steam rather than brown. Too large, big risk of overbrowning/burning. The sprouts, like any vegetable you roast, should be in an even layer with full contact to the roasting pan. A little bit of fat is absolutely essential to get the sugars sizzling and browning. I prefer olive oil to butter because of its higher smoke point. With butter you run the risk of burning. If you like the buttery flavor, stir a bit in at the end when removing from the oven.

Speaking of additions to the sprouts, they’re limitless and yummy (see below). As far as oven temperature, you can go HOT, 425 – 450 F, in the beginning to get things started then reduce the heat to 350-375F, or you can keep it steady at around 400 F, stirring here and there as they cook for about 25 minutes. If you notice over browning, simply reduce the oven temperature slightly and tent loosely with foil the way you would a chicken or turkey as it finishes cooking.

Those who say, “If it tastes good, it can’t be good for you,” never met a Brussels sprout. A member of the cruciferous family (kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), it not only has that yin-yang of sweet and slightly bitter like its cousins, but it also contains all those 10-syllable phytochemicals that ward off carcinogens, positively affect hormones, reduce blood cholesterol, and bolster our immune systems. They’re also a very good source of many essential vitamins, including vitamin C and folate, as well as fiber. One cooked cup of Brussels sprouts offers all of this with only 55 calories.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck plus a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

What to add to Brussels sprouts

Bacon (pork or turkey) or pancetta
Roasted chestnuts
Pomegranate seeds
Caramelized onions or shallots
Pumpkin seeds
Toasted almond slivers, walnut halves or pecans
Other vegetables great for roasting (i.e. butternut squash, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and so on)
A dash of maple syrup or honey (at the end of cooking – put in too early, it’ll burn)
A bit of grated citrus zest (after cooking)
A dash of cayenne to lift and balance those sweet flavors
A dash of smoked paprika (for that smoky flavor without the bacon)

Roasted Maple Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Chestnuts

Makes 6 to 8 servings

This oven caramelized version has all that’s hard to resist: a hint of sweet and spice from maple syrup and cayenne, slightly bitter Brussels sprouts, earthy chestnuts and BACON!  Italian bacon that is. It’s an easy side, which can be made in advance, and offers a colorful and delicious preparation for the holiday table or for autumn and winter meals.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces pancetta (optional), diced
2 cups fresh roasted chestnuts* (approximately ¾ pound in shell)
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved (quartered if large)
Salt and pepper
¼ cup warm water
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Pinch cayenne

*Substitute peeled, frozen chestnuts if desired.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Roasting efficiently removes the shell and richens the flavor of chestnuts. Using knife tip, cut small “X”  on the flat side of outer shell, then spread on baking pan. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes; you will see the skin curling away and the chestnut taking on a golden color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. The shells can easily be removed. Set aside chestnuts.

Reduce oven to 400 F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large (3-4 quart) sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, until pancetta renders its fat and is lightly browned. Add chestnuts, toss or stir to combine, then cook about 1 minute. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, tossing or stirring, about 2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to large rimmed baking pan or roasting pan; they should spread out in one layer. Season with salt and pepper, and roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting, until vegetables are golden and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.  Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to test the doneness at the base of a Brussels sprout; it should insert easily.  In a small bowl or cup, stir together the water, maple syrup and cayenne. Pour the mixture into the hot baking sheet, using a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits.  Return pan to oven and cook another 5 minutes.  Serve hot or warm family-style in festive bowl.

The charisma of Brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

Brussels sprouts are among the handful of vegetables that get better after the leaves have fallen and the first frost, or even snowfall, hits the ground. This, plus the fact that they’re so deliciously versatile, make them a perfect fit for the holiday table. If you didn’t have them on your Thanksgiving menu, make room in your Christmas or New Year’s Eve feast.

While Brussels sprouts, as advertised, have been widely enjoyed in Belgium, perhaps as early as the 1200s, I’ll always take the opportunity to credit Italians for things gustatory—and this vegetable was widely cultivated during Roman times.

These mini cabbages can be enjoyed raw, shaved into other salad greens, made into a winter coleslaw, or cooked: boiled steamed, or roasted. The latter cooking method is my favorite. Like many other people, for too many years the plain boiled Brussels sprout was my point of reference. But I came to adore this vegetable the first time I enjoyed the caramelized natural sugars straight from the roasting pan.

Speaking of sugars, the late harvest vegetables that prefer growing conditions between 45 and 75 F, really come to life after a frost or two. Local growers tell me that the freezing and thawing of Brussels sprouts cause complex carbohydrates to break down into simple sugars. The result is a sweeter less starchy vegetable. Roasting these beauties with a little oil or butter in the oven will do the rest of the work oxidizing the sugar and conferring nutty flavor and brown color. While vegetables do not contain enormous amounts of protein, they do have some, about a gram per ounce. This further contributes to coloration and depth of flavor.

So how do you get them oven ready and cooked to delectable perfection? The first step is to peel away any loose leaves not snug to the vegetables–these will cook too fast, over brown and give a burnt taste to the entire batch. Next trim off the bottom end taking care not to go too high up the stem; leaving the stem intact keeps the vegetable unified during cooking, tossing, and/or stirring. Cutting the Brussels sprout is where people go in different directions. The cabbage-like ball can be left whole, but a young sweet one will be dense and hard–you run the risk of overbrowning the outside as you wait for the inside to tenderize. Depending on size, I find them best halved or quartered. Again, the cut should be lengthwise up the stem, allowing the sprout to hold together.

Now the fun part, roasting. Surface area is important for caramelization. Use the correct size roasting pan. Too small, the crowded vegetables will steam rather than brown. Too large, big risk of overbrowning/burning. The sprouts, like any vegetable you roast, should be in an even layer with full contact to the roasting pan. A little bit of fat is absolutely essential to get the sugars sizzling and browning. I prefer olive oil to butter because of its higher smoke point. With butter you run the risk of burning. If you like the buttery flavor, stir a bit in at the end when removing from the oven.

Speaking of additions to the sprouts, they’re limitless and yummy (see below). As far as oven temperature, you can go HOT, 425 – 450 F, in the beginning to get things started then reduce the heat to 350-375F, or you can keep it steady at around 400 F, stirring here and there as they cook for about 25 minutes. If you notice overbrowning, simply reduce the oven temperature slightly and tent loosely with foil the way you would a chicken or turkey as it finishes cooking.

Those who say, “If it tastes good, it can’t be good for you,” never met a Brussels sprout. A member of the cruciferous family (kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), it not only has that yin-yang of sweet and slightly bitter like its cousins, but it also contains all those 10-syllable phytochemicals that ward off carcinogens, positively affect hormones, reduce blood cholesterol, and bolster our immune systems. They’re also a very good source of many essential vitamins, including vitamin C and folate, as well as fiber. One cooked cup of Brussels sprouts offers all of this with only 55 calories.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck plus a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

What to add to Brussels sprouts

Bacon (pork or turkey) or pancetta
Roasted chestnuts

Pomegranate seeds

Caramelized onions or shallots
Pumpkin seeds
Toasted almond slivers, walnut halves or pecans
Other vegetables great for roasting (i.e. butternut squash, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and so on)

A dash of maple syrup or honey (at the end of cooking – put in too early, it’ll burn)
A bit of grated citrus zest (after cooking)
A dash of cayenne to lift and balance those sweet flavors
A dash of smoked paprika (for that smoky flavor without the bacon)

Roasted Maple Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Chestnuts

Makes 6 to 8 servings

This oven caramelized version has all that’s hard to resist: a hint of sweet and spice from maple syrup and cayenne, slightly bitter Brussels sprouts, earthy chestnuts and BACON!  Italian bacon that is. It’s an easy side, which can be made in advance, and offers a colorful and delicious preparation for the holiday table or for autumn and winter meals.

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces pancetta (optional), diced

2 cups fresh roasted chestnuts* (approximately ¾ pound in shell)

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved (quartered if large)

Salt and pepper

¼ cup warm water

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Pinch cayenne

*Substitute peeled, frozen chestnuts if desired.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Roasting efficiently removes the shell and richens the flavor of chestnuts. Using knife tip, cut small “X”  on the flat side of outer shell, then spread on baking pan. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes; you will see the skin curling away and the chestnut taking on a golden color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. The shells can easily be removed. Set aside chestnuts.

Reduce oven to 400 F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large (3-4 quart) sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, until pancetta renders its fat and is lightly browned. Add chestnuts, toss or stir to combine, then cook about 1 minute. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, tossing or stirring, about 2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to large rimmed baking pan or roasting pan; they should spread out in one layer. Season with salt and pepper, and roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting, until vegetables are golden and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.  Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to test the doneness at the base of a Brussels sprout; it should insert easily.  In a small bowl or cup, stir together the water, maple syrup and cayenne. Pour the mixture into the hot baking sheet, using a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits.  Return pan to oven and cook another 5 minutes.  Serve hot or warm family-style in festive bowl.

Talking Turkey… with wine

cranbbery relish_1

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

I recently polled both foodie and non-foodie Gigi customers and friends to see what wines they will be enjoying at their Thanksgiving table. While some stuck with their favorite style of wine (let’s say a BIG red like Barbaresco, or a New World Cabernet Sauvignon, or a crisp Pinot Grigio or Sancerre, or a heavily oaked California Chardonnay), many actually put the turkey first!

Ask just about any wine expert and they’ll go right to Pinot Noir–with its low tannins and bright berry palate, it complements but does not overpower the turkey or the traditional hearty sides that accompany.

Another thing aficionados tend to agree on is that–red or white–the wine must have a certain element of fruitiness. But don’t mistake this for sweet. While a little residual sugar can play nicely with both the sweet and savory flavors on the table, an all out sweet wine will drown them out just a an overly dry one will land flat against the panoply of tastes on the table.

It’s quite unlikely that a single wine will carry you from appetizers to pumpkin pie, so let’s start from the beginning.  Slightly salty nibbles or even crudité before the main event can pair well with Prosecco, Cava, or crisper lighter whites with a little bit of minerality like Pinot Grigio, Sancerre, Tocai, or even Falenghina, one of my favorite Italian whites. If you have any rosés left from the summer months, now might be a good time to finish them off.

Moving to the dinner table, think of the range of flavors: white and dark turkey meat, buttery mashed potatoes, sweet yams, herbaceous stuffing, and tart cranberry relish. For reds, a bright Pinot Noir or a zippy Zinfandel or a Syrah can work nicely and liven up the flavors. The spice of the latter two will definitely not get lost with the fare on the table. Personally, I find Dolcetto d’Alba to be a very under-rated Italian red. With its soft roundness, nice balance of fruit, and firm but not overpowering structure, it’s my choice for the table. The general idea of pairing the red wine is to have fruit and enough heft without too many tannins. Overall goal? The flavors of the meal will be supported and enlivened, not overpowered.

A white wine pairing for the turkey feast should include a balance between acidity and some character of the wine that is able to stand up and shine through the meal.  A reasonably high acidity will help cut through the richness, and the wine must have some oomph to hold its own. I find the Thanksgiving meal presents a unique opportunity to have fun with some white wines that you may not normally select–Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Viognier can all work.

I asked David Bova, the ever-hospitable general manager and vice president of Millbrook Winery, how he handles this holiday harvest feast. He likes to provide his guests with a range of styles and flavors, encouraging people to try the variety of top-quality wines that Millbrook produces. While many of their collection go with Thanksgiving fare, David particularly points out the Proprietor’s Special Reserve Chardonnay and the 2012 Pebble Ridge Zinfandel, saying, “This Chardonnay has enough oak and acidity to hold up to the rich dishes and the dark meat of turkey. Its palate of yellow delicious apple, clover blossom, apricot, and honeysuckle present complex flavors that complement rather than disrupt Thanksgiving flavors.”

No matter your wine picks for this special harvest holiday, you can’t go wrong if you’re sharing food and vino with good friends and family!

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Millbrook Winery
26 Wing Rd, Millbrook, NY 12545

Phone:(845) 677-8383

www.millbrookwine.com

Citrus Cranberry Sauce

People often say cranberry sauce is the trickiest part of wine pairings on the Thanksgiving table. Like a wine with good acidity, the cranberry sauce can break through and refresh the palate between bites of the buttery potatoes and succulent turkey. This easy-to-prepare relish has just the right contrast of sweet and tart flavors. It is the perfect side to all poultry and can replace the mayonnaise on turkey or chicken breast sandwiches.

10 Servings

2 shallots, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons butter

12 ounces fresh cranberries

½ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 cup fresh orange juice

pinch cayenne

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 lime

In a medium saucepan, sauté shallots over medium heat, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add cranberries, brown sugar, maple syrup, orange juice, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook until cranberries burst open and soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in orange and lime zest. Let sauce cool and refrigerate.

A spot of health on an indulgent day:

  • Cranberries contain ellagic acid, a phytochemical that may help boost enzymes that rid the body of cancer-causing substances.
  • Cranberries also have a substantial amount of vitamin C–30% of the DV per serving (canned has about 75% less than fresh).
  • The peel or zest of citrus fruit contains limonene, a phytochemical that may help increase the production of cancer-fighting enzymes that get rid of carcinogens.

 

You say potato, I say potahto…

Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s make both

By Laura Pensiero, RD

The arrival of the holiday season first brings to mind the harvest Thanksgiving table. While later holiday feasts definitely delight–and, unfortunately, fatten us up for the long winter ahead–Thanksgiving is mostly about celebrating the harvest, breaking bread with those you love (even if you don’t like them).

Aside from the normal family tensions, heated political and sports debates, burned rolls left in the even, and general misbehavior, I find one food item can always get conversations started. The mashed potatoes. Everyone has an opinion, and no one is right. It starts with consistency: smashed, mashed, pureed, whipped. (I’m going to lump, so to speak, mashed, pureed, and whipped together going forward here, since they are often considered interchangeably.) So let’s discuss smashed versus mashed.

Classic mashed, along with the often fluffier whipped potatoes, are typically considered to be the more refined and traditional version. Smashed? What lazy clod would boil a few potatoes then simply smash, season, and send it to the table? Actually, many of us, and they’re good.

For this chunkier version, a masher and a little arm strength are the essentials. After draining the tender potatoes, choose whether or not to remove the skins (not necessary, especially with red, new, or smaller waxy potatoes, or even Yukon Gold).

There are many approaches to creating the classic creamy and fluffy mashed potatoes. For this style I’d stick with a starchier potato like Russet or Yukon Gold. As for equipment, I’m a fan of the potato ricer. This device is inexpensive and results in drier rice-like pieces of potato that can then be the base to which butter, warmed milk and/or cream and seasonings can be folded into. The traditional mixer (standing or hand held) works, but you run the risk of over-mixing and getting a gluey sticky mess. Unlike smashed potatoes, which can be enjoyed skin on or off, mashed potatoes should be peeled before cooking. Alternately they can be peeled when still warm after. I find the easiest and fastest course is to peel and cube them before cooking in salted water. Drain them and then pull out your ricer or mixer.

Just to get the dialogue a little spicier, how about all of the potential  additions to either smashed or mashed potatoes… garlic, herbs, mushrooms, sautéed onions, cheese, sour cream, peas, etc. Mix some mashed turnip or rutabaga into your Thanksgiving potatoes. You’ll love it–even as you hear every kid in the room scream, “Why’d you go and ruin the mashed potatoes!”

Some tips to get the potatoes just right:

  • Always cook in salted water.
  • Pick the right potato for the right preparation (waxy for smashed, starchy for mashed).
  • Always heat the milk and/or cream and butter before adding to mashed or smashed potatoes.
  • Don’t over mix, mash, or fold.
  • More butter (or oil) isn’t always better.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, and a catering business. She currently offers a Thanksgiving menu order for pickup or delivery service accessible at gigihudsonvalley.com/thanksgivingorder/.

Local potatoes anyone?

RSK Farms
13255 Route 23A, Prattsville, NJ
518-299-3198

Brittany Hollow Farm
150 Route 9 North, Rhinebeck, NY
845-758-3276

Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes

Makes 6 to 8 servings

So simple! If you want to spike this up, consider sautéing some thyme leaves and thinly sliced garlic cloves in another tablespoon or two of olive oil and folding it into smashed potatoes.

2 pounds small-medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons excellent quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and ground white pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them a few inches. Season the water with salt and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender but still hold their shape, 15 to 30 minutes depending on size and shape. Drain potatoes and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Peel potatoes (or not) and mash them with a handheld potato masher until blended but slightly chunky. Gently stir in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Classic Mashed Potatoes
Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 tablespoon salt plus more to taste
1 1/3 cups milk or half-and-half (or a 1:1 ratio of both)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes. Heat milk with butter in small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted; set aside. Press hot, drained potatoes through ricer into large mixing bowl. Slowly add milk/butter mixture, folding into the potatoes in quarter-cup increments.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl.

Pearfect!

pears with candied nuts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

With almost 3,000 varieties of pears to consider, we’re going to stay focused on the most popular and truly homegrown. The most common varieties found at our local farmers’ markets include Aurora, Anjou, Comice, Seckel, Highland, Asian, Bartlett, Red Bartlett, and Bosc.

Montgomery Place Orchards harvests an unimaginable variety of both apples and pears. While you won’t find their fruit at local farmers’ markets, a trip to their own stunning farmstand at the corner of Routes 199 and 9-G in Red Hook will have you leaving with more than a bag of dazzling pears.

Through thousands of years, pears have been grafted, cherished, and celebrated as “gifts from God,” “butter fruit,” and symbols of immortality. Today Washington and Oregon are the leading pear growing states, but the Hudson Valley makes a healthy contribution to establishing the U.S. as the leading pear producer worldwide. The two varieties that best resist insects, mites, and fungus in our area are Bosc and Bartlett.

Pears at their best are crisp, juicy, floral, and seductive. Some fruit tell you exactly when they’re ready to detach from their mother plant. Pears are a perfect example—an easy tug, they’re ripe and ready; a lot of twisting and wrestling, better wait a few more days or even a week.

Once off the tree, look for fruit that is not rock hard but where a gentle squeeze provides a little spring back, especially at the top neck. With so many varieties of different shapes and colors, a good rule of thumb is to look for a slight lightening from its original hue as a sign of ripeness. Imperfections

should not be seen as signaling poor quality. Orchard fruits, especially when organically grown, show dings, dents, and blemishes from weather, bug bites, and other uncontrollable forces. Think of these scars and scrapes as signs of character, and just work around them.

Pears have so many baking and culinary uses. Their sweet flesh is an extraordinary addition to salads with slightly bitter greens like arugula, spinach, and mizuna and salty cheeses such as blue, gorgonzola, feta, goat cheese, or Manchego. Toss in some toasted nuts, and even some tart cranberries or pomegranate seeds, and you’re talking a fall salad. The most popular Skizza™ (thin crusted pizza) at my restaurant is the Bianca – house made fig jam, Coach Farm goat cheese, shaved pears, Sky Farm arugula and a drizzle of house-infused truffle oil. The paper thin pear slices makes the pie, and I’d have plenty of people to reckon with if I ever took the Bianca off the menu.

Aside from salads and the obvious tarts, galettes, quick breads, and cakes, pears can lend seductive elegance to cocktails and especially sauces. A reduction of a deep stock, aged balsamic vinegar, chopped pears, and perhaps a smidge of ginger can make your roasted holiday duck a whole new experience.

Some tips for cooking and interpreting amounts in recipes:

2 medium pears = approximately 1 cup sliced pears.
4 medium pears = approximately 1 cup pureed pear.
3 medium pears = approximately 1 pound of pears

Nutritional notes: With their skin on, which is perfectly edible, pears rank among the highest fiber fruits. It’s also the type of fiber that helps attract water, which slows digestion.  This helps delays the emptying of your stomach and makes you feel full, which helps control weight. Slower stomach emptying may also affect blood sugar levels and have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, potentially helping control diabetes. Soluble fiber can also help lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Pears, like apples, also contain a whole spectrum of flavonoids, a large grouping of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Roasted Pears with Candied Spiced Nuts

 This is an easy “in season” dessert for entertaining or for every day. If you don’t have time to candy nuts, they can easily be purchased at most supermarkets, and most certainly at the wonderful Adam’s Marketplace (locations throughout the Hudson Valley).

Makes 4 servings

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
4 firm but ripe pears, halved and cored, skin on
¼ cup packed cup light brown sugar
¼ cup local pure maple syrup (Fitting Creek Farm in Ghent, or Crown Maple in Dover Plains are noteworthy local producers)
4 cinnamon sticks, halved
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 cup Candied Spiced Nuts (recipe below)
Ice cream (vanilla or hazelnut) or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, melt the butter then add both the brown sugar and maple syrup. Add the cinnamon sticks and allspice, and stir to blend. Transfer the butter mixture to a roasting pan just large enough to fit pear halves in one layer. Place the pear halves face down in the pan, shaking a bit to coat flesh side with butter/maple/brown sugar/spice mixture.  Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until pears are tender.  Using tongs, flip pears so that they are cut side up and spoon pan sauce over them.  Return to oven about 5 more minutes, or until they are golden and bubbling.  Remove, let cool slightly, top with candied nuts and a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

 Candied Spiced Nuts

I love these crunchy, slightly sweet and spicy nuts sprinkled over salads, enlivening cheese plates, and topping sweet orchard fruit desserts. Extras can be enjoyed on antipasti plates or with an evening cocktail.

Makes 4½ cups (18 servings)

1 egg white
½ pound shelled walnut halves
½ pound shelled almonds
½ cup sugar (preferably superfine)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon allspice
Pinch cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 250˚F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white and 1 tablespoon water until frothy. Add nuts and stir to coat them completely. Transfer nuts to a strainer or sieve and allow to drain for about 5 minutes.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, coriander, and cayenne in a large plastic bag and shake vigorously to blend. Add half the nuts to the bag and shake to coat thoroughly. Remove and place nuts on a large baking pan. Repeat with the remaining nuts and add to pan. Shake pan to distribute nuts evenly. Bake for 15 minutes, then gently stir, smoothing them back into a single layer. Lower oven temperature to 200˚F and bake until nuts are caramelized and crisp, about 45 minutes. Midway through baking, rotate pan to ensure even browning.

Allow nuts to cool completely. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Adapted from Hudson Valley Mediterranean: The Gigi Good Food Cookbook (HarperCollins/Pensiero 2009)

Talking Squash and Sustainability

Roasted Squash_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hear lots of people talking about agricultural sustainability and the importance of eating local. I’ve even added my own two cents to the discussion of how best to nourish ourselves, in every sense of the word, here in our corner of New York State.

With all forms of sustainability and wellness in mind, I think we need connect the dots and acknowledge the bigger picture.   The term “sustainable” doesn’t just relate to farm practices but to a sense of stewardship and accountability rooted in a stalwart commitment to long-term land cultivation.

For me the person who embodies that notion of endurable farming is Chuck Mead of Mead Orchard.  Chuck’s farm and orchard in Red Hook is now nearing a hundred years old.  Three generations of Mead men (and hardworking women) have tended this patch of stunning land, nourishing their families and their community with an integrity that to this day leaves their land healthy and fertile.

Ask around. When you bring up Mead Orchard, people comment on the commitment, generosity, and reliability of the farm and the family that runs it.  Given the upheavals and large-scale closure of family farms over the last century, I find Mead Orchards’ continued existence not only amazing but reassuring.

Chuck learned the business from his dad and granddad and the orchard is run pretty much the way it was since he was a little boy.  He is a close observer of nature with a gentle disposition who seriously cares for his trees and plants, as well as the people who help out during harvest time, year in, year out.  His long view of things prompted him to protect Mead Orchards with a conservation easement some years ago, ensuring that the farm stays a farm into the future.

Chuck also loves the traditions in farming.  For years, in late summer, I’ve called him anxiously checking in to see when I can have my pick from his pumpkin patch filled with Blue and Orange Hubbards, classic Cinderella pumpkins, squat Sugar Pies, Turbans, Carnival, Delicata, Kabocha, vibrant Rouge vif d’etampes and glorious Musque de Provence pumpkins.

Chuck always tells me, “You’re a little early, in a few weeks.” When it’s time, he lets no one else pick for me; he knows I like to do that myself.   He takes my quirks in stride, believing you need all kinds of people, all kinds of trees, all kinds of plants and animals to make the whole landscape work.

On my visit last week visit to pick up pumpkins and squashes to stock my larder and decorate my home and business, I asked Chuck what his family favorites are. He says his mom, Beth, was dismayed one year when he didn’t plant enough of the sweet Delicata. His sister Susan prefers the less sweet squashes, which she roasts with savory herbs.

Me, I’m a big fan of the Blue Hubbard squash. I like its moderate level of sweetness and starchiness; it’s both a cook’s and baker’s dream. This squash can be peeled and boiled, roasted, steamed, or sautéed; it can be served as a side dish, used as a soup base, mixed into quick breads, or used for pumpkin pie filling.  With its drier and starchier makeup, it’s prefect for working into hand-formed gnocchi or filling pasta like ravioli or tortellini.

Come to think of it, squash and pumpkins are the perfect symbols of sustainability because they can nourish us in so many different ways, not only during the harvest season but long beyond given that they store so well.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Preparation tips

Harvest squash can be intimidating – they’re pretty, but how do you prep and cook them?

Smooth and thinner-skinned varieties, like butternut squash, can be easily peeled, halved and seeded, then cut into desired-size pieces. From there they can be roasted or diced and tossed into soups and stews or thinly sliced to layer gratins.

Don’t even bother trying to peel the thick-skinned and curvy squashes – it’s not only time-consuming, it’s a bit dangerous (one slip of the knife…).  Instead, using a sturdy knife, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, or into large chunks or wedges following the natural curves. Slide out the pieces, then roast, flesh side down with a bit of olive oil and herbs until tender.

Alternately the thicker-skinned squash can be cut into large pieces and cooked in lightly salted boiling water until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Whether roasted or boiled, when cool enough to handle, slip off the skins.  So many preparations are at your fingers tips from there…

Cool Kohlrabi

 

Kohlrabi

 

 

 

 

 

 
Last week’s celebration of celery has me thinking about all of those unrecognized roots vegetables out there. What exactly is a ‘root’? Well, basically plants with hard but edible roots. In the Valley this includes common vegetables like carrots, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, beets, and parsnips, and some less common ones too, such as salsify and scorzonera or black salsify. MAYBE CUT? Kohlrabi is a subtlety flavored member of the ‘cabbage family’, getting its name from the German terms kohl, which means cabbage, and rabi, the word for turnip. The fact that they they’re abundantly harvested in this German and Dutch settled terroir should be no great surprise.

Ok, I’m going out on a limb and sharing a prediction, Kohlrabi will be the next kale! Kale, a media darling over the last years is abundantly found on the menus of both upscale and quick service eateries, and everywhere. Based on flavor and nutritional profile it deserves all accolades.  But make room for kohlrabi. It has vast culinary potential and truly unique super food properties.  With its odd satellite-like appearance, Kohlrabi hasn’t always lured Americans to the table, and to this day it is still more popular in Europe than here. Such a shame. Kohlrabi is delicious raw or cooked and has a sweet, mild flavor, similar to broccoli stems or the inner heart of cabbages. It’s behavior in cooking reminds me of water chestnuts – now doesn’t this open up some ideas?

So what to do with this “alien” root? Before slicing, shredding or cutting into cubes, you need to get to the tender and delicious flesh under the tough protective exterior.

The hard outer skin and the chewy fibrous layer beneath it, can easily be discarded by first using a knife to cut of the stems on both ends, as well as any protruding ‘tentacles’, then, using a vegetable peeler, peel down to the crisp and moist flesh.  It’ll take a couple of passes, but it goes quickly. Now you can prep the tuber for both raw and cooked dishes.

The tender and crisp raw kohlrabi bulb can be julienned, shaved, or grated and then used in salads and slaws. Using both the purple and green varieties of kohlrabi makes for a festive mixture. The bulb can also be cut into cubes or wedges then marinated or pickled. These crunchy little goodies can accent hors d’ouevres or appetizer plates.

Julienned or matchstick cuts of kohlrabi are perfect for a stir fry or quick sauté. A little olive oil, fresh herbs and sea salt… yum! Wedges or cubes of the bulb can be roasted or tossed into the soup or stew pot. Their edible top greens are tender and delicious, so make sure you add to the pot, or braise them with other greens like our darlin’ kale. If you have a mandoline or slicer at home, try layering slices of kohlrabi along with potatoes in your favorite gratin.  Also consider mixing kohlrabi up with shredded potatoes for crispy pancakes.

Now, where to find Kohlrabi?  Migliorelli Farm grows both the purple and green varieties in abundance — they decorate their farm stands throughout the Hudson Valley and NY Metro areas. Hopefully with their rising popularity, along with the fact that they’re easy to store at good quality, we will see them both at farm markets and supermarkets during the autumn and winter. As far as value, these ‘cabbage turnips’ are inexpensive and provide a great yield. They’re also low in calories, and oh so deliciously versatile. This should be enough to sway you to this knobby root. If not, consider that they’re a good source of vitamin C and potassium, and they contain the same cancer protective phytonutrients that other members the Brassica (cabbage) family are so well known for.

Kohlrabi Remoulade

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 medium, kohlrabi (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt to season
3 tablespoons of good quality mayonnaise*
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt preserved capers, rinsed
Pinch cayenne pepper
Finely shredded parsley to garnish

Directions

Working quickly, trim the ends from the kohlrabi and peel. Cut into halves and finely grate using a cheese grater or a food processor fitted with the shredding blade. Transfer to a medium bowl and immediately toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, and garlic; season with salt and cayenne. Fold the mixture into the bowl with the kohlrabi. Serve immediately or refrigerated, in a nonreactive airtight container, for 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Variations:

Add: shredded apples and/or cornichons

Underrated Celery

Garden Celery andMushroom Soup_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

I keep a short list of underrated vegetables, and celery reigns among the top two or three. How can this aromatic vegetable that provides such depth, aroma and core flavor to so many dishes be so grossly overlooked? Well, the supermarket representation certainly doesn’t help. It doesn’t look, smell, or taste like the recently harvested garden or local farm variety of celery.  I’m just now using both leaves and stalks from my garden in soups, stews, and salads. They are far darker and leafier, as well as more fragrant, than the offerings available during the rest of the year.

Chefs often use intensely flavored celery leaves in raw dishes and in cooking, but it’s far rarer among home cooks. Instead of throwing them away and only using the stalks, treat celery leaves like an herb: Toss a handful into mixed green salads, stir into a soup or stew just before serving, add to salsas and dips, and blend into smoothies and juices.

As for the stalks, along with carrots and onions, they are a key ingredient in building and layering flavor in so many cultural dishes. Along with a little fat, they are ‘sweated’, while gently tossed or stirred over moderate heat, until they become soft and scented. Then into the saucepan goes the herbs, spices, and perhaps grains and meat/s. A French mirepoix, and Italian soffritto, or a Portuguese refogada all add up the same thing: building the character of a dish. Celery is a key player in making this happens.

Cheryl Paff, Rhinebeck Farmer’s Market Manager, tells me that they’re anticipating celery in the upcoming weeks from Migliorelli Farm and Letterbox Farm Collective, a growing group of young farmers in Hudson, NY, has celery leaves and lovage, an herbaceous leafy perennial with flavor very similar to celery. She adds, “I’m glad you’re writing about it; totally agree it deserves a spotlight.”

One of my favorite combinations is celery and mushrooms, whether sautéed with into a ragu or blended into a soup, the earthiness of the mushrooms with the herbal flavor and natural saltiness of the celery truly hits high notes. If you don’t want to or don’t know where to forage mushrooms, Gary Wiltbank’s (Wiltbank Farm, Saugerties, NY) shitake and oyster mushrooms deliciously and conveniently meet the bill. Gary’s oyster mushrooms are cultivated in pasteurized, straw-filled sacks and the shitake mushrooms sprout from a sterilized sawdust blocks. Wiltbank Farm mushrooms are sold directly at local farmers markets, health food stores, and to grateful restaurant throughout the Hudson Valley.
Not only does celery does not get its due merit in the culinary arena, it is also nutritionally underestimated. Never do you here about celery being a star among the superfoods.  Not only very low in calories, celery contains well-known antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids, and scientists more recently identified a variety of other types of antioxidant phytonutrients as well as anti-inflammatory compounds in celery.

My last pitch for celery is this: check out one of your favorite cookbooks, I would wager that celery appears in at least 20% of the recipes. There’s a very good reason.

Garden Celery & Mushroom Soup

When fresh from the garden or farm, celery leaves can lend amazing flavor to soups, stews and salads. Also consider frying these aromatic leaves into ‘chips’… a very tasty garnish.

Makes 6 to 8 servings (about 10 cups)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 cup loosely packed celery leaves + 18 leaves for frying (optional garnish)
leaves from 3 fresh thyme sprigs
leaves from 2 fresh tarragon sprigs
1 ½ pound Wiltbank Farm oyster and shitake mushrooms, brushed clean, stems chopped, caps sliced
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
9 cups water
½ cup heavy cream (optional)

In a medium, heavy duty casserole, over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the celery stalks and leeks, and saute over medium heat, stirring often, until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stack the celery leaves and cut into thin ribbons. Add half of them to the vegetables along with the thyme and tarragon. Cook, stirring frequently, another 2 to 3 minutes, then add the remaining olive oil and butter. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the mushrooms. Cook, stirring here and there, until the mushrooms have softened and just begining to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and pour in the white wine; stir, and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, add the remaining sliced celery leaves. Let cool slightly then carefully puree, in batches, in a blender or with a food processor. Clean the cooking pot and return the puree back to it. Bring the pureed soup to a low boil, add the cream (if using), and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish: Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When almost smoking, add the intact 18 celery leaves. Fry until they ‘pop’ and darken in color. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and season with salt.

End of Season Abundance!

butternut, white bean, poblano and sausage stew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone who enjoys gardening, cooking, or just enjoying plain ol’ straight from the farm  seasonal Hudson Valley eating has a fall 2014 dilemma,  the dizzying local harvest! The shift from summer into fall typically has an overlap, but this year it is especially profound.  After a punishing winter, we were gifted with a lovely, slow, gradual summer. The rains came, and they were torrential, the sun graced us more days than not, but the heat never fully turned on.

Finally tomatoes and peppers and in full swing, but so are harvest squash, onions, dark leafy braising greens, and cruciferous or “cabbage family”, vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)! All are among the natural superstars of New York’s Hudson Valley harvest. The delectable combinations that present are, without question, different from year to year. As I prepare catering menus weeks, if not months, in advance, and the Gigi Trattoria Team and I shift from summer to fall menus, I’m always thinking about what will really be at peak on a particular date in the future. A huge advantage about moving into fall harvest and related cooking decisions is that the tea leaves can be read by the season that passed. Being flexible in your ingredient selections and cooking techniques can help you adapt to the gifts of never ending variables in working with the local/seasonal harvest.

Olivia Kirby, co-manager of the Farm at Locust on Hudson, tells me that the summer’s heavy down pours mixed with drier cooler sunny days has led to a mix mash of harvests.  Too much water all at once has shortened the tomato harvest –  they’ll be pulling the last in the upcoming weeks to prevent rot. Megan Reynolds, a Woodstock ‘Green Girl’ and committee member of the Woodstock Farmer’s Market adds, “The slow season has resulted in shorter spans to enjoy fruits like local cherries, which came and left in a blink, but some harvest fruit more typical of August  is trailing into fall.” Think about combining peaches and plums with the apples, pears, and Concord grapes that just now hitting harvest.

And hail to Kale! It’s just one of the delights of early autumn that can be thrown into the stew pot. Yes, you hear me, turn of the grill and turn on the stove top! It’s time to sauté, steam, braise, stew, and roast! So what to do with the crossover harvest? It’s not yet time to fully embrace winter cookery – heavier dishes that pair well with substantial red wines. Contemplate a mixture of late summer peppers, end of season tomatoes, harvest squash and garden herbs…

Some pantry staples can help enhance the flavor, texture, and nutritional profile of this unique season of cooking. Delicate braising beans, local meats, including sausage from Towne & Country in Hudson, NY, and no-nitrate bacon from Mountain Smokehouse in Lagrangeville, NY, as well as savory herbs like the sage and rosemary help layer the flavors. The nutritional profile of cooking in this season is well rounded, too. Here are the highlights: the vibrant golds and oranges of harvest squash provide huge levels of beta-carotene as well as innumerable other carotenoid antioxidants, deep dark leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses filled with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, peppers lend enormous quantities of vitamin C with every bite, and the cabbage family vegetables serve up substantial amounts of fiber, vitamin C, folate, as well as isothiocynates and glucosinolates, natural compounds, that tamp down inflammation, serve as antimicrobials, and offer up cancer fighting properties.

Late Summer Butternut, Poblano and Sausage Stew

I’ve been cooking this stew from onions, peppers, butternut squash, and herbs from my garden. The sausage is optional – this can easily become a vegetarian, or even vegan, dish. Add the last bit of butternut squash towards the end of cooking for great color and texture. The earlier addition will have ‘melted’ and added creamy flavor to the stew.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
4 poblano peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 pound Towne & Country Merguez sausage, removed from casing, crumbled
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into approximately 1-2 inch cubes
½ pound cannellini or navy beans (dried)
2 to 3 fresh rosemary springs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
7 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
2 ounces shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

In a medium-large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers, and cook, stirring often, until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 to 4 minutes, or until fat is released, juiced reduced, and the sausage begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add three quarters of the butternut squash, the beans and herbs, and cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until most liquid is reduced/evaporated. Add the broth or water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until the beans are tender and the stew is thick, about 1 ½ hours. If necessary add a bit more liquid, ½ cup at a time, to continue cooking and keep stew moist until beans are fully cooked. During the last 20 minutes of cooking add the remaining butternut squash. Remove the rosemary stems and serve topped with shaving of Parmesan if desired.

Gigi’s “Enlightened Eggplant Parmesan” Recipe

Gigi Eggplant Parmesan

July’s hot and humid weather has tapered off into gorgeous August days, warm, sunny and just hot enough for Hudson Valley summer gardens to thrive. There are buckets of ripening tomatoes, zucchini, beans, melons and a Gigi favorite – eggplant. Eggplants are gorgeous plants with lovely leaves, delicate flowers and elegant vegetables ranging from a nearly black purple to a glowing white streaked with rose. This ‘food of the sun’ flourishes here, a living link to the great number of Italian immigrants who farmed this land throughout the last century making this ‘foreign’ food beloved and common. The last thirty years has seen the growth of Asian eggplant varieties, long and lighter in color with fewer seeds and perfectly amenable to stir fries and braises.

EggplantAt Gigi, we are loyal to the Italian varieties since we are all fanatics about eggplant Parmesan. In fact, there are few dishes the staff and I enjoy as much as a “plate of parm”.  This wasn’t always the case. It took a trip to Sicily to convince me to reconsider Eggplant Parmesan, a typically heavy dish relying overly on breading and cheese. But the Sicilian treatment uses a lighter hand and results in a deeply satisfying eggplant flavor. A perfect dish for the season. Salute! – Laura

Enlightened Eggplant Parmesan – Makes 8 Servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1¼ Cups Fresh Bread Crumbs
  • ¼ Cup Finely-Grated Fresh Parmesan Cheese
  • 4 Medium Eggplants – About 3 Pounds – cut Lengthwise into ¼- to ½-Inch-Thick Slices
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Plus Additional for Brushing the Dish
  • Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Cups Gigi Pomodoro Sauce, or Your Homemade Recipe or Favorite Brand
  • 1¼ Cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1¼ Cups Shaved Parmesan or Grana Padano Cheese

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat the broiler.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan. Set aside.

Brush the eggplant on both sides with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange them in a single layer on 2 liberally greased baking sheets (non-stick is best). Broil in batches, until the slices are tender, lightly browned, and softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Spoon ½ cup of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a lightly oiled 9x13x2-inch baking dish. Layer one third of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping them slightly. Spoon ½ cup of sauce over the eggplant, spreading it evenly, and sprinkle with ½ cup each of the mozzarella and the shaved Parmesan. Top the cheese with another one third of the eggplant slices, another ½ cup of sauce, and ½ cup of each cheese. Top the cheese with the remaining one third of eggplant slices, ½ cup of sauce, and ¼ cup of each cheese.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in middle of the oven until sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over top, and continue to bake until the crumbs are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy as an appetizer, side dish, or entrée.