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Butternut Squash White Bean Purée

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Time: After soaking the beans in water overnight, the soup preparation takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes (45 minutes to cook the beans; at the same time you can clean and cut the squash and onions, and sauté the onions; then an additional 45 minutes to cook and purée the soup.)

Serves: 14-16 as a first course.

Inspired by: I saw this recipe in Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food”. It sounded good, hearty and healthy, and although she doesn’t purée the soup, I’ve been curious about how white beans would work as a thickening agent for a soup that was puréed. It worked perfectly! I look forward to trying this concept with other vegetables… carrot and fresh ginger, broccoli, zucchini, mushroom… perhaps roasted red pepper. I like that it adds protein and that it’s creamy without any butter or cream. Potato can be a nice thickener for veggie soups, but the white beans make it much creamer and healthier.  This version is doubled from the original Alice Waters recipe.

Supplies: Large soup pot and a sturdy vegetable peeler.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried white beans (such as cannellini, haricot blanc, or navy beans)
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or try vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian)
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 small onions (sliced thin)
  • 6-8 sage leaves (or 4-6 teaspoons dried sage)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium butternut squash, approximately 3 pounds each (peel with a vegetable peeler, scrape clean of strings and seeds, and dice into ½ inch pieces)
  • Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Preparation:

  • Soak 2 cups of beans overnight in 8 cups of water.
  • Drain and put in large pot with 6 cups chicken broth and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook until beans are tender (about 45 min). Season to taste when cooked.
  • While the beans are cooking, in large heavy bottomed pot combine 4 tablespoons olive oil, 4 onions sliced thin, 3-8 sage leaves and 2 bay leaves. Cook over medium heat until tender (about 15 min).
  • Stir in the cubed butternut squash and some salt to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes, and then drain the beans (keeping the liquid) and add 12 cups of their cooking liquid to the squash and onions. Cook at a simmer until the squash starts to get tender. Add the beans and keep cooking into the squash is very soft.
  • Purée several cups of the mixture at a time – adding salt and pepper to taste in each batch – and then pouring into a large serving bowl. For a slightly thicker soup, remove approximately 2 cups of the liquid before you purée. You can always add it back in if you want to thin it out a bit.

Wine Suggestions: Contrast with a crisp, high-acid white such as Champagne, Chablis or White Burgundy  or compliment with a creamy white such as a barrel fermented (rich, buttery) California Chardonnay.


Artichoke Sourdough Bisque

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Time: approximately 90 minutes (20 minutes to prepare the artichokes, 20 minutes to chop the other vegetables, 20 minutes to saute, 20 minutes to simmer, 10 to simmer with the bread and then puree the mixure).

Serves: 8

Inspired by: I love artichoke soup. One of my favorites is from Duartes Tavern in Pescadero, CA. For years I’ve wanted to learn to make it, but most are full of cream and not very healthy. Then I saw Chef Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro in Monterey, California demonstrate this soup on a cooking show and it has no cream or butter – just a bit of olive oil and sourdough bread to thicken it.

Ingredients:

  • 4 extra large artichokes
  • ½ cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sized yellow onion
  • 1 leek
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups chopped sourdough bread
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 fresh sprig of thyme
  • 6 cups chicken stock (or substitute with vegetable stock) – lower sodium is best so you can season it yourself
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Using a sharp serrated knife, trim the artichoke all the way down to the heart (keep the stem). Use a spoon to scrape away the fuzzy part and discard.  Peel the stem and use that in the soup as well, since the stem is an extension of the heart.  After the artichokes are clean, roughly slice.
  • Wash and roughly chop all of the vegetables and garlic.
  • Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed pan.
  • Sweat (sauté without color) the artichokes, onion, leek, garlic, celery and thyme, until tender.
  • Add the chicken stock. I used Sheltons all natural chicken broth with salt and spices but if you might prefer low sodium so you can  add your own in at the end.
  • Gently simmer the soup for 20 minutes.
  • Add the roughly chopped sourdough bread and sage and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • In small batches, puree the soup using either a blender, food processor or immersion blender. A conventional blender should produce a nice smooth creamy soup.
  • Place all of the soup into a clean saucepan, reheat, and check the seasoning.
  • Season with salt and pepper. (I added in another 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of both salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper).

Tabouli

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Tabouli

Time: Approximately 30 minutes of active time; 2.5 hours from start to finish.

Serves: 4-6 as a side dish

Inspired by: My love for Mediterranean flavors. I don’t even remember having Tabouli as a child with any of my Armenian relatives, but I have had it made by Lebanese friends. There are so many different variations on this dish. I prefer a nearly equal ratio of parsley to bulgur (many recipes are mainly bulgur and just a little parsley). This is the recipe I’ve refined and ended up with after trying various versions over the years – I love some of the subtle flavor nuances. I also usually add cucumber to give it a bit of crunch.

Ingredients – Salad:

  • 1/2 cup dry bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups minced parsley (or just use one large bunch of parsley)
  • 1/4 cup minced mint leaves
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced persian cucumber (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion (optional)

Ingredients – Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (kosher if you have it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Boil 3-4 cups of water. When it reaches a boil, add the bulgur, remove from heat, and let stand for 45 minutes. Once bulgur is soft, drain excess water and cool to room temperature.
  • Toss bulgur with parsley, mint, tomatoes and optional cucumber and green onions.
  • Separately, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cinnamon and crushed garlic.
  • Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until well coated. If you plan to refrigerate before serving, hold off on putting the tomato in until serving as tomatoes lose flavor in the refrigerator.

Seared Scallops

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Seared Scallops

Seared Scallops

Time: 5 minutes

Serves: 2

Inspired by: The first time I had scallops cooked perfectly, they became a favorite food! Unfortunately many restaurants don’t cook them hot enough and then overcook them so they don’t get that yummy glaze and can be rubbery. I’ve also found that they are phenomenal without very little seasoning – just a bit of salt and pepper. This is about as easy as it gets… The photo above shows them served with a spinach salad with mango vinaigrette.

  • 3/4 of a pound of wild scallops – ideally fresh but if they’ve been frozen they are almost just as good
  • 1 cup of spinach leaves or other greens (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan on high heat. Once it is very hot, add the scallops. If they are medium to large – cook them 1.5 – 2 minutes on each side. They should get nice and browned (that’s from the very hot pan) quickly. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste and use tongs to serve on a bed of greens or with your favorite salad.

Wine Suggestions: I love scallops with a crisp, high-acid wine with a lot of minerality.The Albariño that we had them with tonight (photo below) was beautiful (2008 Bodega Fundada Rias Baixas). A Chablis or White Burgundy with no or light oak would be beautiful as well. Some love a creamy, buttery chardonnay to match the creaminess of the scallops. The photo above shows them served with a spinach salad with mango vinaigrette, and because of the texture of the scallops and sweetness of the salad dressing, the pairing with this viscous, minerally and fruity Condrieu was perfect!

Seared Scallops

Seared Scallops


Fresh Pasta with Sautéed Mushrooms

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Fresh Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms

Fresh Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms

Time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: As many as you’d like

Inspired by: Eating at Madison & Fifth with my good friend Jeanette. We LOVE the pasta/mushroom dish there – it’s much more decadent than what I make because it has truffle oil and butter – but that dish really just reminds me that I love fresh pasta with any kind of sautéed or grilled mushrooms on top! This is about the easiest dish to prepare – no recipe required really – but I’m posting this as a reminder to myself to make this now and then.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh pasta – I prefer Pappardelle or any thin, wide fresh pasta noodle
  • Approximately 3/4 of a cup chopped mushrooms per serving – I think all mushrooms rock – these are cremini in the photo but I’ve used all kinds and often many kinds all together (grilled Portabellas are another favorite)
  • Butter or olive oil
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh minced garlic (optional)
  • Fresh parsley chopped (optional)

Preparation: Wash, slice and sauté mushrooms in butter or olive oil  – add salt and pepper to taste. I think salt is the key to bringing out the flavors of the mushrooms. Mushrooms are also best when not overcooked – keep them firm and juicy – probably about 5-8 minutes on a medium heat for cremini’s – this varies quite a bit per type of mushroom. If you love garlic, add some minced garlic a few minutes before the mushrooms are finished cooking. When the mushrooms are just about finished, take them off the heat. Cook the pasta according to instructions, usually about 2 minutes. Drain pasta and immediately toss in olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and a bit of salt and pepper. Add some chopped parsley if you like. Pour the mushrooms and their cooking juices over the top and toss lightly.

Notes: I recently made my favorite grilled vegetable lasagna and had a couple of packages of fresh lasagna sheets left over so I cut them into 3/4″ strips and they were awesome as pasta noodles. The fresher the pasta, the more easily the noodles stick to each other so add some olive oil to your cooking water, stir pasta immediately after dropping into the water, and add some salt for flavor. Continue stiring a bit to keep the noodles separated while cooking. After draining, toss immediately with olive oil to keep noodles separated.

Wine Suggestions: I love an earthy Red Burgundy with anything mushroom! My next choice would be a high-acid white to cut through the butter such as a Chablis or White Burgundy. Because this is buttery, many people would also love a rich, buttery and creamy California Chardonnay.


White Bean Pesto Dip

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Pesto Oil & White Bean Pesto Dip

Pesto & White Bean Pesto Dip

Time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: 8-12 as an appetizer

Inspired by: One of women in my book club, Nancy Beth Garrett, made something very similar to this recently with a pesto sauce from Trader Joes. I couldn’t stop eating it and stuffed myself before dinner!

Ingredients

  • 2, 14 oz cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained
  • Juice from about ½ a lemon
  • 1 garlic clove – crushed
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 2-4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Preparation:

Pesto – Wash and dry basil leaves; put into food processor and chop a bit first. Add olive oil, crushed garlic, grated fresh Parmesan and salt. Chop/blend well. Pour the pesto into a bowl or jar to store (you will only use some of it).

Dip – Without cleaning the food processor, add the beans and 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice and pulse chop to your desired consistency OR instead, you can just hand mash this in a bowl. Unlike when I make hummus, for this dip I like the beans to keep some texture and lumps, but you can also make this very smooth and creamy. If you want it to be smooth and creamy, continue the rest of this with the processor. Otherwise, put the mixture so far in a bowl, add 2-3 tablespoons of pesto and mix by hand. Add a little at a time and taste to get it to desired intensity. Add additional pesto oil, salt or lemon juice as desired. Garnish with drops of basil oil, basil leaves or flowers.

Notes: Serve with crackers, pita bread or raw veggies such as celery and carrots.  You can skip a step and purchase your favorite pesto sauce instead of making your own pesto oil.

Wine Suggestions: Yummy with light, crisp whites and aromatic whites such as Grüner Veltliner, Sancerre, Albarino, Verdejo, Chablis or other lightly oaked White Burgundy. Although I’ve heard that Cabernet Sauvignon is a good pairing with Pesto, and I can see how that could be the case, I think the whites are much better matches flavor and weight-wise for this fairly light dip.


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