Tuesday, April 20, 2010

revising my remarks

Okay, I lied before. This is as close to meat and potatoes as we get in our household: fake meat, and actual potatoes.

The recipe is Potatoes Colcannon, and it comes from June Platt's New England Cookbook, which I got for 50 cents at a tag sale on a weekend trip to Arizona last month.

Yes, fifty cents. Can you believe it? It has an introduction by James Beard, the copy is in perfect condition, and how awesome is that cover image?

The book was published in 1971--I'm really interested in vintage cookbooks these days. I just think that in many of these books, mixed in amid the charmingly old-fashioned writing style and the hilariously outdated recipes, are likely to be some forgotten but delicious ways to prepare seasonal vegetables.

Ms. Platt's recipe for Potatoes Colcannon delivers. I suppose it's not really the traditional approach to colcannon (I'd never heard of making it with spinach rather than cabbage), but it's fantastic. And I think you could make it with just about any of those spinach- or chard-like greens that are so abundant in Seattle this time of year. Any time of year. (In fact, I'd intended to make it with braising mix, but I must have grabbed the wrong bag at the farmers market. Oh well--next time. Soon.)

There are actually two approaches to serving this dish. If you're in a hurry, you can just stir the potatoes and greens together and serve immediately--the dish is soft and silky. Or, if you want to be a stickler for Ms. Platt's method, you can turn the stuff into a baking dish, put it in the oven for a while, and then unmold onto a plate.

I think both options are great.

Potatoes Colcannon
Adapted from June Platt's New England Cookbook

Russet potatoes--a little less than 1 pound
Greens--a big bunch of chard, about 1/2 lb spinach leaves or braising mix, or a 10-oz package of frozen spinach
2 Tbsp butter
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 C cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and peel the potatoes, and cut into medium-size pieces. Place them in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, and add 1/4 tsp salt. Cook until they are tender through, or for about 25 minutes. Lift the potatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon and cool in a colander.

If you are using frozen spinach, defrost it and squeeze out the water. If using fresh greens, wash them to remove any dirt, and then cook them in the potato water for a few minutes, until they are bright green and just tender. Drain in a sieve, press the water out of the greens with a spoon, and then when they are cool enough to handle chop them finely.

If you're going to bake the colcannon, start preheating the oven to 400 F now.

Melt the butter in the saucepan, peel the garlic, and press the cloves into the pan. Saute over medium heat for a few minutes, until fragrant. Turn the heat down as low as it will go, return the potatoes to the pan, add the cream, and mash until the potatoes are light and fluffy. Add the chopped greens and continue to mash until the potatoes and greens are well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste (I like a generous hand with the pepper, though little ones may disagree).

Serve immediately, or pack the mixture into a well-buttered deep 3-cup mold or small baking dish. Place in the hot oven and allow to heat thoroughly, about 10 to 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the dish, and turn out, like a mud pie*, onto a hot serving dish.

Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish with sausages or poached eggs.

*That sentence is directly from June Platt's original. "Like a mud pie"--I love imagining her trying to think of a description that would be as broadly accessible as possible, and finally hitting upon this. Everyone knows about unmolding mud pies--oh yes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

round and round we go

The funny thing about seasonal cooking is that it leads to seasonal thinking. About this time two years ago I was making excuses for posting a chili recipe, noting that it would still be chili weather in Seattle for some weeks yet. And now, the same thoughts having apparently gone round and round in my head along with the months, here I am in high spring, offering you a hearty soup.

But what a soup! This version of caldo verde, or Portuguese kale soup, comes from Emeril (yes, that Emeril...I know! But stick with me) via The Splendid Table. It's simple, savory, and makes a ton. And it's a great use for the greens that are so plentiful at Seattle farmers markets this time of year. (See? Seasonal. Q.E.D.)

The notes to the original recipe say that the kale should be cooked just a bit and stay crisp-tender, but since I made this a day ahead of eating it the kale ended up pretty thoroughly soft, and I have to admit I really liked it that way. But the best thing about the soup? Is the way the potatoes cook until they start to fall apart--they get almost silky and the starch that they release thickens the soup a bit. Fantastic.

Caldo Verde

Adapted from The Splendid Table

2 medium yellow onions
3 small/medium cloves garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil + a little more, divided
2 lb. potatoes
7 C stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tofurkey Italian sausages or similar (or 1/2 lb. chorizo or hot smoked sausage)
1/2 lb. kale (I used lacinato kale because I can't get enough of the stuff; curly kale is probably more authentic)
Crushed red pepper (or add 1/2 tsp to the pot)

Peel the onions and chop them finely. Peel the garlic. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a large soup pot, add the onions, and press the garlic into the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the potatoes and stock or water to the pan. Then add salt and pepper, and the crushed red pepper if you don't have sensitive palates in the house. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, wash the kale, cut away the tough center ribs, and cut the leaves into thin strips. When the potatoes are tender, add the kale and simmer until the leaves are softened, about 15 minutes longer. (I put the kale in the soup, turned the heat off, cooled the soup and refrigerated it overnight, then reheated the next day. If you're making the soup the day you plan to eat it and you want the kale really soft, you may need to simmer a little longer. If you're making it a day ahead and want the leaves to stay a little crisp, don't add them until you start reheating the soup the day you're going to eat it.)

Meanwhile, cut the soysages into small dice (or crumble or dice the sausages), and saute in a small skillet in a little bit of olive oil until they are crispy. Then slide them into the soup.

To serve, ladle into bowls and sprinkle each serving with crushed red pepper to taste.

Makes at least 6 servings.