When Olive Oil & Salt Aren’t the Answer

 

“Just sauté in olive oil, season with salt and enjoy!” I say this a lot. Sometimes it’s true but sometimes it’s really not what’s needed. Tonight I had a large turnip, 1 leek and some yellowing stalks of celery. Luckily I also had a little knob of fresh ginger and some garlic and a few tangerines and my pantry always has sesame oil and soy sauce. And I had a block of tofu! And pretty much every time I’m at the store I buy a bunch of scallions and cilantro so there was that. It’s a habit that makes many meals so much better and why you see this usual greenery as I’ve come to call it in so many of my recipes. The mint in my garden has withstood the freezing temps and is still thriving so I also tossed in some mint. So I made up a sort of teriyaki tofu with turnips, leeks and celery and served that over rice. It was great. My kid who “hates” turnips ate all the vegetables and I enjoyed it much more than I would have a pan of sautéed vegetables with nothing but salt and olive oil.

 

It’s really not that most people don’t like vegetables. It’s just that preparation matters. It’s fun to prepare vegetables in ways that makes the most of the situation–the ingredients and the proclivities of the eater! No, we don’t always or even often have the bandwidth for any of this but sometimes the soy sauce, sesame oil, plenty of ginger and the usual greenery-formula is just what we need!

 

P.S. Do you need a gift for someone in your life who likes to cook and would enjoy the free-wheeling cook-with-what-you-have mo? Give the gift of a Cook With What You Have gift certificate! No clutter, no postage, just daily inspiration, flavor and good health!

 

Teriyaki-ish Tofu with Random Vegetables

 

1 block (usually about 8 ounces) firm tofu, briefly pressed between plates to remove some of the liquid, then cut into cubes

2 tablespoons oil

1 large turnip or 3 cups of whatever vegetables you have (carrots, peas, green beans broccoli, cauliflower, etc), finely chopped

1 leek or 1/2 onion, sliced

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced (optional)

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sesame seeds toasted for about 2 minutes in a dry skillet (optional)

Rice for serving

Marinade

2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon or more, favorite chili sauce like Sriracha

1 tablespoon ginger, grated on a microplane or very finely chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced or grated on microplane

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lime

1/3 cup orange juice

 

Cook rice.

 

Mix together all ingredients for the marinade. Put the tofu cubes in a baking dish and gently toss with half the marinade, making sure they’re in one layer.

 

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over high heat and add tofu and cook for 5-7 minutes or until browning in spots. Remove tofu from pan and set aside. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and saute turnip, celery and leek or whatever vegetables you’re using, stirring often for about 5 minutes or until vegetables are just softening. Add the remainder of the marinade to the vegetables and mix well and cook for another minute or two. Serve vegetables and tofu over rice and garnish with herbs and scallions and toasted sesame seeds, if you’d like.

 

Pasta Carbonara, a Spring Template (Many Green Things are Delicious Added to this Classic)

I cook as an expression of love and gratitude and hope and memories and nostalgia. I cook because I simply like to cook and express those feelings, and others. I also sometimes cook, not exactly as bribery, but as way to improve my 12-year-old’s mood.

 

Pasta Carbonara is pretty much a guaranteed mood-booster in our household. I like Pasta Carbonara, the Roman pasta dish of pancetta, egg, black pepper and Parmesan–brilliantly made in way that the residual heat of the just cooked pasta and a little hot pasta cooking water, cooks the eggy/cheese/peppery sauce.  But I like a little greenery, actually a lot of greenery and in the spring there are many ways to modify/augment this quick classic.

 

In this version I sauteed four heads of green/new garlic to which I then added the bacon (I never stock pancetta) and then when the dish was finished, stirred in three cups of radish seedlings (from my CSA) which just wilted from the heat of the finished dish. I loved this version, my 12-year-old not quite so much! Oh well!

 

Alternatively you can toss sliced asparagus or snap peas in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking and then drain them all together (don’t forget to save out 1/2 cup of cooking water) or stir in sauteed leafy greens of any kind or tender pea shoots. The silky sauce that defines carbonara is such a nice foil for all these green things.

 

May it lift your mood or those at your table!

 

P.S. I seem to be on an Italian kick these days. Here’s a quick TV segment featuring a Spring Vegetable Ragout. You can employ this method with many different spring vegetables from radishes to fava beans to leeks and garlic scapes.

 

Pasta Carbonara with Green Garlic and Radish Seedlings (or whatever greenery you’d like)

 

If you don’t have radish seedlings you can toss sliced asparagus or snap peas in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking and then drain them all together (don’t forget to save out 1/2 cup of cooking water) or stir in sauteed leafy greens of any kind.

 

You can also skip the bacon or pancetta. The garlic adds lots of flavor as do the greens.

 

Serves 4

 

3-4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon or more, freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
2-4 stalks green garlic or small new garlic heads or 2 cloves mature garlic, finely chopped
2-3 oz pancetta or bacon, diced (optional–see headnote)
1 lb spaghetti, linguine (or other shape of pasta)
3 cups radish seedlings or tender pea micro-greens or other other greens (see headnote)

 

Heat the oil or butter in a small skillet over medium heat and gently cook the garlic for about 5 minutes or until softened and fragrant. Take care not to brown or burn it. Add the bacon/pancetta, if using, and turn the heat up a little and cook until it has rendered its fat. Take off the heat and set aside.

 

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add grated cheese, salt, and plenty of pepper. Cook pasta in generous amount of salted water.  Scoop out and save ½ cup of cooking water and then drain when pasta is al dente. Return pasta to the pan (off the heat), add garlic/bacon, egg mixture and a bit of the reserved cooking water and mix well. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg and create a lovely sauce. Add more cooking water if it seems at all dry; you want a silky sauce. Serve hot with extra cheese if you’d like.  Carbonara is traditionally very peppery so don’t be shy with the black pepper.