Shakshuka

Shakshuka

A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of attending Whole Grain Mornings, a cooking class at The Pantry, taught by Megan Gordon from A Sweet Spoonful.  She spoke about the basic logistics of cooking with whole grains, concentrating on that first, oh so important meal of the day. We recreated a few dishes from her new cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings, and one in particular stuck with me for its ease and tantalizingly tempting aroma.

According to my sources , shakshuka is a Middle Eastern dish and is basically a spiced tomato stew with baked eggs on top. It seems to be very loose in its interpretations as I looked up quite a few different versions trying to find just the one I was in the mood for. They each had the same basic elements but included different spices or some extra ingredients. So I invented my own while being inspired by Megan, Smitten Kitchen and Clementine Daily’s versions.Though it has eggs, its heaviness and spiciness make me crave it more at dinner time, but by all means eat it whenever. It will fill your home with warmth, joy and spice.

Shakshuka

This was a one pan dish, which is always a plus right? Tip: it makes it much easier if you set up your mise en place before you start since things will cook  fairly quickly and you don’t want to be stressed trying to chop and stir and measure all at once.

Chop up a large onion and a leek. I would also have used a shallot and some sort of spicy pepper but I didn’t have one on hand. Heat up some olive oil in a large pan ( I love my cast iron skillet). Once hot, toss in the onion, leek, shallot and peppers. Cook until just slightly browned. Add thinly sliced garlic. I used 3 cloves but use however many you please. Stir it up. Dice a zucchini and add it to the mixture . Add a glug of olive oil if you think it needs it. As these cook up nicely, add a couple pinches of dried thyme and fennel seeds.

This will be smelling incredible about now so get excited. Add a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes and a couple small spoonfuls of tomato paste. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it gets nice and thick. While its simmering, its time to spice it up! Add some cumin, red chili flakes, sea salt, black pepper, capers, fresh parsley and tarragon and maybe even a sprinkling of saffron if you want to be fancy. Taste and adjust to your preferences.

Once the stew is nice and thick, stir in a handful of kale for a minute until it wilts. Make a few little pools on top and crack eggs into them. Scatter crumbled feta on top and stick in a hot oven for 6-8minutes until the whites are just about cooked. I finished it with about 2 minutes under the broiler to just brown the cheese. I suggest keeping the egg yolks runny. Finish up with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and serve with toasty, crusty bread.

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Olive Oil 101

Olive-Oil

My mother had a fanatical reverence for fancy, foreign olive oils and would only rarely venture into the Forbidden Pantry of Italian Ingredients  to bring it to the dinner table. It was usually reserved for my parent’s meals as our young, immature palates were not yet refined enough to appreciate the complex nuances of that golden, green liquid of the gods. 

Following right in her footsteps, I purchased my first “grown up” bottle of extra virgin olive oil in Athens last June. It is strictly reserved for scarce drizzling on light dishes where the flavor can shine. Lets be real though. Does this expensive, organic, hand-picked, foot pressed olive oil taste that much different then  your average supermarket version? Is it worth the adoration and restraint that my mother and I  bestow upon our bottles?

In my quest to discover the answer, I came across the blog Truth in Olive Oil.  This website is like a college course on olive oil.

How to Buy Great Olive Oil highlights

-Bitterness and pungency are usually indicators of an oil’s healthfulness.  Sweetness and butteriness are often not.

-Unlike many wines, which improve with age, extra virgin olive oil is perishable:  like all natural fruit juices, its flavor and aroma begin to deteriorate within a few months of milling, a decline that accelerate when the oil is bottled, and really speeds up when the bottle is opened.

-…be sure your oil is labeled “extra virgin,” since other categories – “pure” or “light” oil, “olive oil,” not to mention “pomace olive oil” – have undergone chemical refinement which strips away olive flavors and many of the oil’s health benefits.

– When choosing bottled oil, prefer dark glass or other containers that protect against light, buy a quantity that you’ll use up quickly, and keep it well sealed in a cool, dark place.

– Good oils come in all shades, from vivid green to gold to pale straw…

– Phrases like “packed in Italy” or “bottled in Italy,” do not mean that the oil was made in Italy, much less that it was made from Italian olives.  Italy is one of the world’s major importers of olive oil, much of which originates in Spain, Greece, Tunisia and elsewhere, so don’t be taken in by Italian flags and scenes from the Tuscan countryside on the packaging.

-Once you’ve bought your oil, store it in a place where it is protected from light, heat and oxygen, the three enemies of good oil, which speed spoilage.

Homework

To see how your favorite Trader Joe’s oil stands up to the expert see here and other supermarket versions here.

For a list of the author’s favorite oils from around the world ( complete with tasting notes) look here.

For up to the minute olive oil news check out his blog here.

And for extra credit, read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil and write a 1-2 page book report for me by next week.

Now you are ready to start classes at The International Olive Oil School!

zuppa di minestrone

bowl-of-minestrone-2

 

Growing up, I was never much interested in cooking, merely eating. I didn’t give much thought to behind the scenes of the meals my mom would miraculously create for the seven of us, even after a full day of work. One of favorite meals was her vegetable soup. It was thrown together with tons of fresh veggies, chunks of tomato and topped with melting wisps of parmesan cheese. I remember my surprise at biting down on something hard and crackly and promptly shrieking with distaste. “It’s just a bay leaf.” Mom said. I told her that it didn’t seem as if this bay leaf  in her soup was, in fact, edible. She rolled her eyes and said that it was in the soup for flavoring, calm down and finish your dinner or you don’t get dessert.

 
 

 
 

When I lived off campus during my senior year at college, my roommates decided to institute “Family Dinner”. This was short lived as our Senioritis gradually got more and more serious as the year went on.  But in the beginning, we were all about it. I had little to no experience with cooking back then and felt woefully inept facing my first turn at making dinner for the seven of us. I called my mom and asked for her vegetable soup recipe. She laughed and said it wasn’t really much of a recipe and to throw a bunch of vegetables in a pot and cook for a while. Now panicked, I chided her for her nonsensical instructions and told her that she needed to tell me step by step how to recreate the soup of my childhood or else her daughter wouldn’t have anything to show for Family Dinner and how much shame that should bring her. Patiently, she went over all the ingredients, amounts and directions to recreate her simple vegetable soup.  It was basically a minestrone soup, though she omitted the white beans and her pasta of choice was tortellini. The final product impressed my roommates and taught me that I, like my mother, could communicate my  fondness for others through food. This was an important discovery, as I am by no means an affectionate individual and would constantly deny hugs to my beloved roommates. Instead, I fed them.

 
 

My Minestrone Soup

 
I made a big pot of this to ensure a few days of leftovers for the two of us. Adjust as necessary.

Dice 1 large leek, 1 large sweet onion, 1 fennel bulb and 1 shallot. Pour a glug or two of olive oil in your soup pot and toss the diced items in once it’s hot. Saute until translucent.

Chop up a couple carrots and 3-4 zucchinis into bite sized pieces. Once the onion mixture in the pot is translucent, stir in the carrots. Sprinkle a bit of dried oregano and thyme onto the carrots cook up for about 5 minutes. Add chopped zucchini, a couple pinches of salt and some black pepper. Dice a few garlic cloves and add to pot. Stir until zucchini softens a bit. Add a bit more olive oil if needed. Roughly chop and add whichever types of fresh herbs you choose. I used a bunch of basil, some parsley, chives and a couple of sage leaves. Nothing beats those fragrant, luscious, fresh herbs I tell you.

Once all these veggies are cooking up nicely, pour in vegetable broth. For this big pot I used 1.5 boxes and added a bit of water once it started getting a bit too thick. Pour in 1 large can of diced tomatoes ,about a cup of tomato paste and a can of rinsed, small white beans.  Adjust ratios to your taste preferences of course.

I added in a couple of parmesan cheese rinds and a large bay leaf for taste. Bring the soup to a boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Taste and add more salt/pepper if needed. Add a few handfuls of frozen or fresh corn. Add a few large handfuls of small pasta. I used whole wheat macaroni. You may want to add a bit of water to the soup as the pasta will be absorbing liquids and you don’t want stew, you want soup.

Cover the soup and cook until the pasta is tender and al dente-esque, probably 6-8 minutes. Stir up the soup and dish into bowls. Grate fresh parmesan cheese on top, add a dollop of pesto and some more of those freshly chopped basil/chives . Eat, then repeat.