Friday, April 22, 2011

Cannellini Risotto with Peas and Fresh Herbs

I should add a "recession-friendly" category when I tag recipes. There is a common notion that following a vegan lifestyle is more expensive and more work. Ok it's not completely unfounded, but vegan cooking and eating doesn't have to break the bank and doesn't have to take hours and hours. We're all feeling a little thrifty, a little stretched, willing to take more bargains. Fortunately with risotto, you don't have to compromise taste or time to suit your wallet.

After making a couple of big arse payments for various loans in attempt to feel more responsible and less debt ridden, I am definitely looking to cook more budget friendly recipes. And with the madness that has ensued this spring - flying between Minnesota, Houston, Boston, Jersey and back to Phoenix in a matter of 4 weeks - I am also looking to cook easy recipes that don't require much thought. Though risotto requires time at the stove, if you have a companion and a glass or wine (or your companion IS the glass of wine), the time will fly by. In a matter of minutes, your rice will be soaked in flavorful goodness and your freshly snipped herbs put to good use.

I highly recommend using a great hodgepodge of herbs in this recipe. I had lots of parsley, basil and chives, but a sprinkling of mint and thyme went nicely into the mix. You could stir in blanched asparagus or frozen spinach instead of peas if little green orbs aren't your thing. I didn't exactly break this down cost-wise, but I promise this is one of the cheaper, tastier meal you'll enjoy in your own home.

Cannellini Risotto with Peas and Fresh Herbs
Makes: 2-3 servings
Cook time: 30 minutes


3-4 c. vegetable broth, water, or mix

1 T. olive oil
2 T. shallots, chopped
1-2 T. garlic, minced
2 tsp freshly grated lemon peel
3/4 c. white rice, pearled barley or arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 c. fresh or frozen green peas, thawed if using frozen
1 c. cannellini beans, from canned (rinsed) or cooked from dry
3 T. nutritional yeast
3 T. almond or soy milk
1/3 c. fresh mixed herbs: basil, parsley, chives, thyme, etc.
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the broth/water mix over medium heat in a medium sauce pan. When broth comes to a low boil, reduce heat to medium low. Keep broth on burner while you prepare the risotto.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook until garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the lemon peel and rice and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat completely in flavored oil and cook another minute or so. Add the wine and let cook until almost all the moisture has evaporated. Reduce heat to medium low and pour in 3/4 cup of broth. Let rice mixture cook until has absorbed almost all liquid. When the pan starts to dry again, add another 3/4 c of broth. Repeat this 2 or 3 more times until rice is fully cooked.

When rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add peas and beans and cook until peas are just heated through. Stir in nutritional yeast, milk, and fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Butternut Squash & Beet Greens Socca with Creamy Sage Sauce

Socca 101. Also referred to as farinata, socca is a chickpea flour crepe traditionally baked in an open oven on a copper pan originating from Genoa, perfected in Nice, prepared all over Tuscany, enjoyed in many other parts of the world like Algeria and Argentina. In short, a delicious, fast and incredibly easy finger food that can make the most timid chef feel like a James Beard Award winner. Not only is the basic recipe more basic than any other pancake, but the taste and texture are deceivingly delectable and highly addictive.

Chickpea flour, also known as gram flour or besan, is a terrific gluten-free ingredient that every adventurous cook should have in their tool kit. It can be used as a substitute in many recipes needing a thickener and can stand in for eggs in a pinch. Heck, I’ve even used it to whip up a good ole batch of hummus on the fly and no one was the wiser. It’s commonly used in India and Pakistan to make flatbreads or as a binder for fried finger food. This was my first “fun” flour outside of the standard wheat and corn flour and I’m still getting to know it’s potential. If you want added fiber AND protein, besan’s your bean.

So I made the Mediterranean Socca with the South Asian chickpea flour and turned it into a Sicilian style pizza using local Arizonan produce – how’s that for fusion? Use whats you gots.

Butternut Squash & Beet Greens Socca
Makes: 2-3 servings
Prep time: 2 hours
Cook time: 1 hour


For the Socca
1 c. chickpea flour
1 c. + 2 T. water
3/4 tsp. salt
2 T. olive oil
Dash of white pepper and nutmeg

For the toppings
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3-4 c. beet greens
Creamy Sage Sauce (recipe below)


For the Socca
In a medium bowl, gently whisk water and salt into chickpea flour. Drizzle batter with olive oil and stir to blend. Set batter aside or in refrigerator for 2 hours (up to 12) before preparing.

To make the socca, preheat the oven to broil on high. Thinly coat the bottom of a cast iron skillet with just over a half cup of batter. Swirl to cover bottom completely. Place in oven and cook until edges start the brown and the top become golden (time will vary per oven but it should take 7-10 minutes for the first and 6-7 minutes for the next ones as the pan gets hotter in the oven). It should be firm but not crispy or soggy soft. Remove and place on serving plate. Repeat process with remaining batter.

For the toppings
Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat squash with cooking spray and spread on a baking sheet. Roast 30-40 minutes or until tender and browned on edges. Alternatively you could microwave or steam the squash. Mash the cooked cubes slightly and set aside.

Steam the beet greens or braise in vegetable broth. To braise them, place about ¾ cup of vegetable broth in a skillet and bring to a boil. Add green and cover. Cook 2-3 minutes or until leaves are wilted. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

To Assemble
Assemble each plate individually by placing one socca as the base on a plate, spreading a layer of greens follow by a layer or scoop of mashed squash. Finish with a generous drizzle of Creamy Sage Sauce (recipe below).

Creamy Sage Sauce
Makes: 2 cups
Cook time: 10 minutes


2 T. Earth Balance
2 T. potato flour or all-purpose flour
1 c. almond milk or other type of non-dairy milk
1 c. vegetable broth or water
3-4 T. fresh sage, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme (optional)
¼ tsp. salt
Dash of nutmeg and white pepper


In a small sauce pan, melt Earth Balance over medium heat and add flour of choice. Stir until blended completely and cook 30 seconds. Whisk in almond milk, stirring vigorously until all clumps are gone. Whisk in vegetable broth and bring sauce to a low boil. When bubbling, reduce heat to low and cook until sauce is thickened to desired consistency. Add sage, thyme and remaining spices. Taste and adjust according to spice preference.