Thursday, June 30, 2016

Napa Cabbage Slaw

It’s slaw season! We’ve moved through the delicate cool-weather greens with light dressings and now we’re on to crunchy vegetables, shredded or chopped, and coated in zesty dressings. This one and many variations on it, has been one of my favorites for years.

There are lots of ways to do what is often called an “Oriental” cabbage salad. The one my mom perfected has chicken, crushed ramen noodles, and a simple dressing. I never could make it as well as she did, so I stopped trying it and looked for others to make my own.

I used to make the original version of this salad, which was in Cooking Light magazine, every summer. I eventually learned what other good things I could do with the dressing, which was the inspiration for the dressing in this post. I also eventually learned that I could add and subtract from the slaw mixture, using what I could get at the farmer’s market. In the version I present to you here, I left out the crushed crunchy noodles and added sugar snap peas.

This recipe was originally written for napa cabbage, and that’s what I used this time. I was lucky enough to score a huge (huge!) leafy head of it at the local farmer’s market. Since it is so leafy, the salad will get a bit wilty as it becomes leftovers. If you’re worried about that (I’m really not), you could use crunchier European-style green cabbage instead.

You could also add in whatever vegetables you like or want to get out of the refrigerator before shopping for something new. Bok choi, radishes, green beans, broccoli, anything that you don’t mind spending some time chopping or shredding into slaw shape would be great. You could also substitute things like sesame seeds or finely chopped peanuts or cashews for the almonds and/or sunflower seeds.

Of course, if you really want those delicious, crunchy ramen noodles in the salad, soaking up that delicious sweet dressing, there’s plenty of room for them, too.

Napa Cabbage Slaw with Asian Flavors
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light, August 2000

This recipe makes a lot of slaw. You could halve it if you want less.

1/3 cup rice vinegar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chile sauce
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup slivered almonds
8 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
2 large carrots, shredded
2 cups diagonally sliced sugar snap peas
1 cup thinly slice scallions

1. To make the dressing: combine the vinegar, sugar, Thai sweet chile sauce, tamari, canola oil, and sesame oil in a small saucepan. Whisk together. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil gently for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

2. Combine the sunflower seeds and almonds in a small skillet. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the nuts and seeds are lightly browned, being careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour the cooled dressing over the mixture. Toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle the toasted sunflower seeds and almonds over the top. If the salad stands a long time before serving, stir to redistribute the dressing that has pooled on the bottom of the bowl.

Makes 10-12 servings.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Apricot Strawberry Tart

Summer fruit desserts!

I don’t even have to make a complete sentence out of that exclamation. Those three words speak entirely for themselves. They are subject, predicate, adjective, and adverb. They are the reason extra-warm weather can be borne at all. Perhaps that last one is an exaggeration, but I got a bit excited (and a bit too hot this weekend.)

And this tart really is something to get excited about. It’s simple and a little rustic while still being delicate. It’s gently sweet, but mostly fruity. It doesn’t require much effort, especially since I adapted the crust and topping recipe for the food processor. It takes even less effort to eat it, because it’s so delicious.

The crust is a nutty-tasting combination of white whole wheat flour and almond flour, along with butter and egg yolks. The filling is simply sliced apricots and strawberries and a bit of apricot jam. The crust is sweetened with some sugar, but the overall sweetness of the tart is determined by the sweetness of the fresh fruit.

A long time ago, I tried using white whole wheat flour and found it totally unsatisfying as an ingredient. I think I understand it a little better now, however, and got brave enough to use it here with great results. “White whole wheat” is simply a variety of wheat that is lighter in color and slightly milder in flavor. Flour ground from it may look more like all-purpose flour, but it really behaves more like ordinary whole wheat flour in baking. It’s good in this recipe where the softness and gluten content of a refined flour isn’t needed and the slightly nuttier flavor is welcome. I think you could also use whole wheat pastry flour, or perhaps a multigrain flour (like the mixture I used in this post), or even oat flour.

You could also use other fruits in this lovely tart, specially other berries. I like apricots because I’m not sure this crumbly crust could handle extra-juicy fruits like peaches. I’m wondering, however, whether apples would be nice in this tart in the fall, or if the combination of plums and grapes in this recipe might find a home between this almond-infused crust and topping. 

You could serve this tart with whipped topping or ice cream for dessert. I found myself not adding anything to it unless I ate it for breakfast, in which case, I added a dollop of vanilla yogurt on top. Since the fruit is really the star, eating this tart for breakfast with yogurt it totally legitimate. Really. Totally legitimate. Enjoy!

Apricot Strawberry Tart
Adapted from Eating Well, May/June 2016

For the Crust and Topping:
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
½ cup almond flour (finely ground almonds)
6 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon fine salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Filling:
1/3 cup apricot jam
2 cups sliced (about ½ -inch) fresh apricots
1 ½ cups strawberries, leaves removed and left whole if small, or sliced if larger
1 tablespoon white sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Spray a 10-inch (or a 9-inch will work, too) springform pan with cooking spray (or grease it with oil or butter). Set aside.

2. To make the crust and topping: combine the white whole wheat flour, almond flour, 6 tablespoons sugar, lemon zest, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and process until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. If you pinch the mixture together, it should stay together in a damp lump.

3. Set aside 1 cup of the crust mixture (this will be the topping.) Press the remaining crust mixture firmly into the bottom and an inch or so up the sides of the prepared springform pan.

4. Stir the apricot jam well to loosen it and spread it evenly over the crust. Arrange the apricots in a ring around the outside of the pan. Overlap slightly if needed. Arrange the strawberries evenly in the center of the pan. I used small strawberries, so I simply cut the leaves off and set them pointed end up in the pan.

5. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture over the fruit. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

6. Bake at 425 F for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 F and bake an additional 30-35 minutes or until the fruit is soft and the crust and topping are golden brown. Cool on a rack for 1 hour. Remove the outer ring of the pan and slice to serve. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or yogurt if desired.

Makes 10-12 servings (fewer if you like large slices!)

One year ago: Barbecue Beans

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Recipe Revisit: Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce

It’s time to revisit an old recipe from The Messy Apron Archives: Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon. This one goes way back to the first year these pages were online; from the second month, in fact. It’s embarrassing to sneak a peek at some of those old posts (especially the sad photographs!), but this is really a great recipe. I should be making it at least once a year during local asparagus season, but, and this is even sadder than those old photos, I don’t think I’ve made it since I put up that post all those years ago.

This is quite a simple dish, as most of my weeknight suppers tend to be these days. Onions and asparagus get sautéed in bacon drippings and then a swim in a sauce of balsamic vinegar and sugar. This sauce gets reduced even as it soaks into the asparagus, becoming richer and more complex, not to mention sweeter. A good dose of fresh tarragon adds some delicious anise notes, and it all gets tossed with pasta, pecans, and crisp bacon.

The inspiration recipe that I tinkered with to produce the original post was a side dish without the noodles and less sauce. I just increased the sauce volume and plumped it up to a main dish with the pasta. I had originally made it with short pasta, but, I tried it with linguine in this recipe revisit with excellent results, which leads me to conclude that pasta of any shape would be just great, as would whole grain noodles.

I also added Pernod to the dish all those years ago, but in this retest, I went without it and found that it’s not necessary. It probably just overpowers the more subtle flavor of the tarragon. It probably also helped to make the sauce especially sweet, since I wrote a lot in that old post about how sweet the dish was, but I did not find it especially sweet without the Pernod.

Overall, I prefer the ever-so-slightly altered version of this recipe that I have below. It’s more inclusive when it comes to pasta shape, and is therefore easier to pull off with what’s in the pantry. The Pernod can go, but if you can’t get your hands on some good fresh tarragon (I grow it in a pot on my back porch), perhaps a teaspoon or two of some kind of anise-flavored liqueur can help you get that particularly fitting flavor kick.

The only additional alteration I might try is to leave out the bacon and make this dish vegetarian (actually, it would even be vegan without the bacon if you used vegan pasta). The onions and asparagus could be sautéed in olive oil instead of the bacon fat, which would change the flavor, but might still be pretty darn good. Bacon does give everything a certain something special, but if you’re not into pork, you should still be able to have lots of delicious happiness with asparagus and tarragon and balsamic vinegar all by their flavorful selves.

Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon
If you don’t have tarragon available, you could replace it with thyme or basil, or with 1-2 teaspoons of an anise-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod.

3 strips thick-cut bacon
8 ounces any pasta, short or long cut
½ cup thinly sliced onion
1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt (or more, to taste)
A few grinds of black pepper (to taste)
½ cup toasted chopped pecans

1. Cook the bacon in a large saute pan until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings from the pan. Chop the bacon into small pieces when cool.

2. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is done as you like it. Drain the pasta. Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water to have on hand in case you need more moisture at the end of cooking the dish.

3. Return the reserved bacon drippings to medium heat (in the same pan). Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 4 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown. Add the asparagus and sauté 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the balsamic vinegar and sugar, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Cook several minutes until the vinegar has reduced by about half and has become slightly thicker and syrupy.

5. Add the tarragon and pepper. Cook about 1 minute. Add the pasta and toss well. If the pasta appears too dry, add some of the reserved pasta-cooking water. Stir in the chopped bacon and pecans.

Makes about 4 servings