Dinner for a dozen: Whipping up a magic winter brew

OK, let's dispense with the formalities right away and say that I have been just a little remiss in keeping up the blog. And by a little I mean a whole lot. Hope you had a good fall and winter!

But whatever the reason, I got a hankering to get back on here and share some meals. The winter has been long and it's greedily shoving its way into Spring and we are all trying not to go mad with cabin fever. The small people of this house have opted for desperate measures: donning summer clothes and casting spells to banish the cold and snow.

When they were done casting away winter, they made a potion to banish the other big scourges in their lives: bedtime and vegetable stir-fry.

In fact, the potion-making was so popular in my house that Milo decided to make a magic potion kit for a friend's birthday so he could too could cast spells. His mother, Meg of Elsie Marley, blogged about it here and you should check it out. Also, you should just hang out on that blog a while. It's inspiring and hilarious.

While the small people conjured up warmer weather, I cooked up a little magic of my own, courtesy of a new-to-me cookbook by British-Israeli chef Yotam Otolenghi. Plenty is a feast for the eyes and brings back memories of the best of the Mediterranean cooking I grew up with. I am drawn to this chef because he reveres vegetables and vegetarian cooking, even though he is not a vegetarian (like me).

The first recipe I tried out from this book was a chickpea, tomato and bread soup, a warming Middle Eastern mashup of ribbolita and soupe au pistou. While it is a filling stew-like dish on its own, I still don't think it quite made for enough dinner so I accompanied it with some broccoli parmesan fritters.
The kid report: In our house, they inhaled the soup but avoided the fritters like the plague. Probably did not help that I labelled them broccoli pancakes. I don't recommend that you do either. When I checked in with one other family, they had the opposite experience: kids tried the fritters and left the soup untouched.

Chickpea, Tomato and Bread soup. You can practically dip your bread into it, can't you?
Chickpea, Tomato and Bread Soup
(adapted from this recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty)

Helen's notes: The recipe called for fresh herbs, but I used dried thyme and oregano. Also, reduce or increase the liquids to achieve your preferred consistency. Serves 12.

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 medium fennel bulbs, sliced
  • About 120ml olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, cut along the centre and sliced
  • 6 sticks celery, sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2c white wine
  • 28 oz. Italian plum tomatoes (I had diced tomatoes and used those)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 4 tsp sugar (I used white but the recipe calls for caster)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 9 cups vegetable stock
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 thick slices stale sourdough bread (crust removed)
  • 5 cups cooked chickpeas (about 3 cans)
  • 8 tbsp basil pesto
  • good olive oil for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Put the onion and fennel in a big pot, add three tablespoons of oil and sauté on medium heat for four minutes. Add the carrot and celery, and cook for four minutes, just to soften the vegetables, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the wine and let it bubble away for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and their juices, herbs, sugar, bay, stock and season. Bring to a boil, then leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes.

3. While you wait, break the bread into rough chunks with your hands, toss with two tablespoons of oil and some salt, scatter in a roasting tray and bake for 10 minutes, until dry. Remove from the oven and set aside.

4. About 10 minutes before you want to serve, put the chickpeas in a bowl and crush them a little with a potato masher or the end of a rolling pin - you want quite a rough texture, with some chickpeas left whole and others completely mashed. Add the chickpeas to the soup and leave to simmer for five minutes. Finally, stir in the toasted bread, and cook for another five minutes.

5. Taste the soup, and add salt and pepper liberally. Pour the hot soup into shallow soup bowls, place a spoonful of pesto in the centre, drizzle with plenty of olive oil (and if it's summer and you have it, add a handful of fresh chopped basil).

This is not a pancake. Do not tell your kids this is a pancake. Trust me, no good will come of it.

Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen's recipe)

Helen's notes: I serve these with a garlicky lemon yogurt sauce by mixing to taste plain kefir, lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped dill and a bit of salt. The recipe yielded about 26 fritters.

  • 24 ounces (3 small-to-medium bundles) fresh broccoli 
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 tsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes or several grinds of black pepper
  • Olive or vegetable oil for frying
1. Prepare your broccoli: Separate the florets from the biggest stem(s). Cut the florets into 1-inch chunks. You should have about 9 cups of chopped broccoli total.

2. Steam your broccoli until tender but not mushy (I steamed mine about 5 minutes, but should probably have gone a few minutes longer to avoid the wrestling match that came later). Drain the broccoli, then set it aside to cool slightly.

3. In the bottom of a large bowl, lightly beat your eggs. Add the flour, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Then, add the somewhat cooled broccoli and, using a potato masher, mash the broccoli just a bit (I understeamed the broccoli so I briefly pulsed the mix with an immersion blender instead). You’re looking to keep the bits recognizable, but small enough (1/4- to 1/2-inch chunks) that you can press a mound of the batter into a fritter in the pan. Once mashed a bit, stir or fold the ingredients together the rest of the way with a spoon. Adjust seasonings to taste.

4. Heat a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat. Once hot, add a good slick of oil (I used olive oil), about 2 to 3 tablespoons. Once the oil is hot (you can test it by flicking a droplet of water into it; it should hiss and sputter), scoop a two tablespoon-size mound of the batter and drop it into the pan, then flatten it slightly with your spoon or spatula. Repeat with additional batter, leaving a couple inches between each. Once brown underneath, about 2 to 3 minutes, flip each fritter and cook on the other side until equally golden, about another 1 to 2 minutes.

5. Transfer briefly to paper towels to drain, then to a serving plate if you’ll be eating them shortly or a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven if you’d like to keep them warm for a while until needed. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil as needed. Serve with extra cheese or yogurt sauce, above.
Frittering away the afternoon

No comments: