nettle gnocchi in parmesan brodo with spicy pork meatballs

nettles b-2

Every week my first stop at the farmers market is Foraged and Found Edibles. Whatever they have always sets the tone for our meals for the week. They are chefs turned foragers who harvest wild foods from the surrounding Seattle area and always have an amazing selection of things you will most likely never find in the grocery store. This last visit confirmed that Spring is in fact HERE and I walked away with wild nettles, fiddlehead ferns, miner’s lettuce and watercress filling my bag to the brim.

What I was especially excited about though were the nettles. The seasonal window of time is so brief for these barbed little things. February and March is prime for eating them as by April they start to become coarse and you should not eat them once they start to form flowers. If you are lucky enough to have them grow wild in your neighborhood, pick only the tips. The first 4 to 6 leaves on each spear are the most tender. Don’t forget to always wear heavy gloves and long sleeves when handling these ferociously stingy things but don’t worry, once cooked, the sting dies off.

It will probably come as a surprise to you (as it did to me) that nettles beat both spinach and broccoli in their richness in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and iron. A tea made by steeping nettle leaves has long been used as a tonic. The flavor is similar to spinach and can be used in its place in most recipes. My favorite ways to eat them is on pizza, or made into a soup or pesto. Here I’m trying something new and putting them in gnocchi paired with bite size spicy pork meatballs all swimming in a nutty parmesan broth. For a veggie option you can replace the meatballs with cannelloni beans. Adding fresh peas would also be delicious.

I hope next time you see nettles at the market or growing along the sidewalk, you snatch some up and discover how tasty and healthy they really are!

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a Sunday roast: spring lamb, minty peas & garlicky potato roasties

lamb meal

One of the things that excites me most about the coming of spring is the first lamb. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible squeal at the market last week when I stumbled upon some from Glendale Shepherd, a local farm here on Whidbey Island. They have the most beautiful pasture-raised humanely harvested lamb. And since my in-laws were on their way to visit from England, a Sunday roast was in order. Though, due to a crazy wind storm which downed a tree causing an all day power outage that happened just as I was putting the meat in the oven, it turned into a Monday roast.

Whatever the day of the week is, this meal really is simple and depending on how you like your meat cooked, could take anywhere from 50 minutes to 3 hours to prepare. I prefer my roast falling apart tender which takes hours so I tend to reserve meals like this for the weekend when I can have a lazy afternoon with the family smelling the amazingness coming from the oven…..but if you like your meat rare, you’re done in under an hour!

My favorite things to go with lamb are minty peas, garlicky potatoes with lots of rosemary and olive oil. I’ve added anchovies to the lamb which I learned from The River Cottage Meat book. They melt into the meat giving it a beautiful salty richness. You’ll never go back to not using them once you see how much umami they give to this roast!

Enjoy and happy spring!

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leek soup and a buckwheat pear tart

soup tart meal

It’s a winter meets spring sort of vibe in Seattle right now. We are teased by the sun daily and the markets are showing hints of the coming season with loads of tulips and tender leeks. The days are getting longer and the blossoms are exploding which makes me so excited for warmer days to come but then I’m pulled back down to reality with the next downpour of rain. But hey, the rainbows sure have been epic!

Here is a meal that reflects this moment in the season; warming for the last days of winter yet introducing spring and reminding you of the amazing things it will have to offer. This quick and easy soup is full of flavor and texture; sweet leeks, silky white beans, earthy cauliflower, bright lemon zest and crunchy hazelnuts. For dessert, a rustic tart with the last of the pears which are begging to be eaten. I’ve added buckwheat to the dough for a bit of tenderness and a nice nutty flavor. Enjoy!

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clean out the fridge grain bowls

beets bowl

I make a grand attempt to meal plan. I buy all the groceries for the week on Monday stuffing them into my fridge feeling a real sense of accomplishment. Then come Tuesday my cravings take over and I want to order in Indian, then go out for ramen, and then “oh I’m not going to make this dish, I’ll make something else instead.” Suddenly its Sunday and I’ve lost the plot. Luckily one of the most satisfying things to me is going through the fridge and scrounging up all the last bits I’ve forgotten about and coming up with something delicious. A lot of times it’s in the form of a grain bowl. The sad beet I forgot in the veg drawer. The wilted kale because I always buy too much. Then I just go through the pantry and choose whatever grain and bean or lentil I have hiding out and I’m halfway there.

The beauty about these dishes is that the options are endless, there are no rules, anything works, whatever the season. AND they are healthy! Start with a grain, roast your veggies in a hot oven then choose whatever flavors go well with it. I always add some nuts or seeds, and some type of protein whether it’s cheese, beans or a poached egg.  Carrots with couscous…stir in harissa, preserved lemon, pine nuts, garbanzo beans and mint . Asparagus with quinoa… add pesto, marcona almonds parmesan and a poached egg. You get the idea. Here are a few dishes I’ve made recently. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to make your own. All of the recipes serve 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you are

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fish tacos in Todos Santos

todos santos feast

It is time for the yearly dose of sunshine to break up this gray winter and our trip to Mexico couldn’t have come soon enough for this lady.  We just returned from Todos Santos where we rented a hacienda with some close friends and the guacamole, margaritas, beans and fish tacos were on repeat the entire time. I’m still in a vitamin D induced haze and have not accepted the reality that I am home and wearing socks and a wool coat.

Todos Santos is a small town in Baja California Sur, about an hour north of Cabo. It is one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos,” a select group of towns whose cultural, historical and natural treasures have been deemed, well…magical. Founded in 1723, Todos Santos is an oasis in the desert and boomed from sugar cane production but in the 1950’s fell into ruins when the area experienced a severe drought. Water has returned and the area is now an agricultural center, producing some of the best poblanos, avocados, papaya and mangos.

Since the paving of hwy 19, which runs from La Paz to San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos has also become a tourist destination and a center for art & culture.  It’s charming colonial town center has loads of galleries and shops full of local crafts and is also a host to multiple music, film and art festivals throughout the year.  The area is also big on eco-tourism, birding, sea turtle conservation, surfing….. It really is a pretty magical place.

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An Italian feast via California

feast finish

I love having dinner parties. To cook big meals for friends and gather around the table, eating, drinking and talking for hours. Having been in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years, we had made a community of friends who were truly more like family. Since starting over in Seattle, it has been difficult to meet people and make friends. Maybe it’s our age and the fact that we are busy with small children so are not necessarily whooping it up on the town all the time. In any case, I am increasingly craving those gatherings with people who I know and love so well. So when I convinced my best friend to drive up last minute from Portland for the night, I excitedly jumped into the kitchen. I’m feeling homesick so my inspiration for our meal was from my favorite restaurant in Oakland, Pizzaiolo, which I went to for the first time with this friend of mine.

Pizzaiolo is the epitome of a community building, farm to table California restaurant. Charlie Hallowell started his career at Chez Panisse and has a commitment to using and respecting only the best ingredients, the farmers who grow them and the customers who eat them. Everything is so simple yet always so interesting and delicious. They have the best pizza and bread in the bay (well next to Tartine)…..and the meatballs….those damn meatballs. I never got the recipe for them but I’ve managed to come up with something close. The salads here are my interpretation of ones I’ve had at Pizzaiolo and reflect the transition we’re seeing from winter to spring (first sign of asparagus guys!)  The bread is mine. Though I will not begin to try to explain how to make it here. It’s the recipe from Tartine for their basic country bread and it took me 2 years to perfect.

The dessert I came up with because rhubarb showed up at the market and I bought way too much because rhubarb means SPRING IS COMING, which also means WINTER IS ALMOST OVER. One of my favorite things ever is using bay leaf in creamy desserts and combining it with a tart fruit…bay leaf ice cream with white currents, bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranates. So I thought why not use bay in whipped cream to top a rhubarb shortcake. It was pretty much perfect and I woke up wishing I had some leftover for breakfast.

So here’s to 2016 and having more dinner parties. Besides, good cooks never lack friends, right?

feast veg

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seville orange marmalade (plus a bacon, marmalade sandwich)

I know citrus is the theme everywhere you look right now, but I seriously cannot get enough. Satsumas, Cara Caras, meyer lemons…..really my favorite thing about winter. So when I came across these Seville Oranges for the first time in I can’t even remember, I excitedly snatched up way too many.  We were out of marmalade anyway. I think one of the only things you can do with Seville oranges is make marmalade, right? They are super bitter and sour and have a thick tough rind which make it nearly impossible to peel. Not to mention they contain about 25 seeds per orange! BUT they are so beautifully aromatic and all of those other characteristics make for a mean marmalade. The good kind that that kicks you in the mouth jolting your tastebuds awake.

I’ve never actually made marmalade before so after reading dozens of recipes, I settled on this amalgamation of a few. The key is to save all those seeds because they give you the pectin that will ensure the marmalade sets properly.

I bought way too many oranges so ended up with a giant batch. I’m hoping our neighbors like marmalade. So I’ve scaled the recipe down here to a reasonable, worth your while yet not filling your fridge, amount. I also didn’t can mine because I’m storing it all in the fridge.

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charred romanesco salad

Anytime I see Romanesco at the market I can’t help myself to snatch up as many as I can. I just want to leave them in a bowl on my countertop to look at. They really are a piece of nature’s art. Technically an Italian broccoli variety, I think it’s closer in resemblance to cauliflower. It’s sweet and mild and has a dense texture that holds up to a variety of cooking methods. You can find them in the cold months of late fall and winter.

My favorite way to cook these beauties is roasting in a super hot oven until just tender and slightly charred. You can go as simple as a roasting them with a little chile flake, lemon and olive oil or braise it with some san marzano tomatoes, garlic and anchovies then toss with pasta. Here I’m using it as the base to a hearty salad. Though, if you throw in a hunk of crusty bread, this dish is really an entree. Plus it’s a great way to use up some of that ricotta you just made!

This recipe is inspired by a dish in Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, NOPI. I hope you enjoy!

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winter preserving

I recently took a soft cheese making class at The Pantry here in Seattle. Making cheese has been on my bucket list every year for about 15 years so I thought it was about time I’d get to it. This was a great introduction and gave me the confidence to do something with the gallons of milk I have in the fridge since my kids suddenly decided they “do not like” milk the day after we got our weekly delivery. Fine. They better like ricotta.

My local market also had a load of Meyer lemons calling out to me the other day and my stash of preserved lemons ran out about 6 months ago so perfect!

These are two staples I always have in my kitchen. Ricotta is so versatile…..sweet, savory, creamy….I eat it on toast, in gnocchi, pasta, salad, topped with honey & nuts for desert…. and preserved lemons add life to any dish….stews, fish, grains, salad dressings, roast veggies….as well as a little sunshine to these endless cold, wet, dark days. (Which this California girl only two winters in to the PNW really needs right about now). I’ll post some recipes using these lemons when they are finished. Believe me, once you get used to having that intense lemony goodness handy year round, it will be hard to live without them.

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fresh porcini pizza

My go to “I don’t know what to make for dinner” is always pizza. The kids love making their own which usually turns into a giant cheesy doughball mess but they have fun and always happily eat it. Pizza is so versatile so get inspired at the farmers market. ANYTHING can go on a pizza but I’m a big believer in less is more. Choose really fresh, great quality ingredients in simple combinations. One of my favorites is this buffalo mozzarella and fresh porcini mushroom with thyme, parsley, lemon & parmesan. Others are crushed San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and arugula, or spicy sausage & roasted rapini, or pancetta, potato & red onion….you get the idea.

I usually make my own crust with my sourdough starter but there are plenty of good recipes using active dry yeast (which I’m including here). Whole Foods or Trader Joes also sell pretty good fresh dough. A pizza stone is pretty much essential here and a pizza peel comes in very handy.

Enjoy!

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