Monday, October 28, 2013

Eating Fall: Romanesco and Creamy Pasta

This beauty is called Romanesco.  It is available now in the farmers markets.  Romanesco is very popular in Italy, specifically Rome.  In structure it is very cauliflower like; in flavor very broccoli like. I have family members who love to carefully break apart the little "trees", cook them, and place them on mashed potatoes for the holidays. So pretty and so delicious. 

I had a pretty large head of Romanesco (nearly two pounds) and we were craving a pasta dish.  So I made the following - it was amazing. And easy! 


One head of Romanesco (1/12 to 2 pounds)
Three large garlic cloves - leave the skin on the cloves
Extra virgin olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Three anchovy fillets (you can leave them out if you must, but they disappear and they provide so much flavor!)

Two to four tablespoons of Half and Half (full fat)
One pound of shaped pasta - I recommend penne; we used farfalle but I would use the larger penne next time
One half cup of grated pecorino cheese or Parmesan or a combination of both, plus more for service

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Cut up the Romanesco into bite sized pieces
Spread the pieces out onto a large cookie sheet
Put the large garlic cloves on the sheet with the Romanesco 
Sprinkle everything with the EVOO, and salt & pepper to taste
Stir the mixture so that everything is coated and spread out on the cookie sheet
Cook in the 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the veg and the garlic are fork tender 

When you remove the cooked Romanseco and garlic from the oven, keep it warm and cook the pasta

Cook the pasta in a pot of salted, boiling water
Before draining the pasta take one cup of the pasta water out and set it aside

Drain the pasta, put the pasta back in the empty pot

Mash together the roasted garlic (by squeezing it out of its skin), the anchovy fillets, and dried red pepper flakes to taste

Toss the mashed mixture with the pasta in the pot
Add the Romanesco
Mix together the cream and the grated cheese
Add the cheese and cream mixture to the pot -  mix well 

At this point, you can thin your sauce - if you want to - with a bit of the hot pasta water you set aside; a little goes a long way! You probably won't need the whole cup of hot pasta water.

When the mixture is well combined, spoon it into pasta bowls and serve

For service offer additional grated cheese and extra virgin olive oil for a drizzle


Note:  As mentioned we used Farfalle - it was purple and white because it was made with squid ink. So in the second picture that's the dark edges you see. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eating Fall: Quinoa Stuffed Eggplant

We have had a very successful growing season with some things, especially Eggplant.  The eggplants we put in this year are small to medium sized with a lovely purple and white "striping" on their skin.  They have been coming in quite well since mid - summer. So, with this bounty, we have done a number of batches of Babaghanoush, we've made lots of wonderful eggplant Parmesan with homemade mozzarella, we pounded it and breaded and fried it, we made batches of ratatouille, and we made and froze batches of the delicious Nona Sauce - basically red sauce with eggplant literally melted into it.  We were open to some new ideas for our eggplants.

On a recent trip to the market we picked up a box of all natural Quinoa.  Note:  even this healthy food product does not escape the long arm of agri-biz.  You must look at the label and read the ingredients' list. You want to find that list to be very short. It should say, "Quinoa". 

A check of supplies one recent evening yielded two of our eggplants - one medium and one small, pulled that day; a box of Quinoa; a few of our tomatoes; some of our peppers (green chilies roasted); garlic; capers; some red onions; panko bread crumbs; our flat leaf parsley; our basil; a bit of Parmesan cheese; and, from our cheese CSA, a hunk of goat milk mozzarella.  This stuffed eggplant halves recipe was the result of combining those ingredients. Good fresh ingredients are the most important element. Again, remember this is more of a technique rather than a recipe. You can stuff your eggplant shells with lots of other ingredients; just cut your eggplants in half, scoop out the flesh or meat of the eggplant and start creating!

Il Moya Quinoa Stuffed Eggplant

First cook the Quinoa. Generally follow the box instructions. It's very much like cooking rice.  You can use water but we had some lo salt chicken stock in the refrigerator which added another layer of flavor.  Once the Quinoa is done you can hold it and keep it moist by taking it off heat, putting a clean towel over the pot and putting the lid back on the pot.

Cut the eggplant/s in half and scoop out the eggplant meat. Set it aside.
Chop up the red onion, the peppers you are using, the tomatoes, a clove or two of garlic, the basil, and a few salt cured capers (these should be soaked for a bit and drained to remove the salt).

I sautéed everything in one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil until the mixture softened up and gave off some juices - about 3-5 minutes over medium heat. Stir often. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Add the eggplant that you scooped to the pan mixture;  I chopped some of the eggplant fine and left some in bigger chunks.

Cook over medium heat for another five minutes. 

Add the Quinoa to the other ingredients in the pan and stir to incorporate fully.  Just a minute or so.

Rub a thin film of olive oil all over a baking pan and lay the eggplant shells in the pan.

Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese all over the inside of the empty eggplant shells.

Fill the eggplant shells with the Quinoa and eggplant mixture. Lay thin slices of the mozzarella over the mixture in each shell.

Chop the parsley and mix it into enough breadcrumbs (panko are best) to cover the top of each of your stuffed shells.

Sprinkle the breadcrumb/parsley over each filled shell, sprinkle each with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes or until the shells are soft and the stuffing is bubbly and the cheese is fully melted.

Let them sit for just a minute prior to service.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Food Questions Asked by 70 x 7 The Meal - Your Thoughts?

Tonight we had the extreme honor to participate in the celebration of thirty years of the Mural Arts program here in Philadelphia. Our city mural arts program is second to none and a model for other cities. The celebration of this important milestone took the form of a "70 x 7" dinner installation as have been carried out in many locations around the world by the artists Lucy & Jorge Orta ( This was Meal XXXIV.  This was an "invitation only" event which led to a very diverse group of Philadelphians sitting down to dinner. I stood up once and looked out over the lines and lines of tables and people and I admit, I felt a tear.  This is my city - and it was well represented in the wide array of folks at those long tables.  Wonderful. 

So, to say it was an incredible event would be an understatement.  Nine hundred people dining, debating & meeting and greeting in the shadow of Philadelphia's beautiful City Hall. We enjoyed a family style meal of four dishes using heirloom vegetables prepared in delicious ways by our fabulous local chef Marc Vetri.  The topics discussed during the meal focused on heirloom vegetables and the loss of variety in food (i.e. 100 years ago there were 400 kinds of tomatoes; sadly, there are now 79), as well as how to get good fresh food to people in a local, seasonal and sustainable manner, and other challenging issues pertinent to the work of feeding us all.

Below are some pictures of the beautiful tables (as I mentioned, dinner was served for 900, the largest 70 x 7 meal in the world), the gorgeous and delicious food, and the two beautiful plates we were gifted with as attendees. We will cherish those limited edition plates! 

I am personally still buzzing from the event - and suspect I will be for awhile.  That said, I am interested in how other folks would respond to the questions that we were sent to consider before the event. We discussed these questions during dinner and we recorded our answers, which were then collected by the event staff. 

Here are the questions we tackled at the dinner. How would you have responded?

1.  What are the major food issues facing the world today?
2.  What are you willing to sacrifice in food quality or safety for convenience?
3.  How much diversity in the food supply is good for the environment and for people?
4.  What are the benefits and drawbacks to heirloom foods vs. genetically modified foods (GMOs)?
5.  Should food labeling be required to identify whether foods contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

What are your thoughts?  Thank you!

Oh - the picture at the end is just a shot of the most beautiful City Hall in America. Thanks. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sweet Memories: Mimi, Me & the Jersey Tomatoes

Along about mid - July in my Hunting Park (Philly) neighborhood, the huckster would sing a different song as he came down the wide alley between our block - 9th Street - and 8th Street. It was usually very early in the morning. In those days of no air conditioning, he got an early start; his was a very hot job.

Sometimes I would wake up to the "song" and I still hear it clearly in my memory today.

                          "Jersey tomatoes. Three pounds for half a dollar". 

He would stretch out the "jersey tomato"part of course. It was a sing song that would be repeated over and over again loudly until he would find a spot, stop his truck, and begin to attend to all of the neighborhood women heading towards him.

Half a dollar/three pounds. I can't even think of a way to examine that reality! So I'll move on.

Oh those tomatoes!  Mimi - my grandmother, and chief cook and bottle washer in our home - would come into the kitchen with her assorted produce purchases and spread them out to examine them. Much as I do today. And always she would very carefully handle those tomatoes, giving them their own wide bowl.

Then the Hellman's, some sandwich plates, a couple of knives, salt, and the white sandwich bread would be brought to the table.  The bread was always, always, Strohman's. She despised that "Wonderful" bread! We never could get her to say Wonder.  In later years she discovered Pepperidge Farm white bread, but at the big house on 9th Street, it was always Strohman's. 

Mimi and I would sit at the table and she would make us tomato sandwiches.  Sandwiches with lots of slices of tomatoes, very thinly sliced and ever so slightly sprinkled with salt.  We were the only ones in the house who ate them! Not my grandfather, my parents, my sister, or our friend Marion who rented the apartment upstairs wanted any part of a sandwich with "only a tomato" on it. Crazy people.

Oh, the deliciousness of it! The warmth of the tomatoes, the way the juices would run into the soft white bread, the creaminess of the mayonaisse with tomato juices mixing into it, and no matter how hard I tried, the juices running all over my hands and face. 

We would look at each other over our sandwiches and smile and moan and eventually laugh at what a mess we were making. 

These days I make my sandwiches with my homemade mayonaisse, and soft white bread from a local bakery, but it is still all there. I see her laughing as I eat. Laughing because we were so glad that the others didn't want to share.  More for us. As I got older, there were a number of things that only Mimi and I enjoyed.  Dishes that nobody else in the house wanted any part at that time anyway. Food was a big connection between a woman who'd been a flapper in Atlantic City and, as a result, was sent off to Danville, Pennsylvania to work on a relative's (who were Mennonites) farm for many years, and the wacky sixties kid I was to become.

This picture is the first  Ramapo - a real Jersey tomato - that we harvested from our garden here at Il Moya.  It looks like we will yield about 10 or a bit more from our planting.  Every one of those tomatoes will be eaten exactly the same way. I'll be sharing with my better half of course, but these tomatoes won't be cooked, frozen, oven dried or anything else.  They will be thinly sliced, placed on soft white bread that has been spread with mayo and a sprinkle of salt. We will eat and the juices will run down our hands and we will smile. 

Thanks Mimi!

                          "Jersey tomatoes. Three pounds for half a dollar".