Planning for Inspiration
I believe that I have mentioned this before, but for all of you who are new to reading our blog, it is worth noting that my husband and I typically squeeze and entire week’s worth of home cooking into two far-too-short weekend days. Perhaps because of this, I approach a weekend full of cooking through the lens of a notorious and slightly obsessive planner.
Yes, it is quite likely that I spend far too much time during my evenings paging through recipes, perusing blogs and forums, reading online reviews or comments, checking for not-to-be-missed sales, and browsing through pinterest images for new ideas. Often times these searches are shaped by the ingredients included in that week’s CSA haul – search pinterest for “kale” or “garlic scape” and you are quite likely to be entirely overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of recipes and photos that turn up in the query. Occasionally a dish will be planned out to make use of a pantry ingredient that has spent a bit too much time on the cupboard shelf – and I spend my time scanning the glossaries of old cookbooks for “mung bean” or “sticky rice” in hopes of striking upon an inspiring image or intriguing combination of ingredients.
By the end of the week, my cooking plan for the weekend has taken shape. I have a peg board where I pin up the weekend’s top candidates, including recipes, photos of plating ideas, designs for canning labels, themes for a new blog post etc. I scan our pantry and cupboard for required ingredients, making sure to note what additions are needed. Come Friday morning, my grocery list is well sketched out, organized by section, and I know well which items will require a trip to a specialty store. But unlike my loving husband, who has laser-like focus when it comes to executing on a well-documented shopping plan, I have a tendency to get a bit distracted at the market.
I have a very difficult time not being swayed by a beautiful pile of peak season produce. I guess this should not be surprising to you given that this is, after all, a blog about cooking with in-season fruits and vegetables. Above all, I have a huge soft spot for heirlooms – if it looks a bit different than the average head of cauliflower, or bunch of beets, I cannot resist the urge to take it home and put it to use, looking for any discernible difference between the standard produce variety and whatever local breed I have happened upon.
Often times I find that the nuances of a certain type of fruit or even of a variety of veggie at a certain time of year, make the produce better suited to a certain application. Petite early season beets are amazingly tender and their subtle sweetness shines through when simply roasted and served on a salad. Late season beets have a more pronounced earthiness and stand up well to slow roasting on the grill where they pick up a smokey flavor and can then be puréed into a rosy pink beet dip with a bit of dill, yogurt and tahini.
The point of all of this is that, cooking from the farmers market requires a bit of flexibility. Even my best laid plans for, say, ratatouille can be foiled by a sudden dearth of eggplant. Or I may find that the peaches I purchased were too tart to be simply sliced and served atop pound cake. But all is not lost, the too tart peaches may be better suited to another application, for example – they might be delicious if marinated and grilled as an accompaniment to pork chops.
I recently made it home from Whole Foods with a curiously tall bunch of celery. As it turned out this celery was far more bitter than the typical variety and, as such, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of munching on it raw, and even a thick glob of peanut butter couldn’t cut the bitter undercurrent. I sat for a while and flipped through cook books looking for a recipe that would make use of the bitter celery. When I happened upon a recipe for a celery and mushroom risotto I was inspired. I suspected that the celery, when sautéed in butter, would take on a softer, nuttier flavor and hoped that the herbaceousness would bring a lightness to the often times heavy dish. Though we did not have mushrooms on hand, they were not missed, but if you are inspired by the idea, feel free to toss some in with the celery as it sautées.
Celery Risotto – Inspired by The Meat Free Monday Cookbook (Serves 5)
6 C Water or Stock
1 TBSP Butter
1 TBSP Olive Oil
2 Leeks, Halved and Sliced Thinly
2 Sprigs of Thyme, Minced
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
6 Stalks of Celery, Cut into Small Dice
1/4 Cup White Wine
460g (2.5 Cups) Arborio Rice
28g (1/4 Cup) Grated Parmesan Cheese
56g (1/4 Cup) Fromage Blanc (or Ricotta)
Chopped Parsley to Serve
Place the water or stock in a saucepan (pick a saucepan with a well-filling lid.) Put the pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil, once boiling, put the lid on the pan and lower the heat to keep the liquid at a simmer.
In a wide sautee pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and thyme and sautee until soft. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the celery to the pan along with a small pinch of salt and sautee until the celery softens, stirring occasionally.
Once the celery is soft add the wine and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated. Add the rice along with a ladle of the simmering liquid and stir until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Continue adding stock, one ladle-full at a time, until the rice is cooked to your liking (I like mine to still have a firm, but definitely not a crunchy, texture.) Once you have reached a nice texture remove the pan from the heat and add the cheeses. Taste the risotto for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
Serve hot topped with parsley and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.