Oct 182013
 

image roasted vegetables polenta

The radio was burbling a nice mix of easy-going blues and jazz. The DJ introduced “Stormy Weather” and right before the song started,  I was startled to hear him murmur, “Just let the rain come, already.”

A secular prayer.

The radio forecast says it’ll rain soon – yes, please God. I know that in other countries, the rain has been no blessing these past months. But here, we pray that rain should come, each in his own way.

Still,  this cool, sunny weather has its pleasures. Before winter arrives and makes shopping a wet chore, the shuk is where I like to linger. The vendors are as strident as ever, but the shoppers, like me, seem more relaxed and in less of rush.

image shuk Israel

See that banner, high up in the back? It advertises a little eatery called “Mother’s Kitchen.” I dunno…my late Dad always joked, Never eat at a place called “Mom’s.”

There’s a new flower vendor, who set up his table smack in the middle of the road. Nobody complains that he makes foot traffic divide into two streams. Here he is, greeting a friend.

flower vendor Israel

The vegetables are as plump and succulent as though it had rained all week. Broccoli and cauliflower that looked desolate a few weeks ago,  hold up firm, full heads. Tables are piled with grapes of all grapey colors.

image grape bunches

Tomatoes are still reasonably priced and onions are tempting and round in their silky yellow peels.
image onion

Which they weren’t, when it was really hot and all we got were wizened little onion sprouts with damp black skins.

I always overbuy at the shuk, loading my wheeled cart (my little-old-lady-cart, my kids call it) – past capacity. Who can resist the seductive eggplants, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, zucchini? And when I’ve pushed open my door and hauled my cart inside, I unload inspiration for dinner.

This is dinner, then: roasted winter vegetables sitting snugly on a bed of savory, cheesefull, hot polenta. It’s a relaxed, easy recipe that accepts almost any firm vegetable and satisfies your hungers for food and deliciousness.

Roasted Vegetables On A Bed Of Polenta

4 servings

Ingredients:

4 cups mixed vegetables – see suggestions below

3 tablespoons chopped herbs: basil, oregano, rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried spices

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 recipe polenta (link below)

1/2 cup grated hard cheese

You start with four cups of your favorite vegetables. Use at least four, if not seven or eight kinds. Make sure to include tomatoes and onions, that’s the only thing I ask. Throw a couple of peeled garlic cloves into the mix, if you like. You see that here, it was eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, celery, onions, and zucchini. Not visible is the garlic. There was garlic in there. Because if deprived of garlic for a day, I go all over funny.

roasted vegetables

And you chop up herbs of choice to make up about 3 tablespoons when chopped up.

image container herbs

This time, I went to my balcony containers and snipped rosemary, sage, garlic chives, nettles and a little za’atar. It could have been only one of those, or different ones entirely.

 image chopped herbs

If there are no fresh herbs on hand, combine 1 teaspoon each of the dried spices you favor. I suggest cumin, oregano, a touch of allspice if you have it. Forget not the salt. Also forget not the black pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Combine the herbs (or spices) with seasonings and olive oil in a large bowl, then toss the chopped vegetables in this herby, spicy, oily mix.

Roast at 375° F – 200° C for 20 minutes, stirring once during that time. Then check for doneness. If needed, roast another 10-15 minutes.
image roasted winter vegetables

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the polenta – recipe here. It takes about 7 seven minutes. And grate about 1/2 cup of Parmesan or Pecorino or Thom cheese into a bowl, to top the finished dish. Use any cheese you like, really. (I told you this was a relaxed dish.) Serve with beer or white wine, and then you’ll certainly relax. Enjoy!

Sep 222013
 

spaghetti with walnuts

Light lunches are the way to go on Succot. At least, in my kitchen. One reason is, the family can’t sustain a rich festive meal followed by just such another in this year’s holiday-followed-by-Shabbat round. Another is that evenings are when the family’s together and hungriest. Vegetables soups, quiches, salads and pasta satisfy mid-day hunger just fine when a large dinner’s expected later.

A leafy salad is all you need to follow this rich pasta. Leftover herbed crumbs, you can throw into your next omelet or salad,  or on top of soup. Good crunchiness.

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May 132013
 

Shavuot whipped cheese mousse

Rich, yet light, with just the right touch of fruit to make a festive Shavuot dessert.

Even after a rich dairy meal, the gang wants a dairy dessert. And who am I to say nay? I’m a sucker for anything white and creamy, myself. Like the apricot swirl cheesecake I concocted a couple of years ago.

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Jun 242012
 

image-onion-tart

Oooo, I love onions! Caramelized to sweetness, then balanced out with thyme and cheese: onions, onions, onions.

When the summer onions come in, all firm and beautiful, it’s only natural to cook something showcasing them. I was in a mood for something enclosed in shortcrust pastry, like the Fresh Apricot Tart. With a little recipe adjustment, the same basic crust works well with this melt-in-the-mouth onion filling. It calls for a little thinking ahead, but follow my schedule and you’ll see that all the steps are easy. The result is a tart that’s delightfully light, yet robust enough to serve as a vegetarian main dish for 4.

I have served this in thinner slices at a party for 16 people and it disappeared in minutes.

And, just because, there’s a little surprise at the end of the recipe. A little ditty from the silly ’60s. Not much to look at there, but if you eat your onion tart while listening to the song,  (maybe with your eyes closed), you will find that the experience is that much more…enhanced.

I hope you like the kazoo.

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 Posted by at 8:15 AM
Jun 102012
 

image-apricot-ice-cream

I guess I’ll always love Elizabeth David’s cookbooks. Her Summer Cooking has this recipe for apricot ice cream – so simple and delicious, I’m kicking myself for apricot seasons past that I didn’t make it. And it doesn’t have much sugar, so you must reject any fruit that’s green or seems sour – cut a piece off to taste if necessary.

Unlike other ice creams I’ve made by hand, this was soft enough to serve right out of the freezer. I went to the trouble of forcing the cooked apricots through a sieve, just to fall in line with Ms. David’s directions. Although, who knows. Maybe Ms. David would have become scornful, if blending gives the same results with almost no work. The lady had a famously sharp tongue.

Ms. David wrote for her times, when, for example, heating the flour briefly before baking made sense for the British housewife in the chilly kitchens of the 1950s and 60s. Catch me heating flour in my Middle Eastern kitchen. But this business of sieving the apricots, it caught my imagination. Not, let me hasten to add, that I don’t appreciate modern appliances . Just, once in a while, I’m willing to do a little extra, to feel in touch with the past.

The purée that resulted from sieving was as smooth as baby food. Would my stick blender have done that? Well, I thought as I pushed apricot mass through the wire net and scraped it off the other side, Elizabeth David wouldn’t have imagined me thinking of her in Israel, in 2012. But sometimes, and especially when cooking something entirely delicious like this ice cream, I do.

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May 222012
 

image-spinach-fritters

The way I see it, Shavuot menus are an opportunity to showcase vegetables.

Like the rest of Israel, I willingly succumb to cheesecake on Shavuot. Here’s apricot swirl cheesecake, cheesecake with dulce de leche, and New York cheesecake. Plenty to conquer that craving for cheesecake that creeps over us at this time of year.  I love cheese, more than what’s good for me. But I know that the entire country is going to suffer the day after Shavuot, because we’ve all been hypnotized by ads showing gorgeous closeups of cheese blintzes, lasagna, ice cream, rich kugels, quiches – and obediently fix them all for one dairy-overloaded, artery-clogging meal.

There’s plenty of dairy on my table over the year. Just not all those delicious cheesy dishes at once. To keep things in balance over Shavuot, I plan menus around vegetables and whole grains with cheese or butter as an accent. Spinach is a natural for me because it’s Husband’s  favorite vegetable.

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Jan 252012
 

home-made-condensed-milk

It’s really much cheaper to make your own condensed milk. And you can make quantities of it at one time with almost no effort. But it does require time and patience. It’s something to stir while doing other kitchen projects. Like an intensive cooking or cupboard-cleaning session, or a morning of  phone calls you’ve been putting off. Actually, the coolest thing would be to have a magical spoon that stirs all by itself. Lacking that, just old-fashioned patience and time will  do.

Why would I want to make my own condensed milk? Well, here in Israel, all condensed and evaporated milk is imported in squeezable tubes and cans. Living in a dairy-rich country, it seems wrong to buy a milk product that’s been shipped across the planet. That’s Noble Reason Number One.

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Dec 252011
 

image-spinach patties7

Have you done a lot of frying this Hanukkah?

Me, I usually adapt fried foods to baked, but on Hanukkah, latkehs have to be fried at least once. So I fried traditional potato latkehs the first night, but until last night, I kept Husband and the Little One happy with fishy things like Slow-Cooked Salmon and Tajine of Red Mullet in Chermoulah. Then I decided to succumb to tradition and fry something. Hanukka’s winding down, after all.

I came across cookbook author Gil Mark’s Keftes de Espinaca – spinach patties.  Perfect – Husband’s favorite vegetable is spinach.  The Little One could do without it, but even she ate and took seconds of these patties. And to my delight, they needed but little oil to fry up into delicious, crusty morsels with tender insides. I served pasta with tomato sauce on the side and we had a great vegetarian meal.

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Nov 132011
 

image-khachpuri-cheese-bread

I once made friends with three Russian butchers in my neighborhood supermarket. For some reason, they took me to their collective hearts. It amused them, I think, to share their wisdom with this American-accented lady who was always asking things. Saturnine Serge gave me a great lesson in sharpening knives. Dark, quick Reuven showed me how to cut a pocket into a half-breast of turkey for stuffing. And the bear-like Avi gave me the recipe for a luscious, cheese-filled bread from his native Georgia. In return, I brought them a bottle of my fruit wine (and the story is here).

I’ve since moved out of that neighborhood, but still think of my three friends with affection. Especially when I bake khachpuri, the cheese bread Avi taught me. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 12:20 AM
Aug 012011
 

image-peaches-and-cream
Of the edible geraniums (most aren’t), the rose-scented ones are my favorites. Near my building there’s a large patch of them, which I raid for occasionally for divine recipes like this one. Peaches in cream delicately flavored with rose geranium. Just exquisite.

The recipe is from Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking. You can infuse cream with lemon grass, basil, mint, or bay leaves too. But rose geranium is special.  And if you like to serve berries with this cream, or figs…oh dear.  Too good to describe.

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