Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring treasures

One of the many things I love about spring is the arrival of several fruits and vegetables that, while they may be available now that there's commercial shipping, are at their very best in the spring. Two of my favorites are strawberries and asparagus. I've been enjoying the abundance of these in the past few weeks so i thought I'd share a few recipes - one asparagus, one strawberry and one strawberry and asparagus!

Last week, I spotted a line at the local farmer's market and, not knowing what to expect, I got into it. It could have turned out to be some meaty adventure, but it was purple asparagus! The farmer was selling it out of the plastic shopping bags he used to collect it and I have no idea how much I paid per pound for it. I just looked so beautiful, I couldn't resist piling more and more into my bag. Tonight I made a soup and topped it with freshly-made croutons and shaved Parmesan. It would be wonderful with a crisp Pinot Gris or chardonnay.

Separate the tough asparagus stems from the tender ones by snapping it in half. It will naturally divide the stalk into a tough lower part and tender upper part. Use only the tender upper parts to finish this soup. The tough parts are used to make the stock.

Cream of asparagus soup with seasoned croutons

1 lb fresh asparagus, cleaned thoroughly and separated by snapping.
1 medium onion chopped
1 T. EV olive oil
1 tsp. whole thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
2 c. water
2 T. white flour
1 c. half and half
1 tsp. salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute the onion in the olive oil and add the thyme leaves, salt, pepper, and saffron threads. When the onion is translucent, add the water and asparagus bottoms. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain out the stems and discard. Put the remaining stock in a blender or use a stick blender to make a smooth broth. Pour most of it into a measuring cup, but leave enough broth to cover the bottom of the pan about 1/2 inch deep. Add the upper parts of the asparagus cut into 1" pieces. Stem over medium heat until tender-crisp.

Once the asparagus tips are tender, stir in the flour and stir until it is incorporated. Then add the remaining broth and the half and half. Stir until the soup thickens somewhat. Leave on very low heat until ready to serve.

Seasoned croutons

4 slice whole wheat bread
2 T. EVOO or 1 T. olive oil and 1 T. butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the bread into large cubes. Melt the oil or oil and butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook gently for 1 minute. Then add the bread cubes, paprika, and cayenne. Stir the bread cubes gently until they absorb all the oil and the garlic sticks to them. Salt and pepper as desired. Move the cubes around once in a while while they toast over medium to low heat. The point is to dry them without burning the bread or the garlic. When sufficiently dry, place them on some paper towels until they are cool.


Ladle the soup into the bowls and pile the croutons in the middle of the bowl. Sprinkle with shaved Parmesan cheese. Yum!/

Raw Chocolate- Strawberry Pie

2 c. raw almonds, walnuts, pistachios (any combination)
1/2 c. Medjool dates, pitted
1 tsp. ground cinnamon or ginger

Chocolate layer
1/2 c. cocoa
1/4 c. raw agave syrup or honey
2 T. water

Strawberry layer
1 qt. fresh strawberries, washed and sliced


In the food processor, combine the nuts, dates and spice until finely chopped and combined. The mixture will be moist and hold together when pressed. Press it into the bottom and sides of a 9" pie plate. Freeze 1 hour.

Mix the chocolate layer ingredients by hand until smooth. You may need to add more water to make it spreadable. Spread this on the pie crust once it comes out of the freezer.

Layer the strawberries on top of the chocolate and freeze for 1/2 hour or until set, but not frozen. try not to eat it all at one time!

Springtime salad

1 head romaine or red leaf lettuce, washed, dried and broken into bite-sized pieces
1/2 quart strawberries, washed, dried, and sliced
1/2 lb asparagus, washed, steamed until tender, cooled in cold water, then dried
1 c. walnuts, broken


2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
2 T. EV olive oil

Mix the first three dressing ingredients in a large bowl until combined. Add salt and pepper. Then add the olive oil while continuing to stir dressing until the oil is incorporated.

Add and mix the lettuce with the dressing. Add the asparagus, strawberries and walnuts. Gently toss once more. Adjust seasoning and enjoy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

You've tried the rest..

Last night, after a long and exhausting day at work, David and I headed out for dinner. Neither of us were very hungry and we ended up just kind of driving east on 6th Street looking for a place to eat. I suggested Grimaldi's Pizza at 6th and Campbell mostly so that we would have a short ride home. As we were seated and ordered, I started thinking about pizza - how's it's become such a part of the American culture and where it's going.

I remember my mother telling me that she had never even heard of pizza until she was 18 or 19 and was dating an Italian guy who wanted to take her out for some pizza. She was a little resistant because he described it as "tomato pie" and the only tomato pie she knew was the green tomato pie her grandmother made which she didn't like all that much. However, once she got a taste of pizza, she was hooked as I guess most of America became in the 50's. According to A Slice of Heaven: A History of Pizza in America, the period after WWII brought pizza from the big cities into the smaller American communities. So it's really been only about 50 years that pizza has become popular among those without Italian heritage.

Growing up on the east coast, we mostly ate the hand-thrown thin crust pizza common in the mid-Atlantic states. A few of the good ones: Brother Bruno's in Mount Penn and the old Marti's pizza from the 9th and Spruce area - oh that sauce! It had tiny bits of tomato plus some of the seeds. I'm not even sure there was anything in Marti's sauce except tomatoes. It's a fresh clean taste I can't ever re-create. One of my fondest childhood memories was when my father's co-worker whose name I can't recall now, except that his first name was Ed (and we were NOT allowed to call him Mr. Ed) would bring a pizza or 2 over to the house for us all. Sometimes he would even get there so late that my parents would get us up out of bed to eat pizza! Now that was a party for four little girls!

When I first got to Tucson, I was hard-pressed to find good pizza. The pizza in Tucson is good, but it lacks that fold-able crust and oh-so-slightly-sweet, but garlicly sauce. Maybe it's the dry air, but the crust here is a problem. A decent pizza can be found at Brooklyn Pizza on 4th Avenue which has the added bonus of using solar energy to run their very popular joint. I swear the longer I live here, the better it gets :-P  If you check out the Tucson Shopper, you can sometimes find coupons for Brooklyn for $8.88 for a large plain cheese. Sweet! There's also a full moon special which is a pie for $9 and change.

For those that aren't that budget-conscious (and who isn't these days?), Grimaldi's is a very good pizza. They have a wood fired oven and a comprehensive listing of toppings. Small plain start at $13 and large at $15. Most toppings are $2 each. Last night, we ate the more expensive white garlic pizza with 2 toppings (kalamata olives and fresh mushrooms), I had a glass of wine ($9) and David had ice tea for a whopping $35. Yikes!

If you're in the mood for a thicker crust, Rocco's Little Chicago is a good pick. I like this place because it has an authentic Chicago feel to it with red-checkered table cloths and $1.50 cans of Old Style" beer (just like you get in Dad's refrigerator). They also are cool about making vegan pizza, a favor with some of my friends. I recommend the Fungus Humongous with portabello and white mushrooms. Take a few friends though because this pizza is very filling! Wait times for the pizza can be long, so don;t go when you're in a hurry, but DO get the Spicy Hot Sticks while you're waiting. They're basically pizza dough coated in cayenne and tomato sauce, twirled, baked and served with ranch or blue cheese dressing. OMG sooo good!

So what's in store for pizza in the future? I can't say for sure, but perhaps something...Indian? Chutney, curry, samosas... mozzarella?

What's your favorite pizza place and why? What kind of toppings would make your ultimate pizza?