Sunday, April 29, 2012

Springtime Asparagus and Pea Risotto

It's that time of year again when asparagus are in season. You'll be sure to find those pretty green spears at all the farmers markets nowadays. And have you ever seen them actually growing out of the soil? They're so cool looking. When I worked as an organic vegetable gardener a few summers ago, I had the privilege of tending to a good-sized asparagus patch and I was amazed at just how interesting they looked popping up from the soil.

The possibilities for these green guys are virtually endless. Toss them in a quiche, make a raw salad from them, lightly steam them and top with a farm fresh hard-boiled egg, add them to a vegetable curry, or make a gorgeous risotto like this one! Asparagus are super high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties and they're loaded with vitamins. Eat them lightly cooked or raw for maximum benefits.

Asparagus and Pea Risotto (serves 2 as a main dish and 4 as a side dish)

6 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (omit for vegan version)
One bunch of asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar snap peas, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces

1.Pour the vegetable stock into a saucepan and bring to a low simmer.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate large pot, saute the onion in butter or olive oil with a pinch of salt until nicely softened. Then, add the rice and stir until it's coated in the butter, about 2 minutes. Add the wine. Pour yourself a glass while the bottle is open.

3. When the wine is almost fully absorbed by the rice, add a ladle-full of warm vegetable stock. Continue to stir until absorbed. Add another ladle full and repeat until all of the stock is used up and the rice is cooked through. If you need more liquid to cook the rice thoroughly, adding water will be fine.

 4. Turn off the heat under the risotto and toss in the asparagus and peas. Stir well. The heat from the risotto will lightly cook the vegetables and they will still retain their crunch and bright color. Stir in the Parmesan cheese (if using) and serve right away.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Most Incredible Raw Cashew Cheesecake

It was my birthday last week. The day was a relaxing day full of celebrating me. How often do you have days like that? I had off from work, spent the day with my man, made a delicious dinner, and this fabulous raw cashew "cheesecake". Yes, this cake is made from cashews. No cream cheese in sight. And I topped it with my favorite fruits of all time.
 Just look at that crust. It's made from dates and walnuts. And it tastes delish. Now I'm not going to lie, but if you're expecting this to taste like a typical New York style slice that you'd get at a bakery, then you will be a bit disappointed. But, I can assure you that it tastes pretty damn good and you won't feel any bit of guilt or regret from indulging in this spectacular dessert. Don't skimp on the lemon juice. It gives the cake that much needed tang.

And aren't my beeswax birthday candles just the cutest you've ever seen?

 Raw Cashew Cheesecake (slightly adapted from the lovely My New Roots)
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup soft Medjool dates
¼ tsp. sea salt

1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 5 hours, overnight is best
juice of 2 lemons
the seeds of 1 whole vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. alcohol-free vanilla extract)--I used both, actually
1/3 cup raw coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup raw honey (solid or liquid.) Vegans can use agave
Fruit topping of your choice

1. Place nuts and dates in a food processor with sea salt and pulse to chop until they are to your desired fineness (process a finer crust longer than a chunky one). Test the crust by spooning out a small amount of mixture and rolling it in your hands. If the ingredients hold together, your crust is perfect. Scoop out crust mixture in a 7” spring-form pan (if you don’t have a spring-form pan, use a pie plate lined with saran wrap), and press firmly, making sure that the edges are well packed and that the base is relatively even throughout. Rinse food processor well. *Note from Renee-I only had a 9 1/2 inch spring-form pan, So I increased the recipe by half.
2. Warm coconut oil and honey in a small saucepan on low heat until liquid. Whisk to combine.
3. In the most powerful food processor / blender you own (you decide which one has the most torque) place all filling ingredients (except the fruit topping of your choice) and blend on high until very smooth (this make take a couple minutes so be patient). If you have a Vita-Mix, absolutely use it.
4. Pour the mixture out onto the crust and smooth with a spatula. Place in freezer until solid. (I didn't actually wait for it to be solid). Top with berries.
5. To serve, remove from freezer 30 minutes prior to eating. Run a smooth, sharp knife under hot water and cut into slices. Store leftovers in the freezer.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Roman Vegetable Pizza

I miss Italy. The sunshine, food, people, art, and the landscape. I loved everything about that country. And so I celebrated Italy tonight and made a pizza. Not just any pizza, but a pizza inspired by my favorite pizza in Rome. If you read this whole post until the bottom of the recipe, you'll see a picture of that very pizza.
I like my pizza colorful. I want it loaded with vegetables. Cheese isn't even necessary in my book. More color equals more flavor. It also means I have to chop more vegetables and dirty lots of bowls and plates to take pretty pictures like the one seen above, but the taste is all worth it. It really does taste as good as it looks. Maybe even better.
I remember the first time I made my own pizza crust. I was so proud of myself and I loved the feeling knowing that I had made my pizza entirely from scratch, like the real Italian mamas. It's really not hard to make at all, and now that I've done it a few times, there's no need to ever go back to store-bought dough. Plus, I can make my crust with 100% whole grain flour. This crust here is made with whole spelt flour.

You can top your pizza with anything. Some great suggestions are roasted eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers, olives, spinach, broccoli, fresh garlic, herbs, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and sundried tomatoes. Seriously, the list could go on.

Roman Vegetable Pizza

For the dough:
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tsp instant dry yeast
2 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 cup spelt flour
2 tbsp olive oil

For the toppings:
1/2 cup cooked mushrooms
1/2 cup kalamata olives
5 sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cooked spinach
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced and lightly sauteed
1 small eggplant, thinly sliced, drizzled in olive oil,  and roasted at 400 degrees for 15 minutes until tender
4 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 lb fresh mozzerella cheese, thinly sliced and pressed of all moisture between paper towels
1/2 cup caramelized onions
sauce of your choice
fresh or dried basil and oregano

1. Pour warm water in a medium size bowl. Add salt and yeast and stir. Mix in 2 cups of flour. Gradually add more flour until the dough comes together enough for you to start kneading it. Knead for a couple of minutes, add additional flour if it sticks to your hands. Put the dough back in the bowl and drizzle it with olive oil. Cover the entire dough ball with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 450. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon  of cornmeal evenly on a pizza stone and set aside.When the dough has risen for 1 to 2 hours, dust the dough with flour and start kneading it. You will need to add quite a bit of flour to keep it from sticking. Knead dough for about 3-5 minutes. Then, gently stretch and shape the dough in to a circle that will fit the pizza stone (about 12-15 inches in diameter). Very gently place the dough on the pizza stone sprinkled in cornmeal. At this point, do not press on the dough.

3. You may now top your pizza. I like to add sauce first, followed by fresh garlic and herbs. Then, I add the vegetables evenly and top it all with a bit of cheese (although sometimes, I don't even add cheese because the vegetables are so great.)

4. Place the pizza in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is cooked through. Keep an eye on the pizza, especially if your oven cooks unevenly. Remove the pizza when it's done and let it cool at least 10 minutes to allow the toppings to set before cutting into it.

And as promised... the Roman pizza itself.

 ...Plus me eating it on a stone wall in Rome. Ahh memories!

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