Saturday, March 26, 2011

More than ever

Spring has arrived in California, but what a cold and rainy arrival it’s been. As I write this the sun is trying to peek out from behind the clouds, but according to the paper more rain is expected to come soon. It even snowed in Mendocino last month, for a few hours one night. Winter wasn't quite ready to leave, it seems. I don’t know about you, but the disaster in Japan hit us pretty hard, not to mention all the turmoil in the Middle East. As others have noted elsewhere, it’s difficult to figure out how to talk about food and other pleasures when there is such suffering in the world. And yet, we have our own suffering here at home, too, from our own loss. I know now that grief is an ache that lingers, and heavily in the heart. 

Anyway, there is a lot I could share with you today, but I think I'm going to keep it relatively brief. I’ve made a number of soups these past few months – butternut squash, fresh pea, ‘green soup’ with chorizo, cauliflower and potato-leek all come to mind. I was particularly happy with a curried lentil soup I made from Molly’s column in Bon Appétit. Besides soups we’ve been having a lot of roasted vegetables – put a bunch of asparagus in a hot oven and I might be tempted eat every last spear – but we’ve also been loving roasted cauliflower and broccoli, as well as parsnips and carrots.
I have had some failures recently too, most memorably an attempt to make Seville orange marmalade; it came out way too bitter, and I still don’t know if it was the oranges or something I did wrong in the recipe. It was pretty sad having to throw it all away, considering the fact that it took me two days to complete and way longer to even find Seville oranges in the first place. Of course, not every soup I’ve made has been stellar, either. But we’ve been eating well, for the most part. 

Last night, for example, I made a roast chicken with baby fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach with pine nuts and raisins, a dinner that made my maman very happy. She’s been working a lot lately and hasn’t been feeling well, so it was just she needed on a Friday night. The chicken I made Ina Garten style, stuffed with lemon halves, garlic and thyme - it’s hard to mess up. The spinach, though, was especially lovely, with a nice balance of sweet and savory, pairing well with creamy, crispy potatoes. A cold Spring makes me crave greens more than ever, and I can't think of a better way to breathe life into a common preparation than this recipe. As a bonus, these bright leaves happen to be packed all the green nutrition that makes you feel extra healthy. 

I have to admit that left to my devices I might just subsist on avocado toast and peanut butter out of the jar, but having someone to cook for, as I'm sure you know, makes all the difference.

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria

-       ¼ cup raisins
-       ¼ cup pine nuts
-       2 tablespoons olive oil
-       1 shallot, chopped
-       12 ounces spinach, tough stems removed, rinsed
-       salt and freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, combine raisins with enough hot water to cover and let stand 20 minutes, or until plumped.

In a small, dry saucepan over medium heat, toast pine nuts until fragrant and golden, about 3 minutes, shaking the pan often. Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until leaves are wilted, about another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain raisins and add to the pan along with the pine nuts. Stir well, transfer to a dish, and serve immediately.