Monday, May 18, 2009

"Have you ever tried wheat berries?" she asked.

"I've been making a yummy salad with wheatberries, veggies in a sesame oil/ginger/garlic/honey/red pepper flake kind of dressing with cashews on top. I love the texture of that grain," Emily wrote in the e-mail (actually, she started it in a game of Lexulous.) I hadn't cooked with wheat berries for 30 years, I'm sure. And I had a fridge drawer full of grains, but I couldn't resist, so I picked some up at the Whole Foods, and waited for inspiration to strike.

Sometimes, inspiration comes all at once, and sometimes it just percolates all day until something yummy emerges. This time it was the latter. I felt pretty good about the ginger, sesame oil, red pepper flake tastes. I thought about the garlic but decided to leave it out for once. It is not necessary to have garlic in everything! I wasn't sure about the honey.

So, I started the wheatberries (1 cup dry) the night before with an overnight soak, then got them to cooking after breakfast. Followed by some french green lentils (another dry cup)-- I thought those would make a nice combination, like they did a few weeks ago with farro). So these were ready well before lunchtime, and stashed in the fridge for quick action after coming back from the new Star Trek movie (perfect movie, by the way!) And let the rest of it come to me over the course of the day.

There was that half a butternut squash that was in the freezer. And I had picked up a nice green crunchy bunch of parsley. That could go well.

I cubed up the squash and put it in a skillet with some water and olive oil, and simmered for about 15 minutes until the squash was getting tender. Part way through I remembered, "onions!" and tossed in some chopped onion, right in the water. When just about ready, I cranked up the heat to evaporate the water so the squash and onions would sizzle in the oil and create a little caramelized crust -- I got a little of that, but I wasn't patient enough to wait. I also tossed in some grated ginger and a light shake of red pepper flakes (less than half teaspoon, I imagine).

When that was just about set, I dumped in the cooked wheat berries and lentils with some more olive oil, cooked over medium heat for awhile, and tasted. Salt. A few hefty pinches. Then, some more grated ginger -- the grated ginger I had cooked with wasn't really coming through. And sesame oil, a few tablespoons, for taste.

It was starting to feel right, but I wanted a little more in the way of veggies, so I tossed in a few handfuls of frozen spinach for some green. I had bought that bag of spinach a while ago waiting for just such an occasion. Taste. More sesame oil. More salt. A little sweet would be good, so I put in a few squeezes of agave nectar. Parsley in just before serving, and it was ready.

I served it hot (not cold). And forgot about the nuts, until we thought "nuts would go well with this," but didn't do anything about it. The wheat berries really do have a fun texture. They squeak a little when you bite into them. And have a nice earthy taste.

Tonight, for leftovers, I added some feta cheese and walnuts, plus a little sesame chili oil for a little more heat and was happy with the second-night result.

Next time, I might go a little more savory and do some tasty mushrooms. Maybe add a little miso or tamari? And remember the nuts!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sometimes, it's just about the butter

I didn't start thinking that it was about the butter, but by the time the evening was over, butter was clearly the theme. It started out being about the mushrooms. I'd been wanting to play with mushrooms for a long time -- not the white mushrooms, or the criminis, or even those gigantic portobellos that you see in all the stores. No. it was about grown up mushrooms. The ones in those bins at Whole Foods labeled $29 a pound. I didn't know which ones I'd end up with, but that was the mission. Some interesting mushrooms that I'd never cooked with before, and some scallops. In olive oil. With some garlic. Over pasta. Simple.

I'd been wanting to do the mushrooms since Michael Pollan's Omnivores Dilemma, which had a whole chapter on the topic. Mushroom hunting. I believe he was after chantrelles. Or morels. I don't recall. But I was going to try some. It's been a couple of years -- what's taken so long?

I went for the morels. I don't know why. A small handful. Maybe five or six, small to medium. Came to a whopping $3.00. Not even. I figured they'd be enough for me. And I figured right. I thought mushrooms were an autumn thing, but there they were, bins and bins of all sorts. Wonder where they come from. Somehow I don't think they're being hunted in the wild like Pollan hunted his chantrelles.

And then around another corner there were the fiddleheads. Those are spring. They define spring. And there were lots of them. A handful, into the bag. They were the first course. Sauteed in butter. I had intended to add some shallots and garlic, but entirely forgot to add them (they were not wasted, they just made it into the next dish). Simple -- olive oil and butter mixture, with some fiddleheads that had been well rinsed and boiled (simmered really) for 10 minutes. Spring. That's all there is to say. Eat them while you can.

Then the morels. First some shallots and garlic in olive oil and butter, sauteed slowly, until the garlic just started to turn golden. Then the morels, chopped roughly. I figured I'd just saute them until they started to release their liquid into the butter and wilt a bit. Which then did, and which filled the kitchen with that earthy mushroomy aroma that defies description. There's some umami going on there, for sure.

When the kitchen smelled right, I added the scallops, turned those translucent, and then added the cooked ziti. Some salt and pepper, and it was ready. Sometimes, you just hit a home run, and this was one of those times. The butter, olive oil, mushrooms, garlic, shallots, scallops -- they just were made to go together. The flavors blended perfectly, and needed nothing else.

The question now is...what's next with that bin of mushrooms?