4 Aug 2010

Greens and Plins

Posted by annmcolford

The dog days of summer are truly here, making me grateful to be inside my relatively cool home on this brilliantly sunny afternoon. The west-facing windows are closed and shaded, and the fans keep the air circulating, so every room except the kitchen stays reasonably comfortable.

Each year, the summer heat and the seasonal veggie harvest (as reflected by my CSA box’s contents) crescendo at the same time. I’m not the kind of person who loves the heat, so my desire to cook plummets as temperatures rise. This year, I’ve been taking advantage of my more flexible schedule by trying to cook on those days that are not quite so hot—or cooking in the morning, before the heat of the day builds. I haven’t had the energy to try “putting food by” (i.e., canning or freezing in quantity), but I have been able to keep up with the harvest—which is progress over prior years.

Greens are always abundant, so I’m learning to be the Queen of Greens. Swiss chard, two types of kale, spinach (back when it was cool), beet greens and turnip greens have graced my table, and I’m expecting mustard greens any day now. I’ve continued to have my breakfast egg on sautéed greens (see my post from March 17, 2010) several mornings a week, and I’ve played with different preparations of greens for both solo meals and potluck adventures. Twice I threw together a quick peanut sauce and tossed it with sautéed greens and pasta; another fave (especially now that new potatoes are coming in) is a recipe for Verdura Trovata, or “found vegetables,” from a fun old cookbook of Italian family favorites (Italian Family Cooking by Edward Giobbi, from 1971). Making a big batch uses up lots of greens, and it goes well as a side dish with just about anything savory. In my last batch, I used a couple of carrots, a few green onions, a red potato, some peas (snap, snow and shelled) and a mix of greens (mostly beet, with some kale and chard)—plus garlic, of course, and a few fresh herbs (oregano, flat parsley, chives).

My culinary challenge of the week was fennel. We’ve received a beautiful fennel bulb, complete with flowing fronds, in each of the last three boxes. Jean decided she couldn’t handle any more this week, so I had two halves and a whole bulb to get creative with.

Fennel with Raisins and Saffron

Luckily, the Tolstoy Farms CSA newsletter had a recipe for fennel (sautéed with garlic and blended with almonds, raisins, orange juice, coriander and saffron), so I cooked it up on Sunday night. Cooking the fennel diminishes its heavy anise/licorice punch (an advantage in my book), and the raisins and almonds added good contrasting flavors and textures. I’m still undecided on the orange juice and the coriander, though: The dish seemed overly busy—too many different things competing for attention—and I’m thinking that either orange or coriander would be fine, but not both.

I also splurged on a couple of meals out last week, thanks to the quiet opening of Italia Trattoria in Spokane’s Browne’s Addition neighborhood (just a hop, skip and a jump away). Chef Anna Vogel and GM Bethe Bowman, fresh from Luna (and Tom Douglas restaurants before that), bought the former Café Marron from their former employers and transformed it into a home for artful Italian comfort food. I’ve never been to Italy, so I’m going to bypass any debate over “authenticity,” but I will declare it delicious.

Piedmont agnolotti dal plin at Italia Trattoria

Anna makes some of the pastas from scratch at a tiny counter tucked in a back corner, and I couldn’t resist trying them—fresh pappardelle with lamb ragu on the first night, and plin (full name is Piedmont agnolotti dal plin, and they’re like tiny raviolis with a braised pork filling) the second. My companions on both nights let me sample from their plates as well, and I have to say that the lamb dish was my favorite so far—although the plin and a dish of braised pork cheeks are tied for a close second. Oh, and desserts: tiramisu, affogato (vanilla Brain Freeze ice cream topped with Roast House espresso), panna cotta, cornmeal cake with fresh fruit… oh, my. Price points for both food and wine are eminently reasonable ($13-$20 for pastas and entrées, and we landed a bottle of pinot noir for $20), meaning I can support my friends’ new business venture without too much fiscal heartburn—just one more reason to feel gratitude.

Braised pork cheeks with beans and chard, at Italia Trattoria

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2 Responses to “Greens and Plins”

  1. We had dinner at Italia Trattoria Tuesday night. Agreed that it was yummy, with one small complaint: Their main courses don’t offer a vegetarian many choices.

    In the appetizers, only the 2 salads are vegetarian (and that actually depends on whether there are anchovies in the dressing on the Caesar–I didn’t order it so I didn’t ask, and a genuine Caesar dressing does have them). It’s not strikingly original to have vegetarian salads (more of a “duh!”) and I’d like to see them do something there, perhaps with cheese/crackers/fruit.

    In the Primi, only the gnocchi, which was delicious with its roasted tomato sauce.

    In the Secondi, NO vegetarian choices.

    The 4 Contorni choices (side dishes) are all vegetarian IF the preparation doesn’t involve animal fat (I didn’t ask but would in the future).

    So a vegetarian with a hearty appetite has to order lots of those things (which quickly add up to more than the cost of an entree) or see if the kitchen will get creative. When I asked my waiter if they were able to make some adjustments to main-course selections for a vegetarian he seemed very hesitant. I can see why since the meats really are the center of the selections.

    I learned from you here that the affogato we had was all local products. I wish they’d say that on the menu. We had it and it was delicious! (of course–awesome ice cream, awesome coffee)

    I’ll go back–just not when I’m really, really hungry.

    And when I told this whole sad, sad story 😀 to a friend who has to stay gluten-free, she asked about choices for GF folks (more of those every day), which of course I hadn’t thought about since I’m not. It must be so tough to be in the restaurant business!



    Barb Chamberlain

  2. Try green eggs!
    1 egg. 1 cup chopped greens and herbs.splash chopped onion. 2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese. whip into mcrowaveable dish and micro for 1 minute,

    Love your Blog! I’ll be trying that fennel dish!



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