Peaches

fresh peach

The most memorable peach I ever ate was in Normandy at a restaurant on Mont Saint Michel.  We had gone there to experience the local lamb, but what I remember was the peach.  The waiter served it as an after lunch fruit in place of a sweetened dessert.

I learned many useful things living in France, among them the ability to eat a piece of fresh fruit with a knife and fork.  I peeled my peach and cut up the pieces.  Then I tasted it. 

It was so extraordinarily good that in my best most polished French I politely asked for a second peach.

To this day, I love to have a piece of fruit as the ending for a meal.  Fresh fruit in season is the best and peaches are in season here on Long Island in July and August.

The peaches in the pictures come from my local GreenMarket and they are delicious this year.  Local peaches to not have the aura of my French peach, but they are certainly just as succulent, juicy, and sweet.  I am content with just the peach too.  No yogurt, no ice cream, no peach pie, no peach melba, or any other similar preparation.

Not that there is anything wrong with these alternatives and when peaches are in season the cook needs creativity and imagination to manage the volume that nature provides.  It is just that I am so happy and so satisfied with the piece of fruit.  Or maybe two pieces.

calories

My local peaches are medium sized peaches.  My local supermarkets sells bigger cheaper peaches, but they can’t match the flavor of my smaller local peaches.  One medium peach is about 60 calories.   All fresh fruits are healthy.  Some more so than others, but all are optimal choices especially when they are grown locally.

Turkey Salad

turkey summer salad

turkey salad with greens and chickpeas

Protein, greens, legumes, vinaigrette, ready to go in 40 minutes — my kind of summer workday supper.  The turkey I use comes from an old school Italian grocery store in my neighborhood.  It is made on site so I guess that would make it an artisanal product.  However you call it, to my taste this turkey has better flavor and less salt intensity.  Other customers buy it sliced as a cold cut.  I get a chunk and make salad.

For the vinaigrette:

1 ⅔ tablespoons vinegar with acidity at least 6% (25ml)

½ teaspoon kosher style flake salt (1.7g)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (75ml)

dried herbs, basil, oregano

For the salad:

½ cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained (100 g)

¾ cup red cabbage, washed and coarsely shredded (50 g)

3 ½ cups washed assorted greens or mesclum mix (100 g)

½ cup washed, cored and coarsely chopped cherry tomatoes or 1 small local tomato in season (130 g)

1 fresh carrot peeled and grated  (90g)

2 scallions washed, trimmed, and chopped (50g)

1/3 pound piece roasted turkey breast cut into small pieces (150g)

METHOD

Make the dressing in the bottom on a bowl with a 2 quart (2 liter) capacity.  Add the vinegar and salt.  Let salt dissolve.  Then add the olive oil and herbs.  Whisk until thoroughly emulsified.

Put chickpeas and cabbage in first, then greens, then carrot, scallion, and tomato. Arrange turkey pieces on top.  Mix salad just before serving.

 METRICS

Protein, greens, legumes, extra virgin olive oil – my kind of healthy!  Hard to go wrong with locally sourced vegetables.  Nutrition return is excellent – fiber, carotenoids, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium.  The olive oil even enhances carotenoid absorption.  But calories still count.  So here is the scoop.  Proportions listed provide 500 to 600 calories per serving and work well for those of us have a vested interest in not eating too much on workdays.  For larger portions, count about 170 calories per cup (120g); for eaters at your table with robust appetites, add crusty bread and dessert.

 

Summer salad with turkey, greens, and chickpeas (1/2 recipe, 400g):  Calories 550, Fat 38g, Saturated Fat 5g, Sodium 420mg, Carbohydrate 27g, Fiber 8g, Protein 30g.  Vitamin A 280%, Vitamin C 60%, Calcium 10%, Iron 20%.

Carrot Salad

Grated Spring Carrot Salad 

Carrots.  One of my favorite kitchen stables and a vegetable for all seasons.  I always watch for tender new carrots when they start to appear in the GreenMarket in spring, so sweet and tender you can grate them without peeling most of the time, but I continue to make the salad through the summer.  Grated carrot salad stands by itself as an appetizer or accompanies other raw vegetables for a plate of spring crudités.

  • makes generous 4 cups

  • 170 calories per cup

INGREDIENTS

spring carrots, 1 generous pound (500g)

scallions, 3 each (80 grams)

parsley, handful (10 grams)

classic vinaigrette, 6 tablespoons (90ml)

lemon, one whole

METHOD

Wash and trim carrots.  Grate if necessary.  Wash, trim, and chop scallions and parsley.   Make the vinaigrette in the bottom of a salad bowl as follows.  First add 1 ½ tablespoons vinegar and stir in a generous pinch of salt.  Then add a generous 4 tablespoons good olive oil and whisk.  Add grated carrot, scallions, and parsley.  Mix well.  Adjust salt and add pepper to taste.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

ANALYST NOTE

Do not expect salads to be low fat.  Vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and even the finest, freshest olive oil is 100% fat.  There is plenty of good nutrition in a plate of this carrot salad — carotenoids, fiber, vitamin C, monounsaturated i.e. healthy fats, polyphenols.  Moreover, the carotenoids are better absorbed in the presence of fat.  But despite all this good stuff, current regulatory language does not permit me to label this a “healthy” salad.  Too much fat!

Grated Spring Carrots With Scallion & Parsley,  1  cup (150g):  Calories 170, Fat 15g, Saturated Fat 2g, Sodium 210mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 1g.

Fresh Pasta

My experiment for this batch of fresh pasta was to try white all purpose whole wheat flour and it worked beautifully.  Cooked in salted water and dressing with say Roman artichokes, grated parmigiano, and extra virgin olive oil, the final product was delicious.  I used a hand cranked pasta machine with a four inch roller and “fettuccine” cutters for this batch.

  • makes 1/3 pound (150 grams) fresh pasta

  • cost $2.70 per pound

  • serves 2 to 4 depending on portion size

INGREDIENTS

 white whole wheat flour, ¾ to ⅞ cup  (100g)

egg, 1 large

METHOD

Weigh out (or measure) flour.  Place in bowl or on a board.  Add the egg.   Knead until the moisture from the egg has absorbed as much flour as it can hold.  Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour.  Divide the dough into 6 pieces.  Working one piece at a time, finish the kneading process by putting each piece through the large rollers until it is soft and pliable.  Then flatten the piece by progressing from the wide roller setting to the narrow roller setting and cut the piece using one of the two cutting blades.  Form into a nest, use immediately, or freeze.

  • The exact amount of flour depends on the moisture content of the flour and the moisture in the egg.  The goal is just the right amount of flour and moisture and is more dependent of getting a feel for the dough than on an exact measurement.  If the dough is too dry, it becomes brittle, lacks pliability, and cannot be rolled or cut successfully.  If the dough is too moist, it gets stuck in the rollers and the cutters and ends up making a sticky mess.

  • Using the same ratio of 100 grams flour to 1 extra large egg, different combinations of flour can be used:  all purpose unbleached white flour, whole wheat all purpose flour.  You can also experiment with using semolina flour, up to 25% of the total amount.   Because the recipe is weight based, proportions are expandable.

NB:  Making fresh pasta requires a pasta making machine.  Models available today come with a wider cutting surface which makes the process go faster.  If I were getting one today, I would get the wider cutting surface.  But I don’t make enough pasta to warrant replacing the one I have and my machine has a lot of sentimental value for me because I bought it on my first trip to Rome and hand carried it back home.

 METRICS

Cost.  I priced fresh pasta and it runs $3.50 to $4.00 per pound in one of my local supermarkets.  Making it at home cost me less, but the difference is not significant enough however to justify my labor.  Pasta only gets made at home if you like the taste better and you think it is fun.

 Calories.   Proportions for fresh pasta used consistently in my Italian source books are 200 grams flour and 2 eggs for 4 people. These classic proportions are a little larger that our current Serving Size for pasta which is 1 about cup. I prefer a smaller portion, say half the size of the classic Italian portion.

Classic Italian Portion (163g):  Calories 210, Fat 3.5g, Saturated Fat 1g, Sodium 270mg, Carbohydrate 36g, Fiber 5g, Protein 10g.
My Smaller Portion (82g cooked):   Calories 100, Fat 2g, Saturated Fat 0g, Sodium 135mg, Carbohydrate 18g, Fiber 3g, Protein 5g. 

Chocolate Almond Cake

A dense, delicious, intensely chocolate cake.  Serve as is or accompany with whipped cream, frozen yogurt, or ice cream.  The origins for this cake are certainly European, but exactly were remains unclear.  I found one version, gâteau au chocolate et aux amandes, in Elizabeth David’s book French Provincial Cooking.  An internet search brought up multiple listings for an Italian version, La Torte Caprese.  And I found a third version, pastel de chocolate alemendras, in Claudia Roden’s recent book The Food of Spain.  These versions all use bar chocolate.  My version uses high fat cocoa powder (20-25%) because, in my opinion, cocoa powder is easier to source and easier to work with.  Just don’t use Dutch Process cocoa powder because the process changes the acid base balance and may keep the eggs from setting.

  •  cost $10

  • serves 8

  • 310 calories per serving

RECIPE

4 extra large eggs

7 tablespoons / 100 g butter

1 cup / 100 g cocoa powder

7 tablespoons / 100 ml strong coffee

1 cup / 100 g almond flour

½ cup / 100 g white sugar

⅛ teaspoon / 0.4 g salt

a spoonful or two of brandy

Bring butter and eggs to room temperature before starting.  Assemble one large stainless steel bowl for egg whites, one medium mixing bowl, one small mixing bowl for egg yolks, and one 8 inch (20cm) high sided cake pan.  An electric hand mixer helps immensely.  Wash all equipment, utensils, and bowls in hot soapy water before starting.    Line the bottom of cake pan with parchment paper.  Make coffee and put aside to cool.  Preheat oven 325°F / 160°C.   Measure or weigh out sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder, and butter.

Start by melting butter in double boiler or small pan sitting in a larger pan of gently boiling water.  Stir ground almonds into melted butter and add a pinch of salt.  Then, using the medium mixing bowl, dissolve the cocoa powder in the cooled coffee.  Add 1 – 2 tablespoons brandy as needed ensure the cocoa is completed dissolved.  The mixture should resemble a very thick paste and will form a ball.

Now incorporate the cocoa-coffee mixture into the butter-almond mixture.  Keep stirring until the mixtures are thoroughly incorporated and become very smooth.  Do not let the temperature go above 125°F / 50°C.  Transfer back to medium bowl and set aside to cool.  Separate egg whites from egg yolks.  Using the electric mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar in small mixing bowl until yolks froth up and turn pale yellow.  Fold egg yolk mixture into cooled chocolate-butter-almond mixture.

Finally whip the egg whites into a foam that holds a soft peak but does not look dry.  Remember egg whites whip best at room temperature in a stainless steel bowl.  Use electric mixer with the balloon whip at high speed.  Both over beating and under beating produce lower volumes.  Once the egg whites are whipped, move fast because whites start to soften as soon as you stop beating.  Gently fold whites into chocolate mixture a third at a time using a spatula and a cutting motion.  Fold only until no visible streaks of white remain.  Pour batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake in non-convection oven and bake until the sides are set, the center is slightly soft, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Usually takes somewhere between 35 minutes and 45 minutes.  Let the cake cool completely, remove from pan, and transfer to a plate.  Hold in the refrigerator or freeze for future use.  Bring cake to room temperature and dust with grated orange peel or powdered sugar before serving.

METRICS

As one of my dietitian colleagues shared with me in a moment of candor “The last think I want to know when I order dessert is how many calories are in a chocolate mousse!”  Many people feel this way.  So if you are one of those people don’t want to know, read no farther.

There is another way to look at the situation.  Indulgences are a significant source of calories and knowing the count enables you to manage the impact.  This cake is made with whole, minimally processed ingredients and provides nutritional value as you can see referenced below.  The problem is the calorie density.  No more, no less than any other chocolate cake out there, but still significant.  For smaller portions, divide cake in 10 pieces at 250 calories each.  For larger portions, divide cake in 6 pieces at 410 calories each.  In my experience, most people just want to enjoy, so when I serve this cake I keep the numbers to myself.

 

Per Serving (80g): Calories 310, Fat 22g, Saturated Fat 9g, Sodium 65mg, Carbohydrate 22g, Fiber 5g, Protein 8g.
Excellent source fiber and magnesium (cocoa, almond flour).
Good source protein (eggs, almond flour), vitamin A (butter), vitamin E (almond flour), iron (cocoa).
Cocoa is a natural source of flavonoids. 
See nutrition label per serving for fat and saturated fat because values exceed reference limits.

Clams & Linguine

Fresh, local, and in season depends on where you live and what is accessible.  During the summer, I have easy access to clams because my local greenmarket is on the south shore of Long Island and offers a constant supply of fresh, local fish and shellfish.  All last summer I cooked flounder, bluefish, porgies, tuna, even a swordfish caught off Montauk Point.  And all last year I kept looking at those delicate Long Island little neck clams.  I never bought them because I’m just not used to clams.  Love to eat them and never cooked them.  So this year I decided to do it.  How else can you keep on learning if you don’t try new things?  I pulled out my best reference sources, put together a starting structure, and am ready to share the results.  Steaming little neck clams open is easy once you get the hang of it.  I used a 3 liter pot (actually the bottom of my steamer) as you can see in the picture below.  White wine or dry vermouth can be substituted for all or part of the water needed to steam the clams.  100 grams linguine gripped firmly in the hand measures about ¾ inches or 2 cm in diameter.  You will also need a medium sized sauté pan and a 2 liter saucepan to cook the pasta.  Proportions listed below are for 2 modest servings.

Linguine and Clam Sauce

makes 2 cups

cost $11

serves 2

440 calories per serving

RECIPE

2 dozen little neck clams (about 900g measured raw in shell), scrubbed and de-sanded as required

1 cup water (¼ liter) for steaming

4 robust cloves fresh garlic (25g), peeled and smashed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (30ml)

⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon oregano

3 ½ ounces dry linguine (100g), made with 100% hard durum wheat or semolina flour

½ cup chopped parsley (15g)

Assemble all ingredients before starting.

Bring water to boil in the bottom of a large pot.  When the water is boiling, add the clams.  As the clams open, remove each one carefully to a bowl retaining every drop of the flavorful liquid.   Steaming the clams open takes about 5 minutes.  As soon as the shells are cool, remove clams from shells.  Keep clams in a small bowl and strain the remaining liquid to remove any remaining sand or grit.  Put aside keeping clams and juice separate.  As the clams are steaming, add olive oil to the sauté pan and slowly soften garlic over low heat.  Add crushed red pepper and oregano to garlic oil, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes.  Add reserved clam juice, increase heat, and reduce volume to about half.  Keep sauce warm.

Cook linguine al dente in salted water.  Remove with a pasta fork and transfer to the sauté pan.  Retain cooking water.  Stir in clams and parsley.  If more liquid is required, add some from the pasta cooking water.  Serve immediately.

METRICS

Clams are a significant source of protein as well as many essential vitamins and minerals.  Olive oil is a natural source of oleic acid.

Total fat exceeds “healthy” limits, but please remember to put this disclaimer in the context of the great fat debate.  Saturated fats are within “healthy” range.  Your may be asking where does the saturated fat come from?  It is the olive oil.  Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive also contains a fraction (14%) saturated fatty acid so a couple tablespoons adds up.  Sodium is within the current standard of less than 480mg per serving and 140mg per 100 grams.   Now let’s step back a moment and consider carbohydrate metrics.    My favorite Italian recipe source, Le Reccette Regionali Italiane, lists 100 grams dry pasta per person.    My version reduces that amount by half to 50 grams per person.    My preference is less pasta and more clams.  But that’s the joy of cooking!  It is completely up to you.

References:  Le Riccette Regionali Italiane (La Cucina Italiana, Quart edizione: settembre 1976), Fish without a doubt, Rick Moonen (Houghton Mifflin Company 2008)

 

Pper Serving (255g):  440 Calories, Fat 17g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  240mg, Carbohydrate  45g, Fiber 3g, Protein  25g.
Excellent  Source:  Protein, Vitamin A,  Vitamins B1,  B2, B3, B12, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron. 
Good Source: Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc.  

Strawberries

Being from California, I have had to adjust to New York’s limited growing season.  Strawberry season is short and sweet beginning about mid-June and lasting into July as weather conditions permit.  Fresh local berries are fragile and perishable.  Pictured below are 1 dry quart (liter) of a variety called Honeoye.  Grown upstate New York, transported downstate, and sold at my local GreenMarket, they were held in my refrigerator from late that afternoon to the next day when I took the picture.  Notice how the berries differ in size and color.  It’s normal because that is how nature grew them.  Most local strawberries are sold by the dry quart (liter) and a dry quart of strawberries weighs about  570 grams.

Fresh local strawberries are expensive, perishable, and special.  They are the first fruit of the season and announce good things to come!

Fresh Local Strawberries

yield 4 cups (1 liter)

cost $6.00

calories 170

serves 4

45 calories per serving

RECIPE

Fresh Local Strawberries:   Can something this simple really be called a recipe?

1 dry quart fresh, local strawberries, picked within the last 24 hours

Hold in refrigerator, wash just before serving leaving stems intact.Serve with brown sugar as needed.

Nature is prolific producing lots of berries all at once.  So what is to be done with the berries you can’t eat?  My preferred approach is sugar and brandy.  It is not the only approach, but it is definitely my favorite.  Sugar acts like salt pulling the juices out of the berries which then mixes in with the brandy to form a bright red slightly alcoholic syrup.  Strawberries macerated in sugar and brandy hold well for at least another couple days.

yieldMascerated Strawberries  3 cups (700ml)

cost $8.00

calories 450

serves 6

70 calories per serving

Macerated strawberries:

1 dry quart fresh, local strawberries, washed, stems removed (540 gram)

3 tablespoons brandy

3 tablespoons turbinado sugar

6 tablespoons 0% strained Greek yogurt for garnish

Place washed and stemmed berries in a bowl.  Add sugar and brandy and carefully stir in berries.  Cover and let macerate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  Serve garnished with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt.

METRICS FOR 1 DRY QUART (1 LITER)

Notice the calories.  Adding sugar, brandy, and yogurt nearly doubles the calories per serving.  Compared to a calorie dense real dessert, however, macerated berries are a much better choice.  Now notice the cost.  Fresh, local berries are expensive.  I know most people choose a “real” dessert, but I have always preferred to end a meal with a fruit.  Less calorie dense, sweetness balanced against a mild acidity, and unfortunately a lot more costly!

All berries scores well on what is called the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity.  Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all grouped near the top of the scale keeping good company with almonds and pomegranate.  ORAC is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities in laboratory test tubes and as Wikipedia points out “there exists no physiological proof in vivo that this theory is valid.”  Besides a good ORAC score, fresh strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C.

 

Per Serving fresh (135g):  45 Calories, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat  0g, Sodium  0mg, Carbohydrate  10g, Fiber  3g, Protein  1g.
Per Serving macerated (117g):  70 Calories, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat  0g, Sodium  10mg, Carbohydrate  13g, Fiber  2g, Protein  2g.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Mayonnaise

I love sardine sandwiches.  Always have.  I learned how to make them from my mom.  She used red onion, some mustard, some lettuce, and always a robust whole grain wheat bread.  So I was pleased to see two version of the sandwich honored recently in The Sandwich Issue of SAVEUR Magazine and delighted to fine both versions were provided by Michael Colameco, an engaging and knowledgeable New York City food writer and broadcaster.

The moment was right and the version with the horseradish mayonnaise caught my eye.  A can of slightly smoked Portuguese sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil was sitting in my cupboard ready to go.  Next to the sardines was a jar of imported roasted red peppers from Italy.  With some improvisation in the making of the horseradish cream and a quick switch from lettuce to arugula, I put together my amateur’s version.  But I stayed with the whole wheat bread.  We never used rye bread when I was growing up in California.  And it is heresy to admit this, but I have never really developed a taste for rye despite the great selection that is now available to me living in New York.

My amateur version is detailed below.  For Chef Mike’s version, check out SAVEUR #137 The Sandwich Issue for his Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Cream.

 

makes 2 open faced sandwiches

cost $7.00

calories 660

serves 2

330 calories per serving

RECIPE

2 to 4 pieces thinly sliced red onion (30g)

2 tablespoons (30g) mayonnaise

1 teaspoon (1.6g) horseradish powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

2 large pieces (100g) multi grain or whole grain wheat bread

10  arugula leaves (20g), trimmed and washed

4 ¼ ounce tin sardines (120g), packed in oil and drained

1 piece roasted red pepper (85g) cut into slices

Incorporate the horseradish powder into the mayonnaise about 20 minutes before assembling the sandwich and keep refrigerated.  Assemble the rest of the ingredients.  Toast the bread.  Start by spreading the horseradish sauce on the toasted bread.  Place the arugula leaves and sliced onion on next.  Remove the sardines from the tin, divide in half, and arrange on top of the onion slices.  Now garnish with the slices of roasted red pepper.  Finish with some black pepper and an optional dash of salt.

METRICS

There are many good nutrition based reasons to enjoy this sardine sandwich.  In return for slightly “unhealthy” levels of fat and sodium, you get exceptionally “healthy” levels protein and fiber, an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, and a respectable amount of omega-3 fatty acids.  This one really needs to be put in a manageable context.  When going out to a diner or a deli, comparatively speaking the sardine sandwich is one of the healthiest items on the menu.   When deciding between a tuna sandwich or a sardine sandwich, the sardine sandwich definitely has the edge.

How to determine when the risks out way the benefits continues to be a raging debate.  There is a saying I heard first in the business world but which, I have just discovered, can actually be attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:  The perfect is the enemy of the good.   I am beginning to wish the nutrition experts were better read in Enlightenment philosophy.

 

Per Serving (162g):  Calories 320, Fat 19g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  630mg, Carbohydrate  18g, Fiber  5g, Protein  17g.  
Excellent Source:  protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12.
Good Source:  iron, niacin.

Spinach with Currants & Walnuts

makes 2 cups

cost $6.00

serves 4

150 calories per serving

This complex richly flavored dish is best balanced against a simple braised protein like fish or served on its own as an appetizer.  A robust, loose leaf spinach works best, but sometimes this spinach can be hard to find.  I am lucky enough to have a local grocer who carries the real thing all year round.  And since I live in New York City, that means shipping spinach in from California or Texas when local product is not available.  Alternatives are bagged, pre-washed, or hydroponically grown spinach.  For me the taste and texture of the real thing are worth it, but it is a personal decision.  Waiting for local product would have reduced the cost, but what can I say.  I was impatient!

Spinach grows best in sandy soil and each leaf requires washing several times to remove any little pieces of grit that may have lodged in the crevices.  So spinach whether transported or grown locally can be time consuming.  My first encounter with the combination of spinach, nuts, and fruit was in Claudia Rodin’s wonderful book The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  Her version calls for pine nuts but I use walnuts.  I always have a few walnuts on hand and I prefer the taste.

RECIPE

1 ⅓ pound spinach as purchased fresh and untrimmed (600g)

1 whole shallot (65g) peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (15ml)

¼ teaspoon flake salt

4 tablespoons chopped walnuts (30g), about 6 walnuts as purchased in shell

2  tablespoons currants (30g)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (15ml)

2 teaspoon first cold pressed olive oil (10ml)

Trim stems and roots from the spinach, wash thoroughly, chop into large pieces, and spin dry in a salad spinner.  Remove walnuts from shell and chop.  Refresh currants by covering with hot water and letting them soften for about 10 minutes.  Assemble other ingredients.

Sauté scallions in olive oil using a sauté pan that comes with a cover and is large enough to hold all the spinach.  When the shallots have softened and turned translucent, add balsamic vinegar and let most of it evaporate.  Then add the chopped walnuts, softened currants, and finally the spinach, pressing the spinach down into the pan.  Do not add any additional water.  Cover and leave over low heat until the spinach softens into a mass.  Incorporate the walnuts and currant evenly into the spinach and finish with remaining cold pressed olive oil.  Tastes as good at room temperature as it does served hot.

METRICS

The experts agree that spinach is a healthy food.  A dark green vegetable as per MyPyramid.   A source of essential micro-nutrients as per Nutrition Facts Label.  The experts however do not agree about fat.  Using olive oil in classic proportions will always exceed the austere requirement of 3 grams per serving* required by the FDA to label a preparation “healthy.”  The role of fat in the diet, especially unsaturated fats and oils, is becoming controversial and consensus has not been reached yet.

My friends and family take a liberalized approach to fats and olive oil and devour my spinach faster as I can wash the leaves with comments like “I can eat this all day!”  If good cooking is the art of creating food people love to eat, than smart cooking is using those skills to encourage people to eat healthy food.  So wouldn’t that mean that olive oil is serving a noble purpose?  But there I go again – me and my simplistic mind!

 

Per Serving  (114g):  Calories 150, Fat 11g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 125mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 4g.
Excellent source  vitamin A as beta-carotene, folate, magnesium.
Good source fiber, vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, potassium.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Green Split Pea Soup

October is the month to pull out the soup pot.  Mine is made of bonded stainless steel, holds about 3 quarts (3 liters), and has been on the shelf since spring.  October days in New York are cool, crisp, and can be spectacularly beautiful.  Except when it rains.  And sometimes it rains a lot.  Either way makes good soup weather.  Bean based soups are easy to make but time consuming because beans require soaking time.  Quicker and just as satisfying are lentil and split pea soup.  Today it is going to be green split peas.  October is a good month for roots, bulbs, and tubers and no split pea soup would be complete without carrot, onion, and potato.  Some recipes call for ham hocks, pancetta, or bacon.  These are delicious, but my recipe works with just vegetables.  A freshly chopped garnish at the end, aromatics added during the cooking, and the right amount of salt are my flavoring agents of choice.   Yes, I use salt and I am going to tell you why.  But first the recipe.

THE RECIPE

1 pound (450g) dry split peas, rinsed, drained

2 small or 1 large yellow onion (250g) peeled, chopped

2 medium or 1 really big carrot (170g) peeled, chopped

1 potato (160g) scrubbed, quartered, eyes removed, skin intact

4 cups (1 liter) low sodium chicken stock, brick pack is fine

4 – 6 cups  (1 – 1 ½ liter) additional water

2 teaspoons Kosher style flake salt (7g)

Aromatics – thyme, oregano, garlic (optional)

Garnish – fresh scallion, fresh parsley, freshly ground black pepper

Put split peas into the soup pot, add potato, carrot, onion, stock, and water.  Bring to boil, partially cover, and gently simmer over low heat for about an hour or until the peas are completely soft.   Add salt and aromatics about half way through the cooking process.  Pass the soup through food mill.  Alternatively, blend using an immersion blender or an old fashioned stainless steel egg beater.  Add more water for a thinner soup and adjust seasoning.  Garnish with fresh cilantro, parsley, scallions, and black pepper.

THE METRICS

makes about 12 cups (3 liters)   ●   total cost $5.00   ●   $1.70 per liter

portioning information   ●   150 calories per cup   ●   230 calories per bowl 

On to salt now.   Nothing is new about salt being controversial.  What is different this time around is the substance of debate.  Salt the mineral is tangible, visible, tactile, and real.  Sodium the element is elusive, conceptual, and measureable only by calculation or laboratory analysis.   Leaving aside the legitimate debate over health consequences of too much sodium, the measurement logistics are challenging.      

When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are finally released later on this year, sodium recommendations will probably be set lower than under previous guidelines.  New York City formed a partnership at the beginning of 2010, the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), to guide a voluntary reduction of sodium levels in packaged and restaurant food by 2014.   Meanwhile, the restaurant and food industries continue the search for culinary salvation – a sodium free substitute  for salt.

As a cook, I love salt.  Powerful, robust, an exceptionally effective flavor enhancer, salt does the job.  Because of its strength, salt easily overwhelms other more delicate flavors so I have always used a light hand and treated salt with respect. 

Salt added in the proportions noted above meets current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria for low sodium and falls below the proposed 2014 target set by the NSRI guidelines for soup.  In fact the amount could be increased to just under 2 ¾ teaspoons flaked Kosher style salt and still meet both standards.  Serious cooks know that salting to taste is more a matter of personal preference than a function of software analysis.   Those of us who salt intuitively may need to be more attentive to tracking our use.  As sodium comes under increased scrutiny, our approach to measurement may benefit from analysis.  More to come on salt and sodium …

 

Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving*  (240g):  Calories 140, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat  0g, Trans Fat  0g, Cholesterol  0mg, Sodium  230mg, Carbohydrate  24g, Fiber  8g, Protein  10g.  Vitamin A 40%, Vitamin C 10%, Calcium 2%, Iron 8%.  Excellent Source:  vitamin A as beta-carotene, fiber.  Good Source protein, thiamine, folate.
*Serving sizes are reference amounts defined and regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.