I know what you're thinking...this isn't a very exciting way to kick off 2012. A mash-up of cauliflower, tomatoes + chickpeas served over rice...what's the big deal? The deal is, I have consumed this dish forty-two times in the last week, or close to it, and am still not tired of it. This mildly spicy recipe is fast, healthy, cheap, and makes a TON of leftovers. I've wanted to share it with you for, oh, nearly 3 years now, but have never been able to get a decent photograph to share. Finally, I've accomplished a task that has been on my list for far to long. And THAT, my friends, is an excellent way to kick off the new year.
We usually have the canned ingredients in our pantry, and pick up a cauliflower every few weeks when I know we're going to have some busy nights on the calendar. At this time of year when we're all working towards goals of healthy habits and more quality time with our families, recipes like this one are so valuable. The stew isn't too spicy, but if you're not a fan of heat I would use regular canned tomatoes rather than those laced with green chiles. We like to serve the stew over brown rice.
Winter and I have had a rocky go of it this year. We’ve waffled back and forth in a love / hate relationship that rivals the one I’ve currently got going on with my gym membership. On one hand, I’ve loved the quiet beauty a good snowstorm lays gently across my world and the resulting desire to cozy up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a season of Entourage. On the other, I am tired of feeling stuck indoors, the outside ice, mud and frigid air enough to keep me hibernating under a quilt with the lights turned low. The result has been a bit too much cozying, and my motivation to cook, write, or log miles on the treadmill seems to be hiding in the same dark place as the sun. I am lost in the monotony of February, floating through scenes of white and gray, desperately seeking a reprieve in the form of a warm day, tiny chartreuse buds on the backyard Maple tree, fresh produce from local farmers that isn’t squash or cabbage.
There have been some brighter moments lately, a few shrieks of excitement released from my heart after witnessing the sun pierce a hazy layer of clouds, revealing a small patch of brilliant blue sky. I was thrilled to notice last week that two copper-toned birds have chosen to make a nest in the cold, drab ally outside my office window, and just this morning heard a woman excitedly discussing the yellow crocuses popping out from under a blanket of snow in her yard. All are sure signs of Spring’s impending arrival and moments I am desperate to capture permanently. Should snow fall again in the coming weeks I’d like to have a photograph stashed away in my back pocket to remind me that the end is near, that productivity will return with a sunshine-filled sky and baby birds chirping on the sill.
In the meantime, the meals I am managing to cook seem to have several similar qualities. They are simple. They are hearty and warm and filling. They incorporate some ingredient that brightens the dish at multiple levels; to the eyes, to the nose, to the tongue. Whether it be golden citrus tossed in a salmon salad, vibrant leeks bobbing amongst emerald isles of kale, the scent of fresh lime wafting from my oven, each recipe is very carefully chosen to lift our spirits and carry us through these last (25!) days of Winter.
This salad is no exception to my new rules. Hearty grains are joined by warm, earth-scented mushrooms to create a salad base as warm and satisfying as a family quilt enveloping shivering shoulders. Jewel-toned grape tomatoes and bright flecks of fresh parsley are the harbingers of this dish, reminders that Spring, followed closely by Summer, will be joining us soon. Served over a bed of spicy arugula and layered with shavings of Pecorino Toscano, this salad makes for a lovely, filling, early dinner, and is best enjoyed beside a window in the rays of Winter's setting sun.
Warm Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms
4 oz Pecorino Toscano, feta or goat cheese, diced or crumbled (I used a hard pecorino, shaved over the top of the salad)
Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 425*.
Toss the mushrooms, tomatoes, shallots and 2 tbsp of the oil together on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast the veggies, stirring once, until the mushrooms and shallots are browned nicely, about 25 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, bring water, barley and pinch of salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender but still a bit chewy, about 30 minutes. Drain the barley well in a strainer and transfer to a large bowl.
Toss the barley with the remaining 3 tbsp oil until coated evenly. Add the roasted vegetables and parsley and toss to combine. Cool slightly and then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the arugula or spinach among four large plates. Spoon warm barley salad over each plate, sprinkle with cheese, and serve.
Store barley salad separately from arugula or spinach and reheat for lunch the next day, if desired.
As I sat on our deck steps last night listening to the cicadas and sipping a glass of vino verde while Brian threw toys for the dogs, their feet tearing through our bed of mint and releasing the most intoxicating smell into the air, I realized that the outside temperature was incredibly comfortable. A lovely 68 degrees, with the lightest breeze to whisk the hair out of your face and send goosebumps dancing up your arms, made for the perfect deck-sitting evening. I thought to myself “Fall...she’s almost here”, before picking myself up and moving inside because Summer’s mosquitos haven’t yet received the memo.
September. The first month of Autumn...how is it already upon us? The end of Summer is quite visible in the shriveling of our tomato plants, the slumber of our blackberries and the fully ripe figs on the public trees just down the street (of which I have enjoyed many...). I must admit, I’ve been feeling the fingers of Fall moving in to pull me through the last few weeks of Summer for awhile now and have not been unhappy about it. For Fall, with her crisp air, golden light, crunchy leaves under feet and produce fit for warm and hearty meals, is absolutely my favorite season.
That’s not to say that I won’t miss Summer. I’ll miss our garden, and bemoan the fact that I didn’t have enough forethought to plant winter squash, sweet potatoes or another round of beets. I’ll miss the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that literally burst open on the vine because they are so full of juice, and the sweet taste of a peach pulled from a tree with my very own hands. I’ll miss my effervescent white wines and fresh berry tarts topped with vanilla ice cream, and simple green salads for dinner paired with a loaf of french bread. And of course there’s the kayaking, the trips to the reservoir with the dogs and the extended daylight that allows for late evening walks and runs with girlfriends.
We’ve done our best to preserve as much of Summer’s bounty as possible. We had bigger plans for the 2009 harvest, but I’m proud that we saved so much more than last year and feel certain that we’ll do even better in 2010. We’ve made over 200 ounces of jam, in flavors ranging from strawberry rhubarb to peach lime. I’ve frozen 10 quart-bags full of blackberries and the same number full of peach slices. I’ve baked and frozen zucchini muffins and raspberry muffins to grab on the go on future rushed Autumn mornings. And I’ve slow-roasted tomatoes, 8 pounds of them, to enjoy over pasta and on sandwiches this winter when I need a little reminder of warmer days.
Slow-roasting tomatoes concentrates their flavor into single bites that seem to explode in your mouth. They will instantly transform a simple parmesan-laced pasta or crusty loaf of bread spread with St. Andres or another triple cream cheese into the most satisfying meal. That is, if you can keep your husband and other fingers away from the pan as the tomatoes cool...
If possible, I encourage you all to freeze or can as much local produce as you can this summer. I wish I'd pushed the idea earlier on, and promise that next year I'll have more comprehensive guides to canning and freezing. As I've mentioned, Brian and I try to eat as locally and seasonally as possible. Unfortunately, living in Virginia, there comes a time every winter when it is nearly impossible to get any fresh local produce. This year we decided to extend out local eating season as long as possible by preserving as much as we could. We had big plans for canned whole vegetables and fruits, salsas and tomato sauces (of which Brian did make one freezer batch). We weren't as productive as we had hoped, although the season isn't quite over yet. So, get to your local farmer's market this weekend and pick up the last of the tomatoes, peaches, berries, okra etc, and have a little canning or freezing party in your kitchen. Come winter, you'll be so happy you did.
Slow-Roasted Tomatoesrecipe from Molly Wizenburg's A Homemade Life, pg. 192
3-1/2 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes, halved (about 20 tomatoes)
1 tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 200*F.
Wash and dry tomatoes, and cut them in half length-wise. Place in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Toss gently to coat.
Arrange them on a baking sheet cut-side up, and sprinkle each with a pinch of salt and a pinch of coriander for every 4-6 tomatoes.
Bake until the tomatoes crinkle at the edges and shrink to about half their original size, 4 to 6 hours.
Cool to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week or the freezer for a few months.
**I also found this slow-roasted tomato recipe that I wanted to try, but we ran out of tomatoes in the garden too soon. I may pick some up at the market this weekend to give it a try.
The winners of the last two Saucy Mama Lime Chipotle Marinade (picked by random.org) are:
#31 Melissa, of Melissa's Journey
Congratulations Ladies! I know you'll love the sauce. Please send me an email at bellaeats[at]gmail[dot]com with your full name and address.
All other winners, of Saucy Mama marinade and jam, your treats are going out this week! I promise!
Other Bella Terra posts this season: