I have a real passion for food literature, and recently there have been an abundance of very good books about food. My obsession started with Michael Pollan's "The omnivore's dilemma", and continued on to his other books, as well as whatever else I can get my hands on. (recommendations anybody?) In fact, I've gotten to the point where the cooking section of my book collection rivals the science, and politics sections. In addition to being a pain in the ass to pack up whenever I move, these books have a real impact on what I cook.
The most positive impact has probably come from the aformentioned Omnivore's dilemma, an excellent book even if you're not that in to cooking. Everybody eats, and I think that everyone should become more aware of what is going on behind the scenes of big agriculture, and big grocery. The book is a bit of a slow burn, with the first section dealing very excluslivly with corn and soy, the two big crops of this country, but it quickly ties it back in to our whole food system. It's quite eye opening to know just how much corn and soy product go into the food that you eat every day. Michael Pollan boils the book down to the slogan "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". During the summer I tried to follow these simple instructions, and for a time I suceeded. An abundance of fresh ingredients in the summer makes this a lot easier than in the winter, when much of the fresh produce in the stores is of lower quality, or is shipped from very far away. Winter makes most of us crave warm, starchy comfort food as well, making it even harder.
I recently picked up Mark Bittman's new book "Food Matters - A guide to conscious eating", and I think it's convinced me to give the idea another go. His philosophy is the same basic one as Pollan's, without the catchprase. Basically it's an elmination of most of the processed foods, refined sugars and starches in your day to day diet. Now I've never been big on the processed food anyway, but I'm an absolute fiend for pasta and bread, especially considering I make so much of it myself. Now this isn't a "diet", or any sort of deprivation based food plan, just a gradual shift to making plants the main focus of more dishes. One of my newest loves is roasting vegetables; roasting a piece of broccoli or a parsnip or other hearty vegetable at a high heat will caramalize the exterior and give it a flavor and texture that you will never get with the more traditional preparation methods of steaming or (ick) boiling vegetables.
Here are two roasted vegetables which I used as the main component of the dish.
- 1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
- Take 1-2 lbs of broccoli and cut into large florets. Make sure broccoli is dry or it won't roast correctly. I didn't even wash mine because I figured the heat would kill anything bad.
- Toss broccoli with a few tbs olive oil, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and chopped garlic.
- Place broccoli on lined cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until it starts to crisp on the outside. I shook the pan once or twice to flip the florets, but I'm not sure it's strictly necessary. Broccoli will crisp and darken.
- When broccoli is done, sprinkle a little more olive oil, the zest of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, and the juice of 1 lemon over the broccoli. You can also add roasted pine nuts as pictured above. This last step isn't strictly necessary, I made this twice, the 2nd time without the cheese or lemon and it was still very good, but the lemon does give it a nice flavor.
- Preheat oven to 425 F.
- In a bowl toss sprouts with several tablespoons of olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper. Mix to coat the exteriors of the sprouts.
- Lay out sprouts on a cookie sheet.
- Roast for 35-40 minutes, occasionally shaking cookie sheet to turn over sprouts. I had mine in for about 40 and they were a little overdone. Exteriors should look brown and crunchy, almost burnt, and the interiors should be hot and steamy, but not mushy. Pull one out at 35 minutes and cut into it if you're not sure.
Now I've always loved broccoli, but this was unlike any broccoli I've ever had.. crispy, salty, and very delicious it can easily be the main event in a dish. I've never really liked sprouts, but roasting them gives them a wonderful buttery, crispy outer layer, and a creamy interior (the interior of the sprout steams using its own liquid). I served this along side some sauteed cumin and paprika shrimp for a perfect light meal.