Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

IMG_1627Back in October, I was lucky enough to be a guest instructor at South End Kitchen in Burlington, VT, the joint restaurant and cooking school run by my cousin chef Sarah Langan. Recreational classes have a big focus on chocolate, as South End is run in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. The theme of our class was all things Mediterrean and focused on authentic ingredients like za’atar, sumac, sesame and orange blossom water with local Vermont dairy, eggs and gorgeous produce. Here’s what we made:

  • Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta
  • Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate
  • Orange Blossom Yogurt with Sesame and Citrus
  • Apple Bitters and Prosecco  – we had to have a cocktail, of course!

Thank you again to the entire South End team for the opportunity! I will definitely be back to Burlington soon.

Here’s the recipe for the toast – perfect for brunch or cut into pieces as an appetizer.

Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

Serves about 8

  • 1 small winter squash, such as kabocha or delicata, cut into 1” pieces*
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 8 or more thick slices country or sourdough bread (or your favorite artisan bread)
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar*
  • Handful chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a few tablespoons of oil, a big pinch of salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes until soft and caramelized.

While squash is roasting, caramelize onions. Heat a few more tablespoons of oil in a medium saute pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until dark and jammy, about 30 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if onions dry out. Add vinegar and syrup and cook about 10 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash and onion mixture and smash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. You want some texture here, not a completely smooth mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Toast bread in a toaster or better yet, drizzled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and toasted on a sheet tray @ 375F until golden brown. Spread squash mixture onto toast and sprinkle with feta, za’atar and more chile flakes. Finish with fresh mint.

*No need to peel kabocha or delicata (really). If using butternut, make sure to peel.

*Za’atar is a an ancient Mediterranean spice blend typically made with thyme or oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sometimes cumin. Sumac is a dark red spice that has a tart lemony zing. Za’atar is delicious on grilled or roasted meats and fish, hummus and even roasted sweet potatoes. Find it online, in specialty Mediterranean shops or Whole Foods. Or, makeyour own using this recipe from 101 Cookbook 

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Zucchini Pasta Carbonara

Back in September, I shot some cooking videos for Sur La Table destined for Instagram and Facebook. These short snippets were created to teach and inspire…fast! It was fun to film what I do everyday – I think some of my family and friends got a better understanding of my day-to-day. Over the summer our whole staff (practically) had become enamored with spiralizing. If you don’t know, spiralizers are gadgets that turn vegetables and some fruits into swirly, curly pasta-like strands. They’ve risen to popularity thanks to blogs like Inspiralized and the recent interest in plant-based diets. They’re also really fun to eat. Over the summer I bought the Gefu hand-held spiralizer. I loved playing around with spiralizing all my CSA veggies, especially zucchini. I found myself eating way more vegetables and creating all sorts of new recipes.

One of my favorite pasta dishes is carbonara. Originating in Rome, it’s typically made by combining pancetta, eggs, TONS of Parmesan and spaghetti or linguine. It’s like adult mac-and-cheese. I kept the same flavor profile but switched out the pasta for zucchini noodles. It comes together faster than the traditional version (1 pan!) and is a bit lighter – the perfect addition to a multi-course Italian meal.

If you’re having trouble viewing the video, hop on over to the SLT Facebook page.

Zucchini Pasta Carbonara

Serves 2

  • 2 strips thick cut bacon or pancetta, cut into lardons
  • 2 medium zucchini, spiralized on the thicker spaghetti setting
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • Minced parsley, for garnish

In a large skillet, render bacon over medium heat. Drain out most of the fat.

Add the spiralized zucchini and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks, cheese, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Turn skillet off. Immediately add the egg mixture while stirring vigorously to gently cook the egg into a smooth sauce. If the mixture looks dry, add a bit of chicken stock or water to loosen.

Serve garnished with parsley and more grated Parmesan.

How to Make Insta-Worthy Avocado Toast

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Last year at Eat Retreat, I found myself in a car, on my way to a vineyard, talking about toast. Yes, as in, toasted bread. The conversation turned to the popularity of cupcakes, doughnuts and most recently, the cronut. We all agreed there was room for a new trend in town. Thanks to bakeries like The Mill in SF and cafes such as Sqirl in LA, there is a legitimate artisan bread movement going on. And the best way to enjoy bread? Toasted, with lots of toppings. My pal Trisha has a lot to say about it here. Whether is marion berry jam (Portlandia, anyone?) or cultured butter and flaky sea salt, toast is getting a major upgrade. My favorite way to enjoy it? With avocado, of course. While there’s nothing wrong with smashing a ripe avocado on toast, there’s something so right about taking it to the next level.

And here we go.

Start by toasting your bread. What kind of bread? The ultimate (in my book) is thick-cut sourdough. Something with a crisp crust and chewy middle. Try and cut it yourself, if you can. I also love a super-thin Danish rye. I don’t have a toaster so I use my broiler and give the bread a flip halfway through. You want a golden, crisp edge. Give it time. While the bread toasts, ready your avocado. You want to make sure the avocado is green under it’s stem. Go ahead, give it a peak when you’re at the store. When ripe, the avo will be pretty soft, like a ripe peach. Cut it like this. Using a fork, scoop about half the avo onto the toast, using the fork tines to spread and smash. It’s all about the fork-smash. At this point, get creative. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt is a must. Give it some heat with fresh cracked pepper, Aleppo pepper, Szechuan pepper, whatever you like most. Hot sauce (I like chipotle Cholula) or sriracha is also delicious. Bonus points for out-of-the box toppings like black sesame seeds, wasabi powder, feta, smoked salmon, toasted sunflower seeds, chia, dried cranberries or hemp. A light sprinkle of soft herbs, baby arugula or micro greens ups the ante (and nutrition). A squeeze of lemon is never out of place. For the ultimate, put an egg on it. And don’t forget to take a picture. #avocadotoast

Game-changing combos:

  • Avo + dark rye + hot smoked salmon + dill + chives + lemon
  • Avo + sourdough + heirloom tomato (when in season, of course) + bacon + scallion
  • Avo + toasted pita + dukkah + feta
  • Avo + tamari rice cake + thin sliced cucumber + sriracha + Togarashi seasoning

Winter Squash, Date and Lemon Compote

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The revamped NY Times Cooking site recently had a piece called “Cook Like a Californian, Wherever You Live”. In the depths of this New York winter, I am up for the challenge. My warm-weather CSA haul is a distant memory. My trips to the farmer’s market are fewer these days. And the sun? It shows up when it wants. What’s a seasonal cook to do?

Each January, Bon Appetit releases an online Food Lover’s Cleanse. While I’ve never followed the plan, there are always a few recipes that catch my eye. This squash, date and lemon compote sounded like the perfect Cali-meets-NY mash up. Sweet Medjool dates, earthy squash and bright, tangy sweet Meyer lemon were far more than the sum of their parts. BA suggests stirring a dollop into your hot morning oatmeal (or barley bowl, if you’re following their plan). I’ve been pairing it with plain Greek yogurt and spread on dark rye with thick labneh and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. It almost (almost) makes me forget I’m not in cooking in California.

Winter Squash, Date and Lemon Compote

from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • ½ winter squash, such as butternut or Kabocha, peeled, cut into ½” pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 8 large Medjool dates, pitted, chopped
  • Juice from 2 lemons (try Meyer lemons for a twist)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (Meyer or regular)

Directions:

In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, combine squash, raisins, dates, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, cloves, salt, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, 8–10 minutes. Add more water if mixture starts to stick. Uncover about 10 minutes more until squash is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves. Stir in lemon zest. May be enjoyed warm or cold.

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.