I’ve gotten pretty comfortable improvising meals. Subsequently most of my cooking is done sans a recipe. Also, these days most of my internet browsing is done in a pretty cursory manner, so I don’t usually have a bunch of recipes lined up dying to be made. However, I wanted to share a few recipes that I’ve tried over the last few months and really enjoyed.

Both meals I’m going to share included a carrot soup. This is not as redundant as you might think. The soups were vastly different. See below a list of the only things said soups had in common:

  • Contained s&p, onions, evoo and H2O
  • Made by me
  • Eaten by me

Soup A, served with a vegan butternut squash and almond gratin, was a puréed soup. It was a Bittman recipe, and despite only having two major ingredients (carrots and cumin) and two steps (roasting and puréeing), Soup A  had great depth. I think this speaks volumes about a) roasting and b) cumin. Roasting is so easy, and it brings out the best flavors in vegetables, especially roots and tubers. Also, I’m a big cumin fan. It can overwhelm a dish if not used right, but the temptation to overuse cumin is forgivable given how good it is. This recipe was particularly “minimal” and — I’ll avoid using the word “balanced” lest I come off sounding like my goal in life is to be “centered”**  — even.”

Anyway, I go to Bittman for recipes because he knows how to maximize and match the flavors of the few ingredients he chooses, and his recipes aren’t fussy. [End of solicitation.]

The gratin was absolutely delicious. I made a few changes, all of which I fully endorse. I doubled the paprika, ground mustard seed and turmeric. This is a pretty standard thing for me to do. I intermingled slices of onion (raw) with the slices of boiled squash pre-smothering-with-sauce. And I used more almond meal to top the gratin off. [Note: You might think that the gratin is not an appropriate dish for spring or summer, but it’s not heavy because it’s vegan, and the spices don’t play into the squash’s role as an autumn-y vegetable — think all spice, cloves, nutmeg.]

“the Spread”

Soup B was a light, lively Spring soup. The turmeric made the broth a little bit buttery and golden. The hot soup was poured over raw baby spinach. As the spinach wilted I added chopped dill and juice from a large lemon wedge. Be generous with the dill.

Soup B

Soup B was served with pasta topped with homemade vegetable marinara and seitan sausages. To make the sausages you form dough from vital wheat gluten. If you’ve made seitan before, you know the dough doesn’t require kneading. Then you split the dough into four equal parts, stretch each one out over a square of aluminum foil and twist it up like a Tootsie Roll. Finally you plop the rolls into a hot steamer, and 40 minutes later they’re done.

Damn good seitan.

-m

[**because that would be disingenuous]

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I’m not one of those people with an aversion to tomato sauce on pizza. I grew up with these kids who would not eat tomato sauce on pizza. I always thought it was absurd. The vast majority of the pizzas I both eat and make are smothered in tomato sauce. However, after reading Mark Bittman’s latest piece in the Times on the slowly improving conditions of tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, I haven’t wanted to go near the things (tomatoes).

Tonight, in part because I’m avoiding tomatoes and in part because I had a bounty of other vegetables from the local farmers’ market on hand, I improvised a basil chimichurri-like sauce for a pizza. Instead of fleshing out how to make a pizza from scratch, (which you should know how to do!) I’m going to give you the rough recipe for this tasty sauce.

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh basil leaves

2 cloves of garlic (more if you’re into that kinda thing)

1/4 tsp of smoked paprika (this is the ingredient which ‘makes’ the sauce)

some amount** of olive oil

1 tbsp of tomato paste (optional)

1 whole green leaf of scallion

1 generous pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Blend it all up.  It’ll look kind of frothy when it’s done. A food processor would likely be better suited for this job.  Sadly, I only have a blender.
  2. Spread it all over your crust.

**Add just enough olive oil so that it’s the consistency of pesto–I’m guessing a 1/4 c–then add a little more. You’ll want it easily spreadable.

My toppings included a little mozzarella and grilled onions, squash, and portabellos.

The sauce turns a lovely caramelized brown color as it bakes.

quarter-eaten pizza

here my pizza looks like an abstract expressionist painting--which painter?

Note: My intuition is that this sauce works best with hearty vegetables like mushrooms, eggplant, and spinach but certainly should be accompanied by things like sauteed or grilled leeks, squash, and peppers of all varieties. I am reluctant to say this would be good with meat. Those of you that eat it should make this sauce, and let me know.