Roasted Garlic Romesco | Cooking With Bells On

Roasted Garlic Romesco (+ What’s Your Passion?)

I’ve been thinking lately about the defining factor that separates a hobby from a passion or calling. A lot of us have hobbies. I read, enjoy exploring new coffee shops, and sometimes run when the weather is nice – those are my hobbies. But sometimes I stray from those activities, and when I do I don’t feel terrible about it. I’ll toss aside my New Yorker to binge watch the new season of Orange Is The New Black, or settle on becoming a regular at my favorite neighborhood coffee spot. From time to time I’ll give up on running altogether, satisfying myself with excuses about the heat until I can’t stand the idea of my own laziness anymore and finally lace up my sneakers once again.

Brian, on the other hand, never gives up on running. He goes out for 5 mile race-pace runs in 95 degree weather, and pushes through group interval training at 7:30 PM on a Tuesday. Brian’s marathon training waits for no snowstorm, and his pair of sore calves merely indicates that he should run slower rather than skip the run. For him, there is no choice but to run, because running is his passion.

For me, I can’t imagine a life without cooking. Cooking is my creative outlet and my meditative respite. Vacations make me anxious because they mean constantly eating out. If I go too long without cooking, I start to feel strangely bottled up, restrained from having expressed myself in my preferred form.

The consequence of my passion is that I sometimes end up cooking even when I don’t feel like it. I think its important for anyone who cooks somewhat regularly to have a “back pocket” meal, something simple that requires next to no effort and still manages to impress when made. At my place, that meal is a seared piece of red meat served alongside some sautéed vegetables from our CSA. The meat itself takes just a few minutes to cook, and now that we’ve perfected our technique (salt heavily, start on the blazing-hot cast-iron griddle, finish with butter on the second side) we can almost make this incredibly satisfying meal on autopilot – perfect for nights when I feel like expending as little effort as possible.

Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with condiments (things like my Super Salsa Verde) that can help make simple meals like these even more special. Lately I’ve been taken with a particular sauce of Iberian origin known as romesco. I first got on a kick with this fiery red sauce when I came across a recipe from one of my favorite chefs, Seamus Mullen. Mullen’s version was pretty classic, opting not to mess with the already perfect combination of pungent peppers, sweet tomatoes, creamy-crunchy nuts, and toasty North African spices.

Taken though I was with this original recipe, I couldn’t help but tweak it. Something about it wasn’t registering as complete on my palate, and I took up a weeks long challenge to absolutely nail the sauce. My experiments ranged from changing ingredient ratios (fewer nuts? more pepper?) to toying with cooking methods (my attempt to char the onions first only muddied the flavor). Eventually I found what I was looking for in the form of roasted garlic. Roasting garlic in the oven can completely change the vegetable’s character, bringing out a sweetness and deep umami flavor. I knew with my first taste of this roasted-garlic iteration that I had a winner on my hands.

Through these trials over the last few weeks we’ve consistently had some version of this romesco in the fridge, and trust me when I say that it has not gone to waste. Yes, it’s been served alongside a handsome piece of weeknight steak, as I originally intended it, but it has also graced the plates of weekend scrambled eggs and fish cooked en papillote. I even used the sauce as a piquant base for steamed mussels one night. Whip up a batch and see what I mean. If anything, it will be there to rescue your less-than-exciting dinner on nights you just don’t feel like cooking.

Roasted Garlic Romesco

Makes 2 Cups

Adapted from Seamus Mullen’s recipe for Tasting Table

Roasted Garlic Romesco | Cooking With Bells On

There are a few ways to make this recipe simpler: buy canned whole peeled tomatoes and use skinned almonds and hazelnuts if you can find them (they will be beige, without brown skins). I probably would not recommend buying marinated roasted red peppers in a jar (I find the oil they come in to be pretty gross), but if you want try it and let me know how that works out!

I would recommend making sure each ingredient is prepped before you get busy with the food processor. You can char the peppers under the broiler while roasting the garlic and toasting the nuts below, while cooking down the tomatoes on the stove at the same time. 

Ingredients:

2-3 cloves garlic, unpeeled

3 tbsp almonds

3 tbsp hazelnuts

1/4 cup extra-vrigin olive oil

3 plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and seeded

1 tbsp sherry vinegar (substitute apple cider vinegar)

2 tsp aleppo pepper or red chili flakes

1 tsp pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika) or 1 tsp paprika + pinch chile powder

5 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded

Salt, to taste

Roast the garlic and toast the nuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wrap the unpeeled garlic cloves in two layers of foil and toss them in the back of the oven to roast for about 40 minutes. The kitchen should start to be fragrant of sweet roasted garlic by the time they are done, but check early to make sure they aren’t burning. While the garlic is roasting, spread the almonds and hazelnuts out on a baking sheet and pop those in to toast for 5-10 minute, stirring occassionally. After removing the nuts from the oven, skin them by rubbing the warm nuts around between two kitchen towels. (You don’t have to be obsessive, but try to get at least 3/4 of the skin off the nuts.)

Cook the tomatoes: In a small or medium saucepan, combine the olive oil and blanched-peeled-seeded tomatoes over medium heat. Stew for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are completely tender. Season with salt so that they taste bright and tomato-y.

Puree: In a food processor, combine the roasted garlic (squeeze the flesh out and discard the papery skin) with the toasted nuts, vinegar, aleppo pepper, and pimenton. Pulse until nuts are ground to small pieces. Add the tomatoes and roasted red peppers and puree to your preferred consistency – I like mine a little bit chunky still.

Serve: Eat with everything. Pretend you’re Spanish and use it as a dip for charred leeks, or store in the fridge for a week and serve over steak, fish, or eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

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Halibut with Antipasta | Cooking with Bells On

Halibut with Antipasta (My Kind of Hassle-Free Meal)

I know we’re still half a month shy of the solstice, but I’m going to go ahead and call it summer. It sure feels like summer here in New York, at least. We’ve had a handful of 80-plus degree days which, despite my Southern upbringing, have taken me by uncomfortable surprise. I ought to be a pro when it comes to dealing with the heat, but damn if it isn’t hard to make me swap my long-sleeves for tank tops. (What can I say, I like to be cozy.) The one thing that I do embrace fully about summer is the unending sunshine. There’s something incredibly freeing about realizing that, yeah, I still have some of the day left at the end of the day! The gift of summer provides hours of sunlit recreation to use to your discretion.

You had better believe me when I say I plan to use those hours. Just this last weekend I rediscovered dusk. Remember dusk? That magical hour when the sun takes its time setting and casts everyone in a shimmering vital glow? Well, I found it in Riverside Park this Memorial Day, and with it found that quintessential summertime feeling in me of never wanting this day to end. This summer I’ll cherish dusk every day from now until October.

I’ll also be using the lengthened afternoon hours to kick my running up a notch. After having too many disappointing runs in a row (and subsequently finding myself so fed up I skipped over a week of sneaker-time), I decided I needed a boost to get my fitness level where I want it to be. Enter New York Road Runners training classes. Twice a week now I’m spending my evenings with the NYRR coaches up in Central Park, working on pacing, hill work, and interval training.

The tricky part of all this sunset-appreciation is figuring out how to fit in time to prepare dinner once the evening fun has come and gone. Delivery is an option, of course, but as I mentioned previously, it’s an option we’re trying to avoid. Leftovers are fair game, so some nights I deliberately cook more than is needed, leaving another couple servings for the following day. The best choice of all is a quick, delicious meal that feels thoughtfully prepared but has only taken a bare minimum of effort on my part to get it on the table.

This recipe is the ace up my sleeve for a meal that fits the bill for that kind of fast but real dinner. Its clever shortcut – utilizing a good antipasta bar – and sealed-up preparation make it applicable to all sorts of cooks: those with an aversion to chopping, or who are making dinner for one, or who want to prep the dish early in the day. Endlessly flexible, this dish works with all sorts of flaky fish – from halibut to sea bass to salmon – and is a great way to use up little bits of vegetables or herbs lurking in the refrigerator. Oh, and in case I had you believing that the simplicity of this dish implies any sort of unspecialness, I present you with this video. Despite its simplicity, there’s a sort of grandeur to the presentation here that makes the dish actually very special. I recommend serving the fish in its packet and unwrapping it at the table so that you can enjoy the steam and its beautiful aroma as it escapes from the bag. Personally, I think evenings when you are frazzled and hurried are when you need a special dinner most of all.

Halibut with Antipasta en Papillote

Serves 1 or more

“En papillote” is a French technique for steaming fish in a parchment bag in the oven. You can prep this fish up to sealing the bag in advance and store it (wrapped in plastic) in the coldest part of your refrigerator before serving.

Ingredients (per person):

4-6 oz halibut

salt and red chile flake

1/4 cup mixed antipasta (marinated artichokes, roasted red peppers, olives, marinated gigante beans, etc)

2 thin lemon slices

parsley or cilantro leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Prepare your fish in its “bag”: Tear off a sheet of parchment paper at least 16″ long and fold it in half so that the short edges meet. (You can substitute tin foil for the parchment.) Place the fish near the fold on one half and season it with salt and pepper. Arrange the antipasta around the fish, halving large pieces if desired. Place lemon slices over the fish. Fold the parchment paper over the fish and crimp the two halves of paper together with a series of folds, beginning on one side and layering the folds around to the other. Tuck the last fold under the weight of the fish to keep the bag closed.

Bake: Place the fish in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the fish and peek inside the parchment (careful of hot steam) to check for doneness. The fish should be opaque all the way through and still moist. Serve.

Smoky Lentil Soup | Cooking With Bells On

Smoky Lentil Soup

Given the name of my website, I hope the fact that I love cooking is self-evident. I love that name I came up with, Cooking with Bells On. I love the exuberance and integrity that it implies, as well as the allusions that the distinctly British phrase draws to my heritage. Most of all, I love that the title emphasizes the act of cooking, rather than the food I cook, as the process is for me just as important as the product it bears forth.

What the moniker doesn’t covey is that my love for cooking reaches out past my own kitchen. Sure, the photos I post here are, for the time being, shot in my own apartment, and the ingredients are prepared by my own hands. But what really gets me excited isn’t my own cooking that I document here – it’s the cooking that I might enable you to do on your own. Every time I hear that one of you has learned a new technique through one of my recipes, or simplified your cooking using one of my kitchen hacks, I get a little thrill.

Selfishly, I want to keep having those thrilling moments of shared kitchen success, and so whenever possible I try and ask my friends and family for blog post ideas that would be helpful to them. To make this easier for all the rest of you, I’ve built a suggestion box into the website. Look up to the top of your page – there it is, hanging up over the title banner! Of course, you can continue to bounce ideas off of me on Facebook or Twitter, but now you also have the option of submitting ideas or questions to me directly on this website.

This post came from a conversation with my amazing friend Sarah, who was thinking about making lentil soup for dinner with a friend. Upon her suggestion, I was instantly reminded of the lentil soup I had made a few weeks ago. When I made that last batch, I was inspired by Southwestern flavors – flavors that remind me of home – and so I used smoky bacon, earthy charred poblanos, and toasty ground cumin. Feel free to incorporate your own inspiration into this recipe, which is a wonderful canvas to explore different flavor profiles. Substitute celery for the poblanos and add thyme and tomatoes for a Mediterranean take, or add some chipotles in adobo for a spicier flavor.

Tweet: I can't wait to try the Smoky Lentil Soup on #cookingwithbellson! via @kemayell  http://ctt.ec/VD879+Tweet: I can’t wait to try the Smoky Lentil Soup on #cookingwithbellson! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/VD879+

Smoky Lentil Soup

Serves 6

This recipe makes a lot of soup, as I believe all soup recipes should. Making a giant pot of soup that you can enjoy over the course of several days makes dinner so much easier for the nights that follow. At home, I like to vary the garnishes night by night. We might have avocado and salsa over the soup one night, yogurt and cilantro the next, and eggs (poached in the soup) the last.

You could make this recipe vegan by skipping the bacon (substitute 2 tsp coconut or olive oil to cook the vegetables in) and using a good quality vegetable stock.

Ingredients:

2 poblano peppers

4 strips bacon, cut into 1/4″-1/2″ peices

2 large carrots, peeled, 1/4″ dice

1 large onion, 1/4″ dice

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground)

3 cups lentils, preferably French green lentils (de Puy)

2 bay leaves

1 quart chicken stock + 2 cups water

1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar of choice):

olive oil, for garnish

minced cilantro, for garnish

Char the poblanos: Turn the gas flame on your stove up to high heat. Using tongs, place one poblano pepper over the flames and allow to char. Rotate as each side blackens until the entire pepper has charred, about 5 minutes. Remove to a tinfoil-lined baking sheet and wrap the pepper in the foil to steam. Repeat with second pepper. Rinse the charred peppers under water to remove the blackened skin. Dice the peppers to approximately the same size as the carrots and onions (discarding seeds and stem).

Render the bacon: Heat a large dutch oven or pot over high heat. Add the bacon and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and reserve for garnish.

Sweat the vegetables: Turn the heat down to medium-high and add the diced carrots, onion, and poblano. Season liberally with salt and pepper, and add the cumin. Sweat* the vegetables until they begin to soften (3-5 minutes), then add the lentils, bay leaves, chicken stock, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through but not mushy.

Blend the lentils: Using a stick blender, blend the lentils for about 30 seconds. Most of the lentils will be left intact, but the ones that have been blended will thicken the soup and give it body. Alternatively, process 1/3 of the cooked lentils in a conventional blender or food processor until smooth, then return to the pot.

Finish the soup: Add the vinegar at the end of the cooking process, then taste and reseason if necessary (I added more salt at the end). Serve the soup and garnish with olive oil, cilantro, and the reserved bacon.

*To sweat vegetables is essentially to sauté them without allowing them to take on any color. It is important that the vegetables be well salted, so that they shed enough water to avoid caramelization. If you find that your vegetables are beginning to color more than you would like, put a lid on the pot and let them steam a bit.