About Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens

Over the five years that I’ve written the Islands’ Weekly Green Living column about Lopez Island farms and farmers, I’ve occasionally used my kitchen garden as a topic. The pleasure of writing these personal columns has finally tempted me away from the monthly Green Living column and to a blog where I can write regularly about kitchen gardens, my own and the many others on Lopez Island. I think of kitchen gardens as gardens where people who love to garden and to cook grow vegetables, fruit and herbs for their kitchens. Join me as I explore this new media and the possibilities it offers for sharing ideas about growing and cooking vegetables.

Brussels Sprouts are hot!

I’ve been a fan of Brussels sprouts since childhood. When I made my first Thanksgiving dinner for friends forty years ago, I fixed Brussels sprouts the way I remembered from family meals.  I cut a little “X” in the stem end and boiled them, watching closely and removing them as soon as the center was tender, but the outside was still green.  Guests politely took one or two while I and the few other fans finished the rest.  Some Thanksgivings later, a friend offered to bring the Brussels sprouts, steaming them, adding bits of crispy fried bacon and cloaking all in a mustard cream sauce. These rich, disguising flavors made some converts, and this preparation held for many years.  Then, fifteen years ago, deciding to feature the nutty, delicately cabbage-like flavor of Brussels sprouts, I thinly sliced each sprout and sautéed the slices in butter.  For the first time, nearly everyone ate Brussels sprouts.  For Thanksgivings since then, I’ve served Brussels sprouts this way or, in another great variation that features the flavor of Brussels sprouts, I’ve halved or quartered each sprout, tossed the pieces in olive oil and roasted them on sheet pans in a hot oven.  Caramelized Brussels sprouts are popular with just about everyone.

My and guests’ experiences with Brussels sprouts mirror a trend among chefs and home cooks.  Over the past decade, restaurants began serving roasted Brussels sprouts as appetizers and sides.  Creative recipes for Brussels sprouts began appearing in cooking magazines, newspaper articles and blogs.  And in the Skagit Delta this fall, rows and rows of Brussels sprouts stretch across the fields to meet the demand for this lovely vegetable.

Always on the lookout for recipes that celebrate the new popularity of Brussels Sprouts, I was intrigued by a recent New York Times Cooking recipe by Susan Spungen for Roasted and Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad. In the introduction, she writes: “If you like a good kale salad, or any type of crunchy salad, then you will love this one, which combines shredded raw brussels sprouts with roasted brussels sprouts leaves.”  I did love it and have made it several times with the Brussels Sprouts growing in my winter kitchen garden. I’ve also developed a delicious variation with cabbage and kale that uses the same raw and roasted techniques.

Roasted and Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad

1 pound Brussels Sprouts

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 small shallot, halved

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

Black pepper

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ ounces Pecorino Sardo, or other sharp sheep’s milk cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about 1 scant cup)

 cup whole raw almonds, roughly chopped

Trim the sprouts, cutting a good 1/4-inch off the bottom. Pull off the large leaves (you should have about 2 cups of them); set aside. Shred the remaining sprouts thinly, using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, or use a knife to halve them through the core, then thinly slice them. You should have 5 to 6 cups

Toss the shredded sprouts with the lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and massage with your hands to tenderize them. Set aside.

Finely mince half the shallot and mix with the sherry vinegar, mustard, honey, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. While stirring, slowly pour in 4 tablespoons oil, then drizzle the dressing onto the sprouts, mixing thoroughly. Toss in the cheese and place in a serving bowl. (Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours, if not serving right away.)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Thinly slice the other half of the shallot, and on a small baking sheet, combine the shallot with the reserved sprout leaves, almonds, remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then roast, tossing once or twice until the sprouts begin to crisp and brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Place the hot ingredients on top of the salad (do not toss) and serve immediately, with more cracked pepper on top.

After I trimmed a ¼ inch from the stems, it was easy to slip the outer leaves from each sprout and collect two cups of green leaves. I used the food processor to shred the inner sprouts and then tossed them with the lemon juice and salt.

Brussels sprouts leaves and centers

Brussels sprouts shredded

It was one of those cooking leaps of faith to combine the sliced shallot, chopped almonds and sprout leaves and believe that they would all finish cooking at the same time, but they did.  The crispy leaves and nuts and the soft shallots make a wonderful combination and a beautiful topping for the shredded leaves and shaved pecorino.  The dressing is really tasty too.  I used maple syrup.

Brussels sprouts salad set up

To serve this salad, reach deeply with the salad spoons and capture both bottom and top layers.  The salad is beautiful in the bowl and on the plate.

Brussels sprouts salad finished

The roasted Brussels Sprouts leaves reminded me of roasted kale leaves and the shredded Brussels Sprouts centers reminded me of cabbage.  With these similarities in mind, it was a short step to making this salad with cabbage and kale.  I followed all the instructions of the original recipe and would make this version again too.

Cabbage Kale salad set up

Cabbage Kale salad finished

Winter salads are so hearty and satisfying.  I’m grateful that Brussels sprouts and their brassica cousins will keep us in salads through this cold and dark season.

 

Melissa Clark’s Sheet Pan Ratatouille

Caponata, that richly delicious blend of eggplant, peppers, onions and tomatoes, has been my go-to summer vegetable stew for years.

Eggplant caponata

Ratatouille is basically caponata with the addition of zucchini and quite a bit more olive oil, but until this year I’d never made it. Now, though, thanks to my friend Nancy and to Melissa Clark and her NYTimes “A Good Appetite” column, ratatouille is in serious competition with caponata for favorite summer vegetable stew.  The zucchini adds another surprisingly rich layer of flavor to the caponata blend, and as an additional bonus, zucchini’s place in ratatouille is a great way to use this always-abundant summer vegetable.

I had noticed Clark’s recipe for sheet-pan ratatouille in a recent column, and been intrigued by both her article title, Ratatouille, Simplified and Just as Satisfying and the opening line of her recipe description: “Cooking ratatouille on a sheet pan in the oven isn’t just easier than cooking it in a pot on the stove, it’s also better: richer and more deeply caramelized in flavor.” The “richer and more deeply caramelized” definitely spoke to me, but it was Nancy’s endorsement that spurred me to try it.  Not only is this ratatouille yummy, Nancy emailed, “The ratio of effort vs reward is heavy on the reward.”  Here, at the end of summer, with the last of the season’s harvest coming on, an easy recipe was very appealing.

Ratatouille ingredients

Clark’s method combines quick vegetable preparation and simple sheet pan technique.  Slice the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds, the onion into thin slices, the eggplant into inch-chunks and the peppers into chunks or strips.  Combine the zucchini and onion on one sheet pan and the eggplant and red pepper on the other.  Add garlic, springs of rosemary and thyme, salt and ¼ cup of olive oil to each pan and toss.

Rataouille raw on pans

Put both pans in a 425 oven and roast for 40 minutes, turning the vegetables two or three times with a spatula.  At first, the vegetables will give off liquid, then they will reabsorb it and begin to caramelize, all on the sheet pans, in the oven, out of sight.  The final time-saving step is simply scattering cherry tomatoes over the eggplant and pepper pan where they burst and melt into the caramelized eggplant and pepper, covering them in a quick and easy tomato sauce.   The additions of goat cheese and olives are delicious too, but even without them, this dish is a lovely celebration of the end of summer.

Ratatouille roasted on pan

Sheet-Pan Ratatouille with Goat Cheese and Olives

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 ¾ pounds zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 7 cups)

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

6 thyme sprigs

4 rosemary sprigs

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

Fine sea salt, as needed

2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)

2 medium red bell peppers, sliced into 1/2-inch slices (about 3 cups)

3 cups cherry tomatoes (12 ounces)

8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

¾ cup Castelvetrano or other good-quality olives, crushed, pitted, and torn into pieces

Lemon wedges, for serving

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees, and arrange two racks in the top and bottom thirds.
  2. On one rimmed 13-by-17-inch sheet pan, toss together onion slices, zucchini, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme springs, 2 rosemary sprigs, 3 garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. On a second rimmed baking sheet, toss together eggplant, red peppers, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprig, 3 garlic cloves and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place one tray on the top rack, and a second on the bottom rack of the oven. Roast both for 40 minutes, stirring vegetables two or three times.
  5. Add tomatoes to the baking sheet with eggplant and peppers, then continue to roast until the tomatoes burst and the zucchini turn deeply golden brown, another 20 to 25 minutes. The vegetables will become very caramelized, and that’s a good thing, particularly with the zucchini and onions.
  6. Transfer zucchini and onions to the baking sheet with eggplant, mix well, and spread in an even layer (it will just fit). Drizzle vegetables with another 1 tablespoon oil, then sprinkle goat cheese and olives over the top. Roast until goat cheese is soft and warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with a little more oil and squeeze juice from the one of the lemon wedges over the top. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot or warm, with more lemon wedges on the side.

 

Summer Vegetable Sauces for Pasta 

The kitchen garden is full of high-summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, corn, zucchini.  So many possibilities for delicious meals.  We have two favorite summer vegetable pasta sauces, Grilled Eggplant with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Puree from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996) and

Eggplant pastaFagiolini con Pomodoro, Aglio e Basilico, a saute of green beans, tomatoes, garlic and basil from Marcella Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986) that make fine use of this high-summer bounty.

Beans pasta

This week, I’ve tried two more vegetable pasta sauces that will become favorites as well. One is Zucchini Spaghetti alla Nerano from Food 52, “a legendary pasta made of spaghetti and fried zucchini was apparently invented in 1952 by Maria Grazia, who owned a restaurant in Nerano that bears her name.”  The other is Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil from Melissa Clark at the New York Times.  Each of these vegetable pasta sauces includes a puree of the vegetable as the base for the sauce, a wonderful technique that intensifies the flavor of the vegetable.  Each recipe is also accompanied by a video which illustrates this technique. I watched the videos that accompany each recipe several times before making the sauces the first time, just to get the timing sequence down.  I may watch them again the next time I make each of these delicious sauces, but after that I should be on my own.

Zucchini Spaghetti alla Nerano (Spaghetti with Zucchini)

The simple ingredients become a dish very quickly—because you must multitask. While the pasta water is boiling, the zucchini are frying. Then the spaghetti is cooking. A quick purée is made out of some of the zucchini, and then it’s all tossed together. The result is a fast, exceptionally tasty pasta dish, where the sauce clings to each strand of spaghetti. Don’t think the frying or the touch of butter will make this dish heavy—it’s not remotely, and the butter helps “mantecare”—that is, to create that clingy sauce that you need.

clove garlic

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) olive oil

small zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds (I used a mandolin on the 3mm thickness.)

Salt and pepper

11 ounces (320 grams) spaghetti

3 ounces (80 grams) grated Provolone del Monaco (or Parmesan)

knob of cold, unsalted butter

1 handful basil leaves

Zucchini and mandolin

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.

In a wide skillet over medium-high heat, add the garlic clove and olive oil so the mixture sizzles and the oil gets infused by the garlic. When just golden, remove the garlic and add the zucchini rounds. Toss every now and then, letting the zucchini fry away until tender but not brown.

Zucchini in skillet

In the meantime, add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, then place spaghetti in the pot.

Drain the zucchini on paper towels and season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Keep warm. Blend together about a third of the zucchini and about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of water from the pot of pasta—I use a glass jar with a handheld blender for this. (I used my food processor.) Pour this purée into a large serving bowl, where you will eventually add all the pasta. 

When the spaghetti is al dente (take out about 1 minute before the suggested cooking time on the packet), drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti into the serving bowl with the purée, the grated cheese, the fried zucchini, and the cold butter. Quickly toss, using tongs or a spatula to help you. You want spaghetti to be silky and just coated with the purée, not dry but not watery either. If it’s too dry, add cooking water a little at a time. Top with the basil leaves and serve immediately.

Zucchini pasta sauce in bowl

Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil

There’s no cream in this wonderfully summery pasta dish, just a luscious sauce made from puréed fresh corn and sweet sautéed scallions, along with Parmesan for depth and red chile flakes for a contrasting bite. Be sure to add the lemon juice and fresh herbs at the end; the rich pasta really benefits from their bright, fresh flavors. And while this is best made at the height of corn season, it’s still quite good even with out-of-season supermarket ears, or with frozen corn.

 

12 ounces dry orecchiette or farfalle

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (keep the whites and greens separate) (I used half a red onion because that’s what I had.)

2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (2 cups kernels) (The ears from my kitchen garden are smaller, so I used 4.)

½ teaspoon ground black pepper, more for serving

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more to taste

⅓ cup torn basil or mint, more for garnish

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Fresh lemon juice, as needed

Corn pasta ingredientsBring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until 1 minute shy of al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat; add scallion whites and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and all but 1/4 cup corn; simmer until corn is heated through and almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, transfer to a blender, and purée mixture until smooth, adding a little extra water if needed to get a thick but pourable texture.

Heat the same skillet over high heat. Add butter and let melt. Add reserved 1/4 cup corn and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. (It’s O.K. if the butter browns; that deepens the flavor.) Add the corn purée and cook for 30 seconds to heat and combine the flavors.

Reduce heat to medium. Add pasta and half the reserved pasta cooking water, tossing to coat. Cook for 1 minute, then add a little more of the pasta cooking water if the mixture seems too thick. Stir in 1/4 cup of the scallion greens, the Parmesan, the herbs, the red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. Transfer to warm pasta bowls and garnish with more scallions, herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper.

Corn Pasta sauce cooking

 

Seeding the winter kitchen garden now

It’s been a very busy April and May, but the spring and summer vegetables are finally in the ground and growing. I’m ready to take a break from planting the kitchen garden, but not before I finish one more task. It seems odd to be doing this during these sweet days of late spring and early summer, but it’s time to start seeds of fall and winter vegetables.  With days-to-maturity requirements of 100 to over 200 days, many of my winter favorites, like celery root, leeks, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, winter cabbage, overwintering cauliflowers and broccolis, need to be seeded now or in the next week or two so that they’ll be mature by the time days become shorter and temperatures drop.  At that point, they’ll be ready to hold in the garden, heavily mulched against cold and sometimes covered against the wind, for harvest throughout the winter.

I look at my list and translate the days into months and realize that a hundred days from now is mid-September, the autumn equinox. Time to start planting!

Celery root: 100-110 days

Leeks: 90-110 days

Parsnips: 110 days

Brussels sprouts: 99-200 days

Winter cabbage: 160-220 days

Overwintering cauliflower: 200+ days

Purple sprouting broccoli: 220 days

With the exception of parsnips, which I’ll plant outdoors soon, I’ll start all of these seeds indoors.  I’ve already seeded celery root and leeks and their small, green shoots are rising above the potting soil.  I used to start celery root indoors in late March and set out plants in mid-May, but in the past few years, I’ve found that the plants grow better when the weather is warmer, so I start them in early May, May 9th this year, and set them out in late June.  I also used to direct seed leeks in late May, but a few years ago, I experimented with starting seeds indoor in pots, where I got much better germination, and then setting out the contents of the pots in mid-to-late June where the leeks grew well into pencil-sized plants for final transplant into rows.

Celery root starts 5:31

Leek starts 2 5:31

Next week, I’ll start the brassicas: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. By mid-July, the brassicas will be sturdy plants in 4-inch pots, ready to harden off and set out in winter beds.

In mid-July, I’ll plant more winter crops, those with shorter days-to-maturity, like carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga, kale.  But mid-July is six weeks away, and between now and then there will be time to take a break from planting the kitchen garden.

Overwintering Brassicas

My friend Carol has given me lots of great fruit and vegetable ideas over the years: grafting tips and ground cherrybean and tomato varieties.  Her latest suggestion was overwintering brassicas.  I’d always counted on flower buds from kale and other overwintered brassicas to give me a sweet broccoli taste in early spring, but this past summer, Carol encouraged me to grow purple sprouting broccoli as well as overwintering cauliflowers. She even gave me some plants. “You’ll be glad you grew them,” she said.   For the past month, as we’ve enjoyed sweet cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli, we have been glad.  Thanks to Carol, I’ve ordered my own seeds for overwintering brassicas and will plant them this summer for next spring.

Carol gave me starts for “All the Year Round” and Purple Cape cauliflower and for Purple Sprouting Broccoli.   Uprising Organics offers “All the Year Round” cauliflower, shown here in my kitchen garden.

Cauliflower ATYR in garden

Adaptive Seeds offers Purple Cape cauliflower, a bit blown in this photo because I didn’t realize it was cauliflower so picked after it had burst from its head.  It was still delicious. Adaptive also offers Prestige Cauliflower, another white overwintering cauliflower.

Cauliflower purple cape

A variety of Purple Sprouting Broccoli called Red Arrow is usually available from Adaptive Seeds but is sold out this year. Territorial Seeds also offers several different varieties of Purple Sprouting Broccoli, all tempting.  I’m not sure which variety from Carol’s starts is here in these photos.

Broccoli PSB closeup

Broccoli PSB plants in bed

This past winter was a good test for overwintering brassicas.  We had many nights with temperatures in the teens, days with relentless northeast and northwest winds, and snow.  The cauliflower and broccoli plants I’d set out in late July were robust, nearly three-foot tall towers of dark green leaves by late October. From November to February, with each hit of winter weather, the plants looked more and more cold and wind damaged, less and less likely to rebound.  I was about to write them off as a failed experiment when in late February I noticed new growth emerging.  First, small purple buds appeared near the ends of broccoli stems, then leaves on the cauliflowers multiplied, looking like they were starting to enclose growing heads.  Once again, Carol was right.  We were soon harvesting tasty purple broccoli florets and large, sweet heads of cauliflower.

I’ve prepared them as I do summer and fall season broccoli and cauliflower, mainly roasting them and serving them as side dishes or added to pasta, beans or grains for a main dish.

Broccoli PSB roastedPurple sprouting broccoli roasted and topped with some roasted kale leaves and flower buds

Cauliflower ATYR pasta in bowlAll the Year Round Cauliflower roasted with shallots, topped with toasted almonds and parsley

Broccoli PSB roasted with soissons verteRoasted Purple Cape Cauliflower and Soissons Verte beans with sautéed red mustard

I have plants of summer broccoli and cauliflower already growing in this year’s kitchen garden and am looking forward to harvesting them on sunny, warm days of summer, but I’m also anticipating next winter and early spring and the chance to welcome overwintering brassicas again.

 

 

 

An Italian Recipe for Overwintered Greens

Greens winter in basket

Kale, chard and red mustard are three hardy greens that overwinter in my kitchen garden and are now putting out fresh, new leaves.  The plants are on their way to producing flower buds; in fact, some buds are already forming on the kale and mustard, but it’s their leaves that interest me in the kitchen right now.

Any of these leaves singly or in combination is delicious wilted slightly and then sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. They are great as a side dish or as part of the main course on pasta or white beans.

Though I could eat greens prepared this way every night this time of year, I recently remembered a recipe I made years ago. It takes little more time and a few more ingredients but is definitely worth the effort.  It’s from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table (1992) and titled Spiced Spinach with Almonds.  In the note introducing the recipe, Kasper writes: “Far more interesting than Italy’s usual sauté of spinach and onion is Emilia-Romagna’s 17thcentury version of the recipe.  In it, spinach cooks with spices, nuts, currants, and cheeses.  Serve the dish just as they did centuries ago as a side dish,or use it as a topping on warm flat bread “and serve it as an antipasto or with drinks.”

Greens winter on island

Greens winter nuts prep

When I first made this recipe years ago, I followed another of Kasper’s suggestions and layered it with slices of polenta, alternating three layers of polenta with two layers of filling, baking at 350 until it was heated through and serving it as a main course.  It’s this combination of sautéed greens and sliced polenta that I repeated a few weeks ago.

The filling was even better than I remembered, perhaps because I used red mustard leaves instead of spinach.  Spinach was good, but spicy red mustard is even better.  I also made two other substitutions to the recipe, using shallots instead of onion and yellow raisins instead of currants, both good.  I’ll make the polenta dish again soon, but in the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy the side dish for dinner with leftovers for lunch.

In a final note at the end of the recipe Kasper adds: “Swiss chard, turnip greens, broccoli rape, beet greens, romaine, escarole, curly endive and young dandelion greens are all excellent prepared this way.” To her list, I’ll add red mustard and kale, both of which blend wonderfully with the spices, almonds, creamy ricotta and the nutty Parmesan, and both of which, along with chard, are in good supply in my kitchen garden.

Greens winter saute in skillet

Spiced Spinach with Almonds

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

 2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup minced onion

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

5 tablespoons blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons currants

½ cup fresh ricotta cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

 Cooking the Spinach: Rinse the spinach in a sink full of cold water. Lift the leaves right from the water into an 8-quartpot, without shaking off any of the water clinging to them. Set the pot over medium heat, cover, and cook 5 minutes, or until the leaves are wilted but still a bright dark green.  Immediately turn the spinach into a colander.  Briefly run cold water over the spinach to cool it down and stop its cooking. Then squeeze out the excess moisture and coarsely chop.

 Finishing and Serving:  Have a serving bowl warming in a low oven.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté 8 minutes over medium to medium-high heat, or until golden brown.  Stir in the garlic and cook another minute.  Add the spinach, cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, and currants. Stir while sautéing over medium heat 2 minutes, or until heated through and aromatic.  Stir in the ricotta and heat a few seconds.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn the spinach mixture into the serving bowl and toss with the Parmesan.  Serve hot.

Winter Shakshuka

I’ve been a fan of shakshuka since discovering it in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks Plenty (2010) and Jerusalem (2012) and in one of Melissa Clark’s New York Times Wednesday columns in 2013.  In Clark’s words, shakshuka is “a one-skillet recipe of eggs baked in a tomato-red pepper sauce spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne.” She continues, “First you make that sauce, which comes together fairly quickly on top of the stove, then you gently crack each of the eggs into the pan, nestling them into the sauce…Shakshuka originated in North Africa, and like many great dishes there are as many versions as there are cooks who have embraced it.”

I make shakshuka in summer from fresh peppers and tomatoes, and it’s delicious, but this winter I started making it with roasted and frozen peppers and tomatoes.  It’s just as good.  In fact, the flavors of the already-roasted peppers and tomatoes are even richer than the flavors of the fresh versions.

The shakshuka recipe I most often follow is from Ottolenghi’s Plenty (2010).

Shakshuka red set up½ tsp cumin seeds
190ml light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into 2cm strips
4 tsp muscovado sugar
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme, picked and chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tsp saffron strands
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Up to 250ml water
8 free-range eggs

 In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and two tablespoons of coriander, and cook on high heat to get a nice color. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorful. You can prepare this mix in advance.

Place four saucepans on medium heat and divide the mixture between them. Break two eggs into each pan, pouring into gaps in the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with chunky white bread.

Shakshuka red skillet

I especially like the instruction to toast the cumin seeds briefly before adding the oil because the cumin flavor permeates the dish through the oil. I leave out the sugar because the onions, peppers and tomatoes from my garden are already very sweet.  In the summer, using fresh vegetables, I follow the recipe cooking sequence.  In the winter, using already-roasted peppers and tomatoes, I sauté the onions until they are very soft before adding the peppers, tomatoes and other spices and cooking them until the flavors blend.  Sometimes I’ll also add feta or goat cheese when I add the eggs, as Melissa Clark suggests.  Finally, a half-batch of this recipe is perfect for two, and rather than using individual skillets, I usually use one skillet that will hold four eggs.

Tomato and pepper based shakshuka is the more traditional version, but this winter I’ve also been making what many call green shakshuka. The technique is the same, but instead of onions, peppers and tomatoes, the vegetable base for the eggs is a sauté of leeks or onions and greens like spinach, chard, collards or kale or a combination of these hardy greens.  Green is as delicious as red and, in keeping with the season, it’s another great way to use the leeks and hardy greens in the winter kitchen garden.

In his latest cookbook, SIMPLE (2018), Ottolenghi has a recipe he calls Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar that is essentially green shakshuka. I’ve made it several times and it’s delicious.

Shakshuka green set up

Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large leeks (or 4 smaller), trimmed and cut into ½cm slices (6 cups/530g)

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

2 small preserved lemons, pips discarded, skin and flesh finely chopped (2 ½ Tbsp/30g)

1 ¼ cup/300ml vegetable stock

7 oz/200g baby spinach leaves

6 large eggs

3 ¼ oz/90g feta, broken into 2cm pieces

1 tbsp za’atar

salt and black pepper

  1.    Put the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on a medium high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the leeks, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft. Add the cumin, lemon and vegetable stock and boil rapidly for 4–5 minutes, until most of the stock has evaporated. Fold in the spinach and cook for a minute, until wilted, then reduce the heat to medium.2.    Use a large spoon to make 6 indentations in the mixture and break one egg into each space. Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt, dot the feta around the eggs, then cover the pan. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.

    3.    Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of oil and brush over the eggs. Serve at once, straight from the pan.

Shakshuka green skillet

I’ve substituted kale and collards for the spinach in this Ottolenghi recipe and also used goat cheese instead of feta, and all are tasty.

Chard is a good another green in shakshuka as Sarah Copeland suggests in this New York Times recipe. The touch of heavy cream in this version also works wonderfully to blend together the vegetable flavors.

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 large bunch/1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard, stems and leaves separated and chopped (about 9 cups)

½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

8 large eggs

¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed

3 ounces cotija cheese or queso fresco, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

1 avocado, sliced, for serving

1 small jalapeño, thinly sliced, for serving

Chopped cilantro, for serving

Smoked hot sauce, for serving

Corn tortillas, toasted, for serving

1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook until softening, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 5 minutes more.

Raise the heat to medium-high, add the chard stems, and cook to release some liquid, 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves, in batches, adding more as they wilt, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until completely wilted, 3 to 5 minutes more. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, pour in the half-and-half and stir loosely together.

Make eight small hollows in the cooked chard with the back of a spoon. Gently crack an egg into each hollow. Cover with a lid or foil and cook on medium-low until the eggs are just set, but still soft, about 7 to 9 minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle with salt, pepper, cotija, avocado, jalapeño and cilantro. Serve with smoked hot sauce, toasted tortillas and lime wedges.

Shakshuka is a popular breakfast, brunch or lunch dish, but I serve it most often for dinner.  During our recent cold and snowy weather, it’s been a comforting winter supper with the added bonus of flavors that hold promises of summer.