Roasted Pork Chops with Parsnips and Apples

It’s not too late to talk about parsnips is it?

The weather has been so mild the past few months, that except for an early freak snowstorm in October which felled one of our trees, it feels like we’ve hardly had a winter.  My garlic bulbs should only just be peeking out from the crumbly earth, but instead they are brandishing greenery I’ve previously had to wait until May to see.   As I type this post I almost want to put the air conditioning on, but am resisting as it just feels too wrong.

The days are getting deliciously longer and spring has officially started per the calendar.  So I shouldn’t be posting a recipe relying heavily on parsnips, wintery apples, and pork should I?  After all, our thoughts are all trained on asparagus and spring flowers, and here I am reveling in root vegetables?

Roasted Pork with Parsnips and Apples (4 of 9)

I blame the farmer’s market.  I’ve been lucky enough to find a winter market nearby and there’s nothing so cheery to me as stopping in Saturday morning and seeing tables heavy with gold and red and candy-cane-striped beets, watermelon radishes, and deep blue-green kale.

In the grocery store I can’t get all that excited about these winter stalwarts–while I (mostly) valiantly resist the imported strawberries and eggplants, their presence does put a damper on my enthusiasm for roots and greens.

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At my winter market, however, the vendors slice open the muted, even dusty roots, letting the bright hues shine forward.  I chat with one of my favorite growers about our respective preschoolers, E asks another about the animals back out on his farm, and both boys are thrilled to eat jam straight off a spoon at Robin’s stall.

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And so I come home with cabbage, sweet potatoes, and nearly two pounds of parsnips.

What to do?

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I figured that the sweetness of the parsnips would serve as a nice base for roasted pork.  As I browsed the internet, I often saw apples added to the mix.  I almost resisted, fearing it would result in a main course that was just too cloying.  Funnily enough, it was the apples that roasted up tart in the oven and provided a needed counterpoint to the almost sugary parsnips.  (Aha!  I thought.  Maybe Regan Daley‘s parsnip cake isn’t quite as odd as it sounds).

Adding the zest of a lemon and the crispness of thyme means that this meal is bright enough to bridge the gap between winter and spring–just right for March in Massachusetts, be it the March we are having this year or March as it should be.

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One Pan Roasted Pork Chops with Parsnips and Apples

  • 4 pork chops (about 5 ounces each)  or 2 country style ribs (each about 10 ounces)
  • 1t dried thyme
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 lb (or more) parsnips
  • 1 apple
  • 1 onion
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Peel and chop your parsnips into approximately 1/2-inch pieces.  If you parsnips are large (as mine were), remove the woody inner core.  I find this easiest to do as follows:  cut the thinner portion off the tip (and chop that up–any core there is negligible), and cut off the stem end, leaving a squat thick “trunk.”  Stand it on its larger flat end, slice it lengthwise into four long quarters, then slice out the triangle of core and discard.  (If you don’t mind the core you can skip this).  Chop.

Core and thinly slice your apples, and slice your onion.

Mix together in a baking pan, add the thyme and zest, drizzle the olive oil, and mix with your hands until well coated.  Arrange the pork chops or ribs on top of the parsnip-apple mixture, and sprinkle salt and pepper on the meat.

Roast for 30 minutes or so (depending on the thickness of your cut of pork), stirring the vegetables occasionally.  Remove from the oven, rest 5 minutes, and serve.  (What I think may be new) USDA guidelines recommend roasting until an internal temperature of 145F has been reached, and then resting (see here).

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Zucchini Pancakes with Dill

I have suffered my share of unsuccessful attempts at zucchini pancakes, and it all comes down to this:  inadequate (and in one case, nonexistent) draining of the shredded zucchini.

But what a difference it makes!  I often try to figure out if recipe steps are actually essential, or are just fussiness.  This step, as my husband may be heard saying to our son at bedtime, is “not optional.” 

Besides that not unimportant impact on the pancake’s integrity (so you are not left with, let’s call it what it is, slop), the salting also brightens the flavor of the zucchini and improves its texture.  I’m not always a fan of many preparations of squash (summer or winter) because they are simply just too water-logged.  Roasted?  Good.  Sauteed?  Meh.  Steamed?  Help!  Dry vs. wet. It’s all making sense now.

Many recipes for these griddlecakes suggest a bit of shredded onion for flavor, but I threw in dill instead.  As a devoted eater of Greek and Turkish food, I know that cucumber (another vegetable improved by a pre-salting to draw out water) and dill go together well.  Zucchini sort of looks like cucumber, so…why not?  (Is that a weird way to go about flavor pairings?  Oh well).  It worked.  Dill resulted in flecks of vibrant green and a fresh, ferny flavor.  I enjoyed it with my homemade yogurt, which I always have plenty of (and which refers back to the tzatziki inspiration for this dish).

A successful venture:  pancakes finally mastered, a zucchini recipe that pleases my picky taste buds.  Oh, and once you’ve drained the zucchini, it’s fast too!

Zucchini Pancakes with Dill

  • 1 1/2 lb zucchini (about three medium)
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1/3c flour
  • salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c fresh dill, minced
  • butter for frying

Shred the zucchini, layering with salt.  (I sprinkled about a half teaspoon of salt after each addition of zucchini).  Place in a colander to drain for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally.  Squeeze out the remaining liquid, as much as you can.

Mix the zucchini in with the rest of the ingredients.  Heat a heavy skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat and melt the butter, just until the foam subsides.  Add the batter, forming pancakes.  After a few minutes, when the top has begun to firm up slightly, flip to cook the other side.  Pancakes should be crispy brown on both sides.  Serve immediately, with yogurt.

These cook fast, but you can keep them warm in a 200F/90C oven.

Ginger Glazed Halibut

Upon returning from a vacation from South Africa, and catching up with too many friends over the ever-wonderful brunch, I need to cut back a bit. So, I found a great tasty recipe for Halibut. My sister and I spoke once about how we cook very little asian inspired food. It’s a shame because I love it, but never have all the ingredients it takes to prepare even the simplest recipes. However, this recipe could quite possibly be the easiest recipe ever put on this blog! Almost everything is in your kitchen at this very moment except the fish and maybe the ginger.

2 Tbsp Honey
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp Ginger root
1 clove of garlic
1/4 cup of cilantro
3/4 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of black pepper
1 lb of halibut
1 Tbsp of peanut oil (although this can be substituted if you dont have it!)

First you start with the marinade. You simply mix the honey, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, cilantro, 1/2 of the salt and 1/4 of the peppper and mix it in a bowl and set aside.

Then you wash the fish, pat it dry and rub each side with the marinade. Put it in the fridge and switch the sides every 15 minutes. After about 30 minutes, you can go ahead and take it out and grill it on the skillet. That easy. For garnish and extra sauce, after you take off the fish you can add the sauce and cook it until it thickens just a bit. Once you have done that just plate and add the extra cilantro.

For the full meal, I would imagine some coconut rice would be divine with this dish, but all I had was some wax beans from the farmers market. This is an extremely forgivable dish and very flavorful for those of us who are watching (or trying) to watch what we eat!

Marcella Hazan’s “Turta” (Spinach and Rice Torta)

Isn’t it fascinating how just like languages and cultures, the same basic culinary idea gets a new accent and a new perspective on life when it border-hops?  Take ravioli:  Little packets of dough bursting with any variety of fillings.  Travel eastward, they become pierogi or pelmeni.  Further on, along the silk road one encounters tiny Turkish manti, and onward to China, they take up residence in the guise of wontons.  And all are seeking to answer, with imagination, a very universal kitchen question:  making a little bit of meat, of fish, of something scarce, go further.

Another familiar combination?  Egg + a vegetable or meat + maybe a starch to fill things out.  This “turta” is similarly yet another riff on that basic formula.  (Think quiche or omelet).    Playing around a bit with proportions, though, yields something new: the egg modestly keeps its head down, quietly binding the components together into a cake with a varied, almost chewy texture.  

The rice is boiled like pasta until al dente, and the greens are quickly blanched, just to soften them up a bit, and then sautéed with onions.  (You can also just use defrosted frozen spinach to cut out a step–it worked beautifully!)  A bit of nutmeg, one of spinach’s closest friends,  and some obligatory handfuls of grated parmesan (our little turta hails from Italy, after all) rounds out the flavor for a light but substantial and satisfying dish, burnished by golden crunchy bread crumbs.

“Turta” di Spinaci e Riso (Spinach and Rice Torta) adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen

  • 2lb fresh spinach or chard, or 3 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed, or a mixture.
  • Salt
  • 1 generous cup of long-grain rice
  • 4T butter
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1/2c chopped onion or shallot
  • 1/2c grated parmesan
  • 1/8t ground nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4c bread crumbs

Note:  While this recipe has many (easy) components, it is easy to split it up into multiple steps–I made the rice and greens the night before, and then baked it up the next day, for example.  You might also just have leftover greens, or leftover rice, and this is a great way to use that up.

If using fresh greens, wash well and drain.  Put the clean greens in a pot with only the water clinging to the leaves and cook over medium heat until tender and wilted. Drain, allow to cool, and coarsely chop.   (If using frozen greens, you can skip this step, but make sure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible).  In another pot, bring water to a boil and add the rice, cooking until al dente.  (In other words, cook the rice as if you were cooking pasta).  Drain and set aside.  (Note:  you can stop here and continue the next day).

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Put 2T of the butter, the olive oil, and the chopped onion in a skillet and saute until tender.  Add the cooked greens and the rice.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, put into a bowl, and allow to cool.  (Note:  you can also stop here and continue the next day).   Then add half the parmesan, the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and the eggs.  Butter a springform pan and sprinkle with half the bread crumbs.  Pour in the rice and green mixture.  Mix the remaining cheese and crumbs and sprinkle on top.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the crumbs brown on top.  Allow to cool until lukewarm before serving.

Kale and Tofu

Kale & Tofu

Thanks to the wonders of premade sauces, tofu can be delicious.  Yes, it’s time to extol the virtues of a generally bland food that can acquire the flavor of anything and everything.  I used a marinade from … Trader Joe’s this time but there are any and all sorts of varieties to choose from wherever you shop.

After boiling the tofu to remove the excess water, I marinated it in about 1/2 cup of the sauce overnight.  Actually it sat in the marinade much longer in the refrigerator but I think a long stint during the wee small hours of the morning is sufficient.

After heating a skillet with oil, I then pan fried them for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side, drizzling a little more marinade during the last minute or so for the added punch.

boiled or pressed tofu retains more of the marinade

Transferring that into a bowl, I quickly cooked up some kale in the same pan – adding lemon juice, a drop or two of water and salt.  I love how green and vibrant it looks!

the picture doesn't do it justice - promise!

Yummy Brussels Sprouts (really!)

All three of us sisters have been surprised to find we are all big fans of roasted Brussels sprouts.  Surprised because, well, those guys don’t have the best reputation and we never really ate them growing up (probably because the main option was frozen, which meant they had to be boiled, and I don’t know if they are salvageable after that). 

My conversion came a few years ago at the farmers market in Notting Hill in London.  My good friend Liz and I would go every Saturday morning and I think it was the highlight of both of our weeks.  Due to the UK’s mild climate the market ran all year round.  (The Massachusetts farmers markets are sadly contrasted as only running from May to October!).  There were all sorts of wonderful things on sale–traditional poacher cheese (similar to cheddar), apples, game, free range chicken and beef, and all sorts of interesting things to try (stinging nettles and elderflowers anyone?).  Several stands were selling Brussels sprouts on the stalk–I had never seen them before (I don’t know how I thought they grew, but I can’t say I ever thought about it either) but it must have been the sheer novelty of these guys that made me decide to try it.  As you can see, they look pretty strange!

I actually didn’t even roast them the first time, but rather braised them (as suggested by Ina Garten, though greatly modified–I used the soaking water from dried mushrooms rather than stock and skipped the raisins) and surprisingly, I loved them!  Since then I found a great recipe in Gourmet where you saute chopped up Brussels sprouts with butter and pine nuts and then toss with pasta and Parmesan, a great mid-week meal.  When we converged on New York City for Marie’s wedding, she took us to a local place with great roasted Brussels sprouts–as she told us she buys them for take out and “pops them like candy”–yes, that may sound like a strange thing to say about Brussels sprouts, but they are that good!

I had some Brussels sprouts in the fridge that really needed to be eaten soon–they were still in good shape but I was afraid they would be past their prime any day.  I was being REALLY lazy (and trying to get them in the oven before little E got mad–I had been doing other things int he kitchen so I knew I was running on borrowed time).  So I washed the Brussels sprouts, drizzled some olive oil on them (I don’t think I make anything without olive oil or butter these days), sprinkled on some nice sea salt and freshly grated pepper, and then pulled out the pre-sliced pancetta from the fridge.  Because I was being too lazy to even pull out the cutting board, I just took the kitchen shears and cut the slices up.  Here’s the dressed up sprouts waiting for the oven to heat up to 400F.

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So in they went for 35-40 minutes.  While they turned out pretty well, I think my laziness came with a price–generally you are supposed to cut off the dried up ends of the buds, or cut an x in them.  I think this is to let the heat in so the sprout can cook.  So you can guess what happened:  they were a little raw at the base.  Not the end of the world, though you don’t get to eat the whole thing!  I think the addition of pancetta was a good touch, however–sort of playing on the idea that pork and cabbage are a classic pairing.

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As I mentioned one of my favorite things to do with brussels sprouts (of the three things I know how to do) is mix them with pasta.  My husband was not so into the idea of eating straight-up roasted sprouts, so he chopped them up and added them to pasta with a generous portion of parmesan (I mean generous–he loves that stuff!).  And we both went after the pancetta that had stuck to the baking dish, can’t let that go to waste!