To Market, To Market…

Okay, true confession:  I have always wanted to be a contestant on the TV cooking show, Iron Chef.  Just imagine having that whole panty filled with a dizzying array of the highest quality meats and produce available to you—not to mention the secret ingredient, showcased, glossy and inviting, like a sexy centerfold!  It’s enough to make me swoon.  Well, this past weekend I nearly got my wish.  I was asked to appear at the Pittsburgh Public Market to do a cooking demo and to talk about my novel, Aftertaste.  (The Pittsburgh Public Market is located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, where a good portion of my novel is set.) The “Iron Chef” challenge, set by Market managers Rachel Kudrick and Tiffani Emig, was to come up with several recipes that would showcase the best of what was available at the Friday-Sunday market.  Since my demo was set for Saturday morning, I was there when they opened, bright and early Friday morning, shopping basket in hand.

I found so much to inspire me!  Beautiful beluga lentils, petit French white beans, and merguez sausage from The Crested Duck Charcuterie; earthy shitake mushrooms, and the last-of-the-season fresh cranberries from Wild Purveyors; sweet pumpkins and fresh garlic from Clarion River Organics; tender crimini mushrooms from Mushrooms for Life; goldenrod honey from Tupelo Honey Teas; Frantoio olive oil imported by Olio Fresco; and an assortment of the most delicious fresh-fruit jams, hot, sweet and spicy, from my good friend Scotty at The Berry Patch.

Here’s what I came up with:

Crostini Three Ways-

-Fresh ricotta topped with Beluga Lentil and Roasted Pumpkin Chow Chow

-Goat cheese topped with Cranberry Mostarda

-Wild Mushrooms with Taleggio


Moroccan Inspired Minestrone

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to sample my menu and chat with me!  As promised, here are the recipes:

Beluga Lentil and Pumpkin Chow Chow Crostini

Dice a sweet pie pumpkin or butternut squash into a fine brunoise.  Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika.  Bake at 425 for about ten minutes, or until tender.

Rinse the beluga lentils in cool water.  Remove any stones or grit.  Cover the lentils with cool water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender.  Drain and reserve.

Mix 2 teas habanero pepper jelly (from The Berry Patch) with ¼ cup good quality apple cider vinegar.  Whisk in 1 teas Dijon mustard.  Chop 2 cloves of garlic with ½ teas kosher salt.  Make a paste.  Add the chopped garlic paste to the mustard mixture.  Stream in ½ cup olive oil (I used Fratoio, a wonderful grassy, peppery olive oil from Italy)

Combine the lentils and the roasted pumpkin.  Toss with the dressing.

Spread a piece of toasted baguette with fresh ricotta. Top the crostino with the chow chow and enjoy! (The sweet milky cheese is a nice compliment to the bite of the chow chow)
Cranberry Mustard Crostini with Goat Cheese

I love cranberries and every year at the holidays I buy a few extra bags for the freezer to use throughout the year in sauces, muffins and cakes.  This year, however, a flirtation with cranberry scones exhausted my stash before we’d even rung in the New Year.  Needless to say, I was delighted to find some beautiful ruby red berries at Wild Purveyors!

For the cranberry sauce:  Put 2 cups of berries in a saucepan and add 2/3 cup good honey, the zest of an orange and the juice of an orange.  (Make sure you zest the orange before you juice it—it’s so much easier!)  Add a teas vanilla and cook over medium heat until the sauce begins to boil, at which point the berries will begin to burst. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes until thickened.  It will continue to thicken as it cools.

Mix the cooled cranberry sauce with one teas mustard and one teas raspberry habanero jelly.  This stuff is hot, so watch out!

Spread a crostino with a goat cheese, or a wonderful camembert from Crested Duck or a simple mascarpone cheese.  You want something heavy and milky to balance the acidity of the cranberry.  It’s also great on a turkey sandwich!


Wild Mushroom and Taleggio Crostini

Sauté some mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil. (I used a combination of shitake and crimini, but you can use whatever appeals to you.) Add a clove of minced garlic, some freshly ground pepper and a little chopped thyme.  Don’t add salt until your mushrooms give up some of their juice.  Once they do, add salt to taste. Add some taleggio cheese.  Stir until cheese melts.  Top your toasted bread with the mushroom and cheese mixture and enjoy.  Delicious!


Moroccan Inspired Minestrone

I had originally planned on making a traditional Italian minestrone, but I was inspired by the absolutely delicious merguez sausages available at Crested Duck.  (Merguez is a lovely North African lamb sausage, spiced with pepper and garlic.) This is my Italian riff on harira, the wonderful soup of Morocco.


2 cups each diced carrot, celery and onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 chopped leeks

1 lb merguez sausage, casings removed.

2 Tbs harissa paste (There are many excellent prepared harissas on the market, but it’s so easy I make my own.  To make: take 2 Tbs tomato paste, add 1 Tbs roasted cumin, 1 Tbs smoked paprika, ½ teas cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well. Stir in the juice of one lemon.)

1 quart chicken stock

1 quart beef stock

2 cups dried French white beans, (soaked overnight).  You can also use canned white beans. several handfuls of kale (you may substitute spinach, if you like)


First, prepare the beans:  Cover the dried beans with several inches of cold water and soak overnight.  Drain and rinse.  Fill a pot with fresh cold water.  (Make sure the beans are covered by at least 2 -3 inches of water.) Add 1 bay leaf and 2 cloves garlic.  Bring the beans to a boil.  Cover and lower the heat.  Simmer until tender, about an hour.  Drain the beans, reserving at least a cup of the cooking water.

In a large stockpot sauté the carrots, celery, onion and leek in olive oil over medium heat until softened.  Add chopped garlic and cook a minute or two longer.  Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the sausage from its casing and add to vegetables, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks.  Cook until it’s no longer pink.  Add 2 Tbs harissa paste and cook until the harissa starts to brown, but be careful not to burn it.  Make sure the lamb and vegetables are completely coated with the harissa paste.

Add the chicken and beef stock.  Puree one cup of the cooked white beans with a ladle of the cooking water in a food processor to form a paste.  Add the paste to the soup and stir to combine.  Add the remaining beans to the soup.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, cook one half pound of pasta in boiling salted water.  (I used orichette, but you can use any bite-sized pasta you like.)  Cook until al dente, (about 8 minutes) drain and set aside.

Add the chopped kale to the soup and cook until tender.

This soup tastes even better the second day, which is why you’ve cooked the pasta separately.  If you were to add it to the soup now, it would absorb too much of the liquid and become soggy.  If you are planning on devouring the entire batch in one sitting, by all means go ahead and stir the pasta into the soup and enjoy.  However, if you think there might be leftovers, keep the pasta separate and simply add a half cup to each bowl before covering with the hot soup.

Buon Appetito!