Monday, November 16, 2009

Produce Problem? Let me help!

It seems that every time I go to the farmers' market, I witness someone looking quizzically at a fruit or vegetable as if for the first time. I can almost hear them thinking, 'This is crazy-looking... How am I supposed to eat this!?' While some brave souls toss the sunchokes, quince, parsnips, giant cauliflower mushrooms, burdock, kohlrabi, and celeriac into their market bags, far too many place it back into the pile and run back to their spinach and potatoes. This, my friends, is a shame. Sure, some vegetables are weird looking. Alien, even. But a lot of those 'weird' vegetables are nutritional power-houses, regional specialties, and absolutely delicious.

If you're one of those who has come across an unknown veggie, or simply wants to know how to turn an old stand-by like the Brussels sprout into something you'll actually WANT to eat, I'd love to help.

If you're at all a regular reader of Lemonbasil, you'll remember how the blog sort of... ahem... dwindles during the winter months. Help me out by giving me prompts, questions, and challenges, and I'll help you with that bag of market finds! Don't know what a certain fruit or veggie is? Snap a picture, send it to me, and we can go from there.

Send all of your queries, ideas, challenges, stories, and photos to and let's get cooking!

Eat well!

Monday, November 9, 2009

One Day at the Market

I just wanted to share this amazing time-lapse video of a full day of the Portland Farmers' Market from set-up to take-down, and all of the action in between. It's a truly stunning view of the energy and work it takes to make the market possible.

Wow! I'm really glad I don't have to get there when it's still dark. Farmers rock.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mushroom and Butternut Squash Saffron Risotto

Great news! I've settled down (well, at least for a few weeks) into a gorgeous home with my wonderful friends, and can take a break from apartment hunting and everything else I should probably be doing, and cooking up a storm in our fantastic kitchen (gas stove! good lighting! great knives!). For starters, I made real risotto for the first time last night, and it was glorious. A lot of that had to do with the fact that risotto is unequivocally delicious, but it was mostly that cooking and drinking wine with one of my best friends was the perfect way to end a perfect day.

Started the day at the farmers' market, gathering some beautiful squash, peppers, celeriac, the most perfect snow-white cauliflower I've ever seen, eggplant, carrots, raspberries. Who knew we still had raspberries available!? Thanks, greenhouses!

I then drove out to my favorite apple farm in North Plains, Mason Hill Orchard, only to find that they were sold out. Sad, but worth the trip, which turned into an hour-long drive through Oregon farmland in a constant downpour, which was a lot more enjoyable than it sounds. Quick stop at Ikea for some new pillows and $1 meatball plate (!), then back home to a waiting fireplace, coffee, and biscuits and gravy made from scratch by my roommate. Perfect rainy Portland Saturday, topped off with creamy, cheesy, savory risotto and a glass of wine and good conversation. Seriously, how does it get better than that?

Lesson learned: Risotto is worth the work! We traded off stirring at the stove and the result was insanely delicious. I used some saffron that my mama had given me for a birthday a few years ago, which I'd been a bit intimidated by until I saw that it had an expiration date on it. Long story short, I've got a month to use up a lot of saffron, and this delicious vegetarian risotto was born. I adapted the recipe from an Ina Garten recipe which originally used pancetta and chicken stock. I replaced the stock with some mushroom-heavy homemade broth, and replaced the pancetta with mushrooms, for some savory (dare I say umami...) goodness. A quick tip, make sure to use unsalted butter and don't use too much salt before you add the cheese. Mine was perfectly seasoned until the end, but then I added the cheese and it was a bit salty. I added some red wine, because, you know, it was in my glass, and it worked beautifully. Improvisation, friends. It works when it works.

Here's to finding home. Eat well.

Mushroom and Butternut Squash Saffron Risotto

1 butternut squash (2 pounds)

2 Tbsp. olive oil

~ Kosher salt

~ Freshly ground black pepper

6 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade

6 Tbsp. (¾ stick) unsalted butter

cup diced crimini or chanterelle mushrooms

½ cup minced shallots

cups (10 ounces) Arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine

1 tsp. saffron threads

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into ¾-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the veggie stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.
  4. In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the mushrooms and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the rice seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total.
  6. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.