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Araxi: Roots to Shoots, Farm Fresh Recipes by James Walt. The sophomore outing from award-winning chef Walt and his kitchen crew follows his James Beard Award-nominated cookbook, Araxi. Both named for his Whistler, B.C., restaurant and oyster bar, this new offering features 80 dining room favourites, adapted for the home cook. Being B.C., it favours fish and seafood as well as the province's longer growing season to include root veggies and orchard fruits and a few well-placed Asian touches. This recipe uses Nasturtiums, an edible flower. For more on edible flowers, see Lisa Bendall's story, What You Need to Know About Edible Flowers.

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Roasted beets with chickpea caponata & nasturtium pesto

Serves 4 as an appetizer or part of a platter

 

Roasted beets

1 lb assorted beets (golden, red or Chioggia), washed and dried with paper towels

3 Tbsp grapeseed or canola oil

3 sprigs thyme

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

Pinch of coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut 2 pieces of aluminum foil, each 10 × 12 inches, and place one on top of the other. Place the beets in the centre of the foil and add the oil, thyme, garlic and salt. Fold the foil around the beets and roll up the edges to create a sealed package. Set the beets on a baking tray and roast for 30 to 40 minutes. To check for doneness, remove the beets from the oven, carefully unwrap them and insert the tip of a knife into one of them. The knife should slide easily in and out.

When the beets are cooked, remove them from the oven, unwrap and discard the foil and set aside the beets until they are just cool enough to handle. Using your fingers or a dishtowel, rub the beets to loosen their skins. Peel and discard the skins. Set aside to cool.

 

Nasturtium pesto

1 cup firmly packed nasturtium leaves, washed, + 10 to 12 smaller leaves, for garnish

1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife

¼ cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese

3 Tbsp toasted pecans or walnut pieces

Zest of ½ lemon

Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil on high heat. Add the nasturtium leaves and cook for 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the nasturtium leaves to the ice water to stop the cooking. When the leaves are cool, drain them and pat them with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.

Place the nasturtium leaves, grapeseed (or canola) oil and garlic in a blender or food processor and blend at high speed for 1 minute until smooth. With the motor turned off, add the cheese, nuts and lemon zest then process at high speed for a further 30 seconds until thickened. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until needed. This will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 or 3 days.

Our non-traditional take on a caponata uses chickpeas instead of eggplant but retains all the sweet and sour flavour. Nasturtiums are fantastic, and I always love the look on people's faces when they first eat one of these flowers. Where do you find them? Look no farther than your neighbour's garden or the farmers' market. While you're there, pick up some beets: we like ours somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a pool ball so they roast evenly.

 

Chickpea caponata

3 Tbsp good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

½ medium red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tsp crushed coriander seeds

Pinch of red chili flakes

3 cups cooked chickpeas

½ cup fresh cherry tomatoes, cut in half

½ cup sultana raisins, soaked in hot water then drained

½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped

1 Tbsp chopped curly-leaf parsley

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add the red onion, garlic, bay leaves, coriander and chili flakes and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onion has softened and the garlic is fragrant. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes and raisins and cook for 3 minutes to let the flavours combine. Remove from the heat and refrigerate until cool. Stir in the olives and parsley.

To serve Place 1 Tbsp of the nasturtium pesto in the centre of each plate. Spread it across the plate with the back of the spoon. Top with 3 or 4 Tbsp of the chickpea caponata. Cut the beets into slices or quarters and arrange them on top of the chickpeas. Drizzle with the remaining pesto and garnish with nasturtium leaves.

Serve immediately.

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