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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Radicchio

Radicchio:

About:

Radicchio is a leaf chicory sometimes known as Italian chicory.  It is a perennial and is grown as a leaf vegetable which usually has white veined red leaves.  Radicchio has a bitter and spicy taste which mellows  when it is grilled or roasted.  It is used in salads, but may also be cooked by grilling, sauteing, or baking.  Radicchio is similar in appearance to red cabbage and may easily be confused with it. 


Red Cabbage(on the left) 
  • is a variety of cabbage with reddish  purple leaves
  • its flavor and texture are similar to green cabbage, firm and waxy
  • it is usually less than $1 per pound.
Radicchio
  • is a leafy member of the chicory family with a bright wine red color
  • it has a bold and bitter flavor
  • its leaves are thin and tender
  • its price runs from $3 to $6 per pound

History:

Modern cultivation of radicchio began in the 15th century in the Veneto and Trentino regions of Italy, but the deep red radicchio of today was engineered in 1860.  Pliny the Elder claimed radicchio was useful as a blood purifier and an aid for insomniacs.  

Varieties:

The varieties of radicchio are named after the region in Italy where they were developed.  In the U.S. we have Radicchio di Chioggia which is maroon, round, and about the size of a grapefruit.  Radicchio Rosso di Treviso resembles a large red Belgian Endive, and Radicchio di Castelfranco,which is white, both resemble a flower and are only available in the winter months.

Uses:

In Italian cuisine radicchio is usually eaten grilled in olive oil or mixed into dishes such as risotto.  As with all chicories if grown correctly its roots can be mixed with coffee.  It can also be served with pasta, in strudel, as a poultry stuffing, or as a part of a tapinade.  In the U.S. it is used raw in salads  but also may be grilled, sauteed, or baked


Nutrition:

Radicchio wine red leaves hold several unique compounds like lactucopicrin (intybin), zea-xanthin, vitamin K, and several other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. 

Health Benefits:

Radicchio is low in calories.  The lactuopicrin is a potent anti-malarial agent and has sedative and analgesic (painkilling) effects.  Its leaves are an excellent source of phenolic flavonoid antioxidants.  Its flavonoid carotenoid (yellow pigments) concentrates mainly in the central part of the retina and together with lutein helps protect eyes from age related macular disease by filtering harmnful ultra violet rays.  
 Fresh leaves hold moderate amounts of essential B complex groups of vitamins required for fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.  Its excellent source of vitamin K has a potential role in bone health.  The excellent levels of vitamin K help limit neuronal damage in the brain.  It thus has an established role in the treatment of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease
It is a good source of minerals like manganese, copper, zinc, and potassium.  Potassium being an important intracellular electrolyte which helps counter the hypertensive effects of sodium.

Season: 

Radicchio is available year round in California, New Jersey and Mexico.  Italian radicchio is harvested from November through mid-February.


Selecting and Storing:

Choose fresh compact bright wine red colored heads with prominent mid-ribs.  Avoid cracks, spots, or bruising on the ribs.
Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.  Pull off and wash leaves as needed.

So........ Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good.....




Radicchio and Orange Salad with Citrus-Champagne Vinaigrette

Salad:
1 medium head of radicchio
1 large (or 2 small) oranges.  Navel or Valencia 

Vinaigrette
1 1/2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs champagne vinegar
The zest of 1 orange
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a large bowl toss radicchio and orange .
In a small bowl whisk vinaigrette ingredients.  Pour over salad and toss well.  Let rest 20 - 30 minutes before serving to allow vinaigrette to infuse into the radicchio. 


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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bok Choy

Bok Choy:

About:

Bok Choy is one of two varieties of leafy Chinese vegetables, the other being called nappa cabbage.  These vegetables are subspecies of the turnip and belong to the same genus as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.  They are calciferous vegetables. Bok choy is often referred to as "non-heading" or non-heading Chinese cabbage.  Bok choy means "white vegetable" in Chinese and is sometimes referred to as "white cabbage".

History:

Bok choy and other forms of Chinese cabbage have been enjoyed in China for over 1500 years.  Chinese cabbage was principally grown in the Yangtze River Delta region, but the Ming Dynasty naturalist Li Shizhen popularized it by bringing attention  to its medicinal qualities.  It has been cultivated in North America for 100 years.  In the U.S., Florida, California, Hawaii, and New Jersey are key states for commercial production of both headed and non-headed Chinese cabbage including bok choy.

My Story: 

When we first started carrying bok choy in the supermarket produce department, it did not sell at all.  I suspect that most of the people who shopped our store did not know what it was.  The produce managers did not want to order it because it would languish on the shelf until it was no longer fresh and then it would have to be discarded.  One day a district manager from the district office was visiting our store.  He acknowledged that we had the bok choy and said that he knew it didn't sell very well, but he still wanted us to keep it in stock.   He explained how his wife shopped a certain store because it had bok choy.  He said she never bought bok choy  and when he asked her about it she said that she liked the store because they had everything.

Uses:

Bok choy is known for its mild flavor.  It is good for stir-fries, braising, and soups.  It can be eaten cooked or raw.    When using bok choy chop the leaf portions in 1/8 inch slices and the stems into 1/2 inch lengths for quick and even cooking.  For most health benefits let bok choy sit for 5 minutes before cooking.  Sprinkle with lemon juice just before letting it sit.  This can help enhance the beneficial phytonutrient concentration.

Nutrition:

Recent studies have identified 70 antioxidant phenolic substances in bok choy.  Its strong beta-carotene content makes it rich in vitamin A.  In fact it has higher vitamin A content than cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.  Bok choy  is:

An excellent source of:  vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) potassium, folate, vitamin B6, calcium, and manganese.

A very good source of: iron, vitamin B2, phosphorus, fiber, and protein.

A good source of: cholene, magnesium, niacin, vitamin B1, copper, Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and pantothenic acid. 

Health Benefits:

The vitamins C and A along with manganese and zinc found in bok choy are conventional antioxidants.  Additionally, bok choy includes a wide range of phytonutrient antioxidants including flavonoids and numerous phenolic acids.  This diverse array of antioxidants provides  unique benefits.  Many of the antioxidants also provide anti-inflammatory benefits.  They not only lower the risk of oxygen based damage to your cells and body systems, but also lower your risk of chronic inflammation.   The vitamin K nit only has a role in blood clotting , but has been shown to regulate the body's inflammation response especially in relationship to our cardiovascular system.

Season:

Bok Choy is available throughout the year.  Its peak season is the middle of winter through the beginning of spring.

Selecting and storing:

Choose bok choy with firm green colored leaves and moist hardy stems.   The leaves should look fresh, be unwilted, and free of signs of browning, yellowing, or small holes.  
Do not wash the bok choy until ready to use.   It can stay unwashed in the refrigerator for up to 6 days.

So......
 Eat up!...Enjoy!...I'll show you how.


Simple but good:


Garlic Bok Choy:

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 lb. bok choy stalks cut diagonally and leaves cut across 1 - 1 1/2 inch 
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar.
salt to taste
1/4 cup water or chicken broth
sesame oil to taste
black pepper to taste

Heat wok and add oil.  When oil is hot add garlic and re pepper flakes and stir fry briefly (about 30 seconds) until garlic is fragrant.  Add bok choy stalks first, then leaves.  Stir in soy sauce, sugar, and salt and stir fry on high heat for 12 minute.  
Add water or chicken broth, cover the wok and simmer for about 2 - 3 minutesuntil leaves are dark green and stalks are tender. 


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Friday, February 6, 2015

Plantains

Plantains:

About:

The plantain or "cooking plantain" is the fruit of  the Musa Paradisiaca, a cultivated variety of banana plant which is intended to be consumed only after cooking or other processing, rather than raw.  Another name for the plantain is "potato of the air".    The dessert banana or just "banana" in the U.S. is usually eaten raw and  used as a dessert.   Plantains are a major food staple in West and Central Africa, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and coastal parts of South America.  Plantains fruit all year round making them a reliable all season staple food.

The difference between Plantains and Bananas:

Plantains:                                                        Bananas:

Starchy                                                            Sweet
Used as a vegetable                                         Eaten as a fruit
Longer than bananas                                       Shorter than plantains
Thick skin                                                       Thin skin
May be green, yellow, or black                       Green when not fully ripe, yellow when ripe



Uses:

Plantains can be used for cooking at any stage of ripeness, and ripe plantains can be eaten raw.   The plantain tastes different at each stage of development.  Plantains can be steamed, boiled, grilled, baked, or fried.

Plantains match well with:
 
bacon, black beans, butter, cinnamon, nuts, pineapple, rum, sour cream.


Nutrition:

The plantain is a carbohydrate source.  The low fat content of the plantain couple with its high starch content makes it a possible food for geriatric patients.  It may also be a food alternative for people suffering from gastric ulcer, celiac disease and the relief of colitis.  Cooked green plantains, as well as cooked green bananas, have a low glycemic index.  Plantains contain very little beta-carotene.  The vitamin C content of plantains is very similar to those of sweet potato, cassava, and potato.  



 My Story:

Growing up Italian in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in the 50's and 60's I did not see very many plantains. It was not until I started to work in the supermarket that I learned about these "cooking bananas".    When they would first come in from the supplier they would be nice and green and firm.  That was the best time to sell them.  That is given that you have the ethnic population that uses plantains.  After not very long the plantain begins to turn yellow as it ripens.  In all the stores that I worked in it was hard to sell yellow plantains.  We would reduce the price, but to no avail.  I never quite understood that.  Yellow plantains are sweet and good.  The plantain can be used at all stages of ripeness.  They people just would not buy them.   Now over-ripe bananas you can sell all day long.  We even had special bags that we would use to sell the over-ripe bananas that had a recipe for banana bread right on the bag. 

Season:

Plantains are available all year long.

Selecting and Storing:

Since plantains can be used at all stages of ripeness, choose the ones you prefer.  The green are more starchy and bland  and can be cooked like a potato.  The yellow are sweeter. Since plantains are firm, they are less likely to bruise.   You can buy green and let it ripen to the stage you want.  A black plantain is only ripe and is usable, but it should still be as firm as a firm banana.  Avoid plantains that are cracked or moldy.  Plantains will last a long time at room temperature.  Discard if the plantain becomes mushy or it it is black and very hard.  


Preparing:

The greener the plantain the harder it is to peel.  A black plantain will peel like a banana.  To peel a green plantain cut off both ends and score the skin lengthwise in a couple of places.  Generally green or greenish plantains are hard and starchy.  They require a fairly long cooking time and can be boiled or mashed. They are excellent thinly sliced and fried like potato chips.  Yellow ripe plantains can be prepared the same way and will have a creamy texture and light banana aroma. Half ripe plantains are excellent grilled.  Black ripe plantains are excellent sauteed and will cook longer without falling apart so as to develop the flavor.  

So, there you have Plantains!  Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good.


Baked Plantains: 

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large plantain skinned and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup guava jelly
1 tablespoon rum
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
Grease a baking sheet with oil and arrange plantain slices on it
In a small saucepan melt guava jelly and rum over medium heat and season with salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture over the plantains and bake for 15 - 20 minutes.




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