Turnip Soup

As far as I can tell, there are still people who don’t quite know what to do with a turnip.  Turnip greens have a more certain presence for Southern eaters, but the bulbous root itself doesn’t seem to command a great deal of attention.  And when it does find its way into the average pot, I’m not sure that it gets treated with much respect. In my own experience, diced turnips sometimes appeared at a covered dish church supper, soggy, unattractive and untouched on a long table –left alone there as diners chose the more attractive company of mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, even steamed-to-death broccoli, and iceberg lettuce, limp and drowning in value brand ranch.

Diced and Ready to Go in the Pot

Diced and Ready to Go in the Pot

The turnip did get a recent moment in the spotlight with First Lady, Michelle Obama in a six second Vine appearance, which prompted some news outlets, including the LA Times, to offer up a few recipes including a classic one for glazed turnips.  But even with Mrs. Obama’s hip turnip moment set to the sounds of DJ Snake and Lil John, there are few kids in our neck of the woods who wake up thinking that they’d love to dive into a steaming bowl of creamed turnips.

Even in literature, the turnip doesn’t get much love.  There’s a Russian fairy tale about a giant turnip with a lovely moral about the value of teamwork. And the Brothers Grimm have a giant turnip tale in their collection, too (albeit one with a mighty weird ending), but neither of these tales made it into any of my story books.

But turnips are worth considering.  They belong to the same family that includes broccoli,

Simmering Away

Simmering Away

cauliflower and kale, usually they’re affordable, they’re always rich in vitamin C, B6, folate and other good things, too.  They are great storage vegetables and have been a welcome part of the winter diet when good food planning (and planting) meant the difference in life and death on the Tundra.

The root can be woody, sharp and bitter if it’s grown in too warm a climate or gets too big, but smaller bulbs are sweet, earthy, and reminiscent of radish.  They make a nice addition to mashed potatoes or a mixed vegetable roast, and are a classic combination with braised duck.

 

Tomato Head’s Turnip and Fennel Soup

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

1 small onion, diced

1/3 cup oil

4 garlic cloves, diced

2 large turnips about 6 cups, peeled and diced

Green stalks and fronds from 1 fennel bulb, about 2 cups, rinsed and chopped

​5 cups water

2 tsp salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Peel and dice onion and garlic.  Remove ends from turnips – peel, then dice turnips.  Cut the stalks off the fennel bulb right above the bulb, where the bulb starts to turn green, rinse and slice the stalks.

Heat oil in a medium to large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minute until onions are translucent.  Add fennel stalks and fronds, turnips, and water.  Increase heat to high; bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer soup uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes or until turnips are easily pierced with a fork.  Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  With an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth.  Serve immediately or cool and reheat when needed.

If using a traditional stand blender – allow soup to cool before blending. Hot liquids will splatter, with the potential to burn when blended.

Reheat to serve.

Serves 6-8turnip_soup_bread turnip_soup

Diced and Ready to Go in the Pot

Diced and Ready to Go in the Pot

 

 

 

Watermelon Salsa

The passing of summer always makes me sad – not for the end of sultry days and blinding sun, of course, but for the end of market days and backyard harvests, of warm tomatoes and sweet corn.  Even so, I am made equally happy for the first sweet smell of autumn when I find it in the air of some cool September morn carting the promise of cooler days and warm cider.  But September is a teasing month, and those wafts of fall give way to still sultry, sunny afternoons that surprise me like a sudden slap.

It’s the contrast of these transitional days that make me think of Pablo Neruda.

If you don’t know Neruda’s poetry, it’s worth a trip to the library, particularly if you’re a food lover.  Neruda, a Chilean poet and the winner of the Nobel Prize in 1971, wrote a wide variety of verse including some fabulous odes to food.  My college roommate introduced me to the haunting Ode to Salt and, my favorite of all, the joyous Ode to Watermelon:

the throat
becomes thirsty,
the teeth,
the lips, the tongue:
we want to drink
waterfalls,
the dark blue night,
the South Pole,
and then
the coolest of all
the planets crosses
the sky,
the round, magnificent,
star-filled watermelon.

It’s the promise of autumnal breezes juxtaposed with the last cruel rays of sun that make me thirsty above all things and bring to mind my favorite line of the ode, “we want to drink/ waterfalls”.  And so I go in search of the melon, clinging to the sweet spot of the sunny season even as I grasp the joys of transition to the days of football fields and the first taste of fall flavors.

It’s an awfully romantic way to describe a food obsession, I grant you, but that’s just how I roll.

But that transition, particularly in terms of flavors isn’t always jarring – in fact, it’s harmonious in our kitchen.  That’s because when our thoughts run to tailgating we find that watermelon sneaks into many of our considerations of game-day nosh.  And one of the best ways to assuage all the feels that fill our hungry heart is to incorporate melon into dishes.  It keeps the flavor in our minds and mouths and makes for some pretty clever eating, too.

Ready to Eat

Consider the case of Watermelon Salsa.  At first, you’re thinking of the spice and heat and how odd that might seem with our beloved sweet fruit, or perhaps you know about the secret and sacred flavor connection between tomato and watermelon – if you do, you know that this salsa makes perfect sense.  The tomato at its finest is also a sweet treat, full of the same waterfalls that our friend Pablo imagined.  So it’s never hard for us to imagine a dish of salsa with watermelon in it – somedays, it’s hard to imagine salsa without it.

For any doubter’s out there, we’ll show you how it works right on your own TV – if you’ll tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today, on Saturday morning, Mahasti will be making Watermelon Salsa just in time for when football time in Tennessee really heats up.

Try it, you’ll like it – even more so if you’re reading aloud a bit of poetry – like you do before college football games, right?  Or perhaps not – but you’ll be feeling it – maybe even just a bit like this….

Jewel box of water, phlegmatic
queen
of the fruitshops,
warehouse
of profundity, moon
on earth!
You are pure,
rubies fall apart
in your abundance,
and we
want
to bite into you,
to bury our
face
in you, and
our hair, and
the soul!

Thanks, Pablo – we feel you!

The ingredients

The ingredients coming together

Tomato Head’s Watermelon Salsa

8 cups watermelon, diced

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 large  jalapeno, diced about 2 Tbls

1 tsp salt

2 Tbl fresh lime juice

Cut Watermelon in half, then cut into 1 inch segments.  Lay each segment on cutting board and carve out the flesh.  Cut the watermelon into ¼ inch cubes and place in a medium mixing bowl.  Add chopped cilantro, diced onion and jalapeno along with salt and lime juice.  Mix everything together with a large spoon until all the ingredients are distributed evenly.

Serve as a dip with Tortilla chips.  Also makes a great salsa for topping your favorite fish tacos or black bean nachos.

Trifecta of Food Holidays

3 is a magical number.  In Roman and Chinese systems, it’s one of the few numbers that’s written with as many strokes as the number represents.  It’s a significant number to Christians, Hindus, Pagans, and Pythagoras, too. In less consecrated  ways, those who fancy a flutter on the gee-gees on Derby Day or anytime Keeneland is open have the option of betting Trifectas – a challenging but profitable prediction of the order of first, second and THIRD place winners.

Even cultural superstitions are pervaded by the number – third on a match dies, celebrities die in trios, and the third time is a charm.

Although we’re not especially superstitious, nor particularly wont to wager, as we consider the number 3 alongside our immediate future, it becomes clear that the prognosis is good, bright, and perhaps even wondrous.  We might even play the numbers.

May 13, 14 and 15 constitute a Trifecta of taste, practically a Tomato Head triduum, which celebrates three of the foods that are dear to our heart and hunger.  First comes National Hummus Day, followed by Buttermilk Biscuit Day, and finally Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.  Can you imagine a better way to celebrate the middle of the lusty month of May?

Hummus remains one of our most popular offerings in and out of our restaurants – you can find it on the shelves of 14 area grocery stores (you can see where here).  Our blend of pureed chick peas, tahini and (sort of) secret seasonings is a wholesome and tasty snack that makes a lot of sense for today’s diet – it tastes great, it’s packed with protein, and, best of all, it’s made by your neighbors.  If you have yet to spread hummus on a sandwich or tortilla come on down to see us on May 13th, and we’ll happily show you how it’s done.  Heck, come any day – Roger Roger and Lucy are just hanging out on the sandwich menu waiting to meet you, while Jose Jose Burrito practically pines for your attention on this special day.

Lucky for us all, May 14, better known as National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, falls on a Saturday this year, so you don’t have to postpone your party.  You can celebrate on schedule at brunch when we have a little bit of biscuit heaven available right here on earth.  We talked about the noble biscuit and shared the best biscuit recipe, too, in this blog entry from September.  Still it’s worth remembering that biscuits are not just an important part of a good southern diet, they make for a party day extraordinaire in Knoxville.  We serve our biscuits in classic fashion with gravy galore, but you can also really throw down with our option to top the biscuit with scrambled eggs, Sweetwater valley smoked cheddar, our housemade breakfast gravy & your choice of either ham, Benton’s bacon, chorizo, housemade soysage, or baked tofu.

Finally, you can wrap up this exceptional trio of tasty days with national Chocolate Chip Cookie Day which, as you may have gathered, falls on Sunday Fun Day.  For Tomato Head, this day holds a lot of significance – not just because of our inner cookie monster but because we can share the day with so many people.  It’s a good day for us to reflect on the value of having Flour Head Bakery in our lives because they give us three kinds of chocolate chip cookies including the traditional recipe along with options for both the Vegan and the Gluten Sensitive folks that we love.

The great thing about this trifecta is that the bets always pay off. And if you’re superstitious, the only thing bad that ever happened to the third person on a cookie is that they had to ask for another cookie.

So, party on.  And if you aren’t inclined to party like a rock star, you can certainly eat like a king. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

Valentines Day at Tomato Head

For some of us, Valentine’s Day elicits a cynical response. It’s a holiday of strange expectations, most of which fail – often miserably. In the spirit of those failures, I admitted to a friend that I had once received an electric can opener as a Valentine. She laughed and replied that she had once gotten a 2 inch teddy bear from a drug store checkout line. At least, she opined, the can opener was (probably) useful. And to be honest, I had suggested to my beloved only a few weeks earlier in a post-Christmas rant that I didn’t need any more tchotchkes; I preferred practical gifts. Admittedly, then, it was a thoughtful, if decidedly unromantic gesture. You do, in fact, reap what you sow.

Of course, even if I mouth the words “the holiday doesn’t mean much” or “please don’t go to any trouble”, it’s hard for me not to want some small but well considered gesture that shows just how much you love me.

You do love me, right?

I suspect that deep down, many people share the thought; and so, perhaps, the bouquet of long stemmed roses or the big, beribboned box of chocolates is worth the expense and effort. But to my mind, the real gift of love in this harried and hurried era of regular smart phone alerts is the gift of undivided time and attention. So, consider a Valentine date and dinner with your phone turned off and your attention turned on your beloved.

Naturally, I think that sitting down to a meal of real food, made by real people who care about what they do is the best way to celebrate any day – so, sharing one of our pizzas and a Kepner Melt followed by a luscious Valentine cupcake or two makes an ideal date. But, even if you stay in or go out for sushi, keep your eyes on what you really love, and the day will be a success – even if there’s a can opener under that bow.

A wise friend once shared some ancient wisdom that says if there’s something that you really want, you must first give it away. So if you think about it, time and the attention are the only gifts that keep on giving.

Happy Valentine’s Day – hope we see you and yours soon.

Happy New Year!

Whenever I think about superstition, my mind almost always turns first to Tom Sawyer. He and his gang were fierce believers in this almost practical magic that relates certain behaviors to otherwise unrelated outcomes: dead cats and a special chant will cure warts, a dog’s howl signals death, and an inch worm found on the body brings the promise of a new suit. And it’s an enduring part of real life, too. Avoiding black cats, cracks in the sidewalk, and opening umbrellas indoors remain second thoughts in my mind even today despite Stevie Wonder’s admonition:

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,

Then we suffer,

Superstition ain’t the way.

Still, superstition is often rooted in practical elements; walking under a ladder, especially an occupied one, may not be unlucky, but it isn’t particularly smart. Similarly, a broken mirror may not really foretell 7 years of woe, but shattered glass seems to linger longer than the proverbial bad penny – and it’s certainly no fun to find a remaining shard in your big toe.

But with food superstitions, the practical element becomes more elusive. In my family we had the traditional Southern meal for January 1: black eyed peas, collard greens, and hog jowl. It was served without much commentary – it was just good luck for no good reason.

If you google New Year’s superstitions, though, you’ll learn that black eyed peas represent coins (albeit funny looking ones), or that they indicate coming prosperity because they plump when you cook’em. There are plenty of explanations to satisfy the curious. But it’s the money and wealth associations that seem to be the most enduring: greens, because they represent the color of our currency, indicate a flow of cash; and pork, owing to its richness or the pig’s habit of successful and forward rooting, foretells a year of wealth. So, eat lots and prosper.

Naturally, we’re not convinced of that relationship between a good luck meal and a growing bank account (primarily owing to 40-some years of experience), but are a couple of other elements of this superstition, particularly as it relates to black-eyed peas, that have some merit to our way of thinking.

The first associates good fortune with an absence of vanity. Black eyed peas and other pulses are humble foodstuffs that are often associated with the poor, at least that’s true before New Southern cooking elevated them to the food pantheon. My guess is that somebody decided that the meek would literally inherit the earth, so perhaps if you started the year with a little less swagger and ate like the meek then you, too, could qualify for a little piece of earth and a nugget of gold.

That sounds silly; but it’s true that if you’ll start eating better, then your fortunes will improve in a number of ways – even if your purse doesn’t swell up like a slow-cooked pea. Black-eyed peas are good for you.

The other origin story of this little legume’s magic rests in the miracle of gratitude. During and after the ravages of the Civil War, when any foodstuff worth eating was burned or taken, the humble cowpea and its cousins were left alone – by most accounts they weren’t considered fit for human consumption. But starving confederate soldiers, who were sometimes able to make a meal of them, counted themselves lucky to have them.

By the same token, for most slaves sustenance came from food that wasn’t quite suited for wealthier white tables – so it was the likes of the black-eyed pea, along with things like collard greens, hog jowl, etc. that made up the meals of the enslaved. It may be that, like the Seder table, a meal of humble foods celebrates the good fortune of a people freed from bondage. That was especially true in January of 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

This January, we’ll celebrate the opening of a New Year and all the hope it brings by filling our bean and rice bowls with black-eyed peas. We’ll also be serving Brunch from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. so you can eat some superstition in style.  While we can’t guarantee any good luck for the entire year, we do promise good taste every day.

A Great Gift For Your Honeybee

Made in Grainger County by the most adorable couple ever, Bob and Delores Moore, Moore’s Acres Creamed Honey is delicious when spread on sandwiches, used as a sugar substitute in recipes, or drizzled over an earthy and nutty cheese. Our favorite way of enjoying it is slathering it on a biscuit for breakfast. It’s sold at the Flour Head Bakery dessert counters at each restaurant in 1lb. tubs for $10.

Yum Yum Yum!

Moore's Acres Whipped Honey

Moore’s Acres Whipped Honey

Tomato Head’s Yellow Squash Crostini with Pesto

Walking into the Knoxville air and feeling it push back, being caught daily in random patches of heavy rain and lightening, and sweating your ~you know what~ off over the past few weeks of this summer is paying off. Not only did we all sweat out a few pounds and increase our water intake by 200%, but also this time of the year is wonderfully ample in fruits and vegetables. The payout is an abundance of foods like cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, and so many more.

This month’s WBIR recipe for yellow squash crostini with pesto certainly pays attention to the local and available.  Although the origins for this recipe are Italian, the addition of one of the three sisters gives this recipe an American twist.

To cook up this dish, you’ll need:

5 cups yellow squash, diced

5 cups tomatoes, diced

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

⅛ cup olive oil

⅛ cup cider vinegar

1 tsp salt

Place all ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and toss well to incorporate all of the flavors.

To assemble the Crostini, you’ll need:

Flour Head Bakery Knoxville Sourdough or Baguette*

Olive Oil

Tomato Head Pesto**

Slice the bread to the thickness you desire. Brush lightly with olive oil on both sides. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400° oven until toasted. Remove the toasted bread from the oven, spread each piece with a liberal amount of pesto, and top with a generous portion of the squash mixture.

A Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, or even a Vino Verde that is not overly effervescent, would pair nicely as white wines. If you would rather have red, consider an Italian red that is both bright and slightly earthy, such as a Chianti or Barbera.

Although this dish does not seem to be compatible with beer for most, it is possible. Belgian ales pair nicely with the strength of pesto, as the herbs and spices of the ale complement the pesto.

*Flour Head Knoxville Sourdough and Baguettes can be found at Three Rivers Market and Kroger in Bearden

**Tomato Head Pesto can be found at both Tomato Head locations, Three Rivers Market, Butler and Bailey Market and the following Kroger stores:  Fountain City, Cedar Bluff, Farragut, Bearden and Northshore

 

Tomato Head’s Quinoa Cakes with Yogurt and Sriracha

I was so excited when I read Mahasti’s recipe, I let out an audible “yasss” complete with the hand-motion you are probably imagining. Quinoa was the reason behind this. Quinoa is a good source of protein, as well as vitamins B, B6, and E, amino acids, potassium, and a healthy list of other minerals. It is a pseudo-cereal that is vegan-friendly and can be consumed in low quantities by those with celiac disease. The inside of the seeds also happen to taste great when cooked, otherwise it is an unpalatable, bitter seed. To get to the tasty part of quinoa, it needs to be cooked. Luckily, that’s easy to do.

To start, you’ll need:

½ cup Quinoa

1⅛ cup water

Place the quinoa and water into a small saucepan over high heat. Boil until almost all of the water has been absorbed. Then turn the heat down to low, and place a lid on the saucepan. Steam the quinoa until the seeds are soft and splitting open. Remove the quinoa from the stove, and pour the cooked seeds into a large mixing bowl.

In order to turn the seeds into Tomato Head’s quinoa cakes, you’ll need a few more ingredients:

⅛ cup oil

⅔ cup onion, diced

½ cup walnuts, chopped

¼ cup almonds, chopped

½ tsp. salt

1 Tbl Dijon mustard

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup breadcrumbs

In a small saucepan over medium heat, saute the onions in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add sautéed onions and all of the remaining ingredients to the quinoa bowl and mix well with gloved hands. Allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes. Next, scoop the mixture into balls, then flatten the balls into disks.

Heat ¼ cup of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry the quinoa cakes in the oil until the bottoms are golden, then flip and fry the other side until it is golden as well.

Top them with plain yogurt and sriracha, if you so choose. They could also be served on top of your favorite salad or mixed greens. They can be served hot or cold.

The raw quinoa cakes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and fried when needed.

This would be a fantastic dish to keep on hand for a quick lunch, or serve well for an easy dinner. As far as pairings go, this dish would pair well with a Beaujolais wine, low in tannin, fresh and nutty. If you’re adding the cakes to something with a tomato-base or similar flavors, try a Chianti or Barbera.  If you don’t drink red, try a Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand. As far as beers are concerned, try a nutty porter or nutty brown ale rich with roasted malts.

Certainly be sure to give this recipe a try, especially if you’ve never tried quinoa. It is both healthy and delicious. I hope you enjoy it!

Click the photo below to watch Mahasti’s recent WBIR cooking segment.

Quinoa Cakes

Tomato Head’s Marinated Zucchini and Mint Pasta

The redeeming grace of summers in the South boils into just a few fine points that prove enough to justify intensely hot summer days. For me, these points can be counted on one hand. Largely, this period of late spring summer multiplies our vegetation options, meaning we have so many delicious options to choose from!

Via the farmer’s market or your own garden, fresh vegetables and herbs are easily available. Fresh ingredients change a dish entirely for the better. Take Saturday’s recipe for Tomato Head’s pasta with marinated zucchini and mint for example; almost all of these ingredients can be found fresh at the farmer’s market.

The ingredients for this recipe include:

2 Large Zucchini, washed and diced to fill 8 cups

⅓ cup Oil

1 tsp Salt

½ tsp Black Pepper

¼ cup Olive Oil

⅛ cup Cider Vinegar

½ tsp Salt

¼ – ⅓ cup Fresh Mint, chopped

½ cup Spinach, chopped

Toss the zucchini with oil, salt, and pepper, then place on a large cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 400⁰. Remove the tray and allow the zucchini to cool.

Toss cooled zucchini with olive oil, cider vinegar, salt, and mint. Allow the mixture to marinate for 2-4 hours.

Cook a ½ lb of your favorite shape of pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and toss with 2 cups of chopped fresh spinach and marinated zucchini. Top with parmesan cheese, and this dish is ready to serve.

This recipe for Tomato Head’s marinated zucchini and mint pasta will serve 4-6 people of your choosing, and will pair well with a Bordeaux or a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. For beer lovers, the pasta will pair nicely with a Belgian-style Saison. Come see us when you visit the farmer’s market.

Click on the photo below to watch Mahasti’s recent cooking segment WBIR Channel 10.

Tomato Head's Summer Vegetable Pasta

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design