Vegan in Florence, Part 1

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Buongiorno from Florence! As I mentioned in my recent post regarding the connections between eating disorders and digestive complications, you, dear readers, can expect a number of posts relaying my adventures in Florence, Italy during the upcoming weeks. My parents have subletted an apartment here until late April—joining my aunt, a longtime resident of the city—and have graciously invited me to spend my college’s spring break in the art capital of Italy.

In the days leading up to my departure, I encountered many inquiries from friends concerning the availability of vegan food in Florence. To their surprise, I informed them that navigating Italy as a vegan proves incredibly easy—moreso, probably, than navigating many areas of the U.S. For example, a vegan in Italy can always find an animal-free pasta dish, even if that comprises of a simple bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce (it’ll be the best damn spaghetti and tomato sauce you’ve ever had, too). A vegan in Italy can always order pizza with tons of veggies and no cheese. A vegan in Italy can always enjoy gelato, since all fruit-based gelatos contain no dairy or eggs. A vegan in Italy can gorge themselves on every type of bread imaginable. A vegan in Italy can always find the freshest of vegetables—grilled, marinated, tossed in green salads, and served with plenty of olive oil. A vegan in Italy can always find olives. What more could you need?

Gabe's first true gelato experience!

Gabe’s first true gelato experience! Mmm, vegan blackberry and rice-based hazelnut.

In addition to the inherently vegan aspects of Italian cuisine, I’ve also noticed a proliferation of uniquely vegan goods and restaurants in Florence. I know of four well-stocked natural foods stores, all of which boast soy/almond/rice/hazelnut milks, soy yogurt, marinated tofu, seitan, vegan mayonnaise, and animal-free pastries. Five all-vegetarian restaurants have done successful business for at least the past four years, one of which has enjoyed a cult following since 1981. Hole-in-the-wall panini shops have begun advertising vegan sandwiches on their outdoor menu displays. Waiters understand the word “vegan” rather than having to interpret my horribly pronounced “Che sono qui senza latte ni carne?” (“Is there anything here without milk or meat?”). Yes, eating animal-free in Florence poses no difficulty for your average vegan traveler.

During the first couple days of our two-week stay in my parents’ Florentine apartment, my travel companion Gabe and I acclimated ourselves to the city in the most effective and enjoyable manner possible: trekking on foot through the cobbled streets. On most of our excursions, we simply stepped out of the apartment and started walking, map in hand but with no plan. The familiarity of Florence and ability to navigate it surprised me; I hadn’t visited the city since the summer of 2011, yet I remembered the streets, shops, and neighborhoods that I’ve known sporadically since infancy. Our walking adventures led us through the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (the outdoor produce market near my parents’ apartment), to grocery shop at La Raccolta (my favorite natural foods store and macrobiotic restaurant), across the Ponte Vecchio and to the arsty Oltrarno neighborhood (which literally translates to “the other side of the river”), through the Palazzo Pitti and its Giardino di Boboli (the palace-turned-museum and adjoining gardens), and of course through all of the piazzas that form the basis of Florence’s street layout. A more structured adventure took us through the home of Michaelangelo’s family—known as Casa Buonarotti—led by my talented art historian of an aunt.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo's house.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo’s house.

Needless to say, throughout our meanderings, Gabe and I reveled in the artful simplicity of Italian cuisine. Below are a couple of favorite eating experiences from our first days in Florence:

Le Vespe Café

Via Ghibellina 76R, Florence, Italy 50125

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This adorable café, clad in painted Florentine tiles and aqua-blue décor, provided haven for my parents when the WiFi in their apartment died for a week. Offering free internet access alongside a selection of organic and vegan-friendly baked goods, smoothies, juices, sandwiches, and salads, Le Vespe Café provides an ideal homey atmosphere in which to while away the hours with spring break schoolwork. Gabe and I have spent a number of our afternoons working in the café, but have only enjoyed a bit of edible fare, including a berry smoothie and a cardamom-cinnamon spiced latte known as Indian Kofi. I hope to return to Le Vespe during the lunch hour to sample their tofu scramble, homemade veggie burger, tofu salad, and vegan red velvet cupcakes.

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Il Pizzaiuolo

Via de Macci 113R, Florence, Italy 50122

My parents stumbled upon this unassuming, wood-fired pizzeria on the first night of their three-month stay in Florence, only to find out later from my aunt that the Florentines regard its pizza as the highest quality pies in the whole city. On the third night of my visit, Gabe and I joined my parents, my aunt, and my 11-year-old cousin to experience the traditional Neopolitan pizza that the city of Florence (apparently) raves about. Though not a vegan establishment in any sense of the word, Il Pizzaiuolo does offer a number of animal-free pasta dishes (one of which my father enjoyed that consisted of spaghetti, tomato-basil sauce, and capers) and veggie-loaded pizzas. Two pizzas on the menu—the Marinara with tomato sauce, oregano, and olive oil; and the Boscaiola with tomato sauce, mushrooms, artichokes, oregano, and basil—are vegan as-is, while even more pizzas lend themselves well to veganization. For example, I opted for the Vegetariana with tomato sauce, eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers and requested no mozzarella cheese, which the waitress happily obliged. Indeed, the Florentines have judged Il Pizzaiuolo correctly—the tender yet crunchy crust, charred flavor from the wood-fired oven, sweet tomato sauce, and succulent veggies all serve to render Il Pizzaiuolo’s namesake items mouthwateringly delicious.

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Vegetariana pizza with eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and arugula.

Bosciaola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

Boscaiola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

5 e Cinque

Piazza della Passera 1, Florence, Italy 50125

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cropped

I frequented the all-vegetarian 5 e Cinque during the summer that I lived with my aunt in Florence three years ago, and excitedly returned with Gabe for lunch while in the city’s Oltrarno neighborhood. Sporting not but five tables (hence the name) in a brightly lit dining room on a small piazza, 5 e Cinque serves a selection of artisanal yet unpretentious vegetarian dishes (many of which are vegan-friendly) and specializes in the thin, crunchy-on-the-outside-creamy-on-the-inside chickpea flour pancakes known in Italy as cecina (and in France as socca). During our lunchtime visit, Gabe and I both started off with a slice each of cecina, hot out of the oven and brought to our table almost immediately after we ordered. While we waited for our entrees, Gabe and I munched on some soft, salted bread for which we didn’t even get charged (Italians have a habit of bringing to your table supposedly free items like water then adding them to the bill without telling you). To follow, I licked clean a pilaf of farro (an ancient wheat berry) and spicy broccoli served over a succulent puree of winter squash, while Gabe reveled in a steamy bowl of curried vegetables served with a scoop of couscous. Impressively delicious and surprisingly inexpensive, 5 e Cinque holds a special place in my heart.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Ahh, Italian bread...

Ahh, Italian bread…

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

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Curried veggies with couscous.

Gelateria della Passera

Piazza della Passera 15, Florence, Italy 50125

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Just across the piazza from 5 e Cinque resides a tiny gelateria that offers house-made, artisinally prepared gelatos of unique flavors. To boot, they feature a blackboard of that day’s available flavors, separated into those con latte (with milk) and those senza latte (without milk, vegan, yay!). On any given day, their vegan selections include a number of fruit-based gelatos (that taste like the essence of fruit packaged in a creamy dessert) as well as at least one almond milk-based gelato. On this particular visit to Gelateria della Passera, I opted to try the pera (pear) and carezza (almond milk base with chamomile) flavors; the former boasted tiny flecks of pear skin while the latter held an intense flavor of marzipan. Divine.

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Stay tuned for my next post of Florentine adventures!

Until next time, Ali.

If I Were to Open My Own Vegan Restaurant…

At not more than seven years of age, I typed up a rainbow-hued list of menu items (including “French toast sticks” and “peanut butter sandwich”), stuck it inside a three-ring binder, and scrawled “Seiter’s Place” in Sharpie across the front. At age thirteen, the pique of my Food Network fandom, I received (facetious, I’m sure) confirmation from my mother that I could attend culinary school as long as I earned my undergraduate degree first. After going vegan in my sophomore year of high school, I jokingly entertained requests from friends that I serve as their personal chef and health coach. In other words, I’ve long viewed the culinary arts as a legitimate and desirable career option to pursue.

Fully intending to devote the remainder of my professional and personal life toward bettering the lives of animals, promoting veganism, and fostering a more equitable worldwide society, I envision before me a sea of career paths: nonprofit management; grassroots activism; magazine, book, and blog authorship; restaurant work; the list continues. I’m steadfastly certain, however, that my primary livelihood will include two aspects: writing and cooking.

Thus, at some point in my life (perhaps after writing my first book on the links between plant-based diets and egalitarian societies, or after launching a nonprofit devoted to dismantling corporate seed-patenting and winning back the rights of farmers in the non-Western world to grow their own food…or whatever), I would wholeheartedly love to open a vegan café/community bookstore that hosts social justice-related speakers, book and discussion groups, yoga workshops, and various other educational outreach events—kind of a Busboys-and-Poets-esque type thing. Engaging in such a project would allow me to combine my passions of social justice activism, the written word, and culinary creativity in a meaningful manner, with the potential to reach, educate, and inspire a generous amount of individuals.

I’ll iron out all of the details later, but for now, I’d like to provide you with a working menu for the seasonally inspired Farmers’ Market Vegan Café.

Breakfast and Brunch (available all day)

Trio of Granolas with Accompanying Milks
Apricot-lavender granola with lavender-vanilla almond milk, berry-lemongrass granola with coconut-cashew milk, sweet corn-thyme granola with maple soymilk
*Raw trio available upon request

Waffle-nanza Platter
Gluten-free sweet potato waffles, maple tempeh bacon, and coconut-braised kale

Fruity Waffle o’ the Day
Changes depending upon fruit seasonality, always served with coconut mascarpone and infused maple syrup

Raw Spirulina-Banana Crepes
Filled with cashew whipped cream and fresh fruit coulis

Seasonal Vegetable Tofu Scramble
Seasonal veggies and greens scrambled with tofu in a curried peanut sauce.

Seasonal Smoothies
Changes depending upon fruit seasonality, favorites include blueberry-basil and peach-raspberry-ginger
*Add a topping of your choice of granolas for an extra charge
*Add kale to any smoothie at no extra charge

Fresh Bakery Selection
Includes muffins, sweet breads, fruity crumble bars, and granola bars
*Raw options available; all baked goods are free of refined sugar and flour, and are sweetened with either dates or local maple syrup

Appetizers

House-Made Bread Basket
Served with a selection of seasonal hummus and pesto

Cheese & Cracker Plate
A selection of house-made nut cheeses served with seasonal crackers
*Raw crackers available upon request

Herbed Garden Gazpacho
Topped with roasted chickpea “croutons”
*
Add a side of house-made bread for an extra charge

Toasty Kale & Coconut Summer Rolls
With lemongrass tofu and sweet almond or peanut dipping sauce

Raw Nori Rolls
With seasonal veggies, sprouts, coconut meat, and sweet almond or cashew dipping sauce

Salads

*Add seared tofu or tempeh to any salad for an extra charge

Big ol’ Farmers’ Market Salad
Mixed greens, alfalfa sprouts, seasonal veggies, chickpeas, and quinoa or brown rice, all tossed in house-made Liquid Gold Dressing

Tangy Kale Salad
Kale, seasonal veggies, raisins, and sunflower seeds tossed in maple-mustard dressing

Spinach & Wild Rice Salad
With almonds and tarragon-mustard dressing

Purple Potato and Haricot Vert Salad
With red onions and miso-mustard dressing

Fall Medley Salad
Brown rice with pomegranate-infused roasted butternut squash and cauliflower, toasted hazelnuts, and baby arugula

Sandwiches

All non-raw sandwiches served on house-baked bread (gluten-free available) with your choice of side salad, baked sweet potato fries, or house-made root veggie chips (raw or baked)

Roasted Brussels Sprout Grilled Cheese

Caprese Sandwich
House-made vegan mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, and basil

“Chickpea of the Sea” Sandwich or Lettuce Wrap
A delectable mash of chickpeas, avocado, and dulse flakes

Raw Garden Vegetable Sandwich
Scallion cashew cream cheese, marinated mushrooms, and butter lettuce, served with house-made raw root veggie chips

Entrees

Fig & Hazelnut Pizza
With caramelized onions and basil sauce on a raw buckwheat crust

Socca o’ the Day
Seasonally rotating French-style chickpea pancake

Bowl o’ the Day
Seasonal veggies, steamed or sautéed leafy green, whole grain, baked tempeh or tofu, and dressing

Miso-Maple Roasted Eggplant & Kale Tacos
With lentils, gingered cashew cream, and mango salsa

Beverages

On-Tap House-Brewed Kombucha
Seasonal flavors

Green Juice o’ the Day
Seasonal flavors

Hot Tea
Selection of organic & fair-trade brews

Herb-Infused Iced Tea
Seasonal flavors

Dessert

Raw Cheesecake o’ the Day
Changes depending upon fruit seasonality

Chocolatey Pudding
Carob, avocado, and banana pureed into a smooth pudding

Trio of Seasonal Ice Creams
*Raw selection available

Raw Cookie Dough “Blizzard”
Banana “soft-serve” with raw cookie dough bites and seasonal fruit swirl

Until next time, Ali.

Cooking My First Ferry Dinner: Zucchini Socca with Pesto & Salad with Tomato-Paprika Dressing

After living in the veg*n utopia known as Ferry House for just over two weeks now, I finally enjoyed the immense honor—though rather intimidating prospect—of cooking dinner for the co-op’s 21 members. Two different Fairies team up every night to provide a wholesome vegan meal for the entire Ferry community, and last night the house cooking schedule united myself and my lovely housemate Lily as the temporary Ferry chefs. Seeing as I crafted a 60-person dinner last Friday, the responsibility of providing delicious food for a third of that many diners shouldn’t have seemed so nervewracking, but I certainly hold the opinion of my fellow Fairies—with whom I interact on a daily basis—in higher regard than that of a handful of conference-goers with whom I most likely will not encounter for a long while. Needless to say, I sought to impress my housemates with my culinary prowess, and turned to the foolproof, crowd-pleasing gastronomic masterpiece of socca to accomplish the looming task.

Green Salad with Mushrooms, Carrots, and Brown Rice

Green Salad with Mushrooms, Carrots, and Brown Rice

Salad and accompanying Tomato-Paprika Dressing.

Salad and accompanying Tomato-Paprika Dressing

Zucchini Socca with Caramelized Onions

Zucchini Socca with Caramelized Onions

Pistachio Pesto

Pistachio Pesto

Lily and I employed Beth’s recipe for Zucchini Socca with Caramelized Onions (multiplied eightfold) as the main dish of our dinner, pairing it with Kristy’s Pistachio Pesto and accompanying it with a salad of tender lettuce leaves, sliced mushrooms, carrot coins, and leftover house brown rice tossed with Tomato-Paprika Dressing. After hollering “DINNER!” to bade my housemates come eat, I jovially explained socca’s origins as a chickpea flour pancake from Nice, France at the curious inquiries of my fellow Fairies, who finished off five casserole dishes worth of socca in mere moments. I suppose you could call the dinner a success.

1st cooked ferry dinner (12)

1st cooked ferry dinner (1)

Meal Checklist: Protein—chickpea flour, pistachios. Whole Grain—brown rice. Vegetablesgarlic, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots. Leafy Greens—kale, lettuce.

While the anticipation of cooking my first dinner for my beloved Fairies caused me a bit of anxiety, part of me desires to halt my studies and become the permanent Ferry House Chef. Blame the Italian grandma in me, but nourishing loved ones with satisfying, healthy food that subjects neither the animals or the environment to harm proves astoundingly rewarding. I eagerly look forward to next week, when I can again don the Ferry House Chef hat with another of my dear housemates.

Until next time, Ali.

What I Ate Wednesday #18

Breakfast: A green smoothie with 1 frozen banana, 1/2 avocado, 1 tbsp chia seeds, 1 scoop Amazing Grass Green Superfood Powder, 3 large leaves of lacinato kale, 1/2 cup frozen mango, 1/2 cup frozen strawberries, and 1 cup sunflower seed kefir all topped with 1 cup millet puffs and a finely chopped dried apricot and prune.

Breakfast Checklist: Protein—sunflower seed kefir. Whole Grain—millet puffs. Fruit—banana, strawberries, mango, avocado, dried apricot, prune. Leafy Green—kale. “Super Food”—chia seeds, green powder.

Local Ingredients: Strawberries from Sutter’s Ridge Farm (frozen from summer).

Morning Tea: Kukicha Twig Tea from Eden Organics.

Lunch Box: Mixed greens, alfalfa sprouts, “farmhouse mix” sprouts, 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1 diced roasted golden beet, and 1 medium-sized carrot all tossed with Liquid Gold Dressing and topped with a mash (inspired by Pure2Raw’s Sweet Potato Lime Guacamole) of 1/2 avocado, 1/2 roasted sweet potato, a handful of cilantro, a squirt of lime juice, and a sprinkle of cumin. Oh, and don’t forget the probiotic dollop of cortido! (Basically a latin version of kimchi, though less spicy).

I’ve been on a sort of avocado kick lately—why, just check out some of my latest recipes! But who can blame me? Avocados package a luscious, silky texture and dignified flavor alongside a wide array of health benefits, rendering them a true superfood.

Meal Checklist: Protein—chickpeas. Whole Grain—none. Vegetables—carrots, alfalfa sprouts, “farmhouse mix” sprouts, cortido veggies, beet, sweet potato, cilantro.  Leafy Green—mixed greens, cabbage in cortido.

Local Ingredients: Carrots from JenEhr Family Farmcortido from Fizzeology, alfalfa sprouts from Troy Gardens, “farmhouse mix” sprouts from Garden to Be (no website), beets from Driftless Organics.

Afternoon Snack: A bottle of GT’s Synergy Organic Raw Kombucha in Guava Goddess flavor.

Dinner: A skillet socca of sorts made from 1/4 cup chickpea flour, 1/4 cup buckwheat flour, 4 oz finely chopped broccoli, a sprinkle of Italian herb mix, 1 tsp olive oil, and 1 cup water, piled high with roasted brussels sprouts and shiitake mushrooms.

 

My method for the socca: combine flours, broccoli, herbs, oil, and water in a small bowl and whisk until very smooth. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook the socca for about 10-12 minutes on each side. Slide onto a plate and top with roasted veggies, hummus, pesto, avocado, or basically anything your little heart desires.

Meal Checklist: Protein—chickpea flour. Whole Grain—buckwheat flour. Vegetables—shiitake mushrooms. Leafy Greens—brussels sprouts, broccoli.

Local Ingredients: Shiitake mushrooms from Herbs n’ Oysters Mushroom Farm.

Dessert!: A slice of my new recipe for Lucuma Coconut Ice Cream Cake. YUM.

Comment Provoking Questions: What are your favorite uses for avocados? What are your favorite vegetables to roast? Have your experimented with incorporating different flours into your socca?

Happy WIAW!

Until next time, Ali.

Farewell to France Picnic

No, I’ve not secretly dwelled in France for the past couple of months masquarading on my blog as a quaint American midwesterner, nor do I expect to hop a flight to Provence within the next year (wishful thinking…). Rather, the title of this post refers to the heartbroken “Bon Voyage!” I’ll utter this Sunday when my dear friend and picnic buddy Ariane jets off to live with her grandparents in Paris until June. While she strolls along the Seine, converses in the absolutely gorgeous French language, and samples the world-renowned cuisine (now studded with a surprising array of vegan-friendly restaurants amongst the brie and saucission!), I’ll stifle the section of my brain reserved for dreaming up the perfect vegan picnic so as to prevent my forlorn realization of a picnic-less spring.

Needless to say, Ariane and I celebrated her soon-to-commence European adventure with our fifth picnic to date in preparation for their five-month hiatus. Since we remain in the midst of a relatively mild yet still snow-covered and chilly Wisconsin winter, I once again constructed an indoor fort of bedsheets to “provide the grandeur equal to outdoor picnicking” to which I referred in my last picnic post.

In a fit of Mediterranean inspiration, my mind allowed the night’s menu to evolve from the batch of Nic and Kier’s Ultra Creamy Hummus I blended up the previous day—and when I say blended, I mean that I employed my blender to puree the creamiest, silkiest, smoothest hummus I’ve ever had the pleasure of spooning into my mouth straight from the blender carafe spreading on just about everything I’ve eaten in the past couple of days. Who could have fathomed that the secret to out-of-this-world hummus lay simply with forgoing a food processor? Genius.

Of course, if one makes hummus, one must make a vehicle on which to spread it. Enter Richa’s Chickpea Flour Pancakes (aka Chilla or Puda). I tweaked the original recipe to suit a more Mediterranean palate that would nicely complement the hummus by flavoring the batter with 1 finely chopped scallion, 1 minced clove of garlic, and a handful of finely chopped parsley.

Of course, if one makes chickpea pancakes, one must make some veggies to roll up inside of them. I’ve been eyeing Laura’s Sesame and Lemon Roasted Cauliflower with Dates and Olives since she first published the post a bit less than two months ago, falling in love with the idea of crispy sesame seeds, tangy lemon juice, and saccharine dates all clinging to sweetly caramelized cauliflower, and guessed that the dish would meld deliciously with both hummus and the chickpea pancakes. I divided the recipe in half, omitted the olives (since I would use olives in my next dish and didn’t want to risk an overload), and substituted Romanesco broccoli for the cauliflower.

Of course, if one makes stuffed chickpea flour pancakes with hummus (or any meal for that matter), one must make some leafy greens to round out the Mediterranean dinner. Kim’s humble Braised Greens with Black Olives probably served as my favorite plate component of the night, marrying sweet sauteed onions, melt-in-your-mouth kale, and briny kalamata olives all finished with a dash of magic balsamic vinegar. I only minutely tweaked the recipe by using olive instead of coconut oil, red instead of yellow onion, scallions instead of green garlic, 6 pitted kalamata olives, and all kale instead of a kale-spinach blend.

Meal Checklist: Protein—chickpea flour, sesame seeds. Whole Grain—none. Vegetables—cauliflower, garlic, parsley, scallions, onions, olives. Leafy Green—kale.

Local Ingredients: Garlic from Brantmeier Family Farm, red onions from Blue Valley Farm.

The meal left both Ariane and I incredibly satisfied, though we whiled away the time in our childlike fort with discussions of life before, during, and after France long after clearing our plates. I couldn’t have wished for a more pleasant (or more scrumptious) goodbye.

Comment Provoking Questions: What’s your favorite way to celebrate someone’s going-away? When was the last time you made a fort? Do you have a “secret” for perfect hummus?

Until next time, Ali.

Christmas Tree Socca

This Wednesday, the skies unleashed their first bout of solid precipitation onto the unsuspecting Madisonians. Not even slightly ashamed to admit my avid hatred of all things frozen, white, fluffy, and swirling toward the ground, I immediately ventured briefly through the five stages of grief. Denial: “No, no! I won’t look out the window because it’s NOT SNOWING.” Anger: “How dare the weather decide that it would start snowing in November! When I lay my hands on that intangible force, why I oughta…” Bargaining: “Fine. If it’s snowing today, then I’d better not see any snow come March. Okay? You hear me, sky?!?” Depression: “Oh, woe is me! Doomed to five cruel months of cold, snow, and a grey firmament…why cannot mine life meet its sweet end ere winter’s icy fingers encircle mine entire soul?” Acceptance: “You win, weather. It’s snowing. Better drag the ol’ holiday spirit out of the closet.”

Thus, with the first snowfall comes my first taste of the holidays. And by first taste…of course I mean first taste. Embarking on a one-night hiatus from Thanksgiving preparation (both mental and in the form of menu planning), I skimmed over the November family meal and arrived right in the midst of a classic yuletide tradition: decorating the Christmas tree. No, I didn’t journey into the wilderness to hack down my own Douglas Fir. Instead, I baked up a pan of socca.

Not intentionally yearning to recreate Christmas in the form of a chickpea pancake, my culinary holiday adventure began with a craving for socca paired with a desire to finish off a bag of spinach and utilize some freshly roasted beets. The creation that I pulled from the oven, however, morphed into a winter wonderland reminiscant of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. Allow me to elaborate: The tinsel-like caramelized onions entwine the green socca pine needles as the golden beet lights shine through their branches, bejeweled with the burgundy-red beet ornaments.

The flavor, however, does not inherently represent yuletide cheer, as I did not fathom the socca’s holiday nature while choosing the ingredients. Nonetheless, the classic combination of dill and beets complemented by the sweet caramelized onions creates a lovely filling for the green socca, which actually tastes nothing of the generous amount of spinach introduced into the batter. I also slightly increased the ratio of water to flour to create a more custardy texture that I’ve come to prefer after tasting YumUniverse’s Savory Pumpkin Socca with Cashew Cream. If you like your socca on the breadier side, reduce the amount of water to a single cup.

Dilly Christmas Tree Socca with Beets and Spinach (Gluten Free, Soy Free, Nut Free)

Makes one 9″ pan.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2-3 oz spinach
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill
  • 1 red and 1 golden beet, roasted and neatly cubed (To roast the beets: trim off the top and bottom, wrap each one individually in aluminum foil, and stick in a 400°F oven for about 45 minutes or until fork-tender.)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat a teaspoon of the oil in a small non-stick pan over medium heat. Lightly saute the onions for about 10 minutes, until they just begin to brown, then turn the heat all the way down to low and cook, without stirring, for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and very tender.

Meanwhile, combine the garbanzo bean flour, water, spinach, and dill in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.

When the onions have finished cooking, drizzle the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a 9″ round baking dish. Layer on the onions and evenly space the beet cubes on top of the onions. Pour on the spinach batter, taking care not to move the beets around too much, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before cutting so it can firm up a bit.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend, Simple and in Season, and Gluten-Free Wednesdays, and December Blog Hop.

Meal Checklist: Protein—chickpea flour. Whole Grain—not needed when devouring an entire pan of socca. Vegetables—beets and onions. Leafy Green—spinach.

Local Ingredients: Onions from Jones Valley Farm, spinach from Snug Haven, beets from Driftless Organics.

Comment Provoking Questions: Are you in the holiday spirit yet? What are you planning for Thanksgiving? What are your favorite holiday flavors?

Until next time, Ali.

Indoor Picnic with Squash Socca and an Ode to Childhood Forts

Remember role-playing “house” or pretending you lived in the woods as a child? The scenarios invariably ended in the building of a precariously constructed fort of pillows and blankets. But representing infinitely more than mussed up bedding, the forts evoked a sense of wonder and amazement from creating a hideaway in your very own home. Everyday activities from watching the Lion King (in which I did indeed partake every single day of my 4-year-old life) to eating a peanut butter sandwich morphed into adventures when accomplished inside a handmade fort.

Well, I made a fort today. Ariane, my picnic buddy, and I had developed a strong urge to hold our fifth vegan picnic, but the blustery autumn weather posed an obstacle to our outdoor meal. Contemplating what could possibly make eating inside even marginally as exciting as dining out in glorious nature, I realized that the escape of my childhood forts would provide the grandeur equal to outdoor picnicking.

Two sheets draped to the ceiling plus a vintage clothing trunk moonlighting as a dining table equals the classiest indoor fort ever.

 

Of course, with great picnic setting must come great food. To celebrate autumn (since I like to base our picnics around the seasons), I roasted a pound of gorgeous, plump brussels sprouts from Harmony Valley Farm and baked a pan of YumUniverse’s Savory Pumpkin Socca with Cashew Cream, which has sat on my “Recipes to Try” Word document list for quite some time now.

 

Dinner submitted to Fight Back Fridays.

I followed Heather’s recipe almost exactly, substituting fresh homemade pureed butternut squash for the pumpkin puree. The slightly higher than usual water-to-chickpea-flour ratio created an incredibly moist custardy texture, which I might actually prefer to the breadier versions of socca that I’ve made previously. And the Cinnamon Cashew Cream? Positively delectable. I’d probably eat my pair of running sneakers if I slathered them in the stuff. Pureeing it in the blender created its addictive creaminess, which I’ve definitely had trouble achieving using my food processor for other cashew-based dressings. The only adjustment I might impose upon this recipe would be using a lighter hand with the spices, as they slightly overpowered the natural sweetness of the butternut squash and the beany flavor of the chickpea flour.

Meal Checklist: Protein—chickpea flour. Whole Grain—none (I don’t usually include a grain when eating socca since it’s quite filling enough). Vegetables—butternut squash. Leafy Green—brussels sprouts.

Local Ingredients: Brussels sprouts from Harmony Valley Farm, butternut squash from the Plahnt Farm.

Our indoor fort-picnic-socca-sprouts extravaganza proved a rousing success and I only reminded Ariane, who has citizenship in France and speaks the language at home, that socca is a specialty of southern France about 12 times. Can you blame me for being enamored by her Frenchness?

Comment Provoking Questions: Did you make forts as a child? Did they usually fall down or were they actually well-constructed? What was your favorite activity to do inside a fort? What kinds of dressings or sauces do you like to make using cashews as the base?

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo 19: Carrot-Parsnip Soccattata

Socca: the chickpea pancake invading every vegan blogger’s kitchen. The gals at Pure 2 Raw first introduced me and many others to the garbanzo beany heavenliness, but since then, I’ve seen socca cropping up on a vast majority of my RSS feeds from YumUniverse’s Sweet and Savory Pumpkin Socca to The Vegan Chickpea’s Socca with Shallots and Onions to Sketch-Free Vegan Eating’s Green Pea Alfredo Socca Pizza to xGFx’s Socca Pizza with Kale and Red Onions to…the list continues on (and you can see how enthusiastic about discovering new socca recipes! We’re all one in the same, we vegan bloggers).

The bottom line? Nobody doesn’t like socca. And this time, a vastly healthier food can use that catchy slogan! (A certain woman’s white bread, anyone?) Lately, I’ve been experimenting with different methods, cooking times, and fillings for socca and so far, I prefer the “frittata” method (rather, the aptly named “soccattata”), introduced by Olives for Dinner: caramelize onions, saute in a mix of other veggies, pour into a circular baking dish coated in olive oil, add the chickpea flour batter, and bake for 20 minutes at 400°F. Obviously, this non-recipe allows for a ridiculous amount of variation, perfectly suited to fit almost anyone’s specifit tastes. A tiny fraction of the endless possibilities for socca mix-ins:

  • Spinach and cherry tomatoes.
  • Finely chopped broccoli and lemon zest.
  • Kale, garlic, raisins, and pine nuts.
  • Shredded brussels sprouts.
  • Quinoa or any other grain.
  • Sweet potato/pumpkin puree and tahini. (Inspired by my latest culinary epiphany.)

Last night, a socca craving bombarded me. I spotted a head of Peacock broccoli first in the refrigerator but, upon careful consideration, couldn’t select a vegetable with a complementing flavor to accompany the little crucifer. The carrots then spoke to me: “Grate us along with a parsnip and caramelize us with the onions!” How could I say no to their adorable beta-caroteniness? The socca that ensued amalgamated as a sweet, succulent, wonderfully autumnal dish and the addition of thyme would only intensify its already tantalizing flavors. (Unfortunately, I discovered an empty thyme jar in my pantry while concocting this recipe…I guess I’ll just have to make it again! Darn.)

Carrot-Parsnip Soccattata (Gluten Free, Nut Free, Soy Free)

Serves 1-4.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 medium parsnip, grated
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a small non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to its lowest setting and allow the onions to caramelize for 15-30 minutes, without stirring, until golden brown but not burnt.

Meanwhile, whisk the garbanzo bean flour and water together in a bowl and set aside.

When the onions have sufficiently caramelized, turn up the heat to medium and add the grated carrots, parsnips, and thyme if using. Saute for 10-20 minutes or until lightly browned and fairly juicy.

Pour the remaining 2 tsp olive oil into a 9-inch round baking dish. Layer the carrot-parsnip-onion mixture on the bottom and pour the chickpea batter on top. Slide into the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend.

Meal Checklist: Protein—chickpea flour. Whole Grain—none. (As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t feel the need to serve a whole grain when devouring an entire pan of socca.) Vegetables—onions, carrots, parsnips. Leafy Green—side of Peacock broccoli.

Local Ingredients: Rosso Milano onions and Peacock broccoli from Jones Valley Farm, carrots from JenEhr Family Farm, parsnips from Driftless Organics.

Comment Provoking Questions: Have you jumped onto the socca bandwagon? (Because if you haven’t, you would truly enrich your life by doing so.) If so, what is your favorite socca recipe? Do you like to add veggies/grains/herbs straight to the batter or pile them on top like a pizza?

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo 12: Soccattata with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, and Tomatoes

My numerous apologies for dangling those socca pictures right in front of your face without a recipe to satisfy your instantaneous craving—I had just returned home from gymnastics and required a quick-fix to fulfill the Vegan MoFo goal of everyday blogging before collapsing into bed. A quick recap…

 

Anywho! Boy howdy, have I got an absolutely scrumptious round of recipe experimentation for you. This recipe for Soccattata (socca and frittata merged into one nummy dish), hails from the ever-classy Olives for Dinner blog and offered a complete culinary revelation: vegan frittatas no longer need rely on tofu! Here’s my beef (anti-pun?) with tofu frittatas—they’re basically glorified tofu scrambles. Frankly, such a concept is quite the oxymoron since I turn to tofu scrambles for a comforting meal. Thus, why overly fancify the simple yet wonderfully satisfying vegan culinary staple of scrambled tofu? Nuh-uh, ain’t happening.

However, thanks to Olives for Dinner, I discovered chickpea flour as a glorious substitute for eggs. Well…perhaps not discovered. Ricki Heller at Diet, Dessert, and Dogs also utilizes the ground garbanzos to create an eggy texture in her vegan Green Eggs and Ham recipe (which I’m dying to whip up). Even though I certainly can’t claim credit for inventing the chickpea-flour-as-eggs concept, I can praise it! And praise it, I will. Praise in the form of devouring an entire pan of soccattata by myself and relishing every moment.

While one usually bakes socca to firmness for about 30-40 minutes, the chickpea pancake need only bake for a mere 20 minutes to achieve the moist, decadent, and slightly runny texture of eggs. You could certainly augment this recipe with different vegetables, the addition of spices, or adding more olive oil to suit your tastes. I only implore of you one unchangeable element of the soccatta—PLEASE include the caramelized onions! They truly elevate the dish to catastrophic scrumptiousness.

Recipe Experimentation: Soccattata with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, and Tomatoes—Adapted from Olives for Dinner.

Tweaks:

  • Omitted salt.
  • Omitted olives. (Why don’t I enjoy olives in cooked dishes? Uncover the mystery here.)
  • Reduced olive oil to 1 tablespoon. (Used 1 tsp to caramelize the onions, then added the remaining 2 tsp to my glass baking dish before pouring in the spinach mixture and the chickpea batter.)
  • Replaced sundried tomatoes with fresh sungold cherry tomatoes.
  • Didn’t let the batter sit overnight—just for about 30 minutes.
  • Instead of using a cast iron pan, I caramelized the onions then sauteed the spinach and tomatoes together in a regular saute pan. I transferred the mixture to an oiled 9″ glass baking dish (see olive oil note above) before pouring on the chickpea batter and sliding it into the oven.

 

Lessons Learned for Next Time:

  • Make this every single day of your life for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and you will never be sad.

I guarantee that if you experiment with your own version of soccattata, or even if you follow either my rendition or the original recipe to a T, you will agree wholeheartedly with the statement above. Then come gush to me about how thrilled you are to have stumbled upon this godly culinary creation.

Local Ingredients: Rosso Milano onions from Jones Valley Farm, sungold tomatoes from the Plahnt Farm, and spinach from Driftless Organics.

Meal Checklist: Protein–chickpea flour. Whole Grain–none (when a whole pan of socca constitutes my dinner, I feel no need to include a grain in the meal). Vegetables–onions, tomatoes. Leafy Green–spinach.

Comment Provoking Questions: What is your view on the comfort vs. fancified aspect of tofu frittatas? What are your favorite ingredients to add to a tofu scramble? How about your favorite ingredients to add to socca? What is your number one favorite vegan egg replacer?

Until next time, Ali.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend.

Vegan MoFo 11: Socca Recipe Tease

Well, I’m pooped. Much too pooped for a full-blown entry. Thus, I’ll leave you salivating with some tanalizing pictures of a socca-fied round of recipe experimentation. Socca with caramelized onions, spinach, and cherry tomatoes, anyone? Stay tuned for the recipe tomorrow…

 

Until next time, Ali.