seed toppings

Fun ingredient: seed toppings.

On menus and in cooking magazines recently, I’ve noticed a fun new ingredient turning up with increasing regularity: seedy toppings. On salads of all stripes, on grilled meats and vegetables, on creamy soups. My favorite new Radish and Avocado Salad with Toasted Seeds recipe (inspired by a dish we had on vacation last month) has a scattering of seeds over the top. So does this Bon Appetit recipe for Grilled Chicken Kebabs with Sesame Sprinkle, which we’ve made twice in the past two weeks.

Dine out, and you’ll probably find a variation of the toasted seed topping or its cousin, the savory granola (find my savory granola recipe here), adding nutty flavor and vibrant crunch to just about anything. In the case of the grilled chicken kebabs, the sprinkle combined toasted seeds with freshly grated lemon zest and fresh herbs, which added a totally awesome dimension.

These savory toppings are super easy to make: just assemble a pile of seeds (see below), toast them in a dry skillet, and off you go. This is a non-recipe recipe: Just use what you have, or what you like, in whatever proportion you choose. Add just a tiny pinch of salt to bring out the flavor — you don’t want this to taste salty. Make a small batch just for dinner tonight, or enough to play with over the course of a week. You can’t mess this up. If you think of an instance when you’d want croutons, you can swap in a toasted seed topping instead.

Seeds to try: white or black sesame, flax, poppy, sunflower, pepita, pine nut, chia

Herbs to add: minced chive, parsley, savory, tarragon

Other add-ins: lemon or orange zest, black pepper, Aleppo pepper, freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Uses for toasted seed or seed-herb toppings: sprinkled on fresh ricotta on crostini; sprinkled on a chilled soup; scattered over grilled chicken, fish and vegetables; adding life to the traditional caprese salad, instead of croutons in a simple mixed green salad or a vegetable salad

seed topping recipe

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

In a small dry skillet, toast the seeds over medium heat until fragrant but not really browning, about 5 minutes. Cool. Add a pinch of salt.

seed and herb topping recipe

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Pinch of lemon zest
Pinch of Aleppo pepper
Pinch of salt

In a small dry skillet, toast the seeds over medium heat until fragrant but not really browning, about 5 minutes. Cool. Toss with herbs, zest, pepper and salt.

pasta with swiss chard pesto and creme fraiche recipe | writes4food.com

Pasta with chard pesto and creme fraiche.

This recipe for pasta with bright-tasting Swiss chard pesto is yet another inspired by our recent travels to California; this dish echoes one of a table-ful of small plates we loved at Chalkboard in Healdsburg, CA.

There, the pesto was made with kale; here at home, I have a lush row of Swiss chard in my garden, so I made the swap. At Chalkboard, the dish was gorgeous: homemade Mafaldine pasta (a long ruffled noodle, like an inch-wide lasagne) in a pool of velvety green sauce. The pesto was so smooth, with a kick of spice; a second look at the menu revealed a bit of creme fraiche and Calabrian pepper.

When we got home, I quickly whipped up a batch of simple Swiss chard pesto, whisked in a tablespoon of creme fraiche and added a pinch of Aleppo pepper. Aleppo is a global secret ingredient: spicy but not hot, bright but not sharp, with a fruity undertone. (If you don’t have Aleppo, start with a tiny pinch of cayenne, then adjust the heat level to suit your taste.)

I used a long ruffled pasta called Riccia Lunga from the Rustichella d/Abruzzo brand (which I like very much). If you don’t feel like hunting for a specialty pasta, any good sauce-holding shape, like penne, orecchiette or farfalle, will do. Take the time to puree the pesto until it looks like green velvet.

Enjoy this little taste of Wine Country!

pasta with Swiss chard pesto and creme fraiche recipe

serves 4

5 large leaves Swiss chard, center stems removed
3 tablespoons sliced toasted almonds
1 tablespoon chopped garlic scapes (or 1 clove garlic, chopped)
1/2 cup mild olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
Salt
Pinch of aleppo pepper (or cayenne to taste)
1/2 pound dried pasta such as Mafaldine or Lasagnette or other ruffled shape like farfalle
Grated Pecorino Romano for serving

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chard leaves briefly to chop. Add almonds, garlic scapes (or garlic), olive oil and lemon juice; process until the pesto is smooth and velvety, about 2–3 minutes. Season with salt to taste. In a bowl, whisk together 4 tablespoons pesto and 2 tablespoons creme fraiche; add a pinch of aleppo or cayenne pepper to create just a spark of heat.

Cook pasta according to directions; drain, reserving 1/2 cup of hot cooking water. Return pasta to pot and, over low heat, toss with the pesto-creme fraiche mixture, adding a bit of cooking liquid to make a sauce and another tablespoon of pesto if needed. You want a generous coating of pesto on the pasta. Divide pasta among 4 serving bowls and top each with a generous shower of Pecorino.

radish and avocado salad with toasted seeds recipe | writes4food.com

Radish and avocado salad with toasted seeds.

Much as I admire what local chefs are doing with regional, seasonal ingredients, I think of California as the origin point of fresh, flavorful and deceptively simple cooking. I was deeply inspired on our recent trip to Healdsburg, in the heart of Sonoma County wine country: From breakfast to dinner, everything we ate was bright-tasting, loaded with vegetables and layered with flavor.

At Chalkboard in Healdsburg, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner of shared plates that started with this gorgeous radish and avocado salad. Mind you: neither Rob nor I like radishes. But we agreed that we had to try this salad, and we swooned over every forkful. The peppery crunch of the radish, the smooth creaminess of the avocado, the simple vinaigrette, the toasted-seed topping — this dish is truly more than the sum of its parts.

When we returned home, I managed a pretty spot-on replication of Chalkboard’s radish and avocado salad. Here’s the recipe!

radish and avocado salad with toasted seeds recipe

serves 2

For the salad:
1 medium avocado
1/2 bunch radishes (preferably the French breakfast variety)
1 tablespoon raw sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Handful of sunflower sprouts
Salt and freshly cracked pepper

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Slice the avocado and divide between 2 salad plates. Trim the radishes and quarter. In a small skillet, toast the sunflower and sesame seeds over medium heat until fragrant but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake to combine. Toss the radishes and spouts with a bit of dressing; arrange on top of avocado slices. Season salads with salt and pepper and scatter toasted seeds on top.

poached eggs and sweet potato hash recipe | writes4food.com

Poached eggs and sweet potato bacon hash.

Rob and I traveled recently to California, to old haunts and new in San Francisco and Wine Country. We first visited the lovely little town of Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, on our honeymoon lo these many years ago, and instantly fell in love. We’ve returned many times.

On our recent visit, we were determined to explore new spots in this very familiar territory. We stayed at the Calderwood Inn just off Healdsburg’s tree-shaded plaza. I highly recommend it — everything about the Calderwood was comfortable, from the deep front porch to innkeeper Laurie’s delicious breakfasts.

Most B&B breakfasts tend to be fairly indulgent. But Laurie’s dishes were not only tasty, but beautiful and relatively healthful: stocked with veggies (many of which she’d harvested from the inn’s backyard garden), beautifully presented, garnished with fresh herbs and flowers, just the right thing to anchor a day of wine-tasting.

This recipe for sweet potato hash with poached eggs is inspired by one of the Calderwood Inn’s fabulous breakfast dishes. Double the recipe to feed a crowd, and bake the squash and sweet potato ahead of time. It may seem like the several steps are too much work for breakfast, but really, this healthy breakfast dish comes together easily.

And it’s a terrific “breakfast for dinner” option. Thanks for the inspiration, Calderwood Inn!

sweet potato-bacon hash with poached eggs recipe

serves 4

1 large acorn squash, seeded and cut into quarters
1 large sweet potato
2 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard or spinach, stems removed, sliced
4 large farm-fresh eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Snipped fresh herbs and edible flowers for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°. Place squash pieces on a rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Prick the sweet potato all over with a fork and place it on the baking sheet. Roast until the squash (about 25–30 minutes) and the sweet potato (45–50 minutes) are tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Remove and let cool. (Can be prepared ahead.)

Meanwhile, sauté bacon in a skillet until browned but not too crispy; transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. To the bacon drippings, add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until translucent, about 7 minutes. Cut the sweet potato in half and scoop the flesh into the pan; cook, mashing the potato, until the hash is heated through. Add the bacon and season with salt and pepper.

In a sauté pan, cook the Swiss chard until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

To poach the eggs, bring a large, wide pan of water to a boil; reduce heat to simmer. One at a time, crack each egg onto a small saucer and slip it gently into the simmering water. Poach eggs about 3 minutes, or to your preferred doneness.

To serve, place one piece of acorn squash on a plate; top with a spoonful of sautéed chard and a generous spoonful of sweet potato hash. Place a poached egg on top; season with salt and pepper.

fresh strawberry pie in salted brown butter graham crust recipe | writes4food.com

Strawberry pie in a brown butter graham crust.

OK, so we’re on the cusp of strawberry season here in Cincinnati, which means it’s gonna be time for strawberry pie. THIS strawberry pie recipe, to be specific, with its salty brown butter graham cracker crust.

Browning the butter turns your standard graham cracker pie crust recipe into something truly transformative (how have we not been doing this all along). Then: add a generous pinch of sea salt to counterbalance the sweet strawberry glaze? Whoa.

This strawberry pie filling recipe comes straight from my Grandmother Dorothy, and there’s no better. I’ve made this pie filling for eons. But truly, the crust knocks this pie out of the park.

It’s Strawberry Season … GO!

fresh strawberry pie in salted brown butter graham crust recipe

(serves 8)

For the graham cracker pie crust:

12 whole graham crackers, crumbled (or 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Preheat oven to 375°. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the graham crackers until they're finely ground. Add the sugar and salt. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Cook the butter, stirring occasionally, until the milk solids turn lightly brown and the butter smells nutty, about 7–10 minutes. (During this process, the butter will foam and sputter; watch for large bubbles to form on the surface as a sign that it's nearly done.) Let the butter cool slightly, then combine with graham crumbs until thoroughly blended. Press the mixture onto the bottom and up the side of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before filling.

For the strawberry filling:

3 pints (about 6 cups) fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
3/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Several drops red food coloring

Place the strawberries in a large bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, whisk together the orange juice, sugar, cornstarch and red food coloring. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking occasionally. Cook until the mixture thickens and turns translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let the glaze cool. Pour the glaze over the berries and toss to coat, then transfer them to the baked graham cracker crust. Serve with whipped cream.

Awesome side dishes to make for Memorial Day.

Tired of the same ol’ same ol’ side dishes for your Memorial Day feast? Looking for an alternative to goopy mayo potato salad? Here you go: My very best side dishes for grill-outs, backyard parties and picnics. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

whole grain farro salad with corn and tomatoes recipe | writes4food.com

Whole grain salad with tomatoes and corn.

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know that I am All. About. Lunch. (See this great library of healthy lunch recipes.) A good lunch fuels my afternoon and keeps my brain and body working. Plus, we just need to take a mid-day break — get away from the desk, stretch, workout, have something wholesome and delicious to eat. This recipe for farro salad with tomatoes and corn epitomizes the Good Lunch. And it’s a great side dish for grilled chicken.

Packed with whole grains, an easy vinaigrette, sweet vegetables, herbs and a bit of cheese, it’s everything you want in a lunchtime salad recipe. Make a batch of this on the weekend, portion individual servings into lidded jars, and you have a fantastic, pack-able, desk-able lunchtime salad.

farro (whole grain) salad with tomatoes and corn recipe

makes 4 servings

1 cup pearled farro
3 cups water
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup minced chives

In a saucepan, combine farro and water; add 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until farro is al dente, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Pour half of dressing over farro while it's still warm and toss to coat; let cool to room temperature. Add cherry tomatoes, corn and mozzarella and toss to combine; add remaining dressing and combine. Top with fresh herbs.

arugula green garlic pesto recipe

Arugula green garlic pesto.

A glut of almost-too-mature arugula in my backyard vegetable garden just begged to be turned into pesto (it was a little too pungent to toss in a salad). You know what else begged to be turned into pesto? A couple of heads of green garlic I picked up from the farmers’ market.

What is green garlic? Simply, it’s garlic that hasn’t fully grown into the cloved head we all know as garlic. Harvested in the spring, it’s milder and brighter-tasting than mature garlic. I don’t have enough garlic growing in my garden to dig any up early, so I find it at farmers’ markets in our area. I use green garlic as I would regular: sautéed with vegetables over pasta, in salad dressing, or here, in this recipe for arugula and green garlic pesto.

Toss this arugula-garlic pesto with pasta for a quick and easy dinner, or stir it into scrambled eggs or a frittata. Arugula pesto also makes a great go-with for grilled Italian sausages and potatoes. Or drop a spoonful into a bowl of homemade minestrone.

Keep an eye out for green garlic this spring and give it a try!

arugula green garlic pesto recipe

makes about 1 cup

4 cups (lightly packed) arugula
2 heads green garlic (including pale green part)
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 cup (lightly packed) grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until the pesto is smooth. Store refrigerated up to 2 weeks and frozen up to 1 year.

spinach frittata with herbs recipe | writes4food.com

Spinach frittata with fresh herbs.

This beautiful frittata recipe combines three terrific spring ingredients: farm fresh eggs, spring greens and tender herbs. We make frittata all the time — it’s kind of my “desperation dinner,” when nothing else sounds good or I’ve not been to the store for a few days. Frittata is way easier to make than its cousin, the omelet (no flipping required!) and it can take on any manner of add-ins.

Here’s a simple frittata recipe with sweet spring greens: use a quarter pound or so of spinach, spicy arugula, Swiss chard, mustards, sorrel, whatever you find at your farmers’ market. A bit of onion adds some depth of flavor. But the crowning touch is a shower of fresh herbs; in the photo above, I used parsley, chives and chive flowers.

spinach frittata with fresh herbs recipe

serves 4

5–6 ounces fresh spinach, chard or other cooking greens, washed, thick stems removed
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Lightly chopped fresh herbs for serving (parsley, chives, scallion greens, tarragon)
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat broiler. Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium and add the greens with any water clinging to them and cook, tossing gently, just until they’re wilted. Remove to a colander, rinse with water to cool, then press out as much liquid as you can. Coarsely chop the greens. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until it shimmers; lower heat, add onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 7–8 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown. Add the greens and a pinch of salt and stir. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil; add a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the eggs into the skillet; cover and cook until the eggs are mostly set but a little moist on top. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil until the frittata puffs and browns lightly. Sprinkle with chopped herbs and Parmesan; cut into 4 wedges.

best chocolate chip bar cookies EVER | writes4food.com

The best chocolate chip bar cookies.

In honor of National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, which is Sunday, May 15, I give you this: The. Very. Best. Salty. Chocolate. Chunk. Bar. Cookie. Recipe. Ever. I mean, EVER! It’s my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, hands-down.

Grab some really good chocolate chips and/or chunks, the best you can buy. And some coarse sea salt. And, you know, the butter and flour and sugar and stuff.

C’mon, these are bar cookies! They don’t even require effort. Make a batch, already!

salty chocolate chunk bar cookie recipe

makes about 30 bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (see Note)
1/2 cup chocolate chunks, divided
1/2 cup good quality toasted unsalted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon good-quality flaky sea salt (like Maldon)

Note: Use a combination of dark, milk or semi-sweet chocolate in this recipe. I like Barry Callebaut chocolate chunks from King Arthur Flour; if you don't have chocolate chunks on hand, just use 1 cup of chocolate chips, reserving 1/4 cup for topping as directed below.

Preheat oven to 375°. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a bowl and hand-held mixer), cream the butter until it's smooth; add the sugar and cream together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in vanilla extract. Add flour and table salt, mix gently to combine thoroughly. Add chocolate chips, 1/4 cup chocolate chunks and chopped pecans; mix to combine—the dough will be more crumbly than your typical cookie dough.

Line a rimmed 12-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Place a plastic baggie over your hand (to prevent sticking) and use that to press the crumbly dough evenly into the paper-lined pan. Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chunks over the dough and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of flaky sea salt. Bake for 25–28 minutes, or until cookies are nicely browned and pulling away from the pan slightly. Cool for about 30 minutes, then use the parchment paper to carefully lift the cookie out of the pan and cut into squares. (These cookies get crispy like shortbread, and cutting them after they're fully at room temperature is messy; better to cut them when they're just slightly warm.)