Cocozelle Zucchinis, Yellow Crooknecks, and now, Buttersticks.
Thanks to our diligent garden, it’s been a squash-filled summer.
Are you familiar with Butterstick Squash?
New to our garden this year, these hybrids have dark green tips and deep gold bodies, with some green streaking. Similar to zucchinis, they grow long and straight. Unlike zucchinis, ( which can hide under vast stalks and leaves until they are baseball bats!) their bright yellow color brashly announces their presence, and readiness for picking.
The flesh is firm, with a delicate, almost nutlike flavor. Seeds are minute. Easily sliced into thin coins, batons, or planks, buttersticks are cooperative. They perform well in all manner of recipes.
This is indeed helpful, because, if you are like me, the quest for different summer squash dishes is a constant from June through September.
Such a tender squash can be eaten raw.
As I was considering a preparation, I recalled a certain post in the delectable blog, My Little Expat Kitchen created by Magda.
A Greek woman living in The Netherlands, she introduces her readers to specialty dishes from her homeland interspersed with other recipes using the fresh seasonal goods found in Holland. Her photography is stunning, and her engaging voice unmistakable in her fine writing. (She also has an abiding love of chocolate, with recipes to match.)
Magda had marinated raw zucchini slices, and layered them several planks high, each in a slather of ricotta-feta cheese mixture with lemon and dill. It was her Tower.
That post was over two years ago—but its simplicity and beauty stood out for me. Whenever you can prepare an exceptional dish without firing up the stove—well, that’s a huge benefit in the heat of August.
With her inspiration, and select ingredients on hand, I decided to make my version, Butterstick Crudo.
It didn’t take long to whip up.
Chevre, churned with olive oil, lemon, green onion, fresh oregano, and just a hint of honey, serves as both slather and marinade for the butterstick slices. I recently bought some local honey that has a light yet distinct floral taste. A scant teaspoon imparts a desired essence of lavender, without being too sweet, or overpowering.
Be sure to season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.
The mixture will be thin–that’s to be expected. After you lay out a row of thin squash planks, get a spoonful and guide a stripe of the chevre down the center of each one. Place another plank on top and repeat the process.
Mine are not towers–just three stories high.
On to the finishing touches:
Scatter more fresh oregano leaves,
Marigold petals–if you have them—give a distinctive pop
A quick squeeze of lemon, and
A drizzle of good olive oil over the dish…
Place in the refrigerator for an hour, if you would like the chevre to set up. The chilled butterstick stacks slice neatly.
But, it is just as delicious at room temperature. Eat with a piece of crusty bread to swipe up all the creamy dressing.
And, use any leftover seasoned cheese blend stirred into scrambled eggs, or spread on a piece of toast. So good!
BUTTERSTICK ZUCCHINI CRUDO
3-4 small to medium sized young Butterstick Squashes or Zucchinis
4 oz. Chevre
2 t. fresh Lemon Juice
1 t. Honey
2 t. Olive Oil
1 Scallion, cut into small pieces
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh Oregano leaves
Sea Salt and Black Pepper–to taste
Marigold petals–to garnish
Wash, dry, and cut of the ends of the squashes. With a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into thin (1/4″ thick) slices.
In a mixing bowl, place goat cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, scallion pieces, and oregano leaves. Using a hand-held blender, process until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix a bit more. Mixture will be a little runny.
Lay out squash slices onto a serving platter. Spread each slice with seasoned chevre. Layer each with another slice, then more cheese mixture. Finish each with a final slice. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and marigold petals, if you like.
Refrigerate for about an hour to set.
A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.
I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.
For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.
Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.
The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)
Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.
However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?
I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.
As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.
It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.
Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!
I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)
I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.
But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.
I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.
HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt
3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander
In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.
There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.
SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water
Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.
Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.
Good morning, Friends!
As I write this post, squirrels and birds are finishing off the last of the plums on our little backyard tree. A frenzy, you can believe it. I don’t mind. In my kitchen, there’s a huge pot filled with simmering fruit, a pantry stashed with fresh preserves, and a table covered with bowls of the plucked, all in varying shades of red violet, awaiting their destiny.
So many plums. Too many to count!
Conditions must have been beyond ideal this year. A mild, wet winter and a warm, almost summerlike spring–our tree blossomed 2 weeks early, dazzling in its fleecy whites. Over time, its limbs became vertical, dragging the ground, overladen with ripening fruit.
In years past, I’ve been forced to act quickly, snatching plums as soon as they showed that first rosy blush, in order to garner any before my backyard menagerie decimated the crop. This year, no problem: there’s been a gracious plenty for all.
Now, what to do with them?
Friend Maggie likes to make plum jelly: long-simmer the fruit and skillfully strain it for all its juices to make a pretty, ruby-clear spread for toast.
I’m more of a jam-preserves kind of girl. I’ve been cooking down the plums in a bit of sugar, allowing their skins to dissolve into the mix. The plums are juicy and tart; I cook them with just enough sugar to bolster their flavor, while still honoring that tartness. As they soften and release their juices, I fish out the pits. (Sometimes I run the cooked plums through the food mill to accomplish that.)
I pour the preserves into sterile jars and process them in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. I also keep some handy, in sterilized, but unprocessed jars, tucked in my fridge. (This freezes well, too–for those of you leery of canning.)
This way, I have plums in a plain yet versatile form, ready to slather on crusty bread with goat cheese, ladle over ice cream, blend into a marinade for grilled chicken, or whisk into a vinaigrette. Add ginger, garlic, hoisin, and the plums take on an Asian flair. Lemon and cinnamon for an Italian plum-good cake.
In crisps or crumbles: whole ripe plums lend themselves nicely for this kind of dessert. I’ve concocted a gluten-free version that uses oatmeal and ground toasted almonds that I think you’ll enjoy. I look forward to learning your ideas, too.
Here’s a round-up of my plum goodies.
BASIC PLUM PRESERVES/SAUCE
10-12 c. whole plums, washed
2 c. Sugar
large heavy-duty stockpot, canning tongs, clean jars, lids, seals
Place plums into your large pot on medium heat. Pour in the sugar. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes or so. Uncover. Spoon off the foam collected on the top. Stir and continue to simmer, uncovered for another 15 minutes or so.
When the skins seem to have melted into the liquid, and the flesh of the fruit gives way, you can begin straining the plum pits. Some you will see floating in the red sea–just spoon them out. For the rest, set a strainer over a large bowl, and begin pour the cooked plum and juices through. Press with the back of a wooden spoon to crush the fruit and release the pits. Or, run the plum-mix through a food mill set with the largest openings. You’ll get a lush puree. And the color, a knock-out!
Return the puree to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes.
Pour into sterile mason jars, seal and process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.
Makes 6 half pints.
PLUM VINAIGRETTE/GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD
3 T. White Wine Vinegar
6 T. Plum Preserves
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 c. fruity Olive Oil
Place all the ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl. Whisk (or use a hand-held immersion blender) until combined. The plum preserve acts as an emulsifier. Slowly add the olive oil while blending. Makes a thick creamy vinaigrette.
For the Grilled Chicken Salad:
2 boneless Chicken Breasts
1 bunch of mixed lettuces
1/4 lb. Sugar Snap Peas
2 Green Onions
2-3 Nasturtium flowers
Slather a couple of tablespoons of the plum vinaigrette onto boneless chicken breasts and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Grill char the sugar snaps and green onions.
Grill the chicken breasts. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing onto salad.
Compose Salad: bed of lettuces, charred sugar snaps and green onions. Sprinkle with nasturtium leaves for color and peppery bite.
Place sliced grilled chicken on top and dress with plum vinaigrette.
GLUTEN-FREE PLUM CRUMBLE
1/2 c. Oatmeal
1/2 c. Almonds, toasted and finely ground
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
4 T. melted Butter
2 c. sliced ripe Plums (about a dozen)
9″ pie dish
Toast almonds in the oven and cool. Place into the food processor fitted with a swivel blade and pulse until the nuts achieve a powdery form.
Mix ground almonds, oats, brown sugar and melted butter. Add a pinch of cinnamon, if you like.
Take half of the mixture and press it onto the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan.
Slice plums and arrange in overlapping concentric rings on top of the crust. Continue until the dish is well filled. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and dot with butter.
Take remaining almond-oatmeal crust and press over the top.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
Delicious served warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream. Garnish with some plum sauce. Serves 6-8
Because one lone plant was most prolific last summer, with
Multiple blossomed whorls gone to vigorous seed,
Because the winter was mild and the sprouts hardy
A great patch of dillweed, tall and feathery, took hold in my front yard.
This unexpected abundance has me both delighted and stumped. And while its beauty alone makes the little dillweed forest a welcome presence in our postage stamp garden, I’ve been seeking new ways to use this herb.
In pickling, certainly. Snipped into salads, baked onto a side of salmon, folded into a quickbread batter with cheddar cheese.
I welcome your suggestions.
One way I’ve been enjoying dillweed is in this sauce that uses lush Greek yogurt.
A quick whisk of herbs, coarse grain mustard, vinegar, and olive oil into a bowl of this plain creamy base readily transforms into a sauce, or dip, or dressing. You might relish a dollop of this on a falafel-pita sandwich, or as a cooling dip for a spicy grilled lamb kebab. It stands up nicely alongside a tray of crudites. Or potato chips!
Long ago, I would make something similar, using sour cream. Now, I prefer tangy and thick-bodied Greek yogurt in its stead. So accessible at the market, ( all the yogurt companies have added Greek to their repertoire) it makes a terrific substitute–healthier too.
Today, I used it to dress potato salad–a springtime variation that combines new potatoes and asparagus. So seasonal, both vegetables take well to dillweed, and both work together in this somewhat different dish.
You actually plunge the asparagus tips right in with the potatoes, in the final minute of cooking.
Drain and cool—just slightly. When still warm, the new potatoes tend to absorb the dressing better. That bit of heat blooms the herbs in the sauce. You can serve the salad immediately, if you like. Or serve it chilled.
It tastes fantastic, either way.
If you have any other of-the-moment garden veggies on hand, slice ‘em up and put ‘em in. The crisp bite of French radishes, for instance, would be exceptional in this dish. Cucumbers? Yes. Scallions, too.
And, remember–I’m on the lookout for more ways to use my dillweed forest. Please share!
NEW POTATO-ASPARAGUS SALAD with GREEK YOGURT DILL SAUCE
1 1/2 lbs. small New Potatoes, cleaned and quartered
1 bundle fresh Asparagus, cut on the diagonal into small pieces
1 1/2 cups Greek Yogurt
1 T. Coarse Grain Mustard
1 T. White Wine Vinegar
1 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 heaping T. fresh Dillweed, chopped
1 T. fresh Chives, chopped
1 1/2 t. Sea Salt
1/2 t. Black Pepper
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add new potatoes. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.
Add asparagus pieces and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and drain.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients.
Place slightly cooled potatoes and asparagus into a serving bowl. Spoon yogurt-dill sauce over the vegetables.
Toss and fold until well coated.
Garnish with dillweed.
May serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Paris, from Two Sides
The first time I visited Paris, I experienced it from its underbelly.
I was 18 years old, an exchange student living in Holland. My companion Jeff and I had planned to travel by train, making a two week loop through Germany and Switzerland before spending a week in the City of Lights. There, we were going to stay with a family, the Reliers, whom I had known in Nashville. At that time, they lived in Sevres, a Parisian suburb. I had mailed them a letter with details of our arrival. Impetuous youths, we embarked on our journey before getting confirmation from them.
Things went awry soon after we arrived at the Paris station, Gare de L’ Est. Immediately, we called the Reliers, but, alas, no answer. We made repeated calls–with the same empty result. It got late, and so we took a room at a youth hostel, simply called Auberge de Jeunesse. It was a cheap hotel, really. At 2 francs a night, it could be safely classified as a dump. We could stand it one night, we thought.
But, the next day proved to be more of the same: no Reliers. Where were they?
And, there was another problem. I had gotten a small burn on my index finger before we left Holland. As the trip wore on, that small burn showed signs of an infection. When I awoke that next morning in Paris, my hand looked angry and swollen. At the St. Louis General Hospital I was chided with a “Le petite boo-boo. C’est rien!” and given a prescription for antibiotics.
Days passed at the fleabag, with calls to the Reliers becoming a joke. My infection was worsening and money was getting tight. We spent our last francs at a doctor’s office, who took one look and immediately scheduled surgery. After my hand was lanced, drained, cleansed and wrapped, I was much better, but we were broke.
We wired home for extra cash. Jeff’s mom sent us a money order, via overnight air mail, to General Delivery at a Post Office near our humble quarters. In another twist, a strike by the French air controllers delayed the mail by several days.
Still, we managed during that bleak and strange week. We walked everywhere. We darted among the Notre Dame gargoyles. We sat on park benches, ate crusty baguettes and cheese. We cooked modest meals, and otherwise amused ourselves at the so-called Auberge de Jeunesse. Moreover, we discovered Travelers Aid, who lent us money until our special delivery arrived.
When I traveled to Paris over thirty years later, I was curious to experience the city from the Up side of life.
Bill, Madeleine, and I had been visiting friends in Amsterdam. From there, we planned to take the bullet train to Paris, (3 hours, 18 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal to Paris Nord!) where I had booked our room at a respectable hotel in the 6th arrondisement.
It was an unseasonably cool July in Holland, blustery with rain. But as that sleek train sped towards France, the skies began to lighten. By the time we emerged onto the streets of Paris, the sun shone brightly. The wind had calmed. The city was golden.
Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped for a bite at one of the hundreds of lovely sidewalk cafes.
I ordered a salad of mixed garden lettuces, scattered with sliced strawberries, dressed in a sharp shallot vinaigrette. Placed on top of the salad was this crisp disc of goat cheese, still hot from the skillet, beginning to collapse and melt onto the greens. The simple combination of sweet and tart, chilled and hot, creamy and crisp, left me speechless.
The sun warmed the air where we sat. Summer in Paris. A spectacular salad. Another adventure. Life’s sweet balance.
With strawberries and young lettuces aplenty at the market, it’s a perfect time to make the crispy goat cheese.
CRISPY HERBED GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTES
1 lb. Plain Goat Cheese/Chevre Log
1/2 c. All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Panko crumbs
2 T. fresh Thyme leaves
1/4 t. Salt
1/4 t. Black Pepper
Olive Oil—for frying
Heavy duty Skillet
Cut chevre log into 16 pieces. Form each into a disc shape.
Place flour into one bowl, and egg beaten with a little water into another bowl. In a third bowl, mix panko with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves.
Dust each disc in flour, then dip into egg, then dip into seasoned panko, pressing the crumbs lightly onto the goat cheese. Use the “wet hand-dry hand” technique. Use one hand to dip into flour, egg, and place in the bowl of panko—use the other hand to press the panko and remove.
Heat skillet on medium and coat bottom with olive oil. Cook goat cheese discs until brown (about 3 minutes) and turn over to brown on the other side.
Best served immediately over your assembled salad. Spoon over some Shallot-Honey Vinaigrette. Pretend that you are in Paris. On the Up side.
1/4 c. Shallots, cut into pieces
2 T. Honey
1/4 c. White Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 c. Canola Oil
1/4 t. Black Pepper
1/4 t. Salt
Hand-held immersion blender
Place shallots, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper into immersion blender and pulse until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive and canola oils. Vinaigrette will become a smooth thick emulsion.
My friend Allison confessed that she was becoming a hoarder. Not in the Crazy Reality TV way–thank goodness. More like in the Fill the Pantry with Good Food way. She had been buying big crates of citrus–Cara Cara oranges, and organic lemons—and making batches of marmalades, limoncello, lemon curd, preserved lemons, and the like. And, she still hadn’t made much of a dent in her purchase. So I was very happy to be the recipient of a bag of these luscious fruits, along with a pretty jar of her Cara Cara marmalade.
There’s nothing to match the power and versatility of the mighty lemon, whose juice and fragrant zest elevate all manner of sweet and savory things. And, as my initial foray into 2012 has been marked with a little slump in the kitchen, a gaze at the cooktop and cutting board with a world-weary eye, I recognized Allison’s kind gift as more than a bag of excess citrus trying find a home. No.
It was lemons to the rescue.
Just seeing them in the welcome sunlight this afternoon was a lift alone.
Lemons for Dinner? You bet.
My cousin Cathy and her husband John are both avid cooks. Whenever we get together, we love to share recipes and cook. Last visit, Cathy brought a lemon-based pasta recipe from her collection to prepare. “Capelli d’Angelo Olio e Limone” or Olive Oil and Lemon Angel Hair, from the 1997 cookbook Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way was simple–deceptively so. There were few ingredients—a sauce comprised of onion cooked in a fair amount of olive oil, mixed with a lot of lemon juice, tossed throughout pasta, and dusted with parmesan.
It took mere minutes to make—and was truly delicious.
The lemons today inspired my to recreate the dish—with a few modifications. Rather than using onion, I substituted a leek. Lemon and leek are terrific together, and the strips of light green tangled throughout the pasta bring welcome color.
Other change-ups include red pepper flakes for bite, over black pepper, and pecorino-romano for pungency, over parmesan.
Without question, this pasta would be a fine foundation for a plank of grilled fish, a tender fillet of trout, even a scatter of lump crabmeat. But solo, it is exceptional, light yet rich, with a pleasant tang. It’s the kind of toss that accentuates the angel hair, rather than masking it with a complex sauce. So use your best here–DeCecco’s Capellini No.9 has been a constant favorite.
This romaine salad is one that I refer to as a “Mock Caesar”—it lacks the depth that anchovies bring to the traditional version, but is just right for the Vegetarian in my household.
Here lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, and extra virgin olive oil cream up together into a vibrant dressing, generously tossed on chopped romaine leaves mixed with some finely sliced red cabbage.
Again, simple ingredients—simply assembled. It’s more a matter of using your best. Roasting the garlic brings out an inherent sweetness, and the softened cloves act as an emulsifier in the lemon-forward dressing. A crusty piece of ciabatta transforms readily into croutons. Sprinkle some fresh thyme over the cubed bread before toasting for an welcome herbal note.
With this salad and pasta, you can let the lemony sunshine in.
CAPELLINI WITH LEMON, LEEKS, AND OLIVE OIL (adapted from Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way by Leonardo Castellucci
1 Leek, finely sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil
Juice of 1 1/2 large Lemons
Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup shedded Pecorino-Romano
6 ounces Capellini (DeCecco is excellent)
Heat olive oil on medium in a skillet or cast-iron pot. Add the leeks, and cook for about 5 minutes, until they become soft. Cook the capellini according to package directions–about 2 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain well.
Place pasta in the pot with the leeks and olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches) and pour lemon juice over all. Add most of the shredded cheese, reserving some to garnish the top of the pasta after it is served. Toss well, so that the lemon, olive oil, and leeks coat all the strands of pasta.
Serve in warm bowls. Dust with more pecorino. Enjoy!
Makes 2 generous servings.
ROMAINE SALAD WITH ROASTED GARLIC-LEMON DRESSING
1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and chopped
1 cup Red Cabbage, very finely sliced
2 cups homemade Croutons (cubed from a good crusty loaf, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with salt, black pepper, fresh thyme–toasted in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned)
1 cup shredded Pecorino-Romano
Juice from 1/2 large Lemon
3 Garlic Cloves, oven-roasted
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cracked Black Pepper
In a salad bowl, assemble romaine, red cabbage, croutons and shredded pecorino.
In a measuring cup or small mixing bowl, place lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Using the immersion blender, begin mixing. The garlic will cream into the lemon juice. Add the olive oil slowly, and continue blending. Taste for seasoning.
Pour over salad greens and toss well. Serves 4
This is the composed salad that we serve every Christmas Eve. Tradition!
This is the Chocolate Mousse Trifle that we served this Christmas Eve–destined to become a tradition.
I hope that your holidays have been merry, and that good things loom on your horizon in the new year. As we make our exit from 2011, a bit of a roller coaster year in our household, I’ve been thinking about cycles: beginnings and endings. There’s a life to everything–relationships, jobs, homes—and when one cycle ends, it lays the foundation for a new, often better cycle. In the meantime, there’s that odd place “in between” where one cycle is ending and the other has yet to take hold. Uncertainty can be uncomfortable. It’s a great life lesson, likely to repeated again and again, recognizing endings, forging new beginnings, and surrendering to What Is, in the moment.
I don’t mean to wax all philosophical–this is, after all, a food blog. But we all experience changes–big and small—and life filters into the world of food! Bill recently had a health scare, potential cancer, and he lost his job of 23 years. That he learned both things side-by-side one recent afternoon (”You are cancer-free” from his doctor, post-biopsy, to “We need to discuss your departure date” in a voice message from his manager.) puts a stark perspective on what is really important, what is indeed a blessing.
With big change inevitable in 2012, I know that we’ll all land on our feet–just like our new cat, Sid. In the meantime, I’m sharing two recipes from our holiday dinner, a great beginning: Composed Winter Salad with Brown Sugar Vinaigrette and an amazing ending: Chocolate Mousse Trifle.
Come the new year, I’ll still be cooking, blogging, and staying connected. Always good things in the kitchen and the garden!
Best wishes to you all. As always, thank you for visiting Good Food Matters.
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE TRIFLE
12 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate
6 T. Strong Coffee
2 T. Vanilla
2 T. Creme de Cacao
2 T. Creme de Cassis
2 sticks Unsalted Butter, softened, cut into pieces
8 Eggs, separated
1/2 cup Sugar
1 package Savoiardi (firm Italian ladyfingers)
Heady Dipping Liquid: 1/2 c. Strong Coffee, 2 t. Vanilla, 4 T. Rum
Whipped Topping Garnishes:
2 cups Heavy Cream, divided
1/2 c. Confectioner’s Sugar, divided
1 T. Vanilla
2 T. Cocoa Powder
In a heavy 2 qt. saucepan under low heat, melt the chocolate and coffee together.
Whisk in the vanilla and liqueurs. Then, stir in the butter, one chunk at a time, until it becomes smooth and shiny. Remove from heat.
Using an electric mixer with a balloon whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the yolks become really pale yellow and thickened, almost triple in volume. This will take several (at least 5) minutes. The yolks will cling to the whisk.
Check your chocolate mixture; it should be warm—but not hot.
Beat it into the thickened egg yolks; the mixture will seem like chocolate mayonnaise.
Pour this into another large mixing bowl.
Clean and dry your mixer bowl and whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Fold about ¼ of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites.
Select a pretty glass bowl. One by one, dip the ladyfingers into the coffee-rum mixture and line the bottom of the bowl. Spoon in a layer of mousse. Repeat with another layer of dipped ladyfingers, then more mousse until bowl is filled.
Whip one cup of cream with vanilla and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar. Set aside. Whip remaining cup with 2 T. cocoa powder and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar.
Smooth the vanilla whipped cream over the top of the trifle. Pipe rosettes with the cocoa whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate shavings, chopped toffee, hazelnuts, or berries, if desired.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
Serves a crowd! (12-16 servings)
FESTIVE WINTER SALAD
Citrus Fruits: Clementines and Ruby Grapefruit
Maytag Blue Cheese
Brown Sugar Vinaigrette
BROWN SUGAR VINAIGRETTE (aka Southern Sweet-Sour Vinaigrette)
4 T. White Balsamic Vinegar
2 T. Grapefruit Juice
1 t. Celery Seed
1 t. Paprika
1/4 cup Demerara Sugar
1/4 piece of a medium Onion
2 t. Dijon Mustard
1 t. Salt
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1 cup Olive Oil
Place all of ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade. Pulse until the onion is pureed into the mixture. While the processor is running, pour in the olive oil slowly. It will incorporate nicely into the vinaigrette. The dijon will keep the dressing emulsified.
Sid is living the good life!
A garden will teach you.
If nothing else, the lesson is that there are no constants–what thrived one summer may do poorly the next; what escaped borers, beetles, and bunnies over one growing season may be ravaged by any or all the following. There are so many variables: too much rain, too little; stifling humidity, parching heat; blights, droughts, floods, infestations, wind and hail damage…the dizzying list goes on!
Bill’s dad, a Missouri farmer, always said that the best you could expect was one really good year out of seven. If you accomplished that, you could survive in farming.
This year, at “The Hooper Garden” (our little urban plot in my brother’s office backyard,) things have been more promising than in previous years. Spring was wet, with balmy days and cool nights. Everything got off to a terrific start. Our tomato plants became laden with green, hopefully soon-to-ripen fruit. Squash plants grew large, their fanlike leaves shielding basketfuls of zucchinis and yellow crooknecks.
My pride, though, resides with our string bean crop. We planted two rows each of French haricot verts and yellow wax. Initial visits by a hungry neighborhood rabbit made me fearful that we wouldn’t get any beans at all!
We replanted the decimated patches, and crossed our fingers. Fortunately, that rabbit preferred only the young leaves–once the plants reached a certain height or age, they were deemed undesirable to our furry garden connoisseur.
As it worked out, some plants existed to feed him, and the remainder flourished for us. Another lesson: plant enough, and there’s enough for all.
My big tangle of green and yellow beans reminded me of a dish that I never cared for—Three Bean Salad.
Likely you’ve seen that mix of chopped string beans, pintos, and sweet vinegar dressing packed in jars on supermarket shelves, often purchased, then dumped into bowls at a picnic. “Three Bean” recipes that I’ve come across call for canned beans, canned pintos, bottled dressing. No wonder I passed over it.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. It couldn’t have been always that way.
At one time, I suspect, people made this salad from garden-picked beans, and pintos simmered in garlic on the stovetop.
I suspect they blanched and chilled their beans tender-crisp, before cutting them into smaller pieces. They’d test the beans for doneness, relishing the sweet pop of the pods.
And, no doubt, they’d whisked up a robust vinaigrette chock-full of red onion, red bell pepper, and flat-leaf parsley.
And shake in a little extra S&P.
They’d give it all a generous toss, until all the beans gleamed with a shiny coat.
Now here was a summer picnic salad, they’d bluster.
No sugar was needed, not even a tetch.
FRESH THREE BEAN SALAD
1/2 lb. dried Pinto Beans (or other meaty bean—we love Rancho Gordo’s selection of beans)
2-3 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
Red Pepper Flakes–pinch
1 lb. Green Beans
1 lb. Yellow Wax Beans
1 small Red Onion, diced small
1 small Red Bell Pepper, diced small
1 batch Chunky Herbed Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Place pinto beans in a deep saucepan with minced garlic (2 cloves) and a bay leaf, and cover with water by at least 2 inches.
Season with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer, covered, for at least 2 hours–until beans are tender, but not mushy. Allow to cool. (This can be done ahead of time, the day before…)
Bring a skillet of water seasoned with salt and sliced garlic clove to a boil. Prepare an icy bath to plunge in the string beans when cooked. Cook haricots verts for 1-2 minutes and “shock” in the icy bath. Cook yellow wax beans for 4-5 minutes and then shock as well.
Drain and dry off blanched, chilled beans. Cut on the diagonal into pieces. Combine with chilled pintos, additional diced red onion and red bell pepper.
Toss well with Chunky Herbed Vinaigrette.
Makes a nice bowl for a picnic.
CHUNKY HERBED VINAIGRETTE
1 clove Garlic, minced
3 T. finely chopped Red Bell Pepper
3 T. finely chopped Red Onion
3 T. finely chopped Italian Parsley
4 T. Red Wine Vinegar
Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper, to taste
pinch Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vigorously whisk all of the ingredients together EXCEPT the olive oil. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Makes one chunk cup!
The Hooper Garden
Our Yellow Wax and Green Bean Plants
Beauty at Work
With the currents of change ever in motion, I find comfort in certain annual arrivals, those things that show up, over and over, almost like clockwork. Habits and rituals!
Every March, coinciding with Bill’s goddaughter’s birthday, our plum tree puts out a shock of blooms–a portent of the fruit to come. By the 4th of July, I can count on finding the first of the Bradley tomatoes, in all their ripe-red glory, at the farmers market.
And, in early June, right before Nashville’s Country Music “Fan Fare,” our good neighbor and gardener Ray appears with his special fare: the gift of his green beans: thin, tender, and just picked.
Yesterday afternoon, a knock at the front door–and there was Ray, brown sack of green beans in hand. “Time for your yearly allotment,” he said with a wry smile.
I peeked inside. The beans still had the garden warmth in them.
When presented with fresh-as-it-gets, one is prudent to act quickly. I thanked Ray, and made haste to the kitchen to reassess dinner plans. Something different for a salad!
We have been eating a lot of salads. Our garden plot of mixed lettuces has been flourishing. Each day, I pick and clean a few handfuls for dinner. I might pluck a few sprigs from the feathery patch of dillweed. Rows of green onions have grown tall–so great to yank a couple of them out of the ground as needed.
And, the weather has been more like late August than early June. It’s propelled us to cool dining: minimal use of the stove, and maximum use of the greens, before summer temperatures turn them bitter.
I remembered a wonderful salad I had many years ago in Philadelphia, at a little independent cafe called The White Dog. Very forward in the farm-to-table movement, they procured their produce from the Amish in Lancaster County. This salad married fresh grilled corn, greens, and bacon in a tangy buttermilk based dressing. It was simple and delicious—and could be adapted in a number of directions.
Green beans, such as Ray’s, would work. Later in the summer, some Sungold tomatoes would be divine in the toss. Cucumbers are a natural. Poached Salmon too.
It all hinges on the buttermilk.
Essentially a “ranch” dressing, this is what ranch might really be like, if it weren’t distilled into a packaged powder, or laced with corn syrup, chemical preservatives and bottled. Buttermilk dressings are so easy to whisk up, so tasty, that you’ll never want the commercially made stuff ever.
Green onions and fresh dill bring the summer garden into the dressing.
I’ve made this batch a little thin—with less mayo. If you like a more full-bodied dressing, add a spoonful or two more.
As for this salad, you can use one skillet for the small amount of cooking. First, cook the bacon. After you remove the crisp bits and drain off the grease, griddle and char the corn. It will pick up a little leftover smokiness. Last, those slender green beans–which take mere moments to blanche: Add a little water to the same skillet, and give them a quick plunge.
A delectable combination of creamy and crisp, salt and sweet,
Yet another delicious way to celebrate my yearly allotment.
GREEN BEAN-BACON-GRILLED CORN SALAD
2 strips thick-cut Bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large ear of Corn
4 oz. fresh Green Beans
fresh washed Lettuces for salad base
Buttermilk-Dill Dressing (see below)
In a large skillet, cook bacon on medium low heat until crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel to drain. Pour off grease. Return skillet to heat and drop in the ear of corn. Cover and let the corn steam and slightly char as it cooks. Add a few glugs of water if it seems too dry, and the corn is not steaming. Cook the corn for about 7-9 minutes. Remove from skillet. Add green beans to skillet and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt. Blanche on medium heat for about 3-4 minutes.
Remove from heat and assemble salad.
Cut corn, in chunks, off of the cob. Toss with green beans and place on a bed of lettuce.
Sprinkle bacon bits over the vegetables. Spoon the buttermilk-dill dressing over the salad. Dig in.
3/4 cup Buttermilk (lowfat is fine to use)
1-2 Green Onions, sliced thinly
a few sprigs of Fresh Dillweed, finely chopped to make 2 T.
1 T. fresh Lemon Juice
2 T. Hellman’s or Duke’s Mayonnaise (more, if you want fuller bodied dressing)
a few grindings of Black Pepper
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add more lemon for tartness, or more mayo for fuller body. Taste for salt and pepper. Refrigerate. Flavors will develop over time, (although the dressing is good right away, too.) and the dressing will keep, covered, for about a week.
Makes 1 cup
The month of May means Strawberry Time in Middle Tennessee, and this year, it also means the Return of the Cicadas. There seems to be an abundance of both.
Already, our farmers market tables are laden with baskets of just-picked red beauties. My friends at Fresh Harvest Co-op are promising a gracious-plenty yield.
The birds around my house have been in frenzy mode since the curious red-eyed creatures emerged (just yesterday!) from their thirteen year slumber. My backyard is host to this crazy dance in flight. Cicadas buzz into their first light of day. Bold Robins and Grackles swoop through, opalescent insect wings hanging from their beaks. Intruder-wary gold finches flit back and forth from feeder and plum tree.
It’s also been unseasonably hot. Ninety degrees! Loathe to turn on the air conditioning, and also my oven, I was seeking a summertime “no cook” meal for dinner.
We have been gobbling up local strawberries by the quart–in smoothies and salads, over cereal, with yogurt, layered on shortcakes and just plain. You gotta enjoy them while they’re here!
Today, I wanted to use them in something savory.
I’ve made various fruit-based salsas–with peach, mango, or the different melons. But never strawberries. Sweet and red, they accept peppery heat nicely. I had the right ingredients on hand to make a salsa, so why not with strawberries?
I also had a fat, ripe avocado waiting to be used.
Not too long ago, I tasted a memorable guacamole at a restaurant. Served in a little mason jar, it was a chunky, piquant batch laced with goat cheese and pistachios. Something about those two unexpected ingredients made the dip compelling, addictive. And worth recreating.
It didn’t take long to chop, squeeze, splash and stir a bowl of each. I’ve given the recipes for both below, and hasten to add that the nature of salsa and guacamole relies on the unforeseen fire of serranos or jalapenos, and personal taste. Some people love the fresh grassiness of cilantro; others find it soapy and despicable. Some people relish a garlic bite; others prefer more lime.
Start with the strawberries and make it your own. Same with the guacamole—just be sure to put in the goat cheese and pistachios. You’ll like these new takes on old favorites.
You could serve them in separate bowls, with a basket of blue corn chips, and make your friends happy with such tasty snacking. I could also imagine both enlivening some fish tacos.
Or, do what I did on this August-in-May evening, and turn them into a cool, no-cook dinner. I layered them on a fluffy bed of salad greens. Bill and I would dine on this, settle in and watch the backyard ballet.
PISTACHIO-GOAT CHEESE GUACAMOLE
1 large ripe Avocado, cut into large pieces
1 Serrano Pepper, finely chopped
2-3 T. minced Red Onion
2 T. chopped Cilantro
Juice of 1/2 Lime
1/4 cup Toasted Pistachios
1/4 cup crumbled or small dice Goat Cheese Feta
Place all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and fold so that the avocado breaks down and becomes well seasoned by the other ingredients, while still remaining somewhat chunky.
Taste for salt, citrus, heat, and adjust.
1 pint fresh Strawberries, washed and capped
Cracked Black Pepper
2 Green Onions, chopped
1 T. minced Serrano Pepper (or more)
2 T. chopped Cilantro
1 T. Balsamic Vinegar
1 t. Honey (optional)
Coarsely chop the strawberries and put into a mixing bowl. Season with cracked black pepper. Add onions, serrano, and cilantro. Splash with balsamic vinegar and stir. Allow this to sit—the strawberries’ juices will come out and meld with the other ingredients.
LAYERED SALAD ASSEMBLY
Start with a Bed of fresh lettuces, mixed with cilantro
Place a mound of guacamole (about three-fourths of your batch)in the center, and slightly spread
Top with Strawberry Salsa, (reserving 1/4 of the batch.)
Garnish with chopped pistachios and feta crumbles.
Serve with blue corn chips, or eat with a fork!