Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hot, Hot, Hotcakes

If there's a category for the cookbook present that goes from under the tree to recipe on the table in the shortest amount of time, the David Tanis book I received for Christmas, Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, would probably be the undisputed winner.

We'd been planning a post-present-opening breakfast featuring a coho salmon fillet that Dave had smoked the day before and a bottle of Gruet pink champagne. The only catch was, we hadn't quite decided what would accompany the smoked salmon. Eggs? Toast? Hash browns?

That's when David Tanis saved the day -- or at least the meal. I'd unwrapped the book and was thumbing through the first couple of pages. There, on page 8, Kitchen Ritual 1, was a recipe for jalapeño pancakes. Tanis said the pancakes were excellent with smoked salmon and a dab of sour cream. I shot off the couch, book in hand. Could we possibly have the ingredients?

While we didn't have jalapeños, there were Thai bird chilies in the freezer. No sour cream, but there was an unopened tub of crème fraîche from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery. We had the scallions called for in the recipe -- plus some chives and capers that I knew would add the perfect flavor accent to the crème fraîche.

Best of all, our freezer also contained a bag of sweet corn kernels from  
last summer's crop. It was there, along with some of the corn cobs, ready for us to make a corn chowder this winter. I knew I could spare a cup or so, even though the recipe didn't call for it, plus I loved the idea of having a way to enjoy the summery taste of corn on Christmas morning.

The recipe is simple as could be -- only two steps, three if you add corn and saute the onions like I did.

In fact, it took me longer to concoct the crème fraîche topping.

The pancakes themselves are truly delicious -- with the heat from the chilies providing a pleasant, if unusual zip. Paired with Dave's salmon, it was the perfect savory treat. And the timing? From under the tree to on the table in less than an hour!

Jalapeño Pancakes
From Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis

Ingredients1 cup all -purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk (I used powdered buttermilk)
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon melted butter or olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion or scallion (I used a combination of scallions and finely minced shallots)
1 or 2 jalapeno chilies, sliced thin (I used Thai bird chilies, because I had them on hand. I think using chilies is key -- because it's the heat in the pancakes that makes them so unusual.)
1/2 tsp toasted coarsely ground cumin
NOTE: I added 1 cup of frozen sweet corn. Fresh would probably work as well.

1. Mix up the batter, and stir in the onion, jalapenos, and cumin. (I sauteed the shallots and scallions with the corn.)
2. Heat up the griddle, and make your pancakes.

Lynn's Crème Fraîche Topping
1 cup crème fraîche
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1-2 tablespoons of capers, drained (depends on how much you like capers)
1 tablespoon snipped chives

Mix together and serve with smoked salmon and corncakes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In a Pickle For the Holidays

In German tradition, the last ornament placed on the tree on Christmas Eve is a blown-glass pickle, which is secretly hidden among the branches. Come Christmas morning, the first child in the family to find the pickle is considered especially lucky. That boy or girl receives a special gift from Father Christmas and a blessing for good fortune in the coming year from the parents.

This year, pickles of the vegetable variety created lots of excitement at the annual Farrington-Schweikart Christmas party. First, there was the great pickle fiasco, when jars of old pickles that our friend Jeff thought he'd thrown away prior to his move to California mistakenly reappeared to be offered as holiday gifts. (If you got some, throw them away--Jeff's special bottled vinegar is fine.)  

However, guests who sampled the various pickles that my brother-in-law Dave had made out of delicata squash, watermelon radishes, red and white salad turnips, baby carrots, and fennel discovered a real treat.

Dave's been into pickles for years, ever since he discovered the book, Quick Pickles: Easy Recipes for Big Flavor, from Chris Schlesinger of East Coast Grill fame. While pickling began as a  ancient form of preservation, for Dave, it's a way of giving vegetables a flavor punch they otherwise wouldn't have -- a great idea when your winter CSA provides you with lots of winter squash, turnips, and carrots.

Since these are recipes for quick pickles, there are no worries about boiling water baths, incorrectly sealed jars, and other horrors. Plus you can eat them the same day you make them, though they're better if they sit over night in the fridge. So if you're looking for an unusual treat for a holiday gathering-- or just need a new way to enjoy winter vegetables, give quick pickles a try. Here are a few of Dave's favorite recipes to get you started.

Watermelon Radishes ala Famous Back Eddy House Pickles

Adapted from Chris Schleslinger's Quick Pickles

This is a great way to use those big, beautiful watermelon radishes. They lack the bite of regular radishes, which wouldn't work as well for this recipe.

2 lbs. watermelon radishes (NOTE: the original recipe is uses pickling cucumbers or small, firm zucchini, plus garlic, carrots, red and green bell peppers, and onions, which makes wonderful summertime pickles.)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups white wine vinegar (the original recipe uses cider vinegar)
1 cup light brown sugar (Dave uses Demarara sugar, because he doesn't want the brine to have a molasses flavor)
2 teaspoon whole fennel seed
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries, cracked
2 tablespoon coriander seed, toasted and cracked

1. Trim watermelon radishes and cut them into bite size pieces about 1/4-inch thick. In a glass bowl, toss the slices with the salt, cover with ice cubes or crushed ice and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

2. Drain the radishes, rinse well, then drain again. Set aside.

3. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat and toast the coriander seed, shaking the pan frequently to avoid burning the seeds, until the seeds just release the first tiny wisp of smoke, about 2 - 3 minutes. Remove the seeds to a small bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, put the coriander and allspice berries into a wooden or metal bowl and press them with the back of a large spoon, or use a mortar and pestle to gently crack them open. Set aside.

3. In a nonreactive pan (do not use cast iron or anodized aluminum as they will react with the acid), combine vinegar, brown sugar, and all of the spices. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and continue to boil for about 5 minutes. Pour the boiling syrup over the radishes, allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.

Makes about 12 cups. These will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about one month.

Pickled Delicata Squash with Sage and Cardamom
Adapted from Chris Schleslinger's Quick Pickles

3 pound delicatata squash, unpeeled, seeded, sliced cross-wise 1/8 thick (about 5 cups). (NOTE: You can also use butternut squash, other winter squash, or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes.)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
8 sage leaves, cut into slices
2 teaspoon cardamom seeds (without pods) lightly crushed
2/3 cup brown sugar                                                      
1 2/3 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup apple juice

1. In a non-reactive bowl, combine the squash and salt, toss to coat, and allow to stand at room temperature for about 4 hours. Drain, rinse well, and squeeze out extra moisture by the handfuls.

2. In a medium non-reactive pot, combine all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to dissolve the brown sugar. Add the squash, bring back just to a simmer, then remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, uncovered.

3. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, cover and refrigerate.

The squash will be tasty in about 2 hours, but will improve in flavor if allowed to sit overnight. This pickle will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 2 months.

Pickled Turnips with Fennel and Star Anise
Adapted from Chris Schleslinger's, Quick Pickles

2 lbs. turnips peeled
1-2 fennel fronds
1/2 peppercorn melange
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon anise seed
3 bay leaves
1 cup whole star anise
1 cup white sugar
3 cups white wine vinegar

1. Cut each turnip into 8 wedges, then cut each wedge into triangles 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick.

2. In a glass bowl or jar, combine the peppercorns and turnips.

3. In a nonreactive saucepan (do not use cast iron or anodized aluminum as it will react to the acid), combine the remaining ingredients except the fennel fronds and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until the sugar is melted and the syrup has been flavored by the spices.

4. Pour the hot liquid over the vegetables and allow them to cool to room temperature. Add the reserved fennel fronds, stir to incorporate, then cover and refrigerate.Cover and chill for several hours before serving. These pickles will keep well, covered and refrigerated for at least 6 weeks.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Watermelon Radishes: There Ought to be a Slaw!

My sister Robin, brother-in-law Dave, and I were getting ready for our friend Rafael's Halloween birthday party at the home of mutual pals in Harvard, MA. As usual,  Dave had been cooking up a storm. Grilled flank steak that would become mini steak and blue cheese sandwiches. Dave's version of the incomparable Momofuku pork belly buns. 

However, one dish was still a work in progress as we headed to the penultimate Seacoast Growers' Market. The main ingredient was goose from the guys at Yellow House Farm. Dave had used Ming Tsai's Red Roast Duck recipe from the Blue Ginger cookbook to prepare the goose. It tasted delicious. The question now was how to serve it. Dave's original thought was the shred it and fold it into a lettuce leaf, but he wanted some kind of garnish to go with it.

Until we stopped by to see Garen Heller at the Riverside Farm stand, we'd been talking about shredding some carrots and scallions and making a little sauce. Then we discovered watermelon radishes and Garen's recipe for Asian Watermelon Slaw. Immediately, our imaginations' taste buds kicked into gear. We knew the rice wine and soy sauce would be a delicious foil for the rich, slightly sweet goose, while the rosy pink color would perfectly accentuate the meat and lettuce.

We adapted Garen's original recipe somewhat to suit our purposes as a condiment, rather than a slaw. We chose to add more sesame oil, soy sauce, and vinegar, instead of the yogurt, because we wanted a consistency that was more vinaigrette-like than creamy. As there would be a ginger-scallion dipping sauce, we left the ginger out of the slaw itself and reduced the amount of honey. Finally, we added an additional dash of fish sauce to give it an extra umami kick.

The resulting "Goose in Lettuce Leaves with Asian Slaw" was a real hit at the party -- but I think the original recipe would make a delicious side for any meat or seafood dish with an Asian bent -- or an excellent accompaniment to your favorite Asian noodle dish. It's also a easy way to use a vegetable that's colorful, tasty, and good for you.

Garen's Watermelon Radish Slaw
Serves Two

For the slaw:
3 medium watermelon radishes
1 carrot
1T fresh ginger root (or more to taste)
1 medium red onion (1/4 cup grated)

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons yogurt or mayonnaise (or more if desired)
Splash of Thai fish sauce (optional)

1. Grate all the slaw ingredients
2. Blend the dressing ingredients together
3. Toss slaw and dressing together and serve on a bed of greens

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lasagna with Chard: In Practically No Time.

Like many foodies, I have subscriptions to the usual cooking magazines: Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit. And I still haven't forgiven Condé Nast  for the loss of Gourmet. But I find that my real go-to source for recipe ideas is The New York Times.

I'm a total fan of Mark Bittman and his Minimalist columns. I can't wait to check out the Wednesday food section and the Sunday Magazine recipes each week. Oh yes, and several times a week, I go online to see what Martha Rose Shulman is featuring in her ongoing series, Recipes for Health, where she focuses on a particular seasonal produce item, grain, or pantry ingredient to inspire meals that are delicious, easy, and nutritious. In fact, her recipes have just been collected and published in a new cookbook, The Very Best of Recipes for Health: 250 Recipes And More from the Popular Feature on NewYorkTimes.com. Last year about this time, she published a recipe for a vegetarian lasagna with chard, tomato sauce and ricotta. I didn't make it then, but I filed it away in my mind (and on my computer).

So after I came home from the Seacoast Farmers' Market with beautiful bunches of Swiss chard from the New Roots stand, and knowing I had a tub of Narragansett Creamery's Renaissance Ricotta that needed to be used, I decided this was the time to try that lasagna.

I'd bought some heirloom tomatoes to make the sauce -- and some baby leeks, which weren't part of the recipe, but I thought would make a good addition. I also decided to defrost three of my brother-in-law Dave's homemade hot Italian sausages. Meat isn't called for in the recipe either, but it was definitely part of the taste I had in mind.

I made the tomato sauce according to instructions, though I added a second big sprig of basil, because I wanted more of that flavor. I did not peel and seed the tomatoes before cooking, and while I considered pureeing them in the food mill, I just left it all in. (I don't think it makes the sauce bitter and figure it adds fiber.)

I briefly contemplated asking Dave to make homemade noodles, then I got an idea: we have a terrific local pasta maker, Terra Cotta Pasta Co. -- perhaps they make lasagna noodles. Voila, they do! And the noodles are thin and wonderful, not like those thick no-boil ones you find in the supermarket. They're frozen, so you just leave them out to defrost and layer them in the pan. What could be easier?

The dish was a real treat. (I love the earthy chard taste, but I suspect the sausage and leeks were good additions, too.) And I'm crazy about those noodles. I suspect I'll be making lasagna more often now.

Lasagna With Chard, Tomato Sauce and Ricotta
By Martha Rose Shulman, NewYorkTimes.com
This savory vegetarian lasagna is easy to put together. You can assemble it up to a day ahead of time, then bake it shortly before dinner. (My non-vegetarian version includes Italian sausage and leeks.)

1 generous bunch Swiss chard (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 pound regular or no-boil lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, or 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with juice
Pinch of sugar
1 large basil sprig
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese (I had more, so I used more, probably 1 cup all together)
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I added 1/2 cup of pecorino romano)
I also used hot Italian sausage, three links, which I removed from the skin and sauteed and three leeks which I sliced and sauteed in the sausage pan. I then added both to the tomato/chard sauce.

1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil while you prepare the chard. Fill a bowl with ice water. Tear the leaves from the stems and wash thoroughly in two changes of water. Discard the stems or set aside for another purpose.

2. When the water comes to a boil, add the Swiss chard leaves. Boil 1 minute (from the time the water comes back to a boil), until tender but still bright green, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer and transfer to the ice water. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside. Cook the lasagna noodles in the same pot of water if not using no-boil lasagna noodles. Remove the pasta from the pot and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil in a bowl.

3. In a wide, nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil sprig, and salt (begin with 1/2 teaspoon and add more later), and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, until thick, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the amount of juice in the pan. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the basil sprig. Stir in the Swiss chard and remove from the heat. (I added the Italian sausage and leeks at this point.)

4. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Oil a square or rectangular baking dish (no bigger than 2-quart) and line the bottom with a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half the ricotta over the noodles and half the tomato-chard sauce over the ricotta. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over the tomato-chard sauce. Add another layer of noodles and top with the remaining ricotta and tomato-chard sauce, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes, or until bubbling and the pasta is tender. Uncover, allow to sit for 5 minutes, and serve.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Advance preparation: You can blanch the chard and make the sauce up to 3 days ahead. Refrigerate in covered containers. The lasagna can be assembled a day ahead of time and refrigerated until shortly before baking.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Assunta's Beans: Mille Grazie!

I'm not sure how I developed a love affair with fresh shell beans. I'm not referring to the lima beans that were a staple in the Pennsylvania Dutch heartland where I grew up. I'm talking about cannellini, flageolet, and bortolini beans. The kind with romantic-sounding names that show up as ingredients in French and Italian cookbooks -- except you can usually only find them in their dried form here in the States. It begs the question: why go to all the trouble to dry them, when they're so marvelous cooked up fresh? I suspect the real reason is that they're very fragile -- and that so few home cooks understand how to prepare them.

The latter is a theory I get to test out every year when, as summer fades into autumn, fresh cranberry beans appear in the farmers' markets in Boston and Seacoast NH. Because their season seems so brief, I start looking out for them just before Labor Day. When I find them, as I did this weekend at the White Gate farm stand at the Seacoast Growers' Market, another customer inevitably asks me what I'm going to do with them. (In fact, it was just such an encounter that inspired this blog!) That's when I tell them about Assunta's beans.

Marcella Hazan's Italian cookbooks are a great source of recipes and stories about that cuisine. In Marcella Cucina, she talks about the delicious beans that Assunta, her husband Victor's one-time Tuscan housekeeper, used to make him. Perhaps it was the story, but I craved the opportunity to taste them for myself. So you can imagine that the first time I actually located fresh cranberry beans, it was ecstasy. I was not disappointed. Cooked at a bare simmer, with sage and garlic, in minimal water and a big splash of olive oil, they become fragrant, creamy, and flavorful. I must warn you, they'll lose that beautiful cranberry color, but they taste so good, you'll probably find yourself whispering "grazie" to Assunta -- and Marcella -- too.

Assunta's Beans
from Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan

1 lb unshelled fresh cranberry beans (about 2 cups shelled)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup water
4 to 6 fresh sage leaves
3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
Fresh ground black pepper
A good extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over the beans when serving


1. Shell and rinse the beans.
2. Put the beans and all other ingredients in a small lidded pot. The beans should be just covered with water. Moisten a clean kitchen towel, squeezing out the excess water, and fold it to fit the pot lid. (Use one you won’t mind staining.) Cover the top of the pot with the towel and set the lid
3. Set the pot over a very low flame and cook slowly at the barest simmer. After 45 minutes, check the liquid and add a few tablespoons of water as needed. Repeat twice more in 20 minute intervals. You may have to adjust the quantity of water to match the level of heat. (The beans should never be soaking in water, but should have just enough to keep from sticking.) The beans should be done in about an hour and forty five minutes. Taste them. They should be firm but tender and the skin should have remained whole without cracking.
4. Drizzle with fresh olive oil when serving.
These are best served the moment they are done, but they can be made through the end a day in advance. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container and reheat gently with a tablespoon or so of water.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherry Tomato Sauce

Sometimes one needs comfort food, even in the midst of a hot, dry summer. For me, comfort food has always been pasta of some sort -- maybe because it was always my mother's welcome-home food of choice. Or maybe it's the combination of carbs and cheese. Or just maybe it's because you can sit down to a steaming bowl of pasta with butter, garlic, and parmesan within say, ten minutes or so of realizing you're starving. Whichever, I was hungry for pasta. And I wanted something more substantial than a seasonally appropriate fresh, barely cooked tomato sauce.

Luckily that day was Copley Square farmers' market day in Boston. The Atlas Farm people had a lovely selection of cherry tomatoes -- and I had a recipe I was eager to try: Nancy Harmon Jenkins' Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce, which I found courtesy of the food blog Wednesday's Chef.

Basically, you cut the cherry tomatoes in half, then top them with a mixture of dried bread crumbs, minced garlic, and parmesan and pecorino romano cheeses. I beg you, do not under any circumstance use the kind of dried breadcrumbs that come pre-packed in a tin. Make them yourself, as they provide an essential taste and texture to the dish. Once you make sure the bread crumb mixture has compeltely permeated the tomatoes, you bake them until they just start to brown on top.

Meanwile, cook some pasta. (I was lucky enough to have some fresh tomato basil spaghetti from Terra Cotta Pasta of Kittery Point, Maine in the fridge.) The only trick is to try and time the cooking of the sauce and the pasta so that both are done together. Just before serving, you toss the pasta and tomato mixture together with some torn basil leaves and enough olive oil to make a bit of a sauce, and you've got a feast that will no doubt leave you feeling very comforted, indeed.

The recipe says it serves four -- but I found it made a lovely dinner for one, with enough leftovers for a very satisfying lunch.

Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce ala Nancy Harmon Jenkins
from Wednesday’s Chef
Serves 4

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used about half that)
1 pound very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup plain dry breadcrumbs (Remember, no pre-packaged stuff!)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino (or, if you don't have this, just more Parmigiano)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound dried penne or spaghetti
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with one-third of the oil. Place the tomatoes cut side up in the dish.

2. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheeses, and garlic and toss with a fork to mix well. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture over the tomatoes, making sure that each cut side is well covered with the crumb mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until the tomatoes are cooked through and starting to brown on top, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente. Time the pasta so it finishes cooking about the time the tomatoes are ready to come out of the oven.

4. When the tomatoes are done, add the basil and stir vigorously to mix everything into a sauce. Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to the baking dish. Add the remaining olive oil and mix well. Serve at once.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Conserva the Summer

I'm just dazzled by the array of tomatoes available now in the farmers' markets in both Portsmouth and Boston. And while this summer's heat and drought has been hard on flowers, it's been heaven for tomatoes. Even the lemon yellow heirlooms, which I too often find mushy and tasteless -- have a surprising deep flavor. I find myself calculating how many tomato-filled meals I can look forward to until the season finally ends. (You haven't lived if you haven't savored an heirloom tomato and Monterey Jack cheese quesadilla for breakfast, with warm tomato juice rolling off your chin! Today's will have leftover corn and bacon, too!)

One thing that's been very exciting is seeing the interesting selection of paste tomatoes
that New Hampshire farmers are growing. I'm talking way beyond San Marzano. At Barker's farm stand, I've seen the little Juliettes that Paul Bertolli, who has been a chef at the Bay area's Chez Panisse and Oliveto, mentions in a chapter called "Twelve Ways of Looking At Tomatoes", in his book Cooking By Hand. He suggests cutting them in half lengthwise and putting on a baking sheet filmed with olive oil, adding a little salt, then cooking them in a very slow oven (180 to 200 degrees) for five or six hours to concentrate the flavor. I'm looking forward to trying this.

However, thanks to Bertolli, one of my current tomato obsessions is Conserva, a super concentrated tomato paste made in the oven. (In Italy, it's called estratto, and there, it's the blazing hot sun that does the work, over the course of four to six days.) In my convection oven, it takes about five- and a-half hours (it can be closer to seven in a regular oven). Coincidentally, I found one of  Bertolli's favorite sauce tomatoes, Principessa Borghese, at the Meadow's Mirth stand at the Seacoast Grower's farmer's market, so last Sunday, my sister Robin and I spent the afternoon chopping, sauteing, food milling and oven drying about 6 pounds of tomatoes. Though there's surprisingly little waste -- it appears that tomatoes are nothing but cells full of flavor -- we wound up with two Ziploc bags full of concentrated tomato essence. I suspect that next winter, we'll be grateful that we conserved a little of this summer's glory.

I'm looking forward to making some sauce next weekend, using Bertolli's sauce recipe. (Basically, this is the same as the Conserva -- only you saute some onions and garlic first, until softened, add the diced tomatoes, cook until soft, put through the food mill, then put the tomatoes into a clean pot and simmer on the stove top until it's the thickness you desire.) I suspect this year, our traditional night-before Thanksgiving spaghetti supper will be something to be really thankful for.

from Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
Total time: 20 minutes, plus 7 hours cooking time
Yield: 1 1/4 cup

5 pounds ripe, good-quality tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for storage
1 teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Cut the ripe tomatoes into small dice; this promotes the most rapid cooking. Warm a little olive oil in a wide skillet or casserole. add the tomatoes and salt and bring to a rapid boil. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until tomatoes are very soft. Immediately pass them through the finest plate of a food mill, pushing as much of the pulp through the sieve as you can. The puree should be devoid of seeds. (Note: I did this in two batches.)
2. Lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Spread the tomatoes in the pan in an even layer and place in the oven. If using a convection oven, cook for three hours. If not, cook for 5 hours until the water has evaporated from the paste. Use a spatula to turn the paste over on itself periodically as water evaporates and you notice the surface darken. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and continue to evaporate the paste for about 21/2 to 3 hours, or until it is thick, shiny and brick-colored.
Tomato Conserva holds for a long time stored in glass canning jars and topped with one-half inch of olive oil. As you use it, maintain this level of olive oil on top. Store the Conserva in the refrigerator. Or put it in a large
Ziploc freezer bag, flatten, remove air, and freeze, breaking off pieces when needed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mad About Zucchini Carpaccio

It wasn't exactly Mad Men -- but advertising in the early '80's had it's own level of pathos, humor, and craziness. I remember long lunches seated in the leather banquettes at Ciro & Sal's on Boylston Street in Boston, with Caesar salad, veal Milanese, and copious amounts of Soave. It was there that I discovered carpaccio: raw beef, sliced impossibly thin, then drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and topped with capers and shaved Parmesan. There are restaurants that disappear without a whimper and places you mourn long after they've gone. For me, Ciro & Sal's is one of the latter. However, thanks to The Cafe Cookbook: Italian Recipes from London's River Cafe by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, I've found a new way of indulging my craving for carpaccio: with zucchini.

With their emphasis on fresh ingredients and authentic regional Italian recipes, Grey, who passed away this year, and Rogers helped to transform British cooking. (They also gave Jamie Oliver his start.) Their books can be hard to find, but are definitely worth any trouble you have to go to. This recipe is really more of a salad  -- and there are no capers -- but the lemon/olive oil dressing and the Parmesan shavings come close to approximating the flavors that I long for, even as I feel a tinge of righteousness at eating organic zucchini rather than raw beef.

I found the perfect small zucchini at the Atlas Farm stand at the Copley Square Market in Boston. The secret is to slice the zucchini as close to paper thin as possible. You could use a mandolin, but I don't think that's really necessary; I just use a good sharp knife. Once you slice the zucchini, you marinate it for five minutes or so in the dressing -- then it's ready to be plated with some arugula, topped with Parmesan and served. It couldn't be easier. Or more delicious. It's even good for you.

Zucchini Carpaccio
from Cafe Cookbook: Italian Recipes from London's River Cafe
by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

For 6 -- use only small, young zucchini for this salad

2 pounds young yellow and green zucchini
1 bunch arugula
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6-ounce piece Parmesan, slivered

1. Trim the ends off the zucchini and slice at an angle into thin rounds.
2. Pick through the arugula, discarding any yellow leaves. Snap off the stalks, then wash and dry the leaves thoroughly.
3. Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, and pour over the zucchini. Mix, then leave to marinade for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Divide the arugula between the serving plates. Put the zucchini on top and then add the Parmesan slivers. Add a small amount of freshly ground pepper, and serve.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reinventing String Beans and Ham

It all started with the ham steak that my brother-in-law Dave bought from Tim Rocha at Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH last Friday. Usually we only have ham twice a year. Once in the fall, using a recipe based on my mother's Pennsylvania Dutch braised string beans and ham. And again at our Christmas party when I bake a whole ham with an orange marmalade glaze. Never mind tradition--Dave had a hankering for ham steak, cooked on the grill. I kiddingly said, "Well, maybe we should make string beans and potatoes to go with it." "Why not?" Dave joked back.

Why not indeed? After all, right now, string beans at their peak of flavor  -- as opposed to the tough, old ones I look for when I'm going to braise them toward season's end. And tiny new potatoes are just coming in -- and at their most delicate. Just for fun, I started looking through a few cookbooks. It wasn't long before I found something I was dying to try in the Fields of Greens cookbook.

Greens is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. In fact, I think they were one of the first restaurants to elevate vegetarian cooking to the level of fine cuisine. In this particular recipe, the green beans are blanched and the potatoes are first roasted, then grilled, which gives them a deep, earthy taste. (If you don't have a grill, you can just use the roasted potatoes.) You mix the beans and potatoes together with cherry tomatoes and a blender salad dressing that combines champagne wine vinegar, chopped garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. The salad looks beautiful and tastes even better.

Dave grilled his ham steak with some mustard and balsamic vinegar, and grilled some fresh peaches that we'd bought that day from Susan McGeough at White Gate Farm in Epping, NH, to put on the side. And there it was: ham and string bean perfection on a warm, mid-summer evening. I'm sure we'll be having it again. And I think I'm going to be looking through this and my other Greens cookbooks for more summer vegetable recipe ideas.

Grilled New Potato Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Beans, and Basil
from Fields of Greens, New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant

2 pounds new potatoes
Light olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 pound fresh summer beans: green, yellow wax, green or yellow Romano
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sweet 100s or pears
1 handful frisée or salad greens (optional)
Basil-Garlic Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Champagne vinegar
12 Niçoise or Gaeta olives (I didn't use these -- my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage rebelled at the though of olives wth ham and strong beans -- but I'm sure it would be a delicious addition)

1. Prepare the grill, if using.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the potatoes in a baking dish with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Cover and roast until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. (Keep checking if you're using tiny new potatoes like we did.) Set aside to cool. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if large, then slide them onto skewers for grilling. If the grill grates are close together, skewers won't be necessary. (We left the tiny potatoes whole and used a grill basket.)
3. While the potatoes are roasting, remove the stem ends from the beans and cut in half diagonally or leave whole if they are small. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Drop beans in the water and cook until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on their size. Rinse under cold water and set aside to drain. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half or leave whole if small. Wash the salad greens if using, and dry them in a spinner. Make the vinaigrette.
4. Place the potatoes on the grill, cut side down and grill until they're golden, crisp, and grill marks appear. Slide the grilled potatoes from the skewers and toss with the beans, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette. Adjust the seasoning, if needed, with a splash of Champagne vinegar and salt and pepper. Loosely arrange the greens on a platter, spoon the vegetables over, and garnish with the olives (if using).

Serves four

Basil-Garlic Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

Combine everything in a blender and blend until smooth.
Makes about 1/2 cup

Friday, July 30, 2010

Corn Off the Cob

As a kid, I wasn't big on vegetables, except for corn. (When I was about eight or so, I had a favorite dish: I cut a broiled steak into bite-size pieces, mixed it with some corn -- the Green Giant Niblets variety-- and  voila! Corn Beef! ) But it was corn on the cob that I loved best of all. My father's passion was gardening. Vegetables and fruit trees, mostly. Corn especially. Starting in mid-July, about every other day, we'd put a big pot of water on the stove and go out in the garden and pick that evening's corn. By the time the water was boiling, the ears were shucked and ready to cook. It didn't matter how often we had it; I never got
tired of it.

Today, I think corn on the cob is still my favorite summer vegetable. But now, I also like to find interesting ways to make it off the cob. Last fall, I was searching through some of Mark Bittman's old Minimalist columns in the online version of The New York Times. His recipe for Sauteed Corn and Tomato Salad caught my eye, but it was too late in the year for the best corn and tomatoes. So I filed it away for another year. Fortunately, I found it again recently, just in time to enjoy it with this season's crop.

There's a whole lot of  flavor going on in this delicious dish. The corn gets sauteed until its almost brown, so it has a nice, semi-caramelized taste. There's a little bit of bacon to give it a smoky depth, some lime juice, which combines with the bacon for a tangy vinaigrette, and avocado that adds a cooling texture. There are even some Thai bird chilies to provide a little heat.

Sauteed Corn and Tomato salad makes a great side for just about any meal. If you have any leftover, put it between some corn tortillas with a little cheese and you have yourself a mighty fine quesadilla.

Pan-Roasted Corn and Tomato Salad
Mark Bittman, The New York Times
August 19th, 2009
Time: 30 minutes

1/4 pound bacon, chopped (I used some of my brother-in-law's home-cured bacon, but any tasty slab bacon should do.)
1 small red onion, chopped
4 to 6 ears corn, stripped of their kernels (2 to 3 cups)
Juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
2 cups cored and chopped tomatoes
1 medium ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped
2 fresh small chilies, like Thai, seeded and minced
Salt and black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, more or less.

1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to render fat; add onion and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes, then add corn. Continue cooking, stirring or shaking pan occasionally, until corn begins to brown a bit, about 5 more minutes; remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Drain fat if you wish.
2. Put lime juice in a large bowl and add bacon-corn mixture; then toss with remaining ingredients. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 servings.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crushed Potato Salad: What a Bite

I get positively giddy the moment the first new potatoes appear in the farmers' market or in my CSA basket. I particularly like them when they're small enough to be eaten in just a single bite. I roast them in olive oil with some garlic, salt, and herbs, and when they're cool enough, just pop them into my mouth. I absolutely adore the way that floury potato flavor explodes with every bite. Perfection.

Of course, once I've eaten those little roasted potatoes a number of times, and as the smallest ones get harder to find, I start looking for other ways to cook new potatoes. A couple of weeks ago, long before potato season, a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weis, caught my eye: Ottolenghi's Crushed Potatoes with Horseradish and Yogurt. (Ottolenghi is Yotam Ottolenghi, the chef-owner of four veggie-centric restaurants that are all the rage in London. He also writes a vegetarian food column in the Guardian.) I don't know what appealed to me more -- the idea of crushed  potatoes or the thought of horseradish.

While I was dying to try the recipe right away, I decided to wait until new potatoes were in. My patience was greatly rewarded. It's actually a potato salad, but it's unlike any other you've ever tasted. The horseradish (I used lots!) gives the potatoes a zingy, assertive bite, while the yogurt adds a tangy, creamy taste. The Wednesday Chef recipe was adapted from one that appeared in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. 

While Ottolenghi's original recipe calls for Greek yogurt, Weis strongly recommends against it -- she feels the salad really needs the moisture and silkiness of regular plain yogurt -- Liberté brand, if you can find it.  (See her comment/correction to the previous version of this post below.) I have the good fortune to be able to get Brookford Farm  yogurt at both the Portsmouth farmers' market and Philbrick's Fresh Market in Portsmouth. The yogurt is made in the East European style by a charming young couple, Luke and Caterina, from the milk from their herd of grass-fed Jerseys.

This potato salad is incredibly easy to make -- and it's one  you could take to a picnic without worrying about the food-poisoning potential of mayonnaise. Ottolenghi also has a website that features a number of his recipes. I suspect I'll be going back there soon for more ideas.
Potato Salad with Yogurt and Horseradish
from Wednesday's Chef, based on a recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.
Serves 4

2 1/4 pounds of new potatoes
10 ounces, plus more to taste) plain yogurt
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon, or more, of prepared ground horseradish (I used about half a bottle!)
4 scallions, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts)
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A small box of garden cress (You could also use arugula or watercress)

1. Wash the potatoes, but don't peel them. Put them in a pan with salted water to cover, cover, bring to a boil and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender. Drain well, transfer to a large serving bowl and, while they are still hot, crush them roughly with a fork.

2. In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, olive oil, horseradish, scallions, salt and pepper to taste. Pour this dressing over the hot potatoes and mix well. Adjust the seasoning, adding more horseradish or more salt. You want the dressing to be assertive - the potatoes will mellow it out. Just before serving, snip in the garden cress and mix once more.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Berry Fine Dessert

I know many people who, when ordering in a restaurant, will happily forgo the appetizer course in order to save room for dessert. I, however, am not one of them. That's not to say that I don't enjoy a rich chocolate mousse or a slice of my brother-in-law's coconut cake or lemon curd tart every now and then. But truth be told, I'm just as happy to have the cheese course for dessert.  So you can imagine, that when I offered to make dessert for a recent impromptu potluck, my guests were a bit taken aback.

It was a Tuesday, which not only meant that I was likely to find the season's first blueberries and raspberries at the Farmers' market in Copley Square, Boston. but that I might be able to get some of Narragansett Creamery's award-winning ricotta to go with those berries.

The first time I tasted that ricotta was a revelation. It was rich, creamy, slightly tangy. I couldn't wait to savor it in lasagna, with figs and prosciutto, and whipped with honey and berries. The latter was my plan for that evening.

In preparation, I'd found a recipe online at Epicurious.com, and made sure I had some of my favorite honey -- from White Gate Farm in Epping, NH.

The recipe couldn't have been easier -- all I had to do was use the food processor to whip the ricotta and the honey together with some sugar and vanilla,  sprinkle a little sugar and lemon juice on the berries, and put them together at the last moment.

The result was heaven -- light and airy, yet full of flavor. It tasted just like I had imagined. And it looked as festive as could be. My guests loved it -- and so did I, because you know what? I got to have the cheese course for dessert after all.

Whipped Ricotta with Honey and Mixed Berries
from Bon Appetit
Makes 6 servings

2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (NOTE: If you can find fresh ricotta, which is less grainy than some of the commercial types, use it and omit the cream cheese.)
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups mixed fresh berries (such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and halved strawberries)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1. Blend ricotta, cream cheese (if using), 2 tablespoons sugar, honey, and vanilla in processor until smooth. Transfer to bowl. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ricotta mixture is slightly set, about 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Stir before using.)
2. Combine berries, lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl; toss to coat. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature.
3. Divide ricotta mixture among 6 wineglasses. Top with berries and serve.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fun with Fennel

When it comes to pickles, my brother-in-law Dave is the man. He pickles turnips in gin, carrots in mirin, and cucumbers just about any way you can imagine. That's why it's surprising that when you're talking fennel, I've become the pickle maven. I first tasted pickled fennel courtesy of my friend Jeri Quinzio, who, in addition to being an accomplished food blogger and award-winning culinary historian (her book on ice cream, Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, recently won the International Association of Culinary Professionals prize for culinary history), is an inspired cook.

Whenever you go to dinner at Jeri and her husband Dan's, you can count on having some kind of interesting mezze to start the meal. Her pickled fennel is one of my favorites.

Adapted from a recipe by Mario Batali, these pickles are truly tasty -- a great combination of sweet fennel and pungent vinegar. They're one of the big reasons I eagerly anticipate the first fennel of the season. So when I saw a couple of admittedly tiny bulbs at the Wake Robin Farm stand at the Portsmouth Farmers' Market, I pounced.

When I served my fennel pickles last weekend as one of the appetizers for a cocktail cruise, they disappeared fast. Fortunately, they're truly easy to make -- I mean how many two-step recipes do you have in your repertoire? Best of all, there's no waiting around for these pickles to cure. You can eat them as soon as they cool down from their pickle bath. Jeri uses less vinegar than Batali recommends -- and I use the full amount because I love that puckery taste -- must be my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. Do whatever works best for you or your guests. But make plenty -- because even people who aren't crazy about regular pickles can't seem to get enough.

Fennel Pickles
Adapted from Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook 

Two to three cups white wine vinegar (Jeri uses two, I use three.)
Two tablespoons sea salt
Fifteen - or so - black peppercorns
Two garlic cloves, peeled
One tablespoon fennel seeds
One-quarter cup sugar
Two fennel bulbs, more or less, depending on size, cored and cut into two- inch strips.
Some snipped fennel fronds for garnishing the cooled pickles, if desired

1. In a large nonreactive saucepan combine vinegar, two cups water, salt, peppercorns, garlic, fennel seeds, and sugar. Bring to a boil.
2. Add the fennel pieces and cook until just tender. It varies from five to ten minutes or more. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Relish Those Cucumbers

I've written before about my brother-in-law Dave's tradition of creating Friday night dinners that provide a quick, flavorful, and satisfying start to the weekend. Since mid-spring, when wild Pacific salmon began appearing in the seafood case at Philbricks Fresh Market in Portsmouth, those dinners have frequently centered around whichever species of oncorhynchus happens to be in season. I'd been dying to try the recipe for Wild Salmon with Vietnamese Cucumbers  from David Tanis' A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, which is probably my go-to cookbook of the moment. As soon as I saw the first cucumbers of the spring at the Copley Square Farmer's Market in Boston, I knew what we'd be serving that Friday.

The key to the cucumber dish is fresh herbs (as opposed to dried!) and the fish sauce, which is made from fish that have been allowed to ferment. Whether you use nuoc mam (Vietnamese) or mam pla (Thai) it has a distinctive, salty, savory taste (umami!)-- and is an essential ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. You don't need to add a lot, but there really is no substitute. Most grocery stores carry it in the International Foods section.
These Vietnamese cucumbers are very easy to prepare, but it's best made about 20 minutes in advance of serving so the flavors can meld. And if there's time to chill it a bit, you get a lovely contrast with the hot fish.

As for cooking the salmon, Tanis drizzles it with a little olive oil and bakes it for 20 to 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Dave drizzled ours with a marinade of soy sauce, ginger, and scallions and grilled it. Tanis suggests serving this dish with jasmine rice, but we chose to have soba noodles with sugar snap peas in a ginger sauce and some sauteed tat soi .                                                                                   

Vietnamese Cucumbers ala David Tanis from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes
4 large cucumbers
Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam) or  or Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices
1-3 tbsp palm sugar (available at Asian or Indian grocers, or use raw brown sugar)
2 or 3 limes
1-2 Fresh Thai chilies (or serranos or jalapenos), finely chopped
A few mint sprigs
A few basil sprigs
1-2 thinly sliced scallions
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds with a spoon, if they are large. Slice the cucumbers into thickish half-moons and put in a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with fish sauce, then add the ginger and a couple of tablespoons of palm sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The fish wauce is very salty.) Toss well and let cucumbers sit for 5 minutes or so.

2. Depending on the level of spiciness you desire, add anywhere from a teaspoonful to a tablespoon of finely chopped serrano or jalapeno chilies, (seeds removed if you prefer) or finely slivered Thai chilies. Squeeze in the juice from two limes, toss again, cover, and refrigerate until serving.

3. Just before serving, add a fistful of roughly chopped mint and basil leaves. Taste and adjust seasoning with lime juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with thinly-sliced scallions.