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, 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.