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