Baked Ratatouille

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From the guy who introduced me to speidie sauce, comes a baked ratatouille, from the cookbook, Charlie Palmer’s American Fare.

Being that it’s late summer and my garden is producing nicely, a ratatouille is a perfect dish to make. A baked ratatouille was really enticing to me.

From Chef Palmer: “This is a dish that I make all summer long when the farmers market is filled with eggplant and summer squashes. It is based on the traditional French Provençal vegetable dish that usually includes bell peppers and a mixture of dried herbs. You really can do anything you want with it: Some cooks prepare each vegetable separately and then mix together, while some layer the vegetables and bake them.”

I used a regular eggplant, a large zucchini, a large golden zucchini, and a purple onion.

This dish could be called a ratatouille gratin, because there are layers of ratatouille, plus layers of cheeses, all topped off with crunchy breadcrumbs.

It’s not terribly pretty, but at least the ratatouille didn’t turn to mush; the individual pieces of vegetables are still in tact and I like that.

Below is the actual recipe from the book. I served the baked ratatouille with spicy sausages.

Baked Ratatouille

1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, cut into large dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 pounds Japanese eggplant, trimmed and cut into large dice
1 large zucchini, trimmed and cut into large dice
1 large yellow summer squash, trimmed and cut into large dice
1 – 28 ounce can chopped San Marzano tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat the interior of a large ceramic baking dish with olive oil.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or just until soft.

Add the eggplant and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes or until just beginning to soften.

Stir in the zucchini and yellow squash and cook, stirring frequently, for another 10 minutes or until just barely tender.

Stir in the tomatoes and basil and season with salt and pepper.

Scrape about half of the eggplant mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cover with half of the mozzarella. Spoon the remaining eggplant mixture over the cheese. Top with another layer of mozzarella. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mozzarella and then top with bread crumbs.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

The baked ratatouille is wonderful. And the crust on top is really good!

I served it with sausages, but just about any protein would go with it, or just eat as an enjoyable summer meal and be proud of all of your garden-fresh vegetables!

Arancini

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Deep frying isn’t something I do routinely, but I’ve always wanted to make arancini, as well as deep-fried Spanish olives. Because of that, I purchased a small electric deep fryer many moons ago. I finally made arancini; the olives are next.

Arancini are savory Sicilian snacks, made from a little ball of risotto, sometimes filled with cheese, and deep fried.

One good thing about making arancini is that leftover risotto can be used, and in fact, is encouraged. But keep it a “plainer” risotto. Risotto with chunks of butternut squash obviously wouldn’t work well.

Classic risotto is perfect. I included some mushroom powder for a bit more flavor.

For the cheese, caciocavallo is recommended. There is a smoked variety of this cheese, but I used non-smoked. Mozzarella is a good substitute.

If used seen photos of traditional arancini, they typically have a smoother breadcrumb coating. Because I used a combination of panko and some fresh breadcrumbs, the coating looks a bit more lumpy. But it still worked!

For  the  Arancini:

1 recipe of risotto, made with about 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
2 beaten eggs
1 cup flour
2 cups breadcrumbs – I used a mixture of fresh bread crumbs and panko
Enough plain oil in which to deep fry the arancini

Start by making the risotto the previous day before serving. I added mushroom powder, some cream, and some Parmesan. Chill the risotto overnight.

To prepare the Arancini, cut up the cheese into small cubes. The size really depends on how big your arancini will be. I used a small cookie scoop, pushed in the cheese, then covered it with more risotto. With the cold risotto, it was easy to mold them into spheres.

Have the bowl with the eggs, flour, and breadcrumbs ready. Take the arancini and dip them in flour, then eggs, then the breadcrumbs. Place on a cookie sheet. When you’re done, place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator.

Set up your electric deep fryer and heat the oil to 350 degrees F. Fry about 3 at a time in the basket, and when sufficiently browned, place them on a paper towel-lined cookie sheet. Continue with the remaining arancini.

Serve still hot.

I served these with a truffle aioli.

But you could use a marinara for dipping as well, or a curry ketchup.

My arancini are a little large. I have trouble with fiddly little things, which is why I’m not a cake decorator. But, then you get to bite into a lot of melted cheese….

Lamb Balls in Red Sauce

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A while back I saw a recipe for lamb meatballs, cooked in a red sauce. It really appealed to me because I love lamb. And, I think I could eat shoe soles cooked in red sauce.

But did I print this recipe? Or even take notes as to where I found it? Stupidly no, although I’m typically organized about such important things as recipes.

So I’m creating the recipe for slightly Greek-inspired lamb balls, baked in a red sauce, along with goat cheese. The meat balls are gently seasoned with oregano, allspice, and a hint of cinnamon.

Lamb Balls in Red Sauce with Goat Cheese
Makes about 36 meatballs

Approximately 42 ounces favorite red sauce or simple Marinara
2 pounds ground lamb
3 eggs, mixed well
1/3 cup panko crumbs
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 medium onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Panko bread crumbs, approximately 1/2 cup
10-12 ounces soft goat cheese
Freshly chopped parsley, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the red sauce into a 9 x 13″ baking dish; set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the lamb, egg, panko crumbs, parsley, salt, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper.

In a large skillet, (you’ll be using it for another purpose), sauté the onion over medium-low heat until soft. Stir in the garlic, then remove the skillet from the burner. Let the mixture cool, then add to the lamb mixture.

Using the same skillet, add approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Have a bowl of panko crumbs next to the meatball mixture. Form the lamb into medium-sized meatballs, I used a 1 1/2” scoop, roll in the bread crumbs, then sauté them in the skillet, about 8-10 at a time.

When the balls have browned well on all sides, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the skillet and place them in the baking dish with the red sauce. This should only take about 5 minutes over medium-high heat.

Repeat with remaining meatballs. If you have any bread crumbs leftover you can sprinkle them over the meatballs in the red sauce.

Bake the meatballs for approximately 20-25 minutes and remove the baking dish from the oven. Turn off the oven.

Add the goat cheese to the meatballs, adding a generous tablespoons interspersed amongst them, eturn the baking dish to the oven to allow the cheese to melt, approximately 10-15 minutes.

Before serving, sprinkle the lamb balls with freshly chopped parsley.

Serve directly from the baking dish, if desired, along with crusty bread.

Make sure there’s a generous amount of red sauce served with the lamb balls.

If desired, the meatballs and red sauce can be served over pasta or polenta, but today I used pasta.

The meatballs are tender, with a slight crunchy firmness on the outside.

The goat cheese is spectacular with the lamb and red sauce.

The crusty bread is a must!

Salmon Brandade

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This recipe comes from the 2018-published cookbook entitled Everyday Dorie, by Dorie Greenspan. I bought it recently after seeing quite a few bloggers share some of this book’s recipes on Instagram.

Personally, I’ve never gotten to “know” Ms. Greenspan. It’s probably because I first learned about her when the book, Baking with Julia, was published. Ms. Greenspan and Julia Childs were co-authors.

Well, I won’t bake with Julia, or anyone else, so I kind of ignored Dorie Greenspan and her award-wining books over the years, until now.

The book? Fairly straight forward, simple food. Her goal with the cookbook is to “turn out food that’s comforting, satisfying, inviting and so often surprising. I love when there’s something unexpected in a dish, especially when it’s in a dish we think we know well.

So, she added Dijon mustard to gougeres, to carrot and mustard rillettes, to honey-mustard salmon rillettes, and to a tomato tart with mustard and ricotta. And that’s just the appetizer chapter. I wasn’t really impressed with her “surprises,” but the photos of the food are really pretty.

I chose to make Ms. Greenspan’s salmon brandade, because I love traditional brandade, made with salt cod. If you’re interested HERE is a Jacques Pepin recipe for it.

According to Dorie Greenspan, “This brandade celebrates everything that’s warm and comforting about the original while adding a touch of luxe – it’s brandade for dinner parties. Serve with a salad and white wine. Maybe even Champagne.

The dish isn’t gorgeous, but it’s perfect comfort food, especially served during cold months. And for pescatarians.

It’s basically a salmon shepherd’s pie!

Salmon Brandade
Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 pound smoked salmon, or lox
2 – 2 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into medium chunks
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, plus 1/2 tablespoon butter
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped, rinsed, and patted dry
2 garlic cloves, germ removed, minced
6 – 8 ounces skinless salmon fillet, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup white wine or dry vermouth
2 – 3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs, such as dill, chives, parsley, and/or tarragon
Plain dry bread crumbs, for finishing

Bring the milk just to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in half of the smoked salmon, turn off the heat and let steep while you make the potatoes.

Put the potatoes in a tall pot, cover generously with cold water, salt the water and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they’re so tender that you can easily crush them against the side of the pot with a fork, 15 – 20 minutes. Drain well.

The potatoes must be mashed, a job best done with a food mill or ricer, which produces fluffier potatoes. Mash them in a large bowl, and then, using a spatula, stir in the salmon-milk mixture, followed by the 6 pieces of butter.. The potatoes will be softer and looser than you might be used to. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9″ pie plate and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I used a small baking pan and two ramekins.

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Toss in the onion and garlic and cook, stirring until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper – go light on the salt – and stir in the cubed fresh salmon.

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add the wine or vermouth and cook, stirring, until the wine almost evaporates, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs and remaining smoked salmon.

Taste for salt and pepper and scrape the mixture into the buttered pan.

Top with the mashed potatoes, spreading them all the way to the edges of the pan. Dot with bits of the cold butter and sprinkle over the bread crumbs.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are hot all the way through, the juices from the onion and salmon are bubbling, and the top is golden brown. If you want the brandade to have more color, put it under the broiler.

Serve immmediately – the brandade is meant to be so hot that you’ve got to blow on every forkful. See the steam in this photo? Nah, I can’t either, but it was steaming hot.

The two layers are exceptionally good, especially the soft potatoes with the bits of salmon.

But the bread crumbs (I used panko) really add a fun crunch to each bite.

I would consider this recipe excellent, but salt the potatoes!

And, the individual brandade in the ramekins turned out perfectly as well.

If you enjoy the combination of salmon and potatoes, I made a similar but much easier recipe called smoked salmon potato bake, pictured here. (I need to re-do these photos!)

Greek Pork and Beans

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We had quite the cold spell a while back, so I during it I felt the need to make a one-pot, stick-to-your-ribs kind of stew. And what better cuisine from which to choose than Greek. It’s often the direction I take for satisfying and comforting dishes, like pastitsio and moussaka.

For these times, I refer to an old cookbook, called Flavors of Greece, published in 1991, and authored by Rosemary Barron. And in it I found exactly what I was looking for – a Greek version of pork and beans.

The beans in this dish are giant white Lima beans, and the meat includes pork shoulder, bacon, and sausage.

The bean and pork components are layered, then topped with a thick bread crumb and Parmesan crust. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a giant cassoulet!

Traditional Pork and Bean Casserole
Khirino´ Khoria´tiko

1 1/2 pounds dried butter beans, soaked overnight
3 pounds boneless lean pork shoulder
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced pastourma´s ham or bacon
3 cups chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup red wine
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, diced, juices reserved
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons ground coriander
5 whole cloves
4 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 – 1 1/2 cups meat stock
1/2 country sausages
1 cup fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup kasse´ri cheese or Parmesan

Cook and drain the soaked beans. I cooked mine in chicken stock. Set aside.

Cut the pork into 1” cubes. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet and lightly brown half the meat over medium heat. Repeat with the remaining meat.

Add the bacon and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, cook 1 minute longer, and add the red wine. Bring to a boil and boil a minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes with their juices, honey, oregano, coriander, cloves, juniper berries, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add 1 cup of the stock and simmer 5 minutes longer.

Add the meat, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes longer; add stock if there appears to be less than 2 cups of sauce. Season to taste. The sauce should be highly flavored.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Slice the sausages into 1/2” thick slices and combine with the beans.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the bottom of a heavy casserole and cover with one third of the sausages and beans. Cover with a layer of half the meat mixture, then half the remaining beans, then the remaining meat. Top with a layer of the remaining beans.

With the back of a wooden spoon, gently press down on the beans so some of the sauce rises to the surface.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese on top.

Sprinkle with the remaining olive oil, cover, and bake 45 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake 1 1/2 hours longer, until a golden crust has formed.

Remove the casserole lid and bake 10 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden brown.

I let the casserole sit for at least 45 minutes, without the lid, before serving.

Even though I used a large/wide Le Creuset for this casserole, it was so thick I wasn’t sure how to serve it up!

For the sake of this post, I cut out a square so the layers would show.

The casserole is quite stunning. And the flavors are just what you’d expect. Tomatoes, herbs, meat – a lovely, rustic meal.

And the meat is extremely tender.

Note: The recipe also included dried marjoram and winter savory — neither of which I had.

Scallop Tomato Gratin

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In 2010, I accompanied my daughter to New York City for her interview at Sotheby’s. It was a mandatory part of the application process, which she obviously aced because she was soon after accepted to the London Sotheby’s master’s program.

My daughter didn’t need me with her in NYC, but because she had been feverishly finalizing her first master’s degree thesis, she hadn’t really taken the time to think about interview clothes, or get herself emotionally prepared. That’s where Moms come in handy.

Thanks to my wonderful travel agent, I made reservations at the The Surrey hotel. Her recommendations are always fabulous, and this hotel was perfect for us. It’s a boutique hotel, just 1 block off of Central Park. Still lots of honking outside throughout the night but, well, it is New York. But the hotel was lovely and had the best staff. They even had a bottle of champagne chilling in the room after my daughter’s interview.

But the wonderfulness didn’t end there. Turns out, Café Boulud is right next door to The Surrey; they even provide the room service. We went for lunch one day, and were so impressed, that we went for dinner on another night. (My daughter and I also went to Le Bernardin one night, so we didn’t suffer in the dining department. Again, that’s what Moms are for!)

Every one knows of Daniel Boulud, but this was a first for me dining at one of his many establishments. The food, wine, and the service were all top notch at Cafe Boulud. And the best part? After the meal, you’re brought warm Madeleines, along with the check, of course.

So it was because of our experience that I bought his Cafe Boulud cookbook – one for myself and one for my daughter. It was published in 1999.

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It’s a very interesting cookbook, because it’s organized differently from the traditional sets of chapters. The book is divided into four parts:

La Tradition, the traditional dishes of French cooking
La Saison, the seasonal specialties of the market
Le Voyage, dishes from lands far and near
Le Potager, vegetarian dishes that celebrate the bounty of the garden

Within each chapter are subchapters including soups, small dishes, lunches, main courses, etc. It makes it a little more difficult to look for recipes in the normal way, but it still works. I’ve made quite a few recipes already, and have many more marked.

I chose to post about the scallop and tomato grain for its simplicity. As I’ve mentioned before, simple food can be the best food – as long as it’s made with the highest quality and freshest ingredients.

This recipe allows the bay scallops and tomatoes to shine. And as my tomatoes have begun to ripen, this is the perfect recipe to try! It’s in the Le Voyage chapter, for its Italian style. He recommends a Pinot Grigio as a pairing, and I concur!

For this recipe you need to have peeled tomatoes. The way I peel potatoes is to boil them in water for about 30 seconds. If the skins don’t split, then use a tip of a knife to pierce the skin for easy removal.

Bay Scallop and Tomato Gratin
From Café Boulud Cookbook

3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
6 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves only, finely chopped
3 sprigs basil, leaves only, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled, split, germ removed, and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/4 pounds bay scallops
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice

Toss together the bread crumbs, half of the parsley, the thyme, basil, and three quarters of the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Preheat the broiler. Butter six shallow gratin dishes (The dishes should be only about 1″ deep and about 6″ in diameter.)

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over high heat until it is very hot. Pat the scallops dry, then season them with salt and pepper and slip them into the pan. (Do this in batches if necessary.) Cook, turning the scallops as needed, until they’re golden on both sides, 2 minutes.

Toss in the diced tomatoes along with the remaining parsley and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more, to cook off some of the tomato juice.

Divide the scallop mixture evenly among the gratin dishes and sprinkle an equal amount of the seasoned bread crumbs over each dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over each gratin and slide the dishes under the broiler for 2 minutes – watch them closely – or until the tops are golden brown.

To serve: The herb-crusted scallops should be served in their gratin dishes, so place the hot dishes on heatproof dinner plates, and rush the gratins to the table.

On a side note, my daughter and I went to Bar Boulud in London, and we weren’t impressed. Maybe they had a bad night. But if you’re ever in NYC, check out Café Boulud!

verdict: As much as I’m a devotee of white pepper, I felt like it was too strong of a flavor for this scallop dish. Otherwise, the dish was fantastic!

Baked Mozzarella

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If you have been reading my blog, you know that I love baked brie – of any kind. I’ve posted on two savority varieties, my tomatillo-sauce topped baked brie and a baked brie with sautéed mushrooms.

So this recipe, although not about brie, really caught my attention. First, it is all about hot cheese. Secondly, the topping is very different than anything I’ve ever seen, which made making this recipe even more tempting. Third, it’s about hot cheese.

The recipe comes from this cookbook, Barbecue, with an unknown publishing date. I bought it in London, and it was printed in the UK.

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So you think this recipe would be about meat, but in the last chapter, entitled The Bits on the Side,” I found the recipe I’m making today, which Mr. Reynaud calls “Crumbed Mozzarella.” The reason being, the mozzarella is covered with a mixture of ground pistachios and bread crumbs. Interesting, yes?!!!

I just knew I had to make it. I’ve only made one other recipe from this book, called surf and turf, which were kabobs, and so far, so good. But this recipe was really odd, which forced me to prepare the mozzarella differently. I didn’t, however, mess with the ingredients.

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Baked Crumbed Mozzarella
Adapted from Barbecue and Grill

1 – 8 ounce mozzarella ball
1 ounce pistachios
2 teaspoons bread crumbs
Big pinch of thyme
A few grindings of black pepper
1 egg
Olive oil (optional)
Salt (optional)

Remove the mozzarella from the plastic and let it sit on paper towels to dry off.

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Meanwhile, weigh the pistachios.

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Add the bread crumbs, black pepper and thyme.

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Place everything in a food processor and process until almost fine; I like a little texture.

Place the mixture on a plate and set aside.

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Break the egg into a medium bowl, large enough to fit the mozzarella, and set aside.

Get out a small plate and have handy.

Dip the mozzarella in the egg.

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Then place it on the pistachio-bread crumb mixture. Turn the mozzarella around to coat on all sides.

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Then place the mozzarella on the small plate and place the plate in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Get out a skillet that is well seasoned. Heat it over medium heat. Add the mozzarella ball, and begin to brown it on all sides, although you might do a better job than I did. It was supposed to be done on a hot plate, whatever that is, for a total of 7-8 minutes. The browning process, which Mr. Reynaud simply refers to as cooking of the mozzarella ball, I think is also supposed to cook the egg and create a seal for the cheese.

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Right before serving, I gently heated the mozzarella in its serving bowl in the microwave.

Then I served the hot mozzarella with crostini.

note: Mr. Reynaud’s recipe called for 3 mozzarella balls, of undisclosed size, and I just wanted to use one. But I thought it was a poorly written recipe to not have included the weight of the cheese balls. There were other problems as well… But I still love this cookbook!

verdict: The flavors are fabulous! However, I think I’d prefer to chop up fresh mozzarella, place it in an oven-proof shallow baking dish, Top the cheese with pistachio mixture, and bake it. That way, there is more pistachio to mozzarella ratio. Because I find melted mozzarella quite rubbery. I prefer baked brie and camembert…