Rustic Tomato Galette

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I’ve always preferred rustic food presentations over fancier ones, but that’s probably because I lack artistry and patience to create more formal presentations.

A perfect example is a pie. I’d much rather make a galette, which must actually look like it’s haphazardly put together, instead of a pretty tart with glistening, criss-crossing lattice.

This is a perfect example – a plum galette made by Tasha, from Tasha’s Artisan Food. Stunning, in spite of its rusticity.

I’ve admired every blogger’s beautiful, summer fruit galettes lately on Instagram. But being that I’ll always choose savory over sweet, I’ve been thinking about how to turn a galette into a savory summer version. Tomatoes, of course!

So I created this galette reminiscent of a pizza marguerite. It’s simple, rustic, and flavorful.

And with summer-ripe tomatoes, it’s perfect for summer!

Rustic Tomato Galette

Pie dough to make a 10″ pie crust
1 cup basil-seasoned red sauce, well-reduced
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, sliced, seeded
8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls
Salt, freshly ground green or black pepper
Grated Parmesan, about 6 ounces
1 egg, well whisked
Garlic pepper
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread a piece of parchment paper over a cookie sheet and set aside.

Using a minimal amount of flour, roll out the pie dough until it forms approximate 15″ in diameter. Gently slide it onto the parchment paper.

Have everything ready to go because the galette goes together quickly. The tomatoes must have drained on paper towels so as not to water down the pie.

Begin by placing the red sauce in the middle of the pie crust and spread around to about 8″ in diameter.

Add tomato slices in a round for form one layer. Add some of the mozzarella pearls, and season with salt and pepper.

After you’ve used about half of your tomatoes and mozzarella pearls, season again, then sprinkle with half of the Parmesan.

Continue with the layering until all the tomatoes are used up. Add the remaining pearls, remaining Parmesan, and season.

Brush the inside of the pie crust extension with the egg wash. Gently fold over the dough over the tomatoes, about every 5″ or so, letting the dough tell you where to place it.

Brush the egg wash inside the folds and all over the top of the dough. I seasoned it with a little garlic pepper, but that is optional.

Place the galette in the oven and set the timer for 45-50 minutes. Probably a real baker would have chilled the galette in the refrigerator for 30 minutes first, but I was hungry.

Let the galette sit for at least 25 minutes; this will firm up the cheese before slicing into it.

I sprinkled a few basil leaves over the top, and a few wisteria blossoms as well!

When you’re ready to slice into the galette, use a long sharp knife or a pizza cutter.

I must say, I like my addition of the basil-seasoned red sauce. It not only adds more flavor, but also a different texture to this galette.

And the cheeses are perfect. Grated Parmesan is always perfect, but I think the mozzarella pearls are preferable to slices.

This tomato galette is summer perfection, if I may say so myself!

Pasta with Sausage and Fennel

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I’ve never been a huge fennel fan, and for just that reason, I planted two fennel plants in my garden. I figured that if I could harvest it personally, I could figure out how to showcase its unique flavor.

Ideally, if one loves the anise/licorice flavor, fennel is eaten raw, shaved in a salad, for example. But I thought that gently sautéed and caramelized in olive oil, with pasta and sausage, would still highlight this unique plant properly.

Harvesting the fennel is just a matter of pulling it out of the ground. I read that the fennel bulb should be the size of a tennis ball.


The recipe is not mine – I found it on Epicurious.com, and adapted it slightly.

Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel

1 fennel bulb, about 7 ounces, plus some fronds
12 ounces orecchiette
Salt
Olive oil
16 ounces sweet Italian sausage
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
White wine
Freshly grated Parmesan


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside, along with 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until lightly browned and cooked just through.


Remove the sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Add the fennel slices and saute them in the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel softens, about 5 minutes.

Continue to cook, adding a little wine as necessary to prevent the fennel from sticking to the skillet. You might have to do this a few times. The resulting fennel should be soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes more.

Add the cooked pasta and reserved liquid to the skillet, along with the sausage. Stir well and let cook, until the liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce, about 4 minutes.


Add Parmesan and season again if necessary.


Also sprinkle some of the fronds over the pasta.

The fennel still reminded me of Pernod, which I dislike, but it was better slightly caramelized and cooked in the wine.

The Parmesan wasn’t in the original recipe, but I felt like it needed cheese.

Heavy cream would also be a fabulous addition!

Cacio e Pepe

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Cacio e Pepe is an Italian pasta dish that translates to cheese and pepper. It’s a long-time standard of Roman cuisine.

Recently my daughter asked if I’d ever made it, and I never have. As much as I love and respect the simplicity of authentic Italian dishes, this one probably never intrigued me enough because of the lack of “goodies” in it, like a little Prosciutto, or smoked salmon.

But I decided it was about time to make Cacio e Pepe and embrace the perfection that is a traditional pasta dish.

When I started researching the recipe online, it was like opening up an Italian Pandora’s box. There were so many criticisms of recipes, techniques, and so forth. I’ve always found that the Italians are the most passionate about their traditional recipes remaining traditional.

I personally don’t mind variations on the original, but nonetheless I closed the box and decided on the recipe I would use. The important goal of making Cacio e Pepe is a creaminess that is created without using butter or cream.
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Here’s what I did.

First I grated 8 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese and set aside.

Then I place a large pot full of salted water on the stove over high heat. I chose basic spaghetti, 16 ounces, for my pasta.
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When the water boiled, I added the pasta and timed 9-10 minutes.
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After the pasta was cooked, I poured some of the pasta water in a bowl, drained the pasta, and returned the pasta to the pot. I had a stirring spoon on hand, and immediate added some of the pasta water to the pot, stirring gently.

I then added about 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper and the grated cheese, along with more pasta water as needed. Vigorous stirring was necessary to create a creaminess and incorporate the cheese.


Serve immediately, preferably in warmed pasta bowls.
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I added more coarsely-ground pepper.
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This dish is so much about the pepper!

I can now understand why this simple pasta dish has endured for centuries. I’ve always loved and respected the simplicity of many Italian dishes, but I think this one takes the cake.
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However, as wonderfu as Cacio e Pepe is, tomorrow I’m adding some Prosciutto or smoked salmon.

Chipotle Shrimp with Crema Verde

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The flavor of chipotle chile peppers is one of my favorite flavors – up there with garlic, cilantro, curry, pesto, and fish sauce.

Chipotle chile peppers are jalapeños which are dried and smoked. I don’t understand why they can’t be called smoked jalapeños, but no one asked my opinion. So chipotles they are.

You can purchase them whole and already ground. They also come in a can all plumped up in adobo sauce.


However you use chipotles, they add a unique, spicy smokiness to whatever food you’re preparing, whether you’re adding them to an enchilada sauce, seasoning flank steak, or spicing up a mayo.

Today I needed to make an appetizer with shrimp. I immediately thought of chipotle for seasoning – a fairly strong flavor that works with shrimp. Just for fun I also made a crema verde for a cool balance to the spicy shrimp.

Here’s what I did.
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Chipotle Shrimp with Crema Verde

Crema Verde
12 ounces crema or sour cream
2 ounces chopped green chiles
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and dried
Salt, optional

To make the crema verde, place the Crema and green chiles in a small food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.


Gradually add cilantro leaves, processing as you add them, until the whole bunch of cilantro has been incorporated into the Crema.

Cover and refrigerate overnight if you’re not going to use right away. However, serve at room temperature.
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Chipotle Shrimp
3/4 pound medium-size shrimp, cleaned
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile pepper
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil, as necessary

Make sure the cleaned shrimp are dry using paper towels. Place them in a large bowl and toss them gently in oil.


Add the chipotle, salt, and pepper. You can always season more after the shrimp are cooked.

Heat a little oil in a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the shrimp in one layer, turning them over with tongs after only 1-2 minutes. The time will depend on the size of the shrimp. Typically they are done as soon as they turn from translucent to opaque and pink.

Cook the remaining batches and place the warm shrimp on a platter.
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Sprinkle more chipotle powder, or even ground sweet paprika if desired and serve with the crema verde.
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Besides being a fabulous and easy appetizer, the shrimp served over a layer of the crema verde, topped with a sprig of cilantro, would also be a wonderful first course to a southwestern-inspired meal.

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Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

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I’ve rarely made the same dish twice since I began cooking. Thus my motto: “so much food, so little time!” I truly live by this only because there is always something new to make, or variations to try. It’s just fun for me to cook and eat that way.

My husband really enjoys it, I think, because he grew up with the Monday night meal, the Tuesday night meal, and so forth. Seven meals, exactly the same, every week. Not fun.

There are a few dishes that my kids request when they visit home. One loves my black bean enchiladas, the other loves my salads with salmon, but even these are never the same because I don’t follow recipes. But one thing both of them enjoy and request often during the warm months, is this cilantro garlic shrimp.

In this shrimp appetizer, cilantro adds a wonderful freshness, and pairs so well with fresh garlic. So this shrimp is wonderful in the spring and summer, for any kind of get-together.

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

Cooked shrimp, tail or no tail, preferably poached
Olive oil, about 1 cup
Fresh garlic, 5-6 cloves if you want a sharp flavor
Fresh cilantro, a whole bunch
Salt

Spread out the cooked shrimp on paper towels to dry if necessary, then place in a bowl and keep refrigerated.

To prepare the marinade, pour the olive oil into a blender jar. Add a generous amount garlic cloves, fresh cilantro, stems and all, and a little salt.


Blend until smooth, then pour over the shrimp and toss. Don’t overdo it – you just want the shrimp coated, but not drowning in the marinade. If you have any left over, keep it for chicken. It’s fabulous!
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This shrimp can be made the day before, and kept refrigerated, but take it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving, so the olive oil doesn’t remain coagulated.
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If you like the addition of lemon juice in this cilantro and garlic mixture, do not let the shrimp sit for long. In fact, serve as soon as possible. The lemon juice will cook and mush up the shrimp.

note: You could marinate cleaned, raw shrimp in this cilantro-garlic mixture, and then grill them, but it’s never quite the same. Some liquid always leaks out of the shrimp and they can’t be grilled properly. So that’s why I use pre-cooked shrimp. That way you’ve got perfectly cooked shrimp, coated with the lovely “marinade.”

Strawberry Jam and a New Gadget

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I have never made jam. Probably because I’m not a toast eater. I’ve made savory fruit-based jellies and sauces and chutneys and compotes and so forth, but never jam.

A while back I spotted an automatic jam and jelly maker, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The electric appliance is made by Ball, which is well known for its canning equipment, so I finally bought the darn thing. Like so many other gadgets in my house, it sat around and gathered dust for a while. But just a short while.

With strawberries in season, and the fact that I probably love strawberry jam more than any other kind, I decided that it was time to make strawberry jam, and test out this gadget.

It’s Ball FreshTech Model FTJM-12-01, to be specific, pictured below, priced at $99 USD or less on Amazon.
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I had purchased strawberries but about the time I got around to rinsing them off and removing the blemishes, I ended up with 1 1/2 pounds.

One interesting fact in the manual: Don’t use a food processor to crush the fruit, because a food processor can break down the fruit’s natural pectin, preventing a good set. Interesting.

There are very few photos of the jam-making process, because it went so fast. Before I knew it, I had made jam! So here’s exactly what I did.

The jam and jelly maker will allow twice as much of the volume of jam made, or 3 pounds of fruit, but using any more than that can cause the jam maker not to function optimally.
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Strawberry Vanilla Jam

1 1/2 pound cleaned strawberries, hulled, halved
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/2 tablespoons pectin, dried form
1/4 teaspoon butter*
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon white sugar

Have the strawberries in a large bowl. Crush the strawberries; I used my pastry cutter. I wanted my jam more like preserves, so I left the strawberries on the chunky side.


Cut the vanilla bean in half crosswise and save the half not used. With the other half, slice it lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add them to the strawberries. Stir the berries to incorporate the vanilla beans. Now you’re ready to begin.

Place the pectin in the base of the jam maker. The pectin I used is shown above. Add the strawberrrymixture to the jam maker. Top with the dab of butter.

That’s it! Turn it on and it will, by default, start at 21 minutes. It begins turning and mixing the ingredients. After 4 minutes, you’ll hear 4 faint beeps, and that is the time to lift the lid and add the sugar.

Return the lid to the jam maker, and wait till the remaining 17 minutes is up!
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Remove the lid, and carefully remove the stirrer. You can use the handles on the jam maker to hold the pot because they don’t conduct heat, which is nice.

Let the jam cool, then spoon into clean jars. It goes without saying that every piece of equipment should be clean.

My recipe made about 12 ounces. I’m going to freeze one – 8 ounce jar of jam, and save the rest for some other purpose.

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Amazingly, the jam is the perfect texture. It’s nice and thick, with strawberry chunks, and tiny vanilla beans visible.

I’m not sure the vanilla does much for this jam, but it was a fun addition.

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I can’t wait to play more with this gadget. I am very impressed, to say the least! Unless you want to can your jam or jelly, it’s pretty much a 30 minute process!

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* This is very interesting, but a little dab of butter will prevent foam from forming at the top of the jam. In fact, I had none when my jam had completed its processing.

Easy Creamy Vegetable Soup

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So many people I know don’t make soups because they think it’s difficult. Hopefully after reading this post, many of you will run to the kitchen, with the most minimum of ingredients, and try out this recipe. All you need is a favorite vegetable that you want to turn into a luscious, creamy soup.

Back when I was feeding my young children, it seemed that they would always eat soup over a vegetable. Even if it was the same vegetable! So I made a lot of soups.
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You don’t have to limit yourself to the soup as is. You can always sprinkle on different cheeses, add a dollop of sour cream, add grilled chicken, Polish or Italian sausage, or ham. Then it becomes a meal!

What I love is that there are so many different ways of making a basic soup like the one I’m making today.

For example, the vegetable choices*:
Butternut Squash
Pumpkin
Acorn Squash
Carrot
Parsnip
Cauliflower
Broccoli
Zucchini
Sweet potato
And so forth.

Next, the aromatics:
Onion
Garlic
Ginger
Leeks
Shallots
Celery
Bell peppers

The creaminess:
Heavy cream
1/2 and 1/2
evaporated milk
sour cream
creme fraiche
goat’s milk
almond milk
soy milk
hemp milk
coconut milk
and so forth.

There are many seasonings that can be added to home-made soups as well, but I want to keep this vegetable soup simple. Once you figure out how easy it is, you’ll be excited and motivated to get creative with flavors from your refrigerator and pantry! (I’m talking curry powder, pesto, chipotle peppers, Thai curry paste, etc.)

So here’s my basic recipe, and I hope you make it your own!

Creamy Broccoli Soup

2 heads broccoli, approximately 2 pounds after trimming
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled, halved
Chicken or vegetable broth
6 ounces evaporated milk, or less
Butter, optional
Salt
White pepper, optional
Cheese, optional

Rinse the broccoli, then coarsely chop it. Place it in a stock pot. Add the onion and garlic.
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Pour in your broth until it comes about halfway up the layer of vegetables.

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Bring the broth to a boil, then cover the pot and let things simmer for 20-30 minutes. If you’re worried you have a lot of extra broth, leave off the lid, or have it offset to allow steam to escape.


Let the mixture cool.
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This is also the time I had a tab of butter, about 1 or 2 tablespoons, a little salt, and a little white pepper. The butter adds a richness to the soup, but it can be omitted, of course.

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Place the vegetables in the jar of your blender using a slotted spoon. Pour a little bit of broth into the blender, just to get it blending.


Then add the evaporated milk until you have the consistency you like.

I do it this way, because if you add all of the broth first, the soup might end up to watery, On the other hand, if soup is too thick, then you still have broth to add. Of course, it all depends how thick you like your soups.

I like my vegetable soups thick and creamy. Thin, watery soups are not my thing.

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At this point, if you’d like to make a cheesy cream to top the soup, mix together a good goat or sheep’s cheese with a tablespoon or so of evaporated milk or cream, and blend until smooth.


If you make a cheesy cream, I hope you’re more creative than I am at making an appealing-looking presentation!
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Alternatively, just crumble the cheese on top of the soup; I used Valbreso. Children would love grated cheddar on this soup.

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You could also top the soup with a few croutons.
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There! Now you’ve made a creamy vegetable soup! See how easy it is?

* Any vegetable can be made into a soup, however, some won’t work quite as well. For example, a cucumber is a very watery vegetable and it’s typically not served warm. It is good in a gazpacho, however, which is a cold soup of sorts. Eggplant would work as a soup, but the color wouldn’t be very pretty. if that doesn’t bother you, then use eggplant. Also, I wouldn’t mix a green vegetable with an orange vegetable. If you’ve ever played with paints, you know that orange and green do not make a pretty color! Soup making is a lot about common sense!