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!

Herbed Ranch Dressing

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Years ago, while eating lunch at a restaurant with my older daughter and her husband, my son-in-law nearly fainted when I ordered ranch dressing for my salad. Knowing my snobbiness towards what I would call “American” foods, like Velveeta, he “threatened” kiddingly that he was going to “tell people!”

Yes, I ordered ranch dressing for a basic side salad; I knew what I was getting because we’d been to this restaurant. The other options were bottled dressings much worse than ranch.

However, if ranch is home-made, just like other dressings and vinaigrettes, it can be pretty wonderful.

This herbed ranch recipe comes from Emily and Matt Hyland, who own a pizzeria, called Emily, in Brooklyn, New York, with a new location in West Village; both restaurants feature wood-burning ovens. These are the young owners:

Emily, the pizzeria, was one of the first to serve ranch dressing… with their pizzas. Their ranch, called Ranch Dressing With Fresh Herbs, is in their cookbook, Emily, published in 2018.

The original Emily ranch recipe was adapted by Julia Moskin, and published online at The New York Times. Julia states that “Ranch dressing and pizza are still a controversial combination, but chef Matt Hyland’s dressing is uncontroversially delicious.”

A good ranch dressing like this one is especially wonderful on a classic wedge salad so that’s what I made.

Herbed Ranch Dressing
Yield: About 1 1/3 cups

¼ cup chilled buttermilk, more as needed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 cup store-bought mayonnaise
Salt, to taste

In a blender, process the buttermilk, garlic, pepper, chives and parsley together until the herbs are minced and the mixture turns pale green. Add the mayonnaise and process just until smooth. If desired, thin with additional buttermilk to get the consistency you want.

I used a product I’ve fallen in love with – garlic in chili oil. I don’t have to peel garlic, and I like the zing the chili oil offers.

Taste and add salt if needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to 3 days.

For the wedge salad, cut an iceberg lettuce into four quarters, after doing any necessary leaf trimming. Place the quarters upright on a plate. Add some dressing, and leave it on the platter for those who want more. Then add sliced tomatoes, chopped purple onion, and bacon bits.

I added Italian dried sofrito, for fun. You could always add coarsely ground black pepper and cayenne pepper flakes.

I personally don’t think wedge salads need cheese. At American restaurants, however, bleu cheese is common, as well as bleu cheese dressing instead of ranch. Each to her own.

To me, if the ingredients are high quality, even if it’s just a salad dressing., chances are that the recipe will turn out well. What I don’t like are ingredients like powdered garlic and onion, and fake dried herbs. Use real ingredients, people!

A Basic Omelet

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There was a summer many years ago when I taught cooking classes to four little girls – two sets of sisters who were homeschooled. Their mothers thought that cooking classes would satisfy many interests and teach quite a few skills to the girls. And indeed, I’ve always thought that cooking classes are fabulous for not only learning about food, but also grasping important applications like math and chemistry.

During those classes we had a session on eggs – how to appreciate them for the wonderful little package of food they are, and how to treat them with respect in the kitchen. And one thing we made together were omelets. (Also a pavlova, which was a huge hit!)

Now, it may not seem that creative to put an omelet on my blog, but on the contrary, I think that an omelet requires learning some skills. Plus, there are a lot of terrible omelets out there, so perhaps I’m doing a community service with this post. I hope so.

To me, there are a few criteria for making the perfect omelet:
1. good eggs
2. good cheese, for a cheese omelet
3. the right skillet
4. a lid
5. patience

Of course it goes without saying that the ingredients that you choose for your omelet have to be good. It’s especially nice to have access to farm-fresh eggs – the kind that are almost impossible to break open because the shells are so hard.

Cheese is subjective – there’s no “right” cheese. I like Fontina, Gruyere, or even a good Monterey Jack. Who am I kidding?! Any cheese that melts well will work.

The right skillet is important because you want your omelet to end up a decent thickness. Place your whisked eggs in too large of a skillet, and you will get a thin omelet. Unless you like that kind, I don’t recommend too large of a skillet.

The skillet I use for my one-person, 2-egg omelet, is actually a crêpe pan. It’s got a flat bottom and flat sides. The outside diameter is 8″; the inside diameter, or bottom, measures 6″ in diameter.

crepe

A perfect-fitting lid is also important for making a good omelet.

And then the most important aspect of making an omelet – patience. As Rome wasn’t built in a day, an omelet can’t be prepared in one minute. I know everyone likes fast food, but if you rush your omelet, it will taste and feel like something purchased at a fast food restaurant. Which would make me wonder why you’re even bothering to cook an omelet at home in the first place…

For today’s omelet, or omelette, I chose butter, 2 eggs, grated Fontina, and some diced, leftover ham. And here’s what I did.

A  Basic  Ham  and  Cheese   Omelet

2 eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Diced ham, optional of course
Cheese of choice – grated, or sliced fairly thinly

Whisk the 2 eggs in a small bowl with a fork, before you begin heating the skillet. Also, please don’t think that brown eggs are better than white. My mother had chickens that laid many different colored eggs, depending on their breed.

Place the butter in the skillet over medium heat. It should begin melting immediately, but not burn. If you think the skillet is too hot, remove it from the heat source for a minute. Cooking is a lot about common sense.

You need to work fairly quickly at first, but don’t worry, it’s not a race. Just have all of the ingredients available, as well as the skillet lid. And don’t forget to adjust the heat on the stove. That’s why there are knobs. Or, if you panic, completely remove the skillet from the heat source and collect yourself.

Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. The butter has browned a bit. You can see that the skillet is “grabbing” the eggs and the cooking process has begun.

Immediately place the ham and cheese over the top of the eggs and turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Trust me.

Then place the lid on the skillet. Let the omelet cook slowly, with the lid on, over the lowest heat, for about 4 minutes.

At this point, the top of the omelet will look like this:

Most of the cheese is melted, but there is still a bit of egg that need to cook through. Remove the skillet completely from the heat source, but leave the lid on.

After about 1 minute, the omelet should be ready. I prefer an omelette baveuse, or soft. Cook a little more if you can’t handle runny eggs!

You can use a thin spatula to remove the omelet from the skillet and fold over gently, or slide it out for an open-face presentation. Alternatively, use the skillet to slide the omelet on the plate, then fold it over into a semi-circle using the edge of the skillet.

The egg part of the omelet is cooked and somewhat puffy, almost like a soufflé, but not to the point of rubberyness. I don’t mind a bit of browning on the eggs.

Notice the cheese is fully melted inside because the lid on the skillet allowed the cheese to warm and melt, just like with a quesadilla.

What’s important is that in spite of the fact that this omelet took a little time, the results are superb.

I swore off omelets at restaurants a couple of decades ago. No more rubber omelets, ever!

Raclette Quick Bread

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For those of you who don’t know what a quick bread is, well, it’s just that – a quick bread! As opposed to slow bread, you could say, or a yeasted bread, which can take hours to prepare and bake.

A quick bread utilizes baking powder as leavening that lightens the bread as it bakes, as opposed to yeasted breads that utilize yeast.

Besides being quick, quick breads are extremely easy. You mix up ingredients much like you would muffins or pancakes, whether sweet or savory. You just have to respect the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. Think about it. A cookie dough is different from a cake batter for a reason.

Today I decided to make a savory quick bread using some leftover raclette that I had frozen after Christmas, and a few other goodies I gathered together. If you decide to make this bread, you can completely change up the ingredients to make this bread your own.

This kind of bread is also referred to in France as a cake salé, a savory “cake” made in a loaf pan.

Raclette Quick Bread

2 ounces jarred sun-dried tomatoes in oil, slightly drained and chopped
6 ounces pancetta, diced
2 tablespoons butter
16 ounces milk
2 eggs
8 ounces plain Greek yogurt or ricotta
1 teaspoon salt
Leftover pancetta and fat
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh herbs, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
10 ounces grated raclette or other semi-firm cheese
4 ounces of chopped olives

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the pancetta and butter together in a skillet over medium heat. A little browning is good. Let everything cool, and remember to save the fat in the skillet to use in the recipe. I actually discovered diced pancetta at my grocery store!

To a large mixing bowl, add the milk, eggs, yogurt and salt and whisk until smooth.

Add the pancetta and its fat, and the herbs. Stir until smooth. I used fresh parsley, rosemary, and oregano.

Using a spoon, gradually add the flour and baking powder and stir until the flour is almost combine with the wet ingredients.

Add the grated cheese and olives and fold them into the batter gently; do not over stir. And another discovery – pitted Castelvetrano olives! Thank you Amazon.

Divide the batter in between two greased 8 x 4″ loaf pans. Place the pans in the oven for 45 minutes.

To make sure they are cooked through, use a cake tester or long toothpick to check them. No doughy substance should be sticking to the tester. If there is, the breads need to be cooked for maybe five minutes longer. An alternative is to lower your oven to 325 degrees to help the breads cook in the middle. Sometimes it works to turn off the oven and let them sit for 10-15 minutes.

There should be a little rise along the middle of the bread, and it should also be firm to the touch.

Let the breads rest in the pans for about 30 minutes, and then remove them to cool completely.

Serve these breads as part of a buffet, or for an hors d’oeuvres platter.

They’re best warm or at room temperature. When the bread is warm it’s luscious and cheesy and flavorful.

Can you imagine serving this bread with a bowl of tomato soup?!

This bread would be great with smoked cheese, bits of chorizo, and chopped cilantro. Or, roasted red bell peppers, Gorgonzola, and basil. Get creative!

For a similar bread, click on Olive Cake for another delicious cake salé, pictured below.

Risotto with Pork Shanks

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On the last season of Masterchef US, season 10, the 4th runner up went home. His name is Noah Sims and he was a favorite. What sent him home was a risotto topped with venison loin. The venison was overcooked, unfortunately for him, but what sent him home was a profound learning experience to me.

Risotto is a dish. It is a meal. It can be enhanced with an endless number of ingredients, from mushrooms to tomatoes and squash, and seasoned accordingly. It also can be served with protein of just about any kind, for a more involved meal. However, the protein is a separate dish from the risotto.

So, you have risotto, and the added protein, and according to Joe Bastianich, the son of Italian cuisine expert Lidia Bastianich, something has to tie them together. Otherwise it’s like serving a chili dog on a plate of cacio de pepe. (not his quote.) Two completely different dishes.

What Mr. Bastianich suggested was that if Noah had been able to prepare a venison stock to use in the risotto, the overall meal would have worked.

I found this to be quite revelatory. Because although my husband doesn’t mind, I’ve put just about any kind of meat or seafood over his risotto. Now, they have to “go” together. Now I know.

So I created this risotto dish topped with braised pork chops in order to use pork broth in the risotto. Start in the morning, and don’t plan on serving the dish until the next day.

Braised Pork Shanks
4 servings

4 – 1 1/2 pound Berkshire pork shanks
Salt
Pepper
Grapeseed oil, about 1/4 cup total
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
3 cups white wine
3 cups chicken broth
Parsley
Bay leaves
Rosemary branch
Thyme branch
Sprig of sage

Begin by coating the pork with a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Heat the grapeseed oil in a heavy cast-iron pot over high heat. Brown the tops and bottoms of all four shanks, one at a time.

After browning, place the shanks in a large, deep and heavy pot, like a Le Creuset; set aside.

Turn down the heat under the pot to medium. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots for about 5 minutes, stirring up all of that meaty goodness.

Stir in the garlic for a minute, then add the wine and broth.

Add all of the herbs to the pot with the broth. Heat up the liquid in the pot, uncovered, and cook for 30 minutes. Then cover the pot well and cook for 30 more minutes.

Let the liquid cool enough to handle the pot, then strain the liquid through a fine colander into the pot with the shanks. Add more wine or broth if necessary. The meat should just be covered.

At this point you can check the seasoning. The broth should be rich with flavor.

Place the pot over a medium-high heat and simmer the shanks for 2 1/2 hours. Turn the shanks over halfway through cooking.

When you’re ready to collect the pork broth and proceed with the risotto, remove the shanks and place in a baking dish. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Taste the broth. If it’s watery, spend at least 30-45 minutes reducing it. Store it in a pourable pot, then make the risotto (recipe below).

 

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Wild Rice and Pecan Pancakes

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Savory pancakes are something I really enjoy creating, not just because they are so delicious, but more because you can incorporate just about anything and everything into the batter.

Just on this blog I’ve offered potato and halloumi pancakes, butternut squash and bacon pancakes, zucchini pancakes, and squash and corn pancakes. All different, all wonderfully satisfying.

My secret if to use very little flour; it’s all about the main ingredients. Sometimes it’s vegetables with herbs, sometimes vegetables and nuts, sometimes I mix in grains, cooked or not, for texture.

These pancakes are an autumnal offering, using wild rice and toasted pecans. If you are serving a Mexican or Southwestern-inspired meal, include cilantro in the pancakes, plus some ground cumin and dried oregano. If you want a more generic pancake, stick with some parsley for a fresh flavor, like I did here.

Wild rice is actually a seed, not a grain, and it can taste and feel like little sticks, so I prefer a mixture of rice, brown or white, and wild rice.

These can be served with any kind of protein, from a pork chop to salmon. They’re quite versatile.

Wild rice and Pecan Pancakes
Makes 15 pancakes

2 ounces pecans
4 ounces wild rice
1 cup cooked white or brown rice, cooled
2 eggs
4 ounces 1/2 & 1/2, evaporated milk, or other
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Approximately 1/4 finely chopped onions or shallots
Approximately 1/4 chopped parsley
1/2 cup flour plus a little more
Butter or olive oil

Toast the pecans in a cast-iron skillet and let cool.

Meanwhile, cook the wild rice in 2 cups of water just as you would rice, for about 50 minutes. You actually have the option to cook less or more, depending on how you like your wild rice. It softens more with more cooking, obviously, which is how I prefer it. If there’s leftover water in the pot you can drain it.

Place the leftover cooked white rice in a small bowl, then add the cooked wild rice and let cool.

In a larger bowl, combine the eggs and 1/2 & 1/2 and stir well. Add the garlic pepper and salt.

When the rice has cooled, add to the egg and milk mixture. Stir well, then add the onions and parsley.

When you are ready to cook the pancakes, add the pecans and stir in the flour.

When you stir the batter, you shouldn’t see any liquid (the egg and milk mixture). If you do, sprinkle a little more flour over the batter, only about one tablespoon at a time. If you add too much flour, the pancakes will be stiff and dry.

I used a large non-stick skillet to cook the pancakes. Start over medium-high heat. Add some butter to the skillet, and when it melts, add a spoonful of batter carefully, pressing it down to form a pancake.

After a minute, turn down the heat and let the pancakes cook for a few minutes. Turn them over carefully, and continue to cook a few more minutes. If you want more browning on the second side, raise the heat a bit.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Take your time, these are a bit more delicate than potato pancakes. The rices are cooked, but you still have to cook the batter slowly but thoroughly.

I served the pancakes as a side to a filet mignon.

I think a vegetarian would enjoy them as a meal, because they’re pretty hearty.

Speaking of non-vegetarians, these would also be good made with bacon.

If you feel extra decadent, serve sour cream with the pancakes.

 

 

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.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries

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You’ve all put up with me lamenting about the fact that, living in the middle of the United States, with no nearby coastline, I can’t buy fresh seafood. And it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat, over beef and poultry.

I make up for it when on vacation, especially when it comes to squid and octopus. I eat them until tentacles are practically coming out my ears.

Besides being delicious, they’re fascinating creatures.

Instead of whining, I decided it was time to just order some frozen baby octopus. I actually see it frozen occasionally in recipes, so I’m not the only person who can’t always buy it fresh, or wants it out of season.

The company I ordered from is La Tienda, a Spanish website that I’ve used for years. Just about any Spanish product you desire, they sell.

It was a fluke that I found frozen octopus; I didn’t expect La Tienda to have it. I also bought some frozen cuttlefish at the same time – something I’d never tried before – at least not knowingly.

When I received the pound of baby octopus, there were only two, so about 8 ounces each, shown above. I expected baby octopuses to look like ones I’ve had on salads or seen at markets.

But it gave me the opportunity to learn how to break down an octopus. It’s a very straight-forward procedure, and takes minutes.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries
Cause it’s still summer here….

1 pound frozen baby octopus, thawed
Olive oil
Greens of choice
Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, about 1/2 cup total
Fresh blueberries, about 1/2 cup
Lemon juice (I used 1 lemon for 1 pound of octopus)
Olive juice, to taste
Salt
Aleppo pepper, optional

Rinse the octopus well and lay on a cutting board. Admire it, because it’s a beautiful sea creature!

Slice just below the eyes, and just above the eyes and discard this middle piece.

Then get rid of the beak in the middle of the tentacles.

Turn the head, or hood, inside out. Pull out everything from inside, and discard.

Turn the hood back to outside-in. There is a thin skin covering the hood that can be removed by pulling firmly.

Cut the tentacles off at the very top.

Trim the base of the hood, then slice the remaining hood into 1/4″ thick slices.

With the remaining center “upper thighs”, if you will, cut them each into 8 pie pieces.

From the left, the legs, the hood, and the upper thighs.

The below photo shows the legs at the top, the hood rings in the middle, and the thighs at the bottom.

Rinse the octopus parts, if necessary, then dry them well.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Over high heat and with your vent on, and perhaps a few open doors and windows, sear some of the octopus, without crowding it in the skillet, until browned. I cooked the legs, rings, and thighs separately, just because of the various thicknesses.

Remove to a plate and continue in batches; set aside.

Meanwhile, place the greens on a platter or plate.

In a small bowl, toss together the herbs and top the salad with the herbs.

Add the octopus parts, still warm, and the blueberries to the salad.

Drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt.

If desired, add some Aleppo pepper for some zing!

And that’s it! The octopus was superb. All it takes is a little searing.

A simple combination of lemon juice and olive was wonderful. And the blueberries added fruitiness. The salad would also be good with warmed lentils.

I was very happy about the quality of the frozen octopus. It wasn’t old or water-logged.

At least I know now that I don’t need to turn up my nose at frozen octopus in the future. I will indeed be ordering it again.

I just have to find someone else to share it with…

And anyone who assumes that octopus is tough and rubbery, hasn’t tried it. (husband)

Sauce Vierge

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I’ve mentioned how I plan my personal meals around condiments, and I’m not exaggerating! In fact, a condiment will inspire a whole meal for me. I guess it’s no different than a BBQ lover who sees BBQ sauce and immediately wants brisket, beans, and cole slaw.

Basic condiments like home-made aioli, mustards and ketchups are wonderful, but so are romesco, chimichurri, charmoula, persillade, harissa, chutney, and confit. So many condiments, so little time!

Recently I came across another sauce – Sauce Vierge – that is almost like a marriage of a fresh tomato salsa and persillade, loosely speaking.

I discovered the sauce on Food 52. Sauce Vierge translates to virgin sauce, and was created in 1976 by Michel Guérard, “one of the forces behind the lighter, fresher nouvelle cuisine that sprang up in reaction to cuisine classique, dripping with all its hefty mother sauces.”

I got excited when I read about the sauce, which includes tomato, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, because it’s a perfect sauce to make in the summer. And it’s summer!

Sauce Vierge

4 ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole, peeled garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 freshly squeezed lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of ground coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs

Peel and seed the tomatoes, then roughly chop and place in a medium bowl.

Add the oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and coriander.

Then add the fresh herbs. I used chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover the bowl, and leave to sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove the cloves of garlic, and serve warm or room temperature.

To use the sauce, I grilled tilapia, and served the sauce at room temperature.

I wanted the sauce ingredients to really stand out.

I served the tilapia with boiled potatoes, on which I drizzled some of the herby oil. You can tell I’m not scared of a plate of olive oil!

In reality, is Sauce Vierge a condiment or a sauce? Where does a condiment start and end, and a sauce or paste begin?

My answer is “who cares?!!”

verdict: I will continue to make this sauce/condiment during summer months when I can get my hands on ripe tomatoes. It is exquisite. Over fish it was a great pairing, but I can see this on scallops, chicken, lamb, bread…

Note: Instead of using the ingredients at room temperature, you can alternatively mix the ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer the sauce slowly over low heat for 30 minutes.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes

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Recently I was browsing through a little cookbook I’d been gifted, Risotto, published by Williams-Sonoma.

It’s a sweet, unassuming cookbook, only 119 pages, published in 2002. The first chapter covers classic risottos, and following chapters discuss vegetable, meat, seafood, and even dessert risottos. It’s a great cookbook, especially if you’re a risotto virgin.

For me, risotto has never been a big deal. The main reason is that I’ve never been fearful of cooking. It’s not because I’m fearless, it’s because I was naïve!

When I began cooking regularly 40 years ago, I had no idea that certain recipes might be complicated or challenging. I just dove in head first and started learning and cooking.

Not to say that risotto is hard to make, because it isn’t. But yes, you have to give it some attention. And it involves standing at the stove for about an hour.

I know “quick and easy” meals will always be popular, but anyone can make an outstanding and satisfying dish like this mushroom risotto.

In this W-S cookbook I saw a recipe for baked risotto-stuffed tomatoes, and with my ripe garden tomatoes and herbs, I knew that this would be a really nice side dish for some grilled chicken, white fish, or even steak.

And, you can even use leftover risotto for this dish, instead of making risotto first.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes
Slightly Adapted

6 ripe but firm tomatoes, about 8 ounces each
Salt
Risotto, freshly prepared or leftover
1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
Chopped fresh parsley
Chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8″ baking dish.

Cut the top off each tomato. With a small spoon, carefully scoop out the insides, leaving walls thick enough for the tomato to hold its shape.

Reserve the pulp.

Salt the inside of each tomato and turn them upside down on paper towels to drain for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, purée the tomato pulp until smooth. I used the processed pulp as part of my risotto liquid, and seasoned the risotto with dried sweet basil, salt, and white pepper.

The tomato purée added a lovely peachy hue to the risotto.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and garlic; set aside.

Put the tomatoes in the prepared dish and fill the tomatoes with the risotto, patting it down.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the tomatoes are softened, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the foil, and top the tomatoes with the bread crumb mixture.

Turn on the broiler and place the tomatoes 4″ from the heat source. Broil until the tops are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve at once.

I sprinkled chopped parsley and a chiffonade of basil over the top of these stuffed tomatoes.

Cutting open a tomato was a delight, with the risotto’s fragrance emanating from inside.

Just a little salt and some cayenne pepper… or not.

This was perfection. And just to make sure the risotto-stuffed tomato was really good, I had a second one. But they would make a lovely side dish!