My Favorite Green Beans

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Many years ago, I purchased a fairly obscure cookbook written by an unknown chef, at least to me. Sunshine Cuisine was published in 1994.

The book cover states that chef Jean-Pierre Brehier “combines the taste memories of his Provençal childhood (born in Aix-en-Provence) with the Florida-Caribbean influences that weave their way throughout his professional career.”

Also from the book flap, “Chef Jean-Pierre Brehier has trained in some of the best restaurants in the south of France… came to Florida in 1973 and in 1976 became chef-proprietor of the award-winning restaurant The Left Bank in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

I googled him and there’s not much information on the chef since 1998, but there is a website called Meet Chef Jean Pierre.

I guess he had a show on the Food Network, and also on PBS, but I’ve never come across him except for this one cookbook. Is anyone familiar with him?

I’ve made quite a few dishes from his cookbook, but one recipe originally stood out to me, and occasionally, I make it. If you know me at all, you know I rarely make the same recipe twice.

The recipe is green beans with tomatoes, Kalamata olives and pine nuts. This recipe alone is the only reason I keep this cookbook, although I have made other good recipes out of it.

Green Beans with Calamata Olives and Toasted Pine Nuts
printable recipe below

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 pound green beans
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup Calamata olives, pitted and chopped

In a small nonstick frying pan, toast the pine nuts until golden brown.
Remove from heat and reserve.

Remove the tips and tails from the green beans and cut them into 1 1/2” lengths. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and poach the beans until tender but still firm, about 7 minutes. Drain into a colander.


In a sauté pan, heat the butter and oil and add the beans. Sauté 1 minute, then add the onion and cook until translucent, not brown.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, and olives. Sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add the pine nuts and serve immediately.

There’s just something about this group of ingredients that is spectacular. Of course it helps to love green beans.

The tomatoes and olives plus the crunchy pine nuts are just superb together.

And, with the addition of both onion and garlic, no seasoning is necessary. The olives supply the saltiness.

I’m not sure if it’s Kalamata or Calamata, but this chef spelled the olives with a “C.”

Other appealing recipes in this cookbook:
New Potato and Beet Salad
Risotto with Ginger and Carrot Juice
Roasted Peppers and Chili Sabayon Sauce

 

 

Warm Mediterranean Salad

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There is a nice shopping mall about 2 hours away that I visit when I have to go to a mall. Well, truth be told, I probably only shop at Williams-Sonoma there, unless I’m Christmas shopping. Then I’m a bit more adventurous.

The mall has a nice restaurant that I go to because of the convenience. But it’s good! You’ll all probably be shocked that it’s a chain restaurant, called Pepperoni Grill.

The menu is nice, the restaurant is always clean, and the service great. Surprisingly great.

Oddly enough, I’ve always ordered the same thing, which is a warm Mediterranean Tortellini and Vegetable salad, served with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.

I say this is odd, because typically, I would order something new on the menu. But, after 20+ years, I keep ordering this salad. It’s so good, so well prepared, and so satisfying.

Then I had the brilliant idea to replicate the salad at home. It doesn’t look exactly the same because the restaurant uses tricolor tortellini, but mine tasted just as good! Being that it’s not springtime, I opted for green beans instead of asparagus.

Warm Mediterranean Salad
inspired by Pepperoni Grill’s salad
Serves 12

Vinaigrette:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt

Salad:
2 pounds small, red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 pound trimmed green Beans
1 pound yellow squash, coarsely chopped
32 ounces cheese tortellini
10 uncles spring lettuces
Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, the kind stored in oil
Kalamata olives, drained, halved
Grated Parmesan

To prepare the vinaigrette, place all of the ingredients in a small blender jar. Blend until smooth. Taste for salt. Can be made a day ahead, but bring the vinaigrette to room temperature before making the salad.


The vegetables must be prepared separately for the salad, in order to have them all at the proper cook. It’s also best for all of the vegetables and the tortellini to be warm when served, so one must move quickly!

In a steamer basket, cook the potatoes just until tender. Place in a large bowl, toss with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette, and set aside. If you don’t like a lot of dressing, use some olive oil instead.


Cook the green beans in the steamer basket and add them to the potatoes. Toss together gently, adding a little more vinaigrette to keep the vegetables moist.

Do the same with the yellow squash, making sure not to overcook. Add to the potatoes and beans.

Cook the cheese tortellini according to package directions. Drain and let cool slightly.

Add the still warm tortellini to the vegetables. Add the desired amount of vinaigrette and and toss gently.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes and olives to taste.

Then sprinkle on a generous amount of Parmesan. No mixing necessary.

Serve warm.

I like a lot of vinaigrette on my salads, but I’m aware that not everyone does. So when I suggest to add the desired amount of vinaigrette, that’s exactly what I mean!

My mother’s secret to a good potato salad was to always add some olive oil to the warm, just-cooked potatoes. So that’s what I did in this salad, using the vinaigrette instead of just olive oil, as well as adding some vinaigrette to the cooked tortellini. This keeps them moist and prevents sticking.

In anticipation of making this salad, I googled it to see if I was making something fairly unique or not. Turns out, there are tortellini/pasta salads, and there are potato salads. This salad really combines the two – a pasta salad with a significant amount of veggies.

The vegetables are along the lines of “primavera” vegetables, and can definitely be changed depending on what’s in season. Zucchini, broccoli, baby carrots, asparagus… all would be good. They could be grilled as well.

And of course this salad would be wonderful with grilled meat, but I prefer it the way it is.

So would I visit Pepperoni Grill for a special night out? No. But the fact that I can expect quality with what I’m ordering and enjoy a leisurely lunch, with a decent glass of wine, during a day of shopping, is really nice.

Tuna Burgers

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Tuna burgers aren’t quite as popular, in my opinion, as salmon burgers. It’s probably because salmon is more fatty and moist, so burgers made with prepared salmon are more apt to be moist and tender.

Tuna doesn’t have the richness of salmon, but it is delicate and flaky, and can definitely lend itself to a burger-type preparation.

So whenever I grill a large amount of tuna, I saved the leftover tuna for burgers.

The fun thing with tuna burgers is that so many approaches can be taken. Do you want Asian burgers? Easy! Do you want them Indian? Really easy! Mexican? Sure!

For these burgers, I decided on Mediterranean flavors.

Here’s what I did.

Mediterranean-Inspired Tuna Burgers

Leftover grilled tuna, about 8 ounces, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 tablespoons good mayonnaise
Roasted red bell peppers, diced
Kalamata olives, diced
2 shallots, minced
Chopped parsley
Sweet paprika
Salt
White pepper
Crumbled goat cheese
Bread crumbs, as necessary

Crumble or chop the tuna and place in a small bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Whisk in the mayonnaise. Add the bell peppers, olives, shallots, and parsley and gently stir. Season with the paprika, salt, and pepper.

Combine with the flaked tuna. Add goat cheese to taste.

Slowly add bread crumbs just until the mixture firms up. (See note.) Form four burgers, place them in a baking dish, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the burgers until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes.

Serve hot.

I included a capered mayonnaise with these burgers, which I served without bread.

A good mustard or mustard-mayo mixture would be good, too. Or mayonnaise mixed with paprika creme.

I hope you can tell how tender the tuna burgers are.

Note: When I catered ladies’ lunches for one special client, she often asked me to make crab cakes. They weren’t that unique, but I do believe that they were popular because of their moistness. If you make crab cakes or tuna burgers meat-heavy instead of breadcrumb-heavy, they are a little harder to work with, but they will be tastier and much more enjoyable.

Mediterranean Layered Dip

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A while back my friend had a happy hour at her house, and she served a Mediterranean-inspired dip. She’s a funny person, my friend. She claims to hate cooking, but she always serves the best and prettiest food, and even offers signature cocktails.

She’s also an expert at entertaining – to the point that once she had pressed fresh flowers between glass plates for a spring girls’ lunch at her home. I think she’s in Martha-Stewart-wanna-be denial…

Most of us are familiar with the 7-layer dip; sometimes the number varies. It’s Mexican, or Mexican-American, and typically contains layers of refried beans, guacamole, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, maybe seasoned ground beef, and so forth. If you love all of those ingredients, then you would love the dip, served with tortilla chips and margaritas.

My creative friend, however, was inspired by a recipe she’d seen in a magazine, and created a multi-layered dip using Mediterranean ingredients. It was fabulous.

We can’t find the recipe, so I’m creating this version with my own favorite ingredients from that part of the world. Whatever you use, you just can’t go wrong.

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Mediterranean Layered Dip

White bean dip, or hummus, preferably home-made
Cucumber
Tomatoes
Goat or feta cheese
Kalamata olives, sliced
Toasted pine nuts
Diced shallots
Pita pockets

Begin with having a plate or shallow bowl for serving. Place the white bean dip or hummus on the serving dish. I have had decent store-bought hummus, but I simply made a garlicky white bean dip. Smooth out the white bean dip.


Prepare the cucumber by removing the seeds. This can be done with a knife, or simply with a melon baller or small spoon. Cut up the cucumber and place on paper towels to drain.


Prepare the tomatoes by de-seeding them as much as possible, then cutting them finely, and placing them on paper towels to drain. Have all of the other ingredients on hand.


Begin the layering process by adding the cucumber and then the tomatoes.
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Add the crumbled goat cheese and drizzle with a little olive oil if desired.
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Then add the olives, pine nuts and shallots.

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Serve with pita triangles cut from pita breads. Alternatively, half the triangles, drizzle with olive oil, and toast until lightly browned for a crisper pita “chip.” (The photo below right shows the pita triangles halved, but not yet toasted.)


It was a hot day when I made this dip, so I served a rosé.
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The fun wth this recipe, is that you can substitute ingredients as you wish. Capers instead of olives, roasted red peppers instead of tomatoes, grilled artichokes, and more.

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You can top the dip with black pepper, oregano, sumac, za’atar, or a chiffonade of fresh basil.


Just stick with Mediterranean ingredients and you’ll love it!

Double Olive Pasta

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There’s nothing quite like fresh pasta in its many forms. The texture is light and fluffy, and yet still durable to hold up to sauces and fillings.

But I must give credit also to the fabulous world of dried pastas. Whenever I’m shopping at a new store, I grab pastas with unique shapes and also flavors. Just for fun. Who wants to only cook spaghetti and elbow macaroni?

So a while back I was on the Open Sky website, and came across a company that sold gourmet food items called Valois Gourmet. (I hope the link works for everyone.)

There were two that I couldn’t resist buying – olive pasta and sweet potato pasta (not pictured).
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The pasta brand is Morelli, and is an Italian product. The pasta actually contains minced green olives, plus dehydrated spinach – perhaps for a little color.

Check out these pumpkin pie roasted almonds from Valois Gourmet, too! What a great nibble to have around during the holidays.

pumpkin-pie-gourmet-roasted-almonds

In any case, to me, there’s nothing quite like a flavored dried pasta that speaks for itself, which is the case of this variety. Because of the olive flavor, so little else is needed. A little shallot or garlic, a little tomato, some capers, and maybe some extra olives for olive enhancement. And there’s always Parmesan. Simple.

So here’s what I did with this olive fettuccine.

Double Olive Pasta

Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
3 shallots
1 – 15 ounce can diced tomatoes, well drained*
1 – 8.8 package pasta with olives
Sliced olives, I used a Mediterranean mixture
Capers, optional
Parsley, optional
Toasted pine nuts, optional
Grated Parmesan, optional

Place the olive oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute them for a few minutes.
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Then add the drained tomatoes.
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Cook the mixture until there almost no liquid remaining in the skillet; set aside.
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Cook the pasta according to directions on the package, which in this case was four minutes.

Have any of you used this handy silicone gadget that keeps boiling water from overflowing? It’s a miracle worker. I think about 4 out of 5 times that I cook pasta the boiling water overflows. And we all know that it’s not that easy to clean up. This product is made by Kuhn Rikon, and it’s called a spill stopper. It comes in two sizes. Just FYI.
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You have two options when you cook dried pasta. Firstly, if you cook it al dente, plan on adding some kind of liquid to the pasta dish once it’s tossed with the tomato mixture. This can be broth, some pasta water, or even cream. The pasta will continue to “cook” and absorb liquid.

Secondly, If you cook the pasta until soft all the way through, plan on tossing the pasta with the tomato mixture and serving immediately.

Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain well.
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Add the pasta to the skillet and toss everything together.
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Serve immediately if the pasta is fully cooked. If it isn’t, take about 15-30 minutes to add liquid of choice, and let the pasta soften in the liquid, adding as much liquid as necessary. Then serve.


Sprinkle the pasta with cheese, olives, capers, and parsley, if using any or all of these toppings.

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Normally I would add some cayenne pepper flakes to a similar pasta dish, but in this case, I want to enjoy the olive flavor from the pasta.


* If your canned tomatoes are good quality, make sure to save the tomato juice. If the canned tomatoes are in essentially water, don’t bother.

note: In the summer I would use fresh, peeled tomatoes for this pasta, and probably include fresh basil. But during the other months, canned tomatoes are a wonderful substitute – as long as you buy a high quality canned tomato.

verdict: I was truly impressed with this product! There is definitely an olive flavor. The pasta made for a lovely lunch, but for dinner I’d definitely serve it with some good sausages or pork tenderloin.

Got Stale Bread?

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Got stale bread? Make panzanella!

Panzanella is an Italian salad made with stale, or at the very least, leftover bread, and you wouldn’t believe how wonderful it is. I’m sure its origins are peasant-based, because the peasant approach to making meals is all about using everything available to you, without any waste. And that means you never throw away old bread. You just turn it into a salad!

Besides bread, other additions include tomatoes, plus oil and vinegar. Some panzanellas get more involved with the inclusion of cucumbers, olives, and capers. I sometimes like to add some spinach leaves as well. And I have added feta cheese, although at that point it almost becomes a Greek-inspired salad. Italian or Greek, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good!

So today my panzanella is made from leftover sourdough bread, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella pearls, purple onion, and lots of basil. No recipe is needed!

Panzanella

Leftover bread or stale bread*
Vinegar, I used red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Cherry tomatoes, sliced
Cucumber, de-seeded and sliced
Small purple onion, sliced
Mozzarella pearls, if you want to include cheese
Pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in halves
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh basil

First, break up the bread or slice it into cubes.
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Place the bread in a serving bowl. Sprinkle generously with vinegar to soften up the bread. This is especially important if using stale bread. See * below for more information on this.
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Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle on some salt and more vinegar.
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Then add the cucumbers, which you can season with salt as well.


Add the purple onions, and the mozzarella pearls.

Add the olives. Season well with salt and pepper, and give everything a toss. Add more vinegar and olive oil as necessary. (If you prefer, you can certainly use a pre-made vinaigrette instead of just using oil and vinegar.)

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Before serving, sprinkle with baby basil leaves, or a chiffonade of basil.

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The salad can also sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours for the flavors to combine. Just toss gently once before serving. The salad is prettier if the bread remains somewhat in intact pieces.
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* Typically, actual stale bread is used for this salad. Then it’s dipped in water to soften. I really don’t like that technique, even though it works. I love vinegar, so I just add a lot of vinegar to the bread before completing the salad. Also, my bread was only a couple of days old, and not stale. I could have dried it out in the oven, but I was fine with the bread as is. Some people grill the bread first before slicing it, but I personally don’t like this option because grilled bread can really tear up the roof of my mouth. But as you can see, there are many options

note: If you have leftover bread but don’t want panzanella, make bread crumbs. That way, there’s no waste!

Red Fish

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This recipe is so easy that I hesitated doing a post on it. But since my blog hopefully inspires people to cook more often, and be less intimidated about home cooking, I just knew I had to follow through with the post.

This recipe involves a white fish, and a tomato-based topping that just takes a few minutes to prepare. The only difference for me when I prepared this recipe, is that I got to use a redfish for the first time.

If any of you remember, I have a girlfriend whose husband fishes around the world, and they gave me a giant filet of redfish from the Gulf of Mexico to try. I also had a wonderful time discovering wahoo on this post and a fresh chunk of tuna on that post.

A red fish, or redfish, I’ve seen it both ways, has coin-sized scales, that feel more like sea shells than fish scales. I was told to cook it with the scales attached, so that’s exactly what I did.
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But for this recipe, any white fish would be delicious. If you’re not a fish lover, you could even substitute chicken or veal scallops.
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Mediterranean Style Redfish

1 large filet of redfish, or smaller filets of a white-fleshed fish
Drizzle of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Place the redfish in an oiled baking dish, scales side down. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with the oregano, salt, and pepper.
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Bake until done*. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes, but it’s important not to overcook the fish.
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Alternatively, you can broil it, but you need to watch it carefully.

For the tomato topping:
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Olive oil
1 shallot, diced
4 Roma tomatoes, diced, seeded
6-8 Kalamata olives, sliced
1 tablespoon or so of capers
Fresh basil leaves

Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a small skillet. Saute the shallots for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Let them cook over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated, and the tomatoes don’t look so raw. Then add the olives and capers and stir well. Heat through.
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For this recipe I did a chiffonade of basil. This is just a fancy word to describe a slicing technique. You simply stack about 6 or so leaves of basil together, like this.
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Then you roll them into a cigar and slice 1/8″ crosswise slices. This technique creates delicate little curls of basil.
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I actually added the basil chiffonade to the tomato mixture, but alternatively, you can save the basil to sprinkle on top of the dish when it’s served.

To serve, slice the large filet of redfish in half, and carefully slide the spatula in between the scaley skin and the fish flesh. Place on a plate and add the warm tomato mixture on top. Add a little salt, if desired.

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* I unfortunately can’t give an exact time to cook fish, because there are so many factors. If you’re really unsure, slice into the fish during the cooking process to evaluate if it needs to cook more. The fish will become more opaque, but it should still look soft and tender. Too much cooking and the fish will dry out.

Salmon and Mash

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When my husband and I were in Edinburgh last year, we had some spectacular meals. Being that there is no fresh salmon in the middle of the United States where I live, I jump at every chance to enjoy fish and seafood that’s only hours out of the sea. So in Scotland, I ate a lot of salmon.

At one restaurant, this is what I ordered. It’s not the best photo, but it was grilled salmon sitting on a bed of potato mash, on top of a pesto sauce.

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The salmon was perfectly cooked and delicious, but what got me most excited was the potato mash. It was full of chunky pieces of Kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes! I’ve added things to mashed potatoes before, like chorizo and corn, but I’ve never made them Greek or Mediterranean style. But now I do!

In the 80’s, nouvelle cuisine was all the rage, and it seemed like every recipe in Gourmet and Food and Wine Magazine had sun-dried tomatoes and pesto in the list of ingredients. Being a bit on the obstinate side, I refused to use these ingredients in my cooking.

But over the last 30 years I’ve mellowed a bit, and honestly, I love sun-dried tomatoes. They have a delicious flavor that is different from even a roasted tomato. And traditional pesto? Love it! I make huge batches of pesto every summer because I can grow trees of basil where I live.

If you’ve never made pesto before, here is the link to making it in mass quantities.

But back to my meal. I recently came across the above photo of my meal, and I decided to recreate it, mostly so I can have the delicious mashed potato side again. Hope you like it too!

Grilled Salmon served with Mediterranean-Style Mashed Potatoes and Pesto Sauce

2 pounds white potatoes, I left mine unpeeled
4 ounces of halved Kalamata olives
4 ounces sun-dried tomato pieces*
1 tablespoon dried sweet basil
1 stick butter, at room temperature, or chopped into pieces
1/2 cup or more goats’ milk
4 salmon filets, rinsed, patted dry
Garlic Pepper
Salt
1/3 cup pesto, without cheese, or about 1 cup purchased pesto

Mash
Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, chop up the potatoes into fairly small, uniform pieces. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook them until tender.

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Meanwhile, place the olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl and add the sweet basil.

When the potatoes are tender, drain them in a colander, then quickly turn them into a large bowl. Add the butter and about 1/2 cup of goats’ milk, and mash the potatoes up with a potato masher, gradually incorporating the butter and milk.

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Then add the olives, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, and fold them in gently. Add a little more goats’ milk if necessary. Set aside, but cover to keep warm.

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Salmon
Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 filets at a time and cook the first side at least 1 minute; the salmon should be nicely browned. Turn the filets over, reduce the heat, and cook them for about 5 minutes, until done through. Of course, the cooking time will depend on how thick your salmon filets are.

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Keep the two filets warm while you cook the remaining two.

Pesto Sauce
Warm your pesto (remember mine contains no cheese) and thin with a little bit of goats’ milk. (See note below.)

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To serve, using a ring, form the potato mash into a cylindrical shape.

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Then gently and carefully place the cylinder of mash by pushing slightly onto one of four serving plates.

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Carefully drizzle the thinned pesto sauce around the base of the potato mash, then top the mash with the grilled salmon. Continue with the remaining three servings.

* For this recipe, I used halved sun-dried tomatoes that were preserved in oil, and drained the oil first before using. If you only happen to have sun-dried tomatoes in a package, they can easily be hydrated in warm water. It only takes about 5 minutes – just make sure they’re chewable before draining them, then proceed with the recipe.

note: You don’t have to use goats’ milk at all for this recipe. Regular cream is fine, or milk if you prefer. I just happen to love the flavor of goats’ milk and it adds a goat cheese flavor, which is lovely in mashed potatoes.

another note: I had some of these mashed potatoes left over, and when I reheated them the next day, they didn’t taste as good. There’s something about reheated Kalamata olives that I didn’t like, but I can’t figure out why.

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verdict: I will definitely be making this style of mashed potatoes again. They’re indescribably good, and not pretentious. Cheers to sun-dried tomatoes and pesto!!!

Pasta Puttanesca

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Today I’m a guest poster at Uru’s blog Go Bake Yourself! She’s an adorable young woman living in Australia who started blogging at 16! She’s now 17, and in her senior year of school with lots of tests, so she has a few guest bloggers helping out this month. If you haven’t seen Uru’s blog, you need to check it out.

Here is the link to my post Pasta Puttanesca. Enjoy!