Roasted Veg Vinaigrette

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Vinaigrettes are equally as important to me as their salad counterparts. With a proper choice of ingredients, one can really make a salad burst with flavor with a perfectly paired vinaigrette.

I’ve posted before on vinaigrettes made with reduced beet juice ( think salad of crunchy vegetables, lentils and goat cheese) and a vinaigrette made with a fresh pear (think baby greens with apples, bacon, and blue cheese).

I’ve posted on a vinaigrette made with strawberry vinegar, one made with pineapple juice, vinaigrettes with parsley or curry powder… the list is really endless because the possibilities are endless.

Recently I was inspired by a vinaigrette recipe made with roasted onion and shallot. And I got to thinking what I could add to that… because I can’t leave a recipe alone. This is one I created.

Beyond roasting the vegetables, which is left to your oven, the rest is easy!

Make a triple batch! You’ll love how versatile this is not only as a vinaigrette but as a marinade, or served with grilled leeks or asparagus.

Roasted Vegetable Vinaigrette

1 purple onion, peeled, quartered
1 red bell pepper, trimmed, de-seeded, cut into 8ths
6 shallots, peeled, halved
6 cloves garlic, peeled
Olive oil, divided
Salt
Pepper
Red wine vinegar
Tabasco sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to a roast setting, or 400 degrees F.

Place the onion, red bell pepper, shallots and garlic cloves on a jelly roll pan or rimmed roasting sheet. Generously drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, about 1/4 cup. Season with salt and pepper.


Roast until vegetables show some caramelization and are tender. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.

Place all of the vegetables and olive oil into a blender jar.

Blend until smooth, adding another 1/4 cup or so of olive oil.

Then add the red wine vinegar. I’m not offering amounts in this recipe, only because I like my vinaigrettes strongly vinegar-flavored. Most people I’ve cooked for do not.

If you want some zing, add some Tabasco sauce, taste away, and season more if necessary. I added more salt.

Make sure the vinaigrette is smooth. If you use cruets for your vinaigrettes, you are familiar with the problem with one little piece of garlic clogging the spout!

The salad I created to showcase this vinaigrette was simple. Butter lettuce, crab, avocado, green onions, and black sesame seeds.


It was a perfect pairing of tastes and textures.

I was lucky enough to have frozen crab legs left over from the holidays, so I used that crab. But grilled shrimp or scallops would also be divine.

Note: This recipe actually makes a fabulous dipping sauce if you omit the vinegar.

Chicken with Samfaina

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Many years ago my husband and I flew to Madrid, Spain, rented a car, and made our way around the northeastern regions of Spain. We then drove over the Pyrenees into France, visited my sister and husband in the town where they live part-time, and then made our way back to Madrid.

During the first leg of our adventure, we stayed at a hotel in Catalonia, called the Parador de Cardona. If you’re not familiar with paradors, they are government-run hotels that were once castles, monasteries or fortresses. They get revamped with modern conveniences, but the structure is the same.

Here are a few photos this particular parador.

We drove up to the hotel, which was harrowing enough because we had to maneuver the car on the steepest driveway in the world, barely wide enough for the little rental car, but we finally made it. This photo from the website shows how high up the parador actually is from the village of Cardona.

When we asked to check in, the pretty young woman said something to us. No comprehension. My husband and I just stared at each other. We had a split-second conversation that went like this:

“Hey, you know Spanish.”
“Well you know French.”

Well let me tell you, neither of us recognized one damn word she said, or anyone else said during our stay. So do not believe anyone that the Catalon language is a mixture of French and Spanish. It is not.

But our stay was spectacular, and you really felt like you were living in a different century. We discovered Arbequin olives at this hotel, which mostly grow in Catalonia, and were generously served with cocktails and wine.

Back home, I decided to buy a Catalonian cookbook and the one I chose was Catalon Cuisine, by Colman Andrews, published in 1988.

The recipe I chose to make first from the cookbook is Roast Chicken in Samfaina. Samfaina is, according to the author, “a kind of baroque sofregit.” Okay. But then he writes that it’s virtually identical to the ratatouille of the Cote d’Azur, but also that samfaina is “the most important, unique and incorruptible dish which Catalan cuisine has brought to gastronomy.” I’m confused.

Wherever its origin, the samfaina must be prepared first.

Samfaina
Makes 6-8 cups

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 pounds onions, halved, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pound Japanese eggplant, skin on, cut into 1” cubes
1 pound zucchini, skin on, cut into 1/2 – 1” cubes
8 medium tomatoes, seeded and grated
1 1/2 pounds red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into strips
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a cassola or Dutch oven and add the garlic, onions, eggplant, and zucchini. Stir well so that all vegetables are coated with oil.


Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes on low heat. Uncover and turn heat up slightly, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally.

Add the tomatoes and peppers, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until the liquid has again evaporated and the vegetables are very soft.


Season to taste.

Roast Chicken with Samfaina
Pollastre Rostit amb Samfaina

1 – 4-5 pound roasting chicken
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
5 cups samfaina

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken into 6 or 8 serving pieces, rub all surfaces well with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Then roast skin side up for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until the skin is golden-brown, and the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a fork.

Remove the chicken from the roasting pan, and set aside, keeping it warm. Pour off any excess fat, then deglaze the roasting pan with a few tablespoons of water. (I used some white wine.)

Add the samfaina to the pan, and stir well; then add chicken, and simmer briefly until heated through.

I’m not going to tell my mother this, but I’ve had ratatouille, and samfaina is better. Why? I have no idea. My tomatoes were really ripe perhaps.

The samfaina was actually sweet, in a good way.

This is a spectacular dish. Not terribly pretty, but comforting, hearty, and flavorful. I will be making this again!

Harissa

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If any of you has noticed, I’ve been into a bit of name-calling lately. Namely, sauces, or condiments, from chimichurri, to tapenade, to romesco to charmoula. To me, condiments make the world go ’round, and my life of eating revolves around them. I love them all.

Today I’m making harissa. It’s flavorful and versatile, and just like other global sauces and condiments, it’s easy to make. Furthermore, when made from scratch, it’s far superior in flavor.

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I actually think harissa might be my all-time favorite sauce. The base is roasted red bell peppers, so like its “cousin” romesco, it’s fabulous slathered on meats and breads with cheeses. But harissa is also spicy, which puts it over the top for me.

The sauce originates from North Africa, which is probably why there are so many similarities between it and romesco. I’m not a food historian, but I know that the southern tip of Spain almost touches the northern tip of Africa. So I’m sure there’s been all kinds of sharing of ingredients and spices over the centuries of food trading. Tunisia is actually the country with which harissa is most commonly associated.

When I decided to make harissa from scratch, I found so many variations, not surprisingly, that I just came up with my own recipe, and this is what I’m posting today. I can’t possibly test out and taste all of the versions, but I can tell you that my adaptation is near perfection.

What is exciting is all of the potential uses for this sauce. Today I made up a little cumin-spiced lamb burger and used the harissa with mayonnaise for a lovely spicy condiment. But of course it can be used as is as well, on meats of any kind.

Harissa can also be added to vegetables, stews and soups, risottos, and so many more dishes. As long as the harissa shines. You want to taste this stuff because it’s that good.

So here’s what I did:

Harissa
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 roasted red bell peppers from a jar*
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 small purple onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup scant olive oil

First drain the red bell peppers well in a small colander.
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Next, place the seeds in a small seed toaster.

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Toast them on the stove; this will only take about 30 seconds so watch the toaster carefully. (Alternatively use a small skillet topped with a screen so that you can keep an eye on things.)
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Let them cool for a second, then place them in a small mortar. Grind them and set aside.

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Heat some of the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Have your onions and garlic ready to cook.
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Saute them for about 6-7 minutes; you want some caramelization on them.
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Set the skillet aside and let the onions and garlic cool slightly.

Meanwhile, place the well-drained roasted red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the ground seasoning mix, the tomato paste, the crushed red pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
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Then add the cooled onion and garlic.
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Add the remaining olive oil and begin processing. After a little bit, you will need to scrape down the sides of the jar and process further.
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Process for about another minute. The mixture will be smooth, but still have a little texture to it.
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As I mentioned above, I wanted to make a mayonnaise with the harissa today, to complement a lamb burger I was craving. So I simply mixed 1/2 harissa and 1/2 mayo together in a little bowl.
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Simply whisk the mayo and harissa together.
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And that’s it!
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I served it at room temperature with my lamb burger.
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When I mixed together the harissa and mayonnaise, the beautiful red color disappeared. But what doesn’t go away is the fabulous harissa flavor profile – roasted red bell peppers, the lovely seasonings, onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper.

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* You could also roast your own red bell peppers and peel off the skin, but I truly love the soft texture of jarred roasted red bell peppers. It’s your choice.

Romesco Sauce

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My brain is old. At least, that’s my excuse. Or maybe my brain is just full of food-related trivia. Because occasionally I come across a culinary term or food name and I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the heck it is.

But Romesco is one of those I remember. But it’s only because of a trick, not because it’s more significant in any way.

You see, I can remember Ro-mesco, because it reminds me to think of Ro-asted red bell peppers. And that’s exactly what this sauce is. The base, at least, is roasted red bell peppers. It’s extremely easy to make. In fact, you can use jarred roasted red bell peppers instead of roasting your own.

But the taste? It’s to me, the best flavor ever of anything that doesn’t contain cheese. And that’s saying a lot. If you’ve never made Romesco sauce before, it’s high time you did. You will slather this beautiful red sauce on anything, including yourself, if you run out of breads and meats. It’s just heavenly.

Besides the red bell pepper flavor, the sauce includes almonds, garlic, paprika, and cayenne. It’s Spanish in origin. And similar to a pesto, it all comes together with some olive oil. Only a food processor or blender is needed to make this. In 5 minutes tops you will get the opportunity to smell and taste heaven. Promise.

Romesco Sauce
This recipe makes about 12 ounces

1 – 8 ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers
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1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup tomato puree
1/3 cup coarsely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, depending on your taste
1/2 teaspoon salt

Drain the red bell peppers before you begin.
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Have all of the other ingredients ready to go.
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Place the drained red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the almonds, garlic, tomato puree, parsley, and red wine vinegar. Then add the hot paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt.
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Begin processing. The mixture will be very coarse at first.
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Continue processing, adding the olive oil a little at a time. It is also important to wipe down the sides of the jar with a spatula.
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After all of the oil has been added, process until the sauce is smooth. There will be some texture to it, but it will still be a smooth sauce.
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At this point, it is ready to use.
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I chose to make a Mediterranean-inspired lunch using the Romesco spread on a flatbread, and with grilled shrimp placed on top.

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I also added some buratta and fresh cilantro; I was out of goat cheese – shame on me.

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I bet you’re already thinking about all the ways you can use this sauce. It’s exquisite, isn’t it?!!

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Fortunately, Romesco sauces freezes well. Otherwise, plan to use it before a couple of weeks if you store it in the refrigerator.
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And thank you daughters for my cute labels!

Red Pepper Confit

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Confit is a French term for something cooked in fat – the most well known being duck confit, which is duck legs cooked in duck fat. But I’m thinking that the term is used a little more loosely these days, because I’m starting to see more vegetable confits.

One vegetable confit I’ve made is with piquillo peppers, based on a Spanish recipe, so I’m using that as inspiration today to make a red pepper confit with over-the-counter roasted red bell peppers. Piquillo peppers are fabulous, but honestly, I’m not sure I could tell the difference between roasted piquillos and roasted red bell peppers in a blind taste test.

For this confit, I’m not using duck fat, but olive oil. It’s a good way a have a vegetarian option for anyone stopping by around New Year’s.

This confit is an easy recipe, and it stores for quite a while in the refrigerator, assuming there’s any left over. So here’s my recipe, and I must say, it’s pretty darn good and addicting!

Confit of Red Bell Peppers

2 – 16 ounce jars roasted red bell peppers, whole or in pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Few grindings black pepper
Olive oil
Crostini

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees farenheit. Drain the roasted red bell peppers well in a colander, then lay them on paper towels and blot them dry.

Place the peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the salt, and blend, but not until it’s smooth – we’re not making baby food. It shouldn’t be chunky, but there should be some texture to the mixture.

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This recipe makes about 6 cups of confit, so choose what size baking dishes to use. I used two smaller heat-proof dishes so I could freeze one while serving the confit in the other. (But I’d personally use only one dish fairly shallow dish if I was expecting extra folks over.)

Place the baking dishes on a jelly-roll baking pan. Pour the red bell pepper mixture into your baking dishes. Divide the sliced garlic between the dishes, and top with a few grindings of black pepper. Then carefully pour olive oil onto the red bell pepper mixture until it covers it by at least 1/4 inch.

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Cover the dishes tightly with foil. Place in the oven and cook for exactly one hour. Turn off the oven and remove the foil, but leave the baking dishes in the oven to cool slightly, for about 30 minutes. Then remove them from the oven to continue cooling.

If you’re having the confit right away, serve warm, with a little serving spoon. If not, let it completely cool, cover again with foil, and refrigerate.

Serve the confit with hearty seedy crackers, pita breads, or crostini, as part of an hors d’oeuvres platter. I served mine as is, but it’s also fabulous paired with cheese – especially a creamy goat cheese.

The confit would also be fabulous in a panini, or processed with white beans for a roasted red bell pepper-flavored white bean dip. So many options!

note: I sprinkled the crostini in the photos with chopped fresh rosemary and it was really good. Next time I might stick a fresh rosemary sprig in with the baking confit…

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