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!

Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

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“This looks rather like a volcanic eruption, in the best possible sense,” states Yotam Ottolenghi about this zucchini baba ghanoush recipe in his cookbook, Plenty More.

Indeed, it’s not the prettiest dip, but it caught my attention for a few reasons. Firstly, my husband won’t eat eggplant, so I thought that the zucchini substitute could work.

Secondly, I had a hummus years ago that had butter-sautéed pine nuts on it, as does this dip, and it was exquisite.

Thirdly, this “baba ghanoush” so resembled nothing I’ve ever made, that i just had to try it!

I was mostly excited that there are no garbanzo beans or tahini in this dip!

Here’s the recipe from the cookbook.

Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

5 large zucchini, about 2 3/4 pounds
1/3 cup goat’s milk yogurt
2 tablespoons grated Roquefort
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon Urfa chile flakes, I used Aleppo flakes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon za’atar, to finish
Salt
Pepper

Preheat the broiler. Place the zucchini on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and broil for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking, until the skin crisps and browns nicely.

Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, peel off the zucchini skin, discard it, and set the flesh aside in a colander to drain; you can also scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

Put the yogurt in a small saucepan with the Roquefort and egg. Heat very gently for about 3 minutes, stirring often. You want the yogurt to heat through but not quite reach the simmering point. Set aside and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan with the pine nuts over low heat and cook, stirring often, for 3 – 4 minutes, until the nuts turn golden brown. Stir in the chile flakes and lemon juice and set aside.

To serve, put the zucchini in a bowl and add the garlic, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper.

Gently mash everything together with a fork and then spread the mixture out on a large serving platter.

Spoon the warm yogurt sauce on top, followed by a drizzle of the warm chile butter and pine nuts.

Finish with a sprinkle of za’atar and serve at once.

This dip is better than incredible.

I served it with flatbread triangles.

The zucchini makes a nice base for the toppings.

It won’t be long until I make this again!

Full disclosure: I used goat cheese in this recipe instead of blue, only because there was blue cheese in another dish I served to friends the evening I served a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

 

 

 

 

Embracing the 21st Century

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It might seem odd to admit this, being that I’ve been cooking for about 40 years, but I’ve never owned a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Why? Well for one thing, I’m more a cook than a baker. For another reason, I have a really old house. My countertop surface area is limited, as well as the vertical space from countertop to the above cupboards. So I haven’t been interested in a giant appliance that would monopolize my kitchen work space.

Well, here we are in 2017. I just received my first Kitchen Aid stand mixer, Artisanal Series. I purchased it at an incredible post-Christmas sale price of $278.00.

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What prompted me to finally give in was that my sister-in-law sent me a Kitchen Aid spiralizer attachment for Christmas. She, of course, assumed I already owned a stand mixer, like most people do.

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I called her to say “thank you” but “no thank you.” But that’s when I got chided into embracing the 21st Century kitchen. I thought long and hard, but finally gave in. So now I own a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and a spiralizer attachment.

When considering how to christen my spiralizer, I immediately thought of zoodles, which are zucchini noodles. And then I saw this photo online.

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I’d love to give somebody credit, but the photo was on Pinterest with no information associated with it. I just knew I had to test out my new spiralizer in order to make these burgers!

I opened the spiralizer box and it looked like something that an assassin would have. I took a big breath and read the directions.

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Here’s how I created my electric-powered zoodles, in order to make turkey zoodle burgers.

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Turkey Zoodle Burgers

1 pound lean ground turkey
2 eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped orange bell pepper
Garlic pepper
Salt
Bread crumbs, about 1/2 cup
Zoodles, made from 1 medium zucchini
Olive oil

Place the turkey, eggs, onion, bell pepper, and seasonings in a medium bowl. Stir until combined.

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Stir in the bread crumbs. Use enough to stiffen the burger mixture but not so much as to dry it up.

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Chill the burger mixture in the refrigerator and proceed with the zoodles.

To make the raw zoodles for these burgers I used the extra-fine spiralizer blade. The spiralizer plus the two other parts were easy to put together. Relief!

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Simply turn on the mixer and watch the noodles form!

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I placed the zoodles on paper towels to release some of their water for about 45 minutes.

When you’re ready to make the burgers, remove the burger mixture from the refrigerator.

Place the zoodles on a jelly-roll pan drizzled with olive oil.

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Using some of the oil on your hands, form four even-sized burgers. Then press them gently into the zoodles on both sides.

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Pour some olive oil in a flat skillet over high heat. Add the burgers and cook them for about 4-5 minutes.

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Turn them over gently and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to lower the heat as you cook the burgers through, without having to flip them over any more. Total time varies on the burger thickness; you can always use a meat thermometer to check the doneness.

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I served these burgers with a mayonnaise mixed with some paprika creme. It was a wonderful combination.

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You could also make a Sriracha mayonnaise, or use Dijonnaise as a condiment.

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I wasn’t tempted in the least to wrap burger buns around these burgers. They are just too tender, delicious, and pretty as is!

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So, first off, I learned that with half a brain one can easily use the spiralizer attachment on a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. And now I’m intrigued and excited about other attachments….

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The burgers came out great, by the way.

Thai Chicken Curry

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I wanted to make this Thai curry for one big reason. I was hungry for a Thai curry. I don’t get to enjoy them often, because my husband doesn’t like the sweetness of Thai food. Nor are there any Thai restaurants where I live. So occasionally I just crave them and must make one for myself.

Thai curries require Thai curry paste. They can be made from scratch, but then one would need to have on hand exotic ingredients like fresh lemon grass, glalangal and kaffir lime. I’ve never been able to get my hands on these ingredients, which is why I refer to them as exotic.

Fortunately, purchased Thai curry pastes, which are unique combinations of seasonings and aromatics, do all of the work for you.

I’m most familiar with three varieties from Mae Ploy, pictured below. I feel fortunate just to have these available to me!

The green is mostly green chiles and lemongrass.
The red is mostly red chiles and garlic.
The yellow is mostly lemongrass and garlic.

There is a recipe on the back of these curry paste cartons. It’s simply this:

Combine 2 cups of coconut milk and 50 grams of curry paste of choice on the stove, add meat and add vegetables. It’s that easy to make a Thai curry.

So you can just add chicken or shrimp or even tofu to the curry-coconut sauce, and it is easy and delicious.

I prefer doing a stir fry with the protein and vegetables first, then adding the curry-coconut sauce. Basically the same concept, but a few more minutes required.

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Thai Chicken Curry

Oil
2 pounds chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt, Pepper
1 onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin pieces
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
About 3 tablespoons red curry paste – you might start with less and taste first
1 – 13.5 ounce can coconut milk*
Fresh cilantro and/or basil leaves
Cooked rice, optional

Heat some oil over high heat in a large skillet of wok. Add some chicken and cook it until mostly all browned, at least five minutes. You want it about 80% cooked. Season with salt and pepper and place in a serving bowl. Continue with the remaining chicken and set aside.

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Lower the heat to medium-high and add a little more oil. Add the onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms and cook for about 5-6 minutes; the veggies should have some color on them, but don’t let them overcook. Add the veggies to the bowl with the chicken.

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Place the 2 ounces of curry paste in the skillet or work and add the can of coconut milk. Whisk the mixture until smooth, then heat to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the sauce cook a little.

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When you’re ready to serve, place the chicken and veggies into the sauce and stir to incorporate well. Let everything heat through and serve the curry topped with some cilantro leaves.

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Or, if you prefer, serve the sauce on the side.

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The curry is very good served with rice, but as you can see, I spiralized zucchini, parboiled them for a few minutes, and voila! Zucchini noodles!
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* Make sure to buy canned coconut milk that is not sweetened for making pina coladas!!! There’s even LITE coconut milk if you prefer…

Black Bean Salad

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Last week on the blog I cooked a pound of dried beans to show how easy and inexpensive it is to prepare beans. But I also wanted to show what you can do with a pot of beans, such as use the beans in other dishes.

It’s easy to use the beans in soups and stews and even pastas. I love the idea of stretching dishes, especially those heavy with protein, in order to make them healthier. But there are also so many other ways to use cooked beans.

Today I’m going to make a bean salad. This is not an exceptional or “gourmet” recipe; in fact, you can really change it up to make it your own. But it’s a hearty, healthy, satisfying salad. I must say that whenever I’ve taken a bean salad to parties, people go nuts over them. And they’re so simple!

So hopefully this is a dish that you’ve never thought of making before, and are willing to try it out! It’s definitely wonderful to take to a pot luck, and it can be made ahead of time.
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Plus, you can use many different kinds of vinaigrettes or citrus-based dressing with bean salads. I even posted a bean salad on the blog a while back using a home-made green goddess dressing. So the options are endless!

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Black Bean Salad

Black beans, no liquid included
Raw zucchini, chopped
Fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
Onion, finely chopped
Chile peppers, finely chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves
Dressing (see below)

Begin by placing cooked beans in a medium-sized bowl. Then begin adding what you want to the beans. I’ve listed what I used, but the fun thing about these bean salads, is that you can use what you like.
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Continue to add the ingredients, then pour in the dressing and give everything a toss.


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I served my salad with some pickled jalapenos on the side, but you can offer anything you’d like.
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And that’s it! Think about how you can make this salad your own with your favorite ingredients, like including avocado, corn, and bell peppers, for example. It all works, and it’s all wonderful!

Lemon Garlic Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil, about 1/3 cup
1 clove fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Salt, to taste

Place everything in a blender jar and puree until smooth. If you don’t want a Southwestern-flavored dressing, omit the cumin and oregano.

A Zucchini Pancake Challenge

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For a significant part of my life I can honestly say that I worked tirelessly to get people into the kitchen to make home-cooked meals. It makes so much sense from an economic standpoint, as well as for health and wellness reasons. Home cooking is generally less expensive and healthier than meals eaten out or worse than that – purchased as fast food.

But novice cooks are often overwhelmed with the idea of cooking without having a specific recipe in front of them. Especially women, in my experience. As a result, often food goes to waste, which defeats the purpose of home cooking.

Cooking at home is work, let’s face it. You need to keep your pantry stocked. And if you believe in fresh food, you need to make grocery lists and shop often.

But the most important thing in my mind, is to be creative in the kitchen without having recipes. A scary sounding proposition if you think that cooking is difficult.

Home cooking is not difficult. In fact, it’s way more fun than being a chef in a restaurant kitchen, in my mind, because you can make whatever you want on a daily basis, to suit your tastes.

Certainly prepping skills are good to know, as well as cooking techniques. But what I’m talking about is creating your own dishes based on what you have on hand. That way there is no waste.

Take zucchini. It’s September right now in the US, and zucchini, a summer squash, is still growing in my garden and readily available at grocery stores.

Sure, you can bake zucchini bread and muffins, but that’s not something that’s nourishing. I’m talking savory zucchini pancakes – a lovely vegetarian option, or a fabulous side dish to protein.

If you want an exact recipe, check out my squash and corn pancakes from last summer. It’s a little more involved, but there is a recipe.

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So the following is a guide to make your own zucchini pancakes. Put your personality into your own recipe. Season as you like. You’ll know when the texture is perfect when the batter is similar to breakfast pancakes – although breakfast pancakes with lots of grated zucchini! Take the challenge and see what you come up with. No recipe allowed!
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Zucchini Pancakes

Eggs, whisked
Zucchini, grated
Liquid of choice
Onion, diced
Chile peppers, diced (optional)
Parsley, chopped
Salt
Garlic pepper
Thyme (optional)
Flour
Butter

First, whisk your eggs in a large bowl. I used 2 extra-large eggs. Grate your zucchini and add it to the eggs. I used a medium-sized zucchini.

Prep your aromatics. I chose onion, red chile peppers, and parsley. Here’s how I chopped the chile peppers.

Then add the liquid to the batter, only about 1/3 cup, and the seasonings. You can use any herbs, spices, or even pesto!
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Give everything a stir. The mixture should look similar to this.
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Begin adding flour, about 1/3 cup at a time. Don’t stir the flour in completely, just fold it in well enough to see if more flour is needed. These savory pancakes are not going to be as tender as breakfast pancakes, but we don’t want them tough and rubbery, either.

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Just add enough flour to bind all of the ingredients. Then stop. I didn’t use more than 1 cup of flour.
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These are not supposed to be big doughy pancakes with a little bit of zucchini. These are zucchini pancakes.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat.

Add a generous amount of butter to the skillet, and then, when it’s almost browned, add spoonfuls of batter. Take the spoon and flatten the pancakes gently. If they’re too thick, there’s a risk of them not being cooked through.

After a couple of minutes, turn them over and cook for another couple of minutes.

If you’re unsure of the total amount of time required to cook these through, break open the first pancake and look at it. If the middle is still doughy, as this one is, then the pancakes need to be cook longer.
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Ideally, the outsides of the pancakes should be crispy and golden brown and the insides soft, but not raw.

Serve the pancakes warm. They’re delicious with a little dab of butter or even a little sour cream. Or simply, on their own.

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I served these spicy zucchini pancakes with a tomato salad, but my husband enjoyed the pancakes as a side dish. They also reheat very well.

Ideas for other options:

Shallots/garlic instead of onions
Green onions/chives instead of onions
Bell peppers/roasted red bell peppers instead of chile peppers
Other vegetables included like corn
Cilantro instead of parsley
Grated potato/summer squash along with the zucchini
Chopped walnuts/pecans
Whole wheat flour instead of white
Olive oil instead of butter

If you haven’t attempted savory pancakes like these before, and follow through on them without a recipe, please tell me about it. I love to see how you did. Because trust me, it will work!

Zucchini Risotto

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If you have an overabundance of zucchini from your garden right now, this recipe is for you. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. Plus, it helps use up your zucchini in a creative way.

Risotto, and polenta as well, are two dishes that I love to play with. Purists of Italian cuisine wouldn’t appreciate my culinary playtime, changing up recipes just for fun. But if you think of it, risotto is simply rice. Think of it as a vehicle, into which you can load lots of different flavors and ingredients.

Take vegetables, for example. You can add grated carrots to risotto, or even use carrot juice. You can add fresh tomatoes, or a little tomato paste. Sweet potato and pumpkin certainly work, as do roasted red bell peppers. Maybe I wouldn’t try a risotto with cucumbers….

If you would like a tutorial on making risotto, check out my Thai-inspired risotto. But even if you’ve never made a risotto before – trust me. It’s easy. I’ve even taught little kids to make them.

So the following recipe is more of a guide for you to make a fabulous zucchini risotto, using the ingredients you choose. Enjoy!

Zucchini Risotto

Butter or oil (I chose about 3 tablespoons butter)
Some kind of aromatic (I chose 1/4 finely chopped yellow onion)
Risotto rice (I chose arborio, about 1 1/4 cups)
White wine, about 1/3 cup*
1 medium zucchini, grated
Chicken broth, approximately 2 1/2 cups
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated cheese (I chose romano)

Have all of your ingredients handy, and be prepared to devote most all of your attention to the pot on the stove. That’s the only pre-requisite for making risotto.
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Begin by melting the butter in a saucepan or risotto pan. I let my butter brown a little because I love that extra flavor. Add the onion and cook them for a few minutes, turning down the heat a little if necessary.

Add the rice to the butter-onion mixture and stir it well for about 1 minute. All of the grains of rice should be coated with the butter and look shiny. If they don’t, you haven’t started with a sufficient amount of butter or oil. This step is the most critical in making a successful risotto.

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At this point, add the wine in one or two batches, stirring until it’s absorbed by the rice. If you prefer, you can use solely chicken broth instead.

I just noticed that this pinot blanc, from the Trimbach winery, is made in Ribeauvillé . I’ve actually been there, and it’s a gorgeous little town. Today I just saw on Facebook that it’s Hubert Keller’s home town.

Once you’ve used the wine, add the zucchini and stir well. Then gradually add chicken broth, a little at a time. Just stir until the rice absorbs the liquid, then add a little more liquid. Repeat. Also at some point add the salt.

The rice will get thicker as time goes on. The total risotto-making process takes about 30 minutes.

Towards the end, which you will be able to predict is close because the rice is much slower to absorb liquid, you can add cheese. Alternatively, wait and serve the cheese at the table.

Taste. Then serve.

Some people add cream instead of some of the broth, and sometimes also add a little more butter, and both are good options.


Today I served the zucchini risotto as a side dish, along side paprika-crusted pork tenderloin, but the risotto would satisfy vegetarians as well.

For seasoning, there are so many choices. I could have used fresh basil, but I opted for a little sprinkling of fresh thyme. I find that white pepper goes really well in vegetable risottos. Use what you like.
* You don’t have to include wine with the liquid in a risotto recipe. Just use more of your choice of liquid, like chicken broth. When I taught kids to make risotto, we didn’t include wine, just so you know!

note: Typically when you use zucchini in a recipe, there is a necessary procedure to attend to in order to rid the zucchini or extra water. However, this isn’t a necessary step in a risotto, since the zucchini’s liquid plays a role along with the wine and chicken broth. Another reason why this is such an easy recipe!!!

Sausages and Zucchini

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This recipe comes from a cookbook I was gifted by my family, Kitchen Garden, published for Williams-Sonoma. It’s exactly what you’d expect with that title – seasonal recipes using fresh garden fruits and vegetables, plus a chapter on chicken coops and bee hives. The author is Jeanne Kelley.
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Now, every one has enjoyed grilled sausages and zucchini, I’m sure, but this recipe caught my eye for a specific reason. After the sausages and zucchini are grilled, they are tossed with a green sauce. The sauce it not unlike a chimichurri, if you use that term loosely, but with the addition of fresh basil, oregano, and capers.

My husband hates capers and everything pickled. So for today’s recipe I’m omitting them. But I’ll probably toss a few on my sausages and zucchini when I sit down for dinner tonight.

Grilled Zucchini and Sausages with Sauce Verte
Adapted from Kitchen Garden Cookbook

Sauce Verte:
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1 green onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons packed parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers (or not)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 pound zucchini, trimmed and halved, or a variety of squashes
Olive oil, for brushing
Salt
Pepper
Italian sausages
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves

First make the green sauce by adding all of the ingredients to a food processor, except the oil. Process some, and then add the olive oil. I left it with some texture to it, but you can alternatively make a smooth puree. Although, if you want it really smooth, I’d use a blender.

Prepare a charcoal grill, electric grill, or whatever you’re going to use to cook the sausages and zucchini. I’m using my oven for the “grilling” because I have a wonderful roast setting on it that roasts both meat and veggies perfectly.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, if you don’t have a roast setting and want to use your oven.
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Place the sausages and zucchini in a roasting pan and drizzle some olive oil over everything. Place the pan in the oven and roast until the sausages are no longer pink, and the zucchini are fully cooked as well.
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Pour some of the sauce over the sausages and zucchini, and serve with extra sauce.

And add capers, if you’ve been forced to omit them from the sauce. I completely forgot about the capers, and it was delicious without them.
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I served the sausages and zucchini with slices of a ripe garden tomato sprinkled with salt. A lovely meal!
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A Chopped Salad

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The first time I learned about a chopped salad, it was because of Wolfgang Puck. I don’t know if this is fact or fiction, but in my cooking lifetime, he was the chef with whom I first associated the concept of a chopped salad. Coarsely chopped deliciousness, topped with a vinaigrette. Oh, and with cheese!

I only have only one of his cookbooks; he wasn’t a chef I admired greatly, but I didn’t have anything against him, either. He popularized pizzas way back when, and was one of the first to fuse cuisines, like French and Asian.

Once on our way to Hawaii, my family spent the night in Los Angeles, and we went to Spago for dinner, which was his first restaurant. And that’s where I had my first chopped salad. For reasons unbeknownst to me, that restaurant closed, so I feel lucky to have had that dining experience. But he still has restaurants everywhere, endorses products, and seems to be pretty active on television as well. So bravo to him for his tenacity!

So, what is a chopped salad? The one I remember having was crunchy, because of endive and crispy salad greens. Plus it contained lots of different similarly-sized pieces of vegetables, either fresh or blanched, and also feta cheese crumbles. It’s the perfect salad to play with, because the ingredient options are basically endless.
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So for my chopped salad today, I’m using endive, radicchio, raw zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and gruyere, for a more chewy cheese option than feta.

For my vinaigrette, I’m including parsley and basil. Easy and fresh. A perfect salad for late spring and summer.

A Chopped Salad
inspired by Chef Wolfgang Puck

Romaine lettuce, chopped
Endive, chopped
Zucchini, chopped
Cherry tomatoes, because those are the highest quality in existence right now, sliced in half
Gruyere

Vinaigrette
Apple cider vinegar
Olive Oil
Dollop of Greek yogurt, if you want a creamy vinaigrette
Fresh garlic cloves
Fresh parsley
Fresh basil
Salt

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To make the salad, toss all of the ingredients into a serving bowl. I have not listed an exact recipe, because the ratio of vegetables is completely up to you.

I’ve had chopped salads at restaurants, where the ingredients were very finely chopped. And those were good as well. You just don’t get the same crunch as you do with larger pieces. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

If you are throwing this salad together ahead of time, I would add the tomatoes at the last minute, or just leave them whole.

For the vinaigrette: In a small blender, add an equal amount of vinegar as olive oil, the garlic, herbs, and salt. Blend, and then add the desired amount of yogurt. Blend again until smooth.

Just before serving, pour in the desired amount of vinaigrette and toss the salad. I’m constantly writing “desired amount” because I like very vinagery vinaigrettes, and I also like a lot of vinaigrette in my salads. Many people do not!
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Save any remaining vinaigrette and refrigerate.

note: Think about all of the fun ingredients that can be used in a chopped salad. Protein like chicken cubes, pieces of shrimp, or avocado. Different veggies, of course, croutons, and even chick peas. You could also make a vinaigrette containing goat cheese, so you get that flavor, without the crumbles. So many choices!

Pasta and Zucchini

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A few years ago, I visited my London-living daughter in May. Because my birthday had just occurred, and of course she couldn’t just fly home to help me celebrate, she surprised me with two gifts.

One was a cookbook, and the second was a dinner at a restaurant. The cookbook was The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, and the restaurant she took me to was The River Cafe in London.

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The restaurant itself is in a lovely location right on the north bank of the River Thames. The inside of the restaurant is surprisingly modern. It’s a very open space, and the chefs can be observed in action, which is always fun.

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If I’d known I’d have a blog one day I would have tried to get a better photo, but you get the idea. It’s got a lot of chrome and aqua glass, which is very striking, although I personally wouldn’t have designed a traditional Italian restaurant in the same matter. But maybe that’s the point. Notice the pizza oven in the middle of the spacious dining room. There’s a bar and more space for dining room looking the other way, and the river side of the restaurant is solid windows, so the view is beautiful. There’s outside seating as well.

I remember my daughter and I had a lovely wine and wonderful antipasti. I had squid and my daughter, grilled asparagus with fonduta. So far so good. Then we both ordered a main course. Because of the restaurant’s reputation, we had grand expectations.

The River cafe opened in 1987 Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. Neither were chefs; they were simply two women who had deep passions for all things culinarily Italian. They eventually earned a Michelin star ten years later. This restaurant was also the training ground for future famous chefs Jamie Oliver, Sam and Sam Clark, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
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For the sake of this post, I just looked up The River Cafe on Zagat, and the food was rated 27, which is extremely good. On vacations, I take these ratings very seriously. 27, out of 30, is high, and although service is also important to me, the food rating is certainly more important to me, than say, decor. Think Indian restaurants, for example.

My daughter ordered some kind of fish, and I ordered a lamb chop. I try to get my lamb fix when I’m not at home, since my husband won’t eat it.

Unexpectedly, both of our proteins were overcooked. It was nothing we needed to complain about, as everything else was cooked to perfection, but it was indeed a little disappointing. Perhaps we had the understudy chef that night. But overall it was a lovely experience, made even more special by my daughter.

The two ladies of The River Cafe, Ruth Rogers on the left above, Rose Gray on the right, now deceased, wrote 6 cookbooks together. I’m very happy with the cookbook that was gifted to me, published in 2009. This pasta recipe is from my cookbook. It shows how simple cooking can be, especially Italian cooking, with delicious results.

In the amount of time it took to cook the pappardelle, this pasta dish was complete. Following is my take on their recipe, although I didn’t alter the ingredients at all. See below for the changes I made.

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Pasta with Zucchini

8.8 package of your choice of pasta
2 large zucchini, or 4 small zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, slivered
Butter, softened, about 3 ounces
Grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, slice the zucchini into equal thicknesses. The recipe called for 1 cm thickness, but I’m sure that’s a misprint. Mine were more like 3 mm. No cooking time for the zucchini is mentioned, so perhaps they did really recommend thick slices, but they took much longer to cook. I used a mandoline, with my heavy duty glove, to get the uniform slices.

Add oil to a large skillet; I used my wok. Heat the oil over medium heat.

Add the garlic, give it a stir, and then immediately add the zucchini slices. The recipe says to only have the slices in one layer, but that would have to be done in many multiple batches. I opted to add all of the zucchini.


Gently toss the zucchini and garlic in the wok, without using a spoon. It will gradually brown.

At this point, add the softened butter and lower the heat. Continue cooking, and gently tossing, until the zucchini has all softened.

Then add the pasta to the zucchini and gently mix together.


To serve, add some grated Parmesan. I also added coarsely ground pepper, which is the only ingredient not in the original recipe. Crushed red pepper would also be good.

I ate this pasta as my dinner, but I served it to my husband alongside a pork chop, as a side dish.

It could certainly be meatified with the addition of Italian sausage, grilled chicken, or flaked salmon. But on its own, it a lovely, subtle-flavored pasta dish.

note: If you want to make the original recipe, here is the ratio of zucchini, butter, and pasta:
8 ounces zucchini (I used twice that amount)
5.2 ounces butter (I used 3 ounces)
11 ounces pasta (I used 8.8 ounces)
I love butter and I’m certainly not afraid of using it, but over 5 ounces seemed like way too much, although granted I used a slightly less amount of pasta. The butter browns as you’re browning the zucchini, and it’s all utterly fabulous in flavors at the end.