June 29, 2012 Broccoli Salad with Feta, Olive-Oil Fried Almonds and Currants

Broccoli is a much maligned vegetable. Former president George H.W. Bush is quoted as saying,”I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” Well Mr President. my theory is most people don’t really hate the vegetables they think they do, they just haven’t had them fresh or prepared properly, well except for lima beans. Rich in fiber, broccoli nutrients include calcium and vitamins C, K and A. Botanically it belongs to the cruciferous family which includes cabbage, kohlrabi and turnips. I love broccoli, especially when it is picked fresh from the garden and cooked within hours. After the main head is picked, side florets will continue to produce for weeks to come. It has a definite sweetness, that no supermarket fresh or frozen variety can compare to. In the off season I like to separate it into florets, toss with olive oil, kosher salt, Aleppo pepper and pinch of sugar and roast it at 450 until brown and crispy in spots. We are lucky if the roasted broccoli makes it to the table. The garden’s first broccoli heads are ready for harvest and I turned to Fine Cooking for a broccoli salad recipe. Lightly cooked broccoli is combined with sweet currants, salty feta and almonds dressed with a slightly spicy vinaigrette.. The verdict? Two of us consumed the salad that feeds four to six in one day and I made it again the next evening. A definite winner.

Broccoli Salad with Feta, Olive-Oil-Fried Almonds and Currants

from Fine Cooking Magazine #76

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 1 lb broccoli
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons dried currants
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 5 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup blanched, slivered almonds
  • 3 oz feta (preferably French), crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, tear off any broccoli leaves and trim the bottoms of the stems. Cut the florets just above where they join the large stem, and then cut each floret lengthwise in half or in quarters through its stem (but not the buds). The top of each floret should be about the size of a quarter. Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, peel the tough outer skin from the large stem, removing as little flesh as possible. Cut the stem into baton-shaped pieces about 1/4 inch wide and 2 inches long.
  3. Boil the florets and stem pieces until they’re tender (pierce with a paring knife or taste a piece) but still offer a bit of resistance, about 3 minutes. Drain the broccoli, spread it on a baking sheet in an even layer, and set aside to cool, it will continue to cook as it cools.
  4. Put the currants in a small bowl, add enough hot water to cover, and let sit until softened, about 10 min. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a chef’s knife, mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Transfer the garlic to a small bowl and add the vinegar and cayenne. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
  5. Warm 1 Tbs. of the oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the slivered almonds and fry, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 2 to 3 min. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and season with salt.
  6. Drain the currants. Whisk the remaining 4 Tbs oil into the vinegar mixture. Just before serving combine the broccoli, currants, feta, and half of the almonds in a large bowl. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine. Taste and season with a pinch more salt if necessary. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the remaining almonds and the cilantro, if using.

The changes I made to the recipe:

I didn’t need to peel the stem of my just-picked broccoli, it was tender enough. Also my broccoli was sufficiently cooked in two minutes. I did fry the almonds but I don’t see why they couldn’t be toasted if you wanted to avoid the extra oil. Marcona almonds would be a great substitute. I love French feta but didn’t have any on hand so I used a supermarket brand. I didn’t have cilantro so I substituted parsley. Basil might be nice as well.

From the garden to the cutting board.
Ready to cook.
A delicious salad!

June 26, 2012 Basil Gelato

 

I knew the minute I saw the picture of bright green Basil gelato on Saveur’s magazine’s blog this week that I would be pulling out my behemoth Il Gelateria and making it for Sunday’s dessert. Every summer I make an assortment of ice creams and sorbet with the herbs we grow in the garden. Lavender and anise hyssop have become standards as well as fruit and herb combinations like peach and cinnamon basil. The basil in our garden is flourishing and it’s good to cut it back periodically to slow it down from going to seed.

Gelato means frozen in Italian, and yes it is different from ice cream. Gelato is made with a larger proportion of milk to cream. By definition, ice cream can have a minimum of 10% fat while gelato is 5-7% fat.  Real gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream so less air is incorporated in gelato. Ice cream can contain as much as 50% air, gelato only 25-30% air.

I have a gelato, not an ice cream maker, a Gaggia Il Gelatiera that has served me well over the last twenty years. I originally purchased the machine for a catering job. The couple whose wedding I was catering requested white chocolate and espresso ice cream to accompany their wedding cake and I was happy to oblige. I knew I wouldn’t get very far with the frozen canister type or even the old-fashioned hand crank that is chilled with rock salt and large quantities of ice.  I was going to be making ice cream for one hundred people at an outdoor reception on a warm June day. My research sent me to the nearest Williams-Sonoma store which at that time was in Princeton, New Jersey to purchase an Il Gelateria. The Il Gelatiera is a self-refrigerating ice cream maker, meaning the refrigeration mechanism is built-in. You just plug it in, switch on the refrigeration unit, wait a few minutes until it cools down, add your chilled base and switch on the paddle. A batch, about one quart was ready in a half hour. But I could continue to make batch after batch, without having to refreeze a canister or crank for hours on end. Expensive, yes, twenty years ago it was a little less than five hundred dollars, so definitely an investment. The Il Gelatiera is not available for sale in the U.S. at this time. Amazon’s U.K. site offers an updated model with free shipping, in the U.K. that is, at about the same price I paid for mine. Today’s gold standard is most likely the Cuisinart ICE-50BC. At about half the price and one-third the weight, (my machine weighs 28.4 lbs!) it’s what I would most likely choose if I were buying an ice cream maker today.

Now to jump on my soap box. If you are going to take the time to make homemade ice cream or gelato, or any dairy based item (cheese, yogurt, even whipped cream)  avoid ultra pasteurized dairy products. Ultra pasteurization is a process that gives dairy an extended shelf life but can adversely affect the taste and texture of the product.

Basil Gelato

Recipe from Saveur Magazine

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

  • 2 c basil leaves
  • 2 c whole milk
  • 1 c heavy cream
  • ¾ c sugar
  • 1 T     lemon zest
  • ¼t  salt
  • 6 egg yolks

Directions

  1. Combine basil, milk, cream, sugar, lemon zest, salt, and yolks in a blender and puree until smooth. Because of the size of my blender bowl, I averted possible disaster and did not put all the milk in, I whisked it in afterward.
  2. Pour into a 2 quart saucepan and heat gently until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and pour through a fine strainer, chill in the refrigerator.
  3. Pour chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Serve garnished with fresh basil leaves.

All the ingredients are ready to go.

All the ingredients are combined in a blender.

Bring the ingredients to a simmer. Strain and chill before freezing.