January 13, 2018 Herbed Ricotta Zucchini Ravioli

  

Normally I wouldn’t share a recipe for zucchini in the middle of January, but this time I had to make an exception. I am always looking for new ways to prepare for the buckets of zucchini that our garden produces every summer, so I had to try out this recipe I saw on The Chew, “Herby” Ricotta Zucchini Ravioli. In this recipe, very thinly shaved zucchini slices take the place of pasta and are filled with a herbed ricotta filling.

The zucchini could be sliced on a mandoline, but to simplify things, a Y peeler works just as well. Remove the first strip of skin, then a few more slices until you have a flat surface. Make slices down the length of the zucchini until you reach the seedy core. Look for medium length zucchini. I found that strips 5-6 inches long and 1½ inches wide were the right size to accommodate a generous tablespoon of the filling. Place the slices on baking trays lined with paper towels and lightly salt to draw out any excess liquid.

The filling is very simple, ricotta cheese with an egg, grated Parmesan and seasonal herbs. Fresh ricotta is always best but one without preservatives is a good second choice. Drain the ricotta in a fine strainer to draw out excess liquid then squeeze it out in cheesecloth to make it as dry as possible. There aren’t any fresh herbs in the garden on this very cold January day, but Joe has brought some into the conservatory. For this recipe I used parsley, thyme and a little dried oregano. Let the ricotta herb mixture sit for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Now it’s time to make the bundles. Put enough tomato sauce on the bottom of your prepared pan to lightly coat it. Blot any excess liquid from the zucchini. On a clean work surface, lay two strips of zucchini so that they slightly overlap lengthwise. Lay two more noodles on top perpendicular to the first two strips, it should look like a plus sign. Place a generous tablespoon at the intersection where the strips meet. Starting with the bottom strips, fold them over the center, repeat with the second set of strips. Place the ravioli seam side down in the prepared baking dish and repeat with remaining zucchini strips until you fill the baking dish. Top with sauce and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes, take out of the oven and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan.

The verdict? Joe and I both thought they were delicious and didn’t feel cheated with the zucchini wrapper. As Chew co host Clinton Kelly said,” this is an amazing alternative to pasta.” The calorie savings are pretty amazing too with regular ravioli coming in at 785 calories while the zucchini ravioli is 260 calories! The portion size wasn’t mentioned though. This is not the best dish for the freezer. Zucchini is 95% water so I think this dish would best be served fresh. This is a great meatless dish whether for lunch, dinner or as a side. Pesto would be a good addition to the ricotta filling and a cheesy Alfredo sauce could take the place of the tomato sauce. Can’t wait until summer to try these with zucchini from the garden and my own variations.

Drain the ricotta in a fine mesh sieve for a half hour.

 

Wrap the ricotta in cheesecloth and squeeze out any excess moisture.

Using a Y peeler, slice the zucchini into long thin strips.
Combine the ricotta, beaten egg, herbs, spices and cheese.
Slightly overlap 2 strips of zucchini and overlap two more strips, forming a plus sign.
Place a generous tablespoon of filling where the strips intersect.
Fold the bottom strips over the filling.
Fold in the other 2 strips to the center to completely enclose the filling.

Add the ravioli, seam side down to a baking dish lightly coated with tomato sauce.
Top with additional sauce.
Top with mozzarella cheese and bake .

 

Herby Ricotta Zucchini Ravioli

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for greasing the baking dish
  • 2 c ricotta – whole milk or part skim
  • 4-5 medium zucchini
  • 1/3 c plus 2 T grated Parmesan (divided)
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ c fresh herbs, finely chopped (parsley, thyme, chives etc.)
  • ¼ t freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 2 ½ c tomato sauce-homemade or your favorite store brand
  • 1 c shredded mozzarella
  • Basil chiffonade for garnish
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Cheesecloth – that will be used with the ricotta

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Lightly grease a 8×12 baking dish with olive oil.
  2. Place a fine mesh sieve over a medium bowl and add the ricotta. Set aside and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Using a Y vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips, avoiding the seedy core. Place strips on a paper towel lined baking sheet, lightly sprinkle with salt and set aside.
  4.  In a medium bowl, add ricotta, 1/3 c Parmesan, egg, chopped herbs, nutmeg and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and stir until fully combined. Set aside for 10 minutes to let the flavors combine.
  5. Blot excess moisture off zucchini slices. On a work space, overlap 2 strips of zucchini and then overlap 2 additional strips on top and across the first 2 strips, forming a cross shape.
  6. Using a spoon or cookie scoop, place a generous tablespoon of the ricotta mixture into the center of the zucchini formation.
  7. Fold the bottom layer of the zucchini strips over the filling and into the center so that they are overlapping. Fold in the other two strips to the center so that the filling is completely enclosed. Repeat process with remaining filling and zucchini.
  8. In prepared baking dish, spread ½ cup sauce evenly over the bottom. Place zucchini seam-side down. Pour remaining sauce over zucchini. Top with remaining Parmesan and mozzarella. Transfer to oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until zucchini is al dente.
  9. Garnish  with basil and serve.

December 10, 2017 Chicken with Shallots

In the beginning it was Martha for me. Sure there was Julia, James, Jacques and the Silver Palate ladies, but Martha was my main inspiration as someone who was a novice at cooking, entertaining, and in a few years, a budding caterer. As the Martha Stewart empire expanded, so did the number of magazines published under the Martha Stewart brand. Among those titles was Everyday Food, a pocket-sized digest with recipes that were “fast and easy”. The recipes centered around ingredients that could easily be purchased at the grocery store and usually cooked in less than an hour. Quite a departure from many of the recipes in her many of her earlier cookbooks.

Though there are many good recipes from the magazine and accompanying PBS series, there is one that stands out from the rest, braised chicken with shallots. Over the years this recipe has been modified, updated and tweaked, this is my version.

Braised chicken with shallots is a one pot no fuss dish where the sum is definitely greater than the  basic parts. The original recipe used bone in skinless chicken thighs, you could equally substitute bone-in skin on chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken thighs. I would definitely say choose thighs or chicken quarters (leg and thigh combination) rather than chicken breasts, dark meat holds up much better to braising.

Several versions of the recipe start with a definite no-no, rinse the chicken thighs in water. Washing raw poultry before cooking is not recommended by the USDA. Bacteria in raw chicken (in all meat actually) can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces, also known as cross contamination. Cooking chicken to the proper temperature kills the bacteria. So just pat the chicken very dry with paper towels and proceed with the recipe.

Coat the chicken pieces very lightly with flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Martha recommends (and I heartily agree) using Wondra flour for this step. If you haven’t noticed, it’s that bright blue canister tucked in next to all those alternative flours like coconut and almond. Wondra is an instant flour, precooked and dried. It dissolves quickly in liquids and makes lump free gravies. In this recipe it gives the chicken an extra light and crispy crust.

Melt butter in a large heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Cook the chicken three to four minutes per side, in batches if necessary. You want to develop a golden crust and leave behind brown bits that you will cook the shallots in. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm.

Shallots, usually a minor player in most recipes takes a starring role here. If you aren’t familiar with shallots, their flavor is sweet and mild, somewhere between an onion and garlic. This recipes uses about a pound, 12-15 medium to large shallots. Peeling shallots can be a tedious task. You can make this easier by soaking the shallots in boiling water for a few minutes and then putting them in an ice water bath so they won’t continue to cook. Make a shallow cut in the top layer and peel the skin and top layer away.

Sauté the shallots in the butter and rendered chicken fat until softened and caramelized. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add a cup of white wine to bring some acid to the dish and to deglaze the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. I used vermouth, a fortified white wine that is flavored with herbs and spices. If you are going to use vermouth, look for a dry (not sweet) variety.

Stir in the Dijon mustard and add the fresh rosemary sprigs. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for thirty minutes. At the end of the cooking time add two cups of halved cherry tomatoes. Although I am not a fan of out of season tomatoes, there are some I will use as “supporting players” when they are necessary to the dish. With seed sourced from the south of France, Sunset Flavor Bombs are a good choice and available at big box stores.

This is a great dish for the busy cook, cook on a Sunday afternoon, reheat and serve several days later. Serve with noodles or rice to sop up the juices.

Shallots are a member of the onion family, their flavor is milder and reminiscent of garlic.
Chilling off blanched shallots before peeling them.

Chicken with Shallots

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2½ to 3 lbs chicken thighs (6-8 pieces)
  • 2 T flour (I used Wondra)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 12 medium to large shallots, peeled
  • 1 c vermouth
  • 1½ T Dijon mustard
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary
  • 2 c small tomatoes cut in half or quarters

Directions

  1. Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper and flour.
  2. Melt the butter over medium high in a heavy bottomed skillet large enough to fit the chicken pieces comfortably. When the butter begins to foam, cook the chicken, in batches if needed, 6-7 minutes per side. It should be brown and crisp on both sides. Set the chicken aside on a plate and keep warm.
  3. Sauté the peeled shallots in the butter and the chicken fat until they begin to soften and caramelize, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the vermouth with a large wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. Add in the mustard and the rosemary sprigs. Return the chicken thighs to the pan and cover. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir them in to combine. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Reheat and serve in the next two days.

October 17, 2016 Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs with Leeks and Mushrooms

Several rows in our garden are always reserved for leeks. It all started years ago with the classic book, Crockett’s Victory Garden, a month by month guide to all things (well most) gardening. It was in those pages Joe set his eyes on them for the first time, leeks that looked like they could almost double as baseball bats, actually they were Crockett’s exact words. It inspired him to give leeks a try. In addition, as cooking enthusiasts in the eighties, finding leeks in the supermarket was often futile, or if they had them, very expensive and not that good.. So growing leeks was a logical conclusion.

Leeks are a cool season vegetable that require 120 to 170 days to harvest. Joe starts them indoors and transplants them in the garden anytime after the last frost. At that point the leeks look like skinny blades of grass. He plants them closer together than they should be, so that we have thinnings that can be used like scallions before the mature leeks are ready. We will harvest most of them in the fall but some will winter over until early spring.

Even though we haven’t had much of a stretch of fall weather and it may get up to 80°F today, I am craving the stews and braises that are a natural in the cooler weather. In this dish versatile chicken thighs are slow cooked on top of a bed of leeks and mushrooms. The mild onion flavor of leeks pairs nicely with the savory earthy flavor of the mushrooms.

If you choose to brown the chicken first as I did, pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. This helps keep the chicken from steaming instead of searing. You can also substitute chicken leg quarters for the thighs, that’s the thigh and the leg in one portion. Boneless skinless thighs are another option, add those directly to the slow cooker without browning. I chose bone in and skin on for better flavor. I like the skin on and browned, it protects the chicken during the cooking process and makes for a more attractive presentation. You don’t even have to eat the skin if you don’t want to.

It has been stated countless times but is worth repeating. Do not rinse chicken, it just splashes bacteria all over you, your countertops and any other food that is nearby. The heat from cooking is enough to kill any bacteria that are present on the chicken.

The recipe is very simple, you can serve the chicken with the leeks and mushrooms as-is or after removing the chicken, thicken up the sauce a bit. I ladled out some of the broth and stirred in a little flour to thicken it up and added a little sour cream and half and half to make a more substantial sauce. Serve with white basmati rice to absorb all the juices.

A row of leeks.
Not quite baseball bat size but still fine.

Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs with Leeks and Mushrooms

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs skin on and bone in chicken thighs
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 4 c assorted sliced mushrooms, white, shiitake, cremini
  • 3 c leeks white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, washed well to remove any dirt and sliced thinly
  • 1½ T fresh thyme leaves
  • 1½  T minced fresh sage leaves
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2/3 c dry white wine (Chardonnay or Burgundy)
  • 2/3 c chicken broth (homemade or low sodium canned)
  • 1 T all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c sour cream
  • 1-2 T half and half or heavy cream

Directions

  1. Heat a large non stick skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Pat dry the chicken thighs well with paper towels. Season with kosher salt.
  3. Add olive oil to skillet and add chicken thighs skin side down. Do not crowd, this  should be done in batches. Cook skin side down for three minutes then flip to other side and cook for an additional two minutes. Remove to a plate.
  4. Place the mushrooms, leeks, thyme and sage to the slow cooker. Season with a  little salt and some fresh ground pepper.
  5. Nestle the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and pour the wine and broth  around them.
  6. Cover and cook on low for six hours. If desired, at the end of cooking remove the chicken pieces to a platter and keep warm. Ladle out about a cup of the broth into a glass measuring cup. Whisk in a tablespoon of flour to thicken and stir in sour cream and half and half or heavy cream. Stir this back into the slow cooker taste and add more salt and pepper as desired. Serve chicken and sauce over rice.
Leeks, mushrooms and herbs into the slow cooker first.
Place chicken on top.
Serve with rice to sop up the juices.

September 24, 2017 Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatillo Sauce

When is a tomato not a tomato? When it’s a tomatillo. Yes, their aliases include Mexican husk tomato and “tomato verde” and both tomatillos and tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, but that’s where the similarities end.

Years ago tomatillos were one of those “let’s try this and see” additions to the garden. I certainly wasn’t familiar with the sprawling bushy plants that first produce lots of leaves and little yellow flowers. These flowers eventually turn into bright green papery Chinese lanterns. The tomatillo grows inside this husk and when the fruit is mature, the husk dries out and turns a tan color and the tomatillo splits the husk open. Under that husk they look like hard little green tomatoes. They have a bright fresh flavor, a little citrusy and herbal. I have used them for salsa verde and a  chicken tomatillo soup. This time I wanted to use tomatillos in a sauce for braised chicken thighs. I found my inspiration from Mexican cooking authority, Rick Bayless. His recipe for a braised pork loin in tomatillo sauce could be adapted for chicken so I knew I would be getting the direction I needed.

Start the dish by making the tomatillo sauce or salsa, remember, salsa is the Spanish word for sauce. Turn the broiler to high and move the oven rack to the highest position.Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue, that residue is a natural deterrent to insects. In this case it took 28 tomatillos to make a pound. Put them on a foil lined baking sheet, stem side down so they won’t roll around as much. It is a good idea to double up on the baking sheets so they won’t buckle under the broiler from the heat. Add one green jalapeno to the sheet and broil until the tomatillos are roasted, even blackened in spots and very soft. Transfer everything, including the juices to a blender and process until smooth. Set the sauce aside while you brown the chicken.

In a 4-5 quart Dutch oven, brown the chicken pieces. You will need to do this in batches, the chicken should be golden brown, not stewed. Rick instructs that you use either all white meat (breast) or all dark (thighs) because the cooking times will be different, I find that dark meat holds up better to the braising process. After the meat is browned it is removed to a plate. No need to rinse the pot, now it’s time to finish off the sauce.

Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and cook the onion and garlic. Raise the temperature to medium high and add the tomatillo puree. Cook until it is dark green and thickened, this concentrates the flavors of the sauce.  A little water thins out the sauce, Rick feels the addition of stock would make the sauce too rich. Now is the time to add some heavy or sour cream if desired. It lightens up the sauce and I liked it with the chicken. Add some fresh cilantro or the more traditional purslane also known as verdolagas in Mexico. I will definitely try that when purslane makes an appearance in the garden again. Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce, put the lid on and cook in the oven for thirty minutes.

Potatoes add an earthy element to the dish. Parboil some red potatoes while the chicken is cooking, close to the end of the cooking they are nestled in the sauce between the chicken pieces. Serve the chicken topped with sauce with some potatoes on the side. The end result is a rich, warm satisfying dish and the perfect transition from summer to fall cooking.

Tomatillo on the vine, not ready for picking yet.

Ripe green and purple tomatillos.

It took 28 tomatillos to make a pound.
Roast tomatillos until soft and blackened in spots. Make sure the juices go in the blender too.
Blended tomatillos.
Chicken thighs are browned, then nestled in the tomatillo sauce.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Tomatillo Sauce

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh tomatillos
  • 1 medium jalapeno pepper
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 8 medium skin on, bone in chicken thighs, 2½ to 3 lbs
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped’
  • 1/3 c chopped cilantro
  • A little crema or heavy cream if desired
  • 1¼ lbs red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

Directions

  1. Roast the tomatillos and chile on a baking sheet four inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast on the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Tomatillos should be splotchy black and the chile soft and cooked through.
  2. Cool a bit then transfer everything, including the juices that have accumulated on the tray to a blender. Process until smoothly pureed.
  3. Set a 4-5 quart Dutch oven over medium heat, when the oil is hot add chicken pieces skin side down. It is best to do this in batches, you want the chicken to brown, not stew. Brown the chicken on the first side for 5 minutes, then turn over and brown on the other side. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate and keep warm.
  4. In the same Dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer. Raise the heat to medium heat and when the oil is sizzling, add the tomatillo puree all at once. Stir until it is darker and noticeably thicker. Add 1 ½ cups of water and the cilantro. If you desire a mellower sauce add about a ½ cup cream or sour cream to the sauce. Taste and season with a little salt. Stir the sauce well to combine.
  5. Heat oven to 325°F. Nestle the chicken pieces in the warm sauce, cover the pot and set in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, simmer the potatoes in a pan of salted water to cover until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  7. When the chicken has cooked for thirty minutes, nestle the cooked potatoes into the sauce around the meat. Recover and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
  8. Serve the chicken and potatoes with the sauce over it.

September 17, 2017 Salmon with Heirloom Tomato Scampi Sauce

It’s still officially summer for another week or so but it’s easy to see that fall is in the air. We haven’t experienced a ninety degree day in several weeks and the days are sadly growing shorter. The tomatoes are making their last gasp, maybe not quite tomato salad worthy but still so much more flavorful than anything a supermarket might have to offer.

This recipe, courtesy of Top Chef season two semi-finalist, Sam Talbot uses a combination of heirloom tomatoes, garlic, shallots, capers and fresh basil. The original recipe used sea bass but I substituted salmon with excellent results.

Scampi is the Italian word for a hard shell prawn or langoustine. Prized in the Mediterranean, they are pink in color and more closely related to lobsters. The traditional method of scampi preparation in Italy is to saute them with garlic, onion, olive oil and white wine. Italian American chefs adapted the preparation using more readily available shrimp. The dish was called shrimp scampi, as in “shrimp prepared in the style of scampi” and the name stuck.

This is a scampi sauce in the broadest sense of the term, it does have garlic, onion, in this case shallots, olive oil and white wine. It also includes celery, which gives some textural difference, briny capers and fennel seed that adds just a hint of anise.

Heirloom tomatoes aren’t necessarily part of a scampi preparation either but they are a nice addition to this dish. Some of the varieties Joe grew this year included Garden Peach, Marvel Stripe, Cherokee Purple and both Red and Green Zebra, just to name a few. Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated; pollen is carried by natural mechanisms like bees or wind. Heirlooms are varieties that are capable of producing seed that produce seedlings like the parent plant. In agriculture, the word “heirloom” doesn’t have a precise definition but usually refers to varieties that are at least 50 years old.

As always, we cook our fish according to the Canadian fisheries method. Popularized by legendary chef, James Beard, it is very simple and quite foolproof. Measure your fillet at the thickest part, one inch of thickness equals ten minutes of cooking time at 450°F. If you prefer your fish a bit translucent, deduct a minute or so off the cooking time.

 

An assortment of late season heirloom tomatoes.

Salmon with Heirloom Tomato Scampi Sauce

 Ingredients

  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 1 T fennel seeds, toasted in a dry skillet
  • 4 celery ribs, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1 T drained, chopped capers
  • ¼ c dry white wine
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 3 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes, cut in wedges
  • 1 cup tightly packed hand-torn fresh basil leaves
  • 1½ lbs salmon filet, cut into 4 six ounces portions

Directions for the Sauce

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic, shallots, and fennel seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the celery and capers and cook until the celery has softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the wine to the pan and cook until it is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar, lemon zest and juice, tomatoes and basil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to incorporate the flavors and heat the tomatoes through.

Directions for the fish

  1. A half hour before cooking bring the fish out to bring it to room temperature. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 450°F.
  2. Measure fish at the thickest part of the fillet with a ruler, one inch of thickness equals about 10 minutes of cooking time. Evenly space fish fillets in a lightly oiled baking pan and transfer pan to the preheated oven. Bake for the designated time.
  3. Serve the salmon fillets topped with tomato scampi.

August 31, 2017 Moussaka for a Crowd

For the past 20+ years I have made this version of moussaka every summer when we have an abundance of eggplants. It can be made in one large (very large) dish to serve a crowd. I spread it out into three casserole dishes, one for now, two for the freezer. It doesn’t fit the category of quick and easy but it can be done in steps over the course of two days. First, slice the eggplant and while you are baking it, make the meat sauce. Refrigerate these two components overnight. The next day, prepare the bechamel sauce, grate the Parmesan, assemble the casseroles and bake. A traditional moussaka is made with ground lamb, but if you don’t like lamb, or your supermarket doesn’t carry it, substitute lean ground beef or turkey. Like many hearty casseroles, it tastes even better the next day. Serve it with, you guessed it, a Greek salad.

Eggplants in all shapes and sizes.
I take most of the skin off the eggplant , leaving narrow strips.
Line up slices on a foil lined baking sheet for baking.
The rich meat sauce with red wine and fragrant cinnamon.

 

Eggplant Moussaka

Serves 15 to 18

Ingredients

  • 5 lb eggplant, strips of skin removed, cut crosswise into ½” slices
  • 6 T olive oil, divided
  • 2 ½ lb ground lamb, turkey or beef
  • 5 large onions, chopped fine
  • ½ cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 2-6 ounce cans tomato paste
  • 3 c dry red wine
  • 1 ½ T cinnamon
  • 1 T salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ c dry bread crumbs
  • 1 ½ c freshly grated Parmesan

For the topping

  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
  • ½ c all-purpose flour
  • 6 c milk (low-fat is fine)
  • 2 T freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-15 oz container ricotta cheese
The components for the creamy bechamel sauce.

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. On baking sheets covered with oiled aluminum foil arrange the eggplant slices in one layer, brush them lightly with 4 T of the oil and bake them, covered with foil in batches in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.
  2. While the eggplant is baking, in a large heavy skillet cook the ground meat over medium heat , stirring and breaking up the lumps, until it is no longer pink. With a slotted spoon transfer it to paper towels to drain, discard the fat remaining in the skillet.
  3. In the skillet cook the onions in the remaining 2 T oil over medium high heat, stirring until softened, stir in the meat, the parsley, the tomato paste, the wine, the cinnamon, salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for about twenty minutes or until thickened slightly.
  4. Sprinkle 2 T of the bread crumbs over the bottom of an oiled roasting pan, 16 by 10 by 2 ½ inches, arrange one layer of the eggplant slices next. Spread one third of the meat mixture on top of the eggplant and sprinkle it with one third of the Parmesan and one third of the remaining bread crumbs.
  5. Layer the remaining eggplant slices, meat mixture, Parmesan, and bread crumbs in the same manner, starting with the eggplant and ending with the bread crumbs.
  6. For the topping: In a heavy saucepan melt the butter over moderately low heat, and the flour, and cook the roux, whisking for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a stream, whisking, and whisk in the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking, and simmer it, stirring until it is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly and whisk in the eggs and ricotta.
  7. Pour the topping evenly over the moussaka and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden. Let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.
First a layer of fine bread crumbs.
Then a layer of cooked eggplant.
Meat sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Repeat layers and top with the creamy bechamel.
And it comes out like this.
Delicious!

 

August 21, 2017 Stir Fried Shrimp with Eggplant and Cashews

It’s a great time of year to try out some new eggplant recipes. Whether from the farmers market, your local CSA or your own garden, freshly harvested eggplants are at their best. Our garden has produced an amazing array of colorful eggplants this summer. Bright fuchsia Asian Bride, slender dark violet Farmer’s Long, pure white Charming, beautifully variegated Listada de Gandia, all the varieties we have harvested this year have thin skin and minimal seeds.

During the eggplant season I have time to revisit the classics, eggplant Parmesan, caponata, moussaka and to look for new ways to serve this versatile vegetable that’s actually a fruit, but I digress. Stir fry recipes are quick and relatively easy, so why not shrimp and eggplant? Cook’s Illustrated magazine tests recipes countless times to understand how they work and in turn, offer the best version. So I knew I could try their recipe for stir fried shrimp with garlic, eggplant and cashews with confidence.

In perfecting this recipe they discovered several things that make this recipe stand out.

Soaking the shrimp for 30 minutes in salt, oil and aromatics yields a deeply flavored and tender finished product. The salt enters the flesh, allowing the shrimp to stay juicy. The oil picks up the flavor of the aromatics, in this case garlic, and distributes it over the shrimp. They also address the issue of the typical home stove that lacks the high heat of restaurant burners. This problem is solved by cooking the components of the dish in batches and trading in the wok for a skillet to ensure maximum surface area for even cooking.

As with all stir fry dishes, everything should be ready and portioned out when you start the recipe. Soak the shrimp in the seasoned brine. Whisk the sauce together next. My personal trick here is when you are making a sauce with both wet and dry ingredients I measure out the dry ingredients first since they will not stick to the measuring spoon, like soy sauce does.

The components of the dish are cooked in batches. First, the eggplant and scallion greens are cooked until lightly browned and transferred to a bowl. Next in are the aromatics, thinly sliced garlic and scallions. Cook until browned, don’t burn that garlic! To the aromatics, add in the shrimp. The shrimp are cooked to a light pink on both sides, then the sauce is added to the pan. Raise the heat to high to thicken the sauce and finish cooking the shrimp. The eggplant is returned to the skillet and tossed, ready to absorb the flavors of the sauce.

I made some changes to the original recipe. I used one tablespoon of sugar instead of two in the sauce, the oyster sauce adds its own sweetness. I also used more eggplant than called for since it cooks down considerably.  Serve with white or brown rice, this is a dish that is quick to execute and quite delicious.

A recent harvest of all the varieties of eggplant we are growing.

Stir Fried Shrimp with Eggplant and Cashews

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Serves 4

  • 6 medium garlic cloves, 1 minced or pressed through garlic press, 5 thinly sliced 
  • 1 pound extra-large (21-25) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed 
  • 3 T vegetable oil 
  • ½ t table salt 
  • 2 T soy sauce (I use low-sodium Tamari)
  • 2 T oyster sauce 
  • 2 T dry sherry or Shaoxing wine
  • 1 T sugar 
  • 1  T toasted sesame oil
  • 1 T white vinegar (I use rice vinegar)
  • 1/8 t red pepper flakes 
  • 2 t cornstarch 
  • 6 large scallions, greens cut into 1-inch pieces and whites sliced thin 
  • ½ c cashews, unsalted 
  • 1 medium eggplant (about 3/4 pound), cut into 3/4-inch dice 

Directions

  1. Combine minced garlic with shrimp, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and salt in a medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature 30 minutes.  Depending on your particular brown rice (regular, instant, etc.) start your rice as appropriate.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk soy sauce, oyster sauce, sherry, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch in small bowl. Combine sliced garlic with scallion whites and cashews in another small bowl.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet or a wok over high heat until just smoking. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 3 to 6 minutes. Add scallion greens and continue to cook until scallion greens begin to brown and eggplant is fully tender, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to medium bowl.
  3. Heat remaining tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet/wok. Add cashew mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp are light pink on both sides, 1 to 1½ minutes. Whisk soy sauce mixture to recombine and add to skillet/wok.  Return to high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and shrimp are cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Return vegetables to skillet, toss to combine, and serve.

Aug 1, 2017 Zucchini Lasagna with Meat Sauce

Gardeners, let’s face it, we’ve all done it. You watch that cute little zucchini you’ve been nurturing along for several days, waiting for the moment when it’s about eight to ten inches long, bright green with mottled white striping and the blossom still attached, ready for picking. But life isn’t perfect, it rains for several days and you didn’t make it out to the garden and now that cute little zucchini is the size of a miniature baseball bat. Don’t despair, there are ways to still use them, zucchini lasagna is one of my favorites.

Zucchini lasagna “noodles” replace regular pasta for this delicious dish. I first cut the zucchini in half lengthwise so that I have a flat surface to cut my noodles. A mandolin is always my first choice for even uniform slices. If you weren’t aware, a mandolin, isn’t just a music instrument. It is a hand-operated kitchen tool with adjustable blades that in addition to making julienne and waffle cuts, makes uniform slices. Whatever model you choose, use the hand/finger guard, I speak from personal experience.  You can also go low tech and use a very sharp knife with a cutting board to stabilize your slices. I make my slices to fit the baking dish lengthwise, if you are using shorter zucchini, it’s fine to cut them the other way, making sure they fit your dish.

Zucchini is 95% water so before you assemble the lasagna it is important to precook it so less moisture ends up in your finished dish. Suggested methods I’ve seen include broiling, sauteing and parboiling. I like cooking them in the grill pan, it gives added flavor to the zucchini and the slices have a nice finished look. Cooking the slices on an outdoor grill would make the process even faster. Cook more slices than you think you may need to allow for breakage.

This dish can be made in stages, make the meat sauce one day, slice and cook the zucchini the next, then assemble. Just like regular lasagna, it tastes even better the next day, if it lasts that long!

Don’t forget the yellow squash , they work in this recipe too.

Zucchini Lasagna with Meat Sauce

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 3-4 or more large zucchini, sliced 1/8″ thick
  • Extra virgin olive oil for brushing zucchini
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey or beef
  • 1 ½ t kosher salt
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 c finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 quart plain tomato sauce ( I used homemade)
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • ¾ t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ c part skim ricotta cheese
  • ½ c finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 c shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and place baking rack in the lower position.
  2. Make zucchini lasagna “noodles”. Cut squash into 1/8″ thick slices using a sharp knife or mandolin.  If your squash is long they should fit the pan lengthwise, if you have shorter squash, orient the slices in the opposite direction. You should have enough slices to do four to five layers with a few extra pieces for good measure.
  3. Heat a grill pan or an outdoor grill to medium high heat. Brush both side of the slices lightly with olive oil.
  4. Grill the zucchini slices on both sides so they have grill marks, 3-5 minutes for the first side, a little less for the second side. Squash should be cooked but not falling apart. Line up the grilled zucchini slices on a paper towel lined baking sheet to absorb excess moisture.
  5. Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the pan is hot add the onion and cook until onion is softened but not browned, 4-5 minutes. Lower the temperature if necessary. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the ground meat and season to taste with salt. Brown the meat, breaking it up as you cook it.
  6. Slowly pour in the tomato sauce and stir it into the meat. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to medium. Add tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer on low, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes. Cover and set aside.
  7. In a medium bowl combine ricotta, Parmesan and egg. Mix well.
  8. Assemble the lasagna. Lightly oil or spray a 9 x 12 glass or ceramic baking dish.
  9. Spread a light layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Layer zucchini slices over to cover. Spread one-third of the ricotta mixture over the zucchini and top with a cup of the mozzarella. Repeat the layers two more times, sauce, “noodles”, ricotta mixture topped with mozzarella. Top with noodles and the remainder of the sauce. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes to dry up excess liquid. Sprinkle the last cup of mozzarella over the top and bake until melted, about 15 minutes. Let lasagna rest for a half hour to allow it to firm up and make for easier slicing.
Slices made with my stainless steel mandolin, a gift from many years ago, I have other inexpensive ones too.

Zucchini slices cooked in the grill pan.

Meat sauce to cover the bottom of the baking dish.

Grilled zucchini slices to cover.

A layer of cheese.
Another layer of zucchini noodles. Repeat the process with the sauce.
The finished product.

Delicious!

July 21, 2017 Spicy Chipotle Shrimp with Zucchini and Chorizo

 

Spicy chipotle shrimp with chorizo and zucchini is an entrée that is flavorful, easy to prepare and uses only one pan. If that isn’t enough, it’s a great way to use that July abundance of zucchini and yellow squash from your garden or farmers market.

I always have some frozen shrimp on hand for a quick dinner. Though my local seafood market on occasion has fresh (never frozen) Florida shrimp, in my area of the country (mid-Atlantic) frozen shrimp is not a bad thing. The shrimp you see sitting on ice at the supermarket seafood counter have been thawed out. Convenient yes, but you can’t be certain how long they have been sitting there. I prefer to buy individually quick frozen (IQF) shrimp in 1 or 2 pound plastic bags, then I can just defrost what I need in 15-20 minutes. I prefer larger shrimp because there is less of a chance to overcook them. Look for the count of shrimp per pound, in this case 21-25 count, rather than a size designation like extra-large or jumbo.

Easy peel, meaning the shell is split down the back and deveined is the easiest way to make this or any recipe calling for shrimp. Always devein shrimp before cooking, many an eliminated Chopped contestant rues the day they didn’t. It’s not hard to do, either use a small pairing knife or the tool specifically made for that purpose. It’s not actually a vein but the shrimp’s digestive tract and when it is dark in color,  it is filled with grit. Removal is not essential, nor will it make you ill, deveining just makes for a more attractive presentation.

Pat the shrimp completely dry with paper towels before cooking. Any extra moisture on the surface of the shrimp prevents them from searing and browning. Preheat your skillet for a few minutes before adding the oil. Wait a minute until the oil is shimmering before adding the shrimp. Place the shrimp in a single layer, leaving a little space between each. Don’t be tempted to flip the shrimp too soon, give them time to brown on the first side, a little pink will start to show, now flip. You want the shrimp to be slightly underdone since they will be added back to the pan later.

Transfer the shrimp to a plate, add the second 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan along with the diced chorizo. Spanish chorizo is a dried and cured (fully cooked) pork sausage seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic and other herbs. There is also Mexican chorizo that comes in casings and must be cooked before eating. It is used in tacos, tortillas and often served at breakfast with eggs. I would definitely say that the Spanish chorizo is the best choice here.

Add the cubed zucchini, onion and yellow squash, cook until the zucchini starts to brown, 3-4 minutes. Now it’s time to add the broth mixture. A chipotle chili and adobo sauce give it a real kick and the tomato paste and brown sugar mellow out the heat. Chipotles are small jalapeños that are dried by a smoking process that gives them a dark color and a distinct smoky flavor. They are canned in a red sauce, adobo, that has a smoky flavor as well. Start with the quantity given in the recipe and if you really like it hot, add a little more. Just remember it’s easier to add heat than take it away. Since you will not be using the entire can, store the remaining chilis in adobo in a well labeled plastic container or zip-loc bag in the freezer. I wasted too many opened cans of chilis before I got in this habit.

Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce it to medium low and add the shrimp back in along with the lime juice and parsley. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, the zucchini should be tender and the shrimp opaque throughout. You can check for doneness by cutting a shrimp in half at its thickest point. It should be creamy white, firm and springy but still moist. You can add some strips of red pepper to the recipe and swap out cilantro for the parsley. Give a final seasoning with salt, pepper and more lime juice. Serve immediately garnished with the rest of the parsley on a bed of rice.

 

 

Spicy Chipotle Shrimp with Zucchini and Chorizo

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • ½ c low-salt chicken broth
  • ½ small chipotle, seeded and minced, plus 2 T adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 t brown sugar
  • 1 lb shrimp (21-25 per lb), peeled, deveined, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 t kosher salt; more as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ c olive oil, divided
  • ¼ lb chorizo, cut into ¼ inch dice, a little less than a cup
  • 3 c combination of zucchini and yellow squash, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
  • ¼ c chopped parsley or cilantro
  • 2 T fresh lime juice; more as needed

Directions

  1. In a one cup measure, whisk together chicken broth, chipotle, adobo sauce, tomato sauce and brown sugar.
  2. Sprinkle the shrimp with a ¼ t salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Put a skillet (not non-stick) over medium high heat, when the skillet is hot, add 2 tablespoons oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the shrimp in a single layer. Cook the shrimp undisturbed until it browns nicely, a little less than 2 minutes. Flip and brown the shrimp on the other side, about 1 ½ minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate, it should be slightly under cooked.
  3. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the chorizo to the pan and cook, tossing occasionally, until it starts to brown, about 1 minute. Add the zucchini, yellow squash and onion, sprinkle with a little salt. Cook, tossing frequently, until the zucchini starts to brown and is tender, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the broth mixture to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low. Stir in the shrimp, half of the parsley and the lime juice.
  5. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini and squash are tender and the shrimp are opaque, 2-3 minutes. Cut one in half to check if necessary. Season to taste with salt, pepper and more lime juice. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining parsley.
One day’s pick of zucchini and yellow squash.

 

May 30, 2017 Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Fish is on the menu at our house three nights a week and though the method of cooking is usually the same, I am always looking for new ways to complement it. This recipe, Baked Cod Fillet with Bouillabaisse Sauce with Green Olive Tapenade from the April issue of Food and Wine seemed to fit that bill. It combines the classic flavors of bouillabaisse: fennel, garlic, saffron and tomatoes, to make a delicious sauce along with a quick briny olive tapenade.

The origins of bouillabaisse can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks and was the humble fare of fishermen in Provence, specifically from the port city of Marseille. The best of the catch would be sold to restaurants while the less desirable bony rockfish and shellfish would become part of the fisherman’s dinner, a stew cooked with sea water and simmered over an open fire. Bouillabaisse has come a long way since then to become one of the most iconic French dishes.

The first step of the recipe is to chop the fennel, leek, onion and celery. This can be done by hand or a food processor makes quick work of this step. Just be certain that all pieces are relatively the same size to ensure even cooking. Sauté the vegetables over medium heat until softened then add the garlic and saffron. Saffron adds a subtle flavor and aroma and its beautiful golden color. At about forty dollars a bottle, Pernod is an ingredient I could not justify buying since I was only using a few tablespoons. It adds a subtle anise flavor so if you have some on hand, by all means use it. Add dry white wine and vermouth to the pot and reduce the liquid by half. Next into the pot are halved and smashed cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes are an acceptable substitute here.

The next step is to make fish stock. I am fortunate to have an outstanding fish market that supplies me with fish bones and heads needed for stock making. If making fish stock would stop you from making this recipe, substitute clam broth or  fish bouillon.  Always taste products like this first, since they can be salty. After the sauce cooks, cool slightly and carefully discard the fish bones if using. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce then pass it through a food mill into a sauce pan. Keep the sauce warm over low heat.

The green olive tapenade is very easy to do and adds a briny contrast to the rich sauce. Cook the fish according to your favorite method, we use the Canadian fisheries method with consistent results. The sauce and the tapenade can be made several days ahead making this an impressive recipe for entertaining.

Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Serves four

Ingredients for the sauce

  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1-1 lb fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 large leek, trimmed and finely chopped, white and light green parts only
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ t saffron threads
  • 2 T Pernod or pastis (optional)
  • ¾ c dry white wine
  • ¾ c dry vermouth
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved and smashed
  • ½ t smoked paprika
  • 2 lbs white fish bones, rinsed and dried
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice (plus more for drizzling)
  • Kosher salt
  • Four 6-oz. white fish fillets like cod, halibut, grouper

Directions for the sauce

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fennel, leek, onion and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and the saffron and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes
  3. Add the Pernod (if using) and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and vermouth and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fish bones and cook over medium high heat, turning once, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the bones to the casserole and add two cups of water. Cover partially and simmer over moderately low heat for 30 minutes. Let the sauce cool slightly then discard the fish bones.
  6. Using an immersion blender puree the sauce, then strain through the fine mesh of a food mill into a medium saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice, season with salt and keep warm.

Ingredients for the Green Olive Tapenade

  • ¼ c green pitted olives
  • 2 T rinsed and drained capers
  • 2 T flat leaved parsley
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ T fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for the Green Olive Tapenade

  1.  Place the first five ingredients in the bowl of a mini food processor and pulse until combined and roughly chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cooking the Fish

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Coat a shallow baking dish with non stick spray. Season the fish fillets with salt.
  3. Measure your fish fillets at the thickest point. Bake the fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.

Finishing the Dish

  1. Ladle the sauce into 4 shallow bowls and top each one with a cod fillet Spoon the tapenade over the fish. Drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice. Serve immediately.