January 21, 2018 Cauliflower Tortillas

Does any vegetable come close to having the versatility of cauliflower? It has a nutty sweetness when roasted and a creamy sumptuous quality when steamed and puréed. It’s a low carb, paleo, gluten-free option that substitutes for rice, couscous and even pizza crust. Let’s not neglect to mention the nutritional benefits as well. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C. vitamin K, folate, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and dietary fiber and an entire head of cauliflower is only 156 calories!

Here’s a recipe to help keep you on track for a new year of healthy eating and a creative addition to your cooking repertoire, cauliflower tortillas. They have a texture similar to the real thing and a mildly nutty flavor.

Preheat your oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper, a Silpat liner works too. I use a little nonstick spray on the edges to keep the parchment from curling up. Start with a medium cauliflower, the one I used was 2 lbs, including the greens. Cut the cauliflower in quarters, remove the greens and most of the core. In a food processor, pulse the cauliflower into granules finer than rice, but don’t get to the point of liquefying it. I do this in batches so no chunks are left behind. If you don’t have a food processor you can go low tech and do this step with a hand-held box grater. The cauliflower needs to be cooked to remove as much liquid as possible. You can do this in either a microwave or a steamer. The next step is crucial to get the right consistency for the cauliflower “dough”. Gather the steamed cauliflower granules in a clean cloth dish towel (a thin one works best) and wring out all the excess liquid. Use rubber gloves or an extra towel to protect your hands, the cauliflower will be very hot. If you have the time, you can wait until it cools down a bit. When you think you have squeezed out all the liquid you possibly can, squeeze some more. The end result reminds me of masa dough, the ingredient corn tortillas are made from.

Place the well-drained cauliflower in a medium bowl and mix in two well beaten eggs and salt and pepper to taste. Many of the recipes I read add additional herbs and spices at this point and you are welcome to do so if you choose. I prefer to keep mine plain like a regular corn tortilla to showcase the flavors of what I fill it with.

Divide the cauliflower mixture into six portions and use your hands to press them evenly into six small circles, about five to six inches in diameter. Bake in the preheated oven for ten minutes, take them out of the oven and flip them to the other side and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes. I used convection heat and that helped them brown in the oven. You can also brown the tortillas in a pan to give them a crispy edge and a more nutty flavor.

The resulting tortillas are soft and pliable like the real thing and they hold up well to a variety of fillings. On my first attempt I filled them with taco seasoned ground turkey, guacamole and salsa. They would be great for quesadillas or enchiladas too. You don’t have to limit your choices to just Mexican, they would make a great breakfast wrap or with some smoked turkey, avocado slices, lettuce and tomato for a low carb lunch. Joe gave them two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Today we made breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs, cheese and chicken sausage topped with guacamole and salsa, delicious! Next to try, chicken enchiladas.

 

The cauliflower head, also known as the curd.
Pulse the cauliflower into fine granules.
Gather the cooked cauliflower into a dish towel, cheesecloth works here too.
After several minutes of squeezing the liquid out of the cauliflower, the finished product looks like this.
The resulting cup and a half of liquid that was squeezed out.
Mix the dried cauliflower with eggs and salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the mixture into six portions and form into circles on parchment lined baking sheets.
Cauliflower tortillas hot out of the oven.

Cauliflower Tortillas

Makes 6

Ingredients

  • 1 medium cauliflower (about 2 lbs total including the greens)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (I used convection heat) with racks in the upper and lower shelves of the oven. Line two large baking sheets with parchment. I use a little non stick spray on the corners to keep them from rolling up.
  2. Cut the cauliflower in quarters, remove the leaves and cut out most of the core. In a food processor pulse the cauliflower into granules, smaller than rice. I ended up with 6 cups lightly packed cauliflower.
  3. Place the riced cauliflower in a bowl and microwave on high for two minutes, stir well, microwave two minutes, stir and microwave again for two minutes.Alternately you can cook the cauliflower in a steamer.
  4. Dump the cooked cauliflower in the center of a cloth dish towel or a doubled layer of cheesecloth. Gather up the ends, careful, it will be extremely hot and squeeze out any excess liquid.  You may want to protect your hands with an additional towel or rubber gloves. When you think you have removed all the water, give it one more squeeze.
  5. Return the cauliflower to a bowl, add two beaten eggs, salt and pepper to taste and mix well until combined.
  6. Scoop out the cauliflower into 6 fairly equal portions on the baking sheets and form into circles.
  7. Bake with trays in the upper and lower half of the oven for five minutes then reverse the upper and lower positions and bake for another five minutes. Remove both trays from the oven and peel the tortillas off the baking sheets, flip them over and return to the oven for another 5-6 minutes.
  8. Transfer cooked tortillas to a wire rack to cool.
  9. Heat a medium-sized non stick pan over medium heat and brown the tortillas on both sides to crisp the edges.
  10. Store in well sealed freezer bags. To use, reheat tortillas over medium heat in a small non stick pan.

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.

January 6, 2018 Smoked Turkey Lentil Soup

Smoked turkey has been a favorite of ours for many years. The original recipe we found came from the first cookbook Joe ever gave me, Better Than Store Bought. The book, a classic for the DIY cook features “authoritative recipes for the foods that most people never knew they could make at home”. One of the many recipes that interested us was for smoked turkey. We invested in a water smoker and different varieties of wood chips, learned about brining and went to work. The results were delicious. The turkey was tender, succulent meat with a pleasing hint of smoke. It soon became a regular favorite on my catering menu, whether it was on a carving station or used in an hors d’oeuvre recipe. We still smoke turkey for parties, especially around the holidays. Inevitably there are leftovers and since the temperatures are going to plunge into the minus zero territory I thought a hearty smoked turkey lentil soup would be perfect to keep us warm.

This soup is rich in flavor in spite of its very simple ingredients. The turkey infuses the soup with deep rich smokiness. If you don’t own a smoker, smoked turkey legs are available in many supermarkets. If you can’t find smoked turkey legs, you can use smoked turkey sausage instead. You could even do this recipe with roasted turkey wings and legs.

If you are not already saving Parmesan rinds you should. Store them in your freezer where they will keep indefinitely.  Add one to your soup pot to infuse it with a subtle depth of flavor. It may totally dissolve in the soup, if not fish it out at the end of cooking along with the bay leaf.

Lentils are the perfect companion to the smoked turkey and they are very nutritious. A great source of antioxidants, vitamins A, D, E and K , the mineral selenium, lentils also contain high levels of soluble fiber and have zero cholesterol. Unlike other dried beans, lentils can be prepared the day of serving since a presoak isn’t necessary. Spread lentils on a light-colored plate to check for stones or debris. Then place the lentils in a fine strainer under cool running water. Purchase lentils in a store where you know there is high product turnover to ensure freshness. If they are more than a year or two old, they will often stay crunchy in the center no matter how long you cook them. I used the Puy variety, they are mottled green-brown in color and have a robust peppery flavor.

I adapted this recipe for the slow cooker but it could be done just as easily on the stovetop. In a dutch oven, cook vegetables until softened, add remaining ingredients and simmer partially covered for an hour. To serve, remove bay leaf,  cheese rind, turkey wings and drumsticks. Remove the turkey meat from the bones and stir back into the soup pot. Ladle soup into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

Smoked Turkey Lentil Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 c crushed tomatoes
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 cup lentils, green or brown
  • 2 smoked turkey wings
  • 2 smoked turkey legs
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  • 8 c chicken or turkey stock
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Yogurt or Parmesan cheese to top the soup
Golden brown smoked turkey wings.

Directions

  1. In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the garlic, celery, carrots and onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, 6-7 minutes.
  2. Transfer vegetables to a large capacity 6 qt slow cooker.
  3. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, smoked turkey and stock optional Parmesan rind and simmer on the low setting for 5-6 hours.
  4. Before serving, remove bones and large pieces of turkey from the pot; allow to cool slightly on a platter. Once cool enough to handle, separate meat from the bones and any unappealing connective tissue. Return meat to the pot and discard bones.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with sour cream or yogurt.

December 3, 2017 Creamy Kale and Goat Cheese Gratin

 

Kale and goat cheese gratin is the ultimate winter comfort food and a great addition to any potluck or holiday feast. The original recipe from Fine Cooking called for dandelion greens but I have made it with baby chard greens and spinach as well, depending on the season. This time I used the bounty of fall kale from our garden. Joe planted several varieties, for this recipe I used a combination of Lacinato or Tuscan, Red Russian with its purple veins and stems and curly Dwarf Blue Curled. If we’re lucky, some of the plants that don’t die off this winter will provide us an early spring kale crop.

When shopping for kale look for moist, crisp, unwilted bunches, unblemished by tiny holes, which indicate insect damage. The leaves should not be yellowed or brown. Wrap unwashed kale in paper towels, then store in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper for a few days. When you are ready to cook, submerge the leaves in a sinkful of cold water, swishing them around to remove any dirt. To trim for cooking, lay a leaf bottom side up on a cutting board and run a paring knife along each side of the center stem. I like using a Cutco steak knife in this step for the traction it gives. Repeat until all the stem are removed. Then cut the leaves in the size your recipe calls for, in this case, 2 inch strips. If you are so inclined, chop the stems into smaller pieces, store them in freezer bags and add them the next time you make a vegetarian stock.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil and cook the kale for 3-4 minutes or until tender. You can do this step in batches if necessary. If you are doing this in batches, remove the kale with a Chinese strainer and allow the water to come back to a boil before adding the next bunch of leaves. Transfer the blanched leaves to a colander to drain well and cool. Put the cooled leaves in a clean cotton dish towel and gently wring the greens and get rid of any excess moisture. There’s nothing worse than a watery gratin!

Chop the greens coarsely and put in a large mixing bowl and combine with Parmesan and a creamy goat cheese. Combine well, don’t be afraid to use your hands for this. Spread the greens in a buttered baking dish and add cream that has been infused with garlic and lemon. Be sure to use a shallow gratin dish rather than a deeper, smaller one. The larger surface area helps reduce the cream. Top with the breadcrumb mixture and bake until the crumbs are brown and the liquid is bubbly and has reduced below the crumb level.

The kale and goat cheese gratin can be prepped in advance. Prepare the kale filling and add the cream to the dish but hold off on adding the crumb topping until right before you bake it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If you have refrigerated the dish, bring it back to room temperature, or if baking right from the fridge, add a little extra time to your cooking.

Creamy, cheesy greens topped with a crunchy Parmesan crumb crust, what’s not to love? This flavorful dish is great served with lamb or turkey (of course!) and makes excellent leftovers.

Lacinato, Tuscan or Dinosaur kale.
Dwarf blue curled kale
Red Russian kale
It takes a lot of kale to make a pound.
Trimming the leaves.
It just needs a breadcrumb crust now.

Creamy Kale and Goat Cheese Gratin

Serves six or more

Ingredients

  • ½ t unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. kale, stemmed, leaves cut into 2-inch strips
  • 1 c coarse fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 T plus ¼ c finely grated Parmesan
  • 1-1/3 c heavy cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • ¼ t finely grated lemon zest
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz fresh soft goat cheese

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Coat a shallow medium-sized gratin dish with the butter.
  2. Bring an 8-quart pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, boil the kale just until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Use a dish towel to gently wring the greens and get rid of any excess moisture.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, 3 T Parmesan and a pinch of salt.
  5. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, bring the cream and garlic to a boil, about 5 minutes. As soon as the cream has come to a vigorous boil (but before it boils over), remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the lemon zest and season with a little salt and pepper. Stir well and remove the garlic cloves.
  6. Transfer the greens to a cutting board and chop them coarsely. Put them in a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ¼ c Parmesan and the goat cheese. Using your fingers, mix well. Spread the mixture in the prepared gratin dish. Pour the cream over and stir gently with a spoon to distribute evenly.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top the gratin evenly with the breadcrumbs.
  8. Bake the gratin until the crumbs are browned and the liquid has reduced below the crumb level, about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

November 26, 2017 Butternut Squash Gratin with Rosemary Breadcrumbs

 

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner I am a traditionalist. For the main course, it’s always a juicy roast turkey and another one hot off the smoker. Not to mention the additional variations we tried in previous years, wrapped in puff pastry à la Martha or cooked outdoors in a deep fryer, not advisable on a windy day on a wooden deck. But when it comes down to it, I am most excited about the side dishes. For many years we hosted Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends and I was driven to make countless side dishes featuring every fall vegetable I could think of.

Now we are part of a collaborative effort of family, friends, and friends who feel like family. Our offering is a smoked turkey and a few side dishes. Fortunately I was able to draw from the bounty of our garden to make a butternut squash gratin. At Thanksgiving dinner I was asked what a gratin is and I shared the following. A gratin is always baked and/or broiled in a shallow dish. The topping is traditionally cheese and/or breadcrumbs that should get crispy in the cooking process. Gratin is derived from the French word gratiner-to broil.

This recipe begins with lots of thinly sliced onions sautéed in butter until softened and golden brown. Butternut squash cubes are added next and sautéed along with the onions until both are caramelized. This recipe can be made much easier with the advent of peeled, seeded and cubed butternut squash, available in many supermarkets. As for me I will be hacking away at my stash of butternut squash all the way to spring.

Pour the vegetable mixture into the buttered baking dish, cover and bake. Another plus is this step can be done a day ahead, just cool and refrigerate until you are ready to finish the dish. Make the breadcrumb mixture ahead as well and store separately in the refrigerator. If you are making components ahead of a special dinner, label them well so that your well-meaning kitchen help doesn’t mix them up! On the day you are cooking the dish, reheat for about 10 minutes, sprinkle with breadcrumb, cheese and herb mixture. A sharp cheddar is a good contrast to the sweetness of the butternut squash. Not just for your holiday table, this would be great as a side dish for weeknight suppers, any fall gathering or even as a brunch dish.

Saute the onions.
Next in is the cubed butternut squash.
The vegetables are placed in a 13×9 glass baking dish
Joe picked fresh rosemary for the breadcrumb topping.

Butternut Squash Gratin with Rosemary Breadcrumbs

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • ¼ c (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 c thinly sliced onions
  • 2½ to 3 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾ inch cubes
  • 1 t sugar (optional)
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ c chicken broth
  • 2 c bread crumbs made from soft white bread
  • 2 c packed grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 ½ T chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ t dried thyme

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.
  2. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add onions; sauté until onions are light golden about 8 minutes. Add squash; sauté 4 minutes. Sprinkle sugar, salt and pepper over vegetables; sauté until onions and squash begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes
  3. Spread vegetable mixture into prepared dish. Pour chicken broth over. Cover tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes. (Squash mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat in a 350° oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.)
  4. Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese, rosemary and thyme in a medium bowl. Sprinkle over gratin.  Bake uncovered until top is golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes.
Delicious!

November 18, 2017 Curried Butternut Squash Soup

 

A reluctant fall has finally settled in and made itself at home in Bucks County. We have experienced our first killing frost, officially ending the growing season. One of the last survivors of the garden is the kale. Cold weather just seems to make it sweeter. I have a sinkful soaking right now, reviving it for tonight’s dinner. We also have a wheelbarrow full of butternut squash in the garage that was harvested before the frost.

Fortunately butternut squash stores well in a cool basement, so I will be able to use it through to next spring. I cube and roast it to add to our green salads, butternut squash lasagna is a new favorite, and of course, soup. Smooth and silky butternut squash soup is a cold weather favorite. I have shared several recipes for butternut squash on this blog but this is the original, the recipe I have been making for over thirty years.

When I first discovered my love for cooking one of the first cookbooks in my library was The Silver Palate cookbook. Silver Palate’s recipe for curried butternut squash soup was a constant on our Thanksgiving table for many years. This velvety rich soup has just the right combination of sweet, tart and spicy and was met with rave reviews from friends and family alike.

Begin the recipe by sautéing chopped onions and curry powder in sweet (unsalted) butter. If your curry powder has been sitting in the back of your spice cabinet for longer than you can remember, it’s time to invest in a new jar. There is no one formulation for curry powder and each variety can have different component spices in differing amounts. For this soup the best choice is sweet curry powder. It will give you a wide range of flavors without too much heat. One large onion yielded the two cups I needed. The covered pan will allow the onions to cook slowly,  give them a stir every five minutes or so to keep them from sticking to the pan.

While the onion is cooking, peel and cube the butternut squash. The medium-large squash I used weighed in at 3.3 lbs and yielded about 6 cups of peeled, cubed squash. Add squash cubes, apple and chicken stock, bring to a boil and cook until squash and apples are tender. Purée the soup in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the pot, add apple juice or cider and season with salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with a garnish of a tangy freshly grated green apple.

Over the years this recipe this soup has become less of a project for the home cook. Don’t feel like chopping a large unwieldy squash? You can buy peeled and chopped squash at most grocery stores. Does the thought of straining and pouring hot soup into a blender make you just a little nervous? An immersion blender eliminates this step. If you make this soup ahead of time, cool it and store in the fridge.  When you reheat the soup you may thin to thin it out a bit with a little more stock.

The most amazing thing about this recipe is you have made a rich, creamy soup without a drop of cream or milk. Perfect for the holidays or great alongside a sandwich of leftover turkey.

The primary players.
A three pound squash yielded about 6 cups of cubes.
Simmering on the stove top.
I pureed my soup in the food processor but a blender or immersion blender works too.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Serves six

Ingredients

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 2 c finely chopped onions
  • 4-5 t sweet curry powder
  • 3 lb butternut squash
  • 2 tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 3 c chicken stock
  • 1 c apple juice or cider.
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 shredded unpeeled tart apple (garnish)

Directions

  1.  Melt the butter in a 5 quart Dutch oven. Add chopped onions and curry powder and cook, covered, over low heat until onions are tender, about 25 minutes.
  2. While the onions are cooking peel the squash, scrape out the seeds and chop the flesh into 1″ cubes.
  3. When the onions are tender, pour in the stock, add squash and apples, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until squash and apples are very tender, about 25 minutes.
  4. Pour the soup through a strainer, reserving the liquid, and transfer the solids to a bowl of a food processor. Add 1 cup of the cooking stock and process until smooth.
  5. Return the puréed soup to the pot and apple juice and the remaining cooking liquid, about 2 cups, until the soup is of the desired consistency.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper, simmer briefly to heat through, and serve immediately, garnished with shredded apple.

September 7, 2017 Green Bean Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Feta and Parsley

Whether you call them snap beans, green beans or string beans, our garden has produced a steady stream since early July. Joe plants both bush and pole beans and not just green beans. We grow purple beans that look pretty on the vine but as soon as you plunk them in a pot of boiling water, they turn a dark green color. This is due to a plant pigment, anthocyanin, that deteriorates in high temperatures. If you want to preserve the bean’s  purple color, choose a crisp young bean that doesn’t require cooking.

Yellow or wax beans also add color to the garden. According to Cook’s Illustrated, yellow beans are just green beans bred to have none of the chlorophyll pigment that gives the green bean its color.

Snap beans are low in calories, a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C. Their grassy, nutty flavor is appealing to just about everyone. In the cooler months we are most likely to do a warm preparation of beans with garlic and thyme. In the summer I like to blanch them and make a green bean salad. This combination is a creation of my own and a dish I have made countless times this summer.

I start with approximately a pound of beans. I wash and stem the beans and sort out any that are significantly fatter and or older. Bring a large pot of water that has been well salted to the boil and add the large beans first. I give them an extra minute or two to cook. Then I add the rest of the beans and start my timer at a generous four minutes. I taste (careful, it will be hot) one bean, and if I can bite through with no resistance, they are done. If not, set the timer for another minute, then taste again. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cool water. Spread the beans out on dish towels to let the excess moisture evaporate.

In a large bowl combine the beans, chopped parsley and tomatoes. A bite-sized cherry tomato works best here, cutting them in half makes them easier to eat. I have used different varieties over the summer. On this particular day I used a white cherry tomato. They aren’t really white but a very pale yellow. Toss the ingredients with the vinegar and oil. Next add the feta and tamari almonds. My preference is French feta, it is milder (less salty) in flavor and creamier in texture. Tamari almonds bring a umami flavor and a pleasant crunch. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, leftovers taste great the next day.

Green Bean Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Feta and Parsley

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1 lb green beans, washed, stemmed and trimmed into 2-3 inch pieces, can be wax or purple beans also
  • 15-20 small tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 c finely chopped parsley
  • 1/3 c crumbled feta (I prefer French feta in this salad)
  • 1/3 c tamari almonds
  • 3 T grapefruit or another light balsamic vinegar
  • 6 T olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the beans, bring back to the boil and turn back the heat to a simmer and cook beans for 4 ½ minutes. Test one bean to be sure they are tender. Drain in a colander and rinse with cool water.
  2. In a bowl large enough to toss the ingredients comfortably, add the beans, tomatoes and chopped parsley. Toss with the oil and vinegar. Add feta and tamari almonds and toss again.  Season well with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

August 11, 2017 Green Beans and Cucumbers with Miso Dressing

I couldn’t bear to do it, smash the cucumbers and green beans as called for in this recipe that is. This very easy and flavorful dish from the June issue of Bon Appetit uses a technique popular in many Asian countries. Smashing the cukes and beans with a cleaver or a rolling pin tenderizes them and makes lots of nooks and crannies for the dressing to permeate. But not with the first green beans and cucumbers from the garden this season. Maybe in a week or two but for now I will use a more traditional approach. This recipe is quite similar to pau huang gua, a Sichuan cucumber salad, typically served with rich spicy food.

Start the recipe by peeling the cucumber, I like to leave a small strip of skin for color contrast. Chop into bite sized pieces and toss with a little salt to draw out excess moisture. The beans were an interesting addition, the original recipe in Bon Appetit didn’t call for cooking them, I presume they thought dressing them would do the job of tenderizing them. I chose to blanch the beans for just a few minutes to make them crisp-tender and ready to absorb the dressing.

The dressing couldn’t be easier, the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper are all grated, a Microplane makes quick work of that. Combine these ingredients with white miso, rice vinegar, olive and sesame oil. Miso is a fermented soybean paste traditionally used in Japanese cooking. White miso will provide a more delicate flavor, switch in a red miso for a stronger and saltier flavor. You will find miso in the refrigerated section of Asian grocery and health food stores.

Place the well-drained cucumbers and green beans in a bowl and toss with some of the dressing, just enough to coat the vegetables. You will have more than enough, which is a good thing. Toss sautéed eggplant and zucchini with halved cherry tomatoes with the dressing for another version of this dish.

Cucumber vines in the greenhouse, circa 2015.
Joe is growing both bush and pole beans.

Green Beans and Cucumbers with Miso Dressing

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 Persian cucumbers or 1 English hothouse cucumber
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb green beans, stems trimmed
  • 1 1½ piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 serrano or Fresno chile, finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1/3 c unseasoned rice vinegar
  • ¼ c white miso
  • ¼ c olive oil
  • ½ t toasted sesame oil
  • Toasted sesame seeds and scallions or thinly sliced shallots for serving

Directions

  1. Peel cucumbers and chop into bite-sized pieces. Toss with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Let sit to allow salt to penetrate.
  2. Bring a medium sized pan of water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Add beans and cook until just tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain beans in a colander.
  3. Whisk ginger, chile, garlic, vinegar, miso, olive and sesame oils in a medium bowl until smooth.
  4. Transfer the beans to a bowl for serving and toss with the dressing. Drain cucumbers well and add to the bowl, toss again. Top beans and cucumbers with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.
Toss cucumber chunks with a pinch of salt to extract excess water.
The beans I used were just picked, blanching them for a few minutes tenderizes them and brings out their flavor.
The original recipe used scallions, I used shallots from our garden.

 

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.