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.

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.

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 15, 2017 Tomato Salads

This is a space to record Joe’s creative tomato salads throughout the summer. The pictures won’t always be the best since they are taken in the kitchen. Just a way to commemorate these wonderful salads.

July 10 salad – Sun Gold, Gold Nugget and Super Sweet tomatoes, raspberries, purple basil, mozzarella with peach vinegar and blood orange olive oil.

July 12 – Sun Gold tomatoes, ricotta and purple basil with peach vinegar and blood orange olive oil.

July 15 – Super Sweet 100’s, Sun Gold, Gold Nugget, Snow Cherry, Chocolate Cherry, Fourth of July, mozzarella, purple basil, raspberries, blueberries, Cascadian raspberry vinegar, Persian lime oil.

July 16 – Brandywine, Sun Gold, Super Sweet, Gold Nugget, Snow Cherry, Chocolate Cherry, purple basil, mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan, purple basil, Cascadian raspberry vinegar, Persian lime oil.

July 17 – Fourth of July, Gold Nugget, Snow Cherry, Super Sweet, burrata, Persian cucumbers, purple basil, Cascadian raspberry vinegar, Persian lime oil.

August 14

August 16

August 17

January 19, 2016 Tomato Lentil Soup

Inspiration for the recipes I post originate from many different sources and this qualifies as the most unusual, my new car. In the first week of driving my 2015 Volvo I received this warning, AWD (all wheel drive) disabled, please schedule service. This was accompanied on the dashboard with the picture of the frame of a car with two wheels out of line. That was enough to get my attention. I had it in for service in less than a week of driving off the lot, only to have the same message reappear the day after the first service. So I needed to take it back in again. Nothing seemed wrong with the steering, and the warning would be on one day, and off the next. Of course the day I took it in the service light was out.

I am occasionally offered a loaner so I don’t have to wait on the car but that can also be a pain too, driving to the dealership, driving home, driving back and so on. So this time I thought I would just wait. I came prepared with a large stack of food magazines. The lounge is large and on this day, pretty full. The television was on and several of the men who were there seemed to be enjoying the banter on Live with Kelly. So I settled into my spot, pulled out my magazines and started reading as much as one can when the only available chair is right next to the television.

After Kelly comes Rachael, as in the Rachael Ray show. I don’t watch much daytime television but Rachael’s show isn’t too bad. After a very interesting segment on cutting edge skin care, celebrity cooking with folks I’ve never heard of (too many channels, too many “celebrities”) and how to get your house ready for a Super Bowl party, it was time for Rachael to cook. Her recipe grabbed my attention since Joe and I were both fighting the good fight against pretty nasty colds. We blamed each other for giving it but I think I know which one of us spends a lot more time around sick people! The night before per Joe’s request I made a chicken soup with veggies and ditalini pasta. Rachael’s recipe for tomato lentil soup looked fairly quick and just the thing for my Cold-Eze numbed taste buds.

This time of year there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of soup. Rachael calls this soup cheap, cheerful and filled with great nutrition. This recipe makes a lot of soup for two people, but as she points out, soup freezes beautifully. Perfect for a cold winter’s night or just the right thing when a cold is coming on.

Start the recipe by cooking the lentils. Unlike other beans that need to soaked overnight, lentils just need to be picked through to remove stones and rinsed well in a colander. Put the lentils in a pan with water to cover by at least two inches, they will at least double in size. Add a clove of crushed garlic and salt and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for thirty to forty minutes. You want tender, not crunchy or mushy lentils. I used the French Puy variety available from Bob’s Red Mill.  If I used the lentils di Norcia referenced in  recipe I would need to mail order them through Amazon, but at almost thirty dollars a pound, I will stick with French lentils. Lentils di Norcia are grown in the high plains (4500 ft) of the Apennine mountains of Central Italy. They are said to have thin skins and a soft consistency. I will never know….

In a soup pot over medium high heat, add olive oil, she calls it “two turns of the pan”, which translates to approximately two tablespoons. The vegetables and herbs are added and partially cooked to soften. Add stock, she used vegetable to keep this a vegetarian dish, but chicken stock is fine with me. Next into the pot are the San Marzano tomatoes that we both like for their natural sweetness. Rachael pointed out that some canned tomatoes have the word San Marzano in the title but not in the can! Spin the can around and make sure it contains San Marzano tomatoes in the ingredients. Break the tomatoes up with a spoon, kitchen scissors or for the tactile inclined, with your hands. Rachael and her mom do it that way. Tomato passata, a new one on me, is next into the pot. Passata is uncooked tomato puree that has been strained of seeds and skins. It is very common in Europe. I found a product from Pomi brand tomatoes in an aseptic container referred to as strained tomatoes. Substitute tomato puree with no sugar added if you can’t find it, but I think it is worth searching out.

Add the cooled lentils to the pot and simmer to combine flavors and the thickness you desire. Remove the herb bundle and bay leaf before serving. This is a vegetarian dish but my husband is not. To make this more to his taste I added a few turkey meatballs at the end of cooking time. Rachael serves this soup with bruschetta, which really is, as she points out, just charred bread. She took a chunk of ciabatta and charred it over an open flame, then seasoned it with cut garlic, a good quality olive oil, flaky sea salt and chili flakes. This bread is ripped up in pieces to wipe the bottom of the bowl, in Italian that is called the scarpetta. Rachael tops the bowls of soup with grated Parmesan. Delicious!

Saute the vegetables to soften.
An herb bundle of parsley, thyme and rosemary.
Add the herb bundle and a bay leaf to sauteing the vegetables.

Tomato Lentil Soup

Serves 6 or more

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lentils, I used small French lentils
  • 4 cloves garlic, 1 crushed and 3 chopped, divided
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small bulb fennel, cut into small dice
  • 1 leek, quartered lengthwise then chopped
  • 2 to 3 ribs celery with leafy tops, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • Herb bundle of parsley, thyme and rosemary (a few sprigs of each)
  • Pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cups passata or tomato purée
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
  • Chili flakes and EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to serve

Directions

  1. Rinse lentils well and add them to a large pot with enough water to cover by about 2 1/2 inches. Add crushed garlic clove and bring to a boil. Add salt, reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes. Turn off heat and let lentils cool in any remaining liquid.
  2. Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat with olive oil, 2 turns of the pan. Add chopped garlic, fennel, leeks, celery, onions, bay, herb bundle, some salt and pepper, and cook partially covered for 7-8 minutes to soften, stirring frequently.
  3. Add stock, passata or purée, and tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon or crushing them with your hands when you add them to the pot. Stir in cooled lentils; combine and simmer to combine flavors and until soup reaches desired thickness.
  4. Remove bay and herb bundle, and serve in shallow bowls garnished with chili flakes and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil.
I had a personal assistant on this shoot.

 

August 20, 2016 Orange Tomato Soup

DSC_7773-copyaThis recipe could also be titled Orange, orange tomato soup. All the recipes I found on line for orange tomato soup included orange juice, but not orange tomatoes. My recipe uses both. Orange tomatoes come in all sizes, from the cherry sized Sun Gold, that you can eat out of hand like candy to the Valencia, an heirloom variety that we are growing this year. Orange tomatoes are less acidic and fruity while still providing a true tomato flavor. Orange tomatoes inspired me to add a little orange juice to the soup to highlight the sweetness of the tomatoes.

This is a very quick recipe to prepare, begin by melting some butter and olive oil in a large saute pan. Add chopped shallot and carrot and cook until softened. Shallots provide a milder flavor, but a white onion could be substituted. Add cored chopped tomatoes, roughly torn basil leaves, chicken stock and just a touch of maple syrup. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Allow the mixture to cool a bit before transferring to a blender. Blend the soup in two batches. Very hot liquids expand as you blend them so place a kitchen towel over the lid to protect your hands from any soup that might escape the blender. For the finest texture you could put this soup through a food mill. Next, stir in the orange juice, fresh squeezed of course. Cool the soup to room temperature before placing in a covered container in the refrigerator. Chill for at least four hours or overnight to allow the flavors to blend.

This soup is great for entertaining, it can be made well in advance. It could be dressed up with a seared scallop or a poached shrimp. Serve the soup garnished with some basil leaves and some quartered Sun Gold tomatoes. We enjoyed ours along with a BLT.

DSC_7755a

 

Orange Tomato Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/3 c chopped shallots
  • 1/3 c chopped carrot
  • 4 c cored and quartered orange tomatoes
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • ½ c shredded basil leaves
  • 2 c chicken stock
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • ¾ c orange juice

DSC_7763a

DSC_7769a

Directions

  1. In a large saute pan melt the butter and olive oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add the shallots and carrot and saute until softened, five to six minutes.
  3. Add chopped orange tomatoes, basil leaves, chicken stock and maple syrup. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Allow the soup to cool for at least five minutes before proceeding to the next step.
  4. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. If desired you can also put the soup through a food mill.  Put the soup in a bowl and stir in the orange juice. Cool the soup to room temperature. Put the soup in the refrigerator in a covered container and chill for at least four hours or overnight.
  5. Serve garnished with orange cherry tomatoes and a few basil leaves.

DSC_7772a

August 13, 2016 Oven Roasted Ratatouille

DSC_7741aI love recipes that use the bounty of the garden in a single dish and ratatouille accomplishes that in a very delicious way.  In case you didn’t know, ratatouille (rat-uhtoo-ee), is a summer vegetable stew that had it’s origins in the Provencal city of Nice in southern France. Traditionally, each ingredient, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, garlic and tomatoes, is cooked separately on the stove top and tossed together at the very end. So it’s really a sauté that is presented as a stew.

In this version the vegetables are tossed in olive oil and roasted in the oven, eliminating the time cooking over a hot stove. Our red and yellow bell pepper harvest is the earliest I can remember. They must like the hot temperatures and abundant rainfall this year. The orange Valencia peppers are not far behind. I prefer using Chinese or Japanese eggplants for their thin skin and milder flavor. I substituted shallots for onions since our harvest was so plentiful this year. The garlic was also from the garden, a first for us.

Cut the vegetables in similar size so they will get done at the same time. The smaller the cut, the less time it will take to cook.  Lightly toss the vegetables with about a half cup of a good quality olive oil.  Spread them out evenly over two large baking sheets. Rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back half way through the cooking time. Roasting allows the vegetables to retain their shape and they take on a delicious toasted flavor. Move the cooked vegetables to a large serving bowl and tossed with a basil chiffonade. Chiffonade, translates “made of rags” from the French (of course!).  It is a technique for cutting herbs and vegetables into long thin strips, in this case, basil.

Ratatouille can be used in many ways, a side dish, a topping for bruschetta, chicken or fish.  We used it as the topping for an impromptu flatbread pizza. It can be served hot or cold and is even better the next day, if it lasts that long.

DSC_7726a
This season is the earliest we have had ripe bell peppers. I guess they really like the hot and rainy weather.
DSC_7733a
Ingredients for the ratatouille, I substituted shallots for onions since Joe just harvested his crop.

 

Oven Roasted Ratatouille

Serves four (or two very generously)

Ingredients

  • 2 small onions (about 5 oz. each), cut into ¼-inch-thick half-moons
  • 2 bell peppers, red, yellow or orange, cored, seeded and cut into ¼-inch lengthwise strips
  • Japanese eggplant, about 1 lb, cut crosswise ½ inch thick rounds, then sliced in quarters
  • 1 lb small to medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into ½ inch thick rounds
  • 10 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ c extra virgin olive oil, and more as needed
  • 1 t chopped fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1½ lbs medium tomatoes (about 4), cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • ¼ c basil cut into a chiffonade
DSC_7737a
Toss the ingredients in a large bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper.
DSC_7739a
Transfer the vegetables to two large baking sheets.

 

Directions

  1. Place racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Heat to 400°F. If using convection heat, 375°F.
  2.  In a large bowl, toss the onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, rosemary, and 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt and a grind of pepper. Spread the vegetables evenly over two large 12 x 16 sheet pans. Don’t spread the vegetables too thin or they may burn (they shrink a lot as they cook).
  3. Roast, stirring the vegetables a few times and swapping the positions of the pans once, until the vegetables are slightly collapsed or shriveled, starting to brown, and very tender, about 35 minutes for my oven. It could take 10 minutes longer if you are not using convection heat.
  4. Scrape all the vegetables and any juices into a serving bowl. Toss with the basil, taste for seasoning, and serve.

DSC_7746a

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Ratatouille makes a great pizza topping.
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How could I resist posting a picture of Remy, the star of the movie Ratatouille  who presides over my kitchen from his perch above.

May 27, 2016 Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Tomato Basil Sauce with Capers

DSC_6957aBoneless skinless chicken breasts, the little black dress of dinnertime. A sautéed chicken breast with a simple sauce can make a delicious quick dinner or has the potential to turn into a dried out disaster. So it is very important to learn how to cook them properly. I’d like to share the method I’ve learned via Cooks Illustrated magazine that will provide excellent results every time.

The most important ingredient and foundation of the dish is the chicken. I use a chicken that is antibiotic and hormone free and not injected with water or other additives. My favorite brand is Bell and Evans, a little more expensive but definitely makes for a much better finished product.

The original recipe, written in 1993 called for the chicken to be rinsed under cool water. Research now shows that washing poultry can increase the risk of cross contaminating something else in your kitchen, the sink, countertops, utensils etc. So it’s best just to pat the chicken dry. The flour will adhere better and any bacteria on the surface of the chicken will be killed when you cook it.

Remove any fat, gristle or small pieces of bone from the chicken breasts. If the tenderloin is still attached, remove for another use. The chicken breast needs to be dried thoroughly on all surfaces with paper towels. Salt and pepper then lightly flour both sides of the breast before cooking. The flour produces a moisture barrier so the fat spits less and the chicken develops a browned crispy crust.

When you are ready to make the recipe, the whole procedure takes less than 10 minutes. It’s important to have all the ingredients, including the components for the sauce ready to go. The French have a phrase for it, mise en place. I have all the ingredients measured out in small bowls in the fridge until it’s time to cook. The only thing I would wait to do until the last minute would be to dry the chicken breasts. There is only a quarter cup of flour to coat four pieces of chicken and have found I use less than half of it. If you are gluten-free you could substitute a combination of rice flour and cornstarch or a nut flour. Working with one cutlet at a time dip it into the flour and evenly coat.

Turn your oven to the lowest setting or turn on the heat lamp above your stove. I have a commercial style cook top and have found I need to use a little more oil and butter to cook the chicken breasts than the original recipe. Place the chicken breasts tenderloin side down in the sizzling oil and butter combination. Set your timer for four minutes. Flip them over and cook on the second side for about three minutes, move to a plate and keep warm.

Add shallots to the pan, and sauté until soft, next add the garlic and tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are juicy. When I am not using tomatoes from our garden I like Campari tomatoes. They have an excellent texture (read not mealy) with the right balance of acid and sweetness. They are considered a cocktail tomato, a little bigger than a cherry tomato but smaller and rounder than a plum.  The original recipe called for seeding the tomatoes, I chose to skip that time consuming step. Add the wine or vermouth and the capers and boil until the sauce is thickened. Stir in chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste. The result? A chicken breast that is nicely browned on the outside with a tender and juicy interior with a delicious and easy sauce to accompany it.

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Sauce ingredients ready.
Lightly flour each cutlet.
Lightly flour each cutlet.
Add chicken to pan.
Add chicken to pan.
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Flip chicken after four minutes.
Sauce ingredients come together quickly
Sauce ingredients come together quickly

 

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Tomato Basil Sauce with Capers

Serves Four

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1½ to 1¾ lbs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ c all purpose flour
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 2 T vegetable oil

Directions for cooking the chicken

  1. Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels and sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper on both sides of the cutlet.
  2. Measure flour into a pie plate or similar container. Working with one cutlet at a time, press both sides into flour.
  3. Heat butter and oil in a 9 inch or larger heavy skillet until the butter has foamed and has just started to take on color.  Place the cutlets in the skillet, tenderloin side down.
  4. Keep the skillet on medium high heat, reducing heat if it starts to smoke. Saute the cutlets for 4 minutes on the first side,  using tongs, turn to the other side.  Cook for 3 minutes then remove cutlets to a plate and keep warm in an oven on the lowest setting or under a heat lamp.

Ingredients for the tomato basil sauce

  • 1/3 c shallots
  • 2 T chopped garlic
  • 2 c chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ c dry white wine or vermouth
  • 2 T capers, drained
  • 2 T shredded basil leaves

Directions for the tomato basil sauce

  1. Without discarding the fat, place skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and then the tomatoes. Increase heat and cook, stirring frequently until the tomatoes have broken down and become juicy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add wine, capers and any chicken juices from the plate. Boil sauce until it thickens, stir in herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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October 13, 2015 End of Summer Green Gazpacho

DSC_4896aSummer was officially over several weeks ago and the first touch of frost was on our lawn Sunday. That doesn’t mean the garden is giving up yet. There are still some tomatoes, peppers, both sweet and hot, eggplants and herbs ready for the picking.The tomatoes may not be the prettiest, but they are certainly the sweetest.  Joe has planted a large crop of spinach and salad greens in the garden greenhouse that we will enjoy for several months to come. After a week of indulging in Denver’s finest cuisine it was time to get back on the healthy eating track. What better way to use some of  these ingredients than in a cold refreshing green gazpacho?

Gazpacho by definititon is a liquid salad that originated from the southern Spanish region of  Andalusia. The name possibly originated from the Latin word “caspa” meaning fragments, alluding to the small pieces in gazpacho. You can make this as chunky or as smooth as you choose. I love the addition of avocados in our nightly salad with dinner and had a few extra ripe ones to give this soup a creamy texture. I used the bounty of our garden and the addition of a cucumber for it’s crisp sweetness. Give this soup several hours to chill and the flavors to blend.

Substitutions  are permitted, watercress for the spinach, that will bring a spicy kick to the soup.  Cilantro can sub for the basil, add a touch of Tabasco if you don’t have a fresh hot pepper, I would be happy to share.  I always stock up on vinegars at The Tubby Olive and used their Alfoos Mango in my soup, love them in our vinaigrettes too. If you don’t  have a fruit vinegar, use white wine vinegar and a touch of honey. A little chopped cucumber as garnish gives a little crunch and since our nasturtiums are still in bloom I couldn’t resist adding a few for their vibrant color and spiciness.

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A new crop of spinach in the garden greenhouse is ready for harvest.
A new crop of spinach in the garden greenhouse is ready for harvest.

 

End of Summer Green Gazpacho

Makes about 4 cups

  • 2 medium tomatoes or 12-15 small tomatoes
  • 3-4 small cucumbers peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 avocado, flesh cut into large chunks
  • ½c basil leaves
  • ½c flat leafed parsley leaves
  • ½ to 1 whole hot pepper, jalapeno or serrano
  • 1 sweet pepper, seeded, stemmed and cut into chunks
  • 2c packed baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-3T fruity balsamic vinegar (I used Mango from Tubby Olive)
  • Cold water to blend
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Water as needed
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Reserve ½ cup cucumber chunks and chop finely.
  2. Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, basil, hot pepper and sweet pepper, spinach, garlic and balsamic vinegar with cold water as needed in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth adding more water as necessary to achieve a smooth texture. Taste and season with salt, pepper and more vinegar if desired.
  3. Refrigerate until cold, pour into bowls and garnish with cucumber chunks.

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September 23, 2015 End of Summer Eggplant Soup

DSC_4242aEven though the temperatures are still in the eighties, fall is rapidly approaching and  it’s time to say goodbye to our summer vegetables. What better way to use them now and enjoy them later than in an end of summer eggplant soup. Another good reason to have soup on hand was the stomach virus that Joe and I suffered through last week. Nothing tastes better when you are on the road to recovery is a nutritious soothing soup.

I am still picking eggplants, peppers and tomatoes, but not in the same quantities as a few weeks ago. The days are getting shorter and even though the days are warm, the nights are definitely cooler. After an afternoon pick yesterday I came back with quite a nice variety of eggplants, several peppers and a few tomatoes.   This is the type of recipe you could make differently every time, depending on what is still there for the picking. I wanted to make this as easy as possible so I decided to roast the vegetable first before combining them in a soup. Carrying over on the easy concept, I lined the baking trays with parchment to make clean up a snap. I cut the eggplants in half and lightly brushed the cut edge with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.  On the second large baking sheet I added several tomatoes, peppers, an onion and some unpeeled garlic cloves, brushed everything with olive oil, and sprinkled on kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

I decided on a 375°F oven, the temperature we use when oven roasting vegetables. I checked the tray with the tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onion first, they were done in about 12-15 minutes, getting a nice toasty brown. The eggplants took a little longer, they are done when the skins start to collapse. Once cooled, it’s easy to separate the flesh from the skin. Squeeze the garlic from the skins and roughly chop the onion. I pureed the vegetables in the food processor in batches. Because some of my eggplants were seedy I put the puree through a food mill with a medium disc. Pour the finished puree into a stockpot. I added ground cumin, coriander, salt, freshly ground black pepper and a touch of cayenne. Add chicken or vegetable stock to thin out the consistency. Make some to enjoy now and freeze some for the cold winter months.

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Late summer harvest of eggplants.
Late summer harvest of eggplants.

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Place vegetables on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Place vegetables on a parchment lined baking sheet.

 

The skin easily peels off the peppers and tomatoes. Roughly chop the onion.
The skin easily peels off the peppers and tomatoes. Roughly chop the onion.
Eggplants are ready when they start to collapse. The flesh separates from the skins.
Eggplants are ready when they start to collapse. The flesh separates from the skins.

 

End of Summer Eggplant Soup
Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 3 ½lb eggplant, any type, halved lengthwise
  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers, or any combination, halved and cored
  • 3-4 tomatoes, halved and cored
  • 1 small onion peeled and halved
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly
  • ½t ground cumin
  • ½t ground coriander
  • 3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Basil leaves as garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Line two large baking pans with parchment paper.  Brush cut side of eggplant with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange cut side down in one layer on baking sheet. On the second sheet,  arrange tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, and onions, cut side down, in a single layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake vegetables until eggplant and bell peppers have a slight char on their skins. Check at 15 minutes, as garlic may need to come out earlier so that it doesn’t burn. Let cool until ready to handle. Remove skins as much as possible.
  3. Working in batches, pulse vegetables in a food processor, you can either roughly chop or take them down to a puree. If necessary, put the mix through a food mill.  Transfer vegetables to a large stockpot and add broth and spices. Cook for 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  4. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  5. Serve garnished with basil leaves

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