Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rosemary-garlic bread

This is a quick and good accompaniment to the preceding eggplant parmesan and a simple green salad. Sautéed 3 cloves of garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. Sliced a loaf of french bread down the middle (like making a sub sandwich), then cross wise into slices. Poured the garlic-butter-olive oil mixture over the bread in a baking dish, and topped with rosemary sprigs and an extra sliver of butter, then sprinkled the slices with coarse salt. Baked for about 10-15 minutes until golden and fragrant, then consumed with abandon and red wine.

Eggplant parmesan

Jocelyn came for a surprise birthday visit this past weekend (my birthday, not hers) and it was awesome. On Sunday we decided to take advantage of the serious eggplant bounty at the farmers market and make an eggplant parmesan. Actually, it turned out that this week at the Morningside Farmers Market there was very little else available other than okra, peppers and eggplants. I think we got there a little bit late, but still! I was hoping for some tomatoes. But no one had anything besides okra, peppers and eggplant. So that's what I ended up getting.

Eggplant parmesan takes a long time to put together but all the steps are simple and the end product is totally worth it. We used 3 different eggplants--one light purple one from Aviva's mom's garden, and two from Morningside: one dark purple and one stripy. Cut them up into thin slices of no more than 1/4" in thickness.Dredge the slices in a mixture of fine bread crumbs, cornmeal, salt and pepper......then sauté them in batches in a few tablespoons of olive oil. You'll likely have to add more olive oil to the pan as you go along. The slices should turn a golden brown in a few minutes over medium-high heat; flip them over to brown the other side, then remove to a plate to drain on paper towels. Get all the slices done then set aside until you are ready to assemble the whole dish.Meanwhile, make (or have already made) a simple red sauce. I usually do this as follows: mince one onion and sauté in olive oil until golden, add 2 cloves minced garlic, sauté another 1 minute, then add in a 28 ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes. Add salt and pepper, mash up the tomatoes and let it all simmer for 10 minutes, then add in a drizzle of the red wine you're drinking anyway. This time I also added fresh basil because I have so much of it right now.So, to assemble the eggplant parmesan, start by spooning a small amount of red sauce in the bottom of an attractive baking dish.Make a layer of sautéed eggplant slices over the red sauce......then layer some torn fresh basil leaves over the eggplant.Now make a nice cover of cheese over the basil and eggplant. I used sliced fresh mozzarella and fresh grated parmesan.Repeat these layers--tomato sauce, eggplant, basil, cheese--until your eggplant is gone or you run out of cheese or someone makes you knock it off. I made 3 layers I think.Stick it in the oven to bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. It should be all gooey and delicious looking when you haul it out.

Balsamic fig compote with goat cheese

I forgot to write about this when it actually happened, so this is a late post--I found the pictures and it jogged my memory. I made this with those same beautiful figs from my co-worker's tree that I wrote about earlier this month. Sadly, the fig harvest and resultant bounty is over for the year so my source has dried up. But still, this is a wonderful and simple dessert with that elusive sweet-salty-at-the-same-time thing going on.

I had some leftover figs from the gelato making adventure, so I just chopped them up into quarters and stewed them over medium heat with 1/4 cup brown sugar.When they began to fall apart (about 5 minutes), take them off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar. Let 'em sit for a minute to absorb the flavor then spoon the figs into little dessert cups and top with crumbled goat cheese.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Succotash with roasted green chile

This is a variation on traditional succotash; I used butter beans, fresh summer corn and green chiles from the farmers market. Aviva and Ali gave it positive reviews, especially Aviva. The roasted green chile is what really sets it apart from other succotashes. Ali kept saying she couldn't taste any chile but there were two big ones in there so the consensus was that she's just talking crazy.

The most interesting thing about making this succotash is the roasting of the green chiles beforehand. Honestly, I'm not sure what kind they were, I just grabbed them at the market because they looked pretty. You don't want super hot ones--I think they're just generally known as mild green chiles. These were not poblanos but you could probably use those instead although they might pack a little more heat. Probably any largish green chile will do fine. It's mostly those tiny ones you have to watch out for, Scoville-wise. Slice the chiles in half, lengthwise and shake or rinse out any seeds. That's the other reason you could tell mine were pretty mild--barely any seeds for the size. That's where the heat of a chile resides. Grab the cleaned out chiles with a pair of tongs and hold them over the flame of your gas burner. Keep moving the chile over the flame until it gets nice light char marks on it. Like toasting a marshmallow to perfection, unless you were one of those kids who liked their s'mores incinerated. Don't be that kid, at least not for chile roasting indoors. Don't burn the hell out of them, just get 'em nice and marked up. If you don't have a gas stove, you can do this by sticking them on a baking sheet under your broiler for about 3 minutes. But the roasting over open flame part is fun! When recipes call for roasting a red pepper, you can usually get away with doing it this way too--just de-seed them first and cut in half. When the chiles are all roasted up, dice them finely and set aside. Cut a piece of corn in half and slice the kernels off by setting it on its cut end and carefully scraping downwards with a sharp knife. One healthy ear of fresh summer corn should yield enough--about 1/2 cup of kernels. Set those aside as well and melt 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Add in 1 cup of butter beans (or, for our northern friends, lima beans) and sauté for 2 minutes, a little bit longer if they are frozen. Add 1/2 cup white wine, 1/2 cup chicken stock and the diced green chiles and raise the heat to high, sautéing until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half, salt, lots of fresh ground black pepper and the corn, stir well for one minute and then remove from heat. You can squeeze some lemon over the top at the end if you happen to have some on hand.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Perfect summer vegetable broil

My friends, I just can't do justice to the simplicity and complete and utter deliciousness of this dish--you all are just going to have to try it for yourselves. It is so easy. And it is so tasty. All you need are the vegetables that are so abundant right now (corn, tomatoes, okra, maybe some peppers...)and a little fresh basil, which is also pretty much walking up and letting itself into your kitchen right now 'cause there's so much of it in the markets. You will thank me and those you feed will love you eternally. Although they really should love you eternally anyway, on account of the fact that you just cooked them dinner. Think my hyperbole is out of control? Try and see.

I used 2 ears of beautiful late summer corn, a odds-n-ends assortment of tomatoes, about 12 okra pods and 1 medium-sized mild green chile. My tomatoes were lovely--a big Brandywine heirloom tomato that I cut into chunks, a couple yellow and red plum tomatoes that I sliced in half and a handful of little cherry tomatoes. I just left those ones whole. Then I sliced the okra down into diagonal pieces, a little less than an inch in length. By the way, have you ever noticed that okra is naturally sticky? After Nik and I were done playing with the okra, I sliced the kernels off the corn cob. It's easy to do if you cut the corn in half first, then stand it on a cut end and just scrape off the kernels with a sharp knife. I also added in the green chile, simply de-seeded and sliced. Everything got tossed together with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt & lots of freshly ground black pepper. Then you just put it onto a baking sheet and pop it under the broiler for 7 minutes--take a peek after 5 minutes to make sure it's not getting burnt. Pull it out and transfer the veggies to a serving platter and toss everything together with a handful of fresh basil leaves. It is so wonderful--the snappy texture of the okra and sweet corn together with the hot tomatoes...trust me, it's summer vegetable heaven.Pretty much right after dinner, Ryan and Betsy got in a truck and drove away to go live in Wisconsin. It's sad (although for really good and awesome reasons, I'm just being selfish here) and they will be missed.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fig gelato (gelato di fichi)

On my floor at work there is someone who has an incredibly prolific fig tree growing in his yard. He has been bringing in these amazing bags of fresh figs for the last couple of weeks--sends out an email saying there's figs to be had in the break room and everybody comes to get some to take back to their desks. It's really great. The tree is so bountiful that his branch of the office decided to sponsor a Fig Fest, wherein they served the sliced up figs over ice cream with honey and fresh mint sprigs. Delicious. So the tree continues to provide massive quantities of figs and so another fig fest was planned. I decided I'd like to try to make gelato di fichi which is one of my favorite flavors at our neighborhood gelateria.

Slice and quarter up about 1 pound of fresh figs. They are so beautiful inside--I read somewhere that they are actually inside-out flowers, botanically speaking. Cook the figs in a saucepan with 1/2 cup sugar for about 3-5 minutes. After they are bubbly, turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons honey--I used sourwood honey which has a potent floral flavor and is unique to the south. Stir in 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, making sure to get it smoothed out throughout the whole mixture. Add 1 1/2 cups whole milk and 1 teaspoon orange extract if you happen to have it around the house. Don't bother to go out and buy it special if you don't though. Cool the mixture down in the fridge for a half an hour then process it in your ice cream maker according to the directions that the machine came with. Mine is a cute little R2D2 looking thing from Cuisinart that works really well.

I took my gelato to work for the next fig fest and I think it went over pretty well. My boss had good things to say about it, while wearing her Maradona jersey.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Zucchini-cornmeal muffins

Zucchini really had nothing at all to do with this recipe--I actually used a mysterious vegetable known as a zephyr squash. But zucchini is ubiquitous and may be used interchangeably, so that's what we'll call these muffins anyway. Another interesting thing about the zephyr squash is that most are long and look just like regular zucchini...but every now and then you'll get a rogue round one off the same plant! Crazy! Of the batch for sale, that's the one I bought, of course. But despite the funky name and genetic nuttiness, they're basically zucchini, so let's just leave it at that. I actually got some long ones too and I'll do something with those later, but today I decided to make muffins or bread out of the big round one.

You'll need about one cup of shredded summer squash. I only needed to use half the big guy I got. I thought it would be all seedy inside, but when I cut it open I was pleasantly surprised. Not too bad! After you get it cut up into a manageable size, shred it up with a grater. You'll need to dry it off well because summer squash is really wet and will make your bread or muffins or whatever really gummy and nasty. So tip the grated squash into a dishtowel and wring it out really well. You'll be amazed by how much water squeezes out. In a big bowl, mix up 2 cups regular flour with 1 cup cornmeal (I used a mixture of fine-ground white cornmeal and yellow cornmeal to make 1 cup, but you can use all one or the other if you like). Add 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup regular sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of nutmeg or cardamom, and combine it really well. In another bowl, beat 2 eggs with 1 cup milk, then mix in 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of melted butter and the (more or less) one cup grated, drained squash.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add in the wet mixture, stirring it until it is just combined. It should be a little bit lumpy. You never want to overbeat the batter in the family of quickbreads or you risk flat, tough baked goods as a result. I think they take revenge. At this point you can make muffins or a loaf of bread. I made muffins (grease the tins first, duh) but had a little bit left over so I added some chocolate chips and poured it into a small pan to see how it would turn out. They both ended up looking pretty good! The muffins were golden and perfectly risen. I think they'll make good morning snacks for work. And the chocolate chip version is pretty awesome as well.