Monday, August 30, 2010

Tomato, Mint and Feta Salad

May you be showered with a bounty of tomatoes! That is my wish for everyone everywhere. Tomatoes are truly fruits of the gods, and I am not embarrassed to admit that each summer season I remember, all over again, how wonderful fresh, in-season tomatoes taste!

Usually, there is no need for a "recipe" for a tomato salad, but since most people think of basil to pair with it (which I usually do) and probably fewer consider mint, I wanted to offer this suggestion. I was out of basil and itching for a tomato salad with some herb in it. Remembering that feta and mint is often paired in many Mediterranean cuisines (North African, Middle Eastern) I decided to give that a try. Wow! There's a reason mint goes with feta and the additional of tomato and some black briney olives brought it all together.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Parmesan-Crusted Roasted Zucchini Medallions

I have to confess, sometimes I just can't look at another summer squash and zucchini in particular. It just brings back too many memories of my childhood when my mother would send my sisters and I around trying to sell off our giant zucchinis. As a nine year old, I was already at that point where I felt more than a little embarassed, bordering on ashamed, that we were peddling zucchinis to neighbors. It wasn't for the money, but more that my mom wouldn't give them away (very few people actually bought them!) But she was such an entrepreneur that she wasn't going to just GIVE them away! All of that is to say that this recipe from her serves to erase any residual angst leftover from that memory - it's just that good!

Just when you think you couldn't possibly eat another summer squash let me tell you that you need to try this; carmealized, juicy (very!) medallions with a parmesan cheese crust. They were so incredible that I was beginning to think that I ate a baseball-bat size amount of zucchini and had to consciously force myself to stop. Eat them when they are hot, they are simply amazing!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pesto Rosso Farfalle with Lemon

Pesto Rosso is pesto made with sundried tomatoes, oil-cured olives and basil. I love this version of pesto, not only because I would eat only olives if that was a healthy diet, but because it brings together the oily, briney flavors of the Mediterranean even more so than basil pesto.

I first discovered the idea of pesto rosso in Patricia Wells' Trattoria cookbook, a great follow up to the first book of her's I bought, Bistro Cooking. Trattorias are the Italian version of bistros and her cookbook makes it all seem so simple.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Polenta with Parmesan and Butter

Polenta is Italian for cornmeal mush. Yup, ask any southerner and they'll tell you that grits is the same as polenta, only not cooked as long. It's poor people's food, and really tasty at that!

Of course whatever is deemed "exotic" becomes gourmet, given enough hype. Lots of high-end restaurants serve polenta as a side, and make plenty of people happy with its delicious creaminess. Don't get me wrong; I do not mean to slight polenta, its cousins or anyone who serves it. I love the stuff, I just find it amusing that such an inexpensive dish is so hyped by expensive chefs. To be fair, many great chefs are inspired by humble food and simply amp it up a bit with expensive ingredients. You can do that as well but one of my favorite ways to eat polenta is toasted with butter and some parmesan cheese. Simple, flavorful, delightful!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Zabaglione with Raspberries

As cliche as it sounds, people love the sound of the Italian language. Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda, Bananarama sang, "Robert DeNiro is waiting, talking Italian," and countless other pop culture references have women swooning over the spoken word of Italian. Well, cliches are full of truth, and the truth is I've always wanted to make this dessert because of its name; specifically the sound of its name.

[dzabaˈjonɛ] is the phonetic spelling, but I think of it as "zza-bag-li-own-y". Make sense? Maybe not but trust me, this quick dessert is so easy to make it won't matter if you know how to pronounce it or not. Of course the French also have a version they call sabayon, but I think the Italian sounds prettier! (I'm just a tad biased!)

People often add whipped cream to give it some heft, it's thinner than it looks. But I like the unadulterated version I made here.


2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup Marsala wine
drop vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Place all ingredients in a double boiler, ensuring water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. If you don’t have a double boiler, use a metal bowl that fits inside a saucepan without touching the bottom or the water in the saucepan. Bring water in pan to a low simmer and place bowl on top. Add yokes, sugar and Marsala in bowl and whisk continually over low heat until the zabaglione thickens and triples in size, about 10-15 minutes. Add vanilla and stir a few minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and serve immediately with fresh berries on top.


Recipes currently inspiring me: 

Seared Beef, Cucumber and Bean Sprout Salad at Essentially Healthy Food
Tarragon Corn at Simply Recipes
Green Goddess Dressing at Hedonia

Friday, August 20, 2010

Roasted Tomato Bloody Mary Mix

Years and years ago I used to attend and occassionally host a weekly poker party. It was penny-ante stuff, literally; the ante was a nickle and the highest you could raise was a quarter. High stakes, folks! Of course, the card playing was really just an excuse for poor grad students to get together and feast on snacks and drinks.

At my house we perfected the Bloody Mary; spicy tomato juice, worchestershire sauce, horseradish and of course all of the garnishes possible - dill pickle, green olive (stuffed with garlic or blue cheese), carrot stick, and celery. It was practically gazpacho with vodka! Always a hit with everyone, and we made them by the pitcher-full. Needless to say many risks were taken and much laundry money lost on the Bloody Mary nights!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Shrimp and Chinese Broccoli with Hoisin Sauce

Last Sunday I had a leisurely stroll through an unfamiliar farmers' market, always a treat! Although much smaller than my regular market, the Larchmont market had a few Asian vendors with fun veggies not found at my market, including bitter melon, fresh ginger and Chinese broccoli. I scooped up some of the later two and made this delicious stir fry.

I love Chinese broccoli because this version of the vegetable is stems with leaves, rather than the "tree tops" that common broccoli has. It also has a less pronounced broccoli taste and I find easier to cook with since the stems are generally the same diameter and do not need excessive attention when chopping them up.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pan Fried Okra - Southern Popcorn

I credit fried okra with shifting my finicky food palette for the best. Attending college in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1980s, the cafeteria food wasn't horrible but it wasn't always appealing. When the stress of school, a new culture (The South, in capital letters) and homesickness got to me, I looked for comfort food, which usually meant something fried. When I spied fried okra, something I have never heard of before but the lunch ladies told me was "real good," I decided to be daring and try it.

Yum yum yum! Crunchy cornmeal breading and hot sauce topped fried okra became my new best friend!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Creamy Mushroom and Wine Sauced Farfalle

This summer in Los Angeles has been unusually cool, not that I'm complaining! The sun is plenty hot enough so that having the shade temperature in the low 70s is heaven. It just means that I'm craving warming food in the evening when the semi-desert chill of this climate descends. Enter creamy pasta dishes!

This is a quick, wine sauce recipe that looks gourmet but is really simple; saute onions, garlic and mushrooms, add white wine and reduce and stir in some cream and voila, gorgeous sauce for pasta! Of course, adding parmesan is de rigor, regardless if this is a French-style sauce (the wine reduction and all). But the parmesan adds that extra creamy goodness so don't be afraid to add more if you like!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sauteed Zucchini with Garlic, Mint and Lemon

I am always on the look out for new ways to cook zucchini even though I don't have a garden overgrown with them (rural joke: why is summer the only time that country folk lock their cars - to keep out unwanted zucchini from their neighbors!)

One of my favorite ways to make zucchini is a simple saute of garlic in olive oil and then adding grated zucchini. The squash soaks up the garlicky olive oil and takes on a crispiness the longer you saute it. It's savory and yet a quick vegetable dish, delectable!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Italian Quick Pickle Veggies - Sotto Aceto

Inspired by a recipe I read in my new favorite Italian cookbook, The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz, and desirous of finding a new way to preserve I made Giardineria, Quick Pickled Vegetables. Sotto Aceti (under vinegar) is another name used for these quick pickles and most restaurants in Italy provide some assortment on their antipasti plates.

The "quick" part is a little deceiving; it is quicker than the canning version which requires being around a steaming hot bath for preserving your pickles. However, these aren't ready to eat for 5-7 days.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pumped Up Putanesca Pasta

Pasta dishes are one of those things that can be dull as a doorknob or out of this world amazing. I swear, it all depends on the stars and the planetary alignment, maybe not completely, but to some extend. The line up for this dish was clearly perfect because it was incredible. And simple. And fast. And fairly inexpensive.

I simply added some shrimp and scallops to a fairly traditional putanesca sauce - tomatoes, olives, capers and red pepper flakes - and presto! It was amazingly delicious. We just couldn't stop saying that as we shoved forkful after forkful into our mouths. "This, this is SO good!" I don't know if it was simmering the shrimp and scallops in the sauce that took it to another level or the addition of the grated parmesan (so wrong according to traditional Italian standards, no fish and cheese.) But it was lick the bowl clean good.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gomae - Japanese Spinach with Sesame and Soy

Spinach is one of those greens I am a bit finicky about. The ubiquitous baby spinach has no flavor to me and yet the spinach I love - the crinkly Bloomsdale - is only in season for a short time, and generally is only found at farmers' market. So I was delighted to find not only Bloomsdale spinach at the co-op but on sale for a $1.50 a bunch. Snatching up several bunches I brought them home to squirrel away in several ways.

First, I cooked up a bunch and froze it, always planning for a rainy day. I considered an omlet or a quiche but realized the eggy taste of either hides the spinach flavor too much at times. Instead I settled on gomae, a standard side dish at sushi restaurants that involves steaming the spinach and then tossing it with a highly flavorful dressing of roasted sesame seeds pounded with sugar and moistened with rice vinegar and soy sauce. This is the kind of dish where you have to remind yourself not to polish off the whole bowl once you make it!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Country Style Chicken Liver Pate with Sherry

Liver - it is one of those foods that you either hate or love, depending upon your personal psychological history with the organ. I was raised by a good German American who loved liver and fried onions and passed that along to her children. So I may be a bit biased when I say this pate is too die for, but once you try this, I don't think I will be alone in that judgment!

I could run through the long list of reasons why you should eat organ meats (or offals as restaurants call them) such as they are packed with important minerals like iron, folic acid, and copper, in addition to being high in B vitamins and vitamin A. Or remind you how inexpensive they are. Or I could just tell you that this pate is so simple and delicious that it will make you drop your pants! Meaning, you'll do just about anything for another taste!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bean Sprout Salad with Ginger, Scallions and Cucumber

Ever since making Gram Flour (Chick Pea) Pancakes last week, I've been thinking about the various ways vegans get protein in their diet. Pancakes almost always signify carbohydrates yet when they're made with a legume they provide protein - such a great twist!

Along those lines, bean sprouts look like vegetables, are usually found in the produce section of a grocery store and yet they too are protein, and highly nutritious and easy to digest at that. Recalling a recipe that a friend shared with me more than 20 years ago (which I promise to make soon) I realized that sprouts area great ingredient to build a light meal around.