Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bruschetta - where tomatoes SHINE

My daughter loves bruschetta. She requests it all the time. When we picked up our farm share this week and she saw the tomatoes and the basil she immediately shouted for bruschetta.

I also love bruschetta. I love it for its simplicity. It’s a “cruda” at its best – simple, flavorful ingredients chopped roughly and combined simply. It’s also a perfect summer dish. Bruschetta makes a simple, flavorful use of all kinds of amazing ingredients, with simple basic preparations. Because of the bounty of tomatoes this year, I’m posting a traditional tomato recipe today, but look around on-line and I’m sure you’ll find recipes using chick peas, roasted garlic, olives, anchovies, eggplant and all kinds of amazing ingredients. But for today, we’re going for summer simplicity. This is also a perfect summer recipe because nothing gets cooked, meaning you’re not introducing any heat to your kitchen!

What kind of tomatoes should you use for this? You can use ANY tomato you have. I used the beautiful little black cherry heirloom tomatoes. I halved the very small ones, and quartered the larger ones, so that I had uniform sized pieces. In the recipe below I call for “diced tomatoes” - but halving and quartering smaller heirloom cherry varieties is good, too.

Tomato Basil Mozzarella Bruschetta
• 1 cup diced tomatoes
• 3 – 4 leaves basil, stacked, rolled and sliced very, very thin. (Here’s a description of the chiffonade technique)
• ½ cup diced FRESH mozerella – use fresh, seriously. It makes a huge difference.
• 1 tbsp olive oil (a drizzle)
• 2 tsp balsamic vinegar (a smaller drizzle)
• Salt & Pepper to taste (a pinch and a grind if ya’ know what I’m saying….)
• A baguette or a loaf ciabatta or some other chewy, crusty, lovely bread, sliced.

Combine everything BUT the bread in a bowl and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture on to the sliced bread. Some people start with toasted bread, and that’s good too. Toasted bread will maintain more texture when the wet tomatoes are introduced, and for parties or any time the bruschetta will sit at all, this is preferable, and you should toast the bread. But at home, we like the bread untoasted, so it soaks up all of the juices. (But then you have to eat it right away, so it doesn’t get soggy, dig?)

This is such a simple appetizer, but we also enjoy it as dinner on easy nights, with maybe a little deli meat, maybe some olives, maybe a bowl of gazpacho.

Summer! Gazpacho!

We are definitely in the thick of summer here in Austin, and it’s only June! It’s too hot! It’s too hot to cook, it’s too hot to eat & it’s way too hot to be hanging out endlessly in the kitchen. But as usual, nature has the answer. The veggies being harvested right now are exactly the veggies you need for one of my very favorite summer soups. In fact, the vegetables this year are amazing. I don’t know how our farmers here in Austin are managing in this crazy weather, but we are getting such gorgeous produce.

Between the heat, and the bounty, I couldn’t wait to make gazpacho. Seriously. When I picked up my farmshare last week all I saw was the complete palette of raw ingredients for the perfect cold summer soup. And yes, I’m goofy thrilled to be able to make this soup almost entirely with produce from our local farms.

Fresh Tomato Gazpacho
• 4 fresh tomatoes, diced & divided in 1/2
• I fresh cucumber, seeded & diced & divided in 1/2
• 2 fresh bell peppers, seeded, cored & diced & divided in 1/2
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled & diced
• 1 small handful fresh parsley, rinsed and diced
• 3 – 4 leaves basil, diced
• ¼ cup red wine vinegar
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• A dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tsp salt
• Several grinds of fresh pepper
• 4 – 6 cups tomato juice, divided
• A few shakes of hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce – this can be added to the whole batch or to individual bowls at the preference of the eater)

Place ½ of the diced tomato, cucumber & bell pepper in a large, pretty bowl and reserve.

In the jar of a blender, place the diced garlic, parsley, basil, red wine vinegar, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce (if using in whole batch) & 1 cup tomato juice and blend until smooth. (The idea here is to get all of the garlic and herbs blended evenly throughout this “flavor base”.)

To the mixture in the blender, add the remaining ½ of all of the diced vegetables. Blend until mixture is consistent and smooth – but still textured, about 30 – 60 seconds.

Add this mixture and 3 cups of the remaining tomato juice to the bowl of chopped veggies. Now take a
look. Is it too thick, or just right? If you’d like it to be a little thinner, add more tomato juice.

Chill for an hour or so, to allow the flavors to blend, or you can eat right away. It keeps well in the fridge for 2 – 3 days, and works great packed for lunch. I like mine with a little cheese and crackers, or bruschetta. And don’t forget the pepper sauce!

Friday, April 29, 2011

What to do with all those greens?

Have you noticed, by chance, the sheer volume of greens out there? The depth and breadth? And it's not just the ones you think of, the ones that come uniquely whole which you know are greens (like chard, and kale); it's also the ones that come attached at the top of other things! Beet greens! Kohlrabi greens! Right now, there are so, so many.  My go to for all of these is to dice them and saute them in olive oil with garlic, onion and salt and pepper, and then toss them with pasta, lemon juice, and either feta or parmesan.  But even varying my types of pasta, and alternating between feta and parmesan, and using balsamic instead of lemon, well, after a few weeks of greens, we start to have a little fatigue over here. So I took one of my very favorite spinach dishes, spanikopita, and adapted it to use with our current farm share bounty.
I was really inspired by this article by Carol Ann Sayle, and I've been trying to use ALL the vegetable, whenever I can, since reading it.  And like a lot of people, I feel particularly challenged by kohlrabi. It's hard enough to use the bulb, but the greens, too?  (I'll use the bulb in a recipe for slaw very soon.) So with a plan to use as much of my share as possible, I headed into my kitchen.
This is NOT an easy recipe, but it's not hard, either. The only thing that really makes it "advanced" is the use of phyllo dough. There's no real mystery here, but you do need to plan ahead, and be patient with the dough. Phyllo dough is nearly always sold frozen, and how you defrost it seems to really impact whether it is easy or difficult to handle when you're using it.  I place the dough, still in the box, in the refrigerator the night before I'm going to use it - 12 - 24 hours in advance, so it has time to defrost. Then, an hour before I'm going to use it, I place it out on the counter, still in the box, so it can come to room temperature. Leave it in the plastic wrapping until you're ready to start buttering the dough and layering it in your pan. You don't want it to dry out, so keep it airtight until use.
I very literally grew up with a version of spanikopita from the cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure. My mom is a wonderful cook, and this was one of my very favorite things that she made. The recipe is really very simple. Spinach, onions, feta, eggs and some seasoning inside phyllo. I used this as my inspiration in creating the following recipe.
Instead of regular ol' yellow onions, I decided to use a mixture of the members of the onion family in my share last week.  Honestly, I think it was green onion and green shallot, but I'm not even sure. They looked just like this:

I encourage you to really play with this recipe. Use whatever greens you have. This is a great place to add all the various onion-y things you might have in your fridge. Spring onions, green onions, green shallots, etc.  Regular ol' pantry onions work great, too.


 1 - 3 tbsp olive oil
 1 cup diced fresh green onions, shallots, regular onions, or a combination.
 6 cups shredded, diced greens (this is the good part - you can use beet greens, kohlrabi greens, kale, chard, dandelion greens, whatever. Enjoy!)
 1 lb sharp feta cheese, crumbled
 8 eggs, beaten
 2 tsp dried oregano
 Fresh ground pepper, to taste (I like lots)
 6 tbsp olive oil, divided
 1/2 stick butter
 1 package whole wheat phyllo
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the diced onions and saute for 2 - 3 minutes.  Add the chopped greens.  You'll find this is easiest if you add one or two handfuls at a time, adding more as the greens wilt, so there's room in the pan.  Once they've all been added, saute for 5 - 7 minutes or until tender.  Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, beat the 8 eggs. Add the crumbled feta, oregano, salt and pepper, and finally, add the warm greens and onions.  Mix all the ingredients so they're evenly dispersed and set aside.

In a small pan combine 4 tbsp olive oil and 1/2 stick of butter. Heat until butter is melted and remove from heat.  Using a large pasty brush, butter a 9 x 11 baking dish. Unroll the phyllo on your counter or other work space, with your baking dish close by.  Butter one sheet of phyllo dough, and spread out evenly in the pan, allowing the edges to hand over.  I like to alternate sides and corners where the edges hang, so that no one area gets all the over hang. For instance, I'll lay one sheet with the edge of the dough nestled in the front right corner, and the overhang will go over the rear and left sides of the pan, and I rotate these areas of overhang as I add more sheets of dough.  Repeat until you have 10 - 15 sheets of dough in the pan. Now, carefully spoon the greens, egg and cheese mixture into the pan lined with phyllo dough, and fold the edges of the dough over to cover the mixture. You'll have an area in the center of the pan not covered - so let's do that now. Butter a sheet of phyllo, fold in half, and place over the top of your dish, and repeat 3 or 4 times until you have a nice layer of phyllo dough evenly covering the top. Brush a final layer of butter over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 - 60 minutes, or until the mixture is firm and the top is golden brown.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lovely Lettuce

Have I mentioned how beautiful the lettuce has been so far this year? I needed, just NEEDED, to make some gorgeous buttercrunch we received the star of dinner, so I played with the traditional lettuce wrap recipe, and created this:

Farm Inspired Asian Lettuce Wraps
1 head good quality lettuce (any variety with big strong leaves will work. I used buttercrunch here. Don't use iceberg - just don't - you shouldn't even have it in your house) carefully cleaned, with leaves separated.*
1-2 tbsp canola oil
1 lb ground chicken**, skinned and boned (but really, any ground meat will do. You could also use tofu, just the veggies, adding a full pound or so of mushrooms )
1-3 cloves garlic, finely minced (however much you like)
2-3 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 fresh carrots, peeled and then grated
2 - 3 green onions, diced (white and green parts)
4 medium mushrooms (I used shitake, but use what you have)
1 5 oz can water chestnuts, drained and chopped

In a medium sized bowl, combine the ground meat, the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil, and
mix to combine. Let rest so the flavors can combine while you clean and grate carrots and dice the onions, mushrooms and water chestnuts.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat and add the canola oil. Brown the ground meat mixture (approx 7 - 10 minutes). Add the carrots, onions, mushrooms and water chestnuts and cook until all the ingredients are warmed through.

Spoon the mixture into clean, dry lettuce leaves and top with sauce, recipe below.

Sauce for Lettuce Wraps:
1/2 teaspoon cornstartch
1 1/2 teaspoon water
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp agave syrup or honey
2 cloves finely minced garlic
1 tbsp peeled, finely grated ginger
Stil together the cornstarch and water and reserve
Combine rice vinegar, rice wine and soy sauce in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in the cornstartch mixture, sesame oil and sweetner. Cook over low hear just until this starts to simmer. Add the garlic and the ginger and simmer for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to warm or room temp before using. (You don't want to wilt your lettuce....)

*The best way to clean fresh lettuce for this or any recipe is to separate the leaves and place them in a very clean sink or tub filled with water, and rinse them carefully by gently swishing them around. Then, you can either lay them out to dry on a towel, or take them for a spin in a salad spinner.

**When I make this at home, I "grind" my own chicken from boneless skinless thigh meat. I usually have some organic thighs in the freezer - I defrost them about 80% of the way, and then toss them in the food processor with the garlic, the ginger, the soy sauce, the vinegar and the sesame oil, and pulse until the meat is a coarse grind.

Homemade Dressing

Spring is in full swing here in Austin, and the greens are coming at us fast and furious. We are getting really, really gorgeous lettuce in our farm share. Have you ever had farm fresh organic lettuce, the day it was picked? It's amazing. Just imagine, there are people out there in the world who think that pale white round ball wrapped in cello is salad - those poor people have no idea how flavorful, and how colorful, salad greens can be. So in honor of spring, and gorgeous salad greens, I'll be posting a couple of recipes for my favorite homemade dressings, plus a redux of a chain restaurant standard, with farm vegetables as the star (coming up next....).

One of the things I love the most about cooking from our farm share is the very natural way all of the flavors compliment each other. It's so easy and so gratifying to pick a few ingredients from my weekly share and combine them into one amazing dish. The fact is, produce that comes in season at the same
time very naturally tastes good together - that's how our tastes evolved. And that sentiment is the inspiration for some of my very favorite salad treatments.
We get fresh, tender garlic, shallots and green onions from our farm share, and I find they all work equally well in this dressing. I use as much as I can - the green shoot as well - to add both flavor and color. You'll be able to tell, as your cleaning the bulb, what parts are tender. Anything that looks good can be used in this dressing.

Allium Dressing
In the mixing container of your blender (see note below) place the following:
2 - 3 bulbs of either green garlic, green shallots, or a combo of both
6-8 TBSP of very good red or white wine vinegar
1 fresh egg yolk (optional, but it eggs an amazing viscosity to the final product)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
4 - 6 turns of a good pepper grinder
Get the blender or hand blender going, then very, very slowly, in a very, very thin stream (really, a series of continuous drops) add 1/4 cup good quality olive oil. (This is the time to use the really good stuff, since you'll really taste it).This is my very basic recipe.  A clove or two or three of fresh garlic, shallot of onion, plus olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. This works great as a dressing on lettuce, or as a dip for fresh veggies. 

You can all all kinds of other things before you add the oil, too. Some of my favorite variations include using the juice of a lemon in place of the vinegar, than adding lots of good fresh parmesan to the salad. I also like adding a teaspoon or so of good Dijon mustard, or an anchovy or two.

A note about blenders: I use an immersion hand blender for my dressings. The small container is a good size for these small batch dressings, and it makes for much easier clean-up, too. This was a good investment for me, because I make a dressing 3 - 4 times a week. A good ol' counter top blender works just as well.

The Easiest of the Easy

This is really just a simple reminder, in case you've forgotten. Roasted root veggies are delicious. And easy. Peel your veggies. Cut off the very tops and very bottoms. Slice the veggies into bite-sized pieces (about 1 inch) - mostly just make sure they're all the same size, so they cook evenly.
Place them in your favorite roasting pan and drizzle them with olive oil. Toss them around so they coat evenly, and sprinkle with some good salt. Place in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for an hour or so.
You can use almost anything. Carrots. Beets. Turnips. Potatoes (scrub, but don't peel). Rutabagas. Parsnips. Mmmmm.
The carrots and beets in this photo were eaten as part of a back yard dinner with very beloved friends. And they tasted soooooo good.