Cooking Italy: Shredded Carrot Salad~

29 08 2010

It’s Summer…time for grilling, barbecues, refreshing salads…  This recipe is perfect for all of those!  It’s not your usual carrot salad, with mayo and raisins…  Marcella Hazan has combined nothing more than the natural sweetness of carrots with lemon juice and olive oil for a refreshing salad that will go with just about anything!  This is a salad that you can make just about any time…because you probably have the ingredients all the time.  It’s just that simple.  Grated carrot. Lemon juice (there’s also a version with red wine vinegar), olive oil, salt and pepper… that’s it.  It’s bright in color, bright in flavor, and bright in contrast on the plate.  It was also a fun choice for Cooking Italy as a Summer dish that didn’t require spending a lot of time over a hot stove in the middle of the Summer!

Tasting Notes~
We really enjoyed this salad!  We were kind of surprised at the taste…you tend to expect the flavors that live in your head, and this salad didn’t taste anything like we thought!  The lemon brought such a bright flavor to the table!  WOW!  Not tart…but perky!  It pairs really well with all kinds of meat, especially grilled meat.  One other thing…it’s also really quick to put together!!


Artichoke Hearts in Tomato Sauce~

28 08 2010

Regardless of the fact that this was the first week of school, people still needed to eat.   Thankfully, there are a lot of Italian recipes that are incredibly quick and easy, not to mention healthy, that can be put together in about half an hour.  Being a working woman…that simplicity is huge in my life!  This is one of those “by the seat of my pants” recipes I just kind of tossed together because “it should work.”  That’s one of the reasons I love having a full pantry.  I can stare at it until I find something that should work, and by gosh, it usually does!

Artichoke Hearts in Tomato Sauce did work.  This dish is so simple it’s almost sinful.  For two people, you need a small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, a few fresh tomatoes, say…a pound?, half an onion, a clove of garlic, a dozen fresh basil leaves, a half cup of parmesan (freshly grated) and half a pound of thin spaghetti.   Put your pasta water on first.  If you’re using fresh tomatoes, we’ll have it do double duty.  We’ll dip the tomatoes in the hot water to peel the tomatoes before cooking the pasta.   While the water is heating…  Slice the onion into thin half rings, and chop the garlic.  Slice the basil into a chiffonade. Chop or slice the drained artichoke hearts lengthwise.  Set aside.  Peel the tomatoes by dropping them into simmering water, then into an ice water bath.  Slip the skins and discard.  Start the onions sauteing in a bit of olive oil, and give the tomatoes a whirl in a blender or food processor until chunky-smooth.   When onions begin to turn golden, add garlic.  When onions become golden, add tomato, artichokes and basil, a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Simmer until almost reduced by half.  Add salt to boiling water to season pasta, add pasta to boiling water.  When tomato sauce has reduced by half and is thickened, reduce heat to as low as possible to just keep warm while pasta is finishing.  Correct seasonings in sauce.   This sauce will be slightly sweet from the fresh tomato and have a bright flavor.  Add the parmesan cheese to the sauce just before you add the pasta to the sauce.  When pasta is cooked, drain quickly and toss in sauce.  A couple tablespoons of water from the pasta added to the sauce will help blend the two together.  Divide the pasta between two pasta bowls and pass additional cheese at the table.

Tasting Notes~
This is a keeper.  It’s so fast…so easy…so darn tasty…no meat…no effort…and did I mention that it was really good?  There was just the perfect amount of liquid in the sauce for the thin spaghetti to grab and soak up like long sponges, embedding the flavors all the way to their very hearts!  Now that’s what’s supposed to happen!!  I didn’t hear the slightest mention of anyone missing having a hunk of protein…  We used the tomatoes out of our garden and our basil.  The tomatoes are San Marzano tomatoes we’re growing here.  And canning as fast as they grow.   I’m so glad I’ve been cooking with the group at Cooking Italy!  I’m getting more and more comfortable going out on my own with ingredients now!

Royal Foodie Joust: Whole grain flour, berries, balsamic vinegar~

22 08 2010

It’s Jousting time!  That’s right…another month has passed and there’s another Royal Foodie Joust food challenge out there!  The selected ingredients for the month of August are whole grain flour, berries and balsamic vinegar.  Since it’s Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, that pretty much provides us a wide open playing field!  Although many things came to mind, this dish is the one that won out at our house.  My submission is Aebleskivers with Balsamic Berry Compote.  Whether served as a brunch or a casual dessert, these little morsels are fun to eat, and pretty darn yummy too!  There’s also another story here…

Several months back, Angela of Spinach Tiger held a contest-giveaway, where the prize was a gift set from Aunt Else’s Aebleskivers.  I ran across a recipe for aebleskivers (pronounced EB-el-sku-wyrz) back in 1973.  At the time, there was no internet.  No one I knew on the west coast had ever seen such a pan as one of these.  I’ve packed that recipe around for literally decades.  It seems like when I can find a pan, I’m not in a position to buy one…like I’m a mile and a half from my car…or my budget doesn’t permit right then…  So, I still didn’t have one yet.  Aunt Else was doing a big promo, and there were several contests going on, and I entered all of them!  I was really tickled to win the prize at Angela’s site though!!  We’ve been cooking together in several venues for almost 2 years now, so that was a really special win!

First things first…It’s a cast iron pan.  It had to be seasoned.  That’s why it has all those odd caramel brown spots on it.  It’s been thoroughly seasoned.  Do NOT skip that step.  It is imperative so that your pancakes will release.   The whole process was very easy…a little fine tuning will make things really fine.  I can see it takes a bit to get the heating of the pan down right…and the timing of the turning so you get round balls that are completely round and done all the way through.  They cook faster than they look like they would.

These little morsels turn pretty easily to about this point…then it gets a little tougher, and it cooks really quickly at this stage too.  There is a little tool that comes with the kit, or you can use a chopstick, or even a knitting needle as the original Swedish ladies did.

I confess, for the first time using this pan, I used the mix that came with the pan…and it did contain whole grain wheat flour.  *Ü*  It was important to learn what consistency I’d be looking for in a batter in the future.  I’m glad I did… I’d have been working toward something a little more fluid, and would have been very wrong.   The batter for these is very thick.  The batter is at least as thick as sour cream.

By the way, I discovered an easy way to grease the insides of these little cups…a squeeze bottle.  Put a little veggie oil in a squeeze bottle and drizzle the oil into the cup, then pour in the batter from a pitcher.

While all that was going on on one burner, on another burner we were making a mixed berry compote.  One-half cup water, one-third cup sugar, 10 ounces frozen berries and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar.  Bring to a boil, and cook at medium until the juices have reduced by half.   The berry mixture will turn dark purple and become very thick.  Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons more balsamic vinegar.

When Aebleskivers are cooked, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar and serve with warm berry compote.   I’m not sure how many you should figure on per person…they get kind of addictive…  I’d say at least 4,  5,  6…  *giggle*

Tasting Notes~
Serious keeper… Oh my.  According to tradition, you can also put a bit of apple in the center of the pancake…  I may get lost in a whole different food group for a little bit!  I can almost taste these with crumbled bacon in the center and maple syrup!   Another thought…  Bacon and cheddar in the middle…with a tomato-basil jam…  See what I mean?  These could be so evilly good!

Out of the Garden, Into the Jar…

22 08 2010

One of the things I love about Summer is the abundance of fresh tomatoes.  These, are San Marzano tomatoes, grown in my own garden.  I know they look kind of tiny…that’s ok.  They don’t have a lot of juice inside.  The seed cells inside are smaller with less gel that other varieties of tomatoes.  I’m not sure what’s keeping them on the diminutive side, but…that’s what Mother Nature dealt me, so that’s what I’m canning!  So far, each week I’ve had enough tomatoes to can 4 or 5 pints.  4 to 6 pints each week isn’t much work, it’s a quick canner load, it’s not much mess, but it builds up!!  I’ll be grabbing these babies all through the winter for anything that requires tomatoes.

How very interesting…  I just wrote a huge long post about canning tomatoes…which I’ve been doing for about 35 years…  Only to discover that there’s been a change in the recommended method for canning tomatoes.  Really.  Hmmmm…  I’ll have to research that some.  So…  Raw pack, water bath canning for tomatoes is considered unsafe, y’hear me!!  Don’t do what I did, because I don’t want your potential death on my conscience!   Even Mother Earth News recommends pressure canning…  University of Minnesota suggests a 90 minute water bath…  So many differing opinions!  I’ll go my own way and not make any recommendations to the rest of you.  *Ü*    I’ll just enjoy these rosy-red jars sitting on my pantry shelves smiling at me in the coldest nights of February!

Cooking Italy: Panzanella~

14 08 2010

Cooking Italy is back in session after a brief Summer break!  One of our August recipes is Panzanella…and I’ve wanted to make this for such a long time, so I jumped on it first!!

I should tell you some of the wonderful things about cooking with the group at Cooking Italy.   For one thing, our leader, Angela, is very gentle and easy-going.  She doesn’t push us to cook something our families would reject…if they’d try it, fabulous!  If they’d reject it out of hand, then, don’t waste the money or the food.  It’s ok.  Substitute another recipe, or select one of the other choices for the month.  She only asks 2 recipes a month of 4 from us.   The other thing is everyone shares so openly about their experiences, likes and dislikes and everyone tries to help each other, making suggestions and sourcing items for each other.  I just love this group.  Our abilities, preferences, and experiences are all over the map just like we are!  We are an international group!!  I told you about that, so the rest of my story makes better sense!

As I said, I’ve waited a long time to learn to make Panzanella…I was so excited!  Then, Group Leader Angela reports in that she made the recipe, but she didn’t like it.  She thought maybe it was the onion she didn’t care for.  Ok.  That could be understandable.  But it made me start wondering.

I read the recipe carefully…hmmm….onions sliced very thinly, soaked, rinsed and soaked, with the water changed every 10 minutes…  Interesting.  I decide I’ll be judicious, and not just ADD the onions… I’ll see how they end up tasting first, and go from there…  Thanks for the warning!!  Then I notice there is only just a wee bit of basil in this recipe, but not much.  I’m disappointed.   To me, fresh ripe tomatoes just beg for fresh basil to dance with.  So, I end up doing what I tend to do…  I start sourcing recipes for comparison.  Marcella, Giada, Mario, Lidia, Food Network, Alton Brown, Emeril, Epicurious…what’s in common?  What differs?  What are the proportions?  What do I have?  What don’t I have!?

I came to the conclusion that, as with many Italian recipes, the region of preparation has a lot to do with what is used.  Tuscany used the onions.  The Genoa area used more basil.  Closer to Greece Kalamata olives made an appearance.   Feta or mozzarella jumped in to play in some versions.  Peppers came into play in a lot of versions, including Marcella’s …I just didn’t happen to have one at the moment.  Some recipes used fresh sweet peppers, others used roasted sweet peppers.  In the end…this is my recipe from the recipes I read…and it’s a work in progress.  I’ll try adding this, and that as I have the other ingredients available.


2 large tomatoes, peeled, cubed
1/2 inch red onion sliced thinly, soaked, and chopped
1/2 French batard – I used Tin Roof Sourdough, sliced 1″ thick, grilled
1/2 cup chopped, peeled cucumber
1/4 cup basil chiffonade, extra for garnish
1/2 Tbsp. capers
1-1/2 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp. High Quality Ex. Virg. Olive Oil
2-3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Additional basil for garnish

Peel and chop the tomatoes, reserving the juice. Slice the onion into half rings; rinse and soak for half an hour, or until ready to assemble salad, changing water at 10 minute intervals.  Chop to make 1/4 cup or to your taste.  Slice bread into 1 inch thick slices and grill.  Remove crusts and cut or tear into 1 inch chunks.  With a mortar and pestle, mash capers, anchovies and garlic adding drops of olive oil until a smooth consistency is reached.  Continue to work in the remainder of the tablespoon of the olive oil.  Use a small whisk that will fit inside the mortar, whisk the vinegar into the oil forming an amalgamation.

Combine all ingredients and add anchovy mixture, mix all ingredients well, check seasonings and allow flavors to blend for 15-30 minutes.

One thing I noticed as I compared recipes was that there were a lot of the same ingredients in the “dressing” of this salad as there were in one of our previous recipes…Piquant Green Sauce.  I looked it up to compare, and sure enough.  There were a LOT of similarities.  Frankly, if I were in a hurry…mixing a bit of Piquant Green Sauce into red wine vinegar and olive oil to toss with the bread and veggies would work for me.  Just as an aside… *wink*

Let’s talk about the “onion” issue…  I didn’t like them either.  I don’t know if that means I’ll never like them, or I’ll never like the red onions, or I just don’t like the onions soaked, or just what.  I know that I went about it prepared to go with the recipe, but also prepared to adapt.  I sliced the onions very thinly into quarter rings, thinking that whole rings might be too much onion in a single bite.  Reducing the forced amount of onion in a bite might help.  You’d still get the flavor of the onion, the crunch, but not necessarily so much of it at one time.  Sorry about the aesthetic effect…if it’s not going to taste good, no effect is worth it.  After soaking the onion in several chances of water, I didn’t like the aroma, and I didn’t care for the taste.  I think I’d have preferred it as it was before the water treatment.  Oh well… My brave and helpful sous chef hubby was in the kitchen with me tasting and smelling with me, and we both agreed…the particular red onion we had didn’t necessarily benefit from this treatment…and onion needed to be kept at a minimum.  An essence of onion, not a fanfare of onion!  We can only get Maui onions a few weeks out of the year…sadly it doesn’t coincide with tomato season.  I’ll try to nurse on through to tomato time next year!

When I grilled my bread, I put a grill pan on medium high heat, and didn’t put any oil or anything on the bread.  I just put it on the pan.  I grilled it to the smoking point and got a lovely char on my bread!  It added great flavor, but didn’t affect the ability of the bread to soak up the juices of the tomatoes.

About the dressing…  I used a mortar and pestle…don’t hesitate to use your food processor, blender stick, blender or whatever else suits you as long as it will give you and emulsified dressing to mix into the salad.  I like to be in control of some things like that.  I’m strange that way.  No big deal.  *Ü*

I served the salad on individual salad plates garnished with a fresh chiffonade of basil, a grinding of fresh black pepper and a drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil.  Oh yum.  The perfect salad for a summer’s eve!

Tasting Notes~
This was as good as I’d hoped it would be!  It was similar to the flavor of Salad Caprese…tomatoes, bread, basil, olive oil…just no prosciutto.  This salad celebrates tomatoes!  The dressing of anchovies, capers and garlic are absolutely perfect to tease out the flavors of Summer from all the vegetables in the salad.  The bread is soft, but not mushy.  It soaks up all the wonderful flavors and becomes a little sponge bursting with all the flavors simultaneously!   We paired this with a grilled flat iron steak and sauteed mushrooms….and it made a great dinner.  We really enjoyed it as it was, but think we could probably increase the dressing ingredients…anchovies, capers, maybe garlic, maybe not…but vinegar and olive oil as well.  Not more basil necessarily.  The basil seemed about right.  Please…don’t be squeamish about the anchovies.  They’re just little fillets, packed in olive oil, and they’re kind of a salt substitute.  There’s just something magical in those little bodies that enhance flavors in an incredible way.  You’ll only see them when you take them from the jar.  After that they’ll disappear into the dressing.  I mashed everything up in a mortar with my pestle and a few drops of really good olive oil, until everything was pretty much amalgamated.  That way I knew I wasn’t going to find any pieces of anything coming back to find me.  You see…I don’t care a whole lot for “fishy” things either…  So If I’m advocating using the anchovies there’s a really good reason for it!  LOL!

Happy cooking!

Señor Frog came to dinner ~

1 08 2010

First, let me assure you…no animals were actually harmed here.   Señor frog was successfully rescued as you’ll see below…

This cracked us up…  We had chicken marinating in one container, I’d just made up a heavy quart of barbecue sauce so there would be some left for the chicken, and we were just marking time until it was really time for dinner.  Bruce went into the kitchen, and came out saying we had an unexpected guest for dinner… “Guess who ‘hopped’ in for dinner?”

We’ve battled grasshoppers tremendously this year.  They’ve hit our garden really hard, ravaged our blackberry vines, and have generally been downright destructive.  They also show up darn near everywhere!  They like to hitchhike.  I’ve found several in the house…quickly dispatched by the house kitty or myself, and we even had one that stuck to our windshield as we drove through town.  There are literally thousands of these insects.  The only time it’s cute is when the hen is running after them!

We’ve also started noticing cute little frogs coming in.  We live in an older home in a rural area, with a stream running through the property just yards from the house.  Bruce took one outside the other night; I was startled by one – but couldn’t quite catch it – while I was cooking a couple nights later.  They’re cute, all of 3″ fully extended, and we see them so often in this old house – though usually in the bathroom, that we’re used to them.

My first guess was “Señor Frog” … and sure enough, there he was, slippin’ and slidin’ all over the inside of my quart Pyrex measuring cup!  He’d gotten stuck down to his middle in ooey-gooey barbecue sauce and he was so slippery his feet wouldn’t catch!  Poor widdle froggie!  LOL! He couldn’t get enough traction to try to jump, and he couldn’t climb out of the measuring cup.

Ok, it’s me…I’m thinking of what’s in the barbecue sauce…vinegar…tobasco sauce… Poor Señor Froggie!!  I scooped him out and took him to the sink and gently rinsed him until he was clean of all remnants of sauce.  That took some doing.  Have you seriously ever tried to bathe a live frog?  While I believe in marinating my food, and I’d like to try frogs’ legs someday, this wasn’t the right way to go about it.   Once he was all nice and clean again, he posed for a few pictures, and then we went someplace a whole lot safer for froggies…the garden.