Archive for August, 2010

While I still believe that there is nothing better in August than fresh corn-on-the-cob with nothing more than butter and salt, this smoky-spicy-limey-salty butter makes a really nice change of pace for corncob slathering.  This would also taste great on bruschetta (however you pronounce it), grilled vegetables, roast chicken, steak… Hell, I’d eat this on an old shoe and come back for seconds.

I remember my grandmother making chili-lime butter for corn-on-the-cob one summer day.  I think I was too young to appreciate it then, but I hope she would approve of my addition of fresh garlic (and a lot of it, because the only thing as good as fresh August corn-on-the-cob, come to think of it, is garlic butter) and of my substitution of Spanish smoked paprika for the chili powder.

serves 2, but let’s be realistic—you’ll want to make more of this

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 T butter, softened
  • 1 lime
  • 1 t pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika, preferably the hot stuff)

Chop up the garlic.  Add it with a pinch of salt to a mortar and pestle; pound to a paste.  Add in the butter, and pound the garlic and butter together.  Juice the lime; add the lime juice and pimentón to the garlic butter.  Stir to combine.

Serve slathered generously over anything you desire.


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One of my favorite brunch dishes is salade lyonnaise.  Building off the theory that everything tastes better with bacon and a poached egg on top, it is one of the greatest salads around, but perhaps not one that is fit for weeknight dining, and certainly not one that is vegetarian-friendly.  Removing just the bacon for the non-meat-eaters or removing just the egg for the oophobes would throw the entire salad out of whack:  Bacon’s smoky saltiness complements the rich creaminess of eggs beautifully.  After all, bacon and eggs go together like, well, bacon and eggs.

I wanted a simpler, vegetarian salad that still highlighted the bracing bitterness of frisee with notes of smoke, salt, crunch and creaminess, all tied together with a tart vinaigrette.  Nuts were a no-brainer substitution for the crunch factor; blue cheese provided welcome creaminess and replaced some of bacon’s salt and savoriness.  To balance the blue cheese with some brighter notes, and to add the missing smoky element, my eyes turned to the bowl of cherries on the counter.  (I find myself making a lot of recipes with cherries and pecans, and that’s because they’re so damn good together.)  Ever since I got Seven Fires by the Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, I’ve been wanting to grill, sear and char everythingCooking fruit and incorporating it into savory dishes might be my new favorite culinary trick, and it works here:  The smoky charred cherries mingle beautiful with the vinaigrette and add bright treble notes to offset the bass of the blue cheese.

Best of all, it’s a much simpler salad to make than salade lyonnaise.  The pecans and cherries can be cooked in the same skillet, and that’s the only pan to wash up.  I’m not saying this will be the featured dish at a special brunch, but it can certainly be served as a quick and fast weeknight dinner, as well as a delicious side dish to heartier fare.

  • 1 head of frisee (and/or escarole)
  • 2 handfuls of pecans
  • 1 bowl of cherries (about 2 handfuls)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil, as needed (about 1/2 c)
  • 2 oz. excellent blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Stilton, Maytag, etc.)

Cut the root end off the frisee.  Wash and dry thoroughly.  Tear into pieces into a large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Heat up a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the pecans and toast carefully, shaking the skillet occasionally, until they become fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Watch them carefully:  You don’t want burned pecans.

Add the pecans to the frisee.  Return the empty skillet to the burner and set the heat to medium-high.

Tear the cherries in halve and remove their pits and stems.  (I find it easier to tear and pit the cherries with my fingers than to cut them with a knife.)  When the skillet is good and hot, add the cherries cut side down.  Don’t touch them for a good 2 minutes:  Let them get a nice sear on them.  When they have some char on them, flip them over with a spatula and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes.

While the cherries are cooking, make the vinaigrette:  Mash the garlic and a pinch of salt into a paste with the mortar and pestle, then stir in the mustard and the vinegars.  (I’m just about over balsamic vinegar, but here it adds a little sweetness that rounds out the dressing and bridges the cherries with the blue cheese.)  Whisk in enough olive oil to form a creamy vinaigrette.

When the cherries are ready, add them to the frisee and pecans.  Add the vinaigrette and toss the salad.  Crumble in half of the blue cheese and toss the salad thoroughly.  Transfer the salad to a serving dish, making sure some of the pecans and cherries end up on top of the salad, then crumble on the remaining blue cheese.  Serve.

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A great picnic salad, especially pretty if you use red quinoa.  Now that asparagus season has passed, you could try this with green beans or zucchini instead.  Go ahead and toss in a little chèvre, if you’re so inclined.

makes enough quinoa salad for 2 or 3 picnics, or for a week of light lunches, mid-afternoon grazing and midnight snacks

  • 1 c red quinoa, thoroughly rinsed (quinoa must be rinsed to remove its coating of saponin, which is not something you want to eat)
  • 1 bunch pencil-thin asparagus, washed, ends trimmed (and reserved for vegetable stock)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 t coriander seeds
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 orange
  • olive oil, as needed (at least 1/2 c)
  • 2 handfuls of pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

If you have a large pot with a steamer that sits at the top, then you can cook the quinoa and the asparagus in the same pot:  Fill the pot halfway with water, making sure that it doesn’t come up to the level of the steamer.   Put the pot over high heat and bring to a boil.  Stir in a large pinch of salt and the quinoa; reduce the heat to medium-low so that the quinoa cooks at a gentle simmer.

Put the steamer basket over the simmering water and put the asparagus inside.  (If the asparagus is too long, snap it in half.)  Cover the pot and steam the asparagus until bright green and just tender, 3-5 minutes.  (Err on the side of undercooking the asparagus:  It needs some snap to have some textural contrast with the quinoa, and besides, mushy asparagus is yucky.)  Set up an ice bath (a lot of cold water and ice cubes in a large bowl).  When the asparagus is done, immediately transfer it to the ice bath and completely submerge it to stop the cooking.   Let it cool for a few minutes, then drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, start mashing up the garlic cloves with a pinch of salt.  Once the cloves are in smaller pieces, add the coriander seeds and mash them into the garlic.  (The garlic will keep the coriander seeds from flying around like miniature BBs.)  Once the garlic and coriander are pureed, stir in the mustard.  Juice the orange and stir the orange juice into the garlic-mustard mixture.  Transfer this to a mixing bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil until a creamy vinaigrette (well, citronette) is formed.

When the quinoa is done (you should see a well-developed spiral in the middle of each quinoa grain, and most of the water should be absorbed), drain the quinoa in a fine sieve or colander.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Now we’ve got the asparagus, the dressing and the quinoa:  The only thing left is the pecans.  Place them on a rimmed baking sheet, crushing them lightly as you do.  Bake for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, just to warm them up; they should start to smell toasty and incredible.  (Be careful, though:  Nuts go from toasted to burnt very quickly, and burning does nothing good for their flavor.)

Chop the asparagus into 2-inch lengths and add to the quinoa.  Add the nuts to the quinoa and stir to combine.  Add enough of the dressing to coat the salad and stir to combine thoroughly.

If you wanted to add some crumbled goat cheese or feta, or perhaps a few chopped herbs (dill?), this would be the time to do it.  Try to refrain from eating the salad immediately:  It definitely benefits from an hour or so in the fridge.  Serve a dozen of your closest friends at a springtime picnic, or enjoy having a ready-made delicious and nutritious meal in the fridge for a week.

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The trouble with being a pedant is that, one day, your pedantry will come back and bite you in the rear.

After spending a semester in college studying in Italy (well, “studying” might not be the most accurate term), I returned with a little knowledge of Italian and a lot of self-righteousness about the way Americans approach Italian food.  Pasta as a main course?  How ludicrous.  Cappuccino in the afternoon?  Barbaric.  Cheese with seafood?  Puh-leeze.

This condescension extended to the pronunciation of Italian words, especially of America’s favorite appetizer in the ’90s, the ubiquitous bruschetta.  Now, Italian has got one tricky rule of spelling, and it’s not too hard to master:  The letters c and g are always hard (as in the English cat and gate) except when followed by e or i:  Then they sound like the English letters “ch” and “j”.  (Look at the word cappuccino:  The first c is hard as in “cat”, and the second one—well, two—is a “ch” sound.)   In order to keep a hard c or g before e or i, insert the letter “h” after it:  That pasta that you love with meatballs is pronounced spa-get-ee, not spa-jet-ee.  This is how Italian spelling works:  No exceptions.

Thus, it would irritate me to no end when I overheard people ordering “bru-she-ta”, not “bru-sket-ta”.  (What irked me even more—and still perplexes me to this day—is the existence of jarred “bruschetta” topping.  Bruschetta is toast:  You can top it with anything, not just tomatoes and basil.  But I digress.)  I started pronouncing Ghiradelli’s chocolate with a hard g, even though San Franciscans refer to the square whence it comes as gee-ra-del-leez.

But my entire phonological system collapsed when a colleague of mine referred to that bright red cured cherry that you find on top of your sundae as a mar-a-SKEE-no (which is, of course, how the word should be pronounced in Italian).  I had grown up referring to them as mar-a-SHEE-nos, and I suspect you did, too.  Well, if that just wasn’t sunlight to the blind:  I had been brusketta-ing all over the place, and I hadn’t even known it.

What can I do?  I’m left stewing in my own hypocrisy.  I wince when somebody orders brusketta or Geeradelli’s chocolate, but I can’t bring myself to call these delicious little cocktail garnishes “maraskeeno cherries”.  (Oddly enough, I have no problem referring to the bottle of Luxardo maraschino that I finally acquired by its proper Italian pronunciation, but I fear that pronouncing the liqueur one way and the cherries another way is an untenable system.)

Fortunately, this recipe, adapted from NPR’s Kitchen Window, is very easy to follow, even if I can’t pronounce the finished product.

makes a lot of cherries

  • as many cherries as will fit in a Mason jar or plastic container, washed, stems and pits intact
  • enough Luxardo maraschino liqueur to cover the cherries (I used about 1 cup)

Stuff the cherries (any kind will do—I used Bing) into the jar.  Pour in enough liqueur to cover them.  Put the lid on and shake the jar a few times.

Refrigerate the cherries for at least two weeks, shaking them every other day or so.  (They’re even better after a month.)  I’ve noticed that the cherries have turned a fairly dingy brown, but that’s because their color has leached into the liqueur, which has turned a delightful fuchsia (and is a delicious digestivo).  Clearly, those neon-red cherries you remember from your childhood ice cream parlor have more than a little Red No. 5 in them.  These delightfully chewy maraschinos, with their vague redolence of alcohol, are definitely more at home in an Old Fashioned than on a sundae.  It also goes without saying that these cherries are definitely not for children.

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You might have to wait until next summer to make this dish, but if your zucchini or summer squash are flowering, grab the blossoms and use them for some of the tastiest vegetable fritters you’ll ever have.  Squash blossoms are just begging to be filled with stuffing:  A simple puree of soft cheese (ricotta, chevre, mascarpone) with any of your favorite members of the onion family (chives, scallions, shallots) is just right.

This is one situation where deep-frying—or, at least, battering the blossoms and pan-frying—might be safer than simply sauteing:  Without a protective coating of batter, the blossoms splatter furiously in the hot oil.  As with all fried foods, season them right out of the oil and serve immediately.

serves 4 as an appetizer

  • 12 zucchini (or other squash) blossoms
  • 3 scallions, washed and trimmed, or handful of chives
  • 1/2 c ricotta
  • 1 c flour, separated
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c or more club soda, enough to thin the batter

Wash the squash blossoms inside and out, being careful not to tear them.  (Do check inside the blossoms, though, in case the random errant insect is hanging out in there.)  Pat dry.

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan with deep sides, add olive oil (or other vegetable oil) to a depth of 1 inch and place over medium heat.

Meanwhile, you can either mince up the scallions with a knife and stir them in with the ricotta and a pinch of salt and pepper, or you can throw everything into a food processor and give it a few pulses.  Check for seasoning.  Carefully spoon in about a tablespoon of stuffing into each squash blossom:  You need to open the blossom with one hand while spooning carefully with the other hand.  Again, try not to tear the leaves too much.  (If they do tear, just sort of mash the torn edges into the stuffing:  The ricotta will act like glue to keep everything together.)

Divide the flour evenly between two mixing bowls (one medium and one large).  Add salt and pepper to both bowls and whisk to combine.  Add the egg to the large bowl and stir to combine.  Using a whisk, stir in enough club soda into the flour-egg mixture to form a batter; it should be the consistency of a thin pancake batter, or of heavy cream.

When the oil in the Dutch oven is hot (a drop of batter will bubble vigorously and immediately rise to the surface), dredge four of the stuffed blossoms in the seasoned flour, making sure they are thoroughly coated; shake off any excess.  Put the dredged blossoms in the batter and turn to coat completely.  CAREFULLY (I recommend tongs or a slotted spoon for this) add the battered blossoms to the hot oil:  Start at the back of the pan and work your way forward.  Fry over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, until the edges of the blossom are golden brown and firm.  Using tongs, carefully flip the blossoms:  Again, start at the back of the pan so you’re not reaching across spattering oil.  Fry for 1-2 minutes more until the second side is done.

Remove the fried squash blossoms to a rack set over paper towels (or brown paper bags or old newspapers or whatever).  Season immediately with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve hot to your eagerly waiting friends as you cook the next batch.  (A slice of lemon or perhaps a little marinara sauce and a dusting of grated Pecorino Romano would not be unwelcome accompaniments.)

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