Archive for August, 2008

Substantial summer salads

Tuscan Bread Salad

Tuscan Bread Salad

Wouldn’t you know it: The mood for salad struck this week, just as the hot spell finally broke and we got some rain? Where were my salad cravings when it was 100 degrees in my kitchen? As wilted as the greens in my refrigerator, I guess.

No matter. The salads I’m interested in this week are more than just greens-and-crunchy-stuff, they’re salad-as-a-meal, complex and flavorful but not the least bit difficult to make. And they use a lot of the same ingredients, but with quite different results. One brings back memories of my daughter-of-a-Southern-mother childhood; the other is a tradition from an entirely different part of the world. They’re both delicious – and they both benefit from an overnight stay in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld.

Tuscan Bread Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups hearty bread*, cut or torn into bite-sided cubes. You want bread of substance for this, and you want it a little stale; I used the heel end of a round sourdough loaf I bought at the farmers’ market last weekend; whole-grain bread is also wonderful.
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small cucumber, or a couple of lemon cucumbers*, scrubbed, peeled (if the peel is tough, otherwise don’t bother) and cut in chunks
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes*, cut in chunks, or several little tomatoes, halved. I used small BlackPlums from my garden
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped*
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp capers (optional)
  • 2-3 Tbsp fresh basil*, coarsely chopped and then rubbed between your hands to release the aromas
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Fresh greens*
  • Pecorino romano cheese

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F. Toss the bread with 1 Tbsp olive oil, lay it out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until the bread is toasty brown and fairly hard. Cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, capers and basil. Pour over the bread mixture and toss well to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the bread soak most of the liquid.

Before serving, correct seasoning if necessary. Dress plates with a bed of washed, torn greens, top with a generous portion of bread salad and use a vegetable peeler to shave a few curls of Pecorino romano cheese on top.

Serves two, generously (or one, with plenty left for the next day’s lunch). If you’re the sort of person who insists on protein at every meal, this is also very good with drained albacore tuna mixed in just before serving.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

Roast pork tenderloin with black-eyed pea salad

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Roast Pork

I know, I know: People who didn’t grow up with black-eyed peas sometimes find them a little off-putting. An ex of mine once sampled my traditional mom’s-recipe New Year’s Eve black-eyed peas, grimaced and muttered, “Tastes like dirt.” I can’t argue with that – but to my mouth, that’s “earthy,” and it’s a great flavor, especially when the beans are cooked from scratch instead of dumped out of a can. Now, normally, I automatically throw a chunk of salt pork or (when I can find it) ham hock in with black-eyed peas. This salad is so flavorful, though, it can do without (vegetarians take note). And while I’m having it as a dinner side dish tonight, I plan to eat it again for lunch tomorrow, all by itself, and quite possibly dinner tomorrow night, too. It’s that good.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked black-eyed peas (or 2 cans, if you must, or an equivalent amount of frozen black-eyed peas.)
  • 2 large tomatoes* (or an equivalent in smaller ones), chopped
  • 1 large cucumber* (or 2-3 lemon cucumbers), peeled if necessary and chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion*, finely chopped
  • A fistful of fresh Italian parsley*, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil*, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme*, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 small hot peppers*, seeded and diced (I dipped into my endless supply of little red chiles of unknown provenance, provided by a friend who grows them in vast quantities)
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Method

Cool and drain the cooked beans; if you’re using canned ones, rinse them to get rid of the liquid from the can, which is kind of nasty. If frozen, thaw them in the microwave, rinse and cool.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, tomatoes, cucumber and onions. Add the herbs and toss thoroughly to mix.

In a small bowl, combine garlic, peppers, olive oil, vinegar and sugar and whisk well to blend. Pour over the bean mixture, and toss until the beans are well-coated with dressing. Taste; add salt and pepper if necessary. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight. Serve with cornbread for a complete-protein vegetarian meal, or as an accompaniment to roasted pork tenderloin (rub a small, lean tenderloin with olive oil, pat on a mixture of paprika, dry mustard powder, cayenne and a little salt, and roast at 450F for about 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes or so to firm up before slicing on the diagonal into medallion.)

Makes 4-6 servings, and it’s a great potluck dish, too!

* Local ingredients, from the Albany farmers’ market or my garden

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August 20, 2008 at 7:18 pm Leave a comment

Summer stir-fry

Stir-fried shrimp and summer vegetables

Shrimp, globe zucchini, green beans

Stir-fry is a fall-back meal for many Americans: Slice up some vegetables and maybe some meat, throw it in a wok or skillet, douse it with “stir-fry sauce” (sometimes from a bottle) and, hey, instant food.

Lately I’ve been reminded that authentic Chinese or Japanese stir-fry, while not much more complex than that, uses specific cooking techniques that can result in amazingly fresh-tasting dishes that retain the flavors of each ingredient while marrying them with just the slightest amount of subtle, savory sauce.

The stir-fry I made tonight is not my own; I owe it directly to Steamy Kitchen, a terrific “modern Asian” foodblog. The techniques she uses are classic, the flavors bright and fresh, and the presentation downright gorgeous.

Shrimp and Zucchini Stirfry with Crispy Basil

I won’t repeat the recipe here, except to say that I used my wok for the whole thing, flash-frying the basil in a couple of inches of peanut oil, then turning the burner off and letting it cool down before draining most of the oil (now pale green and scented with basil) into a container for later use. I also had some green beans I wanted to use up, so I cut them in two-inch lengths, steamed them in the microwave (in a Pyrex dish with a few drops of water, covered with plastic wrap) till crisp-tender, then tossed them with a little hoisin sauce, and added them to the stir fry at the same time the shrimp was returned to the pan.

Two things about that recipe that bear noting: The shrimp, marinated in the slightest amount of cornstarch, sesame oil and salt, are cooked briefly first on one side, then the other, rather than tossed around in the wok as many stir-fry ingredients are.  Second, the sauce – soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar – is also made in a very small quantity. Less really is more here; dumping in lots of sauce results in a dish that’s steamed and soupy, while using less than a tablespoon, as in this recipe, coats the shrimp and vegetables with just a gloss of flavor, and leaves them crisp and fresh.

Globe zucchini, chiles, and green beans came from the farmers’ market; basil and garlic came from my own garden.

August 17, 2008 at 7:35 pm Leave a comment

Experiments in ice cream

Oatmeal ice cream with a blackberry swirl

Oatmeal ice cream

Summer fun – houseguests, festivals, travel – have kept me from foodblogging for the past couple of weeks, and also made me miss a couple of weeks at the market. I made up for the latter yesterday with a market run that netted summer squash, turnips, lemon cucumbers, a fistful of fiery cayenne peppers, a big white onion, poppyseed cake, smoked bacon – and a mixed half-flat of berries: blueberries, raspberries (I still can’t get enough) and two varieties of blackberry, including intensely sweet Hoods (which grow on virtually thornless canes, making for scratch-free harvesting).

I’ve been craving ice cream, and a serendipitous Livejournal entry by a friend in Califormia gave me two inspirations: Blackberry puree, and (no, really) oatmeal ice cream.

Hm. Blackberries and oats: That, plus some sweetening, is my basic recipe for a very tasty blackberry crisp. The thought of turning those flavors and textures into ice cream … hmmmm …

Lacking an actual recipe, I improvised, using ingredients on hand and a variation on the the basic cooked-custard French Vanilla ice cream recipe that came with my Donvier ice cream maker (the sort with a cylinder that sits in the freezer just waiting for the ice cream impulse to strike, and requires no laborious churning – just a few turns of the paddle and it’s done).

Even using reduced-fat milk, the oatmeal provides a lush, silken texture that’s absolutely decadent. With plenty of cinnamon and a vein of deep purple berry goodness running through it, this is a fabulous summer-time ice cream. You could probably even pass it off as a healthy(ish) alternative to regular ice cream, although “healthy” is not one of my concerns when I want ice cream.

The oatmeal does give this ice cream a good deal of texture. People who, like me, love oatmeal will probably like it. People who find chewy ice cream off-putting may not – but it strikes me that you could run the cooked custard through a food processor and get it close to silky smooth, if you liked, before proceeding to freeze it.

Oatmeal ice cream with a blackberry swirl

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk (I normally use whole milk for ice cream, but I had 2 percent in the fridge; in this recipe, there’s no loss of creamyness.)
  • 1/2 cup raw oats (I like steel-cut Scottish oats, but regular old Quaker oats would be fine. Just don’t use the instant stuff)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more, to your taste. I used about a tablespoon, but I really like cinnamon).
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups cream or half-and-half (I used 2 percent milk enriched with three-fourths of a cup of home-made creme fraiche).
  • 1 pint fresh blackberries (reserve a few nice ones for garnish)
  • Sugar and/or fresh lemon juice (optional)

For optional topping:

  • 2 Tbsp raw oats, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and golden-brown. Careful not to let it burn!
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
Oatmeal ice cream with a blackberry swirl

Ingredients

Method:

In a lidded saucepan, combine milk and salt; bring to a boil. Add oats and cinnamon, reduce heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. When cool, beat eggs and sugar into the oatmeal. Return to burner, cooking over a low heat and stirring constantly until the mixture is thick and creamy enough to coat the back of the spoon. Cool, then add cream and vanilla. Refrigerate several hours to overnight.

When thoroughly chilled, pour mixture into your ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.

Meanwhile, heat the blackberries in a small saucepan, breaking up with a wooden spoon, just until they begin to disintegrate and give up their juice. Press through a sieve set over a small bowl to remove seeds, pressing with a wooden spoon to get all the blackberry goodness. You should end up with an all but seedless blackberry puree. Taste; if too tart, add a little sugar; if too sweet, add a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Don’t be surprised if the puree gets quite thick; blackberries are packed with natural pectins.

When the ice cream is mostly frozen (scoopable but not hard), transfer to a lidded freezer container with a bit of extra space: spoon in a layer of ice cream, add some of the berry puree and continue alternating, running a spoon or spatula through the mixture a couple of times. Your goal is not a uniform blend, but ice cream with veins of berry running through it. Return to freezer for at least two hours to ripen. (Note: If, as I did, you use reduced fat milk instead of cream, the ice cream may freeze up too hard to scoop. Just let it sit outside the freezer for a few minutes before serving, or give it a few 10-second bursts in the microwave).

When ready to serve, mix the toasted oats with the brown sugar; place a scoop (or two!) of ice cream into a dish, sprinkle on some of the oat/brown sugar topping and crown with a perfect blackberry.

Makes a little over over a quart of ice cream. Share it with friends.

August 11, 2008 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment


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