Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Padrón peppers with coarse salt


Summertime is the perfect time for tapas and cocktails. One of my favorite tapas is tiny padrón peppers simply fried in olive oil until lightly blistered and sprinkled with coarse salt. Pimientos de Padrón, or Padrón peppers, are heirloom peppers from Galicia in northern Spain and popular in tapas bars around Spain and the US. Over sangria and good company, I would frequently snack on a plateful of tiny padrón peppers at  Cafe Ba-ba-reeba, one of my favorite tapas restaurants in Chicago.

As delicious as they are, part of the fun is that eating padrón peppers is like culinary roulette: most of these peppers are sweet, while a handful are scorching hot. Some say the small ones are sweet while the longer ones are the hottest. I suggest that you take your chances and eat one (or a plateful).

It's really a no-recipe recipe, but in any case, here it is.

Padrón peppers with coarse salt

6 oz Padron peppers
1/4 cup olive oil
coarse salt, like Maldon

Wash and pat dry the peppers. Keep stems intact. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Fry peppers in batches, turning, until skin is blistered, about 5 minutes. Remove and let drain on a stack of paper towels. Sprinkle with coarse salt, like Maldon. Transfer to serving bowl.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wild Mushroom Tart


After a long day at work, I made a wild mushroom tart while whipping up a quick dinner, thinking we would eat the tart the next night for dinner. As expected the tart finished baking pretty late at night, long after we had finished dinner. But the aromas of melting bubbly cheese and roasting mushrooms flooded the air and tortured us all throughout dinner.

This of course meant that I sat dreaming about the amazingness waiting in the oven and once the tart finished baking, I somehow managed to get a second appetite to try a slice. It was so delicious and absolutely worth staying up late to eat. I was expecting it to be pretty darn delicious but it was jaw-dropping-stop-everything-you-are-doing-and-try-this-immediately good. 

This has to be the best mushroom tart recipe around. A buttery, crisp crust filled with a beautiful, woodsy mix of wild mushrooms (nameko, clamshell, king trumpets, black trumpets, and chanterelles from Far West Funghi) sauteed in butter and brandy, eggs, nutty gruyere and fresh rosemary and thyme. You can use any mix of woodsy mushrooms.

Thankfully I had pastry dough on hand otherwise the tart would have finished baking even later (I always make a double recipe when I make a galette and keep extra in the freezer). Partially bake the crust in a tart pan, cover with sauteed mushrooms, pour in egg mixture, top with gruyere and bake until a bubbly, golden crust forms.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Creamy Celery and Potato Soup


I have to be honest- celery is definitely not a vegetable that I enjoy eating. On a handful of occasions, I tried to snack on celery but found its taste to be too strong for my palate. As you can imagine I was less than enthusiastic about receiving a pound of celery in my CSA box *two* deliveries in a row.

When the first pound of celery arrived, I didn't know what to do it, so I tried snacking on celery sticks slathered with peanut butter. I ate a couple bites and it wasn't too bad (mostly because the ratio of peanut butter to celery was 2:1).  Then I decided to try celery the Mediterranean way and drizzled the stalks with good olive oil and lemon juice to make it less, well, celery-y. The first few bites were actually good but I could only eat so much.

Then the second bunch arrived in my next delivery.  Determined to find a celery-based dish that I could like, I decided to make a creamy celery and potato soup. After all, what could be more comforting than warm soup on those chilly summer nights in San Francisco?

The creamy celery and potato soup was delicate and downright delicious! I was absolutely amazed (of course I had very low expectations to start). The potatoes made the soup utterly creamy and balanced out the otherwise overpowering celery flavors. And the soft celery leaves made a lovely garnish.

Note that the original recipe called for celery root and potatoes, but I used only potatoes to soften the celery flavors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes and Fennel with Cannellini Beans


On a lazy, sunny Sunday I had a sudden urge to grill. Lacking an outdoor grill, I turned to my trusty Le Creuset grill pan. When I first purchased this grill pan, I was teased for purchasing yet another kitchen gadget for which my kitchen lacks room to store. It weighs a ton (especially if you also get the nifty panini press that fits inside oh-so-perfectly), but in the summer when I want to grill something and don't have a barbeque to attend, my grill pan comes to the rescue. 

Grilled asparagus? No problem! Panini with gruyere, caramelized onions and a touch of dijon for lunch on Saturday? Yes, please!

And if there is one thing that absolutely justifies my purchase of the grill pan, it is grilled zucchini in the summer.

I generously brushed the zucchini slices with a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, olive oil, crushed garlic, sea salt and fresh ground pepper and placed them on the grill pan until grill marks formed. I tossed the grilled zucchini with cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced fennel, and fresh oregano. I love the way the sweetness of the fennel complements the grilled flavors of the zucchini. The the fresh oregano adds an earthy, almost peppery, zing to the dish.

I wanted a heartier dish so I added sauteed cannellini beans and folded them into the grilled zucchini, cherry tomatoes and fennel slices. You can omit the beans for a light antipasto or add the beans to make a complete meal with a good amount of protein.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Farro with Fennel, Shiitake mushroom, and Parlsey


I joke that I really only make sides for dinner... small plates, if you will. Dinner regularly consists of various straight-from-the-market produce thrown into the spotlight as a main with a protein packed bean or grain, toasted bread topped with some delicious antipasti (spicy chick peas with red onions or crushed cannellini beans), and usually a beautifully roasted vegetable that we still dream about weeks later.

This farro salad is probably my favorite one yet! It is delicate and packed with a savory woodsy flavor from the shiitake and earthiness from the fennel. And it is healthy and full of protein. The dressing is so ridiculously good that I make extra to dress arugula or other mixed greens.

It keeps well for two to three days so it is great for a quick dinner. Since farro takes about 45 min to cook, I usually cook 1 or 2 cups of farro over the weekend and use it in dishes during weeknights.

If you are new to farro, you may want to read my previous post, farro salad with cherry tomatoes and lemon cucumber, for an introduction to the amazing grain!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pasta pomodori


Most of you already know that I prefer (and encourage others) to eat local and seasonal produce as much as possible. It's good for your body and the earth, and if that's not enough of a reason, it tastes a million times better! Friends who dine with us often remark at how I use such simple ingredients but my food is always packed with so much flavor and is surprisingly healthy. My response is always the same, use fresh high quality ingredients (preferably organic) that actually taste good so then you have to use less fat, less salt, and less sugar to add flavor to bland veggies.

I think tomatoes are the poster child of eating seasonally. In the summer months, tomatoes are juicy, earthy, and sweet and (gasp) actually taste like a tomato. I remember picking cherry tomatoes from our garden as a child and popping as many as I could into my mouth. This simple pasta is a beautiful way to use summer cherry tomatoes and captures the essence of summer. I love the idea of crushing the tomatoes before lightly cooking them. The garlic and basil add a fresh summer taste and the snowy mountain of parmesan complete the dish.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes


Against-all-odds, it was the perfect weekend; we had the most unbelievable, sweep-me-off-my-feet kind of trip to beautiful and utterly romantic Carmel-by-the-Sea. Imagine a white sand beach dotted with glowing fires and bathed in silvery moonlight and the sound of waves crashing in the night. Bliss (even if you have to work on the weekend).

What could make a perfect weekend even more memorable than light, fluffy and delightfully sweet and tangy buttermilk pancakes dotted with fresh blueberries. I will be the first to say that I prefer brunch to be savory over sweet, but there is just something magical about these buttermilk pancakes. And if you have leftover buttermilk, whip up a batch of these incredible buttermilk biscuits (warning: you may fight over who gets the last one).

Yes I grew up thinking biscuits and pancakes were made from a box and only ever ate pancakes at IHOP in college. But then in grad school, I had the most amazing buttermilk pancakes at the Hyde Park institution, Original Pancake House; my usual order of a Southwestern skillet with extra salsa came with a side of delicious, fluffy buttermilk pancakes which of course meant that I couldn't eat the rest of the day.

The key to making light and fluffy as opposed to dense pancakes is to lightly mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and leave medium sized lumps in the batter. To avoid burnt or under cooked pancakes, keep the skillet on medium-low heat and avoid letting it get too hot. And please, oh please, use butter not Pam and not oil! My last tip: heat the oven to 175 degrees, and as you finish each pancake, keep it warm in the oven until ready to serve.

To serve, I dusted the pancake stack with powdered sugar and passed maple syrup at the table. Happiness!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Zucchini, Lemon, and Ricotta Galette


You know, we eat pretty darn well around here most nights. Whenever I have a dinner party, I pour through my beloved cookbooks and plan different menus with multiple courses and even wine pairings. More often than not, I ultimately turn to our favorites dishes; they are simple, but delicious and I always find that people reach for seconds, thirds, and lick their plates clean. Food doesn't have to be fancy to bring people together; as long as your heart and soul goes into the food you make, it will leave people raving about the dinner party days later.

For several dinner parties, I've served a galette or flatbread as one of the courses and it has been a huge success. This galette, in particular, is a wonderful way to use up some of your summer zucchini. Onions are cooked in white wine with garlic and thyme. The onion mixture is folded into ricotta with grated parmesan, red chili flakes, lemon zest, a drizzle of lemon juice, sea salt and ground pepper. The onion ricotta mixture is gently pressed onto the galette dough, zucchini slices are layered in overlapping circles, brushed with olive oil and seasoned with flaky sea salt and ground pepper.

As evidenced by my leek and Swiss chard galette, tomato, onion and goat cheese tart, and tomato, nicoise, caper, and caramelized onions tart, we love tarts (or galettes) at Plate and Pour! I initially used the Dufour puff pastry dough (available at Whole Foods) but have been converted to making galette dough at home (thanks to the fabulous Alice Waters' recipe). I generally make the full recipe for two galettes and store the other in the freezer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fried Zucchini Spaghetti


By now I'm sure you all know that Gwyneth Paltrow has a new cookbook entitled My Father's Daughter.  As a subscriber to her newsletter, GOOP, I have come to appreciate that Gwyneth Paltrow has good taste in food and has good friends who cook elaborate dinners for her, including one of my favorite chefs, Mario Batali. However I didn't know whether or not she could cook. When I came across a collection of recipes from her book in the May issue of The Dish from Food & Wine, my curiosity peaked.

I was immediately drawn to her spaghetti with crispy fried zucchini slices. I love fried zucchini and used to order it with a heaping bowl of tzatziki at Greek Islands in Greektown in Chicago. In Gwyneth's dish, zucchini slices are gently tossed in flour and delicately fried to a crisp and then piled on top of spaghetti tossed with plenty of parmesan and torn basil. She suggested passing lemon wedges at the table.

In our interpretation of the dish, we sauteed some spring onion and garlic with a pinch of red chili flakes and lemon zest, stirred in lemon juice and reserved pasta water, tossing it all with the spaghetti and cheese. We topped the pasta with crispy fried zucchini and torn basil. We loved the combination of crispy zucchini with the grated parmesan. The lemon juice and the lemon zest added a nice brightness, the spring onion and garlic add a savory and earthy component to the mild zucchini.

We poured a nice glass of pinot and enjoyed our lovely dinner!
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