Zucchini Pasta

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This dish came about because we had too much zucchini in our garden.  Well — instead of too much — a bounteous harvest of zucchini.  I found this recipe on the New York Times website, and followed it pretty much to the letter.

Ingredients
2 pounds zucchini
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼
cup freshly grated Parmesan, for serving (more to taste)
¼ cup (approximately) light cream
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Wash several zucchini from the garden; pat dry.  Slice off lengthwise ribbons of zucchini, using a vegetable peeler.  Peel off several ribbons from one side, then turn the zucchini and peel off more ribbons. Continue to turn and peel off ribbons until you get to the seeds at the core of the zucchini. Discard the core. You can also do this on a mandolin, adjusted to a very thin slice.
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Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick pan, over medium-high heat, and when it is hot, add about half of the zucchini ribbons, salt and pepper.  Toss and cook, keeping the zucchini in motion until it is just soft and barely transluscent, but not browned (about 2-3 minutes).  Set aside, and cook the second batch.IMG_5830Put both batches back in the pan, and pour over a little bit of cream, then add the grated cheese, again tossing lightly over medium heat.  Adjust salt and add freshly ground pepper to taste, and transfer to a serving dish.We topped ours with a fresh bruschetta-type tomato sauce.

Judy’s Tomato Soup

Tom Soup1 Tomatoes

This tomato soup had its origins in a basketfull of tomatoes from our garden, and the winter delivery of a care package from my friend Judy, who is an amazing cook.  In her little dish was the best fresh tomato soup I’ve tasted, and it wasn’t until I was laid up with some surgery that she finally relinquished the recipe.Tomatoes prepped

Wash and cut in half a number of Roma-type tomatoes; no need to core.  Lay them skin-side down on a foil-lined rimmed cookie sheet or a broiler pan.  If you have eating tomatoes, cut those into approximate sized chunks.  Add one onion, chunked.  Squish three cloves of garlic over the tomatoes.  Drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil, and then liberally salt and pepper the tomatoes.Tomatoes roasted

Bake in a preheated oven at 425 for 40 minutes, until they are tender and even a little bit cooked down.

Place in a pot, and drizzle over some good-quality balsamic vinegar (about 1/4 cup).  With a stick blender, whir the mixture smooth, adding chicken broth as needed to bring it to soup consistency (probably about 3/4 to 1 cup of broth).

Now adjust for flavor.  Some things I usually add are:
fresh basil, snipped
heavy pinch of red pepper flakes
salt (to taste)
pepper
and if I have no fresh basil, I add about 2 Tbls homemade pesto.

Some garnishes are:
chunks of avocado
croutons
Hatch chiles, if they are in season (roast on BBQ, remove skins)

Tom Soup Garnishes Tom Soup withi Garnish

We roasted our tomatoes and onion, then placed them in a gallon-sized resealable bag and placed it in the freezer.  To prepare, we thawed the tomatoes and proceeded with the soup, as above. Tom Soup2

Mushrooms and Soy over Noodles

Soy and Mushroom Dish

Recipe adapted from Chris Jaeckle, All’onda, New York.
Published March 2014 in the New York Times
Further adaptations from Sam Sifton, and then further adapted in my kitchen.

Mushrooms and Soy wNoodles

Lemon Pappardelle pasta

TOTAL TIME: 35 minutes
Put the water on to boil for the a Lemon Paparadelle noodles from Trader Joe’s or use any high quality flat noodle that is at least 1/2″ wide. In between all other tasks, cook the noodles to al dente and the let them drain. Just before combining with the mushrooms, run hot water over them to freshen and unstick, the let drain again. Or, just get the timing down so the noodles are ready when the mushrooms are.

sliced mushrooms

FOR THE MUSHROOMS
About 20-30 ounces of mushrooms, thinly sliced (It’s better with a combination of mushrooms, such as Golden Oak, Crimini and Shiitakke, but it’s still quite good with just white mushrooms and crimini.) I do not measure, but when combining the mushrooms at the end, most go into the mixture, but some might be held back for another day. You be the judge.

Roughly 6 ounces cold butter, cut into 2 tablespoon pats
3 ounces butter ( for finishing)
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed through a press (or minced)
1/2 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon low-salt soy sauce
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION

  1. So as to not crowd the mushrooms as they cook,work in batches to cook them. For each batch, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan set over high heat until it has melted. Add 1/2 pressed clove of garlic, then about 2 -3 cups of mushrooms, and sauté 3 to 4 minutes, turning until browned, tossing frequently, until mushrooms are coated with butter and start to wilt slightly. The ratio is more important than the quantity (a small amount of butter and garlic to the mushrooms), so if your pan is smaller, use fewer mushrooms. Remove to a bowl, then repeat until all mushrooms have been cooked. Remove last batch to the bowl.
  2. Add the beef broth to the pan deglaze the surface, using a wooden spoon to scrape at the browned bits. Allow the stock to reduce by half, then turn the heat to medium-low and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, whisking to combine, followed by the soy sauce, cream and olive oil. Allow mixture to cook until it thickens a little, then remove from heat. Taste for seasoning, adding black pepper, if desired.
  3. Add the mushrooms to this, tossing to coat as well as incorporate any accumulated juices (can drain those out earlier into soy mixture if desired).
  4. Put the warm noodles in a warmed bowl, then top with mushrooms and the sauce. Serve immediately.

Summer Pasta Salad

Summer Pasta Salad with Asparagus and Tomatoes

Even though I call this Summer Pasta Salad, asparagus is typically a spring vegetable.  But I always make some version of this just as the heat begins to creep into our days, as it’s easy and delicious.  Add some bread, and bowl of fruit for dessert and dinner’s done.

Ingredients
1 lb. package of high quality cheese-filled tortellini
about 8 ounces of golden cherry tomatoes (2-3 handfuls)
about 8 ounces of sweet red pearl-like tomatoes
bunch of asparagus, about 15 spears
pitted black Greek olives, about 10 very large ones, or 20 medium
extra-virgin olive oil
good quality balsamic vinegar
red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
a light shake of cayenne pepper

Method
Toss the tomatoes with some olive oil and some salt and pepper, then spread out on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 425F for 15 minutes.  The tomatoes should still have their shape but be a little wobbly-looking.  Set aside to cool.

Blanched Asparagus

Wash, then prepare asparagus by snapping off the ends.  Hold your fingers at the end of the spear, letting it snap off where it wants to, then cut into 1″ pieces.  Cook in a gently simmering pot of salted water for 1 minute, then plunge into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking.  They should have some chewiness to them, but not crunchiness.  I always test first as some batches can take up to two minutes to be at the right texture.  To do that, grab one piece and put it in the ice water bath, then taste.

After each batch, place cooled asparagus to drain in a strainer or colander, then set aside.

Cooking Tortellini

Cook the pasta in lightly salted water on a gentle boil until done, but not DEAD-done.  You don’t want the pasta to fall apart.  Tip into a colander in the sink and rinse with cool water. GENTLY.

In a large bowl, place drained pasta, tomatoes, blanched asparagus, Greek olives.  Splash more olive oil on the mix, then some balsamic and some red wine vinegar (about 2-4 Tablespoons combined for the vinegars) then grind on some fresh pepper and salt, then a light sprinkle of cayenne..  Toss gently, then taste.  Adjust as needed.

Serves a crowd.

Fennel and Blood Orange Salad

Fennel Blood Orange Salad

I found this on Smitten Kitchen, who found it on the New York Times.  When I went looking for my typed file today, I found that it had been published in 2002.  I can’t believe it took me that long to finally try it and put it up here on the blog.  Well, don’t you wait that long.  It’s easy and quick and has miles and miles of flavor.

FENNEL AND BLOOD ORANGE SALAD
By Kurt Gutenbrunner
Published: January 23, 2002
Time: 30 minutes

1/4 cup very coarsely chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon walnut oil
1 medium-large fennel bulb, leaves and stems trimmed off
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large blood oranges
1 tablespoon paper-thin shallot slices
10 mint leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lime zest

1. Place walnuts in dry skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, to toast. Toss with walnut oil, and set aside.

2. Slice about 1/2 inch from bottom of fennel and discard. Slice fennel very fine on mandoline, starting with flat bottom side. Put in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and add lemon juice.Fennel Blood Orange Salad_1

3. Trim all peel and pith from oranges. Holding peeled fruit over bowl containing fennel, use sharp knife to cut sections from membrane. Let them drop into bowl. Squeeze remaining membrane over bowl to add remainder of juice. Discard membrane.  (This is how it looks before tossing it with everything else.)

4. Add shallots, mint leaves, olive oil and reserved walnuts. Toss gently. Sprinkle on lime zest, and serve perhaps as a first course with smoked salmon or as a side dish with grilled fish..

Yield: 3 servings.

 

Tortellini en Brodo

Translated, this means tortellini in broth.

We arrived in Bologna on a rainy October night, and asked the hotel desk for a dinner recommendation.  Da Nello, he said.  A restaurant just off the main square.  And then he said, “Tortellini en Brodo is very good.  My favorite this time of year.”  Apparently this soup is served when the weather turns cold, and since Bologna is the birthplace of the tortellini, I thought I should try it.

This is a photo of the soup that night.  They brought me this steaming bowl of tortellini and a jar of grated Parmesan cheese, which the server indicated that I should sprinkle over the top.  The tortellini were very small–about the size of my thumbnail and chewy rather than soft.  I doubted this serving would fill me up, but by the end, I was happy, warm and in possession of a new traditional recipe.

We found the food in the Emilia-Romaga region to be simple, yet incredibly flavorful.  I think it is because they use very high quality ingredients.  So when you prepare this ready-in-ten-minutes soup and because there are only three elements, be sure to use high quality ingredients.

Ingredients
1 quart low-salt chicken broth, good quality. [Note: I use Swanson’s and have good results.]
1 8 oz. package fresh tortellini from the grocer’s, often found near the deli section

Preparation
Heat the broth to a low bubbling boil, then slide in the tortellini.  Cook for 5-8 minutes until pasta is tender (but don’t overcook).  Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese (not the stuff in the green bottle–use high quality, please).

Mediterranean Chicken

This dish hails originally from Martha and I pretty much make it like she says, but don’t worry so much about the proportions.  If I think it needs more tomatoes, I add a few.  Likewise with the olives.  This goes together quickly and is good for a crowd.  Once I served it to over 50 people, and they all liked it (although I did see a few olives left on plates–guess they didn’t like those).

Cook’s Note: Like I’ve said before, I think the chicken breasts these days are beyond one person’s serving size, so I “fillet” them into thirds by slicing them on the diagonal, with the blade closer to horizontal than vertical.

This is the yield from two chicken breasts.  While the recipe originally called for 4 chicken breasts, I find that by filleting the chicken and leaving the amounts of the vegetable mixture the same, this will feed four nicely.

Ingredients:
2 cups grape tomatoes (1 pint)  *I like to cut some of mine in half, the long-way. I have used Roma tomatoes cut into large thumb-sized chunks and that works just fine too.  Different flavor, though.*
16 Kalamata olives, pitted and drained *The ones from the grocery store are bigger than the ones from Trader Joe’s, so use 20-25 of the Trader Joe’s olives.*
3 Tablespoons drained capers
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (although Martha calls for chicken breasts with skin)
Salt and Pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Toss tomatoes, olives, capers and 2 Tablespoons oil together in a medium bowl.

Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet over high hot until hot.  Add 1 Tablespoon oil and heat until hot, but not smoking.  Place chicken in skillet; cook until golden brown, then turn chicken over to sear the backside briefly.

Place chicken in oven-proof baker.  Add tomato mixture all around.  Roast until chicken is cooked through and tomatoes have softened, about 18 minutes.

Note: Martha says to use an oven-proof skillet, then you can just add the tomato mixture to the pan and pop that in the oven.  Now you have options.

Baby Greens and Quinoa Salad

On our regular Friday night date, we went to California Pizza Kitchen to share a salad and a mushroom pizza, our usual.  But CPK had a new salad on the menu, and I came right home and tried to duplicate it, with a couple of twists.  Since I didn’t measure too many of the ingredients, a lot of this is sort of “throw a little of this in, then throw a little of that.”  If you want the original, head to CPK, but this is a good approximation.

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
Cook the quinoa in the water, according to package directions.  Rinse under cool water, then drain.  Alternatively, you could cook the quinoa ahead of time, then chill it before use.  It also freezes very well. [Check other salads on this site for more detailed directions on how to cook quinoa.]

Place the quinoa in the bottom of a large sloping bowl, suitable for tossing a salad.  Douse the quinoa with some dressing: you can use any vinaigrette from this site, or any purchased light vinaigrette would do.  For this salad I used Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette and added a splash or two of red wine vinegar, as I think the ratio of vinegar to oil is a bit too low in many commercial dressings. I buy both of those things at Ralph’s.

 To the bowl, add the following:
About 2-3 cups baby greens, loosely chopped
1 large tomato or three medium on-the-vine tomatoes (from Costco), chopped
1/2 small jar of sun-dried tomatoes (about 2 ounces, from Trader Joe’s.  The variety I chose were already cut into strips so I just threw them in.)
1-2 ounces (about a handful) of toasted pine nuts (also from Trader Joe’s.  You can buy regular pine nuts, then toast them slightly either under the broiler and a watchful eye, or tossing them lightly in a non-stick skillet)
2 ounces feta cheese–I buy mine in a brick (keeps fresh longer) lop off about an inch worth and crumble it by hand
Chopped red onion.  I cut off 2 slices for a large salad, each slice about 1/4″ thick.  Then I chop those slices into a medium dice, of about 1/4″

Then I tossed everything lightly. Check for the salt/pepper balance.  I found it needed quite a bit more salt than pepper.  Since I always like to heighten the flavors a bit on grain salads, I used a light shake of cayenne powder, then tossed really well.  My cayenne is on the old side, so I use two light shakes.  To make sure I know how much is going in, I “shake” it into the lid, check (that I haven’t dumped half the bottle in), then sprinkle it over the salad.   Serve with a La Brea baguette, or some other fine piece of bread.

I think you could add some deboned rotisserie chicken to this, if you want to move it beyond vegetarian.  I always have some chicken in the freezer, ready to go, but it’s really a fine salad by itself.

Corn and Shrimp Soup

After doing lesson prep for my classes for so long that my eyes hurt, I wandered downstairs to figure out dinner.  It was a colder day, the first not-hot day we’ve had this fall and some rain was falling here and there all afternoon.  I wanted something warm for dinner, but not heavy.  Something traditional but with a bit of kick.  The soup cookbook fell out and after looking through it I chose a recipe to start in on.  But I took a huge turn off their recipe highway onto something wholly my own.  We enjoyed it and I hope you will too.  Oh, that red pepper?  It’s for looks.  You leave it in, but to add some heat, use Sriracha sauce at the table.

Although this looks complicated, get everything ready at the beginning as it goes together quickly.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 1/2 sweet bell peppers (I used 1 red and 1/2 yellow), chopped
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (or put through a garlic press)
2 stalks lemon grass
2 dried red pepper pods (more if you want more heat)
2 knuckle-sized chunks of fresh ginger
about 2 cups white frozen corn (can add more at the end if you like your soup with more “stuff”)
1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinsed and drained
2 cans chicken broth (14 oz each)
1 can coconut milk (about 14 oz.)
1 Tablespoon sugar
juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tablespoons)
pinch or two of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Melt butter and oil together in heavy soup-sized pan, saute peppers, shallot and garlic for 2-3 minutes.  Add chicken stock, broken-in-half lemon grass stalks, dried red peppers and the pieces of ginger.  Let simmer for 10 minutes.

Add in the shrimp and corn.  Let simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Fish out lemon grass and ginger.  Add sugar, lime juice, pinch of red pepper flakes, and cilantro.

Add coconut milk.  Adjust seasonings (add more salt?) and serve with Sriracha (Rooster) sauce at the table.

Note: I keep lemon grass stalks in my freezer.  I simply smacked them over the edge of the counter to break them in half, then threw them in.  Ditto the ginger (for keeping it in the freezer), but tonight I set it on a cutting board, and lopped off one of its chunks to throw in.

Shortbread Cookies

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I pulled a recipe for shortbread cookies out of a newspaper.  It was just another one of those recipe blurbs in a Food Section in a small newspaper (I think it was in upstate New York where I ripped this out). For a while, I lost the recipe and tried to duplicate its perfect proportions and always failed.  Happily, I found it again. While I see lots of shortbread cookies out there, many of them are rolled cookies, which forces you to handle the dough in extra steps.  I think the secret to the tenderness of these cookies is the lack of dough-handling: mix, dump, press, bake.

I also liked the recipe because it was always fabulous (providing you use REAL butter), I could made it in one pan, and it made a lot of cookies.  When the children didn’t have any cookies for their lunches, I could have enough for the week in under an hour. And when I take them to church and serve them to the ladies, they LOVE them.  So do I.

Scottish Shortbread

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Cream 1 pound butter (4 sticks) with 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir, or sift together, 4 cups flour and 2 teaspoons salt (can use 2 1/2 if your butter is unsalted).  Blend into butter mixture with a light touch.  Don’t overmix–you want it barely stirred in.

Press dough into a rimmed cookies sheet, moistening your fingers with cold water if you find it too sticky.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until edges are just browning (don’t overbake) and immediately after pulling from oven, shake a hearty amount of granulated sugar over the entire surface.

Cut into “fingers,” 1″ by 3″.  Of course, you can also make them square-shaped, which is what I did.  For a pretty cookie, before baking use a cookie press to stamp a design over the top in a grid.