Sunday, September 16, 2018

Farro with Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Mint & Walnuts


The official start of autumn is this coming week.  But other than the changing of the light, there has been little indication from the elements that we are approaching fall.  September has, for the most part, been unusually warm.  Even during the week of rain we had earlier this month, it was a warm rain…it didn’t have the chilly feel that a spate of September rain usually brings.  And although I love fall, I’m not complaining.  I love summer too.  


I mostly point all this out to say that the foods of fall have snuck up on me. The market is beginning to fill with pumpkins, hard winter squash, apples, pears and cool season root vegetables (ready for harvest because of the waning of the light I would imagine…).  But I am still hungry for the foods of late summer:  fresh tomatoes, corn, summer squash, green beans, etc.  And thanks to the warm weather they are still in good supply.  So in the spirit of this moment, today I am offering a cool, late summer farro salad…filled with corn and tomatoes.  The calendar may soon say “fall,” but I anticipate being hungry for this salad for as long as the corn and tomatoes keep coming into the market (easily for another couple of weeks…).

The dish is a loose adaptation of a recipe in a recent addition to my cookbook library: the insightfully named Six Seasons (by Joshua McFadden).  The premise of the book is that summer—at least as far as food is concerned—is really three seasons.  Early summer includes tender young root vegetables and the tail end of the spring crops.  Midsummer is the season of melons, cucumbers, summer squash, several brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc), and green beans.  Late summer brings the full flush of tomatoes, peppers of all kinds, eggplant, sweet corn and shell beans.   Depending on where you live, his breakdown of the harvest will be slightly different from yours (in the Midwest, for example, I can get delicious local sweet corn all summer long), but in general, I love the idea behind his book.  I have always felt like “summer” was too vague a definition of the harvest.  Almost since I began teaching, my summer roster has included farmers’ market classes designated “Early,” “High,” and “Late” Summer.  Not only are the crops different, but each mini-season has a particular feel to it.  He captures and explains all of this very well.  Needless to say, I’m really enjoying this book.


I altered his farro and corn salad to suit my pantry.  He includes scallions, which I don’t tend to keep on hand.  But I always have red onion in my pantry…and I love it thinly shaved in salads.  The recipe calls for handfuls of basil and mint.  Unfortunately my basil had succumbed to a fungus the week before I ran across this recipe.  But I happened to have some lovely arugula—which is my usual stand in for basil during the spring and early summer months.  I thought it worked very well in this salad.  Finally, McFadden adds torn croutons (similar to those that I prepared for my BLAT salad a few posts back) to give some texture.  I didn’t have any of the right kind of bread thawed (and I was rushing to get dinner on the table), so I achieved a bit of crunch with a few lightly toasted and crumbled walnuts. They were just the thing.  And finally, I gilded the salad with a shower of crumbled Feta—whose salty, tangy presence makes one of the best summer salad garnishes imaginable.  I’m sure the original salad was good…but I loved my version.

This salad was not just delicious...  Like all good food, it was right for the moment.  It was filled with the vegetable fruits of the current season:  the last of the sweet corn, the final abundant flush of cherry tomatoes, and fresh mint from my garden (newly invigorated from a recent week of rain).  And it came together quickly on a day when I was short on time and much more in the mood to be out of doors enjoying the tail end of the warm summer weather than in a hot kitchen cooking.  I guess I'd have to say it was just about perfect food for the tail end of summer.  If you have the ingredients on hand...and you are still experiencing a spell of warm summer weather...you should definitely give it a try.    

 

Late Summer Farro Salad with Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Mint & Walnuts

I have given measured amounts of all of the components of this salad because I know a lot of people like exact amounts, but this is definitely a “to taste” kind of salad.  Please view the measurements as guidelines and adjust to suit your taste…  More or less onion…  More or less mint…  Etc….

3 T. olive oil
2 cloves peeled garlic, lightly crushed
1/4 t. hot pepper flakes
1 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro, rinsed
4 c. water
1 t. kosher salt
3 or 4 ears of sweet corn, roasted in the husk or raw, as you prefer
1/2 of a small red onion (about 2 oz.)
1 pint (10 to 12 oz) cherry tomatoes (mixed colors, if available), halved
1/2 c. (2 oz.) walnuts, toasted and coarsely crumbled
a large handful of arugula (1 oz.)
a handful of mint leaves (10 to 12 grams…or about 2/3 cup)…to taste…
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 t. hot pepper flakes
1/2 t. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. (or so) olive oil
2 to 3 oz. coarsely crumbled Feta


In a wide saucepan with a tight fitting lid, warm the olive oil over moderate heat.  Add the garlic cloves and pepper flakes and gently cook for a few moments until the garlic starts to acquire a light golden color.  


Add the farro and stir to coat in the oil.  Continue to cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring pretty much constantly.  The farro will begin to darken and give off a toast-y aroma. 


Add the water and salt and bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce the heat to low.  Cook until the farro is tender, but still has texture—anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes, depending on the type of farro you are using.  Let the farro sit off the heat for 5 minutes.  Drain well and spread on a sheet pan to cool.  If you’re in a hurry, place the sheet pan in the fridge.

If you are roasting the corn, you may do so while the farro cooks.  Place the corn in the husk directly on the rack of a 375° oven.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Remove the corn from the oven and using towels to grab the corn, peel the husks back and allow the corn to cool on a rack.  When cool enough to handle, remove the silks.  If using raw corn, simply remove the husks and silks.  Cut the kernels away from the cobs and use the back of your knife to scrape the cobs clean of the milky pulp still embedded in the cob.  You should have about 3 cups of kernels.

While the farro cooks and the corn roasts, cut the core out of the onion and slice very thinly lengthwise (preferably with a mandolin slicer).  You should have 1/3 to 1/2 cup loosely packed sliced red onion.  Place the onion in a bowl and cover with ice water.  Let sit for about 15 minutes.  Drain well and blot dry with paper towels.


When all the components are ready, place all of the ingredients except the olive oil and Feta in a large bowl.  Toss to combine.   Taste and adjust the seasonings so that the salad is vibrant.  Drizzle in the olive oil and toss.  Taste and adjust again.  Serve chilled or at a cool room temperature.  When ready to serve, mound on individual plates or a serving platter and scatter the Feta over all.   Serves 4 to 5.





Sunday, September 9, 2018

Swiss Chard & Sweet Corn “Spanakopita”


A frequent topic of conversation at my friend Nancy’s bake shop (where I work on call) is what to make for dinner.  We both love to cook and eat…and we each have our different food and cooking ruts that we fall into—having each other to bounce ideas off of can, and often does, lead to delicious meals that we just wouldn’t have thought of without the other’s input. 

A little over a week ago during this conversation I was listing some things in my pantry that I really needed to use.  A big bunch of Swiss Chard and a portion of a box of phyllo (left from a class…phyllo is something I don’t ordinarily have on hand) were among the things I had to work with.  Nancy suggested I make some kind of Spanakopita.  I have of course made Spanakopita in professional settings (those little spinach, onion and feta filled triangles are a staple of catering operations everywhere…) but for some reason had never made it at home.  What a good idea.

When I finally got around to making my Spanakopita, I discovered I really didn’t have enough chard.  The quantity of greens used to make a typical sized (13x9 dish) Spanakopita is two pounds.  I had a very large bunch of chard, but the trimmed greens still only weighed about a half pound.  I could have simply made some small triangles (like the aforementioned catering fare) but didn’t really want to do something so fiddly for dinner. 

Since my Spanakopita wasn’t going to be classic anyway (I was, after all, using chard instead of spinach), I started to consider the things I had on hand that would be good with the chard and would bulk up my filling.  Almost immediately I settled on corn.  I am almost never without corn in the summer.  I really think it is one of my favorite summer foods.  And it is delicious when combined with slightly bitter greens (kale, chard and spinach).   I already knew it would be good in phyllo since my leftover phyllo was in fact the remains from a corn and mushroom filled strudel.


While looking for alternate fillings for my spanakopita I had done a little poking around on line and had found an interesting looking “spinach phyllo pie” on Martha Stewart’s site.  If I hadn’t thought of using corn, I would probably have made this recipe.  I loved the idea of adding golden raisins to the filling.  But what I really took away from her recipe was the shape.  It was basically a free-form roll.…perfect for whatever volume of filling one might happen to have.

I loved the way my “Spanakopita” turned out.  It sliced beautifully and tasted delicious.  With a simple salad of mixed summer tomatoes on the side, it made a satisfying late summer dinner.  But since summer—and the season of fresh corn and vine-ripened tomatoes—is just about over, I should mention that I’m sure you could make it in the fall or winter.  Just use frozen corn (there is still time to purchase fresh and freeze your own!)….and choose a more season-appropriate side:  Perhaps a Mediterranean chickpea or white bean salad…or maybe a pile of cumin and honey roasted carrots….or possibly a nice rice pilaf, with a little tzatziki….  No matter what you choose, I think you'll be glad I had this particular combination of ingredients on hand when Nancy and I started talking about dinner.  I know I was.


Swiss Chard & Sweet Corn “Spanakopita”

When I made this, I only made one roll/pie (which is why all the pictures are of just one)…but it really makes more sense to make two.  As I mentioned in the text, my bunch of chard was very large—really half again as large as a typical bunch.  If you purchase 3 bunches of chard, you will mostly likely have the 1 lb. of cleaned greens needed to make two pies/rolls. (For one roll, you would need 1 1/2 bunches…)   The other reason that I wanted to post the recipe for two rolls instead of one, is that two rolls will use exactly a half box of phyllo—and most boxes of phyllo contain two inner packages that can be thawed and used separately.  If I had only posted the recipe as I made it (for one roll) a quarter pound of thawed phyllo would have been left over… causing a similar issue to the one that made me go looking for a recipe in the first place….  You can of course cut the recipe in half and just make one roll (as I did).

2 T. olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions (about 10 oz. total), diced
Salt & pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. minced fresh oregano
1 T. butter
2 c. fresh corn (cut from 2 large ears)
1 lb. stemmed and cleaned chard (from 3 bunches), leaves cut into rough 1-inch wide strips
2 eggs, beaten
4 oz. Feta, crumbled
1/4 c. (3/4 oz.) finely grated Parmesan
1/2 lb. thawed phyllo (18 9 x 14 sheets)
8 T. butter, melted



Warm the olive oil in a wide sauté pan—preferably one with deeper sides and a tight fitting lid.  Add the onions and a good pinch of salt a cook over moderate heat until the onions are soft and just beginning to caramelize (about 15 minutes).



Add the garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant.  Add the butter and when it has melted, add the corn and cook until the corn is hot and sizzling.  Begin to add the chard a handful at a time, turning with tongs to coat in the fat and vegetables and adding successive handfuls as the chard collapses.  (If the chard is dry, add a splash of water to the pan—otherwise, the water clinging to the leaves from washing will be sufficient to facilitate the cooking process.) When all the chard has been added, season lightly with salt, cover the pan and cook over low heat until the chard has completely collapsed and is tender.  Uncover the chard, taste and correct the seasoning.  Continue to cook until any excess moisture has evaporated.  Set the chard and corn mixture aside and cool to room temperature.



In a large bowl, combine the cooled chard, the eggs, Feta and Parmesan.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  You are now ready to build the rolls.

To form the rolls, lay a piece of plastic wrap on the counter.  Lay the stack of phyllo on top of the plastic and cover with another sheet of plastic, lightly pressing the edges to seal.  It is important as you work with the phyllo that you keep it covered at all times.  It dries out very quickly and is impossible to work with once it dries out.  Some people cover the phyllo with a damp towel instead of plastic wrap, but I think this makes the phyllo soggy.

Lay one sheet of phyllo on your work surface with the long side parallel to the edge of the counter.  Brush the sheet lightly with butter (don't overdo it or the finished pie will be greasy instead of crisp and light).  Place another sheet of phyllo on top of the first.  Brush lightly with more butter.  Repeat with seven more sheets of phyllo for a total of nine layers.



Arrange half the chard filling down the center third of the buttered phyllo, leaving an inch of so free of filling at both ends.  Fold one of the long edges up and over and then fold the other up and over—overlapping the other edge by about an inch.  Pinch the ends…or fold and tuck under slightly.  It isn’t necessary that this be beautiful—you just want to discourage the filling from oozing out the ends while the rolls cook.  Brush the surface with butter



and roll the log over so the seam is down.  Transfer to one side of a parchment-lined baking sheet, keeping the seam side down and brushing the top and sides with more butter.  



Repeat this process with the remaining filling and another nine sheets of phyllo, placing the second roll on the same baking sheet as the first.  Make sure there are several inches between the two rolls so that they will be able to brown on all sides as they cook.  Using a sharp knife, make 7 or 8 diagonal cuts on the top of each roll (cutting just deeply enough to go through all 9 layers of phyllo and expose the filling).      

Transfer the phyllo rolls to a 375° oven and bake until they are golden brown all over and the filling is bubbling through the slashes….about 40 to 45 minutes. 

Cool slightly before serving. Using a serrated knife, trim away the ends.  Then, cut the rolls on the diagonal to portion.  Each roll will serve 3 as an entrée and 6 to 8 as an appetizer. 


Monday, September 3, 2018

Marinated Summer Squash…with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers



Earlier this summer I had an unfortunate experience with a recipe for marinated summer squash.  I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on during the cooking process…I think I was distracted...and I was just blindly following a recipe in an attempt to get dinner on the table quickly.  (It happens to us all!)  The result was mushy…and oily…and kind of awful.  Because this was early in the summer, I’ve had the whole growing season to be sort of peripherally obsessed with marinated summer squash.  I’ve noticed it whenever a recipe for it crossed my path (which—surprisingly—happened with some frequency), and I’ve made several variations now.


Early on I happened across a great basic recipe from The Canal House.  I love recipes like this—no-frills, “method” recipes that enhance your understanding of a process and can then be used as a foundation for all kinds of variations.  Once you have the method recipe for something in your repertoire, you then begin to see it being used within more elaborate recipes all the time…and even when the more elaborate recipe is poorly or obscurely written, if you like the dish that recipe is trying to convey, you can then use your knowledge of the basic method…and the idea presented in the new recipe…and produce something delicious to eat. 

The basic method for marinated squash is to cook large pieces of squash 



(grill, broil, roast, sauté in a skillet, etc.) until golden brown and just tender (should still have a bit of resistance in the center) 




and then dress it with a tangy, garlicky, herby dressing while still warm. 



Then, all you have to do is let the squash sit and marinate until it has cooled to room temperature.  At that point you can enjoy it right away…or the next day (or later).  It is good chilled, at room temperature, or reheated.  The trick for success is choosing small, tender squash



...and then being careful not to overcook it (no matter what size you end up with).


I have run across variations on this basic method ranging from simple to complex.  Bon Appétit had a recipe in June with hazelnuts and mint (served on a bed of ricotta).  Joshua McFadden in his book Six Seasons includes a recipe with cherry tomatoes and a complex vinaigrette made with capers, raisins, anchovies and loads of parsley.  For subtle crunch, he tops the whole dish with a shower of toasted breadcrumbs.  



Michael Solomonov (Zahav) spoons his marinated squash over a “charred zucchini baba ganoush” and tops it with feta and hazelnuts. In her book Fresh from the Farmers’ Market, Janet Fletcher makes her vinaigrette with tomato concassé, niçoise olives, and capers.

Marinated squash can be served as a side dish (it’s especially nice with fish, chicken and lamb), but that’s just the beginning.  As demonstrated by the Bon Appétit and Solomonov versions, it is perfect for serving on top of a smear of ricotta, hummus…or other favorite spread.  If you add a loaf of crusty bread…or some warm flatbread…you have dinner.   At my table, I have served this squash for dinner on top of a big mound of fresh corn polenta…and as a side to halibut and toasted pine nut couscous.  




And I have enjoyed it for lunch with a custardy, soft cooked egg and a mound of warm freekeh.  




My favorite version is a hybrid of several of the recipes mentioned above (and it’s the one I’m including in my post).  Once you make it, I imagine you will come up with your own variations…and find a myriad of ways in which to serve it.

Marinated Summer Squash with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, & Capers

1 lb. firm small summer squash (a mix of shapes and colors, if possible)
1 T. olive oil
Salt & pepper
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
1/2 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved (mixed colors, if available)
1 1/2 T. capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/3 c. Kalamata (or other favorite brine-cured olive), halved
1/3 c. olive oil
10 to 12 large fresh basil leaves, cut in a medium chiffonnade
1/4 c. toasted breadcrumbs or toasted walnuts


Trim the squash.  For cylindrical squash, halve each squash lengthwise.  If the squash are on the large size (larger than 4 or 5 oz.), cut each in half again lengthwise.  Your goal is long slabs that are about 1/2-to 3/4-inch thick.  For patty pan-style squash, cut in half horizontally through the equator.  Again, if they are on the large side, you may want to cut these slices in half (to make semi-circles) or if the squash is extra tall, you may just want to cut it in 3 thick slices horizontally.  As with the zucchini, your goal is slabs that are 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. 



Heat your grill or broiler to high.  Place the squash in a bowl and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  If you are broiling the squash, spread it on a baking sheet.  Slide the pan under the broiler or, alternatively, arrange the squash on the grill.  Grill or broil, turning occasionally, until both sides of the squash are lightly browned and just tender, but not mushy—there will still be a small amount of resistance in the center of the squash.  (Alternatively, you can simply brown the squash in a skillet on the stove top.  Film the pan with oil and cook over medium to medium-high heat, starting with a cut surface and then turning as the squash brown.)



While the squash cooks, place the vinegar in a large bowl.  Using a microplaner, grate the garlic into the bowl.  Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and olive oil.  Season generously with salt & pepper and toss to combine.



When the squash is tender, transfer to a wide, shallow dish and season with salt.  (If any of the squash is longer than 4 inches, then cut those in half first.) Pour the tomato salad over the squash and add



Let the squash sit for at least half an hour before serving, gently tossing the ingredients a time or two as they sit.  The squash may be gently warmed or served at room temperature.  To serve, transfer to a serving platter and shower with toasted bread crumbs or walnuts.  Serves 4.

Toasted Breadcrumbs:  Remove the crusts from a day old baguette or a few slices of artisanal style white bread.  Place in the food processor and process until bread is reduced a mixture of crumbs ranging from fine to pieces that are about the size of a pea.  Spread the crumbs in a small baking pan or pie plate and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil.  Toss to distribute the olive oil and moisten all of the crumbs.  Transfer to a 350° to 375° oven and bake, stirring at five minute intervals, until the crumbs are golden brown and crisp.  Let cool.  Toasted breadcrumbs may be stored for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container.   Freeze for longer storage.

Toasted Walnuts:  Spread the walnuts in a small baking dish and place in a 350° oven until golden and fragrant…about 5 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, crumble the walnuts with your hands.  Drizzle sparingly with olive oil and season with salt.

Printable Version

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Vacation Inspiration...Mango, Avocado & Corn Salad…with or without Steak

During almost every summer in recent memory I have been able to spend a week with my best friend from college.   It is a lovely break for both of us.  We let go of most of our commitments for a week…and spend our time doing whatever we like.  Most of our time is spent talking.  And of course, we cook too.


Since I am constantly behind on my cooking reading, I always take a stack of current and recent magazines, as well as a cookbook or two.  We often prepare our meals from the inspiration I find in my reading materials.  This gives me a chance to try new things….and she gets a break from planning meals for her family (and her family is the happy recipient of our efforts).

This year was a little bit different in that I didn’t spend too much time in my reading materials.  I’m not sure why.  But we still cooked almost every day.  For the most part we just cooked things that were familiar to me…but new for my friend:  A pizza with garlic cream (topped with roasted zucchini & potatoes—and olives—instead of asparagus and mushrooms)   The  BLAT salad with torn croutons from earlier this month  And a Beef, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad that I hadn’t thought about in a few years (I had forgotten how delicious it is!).   

Because we don’t want to spend all our time cooking, lunch is leftovers of whatever we have been cooking up during the evenings.  This year (for reasons that are still a mystery to me) we kept eating everything we prepared for the evening meal and there were rarely leftovers.  This made it so we had to get a little more creative with our lunches—which was just fine with me.    

One day I opened the fridge and spotted a mango and some limes (left from our purchases for the Soba noodle salad), an avocado, a bowl full of roasted corn and a little arugula (from the BLAT salad) and a wedge of Ricotta Salata.   I thought this looked like the makings of a pretty delicious salad.  And it was delicious.  Tangy, sweet, and salty…refreshing and not too filling…  Basically an ideal summer lunch. 


When I got home from my vacation I was still thinking about it.  Because I was also thinking about how delicious the steak had been with the mango (in the soba noodle salad), I decided to make the salad again—only this time I served it with steak…and we had it for dinner.  I am happy to report that it was equally delicious with the steak…thus making an ideal summer dinner too.  However you choose to serve it, I think you will find it to be perfect summer food.


Mango, Avocado & Roasted Corn Salad

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 t. ground cumin
6 T. Olive oil
2 ears of corn, in the husk
2 strip steaks, about 12 oz. each and 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch thick
Kosher salt
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. ground chili powder (ancho, chipotle, or a favorite blend)
4 or 5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves picked
2 small to medium ripe mangoes
2 ripe (but firm) avocados
2 or 3 scallions—white and a few inches of green, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced on a long diagonal (you should have about 1/3 to a scant 1/2 cup)
2 handfuls of arugula
2 oz. (more or less) ricotta salata, crumbled


 Place the lime juice and garlic in a small bowl; whisk to break up the garlic.  Let sit for five to ten minutes.  Add the cumin and a generous 1/4 t. of kosher salt.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.  Season with freshly ground pepper.  Set aside.

Place the corn, in the husk, in a preheated 400
° oven.  Remove after 20 minutes.  When the corn is cool enough to handle, remove the husks and silks.  Slice the kernels away from the cobs.  Use the back of the knife, or a spoon, to scrape the cobs.  Add the scrapings to the kernels.  You should have about 2 cups of kernels.  Set aside.

If time permits, salt the steaks ahead of time (earlier in the day or the day before).  About an hour before you are ready to cook the steaks, remove them from the fridge. Combine the oil with the cumin and chili powder.  Rub the seasoned oil and the oregano leaves all over the steaks.  Let sit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes. 

You may cook the steaks on the grill or in a cast iron pan.

For Grilling:
Heat grill to high (you will only be able to hold your hand 2 to 4 inches above the grate for a count of 2 or 3 seconds). Place the steaks on the grill.  After 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, rotate the steaks a quarter turn (this will create attractive “crosshatch” grill marks). After another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, turn the steaks over and cook for a total of 3 to 4 minutes, rotating the steak one quarter turn half-way through the cooking time.  Finally, using a tongs, sear the edges of the steaks—about a minute for each long edge. This steak should be more or less medium rare. For a slightly more well done steak, increase the grilling time slightly. For a substantially more well done steak, it may be necessary to reduce the temperature in addition to increasing the time over the flame. When the steaks are done to your liking, transfer them to a plate and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes.

In a Cast Iron pan:
Heat the pan over high heat until smoking hot.  Make sure your exhaust fan is on…and perhaps open a window.  If your smoke detector is near the kitchen, you might want to disable it (make sure you reconnect it when you are done).  Add the steaks to the pan.  You don’t need to add any oil to the pan—you have already put the oil on the steaks.  Turn the steaks occasionally, aiming for a nice char/sear on all the surfaces, including the narrower edges.  If the char is too dark, reduce the temperature slightly.  Total cooking time will be about the same as on the grill….about 8 minutes total for medium rare…another minute or two for medium, and etc..  (If you don’t have an exhaust fan that works well, I have found that if I start the sear on the stove and then transfer the pan to a 425° to 450° oven that I can contain the smoke a bit (don’t forget to turn the steaks occasionally so they will cook evenly).  When the steaks are done to your liking, transfer them to a plate and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes.
.
While the steaks are resting, peel the mangoes and cut the flesh away from the pit in thick slabs on all sides.  Cut the slabs into rough, 1/2-inch pieces.  Place in a large bowl.  Halve and pit the avocados.  Cut the flesh of each of the halves before removing the skin.  Holding an avocado half in your non-working hand and your knife in your other hand, slice the flesh length-wise at half inch intervals, cutting all the way to, but not through, the skin.  Repeat this slicing action cross-wise.  Then, using a large spoon, scoop out the flesh in one motion while holding the half over the bowl of mangoes.  The avocado should fall into the bowl in a rough dice.  Repeat with all four halves.  Add the scallions and the corn.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Slice the steaks thinly and fan on one side of a large platter…or divide among four dinner plates.  Place the arugula in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with a small amount of the vinaigrette and toss to coat.  Scatter the arugula over the platter…or plates.  Mound the salad over the arugula and on part of the sliced steak.  Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette over all.  Scatter the ricotta salata over all and serve right away.

Serves 4 generously

Temperature Guidelines for determining “Doneness”:

Rare (cool red center)  —  120°
Medium Rare (warm red center)  —  125°
Medium (rosy center)  —  130°
Medium well (pink center)  —  135°
Well done (no pink)  —  140°

Remember to remove the meat from the grill/pan/oven when the temperature in the center is about 5° lower than the desired final temperature—the meat will continue to cook as it rests

Notes & Variations:
  • Omit the steaks for a light lunch…or a vegetarian meal. 
  • Replace the strip steaks with flank steak. 
  • Substitute Feta for the Ricotta Salata
  • If you want a super quick version of the salad, you can skip the vinaigrette and simply dress the avocado, corn and mango with a generous squeeze of lime and a drizzle of olive oil. Don’t forget the salt & pepper! 
  • For tips (including pictures) of how to cut a mango, check out the post for the Soba noodle salad
Printable Version

It's delicious with cold, leftover steak too!

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Pleasure of the Annual Tomato Glut...and a Recipe for Tomato Fondue



It happens every year about this time.   Whether you shop at a Farmers' market or have your own garden, beautiful, ripe tomatoes start piling up on the kitchen counter faster than you can consume them.  I always eat as many of them as I can raw...sprinkled with salt, drizzled with olive oil...sometimes enhanced with a bit of vinegar.  But inevitably there are just too many to eat.  Even though I regularly cook with them too, I almost always have so many that they decay faster than I am able to use them up.  

When it reaches this point of overabundance I begin to consider ways to preserve the harvest.  I almost always try to make tomato sauce for the freezer (in fact, I often purchase extra tomatoes for just this purpose...summer tomato sauce is a wonderful thing to have on hand during the fall and winter months).  And some years I make slow-roasted tomatoes (which turns them into concentrated flavor bombs for pastas, pizzas, pilafs, etc.).

Last week as I was considering the mountain of tomatoes on my counter, I remembered something we used to make way back in the early days of my cooking career at The American Restaurant: a delicious preparation called "Tomato Fondue."  



Contrary to what you might think, there is no cheese involved in this fondue.  This fondue is all about the tomatoes...tomatoes that have been cooked in an abundance of olive oil until the juices and pulp have melted (hence the term "fondue") into a jam-like substance of tangy tomato deliciousness.   There is also a bit of onion and garlic...  and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, and/or winter savory).  But not too much of any of these things.  Tomato fondue should be all about the tangy and sweet flavor of summer tomatoes.

Tomato fondue has a myriad of uses.  It can of course be used to finish a soup (stirred in, or served as a drizzle or dolloped garnish)...or to enhance a pasta sauce.  But my favorite way to use it is as a condiment—dolloped onto a piece of baked or sautéed fish


As a topping for pan-seared halibut..with a bulgur pilaf with corn and zucchini....

...mixed with a little more olive oil and drizzled over a grain bowl


The leftover pilaf from the previous photo...topped with an egg...

...extended with stock or water (and/or more oil) and used to dress vegetables.  




Romano beans...dressed with tomato fondue, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts and parsley....

You could also use it for oeufs en cocotte (just use a small spoonful of the tomato fondue in place of the cooked leeks).  It would also make a delicious instant appetizer—on a crostini smeared with fresh cheese or bean purée, or spooned over a round of baked goat cheese and served with crackers or crisp toasts.  





And it could be used to enhance a spread/dressing of some kind (like mayonnaise, for example).  Once you make it (and taste it!)...and have it on hand...I'm certain it will catch your eye every time you open the refrigerator to gather inspiration for what to make for dinner. It is amazingly versatile.

Since I mentioned preserving the harvest at the beginning of this post, I hope it goes without saying that tomato fondue can be frozen.  The flavor is so concentrated that you can freeze it in small portions (rather than the larger quantities that you might opt for when freezing a less concentrated tomato sauce).  I think ice cube trays would probably be perfect.  Either line the trays with plastic wrap...or purchase trays designated for your tomatoes (the oil in the fondue will color and imbue every plastic surface it touches with its orange-y gold color).

I have to admit though, that I haven't frozen any yet this year.  Part of the beauty of tomato fondue is that it reduces a mountain of tomatoes down to a very manageable...and consumable...amount.  I have made two 1 pound batches so far and have managed to eat it all.  I'm so glad that it popped into my mind after all these years. After having it around for a couple of weeks and finding so many ways to use it, it is on its way to becoming a summer staple in my pantry. 

Tomato Fondue

1 lb. Vine Ripened Tomatoes
1/2 c. finely diced summer onions
1 t. (heaped, if you like) minced garlic
3 to 4 T. olive oil
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano and/or winter savory—leaves picked and minced
salt

Halve the tomatoes horizontally (vertically if using Romas).  Holding the tomato halves over a sieve set over a bowl, scoop out the seeds (using your fingers).  Set the de-seeded tomato halves aside for a second while you stir and press the seedy juice around in the sieve (with a rubber spatula) until all the juices have gone through the sieve.  Discard the seeds.  Using a large-holed grater set on a plate or pie pan, grate the tomatoes by holding the cut side of the tomatoes against the grater and grating until just the skin remains in your palm.  Add the grated tomato pulp to the tomato juices.  (See note.)



Warm the oil in a medium sized sauté pan or shallow sauce pan set over moderately low heat and add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook gently until the onions are softabout 10 minutes for juicy, summer onions.  Add the garlic and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.  



Add the tomatoes and herbs to the pan 




and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally and regularly (carefully scraping down the edges of the pan as the fondue reduces) until the mixture is thick.  If you draw a spatula through the fondue, a path will remain (see picture at top of post).  You will also be able to mound the fondue on a spoon.  


(This will take about 20 minutes or so.). Taste and season with salt to bring out the brightest tangy flavor.

You will have 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup of tomato fondue.  Store in a Tupperware or covered jar in the refrigerator.

Notes:

  • The original recipe called for the tomatoes to be peeled, seeded and cut into a fine dice.  Since the tomato flesh breaks down as it cooks, it seems easiest to me to simply grate the flesh as I have done.  You may of course peel, seed and dice if you like.
  • We made the fondue in very large quantities at the restaurant—a batch made with four pounds of tomatoes would have been typical.  You may multiply this into any sized batch you like, just remember to use a wide (as opposed to deep) pan.  A large surface area will encourage the tomatoes to reduce and concentrate more quickly.  Large batches will still take longer, but the fondue will cook better in a wide pan.  When I make this in large batches, I multiply everything but the bay leaf. I find bay to be quite strong and even if I were making a four pound batch would still use just one leaf.

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