Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fresh a Salad with Escarole, Mint, Grapes and Walnuts

I think that we must be experiencing an especially fine year for fresh figs.  For the past two or three weeks, every time I have entered my local Whole Foods I have been greeted by a large table overflowing with fresh Black Mission Figs.  I buy some almost every time...I can't get enough of them.  Figs that make it all the way to the Midwest haven't always been so great.  But even though these have been shipped in (probably from California) they have been surprisingly good—plump, heavy, relatively unblemished...and if not already perfectly ripe, they are close enough to it that they will be after a day or two on my kitchen counter.  Once ripe (soft...on the verge of squishy), they need to be consumed quickly or they will begin to decay.  But this has not been a problem.  I have been eating them raw for breakfast with yogurt...roasted in a compote...and last night as the centerpiece of a delicious, spur-of-the-moment salad. 

Besides figs my salad included red grapes, walnuts, escarole, arugula, mint and a favorite creamy Dijon vinaigrette.  Like most of the impromptu dishes that end up on our table, the inspiration for this particular combination of ingredients came from a number of different sources...not the least of which was what I happened to have in my pantry.  In any case, trying to untangle all of these sources would probably not be very instructive.  Suffice it to say that I have had fig salads on the brain since I prepared one for a private dinner group this past Saturday night and have been thinking a lot about figs in combination with various greens, styles of vinaigrettes, as well as other fruits and nuts. 

As usual, I have included a recipe at the end of my post, but as with all salads this is a "to taste" affair and you should combine the ingredients in quantities that please you.  To begin, add the escarole to the bowl (torn into bite-sized pieces).  Escarole is a substantial green with a delicate crunch.  It adds a slight bitter flavor that contrasts beautifully with the sweet fruit and its texture gives the salad nice structure.  Next add a few leaves of arugula (torn, if large)...not too much, to me this is a mostly escarole salad—the arugula adds some peppery spice and great color contrast to the pale escarole. 

Next add some mint.  If the leaves are very large, tear them into two or three pieces.  My mint patch has just begun to recover from the summer heat, so the leaves are tender and small.  Add more mint than you think you need.  From references I have found in other cookbooks, it seems it was Richard Olney (in his book Simple French Food) who introduced the combination of figs, mint and cream to the mainstream food world...and it is an inspired combination.  The mint really lights this salad up.

Mint for two salads (half a recipe)

Finally, add fresh figs (halved if small, quartered if large), halved red grapes and toasted walnuts (broken into medium-sized pieces).  Add as much as you think you want to eat...this salad should be a celebration of the wonderful fruits and nuts of early autumn.  

Drizzle some of the dressing over the contents of the bowl and gently and carefully toss (you don't want to squash or tear the soft figs).  Use less than you think you don't want a sodden salad.  If you want more dressing, you can always add more...or drizzle some over the plated salads.

To plate the salad, layer the fruits and greens carefully on a platter or individual plates.  Take the time to tuck the fruits in, under and on top of the greens so that they are shown off to most advantage.  If you are arranging the salads on individual plates, make sure that the figs are divided evenly among the plates.  I freely admit that if I were seated next to someone who got more figs than I did I would resort to polite begging or surreptitious thievery in order to get my fair share of figs. 

The interplay of the sweet (figs, grapes and mint), the bitter (escarole and walnuts) and the spicy (arugula and Dijon) well as the contrasts in soft and crunchy textures...made for a particularly delightful salad.  If I hadn't already had the rest of my dinner ready and waiting on the stove, I would have gotten up from the table and made myself a second salad.  It was that good.  So, in the interests of fair warning: although the recipe states that it makes four salads, this should be understood to be four nice, medium-sized, first-course dinner salads.  If you decide that you want to revel in a special meal of fresh figs and greens, then you will find that there will only be enough for two. 

Autumn Salad of Fresh Figs with Grapes, 
Walnuts, Escarole & Mint

1/4 c. walnuts, plus more for garnish
7 to 8 oz. ripe, fresh figs (about 10), stemmed and halved
1/4 lb. red grapes (about 18 to 20), halved
2 oz. trimmed escarole (see note), torn into bite-sized pieces
a small handful of arugula (a generous half ounce), torn into bite-sized pieces
a handful of mint leaves (about 1/2 cup—measured by dropping the leaves loosely into the cup)
Salt & Pepper
Creamy Dijon Vinaigrette (below)

Preheat the oven to 350­°.  Spread the walnuts in a small pan and toast until fragrant and light golden—about five minutes.  Drizzle sparingly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Set aside to cool.  When cool, break into medium sized pieces. 

Place the escarole, arugula and mint in a large bowl.  Add the figs, grapes and walnuts.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with a small amount of the vinaigrette and toss carefully.  Everything should be coated in a light film of the dressing. 

Divide the contents of the bowl among four individual plates...tucking the fruits among and around the greens and dividing the figs evenly among the four plates.  (Alternatively, arrange the salad on one large platter.)  If you like, drizzle more of the vinaigrette over the salads.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.

Note: To prepare the escarole, trim away the bruised outer leaves and the bitter dark green portions.  The prized part of the escarole is the tender, inner, yellow and pale green portion.

Creamy Dijon Vinaigrette:
1 T. champagne (or white wine) vinegar
1 T. Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
1/4 c. olive oil
6 T. whipping cream

Combine the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Continue to whisk while slowly drizzling in the oil to form an emulsion.  Whisk in the cream.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  (The vinaigrette will continue to thicken as it sits.)

Printable Recipe

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Southern Pea Succotash...with Pan-Seared Salmon

In John Thorne's book Simple Cooking there is a great little essay (in the chapter "Perfect Pleasures") in which he sings the praises of a well-made succotash.  As a child, Thorne had apparently been regularly subjected to some atrocious (frozen foods) versions of succotash and had consequently carefully avoided all encounters with it until well into his adulthood.   But at some point he discovered that when properly prepared, this humble, late summer dish can be quite delicious.

One of the reasons I love this essay is I am able to relate to it so well.  I too have stories to tell of childhood food aversions that turned into love when I tasted their well-made counterparts as an adult.  (I chronicled one of the first of these experiences a few years ago in my post about ratatouille.)  However, I can say with all honesty that succotash was not one of these dishes.  (It probably would have been if I had ever tasted the childhood versions he describes.)  I'm not sure that I even knew what succotash was until I read Thorne's essay.  I think Sylvester the cat was my only reference point.  But after reading his essay, I had to try it.  And I agree, it really is a delicious dish. 

Classically succotash is simply a combination of well-buttered, freshly-cooked, sweet corn and lima beans.  I have not had access to fresh lima beans in many years (the one grower who had them at my market disappeared several seasons ago), so a few years back I began making my own version of succotash with the summer shell beans I did have access to—pink-eyed, purple hull, Crowder peas.  

I think I like this version even better (the crowder peas are the same size as the corn kernels....making for a much prettier dish).  I'm sure that this dish would be pretty fine when made with whatever shelling bean happens to grow well in your part of the country.

If you've looked ahead to my recipe, you'll notice that I include more than just corn and shell beans in the mix.  As it turns out there are lots of traditional additions to succotash...all of them prolific, late summer foods:  fresh tomatoes, sweet onions, garlic, fresh herbs, summer squash and green beans.  And this is probably a short list—I'm sure there are other regional additions that have not yet crossed my path.  The version I'm posting is the one I most often make.  It is a combination of Thorne's recipe and the one in The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. 

As for the salmon...this is just my favorite thing to eat with succotash, so I have written the recipe to include it.  But it would be fine served with another fish...   or a pork chop...   or steak...   or even eaten all by itself as a big summer vegetable stew.  The most important thing is to make it when all of the ingredients are fresh and in season.  While I will admit that I occasionally make a very good version of this dish in the winter with corn and shell beans that I have frozen myself (I leave the tomatoes...and summer squash...out of this version), I have to agree with John Thorne that it is the seasonal immediacy of this dish that makes it special.  So now is the time to make it—before the corn and shell beans are gone for the year.  And even if this dish is among those that you would classify as a childhood atrocity, I encourage you to give it a try.  I don't know if I would go so far as Thorne—who calls succotash a delicacy—but I will say that I think you will find that it is very, very good.  

Pan Seared Salmon with Southern Pea Succotash

2 to 3 ears sweet corn
1 lb. southern peas (pink-eyed peas, Crowder peas, lady peas, etc.), shelled—about 1 to 1 1/2 cups peas depending on the variety
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil
1 medium red onion, cut in a 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 t. minced fresh thyme
2 to 4 T. unsalted butter
2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes (about 8 oz.), peeled, seeded (juices reserved) and diced 
2 T. or so of minced fresh herbs of your choice (basil, parsley, chives or dill)

4 fillets salmon (4 to 6 oz. each), skin on or off—as you prefer
Salt & Pepper
vegetable or olive oil

Cut the corn from the cobs—you should have about 2 cups. Set aside. Scrape the cobs and reserve the scrapings separately. Cut the cobs in half cross-wise.

Place the peas and corn cobs in a sauce pan and cover the peas with water by 1 1/2 inches. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender but not mushy—about 30 minutes...more or less, depending on the kind of pea. Add salt to taste about half way through the cooking time. Peas may be cooked ahead. Cool and store in their cooking liquid. Drain just before using, reserving the cooking liquid.

Heat a medium-sized straight-sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or so of oil. Add the onions along with the thyme and a pinch of salt. Cook until tender and a bit caramelized. Add a tablespoon or so of butter. 

When the butter is melted, add the corn and cook for a minute or two. 

Add the drained peas, the corn scrapings and the reserved tomato juices. If the succotash seems dry, add enough of the bean cooking liquid to moisten (but not so much that the succotash becomes soupy). Simmer gently until the corn is tender while you cook the fish (if the corn is cooked before the fish is done, remove the pan from the heat and finish the succotash while the fish is resting). 

Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, season the fish with salt & pepper. Add the oil to the pan. When the oil is very hot, add the fish. If the skin is intact, put the skin side down; if the salmon has been skinned, place it skinned side up. Cook until nicely browned (skin should be crisp)—about 3 minutes. Turn and cook the fish, until barely opaque in the center—about another 3 minutes (you may need to reduce the heat to medium—regulate the heat to maintain an active sizzle). Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm.

Finish the succotash: Add herbs and the tomatoes and heat through. Swirl 1 or 2 T. of butter into the simmering succotash, adding more bean cooking liquid if necessary to coat the vegetables with a light buttery sauce. Taste and correct the seasoning. Spoon the succotash onto serving plates and top with the salmon.

Serves 4

Optional Additions:
  • One or two small zucchini or summer squash, diced. Add to the pan with the onion when the onion is tender. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes before adding the corn. 
  • 1 or 2 cloves minced garlic. Add with the corn. 

Printable Version

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pasta with Corn Pesto...Two Ways

Saturday morning at the market I learned that local sweet corn would only be available for another two weeks.  In reality it has been a long season...but it has seemed so very fast.  I hate to see it draw to a close.  I love sweet corn.  We enjoy it in salads, pastas and as a vegetable side dish all summer long...I never get tired of it.  This year we have been enjoying it in (among other things) corn pesto. 

My recipe for corn pesto is adapted from one that ran a few years back in Bon Appetit.  I'm not sure I would have thought to make a pesto from corn.  It includes all the usual pesto suspects—pine nuts, Parmesan, olive oil and garlic—and it is deliciously sweet from the corn.  I have not used it for anything other than as a sauce for pasta, but I think you could probably come up with lots of great ways to use long as you remember to balance its inherently sweet flavor with some salty and/or bitter ingredients.  Both the pastas that I made incorporate these elements—salty bacon with bitter kale in one and salty prosciutto and slightly bitter and hot arugula in the other.

I didn't alter the original recipe too much.  I changed the ratios of the ingredients a bit, but that is a personal taste thing and is really not that significant.  The biggest change I made was the manner in which I prepared the corn.  The original recipe uses corn that has been sautéed in bacon fat (since the pasta recipe that accompanied it included bacon and corn that was sautéed in the fat).  I roasted the corn instead—mostly because roasting is my favorite way to prepare corn...but also because it makes the pesto into a recipe that stands on its own.  Furthermore, since the recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups of roasted corn—and ears of corn don't produce uniform quantities of kernels—there will almost certainly be kernels of corn left over.  And plain roasted corn kernels are a handy thing to have on hand in the summer—for salads, stuffing for other vegetables, grain pilafs, salsas, vegetable medleys...and of course, pasta.  If your corn leftovers have been sautéed in bacon fat, they will be delicious, but their use will be limited.

One final note about a difference between my recipe and the original.  I prefer my pastas lightly sauced.  The original recipe from Bon Appetit calls for almost twice as much corn pesto as I use.  If you like your pasta to be heavily sauced, simply make a larger batch of pesto and use as much as you need to obtain the ratio of sauce to pasta that pleases you.   

Summer seems to have raced by me this year.  I can't believe that today is really the first day of September.  I have not yet had my fill of sweet corn   ....or tomatoes  ....or eggplant  ....or peppers  ....  Happily, the market will continue to offer most of these items for another two or three weeks at least.  I don't know how many posts I will have the time to squeeze in during the coming month, but I feel safe in predicting that  those that I do write will certainly feature these late summer foods that I love....extending my enjoyment of the season as long as I possibly can.     

Corn Pesto

1 1/4 c. (200 grams) roasted corn (see note)
1/4 c. (30 grams) pine nuts, lightly toasted
pinch of cayenne
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 t. kosher salt
3 T. olive oil
1/3 c. (30 grams) finely grated Parmesan

Place the corn in the bowl of the food processor (fitted with the metal blade) along with the pine nuts, garlic, cayenne, pepper and a quarter teaspoon of salt.  Process until the corn and pine nuts are very finely chopped and have formed a paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times.

With the machine running, pour in the olive oil, processing until incorporated.  Add the Parmesan and pulse in.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Makes about 1 1/4 cup pesto.

Note: To roast corn, place the corn (in the husk) in a preheated 375­° oven.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and remove the husks as soon as you are able to handle the corn.  Cool and cut the kernels away from the cob.  A large ear of corn will produce about 1 cup of kernels.  If you are using the pesto to sauce one of the two pasta recipes that follow, remember to roast extra ears of corn. 

Bucatini with Corn Pesto, Kale & Bacon

1 bunch kale (see notes), center ribs removed (you will have about 5 oz. trimmed kale) and leaves rinsed in several changes of water
2 to 3 strips of bacon (about 2 oz.), cut cross-wise in 1/4-inch strips
1 small (or half of a medium) red onion (about 4 oz.), cut in a 1/4-inch dice
olive oil
a pinch of hot pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 c. roasted corn
1/2 lb. Bucatini (or linguine)
1/2 recipe corn pesto
freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add the kale and boil until tender—about 5 to 10 minutes.   Drain the kale and spread on a baking sheet to cool.  Squeeze out the excess water with your hands and chop coarsely.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan, set over medium low heat, render the bacon, stirring occasionally until crisp.  Transfer the bacon to paper towels.  Increase the heat to medium, add the onions to the pan along with a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are tender and beginning to caramelize—about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add a tablespoon (more or less, depending on the fattiness of the bacon) of olive oil to the pan followed by a pinch of hot pepper flakes and the kale, stirring and tossing to break up the kale and coat it in the fat.  Cook over moderately low to low heat until the kale has darkened and is sizzling in the fat a bit—another 15 to 20 minutes.  

Add the corn and heat through.  Reduce the heat to the very lowest setting while you cook the pasta.

Drop the pasta into a large pot of rapidly boiling water seasoned with about a teaspoon of salt per quart.  Stir and cook until the pasta is al dente.   When the pasta is almost done, scoop out a half cup of the pasta water and set aside.

While the  pasta finishes cooking, place the corn pesto in a large bowl with a quarter cup of the pasta cooking liquid.  Stir until smooth and incorporated.  Drain the pasta and add along with a drizzle (maybe a half tablespoon?) of olive oil.  Toss to coat the pasta, adding more of the pasta water as necessary to obtain a fluid sauce.  Add the warm kale and corn mixture and toss well.  Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Correct the consistency with pasta water and/or olive oil.  Serve topped with the reserved bacon and freshly grated Parmesan.  Serves 2 to 3.

  • I use Red Russian Kale, but Siberian or Tuscan would work well too.
  • The recipe may be easily doubled.  Choose a very large sauté pan for cooking the onions and kale.
  • If you have corn pesto on hand, but don't have extra roasted corn, you may prepare this pasta by adding raw corn kernels to the sauté pan after the onions have caramelized.  When the corn begins to sizzle in the bacon fat, add the oil and kale and proceed with the recipe.

Fettuccine with Corn Pesto, Prosciutto & Arugula

1/2 lb. Fettuccine
1/2 recipe Corn Pesto
3/4 c. roasted corn
1 1/2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
a handful of arugula leaves (1/2 oz.) stemmed and cut in 1/4-inch ribbons
Freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Season with 1 teaspoon of salt per quart of water.  Drop the pasta, stir and cook until the pasta is al dente.   When the pasta is almost done, scoop out a half cup of the pasta water and set aside.

While the pasta finishes cooking, place the pesto in a large bowl with a quarter cup of the pasta cooking water and stir until smooth. Stir in the corn.  Scatter the prosciutto evenly over the surface of the pesto and corn, but don't stir in.  

By waiting to stir in the prosciutto until the hot pasta has been added,
you will be less likely to end up with clumps of prosciutto and more
likely to obtain thin ribbons that are well distributed throughout the dish

Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl.  Top with the arugula and a drizzle of olive oil (1/2 Tablespoon, or so).  Toss until all the ingredients are evenly distributed and the pastas is coated with the pesto.  

Add more pasta water and/or olive oil to obtain a sauce that is fluid, yet not pooling in the bottom of the bowl. 

Serve the pasta topped with freshly grated Parmesan. Serves 2 to 3.  Recipe is easily doubled to serve 5 to 6.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vacation Inspiration: Roasted Red Pepper and Summer Shell Bean Salad served with Eggplant and Pesto

During my summer vacation this year I had the unexpected...and totally unplanned...pleasure of a quick twenty-four hour visit in to New York City.   Even though the visit was short, it really was's amazing how much food you can pack into 24 hours.  We started with a snack at the Rockefeller Center outpost of Bouchon...

sat down for a late dinner at the charming small-plate French bistro Buvette in  the West Village and the next day enjoyed a farewell lunch at La Verdure in Mario's Eataly (stopping at the gelato counter on the way out to fortify myself for the train trip home).  I was so inspired by the things I got to taste.  Hopefully I will have the time in the months to come to share some of that inspiration here.  For now though, I thought I would share the delicious salad I made for our dinner the other night...inspired by the roast lamb entrée I enjoyed at Buvette.

The dish as prepared at Buvette  featured thin slices of rosy roast leg of lamb.  The lamb was served chilled and fanned on Buvette's signature small plates.  It came topped with a simple salad of roasted red peppers and white beans.  The plate was finished with basil pesto—dolloped and drizzled judiciously over all.  It was exactly the kind of food I love...simple, prepared with care and attention to detail, and bursting with flavor...  Delicious.

At home—because I don't keep chunks of roast leg of lamb on hand—I re-imagined the dish as an all vegetable plate, replacing the rounds of sliced lamb with rounds of broiled eggplant.  Like lamb and peppers, eggplant and  peppers have a natural affinity for one another, so this substitution wasn't really a huge leap.  Instead of white beans—which I only have access to in their dried form—I used some of the fresh pink-eyed purple hull Crowder peas which flood Midwestern and Southern farmers' markets every summer. 
If you have never tried  these kinds of shell beans (often called Southern peas)—and you live in a state where they grow—you should most definitely give them a try.  This salad would be a perfect place to start.  When you buy them, look for pods that have turned all purple.  If the pods are still greenish—with just a smudge of purple here and there—they were harvested a bit early and it is a tedious task to get the peas out of the pod.  The mature, purple pods open and release the peas with much less effort.

As far as all the components of my salad are concerned, I have written posts in the past that include detailed descriptions and pictures of all of the basic procedures used, so I won't belabor them here.  Instead, I'll just provide the links.  If you have never broiled eggplant slices, you can find out how to do it at this post for my favorite summer pizza.  If you would prefer to roast (rather than broil) the eggplant, simply follow the instructions included in the recipe for Late Summer Ragout of Eggplant and Summer Squash.  If you have never roasted and peeled a bell pepper, you can find instructions in a "basics" post I wrote a few years ago.  And finally, you can find my recipe for basil pesto in a post for one of my favorite summer pastas....Linguine with Potatoes, Green Beans and Pesto.  If you don't want to make pesto, you can leave it off entirely...or substitute some other flavorful herb-based sauce...salsa verde, for example. 

Like its inspiration, my salad was delicious.  We liked it so much I made it again before the week was out.  The first time we enjoyed it accompanied by semolina toasts topped with soft goat cheese.  When it made its second appearance, I served it with room temperature green beans tossed with olives and toasted walnuts.  If you like to have meat with your evening meal, the shell bean and roasted pepper salad (with or without the eggplant) would make a pretty fine late summer side dish....perfect alongside fish...chicken...beef.. and (of course) lamb. 

Roasted Red Pepper & Fresh Shell Bean Salad 
with Eggplant and Basil Pesto

1 1/3 c. shelled pink-eyed purple hull Crowder peas (see note)
1 fat clove garlic, peeled
a sprig or two of winter savory or thyme
a splash of olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. globe eggplant, sliced 1/3-inch thick
Oil for brushing

1 T. Sherry vinegar
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
salt & pepper to taste
6 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 lbs. red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cooled and cut into 3/4- inch wide strips
3 to 4 T. very finely diced red onion, rinsed under cold running water (let drain thoroughly...I spread the rinsed onions on a paper towel to allow them to dry even more)
2 T. finely sliced Italian flat leaf parsley

3 or 4 T. basil pesto, thinned with water, bean cooking liquid and/or olive oil

Place the peas, garlic, herb sprigs and a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a sauce pan and cover the peas with water by 1 1/2 inches.  

Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender—about 30 to 45 minutes.  Add salt to taste about half way through the cooking time.  Cool and store in their cooking liquid.  Drain just before using, reserving some of the cooking liquid for thinning the pesto, if you like.

Spread the eggplant on a baking sheet (you may need to work in batches) and brush on both sides with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Broil until tender and golden, turning once. If you have a grill, you can grill the vegetables instead of broiling them. If the eggplant is not yet fork tender when it is golden brown, stack it four or five slices deep as you remove it from the baking sheets—this will allow it to continue cooking.  Set aside and let cool.

While the peas and eggplant cook, prepare the vinaigrette:  Place the vinegars in a bowl with the garlic, along with a good pinch of salt and let sit for 10 minutes or so.  Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.  Drizzle some of the vinaigrette (about a tablespoon) over the roasted peppers (seasoning with salt and pepper to taste) and set the rest aside until ready to make the salad.

To make the salad, place the beans, marinated peppers, red onion and parsley in a bowl and toss to combine.  Drizzle with enough of the vinaigrette to coat all of the components generously.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  The salad may be served immediately as is, or it may be chilled.

To plate, arrange the eggplant on a platter (or individual plates) and spoon some of the vinaigrette over.  Drizzle/dollop some of the pesto sparingly over the dressed eggplant.  Mound the pepper and bean salad attractively over the eggplant, allowing the eggplant to show around the edges of the platter/plates.  Spoon a little more pesto over the bean salad and serve.

Salad may be served at room temperature or chilled.  Serves four as a light vegetarian entrée...more as a side dish.

Note:  You may use any fresh shell bean or Southern pea that you prefer for this dish.  If you don't have access to fresh shell beans, you may cook dried beans instead...or use canned.  You will need 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cooked beans for this recipe.  If you cook beans from dry or use canned, rinse before adding them to the salad. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Toasted Pine Nut Couscous with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

A couple of years ago I wrote a post detailing how to make slow-roasted tomatoes.  At the end of the post I commented that there would probably be future posts describing various ways to use them.  Recently I noticed that I have only written one such post...a summer sauté of corn and green onions that is finished with the aforementioned tomatoes.  Today I thought I would make up for this oversight by sharing another. 

One of my favorite "go to" side dishes is a recipe for Toasted Pine Nut Couscous.  It goes with just about anything, but I'm especially fond of it with fish (if you look at a post featuring a two-olive sauce for fish from earlier this year, you will see a version of this couscous—with currants—accompanying the halibut and broccoli in the last picture).  From Maria Helms Sinskey's The Vineyard Kitchen (one of my favorite cookbooks), it is simple and flavorful...and rich from an abundance of toasted pine nuts.  It is delicious as is, but also takes well to simple additions...dried fruit…olives…and slow-roasted tomatoes.  And it was particularly delicious served with Sockeye Salmon and a warm green bean salad with olives and balsamic.

Toasted Pine Nut Couscous with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

1/2 cup pine nuts
1 red onion (6 to 8 oz.), diced
2 1/2 T. olive oil, divided
1 cup couscous
2 T. flat-leaf parsley, minced
3 to 3 1/2 oz. slow-roasted tomatoes (6 to 8 pieces), cut in a rough 1/2-inch dice

Toast the pine nuts in a 350° until light golden brown….about 5 minutes.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, warm a tablespoon and a half of oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until tender and lightly caramelized…about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Place the couscous in a medium-sized bowl.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil, the parsley, a scant teaspoon of kosher salt, and the cooled onions.  Toss to combine.  Bring 1 1/3 cup water to a boil.  Pour over the couscous and stir to make sure all the couscous is moistened.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

Uncover, add the pine nuts and the tomatoes and fluff in with a fork.  Serves 5 or 6.

Note:  To make plain Toasted Pine Nut Couscous, simply omit the slow-roasted tomatoes

(Recipe adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Printable Version

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Green Goddess Dressing...or Dip...

At some point during the middle of last summer I noticed that my blog posts all seemed to be revolving around one particular topic: salad.   I didn't seem to be able to get enough of salads filled with an abundance of seasonal vegetables and fruits.  This year I have noticed another trend:  mayonnaise based dressings.  And they all happen to be green.  In June it was the mint aioli to go with roast rack of lamb.  In July, it was a roasted garlic and basil mayonnaise to accompany a roasted garlic and basil smeared roast chicken.  And today, it is that classic herb-laden dressing known as Green Goddess Dressing.

As a kid (and probably for a few years after that) I thought that Green Goddess Dressing included avocado purée.  I don't know if this is because of the color of the jars/bottles of the dressing I saw on the shelves at the grocery store or if I had some vague notion that the original Green Goddess salad included avocadoes.  I sort of doubt it was the latter since up until I was well into my adult years my knowledge of food was pretty rudimentary.  Since during my childhood I would only have eaten an avocado under duress (I didn't have a very friendly relationship with vegetables...or fruit, for that matter), and then when I learned that they were delicious I was afraid they would make me fat (they won't, by the way), Green Goddess dressing wasn't something that I had ever looked into too deeply.

Then, a few years ago, I had reason to make some Green Goddess dip.  I discovered that it is simply a friendly, creamy dressing/dip made with loads of parsley.  (It also has anchovies...something else my younger self would have avoided...but by the time I learned this, I was already in love with the subtle savory saltiness that anchovies impart when used properly.)  I believe the original version of the dressing includes all of the fines herbes—parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon—and you may add any or all of these if you like—but parsley is the most important addition and the chives, tarragon and chervil should all be added with a lighter hand.  My recipe includes scallions.  I'm not sure where I came by this addition, but I like the sharpness that it adds.

Green Goddess dressing is very easy to make.  Simply make it in the food processor, building a whole egg mayonnaise on top of a fine mince of the herbs, scallions, garlic and anchovy.  Season to taste with salt, vinegar and lemon juice.  The dressing should be lively and acidic.  It will take more salt and lemon than you season fearlessly, tasting as you go.  You'll know you've gotten it right when you start looking around for more things with which to sample it...a spear of romaine...a cherry tomato...a carrot stick...  a spoon...

Many variations of Green Goddess are made by folding the minced herb/anchovy/garlic mixture into a mixture of half prepared mayonnaise (you may make your own, or use a good quality commercial brand) and half sour cream.  This version is slightly thicker and it is the version I make when I need a dip for a crudité platter.  If you make it this way, you will need to reduce your vinegar and lemon by quite a bit since mayonnaise is already acidic and sour cream has its own pleasant tang. 

This week I made a batch of dressing for a salad I found in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I had had in mind a salad for a summer salad class that was to be a study in greens...avocado, cucumber, Romaine and Green Goddess Dressing...when I saw that Goin had already done the work for me and published a recipe that included all of these elements—called, of course, Green Goddess Salad.  I have added thinly sliced radishes to the mix—copying my friend Nancy's addition to Caesar salad.  The radish adds a pleasing splash of color, zip and even more crunch. 

Since the recipe makes more than we could possibly consume in two small dinner salads, I have been coming up with ways to use my Green Goddess dressing all week long. 

Thinned with a little water, I drizzled it over a lunchtime platter of vine ripes and avocado...

I also used it to dress a salad of Romaine featuring roasted corn, avocado and wedges of tomato...

And today I used it as a smear on a sandwich of thinly sliced steak, yellow tomatoes, arugula and shaved sheep's milk cheese...

All were delicious.  In addition to vegetables, I'm certain it would be wonderful with fish, chicken or lamb.  Frankly, it would be hard to come up with something that wouldn't be improved by a little parsley and onion...some salt and acidity...and of course, some fat.  I still have a small amount left and am sure I will enjoy it no matter how I choose to use it.   Even after a week of eating it almost every day....I'm still not the least bit tired of it.

Green Goddess Dressing

1 c. flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 oz.)
2 to 3 scallions, white and some of green, roughly cut into 1/2-inch pieces   (you should have about 1/2 cup)
2 to 3 anchovy filets—preferably salt-packed—deboned and rinsed
1 clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup vegetable oil
1 T. plus 1 t. champagne vinegar
1 1/2 T. lemon juice—plus more as necessary to balance
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Place the parsley, anchovies and scallions in the food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Add the garlic and egg and process until homogenous.  With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will form. Add the vinegar and lemon juice and process in.  Taste and adjust the lemon, salt and pepper...the dressing should be vibrant, tangy and salty.  If it is too thick, adjust the consistency with warm water.  Makes a generous 1 1/2 cups of dressing.  Cover and chill until ready to use.

Note: For a more traditional—and thicker version appropriate for a dip—omit the oil and egg.  Add a half cup of mayonnaise (homemade or your favorite commercial brand) and a half cup of sour cream along with the garlic to the minced parsley, scallion and anchovy.  Add vinegar and lemon juice to will need less since a commercial mayonnaise already has vinegar and lemon in it.  Start with a tablespoon of lemon juice and increase to taste. 

Green Goddess Salad

2 large Romaine hearts, trimmed (about a pound, trimmed weight)
1 large (or 2 or 3 small) cucumber (about 1 lb.)
2 large avocados
5 to 6 radishes, trimmed and scrubbed
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 c. Green Goddess Dressing.....using more or less, to taste

Wash and spin dry the lettuce.  Tear any larger leaves into two or three pieces, leaving the small inner leaves whole.  Cover with a barely damp towel, cover tightly with plastic wrap (or store in a container with a sealable lid) and chill.

Taste the cucumber and peel if the skin is at all tough.  Halve lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon.  Cut cross-wise on a slight diagonal into 1/4-inch thick slices.  Halve, pit and peel the avocados.  Cut into lengthwise wedges.  Thinly slice the radishes (use a mandoline slicer).

To finish the salad, place the greens in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add 1 cup of the dressing and toss until all the romaine is well coated.  Season the cucumber and avocado with salt and pepper and add to the bowl along with the radishes.  Gently toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Arrange on a large platter or individual plates and serve.  Serves 6.

(Recipe adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin)

Variation: For a "chopped"-style salad, cut the romaine leaves cross-wise in 3/4-inch ribbons.  Cube the avocado and quarter the cucumber lengthwise before slicing crosswise.  Dress and serve as above.