Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Provençal Herb-Marinated Zucchini & Goat Cheese Rolls

Last night I taught a class featuring some of my favorite foods from the South of France. One of the things I included in the class was a delicate and simple little goat cheese and zucchini roll inspired by an hors d'oeuvre I was served while I was working in Provence. As with most of the recipes I taught in last night's class, these rolls are not particularly speedy to make. They are a bit of a process—taking some advance planning and a willingness to do some detail work. But if you (like me) think that preparing something beautiful and delicious for your friends and family is a worthwhile way to spend your time, then I think you will like this recipe.

The original version of this hors d'oeuvre was made with a soft, fresh Provençal cheese called Brousse. Brousse can be made from sheep's milk or goat's milk. In texture it falls somewhere between ricotta and the soft goat cheeses widely available in the U.S. You could make these hors d'oeuvres with a very firm fresh ricotta (they would be exceptional made with your own fresh homemade ricotta), or you can use the slightly firmer soft goat cheese. Because it is readily available, when I teach these zucchini rolls in my classes, I use a soft goat cheese.

To make the rolls, first let the goat cheese come to room temperature so that it will be soft enough to allow for easy incorporation of any seasonings you might like to add. I think it is best to keep these additions simple and to a minimum—the goat cheese is the star. I almost always add a small amount of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt. For last night's class I stirred in a bit of lemon zest. It was delicious. You could also add some herbs, but I find this to be unnecessary since there is an abundance of herbs in the marinade. No matter what you add, don't forget to add some freshly cracked black pepper....and salt, too—depending on the saltiness of the cheese you use.

The zucchini used to make these rolls should be chosen with care. They should be small—about four ounces each. Small zucchini will have a less developed seed cavity and will have denser flesh than large ones. These characteristics will make it easier to slice the zucchini thinly. The zucchini should also be straight and of as even a thickness as possible from top to bottom. Finally they should be long and opposed to short and thick. Long, thin, straight zucchinis of uniform thickness will provide a perfect "ribbon" for wrapping the little cylinders of cheese.

These zucchini and goat cheese rolls are very nice served as a passed appetizer. If they are small, they may be speared with small skewers and placed on a platter. You could also set out little plates and forks if you don't like the idea of skewers. But the appetizer tray is only one way to serve these rolls. They are also quite nice when served as a garnish to a simple green salad. If served this way, they could be made slightly larger—more of a knife and fork size. To serve them, arrange two or three on a plate and add a fluff of lightly dressed greens...perhaps with a lemony vinaigrette....maybe garnished with an olive or two....and some toasted walnuts.... No matter how you serve them, I hope you will agree that they are worth that little extra bit of time.

Herb-Marinated Zucchini & Goat Cheese Rolls

1/3 to 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive oil
Minced Fresh Thyme, Basil and Parsley (be as generous as you like with the herbs)
Salt and Pepper
6 to 8 oz. Soft Goat Cheese, room temperature
1 small clove Garlic, smashed to a puree with a pinch of salt
zest of 1/4 of a large (or 1/2 of a small) lemon—not too much
2 small Zucchini (about 4 oz. each)

Combine the olive oil, herbs and salt and pepper to taste in a shallow dish. Set aside.

Smash the cheese, garlic and zest together with a fork or wooden spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If you have time, chill the goat cheese so it will be a bit easier to manipulate. Form into small "fingers". I prefer them to be about 1 1/2- by 1/2-inch in size and each weighing about 1/3 of an ounce (10 grams)—at this size, you will get 18 to 24 "fingers".

Chill until ready to wrap with the zucchini (again, the firmer the cheese is at this point, the easier it will be to wrap).

Slice zucchini lengthwise in very thin slices using a mandolin.

Blanch briefly in boiling salted water. Do not overcook—the goal is to make the zucchini pliable, not “cook” it—it will take less than 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and then lay the slices out on a few thickness of paper towels. Blot with a couple of thicknesses of paper towels to dry the slices as much as possible. Toss with some of the herb and oil mixture.

Lift the zucchini slices out of the herb and oil mixture, one at a time, gently running the length of the slice between two fingers as you do. This will remove any excess oil back into the container of herb oil. As you work, lay the slices of zucchini out in front of you—as many as your work surface will comfortably allow. Place one of the goat cheese fingers at the end of each slice. Roll up the goat cheese in the dressed zucchini slices, wrapping as snugly as you are able without smashing the cheese. Repeat until all of the goat cheese fingers are wrapped.

Place the zucchini rolls in a shallow dish and drizzle more of the olive oil/herb mix over. Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature. Makes 18 to 24 pieces.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bruschetta (or Crostini) with Marinated Roasted Sweet Peppers

It seems fitting to follow up my "basics" post on how to roast and peel peppers by sharing another way to use them. The recipe—if you can call it that—for marinated roasted sweet peppers could hardly be simpler. The resulting peppers are quite versatile. They can be used as a sauce for pasta, a condiment for scrambled or poached eggs (or Tortilla Española), or a sauce for grilled or roasted fish. One of my favorite way to use them is as a topping for a ricotta or goat cheese smeared bruschetta or crostini.

The specific recipe I'm posting is from Janet Fletcher's Fresh from the Farmers' Market. Basically, strips of roasted peppers are added to a pan of warm garlic-infused olive oil and then left to marinate for an hour or so. During this resting period the peppers give up some of their liquid—enhancing the already flavorful olive oil. At the same time the peppers absorb the flavor of the garlicky oil. A bit of fresh basil is added just before serving. The flavors are pure, uncomplicated and delicious.

But this recipe is really only a starting place. In posting it, my hope is to give you lots of ideas for ways to dress or marinate your roasted peppers. In her book The Vineyard Kitchen, Maria Helm Sinskey makes a similar preparation. In addition to garlic, a few rinsed capers are sizzled briefly in the olive oil. The garlic is sliced, rather than minced, and the peppers are cut into squares instead of strips. After their brief rest, the peppers are finished with minced parsley and a squeeze of lemon.

Once you begin to think of the kinds of flavors that go well with peppers you will be able to come up with all kinds of wonderful variations. Besides garlic and capers, other things that will work well in the initial infusion of the olive oil include minced rosemary or oregano, hot pepper flakes, minced anchovies or crushed fennel or coriander seeds. A few olives—minced, sliced or or green—would be nice added along with the peppers. If you like the idea of a bit of acidity added at the end, balsamic vinegar would be a delicious variation on Sinskey's squeeze of lemon juice. As always, when making additions and variations, aim for restraint and balance. Adding too much or too many different things will mar the simple and straightforward flavor of these peppers.

Bruschetta with Sweet Peppers & Ricotta

2 large bell peppers (one red and one yellow, if possible), roasted, peeled and seeded—juices reserved
Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
4 oz. whole milk ricotta, seasoned with salt and pepper
6 slices country-style bread, cut 1/2-inch thick
6 to 8 basil leaves, chiffonade

Cut the peppers into lengthwise strips about 1/2-inch wide. Heat 2 T. olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the garlic; sauté until fragrant. Add the peppers, along with their reserved juices, and toss to coat with the oil. Cook just until hot through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the pan. The flavor is best if made at least an hour ahead of serving.

To serve, gently warm the peppers (if desired—they can also be left at room temperature) and stir in the basil. Toast the bread on both sides on a grill, under the broiler or in a toaster. Drizzle each slice on one side with olive oil. Spread the warm toast with the seasoned ricotta and top with a few strips of peppers along with some of their juices.

This same preparation may also be served on smaller crostini. To make crostini, slice a day old baguette crosswise into 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick slices. Distribute the slices on a cookie sheet in a single layer and brush liberally (on both sides) with olive oil. Place under the broiler and broil until the toasts are golden; turn the slices over and broil the second side until golden. Alternatively, toast in a hot oven until golden around the edges.

(Adapted from Fresh from the Farmers’ Market by Janet Fletcher)

Note: If using the peppers as a sauce (for fish, eggs, pasta, etc.) you may need to add more olive oil to the finished peppers.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

How to Roast Peppers (and a recipe for Pizza with Roasted Red Peppers)

After I posted my recipe for the Eggplant & Goat Cheese Tart I began to wonder if I had ever written a "basics" post on how to roast and peel peppers. In looking back, I saw that I had not. Since most of my recipes that use roasted peppers are written like the tart recipe (simply calling for "roasted peppers" without an explanation of how to produce them), this is an unfortunate omission. Everyone who enjoys roasted peppers should know how to make them. They are of course widely available in jars. But if you have only tasted the preserved variety, you are missing out. Roasted peppers in jars cannot hold a candle to their fresh counterparts—they are watery and flavorless in comparison. Since we are in the middle of pepper season right now, this seems like a perfect time for this "how-to" post.

Any kind of pepper may be roasted and peeled. Sweet and hot peppers alike benefit from this treatment that softens them, rids them of their (frequently) tough skins and imbues them with a subtle smoky-ness. The actual "roasting" may be done in any number of different ways. The method you choose will depend on your available equipment and your desired result.

If your goal is a meltingly soft pepper (appropriate even for puréeing) you might want to use a hot oven (400° or more). In the ambient heat of the oven the skin doesn't really blister and separate from the flesh, but by the time the flesh is cooked it is an easy thing to pull the tough skin away and discard it. It is not necessary to rotate or turn the pepper as it cooks. It is done when the pepper has collapsed and the skin is wrinkled. For pictures of a pepper cooked in this way, look at the pictures at the bottom of my post on Escalivada.

If you want a pepper that still has a lot texture and has just begun to cook, a direct flame—such as a gas burner on a gas range—is a good choice (simply lay the pepper directly on the grate over the flame turned up to high). This method will quickly char the skin before the flesh has an opportunity to cook through.

A more middle of the road approach—and the one I use the most—is to grill (gas, electric or charcoal) or broil the peppers. This method effectively chars the skin so that it is easily removed and produces tender flesh that still has some texture. If using a grill, place the pepper directly on the grill. If using a broiler, place the pepper in a pan directly under and as close to your heat source as your oven will allow.

When you purchase your peppers, if you know that you will be roasting them keep a couple of things in mind when choosing them. Peppers with thick walls are the best for roasting since there is a high ratio of flesh to skin. Also try to choose peppers with flat sides. Curled and puckered peppers (while just as tasty as flat sided peppers) are difficult to char evenly and will make roasting and peeling a bit more tedious.

To prepare a pepper for roasting, wash and dry it and rub it with a thin film of oil (it should not be dripping or sitting in excess oil).

I always use olive oil, but there is nothing wrong with using some other kind of cooking oil. Place the pepper over or under the heat source. As the pepper chars, turn it using a pair of tongs. Continue until all the surfaces are blackened and blistered.

I would love to be able to tell you how long this will take, but the fact is, the amount of time is dependent upon too many things to be able to estimate how long it will take given your set of conditions. But, because I was curious how long it took using my broiler (I have never paid attention before), I timed the pepper I was roasting for the pictures in this post. I was a bit surprised that the pepper took more than 8 minutes to blister and char on the first side.

After the first side though, each of the four sides took successively less time. It took just under 16 minutes to obtain a totally blackened pepper. However, I would never assume that this is how long it would take using another broiler or grill. My experience cooking in private homes has taught me that few things vary more than the strength and intensity of the heat produced by different broilers, grills and gas stovetops. The best advice I can give is to watch and then to react to what is going on in your oven or on your grill.

Many recipes will tell you that the next step is to put the pepper into a bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap (or into some other type of covered container). This is supposed to encourage the skin to release itself from the flesh. I have never found this to be necessary. Simply set the peppers aside until they are cool enough to handle. The cooking process alone should have been sufficient to separate the skins from the flesh.

Some recipes will tell you to rinse the peppers to rid them of their skins. This makes the peeling and seeding process pretty easy, but easy is not always best and I have to say I'm not a fan of this method. The cooked peppers are loaded with flavorful juices and oils. Placing them in a bowl of water or under a running tap will rinse all of this flavor away. Personally I would prefer a roasted pepper that has a few remaining bits of skin to one that has had all of its flavor rinsed away.

When I peel and seed bell peppers, I always place a sieve in a bowl and work over the bowl so that all of the juices will be strained and collected. Sweet peppers tend to produce a fair amount of juice and it is nice to be able to add this to a sauce, vegetable ragout (like ratatouille) or salad. In my experience chili peppers (poblanos, jalepeños, etc.) don't produce too much liquid—but my experience in this area is limited. In any case, working over a strainer set over a bowl is a good habit.

Remove the skins by rubbing and pulling them away with your fingers. Keep a paper towel or a bowl of water handy for cleaning off your fingers in case you find that bits of skin are sticking to your fingers and then being deposited back on the peppers as you work. Remove as much of the skin from the peppers in this way as you can. Most of the time all of the skin will come off, but sometimes a few stubborn spots will remain. Don't worry too much about this—you can take a fresh stab at it after removing the seeds.

After you have removed as much of the skin as you can, still holding the pepper over the bowl and working from the bottom or the pepper, tear open the pepper. The pepper will most likely separate into three or four sections. (If there is a lot of juice, this is most likely when it will be released.) Tear the sections away from the stem and the core. It works well for me to gently run each section in between two fingers to scrape away any seeds that are attached to the flesh and did not come away with the core. Any skin and seeds that remain at this point can be easily removed by placing each section of pepper flat on a cutting board and gently scraping with the back side of a chef's knife.

The peeled and seeded pepper sections can be placed in the bowl with the reserved liquid and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

As always when I write a "basics" post, I feel I need to say that when written out in great detail, it sounds much more complicated and difficult than it is. It is actually an easy and relatively fast process (once you know how to do it)—it takes much more time to describe it than it does to do it. So please don't be put off by the lengthy description.

To give you a recipe that will use a roasted pepper, I'm sharing one of my very favorite summer pizza recipes that I have adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It features the delicious combination of roasted peppers and potatoes. The sweet peppers and bland potatoes are complimented nicely by the salty capers and olives and a rich Fontina. Goat cheese would be nice too, if you happened to have some on hand. Enjoy!

Potato & Roasted Red Pepper Pizza

8 oz. New or small Yukon potatoes, well-scrubbed
3 to 4 t. Olive oil
1 large red bell pepper (about 8 oz.), roasted & peeled and cut into a large dice
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 T. chopped fresh thyme
1 T. capers, rinsed
pinch of red pepper flakes
4 to 5 oz. coarsely grated Fontina cheese
15 large black or green olives (1/3 c.), pitted and halved
Pizza dough for one pizza (see below)

Place the potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the peppers, garlic, thyme, capers & pepper flakes. Drizzle with a teaspoon or so of olive oil and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt & pepper—be careful, the olives and capers are salty.

Peel the potatoes and either thinly slice, or crumble coarsely.

Roll out the pizza dough into a 12- to 14-inch round and transfer to a floured baking sheet or pizza pan. Brush the dough round with 2 to 3 t. olive oil. Scatter a third of the cheese over the dough. Scatter the potatoes over the cheese,

followed by the pepper mixture, the olives and the remaining cheese.

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes).

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 12 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.

(Recipe adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison)

Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. (1/2 package) active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Combine the water, yeast, and 3/4 cup of the flour in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough. At this point you may use the dough immediately or cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 12 to 24 hours. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator. to let it warm up a bit, about an hour before baking the pizza.

When ready to make the pizza, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and baked.

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (I prefer the new “white” whole wheat flour).

(Crust adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Eggplant & Goat Cheese Tart

In Deborah Madison’s cookbook Local Flavors there is a recipe for an unusual eggplant gratin. It features cooked eggplant and caramelized onions bound together with an egg and cream custard. It is very good—the silken eggplant and creamy custard are a surprising (to me at least) and fine combination. Unfortunately, it is also a rather unattractive dish…one I chose not to post when I first tasted it for this reason alone. 

A few days ago as I was considering a frozen short crust pastry shell that I had been wanting to use for some time, I remembered this combination and thought that it might be made into an attractive tart. My tart shell was a bit unusual in that I had made it to fit into a pizza pan instead of a standard removable bottom tart pan. It’s shape seemed perfect for showing off a spiral of eggplant slices.

Besides the eggplant and caramelized onions I layered in some chunks of roasted red pepper and a shower of fresh basil before pouring the custard over all. 

But you shouldn’t feel limited to this combination. There are many possible additions that would go beautifully with the eggplant: A few halved cherry tomatoes, nestled cut side up among the slices of eggplant…a bunch of Swiss chard, cooked with a bit of garlic and arranged under the eggplant…later in the season, some caramelized slices of butternut squash would be a nice addition. I finished my tart with crumbles of soft goat cheese and some grated Parmesan…but of course other cheeses (Pecorino, Gruyère, Feta, etc.) would work well too.

If you aren’t comfortable improvising with a custard-based tart (basically a quiche), check out my quiche basics post from last spring. And don’t feel you have to make this particular quiche in a pizza pan. Just as with the quiche in the basics post, this one can be made in a standard-sized tart pan if you prefer. Simply overlap the eggplant rounds a bit more tightly as you layer them into the crust. 

If you are looking for a way to enjoy your summer eggplant that is just a bit different, I encourage you to give this tart a try. Served with a tomato and olive salad, it made a delicious dinner.

Eggplant & Goat Cheese Tart 

Olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 T. picked thyme
1 globe eggplant (about 1 lb.)
1 12- to 13-inch tart shell, blind baked (see below)
1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch squares
2 to 3 T. basil chiffonade
2 eggs
1 c. heavy cream
salt & pepper
2 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
1 oz. grated Parmesan

Warm some olive oil in a sauté pan set over moderate heat. Add the onions and the thyme along with a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions are very tender and beginning to caramelize. Set aside to cool.

While the onion cooks, slice the eggplant cross-wise about 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick. Spread the eggplant on a baking sheet and brush on both sides with olive oil. Broil the eggplant until golden brown. Turn and broil on the other side. If, when the eggplant is golden it is not cooked through, remove from the baking sheet and place in 3 or 4 stacks so that it will continue to steam and cook through as it cools.

When ready to build the tart, preheat the oven to 375°. Scatter the caramelized onion, roasted red peppers and basil over the baked crust. Next, arrange the eggplant in slightly overlapping concentric circles. Crumble the goat cheese over all. 

Whisk together the eggs and the cream. Season the custard with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully pour the custard over the vegetables, jiggling the pan a bit so the custard will be evenly distributed. Scatter the Pecorino cheese over all. Bake the tart until the custard is set—about 20 to 25 minutes. When the tart has finished baking, if it is not as brown as you would like, slide it under the broiler for a minute or two. Serves 6 to 8.

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200g)
1/2 t. salt
11 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (150g)
1/4 to 1/3 c. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 1/4 c. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound. Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all of the dough is flat. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do. Form the finished dough into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter a 12- to 13-inch pizza pan and set it aside. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8- to 1/6–inch thick and is about 15 inches across. Trim any ragged edges. Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half. Transfer it to the prepared pan. Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Fold the edges to form a 1/2-inch rim of a double thickness of dough. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To blind bake, line the pastry with aluminum foil or parchment paper, pressing it into the corners and edges. Add a layer of pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a 400° oven for about 20 minutes. When the pastry begins to color on the edges, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a golden brown (another 5 minutes or so).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Watermelon, Avocado & Feta Salad with Mint

Last week I received an email from a friend asking if I had a favorite recipe featuring watermelon. I had to admit that I didn't. When I eat watermelon, I usually just enjoy a big, drippy doesn't need much else. In my response though I mentioned that a very popular way to serve it was in a Greek-style salad with feta and mint and that a Google search should turn up several recipes.

This whole exchange made me hungry for a watermelon salad. So when I was confronted by a huge display of watermelons at the farmers' market on Saturday I naturally bought one. Today's post is one of the things I did with version of the aforementioned popular and delicious salad.

As is occasionally the case, I don't really have an exact recipe to share. The truth is, you don't need one....just prepare all of your individual ingredients and then begin layering them on individual plates—or one large platter—in amounts that look good to you. Because I am aware that some readers are uncomfortable attempting a recipe without some kind of guidelines for quantities, I will at least give an estimate for per person quantities.

For the watermelon, if you can get your hands on a seedless variety, your work will be easier. My watermelon—though juicy and sweet—had lots of seeds. Removing them is a bit tedious, but worth it for a salad. To prepare the watermelon, cut it into manageable wedges. Your eventual goal is 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick triangular shaped pieces. I had a football shaped watermelon that weighed about 10 pounds—I cut it in half cross-wise and then cut each half in quarters lengthwise. I then cut thin (1/4– to 1/3-inch thick) cross-wise slices, removed the rind and halved and seeded these slices.

You should cut your watermelon in whatever way makes sense to you, given its original shape and size. For each person figure about 3/4 of a pound of untrimmed watermelon. After trimming, the weight of the flesh per person will be about 6 oz.

The avocado and feta should also be prepared in 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick slices. After halving, pitting and peeling the avocado, slice it either lengthwise or crosswise. I did the latter since it made the slices of avocado similar in size to the slices of watermelon. Use half an avocado per person. For the feta, simply slice it (purchase feta in blocks in brine...not in crumbles...feta in brine tastes better and will keep longer) and break the slices into random-sized chunks. Weigh out about 1 1/2 oz. per person.

The remaining ingredients are pitted Kalamata olives, red onion and fresh mint. The olives should be halved lengthwise. I used 5 or 6 large olives per person. The red onion, should be sliced very thinly (use a mandolin), rinsed under cold running water and blotted dry. The quantity of onion is completely up to you. I purchase beautiful tiny red onions (about 2 oz. each) at my farmers' market—they are perfect for a small household. When I made our salads I only used half of one for two of us. Typically I find raw onion to be overpowering, so I don't use much. But the onion added really nice crunch and flavor to this salad and I would not hesitate to use them with a heavier hand.

Just as with the onion, the quantity of mint is up to you. I love mint—and it is particularly refreshing in this salad—so I used a lot. If the leaves are large, tear them into smaller pieces or stack them and cut them into a wide chiffonade. If the leaves are tiny and delicate, just use them as they are.

To pull it all together, the salad needs a tangy vinaigrette. The first time I made it I made a simple vinaigrette with 1/2 T. red wine vinegar, 1/4 t. honey and 1 1/2 T. olive oil (for two salads). On another occasion I used a shallot-less version of the vinaigrette I use on my Chicken salad with Cantaloupe, Arugula, Feta and Mint. Both were good, but I think the salad would be just as good with a simple drizzle of olive oil followed by a drizzle of red wine vinegar or a generous squeeze of lemon.  The ease of dressing it this last way is much more in keeping with the casual nature of this salad.

To serve the salad, build it on individual plates or on one large platter. First, place half of the watermelon on the plate. Follow this with half the avocado, half the cheese, and half of the onions, olives and mint. Season with salt & pepper and drizzle with some of the vinaigrette. Repeat with all of the elements and serve.

Update 9/25/2012:  I just ran across an extraordinarily beautiful version of this salad on a friend's pinterest board.  I saw it earlier this summer (on another pinterest board...before I wrote this post)--but didn't bother to look for the original post when I prepared my salad (I just remembered the image of the beautiful green of the avocado against the pink of the watermelon flesh).  Anyway I'm very glad I ran across it again so I can share the link.  It is a really lovely will inspire you too!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Refreshing Salad of Mid-Summer Vegetables

Even though it has only been a week since my last post, it feels much longer than that to me. My blog has been pretty much completely out of my mind for all of that time. Typically, I think about it frequently....what I will post techniques or recipes that I want to try and perhaps write about...what kinds of things people might be interested in seeing.... But recently other things have been occupying my thoughts and filling my days. One of those things is the Olympics. I admit it. Everything gets put on the backburner during the Olympics—even sleep.  I love the Olympics.  So today, so there won't be too much time between posts, I thought I would write a short post to share a very simple recipe for a cool and delicious mid-summer salad that we have been enjoying during these hot and busy days.

Before I talk about the salad though, I wanted to share one of the other big things that has been occupying my time for the past week: I have been updating the website for my business, Simple ▪ Food. I'm not particularly tech-savvy so it took me more time than I had anticipated. But it is finished now and I'm very excited about its new look. More importantly, it will now be very easy for me to make updates to the menus, class schedules, etc. Even if you don't live in the Kansas City metropolitan area I encourage you to check it out if you are interested in learning more about me and some of the things I do when I'm not blogging.

As for the salad, not surprisingly for this time of year, it features roasted corn. I know I have mentioned before how much I love these kinds of salad. We eat them all summer long. I just posted one a couple of weeks ago and if you look on the recipe page you will find several others. When accompanied by just about any kind of meat or fish (grilled steak, sautéed pork chop or chicken breast, a nice filet of salmon or halibut, etc.) they make a substantial meal. But when served with sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, a grilled cheese sandwich or a quesadilla they make a meal that is satisfying without being heavy.

In addition to roasted corn, this salad features a mixture of cooked and raw vegetables (the usual suspects for this time of year—zucchini, green beans, cherry tomatoes, red onion), an abundance of fresh herbs and a sharp, garlicky vinaigrette.

It is excellent served at room temperature, but because the weather has been so very hot I have particularly enjoyed eating it chilled. Because a vinaigrette will eventually turn the green beans an army green color, if you are going to make the salad ahead and serve it cold, leave the green beans out and increase the quantity of raw zucchini.  But no matter what temperature you serve it, you will find that it is so speedy and so easy that you will be able to get back to watching the Olympics in no time at all.

Salad of Roasted Corn, Zucchini, Green Beans,
Cherry Tomatoes & Herbs

1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 t. red wine vinegar
1 small (or half a large) clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
2 to 3 T. olive oil

2 large ears of corn in the husk
4 oz. Green beans, cut in one inch pieces on the diagonal (optional)
1 small zucchini (about 4 oz.), washed and dried, ends trimmed away
1 to 2 oz. red onion, thinly sliced and rinsed (about 1/3 to 1/2 c. sliced onion)
2 T. coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 T. basil chiffonade
1 T. minced chives
1 c. cherry tomatoes (mixed colors, if possible), halved
Salt & Pepper

Place the lemon juice and vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in the garlic along with a generous pinch of salt. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the lemon and vinegar to soften the garlic. Whisk in 2 T. of the oil. Taste and correct the seasoning and balance. The vinaigrette should be quite tangy.

Place the corn, in the husk directly on the oven rack of a preheated 375° to 400° oven. Roast the corn for about 20 minutes. To test for doneness, give the tip of the ear a squeeze—the kernels will feel firm, but springy, through the husks. (If you were to squeeze it before putting the ears in the oven, the kernels would feel very firm...almost hard.) Remove the husks as soon as you are able to comfortably handle the corn. As long as it is in the hot husk, it will continue to cook. If necessary, use a thick kitchen towel to hold the corn if it is still too hot to handle comfortably after about 5 minutes. Cut the kernels off of the cooled cobs. You should have a generous 1 1/2 cups of roasted corn. Set aside to cool.

If adding the green beans, while the corn roasts bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Season with salt. Drop in the beans and boil until just tender. Lift the beans out of the water and spread on a towel to cool.

Using a mandoline slicer, slice the zucchini very thinly crosswise (less than 1/16th inch thick, if possible).

Place the cooled corn, green beans (if using), zucchini, onions, herbs and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Season with salt (generously) & freshly ground pepper. Drizzle the vinaigrette over and toss to combine. If the salad seems dry, or is too acidic, add another tablespoon of olive oil. Toss again. Taste and correct the seasoning. Makes 4 cups of salad.