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 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 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, canned chickpeas make a delicious substitution.  You will need 1 can...drained and rinsed...for this recipe.  

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.