Sunday, September 16, 2018

Farro with Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Mint & Walnuts

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Swiss Chard & Sweet Corn “Spanakopita”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swiss Chard & Sweet Corn “Spanakopita”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marinated Summer Squash with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, & Capers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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