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Zucchini Tian

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Zucchini Tian, courtesy of Food 52, (courtesy of Julia Child).

The best way to cook is always to start with what’s in season.  And in the middle of summer, zucchini is pretty much a consistent go-to for me. Whether it’s simply grilled, chopped and added to a lemony couscous, or shredded and sautéed with some butter and shallot, I love it.  But last Friday on a slightly cooler-than-usual evening I was looking for a slightly more substantial zucchini side dish.  I wanted it to be the only thing I served alongside a pan roasted salmon.   After a quick search on my favorite site food52.com, I landed on Zucchini Tian. Perfect.

It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.  The base of zucchini made it light enough to still feel “healthy” but the rice, parmesan cheese and milk gave it the body I was hoping would help it do double-duty as both a starch and a veggie with dinner.  It was a lovely accompaniment to the salmon I made, but it could also stand up to a steak, or any other roast.  It paired well (along with the salmon) with a crisp French Picpoul, but any sharp white wine would be a fine complement.

Chefs note: This dish is fairly involved, and does require a lot of preparation.  It’s not something you’ll likely throw together on a Wednesday night, but it is impressive, and is worth the time when you have it.

Happy eating!

  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds zucchini
  • 1/2 cup plain, raw, untreated white rice
  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, mashed or finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • About 2 1/2 cups warm liquid: zucchini juices plus milk, heated in a pan (watch this closely so that it doesn’t curdle)
  • About 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese (save 2 tablespoons for later)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A heavily buttered 6- to 8-cup, flameproof baking and serving dish about 1 1/2 inches deep
Courgettes Rapées (Grated and Salted Zucchini)
  1. Shave the stem and the tip off each zucchini (or other summer squash), scrub the vegetable thoroughly but not harshly with a brush under cold running water to remove any clinging sand or dirt.
  2. If vegetables are large, halve or quarter them. If seeds are large and at all tough, and surrounding flesh is coarse rather than moist and crisp, which is more often the case with yellow squashes and striped green cocozelles than with zucchini, cut out and discard the cores.
  3. Rub the squash against the coarse side of a grater, and place grated flesh in a colander set over a bowl.
  4. For each 1 pound (2 cups) of grated squash, toss with 1 teaspoon of salt, mixing thoroughly. Let the squash drain 3 or 4 minutes, or until you are ready to proceed.
  5. Just before cooking, squeeze a handful dry and taste. If by any chance the squash is too salty, rinse in a large bowl of cold water, taste again; rinse and drain again if necessary. Then squeeze gently by handfuls, letting juices run back into bowl. Dry on paper towels. Zucchini will not be fluffy; it is still dampish, but the excess liquid is out. The pale-green, slightly saline juice drained and squeezed out of the zucchini has a certain faint flavor that can find its uses in vegetable soups, canned soups, or vegetable sauces.
Tian de Courgettes au Riz [Gratin of Zucchini, Rice, and Onions with Cheese]
  1. While the shredded zucchini is draining (reserve the juices,) drop the rice into boiling salted water, bring rapidly back to the boil, and boil exactly 5 minutes; drain and set aside.
  2. In a large (11-inch) frying pan, cook the onions slowly in the oil for 8 to 10 minutes until tender and translucent. Raise heat slightly and stir several minutes until very lightly browned.
  3. Stir in the grated and dried zucchini and garlic. Toss and turn for 5 to 6 minutes until the zucchini is almost tender.
  4. Sprinkle in the flour, stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes, and remove from heat.
  5. Gradually stir in the 2 1/2 cups warm liquid (zucchini juices plus milk, heated gently in a pan — don’t let it get so hot that the milk curdles!). Make sure the flour is well blended and smooth.
  6. Return over moderately high heat and bring to the simmer, stirring. Remove from the heat again, stir in the blanched rice and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Taste very carefully for seasoning. Turn into buttered baking dish, strew remaining cheese on top, and dribble the olive oil over the cheese.
  7. About half an hour before serving, bring to simmer on top of stove (you can skip this step if your baking dish isn’t flameproof), then set in upper third of a preheated 425-degree F oven until tian is bubbling and top has browned nicely. The rice should absorb all the liquid.

Blueberry Scones fit for dessert.

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When last Sunday turned cool and blustery, I turned to my stove to make one of my favorite breakfast treats for an evening snack.  Blueberry scones.  I happened to have organic blueberries on hand, some heavy cream left over from a pasta dish I had made earlier, and plenty of butter, flour and sugar stashed away in my cupboards, just waiting for an opportunity to turn themselves into something delicious.   In less time than it would have taken me to walk to and from my favorite bakery I had 8 perfectly golden, perfectly scrumptious scones.  And I now have a wonderful breakfast to look forward to for the rest of the week.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 5 TBSP butter (really cold – stick it in the freezer for 20-30 min ahead of time)
  • 1 cup heavy cream (again, really cold), plus a little extra for brushing the scones before baking
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 TBSP turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl, and transfer into a food processor.  Cut the butter up into small pieces (halve the stick of butter lengthwise, then flip it and halve it again, and then cut it 6-8 times across) and toss it, along with the lemon zest, into the food processor with the dry ingredients.  Pulse until well blended (pieces will look like dry sand).  Transfer mixture back into large mixing bowl, and to that, gently mix in blueberries.

Make a well in the center, and pour the heavy cream into the middle.  Slowly blend everything together, being careful not to break the blueberries.  When mostly mixed, (it’s okay if there are a still some bits that are still flour-y, and some that are wetter), move the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball.  Work quickly so the butter doesn’t get too warm.  Roll, or press out into a 3/4″ thick rectangle – around 10″ x 7″.  Cut the rectangle into quarters, and then cut the quarters into even triangles – making 8 even pieces.

Place the 8 pieces onto an ungreased cookie sheet, brush with extra heavy cream, and sprinkle on the turbinado sugar.  Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 15-18 minutes.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack and just TRY to wait until they’re cooled to dig in.  I give you five minutes before you break down and nibble off one of the corners 🙂

Happy Eating!

Rhubarb Compote

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For any of you that aren’t sure what to do with extra rhubarb, I’d suggest making up a batch of Rhubarb Compote.  It’s simple to prepare, lasts for a week, and goes with absolutely everything.

I initially got the idea after having dinner at Sportello, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston.  Instead of just bread and olive oil, they serve bread with fresh ricotta and rhubarb compote.  It’s one of the most delicious pairings – the flavors of the mellow, creamy ricotta against the sharp and sweet rhubarb perfectly complement each other.

So I decided to try and figure out how to make a compote that was close.  I tried a bunch of different ingredient combinations before I got it right – different sweeteners (sugar only vs. juice only), different acids (vinegar vs. citrus) – you get the point.  And after four batches, I think I nailed it.

What I’ve noted below is directional.  Depending on the amount of rhubarb you use, and how sweet it happens to be, you may want to adjust.  So remember, add slowly.  You can always increase but you can’t take anything away.

Rhubarb Compote:

  • 4 stalks rhubarb, chopped into 1/4″ pieces
  • 3 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 TBSP orange juice
  • Pinch of salt

Toss everything into a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook on low for 15-20 minutes.

As the mixture starts to break down and darken in color be sure to begin tasting to make sure it’s the right amount of sweetness for you — everyone’s palate is different.

If for some reason you’ve gone too sweet, add in 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar at a time until you’ve reached the balance you’re looking for.

Once it’s cooked down, and the flavors are where you want them, let the mixture cool for 15 minutes or so and then you’re ready to go.  This compote will brighten any dish.  For savory pairings, it’s wonderful with hard, salty cheeses, or as a sauce on pork.  You can use it as a topping for ice cream or yogurt. It’s even great on toast.  The possibilities are endless.

Happy eating!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

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Growing up, I can clearly remember summer days at my grandparents’ house.  I would sneak a handful of sugar from the kitchen and then dart into the garden to find the perfect stalks of rhubarb to crunch on.  Once I made my choice, I’d break off the end, crushing it into my sugar-filled hand. And then, my first bite — sweet, sour, crunchy, juicy.  To me, that was the taste of summer.  Well, that and my grandmother’s spectacular strawberry rhubarb pie. No dessert could come close to it!  So when I spotted the loveliest quart of strawberries and beautifully blushed rhubarb at Allandale Farm a few weeks ago, I couldn’t resist grabbing both.

The Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble I decided to make is much less labor intensive than my grandmother’s homemade pie, but every bit as scrumptious.

Topping:

  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar in the raw (cane sugar)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups rhubarb, (about 3 stalks), chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 1 quart strawberries, plus some extra (don’t have to be precise)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3-4 TBSP cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

To prepare the topping simply combine the flour, baking powder, both sugars, lemon zest and melted butter.  Mix until crumbly.  Mixture should be fairly dry.  Toss it into the fridge to keep cool until the filling is ready.

Next, wash, core and halve the strawberries.  (Depending on the size of the berries, you may want to quarter them.)  Then clean and trim the rhubarb, cutting into 1″ pieces.

Toss together with the lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Pour filling into 8″ square baking pan with high sides.

Cover the filling with the topping, (rap the pan on the counter a few times to make sure everything settles), and place onto a foil-lined baking sheet before putting into the oven.  This will help tremendously if the crumble bubbles over.  Without it, the oven would be a smokey mess!

Bake for 45 min or until lightly browned on top and bubbly on the sides.  It’s seriously good enough to eat on its own but I would never discourage topping it with some vanilla ice cream.

Happy eating!

The Perfect Scone Topping

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All anyone can talk about is the Royal Wedding. And as much as I tried to rise above the ever-building insanity surrounding this event, I inevitably found myself drawn into the thick of it… Will! Kate!! What will they wear? What will they eat?  I should really be focusing on the more important world events, but for some reason, this has captured my (and apparently everyone else in the world’s) attention.

To really put things over the edge, my team at work decided to host a “Royal Wedding Breakfast”. Of course, my contribution must be food-related, so I’ve offered up a take on the oh-so-English Devonshire (Clotted) Cream.  Someone is bringing in scones from The Wholy Grain bakery in the South End, so this would seem to be a fitting accoutrement, no?

The recipe I’m using is really simple, and one I found on joyofbaking.com.  Since I unfortunately don’t have enough time to search out unpasteurized heavy cream and let it cook for 8-12 hours, I thought this would be the next best bet.  And who doesn’t like mascarpone cheese and heavy cream?

The following recipe and photo are both courtesy of joyofbaking.com. 

  • Four ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 or 2 TBSP granulated white sugar
  • zest of one lemon

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat until the mixture holds it shape and looks like softly whipped cream.  Use right away or cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Serve with scones, crumpets, or any other toasted mound of loveliness…

Happy eating!

Salt + Pepper Chicken and Mediterranean Potato Salad

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Any of you living in Boston will agree that the past winter – and even the start of spring – has been tough.   So to kick off what I’m hoping will be a slightly warmer week, I decided to prepare a lighter, spring-inspired dinner.

And because I didn’t have a lot of time to cook AND track my progress with photos, all I have to show for myself is the above shot of the final product: simple salt+pepper pan-seared split chicken breast with a warm Mediterranean potato salad.

This potato and green bean salad is really one of my favorite things to make.  It pairs beautifully with any protein – chicken, fish, beef… and is also really good on its own.  It’s hearty, thanks to the potatoes and chickpeas, and has big flavor that comes from the acidic bite of the dressing, and the brightness of the olives and capers.

Potato Salad

  • 1/4 pound haricot verts (or the finest green beans you can find)
  • 1 lb small red potatoes
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3/4 cup chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley and mint
  • 2 TBSP capers
  • 2 TBSP chopped green olives
  • 1 TBSP each of extra virgin olive oil, grain dijon mustard, good red wine vinegar

Clean the green beans and boil for 2-3 minutes in salted boiling water.  Drain (with a hand strainer – keep the boiling water for the potatoes!) and immediately immerse them in a ice water bath to stop cooking and preserve the bright green color.

If using small red potatoes, quarter them so they’re about an inch and a half big (if using larger potatoes, cut them so that they get to that size).  Place them in the same boiling water used for the green beans and boil for 10-15 min or until a knife pierces through the center easily.

While the potatoes are boiling, take the green beans out of the cold water, pat dry, and place in a large bowl.  To the bowl, add the red onion (chopped), chickpeas (rinsed), capers (chopped), olives (chopped), and herbs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, mustard and red wine vinegar.  When the potatoes are ready, drain, and add (while warm) to the mixture already in the bowl.  Pour over the dressing and toss well.

Salt + Pepper Chicken

This recipe is super simple.  But to get it right, the key is PATIENCE.  First, let 2 lbs of bone-in, skin-on split chicken breast rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. Then pat dry, brush with olive oil, and generously sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Second, put 3 TBSP olive oil (or canola oil – it can get hotter without burning) into a 12″ cast iron skillet (or any other large skillet you have – that can easily fit all the chicken pieces) and heat until you see the oil start to smoke.  Then place the chicken in, skin-side down.  Let sear for at least five minutes until a golden brown crust has developed and it pulls away easily from the skillet.  Don’t attempt to move or flip the chicken before that crust is fully formed – if you do, you’ll rip away the skin, leaving parts of it in the pan, and be left with a torn-up looking chicken with a golden color, but no crispness.

Once flipped, let cook for another 5-7 minutes, and turn every so often until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees.

Let rest for 5-10 minutes so the juices can redistribute and settle back in, and serve with a generous portion of the salad (at room temperature) along with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc – a nice French Sancerre would be fabulous!

Happy eating!

Best. Vodka sauce. Ever.

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I recently watched an episode of The Barefoot Contessa in which she featured a recipe from Joe Realmuto, executive chef of Nick and Toni’s, an Italian restaurant in the Hamptons.

I’ve never been particularly interested in making or eating anything with a vodka sauce.  I don’t know why, but for some reason the idea of putting vodka in my food really threw me off.  But after seeing the way Chef Realmuto prepared this dish on the program, and watching both he and Ina Garten “ooooohhhhh” and “aaaaahhhhh” about how amazing it was, I figured I had to try it out.  And boy am I glad I did.  This will absolutely, without a doubt be a go-to of mine for dinner parties (and lazy, rainy Sunday evenings) for a long time to come.

Although time-consuming, with the exception of a couple tedious steps the preparation of this sauce is fairly easy.  First, simply chop up a medium-sized yellow onion and finely mince 3 garlic cloves.  Throw them into a large dutch oven (that has a cover and is oven-proof) with 1/4 cup olive oil.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Next, add in 1/2 tsp of red chili flakes and 1 1/2 tsp oregano and cook for about 1 minute more.  Now, this may seem like a lot of oregano, but this makes a lot of sauce, and the flavor really adds a lot to the final product.  After a minute, add 1 full cup of vodka and cook until the mixture reduces by half.

While the mixture is reducing, strain two (2) 28 oz. cans of whole, peeled tomatoes.  I use San Marzano because I personally think they are the most flavorful, but any brand you like will be just fine. (Helpful tip – save the juice you strain from the tomatoes and either freeze it into cubes for future flavoring of soups, stews, and sauces, or for homemade bloody mary mix).

After the mixture has reduced by about half…

… using your hands, crush the tomatoes into the pot – being very careful to do so slowly, lest you end up with a shirt covered with tomato juice/seeds (like I did).  For those of you not used to working with your hands, this may seem sort of gross, but there’s something actually really nice about doing something with your hands instead of a kitchen tool.

Once all the tomatoes have been crushed into the sauce, add in 1/2 tsp of black pepper, 2 tsp of salt, stir well then cover the pot and place into a pre-heated 375 degree oven.  Cook covered for 1 1/2 hours, after which the tomatoes will look something like this.

Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes or so, and then using a food processor, puree everything in batches until smooth.

Return the pureed sauce to the dutch oven and reheat, adding another 2 TBSP oregano and enough heavy cream (3/4 cup to a full cup) to give it a silky consistency and deep pink color.

Taste and add more salt/cream if necessary.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then toss in cooked pasta. (Let’s be honest, this meal is ALL about the sauce, so the pasta is totally secondary.)  This time around I chose rigatoni, but any large shape with a lot of space to fill like penne or shells, will be just fine.  If you’re a cheese lover, add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan.  But even without, it will be DELISH.  Make this dish… seriously.  It’s that good.

Serve with slices of country bread and a light green salad with a simple vinaigrette.  Good wine pairings for this would be a light bodied red such as Beaujolais, Cote du Rhone, or even a Rose.  Verdicchio would be a nice white option.

Happy eating!