Last Call for Summer: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

Filed under: Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , September 10, 2018

The calendar may say September, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a sudden shift in the weather. In San Diego, heat waves will continue well into October–and I’m betting that’s no different across the country. So, to help out you and your clients endure those sudden blasts of rising temperatures and humidity, here’s a dish that will make you sigh in relief–and it brings together savory and sweet: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho.

When I came across this gazpacho in Serious Eats I immediately felt refreshed–and bet you will, too. Instead of prepping a hot soup that you can then chill, here’s a cold summer soup that requires only the patience of waiting for flavors to come together in the fridge, not of schvitzing over a hot stove. The big activities are roughly chopping the fruit and vegetable ingredients and, after they have been mixed together with salt and marinated for an hour to bring out more flavors, puréeing them into soup in your blender. So easy!

So, what besides the watermelon makes this gazpacho unique? Well, first, let’s not under rate the value of the watermelon since who doesn’t love a cold slice in 90° temps plus high humidity? Add that splendid sweet juiciness to a traditional tomato soup and you’ll be sighing in happiness. But the other factor is the substitution of toasted almonds for bread. Now we have a light, low-carb summer soup that adds nuttiness and creaminess.

Like a little heat to offset the sweetness? Me, too. So I added a couple of seeded Serrano peppers from my garden to the soup. It won’t blow your top, but it will give your mouth a little zing, along with the acid of the sherry vinegar.

Top this light soup with crema, sour cream, or, as I did, some crumbles of goat cheese.

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Serious Eats
Yield: 2 quarts

Ingredients
6 cups watermelon, roughly diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly diced
1 medium cucumber, roughly diced
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 Serrano peppers, seeded and roughly diced
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
1/3 cup crema, sour cream, or goat cheese
Additional diced vegetables for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. In a large bowl combine watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, peppers, toasted almonds, kosher salt, and pepper. Set aside to marinate for about an hour.

2. In a blender, working in batches, purée the vegetables and their liquid until smooth and creamy. Transfer the soup into a large bowl. Whisk in the sherry vinegar and olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper (and even the sherry vinegar, if necessary, to balance the acid).

3. Cover soup and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. Taste and further adjust seasonings if necessary. Ladle soup in bowls and garnish with the crema and diced vegetables.

What are your favorite end-of-summer, no heat dishes to make for clients? What’s your go-to dish for yourself and your family?

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For years I’ve been making pickles, mostly dill pickles. I never really thought of it as “fermenting.” But I recently researched and wrote a story on fermenting vegetables for the San Diego Union-Tribune. It was then that I realized that fermenting was exactly what I was doing. Perhaps you’ve been doing it too. Or, perhaps you’ve been curious about it and intrigued enough to want to do it for clients–perhaps as a gift of a healthy snack.

Thanks to my friend Curt Wittenberg, a scientist who has been fermenting everything from beer to sauerkraut and has been my guru through this, I decided to branch out and pickle some vegetables I had  using a salt brine. (Pickling with vinegar is just pickling.) And that’s what I did last month with a simple quart of vibrant purple cauliflower, a pretty red and yellow stripped bell pepper, huge jalapeños, and lots of garlic cloves. I kind of had the makings of a giardiniera so I thought I’d use the seasonings for that: black peppercorns, dried oregano, celery seeds, and red pepper flakes. No olive oil, though.

And, by the way, this is the perfect post-farmers market shopping project. Do it with your kids or grandkids. Hey, it’s a science project!

I had forgotten that several years ago I had contributed to a Go Fund Me for a little company called FARMcurious that was creating a fermenting set, with lids, stoppers, and airlocks. The set locks out air–and mold and yeast–and provides an escape for carbon dioxide. As a funder, I got one and put it in my garage–and it just became part of the landscape of the shelves. But no more. I pulled it out and was almost ready. But in interviewing Curt I realized I needed two other tools I didn’t even know existed (I had jars): glass fermentation weights, to make sure the vegetables stay covered by the brine, and a vegetable tamper, which you use to cram as much produce into your jar. I ordered those from Cultures for Health.

The process is simple. Chop up the vegetables to the size you like. Make a salt brine of water and salt. Make sure everything you touch–from the jar to the fermenting set to the tamper to the weights–is perfectly clean. Then start filling the jar. Add your spices first, then the vegetables. You can layer them by vegetable type or mix them up. I layered these. Tamp them down. Then add the brine. Top with the weight (and carefully pull out any little random pieces of vegetables or spices. Screw on the lid of the fermenting set. Set it out on your kitchen counter, away from direct sun, and let science do its work.

That’s it. If you don’t have a fermenting set, no worries. I never used one before and have been making pickles for seeming centuries. Instead use a clean lid and “burp” the jar, meaning slightly loosen it and then tighten it again once a day for the first few days. This lets that carbon dioxide escape.

Here’s a quick note from Curt about the proportions for the brine and vegetables. In short, it’s kind of improvisational. It depends on the size of the vegetable pieces and their density. So, he suggests having an extra bottle or bottles in different sizes in case there’s overage. You can always rummage around your fridge and add more vegetables if you didn’t prepare enough for another quart jar. And save any excess brine to add in case some bubbles out of the bottle or to add after you remove your pickle pebble and want to start sampling.

After a few days or up to 12 days (I pegged it for five days, at Curt’s advice, given the hot weather), unscrew the fermenting set and replace it with a regular screw-on lid and refrigerate. Then eat! Add these to a sandwich or a cheese or charcuterie platter–or just snack on them.

So, here we were on Day 1. I was hoping: A) No mold develops and B) It tastes terrific. I expected that those vibrant colors of the first day would fade but with luck/science, the colors would be replaced by big flavor.

Instead, I was surprised to find that the purple from the cauliflower leached through the mixture to create a jar of fuschia pickles. And they are wonderful. Crunchy and briny, but with the essence of oregano coming through. I love snacking on them, even the slices of jalapeños. In fact, they turned out so well I made a second jar with conventional cauliflower and sans the peppers for my mother, who is tickled with them.

Fermented Giardiniera
Adapted from Curt Wittenberg’s Lacto-Fermented Mixed Vegetable recipe
Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Approximately 1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
6 black peppercorns
4 or more peeled garlic cloves
1 cup cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 large jalapeños, thickly sliced

Instructions
To prepare brine, warm 3/4 cups of water, add salt, and stir to dissolve. Add 3/4 cups cold water to bring brine to room temperature.

In a quart jar add the oregano, red pepper flakes, celery seeds, peppercorns, and the garlic cloves. Fill jar with vegetables, leaving about 1 ½ inches of headspace. Pour brine over all, just covering the vegetables and leaving the headspace. Top with the glass fermentation weight.

Cover jar with lid and airlock, if using, or tight lid. Ferment at room temperature for 3 to 12 days. If using a tight lid, be sure to burp the jar by slightly loosening the lid and then tightening it again daily for the first few days of fermentation.

Once the vegetables have developed the desired acidity, move them to cold storage.

Have you gotten into fermentation? What do you make and what advice do you have for beginners?f

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Chefs, what vegetables are you growing this summer? In my garden I’ve been growing two varieties of sweet Italian peppers: Jimmy Nardellos and Marconi Reds. Both are considered frying peppers, although the Marconi Red–yes, singular; so far I’ve only gotten one–is at least three times the size of the Jimmy Nardellos.

These are what you could call “wash and wear” peppers. They don’t need skinning. They barely need seeding. Put them on the grill, chop and add to a sauce, add raw to a salad, pickle them, or sauté and add to eggs or a quiche or wherever you enjoy a pepper.

I decided to culture bend and create a lovely summer appetizer I call Sweet Italian Peppers and Goat Cheese Toasts–and want to share it with you as an easy and really tasty dish you can create for catering gigs. This doesn’t call for a strict recipe. All you’ll need are olive oil, the sweet peppers, a red onion, garlic, sea salt and pepper, a baguette or long loaf of Italian bread, and a creamy cheese.

Slice the peppers into thin strips. Slice the red onion. Mince the garlic. Sauté them in olive oil until they’re soft and just beginning to caramelize, then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Want to change up or deepen the flavors? Add capers like I did. Or add toasted pine nuts. Add currants or diced dried figs. Or basil leaves. Or sauté a small amount of fennel root. Or a dash of sherry vinegar or dry sherry or your favorite red wine or balsamic vinegar.

Okay, once you’ve cooked up the peppers, turn on the broiler. Slice the bread in half lengthwise and into individual pieces (about 2 1/2 inches in length), then place in the broiler cut side up for just a few minutes. While the bread is lightly toasting, break up the cheese. It could be mozzarella or ricotta or panela, or–as I used–chevre (remember, I already acknowledged culture bending).

Pull the bread out of the oven and top with the pepper mixture. Then dot with the cheese. Put back under the broiler for about 3 to 4 minutes until the cheese begins to melt or darkens. Remove from the oven to plate and serve.

Have extra pepper mixture? Don’t toss it! Leave it for your clients to add to scrambled eggs. Or a tomato sauce. Make polenta and top each serving with a spoonful. Stir it into pasta. Just don’t waste it!

Do you have a much-loved go-to summer appetizer you make for clients? Please share!

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Peach Tomato Panzanella

Filed under: Cooking Tips,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , July 30, 2018

I don’t know what kind of steamy swampy weather you’re enduring right now, but in San Diego, where Candy, Dennis, and I live, it’s been pretty hot and humid. Just the thought of standing over a stove or turning on the oven makes me sink onto my couch in front of a blasting fan. It’s forced me into a chill–salads and summer soups and smoothies. If you feel the same way–along with your clients–here’s a dish you’ll love and that you can make for clients and their special events. And the only heat involved comes from toasting bread.

I’m talking about panzanella. But not your traditional panzanella. This one marries peaches and tomatoes.

Now you may wonder why peaches and tomatoes? But they actually pair beautifully together. And peaches are perfectly lovely in a savory dish. Is it authentic panzanella? Well, consider this, the “pan” is panzanella means bread. Food experts, including one of my heroes, J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, put it this way: “Panzanella is not a tomato salad with bread; it’s a bread salad flavored with vegetables.” I’m going to extend that to fruit. I doubt he’d mind.

There are a couple of tricks to making this salad that I picked up from López-Alt. First is that instead of letting the bread sit out to get stale, try drying it in the oven, tossed with olive oil. What you’ll have are magnificent large croutons that will soak up the vinaigrette and vegetable/fruit juices, yet still remain crispy. It makes for a great bite.

The other is to chop your tomatoes (if you use them), toss them with salt, then drain the juices into a bowl with a colander. This will increase your juice yield, which you’ll want when you make the vinaigrette.

Everything else is easy peasy. While the bread is toasting, make your vinaigrette, chop the peaches and basil. Once the toasted bread has cooled it’s time to put it all together. Then let it rest for half an hour so the vinaigrette can penetrate the bread and the flavors come together.

One other thing I learned–on my own. It doesn’t make for great leftovers unless you’re fond of soggy bread. The next day, facing leftovers, I just picked around the bread and ate the tomatoes and peaches. My suggestion? Add just enough of the croutons for the servings you plan to eat at that meal and save the rest for possible leftovers and add them at that point.

Peach Tomato Panzanella
Adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt’s Classic Panzanella Salad
Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients
1 pound tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound rustic bread, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 3 cups bread cubes)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons for the bread)
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large ripe peaches, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

Directions
Place tomatoes in a colander over a bowl and toss with kosher salt. Place on counter at room temperature to drain for at least 15 minutes. Toss periodically during that time.

To toast the bread, pre-heat oven to 350°.  Place rack in center position in oven. You can also do this in a toaster oven. Toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and firm but before they brown—about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Remove colander from the bowl with tomato juice. Place the colander with the tomatoes into the sink so it won’t drip on the counter. Add the shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to the bowl with the juice and mix. Gradually whisk in the remaining olive oil until it emulsifies. Season vinaigrette with sea salt and pepper to taste.

In a serving bowl mix together the toasted bread, tomatoes, peaches, capers, and basil. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat all the ingredients. Season again with sea salt and pepper. Let rest 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until dressing is completely absorbed by the bread.

What’s your go-to hot weather dish? 

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Those of you chefs who cater, especially for vegetarian clients, are probably thrilled that summer produce is finally here and simply begging us to turn it into irresistible meals.

That’s especially true of tomatoes. I plant several varieties of cherry tomatoes in my garden and already am harvesting them, little by little. Most of the time I can’t even wait to take them back into my kitchen. Instead I tend to munch on them  them while watering my garden. There’s really nothing like eating a sweet, sun-warmed, perfectly ripe tomato with one hand while holding a hose in the other.

There’s no point in even mentioning the many ways to enjoy tomatoes. I assume you and your clients have your favorites. But if you’ve never tried making a tomato tarte tatin, you both are missing out, especially if you’re catering a dinner party or brunch. It has a lot going for it–it’s pretty easy to make, requires few ingredients (some of which can be prepped in advance), it’s stunningly gorgeous to present to the table, and it has a sweet savory flavor that you can elevate even more depending on your ingredient choices. Me? I add kalamata olives to insert a little saltiness. I’ve also been known to top it off at the end with shredded burrata.

I made my first one years ago at the home of a friend. She has an abundance of tomatoes on her home’s grounds (yes, it’s that kind of home; it has “grounds.”). One year when she had a bumper crop, she invited a bunch of friends over to make sauce. And I made a tarte tatin. It all went well until I took the masterpiece out of the oven and placed it on the stove to cool. I got involved in something else–I can’t remember what exactly–but I needed to move the tart out of the way and unthinking just wrapped my hand around the skillet’s handle. And screamed.

It was a stainless steel pan that had just come out of a 425-degree oven. And so I ended up with a painful second-degree burn. Yikes.

I learned after that to pay special attention to the pan since then.

Recently when I made the tart I pulled out the only 9-inch skillet I had, a flameware skillet. If you haven’t heard of or used flameware, you’re missing out on a great cooking experience. This is a clay cookware that is specially created to be totally heat resistant, that cooks evenly even at high temperatures, and doesn’t get killer hot the way metal does. I bought mine online at a Minnesota shop cookbook author Paula Wolfert introduced me to, Clay Coyote.

I hadn’t made a tomato tarte tatin in a flameware skillet before but it worked out perfectly. And, significantly, the pan is so light it makes flipping it over onto a plate a breeze, much easier than stainless steel or cast iron, and with almost no sticking–certainly no more than any other metal skillet I’ve used.

The tart itself is a marvel of sweet and savory. There are several ways to make it in terms of ingredients. Sugar instead of honey, sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. Whole tomatoes, cherry tomatoes. Whole or sliced tomatoes. Onions. No onions. Whatever. The fundamentals are tomatoes, some kind of caramelizing ingredients, and puff pastry. For me, I enjoy a lot of red onions, cooked down and caramelized in butter and a large pinch of brown sugar. Honey and vinegar. The kalamata olives I mentioned above. And, the star of the dish, whole organic multi-colored cherry tomatoes.

You’ll start by cooking down and caramelizing the onions in a large skillet. Put them aside and in the oven-safe, 9-inch skillet you’re going to make the tart in cook up the honey and water to a point at which it thickens, then add vinegar and swirl to combine the two. Remove the pan from the heat.

You’ll sprinkle the olives over the honey vinegar mixture and start building the tart. The tomatoes go in–whole–over the olives, along with finely minced fresh thyme. (Want to use basil instead? Go for it.) They should cover the entire bottom of the skillet. Then you’ll spoon the onions over the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper.

The last step is rolling out the puff pastry sheet and creating a 10-inch round. Place it over the onions and tuck the excess around the tomato onion mixture. Cut some long vents into the pastry.


Before you put the tart into the oven, be sure to place it on a baking sheet covered with foil to catch the tomato juices so they don’t hit the bottom of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes until the crust is nice and puffy and golden brown. Then remove it from the oven and let it cool briefly before running a knife around the edges.

Now comes the moment of truth: Select a plate/platter larger than 9 inches. Place it upside down over the pastry. Be sure to use oven mitts or a thick towel and carefully flip the skillet and plate over, place it on the counter and gently lift the skillet. If all goes well–and why wouldn’t it–you’ll have a beautiful, rainbow of glossy tomatoes staring back at you, encased in a crunchy crust. That’s perfectly good enough as it is, but you can also decorate it with a scattering of basil leaves.

 

Tomato Tarte Tatin
4 to 6 servings

Ingredients
1, 14-ounce package all-butter puff pastry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
Pinch of brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of brown sugar and sauté until onions are caramelized. If you’re using a pan in which there’s some sticking, at the end of sautéing add a couple of tablespoons water and let it cook off, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan.

Transfer onions and brown bits to a bowl.

Combine honey and 3 tablespoons water in an ovenproof 9-inch skillet. Cook over medium heat, swirling pan gently until honey bubbles and thickens, 5 to 6 minutes. Add vinegar and swirl gently for another 2 to 3 minutes until combined. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle olives over honey mixture. Scatter tomatoes and thyme over olives, then spoon onions on top.  Season with salt and pepper.

Unfold puff pastry sheet and roll out into a 10-inch round. Place on top of onions  and tuck edges around the mixture. Cut several long vents on the pastry.

Place tart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around pastry to loosen it from pan, place a large plate upside down over the skillet, and, using oven mitts, flip the skillet upside down, place the plate on the counter, then carefully remove the skillet.

What is your favorite summer dish to prepare for yourself or clients? 

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Carrot radishes

It’s just shy of official summertime but in San Diego the days are still balmy and on a recent weekend it was virtually required to make a visit to the farmers market.

Now, I recognize that in this part of the country with year-round growing seasons there’s no bad time to visit a local farmers market. But there’s something about late spring/early summer when the colors of produce are most vibrant and foods your body has been craving for months are now appearing. Look! Cherries! Oh, fava beans! No, over here, green garlic!

Fava beans

At one of my favorite markets, the Little Italy Mercato, which climbs up a slight hill to overlook the San Diego Bay, it was overwhelming to see all the brilliant colors of fruits and vegetables. I’m sure that wherever you live and cook for clients you have a market that’s this special. Are you going? No? How come?

Reed avocado, green garlic, chicken eggs

At my market today, I learned how to enjoy softball size, round Reed avocados. I bought my favorite eggs from a family of farmers I’ve known for years and learned one of the daughters is getting married this summer. Another farmer pointed out the relative timeline for how long different varieties of cherries he was selling would last. Still another farmer gave me ideas for how to enjoy the unusual carrot radishes he had and how he came to grow them.

So, what would otherwise be an anonymous shopping errand at a grocery store instead turned into a social event and several learning moments. I was out in the fresh air. I was walking. My senses were stimulated. It was really more of an adventure than fulfilling a basic necessity of buying food. And, I was supporting my local food community.

Yes, it’s probably more expensive to buy produce at a farmers market. But I’m guessing I’m buying more judiciously and wasting less food. And it’s fresh! It hasn’t been force ripened with chemicals. It didn’t travel more than 100 miles from the farm–and actually, the mileage would be much less, knowing the farmers I bought from.

So, if you’ve been on the fence about shopping at your local farmers market–or got out of the habit over winter–jump back in. You’ll have a wonderful experience, your farmers will earn needed income, and your clients will eat better!

French breakfast radishes

Now among my purchases were two types of radishes: the carrot radishes and red and white French breakfast radishes. Sure you can eat them out of hand, slice them into salads or pickle them–but how about roasting them?

Roasting radishes is easy and quick. You don’t even need a recipe. Just a bunch of radishes (or more, depending on how many people you’re serving), extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper, and your favorite herbs or green onions.

Here we go:

1. Separate the radishes from the greens and set the greens aside.
2. Wash the radishes and trim them, leaving a bit of stem on top.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 450° F.
4. Once the radishes are dry, slice in half lengthwise, then place in a bowl and toss with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and ground pepper.
5. Place cut side down in a cast iron pan and roast for 13 minutes.
6. While the radishes are roasting, slice a green onion or mince parsley or other herbs.
7. Remove the radishes from the oven. Plate and sprinkle with the herbs. Eat right away. They’re best hot.

Are you a big farmers market shopper? What are your favorite kinds of purchases?

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There are times when we get so tripped up in the nomenclature we forget that diets stressing vegetarian or vegan practices embrace dishes we already create or eat. Instead we think of them as eliminating something–in the case of vegetarianism it’s meat, of course–and not bringing something absolutely delicious to the table. Dishes already in our considerable repertoire.

Knowing that not everyone in my circle eats meat–and that I, while an omnivore, have cut down substantially on meat–I turn to dishes that feature vegetables combined with other proteins. But, admittedly, I don’t really think of them that way. It’s vegetarian, just food I enjoy. Dishes like eggplant soufflé. Salads and sides with ancient grains.

And spanakopita.

Mediterranean cuisines in particular are great sources of beloved everyday dishes that happen to fall into the vegetarian category. As chefs you’re already well are of them. Spanakopita is one of my favorites–big greens, almost always spinach, combined with cheese and herbs and eggs, enveloped in a crunchy crust of phyllo. It’s impossible not to love this dish. And, for personal chefs who will freeze portions for clients to reheat, it’s a perfect freezer candidate. I always store my leftovers in the freezer and reheat individual slices in the oven or toaster oven.

Spanakopita is also the perfect entertaining dish. It’s like a casserole–only prettier. The two challenges, of course, are cooking down the greens–I do it in batches using a wok to take advantage of its depth–and working with phyllo. Brushing the phyllo with oil or melted butter and layering it repeatedly is a bit time consuming but not a deal breaker. Just remember to keep the phyllo, which has a tendency to dry out, covered with a damp towel when you aren’t pulling off a sheet.

While traditionally, spanakopita is made with spinach, there’s no reason you can’t substitute the spinach with other greens like kale or Swiss chard. Or combine them. Take advantage, especially in spring and summer, of bright herbs like mint and dill, and earthier herbs like Greek oregano. Add a unique spin to onion by using leeks instead. You could also include sliced kalamata olives or artichoke hearts to make the recipe your own. Just be sure that the greens and other additions are drained of as much liquid as possible before you mix them with the eggs, feta, and seasonings. Otherwise you’ll get a soggy bottom.

Spanakopita
Serves 8 to 12

You have a choice of olive oil versus melted butter to brush the phyllo leaves. I used olive oil but butter will add a rich flavor to it. And a tip here: Cooking down 2 pounds of spinach requires some skillet space. I use my wok because it gives me the cooking elbow room it needs. This part also just takes the most time. Once that’s done the rest will go by fairly quickly, even with the phyllo. Don’t worry about tears in the phyllo. It’s all very forgiving, thanks to all the layers.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek, or melted butter, plus a lot extra for brushing filo
3 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped and rinsed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds fresh spinach or other greens, well rinsed and dried
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ pound Greek feta cheese, crumbled or diced
½ cup fresh dill weed, minced
½ cup fresh mint, minced
¼ cup fresh oregano, minced
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 pound phyllo, defrosted overnight in refrigerator

Directions
Preheat oven to 375° and place rack in middle of oven.

In a large skillet, heat oil or butter over medium-high heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté until fragrant and soft, about 4 minutes. Add spinach in handfuls, stirring in as you add each batch. Let it wilt and cook down before adding the next handful. Once all of the spinach is in the pan, season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and spoon mixture into a colander. Place over sink and, using the back of a large spoon, press down to release excess liquid. Set aside to cool.

Once spinach mixture is at room temperature, add feta cheese, dill, mint, oregano, and eggs. Fold together until well incorporated. Set aside.

Brush the bottom and sides of a 9”-by-13” baking dish with olive oil. Keep ½ cup of olive oil (or melted butter) nearby. Unroll the phyllo and lay flat. Carefully pull the top sheet and place it into the baking dish with ends hanging well over the sides. Brush lightly with oil. Continue placing sheets one at a time into the dish at different angles so the entire pan is lined with sheet ends hanging down over the sides. Do this until you have only 3 sheets left.

Pour the filling into the dish, then fold over the hanging ends to cover the filling and brush with oil. Layer the remaining 3 sheets on top, brushing each sheet with oil. Fold the excess into the sides of the pan.

Use a sharp knife to cut through the layers to the filling in a few place. Brush the top with oil or butter and bake for 50 minutes until the top is puffed and golden brown. Let sit on counter for 10 minutes. Then cut into squares and serve warm.

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Eggplant Onion Gratin

Filed under: Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , April 23, 2018

I’m guessing that many of you have clients who adore eggplant. They love the creamy texture you get when it’s cooked that can go anywhere from baba ganoush to eggplant parmesan to eggplant souffle. I’m no different. I love eggplant in its many incarnations and across world cuisines.

So a few springs ago I decided to turn it into a gratin. This is kind of a risky dish because eggplants are so mild in flavor that they can simply be overpowered by the other ingredients you pair with them. At first I thought I’d slice the eggplant very thin and stack the layers, alternating with cheese. But ultimately I decided to cube it and toss together the ingredients. Oregano is a great flavor partner with eggplant and I grow it in my garden, so that was a part of this experiment. So were onions. And garlic. And panko combined with my favorite Trader Joe’s grated parmesan romano combo. And goat cheese. Together they created the necessary creaminess plus a little tartness without being too overwhelming. Instead of using butter, I turned to a really nice extra virgin olive oil.

I poured the mixture into an 8 1/2-inch oval au gratin dish. At just under 2 1/2 cup volume, I figured I’d get about three servings. For clients you’ll want to double my recipe.

The dish is a little time consuming to make but not too labor intensive. I figured the eggplant should be pre-cooked to make sure it had a soft and lush texture by the end. The onions and garlic need to be sauteed to create sweetness. After that you just combine everything and put it in the oven until it’s bubbly and brown.

The result was just what I’d imagined–creamy and crunchy, with a bright flavor from the punch of oregano, sweetness from the onion and garlic, tartness from the goat cheese. That distinctive mild eggplantiness came through. I enjoyed the dish with a piece of roasted chicken. And I had leftovers–which were easy to reheat. In fact, you can make this dish for a client dinner party ahead of time and simply reheat it before serving.

Eggplant Onion Gratin
Serves 2 to 3 depending on your generosity

Ingredients
2 3/4 cups eggplant, cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup goat cheese

For topping:
Goat cheese
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/8 cup panko crumbs
Drizzle of olive oil

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss eggplant with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until soft and just becoming brown.

While the eggplant is baking, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil (about a tablespoon or more). Don’t brown them. You just want them soft. Add the oregano and cook for another minute. Set aside.

Remove the eggplant from the oven and mix with the onions in a bowl. Add milk and cheeses. Mix well.

Coat the inside of a gratin dish with olive oil. Add the eggplant mixture. Dot with goat cheese. Combine the 1/8 cup parmesan cheese with the panko and evenly spread over the eggplant and goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 25 minutes until brown and bubbly.

What are your favorite ways to prepare eggplant? Do you have a recipe you’d like to share here?

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Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup

Filed under: Bites & Bits,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , April 9, 2018

We’re in that weird in-between seasonal period when we expect the weather to warm but then it doesn’t. Or, it can go the other way and there’s a brief strange heat wave. Are we ready for refreshing salads or could we use something warm and comforting.

Well, here’s a recipe that can go either way: Moroccan Spiced Lentils.

Meet my friend, chef Flor Franco introduced it to me at a potluck gathering of friends several years ago. My mom was with me for that lunch and raved about it so much that Flor later went over to my mom’s house to prepare it. An amalgam of lentils and split peas, it’s infused with fragrant cumin, coriander, turmeric, Spanish paprika, and cayenne. Add roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onions; fresh minced parsley and cilantro; and a splash of olive oil and that’s about it.

The result is a richly flavored but very healthy dish that can be eaten as soup on a chilly day or spread over a steaming mound of rice, depending on how thick or loose you want it. Just add or take out water. The day Flor came over, she prepared the soup version, and it was accompanied a platter of chicken, rice, salad, and fresh fruit for lunch.

Flor also gave us some handy kitchen tips. Roast garlic and cut-up onions, then package them and keep in the fridge for about a week to use whenever you might need them in a recipe. And, for this recipe, combine the spices in larger quantities in advance and keep in an airtight container.

Cooking the lentils took less than an hour. If you’re dealing with a cold “soup” day, heat up naan and take off the chill. If the day is warm, pull out some cold roasted chicken, add a salad and rice, then spoon a thicker version over the rice. Or chill it for a dip or rich spread. Yes, this is a hugely versatile dish year round.

Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup
Yield: about 5 servings

15 cups of water
2 cups lentils
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups green split peas
5 tomatoes (plum tomatoes are good for this)
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Moroccan spice mix 
2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
3 dried Chinese chiles

salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced cilantro

Preheat the broiler.

Add the lentils and split peas to a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 35 minutes until soft.

Broil the tomatoes, onions, and garlic until they start to brown and soften. Remove from the oven and peel the skin from the tomatoes.

When the legumes are ready you can remove some of the liquid if you want this mixture to be very thick (so you can mound the dish on a bed of rice or use as a spread) or add more water if you want it more like soup. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.

Do you have a versatile year-round dish that you can adapt to the seasons? We’d love to learn about it!

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Back in the day, when I lived in New York, my friends and I used to joke that February was the longest month and we would throw “thank God February is over” parties.

Well, we’re right in the middle of February and I have to admit I have no standing for complaining about the horrors of icy winter since I now live in balmy San Diego–but I still love a good soup on those chilly 65-degree days. (Yes, I appreciate the absurdity of this but we take our cool weather when we can.)

One soup I’ve come to love that I think your clients will enjoy as well is Delicata and Carrot Soup. While you could substitute other hard squashes, oblong delicata is one of my favorites. First, they’re just so cute, with their stripes of colors. I love their sweet flavor and the fact that they don’t require peeling. The skin is thin and perfectly edible. And, I love the seeds. My dad taught me how to prep and roast pumpkin seeds when I was a little girl and I do it on almost every winter squash I buy. It’s such a waste not to!

If I have a complaint about winter squash it’s that it can be kind of challenging to bring flavors to it that won’t be overshadowed by its own flavor. But winter squash pairs beautifully with the sweetness of carrots, so that was a natural go to. And from there I came up with four ingredients that I thought could pull it off–even if they didn’t seem to go together: mirin (rice wine), white miso, fresh lemongrass, and shichimi togarashi spice seasoning. This is a spicy multi-ingredient Japanese mix that contains chili pepper, black sesame, white sesame, orange peel, basil, and szechuan pepper. You can find it easily at Asian markets. And I had onions and garlic.

Since soup is one of those wonderful dishes that don’t require precision, I figured I’d just go for it. I sliced up the carrots and roughly cut the onion. I minced the garlic and peeled off the tougher layers of the lemongrass and then chopped that. Pretty soon, ingredients were going into the medium-size blue Le Creuset pot my mom gave me when she moved out of her house. I added a little water to the sauteeing onion, garlic, and carrots to keep them from burning while I dismembered the squash and pulled out the nest of seeds.

Once I added the squash and the rest of the ingredients, along with water (I didn’t have any stock on hand but you could use chicken or vegetable stock to make it even richer) I brought the pot ingredients to the boil, then reduced the heat to simmer for about an hour until the squash softened. And, oh, the aroma. It turns out combining mirin, miso, and lemongrass is, well, inspired. Sweet and salty and full of umami.

Now your clients can enjoy the soup as a loose vegetable soup. But I prefer creamy soups so I pulled out my stick blender and puréed it to a silky consistency. I had some pumpkin seed oil I had been waiting to use, so I drizzled that on my soup once I poured a serving into a bowl. And sighed after the first bite. Lucky me. I had plenty to enjoy with a hank of warm sourdough bread for a few more meals!

Delicata and Carrot Soup
Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients
Olive oil for sautéing
½ large onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 carrots, sliced
1 large Delicata squash, cut into cubes
¼ cup fresh lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 cup mirin
2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon shichimi togarashi spice mix
Water or chicken or vegetable stock
Pumpkin seed oil (optional)

Directions

1. In a medium size pot, sauté half an onion and five cloves minced garlic. Add carrot slices. Add a little water to prevent burning while cutting up the squash (save seeds for roasting).
2. Add squash pieces, chopped lemongrass, mirin, white miso, togarashi, and water to cover.
3. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour until squash is soft.
4. Use an immersion blender to purée. Drizzle with pumpkin seed oil from Vom Fass. Serve with crusty sourdough bread.

What are your or your clients’ favorite winter soups? Let us know if you’d like to share a recipe here.

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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