September 25, 2014 Eggplant Involtini

DSC_9067aWith lots of caponata, grilled eggplant, ratatouille, and a double batch of eggplant parmesan under my belt, I was looking for another way to enjoy the bounty of our eggplants this season. It came in the July/August issue of Cooks Illustrated magazine, eggplant involtini.

After all these years (30+) I still look forward pouring over the latest issues of the cooking magazines I subscribe to. Since the magazines are a little in advance of what is ready to harvest from the garden, I put a yellow sticky note on the seasonal recipes I would like to try. Eggplant involtini was in the July/August issue that arrived in June when our eggplants didn’t even have their first flowers, so I have been waiting several months to try this recipe.

Involtini are neat little bundles of stuffed meat, fish or vegetables. Fillings can be as varied as your imagination. Eggplant works especially well as a wrapper for involtini. Use your largest, broadest eggplants to make the planks. Lop off the stem and hold the eggplant upright. With a very sharp knife, make approximately 1/2″ thick planks. For the first and last pieces you will need to trim off the rounded outer edge. I found that a vegetable peeler handled the problem nicely.

Instead of frying, which is called for in many involtini recipes, the slices are brushed lightly on both sides with olive oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper and baked. This makes the slices pliable enough to roll without falling apart.

Once the slices have cooled a bit, fill with the fatter edge closest to you and roll up. Ricotta, though it doesn’t have much flavor of it’s own is a good binder for the more flavorful ingredients, pecorino romano and basil. The addition of fresh lemon juice brightens the flavors. A generous tablespoon of filling is enough for each slice. The original recipe called for some bread crumbs in the filling to bind it a little, I didn’t include this step and thought my filling held up nicely.

While you are cooking the eggplant there’s time to make a very basic sauce. Canned whole tomatoes, garlic, oregano, kosher salt and pepper are all you need. I always use my whole roasted tomatoes from the garden that I freeze for months without tomatoes. We had a bumper crop this year so I will be making a lot of chili, lasagna, stuffed peppers over the winter months. As for the canned varieties, in a taste test done by Cooks Illustrated, Muir Glen Organic Whole Tomatoes was the winner. Muir Glen is about a dollar more per can than the more familiar runner up, Hunts.

The involtini rolls, are added to the thickened sauce and brought to a simmer. Once the sauce is warmed, additional cheese is sprinkled on top. The rolls are browned and the cheese is melted in the broiler. Finish off with a sprinkle of basil, mini basil leaves worked well here.

Not the quickest or easiest preparation, but both the rolls and the sauce can be made in advance and assembled right before serving. An impressive dish good enough for company.
Eggplant Involtini

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants, shorter wider eggplants are best (1 1/2 pounds each), if skin is thick, peel, I did not peel mine
  • 6T olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4t dried oregano
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 28oz canned whole peeled tomatoes drained with juice reserved, chopped coarse-I used my garden roasted tomatoes
  • 1c  whole-milk or part skim ricotta cheese
  • 3/4c hard Italian grating cheese like Gran Padano or Pecorino Romano
  • 1/4c plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or torn mini basil
  • 1T fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Slice each eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks (you should have 12 planks). Trim rounded surface from each end piece so it lies flat. I found that using a vegetable peeler made this easier. Adjust 1 oven rack to lower-middle position and second rack 8 inches from broiler element. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and spray generously with vegetable oil spray.
  3. Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared sheets. Lightly brush 1 side of eggplant slices with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Turn slices over and repeat brushing and seasoning.
  4. Bake until tender and lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. This process took about 10 minutes less in my convection oven.  Let cool for 5 minutes. Using thin spatula, flip each slice over. Heat broiler.
  5. While the eggplant is cooking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch broiler-safe skillet, over medium-low heat until just shimmering. Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  6. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Cover and set aside.
  7. Stir together ricotta, 1/2 cup cheese, 1/4 cup basil, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl.
  8. With widest ends of eggplant slices facing you, evenly distribute ricotta mixture on bottom third of each slice. Gently roll up each eggplant slice and place seam side down in tomato sauce.
  9. Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and broil until eggplant is well browned and cheese is heated through, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Pecorino and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon basil and serve.
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The variety I used for this dish was Clara, a pure white Italian style eggplant.

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Eggplant slices are brushed with olive oil and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper.

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After baking the slices are soft enough to roll but don’t fall apart.

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I used roughly torn mini basil in my filling.

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The very simple filling made of ricotta cheese, Pecorino Romano, fresh lemon juice and mini basil.

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The eggplant slices are easy to roll up. Place them seam side down in the warmed sauce.

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September 18, 2014 Garden Peach Tomato Gazpacho

DSC_9022aIn our garden we have a selection of 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.  An heirloom is regarded as something that has been passed down from generation to generation because of it’s value, whether intrinsic or sentimental. Heirloom tomatoes are grown from seed that has been passed from one generation to the next. We usually think of heirlooms as varieties that are over sixty years old, before the introduction of hybrids to the general market. Another term we associate with heirlooms is open pollenated. These are seeds that are pollenated by natural methods, like insects or wind. If you collect the seed of one variety of an heirloom and plant it you should get a plant that should be quite similar to the parent plant.

One of our favorites is the Garden Peach, a native of Peru and according to food historian William Woys Weaver, introduced to the United States in 1862 from France. The Garden Peach has a thin matte yellow skin that is slightly fuzzy. When ripe, Garden Peach has a rosy blush. The fruits are small, 2-4 ounces on average, and quite prolific. Garden Peach tomatoes will never remind you of a peach plucked off the tree but the flavor is light, mild and sweet. This variety is a “keeper”. At the end of the season it stores well on your countertop or in a box.

 
In my never ending quest to use our abundance of tomatoes in new ways, I created a cold Garden Peach soup. Is this a soup or gazpacho? According to Merriam Webster, gazpacho is defined as “a spicy cold soup made with chopped vegetables (such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions). So I can also call this a gazpacho. I combined chopped garlic, onion, celery and Garden peach tomatoes in the food processor. To give the soup just a hint of peach flavor I added a few tablespoons of peach white balsamic vinegar from The Tubby Olive. A light refreshing soup perfect for the waning days of summer.

Garden Peach Tomato Gazpacho

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 3/4c medium chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • 1/2c medium chopped celery
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4c medium yellow pepper, seeded, ribs removed, chopped medium
  • 1 3/4lb Garden Peach tomatoes (about 16)
  • 1t fresh coarsely chopped mini basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2T or more to taste, peach balsamic vinegar or white balsamic

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Ripe Garden Peach tomatoes have a rosy blush.

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on and off until just slightly chunky. Taste and add kosher salt and freshly ground pepper as needed. Add 2-3 tablespoons peach balsamic vinegar, or as to taste.
  2. Place in a covered container and refrigerate 6-8 hours or longer for flavors to meld
  3. Serve soup chilled, garnished with tomato chunks and mini basil leaves.

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Sept 13, 2014 Tomato, Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

DSC_8707aCool, crisp, quick and delicious, what higher praise could I bestow on a summertime salad? This best-of-summer salad brings together sweet cherry tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, succulent watermelon and creamy salty feta.

Joe has grown more tomatoes than ever and the varieties are amazing. Indigo Blue Berries, Black Cherry, Pink Bumble Bee, Sungold, to name a few, as beautiful to behold as they are sweet and juicy to devour.

Indigo Blue Berries are a new variety this year. Like the blueberry, Indigo Blue Berry tomatoes contain high levels of anthocyanin, a naturally occuring antioxidant. Pink Bumble Bee tomatoes are a round pink cherry tomato striped with yellow and orange.  The Black Cherry tomato is a deep red with a blackish hue. Sungolds are an apricot orange in color with a sweet tropical flavor.
It’s best to cut the tomatoes in half for easier eating. My serrated edge Cutco knife always gives me a neat cut through the tomato skin. I peel most of the skin from the cucumber and leave a strip of skin on for color. Scoop out the seeds if they are too large.

Another member of the cucurbit family, watermelon, brings a refreshing sweetness to the salad. The watermelon you will most likely find anywhere these days will be seedless.  Over the past several years it has become increasingly difficult to find seeded watermelons. Only 10% of watermelons grown on farms in 2011 were of the seeded variety, in 2003, almost 37% were.

Seedless watermelons are not genetically modified but are “the watermelon version of the mule.” They are a sterile hybrid achieved by crossing the pollen of the normal diploid (2 sets of chromosomes) watermelon with a female flower that is a tetraploid (4 sets of chromosomes). The genetic change occurs from the use of colchicine, a chemical derived from the fall blooming crocus that impacts chromosomes and has been used for years to treat and cure gout. The resulting seeds from these two plants are triploids (3 sets of chromosomes) and will produce sterile seedless watermelons. The white seeds, also known as “pips”  you may find in your seedless watermelons are hollow seed coats that didn’t mature.

Seedless or seeded, which type tastes better? Is it just nostalgia, do we fear the end of the days of watermelon seed spitting contests? If you still want seeds in your watermelon you may find those varieties at your farmers market or you may just need to grow your own.

As someone who always likes to sprinkle a little salt on her watermelon, feta just seems like a natural addition to this flavor combination. Feta brings both a creamy texture and a contrasting saltiness that brings out the flavors of the other elements of this salad. The simplest of dressings and a scattering of fresh basil and you have a great summer salad, colorful and easy to put together, a refreshing addition to any barbecue or cookout.

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Pink Bumble Bee is a new addition to our tomato selection this year.

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The Indigo Blue Berry is definitely blue, when ripe it develops a reddish hue.

Tomato Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 2c assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 1/2c medium diced seedless watermelon
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered, seeded if necessary, cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 3/4c feta cheese, cut into half inch cubes
  • 1/4c fresh mini basil leaves or large leaves torn into small pieces
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1T lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Put the cherry tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, feta and basil in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, 1/4t salt and a 1/4t fresh ground pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently to coat.

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September 10, 2014 Grilled Asian Eggplant Salad

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It’s a great time of year to try out some new eggplant recipes. Whether from the farmers market, your local CSA or your own garden, freshly harvested eggplants are at their best. Our garden has produced an amazing array of eggplants this summer. Bright fuschia Dancer, slender dark violet Orient Express, pure white Clara, beautifully variegated Nubia, all the varieties we have harvested this year have thin skin and minimal seeds.
What we most often consider to be Asian eggplants are the long slim tapered varieties   Actually Asian eggplants, whether Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Indian can be round or pear shaped, pure white or lime green and as small as an egg as well as the dark purple we are most familiar with.
In this Thai-style recipe for a yam or salad, eggplant slices are brushed with oil and grilled. If the weather is inclement or you just don’t have the time to fire up the grill they can be cooked indoors on a ridged grill pan.

Save the seasoning until after the grilling the eggplant. It’s then the creamy flesh will soak up the flavor of the ginger and soy, transforming the once raw bitter slices to something delicious.
Though not necessarily typical of this type of salad, I served the grilled eggplant slices on salad greens. Our lettuces have made their late summer return to the garden and I tossed some assorted greens with a few sweet cherry tomatoes, basil and mint. I used the small spicy leaves of Thai basil and Vietnamese mint that doesn’t overpower the salad. An Asian style vinaigrette combining the traditional combination of hot, sour salty and sweet dresses the greens and enhances the flavor of the grilled eggplant.

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Beautiful dark purple Orient Express eggplant.

Grilled Asian Eggplant Salad

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1/4c freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4c peanut or canola oil
  • 3 T finely minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 T fish sauce
  • 2 t granulated sugar
  • 1 to 2 Thai bird chiles, minced, or 1-1/2 to 2 serrano chiles, seeded, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T minced fresh ginger
  • 1-1/2 T soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 lb. long, slender Asian eggplants, trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 4-5 c baby lettuce leaves
  • 10 to 12 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (about 2 cups)
  • 1 c  packed fresh basil leaves, Thai, if you have it
  • 1/4c packed fresh mint leaves, I used Vietnamese mint (very mild)

Directions

  1. Prepare a medium-high gas or charcoal grill fire.  Alternately heat a grill pan over medium high heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk 3 Tbs. of the oil with the lime juice, 2 Tbs. of the shallot, the fish sauce, 1 tsp. of the sugar, and the chiles. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. In another small bowl, combine 2 tsp. water with the ginger, soy sauce, the remaining 1 Tbs. shallot, and 1 tsp. sugar.
  4. Arrange the eggplant halves on a rimmed baking sheet, brush both sides with the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant, covered, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Alternately grill the eggplant in a grill pan, 3-5 minutes on each side until tender.
  5. Combine the lettuces, tomatoes, basil, and mint in a large bowl. Rewhisk the lime dressing and toss just enough into the salad to lightly coat the greens. Season the salad to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the salad to a platter and arrange the eggplant over the salad. Spoon the ginger mixture over the eggplant, and serve immediately.

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August 23, 2014 Chilled Buttermilk Cucumber Soup

DSC_8646aI can’t remember a year when we have had such a prolific crop of cucumbers! We are growing two varieties this year, Bush Champion and Baby Persian. The Bush Champion has a compact growing habit. Ours are in the greenhouse area of the garden but are also suitable for patio and container gardening. The Baby Persian variety is growing up a trellis in the greenhouse. The term “baby” refers to the size when it is best to pick them, 4 to 6 inches. Of course, like many cucumbers, they will continue to grow larger than this. Hence the need to be diligent in picking to get them at their best.

Along with tzatziki sauce, I have been making lots of cold cucumber soup. Buttermilk cucumber soup is crisp and cool from the cucumbers, celery and shallots bring depth of flavor and buttermilk and sour cream provide a refreshing tang.  This no cook soup comes together in minutes, the only appliance you need is a blender.

Simply add rough chopped cucumber, celery, shallots, olive oil, buttermilk and sour cream to the bowl and blend until smooth. Force the soup through a fine strainer for the smoothest texture.  Chill for at least an hour, longer if possible to blend the flavors. Add a little crabmeat or cooked shrimp for a more substantial dish. A simple garnish of chopped garlic chives and you have a cool and delicious treat for summer dining.

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Chilled Buttermilk Cucumber Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ­lb. cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 2 medium celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 2T extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 c sour cream (low fat is fine)
  • 1/2 ­c buttermilk
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped chives, to garnish

Directions

  1. In a blender, purée the cucumber, celery, shallots, olive oil, and 1 tsp. kosher salt until smooth.
  2. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
  3. Whisk in the sour cream and buttermilk and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Serve drizzled with olive oil and garnished with chives.
Make Ahead Tips

You can make this soup up to 2 days ahead.

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Bush Champion cucumbers grow close to the ground. That little blossom will grow into a cuke soon!

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Tiny Persian cucumbers growing up the trellis.

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Almost the right size for picking.

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August 19, 2014 Tzatziki Sauce

DSC_8546aIt’s a deliciously creamy sauce or dip based on yogurt, cucumbers and dill, and yes the Greeks do have a word for that, tzatziki. Pronounced in English, zat-zee-key, it is a traditional Greek “meze” or something to whet the appetite. I serve it with chicken, fish and vegetables. Tzatziki is also great as a sauce with gyros or wraps.

Until the last several years, you would have needed to drain the yogurt for several hours before proceding with the recipe. With the advent of Greek yogurt, that step is eliminated. “Greek style” yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery part. The term “Greek” is not regulated and some yogurts are thickened with cornstarch and milk protein concentrates. Read the label, Greek yogurt should contain only milk and live active cultures. In Greece, sheep’s milk yogurt is traditionally used in tzatziki, I have read that it is sweeter and richer than cow or goat’s milk yogurt. If you are using regular yogurt it needs to be drained in a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth for about four hours to obtain the thicker texture of Greek yogurt.

Grated cucumber, garlic, dill and sometimes mint are added to the yogurt base. Peel and seed the cucumber before grating. I use a teaspoon to make one long scoop down the middle to eliminate the seeds. Keep the cucumber in halves, they are large enough to shred on a box grater without hurting  your fingers. Put the shredded cucumber in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle a little salt on it. This will drain out some of the excess liquid. I squeeze out the rest of the liquid by putting the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and wringing it out. Alternately, squeeze the cucumber in your hands. This is an important step to ensure the sauce does not become watery.

The dill and mint should be fresh and if I am adding mint I will wait until right before serving since just picked mint can overwhelm the dish. Tzatziki is a versatile sauce that combines the slightly sour tang of yogurt along with the cool refreshing flavors of cucumber, dill and mint. It’s a great addition to your summer menus.

Tzatziki Sauce

Makes about two cups

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 c plain whole or 2% milk yogurt, preferably Greek
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4 c peeled, seeded, and grated cucumber
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t chopped fresh dill
  • 2t finely chopped mint (optional)
  • 2 t extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Put the cucumber in a colander over a bowl and lightly sprinkle with salt. After a half hour wrap the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and squeeze as much liquid out of it as you can. Alternately, squeeze the liquid out with your hands.
  2. Add the chopped garlic, cucumber, lemon juice, dill, and olive oil to the yogurt mixture. Stir to blend and season to taste with salt. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
Make Ahead Tips

The dip can be made up to a day ahead.

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August 17, 2014 Tomato Gazpacho

DSC_8572aSummertime in a bowl, liquid salad, just two of the descriptive names for that summer favorite, gazpacho. Our tomatoes are finally starting to ripen along with a healthy crop of cucumbers. I think I read about fifty recipes and finally settled on my own combination of vegetables. I used some purchased tomato juice, but as the tomatoes from the garden become more plentiful, I will use them to make my own juice.
I skipped the traditional stale bread and went very easy on the olive oil. I did use my best Spanish sherry vinegar for this refreshing soup that originated in the Andalusian province of southern Spain. I didn’t blanch, peel or seed any of the vegetables. I did hand chop them for uniformity of size and blended just a little bit of them to enhance the tomato juice base. Flavorful vine ripened tomatoes are key to this recipe. It’s also a good time to use your not so perfect specimens that won’t make it in your tomato salad. The peppers in my gazpacho were purchased, but it won’t be long before I will be picking them from the garden. A jalapeno pepper is nice also to add a little extra heat.
Make gazpacho a day ahead if possible. The flavor only gets better from sitting overnight in the fridge.
Full of sun ripened flavor and packed with nutrients, this low fat chilled vegetable soup is the perfect refreshment for hot summer days.

Tomato Gazpacho

Serves six

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2c plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1/2c finely chopped red onion, soaked in ice water for 15 minutes and drained
  • 2c cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 1/2c bell pepper cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 small clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • 2c tomato juice
  • 1/4c sherry vinegar
  • 2T flavorful extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 dashes of green Tabasco sauce
  • 1T  Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions

  1. Place tomatoes, onion, cucumber, pepper and garlic in a bowl
  2. Add the tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, Tabasco and Worcestertshire sauce. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Transfer two cups of the mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse the machine on and off to coarsely puree the contents. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least six hours or preferably overnight before serving.
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Vine ripened tomatoes either from the farmers market or your own garden make this a special treat.

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Ingredients, chopped and ready to go.

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August 5, 2014 Blueberry Cinnamon Basil Sorbet

ADSC_8346Summertime is the prime season for fresh berries. Our local season begins with beautiful “red to the core” strawberries in early to mid June. When our raspberry bushes were thriving, I would see the first luscious berries on the thorny bushes around the fourth of July.  I could always count on a call from my mother about mid July, letting me know the blueberries were ready to pick on the bush on what once was my grandfather’s property.

This year the call letting me know it was time to pick blueberries was from my brother. He is maintaining the grounds as we get ready to sell my parents house and adjoining property. This would be my last opportunity to pick from this healthy and prolific bush. I was rewarded with almost a gallon of berries after an hour’s picking. Along with the usual fare like muffins and bar cookies, I was anxious to try my hand at a recipe for sorbet.
The article in the June/July issue of Fine Cooking was contributed by Zoe Francois. Probably best known for her Five Minutes a Day bread books and her blog, Zoe Bakes, she offers a basic formula for sorbet that allows you to choose from endless combinations of fruits, spirits and add ins. She also tackles the common problem that you might encounter making this frozen treat, ending up with a sorbet that is too icy or too slushy.

In a professional kitchen you would use equipment like refractometers and saccharometers to achieve the correct balance. Ms. Francois shares a simple trick for the home cook to see if you have the correct ratio of sugar syrup to fruit puree. Gently place a clean fresh raw egg in a tall container filled with the sorbet base. If the egg sinks, add more of the sugar syrup, if it floats with only a quarter size piece of eggshell in view, your ratio is correct. I must emphasize fresh when it comes to the egg you are using. As eggs get older they contain more air, and might float regardless of the sugar content of your mixture.

Borrowing from the typical combination of blueberries and cinnamon that you would find in a muffin recipe, I added some spicy cinnamon basil and a pinch of ground cinnamon to infuse some extra flavor into the blueberry base. Be sure the flavors in your base are assertive, freezing the mixture will make it less intense. A little citrus juice, lemon or lime, and a pinch of salt will help intensify your flavors.
The hardest part of the recipe for me was finding that tall narrow container. Putting a raw egg into a clean blender jar, filled with the sorbet base seemed too risky because of the metal blade. A vase? Maybe, but the ones I had were too big. I finally found a clean tall take-out container that didn’t have any residual odors. I only needed an extra tablespoon of simple syrup to make the egg float properly. Another trick for getting a creamy sorbet is to blend the smallest amount, only one-eighth of a teaspoon full of guar gum into the strained fruit base. Guar gum is a natural emulsifier from the seed of the guar plant. Use it sparingly, too much and it will turn your frozen treat stringy or gummy.

Another great find came from this article for me. After many years of looking for container that I had visualized in my mind but could never find in stores, there it was, an insulated long narrow container with a non slip base that would make scooping ice cream easier. I purchased mine from Williams-Sonoma but Sur La Table is carrying them as well. On line reviews are mixed at this point, hopefully they will improve.

The berries made a delcious sorbet, my next assignment is to get my hubby to make cuttings from this bush before the house is sold so that we can continue the tradition and one day have a blueberry bush of our own.

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Beautiful ripe berries.

Blueberry Cinnamon Basil Sorbet

From Fine Cooking Magazine

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

  • 1c. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. light corn syrup
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 lb. fresh blueberries
  • 1-2T fresh lemon or lime juice
  • Pinch of salt (or more)
  • 2T finely chopped cinnamon basil
  • 1/8t ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. guar gum (optional, but makes for a creamier texture)
  •  1 fresh raw egg, in its shell, washed and dried

Directions

  1. To make the sugar syrup, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until all ingredients are combined and sugar granules are thoroughly dissolved. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator until cold, about 30 minutes.
  2. In a blender, puree the blueberries, lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt. Taste mixture to correct flavors. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Place in a covered container and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
  3. Put the blueberry puree, 1 c. sugar syrup, 2 tablespoons packed basil leaves, ground cinnamon and guar gum, if using, in a blender. Strain mixture, once again, to remove any remaining seeds.
  4. Check the density of the sorbet base by gently lowering the egg into the container with a slotted spoon. If it sinks, remove it and stir in and additional 2 T of the sugar syrup, repeating as necessary until the egg floats just below the surface with a quarter-sized exposed area of shell. When density is right, pour sorbet base into a covered container and refrigerate until very cold, at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
  5. To freeze, pour base into an ice cream maker and run according to manufacturer’s directions. Sorbet too hard to scoop? Let it sit 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. Sorbet will keep up to two weeks.

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The blueberry puree.

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It floats! Only a quarter sized piece of egg should be showing.

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My new favorite container and Cutco ice cream scoop.

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July 27, 2014 Braised Swiss Chard with Raisins, Olives and Capers

DSC_8313aMove over broccoli, step aside tomatoes, the research has been completed and the new ranking of the powerhouse fruits and vegetables is in. Researchers at William Patterson University in conjunction with the CDC did a study of 41 fruits and vegetables ranking them by the 17 critical nutrients they contain. The foods were scored by their content of fiber, potassium, protein, calcium, folate and important vitamins. Following watercress and Chinese cabbage is our bronze medal winner, Swiss chard. Chard is a good source of vitamins K, A and C as well as potassium, iron and fiber.

We have been long time fans of chard, it is our choice for a cooked green in the summer after the heat causes our spinach plants to bolt. I think many people shy away from chard because it has two distinct parts, the leaves and the stems that need to be cooked separately. Many recipes avoid the stems but that is unfortunate since the stems can add texture and color to the dish. Two of the varieties we grow, Rhubarb, has bright red stems and Bright Lights has stems in almost neon shades of pink, yellow and orange. Although they will fade a bit, I prefer to simmer the stem sections in broth or water to maintain optimum color. Remember to cook chard in a non reactive pan, like spinach it will discolor if cooked in aluminum or unlined iron.

This preparation is one of our favorites that we have enjoyed for years. The earthy assertive flavor of chard combines nicely with Mediteranean flavors of garlic, capers, olives and raisins. I like to plump raisins in warm water for just a few minutes before adding to the recipe. I cut the stems of the chard into slightly smaller pieces than most recipes call for, the stems will cook quicker and will retain their color.

Farmers markets will be your best source for chard this time of year. Wash well in several changes of water. For a more detailed explanation about the preparation and cooking of chard, please look at this post.

As for the rankings, the word powerhouse equals nutrient density. Higher ranking foods provided more nutrients per calorie. Watercress scored a perfect 100, chard not far behind with 89.27. Broccoli and tomatoes? 34.89 and 20.37 respectively, reason enough to add chard to your diet.

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Braised Swiss Chard with Raisins, Olives and Capers

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 2lbs chard, washed, leaves and stems separated
  • 11/2c chicken or vegetable stock (water is okay too)
  • 1T olive oil
  • 1T capers, rinsed
  • 2t chopped garlic
  • 1/4c raisins (dark or golden)
  • 1/4c chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1/8t red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2T toasted pine nuts
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A very attractive “mis en place”.

Directions

  1. Cut the chard stems away from the leaves. Cut chard leaves into rough slices and set aside. Cut stems into 1/2 inch pieces. Combine stems in a large non reactive saute pan with stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer over low heat for about 8-10 minutes until softened. Check an individual stem piece to see if it is at your desired doneness. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
  2. Add the olive oil, capers, garlic, raisins, olives, red pepper flakes to the saute pan. Bring to a simmer and add the reserved chard leaves, in batches if necessary. Cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes, or until wilted. Uncover the pan and continue to simmer over low heat until the leaves are tender, 8-10 minutes. Add the reserved stems and toss with the ingredients in the pan. Increase the heat to evaporate any remaining liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.
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The neon colored stems of Bright Lights chard.

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July 22, 2014 Silky Zucchini Soup

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A fellow shopper and I were comparing notes as we waited in line at the farmers market. “I don’t like zucchini,” she commented. I didn’t have the chance to ask her, but I am always curious to know what exactly it is that makes someone dislike a certain food. Is it the taste, the texture, the smell, did they suffer through a poor preparation of it, or perhaps a bad childhood memory?
Zucchini, in many recipes is the canvas for the flavors of what is cooked with it, garlic, basil, tomatoes, cheese. I can understand someone disliking seedy, watery baseball bat sized zucchini that is tasteless and pulpy. But just picked small to medium zucchini have a light delicate flavor and a nutty quality to them. Maybe zucchini is not a nutritional powerhouse but it is low in calories and contains folate, potassium and vitamin A.

Zucchini is at the forefront of this recipe courtesy of Grant Achatz, a surprisingly low-tech offering from one of the masters of molecular gastronomy. We had the pleasure of enjoying a multiple course meal at his restaurant, Alinea, on a trip to Chicago several years ago. No need for a refractor or an immersion circulator to master this quick and very simple recipe. This pale green soup with dark green flecks has a creamy silky taste that belies the fact that the only dairy in the soup is one tablespoon of butter. Since the flavor of the zucchini is the star, choose homegrown or farmers market zucchini. The recipe is vegetarian, but could be made vegan just by replacing the butter with olive oil. Good both hot or cold, garnish the soup simply with finely shredded zucchini.

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The daily harvest at the peak of zucchini season.

Silky Zucchini Soup

From Food and Wine magazine

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1T unsalted butter
  • 2T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2lbs zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2/3c vegetable stock or low sodium vegetable broth
  • Julienned raw zucchini for garnish

Directions

  1. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the stock and 1 1/2 cups of water and bring it to a simmer; cook until the zucchini is very soft, about 10 minutes.
  4. Working in two batches, puree the soup in a blender until it’s silky smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Serve the soup hot or chilled, garnished with julienned zucchini.
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Saute zucchini until softened, about ten minutes.

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Add stock and water, bring to a simmer and cook until the zucchini is soft, about ten minutes.

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