Salade Niçoise

Maybe because of Bastille Day or maybe because the days are so hot during the summer, but salade niçoise sounded like a perfect dinner tonight. Before heading to the grocery store, I thought I would jump online and find a standard recipe. What I found instead was little agreement on what constitutes Nicoise salad. I found vegan versions, vegetarian versions, version with salmon instead of tuna, etc. There are even purists who say that there should never be any cooked vegetables — only tomatoes, anchovies, and olive oil. I took these disagreements as license to make my own version. So, here it is:

Salad

  • 1 small head of butter lettuce, washed, chopped, and patted dry with a towel
  • 6 small Yukon gold potatoes
  • 8 oz. trimmed green beans, preferably haricot verts
  • 3 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small radishes, thinly sliced
  • 3 small beets, cooked and quartered (I used Love Beets cooked beets with white wine and balsamic)
  • 1/2 cup olives (Nicoise, Kalamata, or whatever type you like best)
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 1 can tuna in olive oil, excess oil drained off

Fill a large pot with water and add salt to make it very salty. Add potatoes to the pot and bring the water to a boil. Boil until you can easily stick a fork into the potatoes, about 15 minutes. Remove the potatoes and set them aside to cool. To the pot of boiling water, add the green beans and blanch for 3 minutes and move them to a bowl of ice water to quickly cool them down. While the potatoes and green beans cool, carefully place the eggs into the pot of boiling water. Turn the heat to medium and put a lid on the pot. Cook the eggs at a simmer for 11 minutes. I love that I can use the same pot of water for all of the cooked components. Remove the eggs and place them in a bowl of ice water to cool them down. Quarter the potatoes, drain the green beans and place them on a towel to dry, and peel the hard boiled eggs and cut them in half.

Place the lettuce in a large serving bowl. Compose the salad by grouping together the salad ingredients on top of the lettuce. Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste.

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Dressing

  • 1 small shallot, finely minced (about 1.5 oz.)
  • 2 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2.5 oz. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 oz. olive oil

In a jar, combine all of the ingredients except the olive oil. Mix well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to create an emulsion. If needed, place a lid on the jar and shake prior to serving.  I especially like the fresh thyme in this dressing; the flavor really comes out and enhances all of the salad components.

The salad can be served immediately with the cooked components still warm, or it can be made ahead and served cold. Top the salad with the dressing and enjoy.

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Pan con Tomate

After a truly memorable dinner of tapas and wine at Cúrate in Asheville, I took a momement to briefly thumb through their cookbook on my way out of the restaurant. While I did not take enough time to really absorb the photos and recipes, one page stuck with me. Their recipe for Tomato Bread included a description of rubbing garlic and halved tomatoes directly on toasted bread. Beautifully simple and  rustic.

A couple months later, I picked up the vegetables from our CSA one evening and I was handed a brown paper bag full of fresh tomatoes. My first thought was to make a red sauce for pasta, but then the recipe for Tomato Bread stirred in my mind. Not remembering the specifics, I searched the Internet for Pan con Tomate (tomato bread).

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Here is my take on Pan con Tomate:

First, make a small cut in the bottom of the tomatoes. Then, grate the tomatoes into a bowl, discarding the skin. The small cut helps start the grating process, otherwise the tomatoes slides along the grater rather ineffectively. The skin generally remains intact and is easy to remove from the top of the grater. Season the tomatoes with salt and minced clove fresh garlic to taste. I used about a half teaspoon salt and one clove of garlic to about two cups of grated tomatoes.

Slice a baguette in half longwise horizontally, then slice each half into 2 inch wide rectangles. Drizzle the bread with olive oil and broil it until browned. Rub a clove of garlic over the crispy bread and spoon the tomatoes over it. Finish with a light sprinkle of salt and a light drizzle of olive oil.

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Because Pan con Tomate is such a simple dish, the quality of the ingredients is very important. The tomatoes needs to be fresh and ripe. The olive oil should also be good quality. When done well, the dish should invoke feelings of eating at the beach or traveling the Iberian Peninsula.

Pan con Tomate makes a great tapa or a light dinner. It also goes well with a larger spread.

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Massaged Kale Salad

Kale salad with hard-boiled eggs

Here in the US, kale is primarily in season from January through April. With this window rapidly closing, we are trying to enjoy as much fresh, local kale as we can. So, when we got a beautiful bunch of Lacinato kale from our community supported agriculture (CSA) box, I decided to try something that, admittedly, sounds rather strange — massaged kale.

The inspiration for massaged kale came from a dish Jill ordered from Prato, a modern Italian restaurant that our friends in Winter Park, Florida took us to a while back. While their menu changes regularly, they often have a variation on the kale salad that does not disappoint.

To make my interpretation of the salad, you need:

  • 1 Bunch of fresh Lacinato kale
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Eggs, hard-boiled (see notes below), cut in half
  • 4 Small sweet pepper (or a medium yellow or orange bell pepper) thinly sliced
  • 4 Strips of crispy bacon, broken into small bits
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 2 Radishes, thinly sliced
  • 4 to 5 Fresh stawberries, sliced
  • Grated Parmesan, to taste

Remove the tough stems from the Kale and thinly slice the leaves. Toss the kale in a mixing bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Massage the kale vigorously with your fingertips for 2 minutes. The kale will soften and wilt slightly. Top the kale with the remaining ingredients to make a fresh, healthy salad. The lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper used to massage the kale creates a nice coating, so additional salad dressing is not necessary. Makes 2 dinner-sized salads.

Massaged local kale salad
Massaged local kale salad

To make the perfect hard-boiled egg: Put the eggs in a saucepan that is large enough to cover them with 1 inch of cold water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, put a lid on the pan and remove it from the heat.  Wait 11 minutes, then drain the pot and place the eggs under cool running water for a minute. Carefully crack and peel the eggs.

Kale salad with hard-boiled eggs
Kale salad with hard-boiled eggs

Tomato Soup with Roasted Fennel and Chickpeas

Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas

I love community supported agriculture (CSA). For a couple of dollars each week, I get fresh, local produce that is in season, and I support my local economy. It also forces me to diversify my cooking and to be creative. For example, this past week we received savoy cabbage, kale, a fennel bulb, spinach, lettuce, carrots, and one lonely beet. The savoy cabbage and carrots were destined for Asian Rotisserie Chicken Salad (a recipe from http://www.CookSmarts.com). The spinach and lettuce are destined for green smoothies. There are numerous options for the kale. But what to do with fennel and a beet?

Fennel and a beet
What do you do with a fennel bulb and one beet?

I searched through my pantry for inspiration and came up with this idea for a soup made with the fennel, the beet, the kale, and a couple of pantry staples.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium beet
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas, drained
  •  3 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 (32oz) carton low sodium chicken stock (vegetable stock would work also)
  • 1/2 lime, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon Red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees. Trim any stalk from the beet. Coat the beet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon of each). Wrap the beet in aluminum foil and put it in the oven. The beet should roast for 45 minutes to an hour, which is plenty of time to make the rest of the soup.

Toss the chopped fennel and the diced onion with two teaspoons of olive oil. Spread the fennel and onions evenly on a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for 12 minutes. Stir the fennel and onion mixture and roast for another 5 minutes. Stir the vegetable mixture again and add the chickpeas. Roast the fennel, onions, and chickpeas for 10 minutes.Roasting the fennel like this really helps mellow its flavor. Remove the pan with the fennel, onions, and chickpeas from the oven, but let the beet continue to roast.

While the beet roasts, heat a tablespoon of butter and 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil together in a 6-quart dutch oven over medium heat. Once the butter melts, add in the garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. The garlic should be a golden brown, but not burnt. Add in the dried chili flakes (you can add more if you prefer a spicier soup). Cook for an additional minute, then stir in the crushed tomatoes. Add in the balsamic vinegar. Let the tomato mixture cook for 3 minutes, then gradually stir in the chicken stock. Add in the lime zest and lime juice, the dried oregano, and the dried basil. The lime zest and juice adds a brightness to the soup that enhances the flavors of the other ingredients.

Add the roasted vegetables and chickpeas to the soup. Turn the soup down to low heat and let it simmer while the beet roasts. Once the beet has finished roasting, remove it from the oven and let it cool 10 minutes. Once cool, peel the outer skin from the beet, chop the beet, and add the chopped beet to the soup.

As a quick snack, I stole a slice of beet and put it on a Melba toast with a hunk of Mizithra cheese. Not a bad little snack to enjoy while the soup cooks.

Beet and Mizithra
A quick bite of beet and Mizithra on toast

Return the soup to medium heat and add the chopped kale. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper).

Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas
Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas

Once the kale has wilted into the soup, it is ready to serve.

A bowl of soup full of CSA vegetables
A bowl of soup full of CSA vegetables

Pumpkin Ravioli Soup

Pumpkin Ravioli Soup

October is our annual “go buy all things pumpkin from Trader Joe’s” month. Each year we pick up a variety of pumpkin goods ranging from pumpkin bagels to canned pumpkin to pumpkin ice cream. Our new favorite are the Pumpkin Joe Joe’s, pumpkin sandwich cookies with a pumpkin cream filling.

Inspired by the variety of pumpkin goods at Trader Joe’s, I came up with this recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli Soup. Made entirely of ingredients purchased from Trader Joe’s, the pumpkin gives the soup a creamy texture. Using the prepared ingredients also makes this a quick dinner to cook.

Prepared Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli makes this soup a quick dinner to cook
Prepared Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli makes this soup a quick dinner to cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz Trader Joe’s mirepoix (pre-diced celery, carrots, onions)
  • 2 Trader Joe’s sun dried tomato and basil chicken sausages
  • 14.5 oz can Trader Joe’s diced and fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon Trader Joe’s South African Smoke seasoning blend
  • 8 oz Trader Joe’s organic pumpkin
  • 15 oz can Trader Joe’s cannellini beans
  • 32 oz Trader Joe’s organic free range chicken stock
  • 8 oz Trader Joe’s kale
  • 1 package Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
  • Trader Joe’s pumpkin cornbread croutons
  • Salt

In a 5 quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in the mirepoix and stir until the onions become translucent, about 3 minutes. Remove the sausages from their casing. Discard the casing and add the sausage to the mirepoix, breaking it up into small chunks as it cooks. Cook the mirepoix and sausage until the sausage is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Add in the can of fire roasted tomatoes and the South African Smoke seasoning and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the canned pumpkin and stir until the pumpkin dissolves into the mixture, then add in the beans. Carefully stir the mixture while pouring in the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil,  then reduce the heat to low. Let the soup simmer for 15 minutes. Add the kale and stir until wilted. Add in the pumpkin ravioli and cook for 3 minutes. Salt to taste and serve the soup topped with a handful of pumpkin cornbread croutons.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons

The soup has a slight kick to it from the fire roasted tomatoes and South African Smoke seasoning, so substitute regular diced tomatoes and curry power or paprika if you prefer a milder soup.

Pumpkin Ravioli Soup
Pumpkin Ravioli Soup

Summer Salad with Salmon

Blueberries, corn, peppers, tomato

Summer ingredients are perfect for light salads that are just right for the season’s hot afternoons. Fresh corn and blueberries pair especially well together, lending a slight sweetness and a taste that reminds me of childhood summers in South Georgia. This summer salad builds on this flavor combination and incorporated quinoa and salmon to make the salad a satisfying main course.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint blueberries, rinsed
  • 2 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed
  • 1 Cubanelle pepper, chopped
  • 3 small, sweet red peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 limes
  • Culantro (cilantro can be used as a substitute)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 lb salmon
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed salad greens
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Cook a cup of quinoa according to the package directions. If buying bulk, add one cup of rinsed quinoa to two cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and turn the heat to low. Let the quinoa simmer for 15 minutes, then drain  any remaining water. Once the quinoa is cooked, set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

While the quinoa cooks and cools, cut the kernels off of the cobs of both ears of corn. Toss the kernels of corn with the blueberries.  Mix in the Cubanelle, sweet red peppers, and tomatoes. Mix in the quinoa and set aside. Season to taste with salt and pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon each).

Blueberries, corn, peppers, tomato
Blueberry, Corn, Quinoa mixture

To make a compound butter for the salmon, mix the butter, juice of half of a lime, and two teaspoons of chopped fresh culantro. Put the butter mixture into the refrigerator to cool.

Culantro-lime compound butter
Culantro-lime compound butter

While the butter mixture refrigerates, make a simple vinaigrette for the salad. In a small bowl, add the juice of the remaining lime and a half , the Dijon mustard, a tablespoon of chopped culantro, salt and pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon each). Whisk in 1/4 cup of olive oil.

When the vinaigrette is ready, set aside and get the compound butter out of the refrigerator. Spread the compound butter evenly over the non-skin side of the salmon. Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the salmon to the skillet, skin side down. Cook the salmon in the skillet for 3 minutes per side. Put a lid on the skillet and finish the salmon in the over for 10 minutes, or until cooked to the desired temperature.

Salmon with compound butter
Salmon with compound butter

Serve the blueberry-corn-quinoa mixture over mixed salad greens and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Top with salmon and serve.

Summer salad with salmon
Summer salad with salmon

Beet Greens Salad

We got the most beautiful beets in our Full Earth Farms CSA boxes this year. I always love beets, but I get especially excited when the beets have the greens still attached. When I am lucky enough to have fresh looking beet greens, my favorite thing to make is a warm beet greens salad with roasted beets, topped with goat cheese. Beets are naturally sweet and pair well with a tangy goat cheese. The greens are earthy like Swiss chard, but have more texture.

Beets from Full Earth Farms
Beets from Full Earth Farms

The salad is quite simple to make and only requires a few ingredients:

  • 1 Bunch beets with greens
  • 2 Sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 oz Goat cheese
  • 1 Tbsp red wine (or vinegar)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the greens from the beets, leaving a little bit of the stalk attached to the root, and set aside. Place the beet roots on a sheet of aluminum foil and drizzle the beets with a tablespoon of olive oil. Season the beets with fresh thyme, 1 tsp of coarse salt, and 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper. Fold the edges of the aluminum foil over the beets to form a pouch. Roast the beets in the oven for 35 minutes (or longer for large beets).

Beets for roasting
Beets ready for roasting

While the beets roast, wash the beet greens and pat them dry with a clean towel. Remove the stems and cut the beet greens into 1 inch strips.

Fresh beet greens
Fresh beet greens

After roasting, let the beets cool until you can handle them without burning yourself. With a pairing knife, remove the skins from the beets and slice the beets in half (or quarters for large beets).

Roasted beets
Roasted beets

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Toss in the beet greens and saute until slightly warmed, about a minute. Add a tablespoon of red wine to the pan and let the resulting steam wilt the greens.

Wilted beet greens
Wilting beet greens

Plate the greens and top with the roasted beets. Crumble the goat cheese over the salads and serve. The oil and wine from cooking the greens act as a vinaigrette, so salad dressing is not necessary.

Warm beet greens salad with roasted beets and goat cheese
Warm beet greens salad with roasted beets and goat cheese