While in line at the grocery store, I fell for a basic marketing tactic and started looking at magazines at the checkout. Most had no appeal. At least not until I came across the Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best French Recipes. After thumbing through it quickly, I added it to my cart and took it home.
Last night, the rainy weather set the mood for soup. I remembered seeing a recipe for Provençal Vegetable Soup (aka Soupe au Pistou) in the magazine and decided to give it a try.
Soupe au Pistou
The vegetable soup itself is quite delicious. However, the shining star of the soup is the pistou. Pistou is basically the French cousin of the Italian basil pesto. It is bright sauce made with basil, Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil. I have three different types of basil growing in the backyard, so I used a combination of each. Unlike pesto, it does not have pine nuts.
Adding a dollop of pistou to the soup really infused it with a bright flavor of basil. The soup also went well with a few slices of grilled sourdough bread.
As spring gives way to summer, seek out a copy of Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best French Recipes and use the fresh herbs and vegetables in this delicious soup.
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:
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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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).
Once the kale has wilted into the soup, it is ready to serve.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Culantro (cilantro can be used as a substitute)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 lb salmon
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).
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.
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.
Serve the blueberry-corn-quinoa mixture over mixed salad greens and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Top with salmon and serve.