Tag Archives: tomato

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Warm Tomato Sauce

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This is a story about the plight of the male squash blossom.

Squash blossoms, I have learned, are either male or female. Females bloom, become fertilized and swell to produce the fruit. Males bloom as well, fanning the sky with their magical essence that floats into the soft yellow petals of any female nearby…with the help of our winged friends. And once this job is done, the males lose their purpose. And, as so often happens in the wild, they die.

I came upon this realization as I recently researched how to harvest one’s own squash blossoms for the purposes of cooking. We are lucky enough to have a glorious growing season in N.C., and planted one too many yellow summer squash in our little garden patch. Grant clips the soft yellow squash, but just as many “male” blossoms stay there, not producing fruit, being wasted.

Until I came along with a desire to stuff them with creamy ricotta and herbs.

If you are lucky enough to find squash blossoms at the market, I would cook them within 24 hours. Garden-grown is always best, of course, as I ate mine less than 10 hours after picking, which was ideal because some were still wide open and easy to fill. I leave a bit of stem – makes for easier handling – and be sure to clean them of any bugs and pull that little…”male thingy” out from inside. Picking in morning is best, as the flowers will be open.

You can find a much more professional recipe elsewhere, such as epicurious.

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Warm Tomato Sauce

Use 6-8 fresh squash blossoms, cleaned, stamen removed.

Filling:

Mix together 1/2 c. ricotta (I used fat-free ricotta from Trader Joe’s, but by all means go whole milk!), 1 egg yolk, 4-5 fresh sliced basil leaves, S&P to taste.

Using a spoon or your hands, push about 1 T filling into each flower. Careful! Gently twist the top closed.

Batter:

In a medium bowl, mix 1 c. AP flour with enough white wine to make it look like pancake batter. That is as technical as I get. I used a really sweet wine that I hated, and it turned out great. Probably close to 1 c. wine.

Meanwhile, heat 2 inches of canola oil in a deep pan until shimmering – probably close to 300 degrees but I didn’t check. Test and learn! I also didn’t have enough oil, so mine were shallow-fried and a little flat on one side. Oh well!

Dip each stuffed blossom in the batter and let excess drip off before dropping into hot oil.

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Make sure squash brown on all sides – it will only take a few minutes. Sprinkle with coarse salt when you remove them to a towel to drain and cool.

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Serve with warm tomato sauce, or, as I have been calling it, tomato oil.

In small saucepan, cook 1 large clove garlic in 2 T olive oil and a pinch of chili flakes. Add 1 large chopped garden tomato or equivalent. Cook over low until soupy – season to taste.

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I served mine with extra basil and Maldon sea salt sprinkled over. It was lovely. The crust was crunchy and the blossom and filling were so soft inside. It felt like biting into a Krispy Kreme donut. You can really taste the wine in the batter.

The garlicky tomato sauce is a perfect complement. See how that ricotta just oozes out…

20140727-145706-53826268.jpgEnjoy, friends! xoxo

 

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Easy Tomato Soup with Gruyere Grilled Cheese

Seasoned to Taste - Easy Tomato Soup with Gruyere Grilled Cheese

It has finally started smelling like fall. Damp leaves replaces humid heat rising from asphalt, hearty rosemary and sage replaces the floral basil and mint. Cold, achy darkness replaces sunny mornings.

And so you make soup. Because you need to smell onion caramelizing in oil, see steam rising from a bowl and taste something smoothing going down the ol’ pipe.

Most people grow up with Campbell’s tomato soup along with Goldfish crackers, Saltines or Kraft grilled cheese sandwiches. I wouldn’t allow tomato soup to touch my lips until a few years ago, and only if copious amounts of basil and cream were added. And only because children forced me too. Mom always said kids bring karma full circle.

I found a super simple, but excellent and satisfying tomato soup recipe in the recent Food Network magazine, which I adapted to my liking. Adding tomato paste really deepens the flavor, and using crushed tomatoes omits the need for a blender – unless you have an immersion blender and then I am jealous!

With it, I made Gruyere grilled cheese sandwiches – bread slathered with melted butter, then Dijon mustard, Gruyere cheese and a crack of pepper. Press on hot surface of your choice.

Easy Tomato Soup

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 3 T EVOO
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 c. good chicken stock or broth
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (splurge on San Marzano, please) – even the herbed kind are good
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream

In Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium, then add onions. Cook 15 min., stirring, until golden brown. Add garlic and cook 1 min. more. Stir in tomato paste, stock, tomatoes 1 T salt and 1 tsp pepper. Bring soup to boil, then reduce to simmer 15 min. Stir in cream and cook another 10 min.

Meanwhile, make up your favorite type of grilled cheese. You can even cut them into bits and use them like croutons. I went classic:

Seasoned to Taste - Easy Tomato Soup with Gruyere Grilled Cheese

Surprising how much flavor the soup had, when I was used to the canned variety.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Pasta

Experimenting with sweet spices is an interesting way to stretch your culinary repertoire into more exotic places. For instance, would I ever have thought of adding 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to a pasta dish? Of course not – but luckily, I subscribe to The Splendid Table’s newsletter, and this one happened along.

I changed the recipe up a bit – most notably with the pasta. I couldn’t find hollow pasta at my regular grocery store and I’m so over dealing with Whole Foods and it’s crowded parking lots and aisles. So I made due with linguine. I also didn’t break my pasta off into pieces, like pasta-roni. Instead, I left it long, so I could curl it around my fork. It’s one of my favorite things about pasta – the fork-twirling.

This truly is one of those hearty all-in-one meals – you have your vegetables, meat (chopped rotisserie chicken) and pasta all in one. The tomato sauce is spicy and enhanced with white wine and that warmth that comes from ground cinnamon. I also sprinkled feta cheese over mine, which added a nice, cold flavor contrast (but you won’t see the cheese in any of the pictures).

Very good, if you can get past the weirdness of all that cinnamon.

Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Pasta

Ingredients:

  • Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/3 tighty-packed cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste (put your leftover in ice cube trays to freeze and use next time – that’s what I do!)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 c. diced tomatoes in their juices
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups diced cooked chicken (good way to use leftover chicken; optional)
  • 1 pound linguine
  • 1/2 c. feta cheese (or goat cheese)

Bring the salted water to a boil and while that works, work on the following:

Generously fill the bottom of a 12-inch sauté pan with olive oil and heat it over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions, parsley, and generous sprinklings of salt and pepper. Sauté the onions to golden brown. Then stir in the tomato paste, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, sugar, and pepper flakes. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high and cook the sauce for 8 minutes, or until thick. Taste for seasoning, remove the pan from the heat, and if using the chicken, stir it in.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water. Boil, stirring often, for 8 minutes, or until the pasta is tender but still has a little bite. As the pasta cooks, reheat the sauce over medium-high heat. Once the pasta is done, drain it in a colander and add it to the sauce. Toss over the heat for a minute or more to help the sauce permeate the noodles.

To serve, pile pasta on plates with generous spoonfuls of the chicken and tomato mixture. Sprinkle with feta cheese (not pictured below).

As an end to this post, here is a picture of our little bonsai tree. I can’t remember who gave it to us, but soon this baby appeared on it. I think the baby came from a Mardi Gras King’s Cake. We keep them on the kitchen window. Grant moves him around the plant as if he wants a different view every now and then…

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Appetizers for Lunch

It has happened that one of my favorite ways to eat lunch is as an appetizer. Think about all the things you love about appetizers – artisan cheeses, Italian meats, fresh fruit, crackers and bread … why can’t those things be your lunch?

So my new brown-bag lunch of choice these days has been a wedge of good cheese, some good crackers and fresh fruit. It is great to nibble on if you typically eat at your desk …

Even on weekends, Grant and I are known to have heavy appetizers for our mid-day meal and it’s perfectly wonderful and filling.

On one recent trip to the mountains, I sliced up some of our farm tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, basil from our garden and toasted baguette. Seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, it was wonderful to make our own little crostini.

Next, I made a plate of soft Goat Lady Dairy cheese, prosciutto (with cracked pepper), grapes and a hard Parmesan-like cheese that I impulse-purchased at Whole Foods. It was fabulous!

Both were perfect with a crisp glass of wine or a cold beer. And they took moments to put together.

Enjoy your summer lunches, friends! xoxo

Greek Couscous Salad with Roasted Chicken

Good lord I love couscous. Perhaps as much as I love its long-legged cousin, pasta. A simple vehicle for great flavors and seasonings. My friend Krissy recently transformed couscous into a delicious Greek-inspired salad that I have since made twice and call it my favorite fresh hot-weather meal. Because when it’s in the 90s, with 90% humidity, you just want something that can be served chilled. With a tall glass of iced tea or white wine.

Nothing satisfies more than crisp cucumber, juicy tomato, sweet basil, crumbly feta and the crunch of spring onions.

I found these cool purple spring onions at the farmers’ market, and they tasted a bit sharper than a shallot, but the greens were like scallions.

Really, any onion will do. Krissy made hers with store-bought rotisserie chicken, which is wonderful. I, however, was feeling cheap, so I roasted my own chicken.

Please see this recipe as just a loose representation of something I created adding a bit of this and a splash of that. Go on, do the same!

Greek Couscous Salad with Roasted Chicken

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 2 or 3 split chicken breasts, with skin (you’ll have leftovers, so just roast all of it)
  • EVOO
  • Kosher salt, pepper
  • Cooked couscous (made using 1 c. uncooked couscous, but made with chicken stock instead of water – follow package instructions)
  • 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 small cucumber or half large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1/3 c. sliced red onion, shallot or spring onions
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, cubed
  • 1/4 c. chopped basil leaves
  • 1/4 c. EVOO, whisked with 4 T fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons) and pinch S&P.

Preheat oven to 425 and line baking sheet with foil. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast until skins are crispy and chicken is just cooked through, roughly 30 min (gah! I didn’t pay attention to the time! I just waited until I could smell it and the skin was golden, then I took it out and sliced into a thick portion, revealing clear juices and tender meat. Perfect!).

Meanwhile, prep all your veggies and cook the couscous. Add cucumber, tomato, onion, basil and feta to a medium bowl. Pour vinaigrette over and set aside.

When couscous has cooled to room temperature, add it to the vegetable mixture and toss to incorporate (hot couscous will melt the feta).

When chicken is done, allow to cool 15-20 min., then slice away from bone and into chunks. To serve, spoon couscous salad onto plates, then top with chicken. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, few cracks of pepper and a sprinkling of flaked sea salt.

This is so delicious. All the different textures scream SUMMER! We ate ours outside on the newly beautified front patio, just before the hot winds blew in a thunder storm.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Cold pizza

(DIY fast food)

Cold pizza brings me back to college. You wake up from a night of heavy socializing and eat a remaining slice of pizza that may have been stuffed (with box) into the fridge, or maybe was just left out all  night. The breakfast of university coeds.

Now I am older and much more mature. Instead of eating leftover frozen or delivery pizza, I eat leftover homemade pizza. The process of making pizza appeals to both the adult and child within – you get to play with dough and decorate it and have the satisfaction of knowing that you made everything with your own two hands.

Last night, Jesse and I had a little DIY pizza night. I made the dough the night before (recipe below) and then we rolled it out for pies.

Mine was margherita style: topped with olive oil, garlic, Parmesan, fresh diced tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella. I also sprinkled it with cracked pepper and sea salt (and red pepper flakes). It was yummy and salty and scratched my itch for some fresh basil.

Jesse really hit a homerun with his. First of all, he shaped his into a perfect sphere, whereas mine was a sort of random shape, which is totally what I was going for. Secondly, the boy made his own marinara sauce! I told him I could buy him some, or he could just make it himself:

Saute a chopped yellow onion in olive oil, add 2 cloves chopped garlic, stir, then add one can of diced tomatoes, simmer, season with S&P and dried oregano. Puree in a blender to make smooth.

I didn’t expect him to actually do it, but something lit a fire under him and I am still amazed by how good it turned out! I’m not a big marinara fan myself, but I tell you it looked and tasted at least as quality as the stuff you can buy.

Next, he topped his with a ton of Boar’s Head pepperoni and shredded mozarella cheese.

His took a little longer to cook because of the mounds of meat on top, but it was so, so good. Hot, or cold. Jesse declared that he is “never going to buy pizza again!”

We now have dinner for two nights and the leftover ingredients to make pesto-tomato-mozarella panini tomorrow night. All I have to do is make the focaccia…

Recipe for pizza dough, adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Baking book

(If you don’t have a KitchenAid, use a wooden spoon)

2 packages dry yeast

2 1/4 c. warm water

2 tsp sugar

1/4 c. olive oil

5 c. flour, plus more for kneading

1 T sea salt

Semolina flour, for shaping (or corn meal)

Note: this is best made a day in advance.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, dissolve yeast and sugar in water and let stand until foamy, 5-10 min. Add oil, flour and salt. Using a dough hook, stir on slow until smooth and elastic, 8-10 min. Turn out on a floured work space and knead another 5 min., adding flour as needed. Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place, until it doubles in size. Punch it down, cover again and place in the fridge. Let it come to room temp. before shaping.

Preheat oven to 500. Turn dough out on floured surface and cut in half. Shape each half into a ball and let rest for 10 min. Lightly dust each ball with flour and roll or stretch into your crust shape. Transfer to a pan sprinkled with semolina flour and shape it as needed. Brush away extra semolina, as it will burn.

Top with your desired toppings and bake until everything is melted and the crust is browned and cooked all the way to the middle.

Serve hot, and enjoy, friends! xoxo

Caprese panino

Attack of the giant panini!

Attack of the giant panini!

Question: is there any discernable taste difference between sweet and Thai basil? In my opinion, not when you cook with it.

I found all this Thai basil stuffed in our crisper drawer from last week’s farmers market (oops) and hurried to turn it into a pesto, hoping to salvage whatever I could. Tasting the basil raw, it definitely had a more lemony, almost peppery flavor, compared to the sweet licorice of the “other” basil. Moreover, the physical differences are greater: Thai basil has more pointy leaves that are roughly textured, and are almost purple.

Still, basil is basil, in my opinion, and it all tastes good in pesto.

I made the quick pesto with roughly two handfuls of basil leaves, one palmful of pine nuts, four chopped garlic cloves, 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese and 1/4 c. EVOO. Blend with salt and pepper to taste.

I shmeared the pesto on the beautifully bubbly ciabatta bread we picked up today from Ollie’s bakery downtown. Then, I layered sliced fresh mozarella and heirloom tomatoes (don’t even bother with the non-heirloom variety here).

I pressed the sandwich in a hot skillet with a little butter, my substitution for a real panini press. It was delicious. I really think that ciabatta bread is the best bread for panini.

Just look at that bread!

Just look at that bread!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo