19 August 2007

Salmon, Potato & Asparagus Salad

We had dear friends for a dinner on a hot summer night. This meal was made mostly in advance so I could enjoy the evening stroll to the pond and a spritz. I made this recipe to serve 10. It was a great hit, served with good bread. I wish I had taken a picture! But imagine it, abundant, and colorful on a large platter.

Salmon, Red Potato and Asparagus Salad
Perfect for a light supper or a special luncheon, the salad can be prepared quickly just before serving, or the salmon, potatoes and asparagus can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated, then combined with the vinaigrette just before serving. This is one of the most heart-healthy salads you will ever eat.

1 lb. salmon fillet, skin removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 lb. small, round red-skinned potatoes,
each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter
3/4 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed

For the vinaigrette:
4 dry-packed sun-dried tomato halves
Boiling water as needed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

10 oz. mixed baby greens (about 8 cups
loosely packed)
3 green onions, white and light green portions,
thinly sliced

Prepare a hot fire in a grill and oil the grill rack, or preheat an oven to 400°F. Season the salmon with salt and pepper.

Grilling method: Using tongs, place the salmon over the hottest part of the fire or directly over the heat elements and grill, turning once, until the salmon is opaque throughout when tested with a fork, about 4 minutes per side.

Roasting method: Place the salmon in a baking pan, transfer to the oven and roast until the salmon is opaque throughout when tested with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes.

Transfer the salmon to a plate and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, peel and cut into slices 1/2 inch thick. Set aside on a large plate to cool completely.

If the asparagus spears are thick, use a vegetable peeler or an asparagus peeler to pare away the tough outer skin of each spear to within about 2 inches of the tip. Cut the spears diagonally into 1-inch lengths. Place in a steamer rack over boiling water, cover the steamer and cook until tender-crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove the rack from the pan and rinse the asparagus under running cold water until cool. Pat dry and arrange next to the potatoes on the plate.

When the salmon is cool, cut it into 1-inch chunks and place the chunks alongside the potatoes and asparagus.

To make the vinaigrette, put the sun-dried tomatoes in a heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain and cut into 1/4-inch dice. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, dill, orange zest, garlic, 2 Tbs. water, salt and a grind of pepper until blended.

In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with 2 Tbs. of the vinaigrette. Spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the asparagus, potatoes and salmon. Using a large, flat spoon or spatula, gently coat the ingredients evenly with the dressing. Arrange the greens on a large platter. Top with the asparagus, potatoes and salmon, and sprinkle with the green onions. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4.

16 August 2007

pesto from liguria


4 bunches of basil
garlic (1 segment or less, it’s up to you)
1 spoon of pine nuts
50 grams of pecorino cheese
50 grams of parmisan cheese
5 spoons of extra-virgin olive oil
(I would suggest 3 spoons more than 5)
salt (I never put salt)

Wash and dry carefully the leaves of the basil (without the stem) and put it in the mixer with pine nuts, garlic and salt. Once blended, add the cheese to obtain a homogeneous paste. Then add olive oil till you reach a thick cream.
The pesto sauce is used in the recipe of the minestrone and with pasta (trenette if the pasta is dry; troffiette if it is fresh).
P.S. If the pesto sauce is too dark you only need to add more pine nuts or parmisan cheese.

15 August 2007

My mother's garden

My mother keeps me in touch with the country side by sending me occasional ranch updates like the following:

"A quick trip to the garden for rosemary, basil, bunch onions and arugula... my hands are filled with the scents of summer. In the kitchen, I chop zucchini and tomatoes from a farmer's market trip. Sauteed in olive oil, the kitchen fills with the aroma of good things grown with love."

12 August 2007

Sunday Night Chicken Enchiladas and Squash & Hominy Succotash

The three cans of red enchilada sauce stacked in the back of my pantry inspired me this afternoon. My left-overs will be a delight during the work week.

Chicken Enchiladas:
Corn tortillas
Red enchilada sauce
Rotisserie chicken
Can diced tomatoes
Cheese: I used a tipple-threat combo of a mexican cheese blend (monterrey jack, colby, chedder), "quesadilla melting cheese" and a crumbled queso fresco
Spices to taste: I used chili powder, cayenne, oregano, cumin, salt and white pepper

Pull chicken from bone and tear into small pieces. Threaten to attack your kitchen partner (or bottle of Bohemia beer) with your greasy hands. Season and plump the torn chicken with the juices from the diced tomatoes and spices to taste. Prep your cheeses and open cans. Stack the tortillas with a srinkle of water between the layers in a kitchen towel and nuke in the microwave to steam a bit. Heavily coat the bottom of your Pyrex dish with a combo of enchilada sauce and some diced tomatoes. One tortilla at a time, lay a hefty row of chicken on the bottom third of the tortilla. Add a generous spinkling of melting cheeses and roll tightly like you would a...an enchilada. Place, seam side down in the pan and repeat, lining the enchiladas fairly close to one another. Top with more sauce and a thick layer of both melting cheeses and crumbled cheese. Pop into a 350 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until bubbling and beginning to brown on top. Let sit for a few minutes and devour, wondering why you don't do this more often.

Squash & Hominy Succotash
Can of hominy
Yellow Squash
Fresh tomatoes
Olive oil
Spices to taste: I used cayenne, chili powder, oregano, cumin, white pepper and salt

Dice onion and tomatos and quarter or halve the squash. Add olive oil to hot skillet. Add diced onion and some salt and sautee. Add finely chopped garlic. Cook. Add squash. Cook. Add tomatoes, hominy and spices. Cook until done. Eat.

11 August 2007

Pasta Salad with Eggplant and Ricotta Salata

Three reasons why I should not be posting a recipe for pasta salad:
1. The administrator and contributress extraordinaire of this here blog is an Italian (albeit by marriage)
2. Italians know how to make pasta taste like mere Americans can only dream of pasta tasting.
3. I've never seen pasta salad served in Italy or mentioned in any Italian recipes. I suspect it is a scandalous American invention.

One reason why I'm posting this recipe anyway:
1. It's just so durn tasty! And infinitely flexible. Plus I love ricotta salata. It's my new obsession- the texture and sheepy flavor of a good feta without that overwhelming saltiness. Yummm.

I made this with ingredients that were hanging out in the fridge and pantry, crying out to be used. I didn't measure while making this, so feel free play with it all as you like. It makes a great one bowl lunch, and an equally great dinner with a green salad and grilled fish or meat.

1 box penne regate (note: photo above features orrichiette...penne is better)
1 large eggplant
2 zucchini
1 large, juicy ready-to-eat tomato
approx 8 sundried tomatoes
a good handful of chopped kalamata olives (or other flavorful black olive)
hunk of ricotta salata (maybe about 1 cup crumbled)
1 large clove garlic
fresh basil (hmmm, maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons chopped)
a couple sprigs of fresh thyme, maybe 1 tablespoon leaves?
crushed red pepper flakes
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

The best way to start this recipe is to toss your sliced eggplant and zucchini on the grill (brush them with some olive oil or vinaigrette and salt/pepper first). Alternatively, you can roast the veggies in the oven until they are tender.

Finely mince the garlic or run it through a press into a small bowl. Pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of olive oil over the garlic, shake some red pepper flakes into it, add a good grind of salt and pepper and the thyme leaves. Let this steep while you prepare the rest and it will become delicious and flavorful.

Bring a big pot of salted water to boil and add pasta- cook until just al dente (it's important not to overcook your pasta and to salt the water, right Italians?). Place the sundried tomatoes in a bowl and pour some of the boiling water over them and let them sit until you're ready for them- this will plump them up. While you're waiting for the water to boil/pasta to cook, dice the tomato, crumble the ricotta, chop the grilled veggies, sundried tomatoes, olives, basil, etc. and drop it all into a large serving bowl. When the pasta is ready, drain it into a colander and let it cool down a bit. Toss it into the serving bowl with the chopped stuff. Whisk about one tablespoon of balsamic into the steeping olive oil/garlic mixture and slowly toss it in with the pasta and veggies. Finish with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

07 August 2007

Mousse au Chocolat

So I went through this great chocolate mousse phase. The first time I made it, it was a total flop and had the consistancy of cake batter. Delicious cake batter, but batter none-the-less. So I made it several more times, experimenting with dosage and technique. Here is the result: my much-researched and PERFECT recipe for a painfully rich Mousse au Chocolat.

- 2.5 to 3 dark chocolate bars, about 7-10 ounces total (70% chocolate), this can be varied according to how rich you want your mousse.
- 1/2 to 1 cup whipping cream (again, to taste)
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon sugar

1. Separate eggs, put the whites in the fridge on standby.
2. Break the chocolate into pieces and then melt it in a double boiler or microwave, using just enough heat to gently melt the chocolate. Stir the chocolate with a wooden spoon as it is melting.
3. While the chocolate is melting, whip the egg whites until foamy (but not too stiff) and whip the cream until it is foamy and starts to form peaks. Apparently neither of the whipped ingredients should be whipped until TOO stiff, because that will make it difficult to mix.
4. Once the chocolate is melted, add the sugar to the melted chocolate, stirring until it is mixed in.
**A NOTE ABOUT FOLDING** This is the most important step, because you have to be extremely delicate. If you mix too much, you'll pop all the air bubbles and your mousse will be mush. So you have to "fold" very gently, and as little as possible.
5. Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture, this should "fluff it up" a bit, to aid in the future folding.
6. Fold in some of the whipped cream, followed by some of the remaining egg whites. Continue to fold in both ingredients, VERY DELICATELY, alternating between the two until both are finished.
7. Once all the ingredients are added and mixed in, spoon the mixture into individual glasses or a big bowl. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour before serving, or up to a day.
I like to serve this with some alcoholic options for each guest to mix in at his or her will. I usually put bottles of rum, Gran Marnier and Bailey's on the table. My favorite is with rum... yummmm...

05 August 2007

Supper Club

Each month, for the past three, my friends Samantha and Jerry host a Supper Club dinner party at their pretty pink brick house just down the street. Over drinks and themed dishes, strangers find common ground; the myriad guest list always makes for an entertaining evening. Last night's theme was 'summer grill'. I ended up taking full advantage of the excuse to cook and brought three dishes: Mango Salsa with Blue & Yellow Chips, Lamar's Cesar Salad and a Straw- & Blue- berry Cobbler with Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. My chilled rose made me forget to photograph the finished products, but I did sneak in a few shots of the salsa, pre-party.

This Mango Salsa is the epitome of summer sunshine and cuts through the grey of the recent daily downpours:

The quantities indicated below make a mess of salsa (I'll be eating left-overs on top of salmon filets or patties and grilled shrimp for days) - adjust according to total number of servings desired and personal taste.

6 Ripe, but not mushy med/large mangos
1 Red bell pepper
2 bunches Green onions
2 Jalapeno peppers
Handful of Cilantro leaves
1 Lime

Dice the Mangos into cubes, being careful not to cut off your fingers. I found it easiest to slice the mangos as you would a peach or avacado, by slicing it into sections and either (1) peeling back the skin while the flesh is still on the pit, cutting the exposed fruite into cubes and then releasing the cubes by cutting them from the pit or (2) 'popping' off section by section (I sliced mine into eighths) from the pit, using your knife and thumb to maneuver. This is the most time consuming and messy part of the process. Place diced mango into bowl.

Finely dice the Red Rell Pepper, Green Onion, Jalapeno (I remove the seeds, which are the spiciest part) and Cilantro and add to bowl.

Add the juice of the Lime and season with a pepper and a scant amount of salt.

Stir to incorporate all of the goodness and evenly distribute the ingredients. Serve with tortilla chips and take a dip into summer. (Blue corn chips provide a lovely color contrast to the vibrant hues of the salsa, but I think the salsa is best paired with saltier yellow corn chips.)

Here are some photos from last month's Supper Club:
Chocolate Stout Cupcakes: The Batter Years

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes: The Baked Years

Samantha: Hostess in Flight