Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Straight from the Garden" Pasta

I get quiet excited when I see the first red, orange or yellow cherry tomatoes in my garden. I have lots of different vegetables planted, but tomatoes are the star of my backyard. Tomatoes and zucchini overlap for just a few weeks, and this pasta dish is one of my very favorites so the second there are enough tomatoes on those vines, I pick them just for this dish. This recipe gets completely elevated with the use of fresh tomatoes, from your garden, the farmer's market or from a generous friend. It makes all the difference in this dish so hunt them out if you need to!

Another highlight of this summer meal is that there is no cooking involved. The only thing you need to know how to do is boil water. Seriously. Even if you think you can't cook, you CAN make this dish! And it is really good. Dinner party good. Make it.

Tomato and Zucchini Linguine
adapted from Food & Wine Magazine July 2009

Serves 4-5

1 zucchini or 3 baby zucchini sliced thinly
3/4-1 lb cherry tomatoes (I try to use orange, yellow and red to make the dish more colorful)- chopped (the amount is whatever I can pick)
2 cloves garlic- minced
handful of basil- chopped
handful of parsley- chopped
1 small hot pepper- minced (I use whatever I grow... usually jalapeno)
2 tsp kosher salt (it sounds like a lot, but if you don't trust me on this, you can do 1 first, then add more as you see... but once you add the pasta it all comes together.)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
12-16 ounces linguine (or other long strand pasta..whatever you have in the pantry, as you can see from my picture, I used fettuccine the last time I made this)

Combine all ingredients (except pasta) in a large bowl.

While the flavors of the sauce come together, bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to box directions.

Drain pasta, combine with sauce, toss and plate! If you like, you can shave Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, though I like to leave mine cheese-less. I think the flavors come through best on their own.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stuffed Zucchini

I don't know about you, but I am drowning in zucchini. My garden is producing in overtime this summer and every day I am picking 2-4 zucchini and summer squash. This past week I had gotten to the point that even with giving away a fair amount, one of my produce drawers was full. With no where left to turn, I sat down with recipe book, cookbooks and my laptop and decided this would be the week when we finally used up all these courgettes.

Of course I was excited about a challenge involving one vegetable over the course of six meals, though I can't say the same for my husband or child. Michael was never a huge fan and Jack isn't exactly a lover of vegetables at this stage in his life. This didn't stop me. By the end of the week (though at this time I still have the sixth and final recipe to go) I think I made a zucchini lover out of my husband and my son. The one night that we ate out this week, Jack actually asked the waitress if they had zucchini pizza and proceeded to order and eat it. Score one for me!!

This particular recipe was my husband's favorite of the week. He has actually already requested that I make it again. Jack's favorite was a pasta dish with raw tomatoes and zucchini and mine was a grilled cheese. In honor of the abundance of this vegetable over the season, I'll post another recipe soon. This stuffed zucchini dish is the best way to use up those extraordinarily large ones hiding in the garden or that are sitting at the farm stand waiting for someone to buy them, but any size zucchini will work.

I love this dish because I feel that you can't go wrong with Mediterranean flavors. The combination of shrimp, dill and feta is classic Greek. You could even throw in some chopped calamata olives to the mixture to add another layer of flavor. Just adjust the seasoning accordingly.

Feta and Shrimp Stuffed Zucchini
adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, July 2009
serves 3-4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound shelled and deveined large shrimp, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill
3-4 zucchini, halved lengthwise (I made this with only 1 large zucchini and had extra filling for another meal, I would say 1 zucchini per person for a dinner)
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta

Preheat the oven to 425°.

In a skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, fennel and garlic and cook over medium high heat, stirring, until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and cook, mashing, until thickened, 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Remove from the heat; let cool slightly. Stir in the shrimp, parsley and dill.

Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the zucchini, leaving a 1/4-inch shell all around. Rub with oil. Season the zucchini shells with salt and pepper and stuff with the filling. Transfer to a lightly oiled roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes, until the filling is cooked through and the zucchini is just tender.

Preheat the broiler and position a rack 6 inches from the heat. Top the zucchini with the feta and broil for 5 minutes, until the feta is melted and golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chard & Gruyere Quiche

You know you have a winner when all plates and platters of a certain dish are left with only a few crumbs and your guests are asking where the seconds are. I am not usually a quiche person, but this week I have made this dish twice. That's how good I think this is. I found that you can make this tart a day ahead and warm it in the oven before serving it, taking pressure off cooking right before you have company over. Big bonus!!

So this week was my son's 3rd birthday and I decided it would be fun to host THREE birthday parties for him. Well, not only host, but COOK for THREE birthday parties. I'm a sucker for punishment. One way I stayed sane was to make the same dish (this quiche) for a couple of the parties. To not make things terribly boring for myself and my repeat guests, I changed up the flavors of the quiche. One day it was spinach, another it was chard. One day it was cheddar cheese, two days later it was gruyere. Scallions and then Spanish onion. You really could have a bunch of different combinations for this to keep it fresh.

As the title of this entry implies, the chard, gruyere and Spanish onion version was my (and my repeat guest's) favorite. Feel free to mix and match to appease your taste buds! Make this and serve with a big garden salad and you have a perfect light dinner.

Chard Quiche
Adapted from Bon Appetit (Spinach Quiche), October 1991

My go to tart shell recipe follows this one. If you don't feel confident or have the time to make your own crust you can use pre-made (though this recipe is pretty fool proof!!)

3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup half and half (or milk)
3 eggs (I always use extra large eggs for baking because Ina says so)
10 ounces chard, stems removed, chopped, steamed until fully wilted, cooled then squeezed dry (or you can use 10 ounce bag frozen spinach defrosted and squeezed dry)
1/2 cup grated gruyere (you could use cheddar instead)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup finely diced Spanish onion (you could also substitute any type of onion here- scallion, red, white, shallots)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 425°. Beat cream cheese in medium bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in half and half and eggs. Mix in remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is set, about 20-25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Simple Savory Tart Shell
adapted from an Ina Garten recipe (I have been using this for a while and don't use the recipe anymore so don't remember what book I got it out of!)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
12 TBS unsalted butter- diced, very cold (keep in refrigerator up until you are ready to throw in the food processor)
3-4 TBS ice water

Place flour and salt in bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to incorporate them together. Add in butter and pulse 8-12 times until butter is the size of peas. With the machine on, add in the water (I do 3 TBS first, then add an extra if I need it). Once the dough comes together in a ball you can remove from food processor and dump it out onto a floured surface. Form into a dish, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350

When ready, roll out dough to about 1/8" thick and place in a 9 inch tart or pie plate. Fit to plate being careful not to pull or stretch the dough, otherwise it will shrink when it cooks. Cut off excess and place a piece of tin foil (with a thin layer of cooking spray on the side that will touch the dough) in the tart pan and then fill with bean or pie weights to ensure the crust doesn't puff up (this is called blind baking). Cook for 20 minutes. Remove the tin foil and beans, prick he bottom of the shell with a fork and cook for another 10 minutes. At this point you can cool completely before filling or finish immediately with the rest of the quiche recipe (don't forget to increase the oven temperature!)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cherry Clafoutis

I know I owe you all a savory dish at this point, but I couldn't move on until I shared this recipe. Cherry season doesn't last forever so you'll need to jump on these delicious fruit before they are gone. Basically a clafoutis is fruit topped with a pancake like batter and baked until puffed and golden. VERY simple. Traditionally this French dessert is made with cherries, and after my first experience making it, I would say that there is a reason for that.

Last Sunday I went to the Chester Sunday Market. It is by far my favorite farmer's market here in Connecticut. There are so many amazing vendors and I always feel very inspired while walking around. Last week was no exception. In addition to buying my first whole fish (a post for another day!), I purchased a half pound of tart cherries grown here in Glastonbury. I had never had fresh sour cherries, and they definitely put a pucker on my face. I was very excited about how they could be transformed.

So that was last Sunday. The entire week flew by and before I knew it, it was Friday and those darn cherries were still sitting in my refrigerator starting to go bad. It was 9 PM when I decided on my plan of action. A little late for starting a recipe but I was afraid that if I waited a few more days they would go to waste. I thought I would make them for a BBQ I was attending the next day (though clafoutis and BBQ don't really sound like they go together....). Well it turns out that I didn't have enough cherries to share, so I halved my recipe and made just enough for me! I also didn't finish getting everything together until 10 PM and decided that I wouldn't be up until 11 waiting for dessert to cook, so took the risk in placing the uncooked clafoutis in the fridge and then baked it off the next morning. Well obviously we know how the story ended (otherwise I would be writing about pasta salad or zucchini). Clafoutis will be my new go to dessert. Maybe not for a BBQ, but definitely for a nice intimate gathering. This is best served a bit warm with some fresh cream, gelato or just some powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Or, if you are like me, you can just eat it out of the fridge between holiday weekend outings!

Cherry Clafoutis

Serves 6-8

(As I mentioned in my post, I halved this recipe for myself and used 4 individual pie plates. I simply divided the cherries and batter among the plates and baked for 30 minutes instead of 40.)

1 pound tart cherries, pitted
6 plus 6 tablespoons granulated sugar (if you can only find sweet cherries, half the amount of sugar, or if you like it less sweet, adjust the sugar as you like)
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch pie dish.

Combine the pitted cherries with brandy and 6 tablespoons sugar. Let macerate for 10 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove cherries to the baking dish, reserving the liquid.

In a bowl, combine flour, remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, salt, milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, and liquid from cherries. Beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides if needed. Pour batter over cherries. Bake for 40 minutes until batter is set and golden brown. Let cool a bit before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream or ice cream or a dusting of powdered sugar.