Archive for July, 2013

Roasted Strawberry & Basil Granita

strawberry granita

Summer in Boston is unlike any time or place I have ever before experienced. As the city’s collegiate residents are shuttled to whatever ends of the earth from which they came, there is a moment when Boston feels like a ghost town. Those of us left in the city relish the empty space and clamber about the newly spacious subway cars, happy to find the seats we could never sit in when school was in session. The city only feels empty for a moment though, and then it becomes comfortable. The swimming pools open and the Charles glistens until the sun sets. It almost feels like the sun never sets though, as the days drag on and on and the hours spent tossing Frisbees, running on the Esplanade, or meandering through the cobblestoned streets of Beacon Hill, blend from one day into the next.

All of a sudden, every square – Copley, Union, and the rest – become pop-up expanses of fresh produce. These farmers’ markets are filled with so much color and variety. The beets are huge and the sunflowers beckon the bumblebees that are just as anxious to reap the market’s bounty as the hungry shoppers. I can’t help but smile at the gnarled heirloom tomatoes, each one a different earthy hue. The uglier and more deformed the tomato, the better, I’ve been told.

Aside from the capricious rainstorms, which attack the city and drown out the humidity, if for only a moment, the summer air is thick and hot. Wearing pants is a last resort when I’ve spent too much time outdoors and forget my overflowing laundry basket of dresses, skirts, and airy tops. The heat is often unbearable, causing my joints to creak and exhaustion to take over. The only possible solution is to lie along the Esplanade, or better yet, beside a public pool or waveless beach.

There is no escaping from the sticky heat. Inside is even worse. Old apartments made with thick walls and few windows are commonplace. To pay for air conditioning is to sacrifice a social life or a week’s groceries and those astronomical bills threaten my pride. Instead, I sit in front of a lint clogged fan and wish it were winter. This is a thought I’ll regret in only a few months.

The bounty of the farmers’ market and all the time spent among urban nature is more than enough to inspire gourmets like myself to take to the kitchen and do something with all of this delicious stuff. The only problem is that doing so almost always involves turning on the oven or heating oil in a hot pan. That heat doesn’t slip right out the window, but instead joins the rest of the hot air sitting idly in the apartment. It will stay there and eventually dissipate, if only slightly, until one of those tremendous thunderstorms purifies the air again.

If there is one single dish that embodies all of those wonderful, delicious, juicy bits of summer and does away with the sweaty there-is-no-escape moments, it’s granita. Made with puréed fruit, this frozen dessert is akin to shaved ice, but without the syrups or dyes. Granita is made by spreading a thin layer of puréed fruit onto the bottom of a large dish and freezing it. Every fifteen minutes or so, you use a fork to scrape the slightly frozen mixture until it becomes a fluffy, icy, colorful mound of goodness.

summer dessert

Now, because I’m a sadist, I couldn’t resist using the oven for this recipe. It’s not that puréeing fresh strawberries and tossing them in the freezer was too easy for the overachiever in me, but that roasting strawberries emboldens that sweet flavor of this favorite summer fruit. The basil adds an unexpected hint of green that gives the granita a farmers’ market aroma and cuts the sweetness of the strawberries. Topped with a sugared whipped crème fraîche, this dessert comes together beautifully as a refreshing summery treat. I can’t imagine any other after-dinner indulgence that sums up summer in Boston with such freshness and simplicity.

And, that oven of yours won’t be needed for more than 15 minutes, I promise. Plus, you’ll be sticking your face in the freezer every so often. Complaints? Didn’t think so.

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Ingredients (serves 3)

  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • approx. 6 fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • Extra basil leaves for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375o F,

2. Remove green tops from strawberries and slice each strawberry in half. Arrange on a large cookie sheet and coat with 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, moving strawberries around halfway through roasting.

4. Once strawberries are done, place in a blender or food processor with 6 basil leaves and ¾ cup cold water. Blend until completely puréed. Mixture should be the consistency of chocolate syrup.

5. Pour liquid into a large flat Tupperware container or onto a rimmed baking sheet so that a thin layer is formed. Place flat in freezer.

6. After thirty minutes, use a fork to scrape the surface, in all directions, of the just-starting-to-harden liquid. Be gentle. You aren’t stirring but, rather, displacing the icy bits so the rest can freeze. Do this every 15 minutes thereafter until completely frozen.

7. Combine crème fraiche, 2 tablespoons sugar and one teaspoon vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat with a hand mixer on high for one minute, until fluffy like whipped cream.

8. Serve granita in bowls, mason jars, or short glasses and top with a dollop of whipped crème fraîche. Garnish each with one basil leaf and serve.

Blistered Italian Stuffed Peppers

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I’d like to think that I’m a pretty adventurous eater. Among the list of strange “foods” I’ve consumed are crickets, frog legs, pork belly, chicken liver, and a million other things that, had you gone back in time and told my parents, they would have never believed. See, I used to be very particular. Ask me to take a bite of non-baby carrots and you’d be crazy. Try a piece of sushi? Yeah right. Get anywhere near me with a slice of multi-grain bread and you’d be a dead man.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve outgrown that phase, and in some ways I have. I’ll try just about anything you put in front of me on a plate, in a bowl, on a skewer, you name it. Well, just about everything. Until now, I’ve had a strict aversion to stuffed peppers. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I like peppers, I really do. I like stuffed things, too! Give me a couple profiteroles or a burrito and I’ll be one happy girl. But there’s always been something about stuffed peppers…

I’m being melodramatic here. I only actually learned about stuffed peppers this year, when Matt suggested we make them for dinner one night. For some reason, my stomach was very turned off from this idea. I couldn’t give you one reason why, even if I thought really, really hard about it. He promised me he knew how to make ‘em real good but I kept my foot down. After going through this routine a few times, he learned to suggest other dishes, most of which I was happy to experiment with.

So it came as a big surprise to him when, just the other night, I suggested that we make some stuffed peppers for dinner. The second I said it, I was surprised too. I’m still not sure what sort of chemical imbalance was neutralized that afternoon, causing me to readjust my moral code so drastically, but thank goodness, because I think I’ve found my new favorite meal.

These Blistered Italian Stuffed Peppers bring me back to my time in Italy, when every single vegetable tasted just-picked and so sweet. That is, except for the avocados. Never buy an avocado in Italy, I mean it.

Packed with protein and nutrients, this is an all-in-one dinner. Rather than use tomato sauce, I roasted fresh cherry tomatoes and then squashed them to create a chunky puree.

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This helped the quinoa, veggie, and sausage mixture hold together and added complexity to the flavor. For even more structure, the shredded mozzarella mixed in create a sticky “glue” that makes scooping out bites of this magic mixture such fun to eat. The mozzarella on top and the exterior of the peppers should look almost equally blistered, lending a smoky hint to this refreshing dish.

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I love this meal because it packs a lot of punch in a small package. There are so many flavors and textures and colors…I can’t believe I’ve been missing out for so long! I’m sure my (now conquered) fear of stuffed peppers is mine alone, but in addition to trying this recipe, I encourage you guys to tend to something you’ve been avoiding for a while. It might be the best (or in my case, most delicious) thing you’ve ever done.

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Ingredients (serves 4, or 2 with leftovers for lunch)

  • 4 bell peppers with flat bottoms (buy a variety of colors for a nice presentation)
  • 1 cup red quinoa
  • Approx. 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 sweet Italian sausages
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 medium ball fresh mozzarella
  • ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 450o Fahrenheit.

2. Place quinoa and two cups water in a small pot. Stir to ensure all the quinoa is submerged. Heat until boiling. Cover and turn flame down so water is simmering.

3. Once the quinoa is set up, gently toss tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and salt in an oven safe dish. Bake until quinoa is finished cooking, about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice the tops off of peppers and remove seeds. Chop pepper tops into small pieces and set aside. Arrange topless peppers in a baking dish lined with parchment paper or tinfoil.

5. While quinoa and tomatoes are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, remove sausages from their casings and sauté until cooked. Make sure to break sausage up into small pieces. Set sausage aside.

6. Sautee chopped peppers in the same skillet, until just barely tender, about 3 minutes.

7. By now, tomatoes should be roasted. Remove from oven and turn heat down to 375o. Use a cocktail muddler, potato smasher, or back of a wooden spoon to smash tomatoes into a chunky purée.

7. Slice four ¼ inch discs from mozzarella ball and shred the rest.

8. Add quinoa, tomato puree, sausage, and red pepper to the skillet holding sautéed peppers. Fold to incorporate, adding shredded mozzarella once everything else is evenly distributed.

9. Carefully spoon quinoa mixture into hollow peppers until full. You will have some left over for lunch tomorrow. Place one slice of mozzarella atop each pepper. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes.

10. Sprinkle Panko crumbs on top of now melted cheese, rotate dish in oven, and bake until both mozzarella and peppers have dark blistery spots on them, about 15 more minutes. Remove from oven, let cool momentarily and top with basil chiffonade (fresh basil leaves sliced into thin strips).

 

Eggocado

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Like most, I enjoy a good avocado. No, not that mashed up brownish guck they slop on your sandwich and charge $3 extra for at your local café. I’m talking about a perfectly ripe, silky smooth, bruise free avocado. I’m talking about flesh so soft that all you need is a dull spoon to scoop out a bite of heaven. Flesh so buttery that it practically melts in your mouth the moment it hits your tongue.

But, if you’re an avocado enthusiast like myself, and I think it’s pretty clear I’m the queen of enthusiasm here, you know a thing or two about not-so-perfect avocados. If you’re like me, you know, all too well, the inglorious realization that occurs when each and every avocado in the grocery store is as hard as your imitation granite countertop. Maybe you had big plans for spontaneous guacamole or maybe you were just looking for a good time. You think, “This one is good enough,” as you grasp firmly around the less-than-ripe fruit and plop it into your basket, where it lands with a discouraging thump. When you arrive home, you retire the avocado to the fruit basket, putting off dinner just one more hour because maybe, just maybe, some sort of magical transformation will occur and that dear avocado of yours will ripen at the speed of light. But alas, as you wantonly cut into its impenetrable flesh, you realize, defeated, that you’ve been played, gotten, even swindled by your own lack of patience, resolving that your guacamole, omelet, salad, what have you, will have to settle for mediocre.

You see, the temperamental nature of avocados is what makes them so sought after, so enticingly coveted. With avocados, we’re always chasing a high. We remember, with ardent clarity, that one avocado which emanated perfection, provoked us at our most vulnerable state, and we were never the same.

For me, this avocado was grown in the South of France. While admiring the vibrant produce in Nice’s flower market along the Cours Saleya, I happened upon this little creature, about the size of a toddler’s fist and as ripe as the springtime air. It was so adorable and precious, resting atop a clumsy pile of its inadequate counterparts, and I had to have it. I think the farmer saw that glimmer in my eye, maybe akin to his first encounter with a perfect avocado, and he gave it to me for ten Euro cents.

It was the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly ripe and abundant in flavor, it was a luxurious and self-indulgent experience that lasted all of one minute, before the tiny thing was nothing more than a shell, gone forever to taunt me into eternity.

Taunt me as it may, I’ve been in an everlasting pursuit to find another perfect avocado. There have been contenders, but none compare to that one wonderful Niçoise avocado. Short of packing my bags and moving to coastal France, I’ve sought to create the perfect avocado with my bare hands.

Cue, the egg. Eggs are wonderful, I’ll be the first to say it. Put ‘em on a sandwich, a salad, a pile o’ bacon, pretty much anything, and you’ve got yourself a to-die-for meal. My personal favorite (until now) was the egg-in-a-hole, a holy (literally) trifecta of bread, butter, and egg wherein a circle is extracted from the center of the bread slice and filled with an ooey, gooey egg and fried to perfection. I could eat egg-in-a-holes day in and day out, but something tells me my petite physique wouldn’t last too long on such a diet.

Coincidentally, it just so happens that avocados are the perfect vessel in which to place an egg, and in a most fortuitous manner, when combined, the two enhance each other’s best attributes, of which there are many.

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Who knew that the next best thing to a fresh-off-the-farm avocado was a baked avocado! Think back to that first avocado with which you fell in love. Now imagine that same refreshing flavor, but warm and eggy. That velvety texture you recall is nothing compared to this, smooth as the velvet curtains of the Chateau de Versailles. This reimagined avocado is luxury at its finest, so decadent that it might collapse if not for the crispy on top, soft in the center egg that keeps everything together. And, if rich avocado and creamy eggs aren’t enough for you, the goat cheese at the bottom is a buried treasure not to be forgotten. Hungry yet?

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This newfangled egg-in-a-hole might just become a part of your morning routine, should you, by happenstance, come across that perfectly ripe avocado in the pile next time you go shopping. If you aren’t so fortunate, and all too often we are not, grab a couple firm ones and don’t let your impatience get the best of you. In a few days, you’ll be glad you waited.

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Ingredients (serves 2, or 1 hungry person)

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 tablespoons goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • Black pepper
  • Fresh chives, chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450o F.

2. Slice avocado in half and remove pit.

3. Using a spoon, trace the now empty space where the pit was, making the hole larger by about 50%.

4. Place avocado halves on a cookie sheet lined with tinfoil (Don’t forget the tinfoil! I learned the hard way)

5. Place one tablespoon of goat cheese into the bottom of each half, gently pressing so that it is flush with avocado edge. Drizzle half a tablespoon of olive oil into each half.

6. Crack one egg into each half. Careful, the whites may pour out a bit, depending on the size of the hole you made.

7. Sprinkle with pepper.

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on how runny you want your yolks.

9. Remove from oven and garnish with fresh chives. Serve immediately.

Star Spangled Sangria

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There are many great things about this week. 1. My sunglasses finally arrived in the mail. No more squinting for me! 2. It’s a three-day workweek. Happy “Friday,” everyone! And 3. There is a five-liter bag of wine sitting in my fridge.

These things are not a coincidence. As you hopefully know, tomorrow is the FOURTH OF JULY! This holiday is just about the best one there is. We’re talking food, booze, the great outdoors, more booze…yeah, pretty great indeed.

Star Spangled Sangria

Not sure I’ll ever be able to top last year at UCSB.

Most July 4th shindigs involve gathering as a group to celebrate this great nation with hot dogs, beer, and plenty of American cheese. Pffft, you didn’t think I’d really fall for that, did you?! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of America and all, but a) American cheese is gross and b) I don’t have a barbecue.

Instead, I’m opting for an American-fusion menu to feed my patriotic friends, with each Americana picnic classic featuring an overseas twist. Bon Appétit was, as usual, a big help with my menu selections (read: Roast Provençal Chicken and Curried Egg Salad) but the libations were all me.

As I mentioned earlier, the 4th of July means drinking, and lots of it, which is why this recipe accounts for so much sangria. Plus, the second you taste the stuff you’ll want to chug your whole glass and go back for seconds.

The sweetness of the wine is refreshing in the (hopefully present) sun and the addition of grapefruit soda gives it a tart, effervescent undertone. The fruit adds a patriotic flare and tastes great when soaked in the wine. This libation will go great with whatever you feast on this Thursday and beyond, but please, hold the American cheese.

star spangled sangria

Ingredients

  • 5 liters crisp white wine (I used Franzia. It’s inexpensive and sweet! Sigh…I guess I’m still a college kid after all.)
  • 1 bottle Trader Joes grapefruit soda (or similar citrus soda)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 package fresh blueberries
  • 1 package fresh strawberries

1. In one or two large pitchers, combine wine, soda, and sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend.

2. Remove the stems from the strawberries and slice each into four pieces.

3. Add blueberries and strawberries to pitcher(s) and stir to combine.

4. Chill at least 1 hour before serving.

star spangled sangria

Please remember to drink responsibly! 

Party idea: Stop by Crate & Barrel (or shop online) and pick up a bunch of these Weck canning/juice containers. Provide each guest with their own to drink out of as they walk around your party.

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