Side dishes

Tomato girl, part 2

Still tomato girl this week, I doubt I will really move on until I can my last SanMarzano in early October. I have moved away from carby dishes and have been playing with my tomatoes in flavor combinations that surprised me with their success. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been.

I am off to Italy on Sunday until the end of August. Find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to keep up with tales and shots of food from the motherland. I promise it will be more than tomatoes.

Zuppa fredda di pomodoro e erbe al limone

Lemon scented tomato and herb cold soup

for 4 to 6 people

about 1 pound very ripe tomatoes of any kind

combination of any of the following herbs:

basil, parsley, mint, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, cilantro

fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste olive oil

This is to use all the tomatoes that get squashed in the bottom of your bag when you walk home with your groceries, or for those tomatoes that are just a little moldy but can be partially salvaged, or that simply get overripe sitting on your counter.

I don’t have any proportions for this and I doubt I have made it the same way twice. Judge the smell, feel of it and, mostly, trust your taste, because ultimately anything you cook is successful if you like it and it makes you happy.

Chunk the tomatoes and roughly chop the herbs.

Place both in a blender with some lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Stream in a bit of olive oil and blend until it is a somewhat rough purèe.

You can adjust the consistency with water if it seems too thick.

This should be served in bowls, from which your guests can drink or eat depending on how runny it is.

Pomodori II.JPG

NOTES

  • I like to accompany this with some pan fried tortillas and offer a bowl of feta cheese alongside it for sprinkling on top
  • Other things you can add are a bit of onion or garlic-make sure they are minced into a paste, some heat-fresh chili, red pepper flakes, cayenne, pimenton, a few capers or some chopped olives
  • I suppose you can also spike it with a generous splash of something strong and dry

Insalata di melone, pomodori e cetriolo

Melon, tomato and cucumber salad

for 4 people

1 small sweet melon

2 ripe tomatoes (or 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes)

1 small cucumber

1 handful mint leaves

1/4 cup pistachios

2 to 3 very thin red onion slices (optional)

1 Meyer lemon

1 handful mint leaves

salt, pepper and olive oil to taste

 

Slice, peel and chunk the melon.

Wedge the tomatoes (or halve if using cherry tomatoes).

Slice the cucumber thinly.

Make paper thin half moons of the onion, if you decide to add it

Stack and roll the mint leaves longitudinally then cut in very thin ribbons.

Chop the pistachios fairly finely.

Arrange the melon, tomatoes and cucumber on a platter.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Scatter the onion slices over the platter and generously douse everything with lemon juice.

Toss lightly and drizzle with olive oil.

Garnish with the mint ribbons and pistachios. Serve slightly cold.

Charentais melons

Charentais melons

NOTES

  • I used charentais melons for this, they are smallish, their skin is smooth of a grayish green with darker green blurry lines running longitudinally at regular intervals
  • For the tomatoes, Cherokee Purples are my favorite in this salad, but I have also made it with Cherry, Beefsteak and Green Zebra
  • You can switch basil for mint or almonds for pistachios

Greens of spring: scafata or vignarola?

Not so long ago, I posted a picture on my FB page of a springy vegetable stew , one that my mother used to make with the pickings of our vegetable garden every Easter. It showcases fava beans, artichokes, shelling peas, spring onions and baby chards or baby romaine lettuce at their peak. The choice between a) chards or b) romaines depends on your heart being rooted in Umbria or Tuscany-in which case you'd select option aand call it scafata, or your devotion to Rome steering you to option b-which would make the stew a vignarola.

I don't prefer one or the other version, as mom would make it according to market availability and whim, but I did have several requests for the recipe in the picture, so here it is.

Enjoy.


Scafata or Vignarola

Artichoke and spring greens stew

for 4 people:

1 lemon

4 medium sized artichokes

1 pound unshelled fava beans

1 pound shelling peas

2 spring onions

1 bunch of baby chards or 2 heads of baby romaine lettuce

1 sprig marjoram

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into a bowl of cold water. Drop the squeezed half lemons in the bowl.

Clean the artichokes. Remove the outer tough bitter leaves until about 2/3 of the outer circle of leaves are a lighter, somewhat yellowish green.

Slice off the darker top tip of the leaves. Pare the outer part of the bottom and peel the stems. Finally, slice off a very thin layer from the bottom of the stem.

This procedure is called turning, as for each phase of it, your knife will circle around the artichoke.

Halve each turned artichoke and remove the hairy choke if necessary. Cut each half in half again.

As they are ready, drop the artichoke quarters in the lemon water to prevent them from browning.

Shell the fava beans and the peas.

Cut offthe green top of the onions then cut in 8 wedges if they have a roundish bulb or just slice lengthwise if they are the narrower kind.

Carefully rinse the chards to eliminate any grit or, if using baby romaines, cut in quarters and rinse well.

In a shallow sauce pot pour the oil, than arrange all the vegetable snugly. Season liberally with salt and pepper and top with the marjoram.

Cover the pot and place it on low heat. The vegetables will release much moisture in which the vegetables will gently braise.

Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until everything is soft and well balanced. Adjust salt and pepper and enjoy at any temperature.

NOTES

  • Depending on the size of your artichokes you might have to cut them in 6 or 8 wedges or maybe just in half if smaller. If using baby artichokes you can leave them whole
  • The fava beans only need to come out of the pod, you do not have to peel every single bean
  • Spring onions are not to be confused with scallions, which are the very thin, available-year-round green onions. Spring onions are the young, firm fleshed, uncured, sweet tasting onions that are available in the very late winter and spring
  • To make this dish more substantial, you can render some cubed pancetta in the oil before adding the vegetables and serve the stew on thick slices of toasted country bread
  • The flavors in this dish make it a perfect complement to roasted lamb

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 3: puntarelle alla romana

My 2 favorite classes among the ones who live in my head and I yet to find the courage to teach are one on anchovies and one I like to call Bitter is Better, to highlight such flavors as broccoli and chicories. The salad I am featuring today marries those 2 dreams in what I view as a perfect apotheosis of Christmas cheer. Puntarelle are a fibrous and bitter winter chicory which always sat prominently on the table of my grandparents' Christmases in Rome.

A tip when selecting puntarelle-literally little tips, they should be short and stout, if they look long and lanky, they've grown past their prime.

 


Puntarelle alla romana

Puntarelle with anchovy and garlic dressing

 

for 6 people

2 to 3 heads puntarelle (depending on the size)

4 anchovies packed in salt (or a small tin of fillets in olive oil)

1 garlic clove

1 lemon

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Early in the morning or even the evening before, prepare the puntarelle. Divide the heads into stalks and run the tip of a sharp paring knife lengthwise along the leaves and the hard center, effectively shredding each stalk in several longish, thin slices.

This is a rather tedious task, and if you are lucky enough to spend Christmas in Rome, you will find the chicory already skilfully prepared for you for a premium as you can see from the picture.

Once all the puntarelle are cut, place them in the salad spinner, submerge in cold water, add several cubes of ice and let sit until they curl.

To prepare the dressing, rinse the salt off the anchovies under cold running water, separate each anchovy in half from the tail up and remove the spine. Smash and peel the garlic clove. Zest and juice the lemon.

Place the anchovies, garlic, zest and lemon juice in a food processor bowl. Start the motor and process while adding olive oil in a thin stream until you have a runny and shiny well balanced dressing. Adjust salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, drain the puntarelle and spin several times to eliminate as much water as possible.

Place in a serving bowl, pour the dressing on them and toss well to coat all the curls thoroughly.

Camping greens

I didn't know, until I moved to California, that people go camping for fun. I still am not sure why, but at least I have learned enough by now to come out relatively unscathed from a yearly weekend of excess nature, sun burns, caked in dirt and grit in my teeth. My child and his best friend at the camp site (photo by Gianni Neiviller)

That's what I did last weekend, and while my back is just beginning to recover, skunks are just leaving my nightmares and the loft is finally rid of dust, what matters most is that it was great family time, spent making lasting memories with beloved friends.

While walking along the beach, my inner forager detected wild fennel and a very cute little rabbit.

The rabbit must have read my mind because it quickly retreated, so I settled for the fennel, which I used to the campsite's acclaim.

I don't have any pictures of the food as I was too busy keeping my jeans clean and fighting off raccoons, so I hope you will be happy with flowers, a landscape and some children.

Enjoy these improvised greens. Next year I will be going for that rabbit.

   

Wild fennel

Camping greens

3 to 4 good handfuls of the wild fennel that grows so generously all along our coast 1 sweet yellow onion 1 handful of hazelnuts (you can substitute with any nuts and or seeds you have: walnuts, almonds, pecans, flax or pumpkin seeds) salt and pepper to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil (yes I go camping with a tin of olive oil, extra virgin and from Tuscany, no less) 1 bag pre-washed cooking greens (I had baby kale, but any greens will work) 1 lemon

Wash and roughly chop the fennel. Slice the onion in paper thin half moons. Chop the hazelnuts.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet on your camp stove or fire and soften the onion with a pinch of salt. Add the nuts and toast for 2 to 3 minutes.

Now add the fennel and cook until the stalks have softened. Lastly, add the greens and braise down until everything comes together softly and is ready to enjoy with whatever you are putting on the grill that night.

Adjust salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges.

Beautiful California coastline

Wild geranium

 

A cauliflower in my kitchen

Alemany Market cropped II See that blushing cauliflower peeking in between tomatoes, cucumbers and mint?

It and I were hanging in my kitchen in search of just the right flavor, happy in each others' company, relaxed in the absence of Child AND Husband.

Florets are easy, we agreed, but both it and I were set on not wasting the crunch of stalks and leaves on compost. Inspiration struck, I grabbed a knife. The conversation ended as I made my way to the stove.

This happened next and I like to think the cauliflower felt the love...

 

Cavolfiore cropped

Cimette di cavolfiore condite al forno Dressed and roasted cauliflower florets

for 6 to 8 people:

1 cauliflower head pinch of salt 1 handful parsley 1 tablespoon anchovy paste (or 2 anchovy fillets minced into a paste) 1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs 2 tablespoons grated pecorino juice and zest of 1 lemon pinch of black pepper 1/3 cup olive oil

Remove the green leaves and stalks from the cauliflower and save. Cut small florets and steam until slightly yielding but still crunchy.

In the meantime, pick the parsley leaves and chop them finely. Throw in a bowl and combine with the anchovy paste, breadcrumbs, pecorino, juice, zest and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil in a stream.

Add the steamed floret and toss to coat with the dressing completely. Transfer to a baking dish and place in a 375˚F oven  for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they reach your preferred tenderness.

Serve warm to room temperature.

NOTES:

  • Substitute breadcrumbs with chopped toasted almonds to keep the crunch and lose the gluten
  • For an extra kick, use red pepper flakes instead of black pepper
  • For a touch of sweetness, toss in a handful of currants

 

Vellutata di gambi di cavolfiore con patate e porri al profumo di salvia e limone Sage and lemon scented soup of cauliflower stalks, potatoes and leeks

Minestra di gambi di cavolfiorefor 6 to 8 people:

stalks and leaves of 1 cauliflower head 2 medium size yellow potatoes 3 leeks 1 lemon 1/4 cup raw unsalted pistachios 6 to 7 sage leaves 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 splash dry white wine 1/2 cup grated pecorino

 

Chunk the cauliflower leaves and stalks. Peel and dice the potatoes.

Remove the green tops from the leeks and strip the first layer. Slice in thin wheels and float in abundant water, agitating often to let the grit fall off.

Zest the lemon. Mince the sage leaves and mix with the zest. Grind the pistachios, combine them with half the zest and sage mixture. Cut the naked lemon in wedges.

In a sauce pot, heat the olive oil with the remaining zest and sage mixture. Add the drained leeks with a generous pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat stirring often, until translucent and quite soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the cauliflower and potatoes. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes and deglaze with the wine. When you can no longer smell the acidity of the wine, cover with warm water, bring to a boil then lower the heat to simmer.

Let simmer until all the vegetables are soft enough to be very easily pierced with the tip of a knife, about 20 to 25 minutes.

In the meantime, line up 3 matching small serving bowl and arrange the pistachios, lemon and sage mixture in one, the lemon wedges in the other and the grated pecorino in the third.

Purèe the soup in a blender or with a stick blender or by cranking it through a food mill.

Pour back in the pot to simmer for another 4 to 5 minutes. This is the time to consider thickness: if deemed to your taste, adjust salt and pepper. If you prefer a runnier soup, add a bit of water before adjusting the seasoning.

Serve hot with the small serving bowls of condiments you prepared earlier, advising your guest to layer as follows: soup, pecorino, pistachios and a squeeze of lemon.