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Caponata

23 Apr

I like the whole spicy, sweet & sour idea of eggplant caponata- which is a Sicilian eggplant relish that is often eaten as appetizer on crostini (toasted bread rounds) or alongside a main . I chased many a recipes and ended up– lost in the internets– on this Batali recipe. The combination of cinnamon, sugar and cocoa plus lots of red chili flakes, currants, pine nuts- intrigued me. I have to say that actually all Batali recipes I have tried are very heavy on the chili flake- so keep that in mind and reduce if you feel- it can be a bit overpowering. Anyway, for some bizarre reason this Caponata involves making a basic tomato sauce– which although sounds like too much extra work– felt like a good idea at the time. What happened was I spent many weeks not cooking at all– then finally I just went nuts and made like 5 things in a night (including orange sherbet- post to come, damn that shit was good. like creamsicles). I wouldn’t say that Batali’s basic tomato sauce is my favorite (i prefer the hazan) but in attempts to use some of the leftovers I made this bacon/pancetta tomato sauce– and boom! takes it up a level (perhaps I should be riffing Emeril-like phrases to describe a Batali recipe) but all in all– a wholly worthwhile exercise.

Let me also add that I made this sauce too b/c some lady on the cooking channel comments said the caponata is much better when using Batali’s sauce. Which isn’t to say- if you have some jarred stuff (heaven forbid) in your pantry that it wouldn’t work. Also, when consuming the rest of your jar, I think it would be safe to say that it would be bumped up a notch by giving it the bacon/pancetta treatment.

Batali’s Eggplant Caponata

1/2 cup virgin olive oil [i definitely skimped on this amount]
1 large Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice [used regular onion]
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons currants
1 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups) [i used one large eggplant]
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 cup basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 sprigs mint, chopped [didn’t have so left out]
1 baguette, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven

I added a first step. Chopped eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Generously toss w. kosher salt. Let sit in a colander, over a bowl, for an hour to drain bitter liquid. Rinse well. Squeeze dry (thoroughly) w. paper towels. This gets out excess moisture so it doesn’t suck up all your oil.
In a large 12-14 in saute pan, over med heat, heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and saute for 4 to 5 minutes until softened.
Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil. [well I wouldn’t say there is quite enough liquid to consider boil, but it bubbles aggressively?]
Lower heat and simmer for 5 mins. [some reviewers say it takes longer– so keep cooking until the eggplant is soft enough to your liking. I was surprised this didn’t take that long, perhaps b/c i salted first, maybe 10 mins?]
Remove from heat, cool to room temp. Garnish w. more red chili flakes and mint [i skipped that step.]
Cut baguette into slices. Drizzle w. olive oil and toast in the over for a few minutes.  Serve together. I also served w. Ricotta Salata (a salty cheese pictured above) but this is not really necessary.

Batali’s basic tomato sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice [used regular]
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
Salt

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is softened. Add the tomatoes and juice [can liquid] and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer. Makes 4 cups.

Pasta all’Amatriciana [w. bacon, pancetta or guanciale]
I would say this recipe- as I made it- was quite different than as Batali wrote it because I cut the bacon etc. to 1/4 of a pound- and used half bacon/half unsmoked pancetta (as that is what I had on hand). This gave a great subtle bacon flavor to the whole pasta- but wasn’t so overwhelming so that all you could taste was bacon. I would recommend doing as I did. This pasta also recommended w. Bucatini- a hose-shaped pasta. I didn’t have but used fresh pasta from Russo’s– long spaghetti-length spirals. Delish.
3/4 pound guanciale, thinly sliced, or substitute smoked pancetta or bacon [i used 1/4 pound combo of bacon and unsmoked pancetta- which is a few slices of each)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 red onion, halved and sliced
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes [I think I cut this down to 1 tsp]
2 cups basic tomato sauce [see above]
1 pound bucatini or other pasta
Parm, pecorino romano or caciocavallo (?) cheese for grating [didn’t have but did have some extra ricotta salata on hand]
salt and pepper

Bring water to a boil and add a generous tablespoon of salt for pasta.

In a 12 to 14 in saute pan, spread your pork product of choice in a single layer- cooking over med-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered out. Remove bacon etc from pan and put on a plate lined w. paper towels.

Depending on how much fat you have, discard some leaving enough to coat and cook the garlic, onion and pepper flakes. Because I didn’t use all the bacon recipe called for- I only had just enough fat left and didn’t pour out any. Place above 3 ingredients in pan and add bacon/pancetta and cook over med-high heat for 5 mins until the onion, garlic and pancetta etc are a light golden brown. Season w. salt and pepper. You can add a little extra virgin olive oil if necessary to keep these aromatics from burning. Add the tomato sauce, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 10-15 mins.

Cook pasta in water until al dente. Drain pasta and add to simmering sauce. Increase heat to high and toss to coat. Divide among 4 bowls and top w. fresh grated cheese if you please.

Andorra/ Barcelona

12 Mar

I fly into barcelona– take a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Andoora– a tiny country you probably never heard of (unless you went to camp evergreen- then cue to burst into song). i arrive totally bleary eyed- and justin takes me to this tapas place- orders a bunch of things in spanish- and i have no idea what’s going on. but out arrives these amazing little green peppers- fire roasted and covered w. this epic sea salt. A few days later in Barcelona, i went to this restaurant–Paco Merlago thanks to Judy’s friend– and became obsessed with it for the 4 days I was in town. Mark my words- if anyone wants to join me next December– birthday dinner, 30yr old- will be there. i ate some blow-your-tastebuds dishes and still thinking about it a month later- decided to try to recreate some of them. I didn’t exactly have the recipes to guide me so I invited Reed and Rach over for dinner and got to experimenting. Surprisingly, it was a really easy and quick meal to throw together. By the way- if anyone is on their way to Barcelona I have a little googlemap of places I tried. If anyone has these for other cities too– would love to see!

Tomato Bread
When you get tapas in Barcelona- you most often get an accompaniment tomato bread- Pan con Tomate- to lap up all your tapas with. It is generally on a bread- a bit wider and a bit less crusty than a baguette.  To make, toast bread (i used ciabatta pannini loaf.) Drizzle olive oil on bread and toast in oven or face down in pan. Take a clove of fresh garlic in hand, rub on toasty bread. Cut the top off a fresh tomato and rub that on bread. Sprinkle w. sea salt.

Chorizo and Egg
I ordered this sausage and egg dish at Paco and it arrives at the table bubbling hot sausage in a little clay pot– then they crack an egg in it table-side and mix up for egg to cook. The sausage in this dish was more of an italian style- but I thought i’d make what we think of as chorizo flavored. I was surprised that i didn’t come across chorizo as we think of it in spain–  there, it is just the word for pork sausage- and I believe generally refers to a cured, hard more salami like. Also, in my research- I learned that mexican chorizo has a wholely different ingredient list.

This is adapted from Emeril recipe. Original calls for 3 pounds pork, cut into 1-in cubes and 1/2 pound pork fat, cubed and involves a meat grinder and cases. But as I didn’t have such- I decided just to make it uncased and start w. 1 pound of ground pork– and the adjusting the spices accordingly. I didn’t have a little ovenproof clay dish for serving- so used a frying pan.

3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons paprika [used 1.5 tablespoon smoked paprika, half table sweet paprika- bought some new paprika- the spanish kind in those little yellow tins- so into it]
1 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Put all spices in bottom of a bowl. Take a fork and mix in pork and wine. Let sit for a day or two for flavors to meld. I ate at 12 hours and again 36. Probably a difference- but still super delicious at 12- so don’t sweat it either way. I’m sure if you had to use some immediately would be good too. I just cooked a portion– then left the rest raw to continue to blend- instead of having cooked leftovers.
To serve- cook chorizo on stovetop in oven proof pan. Throw in very hot over for a few minutes (450 or 500 should be fine). Using an oven mitt! bring to table to show your friends. Crack a raw egg or two in- depending on how much you are serving- I used 2 eggs for half the meat. Mix up immediately and egg will cook. Eat w. tomato bread.

Roasted Peppers w. salt
There is actually a recipe for this in an Alice Waters cookbook. And it calls those small green peppers I had in Andorra Padron pimentos- also says Nardello or Lipstick peppers would work. I bought what I could find- which worked very well- labeled red and yellow sweet peppers. I used this amazing salt i bought in barcelona- at this awesome store- called Gispert.

To make. Heat a cast iron or stainless steel skillet with a thin layer of olive oil- medium-high heat. Lay peppers on. They will scorch and sizzle. Using tons, flip over periodically. Cook until start to blacken and blister- 5-10 minutes. Put on serving dish sprinkle w. the biggest coarse salt you have. Maldon sea salt flakes would work. Or fleur de sel.

Calamari w. white beans

This was an experiment. I more or less used the chorizo spice list. It was not quite the same flavor I had in Barcelona. But still super tasty. Serve w. tomato bread. The technique for making it was loosely inspired by a warm seafood salad recipe in the Union Sq Cafe cookbook.

1/2 pound cleaned calamari, cut into 1/2 in rings and tentacles
1 tsp tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp red chili flakes
1/8 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 15 oz great northern beans or 1 1/2 cups beans– reconstituted and cooked dried beans. cannellini could also work
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced [optional]

In a skillet, heat olive oil on medium. Add garlic, spices and tomato paste and let cook to release flavor- about a minute (do not let garlic burn.) Turn up heat to high and add calamari. Cook for 2 minutes- mixing around. Lower heat back to medium. add beans, white wine, cook a little further for wine to cook off and beans to heat. Take off heat. Finish w. salt, pepper and the juice of one lemon and parsley.

 

Spanakopita & Lavendar Honey

4 Aug

a.k.a. spinach feta pie.  Summer weekend in the Adirondaks w. Char, Phil and Rach.  Nothing better than a home cooked meal on a beautiful porch, looking out onto the mountains. Char & I collaborated on the spanakopita. I winged it on the filling. Char did the filo.  Since little triangles wraps are a pain, we decided just to do it on a cookie sheet- and cut into squares.  It was actually, insanely good. Mostly due to the copious amounts of butter- and the sprinkling of sea salt before baking- both courtesy of the lovely Charlotte.

1 package filo dough- important, if frozen, move to fridge the night before to thaw (most boxes come w. 2 packs)
10 oz spinach- i used frozen
1 block feta- I’d say about 3.5oz
handful fresh basil, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick of butter
olive oil, salt & pepper

Defrost spinach and drain thoroughly, wring out in paper towel. Or if using fresh spinach, cook and drain. Put in mixing bowl w. crumbled feta, basil, minced garlic. Drizzle w. olive oil.  Salt & pepper to taste.
Unwrap filo. Melt butter in microwave. While working, lay stack of filo on a cookie sheet- cover w. damp paper towel to keep it from drying out.  On another cookie sheet, take a pastry brush, paint on a thin layer of butter. Lay down a piece of filo. Brush thin layer of butter and repeat until you have used half the pack. Spoon filling, leaving a small border around the edges. Layer and butter filo, using the rest of the pack. Press down on border edges. Sprinkle top w. sea salt. Bake per directions on filo box- keep a good eye until it turns golden brown. I did 30-35 mins at 350 degrees (even though the filo box said 50 mins)

Honey w. cheese on bread- a wonderful thing. Goat cheese, mascarpone or ricotta work especially well. And this sunflower seed bread, from the Adirondak’s farm stand, so fresh- so good. Of course, regular honey works fine. But as I had some leftover Lavendar Mint (an actual hybrid herb) which has a bit of an anise flavor- so I decided to infuse the honey, which is actually pretty easy.  All you do, wrap herbs in a bit of cheese cloth, tie w. twine. In a double boiler, or I use a pyrex bowl over a small saucepan, boil water below and pour about a cup of honey in top bowl. Add little bag of herbs, cooking honey for about 20-30 minutes, test to see how much flavor has come in. Pour in these great little mason jars- make sure to press on herb bag to get all honey out- last bit is the most flavorful. If you don’t have the cheesecloth, or a mesh tea bag, can put the herbs straight into the honey, you just then have to strain after you are done.

Watermelon Feta Salad with a Balsamic Fig Crostini

12 Jul

This was an off-the-cuff experiment with my dear friend, and park slope neighbor for the summer, Miss beezy burgess. I started to make a balsamic glaze, originally intended for the watermelon salad.  On whim, I threw in some fresh figs I had just bought at the co-op. To my delight, this turned into a lovely balsamic fig compote. Spread with some goat cheese on a crostini (aka  little piece of bread toasted w. olive oil) this lovely hors d’oeuvre would be best enjoyed with a chilled glass of wine, on a porch, in the summertime [or as it was- on my fire escape – beer in hand.]

Watermelon Feta Salad
big bowl of watermelon- cut into chunks
feta
fresh mint
lime (i subbed w. lemon once- but lime works way better)
splash of balsamic vinegar
sea salt
red chili flakes or maybe a serrano pepper (optional)
Take big bowl of watermelon. Squeeze fresh lime juice over. Sprinkle with some feta.  Chop a couple sprigs of fresh mint add (a little mint goes a long way with flavor.)  Add a splash of balsamic and a grinding of sea salt. Add hot pepper if you like. Mix up. Let sit for a minute for the flavors to combine.

Balsamic Fig Crostini
Fresh figs (dried might work too)
balsamic vinegar
goat cheese
baguette
Take a frying pan, add enough balsamic vinegar to cover bottom of the pan. Bring to boil on high heat [beware this lets off a very strong vinegar scent- keep your oven fan on]. Keep cooking down. After a few minutes, this  will thicken into a glaze. Add a few chopped fresh figs. Continue stirring to cook until thickens slightly more- coming together like a jam. Take off heat.  Preheat oven to broil. Cut baguette into slice 1/2 in thick. Lay on cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Broil for about 2 mins- keep an eye- as they go from toasty to burnt fast.  Spread goat cheese on toast. Spread compote.

Pears with Goat Cheese

24 May

These pears were inspired by Terry.  She made these for me & Sam, and I have to say that it was a real game-changer.  Before this, I didn’t like goat cheese.  I know, I know, but I just didn’t.  But this warm baked goat cheese converted me. Now, I’m eating it warm, I’m eating it cold, putting it on salads, in eggs, on everything. So thank you to Terry (and her fabulous friend who inspired her).  I didn’t write down the recipe, so this is just a riff- and perhaps there are embellishments that I am forgetting. But I made it last night, and it was lovely.  It also looks great served on a bed of arugula.

1 pear per person
2 teaspoons goat cheese per pear
splash red wine
optional- ground almond, other nuts, or Panko/breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400. Put a little bit of water- just to cover the bottom of pan- then add a splash of red wine.  Take pears, split in half, spoon out core. Slosh around the wine. Add a teaspoon or so of goat cheese in the middle. Bake for about 15-20 mins.  Add some ground almonds- or I used a sprinkle of panko. Pop under the broiler for a minute or 2- to slightly brown the cheese and breadcrumbs. Watch closely.  And that’s it. If I thought about it, I would have sprinkled some salt- and maybe pepper and a bit of lemon juice? I guess I could have added a little olive oil (or butter) too- but really, it was great as is.  Would have dressed arugula with those though, fo’sho.

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