Monday, September 24, 2012

Rustic Roasted Tomato Soup

Tomato season isn't over yet, folks!  It may officially be the start of the Fall season, but locally-grown heirloom tomatoes are still filling the produce shelves (and, thankfully, arriving by the bagful in our CSA share!).  We won't have these bright, meaty, wonderful fruits much longer, so now is the time to get your fill while they are still here!
To make the soup, I generously coated the tomatoes with olive oil and roasted them until the skins started to split and the flesh softened.  This not only makes them quick and easy to peel but it also adds an extra depth of flavor to the dish.  I also used plenty of little Colorado-grown butterball potatoes, unpeeled.  I like the extra flavor and texture that the potato skin gives to the soup, but if you want a less "rustic" version you can use peeled potatoes.  I served this alongside an onion bagel with a mixture of shredded, fresh mozzarella and Fruition Farms sheep's milk ricotta (one of my absolute favorite locally-made cheeses and a must-try ingredient available at Marczyk Fine Foods).  The whole thing was melted and toasted under the broiler and then topped with a little extra parsley.  Now that's a "grilled cheese and tomato soup" meal that I can get behind!

Rustic Roasted Tomato Soup
serves 6

2 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 T olive oil, plus more for roasting
1 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs small potatoes (fingerling, butterball, etc.)
2 jalapenos, minced
2 T tomato paste
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 425.  Generously coat tomatoes and garlic cloves with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.  Roast until tomatoes soften and skins lightly brown, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool until they are ready to handle.  Gently peel the skin from each tomato and squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot over medium-high and add olive oil.  Add onions and saute until they soften, about 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and jalapenos and cook another minute.  Add tomato paste, stock, peeled tomatoes and garlic cloves and bring soup to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.  Use a potato masher (or a food processor, if desired) to break apart the potatoes and tomatoes until a thick, chunky mixture results.  Generously season with salt and pepper and serve hot, topping each serving with a little of the fresh parsley.

Perfectly Hard-Cooked Fresh Eggs

Anybody who has ever tried to hard-cook a very fresh egg knows that there's always one problem you come up against - they're impossible to peel!  The albumen (that thin "skin" between the shell and the egg white) wants to stick.  This means that when you go to peel the egg, the shell clings to that albumen for dear life which will make it nearly impossible to remove the shell without removing chunks of egg with it, resulting in a hard-cooked egg that looks like somebody used it for target practice.

Most people will tell you to just use older eggs (about 7 to 10 days) and that's a perfectly good solution to the problem.  But what if you don't want to wait more than a week to cook your eggs?  The solution is simple:  you quick-age your eggs!  All you need to do is store your eggs at room temperature for 24-48 hours.  Boom!  You've got aged eggs. 

If the thought of storing your eggs at room-temperature freaks you out, here's some food for thought...  Most commercially-produced eggs are washed before they get packaged.  Eggs have a natural coating when they come straight from the hen that protects the insides from bacteria, but when the eggs are washed this coating is removed and the eggs are more vulnerable.  Farm-fresh eggs still have this natural armor and can stand up to the elements better than a store-bought egg.  What's more is that if you ever feel unsure, you can immediately tell if your egg has gone bad by the way it behaves when you submerge it in water:  If it sinks, it's fresh, if it stands straight, it's less fresh but still good, and if it floats, throw it out. 

Perfectly Hard-Cooked Fresh Eggs
makes 12

1 dozen farm-fresh eggs, kept at room temperature for at least 1 day

Place your eggs in a large pot (large enough so that the eggs aren't over-crowded).  Cover the eggs with water and bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and cover.  Allow eggs to cook for 14-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a clean sink or a large bowl with water and add about 5 cups of ice.  When the eggs are finished cooking, immediately place them in the ice water.  Allow eggs to sit in the ice-water for at least 5 minutes before peeling. 

Martha's Apple Scones, Colorado-Style

I love Fall.  Have I mentioned that before?  (I know I've mentioned it before).  I love the cool, crisp weather, the vibrant, colorful leaves on all the Aspens, and most of all... the produce!  So, in celebration of the beginning of my favorite season, here's a recipe that features one of my favorite fall fruits - apples.

While apples are really wonderful in their natural state, when you have a lot of them it's nice to incorporate them into recipes!  I had so many apples on hand from my Grant Family Farms CSA fruit share that I decided to track down this wonderful recipe from Martha Stewart.  These scones are moist but still crumbly and just sweet enough to feel like a treat.  The oats lend a little chewy texture and add a heartiness to the scones.  I tripled this recipe, brought 2 batches to Marczyk's to share with my co-workers, and the third batch I threw in a plastic bag and stuck in the freezer.  Pretty good way to get through almost a dozen apples, am I right?

Martha's Apple Scones, Colorado-Style
makes 12 scones

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups diced apple (3 small apples, peeled)
2/3 cup cold buttermilk, plus more for brushing
Raw turbinado sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, break the butter apart until a crumbly texture results and no butter pieces are larger than the size of a pea.  Add apples and buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together.

Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour.  Divide the dough into two equal portions and sprinkle with flour so that the dough won't stick.  Flatten each portion into circles about 1 1/2 inches thick (about the diameter of a salad plate).  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and, using a knife or a dough scraper, score each circle of dough into six equal wedges.  Brush the tops of the scones with a little buttermilk and generously sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Bake until just golden, about 25 minutes.  Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.  Serve warm or room temperature with jam and clotted cream.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Zucchini and Pine Nut Olive Oil Cake

Most of us are familiar with zucchini bread, but when it comes to using zucchini in sweet stuff, many people stop there.  Here is something a bit more elegant than zucchini bread but it is so quick and easy to put together that you don't even need to bust out your fancy Kitchenaid standing mixer.  A bowl and a wooden spoon are all you need to make this moist and delicious summer cake that is just as good for a slightly decadent breakfast as it is for a light, Summery and flavorful dessert.

Zucchini and Pine Nut Olive Oil Cake
serves 6

1/2 cup mild olive oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
zest of 1 lemon (about 1 T)
1 medium zucchini, grated (1 cup packed)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pine nuts

Heat the oven to 350 and grease an 8" skillet or cake pan with a little extra olive oil.  In a medium bowl, mix oil, sugar, egg, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth.  Add zucchini and mix well.  Sift dry ingredients and add to cake batter.  Mix well to combine.  Stir in the pine nuts and pour batter into skillet or pan.  Bake until cake is set, about 40-45  minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Colorado Melon Caprese

It just wouldn't be Summer without a little caprese in my life, but who says you have to make it with tomatoes?  The Italians?  Well, probably...  but I think this version, using some of those sweet, late-summer Colorado melons that are widely available this time of year, is a delicious and beautiful alternative!

This version, pictured, was made as little hors d'oeuvres on lovely metal cocktail skewers (*see note below for skewer directions).  You can also just combine all the ingredients in a big bowl and serve it family style, just don't use all of your oil and balsamic.  I used a marvelous Etnia Spanish olive oil with merquen (a Spanish smoked chile and cumin spice mix) to make this dish more interesting and flavorful, but a basil-infused olive oil, garlic oil, or even just regular olive oil with work fine.

Colorado Melon Caprese

1 medium (or 2 small) heirloom melon, washed
1/2 a lemon, juiced
1 bunch green basil
1 bunch purple basil
1 8-oz. container fresh mozzarella ciliegine (the small, bite-sized balls)
about 1/4 cup olive oil with merquen (or your favorite infused olive oil)
about 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.  Using a melon baller, scoop out little bite-sized balls of melon until no more flesh remains.  Place melon balls in a bowl and gently toss with lemon juice.  Tear the larger basil leaves into small, 1" pieces and leave smaller leaves whole.  Add mozzarella and basil and toss ingredients to mix.  Drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Gently toss and serve immediately.

*To assemble skewers:  make individual caprese bites using reusable metal cocktail skewers.  First, spear a melon ball, followed by a purple basil leaf and then a green basil leaf.  Follow with a piece of mozarella, then drizzle each skewer with oil and balsamic and lightly season with salt and pepper, to taste. 

Crispy Fingerling Chips

Who doesn't love fingerling potatoes?  They're starchy and filling like a regular potato, but in a cute, rustic-looking little package!  I love them and I don't care who knows it.

While fingerlings are often kept whole and simply roasted, sometimes I like to turn them into homey, crispy, little chips.  These are wonderful served alongside scrambled eggs, as a side dish with any kind of sandwich, or just eaten as a snack by themselves.  The funniest-looking, knobby little potatoes can make for some interesting shapes, so don't just pick the perfect ones!

Crispy Fingerling Chips
makes about 2 cups

1/2 lb. fingerling potatoes, washed and scrubbed
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Using a mandoline, slice the potatoes lengthwise so they are thin but still sturdy, about 1/16th of an inch.  In a medium bowl, toss potato slices with olive oil until they are well-coated and arrange in a single layer on 2 large baking sheets. 

Bake chips until the potatoes shrink and start to crisp on the bottom, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and flip each slice, then return to the oven and bake until potatoes are golden-brown and crispy all over (smaller slices will take less time than larger ones), about 20 more minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste, and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Zucchini and Corn Pancakes with Brown Butter Yellow Tomato Sauce

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to have for dinner was breakfast.  Every now and then my dad would make a huge mess of waffles or pancakes with jam-sweetened sour cream (it's a Scandinavian thing) and usually some bacon or sausage.  The prospect of a sweet, doughy treat in the evening was somehow even more exciting than when he made them for breakfast!

As an adult I still enjoy breakfast for dinner, or "brinner" as we like to call it.  This dish is a bit of a departure from your average breakfast but a simple meal of hot pancakes topped with sauce is still decidedly brinner-esque.  These gluten-free pancakes are crisp on the outside thanks to the brown rice flour and soft, toothsome and packed with vegetables on the inside.  You can make these with any ol' flour you have on hand, but I highly recommend giving the rice flour a try.  It's nutritious and it tastes great!

The tomato sauce in this recipe is a great way to use up all those late-summer tomatoes you may have on hand that are starting to get soft.  I used smallish yellow ones to yield a beautiful golden, buttery sauce but any kind of tomato will work well.  Just use a sharp knife to make an "X" on the bottom of the tomato, toss it in boiling water for a minute or two, then plunge into ice water immediately.  Once the tomato is cool it's a cinch to peel and you'll be moments away from this luxurious sauce.

Zucchini and Corn Pancakes with Brown Butter Yellow Tomato Sauce
makes about 8 large pancakes

1 medium zucchini, grated
1 medium yellow squash, grated
3 ears of fresh corn
2 large eggs
3/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Tomato Sauce:
3 T salted butter
1/2 a yellow onion, diced
5 medium yellow tomatoes, shocked and peeled
salt and pepper, to taste

First, prep your vegetables.  Toss the grated zucchini and squash with about a teaspoon of salt and allow to drain in a colander for at least 20 minutes, periodically giving the squash a gentle squeeze to release the excess liquid.  Cut the corn kernels from the cob and toss with the squash.  In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, flour and milk until smooth.  Heat a large, flat-bottomed pan over medium-high and add about 3 T of the olive oil (enough to coat the bottom thoroughly).  Add veggies to the pancake batter just before you are ready to fry the pancakes, season with salt and pepper, and mix well to combine.  Spoon the batter directly into the pan and fry each pancake until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.  Add more olive oil to the pan as necessary and keep the pancakes warm in a 250-degree oven.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high.  As soon as butter has melted, reduce heat to between medium and medium-high and cook until the butter is browned, stirring often, about 8 minutes.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes to the pot and crush with a wooden spoon until a chunky sauce results.  Cook another 5 minutes (longer, if you like) and season with salt and pepper.  Serve pancakes with tomato sauce on top and garnish with chopped parsley.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Eggplant, Zucchini and Potato Moussaka

Ah, favorite month of the year!  It is in these late summer days that all the good stuff is in season - eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, and especially tomatoes!  I have a real passion for fresh tomatoes and often enjoy them best in their simple, raw state.  This time of year, however, when they're so abundant that you can't always eat them fast enough, I love a good tomato sauce!  You can always use canned tomatoes in a pinch, but really it's a shame not to enjoy the fruits of the season at their peak.  The taste is something wholly different and completely wonderful!

This tomato sauce for the Moussaka is simple and crazy-delicious.  The fresh tomatoes become rich and sweet when they simmer with the onions and butter.  The sauce gets a subtle hint of spice from the cinnamon stick which adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the Moussaka.  Roasted vegetables are layered with the sauce and some breadcrumbs to create this delicious summer casserole.  The whole thing is covered with a velvety topping that is part bechamel part custard and turns this all-vegetable dish into something rather luxurious! 

When I make this Moussaka, I like to leave all the skins on the vegetables.  It gives the dish a more rustic, colorful look and also saves time, but if you prefer you can peel the potatoes and eggplant before slicing. 

Eggplant, Zucchini and Potato Moussaka
9 small servings

1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchini
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
6 T butter
6 T flour
3 cups whole milk
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Tomato Sauce:
about 10 small tomatoes, blanched and peeled (or 1 28oz can whole tomatoes)
2 T salted butter
2 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper, to taste

First, make the tomato sauce.  In a medium saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-high until butter is melted and bubbling.  Add onions and saute until lightly browned, about 7 minutes.  Add tomatoes and their juices and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and add cinnamon stick.  Simmer the sauce until the tomatoes can easily be crushed apart with a wooden spoon.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and the cinnamon stick is soft, at least 30 minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick just before using the sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables.  Heat the oven to 350.  Using a mandoline, slice the eggplant lengthwise about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Arrange on a wire rack and sprinkle salt on both sides.  Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes, then blot the eggplant dry with a towel.  Slice the zucchini and potatoes lengthwise, the same thickness.  Toss sliced vegetables with olive oil and arrange on baking sheets in single layers.  Roast for about 15 minutes, then flip the slices over.  Continue to roast until the edges become lightly golden (a little longer for the potatoes so they become lightly crispy).  Remove from oven and allow vegetables to cool.

Next, make your bechamel topping.  In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Switch back to the whisk and slowly pour in the milk.  Turn the head up slightly and whisk until sauce is smooth.  Stir with the wooden spoon until the sauce starts to bubble.  Cook for 3-5 minutes until the bechamel is thick and creamy.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Whisk the eggs and egg yolk in a small bowl until blended.  Add to bechamel once it is only warm to the touch and whisk vigorously until well blended.  Set aside.

Turn oven up to 400 degrees.  In a 9x13 lasagne pan, add about 1/2 cup tomato sauce and spread evenly along the bottom of the pan.  Arrange half the eggplant and follow with a layer of potatoes.  Add all the zucchini, then top with half the remaining sauce.  Sprinkle with half the bread crumbs, then layer with remaining vegetables.  Top with remaining sauce and breadcrumbs, then pour the bechamel sauce on the top of the casserole.  Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake in the oven until the bechamel is lightly golden and set, about 45-50 minutes.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, then slice into 9 equal portions.