White Bean Dip with Fresh Herbs

30 07 2008

Any serious cook should try to keep an herb garden.  Even if you live in a small apartment, you can keep a small one in a pot on the counter.   The types of herbs will depend on what kind of cooking you’re interested in – if you like Thai food, for example, you’d want to grow fresh cilantro, whereas a cook who prefers Italian might grow a lot of basil.  The fresh herbs I typically have on hand include: sage, Italian parsley, thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano.  I love being able to snip off a bit of herb as I need it.  It’s the ultimate fresh, local ingredient.

Here is a recipe I developed that is quick to put together.  The dip’s flavour will get stronger over time so if you make it in advance, taste it and adjust seasonings before serving.

White Bean Dip with Fresh Herbs

Makes approximately 1-1/4 cups of dip

(VEGETARIAN)

  • One 14 oz. can (398 ml) cannelini beans (aka white kidney beans) OR 1-1/4 cups cooked cannelini beans
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice 
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh sage leaf (approximately 2 medium leaves)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pita or flatbreads for serving
  1. Place rinsed and drained beans in a large mixing bowl.  Add olive oil and lemon juice.
  2. Using a potato masher, mash beans until they are completely mashed and relatively smooth.  Do not use a food processor as it results in a dip that is grainy and lacks creaminess.
  3. Mix in chopped herbs, garlic and add salt to taste.  Dip can be made in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.  Serve with flatbread or grilled pita wedges.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

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Mid-Summer Inspiration

30 07 2008

It’s mid-summer and the farmer’s markets are full of great fresh produce.  Luckily, when fruits and vegetables are at their peak, you don’t have to do a lot with them to make them taste good.  Here are some simple ideas for fuss-free summer cooking. 

Why don’t you:

-Shuck some corn and brush with olive oil.  Sprinkle some salt and pepper on and roast in the oven or grill on the BBQ until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes (turn part way through cooking).  Serve with fresh butter.

-Make a chopped salad with fresh veggies.  Cut up fresh peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, thin sliced onion, blanched green beans, radishes, etc.  Arrange on a platter with some lettuce.  Drizzle with a basic vinaigrette:

Basic Vinaigrette

  • 1 Tablespoon your favourite vinegar (white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic, etc)
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons neutral oil (such as safflower, canola, etc)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  1. Put all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined.  Use on your favourite salads.

 

-Cook new potatoes in boiling water until tender.  Toss with pesto sauce and serve with grilled meats.

-Make roasted peppers: Cut a bunch of red, yellow or orange peppers in half lengthwise and remove stem and seeds.  Roast on a grill or in the oven until skin is black and charred.  Place in a large bowl and cover bowl with a plate and let them rest for 15 minutes.  Once peppers have cooled, peel off the charred skins and discard.  Serve peppers as a side dish, in salads or in dips.

-Cut the top 1/4 off of cocktail tomatoes or large cherry tomatoes.  Remove seeds.  Place a basil leaf and cube of buffalo mozzarella in each one.  Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and drizzle tomaotes with good olive oil.

-Toss cut up peaches with a splash of amaretto liqueur and top with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!





Zucchini Blossoms

28 07 2008

One of the goals of The Seasonal Gourmet is to develop recipes that almost anyone can make without searching high and low for exotic ingredients.  However, I feel that I must make a minor exception for zucchini blossoms.  They are not easy to find but if you do happen to come across some they are a wonderful treat.  Your best chance of finding them is at a farmer’s market – they are too fragile to be shipped very far for supermarkets.  The are very popular in Italy where they are often stuffed and then fried in a batter.  I don’t know why they aren’t more popular in North America because there certainly isn’t a shortage of zucchini here.  Perhaps a lot of people don’t realize that the flowers are edible (and delicious!).

Here are two recipes I’ve developed based on zucchini flowers I’ve eaten in Italy.  There are a few steps but it comes together quite easily and the results are definitely worth it.

Zucchini Blossoms with Herbed Ricotta

(VEGETARIAN)

Ricotta Filling:

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. In a medium sized bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until blended.  Set aside until ready to use (can be made in advance and refrigerated).

Batter:

  • 1/2  cup unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil or neutral oil (such as canola or safflower)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 egg whites
  1. In a large mixing bowl, add flour and olive oil.  Mix together with a spoon.  Add water 1/4 cup at a time, stirring completely into flour mixture.  Add enough to make a smooth batter. 
  2. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Carefully fold beaten egg whites into batter.  Set aside until ready to use.

Putting it all together:

  • 10 to 12 zucchini flowers
  • Neutral oil for frying (such as safflower or canola) – enough to fill a large sauce pan about 2″ deep OR if you have a deep fryer, fill with oil according to manufacturer’s instructions
  • Sea salt
  • Lemon wedges
  1. Clean blossoms thoroughly, by gently peeling back the petals and rinsing inside.  Remove any stamen inside the blossom.  Blot carefully to dry on clean dish cloths or paper towels.  
  2. Carefully separate the petals and fill each flower with a spoonful of ricotta mixture.  Fold petals back up to enclose filling.  Dip blossoms in batter until they are coated.   
  3. Very carefully heat oil in pan (or heat deep fryer) until it is around 350 degrees Farenheit.  You should be able to fry a cube of bread until golden brown in about 15 seconds once it’s at the proper temperature (watch closely and reduce heat if oil begins to smoke).
  4. Drop a few battered blossoms at a time into the oil.   Cook until puffed and golden brown, approximately 2 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove blossoms from heat and drain on a layer of paper towel.   
  5. Repeat the frying process with remaining blossoms.  Sprinkle with sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and serve immediately.

 

Zucchini Blossoms with Shrimp

This recipe was inspired by a dish I had at Ristorante Romano, a seafood restaurant in Viareggio, Italy on the Tuscan coast.  This follows the same technique as the ricotta stuffed blossoms above but is even simpler because the filling doesn’t require any mixing.

  • 10 to 12 zucchini blossoms
  • 10 to 12 large cooked shrimp, shells and tails removed
  • Batter – see recipe above
  • Neutral oil for frying (such as safflower or canola) – enough to fill a large sauce pan about 2″ deep OR if you have a deep fryer, fill with oil according to manufacturer’s instructions
  • Sea salt
  • Lemon wedges
  1. Clean blossoms thoroughly, by gently peeling back the petals and rinsing inside.  Remove any stamen inside the blossom.  Blot carefully to dry on clean dish cloths or paper towels.  
  2. Carefully separate the petals and fill each flower with a shrimp.  Fold petals back up to enclose shrimp.  Dip blossoms in batter until they are coated.   
  3. Very carefully heat oil in pan (or heat deep fryer) until it is around 350 degrees Farenheit.  You should be able to fry a cube of bread until golden brown in about 15 seconds once it’s at the proper temperature (watch closely and reduce heat if oil begins to smoke).
  4. Drop a few battered blossoms at a time into the oil.   Cook until puffed and golden brown, approximately 2 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove blossoms from heat and drain on a layer of paper towel.   
  5. Repeat the frying process with remaining blossoms.  Sprinkle with sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and serve immediately.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

 





Souvlaki, Tzatziki Sauce and Greek Style Salad

28 07 2008

I was at a Farmer’s Market Saturday and picked up some beautiful red peppers, garlic, cucumbers and early field tomatoes.  While trying to decide what to make for dinner last night, I realized that I had the beginings of a Greek-style dinner.  I have some fresh oregano growing in my herb garden so I only needed a few additional ingredients to put together a light, refreshing dinner that can be made on the grill, which is ideal for keeping the kitchen cool on a hot summer day.   I usually make my souvlaki with chicken breasts but you could easily substitute pork, shrimp or even firm tofu.  There are a number of steps but everything can be done in advance.

Souvlaki

Serves 4

(Can be adapted to be VEGETARIAN)

Marinade:

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon (seeds removed), approximately 1/3 cup juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 clove garlic, finely minced
  • Generous amount of freshly ground black pepper

For skewers:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or subsitute shrimp, pork or firm tofu), cut into 2″ cubes
  • Skewers – metal or bamboo  (if using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for approximately 20 minutes prior to using so they don’t burn on the grill)
  • 1 small green pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 small red pepper, seed and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 small red onion, skin removed, cut into 1″ cubes
  1. In a large bowl combine all ingredients.  Toss meat (or tofu) so it is coated in marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  2. To assemble skewers, alternate putting the following ingredients onto the skewers: one piece of green pepper, one piece of red pepper, one piece of onion, one piece of chicken.   Like this:
  3. Helpful Tip: I try to buy flat bamboo skewers so the meat and vegetables don’t spin around the skewer when I turn them over on the grill.  If you can’t find flat ones, you can use two skewers so your souvlaki will stay in place.
  4. Repeat until all chicken is used up (there may be additional vegetables left over, you can do a couple of veggie skewers to use up the pieces.  Brush with marinade before grilling).
  5. Light your grill (alternately, skewers can be cooked under your oven’s broiler or on an indoor grill).  Once the grill is hot, cook skewers until browned on one side and turn over, approximately 7 minutes per side, depending on how hot your grill is.   Continue cooking until meat is cooked through.
  6. Remove from grill.  Serve with tzatziki sauce, salad (recipes follow) and grilled pita bread.

Tzatziki Sauce

Makes approximately 1 cup of sauce

(VEGETARIAN)

Note: the yogurt needs to drain for at least 5 to 6 hours before mixing with the garlic, cucumber and dill.

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (not low-fat)
  • Cheesecloth
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced  (for garlic lovers – reduce to one clove for a milder sauce!)
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth (double thickness).  Spoon the yogurt into the cloth.  Cover with plastic wrap, place strainer over a bowl and refrigerate for 5 to 6 hours or overnight.   Liquid will drain from the yogurt, making it thick and cheese-like.
  2. When ready to use, discard the water that has collected in the bowl.  In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the thick yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic and salt.
  3. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. 

 

Greek Style Salad

(VEGETARIAN)

Dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients and whisk until blended

Salad:

  • 2 cups (packed) mixed salad greens
  • 1/2 cucumber, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 red onion, peeled and cut into thin rings
  • 1/2 red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 green pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 12 grape or cocktail tomatoes, cut in half
  • 3/4 cup (4-1/2 oz. or 125 g) crumbled feta cheese
  • Handful of black olives (optional)
  1. In a large salad bowl, add all ingredients and toss to mix.  Add dressing to coat salad greens and toss.  Serve with souvlaki kebabs.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!





Cherry Almond Bread

25 07 2008

cherries

Last summer my husband Allan and I stayed at a beautifully restored villa near Cortona, Italy in the Tuscan countryside.  It was called Villa di Piazzano and the buildings and surrounding views were exactly how I envisioned Tuscany after reading Frances Mayes’s memoir ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’.   We stayed in the Luna Piena room (‘Full Moon’) and one night we slept with the window open so we could feel the cool evening breeze and enjoy the silence of the countryside (we live in the city so it was a welcome break!).  In the morning, the smell of baking from the kitchen below us woke me up.  When we went down to breakfast, there was a table full of local sheep’s cheeses, Tuscan fennel salami, juices and fantastic baked goods such as sweet breads and pastries.  I developed this Cherry Almond Bread so we could enjoy a similar type of breakfast on occasion.    The recipe calls for sweet cherries instead of sour ones – the sweet ones are usually a very dark reddish-burgundy.

The view from the Luna Piena room at Villa di Piazzano, Cortona, Italy

 

Cherry Almond Bread

(VEGETARIAN)

A note about pitting cherries: There are various methods you can use to pit cherries including buying a cherry/olive pitter.  Some people swear by using a chopstick to poke the pit through the cherry while others use the tip of a knife to dislodge it.  Because this recipe does not call for a lot of cherries, I simply cut around the middle of the cherry from top to bottom (cutting through the diametre until you hit the pit) and gently pull apart the two halves, using the tip of the knife to remove the pit.   This will minimize the mess and give you two nice halves.

  • 1-1/2 cups + 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup neutral oil (such as safflower or canola)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 full cup (rounded) pitted, halved sweet cherries (see note at top for pitting advice)

Topping:

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.  Grease a standard size loaf pan and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the cherry halves and 2 Tablespoons of flour.  Toss to coat the cherries and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, the salt, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.  Stir to combine.
  4. Add the eggs, oil, sour cream, vanilla and almond extracts to dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined (the mixture will be quite thick). 
  5. Gently fold cherries into batter, stirring carefully to mix.  Spoon into greased loaf pan.  Top with slivered almonds and sugar.
  6. Bake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let cool, remove from pan and cut into slices.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

cherry-almond-bread





Coming Soon…

25 07 2008

It’s been a pretty busy summer for The Seasonal Gourmet and unfortunately my computer has been causing technical difficulties which left me out of commission for a couple of weeks.  However, I’m testing new recipes with the great produce that’s now in season and just returned from two fantastic weeks in Spain.  I’ll be reporting soon on my amazing gastronomic adventures in Barcelona and San Sebastian and developing some new recipes based on the cuisines of the Catalan and Basque regions.  I’m also working to improve my photos (and will hopefully get a new, more reliable computer soon!) so I can post more regularly.  Stay tuned and check back soon for updates!

 

Delicious jamon iberico and Spanish cheeses at La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain