Farmers’ Market Quesadillas

vegquesadilla

I found corn masa! Real corn masa. Like freshly made every day corn masa. El Toro Rojo (in my town, San Clemente) receives a delivery of this tortilla base every day precisely because real corn masa perishes that quickly.

Tonight, I made quesadillas following a method prescribed in Rick Bayless’ Mexico One Plate at a Time cookbook.  In this method, the freshly pressed, uncooked tortillas are placed on a hot griddle. The filling gets placed atop the side facing up (the uncooked side), and the tortilla is folded over and pressed to create the traditional half-moon shape. The tortilla gets flipped back and forth every minute or so and cooks in less than five minutes. I worried about the uncooked side tasting, well, uncooked, but it doesn’t — it becomes wonderfully crispy and golden on the outside while the cheese melts and the filling all melds together.

Now, if you can’t find fresh corn masa, don’t fret. This vegetable sauté will taste delectable in any tortilla. Just use whatever variety of flour or corn tortillas you prefer. In fact, while I am thrilled with the results of the fresh corn masa tortilla, this recipe is all about the filling: quickly sautéed farmers’ market veggies mixed with chopped fresh basil and topped with grated cheddar cheese. I used corn, zucchini, poblano peppers, onion and cherry tomatoes, but use whatever vegetables you find. I am loving the taste of corn with basil right now. Such a good combination.

Once the vegetables are all chopped, this sauté takes five minutes to complete. Use high heat and cook the peppers and onions first. Add the corn with the zucchini once the onion bits look a little brown. Cook for another minute or so, and add the chopped cherry tomatoes and basil at the end with the pan off the heat.

So, I made this filling for quesadillas, but this quick sauté could be served over rice or mixed with orecchiette pasta (the perfect shape for vegetables this size) or served with polenta or whatever. I have a feeling a poached or fried egg atop this vegetable medley would only enhance its deliciousness. Try it! It is so yummy.


Farmers’ Market Quesadillas
Serves Two

1 onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 ear corn, kernels scraped from cob
1 zucchini, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
basil to taste, chopped

olive oil
kosher salt
Tabasco, optional

Tortillas, corn or flour
Cheddar cheese, grated
Salsa, sour cream and lime for serving, optional

1. Over high heat, sauté the onion and pepper together until the onion looks slightly browned. Add the zucchini and corn and cook for one to two minutes. Season the whole mixture with salt to taste. Turn off the heat and add the cherry tomatoes and basil. Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary. Add a splash of Tabasco if desired.

2. Proceed with your preferred recipe for quesadillas. (See below if using fresh corn masa.) Here is a good method: Brush a cast iron or non-stick pan with a thin coating of olive oil. Place a flour tortilla in the pan and brush it lightly with olive oil. When the underside starts to get little light brown bubbles, turn the tortilla over and top it with the cheese and vegetable mixture. Fold the tortilla in half so it looks like a half moon. Place a smaller cast iron pan on top to weight down the tortilla. When one side is brown, flip over the tortilla and brown the other side. Make sure that the tortilla cooks until it almost could crack like a bisquit. You’ll have to play with the heat — it should be hot enough to brown, but not to burn.

3. Rick Bayless’ method for using freshly made masa tortillas: (Note: see below for instructions on how to make the tortillas themselves.) Heat a well-seasoned or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. One by one, make the quesadillas. Lightly brush one side of each tortilla with oil, then lay it oiled side down on the hot griddle. Spread with a thin layer of cheese, leaving a 1/4-inch border all around. Spoon the vegetable filling into the center of the cheese-covered tortilla. When the cheese begins to melt, but before the tortilla begins to crisp, fold the tortilla in half to create a half moon. Cook, flipping the tortilla every minute or so, until the cheese is completely melted and the tortilla crisps, about five minutes. (I only flipped once, and my quesadilla probably cooked for about 3 minutes.) As each quesadilla is done, transfer it to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.

4. Serve with salsa, sour cream and lime wedges.


Making tortillas. Rick Bayless’ method:

1. Knead the masa with just enough water to make it soft (like cookie dough) but not sticky. The softer the dough, the more tender the tortillas — but don’t make it so soft it sticks to your hands. (Note: I purchased my fresh masa at El Toro Rojo, and I didn’t need to add any water to the mixture.)

2. Open the tortilla press and lay one square of plastic wrap on the bottom plate. Scoop out a walnut-sized piece of dough, roll it into a ball and center it on the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap. Close the press and use the handle to flatten the ball into a 5- to 6-inch disk. Turn the plastic-covered disk of masa 180 degrees and press gently to even the thickness.

3. Open the press and peel off plastic. Proceed with quesadilla recipe (above) or line a sheet pan with parchment paper and top with your pressed tortillas. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to cook.

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread (Pappa Al Pomodoro)

At an adorable café in San Clemente, a bowl of tomato-and-bread soup sent four ladies knocking on the kitchen’s door. Through an open window, the women praised the chef for his creation, swooning over the soup’s deep, rich flavors, begging him to disclose any secrets. Flattered and unafraid to share, the chef rattled off the ingredients: tomatoes, basil, onions, bread, salt.

The women stared in disbelief. They wanted something more. They wanted to hear that the soup was drizzled with white truffle oil; that it was lightened with a goats’-milk foam; that it was finished with an 80-year Xeres vinegar. Alas, simplicity, it seems, triumphs again.

Several of you out there recommended I roast or dry my small tomato harvest and store the tomatoes indefinitely in my freezer or fridge to be used as I please. I did in fact follow these instructions, but upon hearing this exchange between the chef and patrons at Cafe Mimosa last week, I couldn’t resist pureeing my tomatoes into a soup. Roasting, I discovered, sweetens and intensifies the tomato flavor, making the need for any exotic, unexpected flavorings unnecessary. Chef Tim Nolan surely wasn’t holding anything back. This rustic soup originates in Tuscany and, like so many traditional recipes — panzanella salad, bread pudding, bruschetta, French toast — was created as a way to prevent day-old bread from going to waste. Simplicity (as well as bread) is the common denominator of all of these recipes.

Whether the soup at Cafe Mimosa is vegetarian or not, I do not know, but my vegetables certainly needed some sort of a stock to bring the mixture to soup consistency. I used chicken stock and coarsely pureed the mixture with a large bunch of basil and a few dried out pieces of a French boule. Many of the recipes I found on the web for pappa al pomoodoro called for a fair amount of olive oil, but I didn’t think this soup needed any more than what was used while roasting them. Adjust this recipe, however, according to your liking — this batch of soup has been made completely to taste. If you start with a base of slow roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots, I assure you your soup will be a success. Served with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of crusty bread, pappa al pomodoro makes a wonderful late summer meal.


Slow roasted tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic form the base of this Tuscan tomato soup.

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread
Inspired By Café Mimosa’s Tomato Bread Soup
Yield = 1½ to 2 quarts

Notes: I now use water, not stock, in this recipe. See updated recipe here.

tomatoes, halved if large, left whole if cherry or grape, enough to fill a sheet tray
1 onion, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 shallot, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 head garlic, cloves removed and peeled
a few carrots, peeled and cubed
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper

3-4 slices bread (French or Italian)
about 2 cups chicken stock (or water), preferably homemade or a low-sodium variety
1 bunch fresh basil
crushed red pepper flakes
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crusty bread for serving, optional

Note: This recipe is all done to taste. Adjust as necessary.

1. Roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a rimmed sheet tray with all of the vegetables. This tray should be filled in a single layer. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand — I threw in the carrots because I had them, but leeks, celery, thyme etc. would all make nice additions. Drizzle olive oil over top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and roast for about three hours until vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Slice the bread into ½-inch thick pieces. Place on the counter to dry or toast briefly in the toaster. You just want to dry out the bread; you’re not trying to brown it.

3. Puree the soup. When the vegetables are done, place them in a pot with chicken stock. To give you a rough idea, I had about 5 cups of roasted vegetables and used about 2½ cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Season with a pinch of salt and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Add the bunch of basil. Break two slices of bread into medium-sized cubes and add to the pot. Using an emersion blender or food processor or traditional blender, puree the soup roughly. It should be slightly chunky. Taste and add more salt or bread if necessary. Add more stock until soup reaches desired consistency.

Note: If you leave this soup relatively chunky, it would make a wonderful sauce for pasta.

Fish Tacos, Whisk n’ Ladle, Mango-Jicama Slaw, MSC-Certified Halibut & Reamers

MangoJicama

I’m feeling sort of overwhelmed by everything I want to fit into this post. Bullet points, I hope, will help my cause.

• So, after a week of feasting, I considered, for the first time ever, making tofu for dinner. As I passed down the freezer aisle of Ralph’s, however, a blue-and-white label caught my eye. Much to my surprise (and delight), that label marked an MSC-certified package of halibut steaks. Unlike many labels today, an MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) label truly means something — it is a guarantee for consumers that the purchase of the product will not contribute to the social and environmental problems of overfishing. It also guarantees that the fishermen receive a fair price for their catch. Holding the world’s most rigorous sustainability standard, the MSC has awarded their coveted eco-label to only 31 fisheries worldwide. (You might recall that American Tuna also bears the MSC label.)

• With my discovery, I took the opportunity to make a dish I have been meaning to make since dining with my cyber friend, Melanie Lytle, of Livin La Vida Local at Whisk n’ Ladle in La Jolla. This restaurant strives to use all local ingredients and makes nearly everything in house, including the delectable scone — pistachio-orange, if I recall correctly — with which I began this memorable brunch. (Incidentally, Melanie has just completed a year of eating locally: Read her Long-Winded Summary To a Year of Eating Locally here.)

• Last night, I discovered that the mango-jicama slaw served with the tilapia fish tacos at WnL is surprisingly easy to recreate. Please don’t be frightened or turned off by the idea of julienning or using a mandoline. Dicing the fruit would be just as tasty and effective. In diced form, in fact, the mixture becomes even more versatile — it could be served with tortilla chips or toasted baguette slices for a nice appetizer. Really, this slaw could not be simpler to prepare — you just mix everything together and season with salt and fresh lime juice according to taste. It could be served with chicken, beef, maybe even tofu.

• Last night I also got over the idea that fish should never be frozen. These frozen halibut steaks fried up beautifully, and once wrapped in the tortilla, spread with a dab of sriracha-sour cream and topped with this tasty slaw, the fish becomes a second-string player. Fresh fish, in a way, is better used for simpler preparations, with lemon and herbs, for example, where the flavors of the fish can really shine.

• Lastly, a word about reamers: There is no better tool, I profess, for extracting juice from citrus fruit than a wooden reamer. This one from Sur La Table is fantastic.


Fish Tacos with Mango-Jicama Slaw
Inspired by tacos recently savored at Whisk n’ Ladle restaurant in La Jolla. This recipe calls for julienning the jicama and mangoes, but dicing the fruit will work, too. In fact, this mixture, in diced form, would be yummy served with chips.

For the Slaw:
1 jicama, peeled
2 mangoes, not too ripe, peeled
1 small red onion, peeled, diced to yield about ¾ cup
1-2 chili peppers such as Thai bird or jalapeno or Serrano, finely diced
cilantro to taste, washed and chopped
kosher salt
1-2 limes

1. Using a mandoline, julienne the jicama to yield about 2 cups. Place in a large bowl. Julienne the mangoes (to yield about 2 cups as well) and add to the bowl. (Alternatively, just dice the fruit.) Add the onions, peppers and cilantro to the bowl. Season with a big pinch of salt. Juice one lime over top of the mixture. (A reemer is a great tool for this step.) Toss gently, then taste. Adjust with more lime juice or salt. Set aside until ready to serve. Note: Can be made ahead, but not too far ahead — no more than an hour is ideal.

Sriracha-Sour Cream
Whisk n’ Ladle spread some sort of creamy, tomato salsa across their tortillas. It definitely was something more substantial than sriracha sauce, but this combination served the purpose quite nicely.

1. Mix sriracha with sour cream according to taste.

Assemble the tacos:

fish: Any white fish — halibut, tilapia, cod, sea bass, etc. — works really nicely in fish tacos. I found MSC-certified halibut steaks in my Ralph’s freezer section.
small, white flour tortillas

1. Heat the oven to about 450ºF. Wrap as many tortillas you want in foil and place in the oven to keep warm. Make sure the tortillas are hot and pliable before serving.

2. Season the fish lightly with kosher salt. Pan-fry or grill the fish until done.

3. To assemble, spread a small amount of the sriracha-sour cream on the bottom of the taco. Top with the fish. Top with the slaw. Repeat.

When you see this blue-and-white eco-label, you can be confident your purchase has not contributed to overfishing or the harming of marine ecosystems. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the best environmental choice in seafood.

A dab (or a dousing) of sriracha mixed with sour cream adds a nice kick to fish tacos.

Fish En Papillote

fish en papillote

fish en papillote

I have decided I sound too freaky to speak on camera.

And so, I present to you a silent film: Fish en Papillote:


(The video seems to stall a bit at 1:18. Just help it along by scrolling past that point.)

Yesterday, 2,438 miles away from me, two very good friends resolved to make fish en papillote for their Sunday night dinner. I tried to explain the process to them via a series of emailed pictures, but I have yet to hear if they were any help. I hope this video might assist them in the future.

In any case, en papillote is currently my favorite way to prepare fish. These parchment packages are magical. How so? Let me tell you:

1. When cooked en papillote, a fish fillet retains its heat to the last bite. I love fish, but it’s tricky to cook — so easily overcooked — and it cools down quickly. These packages somehow manage to keep the fish fillets hot without drying them out one bit. And by keeping the fish piping hot, the en papillote method helps you eat more slowly, allowing you to savor your dinner, which I appreciate. I tend to eat very quickly. Like its a race or something.

2. Because I like to eat cake for breakfast these days, fish en papillote makes for a very healthy finish to the day. Seriously, not even a splash of olive oil or a dab of butter is used when assembling the packages. These added fats are truly unnecessary because all of the juices from the fish and the vegetables combine to make a nice little sauce. Served with a simple salad and homemade bread, fish en papillote makes a wonderful summer meal.

3. The packets can be prepared ahead of time — perfect for entertaining. I know summer is prime barbecue season, but it’s OK to give the grill a rest every now and then. You can still eat your en papillotes outside. (Warning: Because of the lemon juice and the salt, these packets should not be assembled for more than two or three hours ahead of time — I prepared them and stored them in the fridge for two hours when I made them for my parents last weekend.)

4. This recipe is so versatile. Although I’ve only experimented with sea bass and halibut, I suspect many fish species would take well to this preparation. Please let me know if you find success with any other varieties. Here, I’ve used Mexican sea bass because I can find it fresh at my Sunday farmers’ market.

Fill the packages with whatever you like: squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, scallions, herbs, etc.

The package keeps all of the juices inside, creating a steaming hot, tender, flaky package of goodness.

Ta-da! Perfectly cooked fish every time. Seriously, this recipe is foolproof.

Fish en Papillote
Serves 4

4 18×13-inch (approximately) pieces parchment paper
about 16 leaves Swiss chard, washed and dried
4 6-oz fish fillets, I buy the Mexican sea bass from my farmers’ market, but any fish will do
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons caper
2 lemons, quartered
½ cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup sliced zucchini
sliced basil, parsley or tarragon

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF.

2. Lay one sheet of parchment paper on the counter and fold it in half lengthwise just to make a crease. Open the parchment paper. Place about four leaves of Swiss chard in the center of the parchment paper just below the centerfold. Top with fish fillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with shallots and capers. Squeeze half a lemon on top and tuck lemon half next to fish. Sprinkle olives and tomatoes around fish.

3. Fold top half of paper over bottom half and begin folding tightly from the center to one of the sides. Go back to the center and fold tightly in the opposite direction. (See video for more assistance.)

4. Repeat with each fish. Place packages on a cookie sheet and cook about 10 minutes. (Estimate about 10 minutes per inch — if the fillets are a little bit thicker than one inch, add 1 or 2 minutes.)

Good Stock

Tinga

I’m sort of embarrassed about posting this video, but after I shot it, I couldn’t resist. I sound like such a freak. I’m pretty sure I don’t sound like that normally.

Anyway, I happened to be preparing tinga, which I’ve described before, and thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about stock. I know the thought of making stock from scratch can feel like a lot of work. But making stock really is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter. The gelatinous stock shown in the video was prepared with nothing more than chickens and water.

Let me tell you about this dish. I learned how to make it from a woman named Patricia who I worked with at Fork back in Philadelphia. Patricia often prepared tinga — chicken stewed with onions, tomatoes and chipotle in adobo sauce — for the “family meal” and served it with rice or soft tortillas. It’s incredibly delicious over crispy tortillas, too, served with a poached egg on top.

This recipe calls for one chicken, but it can be easily doubled. (Tinga freezes well — I have quarts of it ready to be thawed at a moment’s notice.) You also can make chicken stock with the carcass: After you pull off all of the meat, put the remaining bones back in the poaching liquid and let the mixture simmer for another couple of hours.

Chicken, pulled from its bones after simmering in water for about an hour.

Cilantro, soaking to remove dirt.

Chicken carcasses in water ready to be simmered.

Fat, scraped from a quart of chicken stock after sitting in the refrigerator overnight.

Stock, fat removed, ready to be frozen.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Note: As I mentioned above, making stock is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter.

These days, I simply remove the legs with their bones from a whole chicken (to be used for one meal) as well as the breasts (to be used for another meal) and throw the two wings and remaining carcass into the stock pot. (Watch the video here for help breaking down a chicken.) I cover these bones/meat with water and let simmer for about 2.5 hours without any additions (carrots, celery, etc.), and I get about 1.5 qts of really flavorful stock.

The below recipe is what my mother does, but truly, you don’t have to be so fussy.

3 lbs chicken, such as a whole chicken or wings or legs or just bones
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 onion, cut in half, studded with 4 cloves total (2 in each half)

1. Place chicken or chicken bones into a large pot. Add remaining ingredients. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the water is gently simmering. Scoop off and discard any scum that bubbles up at the surface. Let simmer for about 2 hours.

2. Place a colander over a large bowl. Pour contents of stock pot through the colander. Discard all of these pieces once they have cooled. Transfer stock to storage containers and place in the fridge overnight or until completely chilled and fat has formed a solid layer at the top of the container. Scoop off this fat and discard. Freeze stock or store in fridge for at least a week.

Mexican Tinga
Serves 8

1 3-4 lb. chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, sliced
1 small can chipotles
in adobo sauce
1½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch cilantro

1. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so the water just simmers, and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer chicken to a large bowl to cool. When chicken is completely cool, remove the meat from the skin and bones, and place in a clean bowl. (Place bones and skin in a pot, cover with water, and let simmer for several hours. Strain, and transfer the stock to plastic storage containers. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, scrape off the fat and discard. Freeze stock.)

2. In a medium-sized soup pot add the oil and place over medium heat. Sauté the onion over medium heat until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add 3 of the chipotles and 1 tablespoon of the sauce from the small can of chipotles (or, if you like spice, add the whole can as I did).

3. Stir for one minute until the onions are nicely coated in sauce, then add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Season with a pinch of salt, then add the chicken meat to the pot, breaking up the big chunks as you add the meat.

4. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture very gently for 30 minutes. Coarsely chop the cilantro, add to the pot and stir to incorporate. Taste mixture, add more salt if necessary. Can be made a day ahead. To reheat, simmer mixture very slowly adding chicken stock if liquid becomes too thick.

Onions and chipotles cooking before the chicken, stock and tomatoes are added.

Summer Squash Tart & Happy Fourth!

SummerSquashTart

Hi everyone. Happy Fourth. Just a quick post here. I made this tart, as you may recall, once last summer. This year’s version, made with squash entirely from my garden, is far more special.

I must admit, however, this recipe could be improved, namely because it calls for puff pastry. I don’t want to diss puff pastry or anything, but i’m just not wild about its taste. In a pinch, its great — it saved me this passed Monday when I needed to whip something up for a potluck. If I had more time, however, I might have experimented with a different base. The thin pizza dough, I don’t think would have held up too well for a potluck. A thicker pizza dough might work. Or a savory galette dough. Or the buttery cornmeal crust used in the heirloom tomato tart. I definitely want to try something other than puff pastry because everything else about the tart is great, from the ricotta-parsley spread to the caramelized onions to the blanched squash rounds to the barely melted feta crumbled on top at the last moments of baking.

Also, the pictures here show a tart that has been made with one-third of one sheet of puff pastry. The box I bought came with two units of puff pastry, and I used one and two-thirds for the potluck tart. I had left over ingredients and so made a mini tart, which I ate for breakfast on Tuesday.

Happy Fouth! Oh, and here’s a festive dessert for the holiday: Patriotic Ice Cream Sandwiches

First, you must blind bake the tart shell. I have a stash of beans I use over and over again for this purpose.


Then, you whisk together ricotta, parsley, an egg, and salt and pepper, and spread it across the bottom.

Then, you top the cheese spread with a layer of caramelized onions.

Then, you top the onions with blanched squash rounds. You bake it for 15-20 minutes. Brush it with butter. Bake it again. And you sprinkle on the feta and parsley at the very end.
Summer Squash Tart with Ricotta and Feta
Serves 6

1 10” x 13” sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
parchment paper
pie weights or dried beans wrapped in plastic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs. mix of zucchini and yellow squash
½ cup fresh ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
¼ cup feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place pastry on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. With a paring knife, gently score (being careful not to go all the way through) the pastry about one inch from the edge on all sides. Prick bottom of pastry all over with a fork, line center area only with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack. Remove weights and parchment paper.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and let sauté until slightly caramelized about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat to cool.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Cut the squash crosswise into ¼ – inch thick rounds. Add to the pot of boiling water, cook for 30 – 60 seconds, drain and let dry on a paper-towel lined cookie tray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spread onto puff pastry. Top with the onions. Arrange squash pieces in overlapping rows until tart is filled. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, brush with butter and return to the oven for five minutes longer. Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with feta, and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Lastly, Ben says Happy Fourth, too!

Selling Lentil Soup In The Summer and Helping Iowan Farmers

LentilSoup

I know this isn’t the most summery of soups. Even us Southern Californians are experiencing a bit of a heat wave. So, why would anyone make lentil soup in the summer? It’s sort of a hard sell, I’ll admit, but I’m going to give it a go.

The 12oz. bag of lentils I purchased cost $3.23. I used about 9 oz. (1½ C.) or $2.42 worth of lentils in this recipe. (As far as lentils go, $3.23 for 12oz. is rather steep. You’ll likely pay much less.) Now, I don’t have all of my receipts to give an accurate estimate of what this soup costs to prepare, but the remaining ingredients, a mixture of pantry items (vinegar, bay leaf, olive oil, tomato sauce and salt) and vegetables (carrots, celery, onions and garlic) cost next to nothing, even given the crazy-high food prices we are currently facing at the market.

This soup is one of the most economical dishes you could ever prepare. It yields three quarts or eight generous servings. Even if the cost of ingredients totaled $10, which is very unlikely, the cost per serving is only $1.25. Serve it with a loaf of bread and you have a complete meal. Lentil soup and bread for dinner might seem a little Spartan, but the addition of a salad with this meal in a way would be superfluous — this soup is filled with vegetables for one, and lentils themselves are nutritional powerhouses: These little legumes are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. Also, according to the Web site, The World’s Healthiest Foods, one cup of cooked lentils contains just 230 calories.

Have I sold anyone?

I should note that this soup takes little time to prepare — you basically throw all of the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer for an hour — and that it is delicious. This is one of my mother’s favorite recipes, passed down, I believe, from her mother, and maybe even from her mother’s mother. Am I making this up, mom?

Lastly, the publisher of Edible San Diego, a wonderful magazine “celebrating local food, from coast to crest, season by season” recently informed me about Farm Aid’s Family Disaster Fund. Severe flooding in Iowa and Wisconsin is threatening the lives of family farmers and Farm Aid is providing serious help to the region. Click here to read more about Farm Aid or to help the farmers in these states.

A bowl of French green lentils. I have yet to find a source of local lentils, but I can’t say I have looked terribly hard. In Philadelphia, one of the vendors at the Sunday Headhouse market sold lentils and they were delicious. I purchased these at a shop in Philadelphia nearly a year ago and they traveled with me across country. Unless you have a local source for lentils, I highly recommend the D’Allasandro French Green Lentils.

Simple Lentil Soup
Yield=3 quarts or 8 generous servings

1½ C. French green lentils
1 8oz. can + 1/2 can of tomato sauce, such as Pomi brand
2 large onions, chopped 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ C. red wine vinegar
½ C. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, peeled and diced
crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Throw all ingredients together in a pot. Add 1½ qts. plus one cup of water (seven cups total). Simmer for one hour uncovered. Stir and serve with crusty bread. Tastes even better on day two. Keeps for over a week in the refrigerator. Freezes well, too.

Tortillas & Blossoms

steaktacos

I have a vision of the perfect tortilla. It’s made of corn, from fresh masa, not masa harina. It’s thin. It’s soft. And, ideally, it’s made to order on a griddle-like surface like the ones served every weekend at the Primavera Mexican stand at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. Several summers ago on a visit to San Fran for a wedding, Ben and I savored these freshly made tortillas for breakfast, filling them with scrambled eggs, salsa, avocados and cheese.

This meal inspired me to buy one of those tortilla presses and to try to replicate our experience at home. I soon learned, however, the task would be impossible — fresh corn masa was no where to be found in the Philadelphia area. Ben even called a shop in California (after reading an article online), to ask if the masa could be shipped across country. (This was before we went local). The woman refused, however, alleging that the masa would perish en route. I made a batch of tortillas anyway using the Maseca brand masa harina — the product all the local taquerías used as well — but the results proved far from satisfying. As time passed, I gave up my search for fresh masa and settled for store-bought varieties, which tasted far superior to my homemade creations. (Incidentally, if you are interested in learning more about the homemade tortilla making process, read this San Francisco Chronicle article.)

I just returned from a wedding in Baja where the yummy tortillas I ate at every meal reminded me of my bygone quest for the perfect tortilla. At the hotel restaurant, the waiters delivered a basket of warm flour and corn tortillas with every meal to be filled with eggs, fish, beef or whatever. Now, I don’t know if it’s just that no tortilla will ever measure up to the ones made at the Primavera stand, or if I’ve changed — I think I prefer flour to corn. I know, I know, corn is more authentic, but there was something about these small, thin, chewy flour tortillas that I could not resist. Alas, it seems my vision of the perfect tortilla may have changed.

How cute is this little zucchini? Each time I walk by my blossom-filled pot, however, I am tempted to rip off the flowers, stuff them with cheese and fry them up. Fortunately, my farmers’ market has a limitless supply of these blossoms, and I can resist the urge.

Now, about this non-local, grass-fed beef. I’m embarrassed to name its country of origin, but I had traveled all the way to Jimbo’s market with Aunt Vicki and her mother, Sy, and I could not pass up the opportunity to purchase a bit of grass-fed meat. Seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled for three to four minutes a side, tri-tip makes a wonderful taco filling, needing little more than salsa, chopped onion and a splash of lime.

Grass-Fed Tri-tip Tacos
Serves 2 to 3

1 lb. grass-fed tri-tip, flank or skirt steak
kosher salt and peper to taste
6 to 9 soft, corn or flour tortillas
finely diced white onion
chopped cilantro
1 avocado, thinly sliced
pico de gallo
1 limes, quartered
grated cheese (optional)
sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat a grill to high. (Alternatively, place a large frying pan over high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil.) Season the steaks on all sides with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven.

2. Place onion, cilantro, avocados, pico de gallo, limes, cheese and sour cream in small bowls. Place in the center of the table.

3. Grill the steaks to desired doneness, then let rest for five minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and pile onto a platter. Remove tortillas from the oven, and place two on each plate. Begin assembling tacos.

Breakfast Pizza For Dinner

breakfastpizza

Oh, how I wish I could take credit for this ingenious creation. Alas, I cannot. A very good friend of mine, after observing my egg obsession, kindly directed me to this Apartment Therapy site, offering me yet another way to enjoy my beloved eggs. (Thanks, Amanda!) The eggs, cracked atop the pizza during the last few minutes of baking, retain a runny yolk, which, when cracked, ooze into the crust and toppings — sautéed Swiss chard and cheese, in this case — making each bite unbelievably tasty. This combination was particularly yummy, but I suspect these eggs would enhance various topping combinations, from sausage and peppers to tomato and basil to ricotta and spinach — oh, the possibilities are endless.

Not too long ago, I made a flatbread with brie, prosciutto and watercress — a recipe I spotted in a recently published cookbook Blue Eggs, Yellow Tomatoes. Well, I must confess that the dough recipe I have enclosed below is far superior. Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table, this wet dough — admittedly a little difficult to work with — yields a thin and crispy crust. I’m not sure why I bother experimenting with any other recipe — my family (my mother) has been making the Figs’ pizza dough for years with great success.

One note: Unless you have a very powerful food processor, don’t use one. I burned out the engine on mine making this recipe and had to finish the kneading by hand. Use a stand mixer if you have one or knead by hand from the beginning.

This recipe makes a very wet pizza dough. Once baked, however, the dough becomes a light, thin, crisp crust. My family has been using this recipe for years, and one of our favorite topping combinations includes caramelized onions, grapes, blue cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh basil. This dough freezes well, too: After the two-hour rise, punch it down, wrap it in plastic and throw in the freezer. When ready to use it, let the dough sit at room temperature for a few hours prior to cooking.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes 4 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, about 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil or lightly coat with cooking spray, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.

Breakfast Pizza: Sorry for these undetailed instructions, but I really just threw this together.
Serves 2

cornmeal

olive oil
Swiss chard, washed, stems diced, leaves roughly chopped
garlic, minced
kosher salt
crushed red pepper flakes
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano and cheddar and crumbled goat cheese (use any grated cheese you have on hand)
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Follow the instructions above for rolling out the dough. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet and transfer the dough to the baking sheet.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the Swiss chard stems in the oil until slightly tender. Increase the heat to high, add the greens, season with salt, red pepper flakes and garlic. Rearrange the greens with tongs until nicely wilted. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Top pizza with a thin layer of greens and cover with the grated cheese. Place in the oven for about eight minutes, or until about three minutes away from being done. Remove from the oven and crack the eggs over the pizza. Return to the oven, cooking just until the whites are set and the yolks are slightly runny.

4. Serve immediately.

Delaney’s Cannelloni & Orange Coast Magazine

canneloni

Now, before I begin five days in a row of muffin posts, I must first describe my latest discovery at Delaney’s Culinary Fresh, (you know, the fresh pasta I am obsessed with.) I’m not sure how long owner Jordan Stone has been selling cannelloni, but last Sunday, after spotting them at the farmers’ market, I couldn’t resist breaking my red pepper-linguini routine. And when these spinach- and ricotta-stuffed cigars emerged from the oven bubbling beneath a layer of crispy parmesan cheese, I wasn’t sorry I had.

DCF products make dinner preparations so simple: Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and lay the cannelloni on top. Spread a little more sauce on top of the cannelloni and place them in the oven. After 20 minutes, add a couple handfuls of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. A sprinkling of chopped parsley at the very end adds a nice, though uncritical, touch of freshness. Serve with bread and a little salad.

Unlike most filled pasta dishes, particularly the cheese-laden ready-made varieties, these cannelloni taste light — or as light as a cannelloni can taste. And the women at DCF have somehow accomplished this without sacrificing any flavor: From the thin, semolina dough to the subtly flavored spinach filling, these cannelloni are a real treat. Ben made a really good point, too, noting that “The cannelloni aren’t sloppy.” Filled pastas such as manicotti and lasagna — think school lunch line — so often are overly cheesy and watery and heavy. These are not.

Also, just a quick note on parsley. The trend these days, it seems, is to use Italian parsley — the flat leaf variety. I’ve gotten so used to using it, I forget to even consider curly parsley. The other day, however, I remembered some words of wisdom from my grandmother. Sometime last year, my grandmother started buying curly parsley again, preferring its flavor to Italian. And I think, (correct me if I’m wrong, Gramma), an episode of the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network inspired her to make the switch. In any case, the other day at Trader Joe’s, all that remained was a carton of the curly variety, and so, I bought it — it was delectable. Very flavorful. I used it all week, even in a recipe for cottage cheese muffins which I cannot wait to share with you. So, I guess all I’m saying is not to overlook curly parsley if you cannot find Italian.

And lastly, if you are interested, check out this article, “Linguini Lust,” in Orange Coast Magazine. The article is not on-line, so you’ll have to click on the image at left to read it. Though you may feel you’ve heard enough from me about Delaney’s Culinary Fresh, here you’ll get a little more insight into Stone’s background. She began her fresh pasta business by making compound-butters and selling them in front of her local grocery store. As a single mother, she spent many years working two jobs to support her three daughters — it’s quite an inspiring story.

Now, while a purchased tomato sauce will work just fine for these cannelloni, a homemade sauce can be prepared with little effort: Sauté an onion in a mixture of oil and butter over medium heat until translucent, about five to 10 minutes. Add a jar of peeled, crushed tomatoes such as San Marzano or Pomi brand. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer 20 minutes over low heat. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or oregano or any seasonings you like. Taste and add a pinch of sugar if necessary.