Eggplant Involtini

cooked involtini

On the fussiness scale, this recipe is up there. I hate to start on such a negative note, especially when these little ricotta-stuffed rolls turned out to be so stinking good, but I’ve become really lazy in the kitchen. When I see recipes that call for salting and draining and blotting dry, or for deep frying, or for assembling little parcels — as adorable as they may be — I tend to shy away.

But I’ve had this recipe bookmarked since last Christmas when I first opened Tartine Bread. And with eggplant season peaking and with my homemade tomato sauce and ricotta cheese obsession persisting, the timing seemed right. And right it was. Oh boy. Somehow the flavors of lemon and thyme in the ricotta cheese pervade the eggplant shells, all of which meld together with the fresh tomato and cream sauce base, a perfect combination in this early fall dish.

Seriously, please don’t let the opening of this post deter you from this recipe. Try to remember that I’m lazy, you’re not. I have to admit, too, that the dish came together much faster than I had anticipated. And while I begrudgingly trudged through each step of the recipe, I ultimately found myself enjoying the stuffing and the rolling and the assembling of the eggplant packages. I know you will, too.

Oh, one last thought. Are you thinking about baking this weekend? Perhaps with plums? If so, I recommend you take a look at these posts, one from The Garden of Eden and the other from House to Haus. I made the zwetschgentorte today actually — delicious! — and I can’t stop thinking about Darcy’s Plum crumble. Hoping to get around to it this weekend as well. Yum yum yum yum yum.

cooked involtini

lemon & thyme

fried eggplant

assembled involtini in dishes

involtini, rolled

Involtini

Adapted from Tartine Bread
Serves 2

Notes:
• I made a half recipe.
• The book offers a recipe for tomato sauce, which I’m sure is delicious, but I have been hooked on this one since discovering it.
• I used these fabulous mini gratin dishes, but feel free to use a standard sized baking dish.

Involtini

1 eggplant
kosher salt
olive oil for frying (I used canola oil)
tomato sauce, this is the one I adore, but feel free to use your favorite store-bought
heavy cream
freshly grated Asiago cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano (I used parm)

Stuffing

bread crumbs, about 1/2 cup, made from about 3 slices day-old bread*
1 cup whole milk ricotta, homemade is easy and delicious
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1. Trim the stem end of each eggplant. Using a mandoline, cut the eggplant lenthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. You should have about 12 slices. Sprinkle the eggplant on both sides with kosher salt, layer them in a colander, and let stand for 1 hour. (I was impatient and only let them drain for about a half hour… worked out just fine.) Press the moisture from the eggplant and blot them dry with paper towels. Pour olive (or canola) oil to a depth of 1 inch in a deep, heavy saucepan or large skillet (I used a cast iron pan) and heat to 360ºF on a deep-frying thermometer. (I did not use a thermometer — just watched the oil and tested when I thought it was ready.) Place 3 to 4 eggplant slices in the hot oil and cook until the slices take on some color, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the slices to a colander (or paper-towel lined plate) to drain. Repeat with remaining slices.

2. Meanwhile, make the stuffing. In a bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, ricotta, lemon zest, juice, thyme and salt.

3. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Spoon tomato sauce into a medium-sized baking dish (or individual gratin dishes) till bottom of dish is covered in a thin layer. Place a spoonful of filling at one end of each of the eggplant slices. Roll the slice around the filling and place it seam-side down in the dish on top of the tomato sauce. Spoon a tablespoon of cream (or less) over each roll to moisten. Bake until the edges of sauce around the sides of the dish are dark and the rolls are nicely caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with the Asiago (or parm) before serving.

* After burning a batch of homemade bread crumbs, I decided to go with Panko. If you want to make homemade, do something like this:

Homemade Bread Crumbs

3 slices day-old bread*, each 1-inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence** (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the herbes if using. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through baking, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly. Once cooled, place croutons in a ziplock bag and using a rolling pin or your hands, crumble them more finely.

involtini, one down

Addictive Kale Caesar Salad with Brioche Croutons

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I have a question for all of you mortar and pestle users out there: Do you find us knife-wielding, blender-pulsing, whisk-twirling folk offensive? You probably do. I suspect Tartine’s Chad Robertson would not approve of my adaptation of his caesar dressing recipe. I used a knife first, and then a whisk. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t even reach for the mortar and pestle.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so skeptical of a technique before trying it, but the idea of using a pestle to work olive oil into a stable emulsion scared me. I’m just not that hard core. And as I read the recipe over and over again, I couldn’t help but think about who I was dealing with — did you know that Robertson doesn’t even own a toaster? It’s true. He and his wife, Liz Prueitt, toast their bread in a black steel omelet pan instead. That’s hard core. I’m just not there. I reached for an old standby: Whisk. He did not fail me. This dressing, made without mayonnaise or cheese, is lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings and is a wonderful complement to kale, an unsuspecting substitute in a classic dish.

I find this salad addictive. I’ve always loved kale wilted in soups or sautéed with garlic and tossed into pastas. And I love it in the form of chips. But I never imagined enjoying it raw until I dined at True Food Kitchen, where they serve a Tuscan kale salad made with bread crumbs, grated Pecorino and crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a delicious combination. Since discovering Robertson’s kale caesar last week, I’ve made it twice more, and I suspect it will be a mainstay on the dinner table this fall and winter. I’m already looking forward to it.

Kale from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
caesar dressing ingredients

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I finally got around to making the brioche recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is delicious. I made several loaves of bread as well as a batch of the Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls with the dough, and will report back on that shortly. I also used leftover brioche to make the croutons, which were delicious, but an unnecessary treat — any good bakery-style bread will suffice for these croutons.

homemade brioche

The Tartine Bread crouton recipe calls for an optional pinch of herbes de provence, which added a surprisingly nice flavor to the croutons.

brioche croutons, unbaked

brioche croutons, baked

Kale Caesar Salad
Adapted from Tartine Bread
Serves: 4 to 6

Note: The measurements below are those that are given in the book. Obviously, adjust quantities as needed. I tossed enough kale for two people with dressing to taste. I also added the croutons and Parmigiano Reggiano to taste.

2 lbs. black, Tuscan or dinosaur kale, center stems removed, and torn
croutons (recipe below)
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Caesar dressing (recipe below)

In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons. Pour the dressing to taste over top and toss to coat. Add the Parmesan, toss again, and serve.

Caesar Dressing

Note: I made a half-batch of this recipe. I did not use a mortar and pestle, but if you are an adept m&p user, feel free. Also, if you have a caesar dressing that you love, feel free to substitute that in. In essence, this recipe is no more than a traditional caesar salad with kale swapped in for romaine. That said, I do really like this dressing — made without mayonnaise or cheese, it’s lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings I’ve come across.

2 lemons or 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
3 cloves garlic
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 large egg yolk
kosher salt
2 cups olive oil

*Update: I have been making this dressing a lot — all winter and spring in fact — and I actually prefer making it with white balsamic vinegar than with lemon juice. It is so easy and delicious. This is what I do: Finely mince 3 cloves garlic with 3 anchovy fillets — I add a pinch of salt while I’m mincing and drag my knife across the mash to help make a paste. Whisk in the egg yolk and the 1/4 cup white balsamic. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until a thick dressing forms. I never measure the olive oil, so I can’t say exactly how much, but it’s probably about a cup or less.

1. To make the dressing, grate the zest from 1 lemon. Cut both lemons in half. Place the garlic, anchovies and lemon zest in a mortar and pound with a pestle to make a thick paste. (Alternatively, mince the garlic, anchovies and zest together on a cutting board. Add a pinch of salt, and mince further. Every so often, using the side of your knife, drag the mixture against the cutting board to create a paste. Transfer to a bowl.)

2. Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir thoroughly to combine. Continuing to stir, begin adding the oil drop by drop. (Note: If you’re not using a m&p, whisk in the oil drop by drop.) The mixture should look smooth and creamy, a sign that you are building a stable emulsion. Continuing to stir (or whisk), begin adding the oil in a slow steady stream. The dressing should thicken. Periodically, stop pouring in the oil and add a squeeze of lemon. Taste the dressing and add more salt and lemon juice to taste. Add water, a small spoonful at a time, stirring to thin dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.

Croutons

3 slices day-old bread*, each 1-inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence** (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the herbes if using. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through baking, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

Notes:
* I used day-old brioche (recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I have yet to post), which was totally delicious but also unnecessary — any good (non-enriched) bread will do.
** This is normally an ingredient I would just as soon leave out, but I was surprised at what a nice subtle flavor the herbes added. I did not add 1/2 tsp. — a pinch was enough.

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

Lunch: Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread

Roasted Grapes with Fresh Ricotta on Grilled Bread

Oh, hello there. Sorry to do this again while you’re all busy working, but I feel compelled to share another lunch with you: roasted grapes with thyme over grilled bread and fresh ricotta…yum. I promise to only do this when I really mean it. This recipe comes from this month’s Real Simple magazine, and fittingly, it couldn’t be more simple or delicious.

I first made this over the weekend as a side dish, omitting the bread, just spooning the warm, thyme-infused grapes over a dollop of homemade ricotta. It was delectable. Why omit the bread, you ask? Well, because the main dish was pear and bacon panini, and serving grilled bread aside panini seemed like overkill. BTW, the pear and bacon sandwiches (another September RS recipe) were fabulous — hoping to report back on those soon.

What I love about this recipe is its versatility. It’s delicious with or without bread. It could be served with any number of cheeses. It could be served at a casual lunch as an open-faced sandwich or at a fancy dinner party as a beautiful hors d’oeuvres.

And what I can’t stop dreaming about doing is this: making an all-white pizza (perhaps with homemade ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and mozzarella) and, as soon as the pie emerges from the oven, topping it with these just-bursting, sweet-salty grapes. I’ll let you know when that day arrives.

Roasted Grapes with Thmye, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine September 2011 (Sorry, can’t find a direct link.)
Yield = However much you would like

Note: I actually don’t even have the recipe in front of me! My aunt ran off to Alexandria with it, and I am writing this from memory. The recipe is not complicated at all, but if you want the real deal, pick up the September 2011 Real Simple.

grapes
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh thyme sprigs

good rustic bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces
olive oil

fresh ricotta, preferably homemade (recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Spread grapes onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay thyme leaves over top. Toss all together gently with your hands. Place pan in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until grapes just begin to burst. I prefer the shorter roasting time — it’s nice when some of the grapes remain in tact.

2. Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. Brush the bread with olive oil. Grill until nice and toasty.

3. Assemble the open-faced sandwiches: Spread fresh ricotta over bread. Top with roasted grapes. Discard thyme sprigs. (While the thyme sprigs look pretty, it’s a little impractical to serve the sandwiches with the sprigs…they don’t taste so yummy.)

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

Roasted Grapes aside Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Grapes tossed with thyme, olive oil and salt:
Grapes tossed with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

Grapes just removed from the oven:
Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

Lunch: Tomatoes, Ricotta, Grilled Bread

Tomato Salad with Homemade Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Oh, hi there. Just a quick little post here. I couldn’t resist sharing my lunch with all of you. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty happy with it. And it took all of about 5 minutes to throw together. Of course, I did have some wonderful leftovers on hand: homemade ricotta (a little obsessed with this right now) and a loaf of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day… I had forgotten about this recipe. Yum.

Anyway, hope you’re all having a good week!

Tomato Salad with Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread
Serves 1

A couple of tomatoes
extra-virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
fresh basil
homemade ricotta (recipe below)
a loaf of bread suitable for grilling

1. Cut tomatoes into nice chunks and place in a bowl. Season with salt. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Toss with fresh basil. Place in a bowl with a nice dollop of fresh ricotta on the side.

2. Heat a grill or grill pan. Brush with olive oil. Grill bread until nice and toasted. Serve along side your salad and cheese.

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

Chez Panisse Eggplant, Caramelized Onion and Tomato Pasta

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to my eyeballs in eggplants here. My CSA delivery last week could have fed a small village, and I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in a good way though. I mean, I’ve been eating my way though a very delicious eggplant chapter in Chez Panisse Vegetables, so far delighting in eggplant gratin with tomato and onion, and roasted eggplant and tomato pizza. I know, it’s been rough.

But this pasta. Oooooh, this pasta. This pasta recipe unexpectedly has eclipsed its chapter companions, its deliciousness attributed to perfectly ripe eggplant, the freshest tomato sauce, sweet basil, caramelized onions, and above all to a most unsuspecting ingredient: sherry vinegar. I don’t know how just a splash of anything could so transform a dish, giving it a depth of flavor that subtly persists through layers of tomatoes and eggplant and onions, but somehow the sherry vinegar has.

There’s something, too, about the way the roasted eggplant melds with the caramelized onions and the tomato sauce that makes cheese totally unnecessary. No cheese on pasta, you ask? Hogwash, you shout!  I mean it. This roasted eggplant tomato sauce spiced with crushed red pepper flakes and freshened with basil was enough for me. I even had some homemade ricotta in the fridge. I even had a bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano sitting inches from my plate throughout dinner. I had no trouble refraining.

While I know a bowl of hot pasta perhaps isn’t crossing your mind very often in late summer, eggplants are reaching their peak right about now, and they are oh so good. Give this recipe a go. It’s a keeper for sure.

Finally, if you like  summer pastas, you might like this dish, too.

Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook

Eggplant from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
eggplant from our CSA

eggplant, uncooked and cooked

Making the Sauce

Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onion Sauce

Gemelli with Eggpplant and Tomato

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6 (or 2 generously…see my notes for a smaller yield)

2 large globe eggplants (I used 1 eggplant, which yielded about 3 cups of diced eggplant weighing about 9.5oz)
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful parsley leaves (I used only basil)
kosher salt
1 lb. penne (I used 1 cup of Gemelli pasta but use whatever you like)
sherry vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (I used 1 cup of this sauce)
red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. ricotta salata cheese (I used no cheese, but served grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the eggplants into cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly with olive oil and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. (Note: I’ve made this twice now, and my instinct the first time was to toss the eggplant with some kosher salt before roasting. The instructions don’t call for this, and second time around, I used no salt, and I think the eggplant came out better.) Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

2. Put a large (or small) pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook the pasta al dente.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and onions over medium heat. Sauté the onions until just caramelized. (Note: I started the onions when I put the eggplant in the oven — I find that caramelizing onions slowly over medium heat works best. I also added a pinch of kosher salt while sautéeing. The onions probably sautéed for 25 minutes to 30 minutes total.) Add the garlic and cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Heat the sauce to simmering. Drain the pasta, add it to the tomato sauce pan, and toss gently. Chiffonade the basil and add it the pan.

4. Serve the pasta with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley (I omitted) and ricotta crumbled over the top (I also omitted, but served Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

Pizza Margherita, Homemade Tomato Sauce, Homemade Ricotta

classic pizza margherita

Oh my gosh, I have so much deliciousness to report to you all, I don’t know where to begin. I suppose it all started last week after Food 52 reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s widely adored tomato sauce recipe and the NY Times reminded me of the pleasure of eating fresh ricotta cheese, a delicacy (a nonentity, really) in my neck of the woods. And then I remembered seeing a Barefoot Contessa recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on Gwyenth Paltrow’s blog, which reminded me of a different GP entry about homemade pizza, all of which has led me to so many wonderful discoveries this week. Is your head spinning?

Let me summarize:

1. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is every bit as delicious as everyone has claimed. I’ve never had success making tomato sauce. Never. I had accepted that jarred sauce tasted better than anything I could produce at home. That is until this past Tuesday, when I dipped my wooden spoon into my pot of gently simmering tomatoes, lifted it to my mouth, and tasted the freshest, lightest, most delectable flavors. And I have been smiling ever since. For all of you food bloggers, I know this is nothing revelatory. But friends, family, and any of you out there who have tomato sauce making fears, rest assured that you, too, can cook like an Italian grandmother. This sauce is gold.

2. Thanks to discovery #1, I’ve finally made a classic pizza margherita at home. One of my all-time favorite spots for thin-crust pizza is 2Amys in Washington D.C., which serves an incredible pizza margherita topped with a most memorable fresh tomato sauce. 2Amys Pizza was my first thought after tasting Hazan’s sauce. Now, I’ve accepted that until I build my wood burning oven, I’m not going to achieve a restaurant quality crust at home. But I no longer have an excuse for not making pizza margherita. This sauce is so damn good. I credit nothing other than the sauce for producing the pizza that emerged from my oven today. It was one of the best. Less is more is the key here: a thin layer of this sauce topped sparingly with fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil out of the oven does the job. Yum yum yum.

3. Making fresh ricotta cheese at home is as easy as the Barefoot Contessa’s latest book promises. And it is SO delicious. I made myself nectarine and fresh ricotta bruschetta for lunch today. It was heaven. And then I remembered one of my all-time favorite pizza combinations — nectarine with basil and reduced balsamic — and made a variation of that for dinner. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to spread what’s left of my fresh ricotta on a toasted bagel and top it with one of my CSA tomatoes. I’m really living it up here.

The most fragrant purple basil freshly picked from my garden, a treat I have my brother-in-law to thank. Thanks Mr. T!
tomatoes and basil

Making tomato sauce:
making homemade tomato sauce

Straining homemade ricotta through cheesecloth:
homemade ricotta

Homemade tomato sauce and fresh ricotta cheese:
homemade ricotta and tomato sauce

Sauce approved by a silent and contemplative kitchen assistant:
Ella eats pasta

unbaked margherita pizza

Classic pizza margherita:
classic pizza margherita

classic pizza margherita

Nectarine and ricotta pizza with fresh basil:
nectarine and ricotta pizza

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Recipes
Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce
Note: I watched the video on Food52 on blanching tomatoes, which I found to be helpful.

For the Sauce:

2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled (see video on Food52 for guidance)
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste

1. Place the prepared fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.

2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (or don’t) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Save the whey — you can make bread with it. Use the ricotta immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Classic Pizza Margherita
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Nectarine and Fresh Ricotta Pizza
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe Homemade Ricotta Cheese (recipe below)
1-2 nectarines
olive oil
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Corn Fritters

corn fritters

Oh, where to begin, where to begin. I saw this recipe in last weekend’s WSJ’s food section and began foaming at the mouth. Look at this picture. Do those corn cakes not look perfect to you? Golden brown, loaded with corn — I just want to reach my hand through the computer and snatch one.

The recipe, credited to London’s Yotam Ottolenghi, sounded fantastic, too. So, I set to work scraping kernels from the cob of our delectable CSA corn and finely dicing the most beautiful hot peppers I have every seen and mixing a batter of polenta and Greek yogurt and olive oil and cilantro. The mixture looked divine — colorful, fragrant and perfect in consistency. This is exactly where I should have paused.

But I didn’t. I continued on with the recipe and delicately folded in 3 whipped egg whites. And then I proceeded to fry up corn pancakes, delicious in every which way, but not what I was looking for. I wanted fritters, not pancakes, and I won’t belabor this point any further since I just went through my fritter-vs-pancake preferences with you all with these guys.

But all was not lost. In an attempt to rectify the remaining batter (I had cooked 8 pancakes at this point), I added an additional ear of corn kernels to the batter and then violently stirred, attempting to deflate the effect of the whipped egg whites.

Success. Total succcess. I mean, I definitely have a thing for fritters these days, but these corn-laden crispy cakes are simply irresistible. I served them aside broiled fish but I love the idea of making them the star of the meal, serving them with a simple salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, which is how Ottolenghi suggests. I should note, too, that the batter — the egg white-deflated fritter batter, that is — can be made ahead. Once I achieved the consistency I was looking for, I set my batter bowl in the fridge until dinner time. Yum yum yum.

If you think this recipe sounds yummy, check out this one, too:Watercress with Egg, Goat Cheese & Seeds. Sounds divine. These two Ottolenghi recipes are part of a four “easy-enough” recipe series. The final one will be printed this weekend. Looking forward to it!

Peppers from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
peppers from our CSA

The first batch of fritters I made came out looking like pancakes. You can see in this picture below how those whipped egg whites produced a puffy pancake versus a fritter. After cooking 8 pancakes, I added another whole ear of corn kernels to the batter. At this point, the batter was considerably more corny, and the effect of the whipped egg whites, minimal. Next time around, whipped egg whites will be omitted — they seem unnecessary.

corn pancakes

Corn Fritters
Adapted from: The Wall Street Journal
Note: Yotam Ottolenghi, the creater of these corn cakes, serves them with a light salad of arugula and cilantro. Find the original recipe here.

SERVES: 4

½ cup quick-cooking polenta, or fine-ground cornmeal
1¼ cups corn kernels, cut from 1-2 ears of corn*
1 small shallot, diced fine (about 3 tablespoons)
1 small jalapeño, seeds and membrane removed, diced fine (about 2 tablespoons)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, roughly smashed (optional — I omitted)
¾ teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
¾ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 to 4 eggs (depending on whether you want to make a fritter or a pancake… see notes in post above and in recipe)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (or more or less to taste)

¼ cup sour cream or crème fraîche

*I ended up using 3 ears of corn to make the batter the consistency I was looking for. See notes in recipe.

NOTE: Batter can be made ahead and chilled. (After I achieved the batter consistency I was looking for, which was in the middle of the day, I stopped making fritters and put the batter in the fridge. When it was time for dinner, I took out my bowl and started making fresh fritters. Yum yum yum.)

WHAT TO DO:

1. In a large bowl mix polenta with corn, shallots, jalapeño, cumin (if using), salt and pepper. Add yogurt, 1½ tablespoons olive oil, 1 egg and chopped cilantro. Mix well with fork.

2. Here is where the “recipe” gets messy: If you like the texture of a pancake, separate the remaining 3 eggs. Place the whites in a bowl and beat to soft peaks; reserve the yolks for another purpose. Carefully fold whites into corn batter in two stages. Let rest 5 minutes. (Note: This is what I did initially. See photo directly above the recipe.) If you prefer the texture of a fritter (my preference), omit adding the whipped whites**.

3. Set large nonstick frying pan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Pour in 1 teaspoon olive oil (or enough to just coat the bottom of the pan). Once hot, spoon 2 tablespoons of batter per cake into pan. Spread with the back your spoon to even out the batter. Make 3 to 4 fritters at a time. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook cakes 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Flip and cook 1 minute, or until golden. Season second side of fritters with a pinch of salt. Transfer to paper-lined tray. At this point, it would be wise to taste one. If you like the texture and seasoning, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter. If you think the batter could use more corn, add more corn. If the batter needs to be bound together better, add another egg. Once you’ve achieved the right consistency, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter or chill batter until you’re ready to start cooking.

4. Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche on the side.

Yield: about 16 cakes.

** I should note that I have not made this recipe without omitting the egg whites altogether — I simply have minimized their effect by adding an additional ear of corn to the batter and stirring aggressively to deflate their whipped texture.

This is what the batter looked like before I folded in any egg whites. I so wish I had tried making one fritter at this step.
corn fritter batter

This is what the batter looked like after I cooked 8 pancakes and then added another whole ear of corn kernels to achieve the fritter consistency I was looking for.
fritter batter

corn fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

zucchini fritters

I think I’m the last person on the planet to make zucchini fritters. Why it has taken me so long to give them a go I do not know. Maybe it’s that I have a general pancake-making phobia? Or that the amount of zucchini-fritter recipes I have collected over the years in addition to the blog posts I have bookmarked and the cookbook pages I have dog-eared is a wee overwhelming?

In any case, I got over it earlier this week, spurred by a revelation that helped me breeze through my zucchini-fritter recipe collection and locate a few promising recipes. My revelation, you ask? I realized I wasn’t interested in making a pancake — I wasn’t looking to make a floury, bread-crumb bound, cheese-laden pancake. I wanted something resembling a latke but composed of zucchini, which would be crisped quickly in a pan and served with something cool like sour cream or tzatziki.

The recipe here fits that description. A combination of grated zucchini and potato with a little diced onion bound by a single egg gives these fritters that lovely latke texture. But the addition of lemon zest and lots of herbs give them a freshness and lightness that’s irresistible. I served this batch with tzatziki, which accompanied them well, but which truthfully is unnecessary — they’re so good on their own. Give them a whirl! I know you’ll like them.

Batter made with zucchini from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
Fritter Batter

fritters in pan

cooked zucchini fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

Serves 2, Yield=6

2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup coarsely grated potato
kosher salt
pinch of flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped chives (or whatever herb you like)
1 tablespoon chopped mint (or whatever herb you like)
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup diced white onion
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Tzatziki:
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 T. finely diced red onion
1 T. chopped mint
kosher salt
squeeze of lemon juice

1. Place the grated zucchini and potato in a colander. Spread the veggies out to allow for maximum surface area exposure and sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to drain.

2. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki, if desired: Stir together yogurt, onion, mint, salt and lemon juice. Taste. Add more salt if necessary. Chill until ready to use.

3. After the 30 minutes, squeeze veggies out and wrap in paper towels. Squeeze again. [Note: The veggies will not drain out enough liquid on their own in the collander, so squeezing them with a paper towel is a critical step to mopping up that moisture.] Open up the paper towel and spread out your veggies. Sprinkle with a pinch of flour to soak up leftover moisture.

4. In a bowl, whisk together egg, herbs and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add onion and grated zucchini-potato mixture. Stir well.

5. Preheat over to 200˚F. Place a foil-lined cookie sheet in the oven. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. When foam subsides, drop a spoonful of your fritter batter in. Gently pat with a spatula to flatten out the fritters, which will help make them crispy.

6. Cook about 3 fritters at a time until golden brown on each side. Place fritters in the oven while you make additional pancakes. Serve as soon as possible with tzatziki on the side.

fritters with tzatziki

Blue Cheese Dressing

blue cheese dressing

blue cheese dressing

Ben’s friend Aaron is a very good cook, a master of tacos, chicken parmesan and steak frites, in fact. Unfortunately for all of us, he’s a little possessive over his recipes. And he’s a tease, too. Often he’ll email me beautifully composed photos of his culinary creations, always threatening, however, that if I dare use his content without permission, legal action might be pursued.

So I’ve learned not to ask. Sort of learned. There was just one recipe I had to have.

On a humid Minnesota evening last summer, Aaron served a tangy, creamy blue cheese dressing over a crisp romaine salad aside grilled steaks, warm bread, Ore-Ida french fries, and corn on the cob. It was a memorable meal. Every bite. The blue cheese dressing, however, left an indelible imprint.

Sure, I could have scoured the blogosphere or checked out some of my favorite cookbooks for any old blue cheese dressing recipe, but that’s exactly what I feared — making any old blue cheese dressing. It would never match up. There was something special about Aaron’s recipe, and I made it my mission to find out.

After a wee bit of pleading and a year of subtle hinting, I learned that Aaron’s recipe is loosely based off Sally Schneider’s Roquefort Blue Cheese Dressing in her cookbook A New Way to Cook.

Aha. Sally Schneider. I should have known. Schneider is never without a trick or two up her sleeve. Her arsenal of reliable recipes has made her one of my favorite cookbook authors as well.

This recipe is surprisingly light — made with buttermilk and reduced-fat sour cream — as far as creamy dressings go, and the addition of sherry vinegar gives it the perfect bite. I served it just as Aaron did, over a simple romaine salad with a few halved cherry tomatoes, but I imagine this dressing would be a lovely accompaniment to the usual suspects: buffalo wings, celery sticks, pizza, etc.

Blue Cheese Dressing ingredients

Blue Cheese Dressing ingredients in blender

Blue Cheese Dressing

Adapted from Sally Schneider’s A New Way To Cook
Yield=1 1/2 cups

4 oz. blue cheese, such as Roquefort, Maytag Blue, Saga Blue — whatever you like
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. olive oil or walnut oil (Schneider recommends)
freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Taste. Add more pepper if desired.

romaine salad with blue cheese dressing

Summer Squash Gratin

Summer Squash Gratin

Summer Squash Gratin

This is the recipe that broke the streak. A two-month-long, five-meal-rotation streak consisting of burgers, meatloaf, roast chicken, burgers and quiche. It was time. It was time to put some effort into dinner; to try something new; to open up a can of anchovies; to crack a jar of capers; to pour some brown butter over fresh bread crumbs. Yes, brown-butter bread crumbs. They are so good.

Let me tell you, my efforts paid off. I’m all about simple recipes these days, and when I have fresh ingredients on hand, simple can be best. But this recipe reminded me of ones I used to attempt all the time, ones with so many layers of flavors and textures, ones that leave eaters guessing, “what is that?” after every bite.

And don’t let me scare you: There’s nothing complicated about making this dish. It’s just that for me these days, anything that requires more than forming burger patties and tossing a salad seems like a chore. I took a few shortcuts, too, opting to make the salsa verde in one step in the food processor, which saved a wee bit of time, but I encourage you to read through the original recipe first on Food 52. It’s a fabulous site!

If you’re in need of a nice, summery, vegetarian dish to add to the mix, this is the one. It’s light — no cream in this gratin — and the vegetables remain firm even after 40 minutes of cooking. I served it as an entrée with a simple salad and some fresh bread, but it would make a wonderful side dish as well.

For all of you fathers out there, have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend! And to the four fathers in my life, I love you very much.

Summer Squash Gratin

Salsa Verde Ingredients

Salsa Verde

Mise en Place

Summer Squash from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
Ingredients In Bowl

Tossed Ingredients

Uncooked Gratin

Kitchen assistant sneaking a bite:
Sneaking a Bite

Kitchen assistant caught in the act:
Kitchen Assistant

Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde and Gruyère

Source: Food 52 via Suzanne Goin
Serves 4 as an entrée

Salsa Verde:

1 teaspoon fresh marjoram or oregano leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic
1 anchovy
1 tablespoon capers, drained (rinsed if salt-packed)
1/2 lemon, for juicing
Freshly ground black pepper

Gratin:

2 pounds summer squash
1 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cups sliced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 New Mexico chile or jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the salsa verde. Using a mortar and pestle (or a food processor), pound the herbs to a paste. You may have to do this in batches. Work in some of the olive oil, and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Pound the garlic and anchovy, and add them to the herbs. Gently pound the capers until they’re partially crushed, and add them to the herbs. Stir in the remaining oil, a pinch of black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for balance and seasoning. (Note: I basically made this in one step in the food processor — I pulsed everything with the exception of the capers together, then stirred the capers in at the end.)

3. Make the gratin. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash into 1/8-inch-thick slices. (A mandolin makes this a quick task.) Toss the slices in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and let sit 10 minutes.

4. Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl. Heat a small saute pan over medium heat for 1 minutes. Swirl in the butter and cook for a few minutes, until it browns and smells nutty. Pour the brown butter over the breadcrumbs (being sure to scrape all the brown bits into the bowl with a rubber spatula). Wait a minute or so for the butter to cool, and toss well.

5. Drain the squash and transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the shallots, minced garlic, thyme, chile, 1/2 cup salsa verde, and some pepper. Toss to combine, and add the cheese and half the butter-coated breadcrumbs. Toss again, and taste for seasoning. (The raw garlic will taste strong at this point but will be delicious when cooked.)

6. Place the squash in a pretty 9-by-9-inch (or equivalent oblong-shaped) gratin dish. Scatter the remaining breadcrumbs over the top, and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the squash is tender and the top is crisp.

Summer Squash Gratin