Summer Squash Tart

tart2

Frozen puff pastry is amazing. I finally found a use for the box I’ve had in my freezer for three years now — the box that survived a move across town in 2005 — and it baked off perfectly. This tart requires a fair amount of summer squash — a perfect showcasing of the season’s produce — and takes little time to prepare with puff pastry on hand.This recipe has been slightly simplified from one I saw recently in Saveur, which called for grating, salting and sauteeing some of the zucchini, and also called for chopped and strained cherry tomatoes. With a simple salad, this tart, served at room temperature as suggested by the author, makes a wonderful summer dinner, and leftovers make an even better lunch.

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.

Zucchini and yellow squash at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market this past Tuesday:
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.

CSA Week 10

1 bunch of beets grown by Farmdale Organics
2 green peppers grown by Meadow Valley Organics
3 Cubanella peppers grown by Green Valley Organics
1 head lettuce grown by Scarecrow Hill Farm
1 Walla Walla onion grown by the Scarecrow Hill Farm
1 dozen ears of sweet corn grown by Green Acres Organics
1 bag of potatoes grown by Green Valley Organic
2 lemon cucumbers grown by Riverview Organics
1 bag green beans grown by Hillside Organics

Best Granola Ever

granola3

Of all the baked treats I bring my husband on our weekly weekend meetings, I think this homemade granola — maybe even more than chocolate-chip cookies and rich, fudgy brownies — makes him happiest. With a tub of this oat-, nut- and fruit-filled mix on hand, and with the barest of kitchen equipment, Ben can enjoy a homemade breakfast with little effort. Mixed with yogurt or milk, sliced bananas or peaches, blueberries or strawberries, homemade granola truly is a treat.

And as a last resort, granola also makes a fine dinner, as my high school friends — subjected to institutional dining hall food three times a day at an early age — can attest. Amazingly, they still never tire of granola and appreciate a homemade batch all the more.

This recipe has been adapted from Ina Garten’s “the bare foot contessa cookbook.” While the amounts of oil, nuts and dried fruit have been significantly changed, the proportion of the foundation — a mix of oats, sliced almonds and cococut (the secret ingredient) — remains unaltered.

Homemade Granola

4 cups (14 oz.) rolled oats
2 cups (6.5 oz.) sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups (6.75 oz.) sliced almonds
½ cup (4 oz.) vegetable oil
2/3 cup (7.25 oz) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 heaping cup (5.25 oz.) dried cherries or cranberries

candied nuts (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and almonds and gently stir or toss with your hands to mix well. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, vanilla and salt and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to emulsify slightly. Pour over the oat mixture and with a spatula stir until evenly coated. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well. Return to the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Stir well again. Repeat twice more until the granola is golden — be very careful at the end: The coconut will burn easily, leaving the granola with a bitter, burnt taste. Remove pan from the oven, place on a cooling rack and leave undisturbed until completely cool, at least one hour. Meanwhile prepare the nuts:

Candied Nuts:
neutral oil such as canola or vegetable
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1½ cups raw, unsalted cashews
1½ cups raw, unsalted almonds (skin on)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Oil a rimmed baking sheet.

In a small saucepan, combine sugar with ¼ cup water, the salt and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Add the nuts and let the mixture simmer for one minute, stirring constantly to coat them with the syrup. Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and spread them on the prepared baking sheet — don’t be tempted to drizzle the excess syrup on the baking sheet as well (it will just burn). Bake for 15 minutes, stir and return to the oven until golden and crisp, about another five minutes. Remove pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool, about an hour.

To finish the granola:

Using a bench scraper, carefully remove the granola from the pan and transfer to a bowl, keeping the granola in chunks as best as possible. Add the nuts to the bowl, breaking up the mass into small clusters. Add the dried fruit and toss mixture lightly to combine. Transfer to an airtight container to store.

Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Bread

Although I picked up my 10th CSA today, I am still playing catch-up in my documentation of produce deliveries and am thus posting a recipe I made way back in week 4. While banana bread is probably my favorite quick bread, I look forward to making this zucchini bread every summer. Spiced with cinnamon and sweetened mostly with brown sugar, this moist seasonal bread makes a wonderful addition to breakfast coffee or afternoon tea all summer long. It takes no time to make and, when prepared in mini loaf loaf pans, makes a nice gift as well.

Week 4
1¼ pound bag of pea tendrils
1 head green butterhead lettuce
1 crown broccoli
2 small zucchini
1 bunch scallions
1 head green or red leaf lettuce
1 kohlrabi root
1 quart strawberries

Zucchini Bread
Yield: 1 large loaf or 3 mini loaves

a scant 2 cups (8 oz.) flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2½ cups grated zucchini

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease loaf pan or pans. Whisk together first five ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk remaining ingredients except zucchini. Add zucchini to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Add dry to wet and stir till until combined. Pour into pans. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 35 – 45 minutes for mini loaves, and 45 minutes to 1 hour for a standard loaf pan.

Food Blogging Class In NYC

salsa toppings

I just returned from a short trip to New York City where I attended a two-hour food blogging class in the Bowery Culinary Center at Whole Foods Market. Matt Armendariz, the teacher and author of the amazing blog mattbites, guided the class through the “ins and outs of food blogging,” imparting along the way some invaluable insights and tricks regarding food photography. The photos on his blog — visit a recent post entitled “Sunday and The Perfect Lunch” — and on his new site mattphotographs are stunning.

Three Summer Salads

CucSalad2

Before I received my first CSA produce box this spring, I resolved to document each delivery. Alas, now in week nine, I’ve only recorded the contents of three boxes, and have not posted nearly as many recipes as I had hope. I have, however, been truly enjoying my vegetables each week, the variety and quantity forcing me, at times, to be creative: I fix cucumber and kohlrabi sandwiches for lunch; eat zucchini, raw, thinly shaved with lemon vinaigrette and Pecorino Romano; and when in the company of my sister, enjoy corn — only corn — for dinner: just yesterday we polished off a dozen ears together. Below are recipes for three summer salads, each requiring the dressing of a simple lemon vinaigrette.

CSA Week 9
3 green zucchini
3 yellow squash
2 stalks fennel
2 bunches Detroit red beets
1 dozen ears of sweet corn
2 candy onions
3 tomatoes
2 heads lettuce
1 bag green beans

Zucchini Ribbon Salad
Serves 4

2 medium zucchini
Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Pecorino Romano
Freshly ground pepper to taste

With a y-shaped peeler, skim long, wide strands from one side of the zucchini. Flip the zucchini over and repeat the same motion until the zucchini no longer can hold its shape. (Discard remaining, or save for another use, such as zucchini bread.) Place zucchini ribbons in a large bowl and drizzle with lemon vinaigrette to coat. Shave, using the same y-shaped peeler, pieces of Pecorino and set aside. Season zucchini with freshly ground pepper and toss in the Pecorino shavings. Serve immediately.

Grilled Panzanella Salad
Serves 4

1 loaf bakery-style bread such as French or Italian
extra-virgin olive oil
2 beefsteak tomatoes
1 cucumber
½ red onion
½ cup ciligene mozzarella (small balls)
Lemon Vinaigrette
1 bunch basil

Preheat the grill to high. Cut four ¾-inch thick slices of bread and brush each side with olive oil. Grill for 1-2 minutes a side, until each side has nice grill marks. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Cut the tomatoes into big, irregular-shaped chunks. Peel cucumber, if desired, and cut into similar shapes. Finely dice the red onion and place in a large bowl with the tomatoes, cucumber and mozzarella. Drizzle in the lemon vinaigrette until everything is nicely coated. Tear basil leaves from their stems (leaving the leaf intact) directly into bowl.

Cut the grilled bread into cubes and add to the bowl. Toss to combine and serve.

Cucumber-Feta Salad
Serves 4

2 medium cucumbers
1 bunch mint
4 oz. feta cheese*
Lemon vinaigrette

Cut cucumber into small cubes and place in a large bowl. Chiffonade (very finely mince) the mint and add to bowl. Crumble feta atop cucumber-mint mix and toss salad with the lemon vinaigrette.

* Earlier this week at Whole Foods I discovered a tub of marinated feta, beautifully packaged and stamped with an enticing slogan: “Eat shamelessly straight from the tub,” — I couldn’t resist. Produced by Meredith Dairy in Australia, this sheep’s- and goat’s-milk cheese, has a creamy texture and wonderful flavor — the hints of thyme, peppercorns and garlic perfectly detectable. While this farmhouse feta truly is a treat, any will suffice in this simple summer salad.

CSA Week 8
1 lemon cucumber
2 dasher cucumbers
1 bunch dandelion greens
1 candy onion
1 head radicchio
1 head lettuce
1 bag green beans
1 dozen ears sweet corn
1 bag potatoes
1 bag yellow squash

Lemon Vinaigrette
Yield = 1 cup

¼ cup finely chopped shallots
¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. sugar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk shallots, lemon juice, salt, sugar and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil and whisk until emulsified. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cornmeal-Crusted Soft Shell Crabs

softshell5

A few weeks ago, my friend Lisa called me wanting an idea for a simple meal to cook for her boyfriend, Clark. The last time she had cooked for Clark, she proudly called me to report: “I made salad,” she said, “and I even cut the cherry tomatoes.”

“Good Lis,” I said, and we both laughed.

While I thought she might dismiss the idea of soft shell crabs, she believed me when I promised her how easy these crustaceans are to prepare. We decided on a simple side — a baby arugula and shaved parmesan salad — and some fresh bread. Lisa left for the store and called me with an update as she left the fish market. After the fishmonger handed Lisa her cleaned crabs, she had asked, “these will still be dead when I get home, right?” He assured her they would be.

The next I heard from Lisa was much later that evening, a happy text message exclaiming the success of her delectable dinner.

Truly, soft shell crabs take no time to prepare and make a wonderful summer meal. While the aioli nicely complements the crab, a simple squeeze of lemon suffices. Watch Mark Bittman prepare the crabs in this video.

Soft shell crab season, running from early May through August, happens fleetingly. Soft shells are not a separate species of crab, but ones, typically blue crabs, that have molted their shells in order to grow. Because these blue crustaceans grow rapidly, commercial crabbers place the peelers (crabs in the process of shedding) in holding tanks, where they closely monitor the molting process. The crabbers remove the peelers from the water immediately after the crabs shed, to prevent the new, paper-thin shells from hardening, rendering them undesirable.

When buying soft shells, look for a market selling live ones. At Wan’s Seafood in Reading Terminal Market, where active crustaceans lay supine on the countertop, the fishmongers will happily clean the crabs and pack them on ice.

Soft Shell Crab Sandwiches
Serves 4

1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 egg
½ cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup neutral oil, canola or grapeseed
4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
8 slices white bread
1 beef steak tomato, sliced
I bunch watercress
Lemon-Caper Aioli (see below)

Whisk buttermilk and egg together and place in a wide-mouth shallow bowl. Whisk flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper together and place on a large plate.

Place oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile prepare crabs: dip one crab into buttermilk mixture, then lightly dredge in cornmeal mixture on both sides and place on a clean plate. Repeat with all.

Drop a pinch of flour into oil. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Carefully place the crabs in the pan and leave undisturbed for 1 minute. Gently shake pan and let crabs cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer or until bottom is nicely browned. Flip crabs and cook for 3 minutes more, or again until browned.

Meanwhile toast the bread. Spread the lemon-caper aioli on four of the slices, top with a handful of watercress and a tomato slice. Top each with a soft shell crab, and finally the top slice of bread. Serve with more aioli or lemon on the side.

Lemon-Caper Aioli
Yield = 1½ cups

2 egg yolks
2 T. Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup grapeseed oil
3 T. capers
1 bunch basil, finely chopped

Combine yolks, mustard, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a blender or food processor. With motor running, slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil — drop by drop at first, then more quickly once you see the mixture begin to emulsify. Transfer to bowl, fold in capers and basil. Taste, adjust seasoning with more salt if necessary, and chill until ready to use. Will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Pluot And Frangipane Galette

pluot

Little could 16th century Italian nobleman, the Marquis Muzio Frangipani, have guessed a perfume he invented to scent the gloves of Louis XIII would inspire pastry chefs for centuries to follow. Soon after Frangipani, living in France, released his fragrance made from bitter almonds to the public, the local patisseries created a cream made with milk, sugar, flour, eggs, butter and ground almonds. They named it frangipane.

While frangipane can be applied to myriad desserts, it nicely complements fruit, particularly summer stone fruit. A layer of frangipane beneath warm sweet peaches, plums, apricots or nectarines, encased in a free-form pastry shell transforms a simple tart into an elegant finale.

For a change from tradition, try making this galette with pluots, a three-quarter plum, one-quarter apricot hybrid. Introduced to the markets in 1989 by Floyd Zaiger, pluots exist today in over 20 varieties. With an intense plum perfume and taste, and a higher sugar content than either apricots or plums, pluots make a nice addition to morning cereals, afternoon salads and evening summer tarts.

Pluot-Frangipane Galette

Yield = One 9-inch tart

Note: The galette dough yields enough for two tarts. Halve the recipe if desired, or freeze the remaining dough round for a later use.

Galette Dough
yield = Two 9-inch tarts

2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
½ tsp. table salt
16 T. unsalted butter
½ C. + 2 T. ice water

Whisk flour, sugar and salt together. Cut butter into flour and using the back of a fork or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter into flour mixture until butter is in small pieces. Add ice water and continue to stir with fork until mixture comes together to form a mass. Add more ice water if necessary, one tablespoon at a time. Gently form mass into a ball and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until ready to use.

Frangipane

½ C. almond paste
¼ C. sugar
4 T. butter at room temperature
1 T. rum
1 egg

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, combine almond paste, sugar and butter. Beat until combined, then add rum and egg and beat until smooth, or until only small lumps remain. Set aside.

Finishing the tart:

1½ lbs. stone fruit such as pluots, peaches, nectarine, apricots or plums
1 T. butter, melted
1 T. sugar
parchment paper
Frangipane (see recipe above)
Galette dough (1 9-inch disk, recipe above)
vanilla ice cream

1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll one disk out approximately into an 11-inch circle, using flour as needed to prevent sticking. Line a rimless cookie sheet (or upside-down jelly roll pan) with parchment paper. Transfer dough to parchment paper and chill for 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

2. Spoon the frangipane in center of tart and spread toward the edges, leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. Cut the fruit into ½-inch thick slices. Arrange the fruit in concentric circles over the frangipane.

3. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Finish the tart by folding the exposed border over the tart on itself, crimping to make a folded-over border. Chill tart again in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Brush dough with butter and sprinkle sugar over entire tart. Place in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until crust is golden. Let cool for five minutes on tray then slide parchment paper and tart onto a cooling rack. Let cool another 20 minutes before slicing.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Wild American Shrimp

shrimp

From tainted pet food to lead paint-coated toys, China is taking heat for a numer of its potentially dangerous products. Most recently, activists warn consumers to be wary of China’s farm-raised fish and specifically its farm-raised shrimp. While America currently imports 90 percent of its shrimp from farm-raised fisheries in Asia, this reality may change as more people learn about the the foreign industry.

The environmentally irresponsible practices employed in many of these Asian facilities have been widely documented. An estimated 3.7 million acres of tropical mangrove forests have been cleared to create multi-acre shrimp farms, destroying important habitats for fish, birds and humans. Untreated wastewaters pass freely from the shrimp cages to the surrounding ocean, polluting the water and aquatic life. And the liberal use of antibiotics, needed to prevent and treat rampant diseases, creates strains of drug-resistant bacteria, potentially compromising our health. These farms, many now abandoned after years of land exploitation, litter the coastlines of China, Vietnam and other big fish-exporting countries.

For these reasons, Seafood Watch, an organization devoted to ocean conservation, ranks wild-caught shrimp from the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico as the best choice among warm-water or tropical shrimp and a “good alternative” to its best overall shrimp choice: wild-caught shrimp from Oregon. Seafood Watch recommends these pink, cold-water crustaceans for shrimp cocktail or salad, and praises Oregon shrimpers for achieving low levels of bycatch. This watchdog organization places imported farm-raised shrimp on the “avoid” list.

Catching shrimp in their natural habitat, however, is not a perfect alternative to farming. Seafood Watch estimates that shrimp trawling — the dragging of a trawl net along the seafloor — accidentally catches and kills more than 1.8 million tons of marine life (bycatch) each year, including many turtles and sharks, accounting for more than 25 percent of the world’s wasted catch.

By creating turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and various bycatch reduction devices (BRDs), however, some fishermen have reduced the number of turtles trapped by 97 percent and reduced bycatch of some fish species by as much as 50 percent.

A recent advertsing campaign beginnig, “You’ve been bamboozled. Snooped. Hoodwinked,” stars Southern shrimpers promoting their domestic wild-caught prawns. The shrimpers hope to rebuild an industry severely damaged not only by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but also by the increasing infiltration of cheap imported shrimp in the market.

For more information about where to find wild American shrimp visit wildamericanshrimp.com. Whole Foods Market sells 16-20 count wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. While it may be a little harder to find, wild shrimp does exist at the market. This summer, search for this environmentally responsible and tasty product — go wild for American shrimp!

Grilled Basil-Garlic Shrimp
Serves 6

2 lbs. large, 16-20 count shrimp
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
½ cup finely chopped basil
4 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt
pepper

Peel shrimp, leaving the tails on. Run a pairing knife down the backside of each shrimp, removing the vein, while butterflying the shrimp. Place in a bowl with the oil, lime juice basil and garlic. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Preheat the grill to high. Remove shrimp from bowl, discarding excess marinade and place on a large plate. Season evenly with kosher salt and pepper. When grill is hot, place shrimp onto grates and let cook for 2 minutes, leaving the cover open. Flip shrimp and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from grill, pile on platter, and serve immediately with dipping sauce.

Chili-Lime Dipping Sauce
Yield = 2 cups

½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
½ cup thinly sliced shallots
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled
1 chili, such as Thai bird, Serrano or jalapeno

Combine lime juice, fish sauce, vinegar, shallots, sugar, pepper flakes and garlic in a small bowl. Using a mandoline, vegetable peeler or a knife, cut the carrot into 8 to 10 thin slices. Then with a knife, cut into very fine strips. Add to the bowl. Cut the chili into thin cross sections, leaving the seeds intact, and add to the bowl. Stir all and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.

Tinto-Style Cheese Plate

PetitBasque

A month ago, my friend and I enjoyed a delectable cheese plate at Tinto, Jose Garces’ Basque region tapas restaurant. Drizzled with Acacia honey and sprinkled with bee pollen and espelette, a wedge of Petit Basque paired with a sliver of quince membrillo began the evening most memorably. Tinto offers a variety of Basque region cheeses, each served with these same four accoutrements.

Last week, to celebrate two friends’ recent move to the East Coast from San Diego, I picked up a selection of Spanish and French cheeses, mostly from the Basque Country, as well as a jar of Acacia honey and a small canister of espelette from Di Bruno Bros. While membrillo can be made at home, most specialty shops carry it, and bee pollen can be found at health food stores such as Essene or Whole Foods Market. With a light salad, a fresh baguette and a few slices of prosciutto, these cheeses made a perfect dinner.

A selection of Spanish and French cheeses, from left to right:

Blue de Basque: A sheep’s milk blue cheese made in the French Basque region. Milder and less salty than other blue cheeses, this cheese is semi-firm and slightly crumbly.

Monte Enebro: Pasteurized goat’s milk produced in Avila, west of Madrid. Semi-soft, and chalky-white, this cheese tastes tangy, with a distinct goat flavors.

Garrotxa: A pasteurized goat’s milk cheese indigenous to Catalonia, but produced throughout northeastern Spain. With a firm but moist and smooth paste, Garrotxa tastes herby, tangy and nutty.

Petit Basque: A raw sheep’s milk cheese with a creamy body and nutty taste, made in the French Pyrenees.

La Serena: A raw sheep’s milk cheese produced in Western Spain, in the community of La Serena and surrounding areas. Touted “one of the world’s greatest soft sheep’s milk cheeses,” by Max McCalman, author of The Cheese Plate (Random House, 2002). La Serena, at its peak, it is soft and spreadable, tasting rich, buttery and creamy. If purchased as a whole cylinder, the top can be cut off and the inside enjoyed by scooping out the pungent and grassy-tasting paste.

Idiazabal: A raw sheep’s milk cheese produced in the Spanish Basque Country. Usually smoked, Idiazabal has a hard, orange-brown exterior color, with a buttery and nutty flavor. Similar to Roncal, Manchego & Zamorano, this cheese pairs particularly well with quince paste.

Pictured below: The bar at Tinto

Tomato, Watercress and Mozzarella Salad

salad

Tomato, cucumber, watercress salad

Last Sunday on our way to Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop in the Italian Market, my aunt and I stopped by Claudio’s. While we had intended only to briefly visit the store, we ended up in line, waiting patiently with many others, to be fed cheese. Three in particular always deserve a taste — Claudio’s mozzarella, Claudio’s ricotta and an imported baked lemon-ricotta. My aunt walked out of the store with a wedge of all three.

The mozzarella, truly Claudio’s specialty, tastes like imported buffalo mozzarella, with a slightly firmer texture — it holds up nicely in this watercress salad. Spread onto toast, the homemade ricotta with a thin slice of tomato makes a delectable snack. And a sliver of the sweet lemon-ricotta, when paired with fresh berries, makes a light summer dessert .

Tomato, Watercress and Mozzarella Salad
Serves 4

1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 English cucumber
1 ball mozzarella, Claudio’s if possible
1 head watercress
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
vinaigrette (see below)

Halve the cherry tomatoes and place in large bowl. Remove stem and seeds from peppers and chop into small dice. Dice the cucumbers finely as well and add to bowl with the tomatoes. Cut the ball of mozzarella into large pieces and add to the bowl. Add the watercress and pine nuts to the bowl and toss lightly with the Basil-shallot vinaigrette.

Basil-Shallot Vinaigrette
Yield = ½ cup

4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small bunch basil, finely chopped (1/4 cup)

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallots, mustard, sugar and salt. Let mixture macerate for 20 minutes. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until emulsified. Add the basil, whisk, taste, add more salt and pepper if necessary. Set aside.