Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cooking for a Hurricane Named Irene

Italians cook in anticipation of life's major events and celebrations. I've eaten some of the best chicken soup at a funeral, and you'll find a scrumptious array of cookie trays at a baby shower or wedding. It doesn't matter whether you're coming or going, or celebrating something in between, we're Italian and we'll cook some good food to celebrate the occasion. Okay, I'll admit that we don't have the market cornered as there are plenty of other nationalities that put out an impressive spread, but when you're craving comfort food this isn't a bad way to go.

So, to properly welcome Irene I started with a batch of my sauce. Then on to sweet green peppers from our neighborhood garden stuffed with my meatball filling and pan fried in olive oil. You can follow the steps for preparing the peppers in this recipe, and stuff them with the meatball filling from my sauce recipe above, then pan fry until golden brown. That should take about 25-30 minutes over medium heat. NOTE: I made all these recipes gluten-free. I used Udy's Gluten-Free White Bread to make breadcrumbs for the meatballs. I'm not sure anyone would notice the difference.

Lastly, I fulfilled my summer's long dream of making pan-fried zucchini flowers stuffed with homemade ricotta cheese. While I was in the garden collecting the flowers—which by the way are male and female—I  took the liberty of picking some of the female flowers with their babies attached as I figured Irene would decimate the garden, and why should these tasty little gems go to waste? The male flowers have stems, and are not attached to the squash, which makes complete sense when you think about it. So slice and pan fry those mini squashes in the batter used for the flowers, and then get ready to stand over the stove and eat them...yes, they're that good!

For the zucchini flowers I followed Viviane Bauquet Farre's video recipe on her site I did substitute gluten-free all purpose flour from Red Mill in the batter, which turned out well. While they may be a tad less crunchy than those made with wheat flour, the flavor was outstanding, and you certainly won't feel compromised going the gluten-free route.

Did you notice that the male flowers are longer and slimmer than their female counterpart? Nature can be cruel, but if it's any consolation ladies I think the female flowers taste better, plus you can stuff more ricotta cheese into them which brings me to that recipe. I used David Lebovitz's which is featured on the site, I followed the recipe as shown, but eliminated the heavy cream which is optional anyway. It was as easy as David explains and I can't believe it took me this long to make it. The taste is 100x better than anything you'll buy in a plastic tub at your local grocery store. While some of you may be able to buy fresh ricotta at a specialty market, the high cost is often a consideration, and this one is just as good for a fraction of the price.

The online food community of bloggers is a constant source of inspiration for me, especially Viviane and David. I encourage you to explore their blogs, if you haven't already, as their passion and knowledge about food, wine, travel, and life might inspire you, too.

Twitter and Facebook:
Viviane BauquetFarre- @foodandstyle
Viviane on Facebook
David Lebovitz - @davidlebovitz
David on Facebook

Thankfully Irene's wrath was less than what was expected here on Cape Cod, but I still welcome the opportunity to cook a good meal for my family.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Peppers Stuffed with Summer Squashes and Quinoa

My neighbor, Richard, is growing sweet frying peppers this year. They are similar to Cubanelle peppers, but just a little darker in color. They have a thin skin which makes them ideal for pan frying. We're eating gluten-free these days, so I prepared a filling of zucchini and yellow squash, onions, sunflower seeds and cooked quinoa. I served them over a light, fresh tomato sauce that is so easy to make.

Peppers Stuffed with Summer Squashes and Quinoa
8 long sweet green peppers, or Cubanelle
1.5 cups of cooked quinoa
1 medium (6-9 inch) zucchini, diced
1 medium (6-9 inch) summer squash, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/3 cup/50g of toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup/60g grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Saute the diced onion in about two teaspoons of olive oil until browned. Add the squashes and continue cooking until tender. Remove from the heat and lightly chop the squash.

Add the cooked quinoa and grated cheese, mix well, then add salt and pepper to taste. 

Roast the sunflower seeds over medium heat until golden brown. Mix into the filling.

Tomato Sauce
3 large ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
Olive oil
6-8 fresh basil leaves

Warm the olive oil in a saute pan, add the garlic and brown. Add the tomatoes and cook until soft. Remove from the heat, add the basil and salt and pepper, to taste. Place the cooked tomatoes in a food processor, or blender, and process for about 30 seconds. There's no need to remove the skins as the processor chops them finely and they blend right into the sauce. This would be a great sauce to make with your August tomato harvest. It's quick, easy and it will freeze well.

Slice the tops off the peppers and set them aside. Clean the seed core from the inside of the pepper. If  you run a paring knife around the white core where it attaches to the inside of the pepper, it will come out easily. Take your time, so you don't tear them as these thin skinned peppers are a bit more fragile. Stuff the peppers, then add a few teaspoons of olive oil to your saute pan and heat. Cook over medium heat until golden brown. If the filling starts to come out a little just push it back in with a spoon. I sauteed the tops and used them as a garnish when I plated the peppers.

Pour a spoonful of tomato sauce on your plate, add the peppers and tops, then sprinkle with your favorite grated cheese. Richard's garden on a plate...delicious!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tomatoes and Burrata a la Nicholas

Yes, my nephew was here over the weekend and we cooked, as that is one shared passion. Traveling to France is another, but we'll save that for another weekend. Right now we are enjoying the tail end of the lazy summer days here on Cape Cod, and what better way to celebrate than honoring the pomme d'amour, or pomodoro.  Nicholas brought a collection of heirloom tomatoes, burrata and his favorite balsamic vinegar. 

Burrata is a soft fresh mozzarella cheese that is formed into a pouch and filled with the leftover curds and cream from the day's cheese making. It originated it the Puglia region (the heel) of Italy. I personally want to thank the first cheese maker who decided to turn these leftovers into such a delicious creation.

This simple salad of sliced tomatoes, layered with pieces of burrata, then drizzled with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar is a favorite summer treat.  We placed the platter in the middle of table and dug in, family-style, like good Italians.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Burrata (Serves 4)
4-6 heirloom tomatoes (quartered)
16 oz of Burrata (Nicholas got his at Whole Foods)
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil leaves (6-8)

Quarter tomatoes, add a little salt and pepper, and set aside. Cut each ball of cheese into quarters. Chop the basil leaves into thin strips, or chiffonade. Layer tomatoes and cheese, then drizzle with oil and vinegar. Just a little as you want it to enhance the flavor of the tomatoes and cheese, not overpower them. Sprinkle the basil chiffonade over the top. Molto delizioso!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vanilla Almond Granola

Granola is very easy to make, and I guarantee that your own will taste better than almost anything you can buy in even the best gourmet shops. Why? Because you control what goes into it, and if you use high quality nuts, seeds and oats, along with a few seasonings, the result is ...well, perhaps you'll try it and find out.

Vanilla Almond Granola:
4 cups/400g rolled oats
2 cups/260g slivered almonds
1.5 cups/205g sunflower seeds
2 cups/170g unsweetened coconut
2 tsp/5g cinnamon
1 tsp/7g sea salt
3/4 cup/142g grape seed oil
1/2 cup/166g brown rice syrup
1/4 cup/65g maple syrup
2 tsp/10g almond extract
2 tsp/10g vanilla extract

Note: If you want to use just maple syrup as a sweetener, then omit the brown rice syrup and use 1/2 cup of  maple syrup.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl add the oil, syrups, and extracts. Mix the liquids together with a wire wisk and fold into the dry ingredients. Mix well so the liquids are evenly distributed. Divide onto two 1/2 sheet pans, or baking sheets, and spread evenly.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. You'll need to toss it a few times during the cooking process as the edges brown more quickly. Allow it to cool and then store in an air tight container. You can also add dried cranberries, or dates just before storing, or add them when you serve it. We're still eating ours with fresh fruit for now.

Ok, that batch you see above didn't last very long. You can also store it in ball jars which would make a very nice gift if you're willing to part with it. 

Ally had it for breakfast and became an instant fan. I served it over Greek yogurt with blueberries and a little honey.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cape Cod Hydrangea

If Cape Cod was to have a symbolic flower it might very well be the hydrangea. Their beautiful, profuse show of blooms are everywhere during the summer. They thrive in our acidic soil, and I'm convinced that the closer they are to the sweet, salt air from the ocean the better they grow. As you get closer to the beach the blossoms seem to increase in size.

Here's an informative website that answers many frequently asked questions about this woody plant such as:

When should you prune them?
How can I adjust the pH in my soil to change the color of the flowers?
What fertiziler works best?
What's the best way to dry and preserve hydrangeas?

In my Cape Cod yard I have about a dozen bushes. I use Cockadoodle Doo organic fertilizer, which I recommend you spread right before a rainstorm as it's a bit odoriferous, but it works! I also feed my plants iron, and have sporadically added aluminum to enhance the blue color, but often just enjoy whatever colors appear naturally. Hydrangea are very resilient, and can be easily transplanted. Their show lasts for most of the summer and even as the blossoms begin to dry out they still look lovely. That perfect white pitcher in the first picture is available in a slightly different version at the Met Store.

Local, Organically Grown Carrots and Broccoli

Cooking fresh local vegetables is so simple. In fact, the simpler your preparation, the more you'll enjoy their incredible flavor. We devoured these gorgeous carrots and broccoli from the Falmouth Farmer's Market over the weekend. There are several organic growers this year, and their produce has been outstanding.

Fresh Local Carrots:

Peel the carrots, then lightly coated them with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Roast them in a 375 degree oven for about 15-18 minutes, or until tender.

Fresh Local Broccoli:

Cut the ends off each steam. Split the stems, then peel just up to the first floret. Lightly steam them it in a saute pan for about 3-4 minutes, then drain and set aside. Add a little extra virgin olive oil and 2 cloves of sliced garlic to your saute pan. Heat until the garlic starts to brown, add the steamed broccoli and saute slowly until the broccoli just starts to brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and enjoy!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vegetable Miso Soup with Local Cod

Vegetarian miso soup made with white, or sweet miso, is perfect for a light summertime meal. It's comfort food in our house, and makes us feel so good when we eat it. So why not plop a piece of local cod on top? Well I did, and it was a very satisfying meal.

In an earlier post, I explain the difference between this version of miso soup and the type you find in a Japanese restaurant which is made with a fish stock base called dashi. This recipe would be delicious using that version, too.  La Fuji Mama's site  has an excellent recipe if you're so inclined.

Vegetable Miso Soup with Cod (serves two)
3 cups of water
1 tbsp of wakame
1/2 carrot, diced
1 cup of thinly sliced cabbage (I used red which gave the soup a purple color)
1 stalk of celery, sliced
1 shiitake mushroom, sliced
2 tbsp of white miso paste
1/2 lb of fresh cod (you can substitute any white fish)
2 scallions, sliced
Tamari (I'm using gluten-free these days)
1 cup cooked quinoa (follow the link for directions on cooking quinoa)
Toasted sunflower seeds

Bring your water to a boil, add the wakame and vegetables. Simmer for about 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Put the miso paste into a small bowl and add some of the broth from the soup. Mix until is forms a smooth paste. When you are ready to serve the soup, add the paste back to the pan and allow it to simmer for a few minutes. (See steps here.)

Baked Cod
Cut the cod into two pieces. Place in a cast iron pan, or baking dish. Sprinkle with a little tamari and mirin, then top with sliced scallions. Add a little of the toasted ginger seasoning. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 8 minutes. Brown under the broiler for 2 minutes.

To assemble:
Place 1/2 cup of quinoa in a shallow bowl:

Add the soup:

Place the fish on the top and sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds. Add a few drops of the umi plum vinegar as it gives the soup a little tartness, and brings out the flavors of all the other ingredients:

Note: You can substitute any vegetables you'd like in the miso soup. We'll start seeing the winter squashes coming out of our gardens soon, and that would add a nice flavor, for sure. 

This is a gluten-free recipe.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Stuffernucks: Stuffed Quahogs Made with Tuckernuck Clams

While prepping the last of my clams from Nantucket for a future batch of clam chowder, I skimmed a few clams from the batch and prepared a few stuffers. We grew up eating stuffed quahogs at what is now Green Pond Seafood in East Falmouth. We'd sail my brother's Sunfish to the little marina and treat ourselves to this Cape Cod delicacy. Quahogs, the largest of the hard clams here on the Cape and Islands, are best used in chowders and as stuffed clams. They can be tougher than the smaller hard clams, but if not overcooked they are quite tender and tasty.

Stuffernucks (Makes 6)
3 cups of diced French Bread (I used Pain D'Avignon)
8-10 Quahogs
1/2 of a small green pepper (diced)
1/4 of small white onion (diced)
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes
1 tsp of Worcestershire Sauce
Juice from the cooked quahogs
Salt and pepper

Steam the quahogs in a about 2 inches of water until they open. This should take about 8-10 minutes. 

As soon as they open remove them from the pan.

Remove the clams from the shell, chop into pieces, and set aside. Reserve the clam broth and 6 of the quahog shells. Saute the diced pepper, onion, red pepper flakes and Worcestershire Sauce in olive oil until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add the bread, chopped clams and about 1/4 cup of the clam broth. Mix well and add a little bit of water, if needed, to dampen all the bread. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Cut through the hinge on the back of the clam to separate the shells. Rinse the shells and remove the muscle from the inside. Stuff each shell with the clam mixture and place in a baking dish, or cast iron pan.  Place a small pat of butter on top of each stuffer, then cover the pan with foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and place under the broiler to brown the tops.

Squeeze a little fresh lemon over them and dive in. They were delicious and my daughter, who up until now has avoided clams, is now a fan.
Note: You can refrigerate the stuffing overnight and then stuff the shells right before baking. I think they may be even tastier this way as the bread absorbs all of the other flavors and seasonings.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tuckernuck White Clam Sauce

I just returned from a long weekend on Nantucket visiting my dear friend, Maryanne, and her husband, Michael. They live on the west end of the island in Madaket. It's often referred to as 'old Nantucket' as it consists of fairly small homes and charming cottages. This idyllic location hasn't been turned into a playground for the uber-rich with 5000+ sq ft homes and all the amenities that go along with that lifestyle. It's quiet, peaceful and serene. Let's hope it always stays that way.

The entrance to our Nantucket paradise. 
We stay in the small cottage to the left.

Michael has been on the island for over 40 years now, and much of his career has been in the building business. He built his home and the guest cottage. He's also learned to fish, clam, scallop and run a boat, which provides us with great food from the sea whenever I visit. 

Michael headed out to Tuckernuck, a small island just west of Madaket, and dug a bushel of clams in about a half hour. The shallow clean waters, filled with eel grass, provide a rich supply of little necks and quahogs. With the exchange of water twice a day, and the fact that Nantucket is 35 miles out to sea, they're the best hard clams I've ever tasted, so I was thrilled to bring a large bag home with me.

Tuckernuck White Clam Sauce (Serves two, or four as a starter)
12-14 little neck clams
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Tbsp butter
1/4 cup white wine, or dry vermouth
Fresh parsley, chopped
8 oz of pasta, cooked al dente (I used quinoa pasta which is gluten-free)

Put your pan of water on the stove to boil. Cook off the pasta while you prepare the clam sauce.  Rinse your clams in a colander to remove any sand on the outside and set aside.

Add about a tsp of olive oil to a saute pan and heat until warm. Add the garlic and saute just until the garlic starts to brown. Add 1/4 cup white wine and then add the clams to the pan.

Cover the pan and allow the clams to simmer until they open. This should take 5-8 minutes. As they open remove them from the pan and set aside.

Add a tbsp of butter, about another tsp of olive oil, and the parsley to the pan. Saute for a minute.

Add the cooked pasta, turning to coat the pasta. Allow it to simmer until the pasta has absorbed most of the sauce. I used a quinoa gluten-free pasta that was delicious, but any pasta will do.

Place the pasta on a plate and garnish with the clams. The pasta absorbs the rich briny flavor of the clams and it took all of my willpower to just eat my half of this platter. Tuckernuck clams are truly a gift from the sea, and my Nantucket friends are a gift from above. Thank you for a spectacular weekend.