There is nothing better than picking up sun warmed tomatoes and smelling them, scrutinizing their shiny skins for imperfections, thinking of ways to serve them.
~José Ramón Andrés Puerta(a/k/a José Andrés)

So little to be said about this sublime salad from the Island of Capri, found in the Tyrrhenian sea off the Sorrentine peninsula, on the south side of the gulf of Naples — a timeless tricolored culinary classic (sometimes).

INSALATA CAPRESE (CAPRESE SALAD)

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 lb fresh mozzarella (di bufala if possible), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 C packed fresh basil leaves

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a platter, alternately arrange fine quality tomato + mozzarella slices + basil leaves, overlapping them. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: subtly shower with aged balsamic vinegar in lieu of extra virgin olive oil or better yet with the EVOO even though the two will not meld. Then again, add a few slices of fresh avocado or eggplant or try substituting arugula (with fresh oregano), kale, swiss chard, pesto, or watercress for your green.

TOMATO COULIS

1 lb red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut
Sea salt, to taste

1-2 TB extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Raw sugar (turbinado)

Peel, seed, and slice the tomatoes into 2-3″ wedges, and drop in a food processor fitted with a steel blend or simply a blender. Process or blend on high speed with cut garlic until smooth. Pulse the food processor or turn the blender to low, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt, wine vinegar and raw sugar in dribbles as needed and pulse or blend low. Do not strain and refrigerate, if necessary, until ready to serve.

Commonly, tomato coulis is served underneath grilled, roasted or sautéed meats, fish or vegetables or even used as a dip for fritters, sandwiches or other finger fodder. Just a slightly subtle divergence from an earlier post.

Watch film? Savor jazz? Take in ball? Follow politics? Ofttimes too much psychic energy is spent on the star, with short shrift given to the supporting cast. So when food scheming, give pause to your sides as they tend to elevate, even eclipse, the leading roles. On that note, throw down some grilled or roasted riffs next to the mains in your medley. Then have a close your eyes moment.

Onions can make even heirs and widows weep.
~Benjamin Franklin

GRILLED ZUCCHINI, YELLOW SQUASH, EGGPLANT & ONIONS

1/2 lb zucchini, sliced 1/2″ on the bias
1/2 lb yellow squash, sliced 1/2″ on the bias
1/2 lb japanese eggplant, sliced 1/2″ on the bias
1/2 lb yellow onions, peeled and sliced 1/2″

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, to coat well

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Fresh basil, parsley or mint cut in chiffonade (ribbons)
1/2 lemon (optional)
3-4 T pitted Nicoise olives, chopped (optional)
Goat cheese, crumbled or parmigiano reggiano, grated (optional)

Season the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant and onions with salt and pepper, and then toss or brush thoroughly with olive oil before preparing grill.

Prepare a medium hot grill. Grill the vegetables on each side until the slices are tender, but take care not to overcook. Remove from grill, carefully arrange on a platter, and sprinkle with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Arrange grilled vegetables on a platter or plates. Just before serving, slightly drizzle with lemon juice, strew with chopped olives, add a few goat cheese crumbles or a grating of parm, and scatter your herb of choice over the grilled fare.

Pourboire: once the tomato season arrives (not soon enough), feel free to add heirlooms to the mix — a grilled version that just somewhat resembles classic ratatouille.

Baba Ganoush

August 10, 2011

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.
~Mark Twain

How the simple yet elegant baba ganoush ducked under the radar on this site is baffling. Not really a stealthy dish, as I have made, served and savored it many a time. Maybe it just took a needed, overdue coupling with two dear coastal pollo-pescatarians who have a penchant for hummus coupled with an oversupply of eggplant here to jump start the needed synapses. Just seemed natural to re-create a close cousin to, but in lieu of, sweetly addictive hummus. Breaking through that gateway hummus habit may prove brutally painful, but baba ganoush is a substance to consider. A methadone of food.

Baba ganoush or baba ganouj (بابا غنوج) is an iconic purée of eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and herbs. A protean dish—regional names, versions and services may vary across the Middle East and Mediterranean basin. But, whether served as an app, salad or side, the eggplant always remains front and center.

Baba ganoush can be refrigerated for up to 5 days prior to serving. Like most things, it improves after nestling overnight.

BABA GANOUSH

3 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise
1/2 C tahini (sesame paste)
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Small pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 C lemon juice
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t sea salt, or to taste

Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, for garnish
A drizzling of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 F

Place eggplant with cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Prick in several places with a fork, place in oven and roast until soft, about 20-25 minutes. Cooking time varies depending on size and ripeness. A paring knife should easily slide into the eggplants. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

When cool enough to handle, scoop eggplant pulp into a bowl, discarding the skins. Add tahini, garlic, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Then gently stir together. Empty the mixture into a food processor fitted with a steel knife and purée in pulses until fairly smooth. Season to taste with more salt and/or lemon juice, if neccessary.

Garnish with parsley and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Serve with roasted bread slices or wedges of warm pita.

Pourboire: Adding a slight pinch of dried cumin or some seeded and diced fresh tomatoes are pleasing detours. Also, consider serving with a few fine cured olives.

Pleasure is divided into six classes: food, drink, clothes, sex, scent and sound.
Of these, the noblest and most consequential is food…the pleasure of eating is above all pleasures.

~Al-Baghdadi

From the word tagliare, meaning “to cut,” tagliatelle is a traditional pasta from Emilia-Romagna, a poetic region in central northern Italy between the fertile Po River and the gentle Apennines and bordered on the east by the Adriatic. A culinary constellation, Emilia-Romagna is home to such rustic cornerstones as prosciutto di Parma, culatello, mortadella di Bologna, zampone, Parmigiano-Reggiano, aceto balsamico

Tagliatelle are long, flat, thick ribbons with a porous texture that are similar in shape to but a little wider than fettuccine. Legend has it that a talented Renaissance court chef was so enamored by the noblewoman Lucrezia d’Estes’ beautiful blonde tresses, that he dedicated this new pasta to her on the occasion of her nuptials to the Duke of Ferrara. The wedding dish was called talgiatelle all amaniera di Zafiran, which means in the manner of Zafiran or saffron. However, this tale may be born of more questionable food lore. The actual nascense of tagliatelle may have been much earlier, as it was depicted in texts well over a century before the wedding.

Eggplants of all shapes, sizes, colors and varieties are ubiquitous this time of year at our local farmers’ market. So, I am regaling in those dark, suave ones.

Buon appetito!

TAGLIATELLE E MELANZANE (TAGLIATELLE & EGGPLANT)

2 medium eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/4″ slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Canola oil
Red wine vinegar
1 C fresh basil leaves, ribboned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 superior anchovy filets, rinsed, dried and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 C arugula

1 lb. tagliatelle, preferably fresh

Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Pour equal amounts of olive oil and canola oil into a deep, heavy pan until about 2 1/2″ deep. Heat oil until hot and fry eggplant slices one layer at a time until browned on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels, then cut the cooked slices into thirds. Place on a platter and sprinkle lightly with red wine vinegar. Then toss with basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow the eggplant to marinate for about an hour.

In a deep, heavy skillet, heat the anchovies and garlic in olive oil heated to medium high. Gently sauté for a few minutes, then add the eggplant. In a heavy pot filled with liberally salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the skillet. Season again with pepper, add arugula, toss and serve with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.

Now that the tapas ramble is behind us, I can devote more space to these Spanish delights. I humbly suggest that you dine al fresco preferably using your fingers and barefoot—it is the most delectable way to sup. Then again, a crowded congenial tapas bar echoing with lively discourse may be the spot. Either way, by all means do not forget tapas’ adored playmates, wine and sherry.

OLIVES WITH ORANGES & GARLIC

3 fresh oranges
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
3 T sherry vinegar
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 pinches sea salt
2/3 lbs high quality cured olives

Zest one half of each orange into a bowl. Cut the oranges in half crosswise, and juice them. Mix the orange zest, orange, juice, smashed garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, thyme, rosemary, salt and olives in the bowl until evenly coated. Marinate overnight, and preferably for a few days so the flavors marry fully.

EGGS WITH CHORIZO & POTATOES

3 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Spanish chorizo sausages, cut into 1/2″ cubes
6 large, organic, free range eggs, room temperature

Baguette or rustic artisanal bread, sliced

Heat 3 T of olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the potatoes and thyme sprigs, cook stirring until slightly brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add a pinch or two of sea salt, to taste. Add the chorizo to the pan and continue to saute until slightly brown, about 2 minutes.

In another sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium high heat. Carefully slide the eggs, two by two, into the pan and fry until sunny side up. Salt and pepper lightly. Spread the potatoes and chorizo on a plater and top with fried eggs.

Serve with grilled bread.

AVOCADO TOAST (TOSTADA DE AGUACATE)

Baguette or rustic artisanal bread, sliced
Aïoli (garlic mayonnaise)—see Aïoli post, 01.25.09
Serrano ham, thinly sliced
1 fresh ripe avocado, seeded and peeled and sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Toast bread on both sides, preferably on a charcoal grill. Thinly spread aïoli onto each toast. Add an slice of serrano ham and top with a slice or two of avocado. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the avocado.

OCTOPUS (PULPO GALLEGO)

1 1/2 lbs fresh octopus, cleaned with head removed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
4 fresh thyme sprigs
10 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Sea salt

4 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and rinsed
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
Spanish paprika (pimentón)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Place octopus, onion, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns in large heavy pot of boiling water and cook until soft enough to eat. This usually takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from water, drain and allow to cool. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Slice into rounds about 1/2″ thick.

Rinse potatoes and clean with a vegetable brush. Fill a medium size pot with water, salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until a fork pierces the potatoes easily. Remove from heat and place under cold running water in a colander. Allow to cool, then peel the potatoes. Slice into rounds approximately 1/3″ thick.

Arrange potato slices overlapping on a serving platter. Place octopus on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sweet paprika, salt and pepper to taste.

Pourboire: even better, after cooking the octopus for about half of the time in water, remove, brush with olive oil and grill on the barbeque over medium heat for several minutes on each side before slicing and arranging with the potatoes.

ROASTED PEPPERS, ONIONS AND SHERRY VINEGAR

4 medium red peppers
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and medium thick sliced
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
1/4 C white wine
3 T sherry vinegar
Sea salt
Sprigs of rosemary, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 F

Brush the peppers and onions with olive oil, then roast, turning occasionally until browned, about 30 minutes. Remove and allow peppers too cool. Peel, seed and cut peppers into narrow strips. Separate onions into rings.

Heat the remaining oil in a heavy sauté pan and cook garlic until brown. Do not burn the garlic. Add the peppers, onions, and white wine to the garlic and oil. Cover the pan, cook on low heat until sauce thickens, about 25-30 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar and salt.

Serve hot, room temp or chilled over grilled bread.

POTATO OMELET (TORTILLA DE PATATAS)

1 C extra virgin olive oil
1 lb russet potatoes, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
2 t sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced
8 organic, free range eggs

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a heavy sauté pan. Once the oil is hot enough, add the potatoes and poach over medium heat until they are lightly browned and crisp. Remove the potates from the pan with a slotted spoon, cool to room temperature and season with a couple of pinches of salt. Reserve the oil in the pan.

Heat the reserved cooking oil, add the onions and cook over medium heat until slightly browned but not burned. As with the potatoes, strain, cool to room temperature and reserve the cooked onions and oil.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk. Add the potatoes and onions, some salt and ground pepper and stir until blended together. Add 3 tablespoons of the reserved oil to an 8″ non stick saute pan over medium heat. When the pan is heated, add the egg mixture. Shake the pan several times to bring the eggs together. Then cook for several minutes unto the edges are cooked but the center is not yet set. Invert onto a plate, then return to the pan, raw side down, cooking for another minute or so. Slide onto platter, slice and serve immediately.

Ratatouille

February 24, 2009

Ratatouille is an evocatively hued Provençal sauté of an olio of vegetables — traditionally garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers, squashes, and herbs — which likely originated in Nice during the 18th century.  The word for this stew derived from the  from the Occitan ratatolha and the tail touiller means “to stir up or toss food” in French.  Approaches to ratatouille often differ from kitchen to kitchen.  Some chefs simply sauté the vegs together, others carefully layer them in a casserole and bake in the oven, while a third group sautés the vegs separately so they remain recognizable then recombines them and finishes the dish with a slowly simmer in a pot. 

My particular preference is to serve it cold after an overnight layover in the refrigerator which allows the various flavors and scents to mingle. Although often served as a main course, ratatouille goes swimmingly well with grilled meats and a crusty baguette.

RATATOUILLE

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled, sliced 1/4″ thick
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C water

1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 zucchini, sliced crosswise 1/4″ thick
2 yellow squash, sliced crosswise 1/4″ thick
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
2 T red wine vinegar
4 medium ripe red & yellow tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped

2 T capers, rinsed and drained
2 T pitted Nicoise olives, chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped

Salt and pepper the eggplant lightly and toss in a bowl with 3 T olive oil. Transfer to a baking dish and add water. Cover and bake for 40 minutes, until soft

Meanwhile, heat 3 T olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender and slightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring, until they are both nicely browned. Add the wine vinegar and cook one minute. Place this mixture in a bowl.

Add the remaining 2 T olive oil to the pan and sauté the squashes, turning until they turn brown, then place in the bowl with the onions and peppers. Add the already baked eggplants to the bowl. Pour off any excess liquid remaining in the baking dish. Mix in tomatoes with the other vegetables and place all in the pot. Add the bay leaf and garlic and bring to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. The ratatouille should not be soupy, so pour off excess liquid into a sauce pan and reduce until it thickens; then pour the reduced juice over the vegetables. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add capers, chopped olives, parsley, and basil. Remove from heat and let cool. Discard bay leaf and season to your taste with salt and pepper.

Serve cold, warm or hot.