Friday, September 19, 2014

Peach and Blueberry Crostatas

Keep your strawberries, your apples, your kiwi, your plums. If I had to choose only one fruit to eat for the rest of my life, it would be peaches -- fresh summer peaches from a local orchard. Peaches that are juicy, fragrant and oozing with sweetness. The trouble is, that goodness is available for only a short time longer here in the Northeast U.S. So I'm taking full advantage of the rest of the season and eating them every chance I can get in any form I can get -  stuffed and grilled, poached in a sugar syrup,  or as ice cream or sorbet. Peach pie is also a favorite, but these individual crostatas are a lot easier to make and taste even better. There's no worry about soggy crusts or gloppy, thick filling from too much flour or cornstarch. The filling is nothing more than peaches and brown sugar. Purists, feel free to eliminate the blueberries and load up on more peaches, if you like.
Roll out the dough until it's thin - not paper thin, but less than 1/4 inch thin. This recipe makes four individual crostatas (actually crostate is the plural, if you want your Italian lesson for the day).

Fill them with the blueberry and peach mixture and gather the edges toward the center. Brush with an egg wash.
Bake at 400 degrees on a low oven rack and after about 20 minutes, you'll have a gurgling fruity delight to serve. Don't worry if some blueberry or peach juices escape. If you're using a Silpat mat, you'll be able to easily wipe it off. Otherwise, place a sheet of parchment on your baking pan first.
Eat it warm or let it cool. Either way, it'll be hard to resist this dessert.
Bring on the peaches while they last!

Peach and Blueberry Crostata
(makes four)

1 cup flour
8 T. butter, cut into large pieces
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten

3 medium size peaches, sliced
1 cup blueberries
1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor, until it resembles coarse sand. Add the ice water until it starts to hold together. Bring it out onto a board and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball, then cut into four pieces. Roll out each piece until it's very thin (less than 1/4 inch) and about eight inches in diameter. Mix the sliced peaches, blueberries and brown sugar and place on the center of the four pieces of pastry, on a parchment lined or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bring the outer edges toward the center and brush with a little of the beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until browned on the outside.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Quinoa

It's the end of summer, and my vegetable garden looks as tattered as a scarecrow's shirt, but it's still providing me with those end-of-the-season tomatoes. Some of them went into plastic bags whole (yes, whole!) and are stashed in the freezer, awaiting soups and stews I'll get to this fall and winter. If you've never tried it, it's simple. You can take out one or two from the plastic bag, run under cold water and the tomato will be simple to peel. Cut into chunks, or leave it whole, and toss into a recipe for some extra color and flavor. 
But before you stash all those late summer tomatoes into the freezer, give this recipe a try. 
Tomatoes stuffed with rice are a classic Roman dish, and my friend Frank has a great recipe for them, on his blog, Memorie Di Angelina.  This recipe however, uses quinoa instead of rice. 
Start out by slicing off the top of the tomato, then scooping out the interior. (Save that pulp and juice and strain it to use later.)
Mix the cooled quinoa and swiss chard (or spinach or kale if you prefer) with cheese and seasonings.
Stuff the tomatoes, and pour a little of the tomato water in the dish.
Sprinkle with a little more of the cheese and bake.

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Quinoa
printable recipe here

8 medium size tomatoes
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 heaping cup swiss chard (or spinach), roughly chopped
parsley, basil, minced
salt, pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup asiago cheese
olive oil for drizzling

Scoop out the inside of the tomatoes and set aside in a colander, over a bowl. Press out the liquid, tossing aside the seeds and pulp (This part is optional, but I like to surround the tomatoes with the tomato water when I cook them.) Sprinkle some salt on the inside of the emptied-out tomatoes and turn them upside down over some paper towels to drain.

Cook the quinoa by adding it to the water and let it come to a boil.  Let it come to a simmer, cover and let it cook until the water is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let it cool slightly. In the olive oil, sauté the onion until translucent, then add the garlic clove and swiss chard. Sauté until swiss chard is wilted. Add the seasonings. Mix the parmesan and asiago cheese together in a bowl, and set aside about 1/3 cup to sprinkle on the top when you put the tomatoes in the oven. Add the other 2/3 cup to the quinoa mixture.
Place the stuffed tomatoes in an ovenproof baking dish and top with the 1/3 cup cheese. Optional: Surround with 1/2 cup tomato water. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake at 425 degrees 1/2 hour or until top is browned. If it gets browned too quickly, lower the temperature to 400 degrees.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cherry Tomato Crostata

Sometimes friends ask me if I really cook all the things I post on Ciao Chow Linda. Well, yes, I explain, and lots more too. Some of the things I cook turn out to be less than blog-worthy though, and that included a tomato ricotta tart I made a couple of weeks. It looked lovely, but the crust wasn't cooked all the way through, as you might be able to tell from the photo below:

  I tried again with the same crust, this time rolling the dough really thin, using a freeform, crostata shape instead of the removable bottom tart pan.  I decided to skip the ricotta cheese in favor of caramelized onions, gruyere and parmesan cheese. And I went with cherry tomatoes, since I still had so many ripening in the garden. (OK, I admit it, aside from the crust, this is an entirely different recipe from the first tomato tart.) The cherry tomato variety I've been growing - "black cherry" - has a darker hue and a sweeter taste than the bright red ones more commonly seen in the markets. But any cherry tomato variety will do for this recipe - even yellow ones. You can cut the tomatoes in half if you like, but this time around, I left them whole. 

Caramelized onions - one of my very favorite foods - are a key component of this dish - . I've always thought that the next time I put my house up for sale, I'd ignore that advice from realtors to infuse the house with the smell of freshly baked bread or chocolate chip cookies. Nope, for my money, you can lure prospective buyers better with the intoxicating aroma of onions sautéeing in olive oil or butter. Bake this crostata for the open house and you might be able to seal the deal. 
The crust is really special too - it's imbued with the goodness of parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and cracked black pepper. Roll it out thinly, then layer the cheeses and caramelized onions on top, leaving about two inches all the around the perimeter for crimping. 
Scatter some fresh herbs (in this case, oregano and thyme) and place the tomatoes on top. 
Bake at high heat (425 degrees) but keep an eye on it near the end, covering the edges of the pastry with aluminum foil if it looks like it might burn.
I served it as a main course, along with romano beans and fresh sweet corn. But this would work great as an appetizer too, cut into smaller pieces.

Cherry Tomato Crostata
printable recipe here


1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 T. finely minced fresh herbs (thyme, oregano or sage)
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly cracked black pepper
1 stick cold butter
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 3 T. ice water

Place the flour, cornmeal, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and sage in a food processor and pulse until mixed well together. Add the butter in small pieces until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the egg yolk and water and mix it just enough until it starts to hold together. If it looks too dry, add more ice water as needed. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic, then place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. (It freezes really well too.)

1 large, sweet onion (about two cups sliced thinly)
1 T. olive oil
1 cup freshly grated gruyere cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 dozen cherry tomatoes (more or less, depending on how big they are)
fresh thyme
fresh oregano

Cook the sliced onions in the olive oil - slowly - until they turn golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour, maybe 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a thin round - about 1/8th inch thick and about 14 inches in diameter. If the dough is too thick, it won't cook all the way through.  Transfer to a large cookie sheet or baking dish.
Spread the cheeses onto the dough, excluding about two inches all around the circumference. Place the caramelized onions over the cheese, then scatter bits of the fresh thyme and fresh oregano over that. Top with the cherry tomatoes, then bring the edges toward the center and crimp together as you go. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour. If crust gets brown too quickly, lower the heat to 400, and cover the edges with strips of aluminum foil.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lobster Corn Chowder

I know what you're thinking -- Who needs a bowl of chowder laden with calorie-heavy cream? Well, you do, that's who, once you taste it. When you consider that the entire recipe's got only a half-pint of cream (832 calories) and it serves at least eight people, it's really not so bad. The only problem is that the chowder is so good, you'll want more than one serving. Still, add a green salad to feel virtuous and it's ok to eat two bowls if it's your entire meal.   
Are you convinced?  Then get ready, get set, and get two lobsters. Cook them yourself or ask your fish market to do it for you (undercook them because they'll cook more in the chowder).

Once they're cool, remove all the lobster meat - hold the shells aside for the broth.

Next, you need to shuck six ears of corn and remove all the kernels from the cobs, using a sharp knife. Please make this recipe now while fresh corn is still so sweet and delicious.
Then throw the cobs and the lobster shells into a pot of boiling water and let it perk away for 1/2 hour to an hour.
While that's happening, sauté the veggies in some olive oil.
Follow the directions below and you'll end up with this creamy chowder redolent of all things wickedly wonderful. Assuming you're not serving it to vegetarians or lactose intolerant folks, get ready to attain "most favored status" in your household.
And if what you're looking for is a halo above your head, top each serving with a beautiful, meaty lobster claw.

Lobster Corn Chowder
makes about eight servings 

Two lobsters (1 to 1/2 lbs. each)
8 cups water
6 ears corn
1 large or 2 small leeks, chopped finely
1 T. olive oil
1/2 large red pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup white wine
2 cups cubed potatoes (I used small fingerling potatoes)
1/2 pt. heavy cream
fresh thyme, parsley, chives
1/4 t. paprika
salt, pepper

Boil or steam the lobsters, or have them cooked for you at your fish market. Undercook them by five minutes (or ask the fish market people to undercook them because they'll also get cooked again in the chowder.) Let the lobsters cool until you can handle them, then remove all the meat from the shells. Cut the lobster meat into bite size chunks, keeping some of the claw meat intact to lavish on a favored bowl of soup for a special someone, if desired (that could be YOU!).
Shuck the ears of corn and set aside. Take the corn cobs and the lobster shells and put into a pot of boiling water. Let it boil at a high heat for at least 1/2 hour, preferably an hour. Strain the liquid from the solids. You should be left with about six cups of liquid, but it could be more, or it could be less, depending on how vigorous the boil was. You'll want at least four cups, so if you've got less than that, add more water and let it boil a bit more. If you have too much water, let it boil a bit more to reduce- you get the idea.

In another pot, place the olive oil, the leeks, red pepper and celery. Let them sweat until limp and cooked through.  Add the white wine and let it come to a boil, then lower to a simmer for a few minutes. Add about four cups of the cooked lobster/corn broth to the pot with the sweated vegetables. Add the cubed potatoes and cook until almost softened, maybe another 10 minutes or so. Add the corn, the seasonings and taste. Pour in the cream and simmer for a couple of minutes more, then remove about two or three ladles-full (about 1 cup or so) of the chowder and place in a blender to pureé. You'll use this to help thicken the chowder. Pour the pureéd chowder back into the larger pot, then finally, add the lobster meat. Cook for only a couple more minutes, taste seasonings and adjust if necessary.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Stuffed Swiss Chard redux

Swiss chard is one of my favorite vegetables -- and the "queen of greens" has been prolific in gardens this year. It's easy to grow and easy to find in farmer's markets and in supermarkets too. Over the years, I've posted many swiss chard recipes, including two other stuffed renditions -- one stuffed with ground turkey (here) and one stuffed with brown rice and ground beef (here). This time, however, I wanted to use up some fregola (similar to Israeli couscous) in the pantry.
I mixed it with some ground beef, minced red pepper, onion, an egg, mozzarella cheese and seasonings.
In order to stuff the swiss chard, you need to remove the stalk (don't throw them out, there's another recipe coming at the end for those stalks).

Boil the leaves for a couple of minutes to soften them, then drain them on paper towels.
Place about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the filling over the leaves and roll up.
They're easy to freeze at this point, or cook right away, covered with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. If you really want to gild the lily, sprinkle with more mozzarella.

Wait a few minutes after they come out of the oven, since they're piping hot. 
OK, so now what to do with those swiss chard stalks? Well, I've given you a couple of different recipes in the past for fritters - here and here. But this time, it's a swiss chard stalk gratin, and it's simple to put together. First, chop the stalks into large pieces and boil for five minutes or until tender.
Then place in a casserole that's been oiled, and top with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs, a scattering of thyme and a pat of butter.

 Bake at high temperature for 20 minutes to 1/2 hour or until browned.
 It's like having a whole new vegetable.

Stuffed Swiss Chard

1 cup fregola, cooked in water according to package, then cooled
1/4 cup onion, minced
4 T. olive oil
1/4 cup diced red pepper
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
1 pound ground beef
minced parsley
salt, pepper to taste

tomato sauce
parmesan cheese

Sauté the onion and red pepper in 2 T. of the olive oil until softened. Remove and set aside in a bowl. With the remaining olive oil, cook the ground beef in a skillet. Drain off any fat. Place the meat in a bowl with the cooked onion and pepper. Add the parsley, salt and pepper, and egg. Mix together and place a little of the mixture on a leaf of the swiss chard. Roll up and place in a greased, ovenproof casserole. Cover with tomato sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Swiss Chalk Stalk Gratin

swiss chalk stalks
parmesan cheese
bread crumbs
fresh thyme
salt, pepper to taste

Boil the swiss chard stalks for five minutes, or until softened. Drain and place in a greased, oven-proof casserole. Mix 2 parts parmesan cheese to one part bread crumbs. Season with fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the swiss chard stalks and top with a pat of butter. Place in a 425 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes or until golden brown on top.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Pass

It's the rare restaurant that inspires me enough to write a blog post, and through the years, readers of this blog know I've written about a few memorable restaurant meals, including those at Le Bernardin, Per Se and Del Posto. It's been a long while since a restaurant bowled me over, but on my recent visits to "The Pass," located in Rosemont, New Jersey, my dinner companions and I were pleasantly surprised --- no strike that phrase -- we were truly wowed by the delicious, inventive take on food presented there by the chef/owner Matthew Ridgway, including this pre-dinner offering of cured tilefish, caught off the coast of Long Island. It was like no crudo I've ever eaten - unctuous, with the unusual and deliciously melding flavors of black cardamom, cinnamon, thyme and salt.
When you enter the casual, homey place, (named for the space in a restaurant kitchen where the chef oks food ready for serving), the decor gives no hint to the excellence of the dishes that are served. It once was home to the popular Café at Rosemont, and looks much the same still - almost like an old-fashioned general store along a country road. 
There are even artisanal products for sale in one section of the room.

A large meat grinder in another corner is apropos, since Matthew makes his own charcuterie (which he has sells at The Pass and to high end restaurants like New York's Café Boulud.) 

The wild boar's head adds a touch of whimsy and serves as a reminder that aside from the excellent fish dishes, meat is also given due respect here.
Including this appetizer, which we didn't order but happily gobbled in short order. At The Pass, two dishes -- meant to be shared, and chosen by the chef -- are placed in front of diners before the first course. They're larger than the typical "amuse bouche" but smaller than a true appetizer course. What's in this one, you ask? Well, it may look unappetizing, but it's one of the most delicious things I've been lucky enough to place in my mouth this year. It's ……. (drum roll) …. beef tongue, something I rarely order. But this unusual take on beef tongue… where have you been all my life?
I'm sure if beef tongue tasted this divine at all restaurants, we'd see a lot more mute steer. This was cured "pastrami style," then steamed, rough chopped and tossed with nuc mom, or a Vietnamese fish sauce. It was like eating a Vietnamese hoagie on toast points and we only wished there were more.
Another night one of the freebie aperitivi was this tomato gazpacho with hot smoked steel head salmon that was cured with mug wart grappa, made in-house. Betcha you haven't seen mug wart grappa in too many places, right? We licked every last drop.
These initial lagnaippes got better and better and were an auspicious taste of what was to come the rest of the meal. Take this, for example -- (well, yes, thank you. We did and with pleasure) -- fried shishito peppers with garlic in sweet vermouth and sherry vinegar, topped with ricotta salata cheese. Use some of the bread that's set before you to wipe the plate clean. The bread -- made in-house using a very wet "poolish" or "sponge"-- and flavored with za'atar, is so deliciously addictive, you'll be tempted to ask for more. But be warned, you must leave room for the rest of the wonderful taste sensations coming your way.
OK, now let's go to the printed menu. It's a small menu that changes every two weeks, with a surprisingly reasonable fixed price of $49 for three courses (four if you're including the apertivo). The selection is slim, but there are usually two other "extra options" listed on the side of the menu that will add a little more to your bill, if you're so inclined. Or, if you're hankering for a Lucullan feast, The Pass offers a six-course chef's choice menu too, for $79.
There are only two possibilities for each course, but that hasn't been an issue so far, because everything has been excellent and highly creative. For example, here's a first course of Maine sardines, that had been pickled for three days, then removed from the pickle and packed in oil. It's topped with foie gras, and green raisins plumped with brandy. Who'd have thunk? Fois gras with sardines? Matthew Ridgway, that's who, and the dish was a big hit at the table. 
And how's this for an unexpected combo? Local peaches from Manoff Market in Solebury, Pa., served with shaved truffle and a tumble of salad greens, plus a small toast smeared with uni, or sea urchin. I don't know where Matthew comes up with these ideas, but this was another winner that left me wanting more.
OK, so on to the main event, which in this case is tile fish again, but this time roasted and served with thin slices of sweet and sour globe zucchini, floating in a pineapple vinegar broth. Slurping encouraged.
Another entree was this perfectly cooked tuna pavé, accompanied by fried haricot verts, and more of those sweet yet tangy shishito peppers, all sitting in a puddle of satay sauce. The sauces at The Pass are all so complex and delicious. This one was made with red curry, kaffir lime leaves, peanuts, coconut milk, coconut vinegar, garlic and onions, then finished with butter. Uh-huh. That's why it tastes so darn good.
For beef lovers, this beautiful and succulent New York state braised beef shin did not disappoint. And that's an understatement. It was served with heirloom tomatoes from Blue Moon Acres farm in Pennington and a pillow of burrata cheese imported from Puglia. The entire dish was surrounded by a sauce made from the meat stock, French vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. 
I loved the desserts too, but to me, the other dishes on the menu are really the stars. There's a good reason that New Jersey Monthly named The Pass as one of the 25 best restaurants for 2014.
 Still, The Pass knows how to create a delightful end of the meal course. This crème fraîche soufflé tart served with steamed plums in an olive oil and fennel jus, was ethereal and disappeared far too quickly.
For those who prefer cheeses to dessert, excellent offerings are an option from the always reliably delicious Bobolink Dairy in Milford, N.J. 
One last thing -- There's no liquor license, so bring your own (a bonus for those of us who enjoy fine wines but don't want to pay inflated restaurant prices.) 
Thanks Matt, we'll be back again -- and again -- and again.

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