Monday, September 26, 2011

Fig and Prosciutto Salad

Salty and satiny prosciutto goes well with firm but sweet and juicy flavorful fruits.
Cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches, plums, pears, and figs all seem to pair well with prosciutto.

Fresh figs are great when you can find them, and autumn should be a good time of year for fig hunting at the grocery store or market.
If you've never had a fresh fig, let me try to assure you they're nothing like dried figs or dried-fig filled cookies in taste. Besides, they look much better, too.
Ripe figs should have a sweet perfume, a beautiful, deep color, and be plump and slightly soft- not mushy.

Textural and flavor variety are good in a salad. They keep things interesting and each bite is a little different, depending on what you pick up on your fork.
I generally like salads with at least a little bed of greens. It adds color as well as some order to the plate (plus, you're able to pick up more of the vinaigrette).

Heads of Boston lettuce are small, with tender and mild leaves. They sort of blend in well with the rest of the salad ingredients.

If you don't have (or can't find) fresh mozzarella, bits of chèvre or thin Parmesan shards might be nice alternatives.

Fig and Prosciutto Salad
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef
serves 4-5

3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T balsamic vinegar
Scant 1 T honey
A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
6 T olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 heads Boston lettuce leaves well washed, drained, and torn into bite-sized pieces
8-10 fresh figs (2 per person), quartered
5-7 slices of prosciutto
4-5 oz fresh mozzarella
8-12 fresh basil leaves

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, honey, and thyme until the honey is completely dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Add 1/2 t kosher salt and 1/4 t black pepper to the dressing. Whisk to incorporate, taste by dipping a lettuce leaf into the vinaigrette, and re-season as necessary. Set aside.

Place a bed of lettuce on each plate. Arrange 8 pieces of fig atop each salad. Cut or tear prosciutto into rough pieces and divide among plates. If mozzarella is in a large ball, cut into bite-sized pieces and divide between the salads.
Re-whisk the dressing and drizzle on top of the salads.
Tear the basil (2-3 leaves per salad), and sprinkle on top of everything.
Serve immediately.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Basics: Polenta


(Really, cornmeal mush, porridge, and grits just don't sound quite as nice.)
A nice hot bowl can be great on it's own.
But it's also lovely as a side with roasted or braised meats. Pork or beef...
Then again, that bowl of hot polenta is a fantastic meal on it's own with pesto, herbed and sauteed mushrooms, marinara, roasted vegetables...

Any leftovers can be poured into a pan, cooled, cut, sprinkled with flour or extra dry polenta, and fried the next day. 
Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside.

It can be flavored with herbs, red pepper, Parmesan or other cheeses, or whatever else sounds good.

Just make sure you buy cornmeal that's labeled as polenta, not a more quickly cooking form of cornmeal. The polenta will have an obviously more coarse grind than regular cornmeal.

Basic Polenta
adapted from Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating
serves 4 (as a main) or more

8 c chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 t kosher or sea salt
2 c uncooked polenta
1 c finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Optional: rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, crushed red pepper flakes, extra Parmesan for serving

Bring stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add the salt and stir to dissolve. Gently stir the broth with a whisk while slowly adding the polenta in a steady stream. You want things to keep moving to prevent the formation of lumps. Once all the polenta has been added, switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. Continue stirring and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the polenta at least 30 minutes, stirring frequently (don't worry about "constantly"- just keep an eye on it, and cover the pan when not stirring the polenta). Add water or extra stock if it looks and feels like it's getting too thick. The longer it cooks the better it will be. 
When ready, the polenta should be thick, smooth and creamy. 
Stir in the Parmesan cheese and check for seasoning and doneness.
Serve warm with roast meats, gravies, vegetables, and/or sauces.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Crab-Corn Soup

Soups make a comforting meal.
This one is special- it's rich, warming, and slightly different.
Perfect for a cold evening.

I bet many people had no clue that there was such a thing as clam juice. 
("Packed at the peak of freshness" has got to be a good thing in this instance.)

It adds a nice, briny seafood flavor, and can be found in bottles at the grocery store.
Although I don't know how popular clam juice is...
But I do sort of wonder how fast it flies off the shelves.
As far as juices go, I imagine this one suffers from a somewhat underwhelming popularity.

And I wonder how many clams it takes to fill an 8 oz. bottle of clam juice.
Is it a lucrative industry, or is it a side business- the clam meat was taken and the juice is poured off and bottled because it was just there to be taken?

And whose idea was this in the first place?

And while clam chowder is great (and one would probably use clam juice for it), I don't know that I've ever actually cooked with clams myself. Perhaps this is due to the general lack of extremely fresh shellfish in the midwest.

The texture of crab is nicer than the texture of clams, more accessible, and I think easier for more people to deal with.  Plus the flavor is sweeter, less seafood-y.

  The original recipe came from friends, but I've made a few changes. 


Crab Corn Soup

serves 8-10

1/3 c (5 1/3 T) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
3 T flour
2, 8 oz. bottles clam juice
2 c chicken or vegetable stock
2 c fresh corn (the kernels cut from about 2 cobs, or 2 c frozen corn kernels)
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t (generous if you're so inclined) cayenne pepper
1 t salt
1 c heavy cream
1 c light cream (half and half)
16 oz (1 lb.) crab meat

4 scallions (green onions) thinly sliced

Optional for serving: a splash of Sherry or Vermouth per bowl (I prefer Sherry)

Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy, 4-6 qt. pot. Add the onion and garlic and saute until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, stir and cook a few minutes until the mixture is somewhat pasty. Slowly stir in the clam juice and broth and bring the mixture to a boil  to thicken. Carefully pour in the corn, add the thyme, pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt. Reduce the heat and let the soup simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cream and half and half and continue to simmer 10 minutes. Add the crab meat, cook 10 minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. 
Serve garnished with scallions (they really do add some great color, texture and flavor), and Sherry or Vermouth if desired. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Plum Frangipane Crostata

Plums are nice this time of year, and though not my main choice for eating out of hand, there are many things that can be done with them. Make sure to choose plums that smell sweet. They should also be firm, but give a little when pressed with a finger.

I think they benefit from a little cooking to concentrate their flavor.

A crostata is a slightly rustic, free-form tart.
Frangipane is almond cream.
When combined with plums, a pretty and enjoyable dessert can be created.

Before baking the tart ends up looking like a chrysanthemum with all the pieces of plum arranged on top. Afterwards, the fruit settles a little and the frangipane puffs a bit and fills in the open spaces between the slices of plum.

This dessert doesn't end up being too sweet, and it might be nice with softly whipped and sweetened cream or mascarpone.

Plum Frangipane Crostata
serves 8

2 c flour
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
12 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 T cold water

1/2 c almond flour
1/2 T cornstarch
3 T unsalted butter
3 T sugar
1 large egg
1/4 t vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract
1 1/2 lb. fresh, ripe plums
2 T sugar (or vanilla sugar)

In a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor, mix the flour and sugar until well combined. Add the butter. If using a food processor, pulse several times until the butter is broken down into small pieces and looks like wet sand. If by hand, break the butter down using fingers, two knives, or a pastry cutter.
Add the cold water and fold gently until the dough comes together. Shape into a ball, flatten, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the frangipane.
Combine the almond flour and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix to just combine. Pour in the almond flour and cornstarch and mix on low speed until combined. Once the mixture is well-blended, refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Roll out pastry dough on a floured surface to a circle about 13 inches in diameter. Transfer to a pan prepared with a sheet of parchment paper. Spread the frangipane in the center of the pastry, leaving about 2 inches around the edge free of the filling. Cut the plums so that you have sixteen wedges per plum. Arrange the plums on top of the frangipane. You may have extra plum, but that's ok. Sprinkle the plums with sugar and fold the free edge up over the plums.
Bake 45-55 minutes, or until the crust is golden, and the frangipane is golden in spots and set near the center of the tart.
Cool, and serve warm or room temperature.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grilled Dill Chicken

Grilling can be difficult to give up, and granted, some people don't. They're out on the deck year-round, rain and snow included, doing their thing.
For the rest of the population, end-of-summer grilling can be somewhat of an event.
How much longer? What do we really want before it's too late?
What else can we do?

Might I suggest this- Grilled Dill Chicken?

It's great when cooked on the grill, but not necessary. If cooking indoors, a grill pan would be best, but once again not necessary.

The tomato relish that accompanies the chicken is a fantastic use of any cherry tomatoes that might be hanging around...

Grilled Dill Chicken with Tomato Relish
Slightly adapted from Gourmet, September 2009
Serves 6 (or more)

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 T grainy Dijon mustard
1 1/2 T white wine vinegar
5 T finely minced shallot

1/3 c minced fresh dill
1/3 c olive oil
1 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

If using the grill: preheat to a medium-high heat, if indoors, the pan should be about the same when you get to that point.
With a mallet or a rolling pin, pound the chicken breasts to a 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. Set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk together the mustard, vinegar, shallot, dill, and olive oil. Remove about half of the mixture to another medium bowl, and to it add 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper. Place the tomatoes on top of the dressing, but do not stir. Set aside.
Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken breasts in the bowl of dill-mustard dressing and turn to coat evenly.
Grill (on a grill on on the stove) the chicken until cooked through, turning once during the cooking process. It should only take about 5-7 minutes total.
Before serving, fold the tomatoes and dressing together.
Serve chicken with the relish.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper

You probably never thought you would hear (or see, for that matter) "awesome" and "broccoli" in the same sentence, but this really is awesome broccoli.
Roasting really makes any vegetable better. A few ingredients, high heat, and a little time will give you something great.

You may never want broccoli any other way... either that or all other broccolis will disappoint since they'll fall short of this one.
It's gold standard broccoli.

The recipe is adapted from Bon Appétit, but the date is unknown since it was copied from the magazine several years ago.

Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper
serves 6-8

2 lb. broccoli crowns
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 T olive oil, divided
3 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 large pinch red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 45o degrees F.
Cut the broccoli into large florets, place them in a large bowl and toss with 4 T olive oil.
Sprinkle with about 1 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper, toss again, and spread broccoli onto a large baking sheet.
Res the bowl for later use.
Place the pan in the oven and roast 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the garlic, red pepper, and the last tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
After 15 minutes of roasting, pull the pan out of the oven and carefully ease the hot broccoli back into the bowl. Quickly toss with the previously prepared garlicky olive oil, and re-arrange the broccoli back on the hot pan. Place the pan back in the oven and roast for another 8 minutes, or until the broccoli is caramelized a bit in spots.
Re-season as necessary with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.