Tomato, Cucumber, Onion and Mint Salad

IMG_3224We like to have delicious light lunches that are not sandwiches and don’t have to include meat, cheese, or bread.  Recently I saw a similar version of this salad  that Paula Deen recommended. It is a refreshing departure from one based on lettuce or other greens. It is too late in the season for our garden to provide the tomatoes and cucumbers, but we have more than enough mint and parsley!  This works well with a triangle of pita bread, or as a side if we use it for dinner with grilled meats or fish. Try this with chopped basil and some mozarella balls for an entirely different but tasty salad..

Tomato, Cucumber,, Onion, and Mint Salad

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

1/4 cup (or more to taste) fresh mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon chopped Parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Combine tomato, cucumber, onion, and mint in salad bowl.  In liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, vinegar, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Pour over vegetables and mint and toss. Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Pasta Caprese

IMG_2752A combination of two of our favorite summer salads, Pasta Caprese is perfect for Sunday lunch after church, for taking to a potluck, or as a side to serve with grilled meats or fish. We make a wide variety of pasta salads using ingredients that are in the pantry or frig. An all time favorite is Caprese made with fresh garden tomatoes, basil, and a slice of whole milk Mozarella. For this bowl of combined flavors, I use canned tomatoes and grated Mozarella, but you could also chop fresh tomatoes and/or use little Mozarella balls to make it even better. This recipe makes a large amount. Can be made ahead.

Caprese Pasta Salad

1 pound tube pasta such as penne or gemelli

1 28 ounce can or box of diced tomatoes, drained (reserve liquid for later use)

2 cups shredded mozarella

fresh basil leaves , shredded (I used a large bunch, but add this to taste)

sea salt and pepper,

1 cup balsamic vinaigrette

Cook pasta to package directions, al dente. Drain past, add to large bowl, and add drained tomatoes, shredded basil, grated cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Toss and add balsamic vinaigrette

Stuffed Garden Peppers

IMG_0735If you think ground meat and rice stuffing when you think of stuffed peppers, these peppers will surprise you.  Typically, a savory stuffing with some variation of beef and rice is stuffed into green Bell peppers before baking. For this version, I wanted to use Gypsy peppers from our garden.  They are only slightly spicy, and can be eaten when they are pale green, or, as here, brilliant shades of orange and red. They are smaller than most of the sweet peppers we get, and can be stuffed whole, or cut in half and filled for appetizer portions. I used a combination of goat cheese, garlic, and herbs, also from our garden..

Garden Peppers Stuffed with Goat Cheese

6 small red and orange sweet peppers (packaged mini peppers will do if peppers don’t grow in your garden!)

8 ounces goat cheese

2 cloves of garlic, diced

6 large basil leaves, chopped

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

olive oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash peppers and pat dry before slicing off stem end and removing seeds. In baking dish, pour enough olive oil to spread over bottom of pan. Add peppers, turning to coat and spreading olive oil inside and out with your fingers.  Mix cheese and herbs with salt and pepper to taste, then use a small spoon to stuff into peppers. Add a sprinkle of sea salt over top of peppers.  Bake for 15 or 20 minutes, or until peppers are fork tender. This is a wonderful light supper when served with a salad, but is also a beautiful addition to grilled meats..

 

 

Caprese

IMG_0465One of the simplest summer salads is this most beautiful and flavor filled Italian favorite It is a family favorite, and I can (and have!) eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Insalata caprese (salad of Capri) consists of freshly sliced tomatoes and mozzarella topped with basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  In Italy it is usually served as antipasto rather than as a side salad. The classic recipe has only olive oill, but we enjoy adding a splash of aged balsamic vinegar.  Home grown tomatoes and full fat mozzarella guarantee a satisfying, refreshing plate of goodness.

Caprese

3 large, ripe tomatoes.

3-4 slices mozzarella

fresh basil leaves

olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

balsamic vinegar, optional

Slice tomatoes thinly and arrange on large plate. Cut mozzarella into triangles or slice if using ball of mozzarella.  Add to tomatoes and garnish with whole basil leaves.  Drizzle olive oil over the top and add salt and pepper. Pass balsamic vinegar.

 

 

Spicy Soba Noodles

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There are so many different kinds of pasta that sometimes we miss trying types of Asian noodles that are so delicious.  I have a new favorite dish made with soba noodles. Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat, synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour. Using soba noodles instead of white-flour spaghetti is a good way to cut back on calories and carbs. In fact, you can cut your calories almost in half by making the swap. Due to their buckwheat content, soba noodles are a slow-releasing carbohydrate with a low glycemic index.

I have eaten soba in soups before, as well as served cold with dipping sauces, but I discovered a blog post on Molly Parr’s blog Cheap Beets which sounded so good that I tried it this week.  It can be found on many food websites since the publication of the cookbook Plenty, published by Yotam Ottolenghi, a London chef and food columnist.  I modified the recipe only slightly, shown by my notes in parentheses. It is good as a vegetarian entree, or topped with grilled shrimp or chicken. Either way, it is a flavorful combination of sweet and heat that you will enjoy.  When you read the recipe, don’t be discouraged by all the steps. While the water is heating you can prep the mango and eggplant, and cook the eggplant while the noodles cook. It all took me about 30 minutes, but it is important to let the mixture marinate for an hour or longer.  Adding the remainder of the chopped fresh herbs at serving time gives an extra surge of bright flavor.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango
 ½ cup rice vinegar
3 Tbs. sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil (or your cooking oil preference)
2 eggplants, cut into ¾-inch dice (I only used 1 because that is what I had)
9 oz. soba noodles
1 large ripe mango, cut into half inch cubes
1 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you use Thai basil, use much less of it)
2 ½ cups cilantro leaves, chopped
½ red onion, very thinly sliced
 
In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add lime zest and juice.
Heat oil in a large pan and fry the eggplant in several batches to avoid crowding. Once golden brown, remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain.
Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel. This step really helps dry the noodles off so they absorb marinade better.
In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. Set aside for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well before serving.  
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Zesty Zucchini

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We are eating more vegetables than ever since I started trying so many vegetables to roast, and  different ways to make them special.  Don’t get me wrong, a simple brush with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper gets delicious results.  But the addition of lemon zest, shredded basil, and a few cherry tomatoes definitely makes zucchini that is a favorite to add to any easy summer supper.

Zesty Zucchini

3-4 medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves

zest of one lemon

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

olive oil for coating

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.  Place zucchini and tomatoes in ZipLoc bag with enough olive oil to coat.  Lay zucchini halves on  baking sheet, cut side up with cherry tomatoes on top and around them. Sprinkle with lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Top with lemon zest and basil.  Sprinkle with olive oil and place in oven to roast for about 25 minutes, or until squash is fork tender.

There are many variations and combinations that work to make this one of the most versatile side dish for your summer meals.  Try mixing yellow squash or any other summer squash with chopped thyme and sliced lemon.  Fresh mint and a squeeze of orange juice is a bright, fresh taste for a change.  You can also use your outdoor grill for roasting if you prefer.

Easter Panzanella

011Easter lunch at our house was a success.  We combined a delicious make-ahead meal with the joy of celebrating Resurrection with family and good friends around our table.  Make that tableS because we had thirteen happy diners here last Sunday.  I learned a long time ago that the secret to making good food for guests while enjoying it myself lies in doing almost everything the day before.  Several parts of this meal will be featured in the posts this month, but today’s salad was my favorite.

Panzanella is a traditional dish made in various parts of central Italy, particularly Florence.  There are many variations but almost all use stale bread, cubed, and combined with tomatoes plus other summertime vegetables and basil.  This recipe combines several of those with inspiration from Ina Garten’s preparation for one she calls Greek Panzanella.  I like the addition of feta cheese and Kalamata olives as well her method of pan toasting the bread cubes which go well with the crunchiness of all the fresh vegetables. More traditional bread salad will have the bread cubes soaked in marinade, making a softer ingredient.

Easter Panzanella

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

6-8 cups of bread cubed from Ciabbata or Rosemary Bread

4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved – or  tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 English cucumbers, sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 yellow bell pepper,  cut into 1-inch cubes

1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced

Kalamata olives pitted, 1 cups

Feta cheese, crumbled, 2 cups

Fresh basil for garnish, optional

For the vinaigrette:

4 garlic pods, minced 

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

6 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash all vegetables and pat dry.  Remove seeds from peppers, chop, and place in a large bowl. Add  sliced tomatoes.  Halve the cucumbers lengthwise.  Using the tip of a teaspoon, run  gently down the center to scoop out any seeds, then lay the cucumber halves down to slice and add them along with sliced red onion to the other veggies.  Toss to combine.  If you are making this ahead of time, place each vegetable in a zip loc bag and refrigerate until serving time. I prefer to slice tomatoes at the last minute as they tend to soften.

Prepare vinaigrette by whisking together red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside

Heat olive oil in a large iron skillet. Add the bread ; cook over, stirring often, for 8- 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil if needed.   Add  crumbled feta cheese, olives, and  bread cubes to chopped vegetables, then toss with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.

Flavor improves by allowing this to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Squash Blossom Sauce over Butternut Ravioli

For these months leading up to and including holidays which are important family celebrations, Kitchen Keepers is celebrating the Art of Cooking, or beauty in the kitchen if you prefer!  One of the most stunning ways of feeling like an artist while working with food is the use of edible flowers!  Not just as a garnish, which is always lovely, not just for a ladies luncheon, but as a wonderful taste and tell addition to your menu.  Squash blossoms are so much fun, especially if you happen to grow your own. Since  the male squash flower has done its work when it has provided pollen for the female flowers (yep, there’s a difference – they have a longer stem and no small bulb at the end next to the vine), it is perfectly alright to pick them for using in the some fanciful and fantastic recipes. If there are no squash vines in your garden, you may find the blossoms sold at farmer’s markets or specialty stores.  There are great recipes that use the whole flower by stuffing it or dipping it in a batter to fry.  For this sauce, the flowers need to be fine chopped.

Simply trim off the stem end, spread the flower flat to brush off any tiny bug or debris, rinse and pat dry.  You can stack the flat blossoms to shred for this recipe.  I like to use purchased butternut ravioli which I cook and drain before plating with the sauce.

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
12 squash blossoms, quartered lengthwise and chopped fine

pinch of saffron

2 cups  chicken broth
1 egg yolk

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil for cooking pasta while starting sauce.

Add butter and oil to a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, and parsley; cook, stirring occasionally for  3 minutes. Add the squash blossoms, a pinch of salt, and the saffron. Stir gently. Add 3/4 cup of the broth, stir gently, and raise the heat to medium. As the broth starts to reduce, continue adding more broth gradually until it has reduced significantly and only a small film of broth coats the vegetables. This should take about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk.

Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package directions.. While it cooks, place the sauce back on medium heat. Measure  3 Tablespoons of pasta water and, whisking constantly with a fork, gradually add the hot water to the egg yolk to temper it.  Pour the yolk mixture into the saute pan, and stir continuously to combine. The yolk will thicken the sauce.

When the pasta is  al dente. (about 2 1/2 minutes.),  scoop the pasta from its cooking water into the sauce, and use tongs toput it into the sauce. Cook the two together for about 30 seconds, then serve in shallow bowls or on plates, topped with grated Pecorino Romano and garnish with fruit and a sprig of basil.

Texas Tomato Pie

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I have made several variations of pies named Tomato Pie.  There have been tomato tarts with French ancestry made with puff pastry, a Greek version with lots of thyme and lemon produced on sheets of phyllo, Italian flatbread with olive oil and tomatoes and basil, close kin to pizza.  Southern tomato pies may all have tomatoes in common, but little else other than a tender flaky crust.  What makes this pie a Texas pie?  Pecans and jalapeno peppers!  And it just may be the tastiest tomato pie ever.  My recipe is the result of combining ideas from recipes in Texas Recipes and the lovely Houston Junior League cookbook titled Peace Meals.  Peace to you and yours when you sit down to share this meal!  It needs only a garden salad tossed with a light citrus vinaigrette as an accompaniment.

Texas Tomato Pie

 

 9-inch pie crust, unbaked
1 cup fresh basil leaves
3 cloves garlic
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup brie cheese, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground  pepper
3 cups grape tomatoes, sliced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup minced jalapeños
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Basil, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place pie crust in the oven at 375 degrees for 5 minutes or until the bottom begins to brown slightly.

Remove from oven, sprinkle 1 cup of the mozarella over the bottom while still hot, then set aside while you work on the filling.

1. Wash basil leaves and pat dry.  Roll leaves together and slice thinly for chiffonade. Mince garlic and mix with basil.

2. Mix pieces of brie,  remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese with mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and  pepper.

3. Seed and mince jalapeno peppers.

4. Cut the grape tomatoes into thin slices.

5. Layer these ingredients into pie.
Scatter tomatoes over the mozzarella cheese in the pie crust. Sprinkle salt and jalapeños over the tomatoes, then the garlic and basil mixture over the tomatoes and jalapeños.

With a teaspoon, put dots of mayonnaise and cheese mixture over the top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle chopped pecans on top. Bake for 45  minutes or until the crust is golden brown and pie is bubbling.

 

Antipasto Skewers

 

Joe celebrated his 75th birthday last week.  He requested a family dinner and violin music!  He got both.- a wonderful evening of violin music performed by a friend who played all his requests and lasagna with all the trimmings.  These antipasto skewers were part of the appetizers served.  They are so easy to put together, and are perfect for an Italian meal.  Best of all – Maddie and Skye made them with a little help from Jeremy and Jordann!  Happy Birthday, Joe!

Small size bamboo skewers

Cherry or grape tomatoes

small mozzarella balls

fresh basil leaves

olives

Thread a basil leaf onto the skewer, followed by a tomato. Fold the basil leaf over, then add mozzarella ball, ending with an olive.  Quantity depends entirely on how many you wish to serve.  We made about 4 dozen. Hint:  It helps to assemble at the sharp tip of the skewer, sliding each piece further down as you add another.