Monthly Archives: July 2011

Because It Is Summer

Some lazy summer afternoons, my interest in a full meal fragments into a mosaic of inchoate cravings, farmer’s market finds, and refrigerator foraging.  It starts like this: “What do you want for dinner?”  “Huh?

Eventually, I start rummaging.  I’ve got figs so soft that their juice is turning the paper bag damp at the bottom.  I had to buy them because it is summer and fig season is short, but I had no clear idea of how I intended to use them.  A package of prosciutto.   Two ears of corn, for which I body-checked several other patrons of the farmer’s market in the morning as a mosh-pit formed around the heap of corn.  A bit of leftover white bean hummus and a couple of pitas.

It is odds and ends, but no matter.  The corn goes on the grill, then the figs.  We crack open a few bottles of icy beer and sit on the patio just savoring the warmth and light of the day.  The sounds of the city are muted up here–birds chirp and the cat perks up his ears.  The breeze shifts, bringing a whiff of someone else’s grill.  Shards of sunlight glint off the lake.

Within minutes, it is time to eat.

This is barely a recipe, but the result is more than the sum of the parts.  The salty, chewy, slightly crispy prosciutto cradles the juicy figs, so tender that they drip sweet, hot juice.

Grilled Figs & Prosciutto

  • 8 fresh figs, rinsed and halved
  • 8 slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise

Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes.  Wrap fig halves with a slice of prosciutto, and place on skewers with a small space between each.  Grill over low flame, turning as necessary until browned and crispy around edges.

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Fennel and Greens

I am currently obsessed with this salad.  I keep finishing off a batch of it, then turning right around and making another.  Every time I go to the grocery store I find I simply cannot leave without another fennel bulb in my bag.  The thing is, it’s darn near the perfect summer salad.  Here’s why:

  1. Most of the ingredients are items that I always have on hand.
  2. It is incredibly sturdy—it actually stays crunchy for days in the refrigerator.
  3. It has fennel bulb in it.
  4. It doesn’t have any mayonnaise in it.
  5. My garden is producing abundant greens right now.  I can pick a mixed colander full in seconds.
  6. Oh yes, and it’s delicious.

I rest my case.

The inspiration for this brilliant salad came from Tara at Tea & Cookies.  As I read her recipe, I knew it was going to be a keeper.  I started tinkering with it immediately of course, adapting a bit to suit my own tastes, and throwing in some leftover beans and rice I had in the refrigerator to make it into a full meal.

I like fennel bulb a lot–braised in winter, or sliced raw into salads.   I find that marinating it briefly in lemon juice improves the flavor of raw fennel bulb–it seems to remove that hint of licorice flavor that can make it a bit bitter.

If you, like me, often start the week by making big pots of beans and rice and stashing them in the refrigerator for weeknight dinners, you are halfway to enjoying this salad already.  I have made it with brown rice, wild rice, farro, garbanzo beans, and adzuki beans.  Use what you’ve got.

Fennel and Greens Salad

(adapted from Tea & Cookies)

  • 1 large fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cups mixed greens (I used lacinato kale, scotch kale, collards, and chard), finely chopped
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice, cooled
  • 1 cup cooked wild rice, cooled
  • 1 cup cooked beans, cooled
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Toss sliced fennel bulb in a large bowl with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes, while preparing other ingredients.  Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine.  Season to taste with pepper and additional salt if needed.

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White Bean Hummus

What’s the best way to enjoy a sunny day in Seattle?  Go outside, immediately.  Now.  Even better, get yourself to a restaurant with outdoor seating without delay.  Do not procrastinate.  Pause only long enough to put on some sandals and short sleeves.  Because if you tell yourself that you’ll enjoy the sunshine later, after you’ve finished checking your email, or tomorrow because it will be Saturday, you will miss out.  The fickle sun and the ephemeral warmth will be gone and grey skies will be back and you’ll only have yourself to blame.  Just a friendly warning.

Friday was one of those perfect sunny Seattle days.  I followed my own advice and had lunch outside at the Boat Street Café.  I was there with my fellow food-blogger Amber, from Awake At The Whisk.

Over an asparagus and leek clafouti, and puy lentils topped with a poached egg, the conversation whizzed as rapidly as popcorn popping, spiced with frequent laughter.

And when lunch was over, I left with one gorgeous, purple Blue Jay Pepper, grown in Amber’s garden in Sacramento.  As I sniffed the pepper, with its smell of summer, I imagined all of the things I could do with it.

I settled on a simple white bean variation of hummus, enhanced by the mild, smoky flavor of the roasted pepper.

I was surprised, after roasting the vibrant Blue Jay pepper, to discover that when I removed the charred outer skin, the inside flesh was actually a pale green.

Michael and I nibbled at this dip for the rest of the weekend, smearing it on pita wedges.  Finally, on Sunday afternoon, as the end of a perfectly sunny weekend drew near, we sat on the deck with the bowl of hummus and some cold drinks, and watched the sailboats and seaplanes skim across Lake Union.  I was a little nostalgic already, not wanting the lazy, warm day to ever end.

White Bean Hummus with Roasted Pepper

  • 1 15 oz can Cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small bell pepper, roasted and diced

To roast pepper under broiler:  Rinse pepper and place on a baking sheet under the broiler.  As skin chars, turn pepper with tongs until it is blackened on all sides.  Rinse under cold water, rubbing off charred outer skin.  Remove stem and seeds.  Dice pepper.

Combine all ingredients in blender and process until smooth.  Scrape into serving bowl.  Serve drizzled with additional olive oil if desired, alongside pita points.

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Pickled Radishes

This may very well turn out to be the summer of pickles.  It seems like everyone is pickling.  Recipes are springing up all over the place, providing instant inspiration.  The question I’m asking these days is, “What can’t I pickle?”  On long summer evenings, that tangy, cool crunch is the oh, so necessary accompaniment to grilled meats and pasta salads, and a palate-pleasing topper for a lunchtime green salad.

The piles of radishes, bunched up and arranged like bouquets, called to me at the farmer’s market last week.  Each bunch had a good solid heft, with abundant greens and colorful, solid radishes.  Brandishing my bunch, I handed over my three dollars and made off with the goods.

Once home, I cleaned and cut up the radishes, pausing to snack on a few in the classic French manner: a thick slice of radish topped with a generous swipe of butter and a sprinkle of salt.

Within moments, the radishes were tucked away in jars, resting in their briny bath in the refrigerator.  The next day they were ready.  The radishes had faded a bit, from vibrant reds to a more muted pink, from a handful of rubies to red agates.

I sampled one, then another.  They were crunchy and mildly tangy—the peppery bite of the radishes was actually mellowed by the brine into a bright, vaguely sweet flavor that made me want to keep sampling.

Pickled Radishes

  • 1-2 bunches of radishes, depending on size (about 3 cups)
  • ½ cup rice wine vinegar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic

Cut greens and tails from radishes.  Wash gently, and cut in half lengthwise (quarter larger ones).  Place radishes in a glass bowl or canning jars with peppercorns and garlic.

Stir salt and sugar into vinegar until dissolved, and pour over radishes, ensuring that all are submerged.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Radishes will be ready to eat at this point, but will keep for around a week  in the refrigerator.  Eat them while they are still crunchy.

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Happy Bastille Day!

July 14 is Bastille Day, the French holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille to begin the French Revolution in 1789.

While the French are celebrating with parades, dances, and fireworks, I considered commemorating the day with a cake, a la Marie Antoinette.  Although that notion has a certain humorous appeal, the reality is that I’m not very good at baking cakes.  But my thoughts having turned in the direction of French cooking, who better to look to for inspiration than the incomparable Dorie Greenspan?  So I flipped through my copy of Around My French Table, pausing here and there on the many recipes that I have marked with paper tabs.

And I landed on the recipe for Farçous, or Swiss Chard Pancakes.  My garden is bursting with chard right now, so I am happy to incorporate it into as many recipes as possible.  Every night I head outside with a colander and a pair of kitchen scissors, to snip a basket of greens for dinner.

These savory pancakes only take about ten minutes to mix up, and a few more to cook.  They are springy and tender, filling but not heavy.   The flavor is mild, and the fresh, bright notes of the chard and onions are surprisingly addictive.  Somehow, they manage to be simultaneously elegant and homey–the perfect, simple summer meal to enjoy on the patio with a crisp glass of white wine, in the slanting evening sunshine.

So this Bastille Day I say: Let them eat pancakes!

Farçous (Swiss Chard Pancakes)

(adapted from Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan)

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup spelt flour
  • 1 large egg and 1 yolk (or two small eggs)
  • ½ cup finely chopped green onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 tbsp minced parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 large swiss chard leaves, center ribs removed, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped
  • About 1/4 cup vegetable or grapeseed oil

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Put everything except the Swiss chard and oil in a blender or food processor, season the mix generously with salt and pepper (use more salt than you think you need), and process until the batter is smooth.   Add the chard to the mix and incorporate it, leaving some bits of leaves unprocessed.

Pour ¼ inch of oil into a large skillet (cast iron works well for this) and place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a drop of batter should seize immediately), spoon in about ¼ cup batter for each pancake — don’t crowd the pan.   Cook the pancakes for about 3 minutes, until the underside is nicely browned and the edges are browned and curled. Carefully flip the pancakes over and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Transfer the pancakes to a paper-towel-lined cookie sheet, and keep warm in the oven while you continue to make pancakes.

Makes about six 6-inch pancakes.

These can be made ahead and gently rewarmed in the oven, and they freeze well.

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