Monday, June 23, 2008

Burst of color and seasonal flavor: beet bruschetta

A completely lovely friend went to Israel to visit her family recently and came back with an Israeli cookbook for me. She selected the most perfect cookbook – it is beautifully laid out on large, glossy paper, the photography is colorful and gorgeous, and it is very modern and young. It is full of stories and history related to food. Israeli food is a cuisine I am largely unfamiliar with: this book is the perfect seduction into Israeli cooking.

Having coincidentally picked up both beets and pomegranate seeds at the market, I was intrigued to find the perfect use for my acquisitions: a beetroot and pomegranate salad. Strange coincidence to spot a recipe that makes use of both, no?

I have had bruschetta on the brain recently and decided to morph the salad into a bruschetta topping, and of course, make my own little adjustments, namely swapping out the cilantro and replacing it with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley and chives, and adding some crumbled ricotta salata to the top. Perfection. I love the contrast of the dark, dense beets with the translucent seeds, and the green of the herbs adds wonderful color and freshness.

Beet and pomegranate seed bruschetta (heavily adapted from Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad from The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey)

3-4 medium beetroots, stem ends trimmed to ~1 inch length, washed lightly
2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 dried chili peppers, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
1 cup pomegranate seeds
¼ - ½ cup coarsely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
¼ cup delicate olive oil
Crumbled ricotta salata to top
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh baguette, sliced diagonally into ~1/2 inch rounds

Sprinkle beets with olive oil, wrap individually in aluminum foil packets, and roast in a 375º degree oven for ~45 minutes or until tender. Let cool. Peel and chop into small dice.

Mix with pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, peppers, sea salt and pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Spoon mixture onto bread rounds. Sprinkle with parsley and ricotta salata. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The best of the berry: strawberry frozen yogurt

I promise to get off frozen desserts soon, but I’m having so much fun experimenting with all of the fresh fruit that’s in the market now, I have to slip one more recipe in.

I recently gave in and purchased David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments cookbook. I usually limit the cookbooks I buy on a single topic because they don’t get enough play, but this one is going to be an exception: there are so many wonderful and refreshing sounding desserts in it that I am sure it will quickly become a regular in the rotation.

Strawberries are everywhere right now. We brought home a few pints of beautiful fresh picked ones from Long Island last weekend. Wanting to use them all up while they were at their freshest, I flipped through the Perfect Scoop for ideas. There were several great-sounding recipes: strawberry frozen yogurt, strawberry-sour ice cream, and strawberry granita, to name a few. I started with the frozen yogurt, and it was such a hit I went on to make the strawberry-sour ice cream the next day!

The frozen yogurt is particularly great because it only requires five ingredients (one of which is optional) and is made without cooking. No pots and pans to clean up and no custard to cook. The color of the frozen yogurt is a gorgeous hot pink, and the taste? Amazing, deep, fresh strawberry flavor that will make you swear off store-bought frozen yogurt forever.

Strawberry frozen yogurt (from the Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz)
(makes about 1 quart)

1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch (optional)
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and vodka or kirsch, if using, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring every so often.

Puree the strawberries and their liquid with the yogurt and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth. If you wish, press the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any seeds.

Refrigerate for 1 hour then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Crisp and refreshing: fresh fava bean salad

If you are like me, you’re probably not feeling like cooking over a hot stove right now. Hopefully you are not exactly like me and your air conditioning hasn’t conveniently decided to break down on the hottest day of the year.

I’m sticking to salads, sushi and frosty desserts right now. I’m revisiting some old favorites, like spinach couscous salad, and exploring some new salads. I’m giving my ice cream maker a run for its money (a frozen yogurt to share soon).

In the markets now, are beautiful, plump fava beans. They are a bit of a pain to shell, but it’s a mindless task and well worth the effort to uncover the glossy green gems. We had a simple fava bean side salad this week. I shelled a heap of fava beans and swore I wouldn’t do that again for a while. And then I ate the salad. And changed my mind.

P.s. I'm thrilled my great green salad photo won this month's aesthetics category in the "Does my blog look good in this" competition. Thanks so much judges, I really appreciate it!

Fresh fava bean salad

Fava beans, in pod
Olive oil
Champagne vinegar
1-2 chopped shallots
1 small wedge Pecorino Romano
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice plus zest of 1 lemon
~1 tsp crushed pink peppercorns
Good sea salt

To shell the favas, remove the beans from the pods and blanch them in salted boiling water for two minutes. Remove beans and plunge into an ice bath. When cool, remove the whitish outer covering of the beans by puncturing one end with your fingernail (or a knife) and gently squeezing the green bean out. It takes a bit of practice, but will go quickly once you get the hang out of it. Toss beans with a few splashes of olive oil, a few splashes of champagne vinegar, the chopped shallots, lemon juice and zest. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Shave Pecorino Romano on top. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Refreshing and sweet: plum wine granita

It was a funny weather weekend here – alternately sunny, warm and beautiful and rainy, cold and foggy. We were back at the beach and rolled with the punches, getting caught in a torrential downpour on Saturday night that caused us to run home, camera tucked under my sweater. It was nice to be away despite having to hole up inside on occasion. We took the opportunity to visit a local winery and indulge in a tasting. Rosé is apparently in vogue right now – and I will admit to being a bit wooed by the lovely pink color, and the girly-ness of it all. The combination of summer, wine, and pink inspired me to concoct a granita recipe loosely modeled after a little after dinner treat served at our local Japanese restaurant: plum wine granita.

The first time I had it I was amazed at how flavorful and refreshing it was. I asked for the recipe but apparently it’s a well-guarded secret, so I set off to tinker with the likely ingredients and came up with a version that is highly pleasing. It’s the perfect cooling summer treat: light, refreshing, and mildly alcoholic! As with any granita, you don’t need any special equipment – just a fork and a freezer-safe container – ideally one with a wide surface area for even freezing, like an 8 x 12 Pyrex with 2 or 3 inch sides.

Granitas with a high an alcohol content like this take a while to freeze and don’t stay frozen long so it’s best to plan a day ahead, stick your glasses in the freezer to chill for a while, fill them with the finished granita and then serve them directly from the freezer. The granita itself may take a half a day or longer to completely freeze, but the good news is you only have to check in on it every couple of hours while its doing so.

Plum wine granita (serves 4-6)

2 cups Japanese plum wine*
2.5 cups water
½ cup plus 1 Tbs sugar
1.5 Tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
4 Tbs crème de cassis (adds another flavor note and color – can be omitted).

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves completely. Remove from the heat. Combine with plum wine, cassis and lime juice. Taste and add additional sugar or lime juice if you like. Pour into a freezer-safe container (8x12 with 2 to 3 inch sides works well). Begin checking after two hours. As ice crystals form, use a fork to break them into smaller crystals taking care to scrape along the sides where the crystals will first form. Check and repeat every 1.5 - 2 hours until frozen.

*Note: Plum is ume in Japanese. I used this one. In general, look for a wine you'd be happy to drink but it need not be of the highest quality. The color of plum wine varies: Kikkoman, for example, produces an amber-colored plum wine that will result in a darker colored granita.