Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Pasta with Fried Zucchini Flowers and Radicchio

My last post was called Here Come the Zucchini. Well, they're here -- in full force, and like many of you, we're always looking for great new ways to use them. This week for Meatless Monday, Cyn put together a wonderful pasta dish using not only the zucchini but garlic, Greek oregano, Tuscan rosemary, Thai basil, Italian parsley, chives and zucchini flowers all from our garden!

If you've never cooked with or had zucchini flowers you really need to give them a try. If you grow your own zucchini, you will have these beautiful yellow flowers on every vine.

They're used in a variety of ways in Italian cooking and we've done one of the simplest but most delicious preparations here -- a light batter deep fry.


  • 3 tbsp butter, divided
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp shallots, sliced thin (half a medium)
  • salt
  • 2 big pinched of crushed red pepper (or to taste)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 cup of white wine -- we used an un-oaked Chardonnay
  • 1 medium zucchini, whole and unpeeled
  • 1/2 pound linguine (or other long pasta of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup Better than Bullion "no chicken" chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1/2 small head of radicchio julienned
  • good squeeze of fresh lemon
For Fried Squash Blossom
  • 2/3 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup carbonated beverage (we used Pelligrino water but beer, soda, seltzer or tonic would all work)
  • Vegetable oil - at least 1/2" deep
  • 9-12 zucchini blossoms, stamen snipped out of middle

Preparation (the sauce)

  • In a small saucepan, reduce the white wine to 1/2 cup
  • On a mandolin with thick julienne insert, slice the zucchini the long way to make 'linguine', stopping before you get into the seeds
  • Combine the herbs and chop roughly (finer - more taste)
  •  Add 2 tbsp of butter and the 2 tbsp EVOO to a saute pan on medium low heat
  • Add garlic and shallots, cook slowly until transparent and just starting to brown, add red pepper
  • Add reduced wine and stock to garlic and shallots -- simmer while stirring for 1-2 minutes 
  • Keep warm while cooking pasta

Preparation (the zucchini flowers)
  • Heat the vegetable oil to 350 degrees F in a deep fry pan
  • Prepare a light batter by mixing the flour and carbonated beverage together with a whisk. Important: the carbonated beverage MUST BE COLD. You are looking for a consistency just slightly more thick than heavy cream.
  • Drag each zucchini flower in the batter and fry immediately. They will take no more than 30 seconds per side

  • Remove them from the oil as they finish and drain on a rack above a pan or paper towels. Salt immediately as they come out of the oil.

     Final Preparation

    • Cook the pasta about 3/4 of the way done
    • Remove the pasta from the water, add to the reserved sauce
    • Add about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce and zucchini
    • Simmer until pasta reaches your preferred level of doneness
    • Add chopped herbs, sliced radicchio and simmer for another minute
    • Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and the remaining 1 tbsp of butter
    • Top pasta with zucchini flowers
    • Salt to taste

    The creamy pasta combines perfectly with the slight bitterness of the radicchio and the crispiness of the zucchini flowers. Together with the garlic and wine sauce, this dish screams summer. Buon appetito!

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    Here Come the Zucchini

    Last time I wrote about our garden, the zucchini were still in their infancy. Now, as zucchini always does, they're coming fast and furious. This year we decided to grow an heirloom variety called Cocozelle, which are shaped entirely different than the more typical long style. These guys are nearly round when they're grown out!

    This past Monday, as a part of our regular Meatless Monday, Cyn put together a side dish that turned out so well I wanted to devote this blog entry to it. It was simple, quick to put together and really tasty. It even reheated well the next day when I took the leftovers to work for lunch.

    • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 cup shredded parmigiano cheese (almost any good melting cheese would work well)
    • 1 small shallot, minced
    • 1 small hot pepper, minced (optional, but we like it hot)
    • minced fresh herbs (optional - summer or winter savory, oregano, parsley and thyme all work)
    • melted butter
    • 1 pound of zucchini cut into 1/4 inch rounds, slices, or strips (your choice)
    • salt
    Note: The more common long zucchini will work just as well!

    • Slice the zucchini, salt lightly and allow to stand on paper towels for 10-15 minutes. This will draw out some of the natural liquid contained in them, much like you would do with an eggplant.
    • Dip one side of each zucchini slice in the breadcrumbs - it will form a nice crunchy base
    • Place the zucchini slices on a silicone mat (to prevent sticking) on a sheet pan
    • Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, shallot, hot pepper, and herbs together
    • Drizzle a little melted butter onto each zucchini slice
    • Sprinkle the mixed ingredients on to each slice

    • Cook in a 400 degree convection oven (425 degree regular oven) until the cheese is melted and begins to lightly brown
    • Remove and serve hot

    These little beauties are crunchy yet creamy, delicious and pretty darn healthy. Since we have so many zucchini in the garden, we spent some time talking about what else we might do with them and came up with a few ideas for future meals.

    - Build a Zucchini Parmigiano sandwich (much like eggplant parm) with fresh tomato and mozzarella
    - Fan the baked peice out on a plate and position fried eggs on top for a complete meal with protein
    - Make a veggie Napoleon with the zucchini, tomato, ricotta and basil leaves

    The possibilities are probably endless. How would you use them?

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    Cyn's Summer Pasta Salad

    It's been hot in Northern Virginia this Spring and early Summer. So far in July we've had 6 days over 100F (38C) and the prediction is that we will end this month as the hottest ever on record for the Washington DC area. This past Monday was no exception, very hot, humid and sticky. When it's that uncomfortable, the thought of eating something hot just isn't that appealing. So I was pleasantly surprised when Cynthia told me we were having a cold pasta salad for our Meatless Monday dinner. Here is her recipe for this delicious and refreshing dish.

    Ingredients (the dressing)
    • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
    • 1/4 cup white balsamic (can substitute white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar)
    • heaping tsp sugar
    • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup oil, I like EVOO
     Ingredients (the salad)
    • about 1 cup corn, cut from two ears or cheat and use a can of corn, we grilled our corn before use here
    •  1 1/2 pounds zucchini, julienne, placed in colander and tossed with 2 tsp kosher salt.  Let sit an hour, squeeze excess moisture out and pat dry. Do not skip the salting, your zucchini will create a water bath in the salad and the salad will be highly under seasoned. 
    • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
    • 1/4 cup fresh basil, torn or shredded, your preference
    • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed or purchase bocconcini or ciliegine (small fresh mozzarella balls and smaller fresh mozzarella balls, respectively)
    • optional, used here: oil cured black olives and fresh chives
    • 1/2 pound of pasta, one with curls and/or ridges to catch and hold the dressing, Campanelle from Barilla was used in this recipe.  (I find Barilla brand pastas tend to hold their shape very well in a cold pasta preparations.)
    •  Cook your pasta a minute or two less than package instructions, or until it's just tender.  Dump into a colander and pass under cold running water just until it's cool enough not to melt your mozzarella, but still warm.
    • Whisk all dressing ingredients together and throw in the mozzarella and tomatoes to marinate while you deal with the zucchini and pasta. 
    • Once pasta and zucchini are ready, mix everything together and serve.  
    If you want, you can make this a couple of days ahead, but let it sit out for half an hour or so and wait until just before service before adding the basil.  This recipe doubles well, and makes a fantastic base for grilled shrimp that has been marinated in garlic and lemon on those non-meatless days of the week. Served wit
      h a nice roll or even better yet, garlic bread, this makes a perfect hot summer night meal.

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    Oven Roasting Fresh Tomatoes for Pasta Sauce

    A while back I wrote a post about using the preserved tomato sauce from 2008 that we still had in our pantry. It was the last jar of what was the best tomato crop we have grown -- to date. This weekend we picked and roasted the first batch from this year's garden with high hopes that we could match the richness of flavor from that magical year.

    I wanted to share the process, especially since it's so simple, at least up to the canning, which I won't cover here. Those of you that can know it's not really hard, just a little time consuming.

    The first step is pretty obvious, get yourself some tomatoes. We like to grow our own, but you can also buy them from a farm or farm market. Here's a little tip if you decide to buy -- offer to buy the "seconds", you know, the less than perfect tomatoes that everyone else has passed on. They can have blemishes, partial spoilage and even the occasionally bug hole. Don't worry, you're going to cut away any bad parts and you'll be surprised how little waste there is. Most farmers will be happy to sell you these orphans at a reduced price. Don't be afraid to haggle! Later in the season we'll do exactly that after our plants have exhausted their yield.

    For now though, we are happily picking beautiful fruit from our plants. Here's what we got this weekend.

    As you can see we like o grow a pretty wide variety of tomatoes. This year we planted the following varieties: Tigerella, Juliette, Sausage, White Cherry, Sungold, Boxcar Willie, Legend, Hawaiian Pineapple, Green Zebra, Black Zebra, Tommy Toe, Brandywine Red and Viva Italia. Not all came ripe at the same time but many are in this batch.

    First, give them a light rinse to remove any remaining soil. You'll need a good sharp paring knife and a sturdy, oven safe roasting pan with high sides, the kind you might cook your Thanksgiving turkey in (no, not one of those cheap foil one's you buy in a supermarket, this is going to get heavy). Cut the tomatoes in chunks. I know that's a technical term but I'm sure you'll figure it out. The point is that the relative size isn't that important. You can even leave the cherry tomatoes whole. Fill the roasting pan almost to the top if you have enough tomatoes. Don't worry, they'll cook down in size as they release their liquid and some of it boils off. Add multiple (another technical term) cloves of whole garlic. The amount is really "to taste" so you may need to experiment some. We like a lot and fortunately we just harvested our garlic from the garden a few weeks ago.

    Add a liberal amount of extra virgin olive oil (1/4 - 1/2 cup) to the pan, stirring just enough to get things coated. Add salt (about 1 tsp Kosher salt per quart of tomatoes). Put the pan into a 425 degree oven and walk away -- at least for while. The tomatoes on top will eventually start to brown. This is a good time to open the oven just long enough to stir the mixture up bring new tomatoes to the top. Repeat this process every time the tomatoes on top brown. How do I know when they're done you ask? Well, it's a little bit of a feel thing but what we look for is that the water to pulp ratio is about even and all the tomatoes are "broken down." All the skins will be loose and mostly separated from the meat.

    Remove the pan from the oven and move to somewhere safe, we use the stove top. Warning, warning, warning! At this point, the mixture is pretty loose and at pretty much the temperature of lava. Make sure the kids and pets are out of the way. Allow to cool to room temperature.

    You'll need a way to remove the skins and seeds and convert this beautiful mixture into a silky smooth sauce. We use a hard food mill we bought from Williams Sonoma years ago. It's a little bit of work put wonderfully gratifying to do. The food mill grinds the tomato meat, passes the liquid and removes the skins which are then discarded.

    The sauce is now ready to be used as is, "doctored" into a variety of other tomato based creations, canned for future use or even frozen! The roasted garlic flavor will be there no matter which of the methods you pick and no matter how long you store the canned or frozen sauce.

    I've said it before but it bears repeating, there is nothing better than opening a jar of this magic in the middle of winter and getting that garden fresh taste.

    Four Seasons Food
    Four Seasons Food hosted by Delicieux and Chezfoti

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

    Nine Wonderful Days In Ireland

    It's been more than 2 weeks since I posted anything and I'm feeling a little guilty about it. If it matters, I do have an excuse -- I've just returned from a 9 day trip to Ireland! It was part holiday and part business, both of which went well. Cynthia was with me and we thoroughly enjoyed the people, the golf, the culture, the scenery and the beer.

    During our visit we managed to rent a car and drive to two of our three rounds of golf. For those of you who have never driven on the "wrong side of the road", it's not as intimidating as it sounds. After about 15 minutes it seemed pretty natural. I should mention that the vehicle we rented was a standard transmission so shifting with the left hand added a little spice to the equation.  Some of the roads are pretty narrow, more like a lane and a half than two but there seems to be way more courtesy on Irish roads than in the US, so things have a way of working themselves out.

    For those of you that might be golfers, two of the courses we played are pretty famous, and now having played them, I understand why. Ballybunion was first opened in 1893 and consistently ranks in the top 100 courses in the world. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, it's a typical links style course that offers amazing views and a real challenge to golfers of any skill level. We caught it on a rather benign day, no rain, modest winds, and with the help of our caddy Lez, had great time playing with two Irish Catholic priests who were visiting from Dublin. Maybe we got the good weather thanks to Father Enda and Father John.

    The next day, another one without rain until the front edge of a storm rolled in as we were playing the last hole, we played Tralee, an Arnold Palmer course built in 1984. Most golfers have heard Palmer's famous quote, "Yes, I designed the front nine, but God clearly designed the back nine.". Hyperbole right? No, understatement! Numbers 10-18 at Tralee are, by far, the most dramatic, breathtaking and challenging holes of golf I've ever played. Once again, perched on the cliffs of southwestern Ireland, overlooking the ocean, I felt like I was on a computer graphically generated version of a golf video game. Huge elevation changes, forced carries, blind approaches and views that I would gladly pay to go back and see again made it truly memorable. I'll admit I was a little bit jealous of our caddy Tommy, since this glorious place was his office.

    Our final round in Ireland was at the Killeen course at the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club. This course was the site of the 2010 and 2011 Irish Open and came highly recommended. However, that part of Ireland has had the wettest spring/summer in recent memory and the condition of the course has suffered from it. We got rained on for 6 of the 18 holes and left not particularly enjoying the layout. To be fair, it would have been hard for any course to follow Ballybunion and Tralee.

    On to the food!

    What we learned in our 9 days was that what the Irish do, they do very well. The ingredients are amazingly fresh and local, the food is prepared excellently and it is always brought to the table piping hot (this may seem a small thing but for me, it's not). Meats tend to be beef, lamb and chicken. Seafood is everywhere (it is an island after all) and super fresh. Vegetables are often an afterthought, except for the potatoes. If you go to Ireland, prepare to get your potato fix. They are a part of every traditional Irish breakfast and are served with basically every other meal of the day. One day, in a pub, Cynthia ordered Potato Cakes as her main dish. They were made by taking mashed potatoes, adding smoked chicken and a few pieces of vegetable then forming a cake which was then sauteed and covered in a mushroom gravy. Delicious actually. It arrived on a plate with a small green salad and a large portion of beautiful fries! That's right, potatoes with potatoes.

    I did have one traditional potato dish that was new to me -- boxty. On my Meatless Monday in Ireland, I was in a restaurant with a group of work colleagues and their spouses. The set menu offered choices of beef, lamb, fish and pork. The staff had been told in advance that one vegetarian meal would be required and they came through beautifully serving me a traditional vegetable boxty. Basically, boxty is a mixture of finely grated raw potato, mashed potato, flour baking soda and egg.the mixture is fried in a griddle pan for a few minutes on each side, forming a thin "pancake" which is plated, filled with anything that you like and folded over in half creating a kind of unsealed calzone. In my case in was a mix of chopped vegetables in a thickened sauce. Very tasty.

    In my opinion, the Irish do fish and chips better than the English. It is always amazingly fresh, fried to perfection and served right out of the fryer. The chips are thick cut, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside and snap when you bite them. Also worth mentioning is the tea. As a tea drinker (I don't so coffee) I was happy to find a country full of tea drinkers who served a good black tea that they steeped quite long making it full and strong.Everything we had baked, breads, scones in the morning, even the toast served every morning with breakfast, was wonderful. The Irish swear it's because their dairy products are different from ours. Read different as better. I can attest to the fact that Irish butter is way better than anything you find in your local supermarket.

    Interestingly, the very best meal we had in Ireland was at a traditional Italian restaurant -- Cucina Italiano, in Killarney town. We stumbled in one evening while walking around town trying to decide what to eat. I'd recommend anyone who is in Killarney to set aside on evening for a meal at this place. After the fact, we saw many people referring to this as the best Italian restaurant in Ireland on the internet.We also had a very good meal at the Lime Tree restaurant in Kenmare, a beautiful town known for having some of the best food in Ireland.

    All in, we had a wonderful first trip to Ireland and look forward to returning some day.

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