The All-Purpose Wine-Friendly Snack Mix

Posted by on Aug 18, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 1 comment

I came across this Spanish-inspired mixture a few years ago and since then have used it not only for my own parties, but for winery and wine bar clients looking to provide a bite to go with all kinds of wines. This is it.

The briny olives, tangy cheese and rich-sweet almonds marinate overnight with lemon zest, garlic and bay leaves. By morning, they are infused with an addictive citrus-herb flavor that manages to taste equally great with a light rose or a spicy syrah. The best thing is that it takes just a few minutes to put together, once you have all the ingredients in front of you. It’s just fine with one night of marinating, but can be put together a couple of days before you want to serve it. The flavors just get better.

I like to use a green olive like the Picholine for its nice briny flavor. It gives a bite of acidity to the mix. But, if you can’t find them, use the Manzanilla olives sans pimento. I have also substituted Manchego or aged gouda for the Dry Jack, or combined two cheeses for a variation. A touch of rosemary is nice, too.

The All-Purpose Wine-Friendly Snack Mix
(makes 1 quart)

1 cup Picholine olives (pitted, preferably)
¾ pound Vella Dry Jack cheese, outside coating trimmed off, cut into ½” cubes
1 cup Marcona almonds
Zest from 2 lemons
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place the olives, cubed cheese and almonds in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, crumbled bay leaves and garlic cloves to the bowl and mix together. Stir in the olive oil, coating all the ingredients evenly. Place the mixture in a covered container and refrigerate overnight. Remove an hour before serving.

This mix will last up to one week, refrigerated in a covered container.

Summer Beans and Corn with Basil

Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

Is it terrible to confess that even more than the first tomatoes of summer, I look forward to the first shelling beans and the trifecta of tender romano, yellow wax and slender french beans?

Don’t get me wrong. I will still slurp down a ripe tomato, mayonnaise and white bread sandwich at some point this summer over the sink, if not several times. But it’s these colorful, tender beans that I miss most when the summer ends and it’s back to the stringy old substitutes that languish in the produce department the rest of the year.

Growing up in the South, the ritual of shelling fresh beans and peas in the summer was a given. You settled yourself in on the porch or maybe in the kitchen near a fan and started in on the small mountain of pods before you. Those beans and peas were precious, so much so that when a rambunctious one bounced out of the colander and rolled under the refrigerator, you got down on your belly and fetched it.

I grew up with the taste of these beans cooked low and slow with salty fat back and sweet onion. I still love summer beans cooked that way, but living in California for so long now has opened up more possibilities. I never tasted fresh basil as a kid and instead of fresh lemons, my mother always had one of those plastic yellow lemons full of pre-squeezed, chemically-fiddled-with lemon juice in the fridge. A sad substitute for what has become my kitchen workhorse.

This recipe combines a generous mix of fresh and shelling beans with butter, basil and lemon and the addition of corn for sweetness and bite. You could just as easily cook the mix with bacon fat instead of butter or leave the corn out entirely. I eat this with grilled salmon or chicken, alongside steak or roast pork. And, many times, right out of the pan all by myself.

Summer Beans and Corn with Basil
(serves 4-6)

¾ lb. fresh cranberry beans (or other fresh shelling bean), shelled
2 shallots, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Kosher salt, plus more to salt the bean cooking water
¼ lb. romano beans, stem ends trimmed, cut in half on the diagonal
¼ lb. yellow wax beans, stem ends trimmed, cut in half on the diagonal
¼ lb. haricots verts, stem ends trimmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large ear of white or yellow corn, shucked, silk removed, kernels cut off the cob
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4-5 large leaves of basil, washed and dried
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Place the shelled cranberry beans in a medium saucepan and fill with enough cold water to cover the beans by at least 3 inches. Place one whole shallot and the bay leaf into the pan with the beans. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Then turn down to low and cook, simmering, until the beans are tender, about 40 – 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove, stir in 2 teaspoons of salt and let the beans cool in the cooking liquid. Discard the shallot and bay leaf and drain the beans when cooled.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby.

Boil the romano beans until just tender, about 4 minutes. Remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon or strainer and immediately place them in the ice water. Repeat with the yellow wax beans and the haricots verts. (Test for tenderness with each variety of bean, but they each should take 4-5 minutes. ) Strain the beans through a colander and shake to remove excess liquid.

Finely mince the remaining shallot. Place the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When it has melted, add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot is translucent and starting to brown just a little, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the corn kernels and mix well with the shallots and butter. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the corn is tender and sweet. Add all the cooked beans and toss together to combine. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until completely heated through, stirring occasionally. If the beans are slightly undercooked, cook a little longer until they are tender. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice. Finely sliver the basil leaves and stir them in at the last minute, then top with the lemon zest.


Peach Almond Frangipane Tart

Posted by on Jun 7, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 4 comments

Last year’s crop of peaches was a disappointment. Meager and small, they were done in a flash and I never got my fill of them. For this Southerner, that was a sacrilege. But, fortunately, this season they are in full swing and tasting sweeter and juicier then ever. I had my first ones last week from the market, then made my favorite tart with them using almond frangipane.

Almonds and peaches have a natural affinity and I play with variations of these two flavors throughout the summer. Baked peaches with almond ice cream. Warm peach crisp with an almond streusel topping. Peach shortcakes with almond scented whipped cream. The possibilities are endless.

But this tart is a favorite and always gets rave reviews when I serve it. After getting many requests for the recipe, I decided to share it because the technique and the basic elements of this tart – the dough and the frangipane – can be used with many other kinds of fruit throughout the year. It works with: Apricots, poached pears, figs, nectarines, plums, cherries and poached quince. I also use this dough for other sweet tarts because I like it’s shortbread-like texture and flavor. Try it with a pecan pie filling or lemon curd.

Peach Almond Frangipane Tart
(serves 8)

For the tart dough:
1 stick unsalted butter, cool room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
1 ¼ cups unbleached flour

Place the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter until smooth. Scrape down the sides and add the sugar. Beat until smooth. Add the egg yolk and salt and mix thoroughly. Scrape down the sides again, then add the flour and mix until the dough starts to come together into moist, crumbly pieces. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead together into a disc. Roll out into a circle, about 1/8” thick, then place inside a 9” removable bottom tart pan. Tuck the dough firmly into the pan. If there any cracks or holes, just pinch the dough together and smooth with your fingertips. This dough is forgiving. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use.

For the almond frangipane:
¾ cups blanched, slivered almonds
½ cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cool room temperature
2 large eggs
½ tablespoon rum
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
pinch of salt

Place the almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the sugar and pulse a few times to combine with the almonds. Add the butter and process until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs, rum, vanilla and almond extracts and salt and continue processing until homogenous and smooth. Don’t over-process or it will break. Use immediately, or refrigerate in a closed container for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.

For the tart:
5-6 small peaches, blanched and peeled, cut into ½” wedges
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Place a rack in the center of the oven.

Remove the tart shell from the freezer about 20 minutes before baking. Line the shell with foil, then fill with dried beans or rice. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and beans or rice and bake another 12-15 minutes or until the shell is golden brown. Cool on a rack to room temperature.

Spread the frangipane into the baked tart shell evenly. Arrange the sliced peaches in concentric circles on top of the frangipane. Bake for 1 hour or up to 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top is puffed and golden brown and the filling is set.

While the tart is cooling, heat the apricot jam with 2 teaspoons of water until the jam is liquidy. Strain to remove any chunks, then brush the apricot mixture gently over the top of the tart, especially over the fruit that is showing through.

If you like, lightly sift powdered sugar over the surface of the tart just before serving.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or crème fraiche.


Aged Gouda and Rosemary Shortbread

Posted by on May 12, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

I’ll just say right off the bat that these are addictive.
For me, they are the adult version of Cheez-Its that I used to eat when I was a child. Hypnotically I would eat them, one by one, until I came to and realized I had just eaten the entire box.

My mother, a good Southern woman, made what we called Cheese Biscuits, a short, buttery-cheddary wafer spiked with cayenne pepper. She made them for church socials, teas and holidays. This shortbread recipe resembles the one she used to make, but I have switched out the cheddar for one of my favorite cheeses of all times – aged gouda. The little bit of rosemary gives it a nice herby edge.

And just like Cheese Biscuits, these savory shortbread wafers can show up at any party and are particularly delicious with all kinds of wines from sparkling to rose′ to reds and whites.

The dough can be made ahead, rolled and frozen for up to a month. Just thaw them in the refrigerator before slicing and baking. Make a lot because a plate of them will disappear in moments. Maybe even before they make it out to the party…

Aged Gouda and Rosemary Shortbread
(makes approximately 3 dozen biscuits)

2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temperature
1 cup grated aged gouda cheese
2 cups unbleached flour
¾ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
Fleur de Sel or Maldon Salt

Heat oven to 350°. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
Line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.

Place the butter and cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until well combined. Combine the flour, rosemary and salt in a medium bowl. With the mixer running, add the flour/salt mixture, mixing just until everything is blended and the dough can be handled.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide it into two sections. Roll each section into a 1 ½” wide cylinder. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill for at least 4 hours.

To bake:
Allow the cylinders to come to cool room temperature. Slice into coins between 1/8” and ¼” thick. Place on the prepared baking sheets, with room between them to spread. Brush the tops of the crackers with the egg white and sprinkle with a few grains of fleur de sel or Maldon salt.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Cool on a rack before serving.
Store in airtight containers for up to 1 week.


Braised Baby Artichokes

Posted by on Apr 28, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 2 comments

Artichokes have long been considered an arch enemy of wine.

The chemical contained in the leaves and stem, cynarin, causes whatever you eat or drink afterward to taste sweet, metallic or bitter. Not only does wine taste horrible with most artichoke dishes, even water can taste weird. Worse, the effect lingers and it takes eating something like bread or crackers to get the taste off your palate.

But, I love artichokes. And I am challenged by the notion that they should be avoided with wine. I know from much experience and practice that you can turn a wine-challenged dish into a wine-friendly dish by adding enough salt and acidity, usually in the form of lemon juice, to create a harmonious pairing. Why should artichokes be any different?

They are often served with butter and lemon juice or a tangy mayonnaise or a warm hollandaise sauce, all of which contain some form of acidity. It’s a classic combination and that acidity provides a bright balance to the rich, sweet flavor of the artichoke.

With baby artichokes showing up in the market and farm stands, I decided to do a dish of braised artichokes similar to one I had in Provence a few years ago called Artichokes Barigoule. Borrowing from this dish, I braised the young hearts with bacon, shallots, garlic, carrots, white wine and chicken stock. I added lemon juice along the way, knowing I needed to layer the acidity into the dish to help it harmonize with the wine.

I decided to put the artichokes to the test. I poured a glass of Verdejo, and a glass of Pinot Noir. Following my wine-and-food-tasting strategy, I first tasted the wines so I had a good sense of their flavor, unadulterated by food. I then took a bite of the artichoke dish. I took another sip of the Verdejo. Ugh. It wasn’t good. I took another bite of the artichoke, then tasted the Pinot Noir. Same thing. The wines were awful.

I squeezed more lemon juice on the dish and tried again. Better the second time, but still not great. I added more lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt the third time. This time it worked. Both wines tasted great with the artichokes. And the dish didn’t suffer from the liberal addition of the lemon juice. It was bright and fresh tasting.

Some foods take more acidity and salt than others to find this sweet spot with the wine, but you can always find it. Try it the next time your wine and food are clashing, and let me know what happens.

Braised Baby Artichokes
(serves 4)

3 lemons
12 baby artichokes, about 1 ½ pounds
4 slices bacon, about 3 ounces, sliced crosswise into ¼” slices
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 carrot, peeled, cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups chicken broth (homemade preferably)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf

Fill a large bowl of water with cold water, leaving enough room for the artichokes.

Cut one lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the water. Drop the squeezed lemon halves into the water and give it a swirl to distribute the juice.

Clean the artichokes:
Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichoke, down to the tender pale green heart inside. Trim off the top, if the tips are spiky and tough. Using a small knife, trim off the tough outer skin from the stem, then split the artichoke in half lengthwise and drop immediately into the lemony water, as you finish cleaning them all.

Place the bacon into a deep, wide braising pan on the stove. Turn the heat to medium and cook the bacon until it is golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the bacon, using a slotted spoon, and set aside, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Turn the heat to low. Remove the artichokes from the water and pat them dry. Turn the heat back to medium and place the artichokes, cut side down, in a single layer in the pan. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook them until browned, about 3-5 minutes, then turn them over and cook another 1-2 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Place the olive oil in the pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook over medium heat until they are tender and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the carrots, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper and cook another 2 minutes. Return the artichokes to the pan, then add the white wine. Turn the heat up to medium high and reduce the wine until it is almost gone. Add the chicken broth, thyme and bay leaf. Cut the second lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the artichokes. Bring the mixture a boil, cover and turn down to low. Cook for 18-20 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.

Just before serving, cut the third lemon in half and squeeze over the dish.


Leek, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart

Posted by on Apr 11, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 7 comments

As much as I love meat, fish and fowl, I sometimes want something savory and light for dinner. Dare I say, vegetarian?

That’s when I think about making a savory tart. And, this time of year gives plenty of options for filling a tart. One of my favorite combinations is leeks, asparagus and goat cheese. The leeks are young and tender at this time of year and, cooked until meltingly sweet, they contrast deliciously with the tangy goat cheese and crisp asparagus.

I like to use a cream cheese pastry for this kind of tart. It is easy to make and virtually impossible to screw up, making anyone feel like a pastry pro. Besides, it is rich and flaky and holds the filling solidly in place. Other doughs have been known to break open, leaking the precious custard all over the baking sheet. Not a pretty sight.

So many variations can be made on this tart, from season to season. In autumn, I sauté chanterelles with garlic and parsley and use them for the base, using gruyere as the cheese. In summer, I slice tomatoes place them over a layer of grated parmesan cheese, topping them with goat cheese or mozzarella, finishing with slivered basil when it comes out of the oven. Lightly sautéed zucchini and shallots with aged cheddar is another great summer variation.

And, while this tart is delicious right out of the oven, warm and fragrant, it is also perfect at room temperature, when you happen to find yourself walking by, once again, cutting just one more little sliver.

Leek, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart
(serves 8-10)

For the dough:
1 cup unbleached flour
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 16 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
3 ounces cream cheese, chilled, cut into 6 pieces
1 tablespoon ice water

Place the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the butter and flour come together loosely, but there are still visible small chunks of butter, about 5-6 times. Add the cream cheese and ice water and continue pulsing the dough until it is moist and crumbly and, when pinched, comes together, another 5-6 times.

Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured board and lightly knead together into a disc, about 6” in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Remove 20 minutes before rolling out.

For the filling:
4 large leeks (about 2 lbs.), greens and root end trimmed off
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ pound asparagus, washed, tough ends removed, cut into ½” slices
2 eggs
½ cup half and half
4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°.
Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice into ¼” slices. Wash thoroughly in a large bowl of water and drain.
Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the leeks, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Saute for 5-6 minutes, or until the leeks are starting to get tender. Add the white wine, stirring to combine. Cover the pan and cook until the wine has evaporated and the leeks are very tender, another 5-6 minutes. The mixture should be dry. If not, uncover and cook until all the moisture has evaporated. Stir in the lemon juice and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Remove the asparagus, using a slotted spoon or skimmer, and spread out onto a small baking sheet. Cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg, the half and half and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.

To Assemble:
Place the dough on a lightly floured board. Roll out to a circle approximately 14” in diameter. Transfer to a parchment-paper lined baking sheet.

Distribute the leeks evenly over the center of the dough, leaving a 2” margin around the edges. Sprinkle the asparagus over the leeks. Crumble the goat cheese evenly over the vegetables. Fold the edges of the dough over the filling, crimping slightly as you go. Slowly pour the egg and half and half mixture over the filling, being careful to keep it inside the dough. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top. Beat the remaining egg and brush the edges of the dough.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the crust is a rich golden brown.


Butter-Braised Radishes with Peas

Posted by on Mar 24, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

I have a few foods that fall into the No-Cook Zone. Among these are cucumbers, lettuce and, until recently, radishes. It’s the cold, crunchy, crisp quality of these veggies that I love in salads or as vehicles for dips.

When I run across a recipe for sautéed cucumbers or braised lettuce, the thought of it has always made me shudder. And the one time I tasted warm cucumbers, I knew they weren’t for me. No amount of dill or tarragon or butter could boost those insipid slices.

I was intrigued, though, with the idea of braised radishes. With more body and peppery oomph than a cucumber, they seemed like they might be a good candidate for cooking.

I first consulted my well-worn copy of the Larousse Gastronomique. It advised blanching the radishes before sautéing them in plenty of butter. I tried that and the radishes ended up tasteless and mushy. My worst fear. Sorry, Larousse, this time you missed the mark.

For the next go-around, I decided to sauté them first with shallots and butter, then add some stock – a more traditional way of braising. The result was delicious. The butter and stock reduce to a glaze and the finishing touch of lemon juice and some tender herbs like chives or chervil was perfect with the delicate flavor of the radishes. They tasted like the most mild little turnips and cooked in half the time.

With fresh English peas, another favorite, showing up in the market these days, I decided to add these to the dish as well. They give a pleasant, contrasting pop to the tender radishes and the rosy pink and emerald green colors couldn’t be more Spring like. This is a cheerful, tasty side dish to Spring lamb, roast chicken or salmon.

Butter-Braised Radishes with Peas
(serves 4)

½ pound English peas, shelled (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large shallots, finely minced
1 bunch radishes, cleaned, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup chicken stock or broth
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely minced chives or chervil

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water nearby. Drop in the peas and cook until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Drain the peas and plunge immediately into the bowl of ice water. When cool, remove the peas with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Place the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, add the shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes, or until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the radishes and cook another 3-4 minutes, stirring, or until the radishes begin to turn color.

Add the chicken stock and the salt and pepper. Give the mix a stir, then cover and turn the heat down to simmer.

Cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the chicken stock and butter have reduced to a glaze. Stir in the peas and cook another minute to heat them through. Add the lemon juice and the chives or chervil. Taste for seasoning, adjusting with more salt and/or lemon juice.


Pimento Cheese

Posted by on Mar 10, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 6 comments

Pimento cheese is one of those iconic Southern foods that I grew up with, but hated early on. My mother never made it at home. Instead she bought it. It came in little jars right off the grocery shelf and was made from processed cheese. The color was clown-hair orange and the pimentos that dotted the cheese like measles tasted metallic and bitter. Nothing about it was appetizing. Even spread between two puffy white slices of Sunbeam bread, its unpleasant flavor couldn’t be disguised. I wrote it off as one of those foods I would never eat again.

And, now, much to my surprise, I have become a pimento cheese addict.

It happened gradually, on visits back to family in Waynesville, North Carolina, where I began to notice tubs of a different kind of pimento cheese in the grocery store. These versions were in the real cheese section, nestled among the Bries and Jarlsbergs and had actual expiration dates. They were made from sharp cheddar cheese, tangy mayonnaise and plump, sweet little pimentos. No additives, nothing processed. Nothing like those little jars I had grown up with. This stuff actually looked good and I decided to give it a try.

Back at my brother’s house, with a dish of celery sticks, a sleeve of Ritz crackers and the pimento cheese in front of me, I took my first bite. It was a revelation. The creamy, tangy, sweet flavors of this pimento cheese were absolutely delicious and I couldn’t stop eating it, almost half a tub later.

When I returned to California, where pimento cheese is not nestled in the cheese sections of the groceries, I got to work on perfecting my own recipe. I prefer using an aged, sharp cheddar cheese and Best Foods mayonnaise for the base and like the savory addition of garlic and onion. Little jars of pimentos are available in most grocery stores, though I’ve had a version using home-grown pimentos and they take this dish to a whole new level. If you have those, use them.

A recent article in Southern Living Magazine gave five variations for pimento cheese, which they dubbed the “pate¢ of the South”, with everything from dill to havarti to cilantro to bourbon. Everyone finds their own favorite version. And, while Ritz crackers are the traditional vehicle of choice for pimento cheese, I guiltlessly enjoy it with celery sticks, radishes and cucumbers. That way, when I eat half a tub, I don’t feel so bad.

Pimento Cheese
(makes 2 cups)

8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cups mayonnaise (Best Foods, preferably)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4-ounce jar diced pimentos, drained

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of an standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. *

Beat together on medium high speed, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides a couple of times during the process to thoroughly incorporate the ingredients.

The mixture should be creamy, but still have a slightly lumpy texture from the pimentos and cheddar.

Serve immediately or store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

*(You can use a hand mixer or beat the ingredients together with a wooden spoon. I don’t use a food processor because it makes the mixture too smooth for my taste.)


Tuscan Kale Pesto

Posted by on Mar 1, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 0 comments

Last week, when I was making the kale salad, it occurred to me that this kale would make a great pesto. Using the same flavors – garlic, parmesan, lemon – I could just taste it on a batch of spaghetti, showered with more parmesan and a drizzle of great olive oil. My mouth began to water at the thought of it.

Later that week, when I was going through my archive of recipes I came across a version of a black kale pesto from Nancy Oakes when she had L’Avenue in the mid-80s. Short of thinking “great minds think alike”, I was thrilled to find it and it only confirmed my hunch that this would be a delicious way to use this kale.

Hers had all the traditional ingredients of a pesto, just as I would have imagined. For my version, I added toasted pine nuts, another traditional ingredient, to give it even more richness and complexity. Blanching the kale preserves its color, making for a dark, emerald green mixture. Lightly cooking the garlic mellows and sweetens its flavor and it blends seamlessly with the earthy flavors of the kale. I like to balance the salt, lemon and parmesan to the point where the taste is intense and bright, almost more than you think, because the flavors will start to mellow almost immediately.

This recipe made enough for a pound of spaghetti, tossed together with a little of the pasta cooking water, some extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan. I could also imagine it swirled into some hearty bean soup, smeared onto grilled bread or layered onto a pizza with some thinly sliced prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. And, this is not to mention served alongside a perfect roast chicken, mingled with the rich, meaty pan juices. My mouth is watering again.

Tuscan Kale Pesto
(makes a generous 1 cup)

1 bunch Tuscan kale
1/3 – ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Clean the kale and remove the spine.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. Have a bowl of ice water nearby.

Cook the kale in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and plunge immediately into the ice water. This will stop the cooking and make for a brilliant green pesto. Remove the kale from the ice water and pat dry.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until it is just softened. Cool the garlic in the oil to room temperature.

Place the kale, the garlic with its cooking oil and the pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, initially, to chop the ingredients. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides, then process until the ingredients are finely chopped. Scrape down the sides again, then, with the machine running, slowly add the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. The mixture should be thick and creamy. Add the parmesan cheese and salt. Taste for seasoning, adjusting with more salt, lemon juice and/or parmesan cheese as desired. The flavors should be bright and intense, as they will mellow with time.

Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Lacinato Kale Salad

Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 in Musings, Recipes | 7 comments

My friend Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana in Portland, Oregon, served me this Lacinato Kale Salad last Spring when she was generously hosting a dinner and book-signing for The Wild Table at the restaurant.

After a morning of prepping, we sat down to grab a quick bite before getting back to work for the night’s events. This salad showed up, deceptively simple looking. I took one bite and was blown away. The thinly slivered, dark green kale leaves had been dressed with excellent extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, little bits of preserved lemon and a snowstorm of shaved parmeggiano reggiano. That, and some salt and pepper, were the only seasonings, but together they were a revelation. It was instantly addictive. She had to order another round after I scarfed that one down, just so she could have a bite.

I asked Cathy for the recipe, but she gave me a list of ingredients instead. I came home and made it right away, and I have made it now many, many times for friends and clients. With kale almost a year-round item in the produce departments, this is a great salad for every season.

Make sure you buy the best extra virgin olive oil you can find and get real parmeggiano reggiano, preferably a chunk, so you can grate it just before serving. If you don’t have preserved lemons, use finely chopped lemon zest. Also, this kale has many aliases, among them: Lacinato Kale, Dino Kale, Black Kale, Cavolo Nero and Tuscan Kale. All will work. Better yet, plant a few in your garden and you can harvest them for months on end. It’s the simplicity of the ingredients that make this salad, so don’t scrimp on quality. And, while I have given some approximate amounts for the seasonings, this is one case where “season to taste” is the better way to proceed. Find you own sweet spot where it all comes together for your palate.

And, if by some remote chance you happen to have leftovers, this salad is even good the next day, after being refrigerated. The leaves and croutons soften a bit, kind of like a panzanella, but the flavors are still bright and delicious.

Lacinato Kale Salad
(serves 2-4)

1 bunch lacinato kale
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing the salad
¼ of a baguette, trimmed of crust, cut into ¼” cubes (about ½ cup)
1 small preserved lemon
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ – 1/3 cup freshly grated parmeggiano reggiano

Remove the rib from each leaf of kale by cutting along the sides of the rib with a sharp knife. Wash the leaves and spin or pat them dry. Gather 3 or 4 leaves and lay them on top of each other, lengthwise. Roll them up loosely, then slice across the roll to make thin, ¼” slivers of the kale. As you cut them, put them into a large serving bowl.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the bread cubes, stirring or tossing to coat evenly with the oil. Cook, tossing or stirring frequently, until the croutons are golden brown, 4-5 minutes. Remove them from the sauté pan to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.

Remove the peel from the preserved lemon and discard the insides. Scrape off any remaining white pith. Cut the peel into a small dice, 1/8” inch. Set aside.

To serve, season the kale with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, to taste. Repeat with the olive oil. Toss lightly together to combine. Mix in the diced preserved lemon peel. Taste again for salt, lemon juice and olive oil. Adjust to taste. Mix in a few tablespoons of the grated cheese, then scatter the rest over the top of the salad. Top with the croutons.