Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Trilogy of Tomatoes

In the Village of the Brothers Grimm...

... there was strife, calamity, disease, suffering, evil enchantment, poverty, hardship...

And a fox! All wanted to live "happily ever after." Especially the Fox who would be granted a goose to eat ... that is as soon as the geese finished their bedtime story....

... which the geese never did... in fact they are still telling that bedtime story. So the geese and in the end - all of the villagers lived "happily ever after."
The tomatoes in the garden were my happily ever after. Twelve-hour days left me as a food metaphor. I was either "toast" or a "wet noodle." So I devised dinners based on tomatoes.

Tomatoes can break evil enchantment. After all, they are known as the Pomme D'Amour (love-apple) in France. As for me, I could dine on tomato topping for bruschetta all summer.

Four tomatoes, a fistful of chopped basil (all right - 1/2-3/4 cup), 2 minced shallots, 4 minced garlic cloves, a little bit of Italian parsley, a drop of vinegar and a swish of olive oil. Maybe salt and pepper.
Perched on lightly toasted Italian bread - magically turned into crostini by the rubbing of a cut garlic clove and brushed lightly with olive oil. Toasted at 350 degrees F for only 10-12 minutes - so the crostini is not hard as a rock and dinner is served.

Put it on fresh mozzarella. I had more than one.
A non-authentic panzanella salad was summer magic on a plate. Chopped tomatoes, torn stale bread that was brushed with olive oil and a little minced garlic and just thrown under the broiler for a few minutes. Add to that a few thinly-sliced red onions soaked in vinegar for fifteen minutes. Toss all with basil and Italian parsley and have a summer feast. Drizzle with a good balsamic. Luckily I had the Saporoso Balsamic from the House of Modena sent to me from Gera at Sweets Foods. Perfect!
Bread and Tomaotes - a title for a play?

When the tomatoes are vine-ripened, just-picked - there's no need to fuss. Let the tomatoes do the talking. Don't dress too much. The tomatoes are center stage.
And I knew the show weekend would end in "happily ever after" when I sat down to these tomato stacks from Sommer Collier's A Spicy Perspective blog.

Softened goat cheese mixed with herbs (I used a lot of thyme) and drizzled with a good balsamic and stacked.
This may be as good as it gets.

Or maybe not. Maybe three is better. And so I now dwell happily ever after in the Village of White Bear Lake. And in case I didn't make my self clear - as for those long days with the 42 young performers. I had the time of my life.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

All Things Zucchini

I have a love of this time of year, when the zucchini in the garden resembles "Audrey 2" from Little Shop of Horrors and takes over my world. It's abundance makes me feel rich in possibilities. The sheer act of shredding zucchini for fritters forces me to pause and think how I can speed up "The Golden Goose" (actually it's a duck) section of my play. Chopping zucchini for soup opens up a sliver of creativity. Doing somethung mundane releases the brain to the improbable and possible.
The sheer ability to walk across my yard for dinner is a huge smiling nod for the simplicity of summer. I took a page out of many bloggers' postings for inspiration. The zucchini morphed from a raw zucchini salad to fritters to soup.
Taking a page out of Ciao Chow Linda's book Zucchini Carpaccio

Linda studded hers with pine nuts and herbs. I played with herbs, lemon zest and black olives.
Zucchini Carpaccio - serves 4
2 medium zucchini - thinly sliced
lemon salt
zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup of chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
1/4 cup arugula
1/2 cup your favorite sliced, black olives
extra virgin olive oil
shavings of ricotta salata
Put your sliced zucchini in a colander lined with paper towels. Add your salt. Let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. (You may omit this step - if I have time I will dry out the zucchini with the salt so it soaks in more of the lemon and oil). Place zucchini in serving bowl. Zest a Meyer lemon over it. Then cut it in half and squeeze out the lemon juice. The Meyer lemon juice has a sweet taste. Toss in your herbs and sliced olives and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Toss well. Shave ricotta salata over all and serve.
The zucchini fritters were inspired by Reeni from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice.

Zucchini Fritters - serves 4 (Makes 8 small fritters)
4 small zucchini
1 egg
2 small cloves of garlic minced
1/4 cup red onion, minced
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped Italian parlsey
2-3 zucchini blossoms (washed and dried - if you have)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4-1/2 cup canola or olive oil (I used canola oil)
Again optional: but you can shred your zucchini and salt them. Put them in colander lined with paper towels and let them drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Whisk egg in large bowl. Add shredded zucchini (I simply shred with a vegetable peeler - it allows me to "space out" for a time.) Add flour and herbs. Cut your zucchini blossoms into the mixture. Grate your Parmigiano into the mixture. Combine well. Heat olive oil till a drop of water thrown into the oil sizzles. Drop one heaping tablespoon of mixture into the oil. Fry about two at a time. Fry 1-2 minutes per side - until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels. Serve with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche. I know they're deep-fried! But they're only two bites! Two per serving.
And as a confirmed soup-a-holic, even in the heat of summer - I crave soup. For the zucchini soup, I added a potato for heft, herbs for tang and and savory and milk for smoothness.

Zucchini Soup - serves 4
4 small zucchini or 2 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons Earth Balance Butter
1/4-1/2 cup chopped red or white onion
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 quart chicken broth
1 large potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup basil
1/2 cup Italian parsley
2 cups whole milk
Shred a few thin zucchini threads for garnish. Chop all your vegetables - they do not need to be uniform or very small - they will be pureed. Melt butter in medium-large soup pot. When butter foams add your chopped onion and garlic. Saute 2-3 minutes till the onion softens. Add your chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add your potato and simmer for five minutes. Add zucchini and herbs and simmer another 10 minutes (Until potato and zucchini are soft.) Cool for a few minutes.
In 2-3 batches, pulse soup mixture with some of the milk in a food processor till smooth. Return to pot, add remaining milk and simmer five minutes. Serve with ribbons of zucchini, dollops of Greek yogurt and/or croutons. I wish I had a zucchini blossom to float in it!

I get enough drama at the theatre. But Mother Nature thought I needed more. The Twin Cities seemed to be tornado alley last night. The skies did their version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll." We hovered in the basement till all was clear. With the cat. And the dog. We were lucky - just downed branches and no one went to Oz. Did I tell you that I have a healthy respect for Nature? Its bounty, its fury and its beauty.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Delicious days with pasta, zucchini, herbs and shrimp

It's been a summer of elves, continuing with a summer of witches, of sillies and enchantment. And it's all been delicious: the elves, the plays, the theatrical days, the food.

With tomatoes at the market, zucchini in the garden and herbs that look like they've been sneaking steroids, it was time to cook.
My second play of the summer In the Village of the Brothers Grimm has 48 roles plus 2-12 narrators. I have two casts of 21 and must plug them equally into the roles that they will heighten their summer theatre experience. Logistics. 48 roles. 42 characters. 12 Narrators. What was I thinking? Time to downsize. Simplify. Simple like my character Simpleton.

I can be Mistress of Simple. And so these were.

We started with celery stuffed with Gorgonzola and mascarpone. I combined equal parts (for 4 celery sticks I used 1/2 cup of each) of Gorgonzola Cheese with mascarpone. I folded in 4 tablespoons of marjoram. Marjoram has a sweet bite that holds up well to the Gorgonzola. Tarragon would also be interesting... and sage ... I toasted 1/3 cup of pine nuts. Simply combine the cheeses, fold in the herbs, stuff the celery and dot with pine nuts.
There's a grand cheese shop in Minneapolis called Surdyk's. If you get there early enough on a Saturday (early Saturday's are a challenge for me), you will be among the lucky few to get their sweet, fresh ricotta.
It's habit forming. I added thyme, Italian parsley and a little basil. Swirled in some olive oil and simply served it with lightly toasted bread. (I do the routine of: a. rub cut, raw garlic onto the bread. Brush lightly with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees F for 7 minutes or broil for 3 minutes. Grilling them would be heaven-sent.
Pleased that I was using my huge, sci-fi-movie herbs, I turned to the zucchini. I picked four small ones and a blossom. I sort of found a recipe and then changed it so much you'd never know what I based it on! It seems long but it is ripe for substitution and start to finish was 30 minutes - worth every second of prep.
Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp and Zucchini and Tomatoes and Herbs and Breadcrumbs and Wine and Garlic - serves 4
3/4 pound angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (you will need more for the sauce)
2 garlic cloves minced (you will need more for the sauce)
1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons of thyme, basil and parsley (combined any way that suits you)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves minced
4 small zucchini
1/2 pint sweet cherry or grape or baby San Marzano tomatoes
4-6 tablespoons thyme and basil combined
1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
3/4 cup dry white wine
Optional: one cleaned, chopped zucchini blossom
1/4-1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Cook angel hair pasta according to package directions.
Breadcrumbs: Heat olive oil in large skillet or pot large enough to hold the sauce and the cooked pasta. When hot, add garlic and swirl for 10-15 seconds. Add breadcrumbs and then herbs. Swirl until the bread crumbs soak up the oil and start to turn a deeper brown. (4 minutes tops) Remove breadcrumbs to separate bowl, wipe out pan and begin again.
Sauce: Heat olive oil. Add zucchini and tomatoes. Saute till softened. Add herbs, garlic and swirl. Add shrimp and swirl - you just want to swirl enough to get the hot olive coated on all. Add wine. Lower to simmer. Cook until sauce is reduced by half and shrimp is just cooked through. Four-five minutes. Do turn the shrimp constantly.
Pasta: Drain pasta reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta to pot with sauce and toss. The pasta will just imbibe the juicy-wine-laced sauce. If dry, add a little of the pasta liquid - one tablespoon at a time. Add bread crumbs. Turn into pasta bowl and serve.

I did salt the zucchini for a few hours. I picked them, washed them, sliced them and salted them with some lemon salt I had on hand. I left them in a colander and forgot about them (literally). I rinsed them, dried them and I must say they really soaked in the oil, garlic and sauce and were just packed with soft, filtered-sunshine, tender flavors.

Just before adding the pasta, I sprinkled some chopped zucchini blossoms over all. More sweetness. More tenderness.

The herbs lent spice, the vegetables were sweet, the shrimp had a briney, soft-chew to them. The pasta was pillow-soft and the bread crumbs had some tangy crunch. It was all I wanted from a summer evening. It was simply delicious.

On the night the elves opened, a thunderstorm raged. Babies howled and wee ones called "Mama!" Our 32 young troopers took the stage, hit their marks, smiled at their success and were stronger than the thunder. The theatre shook after 16 elves, fists in air proclaimed, "We are the elves! The elves of Cologne," and then as if on cue: "Thunderclap!" roaring its approval, and then - their kind audience roared their own approval. During curtain call, they whispered to each other, "This was so fun." It was deliciously sweet. And in two more weeks, when my witch, my sillies, my fox, my geese, my woodcutter, Simpleton and Timberly-the-gangster-fairy are done, I hope to hear the 42 teen actors say the same thing. I hope they find the play and the audience a delicacy to be savored.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pasta with morels

There's nothing like cooking a dish in April and posting it in July - after the season has passed. But such a rich, earthy dish that is ripe for substitutions shouldn't be left high and dry. It makes me feel secretive and I worry the dish will feel under-appreciated.
Minnesotans prize their morels. We have friends who are brothers and each know 'secret' trees that erupt with morels in the spring. And neither will tell anyone where they are. They won't even tell each other.

If you're lucky to get a hold of these earthy morsels, don't wash them. Just shake them and wipe them with a paper towel. They do have a small amount of toxins in them so they must be cooked. This is not a salad mushroom.

To find them at the St. Paul Farmer's Market you must be at the market at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. (I love the Market but am very attached to my bedroom at 7 a.m. on a Saturday.) By 7:10 a.m., they're gone. I had secured some morels but not enough for the dish. I filled in with shiitake, oyster and crimini mushrooms. You can make this with a mixture of any of your favorite mushrooms. And soak some dried porcini and add them into the mix. This dish can never be earthy enough.

  • Pasta with Morels Ingredients - generously serves 4
    2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 16 ounces favorite mushrooms (I had 8 ounces of morels and 8 ounces of "other")
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 12 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccine (the sauce adheres nicely to the wide noodles; although curly noodles - a rigatoni would also help the sauce and mushrooms to cling to it)
Coarsely chop your mushrooms. Heat your butter and oil. Add your shallot and saute till soft (about 1-2 minutes).
Add mushrooms and saute till softened - about 8 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the chopped parsley. If pan is dry, add a few more drops of olive oil.

Add your half and half and simmer together 4-5 minutes. The half-and-half will reduce a bit and become thickened.

While mushrooms are cooking, cook pasta according to package directions. This is heavenly-good with fresh pasta. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid in case the pasta is not coated with sauce.

Combine pasta with mushroom sauce. Add the remaining Italian parlsey. If pasta is too dry, add a wee bit of the reserved pasta water. Breathe in the heady aroma. Some wanted freshly-grated Parmesan. Mushrooms and cheese. Wonders from fungus.

I complied. I hope all had a magical summer weekend and to my American friends, Happy Belated Fourth. I hope your holiday was celebratory.