Who’d a Thunk It… Cauliflower = Seafood?

Vegetarian ceviche that’s really good!

It’s always fun to run across a recipe that my vegetarian daughter might like. I think this one qualifies.  It is a vegetarian ceviche made with cauliflower instead of sea food.  I took it to a Thanksgiving dinner as an appetizer. A couple of people asked me what kind of seafood was in it. I had to convince them that it was all vegetables!

Cauliflower Ceviche

Thanks to Beatriz Barranco, El Paso, TX and Taste of Home Magazine, November 2017

Ingredients

1 medium head cauliflower, finely chopped

1 cup catsup

1 cup orange juice

3 medium tomatoes chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

½ cup minced fresh cilantro

1/2 Tsp each salt and pepper

3 medium avocados, peeled and cubed

Lemon wedges, tortilla chips, hot pepper sauce, optional

Method

In a large skillet, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add cauliflower; cook uncovered until crisp-tender – 5 to 8 minutes.  Drain, spread out and blot pat dry.  While cauliflower is cooking, mix together catsup and orange juice.

In a bowl, combine cauliflower with tomatoes and onion.  Add catsup and orange juice mixture, cilantro, salt and pepper, toss to mix well.  Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Before serving, gently stir in avocado cubes. Serve with tortilla chips, lemon wedges and optional hot pepper sauce.

Note:  I had to mess with it a little, of course. I prefer lime juice and lime wedges over lemon for this dish.  I found it to be a little too sweet for my taste, so I added the juice of a lime when I added the avocado cubes. It might be good to compare the sugar in various brands of catsup and use the one with the lowest sugar to start out with.

I had leftovers, and I had to experiment a little more.  I picked up a handful of shrimp, boiled, peeled and chopped them and added them to the “ceviche.”  I honestly couldn’t tell they added anything to the recipe.  It stands alone with the cauliflower and I’ll be making it again soon.

Cooking for one? Play with the salad bar.

It is fun to reduce the servings in a given recipe and succeed.  We’ll be doing a lot of that in the new category “A New Season.” Still, there are those days when you just don’t want the bother of reducing, prepping and cooking. There are alternatives. A visit to Whole Foods turned up a chilled bar featuring different takes on ceviche, a cold salad in which seafood is “cooked” in acid such as a vinegar or citrus juice.  A ceviche of shrimp and scallops called my name and resulted in the creation of a cold salad supper just right for a triple digit temperature day.  A small container of the ceviche – enough for topping two tostadas,  a few large cooked shrimp for garnish, a mango for color and sweet balance to the ceviche,  and an avocado for a third tostada featuring guacamole tostada completed shopping for dinner. Since the ceviche is sold by the pound, getting just enough for two tostadas didn’t require a bank loan for shopping at Whole Foods.  There were enough other ingredients in the fridge at home to complete the meal.

Shrimp and scallops ceviche, guacamole and mango – a cool treat to beat the heat.

 

Ingredients (made without an actual recipe)

Three corn tortillas (or more if you want tortilla chips)

About four or five tablespoons of deli bar ceviche

One medium to large avocado

Five or six grape tomatoes

One or two scallions

One or two lettuce leaves

One ripe mango

Garlic powder, to taste, or one small finely minced garlic clove mushed into a paste with a sprinkle of salt and the side of a chef’s knife.

One lime, halved

Salt to taste

Olive oil or neutral oil cooking spray

Method

Tostadas, flat, crisp tortillas.  These may be bought in a package, fried in a quantity usually too big for one or two servings.  You can fry them at home or bake them in the oven for a “healthyish” version.  I’m stealing this term from Bon Appètit because they have been publish lighter recipes in the magazine and online. Sprinkle your chips lightly with salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Place three tortillas on sheet, and spritz lightly with cooking spray.  If you want to make chips, cut a couple of tortillas into wedges and place on sheet with whole tortillas and spritz the, with cooking spray. Place in heated oven.  Check after 10 minutes, turn tortillas and chips over and spritz again.  After 10 minutes, check again and turn.  Return to oven.  Check every five minutes or so to make sure tortillas and chips are toasting crisp – no soft spots in middle or edges when done and not burned edges.  Rotate the sheet pan in the oven to help with even cooking. Remove from oven and let cool.

Guacamole, an avocado dip or spread that every cook swears that his/hers is best.  I assure you, mine is the absolute best!  This version is for a single guacamole tostada and slices of avocado for garnish.  If you want to use the whole avocado and sue some for dip on your tortilla chips, go right ahead.

Chop grape tomatoes into small pieces; slice scallion very thinly at an angle. Slice all the white and an inch or inch and a half of the gree.  Mince and mash garlic clove into a paste.  A pinch of salt helps to break up the garlic as you mash it.  If you wish, you may use a light sprinkle of garlic powder (not garlic salt) instead of the garlic clove paste.

One avocado, halved.  Lay one half cut side down to prevent oxidation (turning brown). Spoon the flesh from the other have into a small bowl. Cut it up with the side of a fork, then mash it.  I like to leave a little texture when I mash it with the fork.  When I’m by myself, I squish it between my fingers and then get to lick my fingers clean – chef’s bonus!  I don’t do that when making guacamole for guests – at least not where they can see me. Stir tomato, some of the scallion, garlic paste or powder and some of the juice of lime.  The lime will delay oxidation, but you don’t want to overdo the lime juice when making this small quality of guacamole. Scoop flesh from remaining half of avocado, cut into six slices for garnish and sprinkle lightly with lime juice.

Sliced mango, sweet, but not too sweet taste to balance the acidity of the ceviche.  Remove pit from mango, slice flesh and plate on a bed of lettuce leaf.  You might enjoy a couple of drops of lime juice on the mango. (The OXO mango slicer actually works and is well with a little drawer space in your kitchen.)

Serving, spread guacamole on one crips tostada, garnish with slices of avocado and a couple of large shrimp.  Place on plate.  Spoon ceviche on tostadas, place on either side of guacamole tostada and garnish with large shrimp and avocado slices.  Add lettuce leaf and mango carefully to the plate and enjoy your cool meal at the end of a hot day.

Paring Down Can Foster Indulgence, so Play with Your Food!

Some of us subscribe to cooking and recipe sites on the web.  Interesting things appear that tantalize the eye and the appetite.  Some arouse curiosity and other demand to be made. All those happened when I ran across Chile-Lime Clams with Tomatoes and Grilled Bread.  My curiosity was peaked by the inclusion of chick peas (garbanzo beans) in the recipe.  I’m most familiar with chickpeas as hummus and don’t have much experience with them as whole beans.  What the heck, give it a try!  And this recipe for four servings appeared easy to reduce per my goals in this New Season of reduced quantities. It also was flexible enough to allow for loose measuring of ingredients. For instance, it called for 24 clams. Six clams per serving? Pikers!  I ordered 12 clams to make one serving. I love clams and had no guilt over this indulgence. When cooking for one, or som times two, indulge and enjoy! I used the recipe below as a guideline for this dish.  I played with parts of it, hence inclusion in the Play with Your Food Category.

Chile-Lime Clams with Tomatoes. As good as it was hoped it would be! A keeper.

The original recipe suggested cooking in a cast iron pan on a grill outside. Think this over… acid foods (including tomatoes)  cooked in cast iron can acquire a metallic taste and cause the pans to lose their carefully built up seasoned finish. I read that acidic foods cooked in cast iron for no more than 15 minutes will not acquire a metallic taste, nor will the harm the finish.  Not worth the risk on my older than I am cast iron hand-me-downs from early in the last century!

It has been unseasonably hot so far this spring and summer.  I’m convinced hot air from the Capitol fanned by Tweet kindling is the cause, but that’s a different rant. I chose to cook on the stovetop in an anodized aluminum pan that has a non-teflon, dishwasher safe non-stick finish.  I had to forgo grilled toast, but was satisfied with torn chunks of bread with a schemear of butter for sopping up the pan sauce with the meal. This photo is of the pan on the stovetop.  I knew a dozen clams in my serving bowl, would be too crowded for a good picture.  Indulge me and imagine chopped cilantro sprinkled on top.

CHILE-LIME CLAMS WITH TOMATOES AND GRILLED BREAD

4 servings

INGREDIENTS

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, divided

2 large shallots, chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup beer

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed

2 tablespoons (or more) sambal oelek

24 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

4 thick slices country-style bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

1/2 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems

Lime wedges (for serving)

METHOD

Prepare a grill for medium, indirect heat (for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off; for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill). Place a large cast-iron skillet on grill over direct heat (move it around to cooler part of grill as you cook if needed) and melt 4 Tbsp. butter in skillet. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until paste darkens to a rich brick-red color, about 1 minute. Add beer and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until beer is reduced nearly by half and no longer smells boozy, about 4 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and sambal oelek, then add clams. Cover (if you don’t have a lid that fits, use a sheet of foil) and cook, stirring occasionally, until clams have opened; this could take from 5–10 minutes depending on size of clams and the heat level. Remove from heat; discard any clams that don’t open. Stir in lime juice and remaining 2 Tbsp. butter.

While the clams are cooking on the grill, drizzle bread with oil and season lightly with salt. Grill until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer toast to plates and spoon clam mixture over; top with cilantro. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

 

 

 

Another Day in the New Season

This New Season is proving interesting.  Among the challenges is the fact that my refrigerator has a black hole. Leftovers saved with good intensions seem to be sucked into the depths of who knows where until eventually they  reappear in almost unrecognizable form that cannot be saved for any purpose.  My disdain of leftovers is not a new trait. When I had a leftover browser around, this was not much of a problem. They were devoured readily.

Now, I have to think ahead and work on downsizing recipes. One example was yesterday’s breakfast and a planned variation of a leftover that was almost perfect!  I’ll explain that after posting the recipe.

I’ll be posting recipes with original serving quantities. Sometimes my narrative will explain how portions were reduced.

If you’ve read this blog before you have probably discovered I love green chile cheese grits with eggs for breakfast. I’ve posted many variations of my love of the runny egg yolks of poached eggs and my new love, jammy eggs with a firmer white and slightly firmer yolk. Be warned, there will likely be more.

Polenta with jammy eggs and a couple of options. See below.

Ground corn can be found in many colors and textures.  We call a fine grind, corn meal.  Depending on geography and language, coarser grinds can be called grits or polenta (in Italian). Grits can be wet as a breakfast cereal or side dish in the southern U.S. They can be an odd texture and bland taste to the uninitiated. When I first discovered grits on a road trip, I had to mix in one of those little packets of jelly to eat them.  Before long, I graduated to butter and a light sprinkle of black pepper on grits.

Some of my back woods family introduced me to corn meal mush – very moist grits sometimes flavored with cane syrup, sometimes with a little red-eye gravy.  One morning they served fried cornmeal mush -grits that had been allowed to set a spell and firm up in a pan, then be sliced and fried in pan drippings to have a firm browned crust and tender moist center.  A perfect accompaniment to eggs and sausage as long as there were biscuits for sopping the plate.

In an early experience in a big city Italian restaurant several steps above the spaghetti and meat balls I knew as Italian food, I experienced polenta with a meaty marinara sauce topped with parmesan, and I don’t mean the cheese flavored sawdust in a green can.  It was an epiphany . I swore off fried mush and devoted my palate to polenta and all the variations I could try or invent.

El Paso is not know for Polenta.  Our ground corn becomes masa and is delectable in its own right in Mexican food.

I can get Bob’s Red Mill Polenta here and always pick some up when I find it.  It comes in both yellow and white varieties.  I personally prefer the yellow for the color on the plate

Basic Polenta with Gringo Gourmet OPTIONS

6 cups water

about… 1 tsp salt

2 cups polenta

about… 3 Tbsp butter NEVER MARGARINE

Method

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large, deep pan. Gradually stir in polenta. Reduce heat and simmer gently. Stir frequently to prevent sticking until mixture is very thick (about 30 minutes). Use a long-handled spoon because mixture bubbles and pops. It is hot if it pops on you! Taste periodically to make sure polenta has softened; add liquid if it becomes too thick.  You want it to be tender and thick, not sloppy wet.

Package recipe says: Stir in butter and add salt if needed. Oil a deep medium sized bowl. Spoon polenta into bowl and let set for 10 minutes. Invert onto a flat plate. Polenta will unmold and hold shape of bowl. Slice into thick slices and serve hot. Top with your favorite pasta sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Gringo Gourmet Options

When adding liquid to thin polenta, I use milk or, if feeling wicked, half and half and a little extra butter for a richer taste.

I like polenta and Jammy Eggs with cheese and green chile for breakfast.  I thin the polenta a bit more, don’t let is set up, and, just before serving, stir in shredded cheddar cheese and chopped green chile or a good green jarred salsa, then top it with the eggs.

Sometimes, I just stir in some shredded cheddar or parmesan cheese before serving. Polenta is a great and flexible base for many toppings.

Remember the ratio is 3 measures of water to one measure of dry polenta so you can vary the amount you make at any given time.  1 1/2 cups water:1/2 cup polenta makes one generous serving.

In times of desperation, when I don’t have polenta in the house, I’ve been know to use plain corn meal to make a very smooth “polenta” or if a surprise guest arrives, I’ve stretched a pot of polenta by adding corn meal and extra liquid because the corn meal cooks faster.

Now, you ask (don’t you?),  “What happened to the left over polenta?”

Too small roasted salmon portion with lemon, fried polenta topped with jarred tomato pesto and pan blistered grape tomatoes. On the side as spinach with mushrooms and garlic slivers.

I saved the left over polenta. I put it in two oiled ramekins and topped it with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until time to prep dinner.

The polenta had set up very firm while I enjoyed breakfast.  I added a little water to thin it out so I could spoon it into a pair of ramekins.  I covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge until time to prep dinner.

MISTAE! MISTAKE! MISTAKE!  I should have left it out to set up again and I should not have put plastic wrap on it.  This was polenta, not a custard that might develop a skin without the plastic wrap.

I coddled the “not quite set” polenta into an oiled pan and began cooking it over medium heat.  It was taking a long time to dry out and I kept having to reshape it as it cooked.  I finally was able to flip it over and work on the other side.

It browned somewhat and I was able to top it with the jarred sun dried tomato pesto, my pan blistered grape tomatoes and a sprinkle of grated parmesan.  I transferred the patties to my plate and moved forward with plating the spinach and salmon.

I seasoned the salmon with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and lemon slices.  The store portion was more narrow than the lemon slices, so I had to manipulate them to fit.

No gripes about the greens and mushrooms.  I did add a light sprinkle of Fred’s Red Hot Sauce.  That’s what we southerners do with our greens!

On the New Season adventure, I’ve decided it is better to pick up a serving a greens at a salad bar than to buy a large bag or tub of greens that won’t be used up.  Better economics in the long haul.  I choose a small jar of tomato pesto that I can finish over a larger jar of pasta sauce that would be destined for the black hole in the fridge.

 

A New Season

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

3:1To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

3:2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which was planted;

3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;

3:5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

3:6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

3:7 A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence. And a time to speak;

3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war. And a time of peace.

I have always been taken by these Bible verses and found peace and comfort in them during times of stress and hurt. I hope to find recordings of the versions of the verses turned in to song by Pete Seeger in 1952 and by the Byrds in 1965.

It may seem odd that I am sharing these verses here. I do so to introduce a new recipe category in the Gringo Gourmet blog.  It is called “A New Season”.  It will consist of recipes pared down to one or two servings and new creations in smaller portions.  There will still be entries in the other recipe categories. I do hope readers will comment on the new category and the narratives that will accompany them.

This new approach is one way I am adjusting to the death, May 23, of my beloved best friend and partner, Jack Gibbs Makepeace, Jr. following a very rapid 11 day course after diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. His family and I were with him and are thankful that we could be there for him. We now are now beginning a new season in our lives.

Paring down in a new season:

Seared Scallops with Mint, Peas and Bacon

Things to consider when paring down:

Don’t give up cooking and enjoying good food.  It can be therapeutic.

Find a recipe that divides evenly.  This recipe was for four servings of three scallops each.  I was too embarrassed to ask for three scallops, so I asked for six. I’m very glad I did.

On the subject of reduction… my waffle recipe makes 6 – 8 waffles and calls for one egg.  I’m wondering how to made one or two waffles by dividing the dry and liquid ingredients, but dividing a beaten egg seem intimidating.  Maybe I should use egg beaters instead and do the arithmetic

Use what needs to be used from the fridge or freezer and find a recipe that works for it.  I had a small fillet from Omaha Steak that needed to be used, so I suddenly had a new twist on Surf ‘n’ Turf. If you have to buy expensive fresh herbs for a recipe, find another recipe that helps you use the rest of the herb.

Use the right shortcut tools.  I didn’t want to bother cleaning a blender, so I used a small electric food chopper.  It is very good at chopping, but not so good at puréeing.  Maybe the immersion stick blender instead next time.

All are doable, it just takes a little thinking and planning.

The base of puréed peas, lemon and mint was delicious; the topping of whole peas and bacon was attractive and good.  The chunky purée base took away from the accent o the whole peas.

I had to have lemon juice and grated zest for the purée so I cut a few strips of lemon peel for garnish before grating.  I plated the scallops with the lemon zest strips and some tiny mint leaves.

It was 106º the evening I made this, so my little steak was pan broiled in the kitchen instead of out on the grill.

Below is the original recipe for four.  Buy more scallops if you are cooking for four, three each just wouldn’t be enough.

Scallops with Mint, Peas and Bacon

Ingredients:

12 large sea scallops (preferably dry packed), with side muscle removed (about 1 1/2 pounds

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 1 1/2 pods) or frozen peas

3 ounces bacon (about 3 slices), or cut crosswise into 1/3 inch strips

1 medium shallot, cut crosswise into thin rings

1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp (or more) olive oil

3 Tbsp mint leves, coarse chopped, divided

Method

Place scallops on a paper towel lined plate and pat very dry with additional paper towels.  Season both sides with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper total.

Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small pot, covered. Add peas and 1/2 tsp. salt; cook until peas are bright green and tender, about two minutes for fresh  and 4 minutes for frozen. Drain peas through a strainer set over a small bowl and reserve cooking liquid.

Add bacon to a large skillet and heat over medium-high. Cook bacon, stirring occasionally, until fat starts to render, about 3 minutes. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned and bacon is crisp, about three minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon and shallot to a small bowl, reserving fat in skillet. Add 1/2 cup cooked peas to bacon mixture.

Purée lemon juice, 1/8 tsp salt an 1/8 tsp pepper, the remaining 1 1/2 cups peas and 1/2 cup reserved pea cooking liquid in a blender.  Add oil and purée until smooth.  Add 2 Tbsp mint leaves and purée until just combined, but pieces of int are still visible.  Divide pea purée among 4 plates.

Heat skillet with reserved fat over high until just barely smoking.  Working in batches and adding more oil if needed, sear scallops until a golden brown cut has formed and scallop releases from skillet, about 3 minutes per side. Top pea purée with scallops and bacon- pea mixture, then sprinkle with remaining 1Tbsp of mint.

Sweet Potato Hash Browned Waffle

You can do many more things with sweet potatoes than serve them baked with syrup and marshmallows once a year. And you can tell yourself that sweet potato fries are better for you than French fried potatoes. I suspect you have not tried Sweet Potato Hash Browed Waffles!  I saw a recipe and drooled at the photo so I had to try it.  The recipe is gluten free, and it is posted below as such.  I found that the batter of rice flower, coconut oil and egg did not hold the sweet potatoes together well in my Belgian waffle maker. I used the gluten free items because of a friend’s dietary needs. I’ll make the recipe with regular flour for myself next time. I’ll also use my panini press to cook the sweet potato has because on only have a Belgian waffle maker.

Open-face sweet potato hash brown waffle topped with ham and a Brussels sprout slaw and dried cranberries make an exotic and delicious breakfast!

Ingredients

Waffles

2 medium-size sweet potatoes (about 20 oz.), peeled and julienned

1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion

3 Tbsp brown rice flour

1 Tbsp melted coconut oil plus more for greasing the waffle iron

Slaw

3 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp pure maple syrup

8 ounces Brussels sprouts, shaved

1/3 cup dried cranberries

8 ounces nitrate-free reduced-sodium thinly sliced ham

Method

1 Preheat a waffle iron to high. (I recommend a regular waffle iron rather than a Belgian waffle iron.) Combine the grated sweet potato, onion slices, 1 Tablespoon coconut oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl.  Grease the waffle iron with coconut oil and place 1-1/2 cuts of the sweet potato mixture in the center of the waffle iron, spread the mixture to create a 6-inch square.  Close the waffle iron and cook until browned and tender – about 13 minutes. Remove the waffled sweet potato hash and remove and repeat the procedure until four waffles have been made.

2. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.  Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and let stand until the sprouts are tender – about 10 minutes.  Fold in the cranberries.

3. Put one waffle on each of 4 plates.  Top each with 2 ounces of ham slices and about 2/3 cup Brussels slaw.

Note: This slaw is especially flavorful and would be good as a side or topper for most anything.

Cheesy Grits with Scallions and Jammy Eggs

Green Chili cheese grits topped with a poached egg have long been a favorite cool weather breakfast, but, now there’s a new game in town!  In the April issue of Bon Appétit, I ran across a technique for Jammy Soft Boiled Eggs served on cheesy grits that I just had to try. No green chili in the grits, but a sprinkling of sautéd scallions and thin-sliced jalapeño saved the day.  I think the jammy eggs rank right up there with poached eggs for silky delicious yolks just a bit more firm than poached egg yolks.

Cheesy grits topped by jammy eggs and crisp scallions and jalapeño.

If you don’t know that the ratio of grits to water is 1 to 4, you must be a Yankee.*  Slowly pour 1/4 cup grits into 2 cups gently boiling lightly salted water and stir. As grits begin to thicken, reduce temperature and stir occasionally until grits are tender.  You might need to add more liquid near the end of cooking.  At this stage, I thin it with milk and stir in a tablespoon or so of butter.  I don’t use = quick cooking or instant grits, I use the real thing that takes about 25 minutes to cook.  It is well worth it to get luscious, smooth and rich flavor.  While the grits cook, slice scallions an jalapeño in thin strips. Use an entire bunch of scallions, green and white parts, and two stemmed and seeded chilis, sautéd crisp, the drained on paper towels.

To make the jammy eggs, bring a large saucepan of water deep enough to cover eggs to a boil over medium-high. A 2-quart pan should hold 6-8 eggs. Carefully lower eggs into water using a slotted spoon.  Cook for EXACTLY 6-1/2 have minutes, then transfer the eggs to a ice bath and chill until the eggs are slightly warm – about 2 minutes.  The ice baths stops the cooking and makes the eggs easier to peel. Remove the eggs from the ice bath, peel and slice them.  The yolk will be jammy and warm.

Dish up the grits, top with slice eggs and sprinkle with crisp scallions and jalapeño.

These eggs are so good that I’m searching for things I can serve under them.

Spring Greens

Spring Salad of snap peas, asparagus and leeks on a bed of leaf lettuce and mâche with a lemon vinaigrette and a garnish of pepadew peppers stuffed with ricotta salt. In this photo, a rosette of mâche rests on the edge of an oven roasted pork chop.

While we were at a meeting the other day, sweet Alice Parra slipped me a generous bag of snap peas from her garden. They were beautiful. At every traffic light on the way home, I pulled the strings off a couple and munched on them raw.  I couldn’t wait to get them into the kitchen.

I had been inspired by a recipe for chicken thighs braised with peas, asparagus and leeks.  It sounded good, but I thought the combination would be better as part of a salad.  Those snap peas needed to be bright and crisp instead of braised. So, once more, I had to play with my food.

Spring Salad

Ingredients

1 small leek, white and light green parts only, split, washed and sliced into thin half-moons

4 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 lemon

1/2 lb. asparagus

1/2 lb. or so fresh snap peas, string removed and left in the pod.

pepadew peppers form the deli olive bar

ricotta salata to stuff pepadews

green leaf lettuce

mâche

Method

Sauté leeks on medium heat until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.  Trim and slice asparagus at an angle, string the peas. Sauté asparagus and peas in the leek pan until crisp/tender and bright green. Plunge into a bowl of ice water and stir to stop cooking, drain and set aside.

Stuff pepadew peppers with ricotta salt.  They are so good, that you must let your conscience be your guide about how many to make.

Was and dry lettuce and mâche, tear lettuce into bite sized pieces.  Pinch root tips off mâche rosettes.

Zest lemon, halve and squeeze juice of 1/2 lemon onto greens, place and juice of remaining lemon half in a bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil.  Whisk until emulsified. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Toss greens with lemon vinaigrette.  Add leeks, asparagus and peas to greens and toss lightly to mix.  Plate the salad and place a few stuffed peppers on top for color and garnish.

I served this salad with a pork chop and a delicate salad of curried chickpeas with minced vegetables.

FRIDGE-DIVE PESTO PASTA

A recipe called Fridge-Dive Pesto Pasta caught my eye.  Described as a rewarding way to clean out the fridge hooked me.  My fridge has a way of collecting leftovers from a recipe that needed a pinch of this or a quarter cup of that.  I deal with it by buying spices from the bulk purchase jars at a couple of the better markets in town.  I can get things such as a teaspoon of turmeric for pennies rather than a one ounce jar for dollars.  It’s a good way to try out new flavors without breaking the bank or cluttering up the cabinet with more little jars. I can even get loose carrots one at a time, but somethings just come in larger sizes and result in leftovers.

There is usually a mystery bag in the bottom of the crisper drawer  that may or may not contain something that had been there way too long. Fridge diving seemed a good idea to cope with those mysteries.

Below is the inspirational recipe followed by what actually happened one night in my kitchen. Yes, I was playing with my food — again!

Fridge-Dive “Pesto” with Pasta and Shrimp. Really good sauce made (mostly) green stuff in your refrigerator crisper. It’s cooked, a little, and has no basil, so put the “pesto” in quotes and dive into it!

FRIDGE-DIVE PESTO PASTA – ORIGINAL RECIPE

This pesto pasta recipe is the solution for any leftover hardy green, lettuce, or herb you don’t know what to do with. Cleaning out your fridge has never been so rewarding!

 INGREDIENTS

4 SERVINGS

½ red onion, quartered through root end

8 cups (lightly packed) torn mixed greens and tender herbs

Kosher salt

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds, plus more for serving

½ cup grated ricotta salata (salted dry ricotta), divided

3 tablespoons plus ¼ cup olive oil; plus more for drizzling

8 garlic cloves, smashed

12 ounces tripoline or mafaldine (wavy-edged ribbon pasta) or fusilli (spiral-shaped pasta)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

METHOD

Cook onion and mixed greens and herbs in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes. Using a spider or tongs, transfer to a bowl of ice water and swish around in the water to cool down as quickly as possible (this helps retain the bright color). Drain and gently squeeze to remove excess liquid, then press between a double layer of paper towels to remove as much remaining liquid as possible. Reserve pot with greens cooking liquid.

Process ¼ cup sesame seeds in a food processor until finely ground. Add onion and greens mixture and ¼ cup ricotta salata and process until a coarse paste forms. With motor running, stream in 3 Tbsp. oil and process, adding water by the tablespoonful if needed to thin, until pesto is very smooth.

Heat ¼ cup oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add pesto and cook, stirring, until sauce looks like most of the moisture has been cooked out, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, bring reserved pot of greens cooking liquid to a boil and cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.

Using tongs, transfer pasta to pot with pesto and add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing, until each strand of pasta is coated. Remove from heat, add butter, and toss to combine.

Divide pasta among bowls. Top with more sesame seeds and remaining ¼ cup ricotta salata and drizzle with oil

The Recipe, reality based in my household:

As I inventoried my crisper drawer, I thought about pesto.  Originally, pesto was an uncooked sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan or pecorino cheese and olive oil. Now we chop up almost anything and call it “pesto.”  I am putting the “pesto: in quotes for this recipe because it has no basil and it is cooked! What I appreciate most about this recipe is its flexibility.  The technique for building the pesto was very helpful.

GRINGO GOURMET FRIDGE-DIVE “PESTO” WITH PASTA AND SHRIMP

My Fridge and Pantry Inventory of Ingredients on Hand and Ingredients Needed

1 gigantic head of Bok choy purchased in desperation when I couldn’t find baby Bok choy.  I found the baby bok the next day and the gigantic one was just sitting there sadly abandoned.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley

1/2 head cabbage

Onions

Garlic heads

Olive Oil

Butter

A variety of pasta shapes

So far, so good.  I wasn’t about to put pricey pine nuts into an experiment, so, I though let’s go for a different spicier crunch!  I bought four snack packs of chile peanuts, a couple of limes and (per the original recipe) ricotta salata because it is a terrific dry, slightly salted ricotta that crumbles nicely.

I decided to add some more protein to the dish, so I got shell-on raw shrimp.

My Method

Rinse and drain shrimp, blot dry with paper towels,  toss with a liberal amount of Tajin Chili Lime powder and let sit while you do the rest of the prep and cooking.

Experience the joy of washing and chopping the Bok choy, parsley, some of the cabbage and savor smashing garlic cloves!  Note: You’ll have to jump back and forth to the original recipe what I  did how it influenced what I actually did.

Blanche the chopped greens until the Bok choy and onion wedges until tender, the immerse them in ice water to stop cooking and retain the bright green color.  Use a spider or tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the greens.  Save the vegetable water, or broth if you want to call it something fancy, for cooking your pasta.

More fun will be had draining, squeezing and patting the greens dry. Be sure to squeeze as much water out of the vegetables and pat them as dry as you can or you’ll have soggy “pesto.” Place one packet of chili peanuts in a food processor and chop into a coarse powder. The peanut powder will help with moisture when you add the greens.  Process until a paste is formed.  Add a good shot of olive oil, pulse until blended.  Add a packet of chile peanuts and a couple of tablespoons of crumbled ricotta salata.  Pulse a few times to reduce size of peanuts and mix the peanuts and ricotta into the “pesto.”  Add the juice of half of lime.

Lightly brown the smashed garlic cloves in olive oil, then add the “pesto” and cook over low heat while the pasta cooks, according to package directions, but keep it al dente.  I didn’t have a wavy edged pasta, so I used my favorite bucatini noodle.  I figured it would work as a base for the shrimp when coated with the “pesto.”

When the pasta is done, use tongs to transfer it to the pot of “pesto.”  Gently stir to blend and add the butter called for in the recipe.  Reduce the heat to low and cook the shrimp in butter until curled and flesh is bright pink throughout.

Place pasta and “pesto” mix in a shallow bowl, top with shrimp, sprinkle with whole chile peanuts and crumbled  ricotta salata and a couple of lime wedges.  Dive in.

 

 

 

Hard to Spell Dinner

Sometimes, I get the urge for things that are easy to make, yet hard to spell.  They are inspired by Greek, Italian and French dishes I’ve enjoyed. And they have z’s and double l’s and i’s that must be remembered and put in the right order. The other day, I saw a lamb frittata recipe online and bought some ground lamb, thinking I’d make it.  I decided to go another direction because I didn’t want to buy four packs of fresh herbs that together, cost more than the lamb.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to used them up before they went beyond wilt in the crisper.  Instead, I decided to make stuffed lamb meatballs with an eggplant dish on pasta. Of course, I didn’t have a recipe, but that seldom deters me.

Stuffed lamb meatballs with tzatziki sauce, ratatouille and bucatini with grated parmesan, a hard to spell dinner.

Stuffed Lamb Meatballs with a Ratatouille and Bucatini

INGREDIENTS

Meatball Sauce: about a half cup Greek yogurt, one snacking cucumber, grated and squeezed in paper towels to reduce moisture content and chopped mint, minced garlic and chopped lemon zest. A little salt.

Meatballs: half a pound of ground lamb, a handful of panko crumbs, one beaten egg, and chopped mint, lemon zest, minced garlic in quantities that looks right on the cutting board.

One mozzarella cheese stick cut into six pieces. a little salt and pepper.

Eggplant: one medium to small eggplant, cut into one-inch cubes, two Roma tomatoes,  one small onion, coarsely chopped and two or three minced garlic cloves.  Some olive oil. A little salt.

Pasta: two servings bucatini pasta.  I measure the pasta by measuring enough to fill the circle made by my thumb and forefinger.  Works for spaghetti, fettuccine and bucatini, with a few extra bucatini noodles added because they are thick and take up more room in my measurer.

METHOD

Meatball Sauce: Stir chopped, minced and grated ingredients into yogurt and let sit while you cook everything else. Before serving, taste and adjust salt, if needed. Because the sauce has cucumber in it, you could call it tzatziki.

Meatballs: Beat egg in medium bowl, stir in panko, herbs and zest.  Add pinches of ground lamb and squish it all together with your fingers until well mixed.  Shape into six mostly same sized meatballs.  Make an indentation in each meat ball with a finger and insert one piece of the mozzarella.  That warm bit of cheese in the middle make the meatballs special! Cover the cheese and roll the ball round again.  Brown on all sides in a deep skillet. Cover and let cook until an internal temperature of 145º – 150º.  Remove from pan and cover while they rest.

Eggplant:  Put a healthy splash of olive oil in a deep saucepan.  Soften eggplant a little in the oil.  Add onion and garlic and a little more oil an let the onion begin to soften.  Eggplant will take up the oil, so keep and eye on it all the first few minutes.  Quarter the tomatoes and squeeze the quarters into the pan with the other vegetables. Tear juiced tomatoes with your fingers and add to pan.  Add a little water and simmer until vegetables are tender.  Season with salt and pepper when cooked.  If you added chopped red and green bell peppers and squash, you could call this Ratatouille.

Pasta:  Boil pasta in salted water per package directions. Don’t overcook the pasta.  Save about a cup of pasta water and drain off the rest.  I return the drained pasta to the empty pot, cover it and keep it warm until serving.  A quick swirl with the reserved pasta water refreshes the pasta. Drain again before serving.