Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cold Cucumber Soup with Mint

I have been experimenting with cream soups recently. Not because I like them so much but because for three weeks I had to stay on a liquid diet and I am afraid I will not crave for them for a long time. During this "fast time" I finally had a chance to make all the cream soups I have been curious to try but kept postponing them in favor of some other recipes. I have also learned that soups designed to be creamed taste much better that way than if you just put any soup through a blender. They usually have fewer ingredients but when they are puréed, their taste is more defined.

Last couple of days because of the hot weather I have been juggling with cold soups. I have found gazpacho being very nutritious and great for dealing with the heat thanks to its high sodium and potassium content. Yesterday I made a cold cucumber soup flavored with mint. It tasted very refreshing.

Cold Cucumber and Mint Soup
(Serves four)

1 large cucumber (about 3 cups chopped),
2 cups fat-free Greek yogurt,
3 branches of spring onion,
2 garlic cloves,
3 tbsp olive oil,
10 mint leaves,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Peel off cucumber and remove seeds. Place in a food processor.
2. Add chopped spring onion, garlic cloves, yogurt, oil, mint leaves. Blend them together until all the ingredients are puréed.
3. Season with salt and pepper. Cool for a minimum 2 hours.

Serve chilled, decorated with mint.

Friday, June 22, 2012

All Italian Whole Wheat Pasta Salad--Hodgson Mill Giveaway

I have been asked by the Hodgson Mill company to create a whole wheat pasta salad recipe and participate in their contest. I make pasta at least once a week and, recently, I have been particularly often using whole wheat pasta. I think certain sauces taste even better with whole wheat past thanks to its stronger, kind of nutty flavor. It also has some added health benefits.

But although I cook pastas often, there is only one pasta salad I make which is based on all good Italian ingredients. And maybe because it is very light, seasoned just with oil and vinegar instead of mayonnaise, it always disappears rather fast when I serve it for deck parties to accompany grilled meats. So that is the recipe I share today.

Hodgson Mill also offered a $25 suite of their assorted products to the US readers of my blog. This gift will be sent to the first person who first sends an answer to the following question:

What are the health benefits of the whole wheat pasta?

All Italian Whole Wheat Pasta Salad

10 oz whole wheat whole grain Hodgson Mill pasta (preferably bow ties),
2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil,
one large red bell pepper,
one small red onion,
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts,
1/4 cup marinated capers,
4 oz pancetta or very lean smoked bacon,
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar,
3 tbsp shredded or grated Parmesan cheese,
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley,
one tsp freshly ground black pepper,
one tbsp salt.

1. In a large pot bring to boil 4 quarts of water with a tbsp of salt. Add pasta, stir and let it cook until the water boils. Turn down the heat to medium and cook pasta for about 7 to 9 minutes, until tender but not too soft. Drain the pasta on the colander and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Preheat an oven broiler to 400 F and grill the pepper on the highest rack until the skin turns black, or roast the pepper on the fork over a gas burner until the skin is charcoaled. Place the pepper in a small bowl and cover it. Let it cool down. Peel off the pepper, remove seeds and cut it into small squares. Add them to the pasta.
3. Drain tomatoes from the oil and cut them into thin strips. Add to the pasta together with 2 tbsp of oil that they were marinated in. You can also use just dried tomatoes but then add 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to the pasta.
4. Cut pancetta or bacon into very small cubes. Fry them on a small frying pan until all the grease is released and pancetta turns gold. Drain pancetta from the grease and add to the pasta.
5. Peel off the onion, chop finely and add to the bowl.
6. Drain capers from the brine and toss them in the pasta. Follow with pine nuts, chopped parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese.
7. Season with pepper and balsamic vinegar at the end. Mix gently all the ingredients and serve at room temperature.

If you like this recipe please go to the Hodgson Mill website and vote for it:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Artichoke Bottoms with Mascarpone and Smoked Salmon

A few years ago in the end of May or beginning of June my neighbours received a large shipment of artichokes from California and organized an artichoke party. They served a lovely lunch in their scenic backyard with artichokes accompanied by California white.

I enjoyed that event very much as, until then, I had not eaten artichokes too often. But I have never fully appreciated the hosts effort until I bought fresh artichokes myself and decided to make an artichoke dish from scratch.

Working with artichokes is messy and not too economical as only their inner parts are edible. They have to be fresh and young to be really good and they quickly change their color if not treated with lemon juice.

At first, I was planning to make an artichoke salad using their hearts but unfortunately they seemed not soft enough so I decided to use only their bottoms. At the end, only a very small part was left from a fairly large artichoke flower. After a lot of cutting I extracted only six modest bottoms.

I cooked them and decided to stuff them with a delicate filling not to overshadow their delicate taste. I also decided to serve them as a dinner starter rather than a main dish. This way only one or two could make the whole portion.

Now, after my experience with preparing artichokes from the scratch, I understand why they are considered such a delicacy and are served by the best and most experience chefs. Last month, an artichoke salad was on a 40 thousand dollars dinner menu which Wolfgang Puck prepared at George Clooney's home during the fundraising dinner for President Obama.

And here is my idea how to serve artichokes if you are not afraid to work with them.

Artichoke Bottoms with Mascarpone and Smoked Salmon
(Serves six)

6 large or 12 small artichokes,
6 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature,
2 oz smoked salmon slices,
juice from two lemons,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
3 tbsp chopped chives,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cut the upper halves of the artichokes and the stems off.

2. Using a small sharp knife peel off outer leaves until you get into the solid bottom.

3. Using a spoon or a grapefruit knife remove all the soft and fuzzy parts from the artichoke's core until you get just the clean bottoms

4. Place them in water with lemon juice while working with the rest of them to prevent discoloring.
5. In a medium pot bring to boil water with a tbsp of salt and two tbsp of lemon juice. Put the artichoke bottoms in and cook the for 8-10 minutes, until soft. Drain them and let them cool down.
6. In a small bowl mix mascarpone cheese with salt and pepper. Divide the cheese evenly among artichokes.
7. Cut salmon in small, square pieces. Put on top of mascarpone.
8. In a another small bowl mix olive oil and two tbsp lemon juice. Add chopped chives, salt and pepper. Mix the dressing and pour over the filled in artichokes.

Serve with baguette or  white bread.