Sunday, July 28, 2013

Zucchini Stuffed with Ricotta

Tuscany, together with Provence, tops the list of my "culinary" places to see. And when I think about summer in Tuscany, I imagine that this zucchini dish could be served there with a perfectly fluffy white bread and a glass of regional red wine, at a patio, on a table covered with a red checkered tablecloth.

This vegetable light dish became one of my favorite this summer and recently, when weather was not so hot, I made it once a week after my Friday visit to farmers market where I buy these round zucchinis.

After my experiment with fried zucchini blossoms, I was planning to try more zucchini blossom dishes. Unfortunately, my zucchini plants did not survive the heat we had a couple week ago. But the filling I used here is similar to what I wanted to put into these blossoms.

This ricotta filling is as delicate as the zucchinis. It does not overshadow their mild taste. Just a little bit of garlic and fresh herbs make it a perfect addition. Roasted pine nuts bring some crunchiness to the soft texture. Then a stronger tomato sauce, in which the zucchinis are baked, add some spiciness and sourness to the whole dish.

Zucchini with Ricotta Filling in Tomato Sauce
(Serves four)

8 small round zucchinis,
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese,
2 garlic cloves, minced,
1 egg,
1-2 tbsp cup fresh chopped herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram,
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts,
1/4 cup dried all natural bread crumbs,
1 small onion, chopped,
2 cups tomato sauce,
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 370F.
2. Wash the zucchinis. Cut their tops off at about 4/5th of their heights. Using an ice-cream or melon scoop, gently scoop out the flesh, leaving 1/4 inch-thick walls.

3. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add onion and fry for 2-3 minutes, until transparent. Add chopped zucchini flesh that you scooped from the zucchinis and fry until slightly gold. Pour in a tomato sauce and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 3 minutes. Transfer to an oven-proof dish in which zucchinis will be baked.
4. To make the filling, put the ricotta in a medium bowl. Add egg, bread crumbs, pine nuts, minced garlic, herbs, salt an pepper, and mix all the ingredients using a spatula.

5. Divide the filling among the zucchinis and cover them with their top parts. Place the zucchinis in a baking dish on top of the tomato sauce.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the zucchinis for about 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
Serve warm with white breads.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes

Sweet vegetarian dinner dishes have a very strong tradition in Polish cuisine. At least once a week in almost every Polish house a sweet dinner was served. Such dinners were especially popular during the summer when all kinds of fresh fruits are available. As a child, I liked them a lot. My most favorite has always been the blueberry cold soup and plum dumplings.

Somehow today sweet dinner dishes are not particularly appreciated at my home. But it does not mean that I do not prepare them anymore. I still serve those sweet dishes bur as an evening snack or the next day leftovers for breakfast, rather than dinner.

Yesterday, I decided to make pancakes, similar to those we make with apples in Poland, just to use the leftover buttermilk and a huge box of blueberries. I also wanted to use a big bag of the whole wheat flour I had to buy for another recipe. This accidental combination of all leftovers turned into a wonderful summer snack. My younger son who is a pancakes and waffles amateur could not stop raving about their perfect taste. They indeed came out very good. Although the batter was rather heavy because of the buttermilk and the whole wheat flour, at the end, they were more delicate and fluffy than the plain flour pancakes, not to mention that they were also healthier.

Dusted with icing sugar and served with a glass of milk they were hard to resist.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes
(Makes 16-20 pancakes)

1 cup bluberries
2 cups buttermilk,
1 cup whole wheat flour,
1/2 all purpose flour,
1 large egg,
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt,
1 tsp soda,
vegetable oil for frying.

1. In a medium bowl mix together egg and buttermilk.
2. Add both flours, backing soda, salt and sugar. Mix well using a hand whisker. Put aside for about 10 minutes.
3. Gently fold blueberries into the batter.

4. In a large frying pan heat 2-3 tbsp of oil. Put on about a soup spoon of batter. Turn down the heat to medium and fry pancakes until dark gold. Flip over and fry on the other side. It will take about 2 minutes per side. Repeat until all the batter is used.

5. Place ready pancakes on a plate with a piece of paper towel to absorb excess oil.
6. Dust pancakes with icing sugar (or pour some maple syrup on them if you prefer) and serve still warm.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Peppers Roasted with the Haloumi Cheese

Summer is about bright colors and beautiful fresh and aromatic vegetables. So today, after summer's best tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs, it is time to try peppers. I bought mine at the local farmers market. This time I used red but next time I intend to try this dish also with the new, purple kind, which I saw at the market.

I recently tested this Mediterranean dish on a friend who is very familiar with Mexican cuisine. And maybe because it was made with peppers, he loved it. When I made the dish and the house was filled with an aroma of roasted peppers it reminded him the aroma of the roasted Mexican poblanos, which is one of the most memorable aromas of his childhood.

It is simply a wonderful summer dish when locally grown peppers are sweet and full of flavor. Peppers are filled with the Haloumi cheese, originally to be found in the traditional Middle Eastern food stores, but now becoming quite popular and pretty widely available. A little bit of oil, lemon juice, spices and the dish is ready. It can be served with a warm white baguette or fresh pita bread, as a dish in itself, or as a starter.

Peppers Roasted with the Haloumi Cheese
(Serves 4)

4 bell peppers,
1/2 lb Haloumi cheese,
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts,
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
juice from one lemon,
a couple of branches of fresh thyme,
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped,
one tbsp caper fruits or seeds to serve with (optional),
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Wash peppers and cut them in half (you can leave stems) and remove seeds with white membranes. Rub the skin of peppers with oil and place them on a baking sheet.
3. In a small bowl mix remaining oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and half of thyme leaves. Spread the mixture inside the peppers.
4. Slice the Haloumi cheese and divide it among peppers. Toss the rest of the thyme leaves and pine nuts on top.

5. Bake for about 20 minutes until the peppers turn brown and Haloumi melts and becomes slightly gold.
6. Serve immediately, as Haloumi will harden as it cools.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cold Cucumber and Yogurt Soup

I planned to share a recipe for a savory tart today but with the heat wave we experience in DC right now I could not even think about making anything in an oven, as outside it feels like being in an oven. Instead, I decided to do something quite opposite: a cold soup straight from a refrigerator.

It is extremely easy, comparing, for example, to the much more labor intensive Polish cold beet soup, but also very refreshing on a day as today and can be made in no time, like gazpacho. There are many versions of yogurt and cucumber soup but I like this particular one because with the addition of sparkling water it becomes even lighter and more refreshing than any other I tried.

In general, this soup is made from cucumbers but I also like to add some red radish to make it more crunchy. Not to much, just for extra texture. I also like to season it with dill, which, in Polish cuisine, is often used to accompany cucumber dishes.

So, if where you are is as hot as where I am, you could use this cucumber soup to cool down.

Cold Cucumber and Yogurt Soup
(Serves 4-6)

4-5 very fresh Kirby cucumbers, or one English cucumber,
6 radishes, cut in half and finely sliced,
3 cups low fat (2 percent) Greek yogurt,
1 cup sparkling water,
2-3 garlic cloves, minced,
juice from half a lemon,
2 tbsp fresh, chopped dill,
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
sea salt and freshly grated pepper to taste,

1. Place yogurt in a large bowl. Add sparkling water and, using a whisker, beat until smooth.
2. Peel of cucumbers. You can chop them finely or in a blender, or grate on a small whole grater. Add cucumbers to the yogurt.
3. Add juice, garlic and chopped dill to the yogurt. Season with salt and pepper and let it chill for at least 2 hours.
4. Divide soup between 4 or 6 small bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and decorate with radish.
Serve and enjoy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mixed Pesto Sauce with Nuts

Let's talk about basil. This is a perfect time--basil in pots and gardens is ready to be harvested, fresh and unbelievably aromatic.

I cannot imagine my life without the pesto sauce. About once in ten days my kids ask for "green sauce pasta" which is pasta served with pesto. Most easy and one of the most delicious pasta dishes.

I have known the pesto sauce for over two decades but I never bought it. I always make my own, as organic as possible. I grow my own basil, I add the best oils and once in a while a make a big jar of pesto, which I serve fresh and I freeze the rest in small containers. Then unfrozen it is always fresh and bright green as on the day I make it.

Over the years, I also came up with some modification to load my pesto with vitamins and all the good stuff that my kids do not like to eat. Although mostly made of basil leaves my pesto has also half a cup of parsley. Besides traditionally used pine nuts I toast some pumpkin seeds and a bit of walnuts. I also use two types of oil: extra virgin olive and rice bran oil. This way my pesto is full of vitamins and, thanks to basil and parsley, one serving of pasta with my pesto sauce delivers daily requirements of vitamins K, A and C and, because of all types of nuts and oils used in it, also vitamins E, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and magnesium.

For extra taste I add a squeeze of lemon juice, which you will not find in the traditional recipes, but which preserves the sauce and its color and adds an extra taste to it which my kids enjoy more than the more bland taste of the traditional pesto.

Mixed Pesto Sauce with Nuts

1 large bunch (about 2 cups) fresh basil leaves,
1/2 cup curled parsley leaves,
1 cup best extra virgin olive oil,
1/3 cup rice bran oil,
juice from half a lemon,
2-3 garlic cloves,
1/4 cup pine nuts,
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds,
2 tbsp walnuts,
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese,
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

1. Place all the ingredients except the Parmesan in a blender and run the blender until you obtain a smooth creamy sauce.

2. Transfer the sauce to a bowl, add the Parmesan, and mix well with a spoon. Serve fresh with pasta or freeze for future use in a tightly closed, preferably glass, containers.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Raspberry Tart with Cheese and Honey Cream

Raspberries are among my favorite fruits. When fresh and sweet, they taste best simply on their own, or just toasted on light summer desserts.

As raspberries are now in season and available everywhere, not surprisingly, this recipe came to my mind during my latest food shopping. It is a very easy and delicious dessert, perfect for this season when raspberries are easy to get, inexpensive, and sweet. I used to make it quite often in the past, but somehow I have never made it since I started this blog.

Recently, I make desserts only when I cook dinners for friends, so last week, while having my neighbors for an impromptu dinner, I made this cake to take pictures and get their opinion. They liked it a lot and complimented everything: the crust, the cream, and the presentation.

This tart is made almost entirely in a food processor. Only the base is baked. The crust for this cake is very short but also kind of grainy which gives the whole tart an interesting texture. There is a thin layer of cream on it and then a lot of raspberries on top.

I like this tart so much because, like many European desserts, it is not too sweet. The cream cheese and crème fraîche filling is sweetened only with a little bit of honey. But when you bite a piece of this tart, the crunchiness of the base blends with the soft cream and delicate juicy raspberries drizzled with honey and, for a moment, you feel in your mouth a summer heaven from Provence or Tuscany.

Raspberry Tart with Cheese and Honey Cream
(For a 10-inch tart form with removable bottom)


For the crust:
1 and 1/4 cup all purpose flour,
7 tbsp butter, cut into thick slices,
1 large egg,
1/4 cup sugar,
a generous pinch of salt.

For the topping:
1 pack 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature,
1/4 cup crème fraîche (sour cream can be a substitute if crème fraîche is not available),
1/4 cup running honey, plus extra 2 tbsp,
1 lb (3-4 cups) of fresh raspberries,

1. To make crust, put flour, butter, sugar, egg, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until ingredients create crumbles. Transfer them to a lightly buttered tart form. Press them to the bottom and sides of the form with fingers and let chill for a minimum of one hour.
2. Preheat oven to 350 F and bake the crust for 25-30 minutes, until dark gold. Let it cool completely.
3. To make cream filling, using an electric mixer beat cream cheese, honey and crème fraîche until smooth. Spread evenly on the bottom of the crust.
4. Decorate the top of the tart with raspberries and drizzle with remaining the 2 tbsp of honey.

5. Gently remove the tart from the pan by removing the wall. Place on the serving plate. Serve at room temperature. The tart can be kept in a refrigerator for up to three days.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fresh Gazpacho--One-Ingredient Delight

I love gazpacho and make it quite often during hot summer days when I can get field tomatoes that taste best. It is one of the easiest fresh soups, entirely made in a food processor. The best gazpacho I ever tasted was the original, Spanish one--very smooth, almost orange in color.

But a couple weeks ago I was at the party at our Spanish friend's place. He prepared gazpacho entirely from fresh tomatoes. And that was the best gazpacho I ever had. It seemed sparkling from the sherry vinegar, so smooth as if it was whipped, delicate, and so light that it was served in cups like a drink.

As other people already enjoyed grilled meats and there were still many goblets with gazpacho left I discreetly had three of them. And of course I asked our friend about the secret of his soup, which turned out to be that he uses only fresh tomatoes, and only a bit of olive oil and sherry vinegar.

Two days later, when I got some very ripe and juicy tomatoes, my version of his soup was ready. It is indeed almost a one-ingredient soup and the only difficulty comes with straining the soup after it is puréed first, to get rid of the peel and seeds. It takes away some part of the volume so you end up with much less than when you make gazpacho with other vegetables and tomato juice. But if you are a connoisseur of real food, this gazpacho is a summer delight worth making and trying.

Fresh Gazpacho
(Serves six)

3 lb ripe, juicy tomatoes,
2 small garlic cloves,
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil,
3-4 tbsp sherry vinegar,
salt and pepper.

1. Wash tomatoes, cut in quarters and place them in a food processor. Pulse the blender several times until tomatoes make a smooth cream.

2. Strain the sauce through a colander with small holes or a sieve to discard the peel and skins.
3. Return the tomato sauce to the blender, add garlic, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Blend all the ingredients until creamy. Add slowly olive oil in three parts and blend well again.
4. Let it chill for about 1/2 hour and serve in glass goblets.