Sunday, October 27, 2013

Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Herbed Rice

Today, a very simple Italian dish, which I have been making quite often recently.

There are many varieties of dishes featuring stuffed tomatoes--raw or baked. They can be stuffed with different fillings cold or warm. This one is probably my favorite version of roasted tomatoes stuffed with just rice and herbs.

But, as it often happens with simple dishes, the taste of the dish depends on the quality of the ingredients and, in this case, tomatoes. My first dish was made with smaller, campari type of tomatoes. It was wonderful as campari tomatoes are usually sweeter and more red than others. But they are also smaller and harder to stuff and you also need more of them per person. Second time I tried tomatoes on the vine. The dish was good but tomatoes were a bit more watery and less sweet. Third time, I used just the local larger tomatoes, which were very ripe, and this was the best combination of size, color, and taste.

Tomatoes are often stuffed with rice, typically Arborio. Lightly cooked Arborio rice also makes the stuffing in my version. But because roasted tomatoes are more of a fall dish than other fresh tomato dishes, I also used a lot of more fragrant herbs than just basil, which is often paired with tomatoes. A little bit of Parmesan, 30 minutes in the oven, and a wonderful and light roasted tomatoes dish is ready.

Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Herbed Rice
(Serves four)

8 ripe medium tomatoes,
1/2 cup Arborio rice,
1 garlic clove, minced,
3 tbsp mixed, fresh herbs (oregano, marjoram, thyme, parsley),
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.

1. Cook Arborio rice for about 5 minutes, drain on a colander.
2. Cut off the tops of the tomatoes and set them aside. Take the bottoms and using an ice cream scoop, or a grapefruit knife, hollow them out and set aside. Put the scooped out tomato flesh and juice in a medium bowl.

3. Drain extra juice and pour on the bottom of a round oven-proof dish. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the juice.
4. Preheat oven to 375F.
5. To make the stuffing, mix the rice with the tomato juice and flesh, adding a second tbsp of olive oil, herbs, garlic and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the tomato shells with the stuffing, cover them with the tops, and place in an oven-proof dish.

6. Drizzle the tomatoes with a third tbsp of oil and put in a hot oven.
7. Bake for about 30 minutes until tomatoes are roasted. Serve warm.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Passion Fruit and Yogurt Mousse Cake--Delicate and Aromatic

Passion fruits are my favorite fruits, distinguishable for their intriguing look and flavor, a rare seedy texture, and a very strong sour taste. They come from South America but their flavor and taste remind me of other remote parts of our planet. Among others, they grace the famous Australian Pavlova dessert and give flavor to some white wines from Australia and New Zealand.

When I lived in Geneva I experimented with passion fruits a lot. They were inexpensive and always available. In our Washington area passion fruits are very seasonal and hard to get. So I have learned to replace the fresh passion fruits with their frozen pulp or bottled juice.

Last week, however, while shopping in my local Safeway in the exotic fruit section, I noticed a small pile of passion fruits. A cashier was surprised that such these inconspicuous fruits cost three dollars a piece and even more so that I took five of them. But having access to them only occasionally I buy a few, scoop up the pulp, place in a small container, and freeze for couple of months until a special occasion comes.

But today, without a special occasion, I share a recipe for a light passion fruit-yogurt mousse. It is a bit complicated dessert, as I bake the biscuit base myself, but I believe that, at the end, it is very delicate and rewarding.

Passion Fruit and Yogurt Mousse Cake

(For a 10-inch form with removable walls):

3 eggs at room temperature,
3 tbsp all purpose flour,
3 tbsp. sugar plus 3 tbsp sugar extra for the syrup.

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the cake form with butter and dust it with flour.
2. Separate eggs. Beat egg whites until almost stiff. Add gradually, one by one, three tbsps of sugar. Fold in gently three yolks and, at the end, the sifted flour. Gently mix the batter and pour it in the baking form.
3. Bake for 20-25 minutes until it becomes gold. Let it cool completely.

4. Remove the cake from the form. Spread a large piece of aluminum or plastic foil on the bottom of the form, make sure that the foil is large enough to overhangs the rim of the form. Put the cake back in the form.
5. Mix sugar with 1/2 cup hot water. Cool to room temperature and using spoon sprinkle evenly all over the base.


14 oz (about 1 and 1/2 cup) defrosted passion fruit pulp or juice,
2 tbsp unflavored gelatin,
2/3 cup sugar,
1/2 cup 2 percent Greek yogurt,
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 passion fruits,
1 lemon jello pack or one sachet of Dr. Oetker clear glaze.

1. In a small bowl, mix gelatin with 3 tbsps of cold water and let it soak in it for 5 minutes. Put the pulp or juice in a medium pot, add sugar, heat the pot until sugar melts and the mixture is hot but not boiling. Add gelatin to the juice, mix well, and let it stand aside until it cools down to room temperature.
2. Beat the heavy whipping cream until stiff. Mix gently with yogurt. Fold in a half of the cream-yogurt mixture to the passion fruit mixture. Follow with the second part, mix gently again, and transfer the whole mousse on the pre-soaked base. Smooth the top and refrigerate for 4 hours until it is set.
3. Cut passion fruits in halves and using a teaspoon scoop out the flesh. Spread it on top of the mousse.
4. Prepare jello according to instruction and before it sets spread on top of the cake. If you use Dr. Oetker's clear glaze, just add 2 tbsps of sugar and 1 tbsp of lemon juice, and cover the fruits. Cool down again until everything is set.

Before serving remove the walls of the cake form. Peel off the foil. Cut and serve and enjoy.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Butternut Squash Salad with Herbs--For Tomorrow's Lunch

I had a very different idea for today's post--something sweet for a weekend--but because of heavy rains my local farmers' market was canceled and I could not get good apples for my recipe. And since I like to cook and talk about seasonal food, today it will be about squash.

All I learned about squash--either from others or by experimenting--I did while leaving here in the US. My favorite is still the delicate squash flan which in fact is spicy but delicate in texture and which my guests always enjoy. Recently, I also came up with a nice recipe for pierogi with squash filling. But, since this is a long weekend, you may prefer this is easy salad, especially if it is your turn to make it, rather than kneading a dough for pierogi, which unfortunately are quite difficult and messy to make.

There are many squash salads and I noticed that each year they are becoming more popular and squash is increasingly appreciated as the vegetable that is most rich in vitamin A, for its reputation to lower your cholesterol, and its low-calorie content.

Actually, this salad is quite rich and nutritious and it can make for an entire vegetarian lunch dish. I have never seen a recipe that would be exactly as this one but, like many other squash salads, it includes onion and feta cheese, which spice up the delicate and sweet squash.

Butternut Squash Salad with Herbs
(Serves four)

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes,
3 tbsp olive oil,
4-6 shallots, peeled and cut in quarters,
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar,
2-3 tbsp chopped parsley leaves,
1/2 tbsp. fresh chopped thyme leaves,
1 small garlic, minced,
1/2 cup roasted, chopped walnuts,
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tsp red chili pepper,
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Put the squash in a medium bowl. Mix oils and 2 tbsp of vinegar, pour over the squash and rub it in the sauce.

3. Place the squash on a large roasting pan, salt gently but not too much as feta will add extra saltiness, and bake for about 30 minutes until the squash becomes soft and brown and shallots almost caramelized.
4. Remove the squash from the oven, sprinkle with thyme and let it cool.
5. In a small, bowl mix chopped parsley, garlic, walnuts and chili pepper and toss with squash. Divide squash between 4 plates.
6. Drizzle the salad with an extra tbsp of vinegar, sprinkle with feta and pepper, and serve with white breads.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Easiest Leek Soup

Looking back to my over 300 my recipes shared on this blog, I have realized that leeks are one of the most popular vegetables on my list with four different dishes devoted to them. But I cannot help myself and each fall leeks come back to my mind. Perhaps because, this time of the year, years ago, we were harvesting them in our yard in Poland and stored them in a cold cave for months and ate them when not many other vegetables were available.

By saying this, I might have scared those who check this blog and do not like this vegetable, especially that this certainly is not my last leek recipe. I would like to try one day an Italian dish, which also calls for leeks. But since young leeks are needed for this purpose, I will rather wait with that dish until late summer next year.

Today, however, I will talk about a cream leek soup. I made it this week for my younger son who although considers himself vegetarian still does not like many vegetables. So I decided to make this really simple soup and I puréed it to make it difficult for him to detect what vegetable it was made of. Just in case he had something against the leeks.

If you have leeks in your refrigerator, and have no time but crave for a bowl of hot soup, this should be your choice. The soup was made in less than 20 minutes and was rated with three stars (three out of three) by my picky son who devoured two bowls of it in no time.

Easy Leek Soup
(Serves four)

3 medium leeks,
3 tbsp butter,
4 cups vegetable broth,
4-6 slices baguette (I used whole grain),
1 tsp red chile pepper flakes,
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg,
sea salt and freshly ground pepper,
Italian parsley leaves to garnish,

1. Cut out about 1/3 of the most green leeks parts and discard them. Cut the remaining parts in halves and wash them thoroughly until all the soil is washed out from between the leaves. Slice thinly all the leeks.
2. In a medium heavy duty pot melt the butter. Add sliced leeks and fry on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.

3. When the leeks become transparent pour in vegetable broth, bring to boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.
4. Put on top of the soup slices of baguette and let the soup cook for another 3 minutes.

5. Remove the pot from the heat. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and, using an electric blender, purée the soup.
6. Return the pot to heat, bring the soup to boil, turn the heat off and let the soup infuse for about 5 minutes.
7. Divide the soup among four medium-sized bowls, sprinkle with chile flakes and chopped parsley, and serve.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stuffed Poblano Chiles

I like Mexican food but I hardly ever cook it and am not too familiar with the ways to prepare it. Besides, in the US you can find the best Mexican restaurants outside Mexico and it is hard to improve on what you can get there. Also, from my humble experience with Mexican cuisine, I find it quite labor intensive, which sometimes makes it difficult to experiment with in a daily busy life.

But once in while I cannot resist a look of some typically Latin American ingredients, particularly vegetables, and I buy them without having any specific idea what to make from them. This was the case with poblano chiles. They are always very fresh, shiny, and as aromatic as the peppers I remember from my childhood in Poland.

So, last week, I bought them again. Then I reached for inspiration to the only Mexican cook book I have at home. I found there a recipe for chiles stuffed with cheese in tomato sauce. The recipe appeared delicious as there is no better combination than peppers, tomatoes, and cheese. Later, looking on the internet for other ideas, I discovered that this particular recipe is very popular and features among the classic Mexican dishes.

I grilled the chiles, stuffed them, fried, and my Sunday lunch was ready. I must admit that it is quite a fulfilling dish and just one or two chiles make the whole serving. They reminded me slightly of the dish I made with the zucchini blossoms, probably because I fried them in a batter. However, this chile dish is better defined and spicy and the cheese makes it much richer making it more suitable for a fall menu.

Stuffed Poblano Chiles
(Serves four)

4 poblano chiles,
1 tbsp white vinegar,
1 small onion peeled,
3 medium ripe tomatoes,
1 garlic clove,
1 tbsp olive oil,
2 cups grated Monterey Jack or medium sharp Cheddar (or a mixture of both),
2 small eggs,
1/2 cup flour,
vegetable oil for frying.

1. Place the whole chiles with stems under a preheated broil and grill them until their skin becomes puffy and charred. Remove them from the oven, place in a paper bag or a container with a lid and let them cool.

2. Peel off cold chiles and making a small cut alongside remove the inside membranes and seeds, making sure not to damage the chiles too much.
3. Stuff each chile with cheese through the cut and close them carefully to preserve its shape.
4. Spread the flour on the plate, coat the chiles in flour and set them aside.

5. In an electric blender puree tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Heat the oil in a small pan and add the sauce to it. Bring the sauce to boil, season with salt and pepper and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. 6. When the sauce is cooking, separate eggs. Beat the whites until stiff then add yolks and gently mix them in. 7. In a large frying skillet heat the vegetable oil (about 4 tbsp). Coat the chiles in the egg mixture and fry them in the oil on both sides until lightly brown. Drain them of the excess oil on a paper towel. 8. Arrange chiles on a serving plate, cover with a hot tomato sauce and serve with white breads.