Friday, June 27, 2014

Tuscan Kale Frittata

The variety of greens at farmers' markets and in some stores is very impressive this season. Among them, particularly kale is the one that comes in many leaf shapes and colors I did not know before.

Given all the healthy properties of kale I have been trying to incorporate it into may family's daily diet for a long time. But it is not easy to find a really good way of preparing kale so it does not change color too much or become too dry.

Each week when I buy kale at my market I listen to people exchanging recipes while digging in kale bunches. So far I heard about kale soup or kale served with spaghetti in tomato sauce. But a combination of kale and cooked tomatoes is not my favorite. So inspired by the Italian cuisine where kale is very popular I decided to make a simple kale frittata, without too many additional ingredients. I bought for that a bunch of Tuscan kale (also known as dinosaur kale) which has large uncurled leaves and silver frost on them.

I did not fry kale as I do sometimes but cooked it in water. Then I mixed it with fried onion, garlic, eggs, and cheese and I baked it in an oven. My frittata came out quite moist and had a very well-defined taste of kale unadulterated by the taste of other ingredients, which only provided a delicate context to it. Last Sunday, I served a leftover slice of this frittata to my friend to try. She enjoyed it a lot and asked for the recipe which I am posting today.

Kale Frittata

1 large bunch of kale leaves, preferably Tuscan (i.e,. dinosaur) type,
1 medium onion chopped,
3 garlic cloves, sliced,
4 medium eggs,
1/2 cup low fat ricotta cheese,
1 cup Fontina or any well melting cheese, grated,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
2 tbsp bread crumbs,
1 tbsp butter,
salt and pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease a 9-inch baking dish with butter and dust with breadcrumbs so the bottom and the wall are covered.
3. Boil water in a large pot. Add whole kale leaves and bring it to boil. Let it boil on a small heat for about 3 minutes. Drain. When cold chop roughly.
4. In a medium frying pan, heat the oil. Add chopped onion and fry until transparent. Add sliced garlic and fry for another minute. Turn off the heat off and add kale. Mix all the ingredients.

5. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with ricotta. Add grated Fontina and kale. Mix well. Transfer to a baking dish and bake about for about 30 minutes, until top is set and slightly gold.
6. Serve immediately with tomato salad and baguette.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lemon Mini Cakes with Berries

When you are passionate about food, when you cook a lot and experiment in the kitchen and constantly read about food, you develop imagination and the sixth culinary sense. And then, just by reading recipes, you can tell which dishes should be good, which combination of ingredients should work, and which are interesting and worth trying.

This is how I felt about today's dessert. Each time when I looked at this recipe in my secret notebook I knew that this dessert could be great. The idea of baking a cake in water sounded intriguing. Dessert prepared like this are always very delicate and this one seemed to be a fusion of cake and a pudding-like dessert. So when I made it last weekend I did not get disappointed. It was delicate and fluffy inside and creamy at the bottom, sweet but at the same explicitly tart and very refreshing--a perfect summer dessert.

These cakes are made separately in small ramekins. When they cool down it is best to take them out on serving plates. I would suggest to make the same day you intend to serve them as the soft, creamy top part may dry a bit the next day. Served with crème fraîche or lightly whipped cream and fresh berries these lemon cakes will satisfy and impress any palate.

Lemon Mini Cakes with Berries
(Makes eight portions)

5 tbsp room temperature butter plus extra 1 tbsp melted,
1 and 1/4 cup sugar,
5 eggs separated, at room temperature,
1 and 1/4 cup whole milk,
1 tsp grated lemon zest,
1/2 cup lemon juice,
1/2 cup all purpose flour,
1/2 cup crème fraîche or whipped cream for decoration,
1 cup of mix berries.

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Brush the bottom and walls of eight 5 oz ramekins with melted butter and dust with sugar.
3. Using an electric mixer beat butter with 1/2 cup sugar until pale.
4. Add egg yolks beating after each addition then fold in flour and lemon zest. Beat all the ingredients for about 2 minutes.
5. Pour into the mixture milk and lemon juice. Beat again until smooth.
6. In a large bowl beat the whites until soft peak. Add rest of the sugar and beat until whites become shiny. Using a spatula fold whites into the lemon batter. Divide among ramekins.
7. Place ramekins in a baking tin with taller walls. Add hot water up to the half of the heights of the ramekins and place the baking tin in the oven.

8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until tops of the cakes become set and slightly gold.
9. Cool cakes completely, then reverse on serving plates. Decorate and serve at room temperature.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Eggplants Marinated in Herbs

My favorite eggplant dishes are those in which eggplants are accompanied by tomatoes. This combination is perfect if tomatoes are slightly sour and freshen up the bland and delicate taste of the eggplants. But recently, when I went through a pile of culinary books, most of them Italian, I found several eggplant recipes which did not call for tomatoes. I thought them worth trying, hoping to discover something that would go beyond that traditional eggplant-tomato scheme.

Every time I had guests over, I tested on them different eggplant dishes without tomatoes. Two of the dishes that I was most excited about turned out to be so bland and mild that they did not make it to the table. A third one, the simplest, came out very aromatic and almost spicy. I doubled the amount of dressing in which eggplants were marinated and added oregano, which is often used in Mediterranean eggplant recipes. That dish was a clear winner.

In eggplant preparation, the longest and most messy part is when eggplants need to be fried. But when we are done with that step a simply marinade is poured over eggplants after which they just need to stay for a few hours, or even overnight. And the lovely dish is just ready. It can be made a day before and chilled until served.

Eggplant Marinated in Herbs

3 medium-sized Italian eggplants,
2 garlic cloves minced,
10 mint leaves,
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves,
2 tbsp capers in brine, drained and chopped,
1 tsp hot pepper flakes,
2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice,
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for frying,
salt and pepper.

1. Slice eggplants into quarter inch-thick slices, salt on both sides and let it stand for an hour.
2. To make a marinade chop tiny mint and oregano leaves and put in a small bowl. Add minced garlic, chopped capers, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, a pinch of pepper and salt, and 4 tbsps of olive oil. Mix all the ingredients together. Set the marinade aside.

3. Using a paper towel, dry eggplant slices pressing gently each slice so the towel absorbs the brownish water released by them.
4. Preheat a large heavy duty frying pan until very hot. Brush each eggplant slice with oil and fry on both sides until light brown. Place fried eggplants on a plate with paper towel to absorb the extra oil. Follow with all the remaining slices.

5. When the eggplants cool down to room temperature, spread about one third of them in a medium dish. Drizzle them with marinade and gently press with a large spoon. Repeat this for each layer. Cover and let chill for at least 6 hours.

6. Serve at room temperature as a starter or grilled meat accompaniment.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cold Fava Bean Soup with Sumac

As a child, during the short and lovely Polish summers, I often ate fava beans fresh from the market. We made them as snacks: cooked them, drizzled with melted butter, and sprinkled with salt and dill.

Until recently, that was the only way of serving fava beans I had known. But then I discovered that in other cuisines, fava beans have been much more popular. Especially in Italy, there are many dishes based on fava. I recently tried some of them, including crostini with fava purée or fava served with prosciutto and Peccorino cheese. I will come back to those ideas in this blog, but today, I would like to share a recipe for fava bean soup that I invented inspired by a press article about Yottam Ottolenghi, one of my favorite chefs and an author of several cookbooks.

While talking about the Palestinian-Israeli culinary fusion and its popularity in the world, he talked about many dishes based on the traditional ingredients from the Middle East. Among them, he mentioned the cold fava soup that is served in one of his restaurants. Since I happened to have a bag of fresh fava beans in my refrigerator, on one of the hot days that we finally started having in the DC area, I decided to try to recreate a cold fava soup.

I said "recreate", because there were no ingredients shared for that soup other than the chili oil sumac--a sour spice my Afghan friend introduced me to, and which I have already used in many recipes. As a result, this soup had to be a bit of an experiment, which turned out nice enough for me to share this recipe. As usual, it is best to use fresh beans and double shell them. If fresh are not available, your local Middle Eastern store certainly carries, all year long, double-shelled frozen fava beans, which could be used instead.

Cold Fava Bean Soup
(Serves six)

12 oz fresh double-shelled fava beans,
2 shallots finely chopped,
2 tbsp olive oil,
3 tbsp Lebne (middle eastern kefir-based white cheese, now available in many food stores),
2 tbsp lemon juice,
3 tsp sumac,
2 tsp chili oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Heat the oil and sauté shallots on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until transparent. Add fava beans and fry together for about 3 minutes.

2. Pour 4 cups of water in the pot and bring beans to boil. Reduce heat, and boil briefly, for about 3 minutes, until beans become soft but are still bright green. Season with salt and pepper and cool completely.
3. Add two tbsps of Lebne cheese and lemon juice to the soup and, using a food processor or a hand mixer, purée the soup.
4. Divide the soup between bowls, finish with a small dollop of Lebne cheese. Sprinkle the soup with sumac and drizzle with chili oil.
5. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Young Zucchini Gratin

Last Friday, I visited my local farmers market for the first time this year. Field tomatoes are not there yet because the spring was very cold but many greens are already available--different kinds of beets, a variety of kale, radish and young zucchinis. I left the market with bags full of spring greens and a couple of pounds of different zucchinis to make my favorite dishes and to experiment with the new ones.

Late spring zucchinis are still rather small and probably the tastiest. The menu of dishes that can be made with them is endless. Many simplest ones, like zucchinis just sauteed in olive oil and herbs, are among the best.

Yesterday, I tried a zucchini gratin recipe. Gratin dishes usually make the vegetables well cooked. This recipe however cooks zucchinis only to the point where they are still tender. Also, gratin dishes, contrary to popular believes, are delicate and not very rich in calories. Just look at all the slim Italians or French who make many dishes based on this Béchamel sauce.

This particular combination of young zucchinis and Béchamel sauce with a moderate addition of goat cheese seems perfect and can be served for lunch or dinner.

Young Zucchini Gratin
(serves four)

2 lb of small, baby green and yellow zucchinis, sliced in 1/2-inch slices,
2 small shallots, chopped,
a small bunch of fresh preferably lemon thyme--leaves only,
1/2 cup of crumbled goat cheese,
4 tbsp butter,
2 tbsp all purpose flour,
1 and 1/2 cup reduced fat milk,
4 tbsp breadcrumbs,
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Heat the olive oil and fry shallots in it for about 3 minutes. Add sliced zucchinis and fry them for about 3 minutes, tossing them frequently.

3. Transfer zucchinis to a medium oven-proof dish. Sprinkle them with thyme leaves, and crumbled goat cheese.

4. To make a Béchamel sauce, melt 2 tbsp of butter in a medium pot. Add the flour and whisk until a smooth paste forms. Take off the heat and add milk. Using a whisker incorporate milk until the sauce is smooth and no clumps remain. Return the sauce to the heat and bring to boil stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Spread the hot Béchamel on top of the zucchinis. Sprinkle the dish with the remaining butter and breadcrumbs.
6. Bake the zucchinis for about 25-30 minutes, until the sauce bubbles and breadcrumbs become gold.

Serve hot alone or with a baguette.