Thursday, July 28, 2016

Watermelon Gazpacho

In the midst of a heat wave the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven. Second only in kitchen aversion is using my stove. We don't have central AC in this tiny apartment, and so turning on the oven is akin to turning the entire kitchen into a sauna, and not the good kind. The ambient heat, having sapped my will to live, has come into conflict with my gluttonous desire to eat good food. Cold food is a must for these steamy days. Fortunately, both tomatoes and watermelon are in season.

Tomato and watermelon are surprisingly good together. This recipe, based on one by Anya von Brezmen, is surprisingly sparse on ingredients, for a gazpacho, but is perfect for hot summer nights. I think it works better as an appetizer, or aperitif, but it can pass as a light supper when served with cold sandwiches. Make sure you get fresh, juicy melons and tomatoes for this dish, and don't forget the celery. It's heightens the flavors and really brings things together. Don't worry, my friends. Flavorful refreshment is on the way.

Makes 4 servings.
Takes  10 minutes to make, and at least 2 more hours to chill.

4 cups cubed, seedless watermelon, about 1 1/4 lbs
1 lbs ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil, more for dizzling
2 Tbl lemon juice, or more to taste
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 tsp Salt. more as needed
1/4 ground black pepper, or more, to taste
Thin celery sticks for garnish

Working batches, puree all of the ingredients except the garnish in a blender for at least two minutes, until smooth and frothy. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed to make the flavor pop. Transfer to a bowl and chill for at least 2 hours, and up to 24 hours. Serve in individual bowls or mugs, garnishing with celery sticks. If there are any leftovers, which there probably won't be, they'll keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil

Corn is at the height of it's season, here in Utah, and so I'm always on the lookout for new and tasty ways to prepare it. This summer pasta dish, based on a recipe by Melissa Clark, features corn in a surprisingly tasty way. The corn flavor, which takes center stage, is kicked up by green onions and basil. Off season, I would use frozen corn, because it's what I usually have on hand, but it would be even better with fresh corn, cut from the cob. If you do use frozen corn, thaw and drain it, first. I don't normally keep fresh basil hand, so I used dried. If you have it, though, use 1/3 cup and toss it in at the end, omitting the dried basil and parsley. This sauce cooks quickly, so you will be able to make it at the same time you're cooking the pasta. Just start on the sauce after you set the water to boil, keeping an eye on the pot so you know when it's ready to add the pasta.

Makes 4 servings.
Takes 30 minutes to make.

12 oz. dried pasta such as farfalle, orcchiette, or small shells
1 Tbl neutral oil, such as canola
1 bunch green onions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced, keeping the greens and whites divided
2 cups fresh corn kernels
3 Tbl butter
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbl fresh minced flat leaf parsley leaves
1 Tbl lemon juice, or more, to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, or more to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
Salt and pepper, as needed

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 Tbl salt and the pasta. Cook until just 1 minutes shy of al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

In the meantime, Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, until shimmering. Add the scallion whites and a pinch of salt. Cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper, and 1 3/4 cups of corn, reserving the remaining 1/4 cup. Simmer until the corn is heated through and almost tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, slightly. Puree the mixture in a blender, adding more water as needed to form a thick, but still pourable, sauce.

In the same skillet, add the butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add the reserved 1/4 cup of corn, along with the dried basil and red pepper flakes, if using.  Cook until the corn is tender, about 2 minutes. Don't stir it more than once. Letting the corn, and the butter, brown will make it all the more flavorful, just don't let it burn. Add the corn puree and heat through for about 30 seconds, just to combine the flavors.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, returning the pasta to the same pot it was cooked in, if needed, add the sauce to the pasta along with 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water. Toss to coat and cook over medium heat for 1 minute more. Add more of the reserved water as needed if the mixture seems too thick.

Off the heat, stir in the parsley and lemon juice. Add additional salt and black pepper, to taste. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese, remaining sliced green onion, and a drizzle of olive oil, if using.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Black Bean Burgers

Hamburgers are one of my favorite foods. Melt some cheese over it and I'd fall in love with you. (No, my wife didn't do that when we were courting. More's the pity.) But when two of your kids are vegetarians, more or less, you need to think about expanding the range of ingredients beyond just good ground beef. In fact, you've got to find some way to keep that rich meaty, charred, flavor without using meat.

There are plenty of high-sodium, low-flavor, variants available at the grocery store these days. I'm not a huge fan of processed cardboard, but if that's your thing, go right a head and spend more money on them that you would on ground beef. Which is saying something, these days. I've found several recipes for veggie burgers online, and black beans seem to stand out as a favored ingredient for many of them. Oh, there are others, for sure, but black bean burgers seemed like an interesting choice. That and the ingredients are all pretty common to my pantry.

This recipe is my take on a black bean burger recipe from America's Test Kitchen. I modified a few of the ingredients, and their ratios, to better fit my pantry, and my taste. I use rolled oats in this recipe because they're easy, and I like the added flavor. Bread crumbs, or any type, will do just fine, though. Cilantro can be substituted for the parsley, if desired.

Takes 35 minutes to make.
Makes 6 servings.

2 (15-oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained well
2 large eggs
1 Tbl olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup rolled oats
1 red or green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 Tbl dried parsley, or ¼ cup minced parsley
4 Tbl vegetable (or canola) oil for frying
6 hamburger buns
Favorite hamburger toppings

Place 2 ½ cups of beans in a large bowl, setting aside the rest for later. Mash them with a potato masher until mostly smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, cumin, salt, and cayenne, if using. Add the egg mixture, the remaining beans, oats, bell pepper, parsley, and green onion to the mashed beans and stir until just combined. Let stand for 5 minutes so the oats can absorb some of the liquid.

Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions. Pack, lightly, into 1-inch-thick patties. These patties can be delicate, so take care when handling them.

Heat 2 Tbl oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Working with three patties at a time, carefully lay them into the skillet and cook until well browned on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.

If you want to turn these into cheeseburgers, which I often do, drop a slice of cheese on top during the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking.

Transfer cooked burgers to a plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil, repeat with the remaining three patties. Serve on hamburger buns with your favorite burger toppings.

Black Bean Burgers with Corn and Chipotle Chile varation:
To change things up a little, substitute 1 Tbl minced chipotle chiles (canned in adobe sauce) for the cayenne, reduce the red pepper to ¼ cup, and add ¼ cup of fresh or frozen corn, thawed and patted dry, to the bean mixture. I've tried it both ways and like them both, equally.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

American-Style Broccoli Calzone

A great calzone, with a satisfyingly crisp and chewy crust, with plenty of flavorful fillings, is a treat worth the quest. The trouble is, most calzones I've found turn out with a soggy filling and have a crust more akin to bad bread than pizza dough. Not so with this recipe. Even better, this one gets you eating your vegetables in a way that is so tasty you won't mind. The cheese inside doesn't hurt, either.

This recipe does require some work and time, but not as much as you might think. While I braise fresh broccoli, you could substitute frozen, if you want to skip cooking the broccoli. It won't be as flavorful, but it might say you a little time and effort. Just make sure to thaw, drain and chop it, first. In this case, add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes along with the cheese.

My wife and kids like cheddar cheese, and so that's what I used, making this very American. For a more authentic Italian-style, use 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella and a 1/2 cup of feta, instead, replacing the cottage cheese with ricotta cheese.

The cooked broccoli makes a great side dish unto itself, if you're so inclined.

Equipment needed
Chef's knife
kitchen shears (optional)
measuring cups and spoons
mixing bowl
parchment paper
baking sheet

2 Tbl light cooking oil (vegetable or canola)
1 head of broccoli, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets (about 1 pound)
3 Tbl water
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper as needed
1 cup cottage cheese
2 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 large whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 2 Tbl water
1 pound pizza dough
Cooking spray

Heat cooking oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add broccoli and a pinch of salt. Cook, without stirring, until the broccoli begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the water, cover, and cook until broccoli is bright green, but still crisp, about 2 minutes more. Uncover and cook until the water has evaporated and the broccoli is crisp-tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 more minutes.

Push the broccoli to the sides of the pan to clear a space in the center. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, and stir into the broccoli. Season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a serving plate, to cool a bit.

Place an oven rack in the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut two pieces of parchment paper into 9-inch squares. These will be used to make rolling and moving the calzones, easier.

In a large bowl, stir the broccoli mixture, cottage cheese, and cheddar cheese together.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half of the dough at a time, transfer the dough to a piece of parchment and roll into a 9-inch round. Spread the broccoli-cheese mixture evenly over one half of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold the other half over the filling, leaving a 1/2-inch border of the bottom half uncovered. Brush edge with egg wash. Press the edges of the dough together, pressing out any air. Fold the bottom dough edge over the top, and press and crimp to make a pretty seal. Using a sharp knife, cut 5 steam vents, about 1 1/2-inch long across the top layer of dough, starting at the folded edge and cutting toward the crimped edge. Brush the tops with more of the egg wash. Using the parchment paper, transfer the calzone, along with the paper, onto a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough half.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes or so, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer the calzones to a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes, before cutting each in half, for serving.

Makes 4 servings.