Archive for June, 2009

Hearty and Refreshing Arugula Salad

Arugula and White Bean Salad
I don’t know how the weather looks where you are, but Massachusetts has been chilly and rainy for weeks now – not proper June behavior, to be sure. This morning we’ve been looking at intermittent bursts of sun and watching over our shoulder for the oncoming thunderclouds.  We’re hoping for summer to come on strong any day now, but she’s being reluctant.

This arugula salad is my response to this confused weather — an interpretive dance, if you will.  It sounds like it should be a summer salad but in fact the components are demonstratively wintery.  Hearty beans, parmesan cheese, and pickled onions all sound like they should be menu features in December or January, but with a substantial dose of lemon juice and the addition of cherry tomatoes, this salad is perfect for the confused days of June.

Easy Arugula and White Bean Salad

2-3 shallots
High-quality red wine vinegar
5 cups (baby) arugula greens
Cherry or grape tomatoes (optional)
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 lemon
High-quality extra virgin olive oil
14 oz. can of cannellini or other white beans
salt and pepper

Peel the shallots of their skin and slice crosswise as thinly as possible. Separate the rings and place in a ramekin or other small bowl. Pour red wine vinegar over the shallots to cover. Set aside.

Place the arugula (and cherry tomatoes, if using) in a large salad bowl and shave thin peels of parmigiano-reggiano into the bowl with a vegetable peeler, as much as you like. Then, using a grater or microplane, grate more parmesan over a separate medium-sized bowl until you have about a half a cup.

Dump the can of white beans into a strainer and rinse under running water until clean. Shake the strainer lightly to dispel excess water, and add the beans to the bowl with the grated parmesan. Gently fold the beans in with the parmesan, or lightly toss the bowl until the beans are coated.

Juice the whole lemon into the arugula salad, catching the seeds. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the salad to lightly coat the leaves. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper to taste, then toss the greens and parmesan shavings to distribute. Add the white beans on top of the green salad, then place the vinegar-soaked shallots on top of the beans. Sometimes I sprinkle a bit of the shallot-infused vinegar over the salad, but usually the lemon provides enough acidity on its own. Enjoy!

Best Arugula Salad

June 20, 2009 at 9:37 am 4 comments

Fish en Papillote

Finished PapillotteAs I indicated in my last post, something naturally happens as the weather warms whereby I turn away from my many cookbooks (or in the case of this year, pack them into about 10 cardboard boxes and put them in a POD) and instead begin to develop a more spontaneous and improvisational cooking style.  Last night my sister’s plans for whole trout on the grill were thwarted by an ill-stocked fish counter, and I instead purchased two gargantuan halibut steaks (the ones cut cross-wise from the fish’s body) with a glimmer of an idea in mind.

Assembly

When I got home, I raided my mother’s cabinet and refrigerator, pulling out some prepared pesto, a half a tomato, jars of roasted red peppers and marinated artichokes, a lemon and some fresh thyme.  I then cut two large rectangles of parchment paper (you can also use aluminum foil), about 14-16 inches long for my huge steaks, and folded the sheets in half, then opened them up on the counter again.  I put one of the halibut steaks in the middle of one half of each of the parchment paper sheets.  Then, I improvised.

On one steak I rubbed pesto thickly across both cut sides, layered a couple of tomato slices on top, added some roasted red peppers (about three half-peppers), and a couple artichoke hearts, and then drizzled some oil from the artichoke marinade and the juice of half a lemon over the whole thing.  On the other steak, I put  leftover caramelized onions and fennel from my tartlettes, more artichokes, sliced kalamata olives and two tomato slices and doused again with the marinade and lemon.  I placed a big sprig of thyme on the top of each steak, and began the process of sealing up the parchment.

Wrapped

Fold the empty half of parchment over the loaded fish half so that the two cut edges of the parchment touch, and kind of hold those two pieces together (you can use a jar or something to weight them if you need to).  Begin at one of the edges of the center fold and begin working your way around the open edges of the parchment package, folding in tiny overlapping triangles.  Parchment holds fairly well, so just make your triangles tight and use the back of your thumbnail to sharpen the folds.  Aluminum foil is even easier and pretty self explanatory.

The Gourmet Cookbook suggests folding the last triangle under the package, to seal it “completely”.  I didn’t do that (my last fold was up, like the others) and I had one package open up in the oven, and one stay sealed.  Either way, it isn’ t a big deal if a bit of liquid leaks out in the cooking process.

Next step: put a large baking sheet into a pre-heated 500 degree (F) oven for 5 minutes.  Pull it out, and put the fish packages on the hot baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes or so (depending on the thickness of the fish you’re using – mine was about an inch of thick halibut and was perfect after 11 minutes) at 500 degrees, then pull out of the oven.  Opening up the package after this is a real treat – the steam whooshes out in an aromatic burst, and one is astonished to find all the vegetables and fish cooked perfectly and in pristine shape and full color.

Papillote

This technique, cooking ‘en papillote’, is wonderful for several reasons.  1) It is very forgiving, as the steam from the vegetables and fish keeps everything pretty moist, even if you leave it a couple extra minutes in the oven.  2) It is quite healthy, seeing that you don’t need any butter or oil (though it is highly recommended to add butter or olive oil at the end as a finishing element) and you can pack the papillote full of veggies.  3) It is an impressive presentation if you put each portion in its own papillotte and serve your guests the package to open themselves at the table.  4) Finally, the technique is wildly versatile – perfect for summer improvisation!  The fish can be cod, snapper, bass, trout, or any number of varieties, and the toppings and aromatics inside could include any combination of herbs, oils, wine, fresh vegetables, cherry tomatoes, olives, citrus zest & juice, capers, spices, vinegar or greens that you like.  Try different pairings to find your favorite melange, or invite your guests to each assemble their own before dinner!

June 12, 2009 at 10:15 am 2 comments

Summer Updates and a Few Recipes

Champagne ToastI feel like it has been a very long while since I last posted here, and although only a little over a week has passed I feel I owe an apology!  Not that anyone hangs on my words here or anything, but I aim to keep up at least a two-posts-per-week rhythm.  As you know, I’ve been moving into temporary housing (cough)myparentshouse(cough) and am bracing for a second move, into our new apartment, in three weeks.  The stress of moving and of living out of cardboard boxes has been great – far greater than I imagined – but that did not prevent me from spending a wonderful time with my family over Memorial Day weekend (note the champagne!) or from getting in some bite-sized cooking for a baby shower this past Sunday.

Baby Onesies

Below I share some photos from these various events and the occasional short-hand recipe, for the summer is too wonderful and too fleeting to waste with your eyes glued to a cookbook.  Summertime is the perfect season for impromptu cookouts and improvised menus, spontaneous salads and kitchen-sink side dishes.  I cannot wait for the first call alerting us to fresh tuna on the dock, or the first bite of sweet August corn.  In the meantime, enjoy the below and share your summer creations in the comments.

Scallops Grillin'

First up was our Memorial Day weekend cookout at my father-in-law’s house.  He wrapped scallops in raw bacon and secured them with toothpicks (don’t forget to soak the toothpicks in water for a couple hours before so they don’t burn), then cooked them in a small disposable aluminum tray on the grill, just to render the fat, followed by a few minutes directly on the grill to get the charred marks and flavor.  These were followed by kebabs of swordfish and beef tips with mixed vegetables.

For the baby shower I attended I brought three dishes: an appetizer of caramelized fennel and onion goat cheese tarts, an artichoke-spinach-leek quiche, and mini cheesecake bites.

Fennel and Goat Cheese Tarts

For the appetizer I sliced a large fennel bulb and a large red onion very thinly.  In a pan I melted 3/4 stick of butter over med-low heat and then added the fennel and onion as well as about a tsp. of kosher salt (or more to taste).  Stirring occasionally, I let the vegetables soften then start to caramelize.  When they reached the color brown I was looking for (about 45 minutes later), I stirred in a tsp. of herbes de provence and let that cook for a minute or two before taking the pan off of the heat.  I did this part well ahead of time so that all I had to do on the day of the party was warm up the caramelized vegetables and assemble the tarts.  To assemble, I placed two packages of Athens mini “fillo” shells on a baking sheet and put a teaspoon or so of goat cheese in each shell (supermarket brand Chevron, shaped like a pyramid, worked great since it is so soft).  Then I topped each tartlette with the caramelized fennel/onion mixture and a couple of fresh thyme leaves and put them in the oven for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit.  They came out perfectly and were a huge hit.

Cheesecake bites

Those phyllo shells are also great for desserts.  With an electric mixer, I blended one package of room-temperature cream cheese (I used low-fat but you don’t have to) with 1/4 cup sugar and a 1/4 tsp. of vanilla.  Then I mixed in one egg.  Fill the phyllo shells with the cheesecake batter then cook at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes or just until the filling sets.  After they cool to room temperature, I top the mini cheesecakes with fresh berries, chocolate sauce, or individual cherries from a can of cherry pie filling (gimme a break, okay?).  One warning – if these go into a refrigerator for any length of time the shells lose their crunchiness.

Artichoke filling

Finally the quiche.  Again I used this recipe for both the pie crust and the leeks – it’s a winner.  Then I mixed into the hot leeks about a 1/2 lb. of shredded baby spinach and a drained can of quartered artichoke hearts, stirring gently until the spinach had fully wilted.  I let the vegetable mixture cool while I mixed 5 eggs and 1 cup of half and half in a big bowl, then added about a cup of shredded parmesan cheese, some salt and some pepper.  I dumped the veggies into the egg mixture, making sure they were well blended, then poured it all into my prepared pie crust.  I baked the quiche at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, slightly overcooking the quiche.  To avoid this, I would recommend doing what I did with the remainder of the quiche batter that didn’t make it into the crust — cook your quiche (crust or no) for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees or until the quiche is only slightly jiggly in the middle.

Crustless Quiche

June 9, 2009 at 6:42 pm 6 comments


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