Monday, April 29, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Spring Fruit Salsa with an Italian Twist

Those flower "snowballs" of pink that contrast so beautifully against a blue sky, not to mention the bright yellow of the forsythia, and wow, so many more colors, all remind us: spring is a great time.

Inspired by the season, and by what I saw in the store (I'm SUCH a sucker for any well-displayed produce!), I created this spring salsa.

One thing I do have to tell you: I used that amazing Italian olive oil I've been telling you about: Poggio Grimodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (And I promise to soon tell you how you can get your hands on it!) The quality of all the ingredients, as I've mentioned before, will totally make your dishes shine...

Back to my spring salsa...
Simple, colorful, and so tasty, you can serve this on a chip, or atop grilled fish and/or chicken. Hmmm...I'd try it with shrimp, and maybe grilled zucchini. Ah, my friends, the sky's the limit! 

Spring Fruit Salsa

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of salsa 

6 large strawberries, washed, stemmed, and diced
1/2 cup fresh diced mango
1/4 cup fresh diced pineapple
1/4 cup mache lettuce, coarsely chopped
Cilantro (optional), to taste
Excellent quality Italian olive oil (about 2 splashes, or to taste)  
Juice from 1 orange, or 1 splash white balsamic vinegar  
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine, taste, and serve! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Basmati Rice with Roasted Corn, Pork, and Fresh Cilantro.

When I started working with Chef Rafael Palomino, he gave me a bunch of cookbooks to look through. He said, "Read through these to see how different flavors are combined. You might find some recipes to follow, but more than that, I'd like you to see the possibilities of how ingredients work together."

Shared with me close to 15 years ago, I still stick to the idea that so much of cooking is about exploring the unity of different ingredients, textures, and of course tastes.

Now I confess, what I'm writing about today is NOT what I served yesterday, but it is a dish I made last week and wanted to share. You'll see that I'm not posting an exact recipe; I'm giving you ideas so that you can put it together--your way.

Rice, like pasta, makes a great canvas. And if you love rice like I do, using it as a base gives you the chance to appreciate its presence and flexibility. 

So, when this was created, it was partly because I was craving the popcorn-like fragrance and almost nutty flavor and long grains of basmati rice, which I always manage to have on hand. I was also yearning for sweet corn and really enjoy combining the sweet crunchy flavors of caramelized corn with rice, and cilantro. 

Now stay with me, non-cilantro fans! You can also use flat leaf parsley. OR, in this case, basil would work nicely. And the list goes on--

But back to this rice dish, I also had made roast pork chops with onions the night before, (here's one I posted about in February), and, since I had some left over, I wanted to use them as well. 

And so, this dish was born. 

Last night I also made a rice dish, but I apologize because I didn't shoot it! (Believe me, I try, try, try to photograph all, but sometimes I get caught up in, well, cooking and serving...and the photos get pushed aside!) I used brown basmati rice, and combined it with grilled chicken and apple sausage chunks, also roasted red onion and orange segments, and fresh cilantro. 

At any rate, you get the idea. As always, the sky's the limit...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Tomatoes and Onions--atop Red Quinoa

Well, looks like I'm STILL in my roasting phase (this one, my friends, may be permanent!).

Mushrooms are a special treat for me. My husband is not a fan at all, and I'm a big fan, so if I'm preparing something for others (and he's not around!), I'll make 'em. Now, I've got a lot to learn in the mushroom department...but I do know what I like. And I love portobellos.
Before roasting! 
After roasting! 
The beauty of the portobello, and many of their brethren, is that with just a bit of olive oil and salt, they're just fabulous. So, for this meal, I know I wanted to have a red quinoa bed (by the way, quinoa offers the perfect backdrop for MANY roast vegetable dishes!), topped with portobellos. Also, I had a gorgeous assortment of baby heirlooms to play with...and I always have red onions and garlic. Hence, this combo emerged!

I served this atop  red quinoa, and with a salad of baby arugula (love the peppery flavors of that leaf!), clementines, black olives, toasted pine nuts, and an orange vinaigrette. Nice combo...even for meat lovers looking for a break! Also, the next day, this mushroom combo is perfect atop lettuce for a lunch salad.

Serves about 4

8 portobello mushroom caps (about 5 inches in diameter), cut into 1/4-inch slices (see pics!)
1 package (about a pound) of heirloom or your favorite cherry tomatoes
1 red onion
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Fresh cilantro (or basil, or flat parsley!) leaves to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a lightly oiled baking pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until cooked to your desired doneness! Serve on top of your favorite grain.  (I put this atop 1 1/2 cups cooked red quinoa!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Roasted Tomato, Onion, Pepper--and Sausage--Sauce + Pasta

I wrote this blog post on Monday morning...hours before the bombs exploded, and we had news of the tragic incident that rattled us all. "Now is the time," I say--and I'm quoting Dr. King--for us to remember so many things that are positive and strong in this world. My faith in peace, and in people, continues. Today, still raw from sad and disturbing events in the world, I have decided to share this. Please join me in thinking about the comfort we all need, now and always. Peace.

It's ironic: it was so warm this week (though not as warm yesterday) yet I was still craving the aromas of roasting vegetables. I was also looking for something I could work on while I was working...on the computer. I roasted the peppers with some chopped onion in a pan with some olive oil at 400-degrees for about 45 minutes, and did the same with the tomatoes (I cut them in half before roasting) with more onions After combining all, I was short tomatoes, so I added a large can of diced tomatoes.

We served this sauce atop small penne pasta (used 1 box for 10 servings), along with a salad of baby arugula, mixed greens, clementines, cucumbers and capers topped with toasted cashew pieces, and a light orange vinaigrette, and some garlic roasted broccoli rabe.

The crowd  was happy!

Roasted Tomato, Onion, Pepper and Sausage Sauce
(with artichokes, basil, and toasted pine nuts!)

Serves 10 to 12

2 pounds homemade sausage (I used parsley and cheese, and fennel)
3 red onions
12-16 medium size tomatoes (I used the larger-than-cherry size), halved
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 roasted red peppers, cut into bite-size pieces
1 (large) jar marinated artichokes
1 large can diced tomatoes
Toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a pan with olive oil, and place the sausage, with 1 to 2 diced onions and some garlic in the pan. In a separate pan also lightly greased with olive oil, add a layer of tomatoes, onions, and some garlic. Roast both until done; the sausage should be browned, the tomatoes lightly caramelized and soft, about 45 minutes.

When the sausage is cooked, cut it into bite size pieces. Combine it with the tomatoes in a stock pot. Add the roasted red peppers, artichokes, and diced tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes. Just before serving, add basil leaves and pine nuts (I also kept some aside to add as I was plating).

Mix in with the pasta, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: Pan Con Tomate--with an Italian Twist!

I'm keeping it short and sweet on this summer-like spring day here in New York because, well, I'm ready to go out and barbecue! 

But before I do this, I wanted to share an idea with you: Bread and Tomato (the typical Spanish tapa) but with an Italian twist.

This is not the Pan Con Tomate (El pa amb tomàquet in Catalan!) that I wrote about here  , but wow, it's good stuff! 

I'm playing with a few ingredients: 1) Poggio Grimodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil I've been writing about here for the past couple of weeks,  2) Kumato tomatoes (or any sweet tomato!), 3) Fresh basil, 4) Multi-grain bread, and 5) Coarse salt. 

This, my friends, was my breakfast today (and okay, yesterday!) but I would definitely serve this with and without fresh mozzarella cheese as an appetizer!  Elegant, fresh, and richly flavorful without being heavy...I think I'm ready to make some to enjoy with a nice glass of wine, before barbecuing! 
Later that night...(before opening the wine!) -


Monday, April 8, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes, Peppers, Onions and Mango Salsa

If you're a shrimp fan, and you like roasted tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and think you might like them combined with a bit of sweet (in the form of mango), then this dish is for you! I have to add that my father-in-law, who's not a big anything-from-the-ocean fan at all, told me that this was, "an exceptional" dinner. I served it with a leafy green apple and clementine-topped salad, and a rice dish that I'll share on Wednesday!
And there you have it!

Okay, so let me give you some background. I was, thanks to the sun and warmish weather, in the mood for something a bit summery. I was also craving shrimp. I had made a roasted tomato, pepper, onion and mango I decided to put the two together. My friends, it worked well!

I'm going to tell you what I did with the shrimp and the salsa, but let you "play" with the salsa ingredients on your own (of course I'm available for questions!). For the salsa, basically I had roasted the tomatoes and peppers (red and green), and some red onions before, had some fresh mango on hand, and  added just a little bit of fresh jalapeño (not too much because my parents and my father-in-law are not big fans). I added a bit of olive oil.

As far as the shrimp, I had two pounds of Argentine peeled and deveined large shrimp, thanks to Trader Joe's, in my freezer. I had the salsa, as I mentioned, made...but added some more sautéed onion and fresh cilantro to the mix.

Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes, Peppers, Onions and Mango Salsa

Serves 10 to 12

Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 pounds peeled and deveined medium or large shrimp (fresh or frozen and thawed)
White wine
Juice from half a lemon
1 quart roasted tomato (or your favorite!) salsa
Fresh cilantro

Heat some oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook for several minutes, stirring frequently so that they're evenly cooked. Add a splash or two of white wine, and the lemon juice. Cook JUST until the shrimp is done (you don't want to over cook it).

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat the salsa.

Once the shrimp is cooked, add the salsa to the shrimp and stir to blend. Top with cilantro just before serving.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: Spanish Salad with an Italian Finish

Part of the Easter Brunch Table:
Featured Salad, Fresh Mozzarella, Dried Papaya, Fresh Pineapple, Fresh Strawberries and Blackberries
Color, flavor, and texture, as I've mentioned before, are the three considerations I prize most in the creation of a dish; this one is no exception. In this case, I was also inspired by the olive oil I wanted to play with, Poggio Grimodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil (details on how you can get it coming soon!), as well as the occasion, and yet something else: a dish I've written before (Marga's Winter Salad).  

This was a big hit on the brunch table (oh--I also served apple-chicken sausage, and a few other treats!). The finishing touches of the olive oil left all with a great taste in their mouths...

A Variation on Marga’s Winter Salad
Serves 6 to 8
Baby spinach
6 oranges, pith removed, and sliced (remove seeds) into quarters (see photo!)

3/4 cup sliced black olives
Pomegranate seeds
Red onion caramelized in olive oil and fresh blood orange or other orange juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Poggio Grimodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or another excellent-quality olive oil) 

Blanket a serving plate with baby spinach. Layer the orange slices on top, followed by the olives, pomegranate seeds, and caramelized onion. Top with salt and pepper. Drizzle the olive oil (this is your finishing touch!) just before serving. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Arborio Rice, Chickpeas, Fresh Tomato and Rosemary + Amazing Olive Oil = Magic!

It’s not just how you start, but also how you finish….

As in many cases in life, the creation of a dish depends on the final touches you give to it.  A drizzle of pure, raw olive oil can give a complex finish that brings your whole creation together.

This weekend I had the privilege  of using an Italian “extravergine” organic olive,  the freshest I’ve ever tried. When I first smelled it, it was so intensely wonderful, I couldn’t put words to my description…and then, while tasting it with just a bit of fresh bread, I realized that this profound flavor can enhance many dishes, and of course wanted to play with it. Oh,  Poggio Grimodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil —which I’ve learned is a labor of love for the Italy-based Todaro family—will, I promise, change your life! (And—I also promise to send you details as far as how you can get it!)

The first dish I made, totally inspired by the olive oil, was one with Arborio rice, topped with chickpeas, fresh tomatoes, and fresh rosemary (and I’m sharing the recipe with you here!).  I served it along with roasted peppers and onions, as well as fresh grilled Italian sausages (assorted parsley and parmesan and sweet) and a green leafy salad topped with a light citrus vinaigrette. 

It was so well received, I made a second dish for Easter brunch. This one—the second one—is a variation of a salad I wrote about in the fall, after sampling it  at the home of my former roommate Marga, in Barcelona, Spain (I will share that one on Wednesday!).

I’m still playing…

Arborio Rice, Chickpeas, Fresh Tomato and Rosemary  

Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish

1 small red onion
olive oil (your favorite)
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups (plus!) excellent quality chicken broth
About 1/2  pound of cooked chickpeas  (or 2 cans of chickpeas, drained) 
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, or about 2 cups of smaller, diced sweet cherry tomatoes
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
EXCELLENT-quality olive oil 

In a medium saucepan, add a bit of oil and sauté the red onion until it softens, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and continue cooking until it's well coated. Add one cup of the broth, and cook, stirring constantly, until it's absorbed. Continue with the second cup of broth, and add more as needed, still stirring, until cooked (about 25 minutes). 

Meanwhile, heat the chickpeas in a separate pot. Once they're warm, add the fresh tomatoes, and stir, just until well blended and warm-ish. Add the fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper. 

Once the rice is cook, pour it onto a serving plate. Top with the cooked chickpea mixture. 
And here's where the real magic starts: DRIZZLE some of the excellent-quality olive oil on top. It's just to enhance the fabulous flavors you've already combined. Serve immediately.