Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spanish Shrimp and Pear Salad

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I cooked dinner for neighbors of my gentleman friend this week and made a lovely Latino beef stew that will be featured in my Weekend Entertaining column of the Commercial Appeal this Friday. When it is published, I'll add a link to it. It was really easy and truly delicious.

I started the dinner with a Spanish style salad that everyone seemed to enjoy, so I thought I'd share it here. I'd had a salad similar to this in Spain a few years back, made with fresh juicy ripe pears. Since it's not always easy to find juicy ripe pears, I've made it with good quality canned pears with success, which saves a lot of time.

The salad dressing can be used on all sorts of salads, but goes particularly well with the shrimp and pears of this recipe.


1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, with some of the green top
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
4 anchovy filets
Juice and finely grated zest of one large lime
2 teaspoons dried tarragon, or 1 teaspoon fresh

To finish:
4 handfuls salad greens (romaine or bibb work well)
12 cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, chilled
1 16-ounce can good quality pear halves, drained
A few black olives

Put all the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree well. Pour into an airtight container and chill until ready to use.

When ready to serve, divide the greens among four salad plates, top with the pears, then the shrimp. Drizzle with the dressing and scatter the olives around for garnish. Serves 4.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Italian Comfort Food!

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During an Italian vacation a couple of years ago I spent a few days in Tuscany. The very first day, at lunch in a small restaurant in a small town, I had ribollita. I loved it, and ordered it at least once a day, wherever we were. Each time it was different, but each time it was delicious.

Ribollita means "reboiled." Basically, it is the local version of minestrone, the second (or maybe even third) day. We tend to think of soup as a winter dish, but minestrone and ribollita are on Tuscan menus year round.

We found it in several forms. Sometimes it was in a flat soup bowl poured over a slice of crusty bread. Sometimes instead of bread, there was a round of garlic-rubbed toast. Once it was brought out in a tureen, topped with shaved red onion. The soup had been layered with the bread and the result was a much thicker dish. But my favorite was one that had the toast floating on top of an earthenware bowlful of the soup, sprinkled with fontina cheese and baked, much the same as French onion soup.

Over the years, I've developed a favorite recipe for minestrone, and recently made a big batch. It freezes well, so I like to keep a few quarts in the freezer.

A week or two ago, I was cooking with friends at their house. I pulled a couple of quarts out to thaw, and we made ribollita. It was such a hit that I knew I had to share it with you.

This recipe makes a pretty big batch of soup, so if you don’t care to freeze some, you can cut it in half. Enjoy some as minestrone, and make ribollita the next day, or even a couple of days later.

The Italians would serve this as a first course, but it makes a good casual supper with a crisp salad, followed by fruit and cheese for dessert. A glass of that Tuscan classic wine, Chianti, is the perfect accompaniment, and dinner is done!


2 cups dried cannellini or great northern beans
2 cups dried red kidney beans
5 quarts cold water
1/3 cup good fruity olive oil (preferably Tuscan, of course)
1/4 lb pancetta, cut a little thick, and finely chopped (see note)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, including leafy tops, thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped, or 1 tsp dried, crumbled
1 head Savoy or Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
1 bunch kale, thick stems removed and cut into 1/2” ribbons
2 cans (28-ounces each) whole plum tomatoes, crushed by hand, with their juices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak the beans overnight in water to cover by a couple of inches. Drain and rinse. Put into a large soup pot with the 5 quarts water and bring to a gentle boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until just barely tender, 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta, garlic, onion, carrot, celery and fennel. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage and kale and stir to combine. Add the tomatoes, with salt and pepper to taste and simmer another few minutes.

Add the tomato mixture to the pot with the beans and continue to simmer uncovered until the cabbage and kale are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve in soup bowls with a little more olive oil drizzled over the top. This will make 15-20 servings.

NOTES: Pancetta is the same cut as bacon, cured with spices, rather than smoked, and rolled. It is available in specialty markets. You may substitute thick-cut, not too smoky bacon for the pancetta.

TO MAKE RIBOLLITA: Heat the minestrone. Cut as many thick slices of country style bread as there are people to serve, toast lightly in the oven and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Ladle the minestrone into ovenproof bowls. Float the toasts on top and sprinkle generously with shredded fontina or provolone cheese. Bake at 350o for about 30 minutes, or until the soup is bubbling and the cheese on top is lightly browned.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Yummy carrot soup!

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Usually when a recipe is handed along from person to person, it gets changed a little bit each time. That is certainly true of today’s recipe.

I am in a group of five couples who gather the third Saturday of each month for a wine dinner. Last month the dinner was at my home, and I made the spice-rubbed fish with lady pea succotash that I wrote about a few weeks back. It was every bit as good as the first time I made it, and I’m sure I’ll make it again soon.

Jennifer Biggs (Food Editor of the Commercial Appeal) is in the group. She made a really yummy carrot soup. She revised a recipe that a colleague, Peggy Burch, had given her, changing the seasonings to better match the Portuguese vinho verde that she’d wanted to share with us.

The recipe called for bottled peri-peri sauce. Peri-peri sauce is a hot pepper sauce brought from South Africa to Portugal by seafaring merchants. It has become a part of the Portuguese culinary tradition. The tiny peri-peri peppers are hot. And the sauce made from them is hot. Really hot. But used in moderation, as Jennifer did, it was the perfect seasoning for a soup to go with the crisp white wine.

Bottled peri-peri sauce isn’t widely available, so I went online to try to find a recipe that I thought would approximate the flavors. I tried the soup with a home-made sauce and while not exactly like Jennifer’s soup, it was still very tasty.

Some recipes call for pureeing all the sauce ingredients together (which is what I did), or working to a paste with a mortar and pestle. Others call for just very finely mincing the solids. That’s your choice. Either way, making it a day ahead will improve the flavor.

This makes more sauce than you’ll need for the soup, but you’ll like it later brushed on chicken or fish to grill, or in the butter used to sauté shrimp. Or marinate cubes of beef or lamb overnight for shish kebabs.

We had the soup warm, but it is also very good chilled. The apple relish on top is the perfect accompaniment. Enjoy!


For the soup:
2 lbs baby carrots, chopped
1 lb apples, cored but not peeled, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup peri-peri sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder

For the sauce:
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 dash angostura bitters
3 cloves garlic
2 red jalapeño (or other hot) peppers
1 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt

For the relish:
1 each Granny Smith and Gala (or other red-skinned) apple, cored and chopped
1 small hot pepper, seeded, finely minced
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
Juice of one lemon

Make the peri-peri sauce: either combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree, or very finely mince the garlic and peppers and combine with the remaining ingredients. Chill overnight if possible.
In a heavy pan, sauté the carrots, apples and onion in the oil for about five minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes, or until carrots are easily pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and puree in batches. Return to the pan and whisk in the sour cream and garlic powder. Either chill to serve cold, or reheat gently, without boiling, to serve warm.
When ready to serve, ladle into soup plates or cups and top with the combined relish ingredients. Serves 12.