Thursday, November 08, 2012

Italian butternut stuffed onions, oh, YUM!

      Our church has small groups to encourage folks to connect with others with similar interests. All sorts of topics are included and I lead a culinary group.  Each month I try to demonstrate dishes that are interesting sounding, but easy enough to do for those who may not be inclined to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
                This past week, we featured a great fall vegetable, butternut squash. One of the dishes was an Italian first course. It would make a perfect side dish for your holiday dinners. But larger onions would make a lovely main dish for a brunch or luncheon with just a salad on the side.
                The original Italian version would include mostarda, an Italian concoction of fruit preserved in mustard oil syrup.  It is very difficult to find in the US.  Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan recommends a combination of quince preserves and mustard to replace it. That’s what I do. If you have a tough time finding quince jam or preserves, I'm pretty sure orange marmalade would be equally delicious.
                The Italian versions don’t normally use a sauce, but a couple of weeks before at our monthly wine dinner group, Joel and Mary Smith served a sausage stuffed onion. They made a lemon sauce that I knew would be perfect with this. And it was.  With the cream and butter it’s a bit of an indulgence but it only takes a couple of spoonfuls to complement the onion. You won’t be sorry!
Butternut Squash Stuffed Onions
1 small butternut squash 
¼ cup quince jam 
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard 
10 amaretti cookies, finely crushed 
½ cup freshly grated pecorino romano, plus more for garnish 
small onions, trimmed and peeled
                Preheat the oven to 375o.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pith.  Place cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet and bake until tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours.  Cool.
Cut off about 1/2” from top and bottom of onions.  With a melon baller or sharp knife, scoop out the centers, being careful not to cut through the bottom.  Discard the centers or reserve for another use. Place the onions in an oiled baking dish, brush with olive oil, cover and bake for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, scoop out the pulp of the squash and place in a mixing bowl. Mash with the back of a spoon.  Add the quince jam, Dijon mustard, amaretti crumbs and pecorino romano.  Mix well. 
Fill the onions with the squash mixture.  Butter a baking dish just large enough to hold the onions in one layer.  Bake until the onions are tender and golden, 20-30 minutes.  Ladle a couple of spoonfuls of lemon sauce on each serving plate and top with an onion. Grate a bit more pecorino on top and serve immediately.
Lemon Butter Sauce
 1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped shallot 
½ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine 
Juice and finely grated zest of one lemon 
1 cup heavy cream 
4 oz. butter, at room temperature
                In a saucepan, simmer the oil, shallot, vermouth and lemon zest and juice until reduced by about half.  Add the cream and bring back to a simmer.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Reduce to heat to as low as it will go and whisk in the butter a little at a time.  Spoon a couple of tablespoons onto a serving plate, then set the hot stuffed onions on top.
NOTE: Amaretti are small crisp cookies, available at Fresh Market and some supermarkets.
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Sunday, November 04, 2012

A variation on one of my favorite dishes!

A few years back, one of my columns was for chicken leg quarters with peperoni and fontina cheese under the skin, roasted atop a bed of potatoes and onions, with fresh thyme.  I thought it was the perfect company dish, needing no attention after putting into the oven, inexpensive, and visually appealing.  Every few months I still get a note from someone who had made it again and who loved it as much as I did.     
Recently I had an out of town guest and invited a few of her friends to join us for dinner.  Once again I went for chicken leg quarters, but with a little different touch: orange and rosemary.  Instead of white potatoes, I used sweet potatoes, and added a handful of whole garlic cloves.  The only other difference was that I did open the oven to brush on a marmalade glaze a couple of times near the end of the cooking time.  With roasted asparagus and a salad, everyone agreed that this recipe was a keeper!


4 chicken leg quarters, trimmed of excess fat
4 slices smoked gouda cheese
About 1/3 cup olive oil
3 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2” chunks
8 cloves garlic, whole, peeled
1 pkg fresh rosemary
1 cup orange juice
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
½ cup orange marmalade

                Preheat the oven to 350o.   Carefully loosen the skin of the chicken and slip one slice of cheese under each one.  With a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, grease a baking pan just large enough to hold the chicken in one layer.  Place the sweet potatoes in the pan and scatter the garlic cloves among them.  Place the chicken on top and brush with additional olive oil.
                Finely mince one tablespoon of fresh rosemary and reserve.  Tuck a large sprig under each chicken piece, reserving the rest for garnish.  Pour the orange juice and white wine over the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes.
                In a small saucepan melt the marmalade and stir in the reserved chopped rosemary.  When the 45 minutes are up, brush the chicken with about half the marmalade mixture.  Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes.  Brush again with the remaining glaze and return to the oven until chicken is golden brown, another 15 minutes or so.
                Remove from the oven, tent with foil to keep warm and drain off the pan juices.  Over medium high heat, reduce by half.
                To serve, divide sweet potatoes among four plates, top with a chicken leg quarter and drizzle some of the pan juices over all.  Garnish with remaining fresh rosemary and serve at once.  Serves four.
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Everything's Better with Bacon!

If you’re a frequent reader of this column, you know that I am a big fan of Mark Bittman.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he’s a food columnist for the New York Times, and in several previous columns I’ve referred to some of his work.  One of my favorites came from a 2009 column “101 Simple Salads for the Season.”  Here were his instructions: “Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half; toss with soy sauce, a bit of dark sesame oil and basil or cilantro.”  I’ve made that so many times it is almost embarrassing.
A couple of weeks ago, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, he offered 25 ways to cook with bacon, in much the same format. One, simply listed as “Spanish style,” involved cherry tomatoes and a touch of Spanish pimento (smoked paprika).  I made it once, adding my own touches to it, and loved it so much I invited friends for dinner just so I’d have an excuse to make it again.
Mr. Bittman suggested it be topped with toasted bread crumbs. I used it as a pasta sauce, rather than a side dish and topped it with grated cheese. Of course I had to add garlic, and at the end, I thought it needed a touch of color so I added a handful of arugula and let it wilt a bit.               
                The first time, I used linguine, but the chunkiness of the sauce called out for a chunkier pasta. Cavatappi, fusilli, penne, rigatoni, all would work better than long skinny pasta.
                A green salad is all you need to make this a meal you’ll be proud to serve to your friends.
 Mark Bittman’s Spanish Bacon Sauce
 12 oz. good smoky bacon (see note)
1 pint grape tomatoes
3 plump cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 can chickpeas, drained
A large handful arugula
2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
12 oz. chunky pasta
Grated pecorino romano, for garnish
               Cut the bacon crosswise into 1/2” pieces.  In a large heavy skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring often, until just barely crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.  Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook without stirring, until the bottom side is browned.  This is the time to use a splatter screen if you have it; the tomatoes tend to pop and splatter. Once one side is brown, shake the pan a couple of times so the tomatoes roll around in the pan juices.  Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add the chickpeas.  You can do this to this point a little ahead, then reheat when the pasta is done and you’re ready to serve.
Cook the pasta in plenty of well salted water. Follow the package directions for the proper length of time for al dente pasta. Reserve a cup of the cooking water, drain and return to the hot pan.               Add about a half cup of the cooking water, the arugula and smoked paprika to the pan and warm through. Return the bacon to the pan.  Add a little more of the pasta water if you think it needs it. Add to the pasta, toss to combine. Turn into a well-warmed bowl and serve immediately. Pass the cheese at the table.  Serves four as a main course, or six as an Italian style first course pasta.
NOTE: I used Benton’s bacon, which is a very delicious, very smoky bacon from East Tennessee.  You can now find Benton’s bacon at Lucchesi’s, on Sanderlin.
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Salad for the Season

                 Going through some of my old cooking class files, I came across a recipe for a North African roasted red bell pepper dip.  I hadn’t made it in ages, but I remembered loving it.  We had guests coming for dinner that night, and although I didn’t need an appetizer, I did want to make a salad.               
               This time of year it’s sometimes difficult to come up with seasonally appropriate salad ideas.   I tend to do a lot of roasted vegetables: butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower—all easily available and easy to work with.

                I had roasted cauliflower and thought the red pepper dip recipe would make a great base for a dressing, and that’s what we had.
                This is very light and relatively low fat, but still very flavorful. It would make a perfect first course for a “bigger” main course, such as steak or pork roast. 
                If you wanted to serve this as a luncheon or supper main course, grilled or broiled shrimp would be a quite tasty addition.  If you like, you could sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese for an even heartier version.
                I used half a jalapeño pepper, removing the seeds and veins. If you want a spicier dressing, you can use the veins and seeds, and more of the pepper. 
North African Roasted Cauliflower Salad

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
Olive oil cooking spray
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 2-inch square cube of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
½ small jalapeño pepper, seeds and veins removed, chopped
¼ cup onion, chopped
1 7-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
2 heads romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into 1” strips
½ red onion, very thinly sliced
16 pitted Kalamata olives
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

                Preheat oven to 400.  On a baking sheet, spread the cauliflower in one layer and spray with olive oil cooking spray.  (Or brush lightly with olive oil.)  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Roast until crisp-tender, about 20 minutes.  Let cool.
                Mix the garlic, ginger, pepper and onion in a small bowl. With the motor running, drop the mixture down the feed tube of a food processor. Scrape down the sides and add the roasted peppers, vinegar and mustard.  Pulse several times to combine. With the processor running, drizzle in the oil.  You can use the dressing immediately, or cover and chill until ready to use.
                To assemble the salad, divide the lettuce among four plates.  Top with the cauliflower. Garnish with the red onion and olives.  Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of dressing over each salad, and sprinkle with feta cheese if you’re using it.  Serves four.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Lamb-Stuffed Zucchini--Greek Style

                We may be heading to fall, but there is still a wealth of fresh veggies to be found at the farmers’ markets around Memphis. This past week, I found the cutest round zucchini and knew I had to stuff them with something.
                A spiced rice stuffing is sort of standard, and certainly makes a delicious side dish for roasted or grilled meats, but I had friends coming for dinner and wanted to make them into a main course.
                I picked up some ground lamb, not quite sure what direction I was going but wound up using Greek-inspired seasonings. They were perfect.  I baked them on a bed of lightly seasoned diced fresh tomato, but you could easily use canned diced tomatoes instead. And of course, those adorable round zucchini don’t show up every day, but this would be equally successful with good sized long zucchini, so I've given the instructions assuming that's what you'll use.
                 I know there are lots of folks who think they don't like lamb.  I don't understand it but I know it's true.  So if you are one of those folks, do this with lean ground beef and you're still going to love it.
                I served the stuffed zucchini with rice pilaf and a green salad, and it made a lovely casual dinner.

Greek-Inspired Lamb Stuffed Zucchini

6 medium zucchini
1 lb. lean ground lamb
2 green onions, with about 2” of the green part, finely chopped
2 or 3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cups ripe fresh tomato, cored and diced (see note)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper

                Preheat oven to 375o.
Scrub the zucchini. Cut a slice about ¼” thick along the length. Using a melon baller or small spoon, hollow out the center, leaving a shell ¼” thick.  Chop the sliced-off tops and the center and reserve. 
                In a bowl, mix together the reserved chopped zucchini, lamb, green onion, garlic, herbs, cilantro, parsley, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper.  Use this mixture to stuff the zucchini.
                In a shallow casserole just large enough to hold the zucchini in one layer, spread the tomato chunks evenly. Sprinkle with the garlic, drizzle on the wine and season lightly with salt and pepper. Top with the zucchini and cover loosely with foil.
                Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is browned and the lamb is done through, 10 to 15 minutes more.  To serve, spoon some of the tomato on each plate and top with the zucchini.  Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: Tomatoes are still growing in Memphis, but won't be for long. Instead of fresh tomato, two 15-ounce cans of diced tomato with garlic, including the juices, can be used.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Amberjack and Peach Salsa...With a Little Help From My Friends!

                Today’s recipe comes with a little help from my friends.  We had guests coming who didn’t eat meat. I wanted to cook on the grill, so I took myself to the Paradise Seafood Truck at the Agricenter to pick up something fresh.  I had planned on using grouper but Ted, the fish man, suggested amberjack. I’d never cooked it before but he assured me that it would be perfect on the grill. And he suggested that I marinate in in half Italian dressing, half pineapple juice.
                I’m not much on bottled dressing but I figured the fish man knows what he’s talking about and tried it. It was perfect with the peach chutney I planned on using.  And there is where the second friend comes in. My next-door neighbor, Denise Anderson, had made a big batch of her fresh peach chutney and gave me a generous share. It was absolutely delicious and I knew it would go well with the fish.
                Amberjack is a fish that can be found in Florida waters around reefs, rock outcrops or even wrecked boats. It is not on the “bad” list of endangered species, which makes it a good choice besides the mild flavor and nicely firm texture.
                The salsa can be tweaked according to your taste. You might want more or less cilantro, ginger or hot sauce. It would also be delicious on grilled pork or chicken, and leftovers work just fine with corn chips for dipping.
                I served it with rice pilaf and black beans baked with a can of Rotel and a bit of brown sugar. It made for a delicious summer dinner.

Ted’s Grilled Amberjack with Denise’s Fresh Peach Salsa

4 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into small dice
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into small dice
5 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, leaves only, chopped
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. cider or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
Salt & pepper
3/4 cup Italian dressing
3/4 cup pineapple juice
2 lbs. amberjack filet, cut into six servings

Make the salsa: In a glass bowl, combine the peaches, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and ginger.
In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey and hot sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss with the peach mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
                Mix together the Italian dressing and pineapple juice. Reserve about ½ cup for basting. Put the rest in a plastic bag with the fish.  Give it a shake to make sure all the fish is covered with the marinade and refrigerate for about an hour, turning the bag occasionally.
                The fish can be cooked on a hot grill, about 8 minutes on the first side and 5 minutes on the second, or until done through. It can also be cooked under your oven broiler for about the same amount of time, or even on a stove-top grill.  Baste with the reserved marinade several times while cooking.
                When done, top with the salsa and serve immediately. Serves six, with plenty of leftover salsa. Refrigerate leftover salsa up to several days.

NOTE: Don’t marinate for more than an hour or so. The acid in the marinade will start to “cook” the fish, like ceviche. Good for ceviche. Not good for grilled fish.
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