Friday, September 26, 2014

Herb Cream Cheese and Cucumbers on Toast

Oops.  That was a lot of garlic.

So, you see, the CSA box was full of cucumbers, so I wanted to make something simple, something Deborah-Madison inspired, and something tasty.  Enter the Greens cookbook once again.

This recipe is exactly what it says. Herbs.  Cream Cheese.  Cucumbers.  Toast.  It is nothing difficult, nothing splashy, but it certainly is tasty and makes a fine light side, appetizer, or if you do as I did, a light lunch.

But here's the rub:  I halved the recipe (given that lunch that day was just the husband and I) but I forgot to halve the garlic. As in, everything else was perfect, but that was a lot of garlic.

Thus, the husband and I had to eat defensively. Neither of us could eat less garlic than the other, or someone would pay.  You, however, will not need to worry--that is, if you follow the recipe (which I didn't).

Nonetheless, the spread was so good, the cucumbers were so light and tasty, and the bread (ah, Acme bread, how you delight) so toasty, that we ate the whole bowlful of garlic-y goodness.

And tomorrow, we head to Greens, the actual restaurant, to celebrate my birthday (because September is the month that just keeps on giving).  Hopefully, no one will have to eat defensively.

One Year Ago: Raw Artichoke and Herb Salad

Herb Cream Cheese and Cucumbers on Toast
Adapted from  The Greens Cookbook


Serves 2-4

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces ricotta cheese
4-6 Tbsp yogurt, milk, or cream
1 small clove garlic*
4-6 Tbsp herbs (I used parsley, chives, and basil), finely chopped
salt and pepper
8 slices whole grain bread
1 Tbsp chives, sliced into narrow rounds
1 cucumber, very thinly sliced

1. Stir in the ricotta cheese and yogurt (or milk/cream) into the softened cream cheese, a little at a time until the cream cheese is easily spreadable but not runny.

2.  Pound the garlic in a mortar until it breaks into a paste (or mince finely).  Fold the the garlic and herbs into the cream cheese.  Season with salt and pepper. 

3.  Toast or grill the bread on both sides.  Thickly spread on the cream cheese. Sprinkle with chives and lay the cucumbers on top, overlapping one another.  Finish with salt and pepper and more chives.

*(seriously, make it a small clove)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fettuccine with Roasted Eggplant, Peppers and Basil

I am on a Deborah Madison kick. And for good reason. Next weekend, as part of the let's-make-my-birthday-last-a-full-month edict that I issued in the household, we're headed to Greens (the restaurant once under Madison's tutelage). 

I have loved this cookbook well and for quite some time (almost 17 years), but these days I don't seem to cook from it often enough (in fact, I have only posted recipes here and here). Certainly, I have turned to other delightful books by Madison, but it does feel nice to land back home here with one of my favorites.

Much has changed in these past two decades since I acquired this book (I am no longer a vegetarian, I am not afraid to cook a recipe with a long list of ingredients or steps (although this one has neither), I know what a garlic clove looks like), but coming back to this book, with its dog-eared pages and its curving and stained cover, is lovely on this first day of fall. 

So, here I am 40, turning the pages in a book that was gifted to me so handsomely by a dear friend who now lives in Vermont and who wanted me to keep cooking, even as I made many a mistake in that little Utah house we shared so long ago. Nowadays, the CSA box has been regaling us with the end-of-season grapes, eggplant, and peppers, and they have threatened that this past week may be the last of such delights for another year's time. We are preparing our palates to tuck into some chard, kale, and daikon radishes soon, I suppose, but we keep our fingers crossed for another box with a last tomato or cucumber. True, autumn has its music too, or so Keats tells us, but I just want one more over-brimming box of summer fruits and veggies.

Some notes: I cut the olive oil from 6 tablespoons to 4 in the marinade, and it was plenty; in fact, I would argue that you could cut it to 3 tablespoons, but the husband insists that 4 is the perfect amount. Further, I let the eggplants and peppers (both of which I roasted Saturday morning) rest in the marinade for about 18 hours (in other words all Saturday night and most of Sunday day). Results: very flavorful and unctuous with the bite of garlic and the sweet of basil. Finally, the breadcrumbs may seem extraneous, but they may be my favorite part of this dish.  They add a gratifying crunch to a sweet, silky pasta that cannot be beaten. 

One Year Ago: Alton Brown's Blueberry Muffins

Fettuccine with Roasted Eggplant, Peppers and Basil
Adapted from  The Greens Cookbook

Serves 2-4

1 lb fettuccine (fresh or dry)
1-1 1/2 pounds Japanese eggplants
2 bell peppers, red or yellow 
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
20 Nicoise olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs
Balsamic vinegar to taste
Parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prick the eggplants in several places and place them on a baking sheet with the bell peppers. Bake until both eggplants and peppers are wilted and soft, about 20 minutes.  Set aside the cool.

2.  When the eggplant and peppers are cool enough to handle, slit open the eggplants and peel away the skin.  Tear or cut the eggplant into pieces, and cut the peppers into strips 1/4-inch wide. Combine the eggplant and peppers with olive oil, garlic, olives, and half the basil.  Set aside.  (I did all of this the day before and set aside to marinate overnight.)

3.  Toss the breadcrumbs with enough oil to moisten them and then toast in the oven until crisp and golden.

4.  When you are ready to cook the pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water, cook the pasta until al dente (if it is fresh, this should take about 3-4 minutes; if is dried, this should take about 7-9 minutes). 

5.  Transfer the eggplant/pepper mixture to a skillet and warm gently over low heat.  When the pasta has finished cooking, drain and add to the heated vegetables. Add the rest of the basil, toss well with tongs, and season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

6.  Lift the pasta and sauce to individual plates; garnish each plate with the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad

This summer seems to be one of abundance. These giant, globular tomatoes are almost overwhelming our CSA box (grapes, eggplant, and green beens are straining against the cardboard seams this year as well). While we're smack in the middle of an extreme drought here in California, the tomatoes are plumping up into sheer perfection. The zucchinis seem to be almost atomic. And as it happens when I feel the abundance of vegetables, I turn to the tried and true Ottolenghi to guide me.

Indeed, Ottolenghi serves up many a carnivore's delight; however, I find that Ottolenghi prepares vegetables in usually interesting and always delicious ways.  This little number is a variation of the Palestinian salad, mafghoussa (which simply means "mashed").  And while it ain't much to look at, this sweet, creamy, savory, little salad that can be served as an opener, a side dish, or as a spread on some well-toasted bread.  Quick recommendation:  chop or mash the veggies even further if you want this to have more of a spreadable quality.  Keep the veggies a little more rough if you want a more salad-y quality.

Beyond food-related abundance, it also seems to be a time of baby-related abundance.  Five of my friends--count them--are due to have babies between now and December (and when I say "now," I mean now, as in she is due in two days). Seriously, I will get to do a lot of baby holding soon.

For one of the wonderful showers, I needed to bring a side dish, so I whipped this up.  I will also point out, I did not decide until that morning to make this recipe; thus, the husband fired up the grill while I went in search of date syrup. While I ended up with fig syrup (a fine substitute that you can make yourself should you be in the mood to remove seed from liquid), molasses and maple syrup may be other substitutes you have more handy.  After dashing home, I did some hasty chopping and took a quick shower while the veggies drained.  I whisked everything together, and we arrived only 15 minutes late.  Not a soul noticed, and we got to fête two dear friends who are about to become three dear friends.  Now, that's abundance indeed.

Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad

Serves 6

8 zucchini (about 2 1/4 lb)
5 large, very ripe tomatoes (1 3/4 lb)
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 red chiles, seeded and chopped
grated zest of 1 medium lemon and 2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp date syrup, fig syrup, maple syrup or molasses plus extra to finish
2 cups walnuts or pistachios, roughly chopped
2 tbsp chopped mint
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a griddle pan over high heat. 

2. Trim the zucchini and cut them in half lengthwise. Halve the tomatoes as well. Brush the zucchini and tomatoes with the olive oil on the cut side and season with salt and pepper 

3. By now the griddle pan should be piping hot. Start with the zucchini; places on the pan, cut side down for 5 minutes. The zucchini should be nicely charred on one side. Remove the zucchini and repeat the same process with the tomatoes. Alternatively, the vegetables could be prepared on a grill.

4. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan and place in the oven for about 20 minutes until the zucchini are very tender.  Remove the tray from oven and allow the vegetables to cool down slightly. 

5. Chop the vegetables roughly and allow to drain in a colander for about 15 minutes.

6. Whisk the yogurt, garlic, chile, lemon zest and juice, and the syrup in a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped vegetables, nuts, mint and most of parsley and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and drizzle with some syrup and olive oil.