AJOBLANCO (ALMOND GAZPACHO): A Refreshing Change!

almond gazpacho textOne, generally, associates ‘gazpacho’ with the red, tomato based chilled soup. But there are other types, including ajoblanco – an almond based gazpacho.

As is typical with these chilled soups, they are easy to prepare. But for maximum flavor, they need to be refrigerated for several hours before serving…so plan ahead!

NOTE: This is a delicious soup, but a little is quite enough. It’s a very rich soup and not meant to be an entire meal.

AJOBLANCO – (ALMOND GAZPACHO) – makes 5½ cups

  • 3 slices good quality white sandwich bread
  • 2 cups water
  • 1¼ cups + 3 T blanched slivered almonds, divided
  • 1½ T sherry vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cups green grapes, sliced in half

Remove and discard crusts from bread. Place bread in medium sized bowl and cover with the 2 cups of water. Let soak for 5 minutes. almond gazpacho6While the bread is soaking, grind 1¼ cups almonds in a blender until they become a fine powder – about 30 seconds. almond gazpacho7Gently squeeze water out of bread back into the bowl (you’re going to use this water). almond gazpacho8Place the bread into the blender with the almonds. Set aside 1½ cups of the bread water for later. Into the blender, add the remaining water in bowl (NOT the 1½ cups you set aside), the vinegar, garlic, salt, and cayenne. Blend for 30 seconds. almond gazpacho9With blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.almond gazpacho2 Pour in the 1½ cups bread water and run blender to mix.almond gazpacho3 Strain soup into a serving bowl. almond gazpacho4Into a small bowl combine 1 T of the strained soup with the almond extract. Then pour 1/2 tsp of this mixture into the soup (it enhances the almond flavor) and discard the rest (a little goes a long way). almond gazpacho5Correct for seasoning, if needed (I usually need more salt). Chill, at least, 3 hours – more is better. Toast remaining 3 T almonds in a dry skillet or toaster-oven.

To serve, ladle soup into small bowls and top with toasted almonds and grapes. If you like, you can drizzle on more olive oil – but I think that’s a bit too much richness.

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GREEK POTATOES -A Lemony Wake Up Call!

GREEK POTATOES textOne of my favorite flavor combinations is lemon and garlic, so it’s no surprise that Greek Potatoes are a go-to side dish in our house. Not only is it delicious, but it’s super fast and easy to prepare. (It does take about 40 minutes to bake, but that’s hands-off.)

I highly recommend using a firm potato such as Yukon Gold or a red potato – the pieces will retain their shape. I’ve made this dish with russets, and they tend to kind of mash.

GREEK POTATOES – makes about 5 cups

  • 1½ lbs Yukon Gold or red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2½ T vegetable oil
  • 1/2 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1-3 cloves garlic, pressed (I use 2)
  • 1½ cups boiling water
  • about 2 T chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 475º Fahrenheit.

Chop unpeeled potatoes into chunks that are no smaller than 3/4″. (If they’re too small, you’ll lose the balance of a firm outside and creamy inside of each piece.)

Into a flat bottomed, high sided casserole dish combine the potatoes, lemon juice, vegetable oil, olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and boiling water.GREEK POTATOES3 Place in 475º F oven uncovered. Bake, stirring gently every 20 minutes, until almost all the water is evaporated. This will take about 40-60 minutes. There will still be oil remaining on the bottom.GREEK POTATOES2 Remove from oven and sprinkle on parsley. Serve while hot.

 

SPINACH FETTUCCINE WITH CAULIFLOWER & BROCCOLI – Fast & Easy!

fettuccine with brocc caulif textI’m always looking for quick and easy recipes that are low in calories.  I found Spinach Fettuccine with Cauliflower & Broccoli in Green’s Cookbook, and it filled the bill. Of course, I had to tweak it a bit, as you probably will, too.

I’m a bit of a compulsive DIY-er, so I make my own pasta.  (I’ve included my recipe for spinach fettuccine at the end, for you brave souls.) You can shave off some time by purchasing the fettuccine. By the way, you don’t have to use fettuccine – choose a different pasta if your prefer (or don’t have any in the house).

FETTUCCINE WITH CAULIFLOWER & BROCCOLI – makes 2 large servings

  • 4 T butter
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 T sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped
  • 1 T salt
  • 3 cups total broccoli and cauliflower, chopped in bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 pound fettuccine (or any pasta you prefer) Recipe for Spinach Fettuccine follows at end.
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

Melt butter in 3 or 4 quart saucepan. Add shallots and sauté for 3 minutes over medium flame. Add in garlic and cook another 30 seconds.fettuccine with brocc caulif2 Remove from heat and stir in vinegar, mustard, and dried tomatoes. fettuccine with brocc caulif3In a Dutch oven, bring 2 quarts of water and 1 T salt to a boil. Remove 1/2 cup of this water and stir into shallot mixture. fettuccine with brocc caulif4To the pot of boiling water add the broccoli and cauliflower. fettuccine with brocc caulif5When the water resumes boiling, cook veggies 1 minute only, just to blanch them, then scoop them out and add to the shallot mixture (which is still off-heat).fettuccine with brocc caulif6 Add the pasta and lemon zest to the boiling water, cooking until the pasta is done. fettuccine with brocc caulif7Save a cup of the pasta water in case you need it, then drain pasta. Into the empty Dutch oven combine the shallot mixture and pasta.fettuccine with brocc caulif8 Adjust seasoning, if needed. Add saved pasta water if you feel it needs to be looser.

SPINACH FETTUCCINE  – makes 2 servings

  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup + extra all-purpose flour

Note: For this recipe you’ll need a food processor and a pasta machine (I use the Atlas hand cranked brand)

Remove and discard stem ends from spinach leaves. fettuccine, spinach6Chop leaves with knife, then place in food processor and pulse until leaves are very finely chopped. fettuccine, spinach11Add egg and oil, and pulse a few times to blend. fettuccine, spinach7Pasta making is all about having the right ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. The spinach, egg, and oil are the wet, and the flour is the dry. You’ll have to go by feel since the water in the spinach and the size of the egg are variable. Don’t worry, there’s wiggle room!

Add in 1 cup of flour and run machine about 10 seconds, until mixture is blended. It will probably be too dry. Try to form a ball with some of the mixture. If it crumbles, you’ll need to add some water, 1 tsp at a time. If it feels like Playdough (i.e., it holds together and feels kind of tacky), it’s done. If it forms a ball but sticks to your fingers, it’s too wet – add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.fettuccine, spinach9 When dough reaches the proper consistency, form 2 balls and place them back in food processor with lid to rest for about 1/2 hour or so. fettuccine, spinach10Attach pasta machine to a table or countertop with plenty of room to lay out dough. You’ll also need something to hang the dry pasta over, such as a dowel. Pour about 1/4 cup of flour on the work surface. Work as quickly as you can so the dough doesn’t dry out.

Take one dough ball and smash it into the flour. Flip dough and smash other side into the flour.fettuccine, spinach1 Brush off extra flour the run dough through machine at the lowest number setting (this will be either ‘0’ or ‘1’). Fold dough like an envelope and run it through again. fettuccine, spinach2Lay dough flat and rub a little flour over both sides of dough. fettuccine, spinach3Fold in half and run it through machine at same setting. Repeat this last step 3 more times. You will have run the dough 6 times through the machine on the lowest setting. Repeat with second dough ball.

TIP: Each time you run the dough through the machine, say the number you’re on aloud so you don’t forget what number you’re on. It’s better to do too many than not enough – by the 6th run-through you’ll see a big difference in the dough consistency.

Turn the machine number up 1 digit and run each dough strip (without folding it) through 1 time only. Rub the dough (like before) with a little flour. Increase the number, run the strips through (again, without folding). You’ll notice the strips get longer with each number increase. It’s a personal preference as to how thin you want your pasta – I like to stop after number 5.

When you’re making your final pass with a strip, cut it to the length you want your pasta – I usually cut it in thirds. fettuccine, spinach4Run these pieces through the cutter before doing the other strip, so the cut edges don’t dry out.

Hang cut dough until ready to boil.fettuccine, spinach5

ITALIAN LOAF: No Need To Knead!

italian loaf textWho doesn’t love a warm loaf of Italian bread? Well, now you can make one just as good as any bakery….for pennies!

I’ve adapted America’s Test Kitchen Italian Loaf recipe to make it even easier and, IMO, tastier. The process in a nutshell: the day before, mix the ingredients in a bowl (no kneading!!!), cover, then at least an hour before serving, bake. You’ll never want to buy bread again.

Note: I highly recommend weighing your flour rather than using measuring cups – there’s too much variety, depending on how you pack in the flour.

Note: You’re going to need a 3 or 4 quart saucepan, or a Dutch oven, with lid. Make sure the handle and lid knob can withstand 500º Fahrenheit. I prefer using the 4 quart saucepan because it’s smaller in diameter thus producing a taller loaf.  However, if you prefer a squatter but wider loaf, use a Dutch oven.

ITALIAN LOAF – makes 1 round loaf

  • 15 oz (about 3½ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
  • 9 oz water
  • 3 oz (3 T) beer (I prefer a pale beer)
  • 1 T white distilled vinegar

The day before you plan on serving the Italian Loaf, prepare the dough.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add in the water, beer, and vinegar. Mix with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated. italian loaf14Cover bowl with a plate or tea towel and let the dough rest on the counter 8-18 hours (the longer, the better flavor). You’ll notice a significant change to the dough – it will become wetter and bubbly:italian loaf15

About 2 hours before serving, preheat the oven to 500º Fahrenheit, rack in the middle position. As it gets close to 500º F, place the saucepan (or Dutch oven) with lid into the hot oven to heat it up.

When oven reaches 500º F, empty dough onto a floured surface. Fold it onto itself a few times to firm it up. italian loaf3Cut a piece of parchment paper big enough to line the saucepan with corner ‘ears’ sticking up. Rub paper with a light coating of vegetable oil. Place dough in center of paper and rub top of dough with a little oil. Remove hot saucepan from oven and lift paper and dough by the corners into the hot pot.

Make a 1/2″ deep slash across the center, edge to edge. (I use kitchen shears rather than a knife.)italian loaf9Cover with lid and place in oven.  italian loaf10Bake at 500º F for 1/2 hour. Remove pot from oven and turn out the loaf. Discard the paper and replace the loaf in the hot pot. Put the pot without the lid back in the oven. italian loaf8Bake about 10 – 15 minutes (I only need 10 minutes), until temperature of loaf is about 109º F. If you don’t have a thermometer, do a visual check – the top should be browned. Remove the loaf and the bottom should be browned, too. italian loaf7Remove loaf from pan to a wire rack to cool. Let loaf cool at least 20 minutes (this takes some will-power) before slicing in order to get a cleaner slice.italian loaf13

APPLE PIE – Best Ever!

apple pie textThere is a reason people say, “easy as pie”.  Making a pie IS easy.  Of course, making a great pie is as easy as making a bad one, so it’s important to have a great recipe.

There are 3 components to pies:  crust, filling, and topping.

  1. Crust:  You want it flavorful, but not overpowering.  You don’t want soggy-bottoms, but you don’t want crunchy (unless it’s a graham cracker crust, of course.) Yes, you can buy pre-made and it will be okay, but homemade is so easy and world’s better…with the right recipe.
  2. Filling:  The key to apple pie filling is…apples.  There is a myth that you should use Granny Smith or some other crisp, tart apple for apple pie. NOOOOO! Why would you want a tart and crunchy apple pie? I’ve found that the absolute BEST variety is Red Delicious (or possibly Golden Delicious). It will NOT get mushy, as some people seem to think. The pieces will soften somewhat during the bake, but will still retain their shape and individuality. And they’re sweet!
  3. Topping:  I’m not a fan of the double crust – a bottom crust is enough for me. A streusel topping provides added flavor (apples really don’t have that much flavor), with a nice crunch.
  4. Caramel drizzle: I guess this is optional, but drizzling on caramel adds an additional layer of flavor.

CARAMEL APPLE PIE

  • 1 par-baked 9″ pastry crust (suggested recipe follows)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 T + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 Red Delicious apples
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats (either old fashioned or quick-cooking)
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • about 1/3 cup caramel ice cream topping

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

Have ready a cooled, par-baked pastry crust. The best recipe I’ve found is America’s Test Kitchen’s Vodka Pie Crust (Don’t worry – the vodka evaporates away.) Recipe follows at bottom.

In a very large bowl (use large so you don’t spill as you stir in the apples), mix together the granulated sugar, 3 T flour, salt, and cinnamon. apple pie6Working quickly, peel and core the apples. Cut 3 of the apples into 1/8″ thick slices, and the other 3 a little thicker. Make sure they’re bite-sized for ease of eating – you don’t want long strips of apple. apple pie9Add apples into the flour mixture and blend well. apple pie7Pour into the cooled pie crust – there’s a lot of filling, so you’ll have to pile it high towards the middle. Make sure none of the apple pieces sit on the crust edge.apple pie8 To prevent over-browning, cover the pie edge with foil or purchased pie edge protectors (see photo of what I use).apple pie3 Bake at 375º for 25 minutes.

While pie is baking, prepare the streusel topping. Into the food processor put the remaining 1/4 cup flour, brown sugar, and oats. Run machine about 20 seconds to grind the oats and break up any hard brown sugar lumps. Cut cold butter into about 5 pieces or so, and add to processor. Pulse about 10 times to blend. apple pie5When the pie has cooked for 25 minutes, remove from oven. Evenly sprinkle on streusel and remove the edge protectors. Return pie to 375º F oven and bake another 20-25 minutes. Don’t let the top get too brown or it will make slicing difficult to cut through. apple pie4Place pie on a rack or stovetop and drizzle on the caramel topping. Let set at least 1 hour, preferably longer, or you’ll have a lava flow when you slice it.

VODKA PIE CRUST (AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN RECIPE – amended) – makes 1 crust

Note: This needs to be made in a food processor.

  • 3/4 cup + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1½ T granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 T butter, cold
  • 4 T Crisco (or any shortening), cold
  • 2 T vodka
  • 2 T water

In the workbowl of your food processor, pulse together 3/4 cup flour, sugar, and salt. Add in the butter and Crisco. Run the machine (don’t pulse) 15 seconds. The dough will come together into a creamy mass. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse about 8 times. Empty into a bowl.

Pour in the vodka and water. Gently (so it doesn’t splatter) fold together to incorporate the liquid into the dough. This is a very well dough. Press it together into a lump, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Empty the cold dough onto a very well floured, flat surface. Sprinkle flour on top and on your rolling pin. Begin rolling dough from center outwards.  Keep flouring the dough and the rolling pin lightly, so there’s no sticking.

Once the dough is rolled out large enough to cover the pie plate, with an inch to spare for crimping, you’re going to have to transfer the dough. Take your time – this is a wet dough! My favorite method is to take my bench scraper and go around underneath the dough a little at a time, lifting up the dough and pushing some flour underneath as I go. Once I get to the center, I lift up one side and fold dough in half. Then I carefully lift folded dough from sides and place in pie plate (Make sure you have it very close by!)

Unfold the dough and nudge it into the corners (don’t press the dough down – you’ll stretch it). Arrange the dough so it’s not folded anywhere. Fold over-hanging dough and crimp. Refrigerate 1 hour to prevent shrinkage.

Preheat oven to 375º.

Line cold dough with waxed paper or parchment, then fill with pie weights. (I use metal washers topped with uncooked beans.) Bake for 10 minutes. Remove paper and weights by grabbing the 4 corners of paper and gently rocking the weight package back and forth to loosen, then rocking it up and out.  Return dough to oven and continue baking until browned – about 15 minutes.  Keep an eye on dough, particularly when you return it to the oven to make sure the crust stays flat. If you notice it rising, gently press down with the back of a fork.

Once the crust is golden brown, remove from oven and let cool to firm up.

GRANDMA PIZZA – La Nonna Lo Adora!

grandma pizza text

It’s amazing how many types of pizzas there are. While the dough is basically the same for all, how they’re baked makes the difference.

A Grandma Pizza is square or rectangular, and baked on an oiled rimmed cookie sheet.  This produces a light, crunchy crust.  It’s a very wet dough so there’s no need to roll it out – you just spread it with your fingers.

Note: It’s easiest to use a food processor, but you can get a nice workout mixing the dough by hand in a bowl.

GRANDMA PIZZA

  • 2 T + 1 T olive oil, divided
  • 7¾ oz (1½ cups) bread flour
  • 2 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup hard cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano
  • about 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • any other topping you may like

Pour 2 T olive oil into the center of a 10″ X 15″ rimmed baking sheet (also called a jelly-roll pan). grandma pizza4Into the workbowl of your food processor (or a large mixing bowl if you’re going to do this by hand), put the flour, 1 T olive oil, yeast, sugar, and salt. Turn the machine on and slowly pour in the water through the pour tube. Once all the water is poured, let the machine run another 30 seconds or so. This is a very sticky, loose dough.grandma pizza10 Empty the dough onto the olive oil in the jelly-roll pan. Dip you finger tips into the oil so the dough won’t stick to them, and flip the dough so it’s now completely covered in oil. grandma pizza6Cover either with plastic film or a large pan (I use a rectangular roasting pan – it fits perfectly.) DON’T use a tea towel – it will just stick to the dough. (Been there, done that!) Let rise about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500º Fahrenheit. 

Gently nudge dough to cover the entire bottom of pan. grandma pizza1Sprinkle on mozzarella, then drizzle on the marinara, followed by any other topping, and finally sprinkle on the Parmesan. grandma pizza2Bake at 500º F in the lower third of oven for 13-15 minutes. Sprinkle on fresh basil. grandma pizza3

Remove pizza to a wire rack and let set about 5 minutes before slicing.

 

 

CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE: A Make-Ahead Casserole…or Not!

cauliflower pasta casserole text

Cauliflower seems to be very popular now. So as a gal who likes to keep up with the trends, I decided to post a cauliflower casserole I’ve been making for years. Like most casseroles, this one can be prepared ahead of time and baked before dinner-time.

Note:  I included the recipe for the optional crumb topping. To be honest, I prefer no topping, but my husband loves it. If you find yourself in this dilemma, a compromise can be reached by serving the topping in a bowl and letting crumb-lovers sprinkle it on their own servings.

CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk (any kind – I use nonfat)
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp dried – but fresh is best!)
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 cups chopped Roma or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 lb pasta (I prefer mini-penne, but it’s hard to fine, so I often use small elbows)
  • 5 oz Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • optional: seasoned bread crumbs (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Turn off heat and add flour, making a smooth paste. (Make sure you smash out any lumps – this is your only chance to do so.) Pour in milk, turn on heat to medium, and stir until sauce thickens – about 5 minutes. Stir in Dijon, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside. cauliflower pasta casserole5In a 12″ skillet over medium/high, heat oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, but not browned – about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add in garlic and basil, stirring to bloom by using residual heat from the hot skillet.cauliflower pasta casserole4 Turn heat to medium/high and add in cauliflower. Sauté for 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole2Add in the tomatoes and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender – about 10 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole1In a saucepot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook until slightly under-done. Drain. cauliflower pasta casserole10In the now-empty saucepot, combine the white sauce, cauliflower mixture, pasta, and lemon juice. cauliflower pasta casserole8Pour half into a casserole dish. Sprinkle on half of Mozzarella and half of Parmesan. cauliflower pasta casserole9Cover with the remaining pasta mixture and top with the remaining cheeses. cauliflower pasta casserole7Cover and bake at 375º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook 10 minutes longer, if covering with crumb topping. Evenly sprinkle topping over top. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake another 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole12If not covering with topping, bake uncovered for 15 minutes.cauliflower pasta casserole13Let set 15 minutes before serving – it’s super hot! Pass around Seasoned Breadcrumbs, if desired.

SEASONED BREADCRUMBS – makes 1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a small skillet combine the panko, olive oil, oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Stirring constantly, sauté mixture over medium until crumbs are browned. (You can crank up the heat to medium/high, but keep an eye on it.) cauliflower pasta casserole6Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in Parmesan when crumbs are cooled.cauliflower pasta casserole14