August 28, 2009

Tartine with Roasted Figs, Prosciutto and Gorgonzola

Filed under: Appetizers — by Carla




When you’re looking for a new quick and easy appetizer idea, how about a tartine? Basically an open faced sandwich, the tartine sounds so much more interesting. Especially when topped with sweet, sticky roasted figs. A quick roast in the oven really concentrates their flavor, caramelizing their sugars, rendering them even sweeter and more complex. It is an easy step to make and just gives this simple yet elegant appetizer a bit more finesse. The tangy gorgonzola adds an extra savory note that I find irresistible and plays beautifully off the nutty tannins of the walnuts. Country style peasant loaves are often a good choice for the base as they are chewy and have a strong firm texture. Look for round loaves called pain de campagne and slice it down into a rough serving size, cutting the slice crosswise in half if need be. It all comes together to make a simple, late summer appetizer that really sizzles.


Kitchen Counterpoint: Figs can be in season for a very short time, usually June through September, so when I see them in the market I can’t resist bringing them home. There is something erotic and beautiful about figs. Though they come in many shapes and colors the usual suspects here in Northeast Ohio are either Black Mission (dark purple) or Calimyrna (green). When sliced, the flesh of mission figs has a lovely color and pattern that contrasts with their dark skin, adding drama to any dish. And couldn’t we all use a little more drama on our plates?

Serves 6

12 fresh figs, stemmed and quartered
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
6 slices country style bread
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch grated nutmeg
6 slices prosciutto
1/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Toss the figs, vinegar and 1 tablespoon olive oil on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the figs have dried and caramelized slightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the bread slices and bake in the oven until crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

In a small bowl combine the ricotta cheese, basil, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste for seasoning and adjust with more salt, pepper or nutmeg to taste.

Spread the cheese mixture over the bread and top with a slice of prosciutto, the roasted figs, gorgonzola and walnuts. Serve immediately.

Tip:  Did you know that you can toast walnuts in the microwave? Lay them out on a plate and nuke for about 33 seconds. Move them around and nuke another 33 seconds. They are toasted when they give off a warm, toasty aroma.

August 21, 2009

Composed Salad of Greens, Roasted Vegetables, Chicken, Feta and Walnuts

Filed under: Salads — by Carla



We frequently eat salad for dinner at our house, especially in the summer months when eating lighter and fresher is so appealing. But, don’t think for a moment that our appetites are discouraged by the humid dog days of a Cleveland summer. No wimpy little salad for us. We want to feel like we ate dinner (not to be confused with lunch) even if it is 90 degrees outside.

That’s where this salade composée comes in. This hearty dinner in a bowl begins with an interesting mix of various textured greens like tender Bibb, bitter radicchio, chewy romaine and peppery arugula lettuce. By simply adding grilled zucchini, red onion, peppers, chunky chicken, crumbled feta cheese, herbs fresh picked from the garden and toasted walnuts to the mix, all that remains is to whip up a simple balsamic vinaigrette. It sounds like a lot of flavors, but believe me, this is one of our favorite meals when dining alfresco. I especially like the contrast of warm from the grill vegetables and chicken with the chilly greens, salty cheese and crunchy nuts. A lively sauvignon blanc and a chewy baguette makes this a great meal for entertaining or for an indulgent over the hump Wednesday night dinner for two.

Kitchen Counter Point: I make it a point to wash greens as soon as I get them home, spin them dry, roll them up in kitchen towels and zip them up in plastic bags in the crisper drawer. That way they are always crisp and cold when I need them instead of watery and limp from a recent wash. I also occasionally take advantage of the organic packaged arugula in the plastic bin but I never buy the pre-bagged greens anymore because they taste of chemicals and are generally of very poor quality.

Serves 2 large dinner salads or 4 side-dish salads

2 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
1 lemon, zested and cut in half, divided use
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
1/4 large red onion, thickly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 2-inch squares
1/2 cup whole walnuts
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced
Pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 large handfuls of a mix of Bibb, radicchio, romaine and arugula or mixed greens of your choice
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or other fresh herbs you have growing in the yard

Lay out the cold from the refrigerator chicken breasts on a sheet pan sprinkle with half the zest and squeeze half the lemon over them. Season with lots of salt and pepper on both sides, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and let them sit for an hour on the counter. They’ll soak up more flavor as they warm up and will cook more evenly if they aren’t freezing cold from the frig when you put them on the grill.

Heat up the grill to medium-high heat.

While the chicken sits, toss the vegetables with the remaining zest, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper and transfer them to a grill basket and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, giving them a toss every now and then. You want them to be tender and lightly charred. Add the walnuts the last 5 minutes to toast them lightly. Remove from the grill and let cool slightly.

Once the vegetables have cooked for about 15 minutes, add the chicken, skin side down. Grill for 10 minutes, turn and grill another 7 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a sheet pan and let sit for 10 minutes. Pull the chicken from the bone and shred or cut into chunks.

While the chicken and vegetables cook, make the vinaigrette. In a large bowl (large enough to toss the salad) combine the vinegar along with the other half of the lemon, squeezed. Add a pinch of salt and shallot and swirl until the salt melts. Whisk in the remaining olive oil and taste for seasoning, adding more vinegar or oil to taste. Add a few grinds of pepper to taste.

Drizzle the chicken with 2 tablespoons of the dressing.

When ready to serve, add the lettuce to the bowl with the dressing and toss to mix.

Divide the lettuce between two serving bowls and top with the still warm vegetables, chicken, feta cheese and fresh herbs. Grind a little freshly ground black pepper over the top and dig in.

August 13, 2009

Nectarine and Berry Crisp

Filed under: Desserts — by Carla


I must admit that I have a bit of an addiction for fruity, berry based desserts. It comes as no surprise to my family, who’ve been noshing on crisps of this sort all summer long. Desserts of this type are even better when you can buy locally grown fruit which has had the chance to ripen on the tree or bush, soaking up all that sun kissed summer has to offer.

This is my favorite rendition of the classic crisp. I also have an affliction (I mean affection) for plums, peaches and apricots, though you must peel the furrier fruits before tossing with the berries. My trademark is the addition of the lemon verbena, which I always plant in the spring so that I have it on hand throughout the summer and fall. It is one of my favorite herbs and once you try it, I hope it will become one of yours as well. Not to worry if you can’t find it at this point, just be sure to plant it next year!

Kitchen Counter Point: Let’s talk about lemon verbena for a moment. It grows with no encouragement whatsoever along with the basil, thyme and chives, so it is very easy to keep up with. The leaves are very fragrant in a lemony floral kind of way. Other uses for it are to 1) add to a food processor with granulated sugar and process to make lemon verbena sugar which is great on shortbread or sugar cookies, 2) minced and added to blueberry muffins, pound cake or pancakes, 3) instead of basil or cilantro, try adding lemon verbena to salsas and summer compotes. These are just a few of the uses, not to mention, just picking a few sprigs to add to small bouquets. Their long pointy leaves are pretty and when brushed, give off that heavenly, lemonly smell.

 Serves 8

1 cup brown sugar, divided use
1-1/2 cups regular oats
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided use
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 nectarines, pitted and each cut into about 8 sections
8 ounces blueberries
6 ounces blackberries
6 ounces raspberries
2 tablespoons chopped lemon verbena, optional
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Ice cream or whipped cream as an accompaniment if desired

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

In a medium bowl, combine the 1/2 cup brown sugar, oats, 1/4 cup flour, butter, cinnamon and salt. Mix together with your fingers or a fork until well blended

In a large bowl combine the fruit and remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar (less if your fruit is at its peak of ripeness), 3 tablespoons flour, lemon verbena if using, lemon zest and juice. Toss gently to combine. Transfer to a buttered 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the fruit is bubbly and the topping is crisp. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes before serving warm with ice cream or whipped cream.