September 24, 2009

Summer Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

Filed under: Pasta — by Carla


By about mid-September I usually begin to think about fall cooking.  And though I enjoy contemplating  the wonders of a good stew, this year I’m just not quite ready to pull out the heavy duty Dutch oven yet. No, I’m still in summer mode for the simple reason that  my appetite for tasty local tomatoes has not been gratified. I think there are probably a few others out there who feel the same way, so I’m offering one of my favorite ways to eat a really good tomato. All you have to do is make a salad of chopped fresh tomatoes, herbs, balsamic, olive oil and garlic and then toss it with cooked to perfection fresh pasta for a dish that epitomizes the simplicity of summer. To top it off I like to add crunchy, buttery croutons for texture. I often do make dinner just of this delightful dish, but it is also a great side paired with grilled chicken or fish. Everytime I eat it, I think how lucky I am to be tasting such great flavorful food… at least until I’ve picked the last tomato of the season.


Kitchen Counter Point: Fresh pasta is one of those things that you never knew you missed out on until you taste it. And then once you’ve discovered it, you lament the lost years that you could have been eating these silken, chewy noodles. It was an epiphany of sorts for me, so I ran out and bought a hand crank pasta machine so that I could roll out luscious fettuccine on a regular basis. It really is easy to make, especially if you make the dough in the food processor. But just so you know, there are some who insist that the best pasta dough is mixed up on the counter by hand. I can’t really tell the difference, but the ease of making the dough in the processor means I’m more likely to make pasta on a Tuesday night. Another great tool, if you have a KitchenAid, is the pasta roller that attaches to the mixer. It comes with two cutters (fettuccine and angel hair) and not only rolls and cuts quickly, but it is pretty fun to use as well. If a hand crank pasta machine or a KitchenAid aren’t on your wish list, just purchase fresh pasta at the market and proceed with the recipe.


Serves 4 to 6


1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
2 cups rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon salt, divided
3 large tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh basil and parsley, chopped
1 lb fresh fettuccine (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add one clove of the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat. Place the bread on a baking sheet and pour the butter mixture over the bread, tossing with your hands to distribute the butter evenly. Salt lightly and bake the croutons in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the croutons are crispy and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool.

In a large pot, heat 1 gallon of water to a boil.

In a large bowl, toss 1 teaspoon salt, remaining garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, pepper flakes, pepper and basil and parsley mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste with more salt, pepper flakes or vinegar.

When the water comes to a boil, add remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Add the fresh pasta and cook for 4 or 5 minutes or until the pasta is tender and cooked through to the center. Drain the pasta.

Add the hot pasta to the bowl of tomatoes. Toss for a minute and add the croutons to the bowl. Toss again and serve immediately.


Egg Pasta

Makes about 1-1/4 pound pasta, serving 4-6

2-3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add eggs and pulse several times until the dough is shaggy, but clumps into a ball when squeezed. Turn the shaggy dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 4 sections. Gather each section into ball and knead until smooth, sprinkling lightly with flour if sticking, about 3 minutes. Wrap in plastic. Let rest at room temperature at least 20 minutes.

Rolling dough into sheets:
Set a pasta machine to its widest setting. Working with one piece at a time, and keeping the others covered, flatten a piece of dough into rectangle and run it through the machine. Fold in thirds crosswise, as if you were folding a letter. Dust the outside lightly with flour and putting the open end through first, run through the roller again. Repeat this process on the widest setting until the dough is smooth and elastic. It may take 3 or 4 times. This is a continuation of the kneading process. It gives the dough a chance to absorb more flour if it is too sticky. Then continue to roll the dough through the narrower settings (one time through each setting, without folding). Dust lightly with flour as needed to keep from sticking until pasta sheet is the desired thickness (if using the KitchenAid pasta roller, roll the dough down to #5). Place sheet on lightly floured work surface. Repeat with remaining pasta pieces. If the pasta tears at any time during the rolling process, just fold in half, dust the outside with flour on both sides and run through the same setting  one more time.

Cutting the dough:
Let the pasta sheets rest until slightly dry but still pliable, about 20 minutes. Cut the sheets into the desired length. Fit the machine with desired cutter and run sheets through. Using floured hands, toss strands to separate; spread out on flour dusted sheet pans. Cook as directed.

September 16, 2009

Chilled Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto Swirl

Filed under: Soups — Tags: — by Meredith


With food, as is true with most things, timing is everything. Now that summer is waning and fall is whispering in our ears, there is no better time to enjoy tomatoes in all their glory and no better way to do it than with a bowl of this deeply flavorful soup. Think of this as a slightly sweeter, more intense version of a gazpacho which is made with uncooked tomatoes. The roasted tomatoes, along with the garlic, rosemary and thyme give this soup a big bold flavor that holds up well when chilled and a colorful swirl of pesto adds a lovely bright note right at the end.

Serves 6

3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon (or more) dried crushed red pepper
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
1/4 cup pesto store-bought or your favorite recipe

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Transfer tomatoes and any accumulated juices to processor. Pulse until slightly chunky.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, rosemary, thyme and dried crushed red pepper. Add chicken stock; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until soup thickens slightly, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes to allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Taste again to adjust seasonings if necessary.

Ladle the soup into chilled serving bowls. Top with a spoonful of pesto and gently swirl into the soup with the tip of a knife (or a soup spoon). Serve cold.
Make-ahead: This soup can be made 2 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. Garnish right before serving.

September 11, 2009


Filed under: Side Dishes — by Carla



Call me crazy, but I almost never go to the market with a list or plan for dinner that night. I like to let the produce inspire me. So, at the farmer’s market yesterday I couldn’t resist buying a few golden zucchini to go with the green ones at home in the frig. The tomatoes from the Tomato Guy looked really good, so I chose a couple of those as well. The Amish family in the corner stall had vibrant orange peppers and shiny eggplant and that’s when it hit me…ratatouille. Velvety textured vegetables, garlic, herbs and cheese with generous amounts of spicy extra virgin olive oil. Why not? I had everything else I needed to make it back home in my pantry. The kids were coming over for dinner so I could make it earlier in the day and just serve it at room temperature. That night we feasted simply (but well) on grilled herbed pork tenderloin, just picked corn on the cob and because I had extra, a few sliced tomatoes with balsamic, olive oil and fresh basil plucked from the garden. Dessert was the berry crisp posted a few weeks ago using plump, local blackberries. We drank a vinho verde from Portugal which was light, fruity and just what the wine doctor ordered. I hope it wasn’t our last dinner of the season on the patio, but if it was, at least it was a tasty bon voyage to summer.


Kitchen Counter Point: I’ve been making a version of this dish over the last 30 years, but just recently I’ve discovered the secret to a truly unctuous dish…Japanese breadcrumbs. Otherwise known as panko, these crunchy, flaky crumbs absorb and then blend lightly in with the texture of the vegetables. In this dish, they soak up some of the soupy liquid in the ratatouille, rendering it more dense and firm and the sprinkling of breadcrumbs over the top of the casserole makes for a pleasant crunch. My local grocery here in Northeast Ohio stocks the panko (though it is much cheaper to buy it at the Asian market) so you may find it in yours as well. Buy lots, because you will use it in more ways than you can imagine.


Serves 8 as a side dish

2 medium eggplants, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil, more or less, divided use
1 medium red onion, chopped
Pinch of salt
3 zucchini, sliced
2 orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence or a mix of marjoram, thyme and rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped niçoise or kalamata olives
1 cup feta cheese  

Toss eggplant slices with salt and let stand 30 minutes. Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels.

Heat a few tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the eggplant and fry until lightly browned on both sides, adding more oil as necesssary. Transfer the eggplant to a plate and continue to cook the remaining eggplant in the same manner. Set aside.

Add a few tablespoons of the remaining oil to the skillet over medium-high heat and when hot add the onion and pinch of salt. Sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and peppers and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until they soften. Add the garlic, tomatoes and herbes de Provence and cook until the tomatoes give off their juices, about 5 minutes. If the mixture becomes soupy, cook for 5 minutes more to reduce the liquid. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread a tablespoon or so of the remaining olive oil over the bottom of a 2-quart casserole, lay down half the eggplant, 1/3 of the breadcrumbs and top with half the zucchini tomato mixture. Sprinkle over the olives and the feta and repeat the layers with eggplant, 1/2 the breadcrumbs, zucchini and the  mozzarella. Sprinkle over the remaining breadcrumbs and drizzle with some of the remaining olive oil. Bake the ratatouille in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until the top is crispy and the vegetables are tender. Serve hot or at room temperature.

September 3, 2009

Celery Root Remoulade

Filed under: Salads — by Carla



In the waning days of summer there are always a few balmy evenings when you just want to eat a thick, juicy steak. Which, oddly enough, brings me to celery root remoulade. There is nothing, and I mean nothing that goes better with a fine slab of protein than this Frenchified version of cole slaw. This crunchy root, lightly scented with the flavor of celery makes a delicious stand-in for everyday cabbage. The tangy acid in the dressing tenderizes the awkward looking vegetable and also provides a foil for the rich flavor of the meat. I love to eat a bit of steak and remoulade in each and every bite. In la belle France, they would serve this bistro favorite with pommes frites, but you could easily slice up some potatoes tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and brown them in a hot oven (or on the grill) to round out an easy, but delicious meal for family and friends alike.





Kitchen Counter Point: You’ve probably seen celery root in the produce section and wondered what you could possibly do with it. It looks like a brown, dirty, knobby round with lots of squiggly little roots growing out in all directions. I find it easiest to quarter it and then peel it with a paring knife. Sometimes it has the green celery like top still attached. Because it is a bit on the tough side, I like to thinly slice it and cut it down into little thin matchsticks with a super sharp knife, but sometimes I just shred it in my food processor with the medium shredding disk. If you happen to have a mandoline or benriner, they will make short work of the task as well. The mandatory rest in the refrigerator with the acid packed dressing tenderizes this ungainly root and transforms it, Pygmalion-like into a toothsome salad fit for filet mignon.


 Makes 6 generous servings


1 large celery root, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks (if you cut them too thickly, they won’t tenderize) or shredded with the medium shredding disk of a food processor
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoonsDijon whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper or lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours before serving. The remoulade keeps covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Tip: Remoulade goes well with a hamburger as well. Just sandwich your burger with the salad on a lovely toasted bun. Or, if you’re watching your calories, how about pairing remoulade with a simple grilled chicken breast or salmon filet? Your choice!