Authors Posts by Barbara Beltrami

Barbara Beltrami

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Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises/Pixar Animation Studios

By Barbara Beltrami

Although many of us fondly think of Ratatouille as the Disney movie with the eponymous cute little rat, it is actually a French vegetable stew of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, peppers and fresh herbs that originated in Provence. It’s the best way I know of to enjoy late summer’s bounty all together in delicious mouthfuls of garden goodness. As with most regional dishes, each cook has her own adamant way of preparing her ratatouille.

Because it’s one of my favorite veggie dishes,  whenever I’ve visited France, I’ve managed  to come home with another recipe for ratatouille. Please note that these first two very traditional recipes call for cooking each veggie separately; that’s what makes them so colorful and preserves their distinct flavor and texture. The third recipe is a spin off of ratatouille, but equally savory. All recipes can be served hot, warm, at room temperature or cold. I think ratatouille goes well with almost anything!

Giselle Renouard’s Ratatouille

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound eggplant, sliced into 1/2” rounds

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Olive oil

1 pound zucchini, diced

1 pound mixed red and green bell peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 pound onions,  finely chopped

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Leaves from several sprigs thyme

Leaves from one large sprig basil, julienned

DIRECTIONS:

Place eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let drain 30 minutes. Pat dry and cut again into small chunks. In large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil; add eggplant, stir occasionally and when brown on all sides remove and drain on paper towels. Add a little more oil and cook the zucchini just until soft; remove and drain. Next, add a little more oil, if needed, and cook peppers; remove them when tender; add onions, cook until soft but not brown, then add tomatoes, garlic, sugar, parsley and thyme and simmer for about 30 minutes. Return the rest of the vegetables to the pan and, stirring frequently but gently, simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add basil, salt and pepper.

Mme. Marie Ouvrard’s Ratatouille

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored and diced

1 1/2 pounds small zucchini, cut into 1/2” cubes

3/4 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2” cubes

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

5 medium tomatoes, diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

DIRECTIONS:

In large skillet heat olive oil over medium heat; add onions and garlic and, stirring often, sauté, for a minute or two until onion softens and garlic releases its aroma. Stir in red pepper and cook over medium heat, 4 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add zucchini and eggplant and simmer briefly. If mixture starts to stick to pan, add a little more oil or hot water. Stir in thyme and tomatoes; season with salt and pepper; simmer until all vegetables are soft but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Just before serving, add basil.

Lucie Durand’s Ratatouille

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 large onions, sliced thin

2 pounds eggplant sliced 1/2” thick

2 orange or yellow bell peppers

2 red bell peppers

4 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2 slices

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

8 garlic cloves, halved

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray bottom and sides of a casserole with nonstick cooking spray. Make a layer using  half each of the onion rings, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, thyme, salt and pepper and garlic in that order. Repeat and drizzle with olive oil. Place in oven and bake about 50 to 60 minutes, until bubbling and tender. Occasionally, using the back of a wooden spoon, press down on the vegetables to make sure they are cooking evenly. Remove from oven, garnish with parsley and basil before serving.

Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

So you love pizza. Who doesn’t? And you say you wish you could eat it 24/7 three times a day. Well, the pizza genie has granted your wish. Beyond the basic pizza margherita with tomato sauce and cheese, there are so many versions of that uber popular pie that it’s hard to count them.

However, if you’re serious about having pizza for every meal or maybe you think you might like to spread the wealth around over a few days or weeks, I’ve got three pizzas for you: The first, of course, is for breakfast and has, among other ingredients, eggs; the second takes inspiration from a lunchtime favorite, tuna salad; and the third is a dinner pizza that has so many ingredients and toppings that you’re going to need extra napkins.

Breakfast Pizza

YIELD: Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 tablespoons cornmeal

One 12-inch pizza crust

3/4 pound bacon

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 cup diced potatoes

1/2 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 to 6 large eggs

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450F. Spray a rimmed pizza pan or baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with cornmeal and spread pizza crust to edges. In a large skillet over medium-high heat fry bacon until it just starts to shrivel and turn golden, about 5 to 10 minutes; remove and drain on paper towels. In another large skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat; add onion and potatoes and sauté, turning often, until both are soft but not mushy.

Sprinkle cheese over crust, then tomatoes, then onions and potatoes; season with salt and pepper and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until everything turns light brown. Remove from oven, place on rack and carefully break eggs evenly over top; place partially cooked bacon slices in between eggs, return to oven and bake another 8 to10 minutes until eggs are set and bacon is crisp. Remove from oven, drizzle with olive oil, cut into slices and serve immediately with hot coffee, Bloody Mary’s or mimosas.

Lunch Pizza

YIELD: Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 tablespoons cornmeal

One 12-inch pizza crust

Two 7-ounce cans water-packed tuna, drained

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

1 teaspoon pickle juice

1 shallot, minced

1 celery rib, finely diced

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1/2 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 F. Spray rimmed pizza pan or baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, then sprinkle cornmeal evenly over it. Spread pizza crust to edges of pan; bake until crust is slightly crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile in medium bowl thoroughly combine tuna, mayonnaise, mustard, pickle juice, shallot, celery salt and pepper. Spread evenly over partially baked crust, top with cheese and bell pepper slices and bake 8 to 10 minutes until crust is golden and filling is heated through and bubbly. Serve hot or warm immediately with a mixed green salad.

Dinner Pizza

YIELD: Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 tablespoons cornmeal

One 12-inch pizza crust

2/3 cup marinara sauce

3 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni

2 ounces prosciutto, coarsely torn or chopped

6 anchovies, diced

1 medium Portobello mushroom, thinly sliced

3 roasted red pepper halves, julienned

1/2 cup oil-packed artichokes, chopped

1/2 cup black olives, sliced

Salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

12 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

1/4 cup olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 475 F. Spray a rimmed pizza pan or baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, then sprinkle with cornmeal and place the pizza crust on top, stretching it to the edges. Slather sauce over crust; evenly scatter pepperoni, prosciutto, anchovies, mushrooms, roasted pepper, artichokes, olives, salt and crushed red pepper flakes over sauce; top with mozzarella and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until vegetables are soft and start to brown a little and edge of crust is golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven, slice and serve hot or warm with sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach.

Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

I think if my husband and I had a family crest it would be the tomato! They are as necessary a staple as flour, sugar, or salt; as indispensable as onions, carrots or celery for the foundation of so many recipes and menus.

In the winter we have to rely on canned San Marzano tomatoes and fresh camparis, but come May we stick a variety of plants in patio pots and lovingly fertilize, water and stake them. By August we are happily picking a few a day but they’re not nearly enough to satisfy our tomato appetites nor do many even make it to the table because we eat them while they’re still warm from the sun. So we supplement our modest little crop with field tomatoes from the farm stand.

Although we sometimes chop them into a fresh tomato sauce for pasta or sauté them with other summer vegetables, most often we just slice them, top them with fresh basil or parsley or scallions, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzle them with olive oil and enjoy their exquisite flavor. Or sometimes, we take just one of our nice ripe tomatoes, cut it in half and rub it on toasted slices of rustic bread with a little shot of extra virgin olive oil for good measure.

Cherry Tomato Tart

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 9-inch pastry crust

3 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/4cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves, bruised and chopped

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1/2 cup extra sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line bottom and sides of tart pan with pastry crust; cut to make even with top edge; gently pat a piece of foil on top of crust and spread pie weights over it. Meanwhile in a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, thyme, basil, and salt and pepper and garlic. Spread the mixture with the tomatoes, cut side down on a baking sheet and roast until tomatoes blister and dry up a little, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from oven, set tomatoes on paper towels and blot to remove excess liquid. Bake pie shell in preheated oven until set, about 30 to 35 minutes; remove pie weights and foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes until golden. In small bowl, mix the sour cream and mustard, then spread on pie crust; sprinkle with cheese. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, in two layers; add salt and pepper between layers. Bake until tomatoes just start to brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with a green salad.

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound penne or similar size pasta

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

6 to 8 fresh Roma tomatoes diced

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile in medium-large skillet warm oil over medium heat; add garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until garlic releases its aroma, about 30 seconds; add tomatoes, stirring frequently, and cook until barely softened, about one minute. In large bowl toss tomatoes with basil, hot pasta and salt. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature and serve with an arugula salad.

Greek Tomato Salad

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 to 4 pounds ripe beefsteak tomatoes

1 small red onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings

1 green bell pepper, peeled, seeded, julienned

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

6 ounces feta cheese, broken into chunks

3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Wash, core and slice tomatoes 1/4” thick and arrange on a platter. Scatter onion, pepper and cucumber over tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper; let sit 15 minutes; scatter feta cheese and dill and douse with olive oil.  Serve at room temperature with toasted pita and hummus.

Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

Mussels are the unsung heroes of the fish market. It must be because they’re so inexpensive when compared to other shellfish; it’s certainly not because they aren’t tasty. Their briny succulence renders them ideal for those sloppy no-nonsense summer meals where lots of paper napkins and no fancy manners rule. This is where huge bowls and platters dominate the table and the dark blue mounds of the mussels against the yellow pyramids of corn on the cob create a colorful mouth-watering still life. There are so many ways to prepare mussels and I can’t think of any that aren’t wonderful sources for puddles of broth to sop up with slabs of bread.

For all recipes select tightly closed mussels and soak them in cold water for two hours; discard any that float. Scrub and rinse them well and pull off any beards that cling.

Mussels Provencal

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 dozen mussels, in shells, cleaned

Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons flour

1/2 teaspoon saffron

3 cups strained mussel broth

4 egg yolks

Fennel leaves for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Pour one inch water into large nonreactive pot; add lemon juice, salt, pepper and mussels; cover and steam until shells open, about 3 minutes; remove and drain. Remove mussels from shells, reserve half the mussel shells and pull away and discard any remaining beard. Keep mussels hot over steam. Strain broth through fine sieve; pour 3 cups broth into medium saucepan; dissolve saffron in 1/2 cup of that broth, then add to remaining broth in saucepan; stir well and boil two minutes over medium heat.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat; stir in flour until mixture is very smooth, then dissolve mixture, stirring constantly with wire whisk, in broth; bring to a boil while still constantly stirring, then remove from heat and set aside to cool. In large mixing bowl beat egg yolks until foamy; very slowly pour cooled sauce over them, stirring constantly until well blended; transfer to large saucepan, place over medium heat and stir constantly until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Place mussels in reserved shells, place in ramekins, pour sauce over them, garnish with fennel and serve immediately with a tomato salad.

Curried Mussels

Curried Mussels

YIELD: Makes 4 servings as an appetizer; 2 servings as an entrée.

INGREDIENTS:

4 dozen mussels in shells, cleaned

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 ounces butter

1 large onion, minced

1 celery rib, finely chopped

2 tablespoons minced Italian flat-leaf parsley

1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon curry powder or to taste

1/4 cup mussel broth

1/4 cup sour cream

DIRECTIONS:

Pour one inch water into large pot; add salt, pepper and mussels; cover and steam until shells open, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove mussels from pot, drain, remove from shells and pull away any remaining beard. Strain broth through sieve; set mussels and broth aside.

In medium-large skillet over medium heat melt butter; add onion, celery and parsley; sauté until onion and celery soften, about 3 to 5 minutes, then add wine. In small bowl, blend curry powder with 1/4 cup mussel broth; add to skillet and simmer gently about 5 minutes; add mussels and stirring gently, cook until they are heated through, about 3 minutes. Add sour cream, stir one minute and serve hot with rice.

Mussel and Garlic Soup

Mussel and Garlic Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 pounds mussels, cleaned

7 to 8 cups chicken broth or water

6 heads garlic, broken into unpeeled cloves

1 sprig fresh sage

1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley

Freshly squeezed juice of one lime

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 to 6 slices toasted rustic bread

Extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

In large pot, steam mussels in one inch of broth or water until they open, about 3 minutes; remove all mussels, both ones that remain in the shell and those that have fallen out; set aside. Strain the liquid in a fine sieve. In large saucepan combine strained mussel liquid with remainder of broth.

Tie herbs together; place in pot of liquid along with garlic; cover and bring to simmer. Continue to simmer until garlic is soft, about 45 minutes. Discard herbs; put garlic and broth through a strainer and press garlic with back or spoon to mash pulp into broth; discard garlic skins; add lime juice, salt and pepper, stir and heat.

Return mussels to broth and simmer just enough to heat them through. Lay toast slices in individual bowls, drizzle with olive oil  and ladle mussels and broth over them. Serve hot with corn on the cob.

Lime Sherbet

By Barbara Beltrami

When the iceman doesn’t cometh and neither does the ice cream man much, if at all, then we’re left to our own devices to come up with frozen desserts to cool our palates. There is, of course, ice cream, sherbet (made with milk) and sorbet (made with a simple sugar-water syrup) and frozen yogurt. And then from the Italians, there is granita which is a flavored ice composed of tiny crystals, a semifreddo, which means half-frozen (don’t ask me why because it’s completely frozen); gelato is their version of ice cream and an affogato is nothing more than a scoop of gelato or ice cream doused with hot espresso.

Lime Sherbet

Lime Sherbet

YIELD: Makes eight 1/2-cup servings.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups whole milk

1 cup frozen limeade concentrate, thawed

3 tablespoons sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pour into freezer bowl of electric ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve with vanilla wafers.

Grapefruit Sorbet

YIELD: Makes eight 1/2-cup servings.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

1 1/2 cups fresh grapefruit juice

1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest

DIRECTIONS:

In medium saucepan combine sugar and water; bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Cool completely, then add grapefruit juice and zest, and stir to combine. Pour into freezer bowl of electric ice cream maker and proceed according to manufacturer’s directions.

Nectarine-Amaretto Ice Cream

YIELD: Makes 2 quarts

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 pounds ripe nectarines, peeled, pitted and sliced

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup crumbled amaretti cookies

3 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

6 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups very cold heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl toss nectarines with 1/4 cup of the sugar and the lemon juice; let stand 30 minutes. Drain nectarines and puree in food processor. In a medium saucepan combine remaining 3/4 cup sugar with the 1/4 cup water and simmer till mixture turns a pale golden caramel. Carefully and gently add the half cup boiling water and simmer, stirring constantly, until caramel dissolves. In a small bowl sprinkle the amaretti cookies with the Amaretto liqueur and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

In a large mixer bowl beat egg yolks until thick and pale, add syrup in a stream while beating; beat until mixture is cool. Stir in extracts, peach puree, cookie mixture and cream. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve with sliced fresh nectarines.

Chocolate Semifreddo

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups very cold heavy cream

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

4 ounces semisweet baking chocolate grated

6 egg whites

Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Whip the cream; before it stiffens while it is still liquid but thick, add the confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time and continue whipping. When the cream is stiff enough to form peaks, thoroughly mix in the grated chocolate. Beat the egg whites until stiff; fold them into the cream and chocolate mixture. Line a 1 1/2 to 2 quart loaf pan with wax paper (let it extend beyond the edges) and pour the mixture into the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight.

When ready to serve, remove from freezer and let sit 5 minutes. Unmold over a flat platter and slice. Garnish with mint and serve with delicate chocolate cookies.

METRO photo

By Barbara Beltrami

From the Neanderthal clubs to the delicate little cigar-sized courgettes and everything in between, the season’s bumper crop of zucchini has arrived. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sautéing them in a little butter or olive oil, there are so many options for integrating them successfully into somewhat more complex recipes, that it would be a shame to limit oneself to the basic preparation.

There are ratatouilles and quiches, pastas and soups, casseroles and omelets, and so much more. Three zucchini recipes among the many that I’ve been using for years are those for Chocolate Zucchini Cake given to me by the mother of my daughter’s elementary school teacher, Zucchini-Tomato Fritters, an attempt to re-recreate those my grandmother made and Zucchini Soup from a woman who worked for my father.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

For the cake:

Unsalted butter and flour for preparing pan

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch process)

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon espresso coffee powder

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 medium zucchini, washed, grated, drained and squeezed dry

For the icing:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken   into pieces

DIRECTIONS:

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour bottom and sides of 9”-square cake pan. In a small bowl toss chocolate chips with one tablespoon of the flour; in medium bowl whisk together remaining flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and espresso coffee powder. In a large bowl with mixer on medium speed beat together sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until smooth; add flour mixture and beat two minutes on medium speed until well combined; add zucchini and beat another two minutes until well blended; fold in chocolate chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan; bake until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely on rack.

For the icing:

In a heavy saucepan, boil cream, turn off heat, stir in chocolate and let rest until completely melted; if necessary stir with rubber spatula to hasten melting. Transfer to room temperature bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to ice cake. Serve cake with chocolate or coffee ice cream.

Zucchini-Tomato Fritters

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium zucchini

2 teaspoons salt

4 scallions, minced

1 medium tomato, finely diced

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced

1/4 cup fresh dill, minced

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup flour

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Grate zucchini into colander; sprinkle with salt, toss and set over bowl to drain for 15 minutes. Remove, squeeze dry and place in a medium bowl. Add scallions, tomato, parsley, dill, egg, flour and cheese; mix well. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm oil; add batter by heaping tablespoonfuls and flatten with spatula or back of spoon; fry until golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm with fish, poultry, meat or beans.

Zucchini Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 medium or 2 large zucchini, chopped

3 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat warm oil; stirring frequently, cook onion in oil until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini, stir, then add broth; stir again. Raise heat to high, bring soup to a boil, then lower to keep at a simmer and stir occasionally until zucchini is very soft and mushy, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper, if necessary. Let cool at least 15 minutes, then puree in batches in blender or food processor until very smooth and creamy. Serve hot, cold, at room temperature or cold with croutons and a tomato salad.

Chicken Club Salad

By Barbara Beltrami

If chicken has as many preps as there are cuisines and other ingredients, chicken salad isn’t far behind. We all know and love the classic one which calls for roasted or poached white meat chicken, mayonnaise, some finely diced celery and maybe a squirt or two of fresh lemon juice. The addition of chopped gherkins and walnuts is a great way to jazz that one up.

But what about other less known but just as delicious chicken salads? Mediterranean with tomatoes, capers and olives, onion and feta cheese and dressed with olive oil and vinegar is a real winner while curried chicken salad with raisins also gets lots of raves when I serve it.

But I think my three favorites are an Asian chicken salad, another one that I make in the summer because it’s so delicate and refreshing … and pretty, and finally one that has all the ingredients of a club sandwich except the bread. So go ahead, be brave and chop up veggies or nuts or fruits and add them to the classic version or try one of these.

Asian Chicken Salad

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, poached and diced

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

One 5-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and halved

6 scallions, trimmed and sliced

One 10-ounce package frozen snow peas, cooked according to package directions

1 cup cashews, toasted

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup teriyaki sauce

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup peanut oil

1/4 cup tahini

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons white wine

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl combine chicken, red pepper, water chestnuts, scallions, snow peas and cashews. In bowl of food processor puree parsley, garlic, teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, peanut oil, tahini, vinegar, wine, brown sugar, ginger and coriander. Pour the mixture over the chicken and veggies, toss to combine thoroughly, sprinkle with sesame seeds, cover and refrigerate at least three hours. Serve with rice and cucumber salad.

Summer Chicken Salad

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups cantaloupe balls

2 cups seeded diced cucumber

1 cup diced fennel bulb

2 cups seedless green grapes, halved

1 cup blanched sliced almonds

Salt and black pepper to taste

Grated zest of one lemon

1/2 cup chopped dill

1/2 cup minced fennel leaves

1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon leaves

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange chicken breasts in a large baking pan, slather with cream and bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely in cream; remove chicken and save accumulated juices to enrich soups or sauces if desired. Dice chicken and place in a large bowl. Add melon, cucumber, fennel, grapes and almonds; toss to combine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, lemon zest, dill, fennel leaves and tarragon; toss again to thoroughly combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, tarragon vinegar and salt and pepper; add to chicken mixture and toss to thoroughly coat. Cover and refrigerate one hour. Serve with a salad of micro greens.

Chicken Club Salad

Chicken Club Salad

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, poached and cut into bite-size pieces

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup mayonnaise

4 cups Bibb or Romaine lettuce, washed and  torn into bite-size pieces

1/4 cup vinaigrette

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the chicken, tomatoes, bacon, salt and pepper and mayonnaise in a large bowl. Toss to thoroughly combine. In a medium bowl toss the lettuce with the vinaigrette. Arrange dressed lettuce on 4 salad plates; top each with a scoop of the chicken salad. Serve immediately with toasted bread.

Tzatziki. METRO photo

By Barbara Beltrami

Cool as a cucumber. You’ve heard that before.  I’m not sure of its derivation but Wikipedia tells me that cucumis sativus originated in India and goes as far back as the Roman Empire when it was popular with the emperor Tiberius, then later was favored in the 8th and 9th centuries by the famed Charlemagne. Fast forward to the 21st century where we still have our lovely cool cucumbers, with their crispiness, crunch and slightly melon-y flavor, the perfect veggie for all kinds of summer fare. I don’t know how Tiberius’s or Charlemagne’s chefs prepared them, but I’ll wager that they didn’t have a cucumber and gin sorbet, tzatziki, as well as a variety of cucumber salads in their repertoire.

Cucumber, Fennel and Gin Sorbet

YIELD: Makes about 3 cups.

INGREDIENTS:

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup water

1/2 cup minced fresh fennel leaves

1 tablespoon tarragon leaves

2 large English cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 to 4 tablespoons good quality gin

Cucumber slices for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

In a small saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, add fennel and tarragon and let steep 15 minutes. Pour through a fine sieve set over a medium bowl; discard leaves; refrigerate syrup until cold, about 30 minutes or more. In bowl of food processor or in blender puree cucumbers, syrup and lemon juice until smooth; transfer to a bowl, stir in gin, cover and refrigerate 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until very cold. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. Place in covered container and store in freezer. When ready to serve scoop into ice cream dishes, garnish with cucumber slices, if using, and serve with ginger snaps.

Cucumber-Honeydew Salad

YIELD: Makes 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 large English (seedless) cucumber, peeled

1 large ripe honeydew melon

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste ( but use sparingly)

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint

3 scallions, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

Dice cucumber; remove seeds and rind and dice honeydew. In a large bowl, whisk together lime juice, salt and pepper. Add cucumber, honeydew, cilantro, mint and scallions; toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate up to one hour. Serve cold with fish, meat or poultry.

Cucumber and Radish Chopped Salad with Chick Peas

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced

3 small cucumbers, peeled and diced

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced

10 radishes, washed, trimmed and diced

One 14-ounce can chick peas, rinsed, drained

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl toss together the tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, radishes, chick peas, onion and parsley; cover tightly and chill up to two hours. In a small bowl whisk together oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Let salad sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before tossing with oil-lemon juice mixture. Serve with meat, poultry or fish.

Tzatziki

Tzatziki. METRO photo

YIELD: Makes about 1 1/2 cups

INGREDIENTS:

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated and drained

1/2 pint plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate till ready to use. Serve with pita bread or crudités.

Grilled Corn

By Barbara Beltrami

I am a corn snob. I was brought up by corn snobs who wouldn’t deign to buy, cook or sink their teeth into an ear of corn unless it was just picked within the hour. The husk had to be bright green with no dry or brown edges and the silk had to be mostly green and well, silky. I learned that when selecting an ear of corn, one did not (as so many people erroneously and inconsiderately do) rip back the husk; instead one ran their fingertips gently up and down the ear of corn to feel for indentations which meant worm holes.

I’ve always been lucky enough to live near farm stands in the summer  which, of course, given my snobbery, is the only time I’ll eat corn. This year I’ve noticed a hefty increase in price; at some stands it’s actually almost doubled since last year. However, I’m ok with that as long as the corn is so fresh I can stick my thumbnail in a kernel and it squirts instead of collapses.

The kind of corn I’m talking about should be crisp, sweet and succulent. If it sticks to your teeth when you bite into it, it’s not fresh, not worth whatever you paid for it even if it was cheap, and is better suited for fodder for farm animals. If it’s truly just picked, the only embellishment it needs is a slathering of butter and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. It’s best boiled or grilled. Everyone has his or her own theory about how to boil it or grill it; if the corn is fresh it’ll taste good no matter how or how long you cook it. And if it isn’t fresh it doesn’t matter either because it won’t taste good. Here’s the way I do it. And that’s what this corn snob has to say.

Boiled Corn

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 ears very fresh corn

2 sticks unsalted butter

Coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Over high heat, bring a very large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, husk the corn and remove the silky threads. When water is at a full rolling boil, carefully drop corn into pot, cover, lower heat to medium high to maintain the boil and cook for 7 minutes. Remove corn from pot or let sit a few minutes, if desired. Stack on platter, slather with one stick of butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve immediately with remaining butter, salt and pepper to accompany grilled meat, poultry or fish and a crisp salad.

Grilled Corn

Grilled Corn

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 ears very fresh corn

2 sticks unsalted butter

Coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Heat grill to medium. Pull outer husks down to base; carefully strip silk away from ear, then pull husks back up. Fill a large pot or bowl with cold water and add one tablespoon salt; soak ears in salted water for 15 minutes. After removing corn from water and shaking off excess, place on grill, close cover, and turning every 5 minutes, grill for 15 to 20 minutes or until kernels are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Peel off husks and brush generously with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with grilled meat, poultry or fish and a crisp salad.

Here are a couple of flavored butters that I think are really good with corn:

Lime-Chipotle-Cilantro Butter

YIELD: Makes approximately one cup.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2  sticks unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1 1/2 tablespoons adobo sauce

1 1/2 chipotle peppers in adobo (from a can), finely chopped

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Herb-Garlic Butter

YIELD: Makes approximately one cup.

INGREDIENTS:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup combination of chopped parsley, basil and chives

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Generous pinch cayenne pepper

2 large cloves garlic, minced

 

*DIRECTIONS FOR BOTH RECIPES:

Vigorously mash all ingredients together.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate till ready to use.

Cold Cherry Soup

By Barbara Beltrami

Come hot humid weather when I’m feeling wilted and cranky and badly in need of a pick-me-up, I love a bowl or mug of cold summer soup made from the season’s freshest produce.  Usually not much more than pureed veggies or fruits with perhaps the addition of a little cream or yogurt, summer soups are filling, cooling and  revitalizing and often ridiculously low in calories. While you may be familiar with popular gazpachos, borschts or vichyssoises here are some off-the–beaten-track recipes that are among my favorites. Although like smoothies in consistency but minus the supplements, they may not be quite as nutrient-packed but they’re still oh, so good for you.

Cold Cherry Soup

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

5 cups boiling water

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup red wine

Pinch of salt

Grated zest of half a lemon

1 1/2 pounds fresh dark sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted

1 cup plain yogurt

DIRECTIONS:

In a large pot combine the water, sugar, wine, salt and lemon zest; boil 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, add cherries, cover and simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Let cool for 5 more minutes. In large bowl gradually whisk yogurt with one cup of juice from cherries until smooth; slowly whisk or stir in the rest of the cherries and the liquid; stirring occasionally, let cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate until cold. Stir before serving. Serve as an appetizer or dessert with fresh fruit.

Watermelon Gazpacho with Feta Cream

YIELD: Makes 5 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 to 4 cups watermelon cubes, seeds removed

1 large fresh ripe tomato, chopped

1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup sour cream

1/4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

In blender or food processor puree watermelon, tomato, cucumber, jalapeno, oil and vinegar till smooth. Season with salt and pepper; cover and chill several hours. In small bowl, vigorously mash feta and combine with sour cream; whisk in milk; add salt and pepper if needed. When ready to serve, pour gazpacho into bowls or mugs and garnish with feta cream.

Curried Yellow Zucchini Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup olive oil

2 large yellow zucchini,  chopped

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons curry powder or to taste

1 teaspoon ground coriander or to taste

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 quart chicken stock

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves

DIRECTIONS:

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add zucchini, onion, curry powder,  coriander, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are very tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add broth, bring to a boil, then simmer covered until squash pieces completely lose their shape, about 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then puree until very smooth. Chill at least 4 hours. Garnish with yogurt and cilantro leaves and serve cold with naan or chapatis.

Cold Cauliflower Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 head cauliflower, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

6 cups chicken broth

1 large sprig fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 cup cream

1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1/3 cup snipped chives

DIRECTIONS:

In large pot over medium heat, warm oil; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, till soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add cauliflower, garlic, broth, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil; lower heat to simmer and cook till cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minute. Remove thyme and discard. Let soup sit to cool for 10 minutes, then puree in food processor till very smooth; stir in cream and chill at least 8 hours, overnight if possible. When ready to serve garnish with parsley and chives. Serve with a chilled dry white wine.