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Barbara Beltrami

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.

Easy Plum-Almond Galette

By Barbara Beltrami

In the heart of summer when fresh stone fruit and all kinds of berries beckon to us, it’s the season for putting them in galettes, pies and tarts and letting their sweet and slightly tannic juices tease and please our palates. It really doesn’t matter whether you turn them into a beautifully domed two crust pie or arrange them over a pate brisee in a tart pan or scatter them over a free form galette crust. You’ll still have that incomparable combination of flaky pastry crust and jewel-hued fresh fruit. And of course, in the following recipes the fruits and preparations are interchangeable as long as you adhere to the measurements, so go ahead and do it your way.

Easy Plum-Almond Galette

Easy Plum-Almond Galette

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

For the pastry:

1 1/2 cups flour

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter cut into pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup ice water

For the filling:

1/4 cup + 1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup ground almonds

3 tablespoons flour

2 1/2 pounds plums, washed, halved, pitted and cut into half-inch wedges

3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces

1/2 cup currant jelly, melted

DIRECTIONS:

For the pastry:

Place flour, butter and salt in bowl of electric food processor; pulse a few times just to blend; add ice water and pulse another few times until dough pulls together and you can still see little pieces of butter. Remove dough from processor, shape into a ball and on a lightly floured surface roll into an oval or circle about 16 to 18″ across and one-eighth-inch thick. Gently transfer to baking sheet. Chill 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F.

For the filling:

In medium bowl combine a 1/4 cup of sugar, almonds and flour and spread evenly over galette pastry. Arrange plum slices in pattern over flour mixture; dot with butter and sprinkle with remaining one-third cup sugar but leave a two-inch border around edges. Gently fold or roll edges of dough up to meet and form a little wall at edges of fruit. Bake until crust is a deep golden and fruit is tender and bubbling, about one hour. Gently slide knife or spatula under crust to release it from any juices that have caused it to stick. Brush top of fruit and edges of crust with currant jelly. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche.

Basic Blueberry Tart

Basic Blueberry Tart

YIELD: Makes one 8-inch tart.

INGREDIENTS:

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup flour

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 quart blueberries, rinsed and picked over

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. In bowl of food processor combine butter, the cup of flour, salt, sugar and vinegar. Pulse until dough comes together but is still pasty. Press evenly into eight-inch spring form tart pan.  Reserve two-thirds cup of berries, then in large bowl combine remaining berries, the one-third cup sugar and tablespoon flour. Pour evenly into tart crust. Bake until filling is bubbly and crust is golden, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, remove from tart pan and sprinkle top with reserved fresh blueberries. Dust with confectioners’ sugar if desired. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream.

Jenny’s Peach Pie

Jenny’s Peach Pie

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

For the pastry:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 egg yolk, beaten

1 teaspoon white or cider vinegar

1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:

6 to 8 ripe peaches, sliced (do not peel)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

DIRECTIONS:

To prepare the crusts, in a food processor pulse together the flour, butter and salt until mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk, vinegar and ice water; sprinkle four tablespoons mixture over flour mixture and pulse; if dough does not hold together sprinkle remaining liquid and pulse again.

On a lightly floured surface gather the dough into a ball and knead a few times. Divide dough in half, enclose in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

Meanwhile prepare the filling. In a large bowl combine the peaches, lemon juice,  sugar and flour. Preheat oven to 425 F. On a lightly floured surface shape one ball of chilled dough into a disc, then roll out and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Add filling; shape second ball of dough into a disc and roll out; gently center on top of filling. Trim pastry edges and crimp together.

Place in oven for 15 minutes at 425 F, then reduce heat to 375 F and continue to bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbly, about another 40 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with peach ice cream.

Codfish Cakes

By Barbara Beltrami

Years ago up on the Cape, tucked way back from the side of the road, there used to be a little fish shack called Caleb’s. It was tiny, ramshackle and barely visible, but the natives and summer regulars all knew about it and crowded its half dozen or so stools and one picnic table set under a faded yellow umbrella.

At lunchtime it exuded the unmistakable summer aromas of oil, suntan lotion and frying. Caleb was the proprietor, cook, server, and quintessentially an iconic salty old New England cuss. The only things you could get there were fish cakes. And what fish cakes they were! Each day the special was written in crayon and posted on a piece of cardboard taped to the side of the shack next to the counter. It was most often cod, of course, but it could also be swordfish or tuna or clams or scallops or a blend of several varieties or anything over which Caleb could strike a bargain with the local fishermen.

The fish cakes were big, about the size of a large bakery cookie, plump and soft in the middle and crispy around the edges. They came on a Portuguese roll with a scoop of coleslaw, a dollop of tartar sauce and half a lemon.

Caleb is long gone. He seemed ancient way back then, and I know for sure that the fish shack is no longer there. It’s been replaced by a slick pizzeria with a garish sign and a huge parking lot. But the memory of his fish cakes lives on and while nothing will ever measure up to them, here are a few of my humble attempts.

Codfish Cakes

Codfish Cakes

YIELD: Makes 10 large or 20 small patties

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds fresh cod fillets, skinned and boned

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes, pared and diced

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

2 large eggs, well beaten

2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup minced flat leaf parsley leaves

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS:

Season the fish with salt and pepper; place on rack of steamer over boiling water; cook until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. In a large pot, cook potatoes and onions in boiling salted water until very tender, about 13 to 15 minutes. Drain and puree with ricer or food mill or mash by hand (do not use electric food processor). Add eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and parsley; combine and beat vigorously; flake fish with a fork, and gently fold into mixture. 

With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, spread onto a baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, about one hour. Remove from fridge and shape into patties; dredge with flour and shake off excess. Place half the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; gently drop patties into hot oil (add remaining oil as needed) and cook until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with tartar sauce, lemon and cole slaw.

Lobster and Scallop Cakes

Lobster and Scallop Cakes

YIELD: Makes about 6 medium patties

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 pound scallops

1/2 pound lobster meat

1 tablespoon minced flat leaf   parsley leaves

1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1 garlic clove, minced

Zest of one lemon, finely grated

Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons or more extra virgin olive oil or more as needed

DIRECTIONS:

Place butter, scallops, lobster, parsley, chives, tarragon, bread crumbs, garlic and lemon zest in bowl of electric food processor and pulse a few times to chop the seafood but still leave small chunks. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and add the lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and cayenne. Form into patties and place on platter or baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for one hour or until well set. In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat; cook patties until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes each side.  Carefully remove to paper towels and let sit, gently turning once, for two minutes each side. Serve immediately with lemon or sour cream and potato chips.

Fireworks Cupcakes

By Barbara Beltrami

When it’s not dark enough yet for fireworks or when the fireworks are over and you’re hankering for a nice cup of coffee, it’s time to bring out the dessert. The following recipes are delicious finishes to a long day celebrating our independence They all are patriotically correct red, white and blue and sure to please.

Fireworks Cupcakes

YIELD: Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes

INGREDIENTS: 

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 2/3 cups sugar

3 egg whites, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 cup vanilla cookie crumbs

For the frosting:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 1/2 tablespoons milk

Red, white and blue sprinkles

Star sprinkles 

DIRECTIONS:

For the cupcake batter:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 cupcake pans with cupcake papers. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add one egg white at a time beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. In another large bowl, thoroughly combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Fold in cookie crumbs. 

Fill prepared cupcake tins two-thirds full; bake about 22 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 

For the frosting:

In a large bowl combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Add the milk very gradually to form a stiff frosting; beat until smooth. Spread the frosting on cooled cupcakes; top with sprinkles. Serve with coffee, milk or fruit punch.

Fourth of July Pie

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

One baked 9” pastry crust

1 pint raspberry sorbet, softened

2 cups sliced strawberries

1 pint strawberry ice cream, softened

2 cups blueberries

1 cup sweetened whipped cream

DIRECTIONS:

Spread baked pastry crust with raspberry sorbet; top with half the sliced strawberries; and freeze for one hour. Spread strawberry ice cream evenly over the strawberries; top with half the blueberries; freeze two hours. Top with whipped cream; arrange remaining berries in an attractive pattern on top. Let sit in refrigerator half an hour before serving or freeze, covered, for up to 48 hours. Serve with coffee, milk or fruit punch

Strawberry, Raspberry and Blueberry Cornmeal Cobbler

Strawberry, Raspberry and Blueberry Cornmeal Cobbler

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pint blueberries

1 pint raspberries

1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup flour

1/3 cup yellow cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8” x 8” square baking dish. In a large bowl toss together the berries, the half cup sugar and cornstarch.; transfer to baking dish. In a large bowl with mixer on medium speed, beat together the one-third cup sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes; add egg and vanilla and beat until well blended.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture; beat on low speed just until combined; beat in the milk, then the remaining flour mixture. Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto the berries; bake until berries are bubbly and top is golden, about 45 minutes to one hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

 

Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

I think of scallions as the kinder, gentler member of the onion family. They have the flavor without the bitter aftertaste but offer the nuances of an onion-y taste. Suited more to delicate dishes than robust ones, they are especially nice in Asian-style cuisine. The other day I dug a lot of them out of my garden, brought them inside and vigorously washed the dirt off them. Then I trimmed them and laid them in a beautiful pyramid on my cutting board and realized I had more than I could use. Or did I? What about a creamy scallion soup? Or scallion pancakes? Or a scallion salad with radishes, cucumbers and herbs?

Creamy Scallion Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

6 to 7 bunches of scallions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large potato, peeled and diced

6 cups chicken broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup snipped chives for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Wash, trim and thinly slice the scallions. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat melt butter with the olive oil; add scallions and, stirring often, cook until wilted but not browned. Add potato and chicken broth and over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until potato is mushy; season with salt and pepper. Let soup sit until cooled slightly, about 15 minutes, then puree in food processor until smooth. Stir in cream; garnish with chives and serve hot, warm, at room temperature or cold with crusty bread and a tomato and cucumber salad.

Scallion and Kimchi Pancakes

Scallion and Kimchi Pancakes

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 cup flour

1/2 cup rice flour

Coarse salt

1 egg, beaten

1 cup sparkling water, seltzer or club soda

6 scallions, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 cup drained kimchi (Korean preserved cabbage)

1/4 cup liquid from kimchi 

1 tablespoon minced fresh red chile pepper

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 300 F. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, rice flour, salt, egg, sparkling water and kimchi liquid. Stir in scallions, kimchi and chile pepper. In an 8″ nonstick skillet heat 1 to 2 teaspoons oil. Ladle half a cup of batter to cover bottom of skillet and form an 8” pancake. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes each side; transfer to shallow baking pan or baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining batter. Cut each pancake into quarters and serve hot or warm with Korean dipping sauce. 

Scallion and Herb Salad with Radishes and Cucumbers

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

8 scallions, washed and trimmed, whites and greens separated

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Coarse salt to taste

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 cup fresh arugula

6 to 8 radishes, washed, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and minced,

1 red chile, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS:

Thinly slice scallion whites. In a large bowl, toss them with rice vinegar, sugar and salt; let sit about 10 minutes. Thinly slice scallion greens. Add them along with cilantro, arugula, radishes, cucumber, red chile, sesame oil and sesame seeds to scallion whites. Toss to combine all ingredients. Serve immediately with fish, poultry, pork or beef.

Pasta Salad Caprese

By Barbara Beltrami

These times are causing us to rethink how we feed ourselves. Even as the weather brings us outdoors and procuring provisions becomes easier, it is still a challenge to come up with ideas that break away from the same old, same old kitchen fare and backyard barbecue. 

But here’s what you can do: You can park outside your favorite restaurant, order takeout, have it delivered to your car (maintaining all distancing and COVID-19 protocol, of course), and have a tailgate picnic. It will give you a break from your routine and help to support local restaurants and their employees who are struggling to recuperate from their financial losses during the pandemic. 

And if you’re just not up to takeout, but still need a change of scenery for mealtime, here is one of my favorite do-it-yourself picnic menus, tailgate or otherwise, that requires little preparation and the addition only of some fresh summer fruit and a beverage or two. So find an unpopulated space with a nice view and breeze and enjoy a little change of venue. 

Pasta Salad Caprese

Pasta Salad Caprese

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings. 

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound fusilli, shells or other short pasta

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 garlic clove, bruised

1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn

DIRECTIONS:

Cook pasta according to package directions. While it’s cooking, in a small bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic clove; set aside. When pasta is ready, drain but do not run cold water over it. Transfer to large bowl. Remove and discard garlic from oil and vinegar mixtures and while pasta is still hot, toss it with the dressing. Let sit at room temperature until ready to serve; add mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and more salt and pepper; toss again and serve immediately with frittata and wine or lemonade.

Artichoke, Asparagus and Spinach Frittata

YIELD: Makes 4 servings. 

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound fresh baby artichokes, outer leaves trimmed

6 extra large eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 cups fresh spinach leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces

DIRECTIONS:

Sprinkle artichoke hearts generously with salt and steam until very tender, about 15 minutes. Immerse in cold water. In medium bowl beat eggs vigorously with salt, pepper, herbs and cheese; stir in spinach leaves. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat warm oil, add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion starts to wilt, a couple of minutes. Add artichokes and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes

Pour in egg mixture and swirl pan to distribute evenly; distribute asparagus pieces evenly over top. Shake the skillet gently and tilt the pan while lifting the edges gently with a spatula so that liquid from center runs to outside edge of pan. Reduce heat to low, repeat tilting-lifting procedure every two minutes and cook till eggs are nearly set, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer frittata to upper third of oven and monitoring carefully, cook until top is light golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from oven, slide or invert onto plate, and when somewhat cooled, cover with aluminum foil. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature with pasta salad and wine or lemonade.

Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Cookies

Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Cookies

YIELD: Makes 4 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

3 cups old-fashioned uncooked oats

1 cup dried cherries, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl with mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy and creamy; add eggs and vanilla and beat well. In another medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add to butter mixture; mix well. Add oatmeal and dried cherries; mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet; bake until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool one minute on cookie sheet, then finish cooling on wire rack. Store in airtight covered container.