Wednesday, April 29, 2015

English Pea Mash on Garlic Rubbed Bruschetta

I love spring peas...all kinds.  Snow, Sugar Snap and English are my favorites.  I decided to play with a classic preparation, mashed peas with mint, and use as a topping for garlic rubbed grilled bread (bruschetta). Most mashed pea recipes call for butter...and cream...and cheese and, while these dishes are delicious, I wanted to keep the clean, light taste of the fresh peas.  My version uses leeks, mint (of course) and olive oil with just a touch of red pepper flakes for bit of heat.  This is wonderful with the garlic on the bruschetta for an appetizer or light lunch.

You can serve the mash as a side dish without the bread. When I serve it this way I add a sliced clove of garlic to the leaks in the first step so it is pureed into the peas.  Either way the garlic adds wonderful flavor to the peas, leeks, and mint.

 English Pea Mash on Garlic Rubbed Bruschetta
(serves 6)

extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and pale green part, sliced
4 cups fresh english peas (or 2 10 oz bags frozen)
2 tbsp mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup water
pinch dried red pepper flakes
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
coarse grey salt

1 loaf french or sourdough bread (loaf, boule or baguette) sliced into pieces about 1 inch thick
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled

Warm 2 tbsp olive oil in large skillet.  Add leeks and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until softened. Add peas, mint, water, red pepper flakes and a pinch each salt and pepper to skillet.  Saute for 3-5 minutes or until hot.  (If using frozen peas, cover pan until peas are defrosted and then remove cover and cook for a couple of additional minutes).  Add all ingredients to food processor and 1 tbsp olive oil.  Pulse until smooth with a bit of texture. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Add back to pan, cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, grill or broil bread on each side until lightly toasted.  Remove from oven and immediately rub each slice of bread with a garlic clove.  Mound pea mash over bread and drizzle with excellent quality olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Salad Greens with Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette

One of my pet peeves is when people buy truly great salad ingredients and then dress them with horrible dressings filled with inferior ingredients and preservatives. When was the last time you read the label of most bottled dressings? So here is one of my objectives. Convince each reader to eliminate bottled salad dressing from their pantries and use homemade versions! (o.k. not comparable with a goal of attaining world peace but a girl has to start somewhere...right?)

vinaigrette before shaking

I often get questions about making homemade salad dressing because I have included numerous recipes for salads in past posts. Many people tell me they think it is "too hard" or "too complicated" to make a vinaigrette. Here's the thing...the "technique" for making dressings and vinaigrette is so incredibly easy that it only requires four steps. Here are my "instructions".

1. Put your favorite vinaigrette ingredients in a mason jar
2. Screw on lid and shake away
3. Add to salad
4. Eat and enjoy

It really is that easy. Buy a mason jar at the market...even better and "greener"...reuse a jam/jelly or any other screw top jar. Plan to make small quantities, just enough to use that night, or keep in the fridge a couple of days. No longer, you want it to be as fresh as possible. Keep the best-quality-you-can find/afford extra virgin olive oils, vinegars, mustard and seasonings in your pantry and experiment with your oil to vinegar ratios. There really is no "wrong" way, it is just a matter of personal preference. 

vinaigrette before shaking

I will continue to post different salad and dressing recipes in future blog stories but, to get you started, here is a classic...Balsamic Vinaigrette. It is not a "spicy or hot" recipe so why post here?  Because sometimes you need a basic sauce or dressing to tame an otherwise Red or Green? menu.

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pure balsamic vinegar of Modena
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced
1 green onion, minced
pinch sea salt
pinch black pepper

Add all ingredients to a mason jar or other jar with a tight fitting lid. Screw lid tight and shake the jar until vinaigrette is emulsified.  Lightly dress your favorite combination of salad greens and vegetables.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spicy Barley Risotto

I am a big fan of chile-infused olive oil. The gentle heat and amazing taste is perfect drizzled over pizza or pasta and is wonderful as a dipping oil with toasted french or sourdough bread. I drizzle it over everything, eggs, vegetables, potatoes (try with mashed) or anything you can think of. My newest favorite is from Pranzo Italian Grill in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Red Chile Chimayo infused oil is prepared and bottled in the restaurant's kitchen. The ingredients listed on the bottle read "contains imported cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and Chimayo red chile-nothing else!"

I featured the chile oil in this barley risotto recipe. The smokey-sweet flavor works really well with the hearty barley, sauteed onions and peppers. This "risotto" is a bit different from the classic version. Barley is used in place of the more typical arborio rice, and the liquid can be added all at once versus the one ladleful at a time technique. This makes it even easier to prepare on a weeknight, but the dish is special enough to serve as the first course of a fancy dinner party. Enjoy! (Oh...and try the infused olive oil...delicious)

Spicy Barley Risotto
(serves 6)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups barley
6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons chile-infused olive oil, plus more for drizzling (or 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tsp red pepper flakes)
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, shredded, plus more for sprinkling
sea salt
black pepper

Warm olive oil in large saucepan. Add onion and bell pepper and saute until onion is soft and translucent. (about 5 minutes) Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Add barley and stir to ensure it is coated with oil.

Add stock, wine and a pinch each salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and the reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, frequently stirring, until barley is tender and creamy, and all liquid is absorbed. (35-45 minutes) Stir in parsley, chile-infused olive oil  and 1/2 cup cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve with additional cheese and chile-infused oil drizzled over the top.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Spicy Roasted Asparagus & Leek Soup

This mildly spiced soup is perfect as a first course for either a casual supper or elegant dinner party. I have even served it in small shot glasses as an appetizer. The beautiful color and delicious taste comes from my favorite way of preparing asparagus...roasting.

I love how easy it is to prepare this soup. The asparagus, leeks, and onion are roasted in the oven for 30 minutes and then cooked in vegetable broth with fresh celery for sweetness. The mixture is blitzed in a blender, heated and softened with just a touch of cream.  The finished soup is garnished with chile-infused olive oil for a bit of heat, paprika for color and toasted pistachios for crunch. You will make this soup all spring. Enjoy!

Spicy Roasted Asparagus Soup
(serves 6)

2 lbs asparagus
1/2 large leeks, cut into 2 inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 red onion, quartered
extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 cups vegetable stock
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup heavy cream
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
chile-infused extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pistachios, roasted & chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and peel if stringy. (You probably will only need to peel very thick stalks. Thin stalks are usually fine as is). Cut off tips of half or the asparagus (1 lb worth) and set aside. Place the rest of the asparagus in a single layer on prepared sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, roll the asparagus in oil until coated on all sides. Add leek and onions to the pan and drizzle with oil. Generously season with salt and pepper. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over vegetables.

Roast in the oven for 15-30 minutes or until the asparagus, leeks and onions are beginning to brown and caramelize. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the asparagus stalks. Remove from oven and set aside. 

Add the roasted vegetables, vegetable stock and celery to a large stockpot. Bring to a boil. Place reserved asparagus tips in a strainer or colander and place in broth. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove tips from broth and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and simmer soup for 20 minutes. 

Puree soup in blender until very smooth. (do this is batches if your blender is small). Add back to the pot and reduce heat to low. Stir in cream. Add a large pinch each sea salt and black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Divide the reserved asparagus tips between 6 soup bowls and serve with a drizzle of chile-infused olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika and pistachios.