Baked Sweet Potatoes Dressed Up with Bacon and Shallots

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Baked Sweet Potatoes Dressed Up with Bacon and Shallots

Nothing is better than baked potatoes, except maybe baked sweet potatoes. It seems many North Americans agree. We eat about seven pounds of sweet potatoes each year and a whopping fifty pounds of white potatoes. I’m here to say we should do our best to flip those numbers around. Not that I mean too much disrespect to the white potato. Mashed, baked, roasted and even fried I love and eat white potatoes often. However, the truth is there considerably less nutritional value in a white potato than there is in the more nutrient-dense sweet potato. In fact, nutritionally speaking baked sweet potatoes are almost too good to be true. Even if you call them yams.

Which you might be inclined to do. Though technically yams and sweet potatoes are different tubers from different genera (that’s the proper plural for genus I think). Years ago, when orange-fleshed sweet potatoes were introduced in the southern United States, producers and shippers thought they needed to distinguish them from the more traditional, white-fleshed potatoes. So the marketing geniuses settled on the name of a similar tuber known in Africa as nyami (of the Dioscorea genus). The word needed to be Americanized (of course?) and became yam. So, in this country at least, yams are actually sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and have a moist texture and an orange (or sometimes white) flesh. Although the terms are generally used interchangeably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the label “yam” always be accompanied by “sweet potato” (but not vice versa). Which is probably what led to the confusion and has nothing to do with the Baked Sweet Potatoes I’ve dressed up with a bacon vinaigrette and baked shallots. GREG

Baked Sweet Potatoes Dressed Up with Bacon and Shallots

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Shallots and Bacon Vinaigrette

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Adapted from Sam KassPublished
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Shallots and Bacon Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 4-6 medium sweet potatoes (scrubbed)
  • 4-6 whole shallots (skin on, root end intact)
  • 6 ounce thick cut bacon slices
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • coarse sea salt (as needed)

Directions

Heat oven to 400° F. Pierce each sweet potato several times with the tines of a fork. Place the sweet potatoes and whole shallots on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake until the potatoes are tender and the shallots skins are very well browned about 45 to 60 minutes, depending on size. The shallots might need to come out of the oven before the potatoes, again depending on size. Use your judgment.

While the potatoes and shallots bake, cut the bacon crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Place them in a large cast iron skillet and place it over medium heat and cook stirring occasionally, until the fat renders and the bacon is brown and crisp. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar and season with black pepper.

To serve: Make a lengthwise slit in the top of each potato and mash a generous pinch of salt into the flesh with a fork. Spoon on the bacon dressing and squeeze the interior of a shallot (like toothpaste out of the tube) on top of each potato. Discard the browned shallot skins and serve immediately.

A “Two Virgos” Gin Tasting

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Gin Tasting

My friend Helen is here today to talk about gin. Which is only strange when you realize that Helen is not typically a gin drinker. She’s one of Sippity Sup’s wine connoisseurs. That is she was – until she reconnected with an old chum from her childhood days in England for an evening of gin tasting. GREG

There was a time in Grammar School (High School) when Debbie and I were joined at the hip. Our birthdays are within two days of each other and we were academically inclined at a school that prized athletic prowess over intellectual aptitude (perhaps that’s true of all High Schools?). We handled the burden together.

When we were 16 years old, we went our separate ways. Debbie went on to University and corporate success, with a recent leap into freelance consulting. I went to Drama School and meandered around the entertainment industry for a decade before settling into the cut-throat world of Massage Therapy. Forty years passed, during which we had one chance meeting in London, and one rather boozy reunion with another friend in Yorkshire, arranged via the wonders of Facebook.

Yes, we had seen each other only twice in the last 40 years and now Debbie was flying to Los Angeles to spend a week on my couch. What could go wrong? Well, nothing, as it happens, we had a fabulous time together getting reacquainted. We still see the world in very similar ways, and showing her around my city and seeing it fresh through her eyes made me appreciate it more. Over the years, Debbie has developed into a morning person and a gin appreciator, whereas I am a night owl who sticks mostly to wine. I avoided gin as I associated it with the heavily perfumed (Gordon’s) G&Ts that my mother used to drink once in a while. It was only a couple of months ago that a cocktail at the London Hotel (called The Bond Girl), opened my eyes to the possibility that gin could be delicious. So, I decided to arrange a gin taste-off in Debbie’s honor and for my education.

The Gin Tasting

The gins were chosen purely arbitrarily, based on the ones I could find in miniature*. I also included the bottle of Plymouth gin I had bought because it is the major ingredient in the Bond Girl. Being a Virgo (We are known for our organized perfectionism… I have some mitigating factors in my chart!), I researched the ingredients of each gin I had purchased. I placed the gins in the order of tasting according to the number of ingredients each contained. When the number of ingredients was the same, I placed gins with similar ingredients next to each other.

We started the gin tasting with Tanqueray, which has only four ingredients: Juniper, Coriander, Angelica Root and Liquorice, and we ended our flight of ten gins with The Botanist – a herbal heavy hitter containing 31 botanicals, 22 of which are native to the Southern Hebrides where it is made. During the course of my due diligence, I discovered that Tanqueray No. Ten has fresh citrus fruit in it, rather than the more common citrus rind, so I threw caution to the wind and bought a bottle to add another dimension to the gin tasting. I was glad that I did.

In the spirit of scientific exploration, I decided that we would taste the gins in order, four different ways: Neat; as a G&T, with Fever Tree Light Tonic Water; as a Gimlet, with fresh lime and Trader Joe’s freshly squeezed Limeade; and finally, as a Greyhound, with fresh grapefruit juice. I also intended us to try them in a Gin Sling but I bought the wrong kind of cherry brandy (82% proof) and by the time we got to the slings, we were a bit palate fatigued and precise measuring had taken on a more artistic feel.

Tanqueray No. Ten and The Botanist were our overall winners even though they did not ace every single combination. No. Ten made a beautifully fruity G&T and was spectacular in a Gimlet and as a Greyhound, but we found it a little bitter served neat. The Botanist tasted pleasantly medicinal and impressed us neat, it was deliciously herbal in a G&T, and surprisingly yummy in a Gimlet, but the jury was split as a Greyhound. I thought the flavors clashed horribly, whilst Debbie thought it was still drinkable. Bombay Sapphire, although not a winner in any category, was definitely the smoothest gin we tasted and the overall safest choice in everything but a Greyhound.

We were also very taken with Martin Miller’s gin, which showed a smooth complexity and cucumber notes that outperformed Hendrick’s, both neat and in a super refreshing G&T. Neither of these two gins worked well as a Gimlet or Greyhound. Despite its popularity, Hendrick’s definitely underperformed against most of the other gins in all categories.

The gin that stood out as not belonging in the line up was New Amsterdam. I couldn’t find the ingredients online and I think that is probably due to it not bearing evidence of any juniper, therefore making it more of a citrus vodka than a gin – at least that is what it tasted like to us. Beefeater majestically held the back of the pack, working only (marginally) as a Greyhound. We appreciated it as our token “Mother’s Ruin” gin which we choked down in the interest of science even as it seared and stripped our palates with its firewater roughness.

Being a Virgo, Debbie took meticulous notes on every single one of our 40 combinations. She is also the one responsible for this comprehensive quick reference chart. The most delightful revelation of the evening was that we were in complete agreement 38 times! The other two times basically consisted of me saying, “Well, that doesn’t work at all,” and Debbie saying, “It’s not the best but I’d still drink it.” Great minds think (mostly) alike and great friendships survive years of neglect, especially when two Virgos get together over 10 gins. Helen

*We received no compensation for this gin tasting. All opinions are our own. If you would like to replicate our taste-off, you can find all the miniatures we used at BevMo.

Helen Melville tastes gin for Sippity Sup Gin Tasting Notes

CLICK chart to enlarge

Gin Tasting

Eat a Little Better: Grilled Cauliflower Steaks from Sam Kass

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Eat a Little Better: Grilled Cauliflower Steaks

Grilling season has come early to my house. Grilled Radicchio last week and Grilled Cauliflower Steaks this week. That’s partly because I’m putting an effort into eating less meat these days. I’m not saying that I’d ever give up on meat entirely, but I’ve been reading the new book from Sam Kass, the Obama’s White House chef, Eat a Little Better and some of its lessons have really rubbed off on me. Especially his philosophy on how to enjoy eating meat in a manner that’s good for your body and mindful of the planet. I’m sure you’ll see some of his opinions about eating meat parroted back on these pages soon.

But lately, I’ve been concentrating on ways to take vegetables to the center of the plate. Because (as paraphrased from Kass) the one single thing we can do to “eat a little better” is to eat more fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t matter what kind, where they’re from, or how they’re grown either. Idealists will claim that the answer to our health woes lies in the organic, seasonal, and local produce we buy at our farmer’s markets. But the truth is that most folks are like me, we do most of our shopping at the supermarket. There are plenty of reasons for this, the convenience not being the least of them. So it’s easy (again if you’re like me) to stand in the produce aisle and worry over every purchase you make. Certain that you’re ruining the world as well as your health if you buy the asparagus from Peru that may or may not have been grown with pesticides and fertilizers. As Kass says, “In the quest to do better and stress out less, let’s acknowledge this encouraging truth: as long as you’re eating more vegetables – yes, even if they’re not organic or are flown in from far away –  you’re doing better for your health and the planet’s.”

So eat more vegetables. Make them the center of your meal more than you used to. And while you’re at it forget all that worry about GMO’s, in true Obama style Kass relies on science to put all those fears to rest. In the most succinct explanation I’ve come across he plainly says that GMO technology “sounds like the plot of a sci-fi thriller, but there isn’t a single credible study that shows that GMO’s are dangerous to eat”. Which isn’t to say that GMO’s are the perfect answer. There are still issues with seed diversity and soil health (among others) that need to be worked out. We should address these issues rather than dismiss the process entirely. Kass says, “As climate change accelerates, food will become much more difficult to grow. Gene-editing technology might help with that, so I think it’s wise to keep it as a tool in the toolbox.”

But that’s a post for another day. Today the subject is cauliflower. Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Grapefruit, Watercress, and Pecans. GREG

I received a review copy of Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World by Sam Kass, all opinions are my own.

Sam Kasscauliflower steak slices Eat a Little Better: Grilled Cauliflower Steaks

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Grapefruit, Watercress, and Pecans

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Eat a Little Better by Sam KassPublished
Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Grapefruit, Watercress, and Pecans

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup grapeseed or vegetable oil (plus more for the grill)
  • 2 small heads cauliflower (bottoms trimmed flat)
  • kosher salt
  • 2 large grapefruit
  • 1 tablespoon white blasamic veinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch (6-oz) watercress or arugula (thick stems trimmed)
  • ½ cup toasted pecans (crumbled if large)

Directions

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to high heat. Pour a little oil on a rag, grab the rag with tongs, and rub the oil onto the grill grates to prevent sticking.

One by one, stand each cauliflower head, florets up, on a cutting board and cut the cauliflower into thirds, making sure each piece includes some of the stem so the pieces hold together. Rub the pieces on both sides with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season generously with salt.

Grill over direct heat, flipping once, until crisp-tender and charred on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving platter.

Meanwhile, trim the tops and bottoms of the grapefruit with a sharp knife. Working from top to bottom and following the curve of the fruit, carve off the peel and pith to expose the flesh. Working over a bowl, cut each grapefruit segment from the membrane and drop it in the bowl. When you’re done, squeeze any juice from the membranes into the bowl, then discard the membranes. Pour the juices into a smaller bowl, whisk together with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and season with salt to taste to make the dressing.

In a big bowl, gently toss the watercress with some of the grapefruit dressing. Drizzle the rest of the dressing onto the cauliflower steaks, sprinkle with pecans, then top with the grapefruit segments and watercress.

Grilled Radicchio with Burrata Takes Center Plate

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Grilled Radicchio with Burrata, Golden Raisins and Hazelnuts

A lot of the grilled vegetables that have passed my plate over the years have been rather boring. In fact, I’ve been to many outdoor BBQ parties where the vegetables feel quite frankly, not much more than an afterthought. You know which veggies I’m thinking about. I may be a grilled veggie lover, but I’ll admit that too many times I’ve politely passed over these veggies in order to get to the main event. These days, for the sake of the planet and my health, I’ve vowed to eat less meat. Which sometimes presents a “center of the plate” dinnertime challenge. Grilled Radicchio with Burrata meets that challenge deliciously.

Brevity seems to be my middle name these days. GREGGrilled Radicchio Quarters

Burrata BallsGrilled Radicchio with Burrata

Grilled Radicchio with Burrata, Golden Raisins, and Hazelnuts

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Inspired by Sam KassPublished
Grilled Radicchio with Burrata, Golden Raisins, and Hazelnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • smoked sea salt (such as Maldon, as needed)
  • 2-3 heads radicchio
  • canola oil (as needed)
  • 2-3 (4-oz balls) fresh burrata
  • lightly toasted and roughly chopped hazelnuts (for garnish)

Directions

Heat olive oil in a small skillet and over a medium-low heat. Add the raisins to the pan and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes until slightly plump, then add the vinegar, honey, and a few pinches smoked sea salt. Take the pan off the heat.

Quarter the radicchio through the stem end into equally sized wedges. Rub them on all sides with canola oil. Season generously with smoked sea salt.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high heat. Pour a little canola oil on a rag and use tongs to carefully rub the oil onto the grates.

Grill the radicchio over direct heat, turning often, until nicely charred in places and slightly wilted 8 to 10 minutes). Transfer to a serving platter. Lay the burrata balls across the radicchio and gently tear them open for best presentation. Drizzle the warm raisin mixture over the radicchio and burrata. Sprinkle with hazelnuts and serve immediately.

Thai BBQ Sauce on Slow-Roasted Salmon

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Slow-Roasted Salmon with Thai BBQ Sauce and Swiss Chard

I do like a good char on food and I spend a lot of time on this blog cooking with high heat. Mastering a controlled char on all sorts of food is the sign of a good cook. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written on this blog how much I love cooking hot and fast. Seared fish is a particular favorite of mine. Especially seared salmon with crispy skin. But if you just can’t give the pan the undivided attention seared fish requires, or you bought skinless salmon fillets then I suggest you try Slow-Roasted Salmon. It’s a forgiving, stress-free method of cooking that makes regular appearances in my kitchen.

The idea is simple. You use a low temperature and cook the salmon a fairly long time (about 25 minutes). When it’s finished a fork inserted in the thickest part of the fish meets with no resistance and the flesh is just beginning to flake when you poke into it. An instant-read thermometer should read no more 120° F.

Slow-Roasted Salmon with Thai BBQ Sauce and Swiss Chard

The results are quite surprising. Slow-Roasted Salmon is incredibly moist with an especially buttery texture which really emphasizes salmon’s inherent richness and big flavor. Qualities I think that beg for something sweet and tangy. Homemade or even good quality store-bought BBQ sauce is the perfect baste for this fish. You can choose something traditional or perhaps give it an Asian vibe as I did. The side dish of chard and barely cooked tomatoes is optional but I like the cross-cultural panache it brings to the plate. GREG

Cherry TomatoesRed ChardSlow-Roasted Salmon with Thai BBQ Sauce and Swiss Chard

Slow-Roasted Salmon with BBQ Sauce

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Source Inspired by Sam KassPublished

Choose a homemade or good quality store-bought BBQ sauce without a lot of added sugar and other hard to pronounce additives.

Slow-Roasted Salmon with BBQ Sauce

Ingredients

  • 6 (6-oz) skinless salmon fillets
  • sea salt (as needed)
  • BBQ sauce (as needed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Lay the salmon fillets at least 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and season them with salt. Liberally brush the fillets with BBQ sauce on both sides and place them in the oven on the center rack to roast until the salmon is cooked almost all through at the thickest point, about 25 minutes. You’ll know it’s finished when a fork inserted in the thickest part of the fish meets with no resistance and the flesh is just beginning to flake when you poke into it. An instant-read thermometer should read no more 120° F.

Serve immediately or at room temperature with more BBQ sauce on the side.

Thai BBQ Sauce

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Published
Thai BBQ Sauce

Ingredients

  • ½ cup oyster sauce
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 tablespoon ketchup
  • 2 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 tablespoon sambal olek (or similar chile sauce)
  • 2 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 5-6 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 3 tablespoon fresh ginger (peeled and minced)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion
  • 2 teaspoon dried basil

Directions

Add all ingredients to a non-reactive bowl and stir to fully combine. Set the sauce aside for 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld. The sauce may be stored covered in the refrigerator for one week.

Swiss Chard with Cherry Tomatoes

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Adapted from Sam KassPublished
Slow-Roasted Salmon with BBQ Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (wash, dried, and stems lightly trimmed)
  • 2 ounce
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and thinly sliced)
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12-18 cherry tomatoes (halved)

Directions

Coarsely chop the Swiss chard leaves and stems crosswise into 1 to 2-inch thick ribbons. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil gets very hot stir in the chard, garlic, and salt. Cook, stirring often until the leaves are tender and the stems are tender-crisp about 4 minutes. Stir in the halved cherry tomatoes and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

Steamed Clams Don’t Forget Green Garlic

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Steamed Clams with Chickpeas and Green Garlic

I spent a number of my younger years in Florida. I have happy memories of strolling the beach eyes on the sand searching for shells. My finds were mostly brightly colored coquina, super shiny ceriths, and those ever-abundant olive shells. Occasionally more interesting specimens would wash my way and I’d be rewarded with a striped whelk or a spotted junonia. I still hit the beach sometimes and I still look for shells (in fact I’m in Key West right now!). However these days I usually leave them where I found them. Which isn’t to say I no longer get excited about shells. In fact, shells in the sink make me giddy. Particularly clam shells. Because clams in the sink mean steamed clams on the menu.

I remember the first time I really appreciated steamed clams – though it wasn’t on a Florida beach – it was in a beach town all the way across the country. I was in college and I stumbled upon Brophy Bros. restaurant in Santa Barbara, California. The restaurant sat (and still sits) on the second story of a wooden marina building on the bustling docks at the Santa Barbara Harbor. I recall a heaping bowl of shells and a half boule of sourdough bread being placed in front of me. Digging through all those shells in order to pluck out a minuscule muscle hardly seemed worth the effort. Which set me up for quite a surprise when I tasted those sweet like the sea, plump clam morsels. Maybe it was the cold beer or the spectacular view, but all I remember was the pure joy of tasting the sea by the sea. To this day there are very few meals in my life that can take me back to a time and place as quickly as steamed clams.

Steamed Clams with Chickpeas and Green Garlic

When I see clam shells in my sink I know that they carry a lot of nostalgic culinary baggage, so I quickly remind myself of the old mantra that says the best cooking comes when a just a few simple ingredients are treated with respect. Which often means doing as little as possible and simply enjoying the process. Because the process can be as wonderful as it is simple. All you need is a bit of broth – I’ve chosen white wine enriched with a decent amount of cream – and enough heat so that the clams steam open. If you’re crazy enough to put your ear near the pan as the steamed clams cook you’ll actually hear a sort of clattering as they open their shells, release their liquor with abandon, and reveal their plump secret. GREG

PS All these accolades for steamed clams and I totally forgot to point out the other special ingredient in this recipe – green garlic. It’s only available for a short while in spring. What’s green garlic? Well, in one of the greatest cookbooks ever published, Chez Panisse Cooking, Alice Waters, and Paul Bertolli write:Garlic is commonly used as a mature plant when the bulb containing many cloves has formed. Green garlic is the same plant pulled from the ground at a much earlier stage, before the bulb forms and when the plant resembles a leek, with a stalk about 1/2-inch in diameter…Until recently, green garlic never appeared in the market and was largely unrecognized by cooks. The quality of green garlic is unique and of great use in the kitchen.”

green garlicclams on ice Steamed Clams

Steamed Clams with Chickpeas and Green Garlic

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Renee EricksonPublished
Steamed Clams with Chickpeas and Green Garlic

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 green garlic bulbs (white and pale-green parts only)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 pound Manila or littleneck clams (scrubbed)
  • 1 (15oz) can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • ¼ cup (loosely packed) dill
  • ¼ cup (loosely packed) tarragon leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon zest (to taste)
  • grilled or toasted bread

Directions

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook green garlic, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced somewhat, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream and lemon juice. Add clams and chickpeas and increase heat to medium-high. Cover and cook, shaking occasionally, until clams open, about 5 minutes; discard any that don’t open. Add crème fraîche and stir until melted into the sauce. Add dill and tarragon; season with salt and pepper. Cook about 20 seconds to soften herbs. Top with lemon zest; serve with bread.

People Love Smashed Peas on Toast

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Smashed Peas and Whipped Goat Cheese on Toast

Though I’m traveling at the moment and need to be brief, I’ve got a smashing recipe I’d like to share. And I do mean smashing. I don’t know why but people love food when it’s smashed. I’m sure you’ve seen kids with peas and a fork. Though I acknowledge with kids smashed peas can be weaponized as easily as they can be pulverized. So it’s easy to doubt their motivation. Still, I maintain my thesis. People love smashed peas. Adults too. Although we do it with a bit more sophistication and we rarely flick them across the room on the back of a spoon. Especially when they’re served with whipped goat cheese on toast.

Smashed Peas and Whipped Goat Cheese on Toast

Things on toast, especially for breakfast, are having something of a renaissance at the moment. It’s a culinary category that’s hard to beat for its versatility and its portability. But I prefer things on toast as more as a light bite. The kind of late lunch or afternoon snack you’d serve after a big holiday breakfast (say Easter for example). This blog has not been immune to the trend. Fava beans, mushrooms and of course avocado come to mind. Today I have come up with a fresh as spring smashed peas recipe using the same smashing concept that people seem to love. GREG

Smashed Peas and Whipped Goat Cheese on Toast

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Published
Smashed Peas and Whipped Goat Cheese on Toast

Ingredients

  • 8 ounce fresh goat cheese (at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • fine sea salt (to taste)
  • ¼ cup very good extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
  • ½ pound shelled English peas
  • freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)
  • ¼ cup loosely packed, chopped tarragon leaves
  • 6 slice toasted baguettee (cut on the bias)

Directions

To make the goat cheese: In a mini food processor blend goat cheese and lemon juice. Cover and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and process again to combine. Transfer cheese to a small bowl

To make the peas: Gently warm olive oil a heavy saucepan set over a medium heat. Add the peas, stirring often to cook them evenly. As they soften, smash the peas against the side of saucepan with the tines of a fork, pressing them into the oil. You may alternatively use a stick blender, just don’t let them get too smooth. When smashed to the desired level, season with salt and pepper; add chopped tarragon leaves and stir. Set aside to cool.

To assemble: Spread a generous amount of whipped goat cheese onto each toast. Top with mashed peas, drizzle with a little olive oil and serve immediately.

Smashed Peas and Whipped Goat Cheese on Toast

 

 

A Raisin-Ricotta Crostata for Easter

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Raisin-Ricotta Crostata

Easter is a big deal in Italy and some sort of ricotta pie is quite often a part of the Italian holiday table. The most traditional Easter pie is the pastiera. It’s a lattice-topped, sweet and savory torte filled with ricotta, beaten eggs, and wheat berries. It’s often flavored with candied fruits and a dash of sugar and cinnamon. As much as I like the idea of this traditional Easter pastiera I think that it may be an acquired taste. I’m not saying I dislike pastiera but – much like Christmastime fruitcake – I’ve yet to taste a version that inspires me to create my own. Still, fresh sheep’s milk ricotta does seem to perfectly suit the holiday so I’ve turned to another lattice-embellished Italian tart – the ricotta crostata.

Raisin-Ricotta Crostata

Raisin-Ricotta Crostata. That’s such a happy little rhyme. In fact, it’s practically poetry so I don’t feel I need to say much more. But I would like you to know that this simple, not-too-sweet Italian tart is reminiscent of a cheesecake with a higher crust-to-filling ratio. Which also sounds like music to my ears because the crust is a sweet Italian pastry known as pasta frolla. It’s richer, silkier, and of course sweeter than the all-butter slightly salty French pastry crust I make by rote. As for the filling in this Raisin-Ricotta Crostata, well, that’s where this recipe really shines. It’s a barely sweet, shallow layer of ricotta beaten until smooth then laced with booze-soaked golden raisins. I’ve also scented it with just enough cinnamon to add complexity without making it taste like Christmas. Afterall, it’s an Easter pie. Happy Easter. GREG

PS: It’s well worth seeking out really good fresh sheep’s milk ricotta for this recipe because you will be able to taste the tang of it against the sweet pastry dough. Cow’s milk ricotta makes a perfectly delicious ricotta crostata too, just make sure to drain it well.

Raisin-Ricotta Crostata Raisin-Ricotta Crostata for Easter

Raisin-Ricotta Crostata

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6-8Published
Raisin-Ricotta Crostata

Ingredients

  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup Marsala wine
  • pasta frolla (divded into 2 discs, see recipe)
  • 1 large egg (lightly beaten)
  • 2 large egg yolks (lightly beaten)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese (preferably sheep's milk, drained)

Directions

Place the raisins in a small bowl and pour the Marsala over them to cover. Let them soak until plump and juicy looking, at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger disc of pasta frolla into an 11 to 12-inch circle about ¼ inch thick. Carefully wrap the dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan letting the excess drape over the sides. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an electric mixer beat the eggs, sugar, and cinnamon together until light and fluffy, then add the ricotta and continue to beat until very smooth and creamy. Drain the raisins well and stir them into the ricotta mixture. Remove the chilled tart pan from the refrigerator and spoon the ricotta mixture into the pan, smoothing the top with the back of the spoon.

Roll out the remaining disc of dough into a 10-inch round a generous 1/8 inch thick, and cut it into ½-inch-wide strips. Carefully place the strips over the filled tart shell in a lattice pattern, gently pressing the ends of the strips into the sides of the tart shell. Use the rolling pin or the palm of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough.

Bake the crostata on a rimmed baking sheet for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is puffed and just set. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool somewhat then remove the ring of the tart pan and let the crostata cool completely.

Serve at room temperature.

Pasta Frolla (Italian Sweet Pastry Dough)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield one 9-inch to 11-inch lattice-top crostataSource Domenica Marchetti via NPRPublished

If you make a 9-inch crostata, you will have some leftover dough, which you can rewrap and freeze for future use, or roll out, cut into shapes and make cookies. Bake them at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Sour Cherry and Apricot Tart made with Pasta Frolla (Italian Sweet Pastry Dough)

Ingredients

  • 3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for the work surface)
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • zest of 1 lemon (finely grated)
  • zest of 1 orange (finely grated)
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter (cut into ½-inch cubes)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large eggs yolks

Directions

Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon and orange zests in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine the ingredients. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolks and process until the dough just begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it together. Knead it briefly and shape it into 2 discs (one slightly larger than the other). Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled (overnight is fine). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes, or until it is just pliable enough to roll, but not too soft to work with.

 

Halibut with Pea Puree and Pickled Mustard Seeds

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Halibut with pea puree and pickled mustard seeds

It’s officially spring now. So what springs into your mind this time of year? Why peas of course! As soon as I hear that distinct boing from a spring that has fully sprung I start thinking about ways to cook with sweet, fresh English peas. However, as I was making this pea puree I began to wonder why I wait until spring to get so excited about peas. Peas are the ultimate vegetable. They’re reliable, versatile and almost as good frozen as fresh. In fact, most of us always have a bag of frozen peas lurking in our freezer, but it’s rare that we ever let them be the star of the show.

This halibut recipe features springtime peas (fresh or frozen) in a mash of what I’d more properly what call a pea puree. It’s not much more than lightly seasoned smashed peas blended with a little half-and-half. However, it’s a simple combination they really absorbs the surrounding flavors very well. It also adds a beautiful color and texture to your plate. GREG

Pickled Mustard SeedsMustard-Brushed HalibutMustard-Brushed Halibut with Pea Puree and Pickled Mustard Seeds

Mustard-Brushed Halibut with Pea Puree

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Published

I typically brine halibut for about 1 hour the day before cooking in a 5% brine solution. Which works out to be about ¼ cup easily dissolvable sea salt to about 6 generous cups of very icy water. Rinse and dry the fish very well before following this recipe.

Mustard-Brushed Halibut with Pea Puree

Ingredients

  • 6 (6 oz) halibut filets (about 2 ¼ pounds total)
  • 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup minced fresh shallots
  • 1 pound fresh, shelled or frozen, thawed peas
  • 1 cup water
  • salt and pepper (as needed)
  • ½ cup half-and-half (plus more if needed)
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • pickled mustard seeds (optional, see recipe)

Directions

Lightly brush halibuts fillets evenly with mustard on both sides and let marinate uncovered in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Remove the fish from the refrigerator about ½ hour before you want to cook it.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add shallots; cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add peas, 1 cup water, and a big pinch each salt and pepper. Cover partially with lid; cook until sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes. Set aside and keep warm. Using a slotted spoon move a bit more than half of the peas to a blender leaving the liquid behind in the skillet. Add half-and-half to the blender of peas, and big pinch each salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Adjust consistency with a touch more half-and-half if necessary, but don’t let it get too soupy. Transfer the pea puree to a saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12″ or larger cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add halibut; cook, turning once, until golden brown (about 4 minutes total cooking or to an interior temperature of 117 degrees F). Remove from heat, season lightly with salt, and let rest 3 or 4 minutes.

To serve, divide pea puree among 6 dinner plates and top each with a halibut fillet; spoon over some of the whole peas and some of their sauce. Garnish with pickled mustard seeds (if using) and serve immediately.

Pickled Mustard Seeds

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1 cupSource Naomi PomeroyPublished

Once refrigerated they need to be gently reheated before use. This can be done in the microwave for a few seconds if you keep them stored in a microwave-safe container.

Pickled Mustard Seeds

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup water
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup whole mustard seeds
  • 1 clove peeled garlic

Directions

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 35 minutes, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of syrup (but is not as thick as honey). Let cool, transfer to a nonreactive airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

 

White Asparagus and Red Grapefruit and Green Goddess

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White Asparagus and Red Grapefruit and Green Goddess

I look forward to big, fat springtime asparagus and I’ve allotted quite a bit of space to the beautiful green spears that deliciously beckon the arrival of warmer days. Some of my favorites include Bistro-Inspired Asparagus with Mimosa Sauce and Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad. Here in Southern California green asparagus season is April thru June. However, there’s another shorter (sweeter) asparagus season and it begins right now. I’m talking about white asparagus. White asparagus pairs beautifully with grapefruit. Which is great because Ruby Red Texas Grapefruit also hits its stride in March. Add to that a third seasonal favorite, California avocados, and you’ve got a White Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad with Green Goddess Dressing that suits the season perfectly.

Genetically speaking white asparagus is no different than green asparagus, with one exception. White asparagus never sees the sun so it never develops the chlorophyll that would turn the stalks green. It’s a time-honored agricultural process, and though farmers have a made some concessions for modernity, the cultivation of white asparagus has remained largely the same for many generations.

Farmers plant the stalks in long mounded rows. As the plants grow, the rising spears are piled with dirt. The least amount of sunlight could color the asparagus and ruin the entire crop. It’s a fascinating process, but the most important result the cook needs to know is that white asparagus develops a fibrous skin and therefore should be peeled before cooking.

As I said white asparagus is identical to herbaceous green asparagus (minus the chlorophyll). However, it tastes quite different because it carries the terroir of the soil its grown in. As with wine grapes, the soil actually influences the flavor. So my California grown Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad might taste different from the version you whip up in your own neck of the woods. That’s fascinating, don’t you think? GREG

AvocadoWhite Asparagus White Asparagus, Red Grapefruit, and Green Goddess

White Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 3-4Published

Peeling the asparagus is optional.

White Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Ingredients

  • ½ cup green goddess dressing (see recipe)
  • ½ cup whole milk (or more or less, it depends)
  • 12 jumbo spears white asparagus (stalks carefully peeled and woody ends trimmed, see note)
  • salt (as needed)
  • 1 grapefruit
  • sesame seeds (as needed)
  • fresh tarragon leaves (as garnish)

Directions

Prepare the sauce: Whisk the green goddess dressing and about half of the milk together in a medium bowl. Once well incorporated add more and more milk until the sauce reaches a nice consistency. You are looking for a thick and creamy sauce that will slowly pour from a spoon but not become too soupy. Use your judgment, you might not use all the milk (or you might use more) it depends on the thickness of the dressing. Set the finished sauce aside in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Blanch the asparagus: Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Set aside.

Bring a large shallow pot of water to a boil, add a generous amount of salt. Carefully lay all the asparagus spears in the boiling water, making sure they are fully submerged. Boil 2-3 minutes or until tender-crisp. Do not overcook. Strain the asparagus spears and immediately plunge them in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain asparagus and set aside on paper towels to dry.

Create the grapefruit supremes: Working over a bowl to catch the juice carefully peel and remove the pith of the grapefruit then cut each section away from the membrane. Cut each supreme into 2 or 3 bite-size pieces; set aside.

To serve: Drizzle 2 tablespoon of the green goddess sauce in the center of each salad plate. Artfully arrange 3 or 4 asparagus stalks on top of each plate of sauce. Season lightly with salt and then sprinkle the asparagus with a few sesame seeds. Top with grapefruit pieces and drizzle some of the captured grapefruit juice onto the plates. Garnish with tarragon and serve immediately.

Green Goddess Dressing

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1 ½ cupsPublished
Green Goddess Dressing

Ingredients

  • ½ ripe avocado (peeled and chopped)
  • ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves (lightly packed)
  • 2-3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt and pepper (to taste)

Directions

In a blender or mini food processor, combine avocado, parsley, anchovies, garlic, chives, tarragon, sour cream, mayonnaise and lemon juice; blend until smooth. Scrape the dressing into a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until serving time.