A South American Sausage Sandwich: Choripán with Chimichurri

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choripan with chimichurri

This is a choripán sandwich whose name is a mash-up of the Spanish words for sausage — chorizo — and bread — pan. The choripán has changed little in the centuries that it’s been popular in Argentina and Uruguay. That’s probably because the concept is so simple. It’s a grilled chorizo sausage (could be beef could be pork) slapped on a roll and slathered in spicy chimichurri sauce. The greatness of a  traditional choripán sandwich rests on three simple things: the quality of the bread and the sausage, and of course, the perfect tang in the chimichurri sauce. Though I’ll admit I like to serve mine with diced tomatoes, I don’t know how traditional that is.

I’ve read that in South America — where grilled meat reigns supreme — the choripán is often considered an appetizer. That’s because in a traditional parrilla the asador or grill master throws all the meat onto the huge grill at the same time and the sausages are the first thing to finish cooking. Hungry folks grab a chimichurri laced roll and then a sausage. Once the mess is married the simple choripán sandwich is created. The spicy sausage fat soaks into the bread to bind things together and the chimichurri creates a welcome bolt of bright, sharp, herbaceous acidity that takes this fire-cooked sandwich to new heights. People’s hands may be a little messier, but their appetites are quelled long enough for the real meat to hit the plate. Although in my world a half-pound sausage is way more than something to start a meal. So when I make them at home they pretty much are the meal.  GREG

A choripán sandwich is as simple as I’ve described above. You don’t really need a recipe. However, I did include Ox Restaurant’s (Portland, OR) version of chimichurri sauce because it’s the recipe I turn to when I crank up the grill and pull out the links.

Raw Sausage LinksOx's Chimichurri Choripan with Chimichurri

Ox’s Chimichurri

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2 cupsSource Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez DentonPublished

To get some of the prep work out of the way, make chimichurri up to 4 days in advance but do not add the vinegar; bring it to room temperature and add the vinegar a few hours before serving.

Ox's Chimichurri

Ingredients

  • ½ cup minced yellow onion
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated or minced garlic
  • 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon reshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar

Directions

In a medium bowl or jar, combine the onion, parsley, oregano, garlic, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Add the oil and vinegar and mix well. Store covered for a couple of days and use before the herbs start to turn brown.

A Not so Bitter, Bitter Cocktail

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Gin Aperol Summer Sour

Somewhere back in our vulnerable past, we relied on our detection of bitterness to avoid eating certain plants because they’re toxic. So what can explain the trend towards bitter in modern-day cocktails? Sales of bitter liqueurs such as Campari and Fernet Branca are way, way up – especially among the fashionable crowd in large metropolitan areas. Is the stylish set bent on destroying itself through the consumption of the very bitter roots we are predisposed to avoid? Are tragically hip hipsters really that tragic? Is the bitter cocktail some cruel form of natural selection? Or is there a certain beauty found in the forbidden?

A Bitter Cocktail

What about you? Do you like a bitter cocktail? It seems to be a very personal thing. In fact, there is scientific proof that not everyone perceives bitter in quite the same way. There’s a gene in our DNA that determines how we perceive bitter. All people have two copies of every gene, and how these bitter gene variants line up determines the genetically based differences in our bitter taste receptors (taste buds). This affects whether we perceive something as intensely bitter, somewhat bitter, or without taste. Which means, of the five tastes (bitter, salty, sour, sweet, umami) bitter may be the most complex.

As for me, I probably fall in the middle category. I’ve grown to love bitter flavors. But I realize they’re not for everybody. So the challenge in presenting a bitter cocktail on this blog is to try to judge just how bitter I can go and still create a drink that will get along with anyone.

Aperol Gin Summer Sour

Which is why I reached for Aperol.

Aperol can indeed get along with anyone. It’s got a hint bitterness, but only delicately so. This Italian liqueur has the complexity of orange peel yet it goes down easy. It’s easy on the eyes too – with a crimson hue that sparkles gold in the setting sun. Making this the perfect not so bitter bitter cocktail for those possibility-filled hours between work and dinner. GREG

Gin Aperol Summer Sour

Gin Aperol Summer Sour

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1Published

To make basil simple syrup stir together ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Lower heat to very low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until a syrupy consistency is achieved about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add 5 or 6 fresh basil sprigs; let stand 30 minutes then remove basil. Syrup may be stored covered in a cool dark place for up to 1 month.

Gin Aperol Summer Sour

Ingredients

  • ice cubes (as needed)
  • 1 ½ ounce London dry gin
  • 1 ½ ounce Aperol
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce basil simple syrup (see notes)
  • 1 fresh basil sprig

Directions

Fill a Collins or similarly sized highball glass with ice cubes. Set aside.

Combine gin, Aperol, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker ⅔ full of ice and shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with basil sprig.

Clam Ceviche en el Estilo de la Guerrerense, Ensenada Mexico

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Clam Ceviche en el Estilo de la Guerrerense: Ensenada Mexico

I just got back from a trip to the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico. It’s a beautiful place, not the least because it’s home to some of the most mind-blowingly good ceviche tostadas you’ll ever eat. With the luck of geography, a cold current brimming with pristine fish runs straight from Alaska to Ensenada. It’s why lucky locals, high-flying chefs, and culinary travelers like me all line up on a sidewalk in the blazing Mexican sun to get their hands on the best of the best: a cup, a shell, or a crackly tostada from the Ensenada food cart La Guerrerense. It’s the ultimate street food experience.

To be sure La Guerrerense can be a hectic encounter. Be prepared for shouted questions and fast-paced answers  – all in Spanish. But be brave. Navigating the hungry crowd and elbowing your way to a spoonful of La Guerrerense’s signature salsa may seem intimidating. But one look at all this fresh local fish and you’ll be happy to stand in line with the rest of us. Once you’ve gotten these treats in hand be prepared for an explosion of flavors as the shell shatters and the toppings fall all over your plate, your hand, and your shirt. These tostadas ceviche de mariscos have been proclaimed among the best in the world by the Sultan of Street Food himself, Anthony Bourdain. For me La Guerrerense is a must stop anytime I’m anywhere near the vicinity of Ensenada, Mexico.

La Guerrerense

Located on the corner of Lopez Mateo and Alvarado, La Guerrerense is not too far from the cruise ship terminal. So, thanks to the many accolades from across the world, La Guerrerense and her tostadas ceviche de mariscos has become the first stop on many a cruise ship shore excursion. A word of warning, however. Try not laugh when I tell you this, but you have to be careful. A sneaky competitor is trying to steal a bit of the La Guerrerense fame. As you walk along Alvarado from the harbor you’ll come across another food cart with seemingly similar wares. It’s stealthfully called Le Guerrero and the line is quite long with folks, I’m afraid, who had their hearts set on La Guerrerense!

Salsa Choice Lime Squeeze on La Guerrerense Tostadas Guerrerense Awards CLAMS La GUERRERENSE

Clam Ceviche on the Half Shell

What to order when you find yourself at the front of the line at the authentic La Guerrerense? Crab Salad with Scallops is popular and the Sea Snail Ceviche is award-winning. You should also know that La Guerrerense’s most famous tostada is a Sea Urchin Ceviche with clam on top. I get it every time I go. Savory is the only way I can describe it. Deeply, intensely savory. It’s truly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I would love to make this tostada at home. However, there’s no way I could deconstruct the recipe, I don’t even know where to begin. Some things are best enjoyed in their place of origin.

So I choose to offer a recipe as close to La Guerrerense’s Clam Ceviche served on the Half Shell as I can. The La Guerrerense version is pictured above. It’s a perfect balance of flavors – sharp and focused, sweet like the sea – these clams are marinated in lime juice with a hint of chile and cilantro. All elements that already suit my Southern California palate. It’s cool and refreshing and packed with vibrant flavors.

While I wasn’t given a recipe for these clams from La Guerrerense herself, I do feel I did a more than adequate job of recreating her Almejas en Su Concha (Clam Ceviche on the Half Shell) here.

La Guerrerense is open from 10:00-5:00 all week long (except Tuesday). If you’re down that way don’t miss it. GREG

Clam Ceviche en el Estilo de la Guerrerense: Ensenada Mexico

Clam Ceviche on the Half Shell

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Published
Clam Ceviche on the Half Shell

Ingredients

  • 12-15 medium to large clams (such as Pismo or Cherrystone, about 3 pounds)
  • ⅓ cup minced red onion
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 jalapeño (seeded and minced)
  • 1 Roma tomato (seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice)
  • 2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • hot sauce (optional)
  • thin slices of ripe avovado (optional)
  • lime wedges (for serving)

Directions

Shuck the clams over a medium bowl, using the bowl to capture the liquor and clams. Scrape and clean 20 of the best half shells. You may alternatively use 4 to 6 large clamshells, 4 to 6 small bowls, or some combination of all the above. Whatever you choose, refrigerate the vessels before continuing.

One by one scoop the clams from the bowl and cut them into ½-inch pieces then place them into a separate chilled bowl. Strain ¼ cup of the clam liquor over the clams. Add the onion, lime juice, jalapeños, tomato and cilantro and season with pepper. If you feel that the mixture looks a little dry add a bit more strained clam liquor. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 2 hours.

To serve, divide the mixture and it’s liquid evenly between your chosen vessels. Top with a few shakes of hot sauce (if using) and a couple of thin slices of ripe avocado. Serve with lime wedges for spritzing.

Non-Traditional Farro Risotto

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Farro Risotto with Spinach Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes

I can be a bit of a traditionalist. Take risotto. It’s hard for me to imagine an alternative to the traditional Arborio rice I’ve always used. After all, risotto is one of those nearly perfect dishes that is so much better than its simple ingredient list leads you to believe. Yet, risotto manages to amaze me every time I make it. Which is why I surprised the traditionalist in me when I gave Farro Risotto a try. The whole experiment started because I was interested in taking a favorite dish and making it just a little bit more healthful. I never thought that I would actually prefer these chewy, nutty grains to the more traditional rice.

But I just might…

Like Arborio rice, farro releases a little starch when cooked – in combination with warm broth – risotto-style. Farro grains are not quite as starchy as rice so Farro Risotto isn’t quite as creamy as traditional risotto. Still, the similarities are quite striking.

Most farro is sold pearled or semi-pearled. Which means that some (or all) of the bran has been removed. Pearling has the advantage of allowing the grains to cook quicker. Despite the processing pearled farro still has more health benefits than rice, but if you have time seek out whole-grain farro. You’ll stand at the stove stirring a little longer, but it’s this unhurried process that produces the best risotto whichever grain you choose. GREG

Farro Risotto with Spinach Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes

Farro Risotto with Spinach Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from Sam KassPublished

Ingredients

  • 3 cup baby spinach leaves (packed)
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan (divided)
  • ¼ cup toasted almonds (chopped, plus more for serving)
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 lemon
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon water (or as needed)
  • salt and pepper (as needed)
  • 6-8 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 ½ cup farro
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1-2 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • lemon wedges (optional)

Directions

To make the pesto place spinach, half the Parmesan, nuts, garlic, and the zest and juice from 1 lemon in a food processor. Process until paste forms. With motor running, add oil and just enough cold water to get the mixture moving; process until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The pesto keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 10 days. Bring to room temperature before continuing.

To make the risotto bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low.

Melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until foamy. Stir in the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in farro and cook, stirring to coat each kernel with butter, for 1 minute. Stir in wine and 1 teaspoon salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the wine has nearly been absorbed about 3 minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and begin alternately adding in the stock to the farro 1⁄4 cup at a time, stirring continuously with each addition. Do not add more liquid until the previous 1⁄4 cup has been completely absorbed by the farro. Keep repeating the process until the farro is tender and creamy. You might not use all the stock, but if you run out of stock too quickly continue the process with warm water (not too much). The process should take about 25–50 minutes depending on whether the farro is pearled or whole grain.

Once the texture is correct stir in the spinach pesto then season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, garnish the risotto with cherry tomatoes, remaining grated Parmesan, and additional chopped almonds. Serve with lemon wedges on the side (if using)

 

Peach and Camembert Baguette

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Peach and Camembert Baguette with Basil and Black Pepper.

Peach and Camembert Baguette with Basil and Black Pepper. It’s an unusual combination, but, at its heart, it’s not unheard of. If you’ve ever wondered the streets of Paris you know that Camembert or Brie is often smudged between baguette slices to make an easy to carry sandwich-on-the-go. The first time I walked those streets it was the 1980s. I was quite young and a tad romantic; armed with just enough French to feel cocky I decided to conquer all the sights, sounds and yes, flavors I could in one brief two-day visit. One of the first stops was a French bakery or boulangerie.

I remember being overwhelmed.

Now, I’m no patsy to the ways of French pastry. My mother had been making brioche at home since my childhood. Still, all the unusual bread shapes struck me: baton, bloomer, boule, epi, ficelle, fougasse, pistolets…the list seemed endless.

On that first trip I sorta froze and quickly settled upon the simplest and most iconic of yeasty prodigies– a baguette sliced lengthwise and stuffed with gooey Camembert cheese. Camembert Baguette, oh my! What a sensation that was. The simple combination thrilled me and I often recreate the experience when I’m looking for a simple sandwich-on-the-go. But that is another story for another day.

Because I’ve got a problem I’d like to discuss. It’s the season. Summer is a very hard time of year for me. You see I’m an addict. In fact, I’m a relentlessly unreformed addict. There’s no 12 step program powerful enough to ultimately keep me from my obsession. In that regard I’m hopeless. In my defense, however, I will say that I’m an addict with boundaries. An addict with plenty of self-control – most of the year. That’s because I’m a peach addict. Let me be more precise. I’m a summer a peach addict.

January, February, March, April, May, and even June. My addiction is under control. I can go all that time without even thinking about peaches. Sometimes I see them at “off” times winking in my direction. But they lack the proper pheromones and I don’t even bother to pick them up and squeeze them. Why should I? February peaches are easy to resist.

I’m not saying I haven’t had a few illicit dreams in the dreary months of winter. Every addict has these dark secrets. But these thoughts are held deep in my subconscious and rarely keep me from performing my day-to-day duties.

Still, I have to admit that I have a problem. Fortunately, it’s a problem I can deal with. I can even keep my affliction under control in July. Well, most of July. Come August however and I know that the bingeing will start. I’m powerless to control it. Which is why I find myself tucking peach slices into my Camembert Baguette – slightly ashamed of the changes I’m making to this classic sandwich. But I can’t help myself.

Peach and Camembert Baguette with Basil and Black Pepper.

Once August begins to wane my identity as a peach addict gets serious. As my usual sources start to dry up. I find myself driving to Farmers Markets further and further from my home. By September it just gets worse. I’m often caught holding onto a plastic produce bag from the grocery store – standing over the sink, mealy peach in hand – totally jonesing for the juice to come dripping off my chin. So before the drip has completely dried up I’m sticking in a few peach slices wherever I can.

Hello. My name is GREG and I’m a peach addict.

Peach and Camembert Baguette with Basil and Black Pepper.

Peach and Camembert Baguette with Basil and Black Pepper

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2-4Source Inspired by Ola O SmitPublished
Peach and Camembert Baguette with Basil and Black Pepper

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-oz) wheel Camembert cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1 loaf baquette (slied crosswise and toasted)
  • 1-2 ripe peaches
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • whole fresh basil leaves (as needed)

Directions

Carefully slice the Camembert. It will be quite gooey and you’ll need to clean your blade several times in the process. Lay the cheese slices over one side of the toasted baguette, all the way to the edges.

Halve the peaches, remove the stones, and thinly slice them. Arrange the peach slices over the cheese, then season with black pepper and finish with a scattering of basil leaves. Top with the other half of the baguette, then press down firmly and evenly to crunch the bread and “glue” the ingredients together. Slice and serve.

A Simple (?) Cantaloupe Salad To Cool Down Dinner

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Cantaloupe Salad with Cucumber, Pancetta, and Feta

The madness of summer heat is upon us and I’m craving simplicity. This is the time of year to make like a chef: Embrace the simplicity, and allow the ingredients to speak for themselves. Which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. That’s because simplicity is complicated. Easy may seem like the simplest choice, but true simplicity is rarely easy. Does that make sense? Let me try it this way. Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Which sounds profound, but I think he was just sharing the cooking notes for his own Cantaloupe Salad.

Which I can relate to.

Cantaloupe Salad with Cucumbers and Pancetta

My original intention was to keep this Cantaloupe Salad very simple. I was going to take shards of cantaloupe and slices of cucumber and toss them with tarragon and vinegar and be done with it. Then I started thinking about tarragon and vinegar. They taste great together but have you ever noticed what happens to tarragon when it comes it contact with a strong acid? It turns black and slimy. Which may be simple, but it wasn’t something I could embrace. So decided to add just one more step to my simple cantaloupe salad. I infused the vinegar with fresh tarragon and tossed the leaves once they got slimy. Simple, right?

However, in the course of my prep work for this salad, I tasted my super sweet summer cantaloupe and realized all those honey notes were going to need some balance. I still had a block of feta leftover from the Baked Feta I made earlier in the week… I’m sure you’ve noticed how simple it is to crumble feta.

After that, it didn’t take long for me to notice a package of forgotten pancetta in my refrigerator and suddenly I recalled reading about a salad recipe that drizzled hot pancetta oil on cold cucumbers. Doesn’t that sound good? I’d already planned on cucumbers for my simple salad. How hard would it be to drizzle my Cantaloupe Salad with hot pancetta and tarragon-infused cider vinaigrette?

Need I go on? We’ve all been there… GREG

Cucumber Slices

Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe Salad with Cucumber, Pancetta, and Feta

Cantaloupe Salad with Cucumber, Pancetta, and Feta

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Published

Ingredients

  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ ounce fresh trragon
  • 1 ripe cantaloupe
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 ounce thinly sliced pancetta (chopped)
  • 2 tablespoon chopped shallots
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3 ounce crumbled feta cheese

Directions

Infuse the vinegar: Pour the cider vinegar into a jar, gently crush the tarragon stalks and leaves in your hand and place them into the vinegar, pushing them down into the liquid as much as you can. Screw on the lid and set aside, occasionally shaking the jar, for a minimum of four hours and up to overnight.

Slice the melon in half and scoop out and discard the seeds. Remove the melon flesh in large, juicy shards, saving as much of the juice as possible. Place the fruit and juice into a mixing bowl. Slice the cucumber into ⅓-inch thick rounds and add them to the bowl with the melon. Place the melon and cucumbers in the refrigerator to chill until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, fry the pancetta in the olive oil until very crisp, then remove and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve the fat in the pan.

When ready to serve warm the pancetta fat over a medium heat, then remove the tarragon from the vinegar and pour 4 to 6 tablespoons into the hot fat, be careful it may sputter. Stir in the shallots and add a few grinds of black pepper. Quickly pour the hot dressing and wilted shallots over the chilled melon and cucumbers, tossing to combine. Transfer the salad to a serving plate and garnish with reserved pancetta, feta cheese, and more black pepper.

 

Sticky Baked Feta with Figs Wrapped In Radicchio Cups

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There’s another heat wave in Los Angeles. That makes two so far and we’re not even to our hottest month of the year (that’s September). Which means we’re still eating tapas-style at our house. The last heat wave I featured Greek Gigantes on toast. This time I’ve got Sticky Baked Feta. Sure it’s hot but I’m not saying I won’t turn on the oven. I’ll just say I’m using the oven judiciously. Because a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, a swirl of honey and a quick blast of heat will transform a standard block of crumbly feta into an unexpectedly luscious spread. I threw in some figs and mint for added sweetness and wrapped the whole mess in radicchio cups for some bitter balance.

Served alongside a few jarred staples from the refrigerator it’s a colorful warm-weather supper.

Pretty, yes… but how does this taste? Well, now comes the hard part. As I sit here intent on pecking out just the right words to define this Baked Feta I’d like to share a little secret. Describing food is not as easy as it seems. I constantly struggle to find better, brighter, more evocative terms to keep you hungry. To aid me in this task I keep a list of foodie words. I call them my “delicious words”. A blogger should learn how to describe taste without having to use the word delicious over and over again. I have a list for “best” and a list for “perfect” too.

So when I consulted my “delicious words” this morning – the baked feta still fresh in my mind – the word sticky jumped right out and said, “eat me”! Because sticky is a delicious word. Sticky Buns. Sticky Pudding. Sticky Baked Feta with Figs. I guarantee it will stick to your fingers. You’ll probably have to lick it off your lips. Now doesn’t that sound… delicious. (Oops! I just couldn’t think of a better word). GREG

radicchioFigs and FetaFigsbaked feta Sticky Baked Feta with Figs Wrapped In Radicchio Cups

Sticky Baked Feta with Figs

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2-4Source Adapted from Frankie UnsworthPublished
Sticky Baked Feta with Figs

Ingredients

  • 1 head radicchio
  • 1 (3 to 4-oz) block of feta cheese
  • 2 teaspoon honey (at room temperature, plus more for serving)
  • 2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses (at room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
  • 3-4 fresh figs (trimmed and quartered or halved, depending on size)
  • ¼ cup toasted walnut halves
  • ¼ cup whole fresh mint leaves (loosely packed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl prepare an ice bath. Trim the base off the radicchio and carefully separate the leaves and put them into the bowl of ice water to freshen.

Line a small, rimmed baking dish or ovenproof bowl a little larger than the block of feta with enough parchment to come up and over the sides. If they are available you can create the same bowl-effect using 4 whole fresh fig leaves.

Put the feta inside the parchment or leaf bowl you created and drizzle with about half of the honey and pomegranate molasses then use a small offset spatula to coat the block on all sides. Drizzle the remaining honey and pomegranate molasses in the center of the block letting it ooze wherever it likes. Bake for 30 minutes, maybe a bit more, until golden and sticky. Remove from the oven and carefully lift the cheese while still in the parchment or leaf bowl, letting as much of the liquid drip back into the baking dish as possible. Transfer the cheese to a serving platter. I found that a thin, pliable fish turner is the best tool to make the transfer successfully. Scatter the pink peppercorns on top of the cheese and arrange the figs, mint leaves and walnuts attractively on the platter. Serve with the radicchio leaves, patted dry.

To eat, scoop some of the sticky feta into a radicchio cup and top with a piece or two of fig, some walnuts, mint leaves, and a drizzle of extra honey.

 

A Lighter (Simpler) Fresh Tomato Pie

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A Lighter (Simpler) Fresh Tomato Pie

In my first book Savory Pies there’s a recipe for Fresh Tomato Pie. It’s a pie I often think about and almost never have the energy to make. You see this pie is best in the summer when tomatoes are at their peak. Exactly the wrong time to make a complicated pie involving a cheesy corn cracker crust and a whole lot of oven time. My traditional version of a Fresh Tomato Pie requires pounds of tomatoes sliced and layered with a truckload of mayo. It has a ton a flavor and heap of calories. Which is why I recently began thinking about converting my Fresh Tomato Pie into a bit lighter and a bit simpler Fresh Tomato Tart.

Changing a classic pie into a tart could be a risky endeavor, every cook in the South probably has some version of this pie. I’m sure there are bound to be arguments on what exactly constitutes a proper Fresh Tomato Pie. So I’m asking, please, keep those arguments to yourself. Because this time the pie may be a tart, but it’s still inspired by my memories of eating a slice while sitting on a sofa under the blazing hot shade of a porch in Cairo, Georgia.

This was the first time I had Fresh Tomato Pie. It was the early 1980s – just before my first spring break from college. My girlfriend Pam (yes, girlfriend!) loved food. She came from a very culinary family. A strictly Southern culinary family. Her food traditions included cornbread at most meals. Well, I mean meals that didn’t include biscuits. You get the idea.

College kids today would be shocked, but when I was in college most kids passed spring break in the homes of their parents. Pam and I both had parents who demanded this of us, so we did as we were told (another thing that would shock kids today). Despite exams and all the busy work of a semester’s end, Pam insisted we have one more meal up north in Cairo, Georgia with her Great Aunt Delores. Aunt Delores was a great cook and I rarely passed on an opportunity to eat with her. Even if it meant driving one hour north just to eat, turn around and drive 6 hours south to my parent’s house.

Which is how, on a typically hot spring break afternoon in Georgia, we pulled up to Aunt Delores’ driveway in my little Toyota. Aunt Delores hated that car. She always made me park it “round back”. I guess so the neighbors wouldn’t think she knew any “people like us”. I could never figure out if it was the fact that my license plate identified us as “people” from Florida, or that we were the kind of “people” who would drive a foreign car. But the car always set Aunt Delores off on the wrong foot.

Fresh Tomato Pie

Despite the heat Aunt Delores started a lot of mornings with the oven cranked to high. On this particular day, I’m remembering she had a pie in the oven. It was a classic, Southern-Style Fresh Tomato Pie – loaded with mayo and flavored with the same crunchy seeds that always remind me of Bread and Butter Pickles.

Well, this recipe for a Southern-Style Fresh Tomato Tart takes that pie and (tries) to bring it up to date. I wonder what Aunt Delores would think.

Unrelated to this story, Pam and I broke up soon after we enjoyed this pie. It was never meant to be as I was beginning to discover. I dropped out of college and left Tallahassee. I moved to California just a few months later. I may have broken Pam’s heart just a little bit, but I needed to find my true self. I knew I could never do that under the watchful gaze and determined words of Aunt Delores.

I did hear through the grapevine that Aunt Delores was a bit furious about my leave-taking. Yet, I continued to get Christmas cards from her for many years to come. I heard she passed away in a nursing home well into her 90s.

Her pie and (now) this tart live on. GREG

Heirloom Tomatoes Fresh Tomato PieFresh Tomato Pie

Southern-Style Fresh Tomato Tart

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Published

*You may alternatively stack two 10-by-10-inch Pepperidge Farm pastry sheets on top of each other and roll these out to a 10-by-15-inch rectangle.

Southern-Style Fresh Tomato Tart

Ingredients

  • 1 pound heirloom tomatoes (various sizes and colors if possible)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more for seasoning)
  • 3 ounce grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 2 scallions (white and light green parts finely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill
  • 2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • freshly cracked back pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 1 (14-oz) package all-butter puff pastry *(thawed in the refrigerator if frozen)
  • dill sprigs (for serving, optional)

Directions

Cut the tomatoes into ⅓ to ½-inch thick slices. Arrange tomatoes slices on a large, rimmed baking sheet lined with a thick layer of paper towels. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and top with another layer of paper towels. Let the tomatoes stand at least 10 minutes so that the paper towels absorb the excess juices and the tomato liquid doesn’t seep out while baking and make the crust soggy.

In a medium bowl stir together cheese, mayonnaise, cider vinegar, scallions, chopped dill, brown sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds and season with a big pinch each of salt and black pepper. Set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the puff pastry to about a 10-by-15-inch rectangle that is about ¼-inch thick. Lay the rolled puff pastry sheet on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Chill at least 20 minutes before proceeding.

Meanwhile, set the oven rack in the lowest position. If you have one place a pizza stone on the rack and preheat oven to 425°F.

Once the pastry has chilled spread cheese mixture evenly over top, leaving a 3/4-inch border. Discard the wet paper towels covering the tomatoes then pat the tomatoes dry with fresh paper towels. Lay the drained and dried sliced tomatoes in a slightly overlapping single layer on top of the cheese mixture, maintaining the border. Use the prettiest slices you may not need them all. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake until crust is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes; let cool at least 5 minutes before sliding the tart onto a serving plate. Top with dill sprigs (if using) before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Gigantes Plaki (Greek-Style Giant Beans)

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Gigantes Plaki

It’s been hot in Los Angeles, but I’ll never be one of those people who just won’t cook in July and August. I can’t subsist on ice cream and limp lettuce. So when it’s very (very) hot I try to keep a cool head and devise low-effort meals. The trick is to choose make-ahead dishes that are worth the effort. Well for me just about anything slathered on toast is worth the effort. You can make a whole meal from build-it-yourself crostini. It’s kind of like the “cheese and crackers” model that you loved as a kid. While cheese is nice, these days I’m also more likely to broaden the choices of what might appear on the platter. It’s a common practice known as meze in Mediterranean cultures, pintxos among the Basque, and I swear the Hawaiians call it a pu pu platter. However today I want to talk about just one element from my “pu pu platter” – what the Greeks call Gigantes Plaki, or giant beans.

Usually served with bread, Gigantes Plaki (Giant beans baked in tomato sauce, sometimes spelled gigandes) often appear alongside things like olives, feta cheese, tzatziki, and hummus, as part of a meze spread before dinner. However, I served a similar meze platter as dinner when I made these beans. As I said it was hot and the beans (which I cooked early in the morning before the heat set in) were the only thing that required the oven.

Gigantes Plaki

Busy schedule? No worries – Gigantes Plaki can easily be made in parts or stages. They’ll last for days in the refrigerator too. GREG

PS I found these beans at Rancho Gordo.

Gigantes Plaki

Gigantes Plaki (Greek Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Source Greek Baked BeansPublished
Gigantes Plaki (Greek Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried gigantes (or big dried lima beans)
  • 1 cup small diced onions
  • 1 cup small diced celery
  • 1 cup small diced carrot
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (plus more for serving)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water (or more as needed)
  • crumbled feta (oprtional)

Directions

Soak dried beans overnight or at least 7 hours. Boil for 50 minutes and RESERVE 2 cups of cooking liquid before draining beans.

Saute chopped onions, celery, and carrot in olive oil over medium-low heat until tender. Add garlic and cook for a few minutes until soft. Add parsley, mint, dried oregano, and a generous amount of salt and pepper, mix to combine and cook for one minute.

Add crushed tomatoes, stir to combine and cook for 5 minutes. Add reserved bean cooking liquid and bring sauce up to a boil. Remove from heat, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and set aside until ready to bake the beans.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Layer cooked gigantes beans evenly in 9×13 baking pan and pour sauce over top. Add about 1 cup room temperature water (don’t let it get too soupy) and bake, uncovered, for 2 hours in the heated oven. Stir approximately every half hour or so, adjusting the moisture level with more water as needed.

Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with feta (if using) and a sprinkle of parsley.

Purslane Panzanella Salad (Italian Bread Salad)

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Purslane Panzanella Salad (Italian Bread Salad)

Most of the year Panzanella isn’t even on my radar. Then, just about this time every summer, I pick up a tomato and with one whiff I find myself thinking about this classic Italian stale bread salad. It’s a salad that somehow seems too simple to be as good as it always is. As with many peasant dishes born of necessity, there seem to be endless variations on Panzanella. Afterall, it’s not much more than chunks of day-old bread and juicy summer tomatoes tossed with whatever veggies you have on hand. Red onions, cucumbers, and bell peppers are popular choices, but there’s nothing stopping you from adding any of the other goodies from your farmers market haul. I came home with purslane in my bag this week so I made a Purslane Panzanella Salad.

Despite its simplicity, a Purslane Panzanella is more than just another tomato salad with croutons. Good Italian bread is important. Ciabatta will do in a pinch but unsalted Tuscan pane sciocco is traditional. Whatever you choose it must be stale. Don’t waste your time trying to make it with fresh bread – it will just disintegrate. The secret is to let the bread and juicy tomatoes sit long enough so that the hard bread becomes chewy. This is what transforms this simple salad into a bona fide cannot-stop-eating-it summertime sensation.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed or (my favorite) Pusley, is a succulent plant that is found most commonly in Mexican, Greek, and Middle Eastern cooking. It sounds exotic but actually, it’s a weed and it grows rampantly in Los Angeles’ Mediterranean climate. I could easily pick some on my daily walks to throw is seasonal salads, but I don’t. I’m too afraid of dog pee I guess. Fortunately, it’s readily available at the Hollywood Farmers Market. It gets very little attention as far as I have noticed. In fact, I have walked past bunches of it every Sunday for years without looking twice. But this week I was looking for an unusual ingredient to toss into this salad and Purslane Panzanella Salad seemed just the answer. GREG

PS I swear I didn’t know this before I “dreamed up” a Purslane Panzanella Salad, but soon after I made it I found this quote from a 16th-century Italian text about Panzanella. In it the Florentine painter and poet Bronzino says:

“Un’insalata di Cipolla trita

Con la porcellanetta e cetriuoli

Vince ogn’altro piacer di questa vita.”

That is: “A [bread] salad made with chopped onions, purslane, and cucumbers surpasses all other pleasures in this life.”

Purslane in a BowlStack of Heirloom TomatoesPurslane Panzanella Salad (Italian Bread Salad)

Purslane Panzanella Salad

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from The KitchnPublished
Purslane Panzanella Salad

Ingredients

  • 6 ounce Italian style rustic bread (with crusts)
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)
  • 2-3 good size heirloom tomatoes (or more if small, about 4 cups chopped)
  • ½ red onion
  • 2 cup purslane (loosely packed)
  • 1 cup whole fresh basil leaves (loosely packed)
  • 4 ounce diced aged goat cheese (optional)

Directions

Slice or tear the bread into bite-sized cubes. Spread the bread cubes over a baking sheet. Leave uncovered overnight to stale and harden. Alternatively, bake in a 300°F oven until hardened on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle, 8 to 12 minutes, tossing once or twice during baking. Do not toast the bread all the way.

Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a jar. Shake vigorously. Alternatively, combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Shake or mix the vinaigrette again just before serving.

Chop the tomatoes and cucumber into bite-sized pieces. Slice the onion into thin slices.

Combine the bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over top and fold to thoroughly combine. Let the salad sit at least half an hour or up to 4 hours before serving. Stir occasionally so the juices and vinaigrette are evenly distributed.

Just before serving stir in the purslane and basil. Garnish with goat cheese (if using).