Classic Bruschetta

As those who know me well know well, I rarely cook the same thing twice. I am constantly exploring and experimenting. I credit my parents for allowing me to do my own thing in the kitchen at a very early age. (Somewhere there is a photo of a four-year-old me standing naked on a chair preparing scrambled eggs.)

But this weekend I was reminded that classic dishes became classics for a reason.

After a stroll through Prospect Park (air cast be damned), I swung through the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket where, despite the CSA bounty overflowing my refrigerator, I couldn’t resist picking up Italian eggplant, basil, and Bread Alone‘s insanely delicious whole wheat sourdough. On my stroll home, I devised a plan to toast the bread, slather it in ricotta cheese, and top it with basil, fresh peaches, black pepper, and perhaps a drizzle of honey. While I have no doubt that this dish would be delicious, the thick mold on top of my ricotta forced me to make other plans.

(Fairly) Classic Bruschetta

  • 2 slices whole wheat sourdough or other good quality bread of your choosing
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped and sprinkled with salt
  • 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (optional)
  1. Bring half a tablespoon of olive oil up to medium heat in a cast iron skillet. Add the garlic and cook stirring constantly until just tender but not yet browned. Remove garlic to cutting board, lower heat a bit, and add your bread slices.
  2. While your bread toasts, finely chop the cooked garlic and combine with the tomato, basil, and remaining olive oil in a small bowl. Taste and add a little salt, pepper, and/or red wine vinegar as desired. (My tomato was far more sweet than acidic, so the vinegar balanced it nicely.)
  3. Flip your bread and toast the other side while your tomatoes macerate a bit. Assemble and enjoy.

Classic Bruschetta

The simplicity of this classic dish is what makes it so perfect. Tragically, I ate my last tomato when I prepared this on Saturday. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s CSA share brings another batch!

EAT THIS: Late Summer Vegetable Melange

Late Summer Vegetable MelangeSautéed red onions, green beans and corn seasoned with red pepper flakes, hot paprika, black pepper and smoked salt and topped with sliced tomato and a sprinkle of feta cheese can be your dinner in about 20 minutes–leaving plenty of time for the 200 pages you have left to read before tomorrow’s class.

Greek Casserole

Between a broken ankle and the beginning of a new school year, I’m a bit behind on consuming my CSA vegetables. This weekend found me with a cooking date with my dear friend Leila and an abundance of green beans, tomatoes and potatoes. My first thought was some sort of Indian curry. But I seem to be out of rice.

Autumn has arrived in New York City. The sunlight is a distinct shade of gold and the air is crisp. My apartment, which is excessively hot in both summer and winter, has finally dropped below 76 degrees. (I know this because the coconut oil in my pantry has begun to crystallize.) After months of chopped salads and quick cooking on the stovetop, I found myself longing for a hot dish and the heady aroma that accompanies an oven bake.

Thus was born this potato, lamb, green bean, tomato and feta casserole.

Greek-Style Casserole

  • 8 new potatoes
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoons ground cumin or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (plus some cayenne and/or Aleppo pepper if you’ve got it)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon minced basil
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the potatoes. Cook approximately five minutes until the skin gives easily under your fingernail. Remove the potatoes and add the green beans. Cook for one to two minutes just until bright green. 
  3. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Then add the cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and hot pepper, stirring constantly to toast the spices without allowing them to burn. Do the same with the minced garlic. Add the ground lamb and cook until the meat is thoroughly browned and any excess water has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and add more cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg or hot pepper as needed. (You want a very flavorful mixture.)
  4. Slice the potatoes into 1/4″ discs and arrange in a single layer at the bottom of a shallow casserole pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the lamb mixture on top of this and then layer the blanched green beans. Add a layer of thickly sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle oregano, basil, salt and pepper over the tomatoes and then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Lay a slice of feta on each tomato and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. 
  5. Bake until the intoxicating aroma rouses you from the couch and the feta is well browned (approximately 30 minutes). 

Greek Casserole

The Art of Assembly

This time of year one’s cooking skills are a bit of a fifth wheel. The produce is so varied and abundant that the real challenge is narrowing it all down to a single meal. From there, it’s mere assembly.

I’m hosting a fancy fundraiser in the Hamptons next weekend, which necessitated a midweek trip to Sagaponack. Turns out that the drive out isn’t so bad if you hit the road at 10:00pm on a Tuesday. By midnight I was in bed munching the last of my blueberries and perusing a magazine.

The next morning was a flurry of espresso and emails. I knocked off in time to hit the amazing Breadzilla for lunch before my noon meeting. In my experience, the Hamptons is rife with overpriced and lackluster food. But I happily forked over $16.50 for the best lobster roll of my life, which I ate on a bench in the adjacent garden. I also picked up a baguette, assuming it would play a roll in the evening’s dinner.

The afternoon was back-to-back meetings. I selected flatware and linens, discussed the logistics of transporting a baby grand piano, and wandered around Wölffer Estate Vineyard with a tape measure while vacationers enjoyed wine flights. I did manage to squeeze in a stop at a farm stand, picking up Italian eggplant, zucchini, young shallots with the green shoots still attached, basil, and some unimaginably sweet small yellow tomatoes. I was saved from buying even more by their cash-only policy. This is what I could get for the $16.50 in my wallet.

Veggies

I got a bit lost trying to take the back roads home, but was rewarded when I passed a fish shop selling all sorts of local delights. Mercifully, they took credit cards, so I was able to pick up a pound of wild sea scallops, a couple of balls of burrata, and a lemon for good measure. I still didn’t know what I was going to make, but it would be hard to go wrong with these ingredients.

The day was a hot one and my last meeting had been on an unshaded terrace. I got back to the house where I was staying around 5:00 and rewarded myself with a dip in the pool.

Another hour of furious emailing and it was off to collect my dear friend Louis at the train station. On the way home, we picked up the two final ingredients for our evening meal: rosé and rosé. We made short work of the first bottle, a Côtes de Provence, while gabbing poolside as the sun set.

Sunset

Time to uncork the next bottle and start assembling dinner. I cut the shallots in half, leaving the green ends intact, and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. The scallops got the same treatment, minus the slicing. (Had I been able to locate a grater of some sort, they would have gotten some lemon zest too.) I cut the eggplant and zucchini on the diagonal and added fish sauce and tamari to my simple marinade.

While I fired up the grill, Louis got busy halving the tomatoes, chiffonading a bunch of basil, and pouring another round of wine. Once they were ready, I arranged the grilled veggies and scallops in stripes alongside the tomatoes and burrata, which I tore into hunks. The whole platter got a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some fresh cracked pepper.

This being a casual and intimate meal, we dined at the kitchen table, each armed with a soup spoon to ladle things onto our plate, a lemon wedge to dress our meal, and a baguette hunk to sop up the juices.

Summer DinnerThe evening concluded with a midnight swim.

The next morning found us back at the kitchen table, where we worked until lunchtime. Then it was off to Breadzilla, where Louis enjoyed the lobster roll while I moved on to the delightful shrimp salad. In the afternoon, I downed an espresso and swam laps, which was a shockingly pleasing combination. A few more hours of work and it was time to bid the pool adieu and head back to the city. But first, one more farm stand…

Louis Melons

Jasmine Melons

EAT THIS: Leftover BBQ Chicken Salad

Leftover BBQ Chicken SaladSaturday night was an unexpectedly festive one–so much so that I was still recovering by the time I met a friend for dinner on Monday. I found my comfort in some barbecued chicken. Hungry as I was, I still took home a quarter of what must have been a very hefty bird. The leg went to my new feline companion and the breast appeared the next night on a bed of romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, and a homemade ranch dressing–which is a whole different thing from the gelatinous stuff served alongside lackluster crudité.

Pasta Alla Eliana

My sister Eliana continues to camp out on an air bed where my dining table usually resides.  The regular reader (anyone?) will recall that she is 16 and vegan.  One of my goals for Eliana’s visit is to teach her some cooking fundamentals so that she can feed herself healthy meals at college and beyond without relying on exorbitantly priced prepared items from Whole Foods.

Today’s CSA share included a giant eggplant, some purple basil and an abundance of glorious tomatoes.  I was thinking Pasta Alla Norma, which is a traditional Sicilian pasta dish with fried eggplant, tomatoes, basil and ricotta salata.  Ricotta salata is an Italian cheese that’s a lot like feta in its crumbly texture but with a less sharp flavor.

But I am feeding a vegan…

Pasta Alla Eliana

  • 1 large or 2 medium eggplant, cut into cubes
  • 4 tbsp (or so) olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper or to taste
  • 4 ounces tempeh, cut like lardon (roughly half the size of a matchstick)
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1-3 tbsp red wine vinegar (depending on acidity of tomatoes)
  • 10 ounces whole wheat ziti or other large tubular pasta
  • 20 fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup vegan mozzarella shreds
  • 3 tsp nutritional yeast
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  (Nonstick would be easier, but I don’t own one and it was fine so long as we made sure to scrape the bottom regularly.)  Add the eggplant in batches so as not to crowd the pan, pouring another tablespoon of olive oil into the pan before each batch.  Cook eggplant, stirring occasionally until browned and softened.  Add all of the eggplant back to the pan along with the garlic, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, for a few minutes until you smell the garlic toasting.  Remove from pan.
  2. Put a pot of salted water on to boil.  Heat another tablespoon of olive oil and add your tempeh as well as the soy sauce.  (I know that the soy sauce seems odd here, but it will help give the tempeh a flavor that mimics the guanciale or other cured pork product I would ordinarily be tempted to include.)  Cook stirring constantly until the tempeh is nicely browned and then add your tomatoes.  Cook for a few minutes, throw the eggplant back into the pan, stir in a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and let simmer, adding a little water if it starts to dry out.  
  3. When the water boils, add your pasta and cook until just before al dente (about two minutes less than the package instructs).  Scoop the pasta directly into your sauce, allowing some of the pasta water to transfer, and simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce begins to stick to pasta.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar as you see fit.
  4. Dish pasta into individual bowls, topping each with 1/4 cup of the vegan mozzarella, torn up basil leaves and a teaspoon of nutritional yeast.  (While this last ingredient is definitely not necessary, it will lend a cheesy flavor.  And, since it was a staple of my childhood, I’m going to assume that it has some nutritional value.)

This provided a solid dinner for two people with enough leftovers for Eliana’s lunch tomorrow.  Here’s what it looked like once we mixed it up.

And here’s a little tomato porn, just because.

Tomato Time: Pizza!

Yesterday I worked the second of my two volunteer shifts as a member of the Prospect Park CSA.  I get the sense that not everyone is a fan of this membership requirement, but I find it to be great fun.  While the good folk at Windflower Farm do all the work, I get all the glory.  This week was particularly glorious, as tomato season is upon us.

My 16-year-old sister is staying with me for a couple of weeks while she attends a Shakespeare camp.  She’s coming up on her first anniversary as a vegan so I’m cooking a bit differently than usual.  Tonight we managed to polish off six plum tomatoes, one medium-sized tomato and four ping pongs (cutest tomato name ever).

Vegan (or not) Fresh Tomato, Sweet Onion and Corn Pizza

  • 1 small batch whole wheat pizza dough (half a ball of dough from the Whole Foods freezer case worked perfectly for a midweek meal, but you can easily make your own)
  • 1.5 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla, Vidalia, etc.)
  • 1 cup shredded vegan mozzarella (fresh mozzarella, feta or even goat cheese would also be great)
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 ears sweet corn
  • 10 leaves fresh basil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Turn broiler to high and place a large cast iron skillet with one tablespoon olive oil in oven.  Line a roasting pan or a baking sheet that has sides with foil and drizzle one tablespoon oil across it.  Slice tomatoes and onion approximately 1/4″ thick and spread on baking sheet in a single layer.  Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil over the top, add salt and fresh-ground black pepper and place on the top shelf directly under the broiler. 
  2. While this is cooking, cut the kernels off of the corn.  (If your corn is as sweet and fresh as mine, go ahead and munch on some while you wait.)  Check on your roasting veggies and, if your oven is a little uneven, rotate the pan.
  3. When the tomatoes begin to dry out and the onions turn brown at the edges, pull them out.  Turn off the broiler and set your oven as high as it will go.  Remove the cast iron skillet and tilt to spread the oil.  Stretch dough into a disc roughly the size of the skillet by rotating your hands along the edges and allowing gravity to pull it down.  If the dough sizzles when you place it in the pan, great.
  4. Sprinkle all but a couple of tablespoons of the cheese over the dough then top this with a layer of roasted tomatoes followed by the roasted onions.  Add the corn and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  (Were we not going vegan, some Romano would have been the way to go here.)
  5. Place your pizza on the bottom rack of the oven and bake until the crust just starts to brown.  Sprinkle with chopped basil and, if you are so inclined, a bit of good quality olive oil.

We ate this with a simple salad of red leaf lettuce and tomatoes dressed with red wine vinegar, good olive oil, Dijon mustard and black pepper.

This is what a happy vegan looks like.

Mid-July CSA Salad

The tomatoes are here!  Tonight’s CSA share included basil, cucumbers, scallions and some truly glorious tomatoes.  I had a wedge of red cabbage left over from the five-spice kale and cabbage slaw I made for a Fourth of July Party.  And I has some feta–yet another great emergency protein source.

Mid-July CSA Salad

  1. Finely slice a quarter of a head of red cabbage and toss with a teaspoon of salt in a wooden bowl.  The salt will start to break down the cabbage, allowing it to wilt and more fully merge with the rest of your salad.  (Fun fact: sauerkraut is just cabbage, salt and, possibly, seasonings that have been left to ferment.)
  2. Peel a few cucumbers, slice them up in half and scrape out the guts, which will make your salad too watery.  Then dice them and add them to the bow. 
  3. Add a couple of diced tomatoes.  Some folks would have you de-seed these as well, but there was no way I was wasting any of that glorious tomato goodness.
  4. Add a few thinly sliced scallions and some basil chiffonade.  Chiffonade is fancy chef speak for thinly sliced.   I find the best technique is to stack the leaves (about 10 in this case), roll them into a spiral and then slice the whole stack.
  5. Crumble two or three ounces of feta and toss that in too.
  6. Drizzle with a tablespoon of good quality olive oil, a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and some fresh-ground black pepper and toss it all together.

You could toss some toasted whole wheat pita bits or some quinoa in if you’re looking for something a little more filling.  If you are a patient person, you could let it sit for a bit so that the flavors meld.  Alternately, you just could pour a glass of Vinho Verde and get to work.