Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lentil Soup with Sausage and Red Pepper

I could really feel fall in the air today.  Perfect for soup!  This made enough for two meals for my family, so I put the leftovers in the freezer for another day.

1 cup dry lentils
Water or chicken stock
2-3 medium potatoes, diced (no need to peel)
1 lb Italian sausage (hot or sweet), casings removed
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
2 large shallots or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
2-3 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the lentils in a soup pot with 4 or 5 cups of water or chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  After about 15 minutes, add the potatoes.

While the lentils and potatoes cook, brown the sausage in a large skillet.  Add the garlic and shallots or onion and continue to saute over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add the red pepper, oregano, and thyme and cook for another 3-5 minutes.

When the lentils are tender, add the sausage mixture to the soup pot.  Add additional water or stock as desired, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Summer Squash Saute with Sage and Parmesan

This is a variation on my mother-in-law's Cheesy Summer Squash Saute, which is also delicious.

Olive oil
2 medium summer squashes or zucchinis, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
1 large onion, chopped or in long slices
2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 Tbsp grated Parmesan

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and squash or zucchini and saute, stirring occasionally, over low-medium heat for several minutes until tender and lightly browned in places. Add the sage, salt, and pepper and stir. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the vegetables, turn off the heat, and cover for a few minutes. Serve once the cheese is melted.

Serves about 4.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pesto Pasta with Grilled Red Peppers

Red bell peppers grilled over a fire add tangy sweetness and a bit of smoke to liven up pasta with pesto.  I throw in some cooked beans for protein, but you can leave them out or substitute cooked chicken if you like.  This is a dish to make right now while peppers in are season.  Traditional basil pesto is excellent here, but try one of the others (parsley pesto would be really good too, or my Thai pesto) if you like.  With a stock of pesto in the freezer, this is an easy meal.

4 red bell peppers, thinly sliced the long way
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb pasta
1 cup pesto
2 cups cooked beans (optional)

Toss the peppers with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Grill over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and somewhat charred around the edges, about 15 minutes.

While the peppers grill, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta.  Drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water.  Stir in the pesto and beans, adding back a little cooking water if needed to thin the sauce.  Then stir in the grilled peppers.

Serves 4-6.

Curried Goat (or Lamb) and Eggplant Stew

Roasted eggplant forms the base of this savory Indian curry.  Simmered chunks of goat meat (or substitute lamb) make a tender, toothsome addition, but you can leave them out for a vegan version.  I get goat meat from Balky Farm in Northfield, which also offers lamb.  Particularly in ground or stew meat form, lamb and goat are essentially interchangeable.  Serve this over rice.

3 lbs eggplant,diced
4-5 cups tomatoes, seeded and diced
Canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp grated ginger root
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1-2 lbs stew goat or lamb, cubed
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the eggplant and about half the tomatoes in a large roasting pan.  Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

While the vegetables roast, start preparing the rest of the stew.  Heat a little oil in a soup pot, then add the onion.  Saute over low-medium heat until translucent and a bit golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the ginger, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne, and saute over low heat for 2 minutes or so to toast the spices.  Add the goat meat, turn the heat to medium, and brown well.  Add the remaining tomatoes and just enough water to cover the meat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the meat is pleasantly tender, 45-60 minutes.

When the meat is tender and the vegetables are roasted, add the veggies to the stew pot and stir well.  Simmer for at least a few minutes, longer if you have time, so the flavor of the spices can penetrate the eggplant.  Just before serving, stir in the cilantro.

Serve over rice.

Serves about 6.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Peach Leather

Having already frozen and dried (in slices) large quantities of peaches this year, I decided to try something different with the box of peaches in our fridge that was threatening to go bad before we could eat them.  I had never made fruit leather before and had been wanting to try it.  Turns out it's easy, and the end product is delicious - not to mention pure fruit, and thus more nutritious than most commercial fruit leathers.

I used my home dehydrator (I have this one, with two additional trays), and it took about 8 hours, which is shorter than it usually takes to dry peach slices.

Puree the peaches, making sure the puree is totally smooth - no chunks.  Cover the dehydrator trays with plastic wrap (unless you have the fruit leather tray inserts).  Cut out holes in the middle where the heating element/fan will go, making sure that the plastic wrap will not be in contact with the heating element.  Also leave a little space around the outer edge for the air to circulate.  Carefully spread the peach puree onto the plastic wrap on the trays, 1/8-inch thick.  Turn on the dehydrator and run it until the leather is totally dry, though it will still be somewhat sticky.  Peel off the plastic wrap and turn the leather rounds over, then let them sit for another several hours before putting them away.

To store fruit leather, you can cut it into strips and put it in a jar or plastic container; however they may stick together, especially over time.  Alternatively, you can keep the leather in large pieces and roll it up with some plastic wrap, then store in a sealed bag or container and cut off pieces as you want them.

This technique works with other fruits as well.  For very juicy berries (raspberries, blueberries, etc), it is best to mix with applesauce.  Apples need to be cooked into applesauce.  You can also add ingredients such as cooked sweet potato if desired.

Fire Roasted Chili Peppers

We always grow one or two chili pepper plants in our garden each year, and often end up with more peppers than I can use fresh.  Some years I have made salsa, and hot peppers can also be frozen whole or sliced in half and seeded (just like sweet peppers).  This year I wanted to try something different, so I fire roasted a bunch for a result that is smoky and a little sweet as well as spicy.  I plan to use them in pots of chili, beans and rice, etc. through the winter.  The technique is much like the technique for fire roasting sweet peppers (which I also recommend doing now that sweet peppers are fully in season).

You can use green or red chili peppers; the ripe ones will be a bit sweeter.  If you have a mix of colors, I suggest keeping them them separate for strictly aesthetic reasons.  I strongly suggest wearing gloves (regular rubber gloves are fine) while handling the chilies, especially when you are ready to peel them.

If you are using large chili peppers, you can cut them in half lengthwise and seed them before grilling.  Otherwise, you put the whole peppers directly on the grill.

Get your grill going nice and hot.  Lay the chili peppers out across the grate and grill, turning as needed, until the skin is blistered and they are black all over.  Do not be shy about this, because the skin is very hard to remove if not fully blackened.  However, keep and eye on the chilies because you also don't want to char them so fully that you burn the flesh under the skin.

When the chilies are fully blackened, remove them from the grill and set them in a bowl with something covering it (they will steam a little, which also helps loosen the skins) until they are cool enough to handle.  Wearing gloves and using a paring knife, slice the top (stem part) off each chili and run the knife around the inside of it to remove as much of the seeds as possible.  Then peel or scrape off the blackened skins.  The chilies will get slippery as you peel them, so handle with care.

Once you have your peeled chilies, you can use them as is (probably mince first) and store them in the fridge.  You can also puree them.  I opted to puree and then tray freeze little dollops, stored in freezer bag for use in small quantities.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eggplant Chicken Chili

Yes indeed, more eggplant.  Not your standard chili vegetable perhaps, but its texture works well and it soaks up the flavors quite nicely.  If you like, substitute some minced chipotles in adobo sauce in place of the fresh hot peppers for a delicious shot of smoky heat.  Skip the chicken for a vegetarian version.

Olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large eggplants, peeled and diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 hot peppers (e.g. jalapenos), seeded and minced (or to taste)
4-6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 cups cooked kidney beans
1 Tbsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
Sour cream and or shredded cheddar for topping (optional)

Heat the oil in a soup pot.  Add the garlic and onions and saute over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add the eggplant, peppers, hot peppers, and tomatoes.  You may want to add a little additional oil as well, as the eggplant will tend to soak it up.  Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are somewhat softened.  Add the beans, cumin, salt and pepper, and chicken.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the veggies are soft.

Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Caramelized Fennel and Onion Frittata with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

This is what I did with the rest of my batch of Caramelized Fennel and Onions, after using some on pizza a few days ago.  Goat cheese goes beautifully with these flavors (it would make a nice variation for the pizza, too).  Like many frittatas, this works for any meal of the day.  Can be served hot or at room temperature.

6 eggs, beaten
1 - 1 1/2 cups Caramelized Fennel and Onions
3-4 oz. crumbled goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste 
1 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick (seeds removed)

Combine the eggs, caramelized onion and fennel, goat cheese, and salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so if you can.

Oil well a 10-inch oven proof skillet and heat it up over medium heat.  Pour in the egg mixture and make sure the veggies and cheese are evenly distributed.  Cook, without stirring, over low-medium heat until the eggs are largely set.  While you do so, preheat the broiler.  Lay the tomato slices on top of the egg mixture.  Finish the friittata under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, until the eggs are cooked through.

Serves 3-4.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Risotto with Tarragon Eggplant and Peppers

Eggplants and peppers are still coming in from the garden in huge quantities right now.  Peppers I don't feel quite as pressed to use because they are so easy to freeze. But eggplants really don't take well to being preserved by virtually any method.  You can freeze cooked eggplant, but I find the texture deteriorates too much to be worth it.  So when we've got a bumper crop like we do this year, I find myself scrambling to use as much as I can without getting too repetitious.  Fortunately, eggplant works well with many different flavorings and types of cuisine.

This recipe uses a pressure cooker to make the risotto, as I pretty much always do now.

3 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 medium shallots, minced
2 medium eggplants (preferably Italian style), peeled and cut into thin strips about 2 inches long
2 medium or large sweet red peppers, cut into thin strips
1 tsp dried tarragon
2 Tbsp dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil
1 1/2 cups uncooked arborio rice
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the vegetables first, then make the risotto while they finish cooking.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or other wide bottomed pan.  Add most of the minced shallot, reserved 1-2 Tbsp of it for the risotto.  Saute over medium high heat for about 2 minutes, then add the eggplant and peppers.  Toss them well to get them coated with oil.  Saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften.  Then reduce the heat to low or medium low and cover.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft.  Add the tarragon, sherry, and salt and pepper, and cook for a few more minutes.
To prepare the risotto: Heat a little olive oil in the pressure cooker with the lid off, then add the reserved minced shallot. Saute for 2-3 minutes, then add the rice. Saute, stirring frequently, for another 2-3 minutes, until the rice turns translucent. Add all of the stock, cover, lock, and turn to the high pressure setting. Bring to pressure, then reduce heat (maintaining pressure) and cook for 7 minutes. Remove from heat and release pressure. Stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Serve the eggplant and pepper mixture over mounds of risotto.

Serves 4-5.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Caramelized Fennel and Onion Pizza with Tomatoes

Flavorful, and easy too if you have made Caramelized Fennel and Onions in advance.

1 14-inch pizza crust
olive oil
3-4 oz. shredded mozzarella
1 - 1 1/2 cups Caramelized Fennel and Onions
1-2 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick (seeds removed)
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Lightly paint the pizza crust with olive oil.

Spread most of the mozzarella over the oiled pizza crust.  Spread the caramelized fennel and onion mixture over the cheese to form a more or less even layer.  Top with tomato slices.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over everything, then sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella and a bit of grated Parmesan.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is done and the cheese begins to brown.

Serves 3-4.

Caramelized Fennel and Onions

This is not a dish by itself but rather a tasty addition to pizza, pasta sauce, etc.  Or try it on bruschetta.  Carmelizing mellows the flavor of fennel and brings out its sweetness, just as is true of onions.

Making this does not take a lot of effort, but it does take a lot of time, so plan to make a large batch sometime when you will be available to check in on it periodically over a few hours.  The finished product will keep in the fridge for at least a few days, or you can freeze it in small quantities for later use.  I've suggested quantities here for the fennel and onions, but you can increase it as you see fit (and as fits in your pot).  The quantities below will fill a Dutch oven to the top at the beginning of the cooking process.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 very large or 4 medium fennel bulbs, coarsely chopped with cores removed
6 medium onions, sliced lengthwise
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot.  Add the fennel and onions and stir to coat with olive oil.  Saute over medium heat for a few minutes, then reduce the heat to low and partially cover.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours, until the fennel and onions have been reduced to a soft mass and have turned a nice golden brown.  Add salt to taste.  You can continue to cook them to a darker shade if you like, but if you choose to do so, be sure to watch them and stir more often to prevent them from going too far.

Makes 2-3 cups.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tomato Peach Salad with Feta

Another sweet and tangy tomato-peach concoction, this time in salad form.

4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
4 medium peaches, pitted and diced
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil

Place the diced tomatoes in a colander over the sink for a few minutes to drain off excess liquid, then combine with the peaches in a bowl.  Add the onion, feta, and salt and pepper.  Combine the oil and vinegar in a small glass, then drizzle over the salad.  Toss to coat.  (For a more visually spiffy version, make the salad in layers: tomatoes on the bottom, then peaches sprinkled over, then onions, then feta on top, with salt and pepper and dressing over all.)

Serves about 8.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Slow Cooker Sage and Garlic Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes

Bone-in chicken pieces, especially legs, work well in the slow cooker, where they stay wonderfully moist and flavorful.  Since the juices stay in the cooker, you end up with something like a cross between a roast and a braise.  You can also take them straight from the freezer into the cooker, which also makes them easy.

In a colder season, you can substitute dried sage (use about 1/2 tsp and sprinkle it over the chicken) and frozen or canned tomatoes.

Serves this over rice or barley (cooked in chicken broth if you like).

1-2 cups cooked white beans
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
4 chicken legs
Salt and pepper to taste
8-12 whole fresh sage leaves
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or squished through your fingers

Place the beans and garlic cloves in the bottom of the cooker, then add the chicken legs.  Salt and pepper them generously.  Lay 2-3 sage leaves over each leg.  Top the whole thing with tomatoes.

Cook on Low for 6-9 hours.

Serves about 4.