I hadn’t intended to limit my posts during these renovation weeks to vegetables and salads – wouldn’t you much rather see photos all oozy, fruit syrupy, coconut-sprinkled, chocolate-slathered, honey creamy rich swallows of sweetness that you’d gladly over-consume a day’s worth of calories to sink your face into? Of course you would. And HOW I disappoint - cauliflower, of all things! (So in hopes of making it up to you, may I direct you to a couple kitchens where they’re still putting wildly luscious things on the table that will have you drooling like a toddler cutting teeth? Merci beaucoup, Movita Beaucoup! I NEVER leave your place without a huge smile on my face and dreams of hand-feeding those I love with what you’ve just baked! And Smidge, who NEVER does things by dribs or drabs or “just a smidgens” – but goes ALL out with her exquisite cakes and cake-lets! If you don’t know and love these women already, may I suggest you should?)
Still…you don’t want to forget your vegetables completely do you? And here it is already Wegetable Vednesday!
I don’t know if you knew, but cauliflower ‘s quite the pacifistic vegetable. Mild and meek, ever-open to compromise, never jumping off the fork to assert itself. It’s SO compliant in fact, we can whip it into something very closely resembling mashed potatoes. Though it can be rather bland (flat out dull when boiled) clever humans have discovered various ways to color these pale flowers delicious. Fact is, it’s child’s play since cauliflower virtually never puts up a fight.
Grill it and toss it, while still warm, in a mustard & caper vinaigrette, tumble in colorful spinach and tomatoes, toss fresh dill at it, and you have a scrumptiously hearty, fresh-as-Spring salad. (And though some are loathe to hear it, it’s chockablock full of vitamins too!)
Grilled cauliflower & Spinach Salad with Tomato, Dill & Capers
- 2 Tablespoons capers, drained & coarsely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon French wholegrain mustard
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small cauliflower, divided into florets
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 3½ ounces (100 grams) baby spinach leaves
- 25 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- coarse sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds (black or brown) OPTIONAL
- the juice of ½ lemon – at the end
Prepare the dressing: By hand or in a food processor or blender – mix together the capers, mustard, garlic, vinegar and some salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously or run the machine while adding HALF the oil (¼ cup) in a slow trickle. What will result is a thick, creamy dressing. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Set aside.
what to do with all these tomatoes?
I spent last week with dear Ali and her little ones while her husband was away. Our mutual love of food and cooking always has us scheming about what fascinating and wondrous things we’ll cook up when we have these extended days together. This time it was going to have to center around the tomatoes that were threatening to riot in her garden if we didn’t do something, quick. I’d brought with me a recipe clipped from our local Oregonian for tomato ginger preserves. I’d never had such a thing before, so already it was fascinating. Ali agreed. In fact, we both liked the sounds of it so much, and we had tubfuls of tomatoes, so we thought we’d just sextuple the recipe and get a start on Christmas! Well, we did that, and the results, though quite tasty, were slightly less than the perfection we’d imagined. Undeterred, I tried again when I got home – this time, a single batch. And it was glorious! Sweet, slightly hot, mysterious, and gorgeous!
So what do you do with such a jar? How about crostini with a smear of ricotta and a dollop of these preserves on top? How about on eggs? Or with crackers and manchego cheese? How about on a chicken or turkey sandwich? (Or on a BLT.) How about as an accompaniment to salmon? How about with roast chicken? Or roasted vegetables? I even saw a recommendation for tomato preserves as a topping for savory French toast. I’m not a fan of catchup, but for this sweetly spicy condiment, I will sing the praises all night long!
For those of you interested in following the tomato saga, stay tuned. We didn’t stop at…
Tomato Ginger Preserves
makes 2 cups
- 1 pound Sungold or other cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half (see NOTE)
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 Tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
- pinch salt
- sterilized container(s)
- optional: crushed red pepper flakes, if you like a little extra heat
NOTE: a combination of different-colored tomatoes proved especially pretty
Put all the ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. You want the tomatoes to be tender, but still hold their shape. This will take from 10 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes into a sterilized pint jar – or 2 smaller jars or other heatproof container. (In the process of transferring the tomatoes to the container, some of the cooking liquid will have also made its way there; so, being careful not to burn yourself, drain the liquid from the jar back into the saucepan.)
Cooking in clay pots goes back to the ancients, though I’ve only just recently caught on. It’s a very healthful, uncomplicated, time-saving way to cook. (Much information is available on-line if you’d like to learn more. Check out tagines, cazuelas and Romartopfs.) Though this dish was cooked mainly on a stovetop in a Spanish terra cotta pot called a cazuela, it can easily be prepared in a dutch oven or a large skillet instead. (Cazuela here describes both the dish and the clay vessel it’s cooked in.) This very tasty, Spanish-influenced, high-fiber, relatively low-fat dish can be on your table in just over thirty minutes.
It calls for albacore tuna which is both more plentiful and less expensive than ahi, though ahi could be substituted if you’re looking to “elevate” the dish a little. The recipe also calls for sweet smoked paprika, an essential ingredient in Spanish cuisine. It’s quite distinguishable from regular paprika, though tastes nothing at all like a smoky, damp campfire (in case you were wondering.) And it’s the paprika and garlic that impart the most delicious warmth to this dish.
Tuna, White Bean, Mushroom & Garlic Cazuela
Serves 4 (though you can successfully halve the recipe to feed two)
- 6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 cup cremini mushrooms, quartered or cut in sixths for bite-size pieces
- 4 Italian plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into ½-inch slices
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika, plus more for sprinkling
- two 15-ounce cans of Great Northern or Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed – reserve several tablespoons of their liquid
- 1 pound albacore tuna, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Garnish: a handful each of cherry tomatoes, halved, and parsley, roughly chopped
In a cazuela (or large skillet or Dutch oven) heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic slices and fry until it lightly browns. (Too much and it will become bitter.) Remove the garlic to a separate small plate, keeping the oil, now garlic-infused, in the pan. Add the onions and sauté for 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue sautéing until soft, about 5 more minutes.
Stir in the tomato slices, sea salt, pepper and smoked paprika, cooking for another 2 minutes. Add the beans and gently incorporate, careful not to smash them. (If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit of the reserved bean juice, a tablespoon or two.) You now have a choice: Either add the fried garlic back in at this point, or wait until you’ve added the tuna in the next step.
Have you ever wondered how to take a refreshing summer salad and turn it into a soup? I hadn’t either, but apparently the Spanish had, and the result is gazpacho: Cool refreshing gorgeous coral pink velvety deliciousness! If you’ve never tasted gazpacho, this is far better than you would imagine. (Believe me, this is nothing like v-8 juice.) If you’ve had and appreciated gazpacho before, you may very well love this version! With the incorporation of country bread, very good olive oil and aged sherry vinegar, it’s got a depth and complexity of flavor that leaves you licking your happy lips and holding out your glass for maybe just a little more. This can be a first course, served in champagne glasses if you like! Or serve it for lunch or on a hot summer evening along with some crusty bread and cheese. Absolutely no cooking required.
For the Soup:
- 2 cups cubed day-old country bread, crusts removed
- 2 medium-size garlic cloves, chopped (see NOTE)
- 1 small pinch of cumin seeds or ground cumin
- coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- 3 pounds ripest, most flavorful tomatoes possible, seeded and chopped
- 2 small Kirby (pickling) cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- 1 large Italian (frying) pepper, cored, seeded and chopped (see NOTE 2)
- 1 medium-size red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
- 3 Tablespoons chopped red onion
- 1/2 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil (of very good quality)
- 1/2 cup chilled bottled spring water, or more as needed (optional – I didn’t use, and was very satisfied with the result, but you may choose to add)
- 3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or more to taste
For the Garnishes:
- Finely diced cucumber
- Finely diced peeled Granny Smith apple
- Finely diced slightly under-ripe tomato
- Finely diced green bell pepper
- Slivered small basil leaves
- Toasted, Herbed coarse bread crumbs
Place the bread in a bowl, covered with cold water and allow to soak for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain the bread, squeezing out the excess liquid.
Place the garlic, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt in a mortar and, using a pestle, mash them to a paste.