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biscotti – two ways

Biscotti are rustically charming Italian twice-baked cookies. Dough is first formed into a long roll and baked, then cut on the diagonal and baked a second time to dry them. They’re a delicious, even politely meant-to-be-dunkable treat. In Italy, biscotti are dunked into coffee and enjoyed for breakfast. In the evenings, after one of their famously-long and leisurely dinners, biscotti might be dipped into wine (especially vin santo.)  In that sense, they’re a sort of chewable, meltable, endlessly-adaptable delivery system for the beverage being enjoyed alongside.  Biscotti have made their way stateside, though some of them are highly sweetened and fancified and bear little resemblance to their Italian ancestor. I’ll offer the more traditional sort here.

What we love about biscotti

they’re positively delicious when, bite-by-bite, they’re softened in coffee

they fall into the “treat” category without being overly sweet

even after weeks (if they last that long) they’re as good as ever

they make someone a sweet little present

they look so cute in a jar

I sent out sample packages of two versions for a vote. The results were close, but the lemon-aniseed version narrowly beat out the orange-walnut among testers. This was a very limited sample so I wouldn’t read much into it if I were you. They’re each good, and each has a following, but my husband and I come down on the side of the Grand Marnier-walnut. With fans in each camp though, I thought it only fair to let you decide for yourselves. (I’d start with the walnut – but you already knew that.) Post a vote if you like! And if you find a way of pairing your biscotti up with a favorite beverage or frozen dessert, I’d love to hear your discoveries.

Grand Marnier Walnut Biscotti

  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier (or substitute a brandy or Cognac of your choosing – see NOTE)
  • zest of 1 orange – about 1 Tablespoon
  • 2 cups plus 2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting your board)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

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looking ahead

The other day, I spent an afternoon meandering through a local community farm, breathing in the last fragments of our warm, blue-skied days. For half of us, summer’s quickly leaving town, moving south. For us up north, no more lolling away the days on lawn chairs (did we get around to doing that?)  No more sipping piña coladas while nightly grilling up our dinners (oh how romantically we remember it!) or tossing our bountiful summer salads (now that we did.) Autumn’s come. It’s not all bad. Yes, rain and wind and chill. But also, the gathering in of family and friends; and still, food and drink to delight in, warm to, and share.

(For a closer look, you can click on an image to open the photo gallery. Click on it again to enlarge.)

So, with billowy clouds climbing fast through a nearly-saphire sky, dry leaves flying in crazy circle patterns, and my stomach growling because I haven’t fed it lately, here are my thoughts for  autumns’s table. Things may change, much like the weather, but that’s to be expected. I’ll happily share everything that’s good  with you.

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cream of fresh tomato soup ~ with roasted tomatoes & basil

We pick up where we left off, with buckets full of vine-ripened tomatoes and the nagging, only partially-answered, question: What am I supposed to do with all these? They’re beautiful, of course, and we love them and all, we really do –  but this time of year, for many of us with children starting back to school, schedules changing, all the hurrying around, and so many things threatening to fall through the cracks if we don’t give them our attention, we look at those vines, heavy to the point of breaking, and those fruits, ready to spill their ripe goodness on the ground, and we find ourselves momentarily glaring at them even, and begging, oh please! Can’t you see I don’t have time for this!? Well, here’s a bit of good news – you just may. In about 30 minutes of active prep time  (and very little expense) you can have 8 servings of a most delicious soup, and have found a place for 4 whole pounds of those tomatoes.

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup with Roasted Tomatoes & Basil

  • 4 Tablespoons good olive oil (divided)
  • 4 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (divided) (2 pounds cut in half; 2 pounds coarsely chopped)
  • 2 red onions, chopped (1½ cups)
  • 2 carrots, un-peeled, chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup packed chopped fresh basil leaves, (plus more to garnish)
  • 3 cups chicken stock (preferably home-made) (or as a vegetarian option, a good vegetable stock)
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • croutons, as garnish

In this recipe, half the tomatoes are oven-roasted, deepening their flavors and caramelizing their sugars. When these come out of the oven, they’re then added to the pot of already-brewing soup.

Preheat your oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using half of your tomatoes, cut them in half, place in bowl and toss them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Place them single-layer on your baking sheet and roast for 30 to 40 minutes. (Time depends on size of your tomatoes. You’ll want them oozing their juices and brown, even slightly charred in places, but of course not burnt. Check after 30 minutes.) In the meantime, coarsely chop the remaining 2 pounds of tomatoes and set aside. Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat until shimmering. Drop in the onions and carrots and sauté until very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, stock, 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir well. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender. As soon as the tomatoes in the oven are finished roasting, add them to the pot, along with all their caramelized juices.

Add the cream to the soup and stir for a minute. Remove from heat. If you have an immersion blender, now’s the time to use it. Blend the soup in the pot until it’s a satiny smooth purée. Otherwise, using your counter-top blender and working in batches, ladle the soup into the blender and purée. (As a safety precaution, don’t fill too full and cover the lid with a folded kitchen towel.)

Reheat the soup over low heat until hot and serve with crispy croutons and julienned basil leaves. (Or even teeny whole basil leaves if you have them.)

Deeply flavored, almost profoundly satisfying,  warm comfort in a bowl.  (sigh)

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green salad with figs & goat cheese

I suppose it’s always a good thing to have something worthwhile out in front of us left undone, unknown, untasted. Until last week it was the fig – the now-known-to-me, eversweet-glorious fig! Ali has spoken of figs a number of times over the past several years, but – I’m so embarrassed to admit this – I only knew them in Newtons. Of course I knew they were capable of  much more, but I just took that on faith, having little more than that to go by. That, and photographs I’d seen that left me thinking figs must be quite luscious. And undeniably sexy.

Upon my first bite, drizzled in olive oil and pomegranate balsamic vinegar, I was enthralled, and my first impulse – again, I’m so embarrassed – was to look for someone I might blame for not having pushed these on me! (Wasn’t that my mother’s job?) I quickly abandoned that idea and took another bite. And then another and another, until there was no more.

In the days since, I’ve tried them on their own and they didn’t compare (at all) with the figs drizzled as I first tasted them. This week, and maybe even this season, this is my favorite salad. It’s ridiculously easy to put together, so please do! It’s one amazingly luscious bowlful.

A NOTE on the ingredients      –     My husband and I recently discovered an olive oil store (who knew?) in the town next to ours. We picked up a bottle of lemon-infused olive oil, which we’re crazy for, and that’s the oil used in this salad. (You can find similar oils in most well-stocked stores, but I’ll include a link at the bottom of the post, because this one is better than some others I’ve tasted.) And when I was visiting Ali, she gifted me with a bottle of pomegranate-infused balsamic vinegar. (Love it, Ali!) This vinegar may be harder to find – BUT – you might find other fruit-infused balsamics that would work too. Or use a plain balsamic with a dash of Pom (pomegranate concentrate) available at most stores. Or simply use an aged balsamic.

(Please see below for variations on the theme, resulting in a similarly scrumptious salad.)

Green Salad with Figs & Goat Cheese

  • a mix of beautiful fresh salad greens
  • goat cheese, crumbled
  • figs, cut into wedges (Brown Turkey figs were used here)

Vinaigrette:

  • Lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil
  • fruit-infused balsamic vinegar (pomegranate if you can find it)
  • pinch of salt & pepper to taste (though you won’t need much)

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tomato ginger preserves

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)
  • optionalcrushed 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.)

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tuna, white bean, mushroom & garlic cazuela

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.

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oatmeal cookies with dried-cherries

Here is a little sweet something to pack in a lunch-box, or place on an outstretched hand, or put on a plate beside steamy hot cocoa or a glass of cold milk; after school or after dinner; on a hike, or in your favorite chair with a good book and a cup of tea; it travels well to soccer games when it’s your turn to treat, or to the home of a friend in need of your cheer. This is a GOOD little cookie! –  crispy around the edges, moist and chewy on the inside, with bursts of slightly tart cherries and vanilla warmth that lingers. (Not that you’d eat a cookie for this reason, but…besides the whole grain oatmeal packed in this cookie, there’s flaxseed meal which adds healthy fiber and essential omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, and actually replaces some of the butter that a cookie recipe would normally call for. I’ve replaced a bit more of the butter with canola oil, another source of omega-3.)  For anyone counting the reasons to make and eat and share this cookie, we have more than a handful already…

Oatmeal Cookies with Dried-Cherries

  • 3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup flaxseed meal (ground flaxseeds)
  • 1½ cups of dried cherries (approx. 9 ounces)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets, or use a non-stick cookie sheet or silpat.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the flaxseed meal and oats. In another large bowl (or using your stand mixer) cream together the butter and the brown sugar until light and creamy smooth. Add canola oil and mix. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure that each is fully incorporated into the mixture before continuing. With your mixer now on low speed, add one-half of the flour and oats mixture, beating well to combine. Add the second half and mix well. (The dough will be rather stiff.) Stir in the dried cherries until evenly distributed.

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chilled fresh pea soup

For kids once again back in school, summer is over. But stepping out our front door, you’d never believe it. For us here in Oregon, a string of 95°+ days is forecast over the coming week, maybe even breaking 100°.  We’re told that we might be setting multiple records for the dates, which seems to perversely please us somehow. I guess if we’re going to “suffer” we’d like it to be for something of historical proportions. In light of this, it seems that one more cooling soup may be in order.

We had all the ingredients for this soup either spilling out of our herb garden or in the refrigerator. If some of these herbs aren’t readily available to you, feel free to change them up a bit. Mint seems essential though, since mint is especially good with peas (as you may have heard me say before – see  Chicken Salad with Peas, Feta and Mint, June 25, 2011, if you want evidence of how I repeat myself.)

The serving suggestion for this soup is that you pour it into pretty glasses – perhaps so that it’s obvious that you simply drink it, rather than spoon it into your mouth. Or perhaps because the very sight of it in a pretty glass cools you by degrees. I didn’t have the perfect chilled-pea-soup glass – in fact it never occurred to me that I might be missing such a thing – so I opted for the simple and conventional. I’ve also tried heating this soup and serving it with a scattering of crispy herbed croutons. Turns out this is a soup with several different expressions, all of them pleasant.

Chilled Herbed Pea Soup

  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 5 Tablespoons fragrant extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 small leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth (or good vegetable stock)
  • 3½ cups frozen baby peas (from two 10-ounce packages) – thawed
  • 2 cups finely chopped iceberg lettuce
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley or chervil
  • 1/3 cup fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 5 ounces mild goat cheese or cream cheese
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and white pepper

Melt the butter and one tablespoon olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium low heat. Add the leeks and gently cook until soft but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the stock plus 3 cups of water, and increasing the heat to high, bring to a boil. Add the peas and the lettuce. Reducing the heat to medium-low, simmer until the vegetables are bright green and tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

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gazpacho

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.

Classic Gazpacho

(serves eight)

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.

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