Archive for the 'summer' Category


Eggplant Caponata

I know what you’re thinking. Seriously? More eggplant??

Eggplants are like bay leaves. I use them all the time but don’t really know what they taste like. As long as they’re in season, they’re on our counter.

All summer, I’ve wanted to make caponata, a Sicilian dish that’s usually served as a salad or relish. There are a gazillion variations of this, but generally it’s comprised of eggplant, onion, tomatoes, capers, olives, nuts, anchovies, vinegar and olive oil (I skip the anchovies). It’s one of those foods that improves with time. You make it, put it in the refrigerator for 8 hours or more, and then serve.

This one has almonds and pine nuts, which lend a nice crunch. The flavors are strong. I prefer it on toasted bread, but you could eat it as a relish or salad. Serve at room temperature.

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Mesclun Salad with Bacon-Wrapped Figs and Chevre

A vacation before going on vacation would be nice — time to pack, stop at Target, fill containers with shampoo and sunscreen, and consume the amazing produce hanging out in our kitchen. Alas, no such luck. Instead, it’s been one big race to wrap up stuff at work and pack. And then there’s the CSA produce I brought home a few days ago….

Among the items to eat in the next 24 hours: figs. I’ve had mixed luck with figs. I’ve tried wrapping them in prosciutto and grilling them, which should have been easy but ended in disaster. Many years ago I baked them in cookies — an adult version of fig newtons, only a thousand times better.

The other day, I set out to make a salad inspired by my friend Georgina. The plan was to wrap the figs in bacon, roast them, add to mixed greens, and toss with blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. I altered this approach by a smidgin. We happened to have chevre in our refrigerator. So I used a melon baller to scoop out the flesh and stuffed the figs with goat cheese. And instead of balsamic, I used a red wine vinaigrette.

Wow, figs are beautiful. They’re exotic. And they never last long. I came home from the Fair Shares pickup site with eight of them. A couple were large and sturdy, and pretty easy to  scoop and stuff. The rest were delicate. One fell apart during the scooping process. In the end, they were absolutely scrumptious wrapped in bacon, especially with chevre oozing from them. Brown sugar kept the bacon from over powering the figs.  You could also serve the figs as a hot appetizer.

Continue reading ‘Mesclun Salad with Bacon-Wrapped Figs and Chevre’


Israeli Couscous with Roasted Eggplant

I was waiting to get my haircut this afternoon when I came across this recipe, or a variation of it, in Bon Appetit. Once again, I had eggplant on the brain. We leave for Colorado in three days, which means  a cooking blitz to use the fruit and veggies that were in our Fair Shares CSA box: eggplant, sweet peppers, sunchokes, pears, figs, tomatoes and watermelon. I’ll probably give away the watermelon.

This would take care of the eggplant, and it looked delicious. I happened to have all of the ingredients, though I wasn’t 100 percent sure of the Israeli couscous. What is it? It’s larger than standard couscous, and similar to orzo. The texture reminds me of tapioca. After my haircut, I stopped at a hoity-toity market around the corner to pick some up just in case.

The eggplant is cut into a 1/2-inch dice, tossed with olive oil and roasted until it’s nice a crispy. It’s tossed with golden raisins, parsley, the couscous, and an aromatic cinnamon-cumin dressing. The result was a filling, sweet and delicate dish that could work as a side or an main course. Jeff and I ate it for dinner with a mesclun salad with bacon-wrapped figs (recipe will appear in a couple of days), and a couple of glasses of crisp Pinot Grigio.

Isreali Couscous with Roasted Eggplant
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 3/4-pound unpeeled eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (8 to 9 cups)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup Israeli couscous (if you can’t find this, substitute orzo and cook according to product directions(
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Place eggplant cubes on sheet; drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast until tender, turning occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook couscous in boiling salted water until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water until cool; drain again. Place in large bowl.

Toast cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until slightly darkened, about 4 minutes. Grind seeds in spice mill; place in small bowl. Add vinegar, cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons oil. Whisk to blend; season with salt and pepper. Mix in onion.

Add raisins, cilantro, eggplant cubes, and dressing to couscous. Toss to coat.

Serves 2-4 as a main course, or 6 as a side.


Peach Riesling Sorbet

Two bags of fragrant peaches sat on my counter last weekend. They were too good to refrigerate, and too many to eat. They needed to be consumed ASAP or they were destined to wind up like too many peaches do in our house: mush. Icky, brown mush.

This peach sorbet was wonderful way to end the peach season. We may have another week of peaches left in St. Louis, if I’m lucky. If not, I’ll be at peace with it. It would be impossible to take a peach and top this, unless you simply take a bite of one, of course.

The explosion of peach, star anise and white wine is intense here. “Imagine the best white sangria you’ve ever had, and turn it into sorbet,” says the introduction in Gourmet Today. These final sweltering days of summer call for something cold, sweet and fruity. I just finished the last bowl of sorbet. I’m chalking this up as one of my favorite finds this year.

Peach Riesling Sorbet
Gourmet Today

1 pound peaches (3 large) peeled, halved, pitted, and cut into 1-inch-thick wedges [or use 1 pound frozen peach slices, not thawed]
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
scant 1/2 cup superfine sugar [this can be made by whizzing granulated sugar in a food processor]
1 whole star anise or 1 teaspoon star anise pieces
1 1/2 cups Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or other slightly sweet white wine
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Toss peaches with lemon juice in a 4-quart heavy pot. Stir in sugar, star anise, and 1 cup wine, bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, until peaches are tender, about 5 minutes.

Discard star anise. Working in batches, transfer mixture to a blender and puree (use caution when blending hot liquids). Force puree through a medium-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, pressing hard on solids; discard solids. Stir in corn syrup and remaining 1/2 cup wine. Refrigerate, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 1 hour, then cover and refrigerate until very cold, 6 to 8 hours.

Freeze sorbet in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden for at least 1 hour.

Sorbet keeps for up to one week.


Pasta Caprese

It’s tomato season. And that means raw tomato sauces.

Among my favorites: cherry tomatoes marinated in balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and tossed with arugula. Romas diced and tossed with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Heirlooms chopped and mixed with olives, red wine vinegar and majoram. There are hundreds of ways.

A few days ago, I used  romas from our garden and several heirlooms from our Fair Shares box to make this rustic raw tomato sauce. If you like caprese salads, you’ll like this. And if you have little time to make dinner, you’ll thank me for it, too.

It comes together in less than a half hour, and the ingredient list is small. The success depends on quality, like so many recipes that rely on a handful of fresh ingredients. Tomatoes must be in season. Your olive oil must be good enough to stand alone. Your mozzarella must be fresh, packed in water.

This is a nice way to use summer tomatoes. I ate the leftovers last week for lunch. It’s great at room temperature, or even cold, as a pasta salad.

Pasta Caprese
Cook’s Illustrated, July 2007

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 small shallot, minced fine
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut in 1/2-inch dice
12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound penne, or other tubular pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Whisk oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, garlic, shallot, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl. Add tomatoes and gently toss to combine; set aside. Do not marinate tomatoes longer than 45 minutes.

While tomatoes are marinating, place mozzarella on a plate and freeze until slightly firm, about 10 minutes. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain well.

Add pasta and mozzarella to tomato mixture and gently toss to combine. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in basil; adjust seasonings with salt, pepper and additional lemon juice. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 7.


The Best Sangria

Saturday was so hot and drippy I didn’t bother going to the farmers market.  I’m not one to complain about the weather. Lately I’ve come close.

This sangria helped tremendously. Before eating the Thai Chicken and Shrimp Noodle Salad in the previous post, I poured everyone a glass of this deliciously cold, partly sweet and partly tart, sangria. Even though our yard is burnt to a crisp and mornings are ridiculously muggy, this sangria made me happy it’s still August.

According to Cook’s Illustrated, the key to fantastic sangria is rest. A few hours in the refrigerator makes all the difference. Use inexpensive, medium-bodied wine, like Merlot. Sangria is doctored up with fruit and sugar, so there’s no reason to spend much money on the wine. It is important, however, to have the right balance of citrus. A ratio of 2 oranges to 1 lemon works best.  Orange liqueur, preferably  Triple Sec, gives the sangria dimension.

Everyone who tries this sangria loves it. It’s summer — and relief — in a glass.

The Best Sangria
Cook’s Illustrated, Summer 2008

2 large juice oranges, washed; 1 sliced, 1 juiced
1 large lemon, washed and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Triple Sec
1 750 milliliter bottle inexpensive, fruity, medium-bodied red wine, such as Merlot, chilled

Add sliced orange and lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, ans sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2, and up to 8, hours (anything past 8 hours won’t improve the sangria).

Before serving, add 6 to 8 ice cubes and stir briskly to distribute settled fruit and pulp; serve immediately.

Makes 4 glasses


Thai Chicken and Shrimp Noodle Salad

I hate goodbyes. Kim and Todd, and their 9-week-old baby, Zane, are moving to Minneapolis in a few weeks. Jeff and Kim have worked at three newspapers together, and he and Todd went to same high school in Houston. I met the two of them 10 years ago in Little Rock. Needless to say, we go way back.

We had them over for dinner last night. It was another brutally hot day in St. Louis, so I made this cold noodle salad as the main course. The last thing we needed in our house was a hot stove. The salad comes from one of my favorite issues of Bon Appetit, the one with the Sydney Opera House on the cover (see Linguini with Shrimp, Asparagus and Basil). There are still about a half dozen recipes that grab me each time I flip through its pages.

Prepping this salad takes a bit of time, more than it appears. However, you can do a lot ahead of time. I typically put the shredded chicken, sliced cucumber, basil, cilantro and mint leaves in a container and store in the fridge. About 20 minutes before Kim and Todd got here, I prepared the noodles, thawed the precooked shrimp, and tossed the rest of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. The dressing is quick and easy. I always add it before serving. I snapped the photo before adding the dressing.

The salad is awesome. It has all the key components of terrific Asian food — sweet, sour, spicy and salty.It’s light, but hearty. The cherry tomatoes and slivers of jalapeno make it even more beautiful. My favorite part — the fresh combination of mint, basil and cilantro leaves.

It won’t be the last time we’ll see Kim, Todd and Zane before they move. Jeff and I have decided that next summer we’ll be driving north for cooler weather and dinner at their house.

Continue reading ‘Thai Chicken and Shrimp Noodle Salad’


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