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Vegetarian

As soon as the tomato season gets into full swing in Provence around the beginning of July, we jump up early on Sunday mornings and head to the nearby village market. First things first: Our Sunday ritual of coffee and croissants on the terrace has to wait until our return. There are many vegetable stalls at the market but for those in the know there is one that hands down wins the tomato gold medal, and you need to get there early to make sure you’re in the running. We often buy 3 or 4 kilos (6-8 pounds) to take care of our tomato addiction – we certainly wouldn’t want to run out during the week.

Aside from gazpacho and simple salads, there are a zillion other ways we use them: In sauces and vegetable tians, in tarts and omelettes, stuffed and sundried, to name just a few. Except for maybe the onion is there any vegetable more useful than the tomato?

Here are a few of our favorite quick-and-easy recipes which I hope will add to your repertoire for those occasions when your palate (or your family) demands a change.

MY COLD TOMATO SOUP

I actually made up this recipe about fifty years ago. It was so well received that I’ve continued to make it every summer and then hand out the recipe to friends who ask for it once they’re tasted it. It does require tomatoes at the peak of perfection so don’t even think about making it with inferior ones.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4-6 perfectly ripe tomatoes (depending on size, you want to end up with about 4 cups)

1 1/4″ thick slice baked ham (not proscuitto) chopped very finely, about 1/3 of a cup

2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber

1 tablespoon each chopped basil, parsely and chives (save some for the garnish)

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/3 cup whipping cream or creme fraiche

Salt and pepper

Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute, drain, rinse in cold water and peel. Chop them up roughly and puree them in the food processor, leaving a bit of texture. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse a few times to combine, then add salt and pepper to taste. Chill well and serve. This is a wonderfully rich soup.  Don’t leave out the ham – surprisingly, most people think it tastes like crab. 

PERFECT PANZANELLA

Panzanella is not the kitchen sink, as in everything but….Wikipedia, in its definition says “panzanella is generally made of stale bread soaked in water and squeezed dry, tomatoesolive oilvinegarsalt, and pepperOnions and basil are often added.” It goes on to say “other ingredients—lettuceolivesmozarellawhite winecapersanchoviescelerycarrotsred winered onioncucumber,tunaparsleyboiled eggsmintbell pepperslemon juice, and garlic— are sometimes used, but Florentine traditionalists disapprove of them.”

Well, add me to the list of disapprovers.

First of all, it should be made of top flight ingredients – ripe, summer-sweet tomatoes, stale crusty bread (Tuscan unsalted if you happen to live in Tuscany), mild red onion, your very best olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of  fresh basil. That’s it. Well, some chopped cucumber and a little garlic won’t hurt but any of the other ingredients listed above are strictly taboo, at least in our household.  We also don’t like to soak the bread in water as it makes it mushy. Better to add it directly to the bowl with the other ingredients, toss it around and it will absorb the tomato juices, oil, and vinegar while retaining some of its chewiness.

 Serves 4

 Ingredients:

 4-6 ripe tomatoes (about 1-1/2 lbs) cut into bite-size chunks

1/2 a small red onion cut into very thin slices

3 tablespoons best olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or you can use half balsamic, half red wine)

2 tablespoons torn-up basil leaves

2 cups crusty bread, such as sourdough, 1-2 days old, crusts left on, cut into 1″ cubes

Salt and pepper to suit your taste

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly until the tomatoes release some of their juices and the bread is no longer dry but still crisp around the edges.   Let sit for 10 minutes and toss again before serving.

Additional suggestions:  If your bread isn’t completely dry, put the cubes in a low oven (150 degrees) for about 10 minutes.  

You can use a Vidalia or other sweet onion or, if your red onion seems sharp, put the slices in a small bowl and just cover it with a mixture of boiling water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vinegar and let soak for 10 minutes or so. Drain well. This is a good way to tone down raw onions for any recipe.

UNCOOKED TOMATO SAUCES FOR PASTA

These are two summer pasta dishes where all you have to cook is the pasta.  We love the contrast between the hot pasta and the cold sauce and even if the pasta cools a bit, they are still a summer delight – easy and quick to make with ingredients you probably have on hand. Both recipes are for four but you can obviously increase or decrease quantities easily, depending on whether you’re serving it as a first or main course. Although we prefer lighter pastas such as angel hair or spaghettini for both, you can use whatever pasta you have on hand.

FRESH TOMATOES, BASIL AND CHEVRE 

Serves 4

4-6 ripe tomatoes, cut into large dice (about 1-1/2 lbs.)

2 -3 tablespoons torn basil leaves

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons of your best olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 oz. soft goat cheese (such as Montrachet) 

12 oz. pasta of your choice

Put the tomatoes and basil in a bowl to which you can add the cooked pasta.  Make a vinaigrette: Pound the garlic clove with a teaspoon of salt in a pestle and mortar (or bowl if you don’t have one). Add the vinegar, olive oil and pepper and stir to combine.  Pour over the tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Soften the goat cheese by whipping it with a fork so that it will melt into the sauce. If it still seems stiff, add a teaspoon of cream or milk.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions, drain well and stir it into the tomatoes.  Serve immediately with a dollop or two of chevre crowning each serving.  

If you don’t happen to have chevre on hand, this dish is still wonderfully simple and satisfying without it.

FRESH PUTTANESCA

You’ve probably seen recipes for spaghetti alla puttanesca or “whore’s spaghetti.” There is always a lengthy discussion on the origins of the dish and why and when the whores of Naples made it. It actually dates from the mid-20th century, but who cares? Enough to say that they got it right – it’s a lusty, warming dish for a cold winter night. But the ingredients are so invitingly earthy that I thought why not put them together without cooking them so that the dish could be enjoyed when tomatoes are at their peak? Needless to say, I was not the first person to have this insight.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4-6 ripe tomatoes, cut into smallish dice (about 1-1/2 pounds)

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

4-6 anchovy filets, drained and finely chopped

8-10 black olives, such as Kalamata, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes (or more, if you like things really spicy)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

12 oz. pasta of your choice

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate them and the pasta.  Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions.  Drain well and add to the bowl, tossing  to coat with the sauce.  Check for salt – you won’t need pepper. Serve immediately.


Repositioning is what cruise ships do in the Spring and Fall. Many ply the Carribean and Latin America in the winter, move to Europe for the summer, and then sail back to U.S. waters in the Fall. The past several years Brad and I have done our own repositioning twice a year, as often as we can on cruise ships, but reluctantly by airline too.

Our posts have been few and far between the past couple of weeks because we were getting ready to move back to France, which involves packing and tying up all the loose ends for a six-month absence. Even after years of doing it, it’s never easy.

So here we are, back in our house on the outskirts of a little village in the Var region of Provence.  It’s always such a joy to arrive, no matter what time of year. Spring has arrived here: the fruit trees are in full blossom and the others are just turning green, heralding the warm days to come. The air is balmy and sweet during the day and crisp at night, and when you have lunch on the terrace at midday, the sun infuses your whole body with warmth. Whenever we tell people that we live half the year in San Francisco and the other half in Provence, they say how lucky we are and even express envy.  We smile and say, “We don’t mind it”, but they are right to be envious.

Our first serious task is to stock up on food and wine – a chore we relish. We head to our nearest village market (fortunately held the day after our return) to stock up on basics like new olive oil, farm-fresh eggs, Spring vegetables and goat cheeses. Then on to our local winery – run by Mme. Castellino, a large, jolly woman of indefatigible spirit – to fill our bidon with her excellent rosé and to catch up on the gossip of the months we’ve been gone.  We’ve already been to the supermarket to indulge in some of the pleasures we’ve missed while in San Francisco – tiny rougets from the Mediterranean, a couple of duck legs, a saddle of rabbit, an enormous frisée and giant leeks for leek and potato soup.  It’s a mystery to me why they can’t grow decent frisées and leeks in America – but let me not start on this topic, one on which I can get pretty wound up.

This is the week before Easter, schools are out and there’s lots of hustle and bustle. Easter is the time for Spring lamb in France, as traditional as turkey at Thanksgiving in America. I’m not going to give a lamb recipe because it depends on whether you’re cooking for a crowd or just for two or four. So many lamb recipes turn up on the internet: Leg of lamb (gigot) roasted in the oven or, better, on the barbeque, wonderful baby lamb chops grilled to perfection, navarin printanier (spring lamb stew) and a host of others.  But I will give my recipe for the veggies I always do, whether they’re going to accompany a gigot or chops or go into the lamb stew.  I search out the first tiny Spring vegetables – the ultimate celebration of the season.

Navarin Vegetables

Serves 4

Ingredients:

A bunch of carrots (about 8) as young as you can find

The same of turnips

The white part of 8 large spring onions

1 lb. fava beans (optional) 

1 lb. fresh peas or 1 cup frozen petit pois

About a dozen new potatoes, no bigger than walnut size

2 tablespoons butter

Salt, pepper and a large pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon chopped mint

Prepare the vegetables: Scrape the carrots with a peeling knife, leaving a stub of the green tops attached (for appearance).  If they’re longer than about 3″, cut them in half. Cook them in lightly salted boiling water until barely tender. Cook the turnips in the same way, without their green tops, and quarter them if they are larger than a golf ball. Blanch the onions for three minutes.  Boil the potatoes until they can just be pierced with a knife.  Peel them when they’re cool enough to handle.

If you manage to find fava beans, they are worth doing even though they’re a bit of trouble.

You need to strip them from their pods, boil them for about five minutes and then pop each bean out of its skin, leaving a wonderfully bright green gem.

Either shell the peas and cook them in lightly salted water until just tender or blanch the frozen ones for one minute.

Assemble the dish:  Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add the pinch of sugar and a little salt.

Saute the onions over the lowest heat for 3-5 minutes,  until lightly browned.  Add about half a cup of water, and when it comes to the boll, add all the vegetables and the mint.  Gently stir them around until the water has evaporated and the veggies are lightly glazed.  Adjust the seasoning.  They are best served at once but can be gently reheated.

Serve with whatever lamb you have prepared.  They may be the best vegetables you eat all year.

 

Conchiglie with Anchovies, Garlic, and Chard (or Broccoli Rabe or Cavolo Nero or Cauliflower)

This is easily our favorite go-to pasta dish on those nights when the question of “What shall we have for dinner?” raises its head and we don’t feel like fussing. It’s comfort food–hearty enough for a wintry night, and also a cinch to make.  A saute of olive oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes to which you add a single vegetable. What could be simpler? Because we always have the basic ingredients on hand, it’s just a matter of acquiring a bunch of chard (or broccoli rabe or cavolo nero or a cauliflower) to complete the sauce – not too difficult to manage. If you’re not fond of anchovies you could leave them out, but I guarantee you won’t even notice their hairy consistency or distinctive flavor in the finished sauce, and it certainly gives a lift to the flavor. If you’re using chard, a whole rainbow of colors is now available. Having just bought a bunch of beautiful young red, yellow and orange chard, I decided it would be criminal to throw out the beautiful stems so I cut them into 1″ pieces and cooked them briefly before adding the leaves. Success! The extra bite they give is just perfect.  I like to use a pasta such as conchiglie, fusilli, penne, or perciatelli –  sturdy enough for the robust sauce.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

Two Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional)

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or more, if you like it hotter)

6 canned anchovy filets 

A large clove garlic, finely chopped

A bunch of large chard, stems and tough ribs removed   or

A bunch of young rainbow chard, stems separated and cut into 1″ pieces

Parmesan

Heat the oil over low heat in a sturdy pot for a minute of two.  Add the optional parsley, pepper flakes and anchovies and cook until the anchovies have melted, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to cook a few minutes longer until the flavors have melded.  I add the garlic last because burnt garlic can ruin any dish and burning can happen easily if you start with garlic in too-hot oil. In the meantime blanch the chard in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. (If you are using young rainbow chard, cook the stems for 4 minutes before adding the leaves and continuing to cook for a further 4 minutes.)   Drain well and chop it coarsely.  Add to the oil/garlic mixture and let it continue to cook over low heat for a minute or two.

In  the meantime cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions and  add it, drained, to the chard mixture. A little of the cooking water will loosen the mixture. Stir it around, adding a bit of extra olive oil if desired. Check for salt and serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan.

Variations: Use broccoli rabe instead. Blanch it in the same way as the chard for 3-4 minutes, chop into about 1 inch pieces and proceed as above.

If you can find cavolo nero (also called Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, and lacinato kale–see picture below), you’re in for a real treat. It’s very common in soups and sauces in Tuscany and is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.  Look for it at your farmer’s market or local produce store. Tear out the tough central stem and discard it, as with the chard. You will need to cook it for about 10 minutes before draining it, chopping it coarsely and adding it to the oil/garlic mixture.

If you’re using cauliflower, a nice addition is a tablespoon or two of toasted breadcrumbs, preferably homemade, as well as a tablespoon of parsley. Cut the cauliflower into flowerets, discarding the core, and toss them in a tablespoon of olive oil. Roast them in a 350-degree over for about 20 minutes until a little brown and crisp around the edges and l still a little bitey (or you can steam or boil them until barely cooked.) Mix into the oil/garlic base, add the pasta and serve sprinkled with the  toasted breadcrumbs, parsley and parmesan.

I know I’ve complicated things by suggesting four different vegetables, but each is so delicious that I’m not going to apologize.

(Photo by Brad)

Huevos Rancheros

Just the thought of barely runny yolks, silky beans, earthy tortillas, spicy salsa, and the way they go so wonderfully together gets my tastebuds excited. It’s a Mexican breakfast dish worthy of indulgence at any time of day or night. Versions vary: Some scramble the eggs, or leave out the beans, or add cheese. We like it just as you see it pictured above. It’s not a dish to make for a crowd unless you have multiple burners and are adept at frying several eggs at once while heating up the beans and the sauce and the tortillas. I like to make it just for two – a perfect way to start the day.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

The beans:

1-15 oz. can black beans

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lime juice

The tomato sauce:

1 small onion

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1-14 oz. can chopped tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)

1 clove garlic

1 serano chili (or use jalapeno)

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Pinch sugar, salt

4 x 6″ corn tortillas

4 eggs (wonderfully fresh organic if you can)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Half avocado, sliced (optional)

Tip the beans with their liquid into a pot, along with the cumin and garlic.  Allow to simmer gently until the flavors are blended, then add salt to taste and the lime juice.  Mash them against the side of the pot until semi-mashed. Keep warm.

Cook the onion in the oil for a few minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, the garlic and as much of the finely chopped serano or jalapeno as you think prudent.  Add salt and a pinch of sugar to taste, then the cilantro.

Wrap the tortillas in a wet paper towel and heat them in the microwave for 1 minute.  Or toast them individually in a skillet 30 seconds each side.

Now fry the eggs: In a skillet that will accommodate 4 eggs, heat the oil, gently crack each egg and slide it into the pan. Over low heat, cook the eggs sunny-side-up until the whites are no longer opague but the yolks are still just runny.  

Place two tortillas on each plate, top each with a fried egg, then add a serving of beans, the tomato sauce and optional avocado.

Have a nice day!

This is not something that was on our blog schedule, but we made it last night and it was so good I couldn’t bear not to share it. Spring asparagus soup. I think the asparagus here in the U.S. is the best in the world, surpassing those (much touted) that arrive in June in England and the white ones that Germans go crazy about a little earlier in the year. The really beautiful, fat, mouthwatering ones arrive here in California in February to give a kickstart to spring!  Which is why we bought about 4 pounds a few days ago when they were on sale and ended up making soup. You can only eat so much asparagus, no matter how delicious. I used to save the inedible ends that you cut off when you prepare them for cooking. I’d boil them to make soup and always end up with a slimy-green, stringy mess that I would throw out and proclaim “You can’t make asparagus soup.” Then I discovered the error of my ways. Asparagus soup is so delicious that it’s worth splurging on the real thing to make it.

Asparagus Soup

Serves 2 -4

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1 leek, white and very light green parts only, cleaned and sliced (or double the amount of onion)

2 tablespoons sweet onion, finely chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 4 pieces

3 cups water (stock unnecessary)

1 lb. fat asparagus

1-2 tablespoons cream (crème frâiche or whipping)

Saute the leek and onion in the butter, until soft.  Add the water and the potato, bring to the boil and let simmer.  

Meantime, prepare the asparagus.  Cut off (and discard!) the bottoms of the asparagus that you wouldn’t want to eat.

Take a few minutes to peel them (with a vegetable peeler, you can slice away the outside layer easily if you start just below the tip.) Cut them in 1″ pieces, saving the tips.  After the potato-leek mixture has simmered about 10 minutes add the asparagus pieces and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Steam the tips separately (I put them in one of those simple rosette steamers and place it over the soup). Remove them when they are barely cooked. 

Puree the soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender until very smooth. Reheat if necessary, add the saved tips, the cream, and for an extra treat, a grating of parmesan.

Even though there’s a wide variety of salad greens available year round, it’s not always easy to come up with salad ideas in the winter that are robust enough to suit the season.  Here are three that I hope pique your interest.

As I was making both the lentil salad and the Moroccan orange salad, I was torn about what garnishes to add.  The lentil salad is delicious without beets and feta, particularly if you’re serving it with an entree like chicken or pork or salmon. It’s also good with a garnish of crisp bacon or rounds of sausage.  There are many versions of the orange salad – some sweet, some savory, all delicious.  With this in mind, I’ve decided that it’s time to be more flexible with my recipes.  From now on, look for a “Variations” section within select recipes that I feel can be made more than one way.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Egg and Bacon

This is not one for which I would offer alternative garnishes – adding chopped hard-boiled eggs and crisp bacon to the Brussels sprouts is just the ticket.  The only variation I would suggest is that if you’re too lazy to roast the sprouts, you can boil them.  You can also separate the leaves if you prefer but I like the crunchiness of the sprouts just cut in half.  Roasting them until they’re a bit blackened at the edges definitely enhances their flavor.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 hard boiled eggs

4 strips bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt, pepper

for the Vinaigrette:

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon diced shallot (or other mild onion)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Trim the ends of the sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Halve the sprouts and toss them with the oil, salt and pepper.  Put them in the oven on a baking sheet, cut side down, and roast 30-35 minutes until they pierce easily with a skewer and are crisp and brown round the edges. 

To make the vinaigrette: Crush the shallot with the salt.  Add the mustard, then the vinegar and oil. 

When the Brussels sprouts are cooked, toss them with the vinaigrette.

Meanwhiile cook the bacon strips until crisp and then dice.  Chop the egg yolks and whites separately.

Mix some of the chopped bacon and egg in with the sprouts and garnish with the rest.

French Lentil Salad with Beets and Feta

The best lentils for this are the green French lentils du Puy, now readily available at most grocery chains. They hold their shape better, don’t go mushy if you overcook them slightly, and are low in fat, high in protein – and cheap.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup lentils (washed and picked over)

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (or half parsley, half mint)

2 medium sized beets

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled 

for the Vinaigrette:

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely diced shallot (or red onion)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Add the lentils to a pot of boiling water to cover by a couple of inches.  Simmer until tender, adding more water if necessary. This can take between 30 and 40 minutes depending on the freshness of the lentils.  They should not be bitey. Drain well.

Crush the shallot with the salt, then stir in the vinegar and olive oil. Toss the lentils with 2/3 of the vinaigrette.  Add freshly ground pepper and the herbs.

Wrap the beets in foil and bake in the oven until they pierce easily with a skewer or fork (about 45 minutes).  When they are cool enough to handle, peel and dice them and dress them with the remaining vinaigrette.

Assemble the salad.  Place the lentils in a shallow bowl, top with the beets and then the crumbled feta.

Variations:  Instead of the feta, mix the beets with a diced orange from which you’ve removed all pith.  Or, as suggested earlier, top the lentils with diced crisp bacon or sausage of your choice.

Moroccan Orange Salad

This is light and refreshing and, after a somewhat heavy or rich main course (like Moroccan couscous), it can serve as either salad or dessert. I like it best with black olives and mint, though you might prefer it on the sweeter side with orange flower water and dates and/or walnuts.  I sprinkle the oranges with Piment d’Espelette, a red chili pepper powder from the Basque region of France.  I always bring a bottle of it back from France because I can’t bear to be without it, but I recently discovered that you can order it online from Amazon.com and other food suppliers.  It isn’t cheap (a 1.4 oz. bottle costs $9.99), but if you’d like to add a sweet, smoky, mild chili pepper note to just about anything, this is more subtle than paprika or cayenne or any other chili powder.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 large navel oranges

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1  teaspoon olive oil

About a dozen black olives (preferably Kalamatas)

1 tablespoon chopped mint

1/2 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette (or paprika)

Salt

Put the sliced onion in a small bowl, cover with the vinegar and a pinch of salt.  Leave to macerate for 10-15 minutes, tossing frequently, to soften the onions.  Drain, saving the liquid. Add any juice you have over from slicing the oranges to it ,as well as the olive oil and  another pinch of salt.  

Peel the oranges, removing all traces of pith. Slice into thin rounds and arrange in circles on a large plate.

Pour the saved dressing over the oranges, decorate with the onions, mint, and olives.   Sprinkle with Piment d’Espelette, if you have it, or a light dusting of paprika. If the olives are large, cut them in half so that you don’t have too much olive on your fork when you compose a celestial bite of orange, onion, mint and olive. This will also give you the opportunity to pit the olives.

Variation:  An alternative is to sprinkle the oranges with orange flower water if available, a half teaspoon of cinnamon mixed with a half teaspoon of sugar and garnish the plate with chopped dates and/or walnuts.  A light and easy dessert.

January is the month that many of us are dismayed when we look in the mirror. So, hoping for a miracle, we seek out healthier food.  I avoid the term “comfort” food because it brings to mind macaroni-cheese, mashed potatoes and that image in the mirror. So, what I’m aiming for are dishes that won’t necessarily knock off all those extra pounds but at least make a stab at “eating healthily” and, equally important, provide some delicious and different meals at the same time.  Here are four vegetarian dishes of diverse origins – Italy, Catalonia, Mexico, and Provence. They don’t go together, but each is easy to make and won’t break the calorie bank.

Piedmontese Peppers

These are perfect for a light meal with – dare I say it – crusty bread to mop up the wonderful juices.  Although it might be hard to find perfect tomatoes at this time of year, even less perfect ones will improve in flavor in their garlic-olive oil cocoon.

Serves 4 (2 halves per person)

Ingredients:

4 red peppers (these should be symmetrical, not deformed)

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

8 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned, halved and lightly salted

1/2 cup olive oil

1 can anchovy fillets

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Halve the peppers and remove the stem, core and seeds.  Season each pepper half with salt and pepper and 1/8 of the garlic.  Distribute the tomatoes evenly among the peppers, squishing them down a bit to almost fill the peppers.  Place in a roasting pan and pour about a teaspoon of oil over each pepper, pouring any leftover oil into the pan.  Bake for about an hour until the edges of the peppers are slightly blackened.  Remove from the oven, let cool a bit, and distribute the anchovies evenly over the surface of the peppers. These are best served warm and are fine reheated the next day.

Postscript: After I had written this, I got to thinking about people who loathe anchovies and whether there was an alternative.  So I sauteed a tablespoon of onion in olive oil, mixed it with about half a cup of canned tomatoes (I used Hunt’s fire roasted, diced, which I particularly like), half a can of drained and flaked tuna, a teaspoon of  capers, a little garlic and salt and pepper.  I stuffed two pepper halves with the mixture, doused them each with a teaspoon of olive oil and baked them in the same way.  Here is Sam the Taster’s reaction: Delicious!  I happen to love both anchovies and tuna, so I liked them both, but the peppers with anchovies definitely had more flavor…if you can’t stand anchovies, I suggest you mix the tuna well with the oil and capers and other ingredients so it absorbs as much flavor as possible.

Mushrooms, Green Beans, and Blue Cheese

We had this dish about 20 years ago in a popular restaurant in Barcelona called Señor Parrelada. It is still going strong, serving fine and reasonably-priced food. We have been making it ever since because it’s both unusual and delicious. The ingredients don’t seem intrinsically Catalan or even Spanish, but the original version was made with Cabrales, a strong blue cheese from the Asturias region in NW Spain. I use any good blue cheese that I have on hand. We serve this as a separate course or as an accompaniment  to something fairly plainly cooked, like a steak, pork chop, or grilled chicken breast.

Serves 4

Ingredients

3/4 lb. green beans (preferably haricots verts, if available)

1/2 lb. mushrooms (white, brown or shiitake)

1 teaspoon olive oil or butter

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Foil for baking

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Top, tail and halve the beans and cook them in boiling, salted water until still slightly crisp.  The cooking time will depend on the size and quality of the beans.  Slice the mushrooms into 3 or 4 pieces and saute them over fairly high heat in the oil or butter until lightly browned and almost cooked (3-4 minutes), adding a good pinch of salt on the way. Have ready a 12″x12″ piece of foil.  Place the beans and mushrooms on the foil, season with pepper and a little more salt, and scatter half the cheese on top. Fold the foil over the mixture to make a secure package. Bake for 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and the beans and mushrooms are cooked to your liking. I say this because some people like their beans almost raw while we prefer them just barely crisp. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and serve, preferably still in its foil wrapper. The marvelous aroma as you open the package will send you to the moon.

Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Black Olives

I started making this years ago as a “low cal” dish during one of my periodic dieting binges.  It is really versatile: You can make it with green and/or yellow zucchini (the smaller, the better), leave out the olives or add feta cheese. For a great pasta sauce just add a tablespoon of pesto.  I usually make it adding the zucchini directly to the tomato sauce.  However, if you sauté them first in a little oil until they brown lightly, it about halves the cooking time. Either way, it’s a delicious – and healthy – dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (or 6 skinned and chopped tomatoes)

1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil

4-6 zucchini, depending on size

12 black olives, pitted and halved

Slice the zucchini into thin (1/4″) rounds, salt lightly and let drain in a colander while you make a simple tomato sauce: Sauté the onion in the olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, well-diced tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes to combine. Pat the zucchini dry with paper towels and add to the tomato sauce.  Cook until they are still a bit bitey – this will take about 20 minutes.  Garnish with parsley or basil and the olives.  

Jicama, Orange, Cucumber, and Radish Salad

This is adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.  It’s so good that you won’t be able to stop eating it.  Zero calories. Does this sound like a commercial?   Make it and it’ll soon become a favorite.

Serves 4 

Ingredients

1 medium jícama

1 cucumber

2 seedless oranges

6 radishes

1/3 cup lime juice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Peel the jícama, cut it into 1/4-inch slices and then into batons about 1″ x 1/4″.  Salt, and toss with half the lime juice and half the chili powder. Let it marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds if they’re well formed. Slice into half-moons,1/4 inch thick. Peel the orange and cut it into small segments, removing all the pith. Slice the radishes thinly. The aim of all this slicing and dicing is to make each bite fill your mouth with a balance of flavors so that none dominates.

Mix these ingredients together, adding the rest of the lime juice and the chili powder and more salt  to taste.  Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve immediately. But don’t worry if the dish stands a while – the ingredients will weep a little making an even richer sauce.

While asparagus at the height of its season is probably best with little more than melted butter or olive oil and lemon, those imported at other times from southern climes shouldn’t be totally ignored. I know this would probably be rejected by hardline locavores, but if you love asparagus as much as we do, there are many tempting dishes that can alleviate your asparagus craving in the winter.

Eggs and asparagus have a natural affinity. They are wonderful companions whether the eggs are boiled, fried, poached, scrambled, or made into an omelette or quiche.

Our favorite is an Italian frittata. There’s not a significant difference between a frittata and a Spanish tortilla, and once you’ve mastered the technique, the sky’s the limit in the variety of ingredients you can use. In addition to the classic potato tortilla, we especially love the combination of onion, shrimp and spinach and the French omelette paysanne which includes onion, bacon or ham, mushrooms, potato and red peppers.

Asparagus Frittata

Serves 4

2-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, sliced thin

12 fat asparagus, tough ends removed

8 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup parmesan, grated

Saute the onion in 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 10″ non-stick skillet over low heat until softened.  Meanwhile, steam the asparagus until they pierce easily with a knife, depending on size, 5 – 8 minutes. Cut each asparagus spear into 3-4 pieces, add them , the onions and half the parmesan to the beaten eggs and salt and pepper to taste. 

Add a second tablespoon of oil to the pan and increase the  heat until the pan is very hot. Add the egg mixture, distributing the asparagus and onion evenly. It will immediately begin to bubble and solidify around the edges.  With a spatula, and working as quickly as you can, start pulling the cooked egg into the center of the pan, releasing the rest to the outside.  If your pan is hot enough and you work quickly, you should have a fairly solid (but not dry) mass within a minute or two. Now comes the tricky part: You need to place a plate slightly larger than the skillet on top of it and invert the frittata onto it.  It may be a bit tricky the first time but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Now add another half tablespoon of oil to the pan, let it heat briefly, and slide the frittata back into the pan, uncooked side down.

Give it a minute or so (no more) and it’ll be cooked. Many instructions for frittatas and tortillas advise cooking it for several minutes on each side or putting it under the broiler instead of inverting it.  This makes for one tough frittata.  Slide or flip it back onto the (cleaned) plate. Shower with the rest parmesan and serve immediately.

When to have this? It’s great for lunch or a light supper with a green salad,  and wonderful picnic fare, cut into cake-style slices and served at room temperature.

Sam says:

When I was a little girl, my mom used to make us soft-boiled eggs with soldiers whenever we were in need of comfort food, long before the term “comfort food” existed. Soldiers are essentially buttered toast cut into strips, making them ideal for dunking. I loved placing my egg in my little chicken egg cup (which I still have!), tapping off the “lid” of it, and dipping each soldier in slowly to soak up the golden nectar inside.

I still love soft-boiled eggs, though nowadays I prefer using asparagus as the “soldier” or peeling them entirely and placing them atop a hearty salad of greens with bacon and potatoes.

To make the perfect soft-boiled egg, I place an egg in a pot of boiling water, leave it for five minutes, and then drain and run it briefly under cold water.  When it’s cool enough to peel, I do so. Delicious!


As many of you probably know, San Francisco doesn’t have well-defined seasons. In fact, summer is often foggy, cold and windy. Although we are almost always rewarded with beautiful weather in the fall, it’s easy to reach a point – dare I say it – when you can’t face one more heirloom tomato salad or another picnic in the park, but instead long for a steaming bowl of minestrone or a civilized sit-down brunch.

Being creatures of habit, our Sunday brunch involves two constants: champagne, and eggs in some shape or form.

We  always kick off at noon with a glass of bubbly. Often it’s the real thing, but we are also partial to prosecco, cava, or any other methode champenoise, as long as it’s not sweet.  Sometimes we add a few drops of a fruit liquor, either creme de cassis, peach or raspberry.

Then an egg dish: Maybe a Spanish tortilla, a goat cheese souffle, huevos rancheros, or arguably the best of all: piperade.

A popular Basque dish, piperade is a mixture of olive oil, onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes combined with eggs.  Most recipes add the beaten eggs directly to the cooked pepper mixture but I think this is a mistake as it makes the eggs grainy and an unattractive pink color. Better to scramble the eggs slowly until half cooked and then tip them into the piperade. The heat will complete the cooking.

It’s a simple dish for two or four, but can easily be turned into a festive brunch for a half dozen or more. You would simply need to increase the pepper and egg mixture, add a garnish of ham and, if you want to be really decadent, some fried bread.  I like to serve it on a large platter with the piperade in the middle and the ham and fried bread round the edges. In the Basque country, they use jambon de Bayonne but you can substitute Canadian bacon or any similar slices of cured ham.  For the bread, cut thinnish slices of a baguette and fry them in oil until golden. They are so delicious they could even be worth the million extra calories.

Piperade

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for the ham and bread)

1 large onion, chopped fine

2 red, 1 green, 1 yellow pepper, cut into strips, 1″ x 1/2″

1 large clove garlic, chopped fine

3/4 of a  28-oz. can diced tomatoes (not in puree) 

8 eggs

Salt, a pinch of cayenne or piment d’Espelette

4 slices ham, about  4″ x 3″, cut in half        

8 slices of baguette, or other bread of your choice

Warm 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan.  Add the onion and cook 5 minutes over low heat.  Add the peppers and cook a further 20 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes and the garlic and continue to cook over low heat until nearly all the liquid has been absorbed and the peppers have softened but retain some bite.  Season with salt and a pinch of cayenne or piment d’Espelette.  In a separate (smaller) pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over low heat and add the eggs, stirring, until large curds start to form.  Tip the eggs into the pepper mixture and stir briefly to incorporate.  The heat of the peppers will complete the cooking.  If you’re not planning to add the ham and fried bread, serve immediately with toast or French bread.

 If you’re going for broke, BEFORE cooking the eggs (which will require your undivided attention), and while the pepper mixture is simmering, fry the ham briefly until it starts to color.  Remove and drain on paper towels. Add a few more tablespoons of oil to the pan and fry the bread on one side until golden. Be careful, it can go from golden to burnt in a flash. Turn the bread over, add a bit more oil if necessary and repeat the process. Keep the ham and bread warm while you cook the eggs. Put the egg and pepper mixture in the center of a large platter and arrange the ham and fried bread around the perimeter. 

This is a common dish in the Basque country, such a wonderful place to visit. Tucked into where the north-east corner of Spain and the southwest corner of France meet the Atlantic, it has a character, culture and language all of its own. Lively San Sebastian, famous for its many Michelin-starred restaurants, has a charming old town great for bar-hopping and for sampling the local tapas (called pintxos) – arguably the best in Spain. The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao with its mindblowing architecture is worth a trans-Atlantic voyage. The colorful fishing villages along the coast and the picturesque towns that dot the emerald green foothills of the Pyrenees have a charm all their own, and some of the best food you’ll find anywhere.

If a trip there is not in your immediate plans, perhaps a helping of piperade will whet your appetite.

Sam adds: A few years ago I discovered for myself the art of cooking bell peppers: Patience. If you have patience, you can turn out deliciously sauteed peppers every time simply by keeping the heat low in the pan and giving them time to soften slowly in oil. They’re a wonderful thing to know how to make because you can add them to so many things. Two of my favorites: toasted baguette spread with goat cheese and piled high with sauteed red peppers, and sausage and peppers served over pasta. Though I’ve been eating my mom’s piperade for decades, I’ve never attempted to make it myself before last weekend. I was happily surprised to find that it’s much easier to make than I imagined. Essentially it’s simply combining two things I already have a pretty good handle on: sauteed peppers & scrambled eggs. The fried bread, in my opinion, is mandatory when making this dish.

Today we had an amazing, simple lunch on the patio.  Even though we’re into November, this is about as close to a perfect Summer day as we get in San Francisco: Blue skies, 70-odd degrees with just a slight hint in the air of Fall to come.

This morning while passing through the UCSF hospital after an appointment  we came upon a Farmer’s Market right there in the lobby  (only in San Francisco, you might say, and apparently only on Wednesdays). Crates of beautiful veggies, all organic and bursting with freshness. We swooped on the heirloom tomatoes, big bunches of basil and coriander, baby new potatoes, green beans and, best of all, ears of corn picked this morning, the vendor assured us.

We raced home to throw the corn on the stove and made some of our favorite coriander butter in the pestle and mortar to douse it with. (It’s very easy to make: Pound 1/4 cup of coriander with a large pinch of salt to form a paste, then add 1 oz. of butter and keep pounding until it’s a lovely green and easy to spread. If you like it spicy, add a few drops of the bright green Chile Habanero sauce which you can find at most supermarkets.) We sliced up a few of the perfectly ripe tomatoes – not squishy as Heirlooms often are – anointed them with basil, a splash of our olive oil from Provence, a smidgeon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and dug out the last of the chevre we’d brought back from France and plopped in the middle of the plate. With some crusty bread to mop up the juices, we toasted the end of summer with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

The rest of the basil was of course perfect to make pesto for our favorite pasta dish from Genoa. A local pasta called trenette is mixed with baby new potatoes, either just boiled or par-boiled and fried until a bit crisp in olive oil, cooked green beans, as much pesto as you think you need, and lots of Parmesan. Although it might seem odd to add potatoes to pasta, the different textures work wonderfully. This is a very old dish – it was eaten by Ligurian monks in the 15th century as a Lenten dish – which has become quite popular lately. However, in most recipes I read, the pasta, potatoes and beans are cooked in one pot and I think trying to get everything to come out cooked just right is way too difficult. It’s not much more trouble to cook things separately and better results are assured.

As for the pesto, I love to make it in the pestle and mortar (yes, I’m a P & M freak!) because the flavor and texture are better, but if you don’t have one, the food processor does a perfectly acceptable job. I don’t put pine nuts in this pesto because I don’t think they add to it, but of course you can if you’re so inclined. I also add the parmesan separately, grating it on top of each serving at the table.

Pasta Pesto with New Potatoes and Green Beans

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3/4 lb. linguine, spaghetti, or pasta of your choice

12 baby new potatoes (preferably red) 

1/2 lb. green beans

2 packed cups basil, large stems removed

1 large clove garlic

salt, pepper, olive oil, parmesan

Make the pesto: Either pound the basil, salt and garlic in a pestle and mortar to form a paste and then add enough olive oil (about 6  or 7 tablespoons) to make a thick emulsion, or do the same in the food processor without letting the pesto become too smooth.

Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the potatoes and cook until almost done (about 15 minutes), or until fully cooked if you don’t plan on frying them. Drain. Cut the potatoes in half  and  fry them in olive oil on medium-high heat until brown and crisp.

In a separate pot of boiling water, cook the beans uncovered (to preserve their color). Cooking time will depend on how large and fresh the beans are, but 5-8 minutes should do it. Drain.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, according to the package instructions.  (I find that although we like our pasta al dente, packaged pasta instructions generally underestimate the cooking time by about 2 minutes.) Drain well.

Finally, put the beans, potatoes and pasta in your serving dish, add the pesto, and mix together well. Allow each person to grate fresh parmesan and pepper on top as they like.  Enjoy!

Sam adds: I make this dish often because it’s so easy and is the favorite of more than one of us. I always fry the potatoes (never just boil them) and I like to add extra pesto and veggies to the mix. For example, I would add 3/4 lb. of beans, 16 potatoes, and 3 cups of basil.  (Of course if you up the basil to 3 cups, you’ll have to adjust your olive oil and garlic accordingly: 8-10 tbsp. of oil and 1 1/2 cloves of garlic.)