Articles in Vegetables

Harīsa. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Given how easy it is to make harīsa, the ubiquitous chile paste of North Africa, I’ve never had much use for those inferior tubes of the stuff. Harīsa is the most important condiment used in Algerian and Tunisian cooking, and you need to make this recipe and keep it in the refrigerator before attempting any other Algerian or Tunisian recipe you might have in my or others’ recipes.

It’s hard to believe that so essential a condiment could evolve only after the introduction of the New World capsicum after Columbus’ voyages. It’s thought that the chile entered North Africa by way of the Spanish presidios that dotted the coast in the 16th century or came up from West Africa overland from the Portuguese holdings there.

Harīsa comes from the Arabic word for “to break into pieces,” which is done by pounding hot chiles in a mortar, although today a food processor can be used. This famous hot chile paste is also found in the cooking of Libya, and even in western Sicily where cùscusu is made. In Tunisia it would be prepared fresh at home. The simplest recipe is merely a paste of red chile and salt that is covered in olive oil and stored.

Harīsa is sold in tubes by both Tunisian and French firms. The Tunisian one is better, but neither can compare to your own freshly made from this recipe.

I first became intrigued with making harīsa from a preparation made by Mouldi Hadiji, my Arabic teacher more than 30 years ago. I concocted this version, based on a Berber-style one I had in Djerba, from a recipe description given to me by a merchant in the market in Tunis, who unfortunately provided measurements that could last me a century (calling for 50 pounds of chile).

Tlitlu bi’l-Lahm (fresh pasta pieces with lamb in spicy harīsa sauce). Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Tlitlu bi’l-Lahm (fresh pasta pieces with lamb in spicy harīsa sauce). Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Some cooks also use mint, onions or olive oil in their harīsa. You also don’t have to use the exact dried chiles I call for, but at least one should be quite piquant.

Be careful when handling hot chiles, making sure that you do not put your fingers near your eyes, nose or mouth, or you will regret it. Wash your hands well with soap and water after handling chiles. After you make your first harīsa, with all the modern conveniences, I hope you can appreciate what exacting work this was, making it in the traditional mortar — 50 pounds of the stuff!

Harīsa

Prep time: 1 1/4 hours

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

2 ounces dried Guajillo chiles

2 ounces dried Anaheim chiles

5 garlic cloves, peeled

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Extra virgin olive oil for topping off

Directions

1. Soak the chiles in tepid water to cover until softened, 1 hour. Drain and remove the stems and seeds. Place in a blender or food processor with the garlic, water and olive oil and process until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.

2. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the caraway, coriander and salt. Store in a jar and top off, covering the surface of the paste with a layer of olive oil. Whenever the paste is used, you must always top off with olive oil making sure no paste is exposed to air, otherwise it will spoil.

Variation: To make a hot harīsa, use 4 ounces dried Guajillo chiles and 1/2 ounce dried de Arbol peppers.

Note: To make ṣālṣa al-harīsa, used as an accompaniment to grilled meats, stir together 2 teaspoons harīsa, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves.

Main photo: Harisa. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Thanksgiving is surely a time for gastronomic excess, but at the same time, unless your children are adult cooks as mine are and the work is joyfully parceled out, the task of cooking Thanksgiving dinner can become burdensome and stressful. But dinner, especially the Thanksgiving sides, shouldn’t be stressful.

When I was a kid, I remember it was my aunt or my mom cooking and we kids played football in the cold late November air. Entering the house to the aroma of that roasting turkey is as indelible a memory as any.

Simple, satisfying green Thanksgiving sides

Boiling broccoli for broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Boiling broccoli for broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

These days we all cook, and there is much hilarity as we cook and eat all day. We gather about 11 a.m. and shoot for the turkey carving around 4:30 p.m.

I can’t say our food is simple — it’s mostly labor-intensive — but there are three wonderful Thanksgiving side dishes that can fit right into the program of a too-tired cook or a teeny kitchen. I call them the three B’s, three vegetable recipes that are perfect for Thanksgiving, easy to do, more-or-less traditional and all begin with the letter B: broccoli, beans and Brussels sprouts.

Broiled Broccoli

Broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broiled broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

I like to make this preparation when I’ve cooked something else in the oven that is either richer or more complex and has taken more of my time, such as a roast turkey. It seems almost no one has had broiled broccoli, so you’ll get positive comments. And it’s so simple it barely needs a recipe. The turkey is going to rest for 20 minutes, so that’s the perfect time to raise the oven to “broil” and cook this.

Prep time: 15 minutes to preheat broiler

Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3 pounds broccoli

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil and plunge the broccoli in, stems first. Boil until the broccoli is still bright green and slightly tender when skewered into the stem portion, 6 minutes, but not more. Drain well.

3. Slice the stem at a sharp diagonal, then slice the florets in half. Toss the broccoli in a large bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the broccoli, cut side up, on a broiler tray. Broil until blackened on the edges, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Green Beans with Pine Nuts

Green beans with pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015Clifford A. Wright

Green beans with pine nuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This is about the easiest way to make green beans sparkle in taste and color. This preparation occasionally appears on our Thanksgiving table as it can be assigned to someone who feels they are not a good cook and they won’t mess it up. It makes a nice room-temperature antipasto the day after.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds green beans, trimmed

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 to 6 tablespoons pine nuts

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the green beans until no longer crunchy, about 10 minutes. Drain the beans and cool quickly under cold running water so that they stop cooking, and then let drain further.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the pine nuts until golden, about 1 minute. Add the green beans. When the pine nuts begin to brown, take the pan off the heat and serve.

Griddled Brussels Sprouts

Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This is as simple as it gets. Typically we serve this preparation as a kind of appetizer, as it’s easy to cook, easy to eat and tossed with salt — just perfect with a pre-turkey drink.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise

Coarse sea salt

Directions

Preheat a cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat for 10 minutes. Pour oil into the skillet or griddle until slightly thicker than a film of oil. Place the Brussels sprouts in the skillet, cut side down. Cook until blackened golden brown, then turn with tongs and cook until the convex side is also browned, 5 to 8 minutes in all. Sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with more olive oil, if desired, and serve hot.

Note: By the time you place the last cut Brussels sprout down, you will probably need to begin turning the first.

Main photo: Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese, cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Thanksgiving is the best of times. Friends and family gather together to celebrate one another and the season. And yet there is the nagging problem of devising a menu that protects tradition but still surprises. Chef Keith Stich has an answer. Use the flavors of Mexico. In his kitchen at Red O Restaurant in Santa Monica, California, Stich demonstrated how to spice up a traditional succotash by adding Mexican ingredients.

The Santa Monica restaurant is one of a dozen restaurants and bistros opened by chef Rick Bayless, well known for his many awards, cookbooks and television appearances. When Bayless was looking for a chef to help him expand his Southern California operation, he searched for chefs who shared his passion for Mexican cooking. Stich was selected for a cook-off in Chicago at Bayless’ Frontera Grill.

Inspired for succotash fusion

Chef Keith Stich, Red O Restaurant Santa Monica with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Keith Stich of Red O Restaurant Santa Monica, with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Growing up, Stich loved eating Mexican food. As a young chef, he specialized in the preparation of steak and seafood in restaurants in Colorado and California. He learned to cook dishes with strong, clean flavors. For the competition at Frontera Grill, Stich had to prepare one entrée. Four chefs competed. Stich would win or lose the job based on whether Bayless liked his lobster enchiladas.

The competition among the chefs was tough. But Bayless was impressed. He hired Stich to open Red O in Newport Beach. In a competitive setting, the restaurant did very well. After Newport Beach, Stich was asked to open the restaurant across from the Santa Monica pier, a prime tourist destination, and as corporate executive chef to oversee all three of the Southern California restaurants with more planned in the future.

Celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

As the seasons change and the cooks come up with innovations, Stich proposes new dishes to Bayless either over the phone or in person. Sometimes he’ll fly to Chicago and prepare the dishes in the Frontera Grill kitchen. Once Bayless signs off on the new dishes, Stich updates the Red O menus on the West Coast.

Making everything from scratch is an essential part of the Red O identity. Fresh limes and oranges are juiced in-house. All the salsas and sauces are made fresh. The produce comes from local purveyors and the farmers markets. In that sense, the West Coast cooks have a distinct advantage over their Midwestern colleagues. Leafy greens are available in abundance in January at the farmers markets in Los Angeles long before they appear in the Chicago markets.

Adding a Mexican twist to a classic

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

To create a flavorful side dish that would go well with traditional Thanksgiving dishes, Stich used butternut squash, the quintessential fall vegetable, as a substitute for beans in succotash. He gave the dish a flavor boost by adapting the restaurant’s street corn side dish. To the squash he added dry-salty cotija cheese, earthy poblano peppers and spicy cilantro.

So this Thanksgiving as you help yourself to slices of turkey, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, now you can add spice to tradition with a large serving of Mexican succotash.

Street Corn and Butternut Squash Succotash

Thanksgiving Succotash, poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Thanksgiving succotash features poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Given how busy Thanksgiving Day can be, an advantage of Stich’s succotash is that all the elements can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated in airtight containers. Just before serving, when the turkey is resting and the gravy is simmering, the succotash can be given a final sauté on the stove and served with the other dishes.

Poblano chilies and cotija cheese are available in Latin markets. In order to achieve the Mexican flavor profile, the chilies cannot be substituted with green bell peppers; nor can the cotija cheese be replaced with feta cheese.

Because corn season is ending, Stich suggests buying fresh corn now if possible, boiling the cobs as directed, cutting off the kernels and freezing in corn stock, which is made as described below. Cover the kernels with the stock, seal and freeze. The stock will protect the kernels from freezer burn. The day before using, defrost the containers. Strain out the kernels and use them as indicated in the recipe. Reserve and refreeze the corn stock to use in soups and stocks.

When fresh corn is not available in the markets, frozen corn may be substituted, but not canned corn.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 ears of yellow corn, shucked, washed

1 small butternut squash, washed, seeded, diced, yielding 1½ cups

1 small red onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, diced, yielding ½ cup

1 roasted large poblano chili, washed, charred, seeded, cleaned, yielding ¾ cup cooked

2 tablespoon grated cotija cheese plus ½ tablespoon as garnish

½ tablespoon fresh cilantro, washed, leaves only, finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon canola oil

Sea salt to taste

1 tablespoon micro cilantro (optional)

2 tablespoons sour cream or Mexican creama (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat a grill.

2. Boil the corn on the cobs in water uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the corn from the water. Using tongs, place the corn on the hot grill. Turn frequently until the outside is slightly charred.

4. Place the grilled ears of corn into a bowl of water with two cups of ice cubes.

5. Once the corn is chilled, use a sharp knife and cut off the kernels. As much as possible, keep the kernels together in slabs. Set aside and if not using until the next day, place in an airtight container and refrigerate.

6. If the kernels are to be frozen, place the cobs back in the hot water. Boil another 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Set aside to cool. Then place the cooked kernels in an airtight container and cover with the corn stock. Seal and freeze.

7. Peel the butternut squash, removing the outer skin, seeds and fibers inside. Discard. Using a sharp knife, cut the squash into ¼-inch dice.

8. Add the kosher salt to a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add the diced squash and cook quickly, approximately 45 to 60 seconds or until fork tender.

9. Prepare an ice bath. Strain the cooked squash and place into the ice bath to chill. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

10. Place the poblano chili over a high flame on the stove burner. Char the outside, turning often to evenly blister the skin. Remove and place under running water. Rinse off the blackened skin. Cut open the chili. Remove the stem and all the seeds and discard. Cut the poblano into ¼-inch dice.

11. Finely grate the cotija cheese. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

12. With all the elements cooked and prepped, all that is needed is to combine and lightly sauté the ingredients. Heat a large saucepan. Add the canola oil.

13. Sauté the diced red onion until translucent and lightly browned. Add the poblano chili, stir well to heat, then add butternut squash and corn kernels until all ingredients are hot.

14. Sprinkle the cotija cheese on top and heat until the cheese melts. Mix in the chopped cilantro.

15. Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl. Garnish with more grated cotija. Decorate with dollops of sour cream or Mexican creama (optional) and micro cilantro (optional). Serve hot.

Main photo: Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Serve the gnocchi as a first course in the Italian way or indulge in them with full American gusto. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Visit any fruit and vegetable market in northern Italy in the first chill of autumn and you may be forgiven for mistaking it for a New England farm stand.

You’ll see apples and pears, certainly, but also great piles of pumpkins and pumpkin-like squashes.

Pick the right squash

A local farmer’s market is your best source for the season’s bounty. A kabocha squash (foreground) is a better choice for “pumpkin” gnocchi than the cheese pumpkin in the background. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

A local farmer’s market is your best source for the season’s bounty. A kabocha squash (foreground) is a better choice for “pumpkin” gnocchi than the cheese pumpkin in the background. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

The Italian language doesn’t distinguish between the two. They’re all zucca, an ingredient of amazing versatility when an Italian cook gets hold of it.

Zucca is used to fill the hat-like cappelacci di zucca in Ferrara, made into gnocchi in Udine, folded into risotto near Mantua. Italians will toss hunks of pumpkin with pasta and Parmesan, add them to frittatas or purée the cooked vegetable into soup. And that’s just the savory side of the repertoire!

Just when all this started is a little unclear. Pumpkins and squashes were a New World import, but since the word for native European gourds in Italian is the same as the one for the rotund American arrivals, old recipes don’t give much clue. Certainly Renaissance-era recipes must refer to gourds. But what should we say of Vincenzo Corrado’s 18th-century instructions for making fritters, for which mashed “zucca” is mixed with ricotta, grating cheese, eggs and spices? “Delicious” is the first word that comes to mind! And certainly worth trying to replicate.

Italians aren’t the only ones to sow confusion in what to call the pumpkin harvest. Americans are pretty loose with what we deem a pumpkin or a squash. New World pumpkins and squashes as well as Old World gourds — along with melons and cucumbers — all belong to the Cucurbita genus, but beyond that indisputable fact little else is clear.

The big round orange ones we use for carving jack-o’-lanterns belong to the C. pepo species, but these are mostly useless for cooking. The so-called cheese pumpkin may look like a tan version of its spooky cousin but belongs in fact to the C. moschata species, and is delicious to cook with — as are many relatives of the C. maxima, which can grow into one of the giant pumpkins you find at competitions but is also cultivated in the more manageable form of buttercup and kabocha squashes.

Good choice for gnocchi: Jarrahdale pumpkin

Jarrahdale pumpkins are delicious, if you can track one down. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Jarrahdale pumpkins are delicious, if you can track one down. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

The Jarrahdale pumpkin belongs to the same family. As a rule, the many varieties of zucca found across Italy belong to the C. moschata or C. maxima clans. These tend to have sweeter, denser, dryer flesh, better suited for many an Italian recipe including the following one for gnocchi.

Some gnocchi recipes require the pumpkin or squash to be peeled and cut into pieces, but more often than not what is needed is a purée. The simplest way of doing this is to take a large sharp knife, stab it in near the stem and pivot it down to cut the squash in half. Do the same on the other side. Scoop out the seeds, place both halves on a lightly oiled baking pan and set in a 350 F oven for an hour to an hour and a half, depending the size. When a small, sharp knife slides in without resistance, you’re in business. Cool the squash, scoop out the flesh and purée in a food processor. Or just mash it if you want a slightly chunkier consistency. Any extra will freeze beautifully.

Pumpkin Gnocchi With Crisp-Fried Sage Leaves

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 6-8 minutes

Total time: 38 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup pumpkin or squash purée (see above)
About 1 1/2 cups (divided) all-purpose flour
1 cup grated Italian Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
1 large egg
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Cornmeal
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves (about 50)

Directions

 

Gather gnocchi ingredients

Ricotta with a low moisture content is best for this recipe. If there’s an Italian specialty store near you, seek it out. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Ricotta with a low moisture content is best for this recipe. If there’s an Italian specialty store near you, seek it out. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

 

1. Combine the pumpkin with 1 cup flour, the Parmesan, ricotta, egg, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste, and pepper.

Make a smooth, soft dough

Just how much flour you need to add depends on the moisture content of the pumpkin and ricotta. The dough should be a little softer than cookie dough. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Just how much flour you need to add depends on the moisture content of the pumpkin and ricotta. The dough should be a little softer than cookie dough. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

2. Stir until smooth. The dough should be a little softer than cookie dough. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Roll it out and cut into pieces

Once the gnocchi are cut, toss them well with flour. Freeze any that you don’t use right away. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Once the gnocchi are cut, toss them well with flour. Freeze any that you don’t use right away. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

3. To form the gnocchi, heavily flour a board. Using floured hands, roll out the dough into cylinders about 1 inch in diameter. Cut these with a floured knife at half-inch intervals. Roll lightly in flour and place on trays heavily dusted with cornmeal. The gnocchi should not touch. Refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Freeze for longer storage.

Fry sage leaves in butter

Sage is a perfect foil for the gnocchi’s sweetness. When fried it loses much of its pungency. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

Sage is a perfect foil for the gnocchi’s sweetness. When fried it loses much of its pungency. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

4. Combine the oil and butter in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Heat until the butter just begins to color. Add the sage leaves and cook, stirring until very crispy and lightly browned. Set aside.

5. To cook the gnocchi: Bring about 1 1/2 gallons water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt to a gentle boil in a large saucepan. Add the fresh or frozen gnocchi and simmer for 6-8 minutes. Carefully remove the cooked dumplings with a slotted spoon and toss with the sage butter mixture. Serve more Parmesan on the side.

Main Photo: The finished pumpkin gnocchi with sage leaves offers a rich combination of fall colors. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl

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Red and green bell peppers for late-summer antipasti. Credit: Copyright 2013 Wynne Everett

Eating seasonally has been the rule of thumb for cooks for millennia. But if you were to read the food blogosphere, you would think that it was just discovered. And now that we are in the early fall, there are certain foods you can tell are in season because they’re inexpensive and abundant at the farmers market. Of course, if you have a garden, you know that too.

It’s a bit more difficult to tell what’s happening seasonally at supermarkets because supermarkets don’t follow seasons as they provide consumers foods all year round, often imported from far away, such as those grapes from Chile.

I am not slavish to the seasons, but I tend to stick somewhat closely to the best local and seasonal produce. I do so gastronomically rather than out of any political correctness. The reason is simple: They taste better.

There’s one vegetable that is rather prominent now in my local Southern California farmers markets and my little roof-top garden: bell peppers. I like them ripe and red, and I often serve them in an Italian style as an antipasto. Here are four very simple ways of preparing red bell pepper antipasti. I usually serve them before the main course, which in the early fall is still quite often grilled foods.

Roasted Green And Red Bell Peppers With Toscano Salami

Roasted red and green bell peppers with Toscano salami Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Roasted red and green bell peppers with Toscano salami Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

The natural sweetness of bell peppers can flavor many other foods, and that’s why I like to serve this antipasto before plainer or simply cooked meats. The Toscano salami is available in Italian markets and some supermarkets. It has a darker color with larger, but fewer, chunks of fat than the common Genoa salami. Use whatever salami is available. Choose large and fleshy bell peppers for this dish.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

4 green bell peppers

1 red bell pepper

8 slices Toscano salami, each slice cut in half

1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon fennel seed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon pine nuts

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed (optional)

Directions

1. Place the peppers on a wire rack over a burner on high heat and roast until their skins blister black on all sides, turning occasionally with tongs. Remove the peppers and place into a paper or heavy plastic bag to steam for 20 minutes, which will make them easier to peel. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, rub off as much blackened peel as you can and remove the seeds by rubbing with a paper towel (to avoid washing away flavorful juices) or by rinsing under running water (to remove more easily).

2. Cut the peppers into thin strips and arrange on a platter. Surround the peppers with the halves of salami. Sprinkle the peppers with the garlic, onion, oregano, fennel seed, olive oil and pine nuts. Place the anchovy fillets on top, if desired, and serve at room temperature.

Roasted Red, Yellow, Green Bell Peppers In Olive Oil, Oregano, Anchovies

Roasted red, yellow and green bell peppers in olive oil, anchovies and oregano. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Roasted red, yellow and green bell peppers in olive oil, anchovies and oregano. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This colorful antipasto platter is perfect for a large buffet table. In Italy, trattorie will put these tables outdoors (fuori tavola) and sometimes allow their customers to serve themselves. Ideally, you will use a colorful polychromatic platter for serving that perhaps you’ve brought back from Italy. If you make this antipasto a day ahead of time, make sure you hold the black pepper and anchovies until it is ready to be served.

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

4 red bell peppers

4 yellow bell peppers

4 green bell peppers

1 tablespoon dried oregano or 2 tablespoons fresh oregano

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

8 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Place the peppers on a wire rack over a burner on high heat and roast until their skins blister black on all sides, turning occasionally with tongs. Remove the peppers and place in a paper or heavy plastic bag to steam for 20 minutes, which will make them easier to peel. When cool enough to handle, rub off as much blackened peel as you can and remove the seeds by rubbing with a paper towel (to avoid washing away flavorful juices) or by rinsing under running water (to remove more easily).

2. Toss the peppers together and let drain for 1 hour in a strainer.

3. Toss the peppers again with the oregano and olive oil. Arrange on a platter so that the colors are nicely distributed and place the anchovy fillets on top and sprinkle with pepper. Keep covered and refrigerated, but serve at room temperature.

Roasted Red And Yellow Bell Peppers With Shaved Celery Heart

Roasted red and yellow bell peppers with shaved celery heart. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Roasted red and yellow bell peppers with shaved celery heart. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This is a nice antipasto for an early fall day when you have the grill going, as the best way to cook the peppers is on the grill, which gives them a nice smoky flavor. Alternatively, you can blister their skins as instructed in the recipes above.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time:  25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 red bell peppers, roasted until the skin blisters black, skin discarded, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

4 yellow bell peppers, roasted until the skin blisters black, skin discarded, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1 celery heart, very thinly sliced

3 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced

16 green olives

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Arrange the bell peppers attractively on an oval platter. Spread the sliced celery heart and scallions in the center. Garnish with the olives and sprinkle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, if using, and salt and pepper.

Roasted Red Bell Peppers With Mozzarella And Prosciutto

Roasted Red Bell Peppers With Mozzarella and Prosciutto. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Roasted red bell peppers with mozzarella and prosciutto. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This is a five-minute antipasto for a time you are too tired to cook or when you have unexpected guests. Excellent quality roasted red peppers sold in Italian groceries, supermarket salad bars and even in jars and cans make this dish an easy one. Of course, you can make them on the grill, too.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 0 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese

1/4 pound prosciutto di Parma, thinly sliced

3 large red bell peppers, roasted until the skin blisters black, skin discarded, seeded, quartered

5 large fresh basil leaves, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Slice the mozzarella into 3-by-1/2-inch rectangles. Place each piece of cheese on a slice of prosciutto and roll them up. Take a quarter of a roasted red pepper and stuff the wrapped cheese inside.

2. Arrange attractively on a platter and sprinkle the basil over all. Drizzle the olive oil over the cheese, add a sprinkling of pepper and serve.

Main photo: Red and green bell peppers for late-summer antipasti. Credit: Copyright 2013 Wynne Everett

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Sorrel soup with crème fraîche prepared by chef Jacques Fiorentino at L'Assiette Steak Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Puréed vegetable soups make an excellent entrée for a delicious meal consisting entirely of a soup and salad.

Wanting an authentic French recipe, I visited chef Jacques Fiorentino in the West Hollywood kitchen of his restaurant L’Assiette Steak Frites where he demonstrated his easy-to-prepare sorrel soup.

Sorrel brings dark, leafy goodness

Fresh sorrel, Coleman Family Farm (Santa Barbara and Ventura County) at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Fresh sorrel, Coleman Family Farm (Santa Barbara and Ventura County) at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Sorrel is not spinach. The leaves are similar, but the flavor is completely different. Richly flavored with citrus notes, sorrel’s dark green pointed leaves are a good source of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

Unlike many leafy greens, sorrel is a perennial. One spring we were given a small plant in a 3-inch pot. During the first year the plant doubled in size. By pinching off the floral buds and harvesting the young leaves, the plant flourished and we enjoyed sorrel soup on a regular basis. After several years it grew so vigorously that it all but took over the garden.

A riff on soupe à l’oseille, a French classic

Calling his restaurant Steak Frites, Fiorentino announced to the world that his restaurant was solidly in the French bistro tradition. The dark wood interior and precise menu puts a spotlight on favorites that would be found in neighborhood restaurants throughout France.

Like Proust and his madeleines, Fiorentino uses a few carefully chosen dishes to evoke his childhood in Paris. For him that means grilled steak, double-cooked french fries (frites), foie gras and sorrel soup with deep herbal accents. As a nod to contemporary preferences he added salmon and, for vegetarians, portobello mushrooms with frites.

Wash. Sauté. Simmer. Blend. Season.

Immersion blender puréeing sorrel soup in the kitchen at L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Copyright2015 David Latt

Immersion blender puréeing sorrel soup in the kitchen at L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Copyright2015 David Latt

Depending on the chicken flavoring used, you will need more or less salt. Homemade chicken stock has the least salt and is preferred. Packaged stock, chicken concentrate and bouillon cubes have considerably higher salt contents.

Good quality concentrated chicken stock and bouillon cubes can be purchased in restaurant supply stores and supermarkets. Since the sodium content varies considerably, delay adding salt to the soup until all ingredients have been blended, then taste and season.

A vegetarian version can be created by substituting vegetable for chicken stock. As with chicken stock, homemade vegetable stock is preferable to bouillon cubes and will have a lower salt content.

In the restaurant, Fiorentino uses potato flakes for flavor and convenience. If you would prefer to use potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted water until a paring knife pierces the flesh easily. Allow to cool, peel, cut into quarter-sized pieces, add to the soup and blend.

L’Assiette Sorrel Soup

Sorrel soup with sorrel simmering in the kitchen of chef Jacques Fiorentino's L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Sorrel soup with sorrel simmering in the kitchen of chef Jacques Fiorentino’s L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces unsalted butter

1 small red onion, washed, peeled, roughly chopped

1/2 stalk celery, washed, trimmed, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves

1 medium-sized potato, Yukon Gold preferred, washed

1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred) or 1½ cups water and 3 cubes Knorr chicken bouillon

8 ounces whole milk

4 ounces cream

1/4 pound fresh sorrel, washed, leaves only

Sea salt to taste

Pinch freshly ground white pepper, finely ground

Directions

1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add butter, melt and allow to lightly foam. Add chopped onion and celery, stir well and sauté until the onion is lightly translucent. Do not allow to brown. Add thyme and marjoram, stir well to combine flavors.

2. Boil a pot of salted water, cook whole potato, covered, for 20 minutes or until a pairing knife enters easily. Set aside to cool.

3. Add liquid, either chicken stock or water, stir well and continue simmering for a minute or two. Pour in milk and cream, stir well and bring flame up to medium so the liquids simmer five minutes to combine the flavors, being careful not to boil.

4. Add whole sorrel leaves. Stir into the soup. Reduce flame so the soup simmers. Stir frequently and cook 25 to 30 minutes to combine flavors. If water was used instead of chicken stock, add chicken bouillon or base, stir well. Simmer an additional 5 minutes.

5. Blend the soup using either an immersion or a general purpose blender, about 5 minutes. Peel the cooked potato, dice and add to the soup. Blend until smooth.

6. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper.

Serve hot with fresh bread and, if desired, a tossed green salad.

Main photo: Sorrel soup with crème fraîche prepared by chef Jacques Fiorentino at L’Assiette Steak Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2011 Lori Shepler

Broccoli is a vegetable that makes for a wonderful salad. Its bright green color and crisp-tender texture can be appealing if cooked properly.

Cooking broccoli properly might seem like a no-brainer, but many people do not do so. Broccoli, and all cruciferous vegetables, must not be overcooked, otherwise chemicals in the plant break down and release sulfurous compounds, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, and interact with the chlorophyll in the plant, which cause the broccoli to turn an unappetizing brownish-grey color and have a very unpleasant smell.

This chemical reaction is probably why some people don’t like broccoli. I imagine that at a young age they ate improperly cooked broccoli.

Broccoli should always be cooked in small amounts of water until it is crisp-tender and retains its bright green color; it should never be cooked until limp. That means broccoli should not be cooked more than five minutes.

Here are five broccoli recipes, all Mediterranean-style dishes that make wonderful accompaniments to your Labor Day grill party.

Broccoli With Golden Bread Crumbs, Oil-cured Olives and Orange Zest

Broccoli with golden bread crumbs, oil-cured olives and orange zest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli with golden bread crumbs, oil-cured olives and orange zest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This is an appealing Sicilian-style salad with a great taste thanks to the orange zest and black olives. It’s important not to overcook the broccoli even by a minute because you want the taste and the beautiful color contrast of bright  green to come through. Oil-cured olives are crinkly skinned, but you can use any good-quality black olive if you can’t find them.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 pound broccoli

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

15 oil-cured black olives, pitted

1 teaspoon orange zest

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

Directions

1. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and blanch the broccoli for 3 minutes. Drain, cool and break into florets.

2. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat with the anchovies and garlic until sizzling. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring until the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

3. Arrange the broccoli on a serving platter and sprinkle on the olives. Sprinkle the bread crumb and anchovy sauce around and then add the orange zest. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired, and serve at room temperature.

Broccoli and White Onion Salad

Broccoli and white onion salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli and white onion salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

White onion rather than yellow onion is critical in this broccoli salad not only because of taste but for the color contrast with the green, white and orange. This salad also makes for a nice antipasto or accompaniment, with grilled or roast meat.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

3 pounds broccoli

1 medium white onion, coarsely chopped

Zest from 1 orange

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Orange wedges for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and plunge the broccoli in to blanch it for 2 minutes. Drain and cool quickly. Return the broccoli to a steamer or strainer and steam until tender with a slight crunch, 6 to 7 minutes. Let the broccoli drain and cool in the strainer.

2. Break the broccoli into florets and toss with the white onion and orange zest in a large bowl.

3. In another bowl, dissolve the sugar in the white wine vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil, oregano, anchovies and garlic. Pour over the broccoli and toss again seasoned with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large serving platter and garnish with orange wedges, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Green and Yellow Salad

Green and yellow salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Green and yellow salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

The colors are startling in this zippy salad. It’s great with something off the grill, and the leftovers can be tossed with pasta and olive oil.

Prep time: 3 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Total time: 11 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1 pound broccoli, broken into small florets

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Extra virgin olive oil to taste

Coarse salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the broccoli 5 minutes. Drain well, cool, then toss with the yellow pepper and add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Broccoli With Oil-cured Olives and Lemon Zest

Broccoli with oil-cured olives and lemon zest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli with oil-cured olives and lemon zest. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

What a beautiful dish! The brilliant green of broccoli, the pitch black of the olives and the sunny flecks of lemon zest make for an appetizing presentation. In this recipe, you blanch the broccoli first to keep its brilliant green color.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds broccoli

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted or unpitted

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a rapid boil, then blanch the broccoli for 2 minutes. Drain and dunk into ice-cold water immediately to stop it cooking. Set aside.

2. In a bowl, mix the garlic with the olive oil.

3. Remove and drain broccoli from ice-water bath.

4. Slice the broccoli and after it has cooled, mix it in a large bowl with olives, chile, lemon zest, garlic mixture, salt and pepper.

5. Serve at room temperature.

Broccoli and Roasted Red Bell Pepper

Broccoli and roasted red bell pepper. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Broccoli and roasted red bell pepper. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Good and good for you. That was a phrase I often heard from my mom when I was growing up. She never quite made it this way, but this Italian-American family-style side dish of bright green broccoli and brilliant red bell pepper is a delight to look at, a delight to eat and it’s good for you.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds broccoli, sliced and broken into florets

1 roasted red bell pepper, sliced into strips

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the broccoli 5 minutes. Drain a bit and transfer to a mixing bowl. Toss with the remaining ingredients and arrange on a serving platter.

Main photo: Broccoli. Credit: Copyright 2011 Lori Shepler

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Charred ears of corn on a grill. The corn will be used in a Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

An abundance of corn in farmers markets is a delight and a challenge. Having already grilled platters of corn on the barbecue and boiled armfuls of shucked ears, it is time to invent another way to enjoy one of summer’s most delicious vegetables. Borrowing the flavors of elote, a Mexican classic, turns grilled corn into a salad that will delight everyone at the table.

Mexican street food delight

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Travel in Mexico and you’ll encounter street vendors selling a great number of delicious food snacks. One of my favorites is elote, or corn on the cob, in which an ear of corn is cooked, dusted with dry cheese and seasoned with chili powder and fresh lime juice. The ear of corn is always served whole, sometimes resting in a paper dish or with a stick in the bottom like a corndog.

Elote is delicious but messy to eat. First there is the matter of the whole ear of corn, which takes two hands to manage. And, with each bite, the finely grated Cotija cheese tends to float off the corn and drift onto clothing.

Deconstructing elote

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cutting the kernels off the cobs makes the seasoned corn so much easier to enjoy. In Mexico there is a corn kernel snack called esquites, which employs some of the seasonings used in making elote. This recipe is different because no mayonnaise is mixed with the corn. Mexican Corn Salad can be served as a light and refreshing entrée topped with a protein or as a side dish accompanying grilled vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. The elote salad is the perfect summer recipe.

The best way to cook corn on the cob is a topic of heated debate. There are those who will only boil corn, others who will only grill it. I have seen elote prepared both ways. My preference is to strip off the husk and grill the ear so that some of the kernels are charred, adding caramelized sweetness to the salad.

Just the right cheese

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What gives elote its distinctive flavor is the combination of finely grated dry Mexican Cotija cheese, spicy chili powder and fresh lime juice. Powdery when finely grated, Cotija cheese is salty so you may not need to add salt when you make the corn salad. Often described as having qualities similar to feta and Parmesan, Cotija tastes quite different.

Mexican Corn Salad

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 25 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 entrée servings or 8 side dish servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, dried

1/2 cup finely grated Cotija cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3 cups Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, chopped

2 limes, washed, quartered

Directions

1. Preheat an indoor grill or outdoor barbecue to hot.

2. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a flat pan and season with sea salt and black pepper.

3. Roll the ears of corn in the seasoned olive oil to coat all sides.

4. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes so that some of the kernels char, being careful not to burn the ears.

5. When cooked on all sides, remove and let cool in the flat pan with the seasoned olive oil.

6. To cut the kernels off the cob, use a sharp chef’s knife. Hold each ear of corn over the pan with the seasoned oil and slice the kernels off the cob.

7. Transfer the kernels and the remaining seasoned oil into a large mixing bowl.

8. Add Cotija cheese, chili powder and parsley. Toss well.

9. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and toss.

10. Serve at room temperature with lime wedges on the side.

Notes: Adding finely chopped Italian parsley to the seasoned corn kernels brightens the flavors. Cilantro can be used instead of parsley to give the salad a peppery flavor.

Traditionally, mayonnaise is slathered on the elote or mixed into esquites before adding the cheese and chili powder. I prefer to use olive oil to give the salad a lighter taste.

To use as an entrée, top with sliced grilled chicken, shrimp or filet of fish.

The salad can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator overnight. In which case, do not add the Cotija cheese or parsley until just before serving.

To create a large, colorful salad, just before serving, toss the seasoned corn and parsley with quartered cherry tomatoes, cut-up avocados and butter lettuce or romaine leaves.

After tossing, taste the salad and adjust the amount of Cotija cheese and chili powder.

Main photo: Charred ears of corn on a grill. The corn will be used in a Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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