Summer Gazpacho

Something that has been gnawing at me lately is that since I’ve moved to Denver, I spend little to no time in the kitchen, unless it’s to open a bottle of wine, make coffee, or serve up charcuterie and cheese. Shoot. I’ve also noticed that I don’t eat very well as a result, and perhaps have an ever expanding waistline. Double shoot.

So today I resolved that this would change, that I’d set aside single girl dinners comprised of cheese and some kind of salt-cured meat or sausage (sometimes an avocado makes the cut), and start thinking about what I”m putting into my body, while at the same time taking advantage of the late summer produce (tomatoes, Palisade peaches!) that I love.

Except it’s too hot to cook.

My cute little 1926 bungalow is not so cute when the mercury rises and my swamp cooler doesn’t really cool the whole house, notably the kitchen (my bedroom, however, is delightfully cool. Does anything else really matter?). I began browsing Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which, for the uninitiated, is a beautiful collection of recipes around vegetables. Lots of choices, but many involved the oven and the stove (oh, and about one million ingredients). As I made my peace with this, and started slathering on the antiperspirant (does it make a difference if you’ve put it all over your body?), I started having visions of sitting in a plaza in Seville with my dad, as the flavors of tomato, garlic and vinegar danced across my taste buds, and flamenco music drifted in and out of hearing range.

Gazpacho. The soup you don’t have to cook and is served cold. I realize I just wrote “that you don’t have to cook”, by which I mean you don’t have to use heat to prepare, and since I’m not sitting at the Sushi Den bar waiting for jalapeno hamachi, making gazpacho still counts as cooking here, folks. It’s a good one coming out of the non-cooking gate, as all you need to do is chop up some veggies and whip out the immersion blender.

Tonight I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. I’ve never made anything of his that is bad, but he really has only the basics; this recipe lacked complexity. To his credit, he does title the recipe “Gazpacho, Fast and Simple”.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, and chopped
  • 2 or 3 slices of bread, a day or two old, crusts removed, torn into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, bread, oil vinegar, and garlic with 1 cup water (I did not add 1 cup water, it really was closer to a quarter, but this is up to your personal taste of what texture of soup you’d like) in a blender, or a bowl, if using an immersion blender. Process until desired smoothness.
  2. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with olive oil.

I prefer using some kind of peppers, but this still turned out really good, and hit the spot. I’m looking forward to the leftovers. Many people garnish with more diced tomatoes and cucumbers, in addition to the olive oil. Tonight I used a little hard boiled egg.

Another note on Bittman’s recipe – he says to serve immediately, or within a couple of hours – I think he’s crazy, the flavors intensify the longer it sits together in the fridge, it’s awesome!

 

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Corn and black bean summer salad

So you may have read one of my previous posts where we had a giant dinner at my dad’s house. Polly, my step-mom, made a lovely corn and black bean salad that inspired me today.

I love sweet corn – it reminds me of summer. Also, summer is when you get the best avocados and tomatoes – best to use them now. This is a great salad to serve at a barbecue (or family dinner!) and is fairly inexpensive to put together. It’s easy too, but the corn can get a bit crazy – it leaps off the cob all over the counter, and when you’re husking the corn, somehow the silk gets all over the kitchen. Yikes. Lucky Mike is in London, away from the corn party.

Ingredients:

4 ears fresh sweet corn

1 jalepeno, minced

Juice from 1 or 2 limes

1 avocado, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

1 can black beans – thoroughly rinsed

drizzle of olive oil

Husk the corn and cut the kernels off the cobs into a bowl. Trust me, cut into a bowl – otherwise it will look like a corn exploded off the cob onto your counter and floors (I swear I cleaned it straight up!). Even with the cob in the bowl, stray kernels will still try to run. Scoop them back up and put them in the bowl. Dice up the jalepeno. I usually cut them in half lengthwise, and then remove the seeds under running water. Careful not to touch your eyes or nose or any sort of membrane after… it will burn like no other!!! The longer you let the jalepenos sit with the corn, the more the jalepeno flavor absorbs into the corn. Yum. Add the avocado, tomatoes and beans. Put in the lime juice and drizzle a bit of olive oil (just a touch). Season with salt and pepper.

Yay! You’re done! I like the black beans because they add a bit of protein, and fill you up. The avocado is my favorite flavor, particularly with the jalepeno.

Another thing about corn – you can tell how fast your metabolism is running! Hahaha.

Tortellini and (heirloom) bean soup

So what happens when it starts to warm up in NYC? I get so happy. The sun is shining when I get to and when I leave work, the trees are green and the flowers are in bloom. And I can almost ride my bike without a jacket! It’s wonderful.

And then I get hot. It starts reaching mid-70’s during the day and our apartment just will not get cool until fall. 29th floor? What amazing views of the GW bridge you have! What a terrible hot box I have. A/C is either on (super cold and expensive) or off, and when it’s turned off, its like you never had it on. Oh, how I miss central air.

So what did my brother and I do? We made soup. Something that warms you up even more. We are ridiculous. But this soup was ridiculously delicious AND easy. Perhaps we will crank the A/C, get really cold, and eat up all the soup.

I found the recipe on this new food blog I found (it’s not really new, just new to me), where the author, Jenna, is living my dream. She is a classically trained chef, food photographer, freelance food writer and recipe developer.  Dream job. Her blog is called Eat, Live, Run and she’s fun to read and posts fun things on Facebook (they IPO-ed today, in case you live under a rock). She posted this recipe and I promise I didn’t pick it because it was so simple to make. I liked how it sounded – light and Italian-y, which it is. Here’s the link, since it’s her recipe. 🙂 http://www.eatliverun.com/tortellini-and-heirloom-bean-soup/

Ingredients:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large fennel, diced
64 oz vegetable or chicken stock
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 package fresh tortellini pasta (either cheese or spinach)
2 cups either pinto, kidney or heirloom beans, either canned or cooked from scratch
3 cups fresh spinach or chopped swiss chard
Parmesan cheese for serving
Directions: 
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot. Add the garlic and chopped fennel and saute for three-five minutes, until the fennel just begins to soften.
Quickly pulse the tomatoes in a blender or food processor to just barely puree (you still want some chunks). Add the chunky pureed tomatoes to the pot along with the stock, salt and pepper.
Bring the soup to a boil before adding the tortellini and beans. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about seven minutes until tortellini are puffy and cooked through.
Add the swiss chard or spinach to the pot and stir so that the greens wilt. Serve soup with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and additional salt, pepper or red pepper flakes to taste.
We made some modifications – I don’t like fennel so we didn’t use that. Matt (my brother, for you strangers, if there are any of you reading this) was disappointed I veto-ed it, and was grumbling about how good it would have been. And we didn’t feel like cooking our own beans from scratch, so we used canned pinto beans. Yay protein. Also, we used vegetable stock, so bonus points to us for being vegetarian. It could only be more delicious with chicken, so I wouldn’t worry if you are vegetarian and constrained to veggie stock because you will still get a great flavor.
As you can read, the recipe was fairly self explanatory, nothing tricky. It was good advice to pulse the food processor (another reason why I really like Jenna’s blog, it’s so informative and takes out the mystery). I only had San Marzano’s on hand, which were delicious, don’t get me wrong, but so not necessary.
We used regular swiss chard – I loved the flavor and the green and red colors were beautiful. Also, we used a whole bunch instead of 3 cups. Matt and I noticed that it was when we added the swiss chard that it really started to look like a delicious soup and it really came together. We initially only added the 3 cups, but noticed that it didn’t seem like very much, and after we’d served ourselves the first bowls, that we hadn’t left very much in the pot! Adding the rest of the bunch solved two problems: the lack of swiss chard left for future servings, and what the hell I was going to do with the rest of the swiss chard.
As for the beans – CBF soaking and making our own. Canned to the rescue! We drained the beans, but didn’t rinse. This brings me to the pasta. Matt thought the tortellini was the best part. I liked it a lot as well – the burst of cheese when you bit into one was yummy. They were also the most expensive part of the soup – something you could easily substitute with another dry pasta to save on calories and dollars. With the addition of pecorino on top at the end, you cover your cheese base. Mmmm.
We seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper in the middle, and added two pinches of chili flakes. I’m never a  fan of seasoning too much before the flavors have had time to develop and meld, so we held off with too much salt and pepper until closer to the end.  I liked the kick the chili flakes added – don’t add too much because you don’t want it to be the focus of the soup. This took us no time at all to throw together. It was really flavorful and it’s quite healthy as well! I’m starting to cool down, and just sent Matt to pick up some ice cream to help!

Risotto City!

Sorry for the lag in posts – have had a bit of a hard week or so, and a faltering computer on top of it (if you feel so compelled, I would not turn away donations. What? Julie Powell took them, I can at least joke!). But don’t you worry, I have been slaving away, eating my heart out just for you! In all reality, I’ve been quite tame, but I do have some things in the backlog coming up!

Okay so Risotto City might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Beth taught me how to make risotto Saturday night!! I must admit, I’m quite intimidated by risotto, as it is a part of the rice family, and I have not had good experiences with cooking rice. It is not as easy as it seems, and I will be investing in a rice cooker. Judge away, but when all I have to do is add water and rice to a machine and get flawless rice, I will not feel an ounce of guilt. Beth has, however, taken away my fear of risotto. Not entirely, as I will not be scared-free until I reproduce this on my own, but definitely heaps less scared. I also found that a glass or two of a nice red during preparation significantly aids the process.

Ingredients for a chicken, tomato and spinach risotto a la Beth:

1/2 large onion, or 1 small onion, diced

1-2 cloves garlic, smashed or diced

1 punnet of grape tomatoes – the ones that “pop” in your mouth are the best

a bunch of leaf spinach

Chicken breast (we used 2 to feed 3 people, but its up to you) cut up into bite sizes

Box of Arborio rice

1 box of chicken stock – Beth says it’s best to make your own, but otherwise choose a low sodium stock, as otherwise the ones in the US seem too salty!

1/4 cup butter

1/2 lb of Parmesan cheese, grated

Pine nuts, toasted

Toast the pine nuts in a pan until lightly browned. Cook the onion and garlic in butter in a large pan. Add the chicken, and cook until almost done (will continue to cook while you simmer once you’ve added the rice). Add about half a box of the Arborio rice (1/2 lb), and be sure to stir it around, coating it with the butter already in the pan. Cover with chicken stock. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, adding more stock as it cooks. Also add the Parmesan as it cooks, tasting for the flavor as you go. When the rice is almost done (you want it al dente), add in tomatoes and spinach. Throw in a bit more butter, and heat the veggies, melt in the butter.

Serve in bowls, top with pine nuts.

Correct me Beth, if I am wrong. 😀

I loved this dish. And though I am still a bit worried about reproducing this on my own, I have ventured out to buy the Arborio rice and ingredients for maybe a mid-week attempt. The dish was so warm and filling, but unlike a lot of risottos I have had in the past, its not to creamy or rich, although it has a wonderful Parmesan flavor.  And be careful when biting into those tomatoes – as William says: “Everyone gets squirted in the face the first time”.