Muhammara Spread

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Muhammara is a delicious, complex, savory Syrian spread that I can’t get enough of. As a dip for toasted flatbread, spread on a sandwich, even tossed over pasta, the earthy, intriguing flavors of roasted walnut, red peppers and tomatoes, spices, and of course, a healthy drizzle of olive oil have me sneaking into the fridge in the middle of the night, spoon in hand, for my container of cold muhammara.

I base mine on this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, but pantry necessity often requires that I make a few changes. On the last go ’round, I reduced the number of red peppers to one, and substituted 1/2 cup of tomato jam for the 1/4 cup of tomato paste. Tomato jam has a similar consistency, but with the added depth of spices like cinnamon, clove, and star anise, which worked beautifully in the muhammara. If you are interested in making your own tomato jam, you can try this recipe from Mark Bittman or this one from Food in Jars.

Muhammara

reprinted from 101 Cookbooks 

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper 
flakes or 1 small red chile
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup whole-grain bread crumbs
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
, plus more to serve
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 to 3 roasted red peppers
1/2 to 1 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

to serve: torn basil

Using a hand blender or a conventional blender, puree the chile flakes, cumin, most of the walnuts, bread crumbs, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, tomato paste, and red peppers to a smooth, even consistency. Mix in the warm water in increments to achieve an easily spreadable consistency similar to a thick yogurt. If you¹re going to use it for dipping, you might want to leave it a touch thicker. Stir in the salt and adjust the seasonings if needed. Serve topped with torn basil, the remaining walnuts, and a thick thread of olive oil.

Serves 4-6.

Prep time: 10 min

Seared Tofu in “Crazy Water”

seared tofu in crazy water

Have you ever heard of  Acqua Pazza or “crazy water”? It’s an Italian tomato broth infused with olive oil, chills, and fresh parsley. Traditionally, its used to poach fish, but I made this version using local, organic tofu “steaks” cut on an angle.  I carefully poked a few holes in the tofu and marinated it in sesame oil, tamari, a bit of powered ginger and garlic, and a pinch of chili for a few hours. Then I heated a generous amount of safflower oil in a cast iron skillet and seared the tofu slowly, turning it with tongs until each side was nicely browned.

Placed in a bowl, surrounded by “crazy water” and served with bread that had been brushed with crushed garlic and olive oil and grilled, the presentation is simple and beautiful. If served with a nice salad and some fresh fruit to finish, it can also be an easy and impressive dinner-party dish — especially if you make the crazy water the day before (like I did). The whole meal comes together beautifully, and easily. And what a wonderful way to use the last of the summer tomatoes!  I’ve included a link to the Food and Wine recipe from Marcella Hazan for tomato water, which I used (more or less) below.

Marcella’s Hazan’s “Fish in Crazy Water” 

Zucchini Agrodolce

zucchini agrodolce

We may be officially transitioning into fall, but there are still zucchinis in our farmers markets and gardens. Squeeze the last little bit out of summer with this zucchini noodle recipe from the smart Heidi Swanson and her blog site 101 Cookbooks. (Recipe)

I made my version, above, with green zucchini instead of yellow squash and, at the last minute when I discovered that my dates had been invaded by little creatures, golden raisins and chopped dried apricots instead of the dates. It was delicious, a great 2nd course for a casual small plates dinner party, and tasted even better the next day. One thought though – a full cup of almonds is awful lot, and I think that you could reduce that amount by half. If, like me, you don’t have any pretty little micro greens, just add more fresh chopped herbs!

Quick, versatile tomato sauce

tomato sauce

I have all of this undersized, beautiful, tasty tomatoes in my garden. You might have a bunch of big juicy heirlooms bought at the farmers market, or a leftover assortment of smalls and larges, all different types. No worries. You can make a quick sauce that is super flexible, keeps well in the fridge for over a week, can be frozen, or can even be canned as a single jar. Just don’t’ let those gorgeous tomatoes go to waste! This is loosely a recipe for a single pint jar of sauce, though depending on your tomatoes, it might the a little more, or a little less. I decided to keep my jar in the refrigerator, and have been spooning it over pasta, toasted breads, and braised kale all week!

 

2 Tbs. olive oil, heated gently in a sauce pan

1.5 cups of fresh tomatoes, skin one

1/4 tsp. of salt

4 Tbs. fresh basil leaves

When your oil is heated gently in the skillet (olive oil doesn’t react well to high heat), add your garlic. Heat the garlic for a  few minutes until the garlic becomes translucent. Add your tomatoes. If they are small, add them whole or sliced in half. If they are larger, slice them into one inch chunks. Continue to cook the tomatoes over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they break down, and begin to release their sugars. Add the basil, torn, and the salt, stir. When the tomatoes have released enough of their juices to make a loose sauce, turn off the heat. Use immediately, or cool, and refrigerate or freeze.

Zucchini “Noodles” with Pesto Trapanese

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetA simple, easy way to use a plethora of zucchini is to simple julienne it (as basic julienne tool like this one, or a good mandoline will make quick work of this job). You can choose to leave the zucchini raw, or blanch it quickly in boiling water for 2 minutes before dropping it into cold and draining. If you’d rather not julienne the zucchini, you can also slice it into thin coins, but you’ll want to blanch it, or bake it with the sauce. I’ve also included two photo here – with the sauce on top of the zucchini, or tossed with the “noodles” – the aesthetic is up to you! 

The trapanese sauce comes from a similar, hot dish from Landau and Jacoby’s Vedge cookbook. I’ve borrowed from their directions, and ingredient list, for the recipe below. 

4 Tbs. olive oil

1 cup cherry or other red, mini tomatoes

1/2 cup raw almonds

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1 Tbs. chopped garlic

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 zucchini, sliced in thin rounds, or julienned (skip the seeded center for julienne). 

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetHeat 2 Tbs. of olive oil in a large sauté pan until the oil begins to ripple. Add the tomatoes and almonds, stirring often and allowing the tomatoes to blister and brown — 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and allow the tomato almond mixture to cool. 

Transfer the cooled tomatoes and almonds into a food processor with the fresh basil, garlic, salt, pepper, remaining  Tbs. of olive oil, and about 1/2 cup of water. Pulse until the sauce is thick and creamy. 

Pour the pesto over the zucchini, and serve room temp, or if you prefer, cook in a 400 degree oven until the sauce bubbles, 8-10 minutes. 

Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad

 zucchini

It’s still summer, and there are still plenty (or too many, depending on your gardening situation) zucchinis around. This is a recipe from Ottolenghi’s Plenty, a recipe based on his grandmother’s fried zucchini. Sage and thyme are common pairings for fried zucchini, but this dish takes a more piquant summer turn with generous handfuls of torn basil and fresh parsley. Here, the zucchini is fried in olive oil, but you could always substitute butter, if you prefer. I loved this dish just barely warm, with the mozzarella still chilled. The recipe below is Ottolenghi’s, but I’ve combined ingredients with instructions, for brevity. I also added some fresh, sliced mini tomatoes from my garden. 

 

3 medium zucchini, in 1/4 inch slices, fried in safflower oil. After frying and draining, pour 1 1/2 Tbs. of red wine vinegar over the zucchini. 

3/4 cup frozen edamame, boiled for three minutes, drained, and cooled under cold running water. 

1 cup of fresh basil and 1/8 cup of fresh parsley, whizzed in a food processor with salt and pepper. 

9 oz. strozzapreti or penne, cooked al dente. Rinse, and return to cook pot. 

Pour the zucchini over the pasta, add the edamame, basil sauce, the grated zest of 1 lemon, 1 1/2 Tbs. capers, and 7 oz. of fresh buffalo mozzarella, torn. Toss with the remaining fresh herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. 

Kale Greek Salad

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I love a classic Greek salad – so many different textures and the all the salty goodness from olives and feta. If you, like me, have a garden full of kale, or maybe you’re just interested in upping the nutritional content in your salad bowl, you can easily substitute raw or massage kale for the traditional Romain.

If you choose to keep the kale raw, just strip the leaves from the stalks, roll them (like a burrito!) and slice them very thinly. For a slightly softer kale, just add your dressing – olive oil, lemon, and a splash of red wine vinegar along with a pinch of coarse salt to the greens, and massage them with your hands until the leaves turn dark, and soft.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset If you like, you can toss your individual salad additions with additional dressing, or just leave them as is, put them in the bowl, grind on some black pepper, and enjoy!