Vegetables & Sides
Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but fall is fast approaching and root vegetables are already playing a major roll in meals that will continue well into the cooler months ahead.
Root vegetables need not follow the tired old bland “they are good for you” cooking methods of the past. This root vegetable gratin changes the rules, playing with a medley of colors, flavors, and aromas that transform the humdrum into an enticing centerpiece for flavorsome cooler weather meals. Use the recipe s a guide and make your own variations choosing other seasonal root vegetable combinations that strike your fancy like parsnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, yams, and so on.
Seasoning with some restraint is the way to go when cooking with subtly flavored root vegetables. For this recipe I have used fresh green peppercorns and summer savory that compliment the flavor of the vegetables without overpower them. Fresh green peppercorns, native to South Asia, are widely available year around here in Thailand but often found in Asian markets worldwide. They impart a lovely earthy flavor and a fresh moderate heat and well worth seeking out. Summer savory likewise brings a light aromatic peppery tang to the dish.
Root Vegetable Gratin serves 6 to 8
- 1 ¼ pounds turnips
- 1¼ pounds small gold potatoes
- 1 pound beets
- ½ cup minced shallots
- 3 ¼ cups whole milk
- 1½ teaspoons sea salt plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter + more for greasing the baking dish
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh summer savory leaves (or dried)
- ¼ cup fresh green peppercorns (or in brine, well rinsed)
- 2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- ½ cup heavy cream
For this recipe each vegetable is precooked separately as each has a slightly different cooking time. This insures an even texture for the finished dish. Arranging and layering the vegetables in the baking dish may seem a little tedious but the results are well worth the effort.
Needed: oven proof baking dish
Rub the bottom and sides of the baking dish with the garlic clove. Then lightly butter the baking dish and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375f/ 190c
Peel the turnips and slice into 1/8th inch thin rounds and set aside.
Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/8th inch thin slices and set aside.
Place the beets in a saucepan and cover with water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the beets until semi-soft. Set the beets aside to cool and when cool enough to handle slip off the skin and slice the beets into 1/8th inch thin slices and set aside.
Using two large skillets, add half the milk and 1 tablespoon butter to each skillet. Bring both skillets of milk to a simmer. When the butter is melted add ¾ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon summer savory to each skillet and stir to combine. Then add the turnips to one skillet and the potatoes to the other, spreading the contents out evenly. Simmer the turnips for about 10 minutes and the potatoes for about 15 minutes, or until the turnips and potatoes are soft but still holding their shape. Then set aside to cool.
When the turnips and potatoes are cool enough to handle begin placing the slices of turnips, potatoes, and beets alternately, one slice overlapping the next, into the baking dish until the dish is covered with a single layer of vegetables. Scatter a quarter of the shallots and a quarter of the green peppercorns over the vegetables and salt lightly. Then drizzle a quarter of the cream over all and scatter a quarter of the Parmigiano over the top.
Repeat this process until there are four layers filling the baking dish.
Combine the milk mixtures into one skillet and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the milk reduces and thickens a bit. Then pour the hot milk over the top and around the sides of the baking dish.
Transfer the baking dish to the preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the gratin is nicely browned and the milk has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to rest for a few minutes before serving.
If you are not serving the gratin cool to room temperature before covering with cling film and refrigerating.
For a classic potato gratin (see recipe here)
Grilling and flame roasting summer vegetables is a gorgeous way to intensify their flavors by caramelizing their natural sugars and adding a smoky accent to the vegetables that transforms them into a center piece for summer suppers. Dress them with an Eastern Mediterranean hummus sauce and a drizzle of pomegranate syrup and you have a dazzling platter of summer’s bounty to bring to the table.
A recipe is hardly called for here other than to highlight the importance of using fresh locally grown vegetables, applying various grilling and flame roasting techniques, and utilizing some bright zesty Eastern Mediterranean saucing suggestions.
It’s really all about the flavors of grilling and roasting so fire up that grill and get smokin!
Eastern Mediterranean Grilled and Roasted Vegetables serves 4 to 6
- 1 small pumpkin or squash
- 4 ears fresh sweet corn
- 4 small eggplants
- 4 medium size green and/ or yellow zucchini
- 2 red bell peppers
- 4 fresh green chilies ( New Mexico or jalapeno)
- 12 garlic cloves, skin on
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon; zest and juice
- flaked sea salt (Maldon Smoked sea salt is ideal if available)
- freshly ground pepper
- fresh thyme leaves
- hummus sauce For hummus recipe (click here)
- Greek yogurt
- pomegranate syrup (available in Eastern Mediterranean shops).
If pomegranate syrup is not available simply reduce pomegranate juice to a syrup consistency.
Pumpkin or Squash: Quarter the pumpkin or squash and remove all the seeds and membrane. There is no need to remove the skin at this point. Brush the pumpkin with olive oil, place on a baking tray skin side down, and put in the oven. Roast until the pumpkin (or squash) is soft but still has a bit of bite, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When cool cut into bite size pieces. Remove the skin if you have used a thick skinned pumpkin and set the pumpkin aside to use later. For more on roasting pumpkin (click here)
Sweet Corn on the Cob: For the corn, remove the husk and silk and brush the ears with olive oil. Grill the ears over high heat until evenly colored and then set aside to cool. Once cool slice the corn into bite size rounds, divide each round in half. Add the corn half rounds to the tray of roasting pumpkin for at least 20 minutes of roasting time. Then set aside to cool.
Eggplant: The eggplant can be grilled whole or sliced into thick rounds. I prefer grilling the eggplant whole until the skin is completely charred. This method gives the eggplant flesh a beautiful smoked flavor. Simply remove the charred skin once the eggplant is cool and pull the flesh into strips and set aside. The pulled eggplant strips are not particularly attractive but their flavor more than makes up for their haphazard appearance. If you prefer grilling rounds of eggplant, brush with olive oil and grill over high heat until nicely marked, well colored, and soft. For more on roasting eggplant (click here)
Zucchini: For the zucchini, remove the stem and slice into thick strips lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and grill until nicely marked, well colored, and soft but still holding their shape. Slice the strips into bite size pieces and set aside.
Red Bell Peppers and Green Chiles: Roast the red bell peppers and green chiles over high heat or flame until evenly charred. Place in a bowl, seal with cling film, and sweat until cool enough to handle. Then peel off the skin, open lengthwise, remove the seeds and membrane, slice into strips, and divide strips in half and set aside. For more on flame roasting chilies and peppers (click here)
Garlic: Roast the unpeeled garlic in a dry pan until evenly colored. Set aside to cool. Then remove the skin and slice the cloves thinly lengthwise and set aside.
Assembling and Serving the grilled and roasted vegetable platter.
Place all the prepared vegetables in a large bowl. Pour the lemon juice over all and toss with your hands. Then drizzle with the olive oil while continuing to toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the thyme leaves and lemon zest and toss until well combined. Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.
When ready to serve transfer the tossed vegetables to a serving platter and drizzle them generously with hummus sauce. Lightly drizzle Greek yogurt, and finally sparingly spoon pomegranate syrup over all and serve.
Serve with a small bowl of hummus sauce on the table as well as a bowl of spiced mixed olives.
There are many ways to cook zucchini, but for me simply braising is by far the best way to bring zucchini’s delicate flavor to full bloom. Once braised there are so many quick and easy applications awaiting.
Zucchini, in the squash family, is native to the Americas. However the zucchini we are now familiar with is a hybrid that was developed in Italy in the 19th century and named zucchini, the diminutive of zucca. Colors range from pale to deep green as well as light yellow to a deep orange. Zucchini is usually harvested while still young, about 6 to eight inches in length, with seeds that are still soft and tender. Left to grow zucchini can reach up to a meter in length.
Anyone who has grown zucchini knows full well it is the garden’s star over achiever. The harvest can be continuous and down right overwhelming, as are the challenges for the cook who is faced with “oh no, not zucchini again.”
More often than not zucchini is cooked into other dishes like a Provencal ratatouille which is splendid, but the zucchini’s real personality is somewhat lost in translation. Be that as it may, zucchini can really shine on its very own if cooked properly.
Using this simple braising method requires only a few ingredients and a well tended low heat braising on the stove top that slowly coaxes out a nuanced flavor of summer that could only come from zucchini.
Ounce braised the zucchini can then be used as a side dish, pureed for a soup that can be served chilled in the summer or warm as fall approaches, or as a sauce for pasta along with braised zucchini and poached chicken. This is a pasta sauce that has become one of my very favorites when cooking up a summery meal .
- 2 ½ pounds 6 to 8 inch zucchini, trimmed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ cups finely diced onions
- 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
- 4 ½ cups chicken stock (or water), hot
- ½ cup cream
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano
- flaked sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Cut the trimmed zucchini into quarters lengthwise. Slice the quarters into ½ inch slices. Place in a bowl and set aside.
Place a wide heavy bottomed pan on the stove over medium low heat. Add the olive oil and when the oil slides easily in the pan add the onions and saute for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes while stirring.
Then add the sliced zucchini and fold them into the onion mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir frequently and be sure to lift the onions off the bottom of the pan so they do not burn.
Stir in the marjoram after about 15 minutes of cooking time and season sparingly with salt and pepper.
After about 20 minutes you will have to stir more frequently, being sure to continuously lift the onions off the bottom of the pan. Once the zucchini is very soft, just barely colored, and looking slightly glazed remove the pan from the heat.
At this point, if you are intending to use the braised zucchini for a pasta remove about ¼ of the braised zucchini and set aside to use for the pasta later.
If you are intending to serve the braised zucchini as a side dish, add a little cream and a little hot stock and to the pan and stir to combine. Then add some grated Parmigiano, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Otherwise set the pan with the braised zucchini back onto the stove over medium heat. Add about two thirds of the hot stock (or water) and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half and the zucchini is very soft.
Remove from the heat, cool a few minutes. Then blend with an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth. If the puree seems very thick add a little more hot stock and blend.
Return the mixture to the heat and bring back up to a low simmer. Slowly stir in the cream until incorporated and then stir in the Parmigiano. Continue to stir 1 minute and then taste. Add additional salt and pepper if needed. Stir well and set aside.
Cool the puree to room temperature if you are intending to use as a soup. Then cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled or warmed slightly.
If you are intending to use the puree as a pasta sauce you may want to reduce the sauce a little bit more.
Meanwhile divide the poached chicken into bite size strips and reheat with a little chicken stock or water.
Boil your pasta until cooked al dente and drain.
Add the reserved braised zucchini and the warmed chicken to the hot reduced sauce and stir. Then fold in the cooked pasta.
Transfer the pasta to individual pasta bowls, spooning any remaining sauce over the pasta. Grate Parmigiano over the pasta and serve.
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s first step towards independence and is celebrated throughout Mexico and North America every year on the 5th of May. For more on the back story of that momentous day (click here).
For this year’s Cinco de Mayo I wanted to focus on influences on Mexican cuisine that began with Hernan Cotes’ arrival on the Mexican gulf coast in 1519. There he established the port of Veracruz which was to be his launching point for the conquest of the Mexico. Marching inland Cortes captured the Aztec capital of Tenochttitlan and claimed Mexico for the Spanish crown in 1520.
After a little more than three centuries Spanish rule finally came to an end following a momentous victory in the Franco-Mexican war. A brief French occupation of Mexico followed but ended with a ragtag battle of Puebla on the 5th of May in 1862. The Cinco de Mayo defeat of the French in Puebla has been celebrated every year since.
With Cortes came many culinary influences from Spain, Cuba, as well as from West Africa communities in the Caribbean that forever changed native Mexican cooking. This is particularly apparent in the cuisines of the Gulf coast of Mexico as well as Caribbean coast of the Yucatan.
The recipes that follow reflect the melding of influences that make Mexican food so fascinating. There is a colorful story told with every bite!
- Mexican Citrus Chicken
- Flame Roasted Peppers & Jalapenos
- Yellow Rice
- Black Beans
Mexican Citrus Chicken: serves 4
- 4 chicken legs with thigh attached
- 2 lemons (or 3 limes), zest peeled into large strips and juiced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 12 garlic cloves peeled and very thinly sliced
- 8 sun dried tomatoes, reconstituted, and thinly sliced into small strips
- fresh marjoram leaves, about 2 tablespoons
- 4 teaspoons capers (optional)
- 2 onions, peeled and cut into thinly sliced rings
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper the chicken and press the seasoning onto the chicken and set aside.
Using a deep baking dish, combine the zest strips, lemon (or lime) juice, olive oil, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, marjoram leaves, and capers (if using). Whisk the ingredient together and then add the onions and toss together.
Add the chicken, exposed flesh side down, and using your hands gently massage the chicken in the mixture and arrange the chicken in the dish leaving some of the mixture in the bottom of the dish and covering the chicken with the remaining mixture. Firmly press the chicken into the marinade and cover the dish with cling film. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for up to six hours or overnight. Turn the chicken skin side down after several hours and return it to the refrigerator for several hours more.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 425f/220c
Turn the chicken skin side up. Massage the chicken in the marinade and then arrange the other ingredients around and on top of the chicken. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Baste the chicken with the pan juices. Add a little water if needed to ensure there is enough liquid in the bottom of the backing dish. Rotate the baking dish and roast another 30 minutes.
Once again baste the chicken with pan juices. If the surface of the chicken very brown loosely cover with foil and roast another 15 minutes.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serving: Plate the chicken along with the other ingredients placed over and around the chicken. Spoon pan juices over all and serve.
Quick Black Beans: Serves 4 to 6
- 2 8 ½ oz/240g cans of black beans
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil (or olive oil)
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, coarsley ground
- 2 dried red chillies, whole
- 2 to 3 cups stock or water, hot
- sea salt to taste
Heat a large saucepan over medium low heat. When hot add the oil and then the onions. Cook the onions, stirring now and again, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and the cumin seeds and cook 2 minutes while stirring.
Add the beans including their liquid and stir them into the onion mixture. Then slip in the whole chillies. When nearly boiling add 2 cups of nearly boiling hot stock or water and stir. Once boiling reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Taste the beans. You want them to be quite soft. If they are still a bit firm cook another 1o minutes.
Remove about ¾ of a cup of beans and place them in a bowl. Mash them until fairly smooth and then stir them back into the pot with the beans. At this point you may want to add a little more water if the beans in their broth seem very thick. Cook another 10 minutes while stirring. Add salt to taste and stir to combine. The beans should be very moist but not soupy.
Serve at once or set aside to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.
Flame Roasted Peppers, Jalapeno chilies:
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 6-8 green jalapenos
- 4 large garlic cloves, whole with skin on
- olive oil
- sea salt
For instructions for flame roasting (click here).
Once the peppers, jalapenos, and garlic are flame roasted and sweated, remove the skin and cut the peeled peppers and jalapenos in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and any pithy membranes and discard. Slice them into strips (rajas) and place them in a bowl.
Peel off the skin of the garlic cloves and thinly slice the cloves lengthwise and add them to the bowl of rajas. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt to taste. Toss until well combined, cover with cling film, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- 2 cups long grain rice, well rinsed
- water or stock
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads/ 1 teaspoon azafran (dried safflowers)/ or powdered turmeric
- sea salt.
Coloring the rice is optional, but it does add to the aesthetic appeal and well worth trying. True saffron adds a subtle color and flavor to the rice, while azafron (available in Mexican and some Asian markets) adds color only. Turmeric adds a yellow color with a pleasant subdued flavor and is readily available in supermarkets.
Put the rinsed rice in a large pot and cover with an equal part of water or stock. Stir in your seasoning of choice, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Place over medium heat and when boiling reduce the heat to a low simmer, partially cover with a lid, and cook about 15 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed into the rice. Be sure to stir frequently so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Promptly remove the pan from the heat and cover with a tight fitting lid. Set aside for about 20 minutes to steam.
Fluff the rice with a fork just before serving.