Summer Food

French Tarragon Vinaigrette

French Tarragon Vinaigrette

At last, with the arrival of spring crops coming to market, it is time to let green produce be the star attraction. By that I mean salads composed using the freshest greens along with some early baby green beans, freshly picked herbs, and crisp sliced radishes tossed with an herb vinaigrette to really savor the fresh flavors of spring. I always gravitate towards the subtle anise like flavor of fresh French tarragon accented with a hint of lemon in a vinaigrette that pairs beautifully with freshly picked garden greens.

For this salad I have used a combination of leafy greens as well as a deep green curly leaf kale, but use any fresh greens that are available.

 

For the vinaigrette, use fresh French Tarragon leaves if available. Tarragon has been loved by French cooks for centuries for its fresh clean subtle flavor and aroma. The small yellow flowers are edible by the way so do include them in the salad . Otherwise a good quality dried French tarragon will be just fine.

 

I like to make the vinaigrette a day in advance so that the flavors have a chance to coalesce.

Fresh Tarragon Vinaigrette:  makes 6 oz/ ¾ cup

  • 1 ½ teaspoon grated (microplaned) shallot
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder 
  • 1½ teaspoons minced fresh French tarragon leaves; or ¾ teaspoon dried
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon minced lemon zest
  • pinch of sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Alternately, You can combine the shallots, mustard powder, tarragon, salt, pepper, and vinegar in a non reactive bowl and whisk to combine. Then begin adding the olive oils in a slow steady stream while whisking vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Then add the lemon zest and sugar and whisk until combined.

Ideally, cover and refrigerate the vinaigrette for 24 hours before using.

For the salad:

  • assorted leafy greens
  • curly leaf kale
  • baby green beans (haricot vert)
  • radishes, thinly sliced
  • fresh herbs; marjoram, oregano, or lemon thyme
  • freshly grated Parmesan
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

If you are using kale, remove the center rib from the leaves and discard. Tear the leaves and place them in a steamer basket.

Trim the green beans and place them in the steamer basket along with the kale. Set the steamer basket over simmering water and steam until the kale is tender, but al dente. The beans may take a few minutes longer, but should also be al dente. Set both the kale and the beans out on a kitchen towel and cool. Once cool refrigerate both until you are ready to assemble the salad.

Assembling the salad:

Place the greens, including the chilled kale leaves, in a large bowl and toss to combine. Then add the green beans on top. Spoon a few teaspoons of the vinaigrette over all and toss to combine.

Transfer the mixed greens and beans to individual salad plates. Tuck the radish slices randomly into the greens. Spoon more vinaigrette over all sparingly. Lightly grate the Parmesan over the salads and serve.

Place a small bowl of additional dressing on the table along with the crystallized sea salt and a pepper mill.

Greek Green Goddess Salad

Greek Green Goddess Salad

 

There is nothing quite like the crisp fresh flavors that you find in a Greek salad. A classic to be sure and not to be messed with, but trying an alternative to an oil and vinegar dressing wouldn’t be construed as culinary heresy would it? Certainly not my intention.

But I have been playing around with some tried and true good old American salad dressing recipes over the summer. I have to say a green goddess dressing using fresh herbs is about as robust and tantalizing as any salad dressing you will ever make. The original recipe was created at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1923 that was inspired by a recipe created by Louis XIII chef. If that doesn’t give this dressing any pedigree, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, surely does.

Cutting to the chase, adding a salty goat’s milk feta cheese into the green goddess dressing mix really ups the flavor quotient and adds a zesty background that accentuates the freshness of the green herbs. A Greek salad dressed with this savory green sauce seemed duly apropos.

Ideally this dressing should be made a day in advance so that there is time for the flavors to meld together and bloom.

 

Greek Green Goddess Dressing:    makes 2 cups

  • 4 oz Greek goat’s milk Feta cheese ( or sheep’s milk feta), at room temperature, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh oregano leaves + whole leaves for garnishing
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk + more for thinning
  • 4 twists of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated (microplaned), about 2 teaspoons
  • ½ teaspoon anchovy paste (or ¾ teaspoon fish sauce)
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • sea salt to taste

You may question the use of fish sauce in lieu of anchovy paste in this recipe, but both the Greeks and the Romans developed and used fermented fish sauces to flavor their foods. It is that fifth taste in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter that has brought flavor to life in the Mediterranean and Asian cultures since ancient times. A staple in my kitchen!

I prefer using a food processor for combining the feta with herbs, vinegar, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of butter milk for a smoother base for the dressing. That said you may do this by hand, but be sure the herbs are very, very, finely minced.

Place the crumbled feta, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, lemon thyme, parsley, and chives in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients, stopping from time to time to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Continue until the mixture holds together into a very thick paste. Scrape the mixture into the bottom of the work bowl and add 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Process for a minute or two until the mixture is nearly smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the freshly ground pepper, the Greek yogurt, grated garlic, anchovy paste (or fish sauce), and the honey and stir until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

At this point the dressing will be quite thick and may require thinning with some additional buttermilk, stirred into the mixture a tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is the consistency of chilled Greek Yogurt. Keep in mind the consistency of the dressing will firm up when refrigerated as well.

Taste the dressing and add additional salt if needed and stir until completely incorporated into the dressing. Transfer the dressing to a glass jar, close tightly with lid, and refrigerate overnight. The dressing will keep for about a week refrigerated.

For the salad:

  • romaine lettuce leaves, torn
  • head lettuce (iceberg), torn
  • radicchio leaves, torn into thin strips
  • wild arugula leaves, stems removed
  • cherry tomatoes, or sliced vine ripe tomatoes, seeded
  • cucumbers, seeded and cut into bite size pieces
  • red onions, thinly sliced into rings
  • black calamata olives, pitted

Combine the leafy salad greens along with most of the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion slices in a large salad bowl. Reserve the remaining tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion slices to garnish the salad later.

Spoon some dressing over the contents of the bowl and toss until all the contents are evenly coated with dressing.

Serving:

Transfer the dressed salad to a large platter or to individual salad bowls. Top with the remaining tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion rings. Add small dollops of dressing over the salad and top with the pitted olives. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and serve. Serve with additional dressing in a bowl on the table as well as a pepper mill.

 MoroccanSpiced Lemon Chicken

MoroccanSpiced Lemon Chicken

 

Moroccan food is a perfect choice to serve for a casual supper for a crowd. The aromas, flavors, and colors of the Maghreb all magically spring to life right in front of your guests eyes. For me Moroccan food satisfies all the hallmarks of a truly world class cuisine as well as being food that almost anyone can master right at home in their own kitchen. Like other regional Mediterranean cuisines the emphasis in Moroccan cookery relies on traditional foods and flavors that highlight locally grown produce along with a modest, but assertive, use of poultry, meats, and fish. Harissa is then the tie that binds any Moroccan meal together.

 

Harissa’s is a rich earthy red chile laced sauce found all over Morocco. (see recipe here). Always on hand in my kitchen as it will most likely be in yours once you have tasted it. Make your own. I promise you, you will become addicted.

 

Moroccan meal with Spiced Lemon chicken

Moroccan food really is easy to prepare, mostly in advance, with only a few final flourish that won’t leave you frazzled and exhausted just as your guests arrive. I have included the menu for a Moroccan supper for twelve that I recently cooked for a friend’s birthday party. The flavors of Morocco were duly relished by all!

Summer Moroccan Supper

Hummus (see recipe here) with Bread Sticks

Spiced Moroccan Lemon Chicken

Harissa

Roasted Pumpkin with Red Onions & Roasted Spiced Cauliflower

Couscous

Smoked Eggplant with Garlic Flat bread

Dessert

Fresh cherry frangipane Tart (see recipe here)

 

Moroccan Spiced Lemon chicken     serves 4

  • 4 boneless organic chicken thighs
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1 teaspoon toasted black peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika (Spanish if available)
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups stock (or water)
  • 1 lemon 1 tablespoon honey
  • roasted red chile strips (optional)

In a large non-reactive bowl combine the onions, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, black pepper, turmeric, paprika, chile flakes, 1 teaspoons sea salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. Mix until combined.

Add the chicken thighs to the bowl and massage the marinade into the thighs. Flatten the contents of the bowl so the thighs are completely submerged in the marinade. Cover with cling film and set aside for at least an hour or refrigerate for several hours.

Trim the ends off the lemon and thinly slice the lemon crosswise into rounds. Place the rounds in a skillet in a single layer and add water to just cover. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and place the skillet over medium heat and Simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the stove and drain off the water. Drizzle the honey over the slices and set aside to use later.

Preheat the oven to 400 f / 200 c Adjust the oven rack to the upper half of the oven.

Bring the marinated thighs to room temperature if they have been refrigerated.

Place the thighs, skin side up, in a deep baking tray or oven proof dish. Pat the remaining marinade over and around the sides of the thighs. Add enough stock to the tray to come about half way up the sides of the thighs. Transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Divide the prepared lemon slices in half.

Open the oven, rotate the tray, and place lemon slices on top of thighs. Garnish each thigh with strips of roast red chiles (optional). Close the oven door and roast another 15 minutes.

Then remove the tray from the oven and pour the remaining cooking liquid into a small saucepan. Cover the chicken lightly with foil and set aside to rest.

Place the saucepan of cooking liquid on the stove top and add an additional cup of stock to the pan. Set the pan over medium high heat and cook until reduced by half.

Serving:

Plate the thighs and spoon pan juices over the thighs.

As suggested, serve with roasted pumpkin (see recipe here) and spiced roasted cauliflower (or other seasonal vegetables), couscous, and harissa as pictured. Place the reduced pan juices in a bowl placed on the table for ladling over all.

Fresh Cherry Frangipane Tart

Fresh Cherry Frangipane Tart

 

It’s cherry season in the northern hemisphere judging from the abundance of fresh cherries from the US and Canada that are available in the supermarkets here in Thailand at the moment. Cherries do not grow in the tropics so they are a real indulgence that is well worth savoring, if ever so briefly.

As a cook, what immediately came to mind was making a classic Italian/ French fresh cherry frangipane tart. Making tarts can get complicated, but this tart is relatively easy to make and beautifully showcases the plump whole fresh cherries nestled into a frangipane (almond flvored) cream and baked until golden brown. The scent of almonds wafting through the kitchen seductively compliments the juicy sweet tartness of the gently softened cherries.

 

Fresh Cherry Frangipane Cherry Tart

Fresh Cherry Frangipane Cherry Tart

 

Bing cherries are your best choice for a fragipane tart. They are plump, firm, deeply colored, and have a crisp sweet sourness. To pit or not to pit the cherries? Some cooks do not, but pitting the cherries requires so little effort.  Cherry/olive pitters are available online, worth the small investment, and will last a lifetime.

Other fresh stone fruits you may want to try for this recipe include apricots, nectarines, plums, or peaches.

 

Fresh Cherry Frangipani Tart     makes a 9 inch tart

Cherry/ Olive pitter

Cherry/ Olive pitter

Prepared ahead:

  • Your favorite pasty dough, well chilled, rolled out, and fitted into a 9 inch tart pan.
  • 18 oz/ 500 g fresh dark red (Bing) cherries, stems and pits removed

 

Frangipani Cream:

  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • ½ cup sugar, divided
  • 3 ½ oz/ 100 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons rum
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons light colored jam for glazing

Place the almonds and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor and blitz until the almonds have been reduced to a stone ground flour like consistency.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the butter is creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining sugar and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. Once again scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the almond mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Then add the salt, rum, and almond extract. Mix until combined. Then add the egg and milk and mix until light and fluffy.

If you are not using the frangipane cream right away, cover and refrigerate. Be sure to bring the cream to room temperature before assembling the tart.

 

Preheat the oven to 350 f/180 c

 

Assembling the tart:

Remove the pastry lined tart pan from the refrigerator and spoon the frangipane cream into the trat shell and even out the surface with a silicone spatula.

Arrange the pitted cherries over the entire surface of the tart, pressing ever so gently so the cream just anchors the cherries in place.

Transfer the tart to the oven and bake until the pastry crust is lightly browned and frangipane cream has puffed up and golden brown, about 50 to 60 minutes. Turn the tart after the first 30 minutes to insure even baking.

While the tart is baking heat the jam in a small pan until melted, strain out the solids, and set aside.

When the tart is done transfer to a cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the top of the tart and cool to room temperature.

Serve cut into wedges. This tart needs no flourishes. Beautiful just s it is.

 

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