Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to Roast Peppers with Jerry Lewis

roast peppers stage 2

I hate Labor Day. I always have. This is, no doubt, because growing up, Labor Day always meant three things:

1. School starts in two days (ugh)
2. The Jerry Lewis telethon and
3. Roasting obscene amounts of red bell peppers with my dad

Every year, Dad would spend the entire Labor Day weekend roasting, pickling, and canning for the winter months. He didn't need to. We lived in Providence, Rhode Island where virtually every street corner boasts an Italian deli selling all of the foods he made. But like stocking food in his basement, Labor Day canning was a ritual that was ingrained in Dad.

My father grew up in an Italian family with two parents and six siblings. Since this was before Costco, it took some resourcefulness to feed all of those growing bodies on a meager income. So his parents would often buy vast amounts of foods on sale and pickle, roast, stew, can, and stuff anything that could take it.

August was the month of hard labor in Dad's house. I love to hear him tell stories of the "assembly line" he and his siblings made to be efficient -- they had to be. After all, they would cook dozens of bushels of summer tomatoes to be used for Sunday gravy throughout the winter. And they would tackle scores of crates full of late summer eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers that were pickled or roasted then jarred and enjoyed year-round.

roasted red peppers plate

Throughout my entire life, Dad would go to his cousin Nicky's farm to buy produce. Every single Labor Day weekend, he'd arrive home and announce with pride to my mother, "I just got some beaut--ee-ful red bell peppers from Nicky's."

"Oh, yeah? How many did you get?" she'd asked, fearing his reply.

"Not too many this year. About three bushels," he'd say.

"Three bushels? What are we gonna do with three bushels of peppers?" she'd ask reflexively, knowing his reply before he could answer.

"I'll roast them tomorrow while the telethon is on," he'd say.

And I would let out a big, dramatic, sigh. "Ugh. Another Labor Day spent roasting peppers with Jerry Lewis."

After I was married, I decided I would never spend Labor Day weekend watching the telethon or cooking, and for years I didn't. Until one fateful day a few summers ago when I found a farmers' market selling an entire case of red bell peppers for $11. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! As I proudly stumbled along with my big box of peppers, Jeff stood looking on, aghast.

"What are we going to do with a whole case of peppers?" he asked.

"Roast them," I said.

And that's when it hit me. I am my father's daughter. I realized then that Dad didn't roast peppers on Labor Day just to torture me; rather, I think he believed that unlike the fleeting pleasure of going to the movies for a couple of hours, roasted peppers would bring you happiness for months to come.

I did end up roasting peppers that Labor Day Weekend, though I did not turn on the telethon. Then like Dad, I froze bags full of roasted peppers that Jeff and I enjoyed year-round.

Since our local market had red bell peppers on sale for 47 cents each last week, I bought a dozen. On Thursday I went down to the grills and starting roasting. I didn't miss Jerry Lewis, and I didn't miss the back-to-school dread I always experienced, but I did miss Dad.

I know you can buy jarred roasted peppers, but where's the challenge in that?

Here's how to make roasted peppers in four easy steps:

  1. Preheat a grill to high. Place peppers on the grill, rotating several times, until fully blackened (about 20 minutes).
  2. Place grilled peppers inside a paper bag and close the top tightly. Place the bag inside a large bowl (to catch any juices that spill out), for about 10 minutes. The steam will help the skins peel off more easily.
  3. Remove one pepper at a time. Place on a cutting board, and split open. Remove the stem and the seeds.
  4. Using a piece of paper towel, rub the skins off. If you have trouble removing them, then steam them a bit longer; otherwise, they should come off easily.
Note: If you don't have a grill, then you can roast or broil the peppers in the oven. You can even place them directly on the burner of a gas stove.

To freeze roasted peppers, place cooled peppers in a single layer in a Ziploc freezer bag. Defrost by placing in the refrigerator until thawed or by defrosting in the microwave.

Print recipe only here.

roast peppers stage 3
After about 10 minutes of grilling, the peppers will begin to form black blisters. After about 20 minutes, they will become fully blackened, like the middle left pepper above, and should be removed from the grill and placed in a paper bag to steam.

roasted pepper split
After the peppers have steamed in a paper bag for about 10 minutes, place them on a cutting board, split open, and remove the stem and the seeds. You can see how the skins are already beginning to peel off.

roasted pepper peeling
Using a piece of paper towel, rub the skins off.

Here are some easy, delicious ways to enjoy roasted peppers:
  • Add to an antipasto with items such as Italian cheeses and cured meats, olives, marinated mushrooms, and peppadews.
  • Finely chop and stir into tomato sauce for pasta or stir into soups.
  • Dice and add to a fritatta or omelette.
  • Dice and blend into hummus or a favorite dip.
  • Add to crostini, bruschetta, pizza, or sandwiches.
  • Make grilled vegetable stacks with eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and fresh mozzarella.
You might also like:

Roasted Pepper, Olive, and Brie Bruschetta

Clotilde's Red Quiona Salad with Bell Peppers and Pine Nuts
Kayln's Roasted Peppers
Susan's Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup
Lisa's Puy Lentil, Feta, and Roasted Red Pepper Salad

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Satisfying Super Salad #6: Crunchy Veg Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing

crunchy veg salad with lemon-tahini dressing

I eat too fast. I always have. I am often the last person to sit down at the table and the first to get up. It's not that I don't enjoy eating -- I love to eat. I have tried many slow down techniques such as putting my fork down between mouthfuls, cutting my food into smaller pieces than is necessary for an adult, and chewing each bite 20 times. I can tell you, they don't work.

The only thing that is guaranteed to slow me down is today's Crunchy Veg Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing. Chock full of crunchy vegetables, I challenge anyone to eat this salad in fewer than 20 minutes (unless you have uncommonly large molars and Olympic muscles of mastication, in which case it may take about 17).

Chewing isn't the only thing that will keep you full though. This salad is packed with high fiber ingredients such as chickpeas, apples, and raisins. It's flavored with sesame tahini (sesame paste) that is high in both nutritious minerals and polyunsaturated fat, which is considered a "heart healthy" type of fat.

Joyva sesame tahini

Though there are many brands of tahini available at both Middle Eastern markets and supermarkets, my personal favorite is Joyva Sesame Tahini. It's ultra thick and creamy with a pleasing smoky sesame flavor. Just remember that tahini paste will naturally harden on the bottom, so it's important to stir it well before using.

Then get ready to slowly savor this super salad.

Crunchy Veg Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing
Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

1 large head romaine lettuce, sliced crosswise
1 large carrot, sliced on the diagonal
2 celery stalks, sliced on the diagonal
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium apple of your choice, chopped
1/2 cup jicama, chopped
1/2 cucumber, seeds removed, and sliced into half moons
3/4 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup raisins
3 tablespoons toasted shredded unsweetened coconut
3 tablespoons toasted chopped almonds
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

Lemon-Tahini Dressing:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup tahini paste
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
several shakes of salt
2-4 tablespoons water, or as much as needed

In a large bowl, add all of the salad ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients (except water). Slowly add water one tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Pour dressing over salad and toss until well coated. Garnish with additional parsley, coconut, and/or almonds, if desired.

Feel free to add some grilled chicken, turkey, or tofu for added protein.

You might also like Super Satisfying Salads 1-5:
Asian Noodle Salad with Tofu and Mango
Chipotle BBQ Bean and Corn Salad
Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Farro with Grilled Vegetables
Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas

More tasty tahini dishes:
Dani's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Lydia's Potato Salad with Sesame Dressing
Patricia's Roasted Squash Salad with Tahini
Rosa's Spicy Roasted Chickpeas

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lemony Blueberry Corn Bread with Basil

blueberry cornbread slices

The farmers' markets here in Southern California are amazing -- you can find dates, figs, guavas, kumquats, passion fruit, persimmons, and pluots, but rarely do you see humble blueberries.

I grew up picking and eating fresh blueberries every summer back in New England. Why, I wondered, are they so hard to find in California?

The problem is dirt. Apparently blueberries like to grow in highly acidic soil and Southern California has alkaline soil. This presents a challenge to growing blueberries in Southern California (which explains why most the of the blueberries I buy at the market are from Washington).

blueberry cornbread pan

New England's acidic soil is perfect for blueberry bushes. I don't know what was better, marching along rows of blueberry bushes, basket in hand, with blue lips and fingertips or standing in the kitchen watching my mom use my very own fresh picked berries to make sweet blueberry buns with lemon icing, old-fashioned double crust blueberry pie, or a loaf of hot blueberry-corn bread (that went straight from the oven to my mouth).

fresh blueberries

So when I found these pristine Washington State blueberries, I bought 3 pints. After eating enough berries to make me worried I might overdose, I decided to bake something with the remaining berries. So here is a variation of Mom's old-fashioned corn bread. Infused with tart lemon and savory basil, this moist cornbread makes a lovely addition to a summertime brunch or picnic.

After baking an Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon last year, I have enjoyed experimenting with various fresh herbs in baked goods. Whereas rosemary's bold flavor remains unaltered by the oven's heat, fresh basil loses much of its intensity. So, here are my recommendations: use an ample amount of fresh basil, such as 1/3-1/2 cup. It won't be overpowering. Or use dried basil which maintains its flavor better. You could use 1-2 tablespoons of dried basil with some fresh basil for a prettier look. Also try serving the bread hot with butter -- you can even make your own basil butter, which has a mild but delicious flavor.

blueberry cornbread basil

Lemony Blueberry Corn Bread with Basil

Print recipe only here.

Corn Bread:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup medium coarse stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
2/3 cup fresh blueberries (dusted with flour)
1/3 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced (or 1-2 tablespoons of dried basil for a more intense flavor)

Basil Butter:
1/4 cup butter, slightly softened
1 tablespoon fresh finely chopped basil

Place a rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Butter or coat with cooking spray a a 5 by 9-inch loaf pan and set aside.

For the basil butter, stir chopped basil into softened butter and set aside.

Remove any blueberries stems. Wash the berries, pat dry, and lightly sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour to help prevent them from sinking or bleeding color.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, butter, buttermilk, eggs, lemon extract, and lemon zest. Add to the flour mixture and stir quickly until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the the fresh blueberries and basil.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. If it needs to bake longer but the top is already golden, then place a a piece of tin foil over the top of the bread to prevent further browning. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for 5 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack to cool. Serve hot with basil butter.

You might also like these berry recipes:

Skinny Berry Parfaits

Fresh Blackberry, Oatmeal, and Cashew Cake

Peach and Blueberry Galette

And check out my Sugar High Friday round-up for more outstanding blueberry desserts including coffee cakes, financiers, muffins, and tarts.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Satisfying Super Salad #5 : Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas

Mediterranean Wheatberry Lentil Salad

When I was kid, I couldn't wait for June to arrive because that was the month when you could start picnicking. May was often too cool, and by August, it would be sweltering. The cool thing about living in Southern California is that you can picnic anytime. That's why I surprised my parents last January with a day trip to Palm Springs to buy some Medjool dates and to go on a picnic.

I couldn't pack just any picnic. After all, I remember vividly our family picnics that my mom used to prepare-- no bagged chips or hot dogs. Her picnics were typical Italian-American feasts, only placed inside Tupperware, set in coolers, and hauled to wherever we were going. Maybe there wasn't lasagna at a July picnic, but you can bet there was summer tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, crispy baked chicken cutlets, and hard, crusty bread to dunk in some silky extra virgin olive oil.

For our picnic I decided to go simple and Mediterranean. We started off with some wine, cheese, and bread from a local Italian deli. We then enjoyed a marinated olive, fennel, and orange appetizer I had made, and finished with a savory Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas.

Since we had already eaten quite a bit by the time we got to the wheatberry salad, I thought nobody would want it. I was wrong. After a few comments like, "Mmmm this is so good" and "Are you gonna finish that?" I wished I had made more. (It's the curse of being female and Italian. You NEVER feel as though you've made enough food.)

Since that day, both my mom and I have made this salad numerous times. In fact, Mom called this morning and said she had just made a double batch of it for a picnic she is going to on Saturday.

That's why it's the fifth installation of my Satisfying Super Salads series. Today's super ingredient is wheatberries, a wonderfully chewy, nutty flavored whole grain that is both protein and calcium rich.

dry wheatberries

Tossed with lentils and chickpeas (two fiber and protein powerhouses), this is one seriously healthy salad. With briny kalamata olives, savory sun-dried tomatoes and fragrant fresh herbs, the result is a pleasing medley of bold Mediterranean flavors and textures that will keep you satiated long after you've finished eating.

Enjoy it as a vegetarian main dish, or add sauteed pork, chicken, or shrimp. It's also a great side dish with grilled fish, and even works as a stuffing in peppers and zucchini.

I usually triple or quadruple the recipe because this makes the most delicious left-over lunch. In general, I am NOT a fan of left-overs, but this is one of those dishes that actually tastes better after it sits a day or two. Plus then you won't have to worry about anybody fighting over the last serving.

Mediterranean Wheatberry Lentil Salad
(Don't pass on the fresh Italian oregano pictured above; it's infinitely better than god-awful dried oregano in a bottle. Try it to see what I mean.)

Mediterranean Wheatberry Salad with Lentils and Chickpeas
Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

1/2 cup dry wheatberries**
1/2 cup brown lentils
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
12 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 small red bell peppers, thinly sliced
12 olives (Kalamata or Cerignola), sliced
2 tablespoons feta cheese
2 tablespoons pistachios, walnuts, or pine nuts

Zesty Lemon and Herb Dressing:
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt, to taste
1/4 cup mixed, finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, mint, oregano, and parsley

Soak wheatberries in cold water for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours overnight. (The longer the soaking time, the shorter the cooking time will be.) In a small pot add 1/2 cup wheatberries to 2 cups water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then simmer partially covered for 40-45 minutes, or until tender. Check the water level periodically. If it evaporates up and the wheatberries aren't cooked, simply add a little more.

In a small pot, add 1/2 cup lentils to 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes, then simmer, partially covered for 30-35 minutes, or until tender. Check the water level periodically. If it evaporates and the lentils aren't cooked, simply add a little more.

To make the dressing, whisk all ingredients (except fresh herbs) in a small bowl and set aside. Add the herbs just a few minutes prior to assembling the salad so they don't absorb too much of the dressing.

Place cooked wheatberries and lentils in a large bowl and add remaining salad ingredients. Toss until well combined. Add the dressing and fresh herbs and toss well. Garnish will additional feta cheese and/or fresh herbs, if desired. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

A shortcut for cooking wheatberries is the microwave. Since microwaves differ, you'd have to experiment with your settings. I find the following works well: Place 1/2 cup wheatberries and 2 cups water in a corning ware dish. Cover and microwave on half power for 15 minutes. Then microwave on high power for 20-25 minutes, or until the wheatberries have absorbed the water and are cooked through. They should be firm, but not hard. Also check the water level occasionally to make sure it hasn't evaporated. Sometimes you need to a bit more water before the end of the cooking time.

**Wheatberries are usually located in the bulk section of specialty and organic markets. Sometimes they are labeled "hard" or "soft." Hard wheatberries need to be soaked in water overnight before cooking, whereas soft ones don't.

You might also like:

Super Satisfying Salads 1-4:
Asian Noodle Salad with Tofu and Mango
Chipotle BBQ Bean and Corn Salad
Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Farro with Grilled Vegetables

Warm Bulgur Salad with Beets, Fennel, and Oranges

More wheatberry dishes you might like:

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fresh Fig, Arugula, and Mascarpone Bruschetta

fig bruschetta 2

Figs are food for the gods.

Fresh figs have a preciously short season (typically from August-October), so now is the time to indulge. Though the vast majority of figs are produced here in California because of its Mediterranean climate, they can be found in most supermarkets across the country. This is a good thing since fresh figs are di rigeur, appearing in everything from sweet jams and tarts to savory salads and chutneys. And let's not forget the touch of grace they add to crostini, pasta and pizza.

These captivating tear-drop shaped fruit are singular in appearance, flavor, and texture. First they lure you in with their sweet perfume. Then they tempt you with delicate skin that is lush with ripeness, revealing droplets of golden honeyed nectar. One bite reveals an irresistibly attractive pink flesh that is second only to its swoon-worthy soft, cool, creamy flesh.

Fresh figs are not at all like dried figs (which I also love), so there are few things to know about them.

fresh figs

Here's how to select fresh figs:
  1. Look for richly colored, plump, unblemished fruits with the stems intact. The skins of figs often have a powdery finish, which is normal. They should be tender to the touch, but not squishy. Fully ripe figs often ooze a clear, syrupy substance clear which is a good indicator of its sweetness.
  2. If you're not too embarrassed, then take a good whiff. Ripe fresh figs usually emit a delicately sweet fragrance.
  3. Since figs do not ripen once they're picked, it’s best to eat them as soon as possible. Otherwise, place unwashed figs in an air-tight container and cover with a piece of paper towel; they should last 1-2 days.
  4. Bring figs to room temperature prior to eating, which will enhance their flavor. Wash them gently, remove the stem, and enjoy.

Some fig purists wouldn't dream of adulterating fresh figs with any condiments and will only eat them out of hand. However, like vine-ripened, succulent strawberries, their sweetness is magnified when balanced by salty, bitter, or sour flavors. That's why figs get along so beautifully with salty cured meats like prosciutto, bitter greens like arugula, and sour flavors like vinegar. I needn't tell you that they are divine in desserts ranging from delicate pastries to homey crisps.

fig bruschetta

This Fig and Mascarpone Bruschetta is a simple yet stylish appetizer. You really don't need a recipe for it. Just follow my basic outline, and feel free to improv. Don't skip the lemon though; it has an amazing ability to counterbalance the fig's sweetness. For a variation, try fresh ricotta cheese instead of mascarpone or add some prosciutto slices.

So, tell me, how do you like to eat fresh figs?

Fresh Fig, Arugula, and Mascarpone Bruschetta
Print recipe only here.

Select a hard, crusty bread of your choice, such as ciabatta. Make thick slices, and brush with extra virgin olive oil. Broil or toast until golden and crisp.

Quarter the fresh figs. In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm 1 teaspoon of olive oil per 1 quartered fig. Saute for 2 minutes, or until lightly browned and caramelized.

Spread about 2 teaspoonfuls of mascarpone cheese on each toasted bread slice. Top each slice with some fresh arugula, 2 fig quarters, a splash of aged balsamic vinegar, a splash of lemon juice, some kosher salt crystals and freshly ground black pepper, and several thin slices of fresh basil. Garnish with lemon zest curls if desired, and serve immediately.

You might also like:

Fresh Fig and Fennel Pizza

Goat Cheese and Poblano Quesadillas with Pineapple-Mango Habanero Salsa

Roasted Pepper, Olive, and Brie Bruschetta

Spinach, Nutmeg, and Ricotta Pie

My friend Chris over at Melecotte has been basking in figgy goodness lately. Be sure to check out her Upside Down Fresh Fig Cake, Figgy Fig Chicken Pockets and more fig recipes.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Satisfying Summer Salad #4 : Farro with Grilled Vegetables

farro and grilled vegetable salad

Summer time means grilling time. And I have been doing a lot of it lately.

One of the perks of living in a condo is that you reap all of the benefits of grilling without all the hassle: The gas tank on the grill is always full. The grill is so big I could cook a whole pig on it if I wanted to (I don't, but it's nice to know that I could). And best of all, the grill smell doesn't get trapped inside the house (cause let's face it, that steak you enjoyed for 7:00 o'clock dinner last night doesn't smell so great at 6:00 am the next morning). Neither does extra strength Febreeze.

grilled vegetables

So this past Sunday after returning from the farmers' market with bags full of red bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant, I knew I had to make some marinated grilled vegetables. A good portion of them went into this Farro and Grilled Vegetable Salad, the fourth salad of my Super Satisfying Salads Series.

dry farro beans

What is farro? Farro is the mother of all grains. Really. This deliciously nutty, chewy whole grain was used by the Egyptians over 6,000 years ago.

Yet, it's only relatively recently that it's become vogue. Farro or emmer is most closely associated with Italian cuisine and has been enjoyed there since ancient Roman times. Unfortunately, because farro is rather difficult to grow, it eventually became replaced by durum wheat.

Over the last few years, thanks primarily to European chefs and gastronomes, farro has staged a comeback and is rightfully reclaiming its place at the dinner table. I for one couldn't be more pleased. Farro is a satisfyingly chewy grain that is high in fiber and protein, which helps keep you full long after you've finished eating it. Plus, farro is remarkably versatile: use it in salads, as a stuffing, as a breakfast cereal, or in place of rice or pasta.

dry farro beans

Where can you buy farro? Some organic markets carry it, though the best place to find farro is at an Italian market or deli. Farro is pricey. A 15-20 oz bag typically ranges from $6-10, but trust me when I say it's worth it. If you can't find farro, then spelt or barley make good substitutes. They don't have exactly the same firm texture and nutty flavor, but they are tasty and cook more quickly.

farro and grilled vegetable salad

Farro and Grilled Vegetable Salad

Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

1/2 cup dry farro

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 small-medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 red bell pepper, halved
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 large onion, preferably Vidalia, halved

4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar (or regular, if you prefer)
2 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt, to taste
1/4 cup mix chopped herbs such as basil, oregano, and parsley

2 tablespoons feta cheese, optional for garnish

Soak farro in cold water for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large Ziploc bag or tupperware container, add ingredients for marinade and shake well. Add vegetables, and shake until well coated. Marinate for 30-45 minutes.

To make the dressing, simply whisk all ingredients (except herbs) in a small bowl and set aside. Add herbs just before finishing the salad so they stay green and fresh.

Drain the farro. Place in a small pot and cover with 3-4 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered at a rolling boil for 20 minutes, or until tender. Cooked farro should be firm and chewy but not hard. Drain and place in a large bowl.

Drain marinated vegetables. Place on a hot grill that has been lightly oiled. Grill vegetables for 5-7 minutes per side on medium-high heat, or until tender and lightly charred. Chop vegetables into 1-inch pieces. Add to the bowl with the cooked farro, then add dressing and fresh herbs and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with feta cheese, if desired.

You might also like:

Asian Noodle Salad with Tofu and Mango (Satisfying Super Salad #1)

Chipotle Barbecue Bean and Corn Salad (Satisfying Super Salad #2)

Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Salad (Satisfying Super Salad #3)

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Nude" Berry Tartlets and Why I Can't Be a Raw Foodie

raw berry tartlets super close

A rawist is a person who consumes primarily raw food, (or all raw food in some cases).

Now a rawist should not to be confused with a nudist. A nudist could be a rawist, but not necessarily so -- it really just depends on what they eat. We actually have plenty of both here in California. As it turns out, however, I am neither.

Don't get me wrong, I like raw foods plenty -- love peaches, kiwis, cucumbers, and tomatoes. But the thought of eating solely uncooked food seems, well, not fun. I cannot imagine life without grilled eggplant, roasted carrots, or, heaven forbid, stuffed artichokes.

A couple years ago when I was feeling particularly in touch with my natural-girl-self, I attended a talk in LA given by a rawist woman (wearing clothes) who made claims like, "Raw foods will cleanse your system!" "Raw foods make your skin glow!" and "Raw foods will make you healthy and improve your sex life!" I remember during the talk thinking, "Geeze, the only thing raw foods couldn't do is solve the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. Or could it?"

The main problem I had though was the stark contrast between what she was saying and the way she looked. She had a wan complexion, wispy hair, and a rail thin frame. As the lecture went on, all I could think was: "God, I wish I could just feed her.... What she needs is a big plate of gnocchi with some sausage and meatballs. You know, something that would stick to her ribs."

Needless to say, I never did hop on the raw food bandwagon. But, that doesn't mean I don't like raw dishes. For example, I was smitten with these raw blueberry tartlets at first sight. After all, honeyed dates, crunchy almonds, and juicy berries are all sublime in their raw, unadorned state.

raw berry tartlet white

Though I tweaked the recipe a little by adding mixed berries and more flavoring, I remained true to the raw deliciousness of the original. Plus, this is a no-bake dessert. I repeat, for all of you wilting in sweltering climates, this is a no-bake dessert. So make these on even the hottest, humid summer day, and still look cool and sophisticated when you serve them.

Oh, and I just can't call them "Raw" Berry Tartlets. It brings back too many frightening images. Let's call them "Nude" Berry Tartlets, shall we?

raw berry tartlet yellow

"Nude" Berry Tartlets

Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

3 cups mixed fresh berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and marionberries
4 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest plus extra julienned for garnish
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 teaspoons light brown sugar
Cooking spray
2/3 cup raw almonds
3/4 (packed) cup pitted dates, preferably Medjool
2-3 teaspoons water, or as needed

Combine first 6 ingredients in a bowl; cover and refrigerate.

Coat a mixing bowl with cooking spray. Pulse almonds in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. Empty into the prepared bowl. Pulse dates with 2-3 teaspoons water in food processor until well chopped (they will be a little clumpy). Using your hands, mix with almonds to form a paste. (If it's too crumbly, just add a few more drops of water). Divide mixture evenly into 4 golf ball sized rounds. Place each ball between 2 pieces of wax paper and press to form a 4-inch crust. Using your fingertips, turn up edges to form a rim. Refrigerate for 2 hours (they will harden and become much easier to remove from the wax paper).

Allow the berries to come to room temperature before assembling the tartlets and serving. Use a spatula to transfer the date-nuts crusts to serving plates; fill each with 1/4 of the berries and drizzle with some leftover juices from the bowl. Top with julienned orange zest and a sprig of mint.

You might also like these fresh berry dishes:

Pancakes with Fresh Raspberry-Strawberry Sauce

Summertime Strawberry Pie

Peach and Blueberry Galette

Skinny Berry Parfaits

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Penne with Fresh Ricotta and Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

baby heirloom tomato penne lemon

If the farmers' market were giving out superlatives, heirloom tomatoes would get "most popular." No contest. Today there were several different farmers selling them from $5-7 per pound, and each table had a line of people at least four deep waiting to buy some.

Considering that one tomato weighs about half a pound or more, you could be in for a real sticker shock if you buy 3 or 4 of them! People don't seem to mind though; probably because after years of eating tasteless, hard, dry supermarket tomatoes, it's worth paying a little more to get heirlooms that taste as exciting as they look.

baby heirloom tomatoes

Who can resist brilliantly colored, endearingly odd-ball shaped tomatoes with whimsical names such as Big Rainbow, Green Zebra, and Brandywine? If, however, you don't want to break a $20 just to try a tomato, then consider baby heirlooms instead. These diminutive members of the heirloom tomato family come in a dazzling kaleidoscope of colors. Unlike their larger brethren, however, they tend to be neatly round, oval, or teardrop in shape. Most baby heirlooms are the size of cherry tomatoes, though once in a while, you'll find one the size of a golf ball.

baby heirloom tomatoes and basil
(baby heirloom tomatoes with their best friend, basil)

Baby heirloom tomatoes give you the experience of eating an heirloom tomato but at a fraction of the cost. Plus they're just the right size to pop into your mouth as you pass them on your kitchen counter.

Where can you find baby heirloom tomatoes? Though farmers' markets and specialty markets are the most reliable, they're actually starting to show up at many traditional supermarkets as well. Trader Joe's sells them for about $2.50 a container (now, that's a bargain).

Though petite, baby heirloom tomatoes are bursting with big tomato flavor, which you'll savor in this perfect-for-summertime, easy dinner: Penne with Fresh Ricotta and Baby Heirloom Tomatoes. Fresh ricotta cheese adds silky creaminess, while tangy lemon and aromatic fresh herbs enhance the tomatoes' flavor.

baby heirloom tomato pasta close up

Penne with Fresh Ricotta and Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

8 ounces penne
1 cup baby heirloom tomatoes halved**
1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, parsley, and tarragon
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
salt, to taste
7-8 cranks of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, herbs, lemon zest and juice, and salt & pepper. Set aside.

Cook pasta in salted water according to directions, being sure to keep it al dente (cooked through yet firm). Drain and return to pot. Stir in the ricotta cheese until pasta is evenly coated. Stir in grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano. Add the marinated tomatoes, and toss until just combined. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and some extra grated cheese, and serve immediately.

**If you are unable to find baby heirloom tomatoes, then cherry or grape tomatoes make a good substitute.

Since these babies aren't your everyday tomato, I'm sending them to Marija of Palachinka, this week's host of the ever-popular Weekend Herb Blogging, created by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen.

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Baby Artichoke and Asparagus Risotto

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