I love making food this time of year. With great tomatoes, some good cheese, olive oil, greens, fresh colorful veggies, good bread... well, it's just prettuy awesome. This week I am thinking about the good balsamic that went out last week, the beautiful basil and tomatoes going out this week, the special radicchio treat, the fresh and delicious cucumbers and peppers I want to feature somehow....
With hot weather this week I know I am making gazpacho. Gazpacho blends tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, peppers and good olive oil and vinegar into a cold soup or a glassful of goodness. Many countries have their own special variations. The recipe below is a truly blended version meant to be served in a glass. Some versions call for veggies to retain some texture and be served in a bowl. Still other recipes call for some stale bread to be blended into the gazpacho lending body to the soup (although some will argue this is no longer gazpacho but another dish altogether). Good olive oil is key here. This recipe is one Julie Moskin wrote for the NYT.
2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cored and roughly cut into chunks
1 Italian frying (cubanelle) pepper or another long, light green pepper, such as Anaheim, cored, seeded and roughly cut into chunks (the purple peppers are not quite the same but you can use them here)
1 cucumber, about 8 inches long, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 small mild onion (white or red), peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, more to taste (you can use good red wine vinegar here*)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more to taste, plus more for drizzling
Combine tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions and garlic in a blender or, if using a hand blender, in a deep bowl. (If necessary, work in batches.) Blend at high speed until very smooth, at least 2 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
With the motor running, add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The mixture will turn bright orange or dark pink and become smooth and emulsified, like a salad dressing. If it still seems watery, drizzle in more olive oil until texture is creamy.
Strain the mixture through a strainer or a food mill, pushing all the liquid through with a spatula or the back of a ladle. Discard the solids. Transfer to a large pitcher (preferably glass) and chill until very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.
Before serving, adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar. If soup is very thick, stir in a few tablespoons ice water. Serve in glasses, over ice if desired. A few drops of olive oil on top are a nice touch.
*Tip - if you have a red wine vinegar that just isn't that great (you don't love the flavor when you taste it plain), try putting a little in a pan and simmering to reduce it. It will sweeten and become more dense in the pan and will generally taste better. Reduce by 1/3 to 1/2 volume.
Radicchio Salad with Fresh Mozzarella
Half head of radicchio
Several handfuls mesclun greens
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3-4 slices fresh mozzarella
* Optional - add some galicky croutons or some toasted pine nuts for added dimension/flavor/crunch.
Roughly chop the radicchio. Place in a serving bowl and toss with the Mesclun ¼ cup olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Divide the lettuces onto salad plates, place a slice or two of mozzarella on each plate, drizzle the cheese with a little more olive oil, and season with a bit more salt and pepper.
Radicchio Cups Filled with Fresh Mozzarella
Here's a fun and simple dish to experiment with. This would be great served alongside some freshly made polenta. The sweet creamy-ness of polenta pairs really well with the bitter of radicchio. I think I'd want a drizzle of the good balsamic on this side.
8 Radicchio leaves
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, in balls or cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
Preheat the broiler. Coat a baking pan with vegetable oil spray. Fill the leaves with mozzarella chunks and sprinkle with pepper and oregano. Coat each leaf with vegetable oil spray. Place the pan on a rack 4 inches below broiler. Broil 3 to 4 minutes, until mozzarella begins to melt. Using a spatula, place on serving plates and sprinkle with fennel seeds. Serve immediately.
Tomato and Basil Salad?
This was the idea once I knew that tomatoes and basil were going out together... I ordered up the Mozz as soon as I knew so you could pull together a Caprese salad.
Fresh Chopped Basil
Balsamic vinegar (the best you have available)
A sprinkling of fresh ground pepper
Fresh Mozzarella (or crumbled good feta or goat cheese)
Optional but awesome if you are a garlic fiend - chopped garlic
No fixed recipe needed here... Just slice the tomatoes and arrange on a plate. Chop the basil and optional garlic and sprinkle on top of the tomatoes. Drizzle the balsamic and olive oil on top (a couple generous TBs of each). I use maybe a bit more balsamic than oil. If on a plate, I just turn the tomatoes a few times to coat both sides in the vinaigrette. If using the mozz, tear pieces and arrange on the plate, or crumble some feta on top. If the balsamic is good, you can skip dessert and just eat this.
Black Currant Jam
Black currants make terrific jam and they thicken and jell beautifully. You might want to cook this jam, leaving it a bit on the runny side, since as it sits it will thicken up more than other jams. Two 8 oz jars
2 cups fresh black currants (stemmed)
¾ cup water
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In a nonreactive pot, bring the black currants and the water to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes, until the black currants are softened.
Add the sugar and the lemon juice and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the jam reaches the jelling point. (If using a thermometer, it should read about 220ºF.
Or if you want to do the freezer test, put a small plate in the freezer. When the jam looks thickened, turn off the heat and put a teaspoon of the jam on the plate and stick it back in the freezer for about 5 minutes. When you take it out, it’s done if you nudge your finger into it and it holds its shape. If not, continue cooking it, and retesting the jam, until it’s the right consistency.
When ready, scrape into clean jars, cover, and turn the jars over until cool.
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter softened
1 egg, beaten
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blackcurrants
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, cold
Pre-heat oven to 375 F
In a mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter. Add egg; mix well.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt; sift to the creamed mixture and mix well.
Add milk and vanilla. Gently fold in the blackcurrants.
Fill 12 greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full.
In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over muffins.
Bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes or until browned.