Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Balsamic Roasted Japanese Yams

Japanese yams, also known as satsumaimo, are considered a type of sweet potato. They have a purplish skin, but unlike the sweet potatoes Westerners are used to, Japanese yams have a whitish flesh. They are sweeter than white potatoes but less sweet than orange sweet potatoes. (I don’t call sweet potatoes yams because, really, yams are a completely different thing. But I won’t go there right now.)

Although Japanese yams are low in protein, they are high in vitamins and minerals, such as A and C and potassium and fiber, antioxidants. And it is said by some that they have anti-aging effects. I don’t know if that last part is true, but Japanese yams still make a healthy alternative to white potatoes, and even standard sweet potatoes. They’re perfect for anyone with wheat issues, or who are on low-calorie diets because, yep, they’re low in calories, too.

A lot of fuss has been made around Japanese yams in the last few years. In fact, there’s even a diet with Japanese yams as the focus. They have been touted as a powerhouse health food. I’m clueless as to the validity of this belief, but what I do know is that they’re delicious, and including them in your meal plan is another way to diversify your vegetable intake.

This recipe is very quick and easy and makes for a flavorful side dish for any meal. Enjoy!

Balsamic Roasted Japanese Yams

Makes 4-6 servings.

2 lbs. Japanese yams, rinsed
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Trim the ends off the yams and discard. Slice the yams into ½-inch circles and place them in a medium bowl.In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour this over the yams and mix well so that all the yams are coated.Get a piece of foil large enough to enclose all the yams and lay it flat. Transfer the yams to the foil and close it tightly to form a packet. (If you can’t do it with 1 piece of foil, then make 2 packets.)

Place the packet(s) on a baking sheet and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they’re tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. (You will have to open up the foil to test them.)When they’re tender, open the foil carefully (the steam will be hot and can burn you) and spread it out flat. Spread the yams out as evenly as possible, and put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes to brown. Turn them over halfway through to get both sides browned. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle them with more salt, if desired.

Transfer them to a serving platter. Serve immediately.

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Cherry Tomato Confit

If you’ve ever had roasted tomatoes, you know about the incredibly sweet, smoky flavor they have. Roasting any vegetable renders its sugars, and results in heightened flavors and vivid colors. The flavor of roasted tomatoes is deep and intense, and goes well with so many dishes.

The word confit is French and means “to preserve.” It’s usually used in relation to meats—as in duck confit, chicken confit, etc.—and it means to cook the meat slowly in its own juices (or other meat juices), along with salt and seasonings. The meat is then shredded and packed in a container and covered with fat to preserve it. This method was created for long-term storage before refrigeration was invented.

But fruits and vegetables can be confited as well. It’s extremely easy to make a tomato confit. All you need to do is mix the tomatoes with some olive oil and some seasonings and put them in the oven and walk away. They roast low and slow, and when they’re done, they’re literally bursting with flavor.

You can put some tomato confit on pieces of toast, drizzle it with olive oil, and sprinkle the tops with parmesan cheese for a great canape or snack.  You can use them on focaccia or in a sandwich, or just served by themselves.

Enjoy!Cherry Tomato Confit

Makes 1½ cups.

2 cups cherry and/or pear tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for the jar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
Herbs of your choice, fresh or dry (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, etc.)
2 or 3 large garlic cloves, smashed

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients and mix.Spread the tomatoes and herbs out on a small-medium baking sheet. (You can line it with foil or parchment, if you like.)Bake for 1 hour. Stir the tomatoes, then bake for another 1½ hours. The tomatoes should be wrinkled and easily burst when poked with the tip of a knife. Some tomatoes may burst while in the oven, and some may brown a bit. This is not only okay, it’s deliciously desirable.Transfer everything to a clean, pint-size jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in any oil and juices from the pan. Pack in it gently. Cover the tomatoes with oil. Seal. Tomatoes will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.


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Giant Pear Squash with Cannellini

The squash family has many variations. There are the well-known types, such as butternuts, sweet dumplings, kabocha, spaghetti, zucchini, pattypan, and numerous others. But there are so many lesser know varieties, some you would never see except when they appear in neighbors’ gardens.

Giant pear squash

If you visit farmers’ markets, you can find some other squash varieties, but you won’t generally find them in most stores. However, every once in a while, an unusual type will show up in my local produce market. And that’s exactly what happened with the giant pear squash.

Giant pear squash is so called because…well, take a look at it. It’s aptly named. (Yes, it really is as big as it looks in the photo. The photo is not distorted in any way.) It has a very mild flesh, somewhat similar to yellow summer squash. It can easily be used in any dish that requires a mild squash, or as a substitute for zucchini.

You want to cut out the spongy core of the giant pear squash. Not because it’s inedible, but because it contains seeds that are too hard to eat. They kind of look like chulpe, a Peruvian dried corn (see photos below).

Squash seeds, fresh

Squash seeds, dried

Chulpe corn

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Summer Tomato-Cucumber Salad

Well, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, summer is coming to a close. Garden aficionados are gathering up the final crops of their summer vegetables and herbs, and are preparing their autumn and winter larders.

But there’s still time to enjoy some summer savory dishes. Pick some tomatoes and snap off a cucumber (or get them at the farmers’ market) to make this simple, yet savory, classic dish. Plan one last picnic or barbecue, soak in the warm sun while it lasts, and serve this to hold you over until next year. Pretty soon, it will be time for pumpkins, fireplaces, and warm fleece blankets. And that’s a different kind of joy.

Summer Tomato-Cucumber Salad

1 cup cherry or pear tomatoes, halved
½ medium cucumber, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Few leaves fresh basil

Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.

Serve at room temperature. You can make this a few hours ahead of time. Keep it stored  tightly sealed in the refrigerator.


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Wax Bean and Purple Potato Salad

One of the dishes that I remember my mother always making is a cold potato and green bean salad. I considered it such a standard of my mother’s repertoire that I included it in my cookbook, Vegetarian Italian: Traditions. (That book, by the way, is now out of print, but those recipes, including the one below, are available in individual ebooks. This recipe appears in the volume called “Antipasti.”)Anyway, at the farmers’ market, I found one of my favorite things, purple potatoes. I bought some, not really knowing what I was going to do with them. Then, as I moved on down the stalls, I found wax beans, the yellow variety of green beans. I didn’t know what I was going to do with those either, but they were so beautiful, I bought a small bagful.Then I found chocolate tomatoes, which I can never resist (I’m not sure if it’s their color that draws me, or because they’re called “chocolate”). It then hit me what I was going to do with these ingredients—I would combine them to make what I consider to be a classic dish. I got a red onion, and I had the typical, and yet different, ingredients for this salad. You can most certainly make this dish with standard potatoes, ordinary red tomatoes, and average, everyday green beans, and it will be delicious. But using variations on these ingredients, such as the ones I suggest below, will give the dish just a little pop for a fun party or barbecue dish.

Enjoy!

Wax Bean and Purple Potato Salad

2 lbs. purple potatoes
1 lb. wax beans, trimmed
1½ lbs. tomatoes
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup olives (such as Kalamata, black cured, or Gaeta

Cut the potatoes as necessary so that the pieces are roughly the same size.Place them in a medium pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes (but start checking them earlier). Drain them in a colander and set aside to cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel and place them in a large bowl.Meanwhile, place the beans in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.Combine the potatoes with the beans, tomatoes, onion, oil, salt, and pepper. Mix gently. Add the olives and mix again. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. If it seems dry, add a little more olive oil. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and serve.


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Squash Blossom Frittata

In summer, along with the abundance of zucchini comes the bounty of squash blossoms, a unique delicacy. In Italian, they’re called fiori di zucca.

You might be wondering, if they’re so fabulous, why don’t they sell them at the produce store or in supermarkets? The reason is that they’re highly perishable. As soon as they’re picked, they begin to deteriorate immediately. The best way to get them, therefore, is to grow zucchini( or any other type of squash) yourself, or get them from a gardening neighbor. Barring that, you can often find them at farmers’ markets.

When you do get a batch of blossoms, make sure you handle them gently and use them quickly, preferably within 2 days. To clean them, cut off the stems close to the base. Open them gently with your fingers and check for insects. If you see insects, shake them out. If necessary, run them under a fine stream of running water and then  shake them out gently. If you can, remove the stamens (the long piece inside) as they can harbor insects.

Let them sit on paper towels to dry. If you’re not using them right away, place them in a plastic bag and close it loosely. Store them in the refrigerator.

Squash Blossom Frittata

Makes 4 servings

4 or 5 squash blossoms
5 medium eggs

1 tablespoon parmigiano
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Clean the squash blossoms. Open them up very gently and check for insects. Remove the stamens from inside and rinse carefully under a thin stream of water. Place them on a paper towel to dry.In a medium bowl, beat the eggs well with the parmigiano, salt, and pepper.Heat a small nonstick skillet (approximately 6 inches). (If you don’t have a nonstick skillet, use a regular skillet and heat 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil.) Pour in the eggs and arrange the squash blossoms across the top. Cover and cook over medium heat until the underside has browned. Remove the cover. Place a plate that’s wider than the skillet over the top and (using pot holders or kitchen towels!), carefully flip the frittata over onto the plate. Then slide it back into the pan and continue cooking until the underside has browned, another 2 or 3 minutes.Slide the frittata onto a plate or cutting board and cut into wedges. Serve with fresh bread. Enjoy.

 


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Cherry Tomato Flatbread Focaccia

Summer is tomato season, and cherry tomatoes are some of the most beautiful to be had. There are so many things you can do with tomatoes, and like any Italian will tell you, one of the best ways is to put fresh tomatoes on pizza or focaccia.

I like to make my own personal focaccia using 8-inch flatbread rounds. With so few ingredients, the fat and calories are kept on the low side. And by using whole wheat flatbread, I’m upping the health factor. Yet it’s filling and satisfying.

This flatbread focaccia is so simple and quick to make, you can have it any night of the week. Pair it with a fruity white wine or a cider and you’ve made the perfect light summer meal.

 

Cherry Tomato Flatbread Focaccia

Makes 1 serving

1 (8-inch) whole wheat flatbread
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbs or seasonings of your choice (such as basil, oregano, cayenne)
2 tablespoons parmigiano

Toast the flatbread in the oven or toaster oven, just until it starts to firm up.Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the tomatoes, oil, salt, pepper, and herbs or seasonings, if using.Spread the tomato mixture over the flatbread. Sprinkle the parmigiano over the top. Put it back in the oven and toast until tomatoes soften and bread is fully toasted, 2 to 4 minutes. Cut in half or quarters. Enjoy!