Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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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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Battered Squash Blossoms

Last week, I offered a recipe for Squash Blossom Frittata. Squash blossoms are the flowers that grow on any squash plant, including zucchini, butternut, pumpkin, sweet dumpling, and others. They’re used frequently along the Mediterranean—particularly popular in Italy, Greece, and Turkey—and in Mexico, where they’re called flor de calabaza (squash plants are native to the New World).

They’re a summer delicacy that can easily be obtained…if you grow your own squash or know someone who does. Otherwise, you’ll have to seek them out at farmers’ markets or specialty markets.

They’re not sold in most markets because they’re extremely fragile and don’t last very long. 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.

In Italy, they’re called fiori di zucca. Although they are used in many different ways, the traditional, and most popular, way to use them in Italian cuisine is to batter and fry them. That’s the recipe I’m offering today.

Enjoy!

Battered Squash Blossoms

2 dozen squash blossoms
4 large eggs
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour

Cooking oil (See Note below)

Clean the squash blossoms by gently shaking out insects and running the blossoms under a gentle stream of water. Lay them out on paper towels or kitchen towel to dry.

Place a large platter or a couple of large plates near the stove and line them with paper towels.

Beat the eggs together with the salt and pepper.Place the flour in a shallow dish.Heat about a half inch oil in a wide frying pan.

While it’s heating, prepare a few blossoms. Dip a blossom in the egg, coating both sides. Let the egg drip off. Next, dredge it in flour; shake off the excess. Do a few more and set them aside.When the oil is very hot, place a few blossoms in the pan and cook until the undersides are lightly browned, about 30 to 40 seconds. Turn them over with tongs and cook until other sides are lightly browned, another 15 to 20 seconds.Transfer them to the paper towels. Continue with the rest of the blossoms. Serve hot.Store any leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Heat in the oven or a toaster oven.Note: If you want to bake them instead of frying them, lay them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Batter the blossoms as instructed above. Using a pastry brush, pat the blossoms with oil. Bake them at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

I like to open the larger flowers out before placing them in the oil. It makes for a lovely presentation.

 


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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!


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Tomato Tagliolini with Fresh Peas, Asparagus & Squash Blossoms

The fun thing about pasta is that it comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. You can play around with it almost endlessly. When I saw this particular pasta, I was drawn by its beautiful red color, which comes from tomatoes. Once it’s cooked, it retains a soft reddish color and a mild tomato flavor. Continue reading


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Butternut-Kale Soup

So, after I made Butternut-Black Bean Tacos last week, I had some butternut squash left over. There were many things I could have done with it, but after finding a beautiful head of kale, I decided to make butternut and kale soup.

This soup is packed with nutrients and it’s just plain delicious. Enjoy. Continue reading