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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quick and Easy Baba Ganoush

Ok, so the title may be a little misleading. This recipe isn't really quicker or easier than other baba ganoush recipes. But it's not an all-out untruth either, since pretty much all baba ganoush recipes are quick and easy. I just wanted to get you interested (I was in marketing/advertising in a past life...).

All you need to do to make amazing baba ganoush is char and roast the whole eggplants and then puree the softened flesh with a few other staple ingredients. That's it! The only ingredient that may not be in your kitchen - or on your shopping list - right now is tahini paste. Tahini paste is a, well, paste made from ground lightly roasted sesame seeds. Today, tahini paste is available in the international aisle of most grocery stores, or in Middle Eastern markets, of course.
Making baba ganoush is a great way to use up all those eggplants you're finding at the markets now, plus it keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week, so make a lot of it and keep it on hand for snacking or when guests come over. It's great when used as a dip for carrots or homemade pita chips, or it can be used as a spread on a killer veggie sandwich -- think smeared on seedy whole wheat bread with grilled summer squash, tomato and fresh mozzarella -- yum!

Also, to note, when I make baba ganoush, I usually end up making my own pita chips. I just leave the oven on after the eggplants have roasted and throw in the cut up pita bread. I've included the uber-simple recipe for pita chips below the baba ganoush recipe, in case you're interested.
Quick and Easy Baba Ganoush
Be sure to taste along the way. Your two large eggplants are probably not the exact same size as my two large eggplants, so you may need to add a little more or less of some of the ingredients. Start off conservatively -- you can always add more.

2 large eggplants (look for eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size)
1/3 cup tahini paste
3 garlic cloves, minced (use 1 or 2 cloves if you garlic sensitive)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of cumin
salt to taste
handful of chopped parsley leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prick the outside of the eggplants. Place directly on top of a gas stove and char, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Place the charred eggplants on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until they are soft inside. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Split the cooked eggplants open and scoop the flesh into the food processor. Puree with all other ingredients, except for the parsley. Taste and adjust accordingly. If the flavor could be a little brighter, add more lemon juice. If you're not getting enough garlic, add more. Could use a little heat? Add another pinch of cayenne. Just be sure to add only a small amount at a time. The line between lacking and overkill can be very fine -- especially when you're working with spices and raw garlic.

Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

Fresh Baked Pita Chips

4 whole wheat pitas
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut each pita into 8 "slices" (just as you would slice a pizza pie). Gently separate the layers so that you have 16 triangles. Arrange on lined cookie sheets and brush both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and bake for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fettuccine with Zucchini, Fromage Blanc and Lavender

Andrew and I recently returned from a week long vacation out in northern California. We went sightseeing, we ate lots of wonderful food, we tasted countless wines and we celebrated the marriage of two very special friends. We made it back to New York last week a little tired and slightly beat up -- Andrew's excitement and commitment to celebrating resulted in a painful tailbone injury the last night of the trip!-- but with many, many wonderful memories and experiences. Now that we are back, I'd love to recount just a little bit of our trip.

Whenever Andrew and I travel, we usually end up doing a fair amount of driving. We like to explore and stumble upon things that aren't convenient enough to make it into guide books. This particular day of exploring began with us driving from San Francisco up to Petaluma for a tour of Cowgirl Creamery. I have been enjoying their cheeses since I was first introduced to them a few years ago, and since we were traveling to that general area, why not swing by and take a tour? I love being able to make a connection to the food that I eat and enjoy so naturally I was excited about the opportunity to find out a little more about the Cowgirl cheese making process.

Not only did we tour the cheese making facility and learn how the cheese is made and aged, but we learned about the dairy farms that supply the milk to Cowgirl. I have heard from several cheese makers that one of the most important, if not the most important, variables in the cheese making process is the quality of the milk you are starting with. So I was especially excited when I found out that Vivien Straus was leading our tour. Vivien, whose family started Straus Family Creamery in Tomales Bay 70 years ago, shares a very personal connection to Cowgirl Creamery. It was the Straus' commitment and passion for the organic dairy industry that inspired the founders of Cowgirl Creamery to start a cheese making company. To date, Cowgirl still uses milk from the Straus family's organic dairy farm to make their cheeses. So not only was Vivien familiar with the cheese making process, but she was familiar with the cows and the land from which the milk comes from. She knows the cows are raised, the grasses and herbs that they graze on, and how that diet affects the milk, and hence the cheese. Pretty cool, huh? We left Cowgirl Creamery not only with a deeper sense of connection to the cheese making process, but also with a mini-cooler filled with some of their fabulous cheese!

So off we went, mini-cooler in tow, and took a drive out to at Tomales Bay Oyster Company, where you buy bags of just harvested oysters and shuck them yourselves at picnic tables they have set up right on the bay. We came armed with a sourdough baguette that we picked up in San Francisco that morning and (of course) our cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. As you can see from the below photo, had ourselves quite a memorable lunch.

But, I digress. I do want to include a recipe with this post, and it doesn't have anything to do with oysters, so I'm going to get back to the cheese (I just couldn't couldn't resist sharing that terrific little stop!). Fast forward 5 days and 4 pounds later, we returned to NY with an embarrassingly small amount of cheese left (good cheese goes fast!). One cheese that was not totally consumed by the time we left CA was their Fromage Blanc. Fromage Blanc is fresh, soft cheese that has the consistency of ricotta cheese. It is made with milk instead of cream, so it has a much lighter taste and consistency than that of creme fraiche and can be used in either savory or sweet applications.

So it's Day One of normal life in Brooklyn: I'm on my way home from work at 9pm thinking to myself that the next time we take a vacation I should really make it a point to work in a buffer day to get re-acclimated, unpack, grocery shop, etc. Our little tub of Fromage Blanc was one of the only occupants of our otherwise sad-looking and barren fridge. I considered ringing our favorite local Thai restaurant and ordering delivery, but instead I swung by the market and picked up a couple of local zucchini, a little fresh lavender, and headed home thinking "I'll make something work". For being a throw together meal on a night when I was exhausted/jet-lagged/overwhelmed-at-the amount-of-catch-up-work-and-unpacking-I-had-to-do, it ended up being an excellent meal. And, to think, I was so close to ordering take out.

Fettuccine with Zucchini, Fromage Blanc and Lavender
If you can't find fresh lavender, substitute with fresh basil or mint.

Serves 2

1/2 pound dried fettuccine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Fromage Blanc
2 teaspoons fresh lavender, finely minced (reserve a pinch for garnish)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
zest from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and begin cooking pasta. While pasta is boiling, saute the zucchini and garlic in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until tender. Deglaze the pan with white wine and continue to cook until most of the wine has cooked off. Using tongs, slosh the not-quite-done fettuccine into the pan with the zucchini, taking some of the starchy cooking liquid with you. Stir in the Fromage Blanc, Parmesan cheese, fresh lavender, lemon zest and pine nuts. Add a little more of the starchy pasta water if needed to moisten the dish. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with a little more fresh lavender.