Category Archives: All American

Pico de Gallo

make me!

make me!

This is one of those salsas you don’t need to buy pre-made and should avoid ordering at restaurants (read this if you think I’m paranoid). Seriously, basic pico de gallo is one of the simplest salsas to prepare, and nothing beats its real salsa fresca zing when free of flavor-ruining citric acid and obscenely-high sodium. Blend the ingredients listed here together in a large bowl and serve with tortilla chips, or as a condiment: versatile pico de gallo is great with eggs, alongside beans or rice, grilled veggies or meats. Try it!

Ingredients

3 large round tomatoes, finely cubed and drained of excess liquid
1 small fresh jalapeño or serrano chili pepper, deseeded and minced
1/2 a white onion, peeled and finely chopped
juice of half a lime
1–2 Tbls finely chopped fresh cilantro (to taste)
1/2 tsp salt

 

Fish Tacos

on the plate

build your fish tacos any way you like!

You don’t really need a recipe to make fish tacos, which is part of their charm. Fry, steam or sauté your favorite (usually white) fish, warm the tortillas and assemble the tacos with fixings of your choice. I’ve made fish tacos with a range of different fish, like perch, cod, and halibut. Salmon, swordfish, and snapper work well, too. The tacos pictured here are made with deep-fried perch, shredded cabbage, sour cream, spicy tomato salsa and green onions. Experiment with flavors and textures to create your own favorite version!

Tortillas

We are made with lard. We are perfect.

We are made with lard. We are perfect.

Yes, this recipe calls for lard. You want a perfect tortilla, don’t you? Then don’t be squeamish about the fat.

Ingredients for 12 small tortillas

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 Tablespoons lard
3/4 cup tepid water

Instructions

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Use your fingers to blend the lard into the flour until it’s a crumbly mixture. Add the water and continue mixing until the dough forms. Transfer to lightly floured work surface and knead for 3 to 5 minutes. The dough will become elastic and soft. Cut 12 more or less equal-sized pieces and roll them into balls. Flour your rolling pin and roll out each ball into thin rounds (or you can use a tortilla press if you have one). Cook them in a hot skillet until they start to bubble up and turn nice and golden. Cook both sides. Greasing the skillet is optional. I find that a lightly-oiled frying pan gives a nicer color to the tortillas, and they will be firmer, crunchier. If you want soft tortillas you can skip the oil. Try both ways and decide for yourself!

tortilla dough

Romanesco & Parmesan Dip

a Romanesque snack

uno snack romanesco

Here’s a great recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart. She calls it a puree. I am calling it a dip. I followed her instructions, but I stopped blending when I’d obtained the chunkier consistency I was after, and I reduced the portions since I had one head of Romanesco on hand. Her version makes 8 servings, but since this is a dip the serving size is a bit subjective. If you are preparing this for a party, make the recipe following Stewart’s called-for amounts. If, on the other hand, you are making it for 2 to 3 people, you could follow my quantities here:

Ingredients

1 head of Romanesco broccoli, cut into florets
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
1/8 cup whole milk
1/8 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano plus a few tablespoons for garnishing
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper

star of the show

star of the show

Spinach & Ricotta Fritters (with Poached Egg)

dressed up for lunch

These spinach & ricotta fritters are intended as a side dish but can easily be dressed up into a main course. In summer they are lovely atop a plate of mixed greens with sliced tomato, a little fresh cream and chopped chive. Today I served them for lunch topped with a poached egg and dusted with fresh ground pepper and dried oregano. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1 large bunch fresh spinach (about 1 to 1 & 1/2 cups when cooked)
3/4 cup fresh ricotta
2-3 Tbls grated Parmesan cheese
2-3 Tbls grated Gruyère or similar cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp each salt & pepper
olive oil for cooking

Instructions

Blanch the spinach (leaves only) in low-boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, strain, and thoroughly press out all the excess water. Chop the spinach, give it another squeeze to press out any liquid, and add it to all the other ingredients except the olive oil. Mix well.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Spoon in dollops of the spinach mixture and cook for about 5 minutes or until the underside is golden and firm. Gently turn the fritter and cook the second side. Transfer the cooked fritters to a paper towel-covered plate and lightly salt. Serve warm.

 

Pancetta & Egg Salad

caption caption

not for the fat-wary

One of the things I like about Nigella Lawson is she never shies from fats. Drain, skim, or trim off excess fat are indications you just don’t associate with her. For this salad, inspired by the recipe for bacon and egg salad in Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, fats from the cooked pancetta cubes make the dressing base. Don’t judge. It’s amazing.

Ingredients

mixed salad greens or 1 head of escarole
3 or 4 eggs
125 grams (½ cup) cubed pancetta
1 small bunch parsley
1 tsp each of Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbls olive oil
salt & pepper

Instructions

Arrange the greens/lettuce in a salad bowl. Rinse and chop the parsley. Boil the eggs for 7-8 minutes. When the eggs have cooled, peel and slice them lengthwise into quarters. Set aside.

Cook the pancetta over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the cubes turn dark and crunchy. Turn off the heat. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, scoop the pancetta from the pan and leave the residual fats. Toss the pancetta cubes in with the greens. Add the mustard, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce to the pan and turn the heat back on low. Combine until a sauce forms. If the dressing is too thick, add a bit more vinegar. Let the sauce cool slightly and drizzle it over the salad. Now add the eggs, parsley, and olive oil to the salad, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss gently but thoroughly.

Rosemary Skewers

skewer fun!

skewer fun!

If you’ve got a backyard rosemary plant, try these pretty, aromatic rosemary skewers in place of those run-of-the-mill steel or wooden varieties. Cut several long, sturdy stems and strip them of their green parts starting at the cut end, leaving a couple inches of green at the tip. Check for dust or little creatures, but do not wash them with water. Using a paring knife, carefully trim the woody end into a sharp point. Now start skewering chunks of sausage, chicken, peppers, onion, garlic, zucchini. One caveat: pay extra attention to these guys on the grill. Turn them carefully and keep the green tips away from flames.

Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons (& a dash of nostalgia)

nostalgia salad

nostalgia salad

Some years back a friend of mine in California self-published a cookbook. Full of quirks and anecdotes—like the disclosure about untested recipes (they ‘may, in fact, be crap’)—Bill Pollock’s Eat Happy brings together recipes learned from family, friends, and the odd pro chef in a collection infused with traces of its creator’s rather unique personality. And that’s what I love most about having it in my kitchen: it’s a keepsake, a memento from my pre-Italy life of a friendship with a memorable someone whom, alas, I don’t really see anymore. But it’s also a solid resource in its own right, and I turn to it frequently for inspiration.

Eat Happy lives in the two-inch space atop my La Cucina Italiana encyclopedia, always open to the ever-useful conversion chart on page 137, a page second only in smudginess to page 21’s Blender Caesar Dressing. Now, let’s pause here. I know you cooks. Many of you are frowning at this moment. Hell, I could practically hear the collective snicker as your eyes passed over the word ‘blender’. And I understand. I, too, hold certain select recipes to be sacrosanct. I become very rude and superior, for instance, over the use of tomato or tomato sauce in lasagne, a charmless bastardization of the tomato-less classic (see what I mean?), as well as any version of guacamole with more than three ingredients, the avo included (and do not even think of adding anything citrus, fool).

All cooks are guilty of this. Convinced that some recipes are beyond improvement, each of has at least once in our lives inwardly censured a spouse or in-law for having tampered with our darling ‘right way’ recipes. Even when their heretical versions turn out well, our reaction typically goes something like ‘Well now, who would have thought it possible?’ Such irrational biases must be linked somehow to our childhood experiences of certain foods, and an unconscious concern to safeguard our memories of those foods against the corruptions of others. But that’s another post.

Back to the salad dressing. The unconventional method is the best thing about this recipe. It’s fast. It’s neat. You can make it in advance. Your hands don’t get slimy. When it’s ready, just transfer to a glass jar and let the dressing chill until salad time. The stabs of nostalgia notwithstanding, grabbing Eat Happy from its spot on the shelf and flipping to page 21 always makes think of friends, long for home, and smile. So I suppose that’s the best thing about this recipe, come to think of it.

Ingredients

For the dressing
1 egg
1 large clove of garlic, minced
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup olive oil (my change from ‘salad oil’)
1 squirt (about 1 inch) of anchovy paste (my addition)
3 oil-packed small anchovies (my addition)

For the homemade croutons
3 slices of thick wheat or multi-grain sliced bread
2 Tbls of olive oil
2 pinches of salt

1 head of Romaine lettuce

Instructions

For the dressing, combine all the ingredients except the oil and whole anchovies in the blender. Blend until well combined. With the blender on the lowest setting, slowly pour the olive oil ‘in a thin stream’ until the dressing thickens. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using, but take out from the fridge about 5 minutes prior to use. (Keeps in the fridge for three days.)

Now make the croutons. Heat the oven to 175º C / 350º F on the grill setting. Slice the bread into cubes and place on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt. Use your hands to toss the bread cubes until they are evenly covered with the salt and oil. Place on the highest shelf of the oven for a few minutes, keeping a close eye on them. When they are dark brown on one side, remove and toss again (using a spatula or similar tool since they are now too hot to touch). Keep toasting until they are very dark brown on all sides (or mostly). You want them really toasted, almost too crunchy to eat at this point. Set them aside to cool.

Separate the Romaine leaves and rinse them. Gently tear the leaves, keeping the tender hearts intact. Place in a large bowl. Shake the dressing well and pour over the lettuce. Add the now-cooled croutons. Toss thoroughly, sprinkle with a bit more grated Parmesan, and serve with a few tiny oil-packed anchovies (optional, but don’t be a wimp).

Fiery Potato & Pepper Scramble with Cream

hot potato!

hot potato!

warning: this is a ‘no measurement’ recipe

There’s nothing like the versatile, satisfying potato. For this dish, rinse, peel, and cube about 8 small potatoes (or more, or fewer). Dice 1 red bell pepper. Mince 2 cloves of garlic (or 1, or 3) along with at least 1 fresh chili pepper of your choice (seeded). Place everything in a baking dish and coat with about 3 Tbls olive oil. Then salt, pepper, and sprinkle with chili powder. Stir well and bake uncovered for about 25 minutes on high/hot/whatever (just keep an eye on them). Remove from the oven and add a handful of grated strong cheese like sharp cheddar. Stir again and return to the oven on broil for another 5 minutes, or until they get crunchy. Serve with some kind of cooling cream, such as sour cream, crème fraise, or whole plain yogurt.

Orzo Pasta Salad with Shrimp & Chives

on the plate

pasta perfection

Orzo pasta salad is super-easy, stores and travels well, and is lovely served cold—in other words, a perfect summer side dish! The quantities below are for a very large batch, to take to a pot-luck or serve family style.

Ingredients

500 grams (a little over 1 pound) of orzo pasta
350 grams (1 cup circa) of baby shrimp, peeled, cooked and chilled (use more if you love shrimp!)
4 Tbls mayonnaise (homemade if possible)
2 or 3 green onions (aka scallions), finely chopped
1 bunch of fresh chive, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

Cook the pasta al dente, strain and place in a large bowl. Add the chopped onion, shrimp, mayo and lemon juice and stir very well. Taste before salting, as the saltiness of this dish will depend on the shrimp, the kind of mayo used, and whether you salted your pasta water (you should). Fresh ground pepper is optional. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving, but remove from the fridge about 5 minutes before serving and toss well again. If the salad is dry, add a little more mayo and/or lemon juice. Sprinkle with the chopped chive and serve.

*culture bite: orzo means barley in Italian, and the shape of the barley grain accounts for this pasta’s name. Italians call this pasta risoni, which means a large grain of rice.