Piperade

One summer, our parents took us to Les Landes for a month, in the southwestern part of France, by the Atlantic Ocean. It was a summer of smelling the tall and dense pine forests, admiring the grounds covered with ferns, climbing the huge dunes of fine white sand and playing with the forceful rolling waves, most famous for surfing. All unfamiliar topography and vegetation compared to our Provençal surroundings. Our eyes were wide-open with curiosity and our taste buds were delighting in exciting new dishes.  In the evening we would wander by the colorful and fragrant freshly picked peppers and tomatoes at the outdoor markets and prepare the local specialty of Piperade. It was such a delicious combination of flavors as the vegetables were in their prime, we wanted to savor it every night!

 Yesterday morning, as I discovered what our weekly CSA delivery held from Tomato Mountain, these memories instantly permeated at the sight of onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes. I couldn’t wait to recreate those scents and tastes reminiscent of a joyful childhood discovery. 

  The variety of vegetables grown in the Midwest is different from my original introduction to Piperade in Les Landes, nevertheless just as delectable. So feel free to adjust ingredients based on what’s available from your local market.

Ingredients:

  • 3 yellow Aura peppers 
  • 2 Carmen sweet peppers 
  • 5 Capperino mildly hot peppers 
  • 5 medium size tomatoes
  • 1 extra large white onion (about 500 g/ 1 lb)
  • 1 extra large garlic clove
  • 5 Tbps extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh thyme and bay leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  Wash the yellow Aura peppers, cut in half, remove the core, seeds and white flesh, and thinly slice each half. Reserve. 
  Wash the Carmen sweet peppers, cut in half, remove the core, seeds and white flesh, and thinly slice each half. Reserve.   Wash the Capperino peppers, cut in half, remove the core, seeds and white flesh, and thinly slice each half. Reserve. 
  Wash the herbs and garlic clove without peeling it.   Peel the large white onion and cut in half. Thinly slice each half by hold down the root end. Discard the roots. 
  Heat the olive oil in a cast iron French oven. Add the onions and reduce the heat.   Place the herbs and garlic on top. 
  Arrange the sliced peppers as the top layer and cover with a lid. Cook on low heat for about 10-15 minutes.   Meanwhile wash and cut the tomatoes in quarters. Remove the hard green part attached to the stem and discard. Slice each quarter into smaller pieces. 
  After the onion and peppers have cooked for about 15 minutes, add the tomatoes as the last layer. Seasson with salt and pepper and cover with a lid. Cook over low heat for another 20-25 minutes.   Then remove the lid, and the vegetables will have shrunk. 
  Take the herbs and garlic out with a fork. Discard the herbs. You may keep the garlic for spreading on bread or crackers with a little butter as it will have become creamy inside.   Mix the vegetables with a wooden spoon to combine the flavors. 
  Serve hot or cold, either immediately or let sit to further infuse the flavors. Delicious on its own or with some eggs scrambled with red pepper flakes. 

Enjoy!

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Red Snapper with Fennel, Tomatoes and Tapenade

Baking a whole fish is an easy way to enjoy a healthy, fat-free and delicious main dish.  As much as I am a proponent of olive oil in almost all my recipes (even in baking at times), I do not use any oil to bake this fish.  Rather, the flavors of the vegetables, olives, herbs and garlic mix in the covered fish pan and infuse the flesh.

20131116-141318.jpgHere, I used a red snapper, but feel free to use other similar fish that you might find at your local fish market.  This is a great dish to serve with some roasted sweet potatoes.

The baking time depends on the weight of the fish. For a 2.5 lbs. fish, I baked it for about 45-50 minutes at a high temperature (425F).  You can prepare the recipe all the way to the point where you would normally put it in the oven but refrigerate it instead for a few hours until you are ready to bake it.

20131116-141417.jpgIngredients:

2.5 lb red snapper
1 fennel bulb
1 large red onion
1.5 lb. tomatoes
1 cup black olives, pitted
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
4 large garlic cloves, peeled, halved, center removed
6 rosemary springs
1 lemon, sliced, for presentation.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

20131116-141600.jpgPlace the water and vinegar at the bottom of the fish baking pan.

20131116-141651.jpgWash and trim the fennel.  Slice it lengthwise. Peel and slice the onion.

20131116-141736.jpgLayer the onion slices and fennel slices on the rack sitting above the vinegar water.  Add 3 springs of rosemary.

20131116-141843.jpgCut the tomatoes in half or quarters depending on size. Reserve.

20131116-141925.jpgPlace black olives, the leaves of 3 rosemary springs and garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

20131116-142007.jpgProcess until the mixture is smooth to obtain a tapenade.

20131116-142059.jpgAfter scaling the fish and cleaning the inside, make three deep incisions on either side, all the way down to the bone.

20131116-142156.jpgFill the inside and each incision with the tapenade.

20131116-142243.jpgPlace the fish on top of the bed of vegetables.  Add a little sea salt and ground pepper.

20131116-142340.jpgAdd the tomatoes and grind a little sea salt on the tomatoes. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes.

20131116-142441.jpgTo serve, lift the rack out of the fish pan and transfer the fish onto a presentation platter.  Surround it by the vegetables, decorate with a few slices of lemon and some of the fennel leaves. Enjoy!

Brandade de Morue (Salt Cod Purée)

This specialty of Nimes was a common lunch item when we were growing up near Avignon. My mother would prepare it the night before, place it in the oven in the morning prior to leaving for school/work, and program the oven so that it would be ready to be served when we got back home for lunch. Back then every business closed religiously for lunch, and schools were on the same schedule. My parents picked us up from school at noon, we drove home to share lunch, my brothers and I would breathe the fresh air and play in the garden while my parent enjoyed their after lunch expresso, then they would drive us back in time to start at 2pm for the afternoon. Our school days typically ended at 4:30-5pm when we would come back home for ‘le gouter’.
As children, we LOVED coming home to this dish, even though it might contain a bit of garlic for the unaccustomed palate, this was the diet we grew up on: garlic and olive oil.
20131027-142830.jpg This dish can be served either as an appetizer, along with some grilled sliced baguette, or as an entrée, accompanied by other seasonal vegetables. Here I simply cut up some crudités to be used more as a ‘dip’, however, if you want a more authentic version and original flavors, I suggest you served this dish with toasted baguette the first time you make it.
20131027-142916.jpgIngredients for 4 servings:
1 lb salt cod, skinless and boned
1 lb potatoes
1 1/4 cups almond milk
3/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves
a few springs of fresh parsley
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
2 oz parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F
Rinse and soak salt cod a full 24 hours before starting the preparation of this recipe, changing the water at least 4 times.
20131027-142955.jpgAfter soaking the salt cod (see instructions above), drain and rinse.
20131027-143051.jpgPeel, wash and cut the potatoes in large chunks.
20131027-143232.jpgPlunge the potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water, return to a boil and keep cooking about 10-15 minutes at a rolling boil until the potatoes are tender. Drain, set aside.
20131027-143400.jpgPeel and cut the cloves of garlic in half. Remove the center part. Set aside.
20131027-143437.jpgZest and juice the lemon.  Set aside.

20131027-143519.jpgChop parsley finely.  Set aside.

20131027-143802.jpgPlace the salt cod in a large pot of cold water, bring to a simmer (do not boil), and drain and reserve.

20131027-143844.jpgHeat the almond milk and garlic in a separate pot.

20131027-143926.jpgAdd the salt cod, bring to a simmer, and continue simmering for about 10 minutes.

20131027-144008.jpgPlace the cod, garlic, half the almond milk, potatoes, lemon juice, lemon zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process till smooth, periodically adding more liquid from the almond milk.

20131027-144150.jpgHeat the olive oil and pour in the mixture through the feeder.  Keep processing until completely blended.

20131027-144230.jpgWhen all the ingredients are fully blended, (there should be no lumps from the potatoes), transfer to a large bowl.

20131027-144316.jpgAdd the parsley and black pepper and mix well with a wooden spoon.

20131027-144412.jpgBrush oil on the bottom and sides of 4 individual ramequins or cocottes (showing more on this photo because I doubled the recipe).

20131027-144521.jpgFill the cocottes almost to the top.  This preparation does not rise, so be sure to fill them as much as possible.

The recipe can be prepared ahead up to this point.  If this is so, cover the cocottes and refrigerate, up to one day, until ready to bake.

20131027-144710.jpgFreshly grate the parmesan finely.

20131027-144952.jpgSpread evenly over the top of each cocotte.

20131027-145201.jpgPlace in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, till the tops are golden.

If you had refrigerated the cocotte, you’ll need to bake them a bit longer, maybe another 10 minutes until they turn golden.

20131027-145308.jpg Enjoy!

Kale with Black Olive and Pine Nuts

Since living in Chicago, I have discovered and enjoyed a wide variety of cabbages. My influence from the south of France infuses ingredients commonly used in provençal cuisine, so here I have paired kale with black olives and pine nuts. This recipe is quick, simple and only requires a few ingredients one typically has in the kitchen, and….delicious! I hope you savor the results.

20130908-063304.jpgKale is an excellent vegetable with great health benefits. It is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Choose kale that is deep in color and firm. I prefer to use it either raw or briefly sautéed, as in this recipe, to preserve the maximum benefits.

20130908-063352.jpgIngredients:
1/2 lb organic kale
1/2 organic white onion
1/4 cup pine nuts
8-10 olive oil cured black olives from Provence
1 Tbsp grape seed oil
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

20130908-063456.jpgPeel, slice and chop the onion finely.

20130908-063629.jpgHeat the oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook until translucent.

20130908-063708.jpgMeanwhile, mince the kale finely.

20130908-065845.jpgAdd the to the pot and simmer a few minutes. Add salt and pepper.

20130908-065935.jpgChop the black olives. Peel, crush and chop the garlic.

20130908-070137.jpgAdd olives and garlic to the kale. Stir and simmer a few minutes longer.

20130908-071124.jpgDry roast the pine nuts in a pan.

20130908-071156.jpgAdd them to the kale, mix well, serve as an accompaniment, and enjoy!

Anchoïade

This traditional summery sauce is served with crudités, which are basically raw vegetables. Usually some radishes, fennel, Belgium endive, or any other crisp vegetable you enjoy eating raw. It can be served as an appetizer, on a large platter shared between guests, or as a light lunch on individual plates.

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Infused with garlic and anchovies as the main ingredients, anchoïade is a rather strong flavored sauce. Only a small amount suffices to fully savor its distinct taste.

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Ingredients:
A bunch red radishes
1 fennel bulb
2 carrots
1 cauliflower
2 Belgium endives
4 oz anchovies preserved in oil
1/2 cup first cold press extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic (can use only 2 cloves if too strong)

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Clean radishes by trimming the greens and bathing them in a bowl of water, changing it a few times until the water is clear.

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Trim the ends and cut the radishes in halves or quarters. Set aside.

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Wash and cut the ends of the endives to unfold the leaves. Keep trimming the ends that hold the leaves together to easily separate them as you get closer to the center. Set aside.

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Peel and cut carrots in long sticks. Set aside.

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Cut the bottom leaves of the cauliflower and core the center.

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Cut off each floret starting from the bottom, and separate from the main stem going around.

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Cut each floret into smaller pieces. Set aside.

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Wash and cut the fennel bulb in half. Then slice thinly. Set aside.

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Start arranging vegetables on plate.

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Gather the anchoïade ingredients. Again, you may use less garlic and more olive oil depending on your personal preference.

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Peel and cut garlic in half. Place the cloves in the food processor fitted with a steel blade and process till finely chopped.

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Add the anchovies to the bowl containing the chopped garlic and process till smooth.

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Scrape down the garlic/anchovy mixture and place the cover back on top.

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Feed the olive oil through the neck of the cover while processing to fully incorporate. Taste to decide if you would like more olive oil.

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Pour the anchoïade in individual serving dishes.

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Finish arranging vegetables on plates. Place the anchoïade in the center.

20130805-095349.jpg if you are serving as a lunch, you might add a couple hard boiled eggs.
Enjoy!

My Grandmother’s Summer Eggplant

My grandmother used to make this dish almost daily during eggplant season. She would prepare it early in the morning when the temperature outside was still pleasant and then serve it cold, as an appetizer for lunch in the shade of our hot and dry summer days.

20130714-215916.jpg Both refreshing and fragrant, it is infused with garlic and profusely sprinkled with parsley to balance the strength of the garlic.

20130714-220005.jpg Ingredients:
1 large eggplant
6 medium tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
A small bunch parsley
3/4 cup olive oil
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Cracked sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F.

20130714-220713.jpg Wash and cut the eggplant in 1cm thick slices lengthwise. Remove stems.

20130714-220805.jpg Brush olive oil on one side. The oil will be quickly absorbed as the eggplant acts as a sponge.

20130714-220856.jpgPlace the olive oil side down on a baking sheet, brush the other side (now on top) with olive oil, generously sprinkle cracked sea salt. Bake for about 20 minutes.

20130714-221150.jpgMeanwhile, prepare the tomatoes in the same way we prepared them for the Mussels in orange, tomato an saffron sauce, by peeling them and seeding them. Then, chop them.

20130714-221253.jpg Heat about one Tbsp of olive oil in a a pan and add the chopped tomatoes. Here I am using a cast iron pan as I like the way it evenly spreads the heat when simmering the tomatoes.

20130714-221422.jpg Peel, crush and chop the garlic cloves. chop parsley and set aside.

20130714-221512.jpgAdd the garlic to the tomatoes, a little cracked sea salt and simmer together for about 30-40 minutes.

20130714-221638.jpgWhile the tomatoes are cooking, removed the cooked eggplant from the oven. It should be golden brown.

20130714-221723.jpgImmediately sprinkle vinegar on top of the eggplant while still hot. Set aside and let cool in the baking sheet so the heat emanating from sheet fully infuses the flavors.

20130714-221823.jpg Arrange the eggplant slices in a serving dish where they can be spread out.

20130715-054036.jpgOnce the tomato sauce has finished cooking, it should have a unified consistency.

20130715-054146.jpgSpread the tomato sauce on top of the eggplant.

20130715-054247.jpgSprinkle chopped parsley, refrigerate and enjoy as a cold summer appetizer.

Curried Zucchini en Cocotte

Individual ‘en cocotte’ zucchini dishes, offer a feast for the senses with a singular presentation, and a light and flavorful combination of zucchini, pine nuts and almond milk, highlighted with the fragrance of curry, fresh basil and garlic.

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I have always liked the combination of zucchini and curry and decided to update it by adding pine nuts and basil. If you are not specifically looking for a lactose free dish, feel free to add some goat cheese. Otherwise, using the almond milk here renders a delightfully light dish, full of flavors. The individual servings of ‘en cocotte’ add a nice personal touch for each guest.

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Ingredients:
4 small zucchini
3 garlic cloves
2 tsp curry powder
3 eggs
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 oz basil
Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

4 mini Le Creuset cocotte (or similar) with lids.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

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Wash and cut the zucchini in 1/4 inch slices. Chop garlic finely.

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Place zucchini, garlic and curry in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Toss the bowl to completely coat all the zucchini slices with the combination of garlic and curry mixture.

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Place an extra large sauté pan (with very wide diameter at the bottom) on medium-high heat. Add some olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan.

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When the olive oil is hot, add the zucchini mixture, spreading the slices across the entire bottom of the pan.

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Cook, tossing occasionally for about 15-20 minutes, until the zucchini is mostly cooked. Some slices will have become softer, but the majority should still be firm.

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Place pine nuts in a separate dry pan over medium-low heat and toss frequently to ensure even roasting.

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Slice the basil in a ‘chiffonade’, by placing all the basil leaves together and then slicing thinly.

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Place a row of zucchini, topped with roasted pine nuts and basil in the bottom of each ‘mini cocotte’, this layer should fill about one third of the cocotte. Continue alternating zucchini, roasted pine nuts and basil until filled almost to the top. Be sure to reserve about 20 zucchini slices for topping the cocottes decoratively prior to baking. Also reserve some of the basil chiffonade and a few pine nuts for the last touch prior to serving.

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Meanwhile, whisk the eggs together in a bowl. Add a little salt and pepper to taste.

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Add the almond milk and mix thoroughly.

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Pour the egg and almond milk mixture over the top of each cocotte filled with the zucchini using a small ladle.

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The mini cocottes should be almost filled to top but not quite, leaving enough room for one last row of zucchini slices and moderate rising during baking.

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Top with overlapping zucchini slices.

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Cover the mini cocottes with their lids.

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Place them on a baking sheet and bake for about 50-60 minutes in a 350F oven. If you use the convection option of your oven, then diminish time appropriately by checking after about 25-30 minutes.

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Fully cooked mini zucchini cocotte out of the oven. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving as they are burning hot when coming out of the oven.

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Decorate with extra basil ‘chiffonade’ and a few roasted pine nuts. Serve and enjoy!