Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Slow Cooked Zucchini

The other day I saw a recipe for slow cooked green beans and I thought that it could easily be applied  for zucchini. Because it’s that time of summer again--the attack of the killer zucchini. You know the type, the giant, overgrown monsters from your Great Aunt Tessie’s garden. They arrive on your front door steps in the dark of night like orphaned children, your well-meaning friends either overwhelmed by their abundance of summer squash or simply out of ideas of what to do.
But this technique isn’t for those monsters. They’ve grown too large, their seeds too big, the skins too tough. Those often end up stuffed and baked. Or made into zucchini bread. At our local farmer’s market they are everywhere, too, in all sizes spilling out of bushel baskets.  It’s been that kind of year.
I like to select smaller-sized ones, about 5 to 7 inches in length. I combine them with onion, garlic, tomatoes, basil and olive oil and let them cook low and slow. It’s that simple. After about twenty minutes, they yield easily to the point of a knife. A sprinkle of cheese is all you need to finish them. Serve them in a bowl with the cooking liquid along with your favorite protein and dinner is ready.
I have to go. More zucchini just walked in the front door.

Slow Cooked Summer Squash
While Mediterranean in inspiration, you could also season the squash with some chile powder, omit the basil and use chopped cilantro for a recipe that leans a little south-of-the-border.
For two servings
2 medium-sized zucchini or summer squash (about 5 to 7 inches each)
½ cup sliced onion
1 or 2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped (1 cup) or 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
¼ cup water
few tablespoons cheese (I used queso fresco because I had some leftover in the 'fridge. Goat cheese or
             another crumbling cheese or even Parmesan or Romano would work)

1. Wash the zucchini. Cut off the top and bottom ends from the squash. Slice the squash in half, lengthwise, then in half again. Carefully run your knife the length of each piece to remove the softer, seed-bearing part. Set aside.
2. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl in 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and cook until the onion begins to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes; do not brown the onions. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato; season with salt and ground black pepper and stir together. Let tomatoes cook for two to three minutes to soften and begin to give off juice. Lay the zucchini into the pan skin side down. Season the squash with a little salt and pepper. Tear and scatter the basil into the pan. Add the water. Cover the pan and lower the heat. Let the zucchini simmer gently until completely tender, about twenty minutes or so depending on the size of the squash. Before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Scatter the cheese over the squash. Carefully remove the zucchini from the pan and serve with the cooking liquid. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Strawberry, Apricot & Bluebery Pie

Cook with what the farm is giving you.
And after a lazy, cool start in the spring followed by a quick warm up, the choices at our local farmer’s market are staggering. I cannot recall a season when, at one stand alone, you can find strawberries, blueberries, black raspberries, raspberries, apricots, cherries, peaches, and the first plums available at the same time. Which is how I arrived at the combination for this pie. I like the combination of strawberry and apricot (see archives: 6/3/12) and added blueberries.
No complicated thought process there.
For the beginning of pie night this year, I decided to use an all-butter pie crust. I’ve never been a fan. I’ll stick with vegetable shortening for the flakiness; lard is best but people run screaming from the room at the mention of that word. To be honest, when one of my nephews was little the mention of the word “lard” would reduce him to laughter. Some kids laugh at the word “underwear,” his was “lard.” And “blender.”
All-butter pie crusts usually include a little vinegar. You don’t taste the vinegar; it helps with the flaky quality of the finished crust.
None of this is complicated unless you have to work around a dog, a very big golden retriever who feels his presence will assure great results, even if it means he plants himself underfoot. Welcome to our life.

Strawberry, Apricot, and Blueberry Pie   

1 pint strawberries (2 cups)
1 pint apricots (2 cups)
1 pint blueberries (2 cups)
½ cup sugar
5 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Pie Crust
For one 9” double crust pie
The crust can be mixed by hand, or using a pastry blender, in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a food processor. If you use a food processor, take care not to over mix the dough.
If you want to skip the butter, use an equivalent amount of vegetable shortening and omit the vinegar. Or use half butter and half shortening. Whichever you prefer.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces, chilled
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 cup cold water (you won’t need all of it)

1. Place the flour and the salt into a bowl and mix to combine. Add half of the cold butter and mix until the butter forms a sandy texture with the flour. Add the rest of the butter to the bowl and continue mixing, leaving bigger pieces of butter in the flour.
2. Pour the vinegar into a measuring cup. Add enough water to make ¾ cup liquid. Add the water to the dough in small amounts mixing until the dough comes together and forms a ball. If the dough appears too dry, add a little additional water. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into a flat disk. Wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 20 to 30 minutes or overnight.
3. Rinse the strawberries under cold water. Remove the stems and cut the berries in half lengthwise. If the berries are large, you might have to cut them into quarters. Place the strawberries into a bowl. Wash the apricots. Run a knife around the apricot, cutting down from the top. Separate the halves and remove the pits. Quarter the apricots and place them into the bowl. Rinse the blueberries under cold water. Pick out any stems, if necessary, then place them into the bowl with the other fruit. Add the sugar and mix together. Set aside for 20 minutes.
4. Roll out the bottom crust. Remove one dough disk from the refrigerator. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll the dough out away from you in one direction. Give the dough quarter turns in a circle and continue rolling out the dough dusting with additional flour as needed until the dough is 1/8” thick. Lift and place the dough into a 9” pie plate. Trim the excess dough from the edge, leaving about a ½” overhang. Place into the refrigerator.
5. Heat oven to 450 degrees. After the fruit has given off some of its juices, mix in the cornstarch until evenly blended. Set aside.
6. Roll out the top crust. Cut a circle into the center of the dough. Remove the bottom crust from the refrigerator. Place the fruit into an even layer in the pie pan. Brush the edge of the bottom crust with some of the egg wash. Lay the top crust over the fruit, pressing the edges together. Trim away excess dough. Press the edges of the crust to thin them out and turn them under onto the rim of the pie plate. Crimp the edges together around the outside of the crust. Brush the top of the crust with some of the egg wash; sprinkle the top crust with some sugar if you wish.
7. Place the pie onto a baking tray and then into the oven. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes; after ten minutes reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 40 to 45 minutes until the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven. Resist all temptation to eat it until it cools completely. Serve alone, but c’mon, really? Break out the ice cream!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shrimp with Tasso

Regionalism is shrinking. Once if you wanted a certain “regional” food, such as the many permutations of barbecue (Memphis. St. Louis, Texas, North Carolina, etc), or lobster rolls or even Buffalo wings, you had to travel to get it.
But now distances have been shortened.  Northerners now try their hand at being pit masters. Buffalo wings, or some sorry version, are everywhere. You can order Corky’s barbecue off of the TV.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this of course. But if it makes a great ingredient more easily obtainable, I’m there.
Tasso is spiced, smoked pork shoulder used in Southern Louisiana, Cajun/Creole in origin.
I have been lucky to find locally made tasso at our local farmer's market supplied by Freeland Market.
Freeland Market is a family-run business in Pottstown. They make a large variety of sausages and they also make a great version of  tasso. 
The uses of tasso are pretty limitless; think of where you might use bacon and tasso makes for a spicy, smoky alternative. Just slice off what you need and rewrap it. I keep it in the freezer and take it out as I need it.
This recipe for shrimp sautéed with tasso is very NOLA in origin. While shrimp broth is called for in the recipe, you can skip that and substitute with a little beer instead. I wouldn’t use a beer with too complex a flavor for it might get in the way, but I wouldn’t use some type of “light” beer either. The shrimp broth is easy to put together using the shells of the shrimp in the recipe. Peel the shrimp and make the stock while you do the rest of the prep. The stock should be ready when you are ready to cook. Shrimp stock, like most seafood stocks, cooks for only 20 minute or so. There’s always the option of using chicken broth, too. The recipe for shrimp stock follows at the end.
Serve the shrimp with some rice, cold beer, and you are all set. As the late, red suspendered Cajun chef Justin (“Joo-stan”) Wilson used to say, “It’s wondermus, I ghar-un-tee.”

Shrimp with Tasso
For two servings

½ to ¾ pound shrimp
½ cup diced tasso
2 or 3 spring onions (scallions), chopped (about ½ cup)
½ cup diced red bell pepper
1 rib celery, diced
2 or 3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup chopped (canned) plum tomatoes, along with some of their juice
shrimp stock (recipe below)
1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, optional
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking

1. Peel and devein the shrimp; reserve the shells for stock. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, swirl in one to two tablespoons olive oil into the pan. Add the shrimp; you don’t want to cook the shrimp entirely at this point. Sear them off on one side, turn them and sear them on the other side, then transfer them to a plate.
2. Let the pan cool slightly then add the tasso, adding additional oil to the pan if necessary. Stir and let the tasso cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions, bell pepper and celery, and continue cooking. Scrape the bottom of the sauté pan as the vegetables cook to loosen any “browned bits” that might have developed. Saute the vegetables until they begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes and some of their juice; season with salt and black pepper. Ladle in about ½ cup shrimp stock (or some beer or chicken broth) to the pan and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Return the shrimp to the pan to finish cooking the shrimp. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed; stir in the parsley, the butter (if using) and remove the pan from the heat. Divide the rice between two bowls and divide the shrimp, tasso, vegetables, and sauce. Serve with cold beer.

Shrimp Stock
Reserved shrimp shells
3 cups cold water
½ teaspoon salt
½ onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1. Place the shrimp shells and vegetables into a saucepot; add the water and salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook the stock for twenty minutes. Remove from heat. Strain the stock through a colander or strainer, reserving the liquid. Discard the shells and vegetables.

There is also a recipe for corn and tasso “hash” in the archives 7/8/12