Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fresh and Cold, Farmers Market Pasta Salad

We spent part of Saturday morning at the South of the James Farmers Market, off Forest Hill Ave., here in Richmond. In spite of record high temperatures, the market was full of people and wonderful fresh produce, interesting crafts and all things local. We bought some delicious peaches, juicy blackberries, and the first local tomatoes of the season. My garden is full of flowers, but if you aren't so blessed, the zinnias and sunflowers were a good buy and abundant.

When it's hot outside, like it is here in Central Virginia, I can hardly think straight some days. Cooking and even eating are almost chores -- well the cooking part anyway. I like to make a lot of things all at once, so I can enjoy the labor throughout the work week. This weekend, I cooked a salmon, made a large, hot pasta dish, whipped up some cold cucumber soup and our favorite pasta salad.
I always love something cold on a hot day, and my cold cucumber soup fits the bill for lunch or dinner (check my blog archive from last summer). I like to eat the soup with a little bowl of pasta salad. Here's a simple one, using the tastiest ingredients from the farmers market. The bold flavors remind me of the antipasto plate from the local Italian eatery we love, and the fresh veggies simply scream summer!

Farmers Market Pasta Salad

12 oz. tricolor rotini pasta

1/3 c. olive oil

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (1 makes it slightly hot)

2 green onions, sliced thinly, green and white parts

1/2 roasted red pepper, diced (from the jar is fine if you don't want to do the prep!)

1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli (small pieces) blanched or raw, however you like it!

1/2 c. chopped zucchini

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

10 slices pepperoni, diced

2 oz. Monterrey jack cheese with peppers or plain, diced

1/2 c. sliced or halved black olives

1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained well

1 small cucumber, scrubbed well or peeled, halved lengthwise then sliced

2 sliced pepperoncini peppers

about 15 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces
 or thinly sliced into chiffonade

1/2 c.  or a little more Parmesan cheese

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

Cook your pasta according to the package directions. Add the broccoli for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Drain well. Put the hot pan back on the burner you turned off, and add your olive oil, minced garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. Begin chopping your veggies. Add the pasta back into the oil and mix well. Add in your all the veggies and pepperoni, and toss until combined. Next add the vinegar and finally the diced jack and grated Parmesan cheese, along with the torn basil. It's easiest to do this a little at a time, so the cheese does not melt and clump together. THEN, CHILL, BABY, CHILL, for at least 2 hours, until nice and cold.

If you want a vegetarian pasta, just don't add the pepperoni, it's equally delish.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

As Promised, Delicious Salmon Spread

Here's a spread my family loves, both as an appetizer and for making sandwiches. My mother always made a Salmon Ball, for holidays or whenever she had cocktail parties. I took her original recipe, probably from the early 1960's, and adapted it for today's tastes and style. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Let me also say that my mother ALWAYS used canned salmon. I started using "fresh" because my family loves to have it for dinner and I always had some leftover, and I thought "Why not?". My husband has the definite opinion that he absolutely prefers this spread made with the "fresh", but my kids don't seem to have a preference, they snarf it up either way I make it! As for me, I will say that there is some textural difference. The canned salmon makes a smoother, almost, whipped spread. I like it both ways, though. Salmon Spread 12 oz. fresh baked or canned salmon 10 oz. "lite" cream cheese (neufchatel) 2 T. lemon juice 1/4 onion 1 - 2 T. prepared horseradish 2 drops Worcestershire sauce 1 tsp. dried dill or 1 T. chopped fresh dill The easiest way to do this is to throw everything into a food processor and pulse away. If you don't have one, bring the cream cheese to room temperature, grate the onion and mix, mix, mix away until you get a mostly smooth spread. That's how my mom did it, but personally, I like my food processor! Serve this with party rye bread, fresh cucumbers, club crackers, chopped hard boiled egg, capers and garnish with some fresh dill or flat leaf parsley. To make a sandwich, thinly spread a piece of rye bread w/the spread, top that with thin sliced cucumbers and a little shredded lettuce, salt and pepper and another piece of rye. Summery time yummy sandwich!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Blackend Tuna, On the Grill or On Your Stove

Here's another "fish" post, because we love to eat fish, especially in the summertime! This week, we had blackened Tuna. It was so hot outside, I decided to do it inside, and it worked really well. All you do is buy some Ahi Tuna steaks, and some Paul Prudhomme Blackened Redfish Magic. You need some melted butter -- about 1/2 stick for 3 - 4 small tuna steaks -- and a heavy, hot frying pan. We happen to have a non-stick, stainless steel grill pan, and that works absolutely perfectly! (If you follow my blog and were waiting for salmon spread, I have not forgotten you! I simply forgot to take a picture, so I will be making some very soon, and posting next week, I promise!)

First, you've got to get your pan really, really hot. Get out 2 small, shallow dishes, big enough to hold a tuna steak. Put several heaping tablespoons of the blackening mixture into one. Melt the butter in the other dish, and dip the tuna, flipping to butter both sides. Then, carefully dip the tuna into the spice mixture. Put a drop or two of oil into your hot pan, and lay in the tuna steaks.

Cook them about 2 - 3 minutes on each side and DONE! Delicious, rare, tender, blackened tuna for dinner. How easy is that? Try it w/a fresh salad and my super simple summer dressing, which I have listed below. You will notice that the pesto I posted earlier made a reappearance for this dinner, over linguine instead of ravioli, it's yummy over either.

Super Simple Summer Dressing for Salad

1 large lemon

1 clove garlic

3 - 4 T. extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground pepper

a little salt

2 fresh basil leaves, cut into slivers ("chiffonade" style)

Crush and chop your garlic clove, as small as you can, or grate it into the olive oil. Zest half of your lemon and add it to the jar. Squeeze all of the juice into the oil, being careful to avoid adding the seeds. I use a small sieve over the top of the jar to help me. Add the basil, several grinding of fresh pepper and a pinch of salt. Put the lid on the jar and shake, shake, shake it until well blended. Pour and enjoy.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Favorite Family Dinner

We went to the South of the James farmers market last weekend, and I came back loaded down with veggies and inspired to blog again. If you have not visited this market in Forest Hill Park, it is well worth a trip.

Here's my strategy for perusing the market:

Wander all the way through, front to back, to get the lay of the land and check out the local musicians doing their thing. Buy yourself a hand made spring roll, taco truck taco, a cup of freshly ground coffee or an ice cold lemonade, and walk slowly back to the front, gathering up your faves. Then, stow your goodies in the car (make sure you've got a cooler with you!) and walk down to the newly renovated lake. The walk TO the lake is all downhill, so, therefore easy and refreshing. Take a few minutes checking out the great improvements and enjoy all the little kids trying to fish (it's all "catch and release"). Walk around the lake and you are sure to see mountain bikers up on the steep hills leading up to Woodland Heights. Is this a great city or what? White water rafting, mountain biking, lake fishing and farmers markets, all within a mile or 2 of each other, inside the city limits!

Then, suck it up, and head back UP the hill. You'll feel virtuous and won't feel guilty about the goodies you ate while browsing the market! OR the delicious dinner you will make tonight! There are lots of desserts, in my blog archive, check it out!

Here is a favorite family supper, using some fresh, fresh ingredients, easily obtainable at the farmers market or even your back yard!

Salmon, Ravioli, Salad and Bruschetta For Dinner

1 - 1 1/3 lb. salmon
2 T. olive oil

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

Freshly ground black pepper
1T. chopped fresh rosemary (a 2 -3 in. sprig will yield this
2 T. chopped fresh dill ( a few fronds)

1 lemon, 1/2 for slicing, 1/2 for juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Pour a 1 T. of the olive oil on a large cookie sheet (use one w/low sides) and spread it to the size of your salmon. Lay your salmon, skin side down, on the sheet and rub the rest of the olive oil over the surface of the fish. Sprinkle with the garlic salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Strip the herbs from their stems and chop the leaves from the rosemary and frondy parts from the dill together. Sprinkle over the salmon evenly. Squeeze the juice from half of your lemon over the entire fish. Thinly slice the other half, and lay the slices on top of the salmon. Cover the sheet w/foil, making a tent, so that the foil won't stick to the top of the fish. You may want to spray your foil w/cooking spray to make absolutely sure this won't happen. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Take off the lemon slices and enjoy!

Don't worry if you have leftover salmon, I've got a great salmon spread recipe coming later this week!

Serve this with spinach and cheese ravioli, your favorite salad (lots of fresh greens in the farmers market right now!) and brucshetta. For a good bruschetta topping, see my recipe from last summer, by accessing the archives to the left of the blog ("Bruschetta, A Super Simple Summer Treat"). For this dinner, I omitted the mozarella on top, because there was quite a bit of cheese in the ravioli. NOW, for the ravioli, we like the Mama Rosie's Spinach and Cheese brand, from the freezers at the local supermarket. I make a tasty pesto sauce to put on top. Here's what I use:

Simple Pesto

1/3 c. basil leaves (about 20 large leaves, give or take)

2 T. toasted walnuts

1clove garlic

2 - 4 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 - 3 T. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated

Three tips for success w/pesto: First, use only fresh, bright green basil. Second, toast your walnuts ( or pine nuts if you can afford them or prefer them). Third, use only Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

In a small food processor, or blender, place your basil, garlic and walnuts. Pulse until a they are finely chopped and Drizzle in your olive oil, slowly, until you get the consistency of a smooth, thick sauce. Add in the cheese, 1 tsp. at a time, until it starts to look and smell like pesto, spicy and green. You may need to add a little more olive oil. If you are super concerned about calories, you can substitute a little chicken broth for part of the oil, but you must have at least 1 T. olive oil. Serve over the pasta of your choice. Will keep for a week in a tightly covered container in the frig, if you put a little olive oil on the top too keep it nice and green.

Cooks Tip: You can freeze this, which I often do, just don't add the cheese at the end. I often make a lot, pour it into old fashioned ice cube trays, and freeze them. When they get solid, remove the pesto from the tray, and place in a zip top freezer bag. One cube is enough pesto for 1 - 2 servings.