Planning what to cook based on what is in season can bring out the creative cook in you. Bell Peppers, Spinach, Potatoes, Sweet Corn, Cabbage, Tangerines, Radishes, Mangoes, Mushrooms, Green Beans, Cucumbers, Squash, Blueberries and Carrots are all in season this month. With so many choices, it is difficult to decide what to buy.
What I do is think about what kind of recipe and what type of meals I want this week. Then, I look for the ingredients to match. For example, a soup would be good for dinner and the leftovers are good for lunch. Greens was beautiful in the market now, so a soup with greens added would be good to make. Also we will need is some delicious bread to go with it.
This thinking can apply to salads, light dinners and special entrees. Also, I like to take advantage of sales. For example, packages of pita bread were “buy one package and get one free” this week. Pita is a versatile bread to have on hand and they also make delicious and healthy chips.
When I finish grating a piece of Parmesan cheese, I save the rind in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. I add one to the soup pot for added flavor.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
2 cups water
4 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth
Parmesan cheese rind
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
6 oz fresh escarole, spinach or any seasonal greens
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
Grated Parmesan, for sprinkling
Remove stems and wilted leaves on the greens. Wash well in several changes of cold water and chop.
In a large pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the water, broth, Italian seasoning, Parmesan cheese rind and salt and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the tortellini until just done, about 4 minutes for fresh or 12 minutes for frozen. Drain.
Add the spinach to the soup and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the tortellini.
Serve the soup sprinkled with grated Parmesan.
Spring Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped tarragon
2 anchovy fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 carrot, peeled
2 cups lightly packed torn Boston or Bibb lettuce
Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, chives, parsley, vinegar, lemon juice, tarragon, anchovies, and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor; puree until smooth. Chill to allow the flavors to blend.
Using a vegetable peeler, strip long ribbons from the carrot. Toss together the carrots and lettuce in a bowl. Add some of the dressing to greens and gently toss. (Reserve remaining dressing for another use.)
Stuffed Roasted Salmon Rolls
For 2 servings – this recipe is easily doubled.
12 oz center-cut boneless, skinless salmon fillet, cut lengthwise into 2 strips
4 cups fresh raw spinach leaves, stems removed, cooked and squeezed dry
1/4 cup cream cheese with onion and chives, if available, or regular cream cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking dish with olive oil.
Mix together the cream cheese, garlic and spinach until well blended then season with salt and pepper.
The mixture will be firm.
Season the salmon strips with salt and pepper and spread each fillet strip with the spinach filling.
Starting at one end, roll the salmon up tightly, tucking in any loose filling as you go.
Insert a toothpick through the end to keep the pinwheel from unrolling. Place the rolls in the prepared dish.
Repeat with the remaining salmon strip. Sprinkle the rolls with the lemon juice.
Bake the salmon rolls until just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the toothpicks before serving.
Grilled Chicken Pita Salad (Chicken Fattoush)
8 oz boned, skinned chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoons za’atar (Middle Eastern spice)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 of a red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 of a cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
1 cup sliced tomatoes
1 cup pita chips, recipe below
1 cup sliced romaine lettuce
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 ounces block feta cheese, broken into chunks
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for high heat. Oil the grill grates.
Coat chicken breasts with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with za’atar.
Cook turning once, until no longer pink in the center and grill marks appear, about 7 minutes total.
Let rest 10 minutes, then slice.
In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice, remaining oil, oregano, garlic and pepper; set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the grilled chicken, red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, romaine and pita chips.
Pour the reserved dressing over the salad mixture, add cheese and toss gently to coat.
Homemade Pita Chips
Za’atar seasoning is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that contains ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac.
1 package of pita pocket breads (6 pitas in a package)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil two large rimmed baking pans.
Separate each pita into two rounds. Brush each with olive oil and sprinkle with the Za’atar seasoning mix.
Cut each pita circle into 6 triangles.
Arrange the triangles on the baking sheets and bake until crispy and brown, about 20 minutes.
Rotate the pans after ten minutes, Cool and store in a large zip-lock bag until needed.
Warm Blackberry Sauce
This sauce is great to have on hand as a topping for ice cream, pancakes or plain pound cake.
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries, washed
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In a medium non-stick sauce pan, combine the sugar and cornstarch.
Add the water, maple syrup,lemon juice and berries.
Cook on medium high, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down and the sauce thickens.
Transfer the sauce to a serving dish. Store any remaining sauce in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
While my primary cooking focus is on Italian food, I am fascinated with all the cuisines of the Mediterranean region. This geographical area broadly follows the olive tree, which provides one of the most distinctive features of the region’s cooking, olive oil. The region spans a wide variety of cultures such as, the Maghrebi, Levantine, Ottoman, Greek, Italian, Provençal and Spanish. History, as well as the impact of the Mediterranean Sea on the region’s climate and economy, mean that these cuisines share similar dishes, such as roast lamb, meat stews with vegetables and tomato (such as, Spanish andrajos and Italian ciambotta) and the salted cured fish roe, bottarga, found across the region. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and the country of Portugal. This series continues with Spain.
The Mediterranean diet is the basis of Spain’s cuisine. The regions of Andalusia and Catalonia are best known for Spain’s olive oil. It is an important ingredient in Spanish salads and soups, such as gazpacho and salmorejo ( a cold soup made with tomato and bread). Whole olives, sometimes stuffed with anchovies or pimento (red pepper paste), are eaten as appetizers and snacks, or added to stews, hot pots and salads.
Some of Spain’s fertile agricultural regions are in Navarre, Andalusia, Murcia,the Balearic Islands and Valencia. Valencia is well-known for its citrus fruits. Other essential Spanish fruit includes bananas from the Canary Islands, strawberries from Huelva and Aranjuez (Madrid), Vinalopó grapes and peaches from Calanda (Aragon).
Bread is traditionally served as an accompaniment to food, often with a little extra virgin olive oil for dipping. Bread with cheese is a common snack, and bread is also used to thicken soups and stews.
Spanish cuisine also features many rice-based recipes and paella is world-famous. Spanish paella is cooked outside on an open wood fire in a large flat-bottomed pan called a paellera and paella can include all types of ingredients including seafood, chicken, chorizo sausage, rabbit and even snails.
The regions in the north of Spain are well known for their milk and dairy products. Traditional desserts, such as cuajada (made with curd cheese) and rice pudding are made from such ingredients. Spanish cheeses include Manchego (Castile-La Mancha), Burgos (Castile-León), Cabrales (Asturias), Idiazábal (Basque Country) and Majorero (Canary Islands).
Omelets and seafood are eaten often. The most popular fish dishes contain anchovies (very common in Cantabria), cod (typical of the Basque Country), “pescaíto frito” (fried fish) in Andalusia and seafood from Galicia. Fish and shellfish are used in a myriad of ways—grilled over hot coals and served with bread and salad, fried in olive oil and served as tapas (small appetizers served hot and cold in bars and bistros throughout Spain to accompany sherry, wine, or beer) dotted through a paella, or enjoyed in a saffron-infused stew with tomatoes, fish, shellfish, potatoes and wine.
Tomatoes, bell peppers (capsicum), potatoes and zucchini have now become synonymous not only with Spanish cuisine, but Mediterranean cuisine as a whole. Other commonly enjoyed vegetables include onions, garlic, asparagus, eggplant, spinach, cabbage, cucumbers, artichokes, lettuce and mushrooms.
These vegetables are used in rice dishes, stews such as cocida (a one pot dish with vegetables, beans and chicken or meat that originated in Madrid but is eaten throughout Spain) as well as soups such as gazpacho (a cold tomato-based soup) and a wide range of salads and vegetable side dishes.
Chickpeas and white beans are used to make hearty bean stews and flavorsome soups. Lentils, such as Spanish pardina lentils, are also added to stews and soups and are used in salads. Green beans and peas are used in a wide range of dishes including paellas and hot pots.
Popular nuts include almonds, pine nuts and hazelnuts which are often ground down and used to thicken and enrich the flavor of stews, sauces and soups. Toasted almonds are also a popular snack.
Meats like dry cured Serrano ham, lamb or chorizo sausage are used in small amounts to add flavor and texture to a dish instead of being the main ingredient.
Chicken is a popular addition to stews and rice dishes and eggs are used in a variety of dishes including tortilla de patatas, a traditional Spanish omelet with eggs, potatoes and onion.
For over 700 years much of Spain was ruled by the Moors (a Muslim tribal people from the Moroccan region of North Africa) and their influence remains today in many of the seasonings used in Spanish cooking including saffron, cinnamon and cumin.
Other commonly used seasonings include smoked paprika, garlic, flat-leaf parsley, pepper, sea salt, white wine vinegar and sherry vinegar, fresh chilies, capers, wine and lemon juice. These seasonings are all used to enhance, not mask, the natural flavors of the food.
Tortilla de Patatas
1 potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cook the potato in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Drain.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the onion and green pepper for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potato and cook for 2 minutes.
Whisk the eggs together in a bowl with the parsley, salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the vegetables in the pan, cover, and cook gently over a low heat for 8 minutes.
Remove the lid and place under a hot oven broiler to cook for a minute or until the top is set. Cut into wedges to serve.
This cold soup is delicious and refreshing—a perfect summertime meal served with bread.
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup peeled, seeded and roughly chopped cucumber
3 cups low sodium good quality tomato juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Garnish: chopped cucumber, onion or bell pepper
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
Chill in the refrigerator for twenty four hours for the best flavor.Garnish with chopped vegetables, if desired.
Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce for a spicy version.
You could use ripe, fresh tomatoes instead of tomato juice, but you need to skin and remove the seeds first.
The following paella recipe serves 4, and for best results cook in a 14 or 15-inch paellera. A large shallow frying pan makes an acceptable substitute. Most Spanish Paellas are made with seafood.
Prepare the vegetables:
Finely chop: 1 red onion,1 red and 1 green bell pepper, 4 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of fresh flat-leaf parsley.
1 cup of canned peeled tomatoes mashed with a fork.
Prepare the seafood:
Peel and devein 16 large shrimp
Cut 2 squid tubes into rings
Scrub and debeard 12 fresh mussels.
Cover the fish and refrigerate.
Sofrito is a Spanish tomato and onion sauce which is used as a flavor base for a variety of dishes, including paella.
To make the sofrito:
Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the paella pan over a medium heat and cook the chopped red onion, 2 tablespoons of parsley and 3 of the chopped garlic cloves for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of Spanish smoked paprika.
cook until all the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated and the sofrito has the consistency of jam. Transfer the sofrito to a small bowl to cool and wipe the paella pan clean with a paper towel.
Cook the mussels:
Bring a ½ cup of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the mussels, cover the pan and steam on a low heat for 5 minutes. Remove the mussels and set aside, discarding any that haven’t opened.
Cook the shrimp and squid:
Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in the paella pan over a medium-high heat. Add the remaining clove of chopped garlic and the shrimp and cook for 1½ minutes. Add the squid rings and cook for a 1½ minutes more. Remove the shrimp and squid from the paella pan and lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and set aside.
Prepare the paella:
Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the paella pan over a medium heat and cook the diced red and green peppers for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the sofrito back to the pan along with 1½ cups of Spanish Calasparra or Bomba rice and cook for a minute, stirring to coat the grains.
Add 3 cups of heated fish or chicken stock, a pinch of saffron threads, 1½ teaspoons sea salt and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine, and bring to a bubbling simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, uncovered without stirring. (To make sure the rice cooks evenly you will need to regularly move the paella pan around the heat source, or you can position the paella pan over two burners.)
Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes more without stirring. After 15 minutes, turn the heat up to medium-high for a minute or so until you can smell the rice toasting at the bottom, then remove the paella pan from the heat.
Push the cooked shrimp, mussels and squid into the cooked rice and scatter a half a cup of defrosted frozen green peas over the paella.
Cover the pan with foil or a clean cloth and let the paella rest for 5 minutes.
Present the paella in the pan at the table with lemon wedges.
Classic Spanish Flan
Makes 12 servings
For the flan:
4 cups whole milk
2 strips lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
For the caramelized sugar-coating:
1/2 cup sugar
5 by 9-inch mold
Preheat the oven to 300º F.
To prepare the caramelized sugar-coating, spread the sugar evenly in the bottom of a small heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat. It may take several minutes before the sugar begins to melt. Without stirring, watch the sugar closely as it begins to liquefy at the edges. All of it will slowly turn first into a yellowish and then golden syrup and finally into a brown caramel sauce.
When the liquefied sugar is turning from golden to brown, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. (If you miss this point, the sugar will quickly turn too dark and taste bitter and you will need to discard it and begin again.)
Working swiftly, pour the liquid caramel into the flan mold and tilt to cover the bottom and sides evenly. It is important to do this transfer quickly, as the change in temperature causes the caramel to solidify rapidly. Set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the milk, lemon zest and cinnamon stick over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately decrease the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the milk with the flavor of the seasonings. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a bowl, combine the whole eggs, egg yolks, and granulated sugar and whisk until foamy. Pour the cooled milk through a fine-mesh sieve held over the egg mixture and whisk until well blended. Pour the mixture into the coated mold.
Place the mold in a large, deep baking pan or roasting pan. Pull out the oven rack, put the baking pan on it, and pour boiling water to a depth of about 1 inch into the pan to create a water bath. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until set when tested with a thin-bladed knife in the center. Carefully remove the water bath from the oven, and then carefully remove the custard from the water bath and set aside to cool completely.
You can cover and refrigerate the cooled flan to serve cold, or you can serve it at room temperature. Run a knife around the inside of the mold to loosen the edges of the custard and then invert the flan onto a dessert plate.
Our favorite bagels are not from a bagel shop but homemade. In my part of the world, there are no bagel shops. You can buy a bagel at the supermarket or at the airport, but no bagel shop where you can go pick out your favorite dozen. So I make my own. I make several different flavors, such as pumpernickel or cinnamon, at different times, but these are our favorite. They are especially good with smoked salmon and red onion.
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ cup sourdough starter
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon honey
Olive oil for the bowl
Everything bagel topping
Combine the flour, yeast, salt, onion powder and garlic powder in the large bowl of an electric mixer.
With the paddle attachment, mix the dry ingredients thoroughly.
Combine the sourdough starter, warm water and honey in a large measuring cup and pour into the flour mixture in the electric mixer bowl.
Mix the dough with the paddle attachment on low speed until the dough comes together.
Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for 10 minutes. With a spatula, scrape the dough from the bottom of the bowl to the top.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rest 5 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to knead the dough with the dough hook for 10 minutes. This procedure helps the dough to develop the gluten that bagels need.
Oil a bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turning it several times to coat in the oil. Cover and let rise, about 2 hours.
Place the dough on a floured board. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. I use a scale to measure.
On the floured board gently roll the one piece of sough into an 8 inch length and join the ends together to form a ring. Place on a floured kitchen towel. Repeat until all the bagels are formed. Let rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Fill a Dutch Oven or other large pot three-quarters of the way with water. Add 1 tablespoon brown sugar and bring to a boil.
Place 3 bagels in the boiling water and let cook for one minute. With a spider or large spoon turn the bagels over in the water and cook for one minute. Remove the bagels to a dry kitchen towel.
Repeat this procedure for the remaining babels.
Top some of the bagels with an everything bagel topping, if desired.
Place the boiled bagels on parchment lined cookie sheets Six bagels to a sheet.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown, rotating the pans after half the baking time has elapsed. Remove the pans from the oven and place the bagels on a cooling rack.
Bagels freeze well, so I store them there and defrost them overnight when I want to serve the,
Some great toppings for your homemade bagels:
Cream cheese with chives and scallions. Add slices of cucumber for a lunch treat.
Cream cheese, slices of smoked salmon and slices of red onion.
Eggs Over Easy with slices of cheese and cooked bacon.
Tuna or Turkey Melt
What is your favorite bagel topping?