Sunday, July 28, 2013

Many Vegetable Soup

To complete ‘Restaurant Month’, I share a back kitchen restaurant trick that you can employ at home to make a simple summer meal.

Restaurant chefs know how to make the most out of all the ingredients in their kitchens.  Making soup is a frugal way to use pure ingredients, like the last carrots or extra zucchini in the refrigerator.  Not enough to serve as a side dish at dinner, but in combination with a few other extras in the pantry, these remains in the vegetable bin can be part of a whole new creation.  30-Vegetable Soup is often thickened with a bean and tomato base that is partially pureed.  The soup is satisfying but not too heavy for a mid-summer night. 

Many of our favorite Italian restaurants in New York City offer a vegetable soup that boasts an enormous variety of vegetables.  As a house specialty, they buy their vegetables with this 30-Vegetable Soup in mind.  You can use the same thought process when you buy groceries with just five or six vegetables (or as many as thirty). Don't be put off by the number of ingredients.  This is a rustic soup and you can get away with a rough chop so prep time is fast. 

Here is a basic recipe that expands to fifteen or more vegetables but tastes just great with a small number of vegetables too.  

Many Vegetable Soup
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion and/or 1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 carrots and/or parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 zucchini or yellow squash, sliced
1 large potato, cubed
1 cup green beans and/or broccoli (florets and/or thinly sliced stems)
1 14-oz can peeled whole tomatoes
8 cups water (or ½ water ½ broth)
½ teaspoon dried herbs; choose from thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano or dill (if ¼ using fresh, add 2 tablespoons chopped at end of cooking)
½ small green cabbage, chopped (or 2 cups cole slaw mix)
1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
2 cups spinach, kale or swiss chard leaves (rinsed well and coarsely chopped)
2 cups cooked or canned beans (white beans or your favorite)
to garnish: fresh herbs and grated Parmesan cheese

  1. In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat.  
  2. Add the prepared vegetables from onion through green beans/broccoli.  Cook until they are slightly wilted and soft, about 3-4 minutes.  
  3. Add tomatoes, water and dried herbs.  Lower heat and cover.  Simmer vegetables 10-12 minutes, until almost done.  
  4. Uncover pot and add remaining ingredients: cabbage, greens and cooked/canned beans.  
  5. Cook until all vegetables are tender.  
  6. Serve with fresh herbs and grated cheese.
Variations: For a creamier version, cool soup and puree half.  Return puree to soup and stir to combine.  Reheat to serve. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Shrimp & Corn Quesadilla

Restaurants inspire the home cook this month.

I often look to restaurant menus for inspiration.  It is helpful to see how chefs are combining ingredients and sometimes, you encounter a great dish and think, if I do this at home I can enjoy this all the time.

Mamajuana on the Upper West Side in New York City has a lovely lobster and corn quesadilla to go with their perfectly mixed mojitoes.  Priced right, it has a really good lobster flavor despite a modest amount of meat and a trio of fun dipping sauces.  Even as I ate it, I knew I'd be recreating a seafood quesadilla at home.

Mine uses large grilled shrimp instead of steamed lobster, fresh corn from the farmers market and smoked gouda instead of the Oaxcan cheese Mamajauna uses.  For garnish, a simple mango-avocado salsa steeped in lime juice and a dash of honey replaced the trio of sauces. 

It is colorful and brimming with pure flavors.  Any seafood, cooked lobster, scallops or crab meat can be used instead of shrimp.  Make the salsa a least an hour ahead.

Shrimp & Corn Quesadillas
3 quesadillas (cut in fourths, serves 4 as an appetizer)

1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined and split in half lengthwise
1/2 lime
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper
3 large flour tortillas
2 ears corn, cooked and kernals cut from the cob (about 1 cup corn)
6 ounces grated cheese- smoked gouda, smoked mozzarella*
1/2 cup fresh cilantro- unchopped
grape seed or canola oil

*If you prefer an un-smoked cheese, try fontina, fresh mozzarella or jack cheese.

  1. Toss the shrimp in lime juice, oi and salt and pepper.  
  2. Over a medium-high heat in a cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet, grill the shrimp 1-2 minutes per side until a nice char develops.  
  3. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.  Wipe out pan and coat with a bit of vegetable oil.  
  4. Assemble the quesadillas.  Lay shredded cheese over the entire tortilla.  
  5. On one side only layer corn.  Place the  shrimp on top of the corn and a few sprigs of cilantro on the shrimp.  You can chop up the shrimp a bit to make it easy to cover the corn.  
  6. Fold the other side of the tortilla (with cheese) over the shrimp-corn side.  
  7. Heat the cleaned skillet over medium heat. Place a quesadilla on the skillet and cook until the cheese melts on the underside and the tortilla begins to brown.  
  8. Flip the quesadilla and continue to cook until the second side is browned and the cheese has completely melted. By using medium rather than high heat, the cheese will melt and the shell with not burn.  Check your temperature and start with lower heat if your stove burners run hot.
  9. Remove the finished quesdilla to a cutting board to set while you cook the remainders.  
  10. To cut, use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter.  Cut quesadillas in quarters.  
 Pile Mango-Avocado Salsa on top and serve.

Mango-Avocado Salsa
1 mango, peeled and chopped (frozen thawed or canned is fine, about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
1/2-1 seeded jalepeno, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup fresh, chopped cilantro
1/2 avocado, chopped

At least one hour ahead or day before, combine all ingredients except the avocado.  Cover and let marinate.  Just before serving, add the avocado and a stir gently to incorporate. 

Vegetarian Version-- Skip the grilled shrimp and add in extra corn and some chopped red bell pepper.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chorizo with Figs

Chorizo with Figs, the perfect tapas dish?
Recently, friends have been re-creating some of their favorite restaurant items at home and this month I'll be capturing some of the stand-outs that you can make in your own kitchen too.

Tapas, Spain's gift to the appetizer-light snack world, are small plates shared over a glass of wine.  My favorite cities for tapas are Madrid, where night revelers visit cool grottoes dug under the Plaza Mayor for house specialties, and Barcelona which, to my mind, serves up some of the most imaginative small plates highlighting pork and seafood.

That's why when I heard about the southern Connecticut restaurant named for Barcelona, I was ready to try old favorites and new finds.   Over the years, it's become a favorite birthday spot for some dear friends in Westport which has given me a chance to sample most of the menu with them.

Chorizo with Sweet and Sour Figs was new to me. If you ever found yourself unable to stop eating those little cocktail wieners in grape jelly and mustard sauce at holiday buffets, you will love this highly sophisticated and grown up version made with far purer flavors but the same addictive appeal. 

Now that most supermarkets stock chorizo sausage and dried figs are available year round, this quick dish can be enjoyed any time of year.  It recently starred at the McNee's graduation/bon voyage party for daughter Sarah on her way to Mexico City for her first job.  Ole Sarah!

Normally, this blog only publishes original recipes but for this little masterpiece, no reinvention is needed.  As my friend Marianne says, "Just follow the recipe."  Here is Barcelona's recipe for Chorizo with Sweet and Sour Figs.

 p.s.-- loved the whole sticks of cinnamon Marianne used to garnish the party platter. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Momufuku & Sesame-Ginger-Jalepeno Sauce

A version of this sauce is served at Momufuku's renown fried chicken dinners in New York City.  An array of sauces, condiments and lettuce wrappers come with the towering platter of Korean and Southern versions of fried chicken.  It makes a feast. 

One sauce really stuck with me after the meal. Thinly sliced fresh jalapenos and grated ginger steeped in sesame oil.  Spicy, hot, sweet, savory.  I have found that this sauce goes even better with grilled or breaded baked chicken than it did with the fried version served at Momufuku Noodle Bar.   It is simple and, while I provide my version of measurements below, very forgiving if you spill in extra oil or more/less ginger or jalepeno. 

Sesame-Ginger-Jalepeno Sauce
Makes about 1/3 cup. Recipe may be doubled

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/2-1 sliced jalapeno

Combine all ingredients and let the mixture steep 15 minutes before serving with baked chicken.
Delicious on steamed or grilled fish or vegetables too, especially happy with broccoli.