Greek Tomato and White Bean Stew with Feta and Ouzo

 A splash of Ouzo and a sprinkle of feta add Greek inspiration to this hearty vegetable stew:

White Bean, Kale, Tomato Ragout with Ouzo and Feta

I love hearty vegetable soups in the winter. They are quick to prepare and non-judgmental when it comes to emptying the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator for a healthy dinner. One of my favorite stocks is Italian inspired and tomato based, sometimes with a splash of wine, and often with a rind of cheese added into the mix to exude delicious umami flavor while the soup simmers. I’ll then finish with beans or grains and handfuls of winter greens which wilt in the simmering stock just long enough to soften without discoloring. For this soup, I tweaked my favorite method and took a detour further south to Greece for inspiration. A splash of Ouzo (a Greek anise liqueur) amplifies the fennel in the soup and adds an extra layer of flavor that rounds out the tomatoes’ natural acidity. Rather than submerging a rind of cheese in the stock, I sprinkled feta over the soup for garnish. I must say I was pleased with this little detour, and I hope you are too.

Greek White Bean Stew with Tomato, Feta, and Ouzo

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
2 to 3 tablespoons Ouzo or anise liqueur
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch lacinato kale (or chard)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Crumbled feta for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, and the onion is translucent without coloring, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste to blend and then add the wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by about one-third, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, 2 tablespoons Ouzo, the bay leaf, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add a little more salt or another tablespoon of Ouzo if desired.
3. While the stew is simmering, remove the tough stems from the kale, stack the leaves, and slice crosswise into thin ribbons. 
Stir the kale and white beans into the stew and cook until the kale wilts, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. If the stew is too thick, top off with additional chicken stock and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve garnished with crumbled feta and the reserved fennel fronds.

Fig and Farro Salad with Mint and Feta

It’s fig season and I am figging out:

Fig Farro and Feta Salad

There is a magical window of time when fresh figs are abundant, and this is it. Soft and fragrant, fresh figs are oh-so ethereal to eat. Their flavor is delicate yet nuanced. Depending on the variety, they can be sweet and winey, honeyed, or grassy. Black mission figs are the smallest, dark and furtively sweet. Brown Turkey figs are larger, striated in brown and yellow, and pleasingly sweet like honey, while Calimyrna are perhaps the prettiest – green and golden like wheatgrass, with a nutty vegetal flavor. When figs are ripe, they are luscious to eat straight up, but if you are lucky to have too many, then layer them into sandwiches and salads, or on pizzas and bruschetta.

This recipe makes a hearty salad full of farro grains. If you prefer a more leafy salad, then halve the amount of farro.

Fig and Farro Salad with Mint and Feta

Serves 4

1/2 cup semi-pearled farro
1 1/2 cups water

Dressing:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cups arugula
1 cup shredded radicchio
6 Brown Turkey figs, quartered
2 ounces crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios
Finely grated lemon zest, for garnish

1. Cook the farro: Combine the farro and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain any excess liquid and cool the farro to room temperature.

2. Make the dressing: Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, honey, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to emulsify.

3. Assemble the salad: Combine the arugula and radicchio in a serving bowl. Scatter the farro over the salad and top with the figs, cheese, and mint. Drizzle with the dressing and gently toss to combine. Garnish with the pistachios and lemon zest and serve.

 

Summer Pizza with Squash Blossoms and Sweet Peppers

Decorate your summer pizza with flowers – squash flowers, that is:

Grilled Pizza with Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms might make this pizza sound pretty fancy, but it really isn’t. Delicate squash blossoms are everywhere at the farmers market at this time of year. I’ve been eyeing them, and contemplating ways to easily incorporate the floppy, sunny flowers into a meal. I’ve eaten blossoms fried and stuffed, but to be honest, I find them time consuming to prepare and often oily and rich. So I decided to simply layer them, with no other preparation, on a white pizza – or a pizza with no red sauce – and see what happened. The results were resoundingly good and a unanimous hit at the dinner table. The flowers shriveled and crisped while cooking, which concentrated their subtle and nutty flavor, which was nicely rounded out by sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers, onions, and a kick of heat from crushed red chili flakes. These fragile squash blossoms may be delicate, but it’s clear that they are no shrinking wall-flower.

For this recipe, you can make your own dough or purchase a good quality fresh dough from your supermarket, which is a simple shortcut for an easy meal. This recipe stretches one pound of fresh dough into a large rectangle, but you can also shape it into 2 smaller pizzas.

Squash Blossom Pizza with Sweet Peppers, Onions and Pecorino

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes one (10 x 15-inch) pizza

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt
1 pound homemade or prepared fresh pizza dough
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet red peppers, such as Jimmy Nardello peppers
8 squash blossoms, quartered lengthwise
1 (8 ounce) fresh mozzarella ball, patted dry and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the grill for indirect cooking over high heat (about 500°F for a gas grill) and preheat a pizza stone for at least 15 minutes. (Or preheat the oven to 500°F. Place a pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and preheat for at least 15 minutes).
2. Whisk the oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
3. Stretch the dough out as thinly as possible and lay on large pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet lined with parchment). Lightly brush with the oil. Sprinkle half of the Pecorino over the pizza. Top with the onions and peppers. Arrange the squash blossoms over the vegetables, and then place the mozzarella around the squash. Sprinkle the oregano, chili flakes and pepper over the pizza and lightly season with salt. Top with the remaining Pecorino.
4. Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone. Close the grill lid and grill until the pizza is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and brush the crust with some of the oil. Drizzle any remaining oil over the pizza. Cut into serving pieces and serve immediately.

Quinoa Bowl with Tomato, Corn, and Avocado

Summer Salad Tomato Corn Avocado

When it’s too hot to cook, try serving a big summery salad for your main meal. Not just a simple garden salad, but a satisfying bowl layered with crisp veggies, grains or legumes, and fresh herbs. The combination is fresh, filling, and light – guaranteed to hit the spot on a warm day. This salad bowl includes the classic summer veggie trio of sweet corn, tomato, and avocado – tumbled together with protein-rich quinoa and mounded over a bed of kale. No need to cook the corn – summer corn is juicy and naturally sweet, and it’s crispness adds great texture to the quinoa. As always, you can tweak the ingredients to your taste. Feel free to substitute another grain for the quinoa, such as wild rice or bulgur. As for the kale, a quick rub of the hardy leaves with oil and salt helps to soften them and coax out their flavor. Alternatively, choose another more tender green, such as arugula or spinach, and skip the rubbing step.

Tomato, Corn, and Quinoa Bowl with Kale and Avocado

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

Dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

Salad:
1 small bunch Tuscan/Lacinato kale, ribs removed, torn into bite-size pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
2 ears of corn, uncooked, husked, kernels cut from the cobs
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup tricolor or red quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 small handful Italian parsley leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 small handful cilantro leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 ripe but firm avocado, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1. Whisk the lime juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, honey, salt, black pepper, and Tabasco in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
2. Place the kale in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons oil over the leaves and season with a generous pinch of salt. Rub the leaves until thoroughly coated (this will help to soften them).
3. Combine the scallions, corn, peppers, tomatoes, quinoa, parsley, and cilantro in a separate bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of the dressing over the salad and gently stir to combine. Mound the salad over the kale. (Or divide between individual serving bowls.) Top with the avocado and drizzle with additional dressing to taste.

Beet Ricotta Bruschetta

Beet Crostini

Open-faced sandwich are unfailingly pleasing. When a sandwich is open, its filling becomes the topping, which is a lovely reflection of the sum of its parts and a visual tease, beckoning a bite. While the sandwiches vary, often these tasty bites creatively incorporate simple ingredients, or leftovers layered over a smear of olive oil or soft cheese on sturdy or day-old bread refreshed on the grill or in the oven. The presentation is fresh, minimal, and artful, with a few fresh leaves or sprigs for garnish.

These bruschette include fresh ricotta topped with roasted beets and a spoonful of garden pesto. I call it a garden pesto because I use handfuls of the fresh new herbs that have popped up in my garden at this time of year. When the garden isn’t ready, I simply combine the supermarket herbs I’ve collected in my refrigerator. This can include any combination of parsley, mint, chives, dill, chervil, and oregano. The idea is that there is a mix of at least 3 to 4 herbs, so that one flavor doesn’t overwhelm the others. The result is a brightly green and herbaceous coulis that is delicious served with vegetables, fish, chicken, or mixed with rice and pasta. In this case, it’s a vibrant garnish to these bruschette.

Ricotta Beet Bruschetta with Garden Pesto

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

Garden Pesto:
3 cups (packed) fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, dill, chives, chervil, plus extra for garnish
1 small garlic clove
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 slices ciabatta or levain bread, each about 1/2-inch thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
6 to 8 roasted and peeled baby beets, cut into wedges
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the pesto: Place the herbs and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped. With the motor running add the oil in a steady stream until blended. If too thick, add extra oil to your desired consistency. Add the lemon zest, salt, and pepper and pulse once or twice to blend. Taste for seasoning.
2. Heat the oven broiler or a grill. Lightly brush the bread slices with oil. Broil or grill, until toasted golden on both sides but still tender in the center, about 2 minutes. Remove and cool the bread for 5 minutes.
3. Smear the ricotta on the bread, then drizzle some of the pesto over the ricotta (You will not use all of the pesto. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for another use for up to one day.)
4. Top the bruschette with the beets. Brush the beets with a little oil and lightly season the bruschette with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh herb sprigs and serve whole or cut in half for smaller bites.

Simple Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Breadcrumbs

You won’t regret buying out of season tomatoes with this fresh and easy pasta recipe. Hint: a little roasting will do the trick.

Easy Gemelli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes

If you’re like me and can’t resist buying hothouse grape tomatoes in the middle of the winter – even when we know better – this recipe will address any buyer’s remorse. It’s not the fault of the tomatoes, of course. They do look irresistible, but looks can be deceiving with these plump and oh-so-red tomatoes, which often disappoint in the flavor department when they are out of season. Not to worry – this recipe allows for a little off-season tomato indulgence with no regrets. Thanks to slow roasting, they will deflate from their impossible pertness to a more relaxed version of themselves, and any hibernating juices and natural sugars will be released. Along with a little simple seasoning to give them some oomph, and you will have a sunny and versatile condiment to beat the winter blues.

Add roasted tomatoes to sauces and salads, use as a topping on pizza and crostini, or toss with pasta. In this recipe, I take advantage of the sludgy sheen of olive oil and tomato juice left behind in the pan after roasting. To sop up the flavorful oil, I sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs over the pan to absorb the juices and toast the crumbs in the oven until golden. They are a delicious extra touch and garnish to this light and fresh pasta dish.

Gemelli with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Olive Oil Breadcrumbs

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4

1 pound grape tomatoes
3 garlic whole cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound gemelli or fusilli
2 large handfuls of arugula, about 3 cups

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Scatter the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a rimmed baking sheet. Add the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and stir to coat. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the tomatoes and transfer to the oven. Roast until the tomatoes are softened and begin to release their juices, about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and discard the thyme sprigs. When cool enough to handle, peel the skin away from the garlic and finely chop the cloves. Transfer the tomatoes and garlic to a large serving bowl.

2. Reduce the oven heat to 350°F. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the same baking sheet and stir to coat in the residual olive oil. Return the baking pan to the oven and cook until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes (they will brown quickly so watch them carefully). Remove and immediately transfer the breadcrumbs to a small bowl to stop them from cooking. Cool for 5 minutes and then stir in the 2 tablespoons cheese.

3. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup cooking water and then drain the pasta.

4. Add the pasta, arugula, half of the breadcrumbs, and the 1/3 cup cheese to the tomatoes and toss to combine. If the pasta is a little dry, add some of the reserved water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until moistened to your preference. Divide the pasta between serving plates. Garnish with the remaining breadcrumbs and freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately

Roasted Baby Beet Gratin

Roasted Beet Gratin

This recipe is one of my favorite ways to eat beets, especially in the winter when rich gratins are warm and satisfying. It’s also a great way to introduce the beetroot to any skeptical family member. Small or baby beets are mild and sweet, and their flavor is less assertive than their grown-up relatives. In this recipe, they are thinly sliced and smothered in layers of garlic-infused sour cream flecked with orange zest and a generous shower of nutty Gruyère cheese. All of the ingredients meld together, and while the beets are present, they are not overwhelming in flavor. As they cook, the beets release their juices and saturate the dish with spectacular color, which makes this one of the prettiest gratins I have seen. So give it a try, and let the skeptics eat with their eyes – and also hopefully with a fork.

Roasted Baby Beet Gratin

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes one (8 by 8-inch) gratin or 6 to 8 (4-ounce) ramekins

2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Unsalted butter
16 baby beets, about 2 pounds trimmed, scrubbed clean
4 ounces finely grated Gruyere cheese
Finely chopped thyme leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch square gratin dish (or individual ramekins). Whisk the sour cream, garlic, orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl.
2. Thinly slice the beets with a mandolin or knife.
3. Arrange 1/3 of the beets, slightly overlapping in the baking dish. Spoon 1/3 of the sour cream over the beets, carefully spreading to cover. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over the top. Lightly season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of thyme. Repeat with two more layers.
4. Transfer the gratin to the oven and bake until the beets are tender and the gratin is bubbly and golden, about 50 minutes. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.