Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Crostinis, Crostinis, Crostinis!

Up until a couple of years ago I had never heard of crostinis.  And now they are everywhere.  It seems that any and everything is a crostini, such as eggplants, tomatoes, sardines. 

According to The Prentice Hall Dictionary of Culinary Arts, crostini is Italian for 'little toasts' and is used to describe small, thin slices of toasted bread, usually brushed with olive oil.  Who knew!

Sicily was overflowing with crostinis.  And why not?  If you have leftover bread, why not use it to make something edible - think bread pudding.  For centuries clever cooks have turned the 'not so edible' into the 'this is delicious'. 

One crostini that we consumed while in Sicily was made with eggplants and chopped tomatoes.  Both of these plants grow extremely well in the Mediterranean.  And cooks make good use of them. 

Here is my version of Crostinis with Aubergine Tapenade.  I hope you enjoy them.  Some countries refer to eggplants as aubergines.

Crostinis with Aubergine Tapenade

1 medium eggplant
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 Roma tomatoes
Day old baguette

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  With a sharp knife, pierce eggplant in several places.  Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until soft, about 1 hour. 

2.  Allow eggplant to cool.  Remove the skin and stem.  Cut eggplant into small pieces.  Add garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Thinly slice the bread, on the diagonal, into
about ½-inch thick slices.  Brush with olive oil and place on a sheet pan.  Place in the oven at 350°F, until they are crisp, about 15 minutes. 

4.  Dice the tomatoes into small pieces, about ¼ inch.  Combine with eggplant mixture. 

5.  At this point, you can top the bread with the eggplant tapenade or set them out separately and allow your guest to top the bread as they desire.

As to which one I would do, it depends on how much time I have.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Eating Potatoes in Sicily

While in Sicily, we had the pleasure of attending the Cucina del Sole Cooking School.  The school is headed up by Eleonora Consoli, a gastronomy journalist. Needless to say, we had a good time.  Put 20+ foodies in the room together (with food, of course) and they have a good time.

It was really a lot of fun learning about Sicilian cuisine.  It's always fun to expand your cooking repertoire.  I came back with a few good recipes that could easily find their way into my own cooking. 

One of the first dishes we made in Sicily was a potato and pistachio casserole.  As it turns out, Sicily grows pistachios.  So they make good use of them in their cuisine.  Most pistachios are grown around the Mount Etna and Bronte areas.  Most pistachios grown in Sicily are consumed in Sicily.  Very little is exported.  Although widely viewed as a snack food, pistachios are well-suited for many recipes requiring nuts.  The next time you have a recipe calling for pine nuts, give pistachios a try and see how you like them.

Potato and Pistachio Casserole

Serves 4.

1½ pounds baking potatoes, such as Russet or Yukon Gold
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons butter, plus additonal for coating the dish
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
½ cup pistachios, finely chopped, divided

1.  Peel  and coarsely chop the potatoes.  Place in a medium saucepan and cover with water.  Cook until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.  Drain.  Place on heat to dry potatoes.  There should be a film on the bottom of the pan. 

2.  Mash potatoes.  Add cheese and butter, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Add eggs once potatoes are cool enough.

3.  Coat a casserole dish with butter.  Add pistachios and coat the dish.  Pour out extra pistachios and reserve for topping.

4.  Place potato mixture in casserole. Top with pistachios.  Bake at 350°F for about 30 to 40 minutes.

According to Ms. Consoli, one can put other ingredients in the middle of this casserole. Some of her suggestions were artichokes, spinach, asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, cheese, mushrooms, and hard boiled eggs.  For my version, I added grated zucchini in the middle of the casserole.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Oftentimes, I struggle to get my students to understand that there is nothing wrong with simplicity.  Simplicity can be a beautiful thing.  That is no more true than with fresh summer produce.  Good, fresh food needs little adornment. Sometimes all you need to do is wash, cut and eat.  To borrow a phrase from Ina Garten, "How easy is that".

When I think of simplicity and summer foods, I think of a tomato sandwich.  Yes, a tomato sandwich.  This must be a Southern thing, because my Midwestern friends look at me like I'm nuts.  If the idea of a tomato sandwich seems a little odd to you, think of it as a BLT without the B and the L.

Here is how you get started with a tomato sandwich.  First of all, you need good quality bread. You need a sturdy bread to soak up all those tomato juices.  I used challah.  You also need good tomatoes.  This is when you get out of bed in time to hit your local farmers market or your garden.  I like mayonnaise on mine, maybe with the addition of garlic.  If you really want to get fancy, top it with a little of your favorite cheese, such as Parmesan, sharp cheddar, or a fresh goat cheese.  You can also add chopped basil, capers or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  Those additions sound really great.  But I am going to stick with my simple version.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Food from Sicily

Recently, I told you that I would share some recipes from Sicily with you.  Here is the first of those recipes - Panelle or chickpea fritters.  Before traveling to Sicily, I had never heard of panelle or chickpea fritters.  We had them on at three different occasions over the course of 14 days.  They were served mostly as an appetizer or snack.

Since returning to the states, I have learned that panelle is served as a sandwich, Pane e Panelle.  It is especially popular in Palermo, Sicily.  My understanding is that panelle is found in Sicily due toArab influence.  The Arabs ruled Sicily at one time.

Basically, panelle is chickpea flour, water, salt and sometimes, herbs such as parsley.  This mixture is cooked to hydrate the beans.  It is then spread onto a flat surface, allowed to cool and cut into serving size pieces.

Here is my version of panelle.

Panelle (Chickpea Fritters)

Serves 4.

1¼ cups chickpea flour
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped parsley

1.  Combine chickpea flour, water, and salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Add parsley when mixture begins to thicken.  When mixture has absorbed all the water and is pulling away from the side of pan, quickly spread onto a jelly roll pan or cookie  sheet.  Cover with plastic and allow to cool.

2.  Preheat oil to 375°F.  Cut panelle into 1 X 2-inch strips.  Drop several into oil and fry until golden brown.  Drain on a paper towel lined cooling rack.  Serve immediately.

Note:  The chickpea flour mixture can be cooked through the first step and refrigerated for one day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bacon and Farmers Market

I have not made it to my local farmer's market this year.  Normally, I am regular by this time.  Before you feel too sorry for me, I missed several opportunities to go to the market due to a trip to Sicily.  Ok, your sympathy for me has hit a new low!

Although Sicily was a lot of fun, I really did miss my local farmer's market.  No matter how many farmer's markets I visit, nothing beats my farmer's market.  So what's so special about my farmer's market?  For everyone else, probably nothing.  For me, it's just a special place. 

Since I have not traveled to the market this year, I have been dreaming about what I could make with my first purchase at the market.    I found a recipe for Warm Bacon Vinaigrette in the April issue of Cooking Light.  I thought it would be a perfect dressing for fresh farmer's market vegetables.  I made the vinaigrette and used it on potatoes and greens beans.  They were pretty good, even if I must say so myself.