Pasta Plated Cropped

Fresh Tomato Basil Pasta

Tomatoes and Basil. Nature's Perfect Pair!

Tomatoes and Basil. Nature’s Perfect Pair!

     Tomatoes are the star here, so when local tomatoes reach their peak of perfection, my family eats this.  Often.

     Preparation is super simple.  The sauce is fresh and no-cooking is involved. (Except for the pasta.)  The most important aspect for its scrumptiousness is vine ripened, flavor-packed tomatoes.  Any tomato variety will do:  cherry tomatoes, to Early Girl, to gi-normous beefsteaks.  You can mix and match tomato varieties for a full spectrum of tomato-i-ness, and making for a colorful presentation too!

     Shop your local farmers’ markets for the widest selection of tomatoes.  There are so many varieties it could be daunting, so if in doubt start with Dry-Farmed Early Girl, Cherokee Purple or Red Brandywine varieties.  These are my current favorites, and each has a distinctive tomato taste profile and texture.

Dry Farmed Early Girl Tomoatoes with Basil

Dry Farmed Early Girl Tomoatoes with Basil

     I took these photos recently at the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market to show just a few farms’ bumper crops.  Notice they display their tomatoes with bunches and bunches of basil?  They are a perfect pairing; and when you see them together, it’s time to make this sauce.

So Many Varieties

So Many Varieties

     Obviously if you grow your own tomato and basil crops, all’s the better!

     Almost any pasta shape will do, but steer clear of too big or thick.  It will inhibit absorption of the sauce.  I generally prepare this with cappelini, Angel Hair pasta, for fastest cooking time.  As a summer bonus, this keeps your kitchen cooler on hot days, or more likely near San Francisco a “Spare the Air” day.

     The flavor profile of the dish can be changed up significantly, but this recipe is pretty close to my favorite way to enjoy it.  Here are a few variations for future reference:

  • Substitute cilantro for the basil and go in a south-of-the-border flavor profile with cumin and chiles;
  • For a hint of Spain, use flat leaf parsley, adding paprika, piment d’Esplette and blooming a pinch of saffron into the sauce;
  • Can’t handle raw garlic? Give it a quick sauté in olive oil, or substitute scallions or shallots for a mild, but important, flavor boost.
  • Substituting “zoodles” is fine too, if you must.

     Let me know how you adapt the recipe!  Sharing is caring…

Pasta Plated 1 Cropped

Fresh Tomato Basil Pasta

Makes about 5-6 cups

  INGREDIENTS

  • 1-1/ 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, any variety, coarsely chopped; about 3 cups
  • 2 – 3+ tablespoons fresh basil, minced, to taste
  • 1 – 3+ cloves fresh garlic, minced, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
  • Pinch – 1 tablespoon chile flakes, to taste
  • 1/ 2 pound pasta, Capellini (angel hair) or any that is not too thick

PREPARATION

In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine chopped tomatoes (pulp and seeds included), garlic, 1 tablespoon of the minced basil, vinegar, olive oil, chile flakes, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.  Sometimes if tomatoes are particularly sweet, I add additional vinegar.    Cover with cling film and set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.  Add the remaining 1    – 2+ tablespoons of minced basil just prior to adding the pasta.

Bring about 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil in a large saucepan.  Season the water liberally with salt.  Cook pasta according to package instructions, just to the al dente stage.  Remove from heat and drain well.  Do not rinse the pasta.  Add the still hot pasta to the tomato basil sauce and stir well to combine.

Garnish with more basil.  A flourish of freshly grated Parmesan cheese too, as you like.

Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce

Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce

HB 8

2 Scoops Served 2

Peaches and Crème — A Perfect Pair

Variety of Peaches     A “milestone birthday” celebration in May for my friend, Ginger, found us in the Dordogne region of southwest France.  This rustic, and fertile river valley deserves its reputation as the soul of French cuisine.  The region’s gastronomic treasures include truffles, walnuts, goat cheeses and all manner of duck delights.

     In addition to taking in our share of castles and prehistoric caves, we visited local farmers’ markets and ate our way through memorable meals from the most humble menus to Michelin-starred affairs.  All very satisfying!  IMG_2515

     Now it’s getting hot out there, and many of us dread the thought of firing up the oven.  I get it.  This recipe is a no-cook, no-fuss option that’s brimming with fresh, seasonal peaches.  It’s satisfying without being cloyingly sweet or rich.  As a matter of fact it’s mostly peaches, frozen and whizzed up with a dollop of crème fraîche and a bit of sugar to taste.  Three ingredients.  Done.

     I’ve been making a version of frozen fruit ice creams and sorbets for a while.  It was an easy adaptation from making a too-thick fruit smoothie just once, and preferring the semi-frozen texture over a slushy one.  Improve the texture, add a bit of sweetness and voilà – dessert!

     Imagine my delight whilst enjoying a day-long market tour and cooking class at Le Chevrefeuille Cookery School in St. Cyprien, France; when Chef Ian Fisk included a banana ice cream recipe using the same technique. (He uses a commercial-strength food processor.)  His unique twist uses crème fraîche (we were in France after all), and of course he also amps up the flavor by including vanilla beans.  He’s “chef-y” that way, and will tell you so himself, with a wink and a grin.

     Side note:  Ian and Sara Fisk live here with their family.  It is charming and I highly recommend staying here as your base when traveling in the area.  Sara Fisk’s deft hand with accommodations assures your comfort; and your meals taken there will be fantastic!

Chef Ian Fisk's Banana Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake

Chef Ian Fisk’s Banana Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake (Prepared by moi in his kitchen at Le Chevrefeuille)

A few suggestions:

  • Prepare in advance by cutting and freezing the fruit.
  • Substitute any fruit that is not too watery; nectarines, firm berries, mango, bananas, etc. Or mix and match!
  • Fold in small pieces of a complimentary fruit, nuts or chocolate bits after the ice cream is blended. Example:  raspberries into peach, chocolate into banana.
  • Boost the flavor by adding mint, basil, grated citrus zests; or vanilla bean as does Chef Ian.
  • Use caution when stirring down the fruit in the blender or food processor! Use an appropriate tool such as a tamper or suitable spatula.
Fun and Tasty

Fun and Tasty Ice Cream Sandwiches Made with Ginger Snaps — Another Classic Pairing

Peach “Ice Crème” – Blender Easy

Adapted from Ian Fisk’s Version

Makes about 4 cups

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups peaches; peeled, pitted, sliced into 1/ 4” wedges and frozen
  • 1/ 2 cup crème fraîche
  • 2 -3 tablespoons powdered sugar, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Remove frozen peaches from the freezer and place into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to soften them slightly.
  2. Break them apart and put half of the still frozen, but slightly softened, peaches into the blender or food processor.  Add half of the crème fraîche and 1 tablespoon of the powdered sugar.  Whizzzzz until it begins to emulsify, looks a bit creamy and the fruit easily moves about the bowl.
  3. Add the remaining frozen peaches and 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar.  Whizzzzz again until it is all creamy and the consistency of ice cream.  Taste for sweetness and add sugar as needed.
  4. At this point the texture will be soft and creamy.  It is excellent at this stage (actually my favorite), as you will discover when tasting for sweetness!  This is also the stage when I scoop it to make ice cream sandwiches.  It may be served immediately, or if preparing in advance, transfer the ice cream to a storage bowl and store in freezer.
  5. Remove it from the freezer about an hour before serving and place it in the refrigerator for easier scooping and softer texture.  (Remember, it’s mostly peaches, so it will freeze quite hard.)
Four Cups of Prepared Peaches Fill a 9 x 13-inch Pan

Four Cups of Prepared Peaches Fill a 9 x 13-inch Pan; Ready for the Freezer

1. Peaches 2. Creme Fraiche 3. Sugar THREE Ingredients!

1. Frozen Peaches 2. Creme Fraiche 3. Sugar

Stored for Freezing 2

Peachy Keen and Smooth.  Make Ice Cream Sandwiches Right Out of the Blender.

With Chef Ian Fisk in his Le Chevrefeuille Kitchen. Thanks for the fun day!

Preparing Asparagus with Chef Ian Fisk in his Le Chevrefeuille Kitchen. Thanks for the fun day Ian and Sara Fisk!

Chicken & Green Beans

Crunchy Sesame Chicken

Crispy Crunchy Chicken from the Oven!

Crispy Crunchy Chicken from the Oven!

     Picnic season is upon us!  If it’s a fried chicken, potato salad type affair, this recipe is my go-to.  Frankly whenever I’m craving fried chicken and yearn for crispy, crackly, crunchy chicken, this is the one.  The sesame seeds add to the flavor profile and the optics of the dish.

     Here’s homemade fried chicken satisfaction, without the fuss and mess. This one is a winner – my family actually requests it year-round.  Frequently.

     The original recipe is for chicken wings only, which is how I first came to know it when my sister prepared it.  Over time, I’ve recreated it using all versions of chicken parts to suit the preferences of those at my table.

     If the green bean salad in the the featured photo looks as delicious to you, the recipe is HERE; slightly simplified by adding a few julienned red peppers.

A few advance tips:

  1. A short marinade before proceeding with the recipe below will dial up the flavor even more. It can be as simple as 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice, a splash of Worcestershire, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.   A 20-30 minutes soak will make a difference, and up to overnight is fine.
  2. If you are preparing different chicken parts at once, be sure to cook each part to its optimum point of doneness; meaning just cooked through but not dry.  This could mean adding chicken breast pieces to the oven a bit later, or removing them earlier than the pieces that take longer to cook.
  3. This recipe is easy enough for beginning cooks, including little hands who might enjoy the dipping steps. Be sure to wash anything that touches the raw chicken with hot, soapy water.  This includes hands, counter tops, everything.  EVERYTHING.
  4. The flavorings to the coating may easily be substituted with a prepared spice mix. I encourage you to explore different flavor profiles from myriad cuisines, using this technique as a jumping off point.
  5. Baking the chicken skin-side down first means that after flipping the pieces over, the presentation side is on top when you finish baking. This is the side that is more attractive for serving; so however you like to serve, bake with that side facing down first.

Oven Baked

Crunchy Sesame Chicken

Adapted from Martha Stewart

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 whole chicken thighs, bone-in or skinless/boneless to suit your preference
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus about 2 additional tablespoons for brushing whilst the chicken bakes
  • 1/ 2 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1/ 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/ 2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 5-6 cloves fresh garlic, minced, about 2 tablespoons (Yes it’s a lot but trust me. And adjust as you prefer…)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon piment d’Esplette, to taste and tolerance (substitute any ground chile you like such as cayenne, chipotle, etc.)
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon dried herbs, such as oregano, thyme or marjoram

  1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375°F on the “Bake” setting, or better yet, to 350°F on the “Convection-Roast” setting if available.
  2. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix to coat each piece of chicken evenly.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the sesame seeds, flour, bread crumbs, minced garlic, salt, ground chiles and herbs (if using).
  4. Dip each piece of moistened chicken into the dry ingredients, one at a time, and turn to coat thoroughly with the dry mixture. Place skin side down on the lined baking sheet, evenly spaced for optimal cooking.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, and then flip each piece over. Use a pastry brush and lightly coat any dry areas with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Return to the oven and continue baking an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (165°F at the thickest part).
  6. Remove immediately from the baking sheet onto a serving plate. The finished chicken should be golden brown, sizzle-y and irresistible.
Proof of EASY Clean-Up

Proof of EASY Clean-Up

Delicious Bite

Cream Scones

Claire Everywhere     Warm scones with a dollop of clotted cream and jam are a simple pleasure pretty much any time, any season.  But with Mother’s Day around the corner, these beauties will be a winner at your table, and easy enough for young hands to get in on some kitchen magic.

     This recipe comes from Claire Ptak’s recent cookbook, The Violet Bakery Cookbook.  Some of you may have had the delight of enjoying Claire’s handiwork during her three years as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse.  She relocated to east London about ten years ago and has a popular bakery-café in Hackney; our loss is definitely their gain.

     Like her bakery-café, her cookbook covers sweet treats from cakes, cookies, puddings and pies; and plenty of savory recipes for breads, tarts, quiches and sandwiches too.  I will enjoy baking my way through her recipes for some time!

     It seems recently Claire is everywhere – Her cream scones are on the cover of a recent edition of Saveur magazine; and her cookbook is receiving rave reviews across the globe.  A Bay Area local girl (Point Reyes) has indeed done well.

     Some advance planning is required for making this recipe a success.  Every step is easy but important, so read through the recipe before embarking on your tasty adventure.

     Not-so-secret tip:  The butter must be very chilled, nearly frozen to avoid the bits of butter getting melty as you work the dough.  When the cold bits of butter melt in the hot oven, a little air pocket results—this is part of the great texture of the scones.

Scone Close Up 2

Cream Scones

Adapted from Clair Ptak, The Violet Bakery Cookbook

Makes 8 scones, about 3” diameter

  • 2-1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
  • 1/ 4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/ 8 teaspoon salt
  • 7 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1-1/4 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 1 egg, beaten

 

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and stir in the sugar and salt. Set aside.
  3. Cut the butter into 1/ 2” pieces and rub through the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, your fingers, or use a food processor—anyway that results in a coarse, crumbly texture. Pour the cream over the top and gently stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
  4. Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and press together into a block. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
  5. After 5 minutes, fold the dough in half, lifting and turning the dough over itself just once. Press together and let it rest for another 5 minutes.
  6. When ready, pat or roll the dough into about a 1” thick round. Use a 2-1/ 2” round cutter to stamp out the scones, pressing straight down through the dough and straight back out.  Do not twist the cutter, as it will impede the scones’ rise.   Gently reshape the dough back to a 1” thickness as needed to total eight scones.  Take care to not handle the dough too much.
  7. Transfer the scones onto the lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge or freezer for 10 to 20 minutes to rest. This will help the scones keep their shape while baking.
  8. Meanwhile, adjust a rack to the lower third position in the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F.
  9. When ready, remove the scones from their chilly rest and brush each with the egg wash. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden.
  10. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve with your favorite jam, clotted cream, or butter.
Very cold cubelets of butter ready for their whirl

Very cold cubelets of butter ready for their whirl

Coarse crumbs, post-whirl

Coarse crumbs, post-whirl

Allowing the dough to rest helps the flour absorb the cream, and relaxes the gluten for easier shaping

Allowing the dough to rest helps the flour absorb the cream, and relaxes the gluten for easier shaping

Eight + a small remnant that's the baker's bonus when they come out of the oven

Eight + a small remnant that’s the baker’s bonus when they come out of the oven

This is what I call "Fully Baked"! =)

This is what I call “Fully Baked”!