Category Archives: Sides

Fresh Herbs and Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Is it just me, or did September fly by?  I must have been ecstatic last month, (“Time flies when you’re having fun…”).  So it’s with a bit of a rush that I prepare this month’s Piedmont Pantry column for The Piedmont Post, because I blinked and my deadline is nigh.

 

As it turns out, this recipe is a nice metaphor for making the best when time is of the essence.  Surely you may find yourself in a similar position – the need to pull something together quickly to serve, with ingredients you may already have on hand; or are easy to gather.

 

High impact with minimal effort – there’s much to love about this easy, homemade cheese spread.  It’s always a crowd pleaser, slathered on sliced baguette, crackers or a variety of vegetables.  Best of all, it takes only a few minutes of chopping and mixing from start to finish.

 

The instructions say to refrigerate it for a couple of hours before serving to allow for the flavors to fully develop.  Truth be told, it’s perfectly delicious as soon as it’s made – as you will notice when cleaning up the bowl.

 

Cream cheese is a refrigerator staple in many homes, including ours.  Here we’re fond of cream cheese and smoked salmon on a bagel or toast.  An unopened package of cream cheese will last several months in the ‘fridge.  So why not keep it on hand?

 

I have a small herb garden, in pots, in our back yard.  It’s easy-peasy for me to head out and snip away as needed.  Bits and pieces from your garden or refrigerator are fine here.

 

This recipe is flexible.  Mix and match the herbs to suit your taste or availability at hand.  Try using other soft, spreadable cheeses such as fromage blanc, chèvre, or ricotta.

 

And it’s scalable.  Make only a fraction of the recipe to use up a bit of cream cheese you have, or multiply it for a crowd.  Soon you will be whipping up your own versions on instinct, with no recipe required.

 

Bonus:  This cheese spread is also delicious on pasta.  Boil pasta to desired doneness.  Drain, reserving at least 1/ 2 cup of the boiling liquid.  Add cheese spread to taste and mix until evenly distributed.  A few splashes of the reserved pasta water will help loosen up the sauce and make for a luscious coating on the pasta.  Serve with a generous scattering of grated Parmesan cheese and flourish of more fresh herbs.

 

Fresh Herbs & Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Makes about 1 cup

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 – 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, finely chopped (Basil, marjoram, and thyme; alone or in combination, are all delicious.)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, start with about 1/ 4 teaspoon each

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium mixing bowl and blend well until they are smooth. This can be done by hand, or with an electric mixer or food processor.  Fold in the garlic and herbs.  Taste and season with salt and pepper to your preference.
  2. Transfer to serving bowl or ramekins, cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours; up to 2 days.
  3. Serve with sliced breads, crackers, sliced vegetables – whatever you like. It will soften up at room temperature, making it not only spreadable, but “dip-able” with a sturdy celery or carrot stick.

Slather-Worthy

 

Few and fresh ingredients

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Paula Wolfert’s Mint and Egg Salad

Fresh mint, and easy-to-grow!

Fresh mint, and easy-to-grow!

     Paula Wolfert is a culinary icon, and one I admire greatly.  You’ve seen her inspired recipes from me before, as her focus has been flavors of the Mediterranean; a climate much like ours here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paula has been a long-time resident of Sonoma County, so many of her ingredients, originally discovered during her travels in the Mediterranean, also capitalize on our bountiful, local harvests.

     This latest cookbook of Paula’s recipes, Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life by Berkeley-ite, Emily Thelin, is a compilation of Paula’s previous recipes.  Moreover, it is a heartfelt biography of Paula’s journeys in travel and life.  It is an interesting read, and generous in photos of Paula, her past travels, and the amazing recipes.

Pastured eggs from Capay Valley

     Out of so many recipes, I chose this simple egg salad.  It’s spring now, and this salad is a light, fresh bite of the season.  Fresh mint abounds in my backyard.  It is paired aptly with spring onions (scallions) and grated eggs for a sophisticated combination that’s simple to prepare.

     Please give this a try with mint, even if you haven’t thought to use this much mint with eggs.  If you must, substitute some flat-leaf parsley for some of the mint.  Or take it in a slightly new direction and use tender, spring watercress.  It will be different, still delicious.

     In addition to enjoying this recipe as a first course, you might also want to serve it up on your favorite crusty bread, or planks of sliced cucumber.

Mint & Egg Salad Plated 1

Mint and Egg Salad

Adapted from Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life

Serves 4 as a light, first course

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups slivered mint leaves, depending on the intensity of the mint
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons mild red pepper flakes, preferably Marash (substitute piment d’esplette)
  • Juice of 1/ 2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Boil the eggs: Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water to cover by one inch and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  When the water boils, turn off the heat and set a timer for 8 minutes.  After 8 minutes, drain the hot water and run cool water over the eggs to prevent further cooking.  Peel the eggs and set aside.
  1. Assemble the salad: Using the large holes of a box grater, and working over a large bowl, grate the eggs.  Add the mint, green onions and red pepper flakes; mix well.  In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice to taste; then drizzle over the egg mixture.  Toss to coat lightly and evenly.  Season with salt.
  1. Serve immediately at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Note:  It’s easy to upsize this recipe.  The number of eggs in it will provide a clear indication of portions.  Make more, you will be glad you did!

Grating eggs results in crazy-light textured salad

Grating eggs results in crazy-light textured salad

From Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life

From Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life

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Potato Leek and Greens Bake

The makings of a fine dish

The makings of a fine dish

     THIS dish is the star every time we sit down to our spring time, corned beef dinner.  Yes, we all appreciate the corned beef, but these potatoes, aka colcannon, are what my family love.  Homey comfort food in the spotlight.

     My version has plenty of flavor and we like the combination of both cabbage and kale.  The extra step of browning the top in a medium-high heat oven creates crispy bits that are everyone’s favorite.  If you bake it in a square pan, be prepared for the corners to be in high demand!

     I hope you will make this your own, preparing it to suit your taste buds.  It’s pretty goof-proof, so there’s leeway for additions and substitutions.  Use any proportion of cabbage and kale.  A vegan option using olive oil and vegetable stock will have plenty of punch; and it should also adapt nicely to mashed cauliflower in place of potatoes, if that’s your thing.

     And, by all means, prepare it year-round too.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment for a variety of meals.

Colcannon Baked Q60

Potato Leek and Greens Bake

INGREDIENTS

  • 2-1/ 2 pounds russet potatoes, about 6-7 medium
  • 1/ 2 medium head of green cabbage, yielding about 1-1/2 cups steamed
  • 1/ 2 bunch kale, yielding about 1-1/ 2 cups steamed
  • 1 cup leeks, white and pale green parts only; halved lengthwise then sliced crosswise in 1/ 4-inch pieces
  • 1/ 2 cup half-and-half (whole milk is OK), plus additional if needed
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cut the cabbage into two wedges through the core. Cut away the core, then cut each wedge crosswise into 1/ 2-inch slices.
  1. Remove the tough center stem from the kale leaves. If the leaves are very wide, cut into about 2-inch widths; then cut into 1/ 2 –inch slices.
  1. Steam or sauté the cabbage and kale until just tender. Set aside.
  1. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the leeks and cook until softened, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking.  Add 1/ 2 cup of half-half, remove from heat and set aside.
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in a pot large enough to cover the potatoes with water, with at least 1-inch of room left to the top of the pot to avoid the water boiling over.  Boil with medium heat until tender enough to pierce through with a fork using only slight pressure, about 10 – 15 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and coarsely mash, with a potato masher.  It is preferred if bits remain.
  1. Transfer the mashed potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Add the leek-half-half mixture and stir until incorporated.  Stir in the cooked cabbage and kale, making sure to achieve even distribution throughout the potatoes.  The result should be the consistency of chunky mashed potatoes.  Add additional milk, sparingly, if needed to create the consistency you prefer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Transfer this entire mixture to a shallow 2-quart baking dish that has been well buttered. Dot with the 1 tablespoon of butter.  Bake in a preheated 400*F oven, set at “Convection” for about 10-15 minutes to brown the top as desired.

Notes:  IF you happen to have leftovers, my best tip for reheating is to form the potatoes into about 4-inch patties and cook in a lightly buttered skillet until heated through and a bit of brown-crispiness is achieved.  These are so good you may find yourself doubling the recipe just for the leftovers!

A bonus to this recipe — Save the potato peels for making these crisps.

Roasted Potato Skins 200Pixels Q50

Crispy Potato Skins! Peels, olive oil, salt, pepper and 400*F at convection setting until crispy. Stir after about 10 minutes for even crisping or about another 5 minutes. Watch them carefully — they are thin so go from crisp to burnt quickly!

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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

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