Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Slow Roasted Zucchini with Fennel and Tomatoes

Slow Roasted Zucchini

I am always so intrigued by the adorable little baby zucchini I see in the farmers market, but I’ve never been sure about what to do with them that preserves their sweet size. I’ve cut them long ways and grilled the halves, but it always seems a shame to just slice them as you would a full size version. A few years ago, I read in a magazine about slow roasting these babies and I was dubious but willing to try. And it’s a doozy – a totally different experience from those crisp grilled or sautéed rounds or the casserole route. The whole zucchini become meltingly tender and sweet, and the aromatic vegetable ragout underneath gently flavors them and adds a lovely topping. I love the bright bight of fennel that adds a lovely sort of Mediterranean touch with a hint of oregano.

Look for the baby zucchini – about 4 inches long and an inch around. 1 zucchini with some vegetables spooned over the top will serve a person as a perfect side to a summer meal. Create a thin bed of fennel and shallot, not to deep but the zucchini shouldn’t touch the bottom of the pan.

Slow Roasted Zucchini

1 small bulb of fennel, very thinly sliced (or ½ of a small bulb)

1 shallot, very thinly sliced

4 ounces of small cherry tomatoes

4 – 5 stalks of oregano

½ cup vermouth

2 Tablespoons olive oil

5- 6 small zucchini, about 4 inches long

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°. Pour 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish – the zucchini should fit without touching each other. Spread the fennel and shallots on a layer on the dish and add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Toss around with your hands to coat with the oil, then spread in a thin layer. Prick the zucchini all over with a thin, sharp knife, then place the on top, tuck the oregano sprigs around the zucchini, then drizzle over the remaining 1 Tablespoon oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Cover the dish tightly with foil and roast for 1 ½ – 2 hours, carefully turning the zucchini over half way through cooking, until the zucchini is very soft. Remove the foil and cook for a further five minutes.

To serve, gently place a zucchini on a plate and spoon over some of the fennel, shallots and tomatoes.

Serves 6

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Fresh Corn Risotto with Roasted Tomato Jam

Fresh Corn Risotto with Roasted Tomato Jam

Risotto has become a very favorite staple for me, once I learned how easy it is to create and how flexible it can be. I make it all year round, in my Carrot and Dill version, or my Squash Blossom recipe when I find the flowers. I’ve been known to make a simple risotto in summer and toss in my leftover farmers market vegetables. The possibilities are endless. The base of the recipe was the simple result of having some excess corn after a busy weekend on the kitchen with my farmers market finds and not enough energy. I have made it since many times, stirring in fresh herbs or different cheeses. The I topped a batch with some quickly sautéed cherry tomatoes and realized I was really on to something, combining the quintessential summer flavors. That idea turned to spooning a little of my summer canning staple Tomato Butter that wouldn’t fit in the jars on top. I adored the combination, so I set out to create something similar, in a smaller batch, that wouldn’t add to much prep to the whole. The rich, creamy risotto just bursting with corn flavor, with juicy little pops of kernel with a sweet and savory tomato jam on top sings of summer. I admit, I am pretty pleased with myself on this one.

Making the corn cob stock is very easy, and really ups the corn flavor. I highly recommend doing it. But in a pinch, you could use a light colored vegetable broth. Start the tomato jam and the corn stock at the same time and then move on to other things, just giving a quick look every once in while. I like to garnish the beautiful bowls with some sliced green onion tops for color, a little extra grated cheese and some striking large sea salt flakes, like Falk brand salt.

Fresh Corn Risotto with Roasted Tomato Jam

For the Jam:

1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes

¾ cup cane sugar

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Very genoerus grindings of balck pepper

¼ cup cider vinegar

For the Corn Stock:

4 ears of corn, 

5 – 6 large green onion tops

2 garlic cloves

For the Risotto:

The kernels from 4 ears of corn

5 – 6 large green onions, white and light green parts

1 garlic clove

¼ cup unsalted butter, divided

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup arborio rice

½ cup white wine

5 – 6 cups corn stock

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Sea salt

For the Jam:

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 9 by 13 inch glass baking dish completely with non-stick foil.

Quarter the plum tomatoes and place them on the lined dish. Sprinkle over the sugar, salt, and spices, the pour over the vinegar. Use your hands to gently toss everything together, coating the tomatoes as much as possible. There will be liquid pooling in the dish. Roast for 2 hours, stirring well every half hour and breaking up the tomatoes. Remove from the oven and stir to mix well and break up any larger pieces of tomato. For the first two times, it may look like it is never going to become jam, but the liquid will concentrate.

Serve immediately, or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to a week. Before serving with the risotto, gently heat the jam over low heat in saucepan with a little water.

For the Corn Cob Stock:

Cut the corn roughly off the cobs into a bowl – don’t be too precise, some kernels left behind are good, and there will be plenty left for the finished dish. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Break the cobs in half and put them in a large pot with the green tops of the green onions and 2 garlic cloves. Add about 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt, then pour over 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover. Cook for 2 hours until the stock is flavorful – and corny! Strain the stock through a colander lined with wet paper towels. The stock can be made ahead, but be aware that the kernels will only be fresh for about 12 hours. You can make corn cob stock any time you have cobs then freeze it for later use. In fact, you can freeze stripped corn cobs in a ziptop bag until you have enough to make a pot of stock.

For the Risotto:

Place 1 cup of corn stock and 1 cup of corn kernel in a blender and blend until smooth. Heat 2 Tablespoons of butter and the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Finely dice the remaining white and light green parts of the green onions and sauté in the oil and butter until soft and wilted. Put the remaining garlic clove through a press (or very finely mince it) and add the pan and cook for one minute. Do not brown. Raise the heat to medium high and add the rice.  Stir to coat well in the butter and oil and cook until the rice grains are translucent around the edges, about 4 minutes.  Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it is completely absorbed.

Pour in the blended corn liquid cook until it is absorbed, stirring frequently.  Add the corn stock, ¾ cup at a time, cooking and stirring until each addition is absorbed and incorporated.  Add a pinch of sea salt with each addition. Continue cooking the risotto until all the liquid is absorbed and the risotto is creamy, about 20 – 25 minutes. Stir the remining corn kernels through the rice with the last addition of liquid. You may not need all the stock, simply taste the risotto and add liquid until it is al dente.  Stir in the last of the parmesan cheese and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and season with salt to taste. Cover the pot and let rest for 5 minutes.

Serve the Risotto in big bowls with a hearty spoonful of the tomato jam in the center.

Serves 4

Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo is gazpacho’s simpler cousin.  It’s a fresh, chilled tomato soup without the added peppers, cucumbers and other business found in gazpacho.  I’m not a huge fan of gazpacho, because it varies so wildly and people seem to put all kinds of crazy ingredients in it.  You never know what you are going to get. But Salmorejo is right up my alley.  I first tasted Salmorejo in its homeland of Andalucia in Southern Spain but forgot the exact name of the dish and didn’t do much research when I came home.  But a few years ago, I was staying with friends near the beach close to Valencia, Spain and on a trip to the grocery store, I saw cartons of chilled Salmorejo (next to the cartons of gazpacho) and suddenly remembered the lovely soup from my earlier trip.  We grabbed a couple of cartons and served them for lunch.  Unfortunately, the first carton tasted a little off… So we opened the next carton and it exploded all over the patio.  I think it had fermented.  I was kind of embarrassed that I had insisted on buying it.  Oddly, I took this as a challenge and decided when I came home, I had to explore the recipe.

I read many, many recipes and most simply blend the ingredients, chill and serve.  But this method for soaking the ingredients mellows the soup, cutting the bite of the onions and garlic and softening the tomato skins.  The soaked bread is a simple thickener often found in Mediterranean dishes.  Use half a crusty baguette and serve the rest with the soup, or use up some older, slightly dried leftover crusty bread.

I saw a picture of a chilled soup with olive oil ice cubes floating in the bowl in a magazine years and years ago and it stuck in my head waiting for the right application.  I don’t generally recommend buying specialty kitchen equipment, but I found some little round ice cube trays at a dollar store, so seek them out, they are pretty inexpensive.  You can always use them for plain ice cubes.  If you don’t have a small ice cube tray, drizzle the soup with a fruity, quality olive oil.  Salmorejo is traditionally served with whisper thin pieces of jamon Serrano and sometimes boiled eggs.  You could also serve the parsley picada from this wonderful White Gazpacho recipe.

Salmorejo (Spanish Chilled Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
  2. ½ small yellow onion
  3. 1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes
  4. 8 ounces baguette
  5. 2 cloves garlic
  6. 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  7. ½ cup olive oil
  8. 2 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
  9. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Divide the ¼ cup olive oil between the cubes of an small ice cube tray (about 2 teaspoons a cube). Freeze until firm, 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Slice the onion and place in a large bowl. Half or quarter the tomatoes (depending on size) and place in the bowl. Tear the bread into large chunks and add to the bowl with the crushed garlic cloves and the salt. Pour over enough boiling water to cover and leave to soak for an hour.
  3. Drain the tomato and bread mixture over a bowl, reserving the soaking liquid. Pick out the tomatoes, onions and garlic as best you can and place in a blender. Add the ½ cup olive oil and the vinegar and a little of the soaking liquid and blend to a rough puree. Use your hands and the back of a spatula to press as much liquid as possible out of the bread and add it to the blender. Turn on the blender and puree, drizzling in some of the soaking liquid, until you have a smooth, creamy soup. If you would like a silky soup, pour it through a strainer into a bowl, pushing all the liquid through. Let the soup cool, then cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
  4. Serve the soup cold with frozen olive oil floating in each bowl.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Creamy Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

Creamy Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

I adore fresh corn in the summer, but for most of my life, I never imaginged it paired with pasta until one of my favorite local restaurants had a summer special of fresh tortelloni filled with corn and ricotta. I loved that dish and it really got me thinking, though I knew I would never make my own stuffed pasta. Toothsome pasta with sweet pops of fresh local corn make for an excitingly simple summer supper that is unique but not too complicated. I love that this incredibly flavor full dish basically has five ingredients, but utilized in different ways, they create layers of flavor. The slightly smoky charred corn is a simple step but a beautifully complex layer. Fresh kernels softened in milk and set off by gently tangy green onion, with some bright fresh onion tops on top to add color and zest.

I have at times added a little thyme or marjoram to the milk and corn, but it is a little bit of gilding the lily when you want the corn flavor to really shine. I’ve also used half and half for a richer sauce, but milk is delightfully creamy. Pecorino gives a great salty hit without overpowering, which parmesan tends to do. I am partial to a sweet yellow corn, but a mix of yellow and white works well – only the color of your sauce will change. Orecchiette, or “little ears,” are perfect for this dish because they cradle the lovely little charred kernels in a pool of sauce. Shells or a mezze rigatoni could do the same thing.

Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

Creamy Fresh Corn Pasta Sauce

4 ears corn, shucked

6 green onions, white and light green parts, with some green tops saved for topping

2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup whole milk

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces orecchiette pasta

½ cup finely grated pecorino cheese

Char one cob of corn, either directly over the flame of a gas stove or under the broiler in the oven, turning the cob several times to get nice charred kernels. It will make some popping noises! Set the charred corn aside until cool enough to handle, then cut the kernels from the cob and separate.

Cut the kernels from 3 ears of corn and finely dice the green onions. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the green onions. Sauté until soft and pale, about 5 minutes, then add the corn kernels and cook for a further 2- 3 minutes. Pour in the milk and bring to a bubble – don’t let it boil or the milk will curdle, just heat it through and cook for a few minutes to soften the corn. Season well with salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Transfer to the carafe of a blender. Remove the vent from the lid and it down with a tea towel. Blend until the sauce is completely smooth. Pour the sauce through a sieve back into the wiped-out skillet while you cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, then add the orchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente. Scoop out about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.

Heat the sauce over medium heat until hot through. Add the pasta and stir to coat, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to thin it out if needed. Taste again and season well – use lots of black pepper. Toss the charred corn kernels through the pasta and serve topped with the grated pecorino and thin slivers of green onion top.

Serves 4

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

Flaugnarde is a regional variation of the classic French clafouti, and similar to a more American Dutch baby. A simple vanilla and nutmeg batter surrounds the seasonal fruit and comes out of the oven puffed and golden, but settles into a lovely custard-y base for the juicy figs. And let’s face it fig flaugnarde is fun to say (it’s pronounced Flo-nyard). Nutmeg highlights the honeyed richness of the figs without detracting from their flavor. I love the speckled look of vanilla beans, and paste is a simple way to get the falvor and effect, but you can certainly scrape the seeds from a full bean, or just use a healthy dose of extract.

This could not be easier to make. Slice up some figs, swirl the batter in the blender and bake. It’s the perfect treat when you are surprised by the first figs at the market or on your tree – the ingredients are staples that come together in a flash. Flaugnarde is a dessert in the French tradition – not sugary sweet, just enough to bring out the flavor of the fruit. So that makes this perfect for dessert, but it is also a lovely breakfast. You can drizzle a little honey over the top, serve it with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, or leave it as is.

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

8 – 10 fresh figs

2 eggs

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup half-and-half

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a 9-inch ceramic pie plate or baking dish with cooking spray.

Snip the stems from the figs and slice into about four vertical slices, around ¼ inch thick. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of fig slices, not overlapping.

Place the eggs, sugar, vanilla paste, nutmeg and a pinch of salt in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add the flour and half and half and blend until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. Pour the batter over the figs in the dish, then bake for 30 minutes, until the edges are puffed and golden and the center is set.

Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioners sugar.

Serves 6

Pavlova with Peach Curd, Fresh Peaches and Blackberries

Pavlova is a dinner party secret weapon. It is easy to make, can be done ahead in stages, is incredibly versatile and never fails to impress. Crisp on the outside, pillowy on the inside topped whatever delicious ideas you choose. I dreamed up this combination for a casual evening with friends inspired by an overabundance of summer fruit. I needed to use a lot of peaches, so adding a delicious layer of curd under some fresh slices upped the peach factor. When I served this, everyone oohed and aahed and took a small piece, but we ended up digging our forks into the slab right off the platter set in the center of the table.

The curd can be made several days ahead (just remember not to keep dipping into it too much while you wait!) and if there is any leftover it is wonderful on toast or swirled through yogurt. I like to make my pavlova the night before and leave it in the oven until ready use.  Humidity is not the friend of meringue and the oven is a nice, sealed storage unit. If you need the oven, transfer the pavlova to an airtight container. Assemble the whole right before serving or the pavlova will lose its lovely structure.

A note on the shape of your pavlova: Round is traditional, and you can certainly go that route. I like this rectangular version as well because it makes lots of space for the lovely toppings and is easy to slice and serve. Whichever way you go, pick out a serving platter and trace an outline on the parchment paper so that the finished product will fit. I used a 9 by 13 pan for this one or make about a 9-inch circle. Place the parchment paper on a baking sheet with the ink side down to use as guide to form the meringue. I like to use rimmed baking sheet flipped over so the parchment just slides right off without a risk of damaging the pavlova. You can spray a little cooking spray on the baking sheet to adhere the paper.

Pavlova with Peach Curd, Fresh Peaches and Blackberries

For the Peach Curd

2 peaches (about 14 ounces)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

4 egg yolks

2/3 cup granulated sugar

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

For the Pavlova:

4 egg white

A pinch of salt

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Assembly:

2 cups whipping cream

3 fresh peaches

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 cups fresh blackberries

For the Curd:

Put a strainer over a medium bowl and set by the stove.

Peel the peaches. For just two peaches, I use a vegetable peeler and leave a little bit of skin on to add color to the final product. Pit the peaches cut into rough chunks and puree in a blender with the lemon juice until smooth. Add the egg yolks and sugar and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the curd thickens. When you pull a spatula through the mixture, it should not run back together immediately. Dip a metal spoon in the mixture and when you run your finger through the clinging curd, the two sides should stay totally separate.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter a couple of pieces at a time, waiting until one addition is melted until adding more. When all the butter is incorporated, pour the curd through the waiting strainer, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and transfer to the fridge. The curd will keep in the fridge for 5 days.

For the Pavlova:

Preheat the oven to 250°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (see the note above) and set aside. 

Put the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium until the whites are foamy, then sprinkle over the cream of tartar. Beat at medium high until the whites hold soft peaks. While beating at medium high, slowly stream in the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, until the whites are really shiny and stiff. Beat until really stiff peaks form – run a spoon or a spatula through the mixture and the peaks should stand straight up and not flop over. The sugar should also dissolve. Take a pinck of the meringue between your fingers and when you rub then together there should be no grittiness. When the egg whites are stiff, sprinkle over the cornstarch and fold it in gently, making sure not to deflate your meringue. Add the vanilla and fold it in.

Scoop dollops of the meringue onto the prepared parchment paper, staying within the lines. Use an offset spatula to spread the meringue to fill your desired shape. Use the spatula to make a bit of an indention on the top of the pavlova to hold your fillings. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in for 4- 5 hours at least, but overnight is best.

Assembly:

Put the lemon juice in a bowl and add some water. Slice the peaches (leave the skin on) and drop into the water. Stir to coat, then drain the peaches. This will keep them from browning. (the peaches can be treated, drained and kept in covered bowl for about an hour).  

Right before you are ready to serve, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks in the stand mixer with the whisk. Carefully transfer the pavlova to a serving platter. Gently spread a generous layer of peach curd over the top of the pavlova, then spread the whipped cream over that. Top with the sliced peaches and blackberries.

Slice and serve.

Serves 8

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

This cake is absolutely the result of farmers market excitement. After being out of town for several weeks and missing my own local market, I couldn’t resist the abundance. I brought home with a basket of gorgeous nectarines and some fragrant lemon balm with no real plan to use them (there were also peaches, blueberries, blackberries and tomatoes in my bag). I have never really known what to do with lemon balm. I used to plant it in my herb bed and it grew like gangbusters. I’d use it to garnish plates or pitchers of tea. I dried some of it to make my own herbal tisane, but that was about it. So I stopped planting it. The thing is, I love the idea of lemon balm. It seems so delicate and old-fashioned to me. For some reason, it seems like something from Jane Austen or Miss Marple. With my unexpected market finds, I knew I needed to try a light and lovely cake, the kind of thing you might find on a linen draped outdoor tea table in an English country novel.

I am really pleased with myself on this one. The golden crumb is moist and tender and studded with pink and green from the fruit and herbs. The taste is really unique – lemony and fruity and herbal. A light sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar is enough for me, but a simple glaze could work. This cake is one of those ever-versatile treats, perfect with breakfast, with a lovely afternoon tea, or as a sweet summer dessert. If you can’t find lemon balm, you can use fresh garden mint and a little lemon zest. I have a small Bundt pan which is perfect for this and so delicate and lovely, but a loaf pan works just as well.

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup finely chopped lemon balm

2 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 large nectarines, pitted and chopped

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 6-cup Bundt pan or a loaf pan with baking spray.

Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until combined, then add the lemon balm and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed, until thoroughly combined and the batter is light and fluffy. Fold the nectarine pieces into the batter with a spatula until evenly distributed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the pan, then turn the cake out onto a platter and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Serves 10

Summer Caprese Chicken Salad

Summer Chicken Caprese Salad

The tomato-mozzarella-basil caprese salad is a true summer staple. When tomatoes are at their juiciest best, it is a joy to serve them with as little fuss as possible. The pairing of tomatoes and mozzarella is deliciously simple, creamy and fresh classic. I’ve taken the idea of the caprese in a lot of directions to maximize this lovely flavor combination, so it’s no wonder I eventually landed on this chicken salad version. I was looking for another creative way to make a wonderful cold salad for a summer meal, one that could be a centerpiece, not just a supporting character. But I wanted to do something lighter and fresher than the creamy mayonnaise form (not that there is anything wrong with that). I felt like chicken dressed in a vinaigrette style dressing would be perfect, and so I turned to this creamy flavor packed standard dressing from my repertoire. And it seemed only natural that a salad with a dressing made with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese have an Italian flair. So tender chicken, creamy mozzarella, crisp pine nuts, juicy tomatoes and a sprinkle of basil it is.

I find mozzarella “pearls” easily in the grocery store, they are little bite-sized balls of cheese perfectly suited for salad. If you don’t find these, tear a ball of fresh mozzarella into small pieces instead. I like the symmetry of round cherry tomatoes and the bright pop of red, but you could easily use oblong grape tomatoes or varicolored varieties. There is likely to be some dressing left over, but never fear. It is delicious on any green salad and will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Summer Caprese Chicken Salad

For the Dressing:

2 cloves garlic

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

Zest and juice of one lemon

¾ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste 

For the Chicken:

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Black pepper

¼ cup pine nuts

8 ounces mozzarella “pearls”

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 bunch fresh basil leaves

For the Dressing:

Place the garlic, cheese, vinegar and lemon zest in the carafe of a blender and blend to a rough paste. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until creamy and emulsified. Add the lemon juice and blend to combined. Taste and blend in salt and pepper as needed. Transfer to an airtight jar. The dressing will keep in the fridge for 5 days.

For the Salad:

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Place the chicken breasts on a roasting tray lined with non-stick foil. Brush them with olive oil, then season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until the chicken reaches 165°on a meat thermometer and the juices run clear, about 25 minutes. Leave the chicken breasts to cool completely, then cut into small chunks. Place the chicken in a bowl and add the mozzarella, then pour over about half of the dressing and stir to coat completely. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. 

About an hour before serving the salad, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until lightly golden and fragrant. Add the nuts to the chicken and mozzarella in the bowl. Half the cherry tomatoes and add to the salad. Stack up the basil leaves and roll into a tight cigar, then slice into thin strips. Add the basil to the salad and stir to combine everything. Shake the remaining dressing well to combine, then add a bit at a time until the salad is nicely covered in dressing, but there is not a great deal pooling in the bowl. You may not use all the dressing. Cover and keep in the fridge until shortly before serving.

Serves 6

Lemon Blueberry Bars

Lemon Blueberry Bars

Sweet, sweet summer – the season bursting with berries. I try my best to eat seasonally – I very rarely have fresh blueberries when they are not in season, so I wait with anticipation for them to show up at the farmers markets. It makes them all the sweeter for the waiting. But that sometimes leads me to overbuy, so after the syrup and jams are made and I’ve eaten my fill out of hand, I look for some fun ways to bake with them. I found a blueberry lemon bar recipe in a magazine and the idea really excite me. I made it, but it was a disaster as a bar. It never set, the blueberries sort of bled out of the runny filling and all the crust was a sodden mess. I did taste the bit that had almost firmed up around the edges, and I will say, the flavor was delicious. The recipe, however, was a complete failure (that’s why I test and test). I went to work tinkering around until I ended up with what I wanted – a tangy lemon bar with delicious pops of fresh blueberry.

The lemon filling falls somewhere between custard and cake with a nice, tart finish and a sweet swirl of blueberry. They cut into lovely bars and make a wonderful picnic treat. They are nicely sweet, so you can serve them in small pieces. I get requests for these every summer!

Lemon Blueberry Bars

For the Crust:

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup granulated sugar

Zest of one lemon (see below)

1 Tablespoon milk

For the filling:

5 ounces blueberries

1 ½ cup granulated sugar plus 2 Tablespoons, divided

4 lemons, zested and juiced

4 eggs

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar

For the Crust:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper, with some edges overhanging.

Place the flour, butter, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and process until crumbly. Drizzle in the milk until the dough begins to come together. Spread the dough into the prepared pan and press into an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes.

For the Filling:

Wipe out the food processor and drop in the berries. Puree until smooth then push through a fine mesh strainer into a small sauce pan. Add 2 Tablespoons sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and boil for a few minutes until thickened. Set aside.

Rinse and dry the food processor completely, then add the zest of three lemons, the juice of all four and the eggs. Process until fluffy, then add the remaining 1 ½ cup sugar and blend until smooth. Add the flour and blend until completely combined and smooth, Pour the filling over the crust, then drizzle over the blueberry puree. It will sink into the lemon filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the center is set and no longer jiggly in the center. Cool the bars completely then sprinkle the tops generously with confectioners’ sugar and cut into small pieces

Makes 16

Margarita Shrimp Salad Platter

Margarita Shrimp Salad Platter

Summer is a wonderful time to entertain – people just seem more relaxed and its easy to do something elegant and impressive without slaving away for days. Like this colorful salad. I love the big platter salad (witness the Southern Buttermilk Cobband the Muffalettaversions). The big platter were purchased from discount stores that have proven fantastically useful. And a big, colorful display of delicious food never fails to impress. And people love to customize their meal without making a fuss – just serve up the bits you like for a perfect meal.

Below I’ve laid out my basic blueprint. This may look like a lot of work, but I promise it is not, but the reward is pretty spectacular. And the elements can be done ahead in stages with only the assembly to deal with, and that doesn’t require turning on the oven or standing over the stove if you plan ahead. Choose any big, generous platter and arrange all the ingredients attractively. I use medium sized shrimp that are easier to eat in a salad, but bigger ones are just fine. I like to line the platter with lettuce leaves, then leave some readily accessible so people can easily build the salad to their own tastes. And get creative – add any other ingredients that take your fancy, I have sometimes sprinkled over crispy tortilla strips or added wedges of lime to squeeze over everything.

Margarita Shrimp Salad Platter

For the Pickled Red Onion:

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup water

½ cup cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon pickling spice

Layer the onions in a pint jar or glass bowl. Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices to a boil in a small pan and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the brine over the onions and leave to cool, then seal and keep in the refrigerator for a least an hour, but the onions will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

For the Cilantro-Lime Dressing

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup buttermilk

Zest and juice of one small lime

1 clove garlic

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon celery salt

Pinch of kosher salt

1 cup of cilantro leaves and stems

Place all the ingredient in the order listed in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into an airtight container, cover and refrigerated for up to two days.

For the Shrimp:

2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp, thawed if frozen (35- 40 count), tails removed

2 Tablespoon olive oil

2 Tablespoons tequila

2 Tablespoons lime juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Pour in the oil, tequila and lime juice in a bowl or a ziptop bag and stir or shake to blend. Pat the shrimp dry and place in the marinade. Refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil. Drain the shrimp from the marinade and place in an even layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then roast 8 – 10 minutes until pink and curled and cooked through. Cool the shrimp for a few minutes, then put in a bowl or on a plate and refrigerate until chilled. When they are cold, you can cover the shrimp and keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

For the Corn:

12 ounces fresh or frozen corn

2 Tablespoons lime juice

Chile – lime seasoning (such as Tajin) or chili powder

Salt and pepper

Put the corn in a pan and cover with water by about ½ inch. Bring to a boil and cook for 4 minutes. Thoroughly drain the corn and place in a bowl, the squeeze over the lime juice and stir to coat. Season well with Tajin, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

For assembly:

One head of butter lettuce

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

5 radishes, thinly sliced

1 (8-ounce) jar pickled jalapenos, drained

10 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled

2 avocados, diced

1 lime, squeezed over the avocado to prevent browning.

Line a big platter with lettuce leaves, then attractively arrange the remaining ingredients, with some lettuce readily accessible. Serve with tongs, spoons and a ladle for the dressing.

Serves 6 – 8