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.

Gumbo Z’Herbes

Gumbo Z'Herbes

Gumbo Z’Herbes, or green gumbo, is a very traditional Creole dish that you do not find all that often. The magnificent Leah Chase at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is famous for hers, and she serves it primarily the traditional way – on Holy Thursday (before Good Friday). Gumbo Z’herbes is said to bring luck and strengthen the body, and that for each type of green you put in the pot, you will make one new friend in the coming year. The traditional number seems to be nine, with eleven greens being a real bonus, and odd numbers are said to bring even more luck.

I have only had professionally made Gumbo Z’Herbes once in new Orleans, but it is a tradition and a dish that has always intrigued me, so I set out to do some research. I read recipes I found in some old Louisiana cookbooks and online. And the variations are endless. So I took all that information onboard and created this recipe. I generally don’t use as many as nine greens, because I can’t usually track that many down. And some of the recipes used very regional ingredients like pickled pork that I just don’t have access to. Some versions take all day to prepare and cook, some take shortcuts. Some have up to seven different kinds of meat, from pork shoulder to boudin while some insist this should be a vegetarian dish for lent. I am not claiming this is the definitive version of Gumbo Z’Herbes, but it’s mine.

Though traditionally a dish for Lent, I think it is perfect for New Years Day, when eating greens is said to bring prosperity and eating pork is said to be a symbol of progress in the New Year. I say the more greens and pork the better!

Gumbo Z'Herbes
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 3 pounds of mixed greens: Mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, kale, spinach, flat leaf parsley, watercress, chard, dandelion (see note)
  2. 1 cup vegetable oil
  3. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  4. 2 cups finely diced yellow onion (about 1 onion)
  5. 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
  6. 1 cup finely diced celery (about 2 stalks)
  7. 1 Tablespoon cajun seasoning (I use Tony Chachere’s)
  8. 1 ham hock
  9. 10 cups hot water
  10. 1 pound Andouille sausage
Instructions
  1. Strip any thick stalks from the greens (particularly collards, mustard, turnip and kale) and place all the greens in a sink or large bowl full of water. Swish them around a couple of times and let them soak about 5 minutes. Lift the greens out of the water into a large colander. Dirt and silt from the greens will settle at the bottom of the sink, so gently lift them out to prevent the dirt getting back on the greens. Shake the greens to drain. Chop piles of the greens into bite size pieces and return them to the colander.
  2. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (at least 7 quart) heavy pan (I like cast iron or enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning. Now slowly pour in the hot water (hottest from the tap is fine, or bring some to a simmer in a pot), stirring constantly. The roux may appear to curdle or seize, but keep stirring, it will smooth out. Add the ham hock, then all the greens, a handful at a time, stirring them down to fit in the pot. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer the gumbo for 1 ½ hours.
  3. Scoop about a third of the greens into a food processor or blender with a nice dose of potlikker, at least a cup, and puree until smooth. Return the pureed greens to the pot. Remove the ham hock and carefully pull the meat of the bones. If needed, chop it into bite-sized pieces and add back to the gumbo. Slice the andouille into thin half moons about 1/8 inch thick and add to the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes more.
  4. Serve in big bowls. The gumbo on its own is a little soupy. Serve it over rice to soak up some of that potlikker if you’d like, or with nice hunks of French bread or cornbread to sop it up.
Notes
  1. Head to a good Southern market, farmers market or an Asian grocery to track down all the greens. Many recipes use carrot tops as one of the greens, so if you can find those. Same goes for beet tops and radish tops. Green chard, cabbage, arugula and romaine will also work. Just weigh out 3 pounds.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Mustard Creamed Pearl Onions

Musatrd Creamed Pearl Onions

Many years ago, when I first started cooking a big Thanksgiving meal, I followed the suggested menu of some magazine or cookbook to the letter, despite existing family traditions or personal preferences. One of the dishes on the list of traditional Thanksgiving fare was creamed onions, which I had never had before. My family had never had them either and didn’t really understand why I had included them on the buffet with all the other food. Everyone tried them, and liked them, but focused more on the dishes standard to our feast. I liked them, and made the recipe a few times to accompany beef roasts. But it fell from the Thanksgiving roster in favor of more traditional Southern fare.

Last year was a transitional Thanksgiving for my family, working to develop new traditions during a time of change. Change of location, new people at the table and some new recipes. Fortunately, we had some distant family relatives from New England in town with recently relocated children. They brought a delicious dish of brussel sprouts that they always have on their Thanksgiving table at home. We’ve never included brussel sprouts at Thanksgiving, its mostly green beans. But they were really happy to see the creamed onions – a throwback from their Eastern childhood. And there were no leftovers.

It was a really nice meal, sharing our family traditions. I can’t say for sure if creamed onion are a purely regional specialty for the holiday, but it is not a tradition on the tables of any of my Southern friends. I have streamlined and jazzed up that original creamed onion recipe, and it makes a lovely accompaniment to the centerpiece turkey.

One reason I chose to make this last year is that I found some beautiful multi-colored pearl onions at the grocery that I couldn’t resist. All white onions are perfectly good if that’s what you find.

Mustard Creamed Pearl Onions
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups pearl onions (white, yellow, purple or a combination)
  2. 1 ½ cups light - colored chicken broth
  3. ½ cup white wine
  4. 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
  5. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  6. 2/3 cups heavy cream
  7. 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Instructions
  1. Cut the tops and roots off the onion. Try to leave a little of the root end intact to hold the onion together. Drop the onions into a pan of boiling water for 45 seconds. Drain the onions, and when cool enough to handle, slip off the skins. This can be done up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. Put the onions and the broth and the wine in a medium sauté pan and sprinkle over the sugar and salt. Stir to combine. Bring the broth to a boil over medium high heat and cook until all the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. When the liquid is gone, pour in the cream and add the mustard. Stir and cook over medium until the cream is reduced and thickened and coating the onions.
  3. Serve immediately.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Creamy Cauliflower Parmigiano Gratin

I had the good fortune to spend a month in Italy this summer, a blissful few days of it at the cooking school of Badia a Coltibuono, a medieval abbey turned into a winery and bed and breakfast in the hills of Tuscany. We made pasta by hand and learned the secrets to Italian breads and sauces. On one day, the chef, Benedetta Vitali, told us we would make a cauliflower cheese dish to accompany the evening meal. I have to say, we students were not at first thrilled at the idea. The other ladies in the class were English, where “cauliflower cheese” is a ubiquitous comfort food dish, and I have always been underwhelmed by the seeming bland crucifer. Amidst the amazing classical Tuscan recipes, it seemed sort of plain and uninteresting. But we were there to learn, so we watched and participated as told. The first difference we noticed from our own ideas of the dish was how finely Benedetta insisted we chop the cauliflower, rather than layering florets in a baker. Then she saved the cooking water to use in the sauce. Genius. When the dish was served at dinner, we were all amazed. It was so simple to make, but so packed with flavor, rich and creamy but not heavy or cloying. We each in turn said we’d definitely be making this at home. Homemade, hand rolled gnocchi, we weren’t so sure.

As it happens, it showcased the best of Tuscan cooking – choosing the best in season, fresh ingredients and treating them simply and with respect. True parmigiano-reggiano cheese is the secret to this dish. It adds a salty edge and Italian flair, so splurge on a piece and grate it freshly for this dish. Chopping the cauliflower into pretty fine crumbs makes a huge difference in this recipe. I served this to my extended family, and they loved, each saying “I don’t usually like cauliflower, but this is delicious…”

Creamy Cauliflower Parmigiano Gratin
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 1 head of cauliflower
  2. 10 Tablespoons butter (1 stick plus 2 Tablespoon)
  3. 5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  4. 1 cup milk
  5. 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Instructions
  1. Place the whole head of cauliflower in a large, deep pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until soft when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the cauliflower to a plate. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then wipe out the pot.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a 2-quart baking dish.
  3. When the cauliflower is cool enough to handle, remove any stem and leaves, and place on a large chopping board. Cut the head in half, then finely chop – it should be fine crumbs. Repeat with the other half. I use my biggest chopping board and a large knife and scrape the first half of the crumbs onto the plate and continue with the rest.
  4. Melt the butter in the pot, then whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is pale and smooth. Whisk in the milk and the reserved cooking water and cook until thickened and smooth. Whisk in the cheese, a handful at a time, until smooth and melted. Fold in the chopped cauliflower until it is all coated in the sauce. Taste and add salt as needed.
  5. Scrape the cauliflower into the prepared baking dish and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
  6. The gratin can be cooled, covered and held in the refrigerator for several hours before baking. Adjust the cooking time as needed.
Adapted from Benedetta Vitali
Adapted from Benedetta Vitali
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Apple Fennel Slaw with Curried Dressing

Apple Fennel Coleslaw with Curried Dressing

I generally think of coleslaw as a summer dish. A staple of picnics, cook-outs and barbecues. But as I continue to enjoy in-season local apples, I remembered many recipes I’ve read over the years that use apples in slaw. So I decided to work up my own version of a fall slaw, with a rich curried dressing, sweetness from apples and a bit of extra crunch from fennel. The finished result is light and refreshing, and beautifully colorful to boot.

The curried dressing is an old favorite for spinach salad that I’ve been making for years. I knew it would be great with the ingredients in this slaw and really give it a unique twist. I like to use red skinned apples with green cabbage, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use red cabbage and green apples, or half red half green cabbage. Look for smaller, flatter fennel bulbs for the most tender pieces, or peel away a couple of top, tough layers from big bulbs. I’ve served this beside a nice roast pork dish, and it would make a great tailgate take along. It is excellent as a sandwich topper or is surprisingly good on fish tacos.

Apple Fennel Slaw with Curried Dressing
Serves 8
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For the Dressing
  1. 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  2. 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  3. 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  4. 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  5. 3 tablespoons sugar
  6. 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  7. 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  8. 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  9. 1/2 cup vegetable oil
For the Slaw
  1. One small head green cabbage
  2. 1 large carrot
  3. 1 small fennel bulb
  4. 2 large red-skinned apples
For the Dressing
  1. Place all the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid, screw on the top and shake until the sugar is dissolved and the dressing is combined. May be made up to two days ahead and stored in the fridge. Shake well before using.
For the Slaw
  1. Remove any stem and tough outer leaves from the cabbage, quarter and remove the hard core. Grate the cabbage with the grating blade in a food processor. Transfer the cabbage to a very large bowl. Grate the peeled carrot and the fennel, then transfer them to the bowl with cabbage and toss to combine. The best tool for coleslaw is your good clean hands so you can separate and clumps of vegetable. Cut the apple into quarters, remove the core and grate. Add to the bowl and toss, then pour over the coleslaw. Toss to combine and make sure the dressing is evenly distributed. I also use my hands for this. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors blend, but not more than three hours. Stir well before serving.
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Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake

Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake

You may notice a little theme this month, though it wasn’t actually by design. As autumn rolls around, I start cooking with (and eating) a lot of apples. In season, locally-grown apples are a wonder, on par with eating seasonal, local strawberries, instead of the chemically ripened fruit flown in from miles and miles away. So I make the most of the bounty in cooking both sweet and savory. Last week, I included apples in my deliciously autumnal Roasted Pork with Sweet Potatoes and Hard Cider Cream Sauce, and here I use the little beauties in a sweet preparation, that makes a wonderful dessert with a scoop of ice cream or a perfect breakfast treat.

An upside down cake is a chance to be really artistic in the kitchen. Feel free to arrange the apple slices are creatively as you can manage. Flip the cake over and you’ve got a really beautiful creation to share. Ginger and apple is an amazing flavor combination, and I incorporate the ginger in layers here, using fresh, powdered and crystallized.

Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. For the Apples
  2. ¼ cup butter
  3. ¼ cup light brown sugar
  4. 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
  5. 2 apples, I prefer golden delicious
For the Cake
  1. ¼ cup (1/2 stick) of butter, softened
  2. 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  6. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  7. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  8. ½ teaspoon salt
  9. ½ cup buttermilk
  10. ¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger
For the Apples
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes and drop it the pan. Place the pan in the oven for 3 – 5 minutes until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle over the brown sugar and the ginger. Stir with a spatula to combine, then spread the sugar mixture around the pan. It won’t cover the bottom completely, just make sure the sugar is not all in one place. Core and slice the apples into ¼-inch slices and fan out over the butter mixture in an attractive pattern. Some apples can overlap, but you only want one layer.
For the Cake
  1. Cream the butter and brown sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla, then beat in the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt alternately with the buttermilk, scraping down the bowl, until the batter is smooth. Beat in the crystallized ginger until evenly distributed. Dollop the batter over the apples in the pan, then use dampened fingers to press it out to cover the apples.
  2. Bake the cake fro 20 – 30 minutes until firm, golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge to loosen it. Invert the cake onto a platter, leave for about a minute to loosen, then remove the pan.
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Roasted Pork and Sweet Potatoes with Hard Cider Cream Sauce

Roasted Pork and Sweet Potatoes with Hard CIder Cream Sauce

October is that transitional time of year, the leaves are beginning to fall, the weather is cooling and I’ve pulled the sweaters out of storage. I’m ready to cover up the grill and move onto to hearty roasts and vegetables, but I’m not quite ready for thick soups and heavy stews. So a perfect piece of pork surrounded by fall produce fits the bill perfectly.

I love that this dish is beautiful to serve, with perfectly roasted meat and an array of colorful fall vegetables, but could not be easier to prepare. A little work for a lot of reward. The sauce is rich and creamy with a nice sweet-sharp tang from the hard cider. I use a Woodchuck Amber cider, and serve the rest of the six-pack with the meal.

Roasted Pork and Sweet Potatoes with Hard Cider Cream Sauce
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 pound boneless pork roast
  2. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  3. salt and pepper
  4. 2 medium sweet potatoes
  5. 2 medium apples
  6. 2 small red onions
  7. 1 cup hard apple cider (alcoholic)
  8. 1 cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°. Rub the outside of the pork roast generously with salt and pepper. Coat the bottom of a stovetop and oven safe roasting pan with 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Heat the oil in the pan, placing it over two burners if necessary, then sear the pork until lightly browned on all sides. Transfer the roasting dish to the oven and cook for 15 minutes.
  2. Peal the sweet potatoes and cut in half vertically, then in wedges. Core the apples and cut into wedges, then cut the onions into wedges as well. Place everything in a large ziptop bag and pour in the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil and generous sprinkles of salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables around to coat with the olive oil and seasoning.
  3. After the first fifteen minutes of cooking, spread the oiled vegetables around the pork in the roasting pan and cook until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 140° internal temperature, about 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and transfer the pork to a cutting board. Cover with foil and leave to rest. Remove the vegetables to a platter. Place the roasting tin on the stove (over two burners again if needed) over medium high heat. Pour in the apple cider and use a spatula to scrape up all the delicious browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring the cider to a boil and cook until reduced and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream and continue cooking until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Slice the pork and serve with the roasted vegetables and the sauce.
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Red Pepper Relish

Red Pepper Relish

I love good pepper jelly, the wobbly kind with little bits of pepper suspended in the jar. The kind ladies used to bring to the Christmas party to serve over cream cheese, the jar topped with a pretty little cloth circle. And as much as I love canning, jelly, made with exact amounts of liquid and pectin, are a little bit out of my league. So when I saw this simple recipe in a community cookbook, I wanted to try it, as it seemed to have everything that would produce the flavor of a good pepper jelly. In the cookbook, the recipe was titled Red Pepper Hash, but I don’t think that term really describes what this is and when I once labeled a jar red pepper jam, I could tell the recipient was very skeptical. So I went with relish. I think I like this better than classic jelly. It has more character, with body and heft and a nice tang from the vinegar, perfectly balanced with sugar. This has become a yearly ritual for me, because it is often requested by friends. I have one friend who squeals every time I give her a jar, and she keeps it hidden for her own personal use.

Try this on a burger instead of ketchup for a really interesting twist. In fact it is good on any kind of sandwich. I often serve it with a board of Southern cheeses and locally made charcuterie, but my favorite use is still poured over cream cheese. I just like to make the cream cheese from scratch now too.

Red Pepper Relish
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Ingredients
  1. 12 red bell peppers
  2. 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  3. 2 cups cider vinegar
  4. 2 cups granulated sugar
Instructions
  1. Remove the stem, seeds and ribs from the peppers and cut the flesh into chunks. In about three batches, place the pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until all the peppers are finely chopped. Scrape each batch into a colander set over a large bowl. When all the peppers are in the colander, stir in the salt and leave to drain overnight. Cover the colander with a tea towel.
  2. When ready to make the relish, place a small ceramic plate in the freezer. You’ll use this this to test the set of the jam later. Then get your jars clean. You will need 3 half-pint mason jars. I always clean a couple of extra just in case. I clean the jars and the rings in the dishwasher, and leave them in there with the door closed to stay warm. You can’t put the lids in the dishwasher, it will ruin them.
  3. While you relish is cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going. Here are step-by step instructions for processing in a canner. When the relish is almost ready, pour some boiling water over the lids to your jars to soften the seals and set aside.
  4. Scrape the drained pepper pulp into a large pot and stir in the vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until thick and jammy, about 30 – 40 minutes, stirring frequently, and more at the end as the relish thickens. Watch carefully, as the cooking time can vary depending on the density and moisture in the peppers. If there are any large pieces of pepper in the pot, you can use an immersion blender to break them up.
  5. When the jam has cooked down and is thickened, pull that little plate out of the freezer and spoon a little jam onto it. Leave to set for a minute, then tilt the plate. If the jam stays put, or only runs a little bit, it’s ready to go. Also, run a finger through the jam on the plate if the two sides stay separate and don’t run back together, you’re good to go.
  6. Fill each of your warm, cleaned jars with the relish, leaving a ½ inch head space. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel. Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars. Screw on the bands tightly, then process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you have a bit of extra relish, scoop it into a refrigerator container and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
  7. When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.
  8. The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place. Don’t forget to label your jars!
Notes
  1. I like to can some of this is small 4-ounce jars, which is a perfect serving for a cheese plate.
  2. Don’t throw away the juice drained from the peppers – use it to add verve to Bloody Marys, gazpacho or tomato soup. You can even freeze it in ice cube trays to add a lift cooking anytime.
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Sunshine Succotash

Sunshine Succotash

Field peas and corn are my favorite summer foods, so I am always thinking up ways to use them in recipes. Succotash is a traditional Native American dish originating in the Northeast, but it lends itself to regional variations and is a perfect vehicle for Southern field peas and our own fresh corn. Creamy butterbeans and delicate lady peas pair wonderfully with sweet corn.

I came home from the farmers market one Saturday with some lovely little yellow tomatoes I purchased from the Boys and Girls Club Technical Training booth. They were so pretty, I couldn’t resist taking them home. Back in the kitchen, unloading all my beautiful purchases, I realized I had a little sunshine spectrum of produce that I knew would look bright and fresh together. Pale peas and butter beans and sweet bi-color peaches and cream corn. And thus this version of my basic succotash recipe was born.

If you can’t find yellow tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes work just as well. If they are larger, cut them in half before adding them to the pot. I had a big handful of gorgeous thyme from the market, but oregano or marjoram would be just as tasty.

Sunshine Succotash
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 3 cups fresh butter beans
  2. 2 cups fresh lady peas
  3. ¼ ( ½ stick) cup butter
  4. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  5. 1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, chopped
  6. 2 cloves minced garlic
  7. 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  8. kernels cut from 5 ears corn
  9. 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  10. salt and black pepper to taste
  11. 1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
Instructions
  1. Place the butter beans and lady peas in a saucepan and cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a boil, skim off an foam that rises, then lower the heat and simmer until the peas are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and rinse the peas.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the olive oil. Saute the green onions until translucent and soft, about 5 mintues, then add the garlic and sauté for a further minute. Stir in about half of the thyme leaves and stir until fragrant. Add the butter beans, lady peas and corn to the pan and stir to coat with the butter and oil. Stir in the cream, the remaining thyme, a nice pinch of salt and generous grinds of pepper and cook for 20 minute, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and and the cream has reduced. Add the tomatoes, give it a good stir and cover the skillet. Cook for a two or three minutes until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to burst. Taste for seasoning and serve.
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Squash Blossom Risotto

Squash Blossom Risotto

I ate at two restaurants in Rome earlier this summer that claimed to be built on the very spot where Julius Caesar was killed, and visited two tourist attractions that claimed the same thing. It makes a great story to print on a menu, and they each had some historical perspective to back up the claim. Of course, the restaurants are modern buildings now with only a small trace of their ancient ancestry, but the food at each one was quite good. I made sure to order classic and traditional Roman dishes at each (when in Rome, right?), but when I saw the risotto con fiore di zucca on one menu, I knew I had to order it. I love squash blossoms, and they are an ingredient I just have to sample whenever I see them. I had my fill on a trip to Mexico, and was lucky enough to be in Italy when they were abundantly available. So when I sampled this dish, I knew I would recreate it once I returned home.

It was at a restaurant in Tuscany that I had a risotto with a secret center of creamy cheese, and I decided to incorporate that idea into this recipe to add a nice tang and creaminess to complement the rich rice. The flavors here are subtly earthy with lovely strands of the blossoms stirred through. Many dishes that use squash blossoms like to include saffron for color. (I use it in my pesto). You can do that here too, just soak a pinch of saffron strands in some hot broth and stir that into the risotto during cooking.

Squash Blossom Risotto
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 24 squash blossoms
  2. 5 cups vegetable stock
  3. 4 Tablespoons butter, divided
  4. 1 large shallot, finely diced
  5. 1 ½ cups carnaroli or arborio rice
  6. ½ cup dry white wine
  7. ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  8. salt to taste
  9. 4 Tablespoons whole milk ricotta, at room temperature
  10. olive oil for drizzling
Instructions
  1. Grasp the squash blossoms by the stem and twist to remove the hard stem and the stamen inside, leaving only the blossoms. Place 12 of the blossoms in a blender with 2 cups of the stock and blend until smooth. Pour the blossom mixture and the rest of the stock into a saucepan and heat over low until just simmering.
  2. Cut the remaining blossoms into thin pieces. I generally pull the leaves apart, stack them up and use scissors to cut them into fine shreds. Set aside.
  3. Melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter over low in a large, deep skillet. Add the diced shallots and sauté until soft and glassy, but do not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat it in the butter and cook for a few minutes until the edges of the rice grains are a little translucent. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until it is completely evaporated. Now start adding the stock a big ladleful at a time, stirring after each addition. When each addition has evaporated, add the next ladleful and stir. When almost all the stock has been absorbed, taste the risotto. It should still have a little bite and texture to it, but if it still hard or crisp, keep adding stock until it is al dente. Stir in the squash blossom strips and the grated Parmigiano until combined and melted. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and stir it through. Season with salt to taste.
  4. To serve the risotto, scoop a dollop of ricotta (about a Tablespoon; I use a small cookie scoop) onto the center if a rimmed plate or shallow bowl, then spoon the risotto around it. Drizzle with good olive oil and serve immediately.
Notes
  1. The ricotta needs to be at room temperature to melt smoothly into the risotto. You can scoop it out onto the plates and have them waiting before you start making the risotto.
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Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart

Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart

I’m recently back from a month in Italy, exploring the art and history and architecture, but let’s be honest, mostly exploring the food. Because that is what I love the most. The recipes, techniques and ideas I learned are working around in my head still, but I am sure they will come out here soon, but in the meantime, I have been drawn to the flavors I loved so much in Italy. My everyday cooking has seen a marked increase in the use of fresh basil, good Parmigiano-Reggiano and percorino cheeses, fine olive oil and rich vinegars. Light and fresh ingredients that when combined simply sing with flavor.

So it was only natural that when I set out to use some of the lovely little jewel-like cherry tomatoes from the farmers market, my mind wandered back to Italy. This is not something I learned in my travels, nor do I think it is particularly authentic, but the fresh, bright herbs and rich cheeses make a perfect match. Use the charming multi-colored tomatoes if you can find them for a nice presentation. I highly recommend using real Parmigiano cheese and grating it yourself, and rich whole milk ricotta. I’ve given measurements for the herbs below, but you can fudge a little with the quantities.

Italian Summer Cherry Tomato Tart
Serves 6
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For the pastry
  1. 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. ¼ cup grated Parmagiano cheese
  4. ½ teaspoon salt
  5. ½ teaspoon pepper
  6. ½ cup (1 stick) cold butter
  7. 4 – 5 Tablespoons ice water
For the Filling
  1. 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  2. 4 eggs
  3. ½ cup whole milk ricotta
  4. ½ cup heavy cream
  5. ¾ cup grated Parmagiano cheese
  6. 1 clove garlic, put through a press of very finely chopped
  7. 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  8. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  9. 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  10. salt and pepper to taste
For the Pastry
  1. Place the oregano, flour, cheese, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to chop the oregano and combine. Dice the butter into small pieces and add to the flour, then pulse until it looks like breadcrumbs. With the motor running, drizzle in the ice water just until the pastry comes together in a ball and there is no dry flour left.
  2. Transfer the pastry onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a flat, round disc. Wrap in the plastic, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but it can be made a day ahead.
  3. When ready to prepare the tart, preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll the pastry out evenly, then fit it into the pan. Prick the pastry base with a fork many times, then line the pastry with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, remove the parchment and the pie weights.
For the Filling
  1. Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl, then add the ricotta and the cream and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cheese, garlic, herbs a few grinds of pepper and a generous pinch of salt until everything is amalgamated and evenly distributed.
  2. Spread the tomatoes over the pastry shell, distributing them evenly and pour over the filling. Use your clean fingers to move the tomatoes around if needed, so they are pretty well distributed and not bunched up. Grind a little more black pepper over the top, then bake for 40 – 45 minutes until the top is firm and lightly golden.
  3. Cool the tart for about 5 minutes before removing the ring of the pan. Slice and serve warm, room temperature or cold.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/