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.

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.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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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/
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Chicken Tinga

Chicken Tinga

When I was a kid, taco night mean hard shells, ground beef cooked with a packet of seasoning and shredded cheese. It was fun, because you got to “make” your own dinner, putting as much meat and cheese on as you wanted (though mom probably insisted that I put a little lettuce on it too). And eating with your hands! But my, how times have changed and only for the better. Tacos much closer to traditional Mexican food are readily available, and those kit tacos from my youth seem bland and boring now. That’s not Mexican food anymore, that’s drive-thru fast food now.

But one thing does remain, the fun of building your own dinner. I have often mentioned how much I love an interactive meal – everyone gets involved and talking and laughing and everybody has a meal they love. Chicken Tinga, which is a wonderful name for a dish, is chicken slow-cooked to melting tenderness in a flavor-packed onion and chipotle sauce. It is pretty simple to make for the reward it produces, and incredibly versatile. Use the juicy chicken to fill tortillas for tacos, or spread it over a crispy tostada. Stuff it into bread to make a torta, or use it to top an colorful taco salad. It is wonderful over rice, or serve it on its own, or rolled into burritos. The leftovers can be used for several days, and you can even freeze it.

I love to pull out a full array of colorful toppings to add crunch and creaminess and counterpoints to the smoky chipotle flavor. Simply pickled red onions are traditional and the vinegar tang complements to rich meat perfectly and this creamy avocado sauce cools everything down. Make this for family taco night or invite friends over for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. I think this would also make a great book club meal.

Chicken Tinga
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 1 green bell pepper, diced
  4. 1 red bell pepper, diced
  5. 1 tomatillo, diced
  6. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  7. 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (2 if you want), diced
  8. 2 Tablespoons adobo sauce from the chipotles
  9. 1 – 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (fire-roasted adds a little smokiness)
  10. 2 teaspoons oregano (preferably Mexican)
  11. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  12. 6 chicken breasts
Topping ideas
  1. Creamy Avocado Sauce
  2. Quick Pickled Red Onions
  3. Crumbled cotija cheese
  4. Shredded lettuce or cabbage
  5. Shredded radishes
  6. Pico de gallo
  7. Salsa
  8. Limes wedges to squeeze over the top
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, then add the onion and bell peppers. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables star to soften, then lower the heat a little, add the garlic and cover the pan. Cook until soft and browning a little, about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add a little water to the pan and scrape up any browned bits form the bottom of the pan, then let the water cook off. Browning the vegetables a little adds some depth of flavor and richness. Add the tomatillo, chipotles, adobo sauce, tomatoes, oregano and cumin and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes. When the sauce has cooled a bit, transfer it to a blender and puree until smooth.
  2. Pour the sauce back into the pot and add the chicken breasts, stirring to cover each breast with sauce. Bring the pot to a bubble over medium high heat, then turn the heat to low, cover the pot and leave to simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 1 ½ hours. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate one at a time and use two forks to pull the chicken into shreds, then return the shreds to the sauce in the pot. Continue to simmer uncovered until the sauce reduces and thickens, about 30 minutes.
Notes
  1. You can place the chicken and sauce in a slow cooker and cook over low heat for 4 hours, then shred the meat as above.
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Quick Pickled Red Onions
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Ingredients
  1. 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  2. 1 cup water
  3. ½ cup cider vinegar
  4. 1 Tablespoon sugar
  5. 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  6. ½ teaspoon pickling spice
Instructions
  1. 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.
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Creamy Avocado Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. 1 avocado
  2. 3 tomatillos
  3. juice of one lime
  4. 2 garlic cloves
  5. ¼ cup cilantro leaves
  6. salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Scoop the flesh out of the avocado and place it in a blender. Chop the tomatillos roughly and add to the blender with the garlic, cilantro and salt. Blend until smooth and scoop into a bowl or jar. Cover and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
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Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread

Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread

It must have been close to St. Patrick’s Day. I had a six pack of Guinness on hand. Maybe I’d made some Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon or some Irish Rarebit. I love cooking with mallty stout, but I don’t particularly like drinking it straight, so I was looking for ways to use all those bottles. An Irish-inspired rustic loaf seemed the perfect thing. This bread has the lovely, dense texture of a traditional soda bread with the added tang from the Guinness. Oatmeal adds a lovely texture and richness. I like to let it cool just enough to slice easily, then spread it with lashings of Irish butter. Its also delicious toasted, or with a slice of good Irish cheddar cheese.

Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread
Yields 1
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups whole wheat flour
  2. 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  3. ¼ cup light brown sugar
  4. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  5. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  6. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  7. 12-ounce bottle of Guinness stout
  8. 1 cup buttermilk
  9. ¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Spray a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
  2. Mix the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Stir with a fork to evenly distribute the ingredients. Mix the Guinness, buttermilk and butter together in a small bowl, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until everything is well mixed and there is no dry flour visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan – it will be very wet.
  3. Bake the bread for 30 minutes at 425°, then reduce the temperature to 400° and cook for a further 30 minutes. Turn the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool.
  4. Serve with lots of butter!
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Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker

Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker

It’s a cold, wintry day. I’m on the sofa with a good book and a soft blanket while my house fills with the smell of warm spices. I know that I’ll have a delicious bowl of rich, flavorful soup for dinner. This is my favorite winter scenario and this soup is a favorite way to make it a reality. The slow cooker does most of the work, simmering the squash to perfection while the spices infuse the soup. But this is a great soup to come home to as well. Put it together in the morning and your house will be warm and inviting with dinner waiting when you come home.

A little chopping is all it takes to put this delicious soup together, and I’ll tell you that I happily buy pre-chopped squash at a busy supermarket where it doesn’t sit around too long. An apple adds a bit of sweetness, while ginger adds a little zing. A good dose of Indian inflected curry powder and garam masala add so much flavor and spice without to much work, and coconut milk adds richness. I love this soup served with a dollop of rich yogurt swirled in and a little chopped cilantro for freshness. Some soft, warm naan on the side is a nice treat.

Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 32 ounces cubed butternut squash (about 6 cups, from about 2 medium squash)
  2. 1 green apple, cut into chunks
  3. 1 onion, cut into eights
  4. 3 cloves of garlic
  5. thumbnail-length piece of ginger, chopped
  6. 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  7. 1 teaspoon garam masala
  8. 1 teaspoon cumin
  9. 1 teaspoon salt
  10. 4 cups (32-ouncs box) vegetable broth
  11. 1 (13.6-ounce) can coconut milk
  12. yogurt and chopped cilantro to top
Instructions
  1. Combine the squash, apple, onion, garlic and ginger in the crock of an 8 quart slow cooker. Sprinkle over the spices and stir to coat. Pour in the broth and the coconut milk, stir to combine and cover the pot. Cook on high for five hours or low for eight, until the vegetables are completely tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth.
  2. Serve immediately with a dollop of plain yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro on top.
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Greek Lemon and Rice Soup

Greek Lemon Rice Soup

My area is sorely lacking in Greek restaurants, but we do have a wonderful Greek Festival every year, and they have a lovely roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary on the menu that is a once a year treat. But about a year ago, a restaurant opened up (you may have one in your town too) that serves a Greek lemon and rice soup with the same sunny flavors. It is the reason I go there, and the soup I always want when I am feeling puny. But nobody brings me soup when I’m sick, so I decided I better learn to make it myself.

And this is completely from scratch. I start with plump chicken breasts to make a stock flavored with lemon and herbs, then I pull the tender white meat from the bones. The finished soup has a healthy dose of lemon juice for zing and soft, comforting rice. I love this soup and my family does too. I’m not saying I’ll never have it at that café again, but I think I’ve hit the nail on the head – and maybe improved it! I also have it on my list to try this with dill instead of rosemary and oregano; I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Greek Lemon and Rice Soup
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. For the Stock
  2. 2 bone-in, skin-on whole chicken breasts
  3. 4 cloves garlic
  4. 2 celery stalks
  5. 2 carrots
  6. 1 onion
  7. 4 sprigs thyme
  8. 4 sprigs oregano
  9. 4 spirgs rosemary
  10. 1 lemon
For the Soup
  1. 8 cups chicken stock
  2. ¾ cup basmati rice
  3. ¾ cup lemon juice (from 5 – 6 lemons)
  4. 2 cups diced, cooked chicken
  5. 1 carrot
  6. 1 teaspoon chopped oregano
  7. 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
  8. salt to taste
For the Stock
  1. Place everything but the lemon is a large stock pot and cover with 12 cups of water. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and reserve for finishing the soup. Drop the juiced lemon skins in the pot and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  2. Strain the stock through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth. Skim any fat from the surface of the stock. The stock can be made up to one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate (if you do this before straining the fat, it will solidify and be easier to remove before proceeding). Pull the chicken meat from the bones, discarding the skin, and refrigerate as well.
For the Soup
  1. Measure out 1½ cups of the chicken stock and pour it into a small pan. Pour the rice into a small fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Add the rice to the stock in the small and bring to a boil. When most of the liquid has cooked away and there are just a few bubbles and air pockets on the rice, remove the pot from the heat, cover with a tea towel and a tight fitting lid. Leave for 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  2. Pour the remaining broth into a large soup pot (there should be between 7 – 8 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the lemon juice. Add the diced chicken. Peel the carrot and grate it on the large holes of a box grater. Add it to the soup with the oregano, rosemary and cooked rice. Simmer until everything is heated through, taste and add salt as needed.
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Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat

Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat

I have always been an avid entertainer. I made a living out of planning parties for awhile. And I have frequently used this clever French trick to transform the bits left over from the cheese plate. Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat are two versions of this bit of culinary trickery which blend all those leftover pieces with a little alcohol to create an utterly new dish. I’ve seen recipes – or just simple instructions – in French cookbooks both old and new. I started with Lou Cachat, but later discovered Fromage Fort. The difference, as I make it out, is that Lou Cachat is blended with brandy and is traditionally made in Provence with goat cheese. Fromage Fort (“strong cheese”) is made from any variety and mixed with white wine. It’s an old housewives’ trick, so the variations are endless and as varied as the women who make it. I have seen it with garlic or woody herbs and much more butter, alcohol and olive oil. So experiment and expand as much as you like. This is the blueprint for my house version. I use whatever cheese I have left over – goat, triple cream, hard, blue – that’s the point, making those random bits last. I prefer Lou Cachat, because I like strong cheese and I think the brandy really adds to the depth of flavor. When I use strong cheese, I don’t bother with garlic or herbs.

I love the idea that the expensive cheese from the Christmas can be a totally new and exciting treat on New Year’s Eve. I read a Jacques Pepin recipe in which he says his wife makes the Fromage Fort and freezes it packed in little ramekins. That made me love this dish even more. Splash out on the best cheeses you want, because there will be no waste. Serve either as a spread for good crackers or bread, or spread on sliced bread and broil for a starter or a soup sidecar.

Fromage Fort or Lou Cachat
Yields 20
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound cheese pieces, of any variety
  2. 2 Tablespoons butter
  3. ¼ cup brandy, cognac or white wine
  4. 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  5. generous grind of black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cut the cheese into pieces (harder cheeses need to be cut into smaller pieces). Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the cheese. Pulse repeatedly until the cheese is broken up to a very rough, chunky paste. Add the brandy while pulsing, then the olive oil until you have a rough paste. Grind in some pepper and pulse to blend. I like mine to have a bit of chunky texture, but you can blend as smooth as you like.
  2. Scrape the cheese into ramekins and refrigerate or freeze.
  3. Serve the cheese at room temperature, or spread it on slices of baguette and broil for a few minutes.
Notes
  1. (In this picture, my Lou Cachat is made with bits of Southern made cheeses – Mountaineer and Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy, Asher Blue and Green Hills from Sweet Grass Dairy)
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Gruyere Soup with Onion Jam

Gruyere Soup with Onion Jam

I marked a recipe for Gruyere Soup in an old community cookbook years ago. It was very plain, nothing fancy, but I marked it thinking that I could doctor up the recipe with vegetables or herbs or wine or any manner of ideas. But when I came around to making the soup, to test out my theories, I suddenly had the idea that instead of complicating the soup, I could turn it into a sort of reverse-engineered French onion soup. So I kept the soup simple, letting the nutty gruyere shine through with a classically French hit of Dijon mustard. Instead of those oozing cheesy toasts, I float a crisp toast spread with a very rich and flavorful caramelized onion jam. The whole blends into a rich and creamy bowl with the homey French flavors re-imagined in a whole new way.

I love the contrast of the pale, almost buttery, soup with the mahogany rich onions floating on the surface. Using red onions and adding a little cassis to the jam deepen the color and the flavor. I find that finely diced onions make the whole easier to eat and I choose a larger Italian-style loaf over a baguette so there is one nice onion-y raft floating in the bowl. I have thought, but never attempted, to serve this as they would in a restaurant. Serve each diner a bowl with a mound of onions on the toast at the bottom, then pour over the hot soup tableside. Wouldn’t that be a sight.

Gruyere Soup with Onion Jam
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. Gruyere Soup
  2. ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  3. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  4. 4 cups half and half, at room temperature
  5. 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  6. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  7. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  8. 4 cups chicken broth
  9. 8 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
  10. 1 loaf soft Italian bread
  11. Onion Jam
  12. 2 large red onion, finely diced
  13. 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  14. 3 Tablespoons butter
  15. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  16. 1 cup white wine
  17. 3 Tablespoons cassis
  18. 3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
  19. black pepper
For the Soup
  1. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium. Whisk in the flour and cook until thick and smooth and pale in color, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the half and half, whisking until the soup is thickened and smooth, about 5 – 8 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, salt and nutmeg until fully incorporated. Add the chicken broth and stir until combined, then heat the soup to a low bubble, but do not boil. Stir the grated gruyere in a handful at a time, making sure each addition is melted before adding the next. The soup can be made a few hours ahead at this point, cooled and refrigerated. Reheat gently over low heat before serving. Do not boil.
For the Jam
  1. Melt the butter and oil over medium high heat and add the diced onions. Sprinkle over the salt and cook until the onions are soft and translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the ½ cup of the wine and cook until it has evaporated, stirring frequently and scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cassis and brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender and the sugar is melted. Add several grinds of black pepper. Add the remaining ¼ cup of wine and ¾ cup of water and stir well. Cover and cook for 5 minutes to help soften the onions. Remove the cover and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced to a light syrup coating the onions. You want a jammy consistency with soft, tender onions. Add a little but more water and cook it off if you need to. Season to taste if needed, then leave to cool. The jam can be kept covered in the refrigerator at this point for several days.
To serve
  1. If you have stored the onion jam in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature or gently reheat it over low heat. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the bread into ½ inch slices and lightly toast on one side on the wire rack. Flip the toasts over and spread the toasted side of four to six slices with a thick layer of onion jam. Heat the toasts in the oven for a few minutes until the jam is warmed through. Ladle the warm soup into four bowls and float an onion toast in each bowl. Serve any extra onion jam and toast slices at the table for people to add to the soup as they like.
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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/
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Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise

Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise

I do love a good chicken salad, and I am always working on new and different versions. This Asian inspired iteration relies on the wonderful sesame mayonnaise, a recipe I used for years when I first started entertaining, as a dip for asparagus spears or snap peas. I started making it when Asian ingredients like sesame oil and rice vinegar weren’t as readily available as they are now, so it always struck a note of the exotic. I’ve kept that recipe on one of those personalized recipe cards that used to be such popular hostess gifts. I returned to the mayonnaise recipe recently and realized how incredibly versatile it is. I whipped up a little cold chicken supper with leftovers from the fridge, and it was such a good idea, I had to turn it into a summery chicken salad recipe.

Serve this chicken salad in lettuce cups with lime wedges to squeeze over it. I also like it scooped up with rice crackers.

This will make more mayonnaise than you need. Toss it with cold rice or ramen noodles for a lovely side dish, spread it on a bahn-mi style sandwich. It’s a different twist for a burger or a chicken sandwich. Try it with roasted asparagus or steamed snap peas. I’ve even served this as a dip for grilled shrimp.

Asian Inspired Chicken Salad with Sesame Mayonnaise
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. Sesame Mayonnaise
  2. 1 whole egg
  3. 2 egg yolks
  4. 2 ½ Tablespoon soy sauce
  5. 2 ½ Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  6. 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  7. ½ teaspoon salt
  8. ¼ cup sesame oil
  9. 1 ¾ cups vegetable oil, like grapeseed or canola
  10. Chicken Salad
  11. 3 bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  12. 1 cup shredded carrots
  13. 4 green onions, finely chopped
  14. ½ cup roasted and salted peanuts, chopped
  15. ¼ cup finely chopped mint
  16. ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
For the Mayonnaise
  1. Place the egg, egg yolks, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until the ingredients are combined. With the motor running, drizzle in the sesame and vegetable oils in a slow, steady stream. Process until the mixture is creamy, thick and emulsified. You will actually hear the food processor change sounds from smooth blending to a wet slapping sound.
  2. When the mayonnaise is thick, scrape it into a container, cover it tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours to firm up and allow the flavors to meld.
For the Salad
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Lightly salt the chicken breasts and place on a baking tray. Roast for about 20 – 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (internal temperature of 165°). Let the chicken cool to room temperature, then pull of the skin, pull the meat from the bones and shred into a bowl, either using two forks or your fingers.
  2. Add the carrots, green onions, peanuts, cilantro and mint to the chicken in the bowl and toss to combine. Add 1 cup of the sesame mayonnaise and stir to coat.
  3. The chicken salad will keep, covered, in the fridge for a few days. The mayonnaise will keep, covered, for 4 days.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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