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Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes by The Culinary ChaseSlow-roasted tomatoes are about the closest I’m ever going to get to sun-dried.  The ones available here are mass produced and to be honest, aren’t that appealing.  According to TLC, the practice of drying tomatoes for use throughout the winter began in Italy, where tomatoes were placed on the tile roofs of houses until the sun baked out almost all of their moisture. This process intensifies the tomato’s natural flavor and preserves its inherent nutritional value; a rich source of lycopene and vitamin C.

I find the best tomatoes to use are the little ones…cherry or grape. You can use campari tomatoes but you’ll need to either quarter or thickly slice them.  Slow-roasted tomatoes are fine dinner companions tossed in salads, pasta, on grilled bread with cheese, spaghetti squash, orzo, puréed into a dressing, couscous and so on.

cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half horizontally
caster sugar
dried oregano or thyme
sea salt

grape tomatoes by The Culinary Chase1. Preheat oven to 230f (110c).
2. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle sugar, salt and thyme lightly over the tomatoes (the pinch method works best).
3. Roast in the oven 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Use immediately or store in the fridge in a mason jar covered with olive oil.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
Deliciously sweet! For enhanced flavor, add a sprig of rosemary and peeled garlic cloves to the mason jar. Enjoy!

Sausage Stuffed Mushroom Caps

sausage stuffed mushroom caps byThe Culinary ChaseThere are oodles of recipes for stuffed mushrooms but most require too much cooking for my liking.  I want a simple yet mouth-watering appetizer to whip up while I chat to my friends.  Sausage and mushrooms are perfect companions and pair them with garlic and fennel…it becomes a snack your guests will find hard to say no to.  The thing with this recipe is not to be too concerned with exact amounts.  Add more cheese if that ‘floats your boat’ or more garlic or hot Italian sausage instead of mild.  You get the picture.  Experiment with flavors you enjoy and serve these sausage stuffed mushroom caps at your next soirée.

medium-sized mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
1/4 cup or more of fontina cheese, coarsely grated
hot Italian sausage, squeezed out of their casings
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons fennel seed
balsamic vinegar

stuffed mushroom caps by The Culinary Chase1. Preheat oven to 400f.
2. In a bowl combine cheese, sausage, garlic and fennel seed.
3. Brush insides of mushrooms with balsamic vinegar and place a tablespoon or so of the sausage mixture.
4. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: These were so darn scrumptious! These mushrooms were perfect for three bites (ok, maybe 2) although you could go smaller but then you wouldn’t be able to savor the taste as well. You be the judge and let me know. Enjoy!

Baked Ricotta Dip

baked ricotta dip by The Culinary ChaseFall might be just around the corner but this is a recipe that knows no seasons.  Ricotta is an Italian cheese that is made from the leftover milk whey from cheese and the name in Italian means recooked.  Ricotta cheese is so versatile. It’s perfect in savoury and sweet dishes. I’ve used it in lasagnas, gnocchi, cheesecake, on a tomato crostini, tossed in pasta, manicotti, ricotta dumplings, frittata, cavatelli with sausage, and made my own ricotta which was fun and delicious.  Baked ricotta dip is super easy to make and is perfect for those who pop by your home unexpectedly.  Want more inspiration? Visit Bon Appétit and learn 12 Ways to Cook with Ricotta Cheese.

Serves 4 to 6
15 oz. ricotta
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and pepper
lemon zest
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of chili pepper flakes
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped (can also use fresh oregano)

ricotta photo by The Culinary ChasePreheat oven to 375f. Combine all ingredients until well incorporated. Place in an ovenproof dish and bake 15 minutes until top is bubbling and starting to brown. You may want to place it under the broiler to brown more but that’s up to you.  Remove from oven and serve with chunks of fresh Italian bread or grilled bread slices (crostini) and tapenade.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: If the ricotta is fresh, you may have to strain off the liquid by using a cheesecloth.  Add grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese if you like.  Enjoy!

Polenta Sticks with Mozzarella and Salami

polenta sticks with smoked mozzarella wrapped in salami by The Culinary ChaseI love simple ingredients as they tend to work symbiotically to create great flavors. Less is more…I know this sounds cliché but it’s true and not just in the food world. The more ingredients you use the greater the risk of losing the essential flavor of your food. When the ingredients are good, they need minimal help to make them better.  This recipe is easy to make and with only five ingredients, it’s a winner.  These polenta sticks with smoked mozzarella peeking out of the salami will be a hit at your next dinner party.  Cornmeal, the golden-yellow polenta, is a culinary staple in Northern Italy. Polenta is a neutral flavored dish that can be used as a base to carry other flavors. Using a medium grind cornmeal will yield the best results. Look for ‘stone ground’ cornmeal on the label.

Serves 4 as an antipasto

1/2 cup cornmeal (packaging may also say polenta)
2 cups water or chicken stock
pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or aged cheddar cheese
smoked mozzarella
fennel salami (or favorite salami), thinly sliced

polentaTo make the polenta sticks, place water and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil then slowly add the cornmeal, stirring occasionally. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes (if using instant cornmeal, the time is shortened to about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Stir until butter is melted then add the cheese. On an 8-inch plate, grease with 1 tablespoon of olive oil then pour polenta on top. Smooth to edges of plate and allow polenta to cool to temperature. Once cool, cut into strips.

polenta sticks by The Culinary ChasePreheat oven to 400f (200c). To assemble, place a thick slice of mozzarella on top of the polenta and wrap a piece of salami around it. Place on a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese has softened. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly…you don’t want these piping hot when you serve them as the flavor intensifies when warm.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  You can make the polenta the night before.  When ready to assemble, remove from fridge and slice into sticks. To keep things looking more uniform, cut the polenta based on the length of the mozzarella slices. If the salami slices are larger than the polenta sticks, fold under (like I did) to make it fit before wrapping. Enjoy!

Baked Fontina Dip

baked fontina dip by The Culinary ChaseI was on the train into the city and caught a glimpse into my future.  I spotted an elderly couple who were deep in conversation.  They looked so cute together; her silver hair was a bit disheveled and his white mane slicked back.  Both were in great shape.  He pulled out two books from his bag and gave one to his wife.  She smiled.  As I watched from a distance, it occurred to me that this could be us in a few years.  I wondered if we will be as energetic, outgoing, and loving as we are now?  With a relatively healthy lifestyle, a natural yearning to be active and inquisitive, I have to say yes.  I encourage John to do things that are out of his comfort zone and he does the same for me.  I glanced up and the lady is already out of her seat waiting for the train to pull into Grand Central.  I catch her looking back at her husband…she smiles and he laughs (a private joke no doubt).  Yep, this is exactly where I want to be when I reach their age.

Serves 4 to 6
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1 lb. fontina cheese, rind removed and cut into chunks (can also use gruyère, provolone or gouda)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
baguette

fontina cheese melt by The Culinary ChasePreheat broiler and position the oven rack 5″ from the heat. Distribute fontina evenly in a 12-inch stainless steel pan. Drizzle on the olive oil. Combine the garlic and rosemary and sprinkle it over the cheese. Season with salt and pepper and place the pan under the broiler for 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted, bubbling and starts to brown.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Serve this straight out of the oven and let everyone scoop up the melted cheese with chunks of bread.  If you liked this dish, try spicy baked Greek feta.  Enjoy!

Caprese Salad (insalata caprese)

caprese salad by The Culinary ChaseInsalata caprese is a tomato and mozzarella salad from the island of Capri. This simple yet delicious Italian antipasto makes perfect use of local heirloom tomatoes which are available now in grocery stores and markets.  Extra-virgin olive oil highlights the sweetness of the heirloom tomatoes and is the only dressing needed. What makes this salad shine? Like anything else, it’s the quality of the ingredients.   The tomatoes and mozzarella must be fresh – plain and simple, end of story.  If you live in New York or where there’s a large Italian community, fresh mozzarella is everywhere.  It doesn’t matter where I shop, I can always find in-house made mozzarella and with a choice as to salted or not.  I picked up the mozzarella on Sunday and a sticker on the plastic wrap said it was made at 12:30pm…still slightly warm!  I could visualize the salad and couldn’t wait to get home to chow down.

For 2 people, you’ll need –

1 or 2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
basil leaves

heirloom tomatoes by The Culinary ChaseArrange slices of tomatoes and cheese on a plate or platter so that they are overlapping each other. Scatter basil leaves and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Please don’t add any vinegar or lemon juice as you will kill the delicate flavor of fresh mozzarella.  A chunk of bread will go nicely with this salad to mop up any of the leftover juices from the tomatoes and olive oil. Enjoy!

Grilled Garlicky-Herbed Shrimp

Grilled Garlicky Herbed ShrimpGrilled, poached, fried, battered, roasted, sautéed, steamed – you name it I’ve tried it.  Shrimp are one of my favorite crustaceans, they take little time to cook and there are health benefits, too.  Shrimp is a nutritious alternative to meat proteins as it is low in calories and saturated fat.  It is an excellent source of selenium and unusually low-fat, low-calorie protein. Many people are confused about the fat and cholesterol content of shrimp. However, based on research involving shrimp and blood cholesterol levels, avoidance of shrimp for this reason does not seem justified.  Read more on this at the world’s healthiest foods.  Start the evening off right and serve these garlicky-herbed shrimp with your favorite cocktail.

Serves 4
inspired by Martha Stewart

3 tablespoons coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
20 jumbo shrimp, shells removed

garlicky herbed shrimp CollageCombine all ingredients except shrimp in a large bowl. Add shrimp and toss to combine making sure all parts of the shrimp is coated in the marinade. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Preheat grill on medium heat. Place shrimp on grill and cook, turning once, until pink – about 5 minutes.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
Want a Mediterranean feel?  Serve the shrimp with a roasted red pepper salad. Enjoy!

Beet and Goat Cheese Terrine

beet & goat cheese

“Cooking food and presenting it beautifully is an act of servitude. It is a way of expressing affection through a gift… That we should aspire to produce perfectly finished and presented food is a symbol of a willing and enjoyable participation in servicing others. Food pornography exactly sustains these meanings relating to the preparation of food. The kinds of picture used always repress the process of production of a meal. They are always beautifully lit, often touched up.”     Rosalind Coward

I struggle sometimes to capture that food moment when I take a few shots and take more and still are not satisfied with any of them. And then, there are those times when only a few shots are taken and I feel I have a winner with at least three. The photo of the beet terrine encapsulated that moment. Perhaps it was my mood or that I was so excited to try what ‘looked’ so amazing…luscious layers of crimson and pink with bits of white peeking through. I plated the food, presented it to John…he requested seconds, need I say more?

Serves 4 to 6
inspired by Frances Janisch

12 or more beets, assorted colors (if possible)
8 oz. (227g) goat cheese
extra-virgin olive oi
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
basil leaves

fresh beetsBring a pot of water to a boil. Add beets and reduce heat to a simmer and cook until soft and easy to slice with a knife (about 40 min. depending on how big the beets are). Remove from pot and rinse under cold water. Once cooled enough to handle, remove the skin and allow to cool completely. In the meantime, line a bread tin with plastic wrap allowing the wrap to hang over the sides. Once beets are cooled, thinly slice.

beetsTo assemble: start with a layer of yellow or orange beets, season with salt and pepper and a very light drizzle of olive oil. Next, add goat cheese chunks. Don’t try to spread the cheese – you’ll end up with a mess. Repeat another layer until the yellow or orange beet slices have been used. Do the same procedure using the red beet slices and end with red beet slices. Fold over the plastic wrap and add a brick or other heavy weight. Place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, use the plastic to remove beets from the tin and place on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice. Decorate with sea salt flakes, basil leaves and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Oh my stars! The basil and sea salt flakes add just the right flavor to this eye-appealing appetizer.  Pressing the beets helps to release any air pockets and makes it easier to slice without falling apart.  Choose beets that are similar in size. I had to buy yellow beets as the orange ones were too small. Don’t worry if the beets don’t fill the bread tin.  Enjoy!

Pistachio Purée and Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

pistachio pizzaTandoori Naan bread is one of my favorite go-to flatbreads.  Not only is it perfect for mopping up the sauce from an Indian dish it’s just the right size for personal pizzas.  This pistachio purée has a buttery, rich flavor and might seem odd to spread on a as a pizza base, but let me tell you, it was delicious!  Pistachios have been around for centuries and pistachio trees were said to have been in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (700BC).  Pistachios are nutritionally beneficial and should be included in your diet.  They’re good for heart health, eye health, immune system, and skin health.  For more details, click here.  The best part of this dish – dinner in 20 minutes!

Serves 4 to 6 people
pistachio purée adapted from Saveur

Tandoori naan bread
fresh mozzarella
basil leaves, torn
button mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
olive oil, for drizzling

Pistachio Purée –
1½ cups shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
½ cup olive oil, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt, to taste

naan pizzaPurée pistachios, Parmesan, oil, lemon juice, salt, and ¼ cup water in a food processor until smooth.  Spread the purée on the naan bread, followed by mushroom slices, basil leaves and topped with fresh mozzarella.  Drizzle olive oil over cheese and broil in the oven until cheese has melted.

basilThe Culinary Chase’s Note: Pulse the pistachios first in the food processor before adding the rest of the ingredients.  You may need to add more juice or water depending on the consistency you desire.  Enjoy!

Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Pizza – hello wordpress!

eggplant

I’ve been ‘meaning’ to switch from blogger to wordpress for ages and finally I decided to take the leap!  I’m not technically inclined – I think that logical side of me is buried deep within.  I don’t, though, hesitate to take on new projects except when it comes to computers and software.  There’s something far too technical about them that keeps me at bay.  I am what you would call WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and I don’t want to have to think about all the ‘logical steps’ that goes into processing a command on the computer…perhaps that’s why it executes my mistakes perfectly and the end result isn’t at all what I intended it to be!  The thing is, I do enjoy using a computer but it drives me nuts when logic takes over and clouds my artistic thinking.  It usually takes me a few times to get it wrong in order to get it right or it’s the groans from my daughter when I ask her how it’s done – for the third time!  Once I master it, the magical aha! moment erupts and I feel as though I’ve mastered the hardest task in the world.  This recipe, grilled eggplant and tomato pizza, is my first posting as a WordPress blogger.  Yay!

But I digress.  Choosing someone to help migrate your site to another can seem like a daunting task but check around, ask questions and fondly enough, you’ll find someone.  That’s what happened to me.  I was searching sites using the keywords ‘blogger to wordpress migration’ and found Jeni.  Her site, The Blog Maven, is geared perfectly for what I wanted and more.  She was so patient with me and answered my wild/quirky questions.  The transition, thus far, has been seamless.  Now I have to fiddle with the design elements of my site, get out of my blogger comfort zone and get more familiar with all that wordpress has to offer.  The new layout for posting is going to take some bit to get used to but in no time I’ll look back and laugh at what I thought was difficult to do.  🙂

Serves 4

inspired by Grace Parisi

1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds), peeled and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick

4 large plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick

olive oil, for brushing

1/3 cup chopped green olives

1 to 2 teaspoons chili flakes

1/4 cup finely shredded basil

6 oz. Fontina cheese (or your favorite cheese), thinly sliced

eggplant slicesBrush eggplant and tomato slices with olive oil and season lightly with salt. Grill eggplant in batches over moderately high heat, turning once, until softened and lightly charred, about 4 minutes. Place tomato slices on foil and grill until soft but still intact.

eggplant & tomatoIn a bowl, combine the olives, chiles and shredded basil. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In the center, arrange half of the eggplant in a 9-inch square, overlapping the slices slightly. Top with half of the grilled tomatoes, olive mixture and Fontina. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, ending with the cheese.

eggplant pizzaBake in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Let stand for 10 minutes (if you can wait that long!).

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  I made this again it’s that good!  This dish is also very tasty the next day…if you have any leftovers.  Enjoy!