keito potato

Italian Arugula and Fennel Salad with Basil Dressing
August 4, 2012, 11:12 pm
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , , , , ,

This salad was one of the show-stoppers at a recent vegetarian cooking group meal.  My friends Nina and Tim planned an Italian menu, and this flavorful salad was phenomenal.  I have become addicted to it in the last two weeks, and have probably made it five times in that period of time.  I normally love the black-pepper-spiciness of arugula salads, and this one is unique with refreshing fennel slices, and the thick basil dressing.  The green opaque basil dressing is as thick as pesto, but with more flavor and less oil.  I would love to use this in other dishes where I used to use pesto.  The lemon, fennel fronds, and touch of honey all lift and brighten the basil flavor.  It tastes like the essence of summer.

You will need a sharp vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb.  I tried making this one time by slicing the fennel, but the slices were too thick and crunchy.  The fennel really needs to be shaved, so that it is fluffy and feathery. Many stores sell vegetarian parmesan (without animal rennet).  Trader Joe’s has a handy guide about various types of rennet in their products, and their vegetarian parmesan is shredded and comes in a bag.


2 bunches of arugula

1-2 fennel bulbs

1/2 bunch fresh basil

1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

5 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon honey parmesan or pecorino cheese


Zest the lemon.  With a sharp knife, remove the white pith.  Put the inner part of the lemon into a food processor.  Add the basil, fennel seeds, the fluffy fennel greens from the stalks, 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Puree.  Gradually add the 5th tablespoon of olive oil, if needed.  Now add the lemon zest, honey, salt, and pepper to the dressing.  Puree again to mix.  You can make this a few hours ahead of time, and chill in the refrigerator, if needed. Grate the parmesan or pecorino cheese.  Arrange the gratings onto a lined baking sheet into little flat 2-inch circles.  Broil these in the oven until they melt and turn into little disks.

Arrange the arugula in a large bowl or a wide platter.  Use a sharp vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb.  Add the fennel shavings to the salad.  Top the salad with the dressing and disks of broiled cheese.

Julia Child’s Mediterranean Tomato Rice Soup with Basil and Leeks
August 19, 2011, 3:04 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

My mom has been making this classic Julia Child soup for ages, so I have nostalgic summer memories of it.  My friend and I made it last week alongside a quiche, and I made another batch last night to welcome my parents home from  a long trip.  My mom was astonished, saying she had been craving this particular soup during her travels and had planned to make it once she got home.  This recipe comes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol 2. (the one with the blue cover).  On the first page I see my Grandma Erna’s handwritten note to my dad: “for Rick, to add to your knowledge of the good things in life – Love, Mom.”  What a treasure.

It’s a simple peasant soup, a breeze to make with basic ingredients.  Since I am finally experimenting with growing herbs, I was delighted to use basil and parsley from my backyard.

Julia tells us to chop the tomatoes to make a chunky soup, but my mom always purees the tomatoes smooth before adding them to the kettle.  I’m including both versions here.  If you don’t have a cheesecloth for the herbs, you can simply stir the herbs into the soup and let them be.  Chop the parsley and basil first, if you’re not using a cheesecloth.




3/4 cup leeks, or a combination of leeks and onions

3 tablespoons olive oil

1  1/2 lb tomatoes (fresh or good-quality canned whole plum tomatoes)

4 large garlic cloves

5 cups light vegetable broth

1/4 Cup raw white rice

The following tied in a cheesecloth:

6 parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon thyme

4 fennel seeds

6 large basil leaves

a large pinch of saffron threads

salt and pepper

few pinches of sugar

1 teaspoon or more tomato paste

salt and pepper

2 or more tablespoons fresh basil, minced or sliced


Thinly slice the leeks.  Heat the oil slowly in a large heavy-bottomed pot.  Cook the leeks slowly in the olive oil until the leeks are tender but not browned. 

Meanwhile, either chop the tomatoes or puree them in a medium bowl with a hand-held immersion blender.  Mince or mash the garlic.  When the leeks are tender, add the tomatoes and garlic and stir over moderate heat for 3 minutes.

Then add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then add the rice.  Add the herbs and saffron.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Carefully taste for seasoning, adding pinches of sugar to bring out flavor and counteract acidity, and small amounts of tomato paste if needed for color and taste.  Remove the herb bouquet if using a cheesecloth.

Julia recommends serving the soup either hot or chilled (I’ve only had it hot), sprinkled with fresh basil.

Summer Eggplant Parmesan
July 24, 2010, 9:25 am
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

A light and delicate take on eggplant parmesan for summer suppers. This is worlds away from your typical casserole, nothing like those bricks of heavy breaded eggplant.

This concept comes from Deborah Madison, who layers broiled eggplant slices with basil leaves, fresh mozzarella, and a light tomato sauce. I typically make this with slices of regular globe eggplants, but my local Arab market is currently selling tiny baby eggplants, truly as small as eggs. I thought I’d throw a version of this together with these baby eggplants. It turned out to be one of the cutest baked dishes.

The photos document my baby eggplant version, but the instructions cover both versions.


  • 1.5 pounds eggplant
  • olive oil
  • tomato sauce ( I like to use mine, but feel free to use another fresh tomato sauce recipe)
  • basil leaves
  • 4 oz. fresh mozzarella ( I have also had good results substituting goat cheese, if you want to go in that direction)
  • grated Parmesan


I usually start the assembly by starting to simmer the tomato sauce.

Trim the stems and slice the baby eggplants in half lengthwise. Sprinkle with salt and let stand 30 minutes. Then blot dry with a paper towel. I confess that I forgot this step. I remembered when I bit into one, and it was slightly bitter. The salting step removes the bitterness.

Fry the baby eggplant halves in a skillet on each side until golden, and soft when poked with a fork. Season lightly with salt and pepper. When I use the globe eggplants, I broil the slices in the oven, but since the baby eggplant slices were thicker, I guessed they would cook slowly and more evenly in a skillet.

If you are using globe eggplants, slice them into rounds 1/3 inch thick. Salt and blot them, as described above. Brush each with olive oil, and broil in the oven. Let them broil 5-6 minutes per side, until golden brown and soft. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

At this point, I finish my tomato sauce, removing the onions, whirring it with a stick blender. For this dish, I also add a handful of torn basil leaves to the sauce at the very end.

For assembly, coat the bottom of your baking dish with tomato sauce. Arrange the baby eggplant halves. Top each with a slice of fresh mozzarella, a small basil leaf on each, then another eggplant-half to create a sort of sandwich.

Gently top each “eggplant-sandwich” with tomato sauce to lightly cover, then about a teaspoon each of grated Parmesan.

If you were using globe eggplant slices, you would overlap the slices in a layer, and proceed in the same assembly order.

Bake in a 375F oven for 25-35 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.

Simple Tomato Sauce
June 3, 2009, 7:50 pm
Filed under: recipes | Tags: , ,

This tomato sauce is easy enough for those who can’t cook, precisely because of its unusual method.

Most other tomato sauces begin with chopping onions and garlic, and sauteing them awhile before adding tomatoes, wine, red peppers, etc, etc, etc.  My simple method has absolutely no sauteing.  And the only chopping is one big slice to hack an onion in half.  If you can cut an onion in half, you can make this sauce.

You simply throw canned tomatoes into a saucepan with a hunk of butter and an onion cut into 2 halves.  You practically poach the onion in the tomatoes, while the butter slowly smooths everything out.  At the end, you remove the onion halves and throw them away, leaving a tomato sauce that has a gentle savory onion edge, but no actual onion.

Not only is this recipe the easiest, it’s actually the most delicious tomato sauce I’ve made.  The flavor is savory and delicate.  I’ve been making this tomato sauce for the last 2 years, and use it for everything from pasta and pizza, to casseroles like eggplant parmesan and polenta lasagna.

This recipe is also perfect for my friends who have food-texture issues about small bits of onion.  Everything here is smooth and clean.

Please don’t be tempted to substitute olive oil for the butter.  I tried that once, but the olive oil was just the wrong kind of fat for this sauce.  It actually made the sauce slimy and oily.  Stick to the butter on this one.  It keeps the sauce soft, luscious, and flavorful.

I prefer to use canned whole plum tomatoes.  I think they have a better quality than just diced tomatoes.  Plus, diced tomatoes remain rubbery with their geometric right angles even after cooking, which creeps me out a little.  I like that whole canned tomatoes get naturally soft when cooked.  Then right before serving, I just whir it a bit with an immersion blender to smooth it out.


28-ounce can tomatoes

5 tablespoons butter

1 onion

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

torn basil leaves (optional)

grated parmesan (optional)

tomato sauce 006.1


Empty the canned tomatoes into a saucepan.  Peel the onion and cut it in half.  Add the onion halves, butter and salt to the tomatoes.

Simmer 40 minutes.  Stir from time to time, keeping the onion wedges immersed so that they can effectively flavor the sauce.  Remove the onion pieces with chopsticks or tongs.  Throw the onion pieces away.

tomato sauce 007.1

Puree with a hand-held immersion blender.  Add the torn fresh basil leaves or parmesan if desired.