keito potato

Roasted Zucchini and Mint Salad
August 5, 2012, 8:30 pm
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , , , ,

This is a new favorite salad, and a fresh way to handle a profusion of zucchini during summer.  It’s light and refreshing with the crunch of almonds and croutons, and the brightness of mint and lemon.  What’s not to love?

This recipe calls for halving the zucchini lengthwise, and roasting it briefly at a high heat without any oil.  The technique works well to sear the zucchini without burning it, and the interior is perfectly tender.  The amount of lemon juice in the original recipe was a bit excessive (in my mind) because the extra lemon juice sat in a pool in the bottom of the serving bowl.  In the future I will reduce the amount from 3 lemons to 2 lemons.

The recipe comes from the Osteria cookbooks by Rick Tramonto and Mary Goodbody, which features rustic Italian food from Tramonto’s childhood.  This salad can be served as an antipasto, or as a side salad.


8 zucchini, halved lengthwise

4 sprigs fresh mint

about 2/3 cup croutons (homemade, if possible)

about 1/2 cup toasted almonds

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

juice of 3 lemons (or 2 lemons)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh mint leaves for garnish


Preheat the oven to 500F.

Lay the zucchini on a baking sheet, skin side up, and bake for about 8 minutes, or until the zucchini are golden brown on the flat, fleshy side.  

Let the zucchini cool slightly and then slice into half-moons.

In a bowl, mix the zucchini, mint sprigs, croutons, and toasted almonds.  Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, toss, and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange on a serving platter and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

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.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Drizzled with Citrus Honey
June 28, 2012, 11:57 pm
Filed under: recipes, starters | Tags: ,

A few weeks ago I noticed that one of my neighborhood groceries was beginning to sell zucchini blossoms, which were tied together in bouquets.  I knew that zucchini blossoms are coveted by foodies, but I hadn’t tried them.  My birthday was a perfect excuse to experiment with something so special.  I found this recipe in The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen, which is the newest cookbook in my household.  This book explores delicate and appropriate things to do with a spectrum of cheeses.  This pairing here of goat cheese and citrus honey was simply lovely and elegant.  They were so delicious.

The original recipe calls for “tomme de ma grande-mere” goat cheese, which literally means “cheese as grandmother makes it” and is made just south of France’s Loire Valley.  I failed to find that specific variety of goat cheese, and substituted a standard option of goat cheese.  For the citrus flower honey, I found an unopened jar of orange flower honey in the pantry which was packed with a big piece of honeycomb inside the jar.

This recipe calls for more batter than what is needed for this amount of flowers.  You might want to think of other things to fry in this Italian fritto-misto style.  You might also want to use a little less oil for frying.


12-14 very fresh zucchini blossoms

10-12 ounces Tomme de Ma Grande-mere  or other young fresh goat cheese

1 egg

1 cup ice water

2 cups canola or grapeseed oil, for frying

citrus flower honey, for dipping or drizzling


Brush the zucchini blossoms with a pastry brush to remove any sand.   Gently reach inside each one with the tips of your fingers and remove the pistil of the flower, being careful not to tear the flower.  Stuff each blossom with goat cheese.  An easy way to stuff them is to pipe them using a ziploc bag.  (Fill the bag with cheese, cut off the bottom corner of the bag, and squeeze out to pipe).  Twist the flowers closed at the ends.

To prepare the batter, in a medium bowl, whisk the egg with the ice water.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth.  Add more ice cold water if necessary to form a thick batter similar to a crepe batter.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat the canola oil to 350F/180C over medium heat.  I recommend a wok or another similar pan with a narrow bottom for this.  Dip the stuffed blossoms in the batter two or three at a time.  Fry for about 2 minutes, or until light golden brown and crisp.  Drain on paper towels and serve with the honey.

Italian Walnut Cake
March 23, 2012, 3:16 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is one of my favorite cakes in my Grandma’s regular rotation.  It’s a single-layer, round cake decorated with a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar.  The cake looks simple and spartan, but the flavors are bold and complex, with the fragrance of toasted walnuts, lemon zest, and rum.  When I asked Grandma Willa for the recipe on the phone, she told me the list of ingredients, then told me to dust it with powdered sugar when it comes out of the oven.  When I asked about the assembly process, she scolded me, “Don’t you know how to bake a cake?”  This is to say that it’s a pretty straight-forward and easy cake.

I have changed Grandma’s recipe by toasting the walnuts and adding salt.  Many old fashioned cake recipes omit salt, but I like a little salt in my dessert to bring out the rest of the flavors.

Also, I normally make the cake with whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour.  Both types of flours work beautifully, but the whole-wheat flour makes it a little more healthful.  This is a comparatively nutritious cake because it’s roughly half walnuts, with the batter essentially holding the cake together.

Serve with strong coffee, or small glass of limoncello or sherry.


2  1/2 cups walnuts

8 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum

2 packed teaspoons lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour, or all-purpose flour

1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4  –  1/2 teaspoon salt


Toast the walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  Meanwhile prepare the cake batter.  

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand  mixer).  Add the rum, lemon zest, vanilla, and egg. Beat to combine.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt

When the walnuts come out of the oven, chop them fine.  Stir them into the cake batter.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.  Pour the batter in the pan, and bake at 350F for 40-60 minutes (depending on your oven).  The top will be golden brown, and an inserted toothpick will come out clean.  

Invert the cake onto a cake plate by placing the plate upside down on the cake in the pan, then quickly flipping it over.  The cake should easily slip onto the cake plate.  Dust with powdered sugar, using a sifter or strainer.

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.

July 22, 2010, 8:26 pm
Filed under: drinks, recipes | Tags: , ,

Two months ago, I nestled a gallon-jar of limoncello into my dark pantry to slowly marinate. We just bottled the limoncello this week, so it’s time to report to my friends that it’s damn fine. It’s honestly the best limoncello I’ve tasted. Just sweet enough, with a clean lemon finish.

This recipe comes from my friend Jim Mininger. Jim researched various limoncello techniques, compiling ideas into his own original recipe. He discovered the perfect balance of proportions.

Jim also advises using Everclear instead of the traditional vodka. The Everclear makes quite a difference. Because most limoncellos are made with vodka, they can’t help but taste like lemon-infused vodka, with a definite antiseptic edge. Without the vodka, it is truly a lemon aperitif, clean and bright. You might not be able to find Everclear at your corner grocery, but any liquor warehouse would carry it.

Bottles of homemade limoncello make great xmas gifts, and are especially convenient as make-ahead gifts before the holiday frenzy. As I give bottles of the 1st batch away this week, I realize I may need to start the 2nd batch soon. It does take several weeks to rest, you know.


15 lemons
2 bottles Everclear (750 ml each)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water


Pour one 750 ml bottle of Everclear into a 1-gallon jar.

Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any reside of pesticides or wax, unless you know that they have not been sprayed. Pat them dry.

Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or peeler. Use only the outer part of the rind. The white pith under the rind is bitter, and would ruin the limoncello.

Add the lemon zest to the gallon jar, adding as you zest it.

Cover the jar, and let sit for 10-40 days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better. There is no need to stir — all you have to do is wait. As the limoncello sits, the Everclear slowly takes on the flavor and rich yellow color of the lemon zest.

At this point, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Cook until thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Let the syrup cool. Then add it to the gallon jar. Add the 2nd bottle of Everclear. Allow this to rest for a second waiting period of another 10-40 days, also in a cool dark place.

During this time, collect and clean various liquor bottles and vinegar bottles (that you will eventually fill with limoncello). Also plan to make room in your freezer for the bottles.

After the 2nd resting period, strain the liquid with a very-fine sieve or a cheesecloth to remove the lemon zest. Discard the zest.

Use a funnel to fill various bottles. Store the bottles of limoncello in the freezer until ready to serve. Serve cold.

recipe courtesy of Jim Mininger

Watercress Gnocchi
April 7, 2010, 4:01 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , ,

In planning an Easter menu, deviled eggs are the traditional constant. For the rest of the meal I pursue new recipes featuring seasonal produce. This year I pulled out my Cafe Paradiso Seasons cookbook by Denis Cotter, which has become one of my top favorite cookbooks. It’s a seasonal cookbook put out by one of the top restaurants in Ireland. It’s darn exquisite. I flipped to the chapter on “early spring” and found this watercress gnocchi recipe. It’s a standard potato gnocchi, but with joyful green flecks of watercress mixed into the dough. I imagine you could substitute tender spinach leaves if watercress is hard to find in your neighborhood.

Denis pairs his gnocchi with a roasted tomato cream sauce. As I still don’t have a special place in my heart for tomatoes, I didn’t enjoy the sauce as much as I had imagined. So I am encouraging you to find your own sauce pairing for these watercress gnocchi. I loved their delicate texture and playful green flecks, and I bet you’ll find wonderful things to do with them.

A word about gentleness. Gnocchi dough needs to be treated quite carefully. Years ago I friend and I mistakenly thought we could whip up a batch in the processor, only to find the dough quickly becoming snotty. When we exasperatedly tried to remedy the situation with too much flour, the dough became tough and leathery, not what anyone wants in gnocchi. The goal is to make soft, tender pillows that melt in your mouth. I soon thereafter read that processing is the worst thing one can do to a gnocchi dough, which confirmed my experience. So I learned my lesson. Now I coax the correct texture from the dough instead of being impatient. That said, this dough isn’t necessarily difficult or time consuming.

One helpful suggestion offered by the cookbook is to bake the potatoes instead of steaming or boiling them. This ensures a drier dough that’s easier to work with.

21 oz. starchy potatoes
5 oz. watercress
3 oz. Parmesan, grated
salt and pepper to season
4 oz. white flour (to start)

Bake the potatoes. When cool enough to handle, peel them and gently mash the cooked potato flesh, or use a potato ricer. I mashed mine with a fork, and I’ll be honest that I enjoyed the tiny rustic lumps of potato in the pillows. Next chop the watercress very finely, and stir it into the potato mash. Add the Parmesan, and season well with salt and pepper.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Add the 4 oz of flour and work it into the potato. Gradually add more flour to get to the right consistency. You may end up adding as much as 8 oz, but 4 is a safe start. The goal is a soft dough, and not sticky to the touch. If you are unsure of your dough, you can test one piece in the boiling water to see if it falls apart. If so, add more flour.

Press the dough out on a floured cutting board, and roll it into logs. Slice a log into pillows at about 3/4-inch increments. Using a soft touch, roll the pillows around on the cutting board until the surface is smooth.

Drop them into the boiling water. Then will sink to the bottom of the pot. When they float to the top (which only takes minute or two), remove them with a slotted spoon. Depending on the size of your pot, you will probably want to boil them in 2-3 batches.