Spanakopita

It was a rainy Sunday a few weeks ago, and Matt and I decided to try to relive our trip to Greece last year with a Greek food party.  One of our favorite things to order had been this – also one of my favorite things to whisk from breakfast trays, roll up in a napkin, and pull out right when sightseeing and the sun were getting too much and we just needed a little energy pop.

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These were surprisingly easy to make, and in the future, I could see it being even easier if I were to just use sheets of fillo in a baking dish instead of laboriously folding each into a little triangle.  But either way, it was a delicious addition to our Greek party.

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Ingredients

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 lb baby spinach
  • 1/2 lb feta, crumbled (scant 2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 10 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen

Directions

    1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook spinach, stirring, until wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl and stir in feta, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
    2. Preheat oven to 375°F.
    3. Melt remaining 1 stick butter in a small saucepan, then cool.
    4. Cover phyllo stack with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel.
    5. Take 1 phyllo sheet from stack and arrange on a work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered) and brush with some butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (roughly 12- by 2 3/4-inch) strips.
    6. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near 1 corner of a strip on end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in same manner, using all of phyllo.
    7. Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly.
 From Epicurious Spanakopita

Minty Sweet Pea Spread

minty_pea_spread_3_garnishedFresh English peas are in season and available in most markets. Please feel free to go ahead and buy them and blanch them for this recipe. I however, am taking the lazy way out and using a good quality frozen pea – something which I always have on hand in my freezer. However, there is absolutely no acceptable substitute for fresh mint or lemon. I came across this simple spread on one of my new favorite food blogs, the kitchen. It’s incredibly simple to make, has a gorgeous bright green color that just sings spring and is fresh tasting. I lightened it up a bit and in addition to using as a dip with fresh veggies, it worked well as a sandwich spread and over grilled chicken. That’s an awful lot to get from something that is so simple to make.

Minty Sweet Pea Spread adapted from the kitchen

Yield: About 3 cups

Ingredients

2 cups of fresh English peas shelled and blanched or frozen peas, defrosted

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/3 cup of fresh mint leaves

2 Tablespoons mascarpone

6 Tablespoons plain non-fat Greek yogurt

1/8 teaspoon ground sumac (optional but this makes the citrus flavor pop!)

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Add the peas, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and mint to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Pulse in the mascarpone and yogurt and ground sumac, if using, until smooth and the desired consistency. If you want it a little thicker, you can add a bit more yogurt.
  3. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if desired, but you don’t want to overwhelm the fresh pea taste. This is not heavy or spicy. It is fresh and vegetal.

Egyptian Ground Fish Balls – Bellahat

fish balls on platter with garnish

I have never loved gefilte fish – even when it is homemade – but I wanted a fish first course and this recipe caught my eye. Egyptian Jews make it for holidays, including Shabbat meals. I made it for the first time last year and it was huge hit, so I made it again this year. The key is finding a fish monger with beautiful fresh fish, who will grind it up for you and fresh herbs and spices. You can grind the fish yourself but having someone else do it makes this dish pretty easy to make. Any leftovers make terrific lunches for the rest of the week. Frances has already placed her “order” for her flight home, which unfortunately is tomorrow. These are best made a day ahead so the Bellahat can absorb the flavors of the wonderfully savory sauce. Because I know my audience, I make these flavorful, but not too hot. I have recently discovered the joys and wonder of Aleppo pepper, which is a sweet, savory hot pepper that never overwhelms. I made lavish use of it this Passover, and will make sure that this is now a staple in my spice pantry.

Egyptian Ground Fish Balls with Tomato and Cumin (Bellahat) from Jayne Cohen’s Jewish Holiday Cooking.

Yield: About 8 servings, but can easily be doubled

Ingredients

For the Fish Balls

1.5 pounds (net) of a non-oily white-fleshed fish like flounder, cod, sea bass, snapper or grouper (I used Red Snapper) with the skin and bones removed and finely ground

1/2 cup matza meal

2 large eggs

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Aleppo pepper (or cayenne if you want it really hot) to taste

2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

For the Sauce

1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons EVOO

One 28 ounce can of San Marzano or other high quality whole tomatoes, with their juice and broken up

NOTE: (You can make this with fresh plum tomatoes and sweet red and yellow peppers, but I try to put my efforts where it really makes a significant difference. And if the plum tomatoes are not in season from a farmer’s market, don’t even bother.)

Kosher salt and more Aleppo Pepper

Juice of one large lemon

Soft-leaf lettuce for serving

Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or lemon wedges for garnish

Directions

  1. I make my sauce first.In a large heavy saute pan or deep skillet, warm the garlic in 2 Tablespoons of EVOO until fragrant but not brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes and their juice, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over moderately high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken up and the sauce has thickened.
  3. Stir in the remaining 1 Tablespoon of EVOO and the lemon juice. fish balls adding lemon to tomato baseTurn off the heat while you make the fish balls.
  4. In a food processor or by hand, combine the finely ground fish with all of the other ingredients and either pulse until well-combined or mix thoroughly with your hands.fish balls after mixing
  5. With hands moistened in cold water, shape the mixture into 16 slightly flattened ovoids, using about a 1/4 cup for each.
  6. Turn the heat on under the sauce and add the fish balls directly into the sauce. fish balls simmering in paella panWhen all of the fish balls are nestled in the sauce, bring the sauce to a simmer on a low heat. Cover the pan and cook the fish balls for 20-25 minutes until the fish balls are firm and cooked through, turning them once. Turn off the heat and adjust any seasonings of the sauce. Allow the fish balls to cool in the sauce and refigerate over night or up to 48 hours.
  7. Serve on a platter or individual plates with the lettuce leaves, the fish balls and sauce and sprinkled with chopped parsley or cilantro.

NOTE: I like a slightly chunky sauce, but if you prefer a smooth one, remove the fish balls from the sauce before serving and using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.

 

Sundried Tomato and Feta Soleil

Between being under the weather and a lot of travel, I managed to convince myself that cooking something interesting would somehow make me feel better.  After a sad round with gougères that just didn’t turn out right, it was comforting to have this turn out mostly delicious.  Technically, I’d made it for a party that I thought I was going to take food to and ended up with Matthew eating most of it instead (oops).

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The first go at this was a real struggle-fest, mainly because I think I hadn’t realized how touchy puff pastry was, much like Goldilocks and the bears – thaw too much and the dough is sticky, not thawed enough and too hard to roll out.  It literally had to be juuuuust right.  But who has time for that?

Anyways, this finally turned out after I gave up on the other puff pastry dough, and bought a whole new set.  But as it turned out, that other pastry dough still became a delicious butternut squash tart, so it was not all wasted.

The Smitten Kitchen version where I got this from is much more beautiful, but this turned out pretty delicious too!

Ingredients

Filling
3/4 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Assembly
2 packages puffed pastry (leave in fridge overnight to thaw, or follow the box directions; remember, puff pastry = Goldilocks)
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)

Dip
6 ounces feta, crumbled
2 ounces cream cheese, cold is fine
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the filling: Blend ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped and spreadable. Mixture will be thick. You can thin it with more olive oil if needed, but no need to make this thin like a sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Assemble the tart: Roll first package puffed pastry flat on a large piece of parchment paper or reusable baking mat into a 12-inch circle; use a 12-inch round plate or bowl to mark the size for a clean cut. Repeat with second dough, setting one aside in the fridge until needed.  (This part is hard if the dough isn’t the right consistency.)

Place first round on a parchment- or nonstick mat-lined baking sheet. Spread with filling to all but 1-inch from edge. Dab edges with water and place second round on top. Set a small glass upside down in the middle. Being careful not to cut through parchment paper or baking mat, cut away from glass (i.e. not through center) in quarters, or at the 3-, 6-, 9- and 12 o’clock marks. Cut through each quarter again, making 8 strips, and again, making 16 strips, and one last time so that you have 32 “rays” of pastry emanating from the center. If at any point in the cutting the pastry feels annoyingly soft and hard to cut, just pop the tray in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it back up.

Remove glass. Place finger near center of each ray (where it is most likely to break off prematurely) and gently twist each strand a few times. Beat egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water; brush it over pastry and sprinkle with seeds, if desired.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown all over.

Meanwhile, make whipped feta dip: Blend all filling ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place in bowl for dipping.

Remove tart from oven, let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes then transfer to a serving platter. Tear off rays of sun, dip in whipped feta; repeat as needed.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen Feta Tapenade Soleil.

Beet Caviar

IMG_1440Okay, so this isn’t really anything like caviar (which I also happen to love). But until I can think of a better name, we’ll just have to go with this. Caviar or not, it is a delicious beet spread (nope, too dull) that I first ate with a Russian friend and later had a version of it at the Chicago Russian Tea Time Restaurant. This along with my mushroom walnut pâté are wonderful additions to any party spread. And both are so easy, there is simply no excuse for not making them. Whip some up for this Passover or anytime you want to celebrate something. And if you use the pre-cooked beets like “Love Organic Beets” that you can find in the produce section of the grocery store, this really is a snap to make. The photo just doesn’t do justice to the taste.

Beet Caviar adapted from The Eastern and Central European Kitchen: Contemporary and Classic Recipes by Silvena Rowe

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

4 medium beets, washed and trimmed

5 Medjool dates, pitted

2 Tablespoons cognac (Bourbon or Vodka)

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 Tablespoons lemon juice or to taste

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt or Kosher salt

3 Tablespoons creme fraiche, mascarpone or sour cream (If you want to keep it vegan, you can use Tofutti, Better Than Cream Cheese)

freshly chopped chives for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. If you are not using pre-cooked beets, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a rack in the center. Puncture the beets with a fork a few times and roast for 1 hour or until the beets are completely tender when you test by cutting into the center with a knife.
  2. In the meantime, gently heat the cognac in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Place the dates in a glass dish and when just hot, pour the alcohol over the dates. Allow to soak for at least 10 minutes.
  3. When the beets are cooked and cool enough to peel, remove the skins and chop into cubes. Place in a food processor or blender with the dates, cognac, walnuts, mascarpone, lemon juice, salt and garlic. Puree until the texture is to your liking.
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt or lemon juice. Serve with chopped chives. If you prefer, you can swirl a bit of the creme fraiche (mascarpone or sour cream) through the mixed beets instead of processing it together. It is purely an esthetic decision and will not change the taste.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostini

Most of my cooking adventures are well planned, with a timeline that goes backwards to gauge when I should start said adventure.  Unfortunately, there are a few times that the adventures are unfolding just fine until I discover that step 2 takes an hour instead of 15 minutes, or I forgot that something else was in the oven and so I can’t swap it out.  At these times, a little snack is all we need to get from “oh my goodness I am so hungry that I’m only seeing spinning wheels” to “oh hey, I’m feeling just fine, you take as long as you want to get dinner ready!”

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This snack was inspired from a starter at a restaurant that we recently discovered near Lincoln Center that seemed oh so fancy, and then I realized that I could easily make it at home since I seem to always have tomatoes and goat cheese (thanks to an amazing goat cheese sale at the grocery store) and a couple of delectable, tasty olive oils.

It can be used for dinner party starters, cocktail parties, or just that lazy Saturday afternoon around 3 when brunch has worn off but dinner is far off.  The best is that you can play with the ingredients and add any kind of herbs or differently flavored olive oils and still get good results, so experiment!

Ingredients

French baguette, cut in 1/2″ slices
2-3 tomatoes (any will work, I like the Roma ones for this)
Goat cheese
Olive oil
salt and pepper for taste
basil (optional – I didn’t use it in the photo, but it would be a perfect touch)

Directions

Preheat your oven 200 degrees F.  Line a tray with foil and place your bread on the tray and stick it in the oven even as it is warming up.  Depending on how toasty you like your bread, leave it in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Once the bread looks toasty, take the tray out of the oven, and drizzle olive oil on the bread slices.  Take about a tablespoon of goat cheese (I like to be generous and use large chunks of it) and spread on the bread.  Slice the tomatoes and press slices into the goat cheese.

Drizzle with a little more olive oil if you wish, and sprinkle some pepper on all the arrangements.  Serve immediately!

Ratatouille Nicoise

RatatouilleIt always REALLY annoys me when a recipe calls for a little of this and a little of that. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the “this and that?” If you read my recipe for savory galette you would quickly realize that you have left-over zucchini and eggplant. Well who wants to waste great ingredients?

eggplants

This ratatouille recipe is the perfect answer. It’s so versatile and delicious that I make it even when I don’t have left-overs – just because! Ratatouille is a savory stew of vegetables and I have used it as a side to grilled meats, fish or an omelette. It makes a wonderful pasta sauce and if you dice the vegetables fairly small, it can make a wow appetizer by filling baked puff pastry cups with it (you might drain a bit of the liquid off when using it this way). It’s equally delicious hot or at room temperature so is a wonderful side to bring to picnics. It stores well in the fridge and actually intensifies in flavor after the first day. The following recipe is one I have been making for decades and I have no recollection of where it originated. I have tweaked it over the years as I do just about everything, but my apologies for not giving credit to whoever first came up with this. And while I do make this in the oven according to the recipe, in the summer when it is hot, I do it entirely on the stove so I don’t heat up the apartment. Truthfully, it’s just as good either way.

Ratatouille Nicoise                                             ratatouille2

Yields: About 10 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup EVOO

2 cups coarsely chopped onion

2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic

about 1 pound eggplant, trimmed and cubed

2 sweet peppers, any color

6 slim zucchini, any color

1-2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

26.46 oz. Pomi tomatoes or 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes crushed or chopped, with liquid

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/8 teaspoon (or more if you like things very spicy) hot red pepper flakes (Optional)

About 24 imported black olives (pitted makes life easier, but you can put them in with pits – just warn your eaters!) (SEE NOTE)

About 24 imported green olives

2-3 Tablespoons capers

Salt and pepper to taste

One bunch finely chopped parsley

NOTE: Please buy the best olives you can and these days there is no excuse for using those tasteless olives in a can from California. I like the black oil-cured or Kalamatos olives and a variety of the green. If y ou don’t happen to live near a good source of olives, you can now purchase them online in vacuum-sealed bags, imported from Greece from Nuts.com – one of my favorite (and now Frances’) sources for nuts, dried fruits, spices and so much more.

Directions:

  1. Heat the EVOO in a large Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they turn translucent.
  2. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring gently about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sweet peppers and stir, cooking about 1 minute. Then add the zucchini and salt and pepper to taste. Go easy on the salt since you will be adding olives and capers which are both salty. Add the bay leaves and thyme and cook about 5 minutes more.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and add the olives and parsley. Cover tightly and cook about 10 minutes.
  5. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes.