Sometimes with food, the simpler the better. I'd always wanted to try a pesto pizza and after racking my brain in an attempt to find the best combination of ingredients to add together, I realized that all that was needed were the basics: tomatoes and mozzarella, both the fresher the better. As always with pesto, remember that a little bit goes a very long way (the raw garlic is overpowering). I really loved the super-tasty finished product: you could identify every layer of flavor and they each were more delicious than the next.
6 ounces mozzarella, grated or sliced (about 1 cup)
2-3 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons basil pesto (my recipe here)
1 pound pizza dough (my recipe here)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a floured surface with your hands stretch dough evenly into a 12-inch round. Transfer to pizza tray.
2. Spread pesto over dough leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange tomato slices and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cheese.
3. Bake until dough is crisp and brown, about 10 to 12 minutes, and transfer to a board. Cut into slices and serve immediately.
I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about pickling vegetables, but when I spotted food coloring (yuck) on most jarred pickles' ingredients lists I decided it was time I attempted to make a homemade batch. The process was surprisingly easy thanks in large part to a mandoline slicer, a handy but dangerous utensil–seriously, watch your fingers if you're using it one. I attempted the "Bread and Butter" pickle variety, whose name originates from one of two fun stories: it's inventor was so successful that he earned a living by selling jars or during the Depression it actually was a sandwich staple. What's more important to know these days is that even though the recipe includes the usual salt and spices, the brine is sweetened by sugar. It makes for an end product that's a little sweet, a little sour, a little crunchy, a little tangy–and a whole lot of yum.
5 1/2 cups (1 1/2 pounds) thinly sliced fresh cucumbers
1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds (if ground, use 1 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1. In a bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion and salt. Mix well. Cover the mixture with ice and let stand at room temperature for two hours. Drain well, and return to bowl.
2. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Bing to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
3. Pour hot vinegar mixture over cucumber mixture. Let cool at room temperature 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours (can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 2 weeks, or longer jarred).
I wouldn't call most of the desserts that I make at home particularly decadent, especially since I'm always drawn to recipes that skimp on sugar, butter, or artificial add-ins. But I knew this particular treat was going to be different and boy was I right. The major components here are all wonderfully rich–chocolately brownies, creamy ice cream, and a brandy-infused sauce all swirl together in a finished product that memorizes from the first bite. It's taking all of my will-power to stop myself from going back into my kitchen to repeat this beauty all over again–I'm warning you, it's that good.
2 cups cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup port
6 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup port
1/4 cup sugar
1. Toss first 2 cups of cherries in the port, spread on a baking sheet in a single layer, and roast in an oven preheated to 450 F for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Melt the dark chocolate and oil in a double boiler (alternatively, microwave chocolate in intervals and stir in the oil).
3. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
4. Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together, then stir in the melted chocolate and fold in the flour followed by the cherries.
5. Pour the mixture into a greased 8×8 inch baking pan. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.
6. Bring the remaining cherries, port and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to simmer until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 30-40 minutes.
7. To serve: cut brownies into 9 pieces. Arrange each in a bowl and top with ice cream and warmed cherry sauce.
I'd always wanted to try moussaka, so rather than wait for it to appear on a restaurant's menu at the right time I decided to attempt to make the famously Greek dish on my own. Even though I'm much more familiar with making traditional Italian lasagna, it seems a lot more complicated than it looks. Know that there are three layers, with each cooked separately before they're baked together. The bottom base consists of boiled potatoes and breaded eggplant, the middle section a yummy tomato sauce with ground lamb, chopped vegetables, and aromatic spices, and the top layer an airy milk- and flour-based custard. As with all casseroles, be sure to let the moussaka rest after comes out of the oven otherwise slicing it will result in a slippery mess.
4 eggplants (about 4 lbs. total)
1 lb. potatoes
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks)
1 cup grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese
For meat sauce:
1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
2 large onions, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 cup tomato puree
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
For bechamel sauce:
3/4 cup olive oil
4 cups milk, warmed
1 cup flour
1 bay leaf
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1⁄2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1. Peel the eggplants and slice into 1/2 inch slices. Place in a colander and salt liberally, then cover with an inverted plate weighted down by a heavy can or jar. Place the colander in the sink so that excess moisture can drain, preferably for an hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Add a splash of water to the egg whites and beat them lightly with a fork. Add breadcrumbs to a flat plate. Dry eggplant slices with paper towels. Dip into the beaten egg whites and then dredge in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides. Place slices on baking sheets and bake at for 1/2 an hour, turning once during cooking. When eggplant is finished, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
3. Peel the potatoes and boil them whole until they are just done (they should not get too soft). Drain, cool, and slice in 1/4 inch slices. Set aside.
4. To make meat sauce: In a pan, brown the ground lamb until the pink color disappears. Drain excess water and fat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add wine to pan and reduce before adding cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, parsley, tomato paste, tomato puree, and sugar. Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered
for approximately 25 minutes until thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. To make a béchamel sauce: Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking until smooth, 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the milk in a steady stream until incorporated. Add the bay leaf and cook, whisking often until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and discard the bay leaf. Let sauce cool for 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and egg yolks and whisk into sauce until smooth.
8. To assemble the moussaka: Lightly grease a deep baking pan. Sprinkle the bottom of pan with breadcrumbs. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Top with a layer of eggplant slices. Add meat sauce on top of eggplant layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4
of the grated cheese. Pour the béchamel sauce over the eggplant, allowing sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until béchamel is golden in color. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
There was a time wen I always bought pre-made hummus–it was definitely one of those foods I thought was too complicated to make myself. Now I can't imagine the Middle-Eastern dip without being able to personally control the levels of each component flavor. Making it is as easy as having the necessary ingredients (there are only six), throwing them in a machine that will blend them, tasting for each, and adjusting accordingly. I almost always add more tahini, lemon, and salt, but extra olive oil is the key for bringing it all together.
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup well-stirred tahini (or to taste)
1/4 cup lemon juice (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup olive oil (or to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pinch paprika
Minced fresh mint or parsley
1. Place garlic in a blender or food processor and run until finely chopped. Add beans, tahini, lemon juice, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add olive oil and blend. Taste and adjust seasonings.
2. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and herbs.
I love baking with summery ingredients in the summer–apples, pumpkins, cinnamon, allspice you can wait a few more months before you sneak back into my kitchen. It's incredible how well peaches pair with the cornmeal in this recipe. The texture is like no other cake I've tried before, springy and slightly un-smooth in the best way. The ice cream is a must (for me at least) and a little goes a long way to replicate a heavenly peaches and cream combination in your mouth.
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil
3 ripe peaches
1. Preheat oven to 350° and spray a round 9” pan with cooking spray. Pit two of the peaches and slice. Fan the peach slices on the bottom of the pan, covering entirely.
2. Mix the first five ingredients until well combined and set aside. Whisk honey, milk, oil, and eggs. Dice the remaining peaches into small chunks and add to the wet mixture.
3. Pour wet ingredients over the dry and stir until just combined. Pour batter evenly into the pan, covering the peaches and smoothing as needed.
4. Bake for 40 minutes until golden and cooked through. Remove from oven and cool for about an hour. Gently flip the cake onto a serving plate. Serve rewarmed slices with vanilla ice cream if desired.
Any dessert starring chocolate is worth a shot in my book, so when I read up on the fact that chocolate mousse could be made without the additional richness of heavy cream I was intrigued. If you can easily whip egg whites, this recipe is just about as simple as can be. In fact, the most difficult part is waiting for the mixture to chill–but it's more than worth it. Like magic, the confection sets up decadent and airy, just like any good mousse should. I like to serve it with chocolate shavings (because there's no such thing as overkill when it comes to chocolate) or fresh fruit, but it works well as a filling for cakes too.
1.25 cups (about 200 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or, chips)
a pinch of salt
3-4 tablespoon powdered sugar (or, to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Melt chocolate in a double-boiler until smooth and liquid. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
2. Separate eggs, making sure not to get any yolk into the whites. Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat to stiff peaks.
3. Check that the chocolate has cooled to be warm but not hot. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time.
4. Fold or whisk in two thirds of the egg whites. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Fold in the remaining third of the egg whites.
5. Divide into serving bowls and refrigerate for at least three hours.
I've always loved stuffed grape leaves (funny story: the first time I tried one, I was at a dimly-lit party and thought I had grabbed some sort of cookie–a savory but delicious surprise). I never really considered making them at home but this recipe actually ranks among the easier ones I've tried. It's like the grape leaves themselves were made for rolling–they fold so snugly when you follow the steps (it's bottom part up, right over, left over, then finish). It's important to taste test a roll before removing the pot from the heat: you'll know they're ready when the filling's softened up and the flavors have blended.
1 jar grape leaves
4 potatoes (or as needed), thinly sliced
2 cups short-grain rice, uncooked
1 large tomato, finely chopped
2 tsp tomato paste
1 cup onion, minced
8 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup raw chick peas, crushed
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
1. Rinse the rice and soak with crushed chickpeas for an hour. Meanwhile, rinse grape leaves in cold water. Oil the bottom of a large pot and line with potato slices to cover.
2. Once rice is ready, drain. Mix all remaining ingredients for stuffing and set aside.
3. Lay leaves rougher, vein side up. Place filling in center. Fold bottom of leaf over the stuffing, a third of the way. Fold right side over and then the left. Roll all the way through the end of the leaf (do not roll too tightly because the rice expands as it cooks).
4. Arrange leaves in flat layers in the pot. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt on top, ½ cup of olive oil, and about 4 cups of water. Allow the liquid to seep all the way to the bottom (the liquid should cover the rolls). Place an inverted dish on the leaves to keep them down while cooking. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for about an hour.
5. Once rice is no longer raw (check by tasting), uncover pot and let rest for about 1 hour to cool. Invert the pot and slide leaves onto large platter. Garnish with lemon slices and potatoes. Chill (grape leaves are best when served cold).