Picnic Pesto

18 05 2009

Picnicking season is finally upon us.  Our blanket is at the ready, our supplies of wet naps have been replenished, and a bottle of rosé awaits in the fridge at all times.  I love the impromptu nature of the picnic.  It’s the sort of meal where Nick can call me from work on a particularly sunny afternoon and ask me to throw together a salad and get out the cheese, tell me he will pick up a baguette on the way from work, and we meet at the canal for a light, leisurely supper.

Ingredients for a springy pesto.

Even when you plan a picnic, like I did a few weeks ago with Hope, it’s nice to have dishes you can throw together at a moment’s notice.  Pasta salad is a picnic favorite in our house, and ever since I learned the trick to making pesto that doesn’t separate and clump when served on cold pasta (hint: it’s mayonnaise), I’ve been experimenting with different combinations of herbs and vegetables.  I usually employ a clean-out-the-fridge method of pesto-making.  Any fresh herbs I have lying around get thrown in, and the results are always tasty.  This time around, I happened to have two bunches of mint that needed some attention.  I had purchased them at the market because they smelled so refreshing, forgetting that I had used up the last of the rum making vanilla extract.

Mint pesto, peas, pasta

I added some parsley to the mix to help maintain the green color, and a handful of peas came along for the ride.  Because what says Spring more than peas and mint?  With the exception of cheese, the rest of the Usual Suspects were there: pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice.  Tossed with twirly pasta, toasted pine nuts, and more peas, it was a hit at the picnic.  The fresh, green flavor helped us all feel a little better about sitting around eating while watching the joggers in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.  I’ll be sure to make this again, next time I have mint lying around.  Or I may even buy some for the occasion.

Perfect Pesto Picnic Pasta

Pea and Mint Pesto Pasta Salad

 Delicious, refreshing, and utterly springy, this is the perfect dish for the first picnic of the season.  The addition of mayonnaise to the traditional pesto helps it cling to the cold pasta.  If you start the pasta first, you can have this salad ready to go in around 20 minutes.

 For the Mint Pesto:

2 bunches mint, washed and leaved (about 2 cups/450 ml packed leaves)
½ bunch parsley, washed and picked
1-2 small cloves of garlic, peeled
¼ cup/60 ml peas (use fresh if they are young and sweet, otherwise use frozen, thawed)
¼ cup/60 ml pine nuts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A little reserved pasta cooking water, if necessary

  1. Combine all ingredients except pasta water in a tall container.  Purée with an immersion blender, adjusting the consistency if necessary with a little of the cooking water.  Taste and tweak the seasoning as you desire.

 For the Pasta Salad:

7 oz./200 g pasta (short shapes with lots of surface area are best – think fusilli or farfalle)
1 recipe Mint Pesto
½ cup/120 ml peas (see note above)
½ cup pine nuts, toasted

  1. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water to just past al dente.  (You’re going to be eating this cold or room temperature, so it should be tender.)  Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.
  2. Toss the pasta with the pesto, peas, and pine nuts.  Pack into a reusable, picnic-friendly container and get outside!  Serve on a picnic blanket with plastic utensils.

 Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


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Torta Salads

12 09 2008

In a previous life, Nick and I used to frequent a place called Tio’s Tortas.  I affectionately refer to it as “Uncle Sandwich,” which is a blatant and deliberate mistranslation (although I’m not sure “Uncle’s Sandwiches” is any less silly).  At any rate, this place made about 14 different kinds of tortas, or Mexican sandwiches, which were piled high with delicacies such as smoked sausage, refried black beans, and chiles rellenos.  Plus they had a great condiment bar filled with house made condiments.  These included chipotle ketchup, jalapeno mustard, roasted garlic, red onion confit, zucchini pickles, and a variety of mayonnaise-based sauces.  For 4 to 6 dollars you could get a substantial and satisfying meal, and beers were less than 2 bucks!

Anyway, one day we noticed that they had added an option to their torta menu: you could choose to have the ingredients of any torta served over rice or as a salad.  The salad idea took off in our house, where we would grill Hatch chili sausages and serve them over lettuce with leftover black beans, caramelized onions, and whatever else we had lying around (or had managed to sneak home from Tio’s).  Mmmm… sausage salad.

Well, we recently decided to revisit the Tio’s salad, when we were fortunate enough to be in possession of some delicious leftover beef chili verde and refried black beans.  We almost always have a head of lettuce in the crisper and a couple of tomatoes in the fruit basket, but I thought the salads needed something more.  Corn popped into my head and I headed to the store.  Malheureusement, the fresh corn here totally sucks.  It’s starchy and waxy and sticks to your teeth like paste.  So I bought a can.  Sue me.  I also picked up some gorgeous piquillo-looking peppers and some long green ones that I hoped would pack a punch.

I got home and set about putting together a corn salsa for the salads.  I drained the corn and dumped it into a bowl, followed by some diced onion.  I thought one of each pepper would look pretty as well as giving just the right amount of heat.  When I cut into the red pepper, I got a big surprise – no ribs or seeds!

Are they breeding seedless peppers now?

Nonetheless, the corn salsa looked great and tasted just as good.  It would actually stand on its own as a salad, but I had bigger ideas.

Corn Salsa/Salad

Indeed, it was even better sprinkled over a salad loaded with slow-cooked beef, black beans, tomatoes, crème fraîche, and chipotle vinaigrette.

What happens when you turn a torta into a salad?  Good things.

Apologies for doing two salad posts in one week, but I think this is miles away from Tuesday’s refined Mediterranean salad.  Don’t you?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Easy Tapenade Salad Dressing

9 09 2008

Who was it that said, “Sloth is the mother of all invention”?  I came up with this dressing sometime last week when I didn’t feel like chopping up a shallot for a vinaigrette.  Searching the kitchen for alternatives, my eyes landed on a recently acquired jar of black olive tapenade from Provence.  What if I just thinned it out a bit with some oil and vinegar?  I bet that would be good!

You know what?  It was.  So good, and so irresistibly easy, that I made it again a couple of nights ago for a salad that accompanied a gooey chorizo and mozzarella pizza.

Feuille de Chêne lettuce, tapenade dressing, and toasted pine nuts

Tapenade Dressing

This super-easy dressing will make even the most boring of lettuces feel decked out, but it would also be great on arugula, spinach, frisée, or just about any salad green.  Garnish with toasted pine nuts, tomatoes, and feta cheese for a more substantial salad.  Grilled or marinated vegetables would most certainly be welcome, as would any number of cured pork products.

2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. tapenade (You can make your own if you’re feeling adventurous, but a good jarred tapenade is perfectly acceptable.)
1 Tbsp. red wine, balsamic, or sherry vinegar (Rosemary-infused vinegar is a nice touch)
4 Tbsp. good olive oil

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk.
  2. Drizzle over salad greens of choice and toss before serving.
  3. Garnish as you see fit.

Makes enough to dress 4-6 salads.  Leftovers will keep several days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Happy 4th of July!

8 07 2008

OK, so I’m a little behind the times, but better late than never, right?  For the 4th last Friday Nick invited some students who are doing a Summer program in Paris over for some good old-fashioned cheeseburgers.  He bought freshly ground beef from the butcher while I procured potatoes and appetizer fixins.

When I got home from work I started a batch of brioche dough with which to make hamburger buns.  Nick made his famous potato salad – with a few changes.  Usually he uses Russet potatoes, but starchy-type potatoes are thin on the ground over here, so this time they were red.  We also made the mayonnaise from scratch, and the sweet pickle relish that often goes into the salad was absent.  But it tasted like home nonetheless. 

For the apéro, I decided that onion dip would be suitably Classic American Cookout to serve at our 4th of July party.  My friend Pete recently told me about his onion dip, made with bacon, caramelized onions, and sour cream.  I loved the idea, so I did just that, with the minor substitution of crème fraîche for sour cream.  No one complained.  In fact, the entire batch (500 g crème fraîche, 4 small onions, and a few ounces of bacon) was gone by the end of the night.  We will definitely be making that one again.

Having found a fairly reliable source for cheddar, we knew exactly what to put on our burgers.  That, along with some sliced tomato, red onion, and lettuce leaves, and we were in business.  (We realized just slightly too late that we had neglected to purchase ketchup – d’oh!)

Cheeseburger and potato salad

And of course, we washed it down with some All-American beer.  (Although these particular beers were brewed in Spain and they have to shorten the name in Europe because some Czech brewery got the name first…)

Budweiser, King of Beers

Happy 4th, everyone!  (Or 8th, or whatever.)





Monte Cristo Sandwiches! (And Another Salad)

18 06 2008

Last Saturday, while we were trying to come up with something to have for dinner, Nick hit on an old favorite of ours: Monte Cristos!  I probably haven’t had one since college, which is… a while.  For the uninitiated, a Monte Cristo is a deep fried double-decker ham and cheese sandwich (sometimes there’s turkey in there, too) which is deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Yum!  Not being lucky enough to own a deep-fryer (yet), I remembered making them in college with slices of French toast.  And we were off to the grocery store to get sandwich fixings.

On the way there, (before biking through the protest) we tried to think of an appropriate side dish.  Coleslaw sounded good, but our favorite coleslaw recipe contains buttermilk, an ingredient I have as yet been unable to find.  I decided that plain yogurt might make an acceptable substitute.  For some reason, regular white and red cabbages are horrendously expensive here (we’re talking two to three euros a head!) so we ended up taking home the cheaper French green cabbage.  How different can it be?

 What I refer to as French green cabbage

<Bleep> this <bleep> piece of <bleep> website!  <Bleep> thing just erased half my <bleep> post!  To sum up the rest of my heartbreakingly eloquent prose, French cabbage + carrots + yogurt + tarragon vinegar + celery salt = damn fine (albeit French-y) coleslaw.

 I think it's the tarragon that makes it so undeniably French

Sandwiches?  Brioche French toast + Jambon de Paris + Emmenthal = gooey sweet and salty deliciousness. 

Lightly sweetened French toast (so we could skip the powdered sugar)

French toast Monte Cristo Sandwich

Want to try this at home?  Here’s my recipe for the coleslaw (I think you can figure out the sandwiches on your own):

Read the rest of this entry »





Simple Summer Salad

17 06 2008

I’m sitting in the park at the Place des Vosges right now, taking advantage of the beautiful late spring day.  Most of the parks in Paris have free wifi access, and while it may seem kind of lame to bring your computer to the park, it seems even lamer to sit inside in front of a perfectly portable laptop while the sun is shining.  In the distance I can hear the chanting from a manif (demonstration/protest).  I think this one is about keeping the 35 hour workweek.  Anyway, apart from all the cigarette butts littering the grass, the Place des Vosges is lovely today.  The fountain is running and people are milling about, playing cards, sunbathing, and the like.

A glance through my pictures reminds me of a nice little salad I made last week.  Inspired by a charentais melon that needed to be used and the memory of a fresh, summery salad I had at a restaurant last year, I got out the melon and started slicing.

 Charentais melon

I nestled the thin slices of melon among leaves of baby spinach and drizzled the salads with sherry vinaigrette.  The inspiration salad had a garnish of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (not to mention watermelon instead of charentais), but since we were already having cheese on our pissaladière, I decided to skip it.  Some bacon would have made a nice addition, but then, what salad isn’t improved by a little bacon?

 Spinach and Melon Salad

I was pleased with the results, even without the bacon.  (Or serrano ham.  That would have been good too.)  The sweetness of the melon paired well with the spinach, and the sherry vinaigrette gave just the right amount of tang.  Plus I felt good eating it, knowing that the combination of spinach and vitamin C (from the fruit) is a nutritional powerhouse.





How To Make Vinaigrette

15 05 2008

Mise en place for vinaigrette

I am often asked for my vinaigrette recipe.  I try to explain that it’s really very simple, and has a tendency to change every time I make it, but people like recipes, so I’ll do my best to transcribe it.  Pictured above are all the necessary ingredients.  I start by mincing a shallot (half a shallot if it’s a big one) and putting it in a small bowl.  Then I add sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a little mustard.  The trick with the mustard is that it acts as an emulsifier, and helps to make a nice, creamy vinaigrette.  I pour a little vinegar over this and whisk to combine.  Next I begin drizzling in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.  It helps to have a bowl with a little grip on the bottom (a dish towel wrapped around the bottom of the bowl will also help to anchor it).  Usually, the dressing will begin to emulsify and become slightly opaque.  At this point I do a taste test and determine whether there is enough salt, pepper, etc.  That’s pretty much it.

For more details and a recipe with actual amounts, continue reading…

Read the rest of this entry »





A Picnic by the Canal

8 05 2008

Given the incredible weather we’ve been having this week, I decided it was too nice last night to have dinner inside.  I won’t go into the various unfruitful market trips I embarked on before realizing that most of what I needed was in my fridge, instead I present to you:

Spanish-inspired picnic salads

Arugula and Piquillo pepper salad with Chorizo and goat cheese in Sherry vinaigrette.  I packed the salads into individual serving-sized Tupperware (What do you call non-Tupperware brand Tupperware?  Airtight plastic container just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) and placed them in a bag with a bunch of grapes, a baguette tradition, a bottle of rosé, and a couple of cookies.  Now that picnic season seems to be in full swing, we have a cupboard dedicated to picnic supplies: paper napkins, plastic utensils and cups are all at the ready for a last-minute weeknight picnic.  We took our dinner to the Canal St. Martin, a few blocks away and sat by the water alongside hundreds of Parisians who had had the same idea.

Bridge over the Canal St. Martin at dusk

We got there just as the sun was setting, so the temperature was just perfect.  We enjoyed our picnic and watched the sky slowly grow darker.

Crescent Moon over the Canal St. Martin

Nick got this photo of the crescent moon just above the buildings.  I love pictures taken at this hour of the evening, where the sky is still a brilliant blue but here on Earth it is already dark.  It reminds me of a Magritte painting.

So this is what people are talking about when they wax nostalgic about Paris in the Spring!





Fish Stock Use #2: Trout with Polenta

29 04 2008

We woke up on Sunday to a gloriously sunny morning, perfect for hunting and gathering at the market.  When we got down there, Nick spotted some trout and decided that was what he wanted for dinner.  We learned the French word for “gutted” or “cleaned”in reference to a fish: vidé, as in “emptied.”  Good to know.  But how to prepare it?  Sometimes I find it hard to make decisions like these at the market, with so much going on around me.  All the smells and sights and sounds cause me to go into sensory overload, and my brain kind of shuts down.  The only cure is to find a wine booth that gives out samples. 

Eventually, after wandering the aisles and perusing the wares, we came up with a goat cheese and piquillo pepper stuffed trout, served with fish stock polenta and tomato salad.  We thought the piquillo peppers would be easy to find at one of the Spanish/Portuguese specialty booths, but we were wrong.  At the first one, the conversation went something like this: (translations my own)

Me: (pointing to a bin of roasted peppers) Ces sont quel type de poivron? (What kind of peppers are these?)

Girl at counter: Buh… rouge.  (What are you color blind?  Red!)

Me: Ummm… je cherche les poivrons “piquillo.” Je ne connais pas le mot en français, je connais le mot espagnol. (I’m looking for piquillo peppers, I don’t know the French word, just the Spanish one.)

Guy at counter: Doyouspeakenglish?  English?

Me: Oui, mais… I’m looking for piquillo peppers.

Guy at counter: Hablas español? (Do you speak Spanish?)

Me: No.

And it went on like that.  Red is not a variety, people!  Anyway, we did end up finding some beautiful fresh peppers at one of the produce stands.  They smelled great, so we bought those to roast at home.  What were they called?  “Poivrons Rouges Espagnols.”  “Red Spanish Peppers.”   Arrrrgh!

Fresh roasted piquillo peppers

The tomatoes were no problem, as almost every stand had gorgeous coeur de boeuf  (beef heart) tomatoes.  Goat cheese was, of course, plentiful, but by the time we got around to looking for it, many of the booths had begun to close down.  We were turned down at one fromagier, where the woman told us the goat cheese was already put away.  End of story.  But we persevered, and found a nice little ball of fresh goat cheese at the Auvergnat cheese stand.

Coeurs de Boeuf

After all that, actually cooking the meal was a piece of cake.  I started with the tomato salad.  This is one of the easiest, tastiest things you can do with a tomato.  The better the tomato, the better the salad.  Just dice up some tomatoes, add sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, a minced shallot, and some chopped fresh parsley.  Drizzle with good olive oil, toss, and serve at room temperature.

Easy, delicious tomato salad

On to the fish…

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Easter Dinner

27 03 2008

You would think that after such a rich brunch, we would want something light for dinner.  And you would be wrong.  Like I said, the lack of Wii significantly increased the amount of time spent cooking this Easter.  So we planned a fabulous dinner for ourselves.  I asked Nick to try to recreate the celeriac-Roquefort soup he made for Thanksgiving, since both ingredients are cheap and plentiful here.  I found a recipe for a roasted beet and carrot salad on the Cook’s Illustrated website that I wanted to try, given that, as Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini pointed out, beets are on their way out of season.  I have never been a big fan of beets, but I continue to try them in different forms, hoping to find one that I enjoy.  Nick put it quite well when he said, “I keep thinking that I’m going to grow up and like beets all of a sudden.”  For the main dish, lamb seemed to be an obvious choice.  But how to cook it?  Given the recent influx of spring vegetables at the market, I decided on a navarin, a traditional French lamb stew with spring vegetables.  I perused a few recipes, but in the end, just made it up as I went along.

Unfortunately, because the camera was on the fritz for most of the day, few pictures were taken.  However, I did manage to get one good shot of each dish.  So without further ado, I present to you the soup.

Celeriac-Roquefort Soup

As you can see, it’s a puréed soup.  What you can’t see is how magically the piquancy of the Roquefort complements the mellow, vegetal, nuttiness of the celeriac.  Hazelnuts were a natural choice for garnish, both enhancing the flavor of the soup and providing a nice crunch for contrast.  The watercress I threw on there because it looked pretty and I had some out anyway, for the salad.  But the fresh, peppery bite of the greens added another dimension to the soup, highlighting the contribution of the Roquefort.  Speaking of the salad…

Salad of Roasted Beets and Carrots with Watercress

It was a beautiful sight to behold.  The deep reddish-purple of the beets next to the nearly burnt orange (for all you Texas fans out there) of the carrots and the vibrant green of the watercress made for a truly stunning tableau.  And really easy to make.  I simply cut the vegetables into batons, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stuck them in the oven for half an hour or so.  They could have gone even longer, but we were getting hungry.  While they roasted, I made a fairly strong vinaigrette with cider vinegar, shallots, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  When the beets and carrots were cooked through, I dumped them into a large bowl, tossed them with the vinaigrette, and added the watercress.  Easy-peasy.

On to the pièce de résistance: spring lamb stew (or, as they call it here, navarin d’agneau).

Read the rest of this entry »








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