Succotash Polenta

If the word succotash makes you think of a limp and lifeless lump of cooked to death vegetables, this could not be farther from that notion. Think instead…. a big bowl of bright, fresh, sweet summer vegetables tumbled onto creamy, creamy polenta. Are you with me? I don’t always think of making polenta this time of year, but it turns out that it’s the perfect canvas for a basket of gorgeous summer vegetables. I think this is absolutely fantastic as is, but you can easily turn this into a more substantial meal for brunch, lunch or dinner by adding a poached egg, a piece of grilled chicken or fish or even a broiled sausage. The soft and creamy polenta is ideal for little teethers and older kids can help you pick out the vegetables, snap green beans and shell fresh peas if you’re using them.

For the succotash, use any combo of vegetables you like but definitely include shallots, corn, tomatoes and green beans. We like to add fresh english peas and fava beans when we can find them. Favas take a little extra work (shelling the beans, then blanching them in salted water for 30 seconds and removing their tough skins) but are definitely worth the extra trouble. You could certainly add sliced zucchini and finely chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme) would be lovely too.

For the polenta, I like to use Marcella Hazan’s no stir polenta method. Be sure to stir in a little butter and a whole lot of grated parmesan cheese. Your polenta will stay creamy as long as you keep it warm, but the leftovers are worth spending a few minutes on. Turn leftovers into a baking dish or cookie sheet. When it cools it will set and you can cut it into squares which you can grill or fry or simply reheat. The squares wont be creamy like just made polenta but are still delicious and great with any saucy Italian recipe. You can wrap the squares in parchment paper and freeze them to enjoy later.

Succotash Polenta

  • Cook your polenta using Marcella Hazan’s “no stir” method. It will take about 45 minutes in all, but only a minute of stirring every 10 minutes. When the polenta is cooked, stir in butter and grated parmesan cheese to taste and keep warm.
  • Prep all your vegetables: finely mince shallots, trim green beans (I like 1″ pieces sliced on the diagonal), halve cherry tomatoes, cut corn off the cob. I like to cut my corn on top of a cookie sheet to catch all the juices and stray kernels that try to get away. When all the corn has been cut off, run the back of your knife along the cob to release the “corn milk” which you can cook along with your kernels.
  • Sprinkle the shallots with a few pinches of salt and saute in oilve oil until softened. Add the green beans and cook until tender crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Add the corn kernels and their juices and cook 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute just to heat through. Add a tiny splash of red wine vinegar and stir. Taste and correct seasoning, adding a little more salt or vinegar if needed.
  • Spoon the succotash over polenta and sprinkle with fresh herbs of your choice.

You might also like these summery faves: summer corn and lobster ravioli in a light corn broth; Easy Summer Fruit Cobbler; Tomato Water Pasta; Summer Obsession: Roasted Sweet Peppers; Summer Ratatouille

Michael Ruhlman’s Tomato Water Pasta

If you can dice a tomato and boil water then this pasta is for you, courtesy of chef Michael Ruhlman. More of a technique than a recipe, it’s the perfect way to showcase a few gorgeous end of summer tomatoes. Don’t let the simplicity of this fool you, this is real-deal pasta. We’ve heard it’s one of Chewbacca’s favorites when he has friends around for dinner. Like Chewbacca, I love the technique of macerating the tomatoes and making a sauce from their juices fortified with a little butter, then tossing in the chopped tomato at the last minute to keep that fresh tomato flavor and texture. You can put this one together in just minutes, your kids will scarf it up — what’s not to love?

Invite some friends and serve this with some garlicky sauteed shrimp our favorite zucchini carpaccio and you are set for a great summer supper!

Get the recipe and a how-to video right here from Michael Ruhlman’s website.

Baby’s First Ratatouille

Our little one has just started to eat solid food. He’s sampled the usual apple sauce, bananas, green beans and sweet potatoes and enjoyed them well enough. Tonight he stepped into the land of real food with this rustic ratatouille which, with a few tweaks, also happened to be our dinner. He really, really enjoyed eating this as much as the rest of us did. Maybe it’s the sweet-savory flavor combination or the sunny yellow color that won him over. All I know if that he scarfed it right up.

This ratatouille makes a delish side dish, but you can easily make it a bit more hearty as the main event for dinner, brunch or lunch with the addition of a soft egg finished under the broiler and toasty crostini on the side. We’ve been eating more “mostly vegetarian” family meals and this this a good one with summer peppers and squash just around the corner. I would say the crostini are key, especially for little eaters like my Luca who might at least dip if all else fails.

Ratatouille with Soft Eggs and Parmegiano Reggiano

adapted from “Avec Eric” by Eric Ripert

Ingredients: 3 Red, Orange or Yellow Sweet Peppers; 1 Onion,; 4 Cloves Garlic; 3 Medium Tomatoes; 1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce or Puree; 1 Large Italian Eggplant; 3 Yellow Summer Squash; Parmegiano Reggiano; Eggs; Crusty Bread; Olive Oil; Lemon Juice/Vinegar (optional)

Ahead of time:

Poach several eggs a little under where you like them because you will finish them under the broiler. Try a minute less than what you would normally do. After poaching them, immediately move them to a bowl of cold water to stop their cooking. They can be held this way in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Here’s a handy link on poaching eggs.

  1. Heat several Tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Add another drizzle of oil as you are cooking the vegetables if anything starts to stick.
  2. Chop 1 large onion into medium dice. Mince 4 large cloves of garlic. Add them to the pan and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Remove the stem, ribs and seeds from 3 sweet bell peppers (yellow, orange and red) and chop into medium dice. Lightly season them and add them to the pan.
  4. Chop 3 yellow summer squash into medium dice. [To me long-cooked zucchini are not the prettiest shade of green, so next time I’ll opt for yellow squash in this recipe]. Lightly season them and add to the pan.
  5. Remove half the peel of a large Italian eggplant because the peel can sometimes be bitter. Cut off alternating strips giving it a purple and white stripe effect, then cut it into 1/2″ thick slices and then into medium dice. Lightly season with salt and add to the pan.
  6. Chop 4 large tomatoes (or the equivalent of cherry tomatoes) into medium dice. Lightly season them with salt and add them to the pan.
  7. Add 1/2 cup of tomato sauce or tomato puree.
  8. Stir and lower heat to medium-low and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt as needed, black pepper and a dash of vinegar or lemon juice if you like.
[You can make the ratatouille in advance, it will keep for several days.]
  • Heat the ratatouille if made in advance. Spoon the warm ratatouille into a baking dish (or individual oven-safe bowls would be nice) and put it under the broiler until it is bubbling and piping hot.
  • Dry the pre-poached eggs well and arrange them on top of the hot ratatouille, seasoning each with a little bit of salt. Drizzle the whole dish with olive oil and sprinkle with grated parmegiano reggiano. Return the dish to the broiler for 30 seconds to a minute just to heat the eggs through without cooking them too much more.
  • Garnish with minced parsley and serve with slices of good, rustic bread, toasted and drizzled with olive oil.

Summer Bounty

It’s been an especially gray and foggy summer around here, but a trip to the Alemany Farmers’ Market reminded us that summer is out there somewhere. I was particularly excited to come across sweet chili peppers (the long wrinkly green ones) which we’ve never cooked with before. We splurged on a flat of the most gorgeous, perfect peaches– each one weighing in at a close to a pound. Nectarines, pluots, persian cucumbers, sweet crisp grapes, a rainbow of peppers and of course early girl tomatoes were everywhere. It’s going to be a great week for eating!

Sunny Summer Corn

We look forward to the arrival of sweet, summer corn all year. Mostly we eat it on the cob, au naturale. Luca likes to use corn holders and pretend he’s riding a motorcycle. When we come across particularly appealing ears of corn at the market, I can’t resist buying them by the dozen and adding fresh corn to pizza, salads, soups, pretty much everything we’re eating.

Last summer I came across a genius recipe for “Corn and Lobster Ravioli in a Corn Broth” from the book Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home. The genius is in the broth which uses no stock, just kernels, cobs, a few herb sprigs and water. The resulting broth is so light and summery, yet very flavorful — the very essence of  sunny summer corn in a bowl. The simplicity of this dish makes it very kid-friendly too.

Summer Corn and Lobster Ravioli in A Corn Broth

(adapted from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home)

Shopping List: 10 ears of corn, several shallots, fresh herbs, several ounces of cooked lobster (or substitute shrimp, ricotta or your favorite ravioli fillings), won ton wrappers, butter

Making the Broth:

  • Cut the kernels from 10 ears of corn, reserve half for the ravioli.
  • Add the cobs, the other half of the kernels, a few sprigs of fresh herbs (such as Bay Leaf or lemon thyme). Cover with water.
  • Simmer for 1 hour then strain. Return broth to the pot to reduce  by one third to on half to intensify the flavor. Season to taste.

Making the Ravioli

  • Saute a minced shallots with the corn kernels in butter until tender, then mash them up a bit (or puree about half the mixture).
  • Stir in chopped cooked lobster and taste for seasoning. (You could substitute shrimp, make it vegetarian using well-drained ricotta or any other filling you like. Just make sure the mixture is not too wet.)
  • Fill each won ton skin with about a one tablespoon of filling, push out any air pockets and seal the edges well using a little water.
  • Boil ravioli in well salted water for several, then drain.
  • Place a few ravioli into each bowl and ladle some of the hot corn broth over. Garnich with more fresh herbs.
  • Freeze extra ravioli in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When they are frozen through, transfer them to an air tight container.

This would make a great first course for a special dinner, or something light and lovely on a day when you come across some gorgeous summer corn and have time to let something bubble away on the stove. It takes a little time, but none of the steps are much of a hassle.

Pink Grapefruit Granita

Shopping List: 3 Pink Grapefruits (plus one for garnish), Sugar

Viva la pamplemousse! My family’s been on a big grapefruit kick this year.  They seem to make their way to our dinner table 3-4 times a week. Such a great, refreshing dessert…. cut in half and you’re done. They need absolutely no amendment. In fact, I’ve yet to find a grapefruit recipe that I prefer to the fruit on its own. Luca loves using those little serrated spoons to scoop out the fruit, then squeezing out and drinking the juice. My husband and I both remember loving those spoons when we were kids, too.

The one grapefruit recipe I do make from time to time is granita (think Italian ice or frozen lemonade). It’s one of our favorite treats in Italy, but I wasn’t inspired to make it at home until I read Jeffrey Steingarten’s collection of culinary essays, “The Man Who Ate Everything“. He has an entire chapter devoted to granita and its history. (In case you’re curious, this slushy concoction dates back to the 1600’s and was popular across the Middle East and Europe). If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself drooling over his detailed descriptions of granitas from some of Sicily’s most famous gelaterias. Coffee granita and brioche for breakfast? Yes please!!!Luckily, it’s not too hard to make a decent granita at home. If you can juice a grapefruit and stir, you’re in business.

Pink Grapefruit Granita

(makes a little less than a quart)

  • Dissolve 3/4 cup sugar (you could dial this back a bit depending on the tartness of your fruit) into 2 cups water.
  • Finely zest half a grapefruit avoiding the white pith and add zest to sugar-water mixture.
  • Juice 3 grapefruits (approx 2 1/2 to 3 cups juice). Add the juice to the sugar and water mixture. Stir well. Taste to make sure the flavor works for you.
  • Pour into a freezer safe container. Wide and shallow is better because it will freeze faster.
  • Stir well every hour to break up and mix in the ice crystals that form. You’ll need to do this 3-4 times until you have a nicely uniform, slushy consistency.
  • Cover and let freeze solid.
  • To serve, let defrost for a 5-10 minutes then scrape the top with a fork and scoop the fluffy ice into a small goblet or bowl. I like to serve mine in espresso cups.
  • For some extra grapefruit tang, garnish with some grapefruit segments. As you cut the grapefruit garnish, reserve the juice and sprinkle over top.