Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Proven├žal Tomato and Squash Gratin

As our home garden is being inundated with tomatoes and summer squash right about now (hey, I ain't complaining!) I have to find recipes in which to use them. This recipe comes from one I found in the NY Times just last week and was the perfect vegetarian antidote to the meat-heavy BBQ family feast the night before. The recipe here is my take on the Times' version.

This recipe uses cooked farro. You can prepare it by using 1 cup farro to 3 cups of salted water. Bring to a boil then let simmer for about 20 minutes. If it's still watery you can drain it before using but I find that it usually absorbs all of the cooking water by the time it's cooked.

Several fresh medium tomatoes from the garden or farmer's market
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 small red onion minced
1 large or 2 medium summer squashes cut into 1/2 inch dice
Fresh cracked black pepper
leaves from several twigs fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup cooked farro (rice or barley can substitute)
3 eggs
2 ounces high quality Gruyere cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
several hand torn fresh basil leaves

Peel half of the tomatoes and chop well. Slice the remainder and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375F. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Dutch oven or large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and cook until aromatic and translucent, about 1-2 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until it is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the diced squash. Cook, stirring often, until the squash is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and the thyme, season with salt and pepper, raise the heat slightly and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the prepared farro and remove from the heat.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the cooked vegetables, salt and pepper to taste, and the cheese and combine well. Scrape into the gratin dish.

Slice the remaining tomatoes and cover the top of the gratin in one layer. Drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Bake 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and the gratin is sizzling. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle the torn basil over the top. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. This should serve 4-6 people and is also fantastic as leftovers.

Homemade French Fries

Usually when we have hamburgers on the grill at home we make baked sweet potato 'fries' as a side dish but I was hankering for the real deal last week - homemade french fried potatoes.
Although not all of the recipes I've seen for fries do it, I get the best results by cooking them twice - once at a lower temperature then again at a higher one just prior to serving.

peeled Russet potatoes

sliced into wedges

drained after the water soak

Dutch oven with oil and deep-fry thermometer

Sizzlin' and a-dizzlin'

Halfway through the second cook

4 medium russet potatoes, peeled, each sliced into 8 wedges
6 cups canola oil (or enough to cover the wedges for cooking)
Deep-fry oil thermometer

Soak the potato wedges in cold water for 10 minutes then drain.
Add the oil to a large heavy Dutch oven and heat to 335F. Add the wedges in batches to cook for 2 minutes per batch and drain on paper towels (Old timers use a paper bag so you may want to as well).
Once they are all cooked, or until just before serving if you did the first cook ahead of time, heat the oil to 375F and add the wedges in batches again, this time cooking for about 5 minutes per batch or until the wedges are well-colored. Drain again on paper towels, salt generously, then serve.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mexican Beans

2 cups black beans *
2 tablespoons real lard/bacon fat/oil ** 

1 white onion chopped
1 sprig fresh epazote (if available)


For this recipe I use a Spanish olla (bean pot) but of course any medium-large pot will work. I cook the beans uncovered as the shape of the olla tends to keep the beans wet.
Put the beans in the pot with about 2 1/4 quarts of cold water, the lard (or oil), the chopped onion, and the epazote if you have it. Bring to a strong boil then lower to simmer for a couple of hours partially covered. If the beans lose too much liquid and starts to dry, add some water to keep wet. Add a pinch or two of salt towards the end.

* Soaking the beans for a few hours or overnight is preferred by gringos but if you're brave, try making this without soaking as it may make for a more favorable dish.

** If you decide to use lard I strongly recommend to only use fresh-rendered pork lard from a butcher as opposed to the tubs of Crisco-like substance sold in Mexican markets. Otherwise use saved bacon fat or canola/peanut oil. 


This is my own recipe based on several that I've tried over the years. It always seems to go over well with the flavors it contains. I use a mortar and pestle to make the paste but a blender works well also.

Ingredients lined up

charring the peppers and garlic

Adding the cilantro

Seasoning paste after the pounding in the mortar

Mashing the avocados

4-5 large ripe avocados *
1-2 cloves garlic unpeeled
1 fresh tomato chopped
1/2 white onion diced
Handful of fresh cilantro sprigs 

2-3 serrano chiles
Juice of 1/2 lime 
* Selecting ripe avocados is something of an art that took me a while, and help from my wife, to get down. You want to find ones that give a little when squeezed but not approaching mushy at all. 

Heat a small un-greased iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot add the chiles and the garlic to scorch evenly on all sides, about 5-10 minutes. Remove each to cool.
Rinse the diced onion in a strainer under running water to remove the sting from the raw flavor.
De-stem the chiles, peel the garlic, and put all into a mortar with half of the diced onion, a hefty pinch of salt, and most of the cilantro sprigs. Pound well into a paste.
For each of the avocados, slice in half, remove the pit and scoop the meat into a large bowl. Use a potato masher to smooth into a paste. Add the contents of the mortar along with the chopped tomato and remaining diced onion. Add the lime juice and mix well to even out the flavors.

Mexican Rice

2 tablespoons canola oil/lard
1 cup white/Mexican milled rice 

1/2 white onion diced
1 clove garlic minced/pounded 

2 cups broth(chicken/veg)/water 
1 tablespoon whole cumin seed 
juice of 1/2 lime

Heat oil in pan over medium heat.
When hot add the rice and toast it to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the white onions and garlic to the pan and heat until they turn translucent.
Add the water with the lime juice, sprinkle with the cumin and bring to a boil.
Lower to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the water has been absorbed. 


Rajas is a dish of peppers and onions with meat as an option. This recipe uses Mexican sliced skirt steak called arrachera. The butcher thinly slices the steak against grain so that it can be cooked over heat very quickly. However since the cut is muscled, it's still recommended to marinate it before cooking.
Serves 4

1 1/2 pound arracherra (sliced skirt steak) 
4 poblano peppers
2 large white onions sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds 
Canola oil

1/2 white onion
3 cloves garlic peeled and chopped 

Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin 

1/2 teaspoon salt

Add the marinade ingredients into a blender and blend into a smooth paste. Open up the meat into a large platter and pour the marinade paste over it distributing it evenly. Roll the meat up and put into a ziplock and into the frig for 1-8 hours as time permits. The acid in the marinade will break down the muscle tissue, 'cooking' it somewhat, making it easier to grill quickly.
Place the peppers over a hot grill and turn evenly to scorch and blister the skins. When the peppers are blackened, put into a paper bag and close fairly tightly in order to the let them steam, which will allow you to peel them easily when they cool.
About 20 minutes before serving, oil the onion slices well and grill evenly in a basket to get a good color and break down to limp. Remove from heat.
Remove the meat from the frig and then from the bag, rubbing most of the marinade paste. Lay out the pieces and oil well with canola oil. Making sure the fire is as hot as it can get, grease the grill then lay out the meat on it. Cook for about a minute a side to get it to medium-rare to medium. Remove from the heat and allow to rest under foil for at least 5 minutes, preferably 10.
Meanwhile, peel the skin off of the peppers (don't do this under running water as it will affect the flavor), de-stem them, slice open to remove the veins and seeds, then cut north-to-south into thin strips.

When the meat has rested, remove the foil and slice into bite-size going against the
grain as much as possible. 

Serve with the pepper strips and onion rings. 

Roasted Tomato Salsa

I use a mortar and pestle to prepare the cooked garlic and chiles but a blender works well also.

1 pound fresh tomatoes
1-2 serrano chiles
3 garlic cloves unpeeled
1/4 cup white onion diced 

Handful of fresh cilantro sprigs 
Lime juice

Heat a broiler and line a pan with foil. Place the tomatoes evenly on the pan and put about 4-6 inches under the heat allowing them to scorch. When they get color, open the broiler in order to turn everything to heat the other side. Once completely cooked, about 10-15 minutes in all, remove the pan from the broiler and allow the pan to cool. When cool, remove the cores from the tomatoes.
While the tomatoes are cooking, heat a small un-greased iron skillet over medium- high heat. When hot add the chiles and the garlic to scorch evenly on all sides, about 5-10 minutes. Remove each to cool.
Rinse the diced onion in a strainer under running water to remove the sting from the raw flavor.
De-stem the chiles and peel the garlic. Add all to the mortar with a pinch of salt and some of the cilantro and pound into a paste. Add each of the tomatoes one at a time and pound into the paste.
Put the contents into a bowl and mix in the white onion, adding salt and lime juice as needed. 

Salsa Verde

This is a simple and very delicious salsa to make. I make this pretty hot but it's simply a matter of reducing the chiles in it or just eliminating them to make a mild version.

5-6 fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed well
2-3 serrano chiles
Handful of fresh cilantro sprigs
1/4 white onion diced


Heat a broiler and line a pan with foil. Place the tomatillos and chiles evenly on the pan and put about 4-6 inches under the heat allowing them to scorch. When they get color, open the broiler in order to turn everything to heat the other side. Once completely cooked, about 10-15 minutes in all, remove the pan from the broiler and allow the pan to cool.

De-stem the chiles. Put them along with the tomatillos into a blender making sure to pour to get all of the juices from the pan in as well. Add the cilantro and blend into a liquid. If the mix seems dry add 14 cup water to loosen it a bit. 
Pour the contents of the blender into a bowl.

Rinse the diced onion in a strainer under running water to remove the sting from the raw flavor then add it to the bowl, adding salt as needed. 

Corn Tortillas

This recipe makes 16 tortillas

2 cups instant corn masa flour
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 small ziplock bags or like-sized squares of plastic wrap

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, and water mixing thoroughly until the mix comes together as a soft dough. If too sticky, add a bit more flour; if too dry, add a sprinkle more water.
Heat a small un-greased iron skillet over medium-high heat.
Divide the dough in half, then into quarters and cover with a damp towel. From each quarter, divide into four small pieces shaping each into a small ball, then cover while doing the same with the remaining quarters.
Once you have 16, prepare a tortilla press by opening it out and putting one of the bags on the bottom disc. Place one of the balls on the plastic in the middle and back from center a bit, then cover with the other plastic. Close the press over the dough slowly and evenly until the press is completely closed, then slightly move the press side to side while applying pressure. Open the press and peel off the top plastic, then peel off the flattened dough evenly and place it into the heated pan. Allow it to cook for 45-50 seconds then flip over to do the same on the other side. Remove from pan and cover with a dry towel to keep it warm while preparing and cooking the remaining dough.