Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rustic Whole Wheat Raspberry, Plum, and Peach Crostata

We went raspberry picking this past weekend. Raspberry picking is one of my favorite late-summer things to do. In addition to the two quarts of raspberries that we picked, we also grabbed some freshly picked plums and peaches from the farm. I knew I had to bake something with all of these beautiful fruits, and a summer fruit crostata sounded perfect.
I know I've mentioned my aversion to baking before. One of the things I have always been especially afraid to bake is pie crust. It seems as if there's a precise way to make a perfectly flaky crust, and honestly, it seems pretty complicated. I figured that I would muster up some courage and make a crust for this lovely fruit, but instead of the typical (and intimidating) pie, I decided to make this rustic crostata. I really enjoyed the way it came out. And, I must admit, it really wasn't all that hard. Or intimidating. It was actually quite fun.
I used whole wheat flour for the crust. Granted, it wasn't as flaky or as pretty as a typical white crust, but I was perfectly content with it. I like baking with whole grain flours, and I wasn't going to make an exception with pastry dough. And you can be creative with the fruit. I'd love to make an apple crostata when the apples are ready and I know a mixed berry crostata or even a strawberry rhubarb one would be fantastic.
I loved the look of the crust folded over the fruit, so effortless and so natural. It's not a fussy dessert, it doesn't have to be perfect. It's precisely the type of dessert that I appreciate.

Whole Wheat Raspberry, Plum, and Peach Crostata
(makes one 8" crostata)

For the Crust:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
6 tablespoons ice water (more or less, depending on the humidity outside and the type of flour used)

For the Filling:
1 peach, thinly sliced
3 plums, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups raspberries
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on your taste and the sweetness of the fruit
Heavy cream, for brushing the crust and for making fresh whipped cream
Additional raw sugar, for sprinkling
Additional butter, for topping the fruit before baking

To Make the Crust:
1. Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse.  Add the cold butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas.  Slowly add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing, just until the dough starts to come together. 
2. Gather the dough together and flatten onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Wrap the dough and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
3. When you are ready to use the dough, roll the entire dough into one large circle.  Place the rolled tart dough onto a  parchment-lined baking sheet.

For the Filling:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the sliced peach, plums, and raspberries.  Add the sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour.  Mix gently and spoon the fruit mixture into the center of the tart dough leaving approximately a 3-inch border.  Bring the dough up over the fruit and pleat the dough (see photo above).  Brush the pleated edge with heavy cream and sprinkle with raw sugar.  Scatter small shards of butter over the fruit. 
2. Bake crostata in the center of the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until crust begins to turn a golden brown. 
3. Remove from oven.  Cool for at least 15 minutes to make sure the fruit sets and serve with fresh whipped cream.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Stuffed Tomatoes

Nothing beats a home grown tomato. The warmth of a just-picked tomato and its sweet juiciness is one of life's simple pleasures this time of year. I love seeing all of the different types of heirloom tomatoes at the farmers markets and I also love seeing them growing in my dad's humble little garden. And using them in the kitchen is what I love the most. I make fresh tomato sauce and tomato salsa and tomato salad a lot. I even made a killer roasted tomato soup just a few days ago. But today I tried something new with these big red guys: stuffed tomatoes. They're incredibly simple and they really highlight the flavor of the tomato. So if you find yourself with too many tomatoes and you're tired of making the same old thing with them, try these!

Also, be wary of store bought breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs sound simple, but take a look at the ingredient list and oftentimes you'll see tons of chemicals, preservatives and hydrogenated oils listed. So, seek out a brand that is natural and free from all of these bad things, or you can eaily make homemade breadcrumbs. Better yet, use whole wheat breadcrumbs instead of the usual white.

This recipe is a little rough because it really depends on the size of your tomatoes and how many you're making. This recipe makes 2 medium sized stuffed tomatoes, but play around with the ratios if you make more of if you use really big tomatoes. 

Stuffed Tomatoes 
2 medium sized tomatoes
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I used plain whole wheat bread crumbs, see important note above)
1 large clove of garlic, very finely minced
Fresh basil leaves (maybe 6 leaves or so), finely chopped (or you use a tablespoon of dried basil)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of sea salt (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling3 tablespoons shredded mozzerella

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the tops off of each of the tomatoes to remove the stem. Then, with a spoon, gently scoop out all of the seeds and watery pulp. I say do this gently because you don't want to tear the tomatoes or poke a hole in them. Discard the watery pulp and seeds (unless you think of something good to do with it).

2. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and coat them all over. You can even put some inside the tomatoes if you want. Then set the tomatoes in a small baking dish

3. In a bowl, add the breadcrumbs, garlic, basil, Parmesan cheese, salt, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix well with a fork.

4. Now, stuff each tomato with the breadcrumb mixture and top each with shredded mozzarella and more Parmesan if you'd like. Bake for 30 minutes or so until the tomato skins are nice and blistery. Let cool briefly before serving.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whole Wheat Blackberry Muffins

I have to admit something. I really don't like baking all that much. I mean, I like freshly baked goods. But there's something about all the measuring and mixing and equipment that's typically involved and oftentimes unavoidable in baking. Maybe it's the all important precision that I don't really enjoy. I prefer the simple, no-fuss recipes when it comes to baking. Nothing fancy. I leave the fancy stuff to my sister. She's the pastry chef of the family. But in any case, my new husband really likes baked goods and I can predict that my usual avoidance of baking may not go over well in our household. At least I have someone to bake for now, and perhaps I will begin to love it. I'm willing to give it a chance.
I made these muffins recently and I really enjoyed how they came out (so did he). What I liked about them was that all the ingredients were basically put in one big mixing bowl and no electric mixer was required. What I really liked about them was the fact that they were whole wheat, made with lovely plump antioxidant-rich blackberries, and topped with the all-important raw sugar crust. In case you haven't read about my obsession with sprinkling raw sugar on practically every baked good I make (well, the few that I make) check out  my banana bread recipe.
Anyways, these are great muffins. They're easy to make, healthy, and easily adaptable. Make them with blueberries or raspberries and I'm sure they'd be wonderful. I know I'll be making them many more times. And you can be sure that I'll be expanding my dessert-making skills and creating other delectable items in the near future.

Whole Wheat Blackberry Muffins  
(makes approximately 10 muffins)

The blackberries I used were absolutely huge so I had to cut them up into pieces about the size of blueberries, so keep that in mind if you use large blackberries.

1/2 cup raw sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
5 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon zest, preferably from an organic lemon
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup blackberries, cut up if necessary (see note above)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper muffin liners. This recipe makes about 10 muffins, so use 10 liners.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and melted butter and mix really well. Add the egg and beat well until it's all incorporated.

3. Add the yogurt and lemon zest. Mix well again.

4. Put flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a sifter (or put in a separate bowl and stir it all to combine) and sift half of the dry ingredients over the wet mixture. Mix, and then sift the rest of the flour mixture over the wet ingredients and stir the thick batter just until the flour disappears.

5. Gently add the berries. Since I used cut up blackberries, I tried really hard to gently fold them in so I wouldn't end up with blue muffins. The batter turned a bit blue, but as you can tell by the photos, they still look nice.

6. Use an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full. Then sprinkle them with as much raw sugar as you like. Bake them for about 25-30 minutes until the tops are lightly golden. Remove from the oven, let cool briefly, and enjoy.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes, Olives, Capers, and Basil

This particular dish was inspired by a lunch I ate at a small café on a sunny afternoon in Amalfi, Italy. It was tender eggplant pieces bathed in a tomato sauce rich in olive oil topped with olives and capers and fresh basil. I knew immediately that it was something that I wanted to replicate. So when we returned to Calitri from Amalfi, I decided to try it out.  Even if it didn’t taste exactly like the lunch at the café, I knew it would be delicious. And it was.
The photo of the eggplant is the actual meal I made in our adorable apartment in Calitri, Italy. The plate that it is on is also special, as it is  handmade and hand painted right within the tiny town. Calitri is known for it's ceramic artisans and I think the style of art is beautiful. The view you see below is actually the view from our bedroom window in the Italian apartment. I photographed all the food we made on the window sill. Now every time I make this dish back home, I will be reminded of this special place.
Don’t skimp on the olive oil in this. I know it seems like a lot, but it adds flavor and ensures that the eggplant stays really moist. And I should also mention that this tastes even better the next day because the flavors get to meld together.

 Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes, Olives, Capers and Basil
The tiny oven that we used in Italy had to be lit with a match and there was no way to tell what the temperature was at.  So I’m going to assume that it was around 450 degrees. But really, just check on and toss the eggplant regularly to prevent burning, and cook it until it’s soft and tender.

1 large eggplant, cut into 2 inch pieces (no need to peel the eggplant)
20 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small onion, halved and chopped very thinly
1 tablespoon capers
15 pitted kalamata olives, cut lengthwise
3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil (about 10 large leaves or more if you like)
sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (see the note above). Put the cut up eggplant in a large strainer and sprinkle it with lots of sea salt. Let sit over a bowl for about 30 minutes. Then, rinse the eggplant and pat it dry with a clean dish towel (or paper towels). Now, transfer the eggplant to a 9"x13" glass baking dish. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the quartered cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced onion, garlic, capers, olives, tomato paste, and olive oil. Stir well to combine. 

3. Pour this mixture over the eggplant and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft and very tender. Toss the eggplant a few times throughout the roasting process to ensure even cooking and to prevent sticking.

4. When the eggplant is cooked, remove from the oven, transfer to a bowl, and stir in chopped fresh basil. If you think it needs it, add some more extra virgin olive oil. Garnish with more basil and serve. As mentioned above, this dish tastes even better when eaten the next day, so it is wonderful to make in advance.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011


 Italy is a food lover’s paradise. Everything is fresh, vibrant, colorful, and just delicious. The juicy red tomatoes, firm peppery basil leaves, sweet crunchy peppers, meaty eggplants, and pungent garlic straight from the earth are like none that I’ve tasted before.  The soft fuzzy peaches were so juicy, they needed to be eaten over the kitchen sink. The cantaloupe and dark purple plums and grapes  all smelled like sunshine. The giant yellow lemons from Amalfi were everything that lemons should be. It’s true. I was in paradise.
We stayed in the Campania region of Italy, which is in the southern part of the boot, in a small mountain village called Calitri. We fell in love with the simple way of life of this tiny town and we fell deeper in love with the lovely people who live here.
But I think my favorite part of our stay in Calitri was the food. Day after day, we walked down into town to the tiny grocery stores and produce stands. We bought fresh pasta and fresh cheese.  We were spoiled by the deliciousness of crusty fresh bread, which we ate with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We sampled many preserved foods, like pickled bell peppers, sundried tomatoes, capers, and plump purple olives. We would always get a bunch of fresh green basil thrown into our shopping bag at the produce stand. And I never grew tired of picking fresh figs from the fig tree right outside our front door.
Every day, I was inspired by the ingredients. I was constantly thinking of different ways to cook the vegetables or different sauces to make for the pasta. And the wonderful part of it all was that the food didn’t need anything complicated to make it delicious. Everything was so incredible that the simplest ways to prepare the food were the best ways to bring out its flavor. 
I plan to post many of the dishes we made while cooking in our little Italian kitchen. I can’t wait to share them with you and hopefully inspire you.

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