Tag Archives: mozzarella

CAPRESE SALAD

You are probably wondering, “Who needs a recipe for caprese salad?” After all, it’s fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt. But if you check out the internet, you’ll see that nearly every celebrity chef, along with all of the food websites have posted a recipe. Some call for roasted tomatoes, some call for lots of additional ingredients, some leave out one or another of the key ingredients, some with bizarre (IMHO) substitutions. Then there are the purists who insist that anything other than chunked tomatoes (I think slices are easier), “torn” pieces of homemade mozzarella (slices match the tomatoes), and torn –  not cut –  basil results in an inferior dish. (I readily admit that my taste buds have never been discriminating enough to taste the difference between torn or chopped greens of any sort. Also, there’s something to be said for whole leaves of fresh basil).

There are some requirements that I do agree with: The tomatoes should be as fresh as possible; just picked from the garden may be the best and those from the farmers’ market are certainly acceptable. Supermarket tomatoes are a distant third. The mozzarella should be as fresh as possible. If it is refrigerated, it will shrink and firm up a bit, but is certainly ok, especially if it comes in liquid. Mozzarella that comes in plastic-wrapped slabs from the grocery store is in the same category as supermarket tomatoes. As to the basil, the fresher the better, and for this dish I prefer ordinary sweet basil to any of the other varieties. The olive oil should be the very best you have. As to the salt, you can use it straight out of the shaker, but kosher salt or a good finishing salt make it better. Freshly ground black pepper is ok, too.

That’s it. An unspoken truth is that NOW is probably the only season to make caprese salad, while the tomatoes and basil are fresh from the garden. As to the mozzarella, I got a nice round lump at the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe. The label said that it was from Rhode Island, but it was fresh enough to satisfy my unsophisticated  palate. With all of that, I feel obliged to offer a recipe for a wonderful dish that needs no recipe.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad

RECIPE

Caprese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 large, ripe tomatoes
  • ½ to 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • fresh basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil (the best you have)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Method

  1. Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
  2. Arrange the tomato slices, mozzarella slices and basil leaves in layers on salad plates. Sprinkle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and optional ground pepper. Serve immediately.

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ARANCINI

The name of this dish translates from Italian as “little oranges” because the puffs are golden yellow and round, resembling little oranges. You can make them as large as you wish, but the more they resemble oranges the more leaden they become. I prefer little balls that you bite into so that the hidden mozzarella oozes out onto your tongue.  You can sauce them with your favorite tomato sauce – like marinara – but I think that hides the delicate flavor of the arancini. The morsels are a favorite at one of our local bar/restaurants, Dr. Field Goods,  that serves them as bar food or as an appetizer.

For a long time, Rich Table made a dish that they called “fritters”.  The fritters were a big hit when Sarah and Evan were doing pop-ups, and they stayed on the menu for a long time after Rich Table opened.  The fritters were made with a corn batter instead of the rice of a classic arancino, but they had a similar flavor and the same surprise when you bit into the creamy middle.

For this version I have used cooked sushi rice so that it will stick together,.

RECIPE

Arancini

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 scallions, minced finely
  • 1 cup sushi rice
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • mozzarella cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • fine, dry bread crumbs
  • peanut oil for frying

Method

  1. Place the chicken stock in a large microwave-proof measuring cup. Sprinkle the surface of the stock with the unflavored gelatin, and let it bloom for 5 minutes. Stir the gelatin into the stock so that it is completely dissolved. Heat the stock to boiling in a microwave.
  2. In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the chopped scallions and cook until translucent, but not burned. Add the sushi rice and continue to stir until the rice grains are translucent with a pale white center, about 5 minutes. Pour in about 1 cup of the heated chicken stock. Be very careful, because the mixture will boil up and may overflow the pot if you are not careful. Continue at the boil, but stir continuously. When the liquid has nearly boiled away, add more liquid, continuing to stir the pot. Gradually add the chicken stock in batches until it has all been added. The rice should be creamy, and individual grains should be well cooked. Remove from the heat and let cook for a few minutes in the pot.
  3. Transfer the rice to a baking pan lined with parchment and allow to cool completely. Then transfer to a bowl and stir in the eggs until they are thoroughly combined. Chill in the refrigerator overnight.
  4. Remove the chilled rice mixture from the refrigerator. Shape about 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a round ball, using your hands. Push a cube of mozzarella into the center of each ball, roll with your hands again until smooth, and place on a parchment-lined baking pan. Chill the formed rice balls for an additional hour.
  5. One by one, roll the rice balls in fine, dry bread crumbs. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rice balls to a deep pan filled to about 1½ inches deep with peanut oil heated to 350°F  As they are frying, turn the rice balls until they are golden brown on all sides.
  6. Drain on several thicknesses of paper towelling, and the transfer to a baking rack.
  7. Serve while still warm.

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ZUCCHINI AND FRESH TOMATO LASAGNA

I thought I was finished with zucchini recipes, and then my neighbor brought over three more squash to add to the two in the refrigerator.

That is the origin of zucchini lasagna, which is a riff on eggplant lasagna. I also used fresh tomatoes instead of the usual marinara. With all that squash and fresh tomato, it is easy to anticipate that there is going to be a lot of water. You can deal with that if you plan ahead.

RECIPE

Zucchini and Fresh Tomato Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 5 medium-large zucchini
  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 2 ounces Parmesan
  • Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. With a very sharp chef’s knife, slice the zucchini lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel covered with several layers of paper towels. Salt the zucchini liberally on both sides and let rest for 45 minutes to release water from the squash. Place the sweated slices in a colander and rinse quickly with running water. Pat dry and set aside for final assembly.
  2. Core and thinly slice the tomatoes. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel to absorb excess water. Set aside for final assembly.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add the ground beef, and over high heat, brown the meat while stirring frequently to break up any clumps. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to your taste. Drain and transfer to a plate. Set aside for final assembly.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir the eggs into the ricotta until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside for final assembly
  5. Assemble the lasagna in a large oven-proof lasagna pan. Spray the pan with cooking spray and then spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce that has been seasoned with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to your liking. Arrange a layer of the zucchini slices. Then arrange a layer of tomato slices. Top with half of the ground beef mixture, spreading it evenly. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the tomatoes and sprinkle with one cup of grated mozzarella. Repeat the process with zucchini, tomato, ground beef, ricotta, and mozzarella. Top with a third layer of zucchini and cover with the remaining cup of tomato sauce, the remaining one cup of mozzarella, and grated Parmesan.
  6. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. If water from the zucchini and tomatoes has accumulated in the bottom of the pan, pour it off carefully or remove it with a basting bulb.
  7. Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into serving-sized squares. Serve while still warm.

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INSALATA CAPRESE (NOT QUITE)

Tomatoes and basil. An abundance of both this time of year, so it is time to make that simple classic, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, basil leaves torn to release their fragrant oils, and a drizzle of the best extra virgin olive oil – nothing more. Even though the salad is apparently popular in homes all over Italy, it has been claimed that the combination was first served on Capri, and hence the name, Insalata Caprese or the shorthand Caprese. I suspect that that account is apocryphal, but what is not apocryphal is the wonderful combination. Over the years, there has been a lot of messing around with the recipe – adding balsamic vinegar, using vinaigrette, etc., etc.

So why am I messing around even more? Because pesto and burrata are so delicious.

I found some beautiful tomatoes at the farmers market. They are dark purple and pear shaped. They are called Japanese black trifele tomatoes and just beg to be eaten. I have also been taken by burrata lately. It raises the game from fresh mozzarella, with creamy ricotta wrapped in a morsel of freshly-pulled mozzarella. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the hen’s egg size gems that I have seen before, and the only burrata I could find locally was at least ostrich-egg sized. So I had to modify my plans, but I think it turned out ok.

RECIPE

Insalata Caprese (Not Quite)

Ingredients

  • 2 Japanese black trifele tomatoes
  • pesto (see previous post)
  • burrata
  • basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Slice tomatoes lengthwise and remove seeds and the flesh with a grapefruit spoon
  2. Place a tablespoon or so of fresh pesto in each tomato half
  3. Place a ball of burrata in each tomato half. If you cannot find small cheeses, cut a larger cheese in quarters.
  4. Top with a few fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil

 

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GREEN CHILE CHEESEBURGER – MY TAKE

The journey begins at home, they say, so after writing about my search for the perfect green chile cheeseburger, it only seemed fair that I write about my version. It is based on my observations over the years. It is what I like, so I make no claims for its being in the “best” category, and I certainly would not think of entering it in any contest. I will leave that to the pros.

The first essential is roasted green chiles. You can buy them canned or frozen, but in New Mexico this is green chile season, so there are roasters at the farmers market, and farmers from Hatch and Chimayo (Hatch’s chief competitor) bring gunny sacks filled with green chiles along with roasting cages and butane burners to parking lots all over the city. They will roast as many as you want, and then it is up to you to peel them, cook with them, and put them up for the winter ahead.

Alternatively, you can roast the few that you need for a recipe at home. There are lots of ways to do that: you can roast them under the broiler in your oven; you can use your outdoor grill. The problem with that is that the wonderful roasting smell will draw neighbors and even strangers to your back yard; you can roast chiles over a gas flame; but my favorite way is to use a chile roasting grill that I purchased years ago at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. I like it so much that I have given many of them to friends on my gift list.

The second essential is to have a tasty melting cheese. Asadero is my favorite, but mozzarella, Monterey jack, cheddar, Emmental, or even Gruyère will also work. The important thing is to make sure that whatever cheese you use, the finished product is as gooey as you can make it.

The third essential is the bun, You should use the very best quality bun you can find. Kaiser rolls are good. Hamburger buns in the cello wraps are not good, but if that is all you can find, it will have to do.

Finally, of course, the most essential ingredient is the meat. I use ground beef with 93% lean, but whatever your favorite might be – from 85% to ground sirloin –  will work. You should plan on anywhere from 4 to 8 ounces of meat per burger. I do a couple of things that are considered heretical. First, I incorporate seasoning – salt, pepper, red pepper if you wish – into the meat. With burgers that big, I don’t think salt or pepper can find their way into the middle and the finished burger tastes bland. Second, that means you will have to mix the meat lightly before you shape the burgers. Just try hard not to compress the meat too much. Third, frying the burger in a cast-iron pan or on a flat grill yields a texture that is tastier to me than from a grill

One tool that helps a lot, especially if you make half-pound burgers, is an instant-read probe thermometer. It will take 7-10 minutes or longer on each side to get the right doneness, and the old thumb-pressure trick may not work as well as you are used to with steaks and smaller burgers. Here are some temperature suggestions: Rare – 130°F (54 °C); Medium-Rare – 135°F (57 °C); Medium – 145°F (63°C); Well Done – 150°f ( 66°C).  IMPORTANT: If you are worried about possible risks with undercooked ground beef, cook longer and adjust your temperature accordingly.

Sauce and extras like thick slices of onion and tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce are your option.

Ingredients

  • 2 – 4 fresh Hatch green chiles
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons ketchup
  • 2 -4 good-quality hamburger buns
  • butter
  • 1 pound 93% fresh ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 – 4 slices asadero cheese

Method

  1. Heat the roasting grill until the screen turns bright red. Place the fresh chiles on the grill, turning them frequently until all sides are evenly charred. Remove from the heat and place in a zippered plastic bag. Allow them to cool. Then, under running water, peel away the charred skin. If you have roasted the chiles evenly, the skin should pull away easily. Remove the stems, slit one side, and remove seeds and ribs. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup together.
  3. Butter both halves of the hamburger buns and toast on a dry, hot skillet.  Spread both tops and bottoms with the mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup mixture. Set aside.
  4. Combine the meat with salt, pepper and optional cayenne. Gently divide into 2 or 4 equal portions. Press into patties about the same size as the buns.
  5. Heat a cast-iron skilled over high heat. When it smokes slightly, add the hamburger patties. Sauté on one side for 7 to 10 minutes. Turn and sauté the other side. Check the temperature with your instant-read probe thermometer.
  6. About 2 minutes before you are ready to finish the hamburgers, top each with 1-2 roasted green chiles, a generous slice of asadero cheese, and the top half of a hamburger bun. Check the temperature again.
  7. Transfer the burgers and toppings to the bottoms of the buns and serve immediately.
  8. Have available sliced onions, tomatoes, pickles,  other condiments, and sides of your choice – potato chips, French fires, potato salad, etc., etc.

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