Easy, Easy, Easy for Labor Day

Looking for something easy and summery to serve this weekend? Look no further than this wonderful cold soup made with cucumbers and grapes. You';ll love it! And so will your guests.

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Spanish Gazpacho

Some folks call this white gazpacho; I call it Spanish Gazpacho because of the sherry vinegar, which should be the best you can find. Whatever your preferred moniker, please give it a try; you’ll love it! Like most gazpachos, there is no cooking, no tending, no fussing. Mix everything together in a blender, season with salt and pepper, and go for it. Everyone is wowed by the unexpected flavors and refreshing coolness.

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup seedless green grapes

1/2 cup sour cream

1/3 cup sliced blanched almonds

3 slices white bread, crusts removed and cubed

2 cucumbers, peeled and diced

1 shallot, sliced

11/2 cups cold water

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir gently to mix. Blend in batches until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Process the soup in a blender in batches. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Clams and Pasta? Amazing!

If you’re like me, you probably feel that summer and fresh seafood go hand-in-hand. I’m fortunate to live near an actual coastline, so the clams we get are often straight off the boat, but considering how quickly food is transported these days, you can find fresh, briny-tasting clams just about anywhere. Be aware of the vendor selling you the clams and if he’s reliable, you’re good to go. As I say in the recipe note, don’t skimp on the parsley. It helps to “make” the dish and if it’s fresh from your garden or the farmer’s market, all the better. 

clams and pasta

Farfalle with Zucchini and Clams

When I travel in Italy, I order this over and over and am never disappointed. You can skip the thyme if you want, but don’t skimp on the parsley. And just before serving be sure to finish the dish with extra-virgin olive oil. My best advice for this is to be sure to start with a big enough pot for the clams, zucchini, and pasta.

Serves 6

1 pound farfalle pasta

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

4  zucchini (1 1/2 pounds total)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 1/2  pounds littleneck clams

1/4 cup clam juice

1/2 cup white wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 to 1/2  teaspoon red chili flakes (the amount depends on your taste)

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Trim the ends of the zucchini, slice in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch-thick half-moon slices.
  2. In a large sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the shallots and  garlic, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender.
  3. Raise the heat to medium and cook the zucchini and thyme for about 5 to 6 minutes or until the zucchini is just tender.
  4. Add the clams, clam juice and white wine, cover tightly, and cook over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until the clams open. Stir the clams and zucchini once or twice during steaming.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer the pasta to the pan with the clams and zucchini. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, butter, chili flakes, and parsley and toss gently medium heat until the butter melts and the ingredients are nicely mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Haven’t Grilled Steak This Summer? What Are You Waiting For?!

Flank steak is one of my very favorite cuts of beef, especially for grilling. It’s leaner than some others but has amazing flavor and a pleasing coarse texture that is hard to find in other steaks. Sometimes called London broil, it’s a flat-ish piece of meat that can be stuffed and rolled, although most of the time I grill it flat out (the best way, if you ask me).

If you can’t find flank steak or want to try something a little different, try skirt or hanger steak. These two cuts are close to flank in terms of flavor and texture. Skirt steak is a long, flat cut with more flavor than tenderness. The same goes for hanger steak, which has gotten a lot attention in recent years. The ungainly steak is also called butcher’s steak because, the story goes, the double-lobed cut connected by a particularly tough sinew was prized by butchers for its flavor even though its homely appearance made it tough to sell. While hangers are delicious when cooked right, I prefer skirt steak as a stand-in for flank steak.

All recipes for flank steak instruct you to “slice the meat across the grain.” If that directive baffles you, consider that the meat is made up of long, relatively tough fibers that must be intersected with a knife to shorten them and make the meat tender enough to chew easily. You can see these fibers in the meat. To cut a flank steak correctly all you must to do is slice it on the bias, the diagonal, across those long fibers.

Here’s one of my fave recipes. Happy grilling!

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Yogurt and Spice Grilled Flank Steak

Vermillion, a restaurant near Grand Central Station in New York City, serves flank steak with a yogurt–sour cream marinade that is really delicious. I came up with my own version and am pleased as punch with the outcome. The spices mixed with the tartness of the sour cream and yogurt blend perfectly with rich flank or skirt steak. Whenever you grill steak, it’s important to watch it carefully so that it does not overcook. You can always put it back on the grill if it’s too rare but you can’t retrieve its juiciness if it’s overdone.

Serves 4 to 6

 

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup plain yogurt

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground curry powder

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

2 pounds flank or skirt steak

 

Mix together the sour cream, yogurt, cumin, curry powder, garlic, and jalapeño.

Lay the steak in a glass, ceramic, or other nonreactive dish. Pour the marinade over the steak and turn the steak a few times to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Turn the steak once or twice during marinating.

Spray the grilling grate of a gas or charcoal grill with vegetable oil spray. Preheat the grill to medium hot.

Lift the steak from the marinade and wipe the excess from the meat. Grill the meat for 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare, or until done to your liking.

Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before slicing across the grain and serving.

How to Dress Up Zucchini Fritters

 When I came up with these fritters, I was very pleased with myself. Zucchini fritters = crispy, tender, mild, pleasing. What’s not to love about these? Plus I love to grill zucchini, which is always a perfect backdrop for stronger flavors. Like smoked salmon and crème fraîche! Yum!

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Of course, with a little salt and pepper, they are delightful on their own. Nibble a few with a glass of wine and the sunset. Serve two or three alongside grilled chicken or steak.

Or transform them into this simple yet oh-so-elegant hors d’oeuvre made with smoked salmon.

Both smoked salmon and crème fraîche are glorious extravagances and while their flavors are not overwhelming, each on its own is striking. When paired, they are captivating.

I took this celestial pairing and put it atop freshly made fritters. The result? What do you think?!

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Zucchini Fritters with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche

 

Makes 15 to 16 fritters; serves 6 to 8

 

3 small zucchini

3 large eggs

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Grated zest of ½ lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons canola oil

About ½ pound smoked salmon, thinly sliced  

About 7 tablespoons crème fraîche    

6 to 7 fresh mint or basil leaves (best from your own garden!)

 

  1. Grate the zucchini on a box grater and transfer to a bowl. Add the eggs, flour, and lemon zest and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Drop 2 tablespoons of the batter into the oil for each fritter. Do not crowd the pan.
  3. Press gently on the batter to flatten the fritters and fry for about 2 minutes on each side or until crispy and browned. Drain on paper towels. Season lightly with more salt and pepper.  
  4. Arrange the warm fritters on a serving platter and top each with a slice or two of salmon. Spoon about a teaspoon of crème fraîche on top of the salmon, garnish with mint or basil leaves and serve.

 

 

Pancake Time!

Do your kids like pancakes for breakfast? (Dumb question, I guess. Of course they do!) Do they think these late summer mornings are custom-made for pancake breakfasts? Or even pancake suppers? Try these light little pancakes. They will love them — as will you!

Gray and pancakes

Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes

Lightly kissed with lemon zest and lemon extract, these pancakes are seductively delicate and airy and a welcome change from the expected. A nice change from the usual pancake fare.

Serves 6; makes about 30 pancakes

 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

21/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup ricotta cheese

11/4 cups whole milk

11/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

3/4 teaspoon lemon extract

2 large eggs, separated

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

 

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta, milk, lemon zest, lemon extract, and egg yolks. Add the dry ingredients and mix well.

In a clean, dry bowl with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the ricotta mixture and let the batter rest for 3 minutes.

Lightly spray a griddle or large skillet with vegetable spray and heat it over medium heat.

Drop large tablespoons of batter onto the griddle and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. The pancakes will measure about 3 inches across. To prevent burning, don’t let the griddle get too hot. The pancakes will look slightly dull and a few bubbles will form on the surface when they are ready to flip.

Serve dusted with confectioners’ sugar or keep the pancakes warm in the oven.

Pasta with Pesto: Totally Addictive

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When we see the word “pesto,” most of us think of basil and pinenuts. This pesto is made with parsley and walnuts instead, and when tossed with pasta is close to addictive.

I can’t say it forcefully enough: This is sooooo good!!

Try it. No one will be disappointed.

Pasta with Walnut Ricotta Pesto

I find a lot of pasta dishes addictive and this one pretty much tops the list. It’s hard to let even a little bit remain clinging to the side of the pan. The first time I made this, I didn’t tell my family that there were walnuts in the sauce, fearing they would turn up their noses if they knew about them. They cleaned their plates and asked for seconds. We all love the slight crunch. And the glorious flavor and texture!

Serves 4 to 6

Walnut Pesto

 

11/2 cups walnut pieces, toasted

2 garlic cloves

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Pasta

 

1 pound pasta, such as penne, farfalle, or orecchiette

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

3 ounces prosciutto, very thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

To make the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, process the walnuts and garlic until finely ground. Scrape into a serving bowl and add the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, parsley, and salt. Mix well and set aside at room temperature.

To make the pasta: Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Before draining, reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the pesto and mix well. Mix the pasta water into the pasta if the pesto seems too thick, adding it a tablespoon at a time.

Gently toss in the butter, peas, and prosciutto. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve right away.

Grab Some Tomatoes! Make Soup!

Just about now, the tomatoes in your garden or local farmer’s market are at their seasonal best. So, make soup. Yup. Soup. There are lots of other ways to enjoy summer’s juicy gift, but this no-cook, chilled soup is outstanding.

Ahhhhhh! Summer.

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Chilled Tomato Soup

You may be familiar with hot tomato soup, specifically the famous soup sold in red and white cans from coast to coast, but if you haven’t tried the real thing, refreshingly cold, here’s your opportunity. Make this when the tomatoes are at their best in the markets or on the vine. The soup requires zero cooking and so could not be easier. Just let the ingredients mellow in the refrigerator for a number of hours so that the juices exude from the tomatoes, and then zap everything in a blender. Done! If you have access to heirloom tomatoes, all the better. It’s one of my all-time summer favorites.

Serves 4 to 6

 

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into large dice

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

14 to 16 fresh basil leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup crème frâiche (optional)

 

Put the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, about 10 basil leaves, 2 teaspoons of salt, and garlic in a large glass, ceramic, or other nonreactive bowl. Stir gently, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 10 hours or overnight.

Process the soup in a blender in batches. Taste and adjust the seasoning with basil, salt, and pepper.

Garnish each serving with a swirl of crème frâiche, if desired, and the remaining fresh basil leaves.

Lemon Vinaigrette for Summer Salads

There’s something about fresh, bright lemon juice and good, fruity olive oil that makes a salad just about sing out loud. This little recipe is one of the easiest and best vinaigrettes in my book, Dinnertime Survival. Try it; you’ll like it. I promise.

A whole lemon yields 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice and sometimes more if the lemon is heavy with juice and on the large side. Look for fruit with thin skin and that feels weighty with juice. Before you cut one open, roll it on the counter with just a little bit of pressure from your hand to get the juices running. Lemons are one of those grocery items I buy just about every time I go to the market.

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Lemon Vinaigrette

Makes about 3/4 cup

 

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

 

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and salt until the salt dissolves. Slowly add the oil to emulsify the vinaigrette. Season with pepper and serve.

If not using right away, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Shake or whisk well before using.

Turkey Burgers for Summer!

I hope you agree with me that burgers are great on the grill.  I love a good beef burger but have become a turkey burger advocate of late, and once you try this turkey burger, you’ll immediately get why. It will blow you away. Heck, it’ll blow the whole family away — and any extra kid or adult lucky enough to be around at dinnertime!

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Southwestern Turkey Burgers

In growing numbers of American households, turkey burgers are the burgers of choice—or at least some of the time. Many of us try to eat less beef, and so ground turkey has inched its way onto the culinary stage, although still playing a minor role. When you mix the turkey with flavors inspired by the dishes of the Southwest like cilantro, adobo sauce, and cumin, and then serve the burgers with pepper jack cheese and some sliced avocado, no one misses the more familiar beef burger.

Serves 4

 

1 pound ground turkey

2 scallions, trimmed and sliced thinly on the bias, white and light green parts

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup finely minced red bell pepper

2 tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Freshly ground pepper

4 slices pepper jack cheese

4 hamburger buns

Guacamole or sliced avocado, optional, for garnish

 

Mix together the turkey, scallions, garlic, cilantro, red pepper, adobo sauce, oil, salt, and cumin. Season with pepper. Form the mixture into four patties.

Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and when shimmering, cook the patties for about 4 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Just before lifting the burgers from the pan, top each with a slice of cheese and let it melt.

Serve the burgers on the hamburger buns, topped with guacamole and avocado slices, if desired.

Clams and Pasta for a Summertime Treat

 If you’re like me, you probably feel that summer and fresh seafood go hand-in-hand. I’m fortunate to live near an actual coastline, so the clams we get are often straight off the boat, but considering how quickly food is transported these days, you can find fresh, briny-tasting clams just about anywhere. Be aware of the vendor selling you the clams and if he’s reliable, you’re good to go. As I say in the recipe note, don’t skimp on the parsley. It helps to “make” the dish and if it’s fresh from your garden or the farmer’s market, all the better. 

clams and pasta

Farfalle with Zucchini and Clams

When I travel in Italy, I order this over and over and am never disappointed. You can skip the thyme if you want, but don’t skimp on the parsley. And just before serving be sure to finish the dish with extra-virgin olive oil. My best advice for this is to be sure to start with a big enough pot for the clams, zucchini, and pasta.

Serves 6

1 pound farfalle pasta

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

4  zucchini (1 1/2 pounds total)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 1/2  pounds littleneck clams

1/4 cup clam juice

1/2 cup white wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 to 1/2  teaspoon red chili flakes (the amount depends on your taste)

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Trim the ends of the zucchini, slice in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch-thick half-moon slices.
  2. In a large sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the shallots and  garlic, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender.
  3. Raise the heat to medium and cook the zucchini and thyme for about 5 to 6 minutes or until the zucchini is just tender.
  4. Add the clams, clam juice and white wine, cover tightly, and cook over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until the clams open. Stir the clams and zucchini once or twice during steaming.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer the pasta to the pan with the clams and zucchini. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, butter, chili flakes, and parsley and toss gently medium heat until the butter melts and the ingredients are nicely mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.