A presto, Venice! In my elementary Italian, that means "See you soon, Venice!" I’m getting veerrryy excited about my trip to Venice more and more each day now. Six couples in for our gourmet dinner group are meeting there for 10 days, September 3-12. We’ll stay together in a waterfront apartment house (straight out of a James Bond movie) to cook, eat and walk our way through the small inlet city. We’re hiring a chef to cook in one night, I’m taking a cooking class and we’re all going to the opera! I can’t wait to share my travel experiences so please look out for my blogs. In celebration of the upcoming trip, here’s another zucchini recipe, this one using risotto. Que bella!
Risotto with Pancetta, Zucchini, Basil & Parmesan
1 Tbsp softened butter
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped roughly
1 large garlic clove
1.2 cup thinly sliced pancetta, chopped roughly
1-1/3 cups Arborio rice
2 small zucchini, chopped coarsely
¾ cup dry white wine
4 cups hot chicken stock
8 basil leaves chopped roughly
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat the butter and oil together in a French oven over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and pancetta. Sauté gently, stirring continuously, until they begin to color.
2. Stir in the rice and cook until all the butter and oil are absorbed. Add the zucchini and cook for I min. more. Move the pot away from the heat, add the wine and 1 cup of the hot stock, along with the basil leaves and seasonings.
3. Return the pot to the heat, stir well and leave to simmer for 10-15 min. Stir occasionally.
4. Add 1 cup of the stock and continue simmering and stirring for 10-15 min longer. Repeat this process until all the stock is used. After the last addition, stir frequently. The consistency should be very moist and creamy with the rice grains soft but remaining whole.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in ¾ of the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top as the dish is served.
As this summer’s harvest of peaches slowly wanes away, try to hold onto the summer flavor a bit longer with these muffins or store up the summer’s memories with this quick jam:
Peach and Granola Whole Wheat Muffins (makes 10)
¾ cup pear nectar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup low-fat granola
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
1¼ cups finely chopped unpeeled pear (~1 medium)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line ten 1/3-cup muffin cups with foil muffin papers.
2. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Stir both flours and sugar in medium bowl until no sugar lumps remain. Mix in granola, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Add pear; toss to coat.
3. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture just to blend (batter will be thick). Divide among prepared muffin cups, mounding in center.
4. Bake muffins until golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer muffins to rack and cool.
Quick Stone Fruit Jam (3 cups)
4-1/2 cups peeled and diced peaches, plums or nectarines (~2-1/2 lb)
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1(1.75 oz) package powdered fruit pectin
1. Blend all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 8-10 min. Or until thickened. (think the consistency of syrup.) Cool mixture completely, ~2hours; cooling will cause the mixture to thicken further.
2. Serve immediately or cover and chill preserves in an airtight container, up to 3 weeks.
Take advantage of the fruits of summer as long as possible with these healthy smoothie blends. In general, freezing the softer fruits first makes for a better smoothie consistency. I usually do this the night before I want to make them. To save them for smoothies and other cooking, even ripe bananas will freeze in their own skins.
Easy Summer Smoothie (2 servings)
1 cup frozen peaches or strawberries
1 ripe banana, cut into thirds
1 cup fresh raspberries or blueberries
1 cup ice
¼ cup sweetened almond milk or orange juice
In a blender, combine all and blend until smooth.
Power Smoothie (makes 3 cups)
8 oz frozen blueberries
8 oz orange juice
1 cup fresh pineapple, sliced, plus additional wedges for garnish
2 whole strawberries, plus additional berries for garnish
1 tsp flax seed oil
1 scoop vanilla protein powder, optional*
2 Tbsp Splenda**
1. Place all ingredients in blender at high speed for 1 min. Add additional orange juice if smoothie is too thick. If the mixture is too thin, add more frozen blueberries. Pour into chilled glasses, garnish with half strawberry and pineapple wedge.
*If desired, any kind of protein powder can be used.
**If you prefer not using sugar substitutes, use 2 Tbsp regular sugar.
Vegan, Vegetarian or Flexitarian?
More and more of us are not living in black and white but grey. The same goes for our dietary lifestyles. Vegans, for example, eat no poultry, meat, fish, eggs, milk, milk products and even foods sourced from animals like honey. Lacto-vegetarians don't eat poultry, meat, fish or eggs but will include milk products in their diets. Lacto-ova-vegetarians will eat eggs, milk and milk products but not meat, poultry or fish.
Now comes flexitarians. Flexitarians maintain a mostly vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat, poultry and fish. A flexitarian diet consists mostly of vegetable-based foods. Why? Simple…people want the flexibility in their diets and cooking regimens. And recent science indicates that going meatless just 2 days a week can yield noticeable health benefits without major lifestyle shifts. The solution is getting the nutrients you need and satisfying your hunger without the easy-to-access proteins of meats, fish and poultry. Why Not? Adhering to Meatless Mondays and Fridays can help you stay slim, fend off cancer, support your heart Heath...and save money on food costs. To boot, eating meatless meals on their terms help flexitarians from feeling like they are sacrificing too much in giving up all meats, poultry and fish or preparing the food alternatives necessary to guarantee adequate protein intake. It’s a growing trend that I’m sure food manufacturers will cater to in their newer products. Served with another dish, here’s a delightful salad recipe that is ideal for the flexitarian family.
Warm Vegetable Salad with Curried Almonds (serves 4)
3 medium shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1-3/4 tsp salt, divided
2 Tbsp plus 1/4 tsp sugar, divided
3/4 tsp black pepper, divided
1/4 cup blanched and peeled almonds
3/4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp curry powder
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
1/2 cup snow peas
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp chives, finely chopped
4 cups mâché or baby spinach
Coarsely grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
1. Bring shallots, red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp sugar, and 1/4 tsp pepper to simmer over medium high heat in a saucepan. Turn off heat and let the mixture stand for 20 min. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350F. Toss the almonds with 1/4 tsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper; toast for 15 min. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 1/4 tsp sugar and the curry powder. Transfer to paper towels, then reserve.
3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. One vegetable at a time, blanch the broccoli rave, asparagus, snap peas and snow peas in the boiling water until tender but crisp, about 3 min. each. Drain on paper towels.
4. Place the vegetables in a large bowl and add 1/2 tsp olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, chives and the pickled shallots and toss to coat.
5. Divide the vegetables between 4 plates and scatter the almonds into the vegetables. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.
Something Exciting to Chew on: According to a recent piece in Diablo magazine, Terra Bella Family Farm owner Shawn Seufert and partner John Kirkman are working to open an artisan marketplace in the Dublin/Pleasanton area in mid-2012. The plan is for a European-style market modeled after San Francisco’s Ferry Building with multiple suppliers under one roof. They will focus on local, sustainable, organic food, including produce supplied by Terra Bella. Plans currently call for a "green" grocery, full-service deli and bakery; also retail food, wine and beer providers. The partners want to create a suburban center where folks will hang out. Diablo quotes Seufert: "I think the idea is that there’s all this cool stuff but you have to go through the tunnel or over the bridge to get to it, so we want to bring that bridge and tunnel a little closer—kind of bring a bring a slice of coolness out to the burbs." Personally, I‘m one of those people who travel through the tunnel and over the bridge so I can’t wait until I can get that experience close to home.
More Zucchini? Lucky for me (I think), I got another round of super-sized zucchini from my friend’s garden. Just in time too. A reader/friend emailed this recipe to me for a different zucchini bread – with chocolate chips. Before you make a face, think about how much zucchini bread tastes like cake. Chocolate chips can only make it better because chocolate makes anything better. I tried it…and I liked it. Now, you try it.
Peggy’s Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread (makes 4 loaves)
4 cups sugar
2 cups oil
4-5 cups shredded zucchini
6 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 12-oz package miniature chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 325F. Beat together eggs, sugar and oil.
2. Add zucchini and remaining ingredients, mixing well. Pour batter into 4 well-oiled loaf pans and cook for ~50-60, until a toothpick comes out clean. Note: The bread freezes well, if there’s any left!
Way to Go, Tyler Florence! I ate at a wonderful restaurant in Mill Valley last Friday. I was attending a play at the Marin County Theater that evening and had made dinner reservations beforehand, based solely on online customer reviews. The reviews indicated that the restaurant, tucked away in a lovely little downtown alley, had been around since 1947, in one restaurant iteration or another and had been popular among residents in recent years as El Paseo House of Chops. It seems that top chef Tyler Florence took over the eatery about a year or so ago and the online reviews since that time were outstanding. Based on the well-known chef and the reviews, we went, we ate and we were beyond satisfied. The food was well prepared and it was evident that the ingredients were local and fresh. Quite frankly, it was the best restaurant meal I’d had in quite awhile and I will definitely be returning. Towards the end of our meal, I met Preston Clark, the on-site executive chef, who was as charming as the ambiance there. He personally inspects and touches up every plate before it is served and, it’s obvious that his sense of service carried through to every staff person we encountered. This week's photo shows two of the happy-to-please-you cooks. (By the way, Mill Valley was a quaint and quiet little town, perfect for wandering around before or after dinner.) Check it out: www.elpaseomillvalley.com. If you go, tell Preston that Epicure sent you!