Saturday, August 20, 2016

Almost Heaven – Back in the Farmers’ Market
What’s cooking? Panzanella Salad with Mozzarella

It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t spent a single post on farmers’ markets, and the summer is very nearly gone! So if you haven’t been to a farmers’ market lately, what are you waiting for? They’re everywhere these days, and they have the most amazing variety of foods. Over the years, I’ve been to markets in Austin (where there are at least three I can think of); San Antonio; Wolfboro, New Hampshire; Nashville; and several in Jersey City, where there’s one every day of the week but Tuesday. If you can’t find a farmers’ market, try taking a ride in the country and stopping at a farm stand. You won’t be sorry.

The range of foods is well beyond what most people imagine. My favorite market – in Summit, NJ – offers the standard assortment of greens and root veggies and fruits, but also pickles and baked goods, fresh mozzarella and aged cheeses, honey, wild mushrooms, and the best fresh fish you’ve ever had. And before you leave, grab a freshly baked pizza for lunch. I’m such a fanatic for the place that I schedule travel so that I’m back in New Jersey for Sunday mornings. The atmosphere is always friendly – farmers being friendly sorts – and all five senses get a workout, what with the sight and feel of the foods on offer, the tasting samples at various stands, and the sounds of local musicians who show up.

So it’s not a surprise that I often have to make a list of what I’ve brought home, because once those fruits and veggies disappear inside the fridge, I lose complete track of what I’ve got. I made a particularly mighty haul a couple of weeks ago, when friends from Texas came for a visit. For their dinner one night, we had a farmers’ market extravaganza: fresh tuna from the fishmonger, a fabulous tomato salad, and for dessert, peach frozen yogurt. What a great way to celebrate summer!

The salad was one I’d been dreaming about while I waited for the field-ripened beefsteak tomatoes – a New Jersey specialty – to show up. Panzanella salad – featuring fresh tomatoes and toasted croutons – is a Tuscan tradition that goes back at least to the 14th century, when it became popular as a way to use up stale bread. In that time prior to the discovery of the New World (i.e., before tomatoes made their way to Europe), they used onions as the basis of the dish; today’s panzanella is much more appealing.

The key to a great panzanella is to start with the ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can find. It’s a hearty salad, so it doesn’t need much more than a simply prepared bit of protein, like a broiled steak or fish. Or you can have it all by itself for lunch. Just let it sit long enough for the bread to really soak up the tomato juices. And it’s equally good with Parmigiano-Reggiano or feta as with mozzarella. As it happens, though, I can get a good, fresh ball of mozzarella... at the farmers’ market!

Panzarella Salad with Mozarella

Adapted from Melissa Clark in The New York Times.

Serves 4.

6-7 ounces baguette (or ciabatta bread), preferably slightly stale, cut into ¾-inch cubes
6 tablespoons olive oil, separated
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
2-3 large, ripe beefsteak tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)
6 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 large garlic cloves, mashed or grated into a paste, or 2 teaspoons garlic purée*
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano/thyme)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or large pinch of red pepper flakes
Black pepper to taste
½ cup English cucumber (a.k.a. Kirby cucumber or Persian cucumber), in ½-inch cubes
½ cup basil leaves, ribboned
¼ cup parsley, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained

Preheat oven to 425º. In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt, and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, stirring once, until the cubes are toasted golden. Set aside.

Chop the tomatoes into ¾-inch cubes and place in a large salad bowl, along with the mozzarella. Soak the red onion in a small bowl of warm water for 5 minutes, then drain and add to tomatoes.

In a small bowl or jar, combine the red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, oregano/thyme, Aleppo/red pepper flakes, the ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and a few fresh grinds of black pepper. Whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and add the dressing to the tomato mixture.

Add the bread cubes, cucumber, basil, parsley, and capers to the tomato mixture and toss well to combine. Let the salad sit for at least 30 minutes – and as long as a couple of hours – before serving. Adjust salt/pepper to taste.

*Kitchen Goddess note: As you know, the Goddess likes to have a ready supply of roasted garlic, and she recently has begun putting some of that into a food processor and puréeing it with a tiny bit of olive oil. Store it in the fridge, and use it in salad dressings, on crostini, or anywhere else you might use finely chopped garlic.

Give a Nod to Nero

The Kitchen Goddess loves to fiddle with her food, and this salad is a great vehicle for adding or substituting ingredients. Sometimes it’s because she’s run out of something, sometimes it’s a more whimsical move. In its most recent incarnation, her panzanella deliciously included the following alterations:

■ Substitute feta cheese for mozzarella.
■ Add 2 ripe peaches, cut into bite-size pieces.
■ Substitute mint for basil.
■ Instead of the cucumber, cut a medium-sized zucchini into ½-inch cubes, toss with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and broil 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
■ Substitute 2 cups torn arugula for the parsley.
■ Eliminate the capers.

 Be brave, folks – it’s only food.

To Go with Your Panzanella

If you’re wondering how I cooked that tuna, here’s the link: Bacon-wrapped Tuna Steaks with Sesame Sauce.

And here’s the link for dessert: Peach Frozen Yogurt.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Cure for the Summer Cold
What’s cooking? Mustard-Ginger Chicken

Kitchen Goddess alert: This is the KG’s 300th post. You know what that means, don’t you? It means the Goddess is officially nuts. But we’re all crazy in some way. This blog is mine. Or at least one of them. This post is about another.

It seems almost inevitable. You handle 104 different decks of cards over four days in a row – 208 hands of 13 cards each. A total of 2,704 cards that have been handled by 104 other players. And it’s not like you can wash your hands after every round.

I’ve just returned from Washington, DC, where my hubby and I competed in the American Contract Bridge League’s Summer National Bridge Tournament. It’s a game dear to both of our hearts, but it has its share of health issues.

For starters, playing 8 hours of bridge a day is mentally exhausting, so it’s important to get enough sleep. I went into the tournament well rested, but didn’t remain that way long. Our hotel room faced East, and the blackout curtains worked really well... except for just that little bit at the top of the window, where the summer sun came in laser-like at a very early hour. The evening sessions at the tournament don’t end until about 11:15, so the very best you can do is to be in bed by 12:30 or 1a.m. As a result, there was hardly a night that I got more than 6-7 hours of rest.

Then you have the playing area, which for the first two days was a perfectly reasonable temperature. But the event for our last two days took place in what felt like a meat locker. So... hot outside, freezing cold inside, back outside to the heat, back inside to the North Pole – nothing more than the reverse of winter conditions, and a perfect recipe for immune system vulnerability. According to an article I read in the Wall Street Journal, extreme cold constricts the blood vessels in your nose and throat, which makes you more susceptible to viruses. Which takes me back to the germs.

That said, we still love the game, and the form of competition. So it won’t stop us from heading off to another tournament. Next time, maybe I’ll take a sweatshirt and wear gloves.

So here I am, with a summer cold. And as we all know, one of the best foods when you’re suffering from a cold – winter or summer – is chicken soup.

How do I love thee, chicken soup? Let me count the ways.

1. First, soups work well because nutrients are easier to absorb in liquid form, and even a small amount of oil promotes absorption of vitamins A, D, K, and E.
2. Hot liquids get all that nasty nasal mucus out of the body faster, thus easing congestion.
3. Organosulfides (found in garlic and onions) stimulate production of certain immune cells.
4. Carrots – big chicken soup veggies – help with antibody production.
5. Researchers at the University of Nebraska have found that the combination of vegetables and poultry in soup can help you feel better by alleviating respiratory tract inflammation.

So I had a chicken, and was preparing to roast it using just salt and pepper and a little olive oil, when I remembered a Silver Palate recipe that was one of my old reliables in the days when my kids were teens. The Silver Palate ladies called it “Bobbie’s Chicken,” after their friend who developed it; but I don’t know Bobbie, so I’m just calling it Mustard-Ginger Chicken. It’s ridiculously easy to make – though a bit more cooking time than a plain roast chicken – but the result is very long on flavor, and incredibly moist. In fact, the dish is almost more of a stew than roast chicken, so you’ll definitely want to serve it over noodles or rice; whatever you call it, it’s delicious and one of the most popular among Silver Palate fans.

If you want to summer it up, serve it with a nice, big salad of summer greens. That’s what I did, and the next day, I made soup from the leftovers.

Kitchen Goddess note: The ginger/mustard combination here is unusual but quite nice – you have to trust the recipe and its legions of fans. One of the best features of this recipe is its flexibility: you can use a larger or smaller chicken and simply adjust the spices and amount of time in the oven for each stage. Also, the original recipe calls for 6 onions. Well, folks, the KG doesn’t always have exactly 6 onions, and what size would that be in any case? The recipe didn’t say. So the Kitchen Goddess has used – at various times – 4 large onions, or 5 medium ones, or 2 large and 2-3 small onions. Pretty much whatever’s in the pantry, and that’s hardly ever 6 onions of the same size. And if they’re large onions, you may want to cut them into eighths. Use your judgment and don’t fret.

Mustard-Ginger Chicken (a.k.a. “Bobbie’s Chicken”)

Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook (Workman, 1989), by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

Serves 4.

1 young chicken (also called broilers or fryers or roasters), 4-4 ½ pounds, with giblets
1 lemon, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons dry mustard
4-6 onions, quartered (see Note, above)
bouillon cubes for 2 cups of broth (KG prefers Knorr, but use what you like)

Rinse and dry the chicken. [Kitchen Goddess note: The great chef Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, recommends doing this part ahead of time and letting the chicken sit uncovered in the fridge for at least an hour or up to overnight. That dries out the skin which makes it crispier in the cooking. Just a suggestion.]

About two hours before you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 475º.

Squeeze the lemon over the chicken and rub the juice inside and out. Place the chicken into a baking pan that allows room for 3-4 of the onions. Salt and pepper the bird (all sides) to your liking. Mix the mustard and ginger together and rub it all over the chicken. Scatter 3-4 of the onion pieces around the pan.

Put the pan into the oven and bake the chicken 30 minutes, undisturbed.

While the chicken cooks, rinse the giblets and put them – minus the liver, which adds an overly strong flavor – into a small saucepan with the remaining onion, 2 cups of water, and the bouillon cubes. Bring to a low boil and simmer 30 minutes. Reserve.

After the chicken has been 30 minutes in the oven, turn down the heat to 375º, and add ¾ cup water to the pan. Return the chicken to the oven and cook another 30 minutes, basting once or twice.

When the second 30 minutes is up, strain the stock (discarding the solids) and remove the chicken from the oven. Pour ¾ cup of stock over and around the chicken, and bake another 30 minutes, basting occasionally.

Remove the pan from the oven (leaving the oven on) and remove the chicken to a cutting board. (You may want to place the cutting board into a sheet pan, to keep from spilling any of that yummy chicken juice.) Cut the chicken into fourths, and return it to the baking pan. [A final KG note: This part is easier than it sounds, because the chicken will be so tender the bones can be cut through with almost no effort, and the KG says that as a person who really doesn’t like cutting up poultry. For presentation purposes, the KG recommends removing the backbone and discarding it or saving it for stock.]

Pour the remaining stock over the chicken and onions, and cover or tent the pan with foil. Put it back into the oven for 15 minutes. Serve over noodles or rice, and all else you’ll need is a simple green salad.