Betsy’s Herbed Zucchini Soup

August 4th, 2014

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Zucchini has arrived in these parts. This squash is much maligned because it tends to overwhelm gardeners before they can finish uttering the word “zucchini.” I have a couple of suggestions to help readers embrace zucchini and avoid feelings of inadequacy.

First, when you are doing your spring planting, don’t feel obliged to place an entire six pack of zucchini seedlings in your vegetable patch. A plant or two will do nicely. Zucchini is a friendly neighbor that likes to wander all over the garden, and it CAN take over.

Next (this is the part at which I am bad), once the zucchini gets going check it every single day and pick ruthlessly. You want delicate squash, not baseball bats.

If you do end up with giant zucchini, do what my neighbors Susan and Peter Purdy did a few years back and throw a Zucchinipalooza party. Everyone in the neighborhood brought zucchini-related foods, and we played games. Large zucchini were literally used as bats in a ball game. Strangely shaped squashes were placed in a tub for bobbing. And so on.

Finally, in addition to throwing zucchini into lots of different dishes—stir fries, soups, stews—look for zucchini recipes you can make and freeze. In a very few months, you’ll be missing this vegetable and longing for a taste of summer.

The recipe here, from my friend and former babysitter Betsy Kovacs, is eminently freezable. It’s also great fresh (hot or cold); it positively bursts with flavor.

If you don’t have the exact proportions of ingredients listed below, go with what you have. With more zucchini it will be thicker; with more stock, thinner. With more herbs it will just taste more summery.

As you can see from the video below, I made it recently on Mass Appeal. It comes together very quickly so it’s perfect for a TV appearance—or for a summer day.

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The Soup

Ingredients:

1 to 2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 pounds zucchini, with stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups water or stock (chicken or vegetable, depending on your taste)
1 handful basil leaves, tightly packed—or dill or parsley; your herb of choice
salt and pepper to taste
a little half and half, sour cream, or yogurt (optional)

Instructions:

In a 4-quart Dutch oven cook the onion and garlic in the oil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the chopped zucchini and the teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 more minutes. Add the water or broth plus the herbs. Simmer the soup, partially covered, until it is tender, about 15 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender or food processor. Remember to use caution with the hot soup; you will want to process it in batches to avoid eruptions.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Adding a little half and half to the soup or serving it with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt can give it a bit more depth. Or you may prefer leaving it as is to let the zucchini and herbs shine. Serves 4 to 6.

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Iron-Rich Foods

July 10th, 2014
The clams in these fritters are high in iron.

The clams, egg, and, parsley in these fritters are high in iron.

Yesterday I visited my friends at the television program Mass Appeal. We were originally scheduled to make simple appetizers and an even simpler dessert.

The producers decided to devote the entire episode to the worthy cause of donating blood, however, and asked me whether I would change the menu to feature foods with a lot of iron.

Here’s what I know about iron in food. (I started to tell this story on the air but got distracted; I’m still learning how to work on TV!)

My great-grandfather died of pernicious anemia in 1917 at the age of 56. He was a physician—but in 1917 even physicians didn’t know that iron could help with anemia.

His granddaughter, my mother, was understandably worried about anemia. When my brother and I were growing up, our mother served us liver on a fairly regular basis in order to make sure we had enough iron in our diets.

It was NOT my favorite food, and my mother learned to watch me carefully as I ate it to make sure I didn’t surreptitiously feed most of my portion to the dog.

As I grew older, I realized (and quickly informed my mother) that the liver was unnecessary. As this chart from the Red Cross illustrates, any number of foods—most of them tastier than liver, in my opinion—contain that mineral.

So of course I told the producers at Mass Appeal that I would be delighted to whip up a little iron.

We began by making clam fritters and spinach salad. Here is the video.

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And here are the recipes. The fritter recipe is (slightly) adapted from Narragansett Beer; the company kindly provided me with this formula for an upcoming book!

Next, we made Kate’s Fantastic Ginger Snaps from my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. The Kate in the recipe is Kate Stevens of Charlemont, Massachusetts, who generously shared her recipe with me.

These cookies get iron from both molasses and ginger—and I have never served them to anyone who has not fallen in love with them.

Here’s the video.

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And here is the recipe.

I’ll be back on Mass Appeal in a couple of weeks playing with zucchini. In the meantime, I hope my readers will make sure to eat foods with lots of iron—and of course to donate blood.

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The Last Bastion of Sexism

July 1st, 2014
My neighbors' pig doing its thing.

My neighbors’ pig doing its thing.

As July 4 approaches I know I should write about grilling. Here’s the problem: I’m not a griller. Grilling is one of the few areas of life in which I am sexist. (The others all involve home repair.) Somehow I always wait until men arrive to haul out the charcoal and the grill.

I apologize to the men in my life—and to the goddesses of feminism. One of these days I’ll work on my grilling skills. Not before this Friday, however.

So here’s my compromise: a sauce that can accompany grilled meats, poultry, or vegetables.

My neighbors the Gillans recently held a pig roast. The whole thing was incredibly impressive, and the meat was delicious. At the end of the weekend, even after giving away lots of meat to their houseguests, they had quite a bit of pork on bones remaining.

I hate to see good meat and bones get thrown out so I volunteered to take the leftovers home. (Did I mention that the Gillans are REALLY GREAT neighbors? They gladly gave me the pork.) I boiled the whole thing for a while with onions and spices so that it was easy to get the meat off the bones. I used quite a bit of the meat in a tasty bean dish.

There was still leftover meat.

So … I threw together some barbecue sauce. I know I cheated a bit with this sauce by using a ketchup base. Our tomatoes aren’t in season yet, however, so the ketchup was expedient. The resulting sauce turned out just the way I like it, with lots of sweet and lots of tart.

I wish my readers a glorious fourth! May all of you, female and male, grill up a storm.

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Kansas City-ish Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients:

extra-virgin olive oil as needed for sautéing
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup catsup (use all-natural and/or organic ketchup)
1/3 cup molasses (or molasses mixed with maple syrup)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
a few shakes of hot sauce
2 tablespoons water

Instructions:

Warm the oil in a skillet. Sauté the onion for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and toss it around in the pan for 30 seconds. Stir in the chili powder, salt, and pepper, and stir to release their oils. When the spices start drying out in the pan, stir in the remaining ingredients.

Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Let the sauce cool briefly; then put it in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour the blended sauce into a clean glass jar, bring it to room temperature, and then refrigerate it. This sauce is best made the day before you want to use it. It should last for at least 2 weeks.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

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Variations on a Delicious but Messy Theme

June 20th, 2014

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Shari’s Berries recently wrote to me (and I presume to a lot of other bloggers) to suggest that I post a recipe before next Wednesday, June 25, to celebrate National Strawberry Parfait Day.

I had never heard of this holiday. But I’m happy to celebrate!

The woman from Shari’s Berries defined a strawberry parfait as “a delicious way to showcase berries along with layers of cookies or cake all tied together with some yogurt or pudding.” As soon as I read this description it occurred to me that a dessert I had been contemplating would qualify as a parfait: Strawberry Napoleons.

As regular readers know, I am a Napoleon fan, having made Key-Lime Napoleons a couple of years ago. As strawberry season dawned last week, I decided that it might be fun to adapt that recipe with another of my favorite fruits. I thought the idea was completely original to me—until I purchased some Pepperidge Farm puff pastry and saw a recipe for the very same thing on the side of the box!

Luckily, my recipe is and was a bit different; PF was desecrating its strawberries by suggesting that the home cook use pudding mix instead of making pastry cream. No, no, no!!!

The Napoleons seemed perfect for my projected garden-party theme on this past Wednesday’s Mass Appeal television program so I decided to try making them on the air. As you can see from the video at the bottom of this post, hosts Ashley Kohl, Seth Stutman, and I experienced a few culinary mishaps.

First, we had a blender disaster while attempting to make mayonnaise for our cucumber sandwiches. (Happily, I travel with mayonnaise whenever possible.)

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Then the Napoleons had a little trouble staying together.

Luckily, Seth, Ashley, and I always have fun—and the video is worth watching for my fabulous hat alone.

That night with friends—and last night as well—I experimented with the Napoleons. First, I attempted assembling only two layers of puff pastry instead of three. That worked better in terms of staying together—but it didn’t include enough strawberries and pastry cream, and those are the stars of the show!

Next, I tried using only two layers of puff pastry but slicing the pastry horizontally so that the two layers became four thinner layers. This also seemed like a fairly doable alternative. It tilted, but it stayed together.

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I realized, however, that I really didn’t need much puff pastry at all to make me happy. So I made a traditional parfait in a glass (which had the advantage of holding the darn thing together!). I layered small amounts of pastry, pastry cream, and strawberries, then topped the whole thing with a little whipped cream and a whole berry. The photo below is out of focus, but you’ll get the idea.

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Someday I may even try just putting berries and pastry cream in a bowl with a small piece of puff pastry on the side. For now, however, I am parfait-ed out and prefer to enjoy my strawberries plain.

Here is the recipe as it was messily but deliciously assembled on camera. Feel free to try any of my variations—or to create your own!

(By the way, Shari’s Berries in no way reimbursed me for doing this post. The company just came up with a fun suggestion.)

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Strawberry Napoleons (more or less)

Ingredients:

for the base:

1 sheet puff pastry (your own or frozen; I used frozen)

for the pastry cream (crème patissière):

1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 pinch salt
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla

for assembly:

a little strawberry juice (created by sugaring up a few berries and leaving them for a half hour)
confectioner’s sugar as needed
melted jam as needed (optional but helpful)
lightly whipped cream (optional)
fresh strawberries, sliced and MAYBE lightly sweetened

Instructions:

Bake the pastry according to the directions of the manufacturer. Let it cool, and transfer it onto a work surface. While it is cooling, you may make the pastry cream.

In a heavy pan, heat the milk until it is hot, but do not let it come to a boil. Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl, and stir in the milk. Beat the mixture. Return it to the pan, and stir constantly over low heat for 4 to 6 minutes until it becomes thick and smooth.

Add a bit of the warm mixture to the beaten egg yolks, and then add a bit more; then stir the egg yolks into the pastry cream. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick custard. Cool, stirring every 5 minutes or so, and then stir in the vanilla.

When the pastry cream has cooled (allow at least half an hour for this), make glaze for the top of your Napoleons by stirring a little juice into 1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar.

If you wish to be extra decadent, fold whipped cream into the pastry cream. (I’m just fine without it myself.)

Now you are ready to assemble your Napoleons. Cut the pastry into six pieces in the long direction of its rectangle and three pieces in the wide direction to make 18 rectangles. (Cut carefully and use a sharp knife; these steps help!) Each Napoleon will have three layers.

If you want to use jam as a glue (it does help), brush a little melted jam on the top of six pieces of pastry. Dab pastry cream on top, followed by some strawberries. Add the next layer of pastry, topping it with another layer of jam (optional), cream, and berries.

Top with the last six pastry rectangles, and drizzle glaze on top. (You may also place another strawberry on the top if you wish.) If your Napoleons tend to slide apart, use a toothpick judiciously.

Serves 6.

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Florette’s Rhubarb Tea

May 29th, 2014

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This recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you don’t have the book, feel free to order it!)

I had forgotten about the tea until last week when I was pondering what to prepare on my next segment on the show Mass Appeal. It was a hit with friends when I made it a few days ago—and it was a hit yesterday when I made it on the show. (See video below.) It is lovely to look at and refreshing to drink.

In case you skip over the recipe and go straight to the video, be aware that I made rhubarb crumble first! And … you should know that I forgot to mention on the air that one should cover the raw rhubarb with water BEFORE cooking it for the tea; otherwise the rhubarb will burn long before it simmers! (One does get a little carried away on live TV, but one is learning.)

The recipe originally came from my neighbor Florette, who is mentioned in the video. I have written here before about Florette. She was glamorous, eccentric, and occasionally maddening. She taught me a lot about rhubarb and a lot about life, and I’m grateful for those lessons.

The Tea

Ingredients:

for the rhubarb juice:

2 pounds rhubarb stalks chopped (about 6 cups)
3 cups water
1 pinch salt

for the sugar syrup:
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar

for assembly:
1 quart strong black tea

Instructions:

In a stainless steel or enamel saucepan, cook the rhubarb in water, partially covered, over moderately low heat for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. Stir gently occasionally to keep from boiling. Cool slightly. Drain the rhubarb in a sieve placed over a bowl and discard the pulp, reserving the liquid. Add the salt.

In another saucepan, combine the ingredients for the sugar syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and brushing the sugar crystals from the sides of the pan until the sugar is dissolved. Cook the syrup for 5 minutes, undisturbed, over moderate heat and let it cool.

To make rhubarb tea, combine 2 parts black tea, 1 part rhubarb juice, and 1 part sugar syrup. (You may change these proportions slightly according to your taste.) Serve in a tall glass over ice. As indicated, 4 cups tea, 2 cups rhubarb juice, and 2 cups sugar syrup make 2 quarts of rhubarb tea.

Store any leftover juice or syrup in the refrigerator. If you need a double amount of sugar syrup, make 2 separate batches.

And now the video:

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If you’d like to see the quick asparagus dish I made yesterday before the rhubarb (one always eats one’s vegetables BEFORE dessert), here’s that video as well:

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