Marie-Paule’s Simple Poached Zucchini

Marie-Paule is a minimalist. She uses high quality ingredients and just a few at a time. This recipe is a classic example. It is comprised of zucchini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I threw in the tomatoes for color and a bit of parsley for something fresh but neither are necessary. You could use mint as well. I love mint and zucchini.

The quality of the zucchini you use is important. It should be as fresh as possible and firm. I prefer smaller ones as they cook more evenly. The salt and pepper is also important. I like Tellicherry pepper from India. I find it extremely aromatic and a bit spiced. You can play with the sea salt. I like sea salt from the Camargue but you could use another sea salt or perhaps a volcanic salt from Hawaii. You can play with the kind of olive oil but I would recommend extra virgin.

Julie

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I like Badia a Coltibuono)
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes

Instructions:

  1. Bring to a boil about two quarts of water. Do not trim the the ends of the zucchini as it absorbs water.
  2. Put about 2 teaspoons of sea salt in the water. It will help to keep them green. Place the whole zucchinis into the water and reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until the zucchini is tender, about 7 minutes. You are not looking for al dente.

3. While the zucchini is simmering place the oil, salt, pepper and parsley in the bowl.

4. When the zucchini are done, drain them and cut them in pieces. Place them immediately in the oil. Toss to coat. They will absorb the oil and seasonings better while they are warm and their pores are open. Squeeze the lemon over the zucchini and toss again. Add the tomatoes when the zucchini are room temperature.

Grandma Natalie’s Cranberry Relish


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My Sicilian grandmother didn’t know from Thanksgiving, but she was a great cook and her cranberry relish is the best I’ve ever tasted.  It is sweet, sour, crunchy and fresh.  It’s a welcome counterpoint to all the heavy Thanksgiving foods: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes etc.

There were no food processors back in the day so she used her cast iron, hand cranked meat grinder and sausage maker to grind the cranberries.  Now that my grandmother has passed away, I am asked to bring the relish to every   Thanksgiving dinner and it is my pleasure and my honor.

Julie

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  • 12oz pkg fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup diced apple
  • 1 juicy navel orange
  • 1/4 cup diced celery heart
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (toasted or raw)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • A few grindings of black pepper

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  1. Wash and dry cranberries.  Place in the work bowl of a food processor with the blade attachement and chop course.  My grandmother had a hand cranked meat grinder which she used on a medium grind for this purpose. You can also use a stand mixer if you have a grinder attachment or simply chop by hand.
  2. Place cranberries in a bowl and add the sugar, walnuts, apple, celery, salt and pepper.
  3. Zest the orange with a micro plane and add half or all to the cranberries.  How much you use is a matter of preference. I use half the rind
  4. Supreme the orange (my grandmother never did this) over the bowl of cranberries to catch the juice.  Cut the orange slices in half and to the cranberries.  In the picture, I have the oranges in the work bowl but don’t process them in there or you’ll get orange mush.

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5.  Let macerate for a few hours.  The sugar will break down the cranberries and make them juicy and a bit softer.  I recommend using the full amount of sugar.  If you find it too sweet you can add some lemon juice but it needs the sugar to break down the cranberries.

Carpaccio of Beef from Lucca

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My husband and I love to travel and one of our favorite places is Italy.  One year we had the good fortune to stay with a friend of my mother in law in Volterra, famous for its alabaster.  Ido graciously lent us his home and moved in with his daughter for the week.

Ido’s home was set in the Tuscan hill side amid peach and olive trees, grape vines and an assortment of vegetables.  The house was rustic with terra-cotta colored plaster walls and tile floors.  I distinctly remember chasing spiders out of the shower. All the beds in the house were cast iron with metal springs.  The dining room table was composed of several planks of wood pegged and doweled together and it was surrounded by tippy little chairs with rush seats. However, we rarely ate in the dining room.  There was a little patio on the East side of the house where we took our breakfast and in the evening we went to the patio on the West side of the house and had dinner, watching the sun set and eating Edo’s fresh peaches, soaked in his home made Chianti with a little sugar and lemon juice.

Every day Ido would drop buy bearing a small gift: some potatoes he’d just dug up, those amazing peaches with skin so thin and crisp and flesh so sweet and juicy that it was like biting into a Creme Brûlée with the crack of the sugar and then the unctuous silky cream.  Ido made his own wine, olive oil and peach preserves.  The peach preserves were lovely and had a distinctive flavor I had not tasted before. I sat him down one day and asked him to reveal the secret of the preserves.   “Well”,  he said.  “I macerate the peaches in sugar and lemon juice overnight.  Then I put everything in a big pot and boil it until it thickens.  Unfortunately, I’m usually doing several things at the same time and it usually burns.  But, I just scrape it up and put it in jars”. So, what was the secret of Ido’s peach preserves?  He burnt it and what I was tasting was caramelized sugar.

Ido spoke a bit of French but often mixed it with Italian, creating new words and phrases.  For example, he would often say” Va bien” in response to our query, “ How are you”.  In Italian one would respond “ Va bene ” and in French one would respond “ Ca va bien”, thus Ido created the new phrase “ Va bien” which we still use with great affection when we speak of him and the enchanted week we spent in his home.

The recipe I’m going to give you is not from Ido, but it is from Lucca, not to far from Volterra and certainly in the style of Ido: excellent ingredients prepared simply. Dinner was served in the garden of a farmhouse which was up a winding rode in the hills of Tuscany.  I remember two items from the meal.  One was an appetizer of thinly sliced pieces of Lardo.  The other a lovely carpaccio of beef.  I had never seen carpaccio of beef done with anything other than raw meat so I was happy to see that this was cooked, rare but not mooing.

Julie

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  • 1 lb Eye of round roasted rare and sliced paper thin
  • One 5 oz bag arugula
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • Hunk of Parmesan Reggiano
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

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  1. I buy my eye of round at Whole Foods in the deli department. They usually have a nice rare piece and are very happy to slice it. Ask them to slice overlapping pieces onto wax paper and when they have filled up one sheet, put another piece on top and repeat, filling that sheet with overlapping slices. This way, the slices of meat don’t all stick together.
  2. Dress the arugula with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the vinegar and a pinch of sea salt.
  3. Arrange 1/4 of the slices around the edge of the plate, leaving the inside empty.  Place a handful of arugula in the center of the plate.  With a vegetable  peeler, peel large pieces of cheese over the arugula.  Sprinkle the meat with some grindings of pepper and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil.

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Couscous Salad

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Ma Belle Mere and her sister Danielle made this salad for my family on a hot summer day in the Loire Valley where we were vacationing. The crunch of cucumber, soft and fruity tomatoes, the sharp tang of capers and lemon juice and fragrant olive oil and mint were refreshing and evocative of Algeria and Italy, where Marie-Paule and Danielle originate.

Julie

  • 1 cup cous cous, (preferably fine grain if you can find it but medium grain will do)
  • 2 pickling cucumbers, peeled and diced small
  • 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon of small capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • fine sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup diced green Bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves.
  1. Place cous cous in a microwave safe container and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 cups of water. Cover and microwave for 2 minutes. Let rest, covered for another two minutes then remove the cover. Separate the grains with your hands by rolling the grains between the palms of your hands
  2. Toss everything else together in the bowl with the couscous. Adjust the seasonings as you like, more or less salt, mint, juice or oil. Eat immediately as the cous cous will continue to absorb the oil and juice and will seem dry.

This salad can easily include or exclude items. Sometimes I put some onions or toasted pine nuts or raisin.  Sometimes I omit the capers if I have a guest that doesn’t like them. If you don’t like Mint, use Basil, Marjoram, Parsley or Cilantro instead.