Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tomato Coulis: A Sauce idea from my Grandson

Three years ago at age two, my grandson August began eating his asparagus with ketchup. He still does. Moreover, he has convinced his younger cousin and best friend Isabella of the merits of ketchup on asparagus. And she now insists on it. I don't get it. For me as a kid, ketchup was meant for making ketchup sandwiches.

But figuring there might be an adult version of August's dish, I worked out a rich tomato coulis to ladle over a stack of roasted asparagus. While I was pleased with the sauce, it overpowered the distinctive but delicate taste of the asparagus. I'm afraid I still like that vegetable with butter or olive oil, or a mildly seasoned holandaise.

Now what to do with the coulis? As it turns out, it goes with stronger-flavored vegetables like steamed broccoli or, better yet, with very mild-flavored vegetables like herb-roasted potatoes. It strikes me it would also be good over a slice of meatloaf, or even over fried green tomatoes.

"Coulis" [coo-LEE] is relatively recent in French cooking. There are no established rules -- at least that I can find. The term seems most common in restaurants, applied to a sieved tomato or roasted pepper purée or, by extension, to one made of raspberries. A coulis seems typically colorful and red, medium thin, and fairly fresh-flavored. It is spooned over or around a food being served.

Here's my August-inspired tomato coulis.

Tomato Coulis for August

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes (unseasoned)
1 scallion (green onion), sliced thinly
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
2 tablespoons sour cream

In a stainless steel or enamel (NOT aluminum or cast iron) pan, simmer tomatoes, scallion, sugar, paprika, salt and pepper 10 minutes, uncovered. Let cool partially. Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor, then push it through a strainer into a bowl, discarding any seeds, skin, etc.

Stir in the sour cream until smooth. Taste, and add salt if needed.

Serve warm over broccoli, roasted potatoes, or meatloaf.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Creole Zucchini

As my recent blog postings indicate, I'm on a zucchini rush. Here's yet another dish, zucchini braised in New Orleans style.

This colorful dish was developed for my newspaper column in Athens, an area with increasingly available local, organic produce of excellent quality. Zucchini can overwhelm us in sheer quantity. Thus additional ways of preparing it are always welcome.

I conceptualized this based on what I knew of Louisiana cooking. I ran the idea by Katie, a New Orleans Katrina exile now working in the restaurant business in Decatur. She affirmed that this is basically how her mother, as well as her "Ex," would fix zucchini.

Two ingredient notes. This dish is best when made with young, slender zucchini, before seeds form. Second, I use "Cajun Seasoning," one of the very few pre-mixed spices I work with. (The particular brand is "Louisiana," manufactured without MSG by Louisiana Fish Fry Products, Ltd. of Baton Rouge. Katie prefers "Tony Chachere's.") All the salt in the dish -- other than what seeps out of the ham or bacon -- comes from the Cajun Seasoning.

When this was guineapigged on the clergy and staff of St. Bartholemew's at their weekly staff meeting, we served it with lightly salted brown rice.

I would serve this with a chilled dry white, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, or a dry rosé made from Malbec (Argentina) or Grenache (France or Spain).

The recipe feeds six generously -- Louisiana food is never served skimpily.

Creole Zucchini

1/4 pound smoked ham (leftover, or from the deli), or 4 slices smoked bacon
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil (omit if using bacon)
1 large onion, in large dice
1 pound ground pork
1 stick celery, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 medium-large red bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomato (unseasoned), or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
2 pounds young zucchini, in 1/2-inch dice
3 to 4 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning (not "lite")
Minced parsley for garnish

Dice ham or bacon. In heavy pot over medium high heat, fry ham with oil, or bacon without oil, plus onion until onion is very tender, scraping bottom of pan often.

Add ground pork, celery, garlic and bay leaves. Fry, stirring frequently and breaking up pork 10 minutes or more, until celery is tender.

Add bell pepper, tomato and wine. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, five minutes. Liquid should reduce somewhat.

Add zucchini, and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until zucchini is just starting to become tender. Add 3 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning, and cook until zucchini is tender, but not soft.

Taste, and add more Cajun Seasoning if salt is not sufficient. Make the mixture faintly salty, since the vegetables will soak some up. Remove from heat, and let rest 5 minutes. Stir again, check salt and add salt if needed.

Serve with lightly salted brown or white rice. Dust with minced parsley, if desired.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Iced Zucchini Bisque: Turning excess into dinner

The impending zucchini season caused me to try some new creations for using some of the green tide. I was inspired to work on these recipes by my editor at the newspaper, who is both a Community-Supported Agriculture ("CSA") member and married to a gardener.

In the course of working up a newspaper column for mid-summer dealing with zucchini, I came up with a cold soup, suggested by my recall of a cold cucumber soup from years ago.

Although I had never tasted such a soup made with zucchini, I found out after the fact through Google that the idea isn't original. (The recipes I found there were with raw zucchini.) But then, as Ecclesiastes has it in the Old Testament, "there is nothing new under the sun." At least my other recent creation, roasted zucchini hummus (see my blog posting of 6/21/09), does not have similar recipes in Google.

So here is a cold soup that can use some of your excess zucchini. The recipe serves six. It needs to be made ahead and chilled well before serving.

Iced Zucchini Bisque

1 1/2 pounds young zucchini (with small, soft seeds)
1 medium-large potato
1 small onion
1/2 stick celery
1 clove garlic
2 large bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt plus to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Small pinch cayenne or small piece of hot pepper
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sour cream
Minced parsley for garnish

Remove stem and brown tip from zucchini. Cut squash roughly into 1-inch pieces and place in a pot. Peel potato and onion, cut in chunks, and add to zucchini. Add celery, chopped, garlic, peeled and crushed, bay leaves, salt, pepper, cayenne, broth and water.

Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Let cool.

In blender thoroughly puree the soup mixture. Mix in milk and sour cream. Taste, and add salt as needed. Chill at least several hours, or up to a day.

Before serving, stir well, taste, and add salt, if needed.

Dust with minced parsley to serve.