Posts tagged with appetizer:

Soft Pretzels

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A week ago we were invited to our friends’ home for Sunday brunch.

When we are together the conversation always seems to come back to food in one way or another.

On one occasion my husband and I had shared with them our love of pretzels, especially warm soft pretzels.

Growing up in  Pennsylvania Dutch Country, pretzels quickly become a staple of one’s diet.  Good pretzels, we are talking about here… whether hard or soft, Bavarian or beer, in the form of rods, sticks, or nuggets, you cannot roam around this area very long without realizing you are in pretzel country.

Here is a little of what Wikipedia has to say about the subject…

In the late 18th century, southern German and Swiss German immigrants introduced the pretzel to North America. The immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and in time, many handmade pretzel bakeries populated the central Pennsylvania countryside, and the pretzel’s popularity spread.[30]

In the 20th century, soft pretzels became popular in other regions of the United States. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York became renowned for their soft pretzels.[31][32] The key to success was the introduction of the new mass production methods of the industrialized age, which increased the availability and quantity, and the opening up of multiple points of distribution at schools, convenience and grocery stores, and entertainment venues such as movie theaters, arenas, concert halls, and sport stadiums. Prior to that, street vendors used to sell pretzels on street corners in wooden glass-enclosed cases.[33]

In particular, the S-shaped soft pretzel, often served with brown mustard, became iconic in Philadelphia and was established as a part of Philadelphia’s cuisine for snacking at school, work, or home, and considered by most to be a quick meal. The average Philadelphian today consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.[34]

Pennsylvania today is the center of American pretzel production for both the hard crispy and the soft bread types of pretzels.[31]Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large population of German background, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry, and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation’s pretzels.[35]

The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $550 million.[36] The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) of pretzels per year.[37]

To this day my husband and I have vivid memories of running out of elementary school when the dismissal bell rang and getting in line to buy a hot soft pretzel from the “pretzel man’s wagon”.

So when we moved to San Luis Obispo we were disheartened to see the dearth of good pretzels here on the central coast.

Here most stores seem to carry one, maybe two brands, where in the past  we had been accustomed to practically a full aisle of pretzels.

Hot, handmade soft pretzels are still available in much of the area where we grew up…some baking and selling from their home kitchens.

So when our invitation to brunch included an opportunity for me to help the hostess make soft pretzels from scratch as a precursor to brunch I was excited. 

This was also the recipe that won her a first prize ribbon in the Mid-County Fair here on the central coast a year or so ago!

It was a lot of fun…she had the dough ready to go when we arrived, so I helped her divide the dough into balls for each pretzel…

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Then we shaped  them, (and we definitely gave them a home made look)…

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We dropped them into the boiling water…

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and baked them (some sprinkled with salt and some with onion bits)…

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It didn’t take long once they were out of the oven to smother them in some good brown mustard and eat them along with a glass of local champagne. 

Now that is a delicious combo I’m pretty certain the Pennsylvania Dutch have not tried !  But they should!

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Here’s the recipe…

Homemade Soft Pretzels (Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2007)

Ingredients

1 and 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 package active dry yeast

22 ounces all-purpose flour, approx 4 and 1/2 cups

2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

vegetable oil, for pan

10 cups water

2/3 cup baking soda

1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

pretzel salt

Directions

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. 

Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.

Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.

Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4-5 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil.

Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50- 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. 

Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper, and lightly brush with the vegetable oil.  Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-qt  saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.

Roll out each piece of dough into a 24 inch rope. 

Make a u-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the u in order to form the shape of a pretzel.

Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one by one, for 30 seconds.

Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula.

Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.

Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12-14 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

My First Dinner Party In Our New Home

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Moving to a new home especially when it is far from your old home brings with it many firsts.  And we recently had some new friends over for our first dinner party here. 

For me, setting the table for a special dinner is fun.  I love to mix and match and see how I can reinvent items by using them in a different way, sometimes with something new added to the mix.

My Provencal tablecloth designed with olive branches which I have had for years was perfect for my Greek themed dinner.

I had picked up the napkins on sale at Anthropology  recently, knowing one day they would come in handy.  I can’t resist a really good buy!

The salad plates were part of a very old set of dishes which belonged to my husband’s grandmother, and I love the contrast between those and my contemporary white everyday dishes.

I kept it simple with three small glass bud vases each filled with a couple of olive branches plucked from my newly planted olive shrub on the deck. 

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I lined them down the center of the table, and five clear glass votives holding white candles illuminated the table.

There is nothing that makes a table look prettier than candlelight, and I regret not taking a photo once they were lit.

The menu included some of my favorite Greek dishes.

We enjoyed appetizers on the deck.

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Homemade tabbouleh , a red pepper, eggplant and garlic spread from Trader Joe’s, assorted olives, and Marcona almonds kept us happy til dinner was ready.  Tabbouleh recipe to follow on an upcoming blog.

A delicious Greek salad was brought by one of our guests. 

After which we dined on my Greek Chicken and Potatoes, grilled lamb chops, Greek Style Green Beans with Tomatoes.  Homemade Tzatziki with grilled pita rounded out our meal. 

You can find most of these recipes on my Greek Dinner post, with the exception of the Tzatziki recipe so here it is…

Tzatziki- Cucumber Yogurt Dip (adapted from Lynn Livanos Athan, About.com Guide)

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Cool and creamy, this tangy cucumber dip flavored with garlic is the perfect complement to grilled meats and vegetables.  It can be served on the side with warm pita bread triangles for dipping, and is also used as a condiment for souvlaki.

Ingredients:

3 -4 garlic cloves, minced finely

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Greek yogurt, strained

1 cup sour cream

2-3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced (I prefer Persian cucumbers)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Preparation:

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Mix well until combined.  Using a whisk, blend the yogurt with the sour cream.  Add the olive oil mixture to the yogurt mixture and mix well.  Finally, add the cucumber and chopped fresh dill. 

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Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill just before serving.

Recipe can be doubled or tripled if you wish.

For dessert, knowing that carrot cake was a favorite of some of our guests, I parted from the Greek theme, and baked a good old-fashioned Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting which was a real hit!

You can find the recipe here.

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When the evening was over everyone went home with a full belly,  a goody bag of Tzatziki , and an extra slice of cake.

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tabbouleh

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Tabbouleh is a popular middle eastern salad.  It is traditionally made of bulgur wheat  ( a whole grain low in fat with a mild nutty flavor), tomatoes, cucumbers, finely chopped parsley, mint, onion, and garlic and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Like hummus, baba ghanouj, pita and other elements of Arab cuisine, Tabbouleh has become a “popular American ethnic food”.

There are many variations, running the gamut from the traditional Lebanese version which is mostly herbs and tomatoes with a sprinkling of the bulgur throughout to the  many recipes where the grain is the predominant ingredient, or any combination of herbs and bulgur.

So it is definitely something you could play around with and decide what suits your taste.

I included a bowl of tabbouleh with pita as part of my appetizers at a recent dinner.  Here is the recipe…

Tabbouleh ( adapted from recipe from Bob’s Red Mill Bulgur)

2 cups bulgur (presoaked for 1 hour)

3 cups fresh parsley, finely minced

1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped

3-4  green onions, finely sliced

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1/4 teaspoon cumin seed, ground

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

a drizzle of extra virgin lemon olive oil (optional)

To presoak Bulgur, place 2 cups bulgur in a bowl.  Pour 2 cups boiling water over bulgur and let stand 1 hour. 

In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, gently mix together all ingredients, except the lemon juice and olive oil. 

Add the lemon juice, toss and chill for 1 hour to blend the flavors or longer to blend the flavors. 

Before serving toss again with the olive oil, and check for seasoning

Place in a serving bowl and drizzle the lemon olive oil on top

Serve with pita, crackers or Romaine lettuce leaves

Bruschetta (First of the Season)

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Although the tomatoes are not at their peak as yet, I couldn’t resist serving this bruschetta as our appetizer the other evening to go along with the Tuscan Style Chicken Under a Brick.


I have planted a small pot of genovese basil and some purple basil even though I will only have several more weeks to enjoy it.

  However, it is already flourishing so I will be using it every chance I get in cooking before we take off for sunny California!  (Can’t wait to see how basil and all the other herbs will thrive there)!

I’ve decided that with enough coarse salt, garlic, olive oil and basil in which to sit and macerate, most tomatoes can reinvent themselves to this delicious topping for grilled or toasted bread which you have rubbed with a bit of fresh garlic. 

So while you are waiting for those perfect summer tomatoes you can still have your bruschetta and eat it too!

Hearts of Palm Dip

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Sometimes the simplest and fewest ingredients result in the tastiest dishes.  Such is the case for this Hearts of Palm Dip which I found in a Food and Wine magazine from a year ago, and made recently.

While so many of the dips and spreads that we love are filled with high fat ingredients…think sour cream, cream cheese, mayo, all kinds of cheeses… (although I use them at times the low fat versions are just not the same when it comes to flavor), I found this particular dip really satisfying and yet about as low fat as you can get.

I love hearts of palm, and will often slice them and add them to a salad.  They are tasty, high in fiber, vitamin C, calcium and iron, low in fat, and have a nice texture to them.

For those,  however who must watch their salt intake, the sodium count is rather high.

Blended with some olive oil, garlic, lime zest, and a bit of pepper it becomes this creamy, yet slightly chucky dip that goes great with plantain chips, pita chips, flatbreads, or just plain crudites.  And, it’s guilt-free eating!

Hearts of Palm Dip ( adapted from Food and Wine, March 2012)

1 large garlic clove, minced

 Salt (I prefer Kosher salt)

Two 14-ounce cans hearts of palm, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

Freshly ground white pepper (If you don’t have it, black pepper will do)

Plantain chips, pita chips, flatbreads, or veggies for serving

Using the side of a chef’s knife, mash the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt.  Scrape the paste into a food processor.  Add the hearts of palm and oil and process to a medium-fine paste.

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Add the lime zest, season with salt and pepper and pulse just to blend.

Transfer the dip to a bowl and serve with plantain chips, pita chips, flatbreads, or fresh veggies.

The dip can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

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It’s Starting To Look A Lot Like Hanukkah!

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Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, began last night with the lighting of the first of eight candles over the coarse of the next eight days.

My husband and I sat down to this holiday dinner after what will be the last of many garage sales we have had over the many years in our home.

Yes, it was December 8, 2012, and we were having a garage sale!  But, it was sunny and in the mid 60’s!

As it turned out we still had plenty of yard sale worthy stuff since we, ( my husband) has been working hard at sorting through and cleaning out our large storage area in preparation for selling our home and moving.

So after a fun, successful, but tiring day I came in to fry up some latkes to go with the left-over brisket and gravy I had defrosted in the fridge the day before (thank-you), and what was remaining of the homemade applesauce my sister had brought for Rosh Hashanah which I had also frozen (thank-you).

The only thing left to do was send my exhausted husband out for some eggs which I needed for the latke batter (sorry), and within a very short time two very tired people sat down to what would be our last first night of Hanukkah in this home.

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This time I tried Melissa Clark’s recipe for latkes, which came out beautifully, but I think when I make them again I would use a little less flour than called for, and a bit more onion.

It’s also the first time I ever added baking powder to the batter.  The consistency of the batter was less messy to work with, and by grating the onion with the potato it prevents the batter from darkening as fast as it might otherwise.

I will be making latkes again sometime this week to freeze for my annual Hanukkah get- together with my aerobic exericse class, and to take to our best friend’s dinner on Christmas Eve.

So I will have lots of time to tweak this recipe to my liking, and I look forward to being the taste tester as well!  Happy Hanukkah!

Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz

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Last week with our temperatures soaring into the 100’s I was trying to come up with a light, refreshing menu to serve friends who were coming for dinner.

I wanted a menu for the most part which could be prepared ahead, and would require very little, if any, indoor cooking.

In looking through several magazines at various summer meals for inspiration, I was excited about the idea of making shrimp rolls… a take on lobster rolls, but less costly, easier to prepare, and just as delicious.

Fresh corn on the cob from the farmer’s market, and a lovely green salad brought by my friend pretty much completed our meal except for a light appetizer.

So what should I make?

Again, pouring over another selection of cooking magazines (that’s why I seem to never throw them away), I found the perfect choice in Cook’s Illustrated from August 2010.  A Creamy Gazpacho ! I have made gazpacho in the past but this outshone that in many ways.  As the intro to the article suggests…

Most Americans know gazpacho as a chunky liquid salsa.  In Spain, the most famous version is a creamy puree. ..just about every part of Spain prides itself on its gazpacho, but most sources still point to Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost region, as the soup’s home.

...Like the chunky, liquid-salsa interpretation popular in the states, the soup combines cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and tomatoes but adds bread (for body-and historical precedent), a generous glug of extra-virgin olive oil, and a bracing shot of sherry vinegar and purees the whole thing in a blender.  The result?  A creamy, startlingly complex soup…

Only one thing went wrong with the soup…I forgot to serve it!!!!!     I had the perfect goblets chilling in the freezer and the finished soup chilling in the fridge., waiting for the last minute to be ladled into the glasses and garnished.

The problem was somewhere in between my serving a tray of melon with dry cured salami and prosciutto de parma, along with a platter of cheese and crackers,and some olives with drinks as we chatted in the family room before dinner…and giving my husband the shrimp skewers and buns to grill, and cooking the corn ….I forgot the beautiful soup in the fridge awaiting its debut on the table!  Horrors!!! 

And this was not discovered until I opened the freezer before serving dessert (the Triple Berry Buttermilk Bundt Cake) when there before me stood the frosted glasses!

All was not lost, though, because I packed up a container of the soup for our friends, and sent it home with them for lunch or dinner the next day.  My friend reported back that they loved it and she will be making it after I post this blog.

I think the lesson here is I should have cut back on the munchies that we pigged out on before dinner, and maybe served the gazpacho along with either the melon and prosciutto or the cheese and crackers. 

No real harm was done, and we all had a pretty good laugh about it, and enjoyed it the next day.

  Here’s the winning recipe formulated through research and  trial and error by Kenji Lopez-Alt, a writer and recipe developer for Cook’s Illustrated.

With the exception of substituting a red pepper for the green, I followed it pretty much to the tee.  It’ s a perfect hot- weather, healthy addition to a summer meal or with a salad it’s a complete light lunch.  The taste is sensational and I will be making it again before the summer’s over, and I’ll try to remember to serve it.

Creamy Gazpacho Anadaluz (Cook’s Illustrated, august 2010)

(serves 4-6)

Note:  For ideal flavor, allow the gazpacho to sit in the refrigerator overnight before serving.  Red wine vinegar can be substituted for the sherry vinegar.  Although we prefer to use kosher salt in this soup, half the amount of table salt can be used.  Serve the soup with additional extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, ground black pepper, and diced vegetables for diners to season and garnish their own bowls as desired.

3  pounds (about 6 medium) ripe tomatoes, cored

1 small cucumber, peeled halved, and seeded

1 medium green  bell pepper, halved, cored, and seeded

1 small red onion, peeled and halved lengthwise

Kosher salt (see note)

2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and quartered

1 small Serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and halved lengthwise

1 slice high-quality white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, plus extra for serving (see note)

2 tablespoons finely minced parsley, chives, or basil leaves (I used chives)

Ground black pepper

1.  Roughly chop 2 pounds of tomatoes, half of cucumber, half of bell pepper, and half of onion and place in large bowl.  Add garlic, chile, and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt; toss until well combined.  Set aside.image

2.  Cut remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper into1/4-inch dice;  place vegetables in medium bowl.  Mince remaining onion and add to diced vegetable.  Toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and transfer to fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl.  Set aside 1 hour.

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3.  Transfer drained diced vegetables to medium bowl and set aside.  Add bread pieces to exuded liquid  (there should be 1/4 cup) and soak 1 minute.  Add soaked bread and any remaining liquid to roughly chopped vegetables and toss thoroughly to combine.

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4.  Transfer half of vegetable-bread mixture to blender (or food processor) and process 30 seconds.  With blender running, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup oil and continue to blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Strain soup through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, using back of ladle or rubber spatula to press soup through strainer.  Repeat with remaining vegetable-bread mixture and 1/4 cup olive oil.

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5.  Stir vinegar, minced herb, and half of diced vegetables into soup and season to taste with salt and black pepper.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours to chill completely and develop flavors.  Serve, passing remaining diced vegetables, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and black pepper separately.

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Avgolemono (Greek Egg And Lemon Soup)

This classic Greek soup derives its name from the two main ingredients: egg (avgo) and lemon juice (lemoni).  My husband and I were first introduced to this soup at a little Greek cafe in our Chicago neighborhood almost 25 years ago. 

In the years since we have never found a version we liked as much.  What I usually find is that it is lacking in lemony flavor, or the consistency is too thin.

When I was preparing my recent Greek dinner I discovered I had a batch of homemade chicken soup in the freezer.  I decided to give it a whirl and make this as a first course, hoping I could reproduce that lemony flavor.

After looking at several recipes I selected this one from Martha Stewart.  Since my chicken broth was already made I was halfway there. 

The tricky part is to keep the broth from being too hot (absolutely no boiling) when adding the eggs so as not to curdle them.  The orzo cooks in the soup so again, easy.  Just remember not to overcook the orzo.  It is best to serve it immediately. 

I will definitely be making this again…

Avgolemono (Greek Egg and Lemon Soup)   (Martha Stewart online recipe)

(serves 8-10)

Ingredients

8 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth, skimmed of fat

2 cups uncooked orzo, (rice-shaped pasta)

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste ( I use  kosher salt)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons cornstarch

4 large eggs

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (4 lemons)

Directions

1.  In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups stock to a boil.  Add orzo; cook until al dente, 10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper.

2.  Dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 cup water.  Heat remaining 2 cups stock until hot; do not boil.

3.  In an electric mixer, beat eggs with whisk until fluffy; add cornstarch mixture and lemon juice.  With mixer on medium-low speed, slowly add 1 to 2 cups hot stock until incorporated and mixture thickens slightly.  Add any remaining stock to orzo.

4.  Over low heat, slowly add egg mixture to orzo, stirring constantly until thickened and creamy.  Do not let it come to a boil; eggs will curdle.  Serve immediately.

Provencal Vegetable Soup (Soupe Au Pistou)

In looking for a vegetable soup to make to use up some veggies in the fridge I decided on this Provencal Vegetable Soup or Soup Au Pistou.

Normally considered a summer soup because of its use of summer produce such as white beans, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash and potatoes, it also makes  a great wintry soup.

The pistou (which means pounded in the Provencal language) is sauce made of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and  either Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.

This French version of pesto, (without the nuts), is mixed together in a blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle. The addition of this sauce defines the flavor of this vegetable soup.

It can be added to the soup during cooking just before serving, or offered at the table after the soup is served, or as I discovered, why not both?

While there are many recipes for this type of soup I chose to follow one from The Joy of Cooking, and adapted it to the ingredients I had.  With a vegetable soup there is certainly some wiggle room as far as the veggies go, but for this Provencal Vegetable Soup the pistou is perfect as is.

And, fortunately, with the availability of fresh basil in most of the markets and grocery stores year round we can enjoy this soup whatever the season.

Provencal Vegetable Soup (Soup Au Pistou) (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Makes about 3 quarts

Heat in a large soup pot, over medium heat:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Add and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, 5 to 10 minutes:

1 small onion, chopped

1 medium leek, thoroughly cleaned and chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 large rib celery, chopped

1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped

Stir in:

2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

3 small red potatoes, peeled and chopped

8 cups water, or a combination of water and chicken stock/broth

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon herbs de Provence

(pinch of saffron threads)

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.  Stir in:

one 15 and 1/2-to19-ounce can cannellini , Great Northern, or other white beans, rinsed and drained, or 1 to 2 cups cooked beans

( I used less cause I only had 1/2 cup of beans left in the fridge, so I used more potatoes)

1 cup broken thin spaghetti or macaroni

1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced

1/2 cup 1-inch pieces green beans (fresh or frozen)

Simmer just until the pasta is tender.  Meanwhile, prepare the pistou.

Pistou (This is delicious with fish and a great addition to soups and stews)

makes 3/4 cup

Combine in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

Remove to a bowl and stir in:

1/3 cup coarsely grated Pecorino Romano (you can also use Parmesan)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper ( Note:  If making this to add to the soup, omit this pepper)

Stir all or some of the pistou into the soup, along with:

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Serve the reserved pistou at the table.

The pistou will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days.  Serve at room temperature.

Caponata

Colorful food and holiday parties…they seem to go hand in hand.  At this  time of the year many of us are either giving or going to holiday parties, or doing both.

Occasionally the participants of my aerobics dance class get together after class at each others’ homes to snack and socialize.

Yesterday I had  invited everyone to my home for what’s becoming my annual aerobics class holiday party.  Last year I served potato latkes for lunch, along with chili.  This year I served pulled BBQ Brisket sandwiches along with the latkes. And always homemade applesauce to accompany the potato pancakes.

The entree as well as the appetizers and desserts have to be dishes that can be prepared well ahead since I literally leave class a little early to welcome the rest about 20 minutes later.  ( I don’t live far from the community center where our class is).

Among the appetizers this year was an old stand-by of mine which I’ve adapted from a recipe called Everyday Caponata from Giada De Laurentiis.  I’ve made a few changes, substituting zucchini and yellow summer squash for the eggplant. Sometimes I include the eggplant as well.  I’ve also added some olives.

This caponata, with its wonderful sweet-and-sour taste,  is a traditional Sicilian vegetable dish which can be served as a relish along with chicken, pork or fish, as part of an antipasto, spooned on toasted bread or crackers, or used as a topping on sandwiches. 

It can be eaten hot, cold, or at room temperature, making it the ultimate vegetable dish for a casual party.

Caponata (adapted from Everyday Caponata by Giada De Laurentiis)

(6 side-dish servings or 12-14 appetizer servings)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1-2 celery stalks,chopped

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 -inch cubes

2 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 (14 and 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juices

3 tablespoons raisins

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

4 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon drained capers

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1/2 cup small Spanish olives or your choice, preferably pitted

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame.  Add the celery and saute until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.  Add the zucchini and yellow squash (and eggplant, if using), and saute until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. 

Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the red pepper and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, raisins, and oregano.  Simmer over medium-low heat until the flavors blend and the mixture thickens, stirring often, about 20 minutes.  

Stir in the vinegar, sugar, capers, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl, and serve on a platter surrounded by assorted crackers or toasted baguette slices.