Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Recipes Forgotten, Recipes Revived

It's three recipes instead of one -- ha! -- because I am correcting mistakes from my youth. My recipe posting-slash-food-blogging youth so to speak. See, I've been cooking delicious foods my entire life, but blogging about them was not something I've entertained initially. What can I say, when I got serious about cooking, blogging did not exist. Now that I think about it, back then, even the Internet did not exist. Food photography was not so close to my heart either. I've taken pictures of various people, objects and places since early childhood, alas, photos of produce and food did not quite fit into the repertoire. Taking food pictures and writing recipes -- I now know -- are skills that have to be cultivated and nurtured, because no one is born a recipe-writer-slash-food-photographer. One kind of grows into it.

In my case, it all began seven years ago, when I joined Food52. I can't believe it's been that long, but my Food52 profile does not lie. "QueenSashy," it says, next to a drawing of a bookworm girl with glasses instead of a member photo. "QueenSashy. New York City. Member since August 10, 2012." Ha! (And since we are at it -- Happy Anniversary QS and F52, it was truly a match made in heaven.)

Just like any relationship, my love affair with Food52 started pretty much by accident. I was foraging the web for new summer salads to try and stumbled upon a picture of three plum slices -- dark purple, intoxicatingly purple, sinfully purple, unacceptably purple; they sat on top of a generous heap of mozzarella (it was an immediate and overwhelming obsidian on snow impression), oozed in olive oil and sprinkled decadently with pine nuts and mint. (Later on, I discovered that I prefer basil.) Basil or mint, that picture made me go gaga with wild food fantasies and guilty pleasures; it made me want to leave work right away and go make the dish (yes, guilty as charged, but don't we all google things at work from time to time, it's called work-life integration), it made me, well I don't know, just made me think how it's unfair to make foods that pretty.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Food52, a site that hosted the recipe, was not yet another blind recipe aggregator, but a full-fledged community of passionate home cooks. A community of folks like me, who liked to cook and share. Share the dedication to the art of wholesome plates, their recipes, and their advice.

I joined right away. Every night after work I would come home and try new dishes, make new dishes and post. Except that, as I said, no one is born a food photographer, and those early photos, oh, I better not mention them. (But let me share something painfully obvious from my first attempts -- I highly do not recommend taking pictures of food in the middle of the night, with a table lamp and a white cardboard reflector.) Some things can be learned only the hard way.

I am celebrating the seventh anniversary of being a food-fifty-two-er, by giving myself a chance to do it all over again. I chose three dishes that quite badly needed a second chance -- a PR makeover via better, food-glorifying, mouthwatering photos. Three pretty darn good dishes that were sentenced to seven years of solitude because of a slightly sloppy first impression and that unfortunate table lamp.

First, let me tell you about the string beans. I love those string beans. Just love them, it's one of our favorite summer salads. Even Miss Pain cannot resist them, and kids, we know, do not eat string beans. Gently charred, yet still crisp, fresh and fragrant with their mother fields. (That's what happens after a few minutes under a broiler; just like you Dear Reader, I am pretty sensitive to string beans abused by cooking.) Then, there are the apricots with buratta -- and who can say "no" to anything with buratta -- but hey, in case you missed it, the whole point is in the pairing with pistachios and honey white balsamic glaze, which IMO is like one thousand and one nights waiting to be re-imagined, only ten times better. (Also, please pay attention to the basil infused olive oil, it works its special magic in both recipes. Trust me on this, even a mediocre green leaf salad with EVOO will become immortal via basil + EVOO infusion.) Which brings me to the lemon-lime risotto with basil mascarpone. If you are looking for a new summer risotto, and even if you are not, look no more, you found it. (Rightfully so, it's been waiting for you for seven long years.)

Now that I gave it another thought, these three recipes make for a wonderful summer dinner. (Don't forget a bottle of white wine. My vote goes to Sauvignon Blanc. Fruity IPA works too. Elderflower lemonade with vodka slash gin comes highly recommended.)

Cheers to long relationships and second chances! Hope you are enjoying this summer as much as I do. (Btw, I had so much fun doing this, that I might as well continue revamping.)

Lemon-Lime Risotto with Basil Mascarpone

* 2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
* juice and zest (grated on a microplane) from one small lemon
* juice and zest (grated on a microplane) from one small lime
* 10 cups vegetable broth
* 6 tbsp olive oil
* 2 large shallots, finely chopped
* 7 oz mascarpone
* 20 large basil leaves, finely minced (plus extra leaves for garnish)
* salt and freshly ground pepper
* grated parmesan or pecorino, for serving (optional)

In a medium stock pot, over medium heat, bring the broth to simmer. Reduce heat to low and keep the broth at bare simmer.

Pour the olive oil into a large saute pan. Add the shallots. Turn the heat to medium. (It's nice to start shallots cold, as they will be more mellow when cooked slowly.) Cook the shallots, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until the shallots are very soft and translucent (be careful not to brown them, if medium heat is too much, bring it down a notch). Add 1/2 cup of water and continue to cook, stirring often, until water evaporates and shallots are meltingly soft.

Add the rice. Stir well to coat the rice with oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are translucent around the edges, about 5 minutes.

Add 3/4 cup of broth to the rice. Add lemon and lime juices, and lemon and lime zest. Cook, stirring constantly. Continue to add broth in 3/4-cup increments, stirring constantly and allowing liquid to absorb fully before adding more. Cook until rice is al dente and surrounded by fluid, not-too-thick creamy suspension, for about 25–30 minutes. (You may not have to use all of the broth.) The finished texture of the risotto should be more of a liquid than a solid. Start checking the rice after about 18 minutes; the grains should be tender but not mushy, with a slight bite to them.

Remove the risotto from the heat and add the basil and the mascarpone. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the risotto into individual plates, garnish with basil leaves, sprinkle with pepper and parmesan (if using) and serve.

Serves 6 - 8

Blistered String Beans with Olive Puree, Mozzarella, and Basil Oil

* 2 lbs yellow string beans
* 2 tbsp olive oil
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 8 oz mozzarella, cut into cubes
* salt and freshly ground peppe

for the basil oil

* 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus some more for drizzling
* 1 tsp minced fresh basil

for the olive puree

* 6 oz pitted kalamata olives
* 2 medium garlic cloves
* 2 tsp red wine vinegar 

* 1 tsp capers
* freshly ground pepper

First prepare the basil oil. In a small bowl, mix the basil with olive oil. Leave for 15 minutes for the flavors to infuse.

Make the olive puree. In a food processor, puree the olives, garlic, vinegar, and capers. Season with pepper.

Preheat the broiler. Drizzle the string beans with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the string beans on a baking pan in one layer. Do not overcrowd the pan. Place under the broiler, and broil turning the string beans occasionally, until crisp-tender and lightly charred, about 6 to 8 minutes. (I preheat the broiler to 500F, place the pan about 3 inches away, but not all broiler setups are equal, so you may have to adjust the time based on your setup. Start keeping an eye on the beans at about 5 minutes.)

Let the string beans come to room temperature. When they are cool enough, splash them with the lemon juice, and two tablespoons of the basil oil.

Place the string beans on a plate. Top with olive puree and mozzarella. (You may not use all of the puree, keep some on the side.) Drizzle with the remaining basil oil and serve.

Serves 4 as a large salad, 6 - 8 as a small plate

Charred Apricots with Burrata, Pistachios, and Honey White Balsamic Glaze

* 8 firm apricots, halved and pitted
* 2 cups mixed baby lettuces
* 3/4 cup + 1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
* 1 tbsp mild honey
* 8 ounces burrata, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
* 1/4 cup pistachios, halved
* 4 tbsp good quality olive oil, plus some more for brushing
* 1 tsp minced fresh basil leaves
* salt and freshly ground pepper 

In a small bowl, mix the olive oil with the basil. Leave for an hour for the flavors to infuse.

Prepare the honey balsamic syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the white balsamic vinegar and honey. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, and continue to simmer over very low heat, until the mixture is reduced to about one third of its volume, into a thick syrup. Remove from the heat and let the syrup cool completely (it will thicken more as it cools). (Needless to say, you can always skip this part, and use a store-bought white balsamic glaze.)

Preheat the grill pan (or broiler). Brush the apricots with olive oil. Place the apricots on the grill pan cut side up, and grill over medium-high heat, until gently charred yet still firm, about 4 minutes. (If you are using broiler, preheat to high and broil the apricots, cut side up, for about 7 minutes.) Let the apricots cool completely.

In a large bowl, combine the baby lettuces with basil oil, the remaining one teaspoon white balsamic, salt and pepper. Gently mix.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter. Add the apricots and burrata. Drizzle generously with balsamic syrup. Top with pistachios. Serve.

Serves 4