When the late summer garden gives up its bounty, it's a great time to make caponata. This flavorful Italian variation of the French ratatouille has been in my recipe box for over 30 years, It keeps beautifully, travels well and is best served at room temp or only slightly warm. I serve it in a bowl surrounded by sliced, toasted baguette or mounded on crackers topped with toasted pine nuts as a bite-sized hors d'oeuvre. You can add fish, like calamari or halibut, to the mix and it becomes a main course. Leftover caponata has even been made into soup with the addition of some veggie or chicken stock! Don't let the list of ingredients bother you—it's super easy once you have them all gathered.
A fig is actually an inverted flower that is pollinated by the fig wasp. Wasps hatch inside, mate & then dig their way out. Born wingless, the gallant males die after helping the pollen-covered females escape. These gals find a new immature fig to lay their eggs in and pollinate the new fig with the pollen from the fig they were born in and the cycle continues. Some figs are self-pollinating but I couldn't let such a fascinating story go untold. I am lucky enough to have a friend with a fig tree, a really BIG fig tree. It started producing these jewels about 2 weeks ago and they are still coming in like crazy. I have been serving them at many of my catering jobs, on flatbreads with caramelized onions & blue cheese or on homemade focaccia with fresh mozzarella. Figs don't ship well and must be eaten within a few days of harvesting so a locavore you must become. Here is my current favorite way to eat fresh figs, other than out of hand of course!
Marinated Figs with Fresh Mozzarella
15 fresh figs, any variety
1 lemon, zest & juice
3 T fig balsamic (or reg balsamic)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped
salt & fresh ground black pepper
Cut the figs into quarters and place in a bowl. Zest the lemon over the cut figs and then squeeze the lemon juice over the figs as well. Strip the thyme and sprinkle over the figs. Sprinkle with a bit of salt & pepper. Toss with the balsamic vinegar and let marinate for an hour or so. Serve with fresh mozzarella balls tossed with a little olive oil & fresh basil, goat cheese or blue cheese on crackers or sliced baguette. I served them at a Hovey wine event on homemade focaccia with fresh mozzarella and caramelized onions to pair with Tempranillo.
A friend of mine had a milestone birthday yesterday so his wife threw him a big pot luck bbq party in our sweet ‘right out of Mayberry’ park here in Murphys. Since it’s the middle of summer and it has been blazing hot, I figured everyone would be bringing tomato and cucumber salads so in an attempt to be different I decided to bring deviled eggs. Everyone LOVES deviled eggs, right? I wanted to be a bit more original though so I decided to cut mine through the center instead of end to end and then add a bit of the devil, in the form of curry powder. Thanks to my friends from next door Paul and Bill and their beautiful hens, Claire and her sisters, I had plenty of fresh eggs!
Curried Deviled Eggs (makes 36)
18 eggs, hard boiled and peeled 3/4 cup Best Foods mayo, more if needed
1/4 of a red onion, chopped finely (sub green onion if you like)
1 stalk of celery with leaves, chopped finely
1 small jalapeño, cut in a tiny dice (optional)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped (you can also use cilantro)
1 T plus 2t good curry powder
sea salt and pepper, to taste
mango chutney (I like the Major Grey’s variety)
chives, chopped roughly, for garnish
Cut the eggs around the ‘equator’ and squeeze out the yolks into a fine sieve. Press through the sieve with the back of a soup spoon into a medium bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend. Stuff back into the whites ( you may have to cut a bit of white off the bottom so they sit flat). Garnish with the chutney and chives and chill until ready to serve.
*see my instructions for hard boiling eggs under Wren’s egg salad post in the June 2016 archives
I have had it with the grainy, pasty tasting store bought ricotta! It is SO simple to make and the taste simply can’t compare. I will always make ricotta from scratch from now on and you should too! Spread it on crackers, use it for your lasagna, it’s simply fresh and delicious!
Fresh Lemon Ricotta Cheese
makes 2 1/2 cups
8 cups (1/2 gallon) best-quality whole milk
1 1/2 cups best-quality heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons), strained to remove pulp
zest of one lemon, optional
Combine milk, cream, and salt in a 4- to 5-quart pot, and warm mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching, until mixture registers 195 degrees on a candy thermometer. It should take about 15 minutes.
Add lemon juice, gently stirring until just combined. Remove pot from heat and let stand 5 minutes. The combination of the acid and the residual heat in the mixture will cause it to coagulate, or curdle — separating into a soft mass (curds) and a cloudy liquid (whey).
After lining a mesh colander with a triple layer of cheesecloth and placing it inside a deeper, slightly larger bowl, gently pour curds and whey into colander. Let mixture stand, pouring off whey occasionally, until most of whey has drained from still-wet curds, 20 minutes.
Gather up ricotta in cheesecloth and turn it out into a bowl. Add the lemon zest. Serve within a few hours, or refrigerate up to 4 days. For a denser ricotta, which can be preferable for baking, hang it to drain for another hour. Repurpose whey or discard it. (You can freeze the whey in ice cube trays and then add to your smoothies for extra protein!)
Serve with crackers or sliced baguette topped with good olive oil and fresh thyme leaves or use it to make for this tasty, seasonal tart!
Fresh Lemon Ricotta Asparagus Tart
Spring has finally arrived in the form of asparagus stalks in my garden. Well… it's not really MY garden but when there is an abundance of something growing, my neighbor and gardener friend Annie shares!!!! A handful of home grown asparagus was my inspiration for this seasonal and beautiful tart.
Fresh Lemon Ricotta Asparagus Tart
1 puff pastry sheet
1/2 c ricotta, fresh if possible
1 egg, beaten
14-16 stalks of fresh, raw asparagus, trimmed
2 t grated lemon zest, omit if you added in above recipe
2 T pine nuts
1 t fresh thyme
salt & pepper
olive oil for drizzling
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay out one sheet of defrosted puff pastry on a greased pan and pinch the edges a bit to make a crust. Spread ricotta over the surface. Pour the egg evenly over the top of the cheese layer. Lay the asparagus over the egg. Sprinkle with pine nuts, fresh thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve with a green salad for a light lunch or add a poached egg on top for an elegant brunch dish.
As a caterer for over 30 years, I have established a reputation for consistently creating original menus inspired by the occasion and the season, presenting them with an ease and elegance uniquely my own. Fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are the basis of my creative “from scratch” menus, which range from the classically elegant to rustic and whimsical.
"Love your recipes! Pat made your avocado toast a few weeks ago, delish! I'm taking them to a party in a few weeks, although the mushroom crostata looks pretty darn good!"